Thursday, July 30, 2009

No Chef's Hat Required

That's right! You won't be needing a hat for this fact you won't even need a real recipe! And yet you'll get "rave reviews" everytime you make these brownies. I'm will. In fact there will be those who won't believe that you didn't actually use a recipe. They'll just think you don't want to share it with them! I really had someone say that to me one time when I told them I made them from a mix! Oh well, what's a girl to do? In some cases you'll just have to let them think you're a fabulous (albeit selfish) cook! :)
Yes they really are as good as they look (they come with references!)
The brownies that I'm talking about are made from the ordinary red boxed Betty Crocker Dark Chocolate Brownie Mix. The trick is to bake them your own way, not the way the directions tell you to. It's very simple. You just use two boxes of mix instead of one. Mix them in a large bowl and of course double all of the ingredients.....eggs, oil, and water. Then pour your mixture into just one 13 x 9 inch pan that you've greased the bottom of. Now notice I said pour it into only one pan.....not the two that they recommend. Bake for 55 more. In fact you want to take them out of the oven just before they look done to you. Just don't overbake them. They firm up even after they've been taken from the oven. After they cooled throughly, cut them into generous sized squares. Here's a tip for you......always use a serrated knife when you cut brownies. You will not believe how chunky, moist, and chewey these will be. Be sure to cover them with plastic wrap to store so they will stay nice and moist for several days......if they last that long!
These are great to make for bake sales. Determine the size of the brownies you want to sell, then wrap them individually in plastic wrap. Arrange them in a pretty basket for your display and they'll be sure to bring top dollar. They became a standard at my teenager's youth group bake sales.
You can also give them as a sweet gift for someone's birthday by fancying up the presentation. They make a wonderful little dessert if you're taking a dinner to someone who has been out of commission due to illness, etc. in their family, because they are so easy to transport.....and they come with a little cheerfulness inside each one. Finally these make super travelers.....for picnics or little lunches in the car on those family trips.
One year I baked several batches of brownies for my son and the van load of friends who were on their way to camp in Newport Beach. They all enjoyed a few on the way, but after that the rest of the brownies mysteriously disappeared! It is still rumored that a couple of counselors, who shall remain nameless, (but you know who you are) hid them in their tents creating their own private stashes! :0 LOL
Enjoy your brownies!

Stop on by Ann's place today at for plenty of yummy recipes.

And as usual there's lots of great food ideas over at Be sure to go on over and enjoy yourselves.

Today I'm also linked up to Friday Feasts at and

Family Recipes on Friday at and also at

Favorite Ingredients Friday at

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

California Dreaming

California dreaming. San Diego dreaming actually. Garden dreaming.............. about my father-in-law's garden to be exact. Ever since that first BBQ back here when I was only 16, meeting Jim's family for the first time, I have loved being in this backyard. His family moved into this house when he was just a child, so for many many years his Dad has cultivated and cared for this yard. The lovely San Diego climate has certainly been an advantage but I think part of his secret has been that over the years he has consistently nurtured the soil, not with chemical fertilizers, but with fish! Before he retired he was the owner of numerous Charter Sportfishing boats that operated from the landings there in San there was always an abundance of fish. Remember the pictures in your second grade reader of Squanto and his friends digging a hole and showing the pilgrims how to bury a fish to fertilize their corn crop? Well, evidently it works.

My father-in-law is also a bird lover so he's always thinking of ways to attract birds to his yard. It's fascinating to me to watch the dozens of yellow finches that show up at his feeders.

Now if anyone can tell me what this beautiful red plant is I would certainly appreciate it. My father-in-law doesn't know either because he bought it as a tiny forlorn little thing that was so dehydrated that he got it for almost name tag or anything! The garden center did not stock anymore like it and no one seems to know it's name. Garden books and Googling haven't brought up the right information either. It reminds me of some sort of bottle brush but I don't think it is because the flowers themselves have such a soft velvety feeling. I love this fuzzy little guy and have tried unsuccessfully to propagate cuttings from it. Maybe if I knew what it was........any ideas?

