Saturday, August 28, 2010

A Napkin Revolution

I love old things. Vintage linens make my heart skip a beat. I love floral vintage cotton tablecloths and search for them whenever I am junktiquing. I have purchased many tablecloths and napkins along the way and think they bring a beautiful and lived-in look to a table. I have 3 young children so currently I am using my vintage linens in locations other than the kitchen table (since that would be a disaster).
Last fall my son was studying the 3 R’s of Recycling (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle) in 2nd grade and had a big project to complete detailing how his family practiced the 3 R’s and how we might stretch ourselves further in this pursuit. (No pressure!) I loved this project because I am an avid recylcer. So much so that I have been known to offer to take people’s cups or plastic bottles home with me to recycle them (rather than tossing them in the nearby trashcan) when out somewhere.
So I was all about this project. As we began to think of a stretch recycle goal for our family, the idea of using cloth napkins, rather than paper at meals, seemed like a fun goal of reusing and reducing waste.
Now, I wasn’t sure if it was practical, or how much extra laundry it would add (I do not need any added laundry- that is for sure!), or if I would feel the pressure for the napkins to match or be nicely ironed (which is out of the question). But we gave it a try and the result was unexpected and wonderful. We love it. I love it the most. It has given me a chance to use that drawer full of quirky cotton napkins that were being neglected. They have now been given a new life at our lively dinner table and I smile each time I pull them out of the drawer. A way to celebrate the beauty in the ordinary.
And I can happily report that:
1. it does not add much to the laundry at all
2. they do not need to match, though it is fun to coordinate, or give each person at the table one that matches their personality or level of messiness
3. we are saving $$ and the planet :)
4. it makes me feel like my grandmother, Ruth, who always used cloth napkins at the dinner table, as every dinner was an occasion
5. and a bonus observation: cloth napkins cover more messes-they don’t fall on the floor as easily, they are thick and help my kids to actually use their napkin rather than automatically wiping their hands on their shirts.
So…give it a try.
You might join the revolution and make weeknight dinner an occasion!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Journey to Fish Tacos

Since the “Celebration of Daves” post, a couple of people have asked for my Fish Tacos recipe. I am so glad to share it with you, as well as the mango/avocado salsa, and tangy slaw, which are essential elements.
But I must tell you about my journey to fish tacos, the back-story, if you will.

I grew up eating Mexican food all the time. My parents love it and my dad especially loves the hot stuff. I always joke that my parents must have put salsa in my bottle because I have always loved it. But it wasn't until about 10 years ago that I heard of “fish tacos.” This is probably because I had never had California Mexican food. Baja Burrito is our favorite local Mexican restaurant and they have an amazing fish taco. My husband, Dave, loves them, craves them, converts people to them, returns from road trips strategizing about how soon he can get them. Baja’s version quickly became the fish-taco-standard in our home. If you live in Nashville then you probably have had the chance to have a few yourself, but those of you who aren’t local I need to explain: they are fried fish on a corn tortilla (actually 2 tortillas doubled up) with finely chopped onion, cilantro and shredded cabbage with a special creamy sauce. A lime is nestled on top which when squeezed adds a nice zippy compliment to the cream sauce. They are a party for the taste buds.

So of course, we have attempted to reproduce this wonderful creation. (This is a normal experience in our home where we try to discern ingredients at restaurants and take notes and come home and try to recreate the dish). But my attempts with fish tacos have yet to reach the point of re-creation! Each time I made them I would tweak the ingredients in order to improve it. And each time I would sit: watching, waiting in anticipation of Dave’s reaction. Would he like them? Could they meet his standards? And each time he would say, “They’re good…(with that raised inflection that seems to indicate “but”…) “but they are no Baja Burrito”. After several attempts I began to give a disclaimer, an instruction of sorts: “before you take a bite, think ‘new food experience’, not Baja Burrito, okay?” But I just have never figured out the trick. (Maybe the fact that I have never deep-fried the fish but rather baked them might have contributed to my failed attempts).

