A Lucky Find

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I love farmers’ markets. There’s just something about heading out early on a Saturday (ok, midmorning on a Saturday) to walk around and look at all of the produce and products available in the different stalls. I think the trip is really half the fun!

There are many reasons to support your local farmers’ market. For one thing, just think of the convenience – it’s nearby, and you have experts on hand to help you with any questions you might have. After all, who could possibly tell you more about available produce than the very people who grow it? The stalls are run by individual farmers or farming families, and they are all happy to help you select items, tell you how to prepare fruits and veggies that you may be unfamiliar with, or suggest food pairings.

Take this rope of hot peppers, for instance. It caught my eye at the farmers market with the gorgeous red color and shiny skins of the dried peppers. Just looking at it lying on a table, I didn’t really know what to do with it, but fortunately there was a farmer on hand to help me out! She showed me that there is loop at one end so that you can hang the peppers up in your kitchen, then you just pull the peppers off from the bottom as you need them. Not only do the peppers look beautiful hanging in a garland in your kitchen, but she said they also bring good luck to the kitchen where they hang.

So far, these peppers have been great in tomato sauce for pasta and pizza and for flavoring beans. I can’t wait to see what other uses I can come up with for them!

Pretty, delicious, and lucky? This peppers were a deal that I couldn’t refuse!

Soup Art

Coffee art has become ubiquitous in the foamy tops of cappuccinos, lattes, and other milky coffee treats in cafes everywhere, but did you know soup art was a thing, too? With efforts to plate food that is a treat for the eyes as well as the palate, it’s not exactly a shocker, but it is still a pleasant surprise when you get some food that is beautiful to look at as well as tasty to eat.

I was at Terranova’s in Huntsville, Alabama recently, when I came across some pretty soup of this kind. Now, usually I don’t bother with any sort of appetizer, soup, or salad at Terranova’s, considering their pasta bowls are big enough to take a bath in and filled to the top (a good place to get two meals out of one, for those ladies and gents who are like me and always looking for an opportunity for leftovers). However, sometimes there are specials that are just too scrummy to pass up, one of which is their seasonal butternut squash soup. Obviously, when I saw it posted on the special board walking in, I had to indulge.

Now, I make my own butternut squash soup at home, and I have to say that it is pretty delicious. I also must admit that about as far as I get with a garnish for it is a little pile of grated parmesan in the middle of the bowl. The saltiness of the cheese is a good contrast with the rich sweetness of the soup, and I most always find good quality cheese appetizing.

Terranova topped their soup with a balsamic glaze, however, which complements the rich, sweet taste of the soup, and the dark color looks gorgeous against the buttery yellow of the squash soup. A glaze like this is simple to make: just reduce some balsamic vinegar on the stove until it thickens; this will also intensify the flavor of the vinegar. Less known fact? It is also good for drawing patterns in the hands of a cook with some artistic talent – it looks like I have a new skill to start practicing!

What’s the Story, Morning Glory?

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It may seem strange to think about flowers blooming in October, but morning glories bloom until they’re killed off by frost. Since we are having the hottest fall on record, they are still going strong! (There has to be at least some sort of silver lining to all this hot weather, right?)

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Morning glories bloom in the early morning, so you have to get out before the blooms are spent in too much sun if you want to see them. (Note: Morning glories do need a lot of sun to grow well, so trying to extend the blooming time with a shady area probably won’t work.) These were already starting to wilt by the time I got to them.

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As you can probably tell from the tall grass, weeds, and overgrown lettuce, these morning glories are wildflowers growing over a spent section of the garden. No one planted them; they showed up all on their own. A lot of people might say that this looks like a mess, but I’d say it’s a good argument for not over landscaping; if you leave a few wild areas, you’re sure to get some interesting wildlife that you might miss out on otherwise.

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Want to know more about morning glories? The Old Farmer’s Almanac has an information page about them, and Southern Living’s The Grumpy Gardner has tips for growing these easy care flowers on The Daily South.

Easy Lunch: Sweet Potato & Salad

What to do when you don’t want a sandwich for lunch, but you don’t want to put in any more effort than that? You need something hot and that doesn’t require a lot of time actively preparing. What could be easier to make than a baked potato? 