The lemon tree is a Meyers Lemon and if you've ever had one I guarantee you'll never want any other kind!

Lots of beautiful Jade bamboo.....

Daisies everywhere.......

Several different colors of Bougainvillea....

We always call these pinwheel daisies


Brilliant Orange Lily

It's the perfect place to relax with a cup of coffee in the morning or a cool drink in the afternoon........oh and lots of good reading material! While we always visit the beaches and enjoy the sights whenever we're in San Diego, I've got to say I'm very contented just hanging out a good deal of the time right there in the garden. Can you blame me?
I can't pack my bags just yet.....but who knows....maybe before too long!

Join Susan at A Southern Daydreamer today
for other lovely outdoor posts.
And if you enjoy watching the birds like I do you'll want to check out the participants in

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Christmas in July Part 5

What is your idea of an ideal Christmas? Ask fifty different people and without a doubt you'll get fifty different answers. We each have our very own collection of memories, of impressions........of sights and sounds that bring a smile to our lips and a warmth in our hearts.
So why have someone else's Christmas? The great advantage of a little advance planning is that you have the luxury of time! You have time to really consider what you want and what your family wants. You won't wind up doing things you don't really enjoy, things that mean little to you just because you're so rushed you just do whatever it takes to get through the season!
Not a Good Thing!
Now when I say advance planning I don't mean you to have to spend long hours planning details..........for one thing it's impossible in many cases to know exactly how the holidays are going to shape up five months in the future. There are so many variables, including other individuals outside your immediate family who will have their own plans. The idea is to begin to think of the things that are in your control. Do a little dreaming. Begin to think about the things that make Christmas special to you. What kind of atmosphere do you want to create? What activities would you miss if you didn't do them? Be sure to ask those that live in your household what they enjoy most about Christmas. Write it all down.
Then slowly and surely, over the next few months, begin to work on those priority items. Right now Christmas seems so far away! If we're honest though we know that 152 days (as of this posting) is not a very long time. I think we sometimes forget that when the holidays come along they are "in addition to" everything else that goes on in our lives! I know I've been guilty at times of thinking that somehow, magically, extra hours are going to be given to me in November and December! Doesn't happen, does it? So now is the logical time to start snatching pieces of time here and there so that you can have the holidays that you want.
Planning Tips

*Start off by visiting a few Christmas sites on the web just to get yourself in the mood. A favorite of mine is You're gonna love this one!

*If you're not familiar with Flylady you need to check out her site There you'll have year round access to her Holiday Cooking and Decorating Plan .....and closer to the holidays themselves she posts daily videos about getting ready for Christmas.

*Another fun little site is

* has activities going on all year and for a year round Christmas Store try Bronner's Christmas Wonderland at

*Another way to get in the mood for planning is to listen to some Christmas tunes......either get out your CDs or tune in to one of the internet radio sites.....right now I'm listening to . You can type in the name of a Christmas song you want to hear and it will automtically make up a radio list with similar songs and play them for you........and it's free!

*You get the idea.......just have a little fun surfing around......there's no telling what you'll find and the kind of ideas it will spark in you!

*I highly recommend that you put together some sort of Christmas Notebook where you keep all your Holiday plans organized. At the first site I mentioned , Organized Christmas, there are dozens of free printables to get you started. Whether you use theirs, find others on the Web, or make up your own......just be sure to devise some type of book to keep all your thoughts and plans in. It makes a huge difference!

*Peruse through any holiday books that you might own. When I'm in plannng mode this time of year I usually keep one or two Christmas books stacked on my nightstand so I can look through them before I fall asleep. Jot down any ideas and recipes that you might want to try. You may run across gift ideas.....start making some preliminery lists. Remember it almost always takes longer than you think to make that special gift you've been planning. Try to make some concrete decisions on anything that is going to be complicated or time consuming. Even if you don't do homemade gifts it's always better to order or purchase special gifts ahead of time.