I have come to terms with this and have concluded that:
If you want the Baja Burrito fish taco, the fried amazing creamy perfect one, then spend the couple of dollars and drive the few miles down the road and buy the fish taco!
In the meantime I have switched gears and have started to make grilled or baked fish tacos with a mango salsa. The result has been remarkable. It is essentially a different dish. It is tangy and healthy; light and spicy; flavorful and able to be created in our kitchen! Success! And we love them, even crave them! Hooray!

You can’t go wrong with these ingredients and an open mind as to the definition of taco!
The elements of this version are:
Fish, Tangy Slaw, Avocado & Mango Salsa and Corn Tortillas

click for printable recipe
Tangy Slaw
3 cups (divided) Shredded Cabbage (Cole Slaw in a bag found in the lettuce section at grocery store works great)
2 Tbsp. Light Mayonnaise
Juice of one Lime
A splash of Apple Cider Vinegar
Coarse Salt
Fresh Ground Pepper

Place 2 cups cabbage in a bowl. Add the other ingredients and blend with a fork. Add in another cup of cabbage.

Mango & Avocado Salsa
1 avocado, halved, peeled and diced
1 ripe mango, peeled and diced
½ cup red onion, finely diced
¼ cup finely chopped fresh cilantro leaves
1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes (or more if you want more heat)
Juice of one juicy lime
1 Tbsp olive oil
½ tsp coarse salt

In a bowl, combine all ingredients

4 pieces Tilapia
olive oil
coarse salt
cayenne pepper
garlic powder
juice of one lime

Coat tilapia with olive oil.
Season with coarse salt, cayenne pepper, and garlic powder on both sides.
Place on grill pan or large skillet.
Cook at medium high until edges turn white, then flip. Squeeze lime juice on fish. Cook until white throughout and flaky. Break into pieces.

To Assemble: Heat Corn Tortillas, add fish, then top with slaw and mango salsa. Enjoy!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

A Red Velvet Relationship

It’s my 15th Wedding Anniversary. It’s hard to believe that we have been married 15 years, and yet, I can’t remember life without Dave. Our relationship has been an anchor in the midst of many joys, challenges, twists and turns of life. For our anniversary I have made a Red Velvet Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting and we will proceed to stuff ourselves with it for the next couple of days.

Red Velvet Cake is Dave’s cake of choice for celebrations honoring him. It seems a little redundant to make him the same cake for all of his “big events” as they all happen in a matter of 3 months: June-Father’s Day; July-Birthday; and August-our anniversary. But it is his favorite! Last month, when we were devouring the Birthday-Red Velvet he said it was the best one I’ve ever made. I guess the practice is paying off.

Seventeen years ago Dave and I were dating and that summer I was working at a camp in North Carolina and he was working in Kentucky. We decided to rendezvous in Knoxville during my day off and celebrate his birthday. Dave loves picnics and as a college student was always sitting on some shady patch under a tree playing his guitar, writing a song. He didn’t have a quilt, which I thought was tragic! So, my generous mother “helped” me make a quilt for Dave’s birthday gift. (Actually I supervised as she made this great picnic quilt. I know she was thinking… “this guy better be a keeper because this is a labor of love”). I made him a Red Velvet Birthday Cake and decided I would blindfold him and take him to Cherokee Boulevard, a nice grassy area by the river, where I would set up the new quilt and we’d have a Red Velvet picnic for his birthday. Well, I am not great at surprises- giving or receiving them. And in my nervousness and rush I somehow smashed my knee into the cake, which smeared onto the quilt while he was standing there with his blindfold still on. So, there I was with the most staining cake EVER all over the beautiful gift my mom had created (which he had not yet laid his eyes on) and there was a big knee shaped hole in the cake I had made. Not such a Happy Birthday! My mind raced “What do I do? Get back in the car? Run away? Lick my knee? Cry? Laugh?” So, I instructed him to take off the blindfold as I then cried and laughed and recounted what happened and he graciously and lovingly ate globs of frosting and cake off of the quilt and drove me back to my parents’ house where we stain treated the new quilt. Luckily my mom is the queen of stain-removal (more on that in a future post).