For a little more flavor and even more nutritious goodness, I like to have a baked sweet potato. Stick it with a fork, wrap it in aluminum foil, and put it in the oven until it’s squishy. Don’t worry- you would have to leave it in the oven an awfully long time before it would burn! It takes a while – mine was in the oven for an hour and a half – but you can go about your business and it’ll cook itself.

I like to top mine with butter, cinnamon and ground ginger. A lot of people like to use butter and brown sugar, but given the option I generally go the savory route.

There are lots of things that pair wonderfully with sweet potatoes, especially of the green variety. Green beans, macaroni and cheese, and a sweet potato forms the ultimate triumverate in my book, but since we’re keeping things easy today, how about a nice salad?

Confession time: I’ve never been a huge fan of the raw-vegetables-and-ranch style salad. Vegetables are for cooking and ranch is for party platters. Give me a good old vinegarette any day! I also love to use fruits on salads instead of the vegetables. 

The good news is that you can’t really go wrong here. Just look into your fridge and see what’s there! I had apples and avocados, so that’s what I’m having. Bonus points for the avocado: it’s replacing the cheese that would have been here in its place otherwise.

Salads with fruit are even better with nuts, so I’m adding some walnuts as well. 

And there you have it! Easy, delicious, and healthy. In addition to that, if you left off the butter, this could easily be both vegan and gluten free, which I can’t often say about my food, due to my love affair with bread and cheese.

Apple Cheese Sandwich

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Let’s face it – for most of us, sandwiches are a part of life. However much we may dream about sitting down every day to a delicious, beautiful, and decadent yet healthy meal prepared by our own personal chef, chances are it’s not in the cards.

Now that I’ve gotten the bad news out of the way, let’s move on to the good news. Sandwiches don’t have to be boring! It’s time to break out of that deli-turkey-and-swiss rut and embrace the joys of creative sandwiching. As a child, the definitive sandwich was probably peanut butter and jelly on Bunny Bread; maybe you got crafty like Mr. Rogers taught you and made faces out of banana slices and raisins on peanut butter. Maybe that doesn’t sound so great now, but the key is to channel that same sandwich excitement that you had then and bring it to the lunch table now.

For this sandwich, I started off with the old staple (for me, at least) of a cheese sandwich. This has sort of become my new PB&J recently: fast, easy, and tasty with some good potato chips. I decided it could use a little something different, though. My solution not only lightens it up a little, but updates the humble cheese sandwich for fall.

I started off my new sandwich adventure with some great, flavorful bread. The cranberry walnut wheat bread that I used gave a nice blend of sweet and tart and some good nutty depth. I got my bread at Earth Fare, but whatever bakery or grocery store with a bakery that is near you should have options that will work. I switched out the usual mayonnaise and mustard for some honey mustard sauce, which is nothing but a mixture of mayonnaise, mustard, and honey.

The extra sharp cheddar that is the basis of the sandwich stays the same, but I added slices of apple to it. It gives it a satisfying crunch, refreshing juiciness, and a nice blend of sweet and tart. I used honeycrisp apples for mine, but you can substitute any you would like. I suggest a variety that has plenty of flavor somewhere between sweet and tart, but if you are a devotee of the golden delicious or granny smith apple, go ahead and give it a shot!

So there you have it: an absolutely delicious sandwich that is no trouble at all to make, but will liven up your lunch in no time! If you want a little more to eat, pair this sandwich with some butternut squash soup for a rich autumn feast.

Busy Little… Spider?

This is Charlotte. Charlotte is a garden spider (Argiope aurantia) who annually makes our home her home. Though of course it isn’t the same spider year to year, we always call her Charlotte. She used to always make her web on or beside the back porch, but she has moved to a sunny spot in a corner over the past couple of years.

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Each year, female garden spiders lay eggs, which they enclose in durable webbing sacs to protect them through the winter. Then, in the spring, these eggs hatch, and tiny spider hatchlings come out to make their own webs or fly away on bits of thread to find new homes – just like at the end of Charlotte’s Web.

Normally, you see one big brown egg sac on Charlotte’s web every fall. This year she’s been especially busy, however. Not one, not two, but three egg sacs adorn Charlotte’s web. We may have a whole family of Charlottes next spring!

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Dogs Just Wanna Have Fun

The light is getting that mellow, golden quality, the smell of dry leaves fills the air, the weather gets cooler (some days)… And the dogs want to go outside and gallop around playing. Of course Jake couldn’t resist joining in. Florence is even getting into the fall spirit with a festive bandana!

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