[This photo of Dave is from that summer in 1993 with his beloved quilt that survived the cake trauma.]

So Red Velvet Cake and Dave and I have quite a history. A few things that I have learned along the journey are:
1. It must have homemade cream cheese frosting (or else what’s the point…really? It’s a red chocolatish cake.)
2. Unless you want “Mauve Velvet Cake”, which I made for my friend Elaine’s birthday last year, you have to use an entire bottle of Red Food Coloring- which freaks me out a little, but it just is what it is.
3. You really need to make the cake and frost it the day before you want to eat it, as the cake moistens and the flavors meld together so nicely by day 2.
4. Don’t serve it on a quilt, on the ground at the park.
5. A man like Dave is a rare gift.

Click Here for the recipe

Sunday, August 15, 2010


Peaches. They really are the perfect fruit in my opinion. I love fruit. We consume a large amount of fruit in our home. In fact it wasn’t until our friend Amy lived with us a few years ago, and, after eating at our table for months, informed me that our practice of having some type of fruit or fruit salad at dinner every night was unusual. I didn’t know! I thought everyone had fruit with every meal.

And of all the fruits we love, peaches are at the top of the list. Of course, they are only available for a very limited time of the year (which is very disappointing, yet it makes them all the more special, I guess). They are easy to eat, easy to prepare, they are good with so many other foods, are a great breakfast fruit, and a perfect dessert fruit. They are beautiful and sweet.

A few weeks ago my sister made a peach pie and my 8 year old raved about it. A week later, while visiting my mom in east Tennessee we picked peaches and blueberries at an orchard nearby and hit the jackpot with the peaches. The trees were overwhelmed with perfectly ripe peaches. We couldn’t stop picking. White ones. Yellow ones. Nectarines. Two large lattice baskets full, or technically a bushel. They were so sweet they tasted like they had been soaking in sugar all afternoon. They were pour-down-your-arm juicy.
So, after the relentless asking from my son, mom made a peach pie...actually 2 pies...and a cobbler...oh my! She is good.
Here are some reviews:
“AMAZING!” - Asher, age 8
“Perfect. What I think of when I think of ‘homemade pie’” - Dave - Asher's dad
and my response was, “this pie is RIGHT!”

Here is the recipe. if you can't resist.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Granola Love

I love hearty, wheaty, healthy, yummy baked goods. My husband teases me about some of the muffins that I love most which he calls the “Dirt and Stick Muffins". “Not true!” I retort! “They are hearty and moist and amazing”. Another one of my favorite things is Homemade Granola. I love the way the house smells when it is baking, I love the process of it and I love the result- jellyroll pans full of oaty nutty goodness to eat and share.
They sell homemade granola at some local cafes and it has a high price tag! So, I see this as the perfect homemade/gourmet/special treat to share with others. I made a few batches this weekend to give to my kids’ teachers at church, because next week is “promotion Sunday”, the week they move up to their new classes. I made it and bagged it up and handed them each a sack of Granola Love and Gratitude for the significant investment they have made in my kids' lives.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Celebration of Daves

One of my best friends is Connie and another is David and they happen to be married to each other. Couple friendships don’t come along everyday. And this one is the cream of the crop. We started a tradition years ago when we realized that David and my husband Dave had birthdays 10 days apart. I love birthdays! I love finding ways to celebrate and honor people on their special day of the year. Well, Connie and I knew that the best way to celebrate these Daves was to cook them a yummy dinner. So, we spent an entire afternoon in the kitchen, attempting several new recipes, creating an elaborate dessert and treating our husbands to a great meal. The added benefit was that Connie and I got to spend all those hours in the kitchen together, which we love and rarely get the chance to do. It was a success and became an annual tradition that has carried on for over a decade now! "The Celebration of Daves" is what we call this.

It has changed a bit over the years, as we now have to recruit babysitters for our 6 kids (collectively) and we have pared down the number of new recipes per celebration for the sake of simplicity and stress reduction. But a few things are constant: the meal is always a pleasure to prepare together, the Daves are thrilled to consume it, there is always Bruschetta for an appetizer and a great dessert to end the meal.

This year we went with:
bruschetta appetizer (as per their request)

grilled fish tacos with avocado & mango salsa and tangy slaw
red rice and black beans
homemade salsa and chips
and for dessert: sour cream pound cake topped with fresh berries, peaches and whipped cream (and a good cup of coffee)

at the end of dessert, my Dave said, "this was Ridiculous!" (in a good way) and David T. said, "that was amazing...both times" (referring to both servings of dessert he had just consumed)

Here’s to traditions!

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Late Summer

I love the seasons and the inspiration that comes from each of them. I am learning the value and pleasure of cooking seasonally and I find celebrating the cycle of the calendar year life giving. For me summer time is produce stand shopping and grilling out. Then fall brings the richness of the root vegetables, then winter beckons for weekly soup night in my kitchen, and on and on it goes.
Summer provides great ingredients for the kitchen. By the end of a hot summer I am ready for fall to come and the school doors to open.
However two of my favorite gifts of late summer are
tomatoes and peaches.
They make the Tennessee heat more bearable and have inspired many of my meals in the past month.

A winter tomato is not worth eating, in my mind. Pastel pink tomatoes have no flavor- I opt out. But a rich, red, juicy summer tomato-a "real tomato", I call it, can be the centerpiece of the meal!

BLTs- my favorite summer sandwich
BLTACs (BLT + Avocado+ Cheese) my friend Melissa’s favorite
Breakfast sandwiches
Tomato/Feta Salad
Thick Slices with Kosher Salt and fresh Ground Pepper
...just to name a few

This summer we have been trying to be healthy in our home. We are working on reducing our portion size. My husband says his life long goal is “smaller portions”… it is his perpetual New Year’s resolution. This morning my breakfast was an english muffin/egg white/tomato sandwich and some sliced peaches on the other 1/2 and it was a delicious start to the morning. Then a BLT for lunch. And though our BLTs this summer have been the healthy variety, I must say, thanks to some amazing tomatoes, they are craveable- even with turkey bacon on whole wheat sandwich bread. In fact, I think I might go make one right now.

So a blog

I am the least likely person I know to pursue a technological way of communicating thoughts, ideas and passions, as I am the girl who prefers to sit across the table with a muffin to swap ideas and would rather use a pen and paper to correspond. On the other hand, I am always trying some yummy dish that I want to share with others or finding a flea market treasure that I want to pass along. So with my wonderful husband’s technical skills and encouragement, I felt the courage to give it a try!

Then a name! I love names and they hold much value to me. Naming my children was an arduous process because 1. I love names so much 2. They set the tone for who they are known to be 3. They are forever. Cup-a Cup-a came to me as I was pondering my intention of swapping ideas, recipes and finds with friends. I was inspired by the recipe sharing that was done in the film Steel Magnolias of the cake recipe. Clairee, my favorite, asks Truvy for the recipe for her Cup-a Cup-a Cup-a. She told her she didn’t need a recipe it was just “a cup of flour, a cup of sugar and a cup of fruit cocktail with the syrup, stir and bake in a hot oven ‘til golden brown and bubbly. I serve it with ice cream to cut the sweetness.” Now I’m not a big fan of canned fruit cocktail but I am a fan of southern women and sharing what you know.

So here I am. Terrified and elated, brain busting with all of the “posts” that are backlogged in my mind from the past decade. What have I got to lose? It might even be fun!