*If you don't own any holiday books you can always check some out at the library or purchase new or used at Amazon. Thrift stores almost always have a few holiday books around. I just enjoy having my own little collection around to look at whenever I like. :)

*Finally, just enjoy yourself. Even if you're not a natural planner, even if you think you really dislike planning ahead, even if you think it's way too early to think about just a little. Whatever you do now will pay big dividends in just a few short months! You'll be so glad you did. :)

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Christmas in July Part 4

     I'm hooked on having our "Christmas in July" every year. Some of you have asked me if we go all out and put up tree and all our decorations. The answer is definitely not.....way too much trouble! I do usually pull a couple of things out of storage for a tablescape or two as in Christmas in July Part 2, but that's about it as far as decorations go. When Christopher was younger there were years when we'd get a little ambitious and put up the little tabletop tree that he liked to put in his room over the holidays. Most years we just concentrate on the Christmas "doings" rather than the decorations........we have several mini-holiday meals, watch lots of Christmas movies, and some years buy one another little gifts. This year we gave each other gift cards to favorite stores. I try to keep it simple so it turns out to be fun...not work.

     At every holiday meal, including Easter I might add, we have my Mom's Banana Pudding. For years she was the one who always made it. For a long time I was hesitant to even try it, but in 2001 when she was here visiting for Christmas we carefully wrote down the recipe as she showed me each with many old family recipes, I don't think it had ever been written down before! Now after a few years of making it myself I'm fairly confident in doing so....but to me it still never tastes quite as good as when my Mom makes it! I think it's the love factor! Nothing ever tastes as good as something your Mom makes for you.

      So this year for our "Christmas in July" I made the Sweet Potato Pies (see Christmas in July Part 3), and the Banana Pudding. Though we haven't had Christmas meals all week, we have had these desserts in the fridge to enjoy........turns out to be so handy too because as some of you know I'm really big on cooking ahead because of the summer heat.

So here it is..........

Mom's Banana Pudding


1/2 cup of flour
1 1/2 cup sugar
2 cups evaporated milk
2 cups whole milk
3 eggs lightly beaten
1 1/4 tsp. salt
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 stick of room temperature butter
1 12 oz. box of quality vanilla wafers
6 or 7 medium bananas sliced into coins

To make:

Combine flour, sugar, salt, and 1/2 cup of the milk into a large thick-bottomed sauce pan. Mix well, then add eggs and remaining milk. Blend well ( a wire whisk works great) and cook on low heat, stirring constantly, until mixture comes to a boil and begins to thicken. It is very important that you stir continually ( especially once the mixture begins to heat up) to prevent it from sticking to the bottom. Remove from heat  and add vanilla and butter. Stir until butter is completely melted. In a large bowl layer bottom with vanilla wafers, some of the bananas, then pour in small amount of pudding. Repeat the layering process until you reach the top of the bowl. Garnish by standing more vanilla wafers along the top edge of your bowl and topping the final layer with a generous handful of crushed wafers. Serve chilled.

I've spent some time this past week doing a little advance planning, going on a few Christmas sites, flipping through some of my Holiday books, and in general having fun thinking about what I'd like Christmas this year to be like. I'll be sharing a little bit of this Saturday on my last post in the "Christmas in July" series. Please join me. :)

I'm participating this week in Hooked on Fridays at Julia's place. Be sure to go by over there and see what other's are hooked on today! ALSO.................
  For lots more yummy recipes be sure to drop by Foodie Friday at Designs by Gollum
and Food on Fridays at Ann's place!

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Dreaming of Mountain Mornings

It's Outdoor Wednesday at Susan's Southern Daydreamer ........lots of refreshing water photos at Watery Wednesday .....and Wordless Wednesday at Simply Joyful Photos

Saturday, July 18, 2009

The Beauty of the Lord's Day

Sunset Point Arizona
" From the rising of the sun to its going down , the LORD’s name is to be praised. "
Psalm 113:3 (New King James Version)

For more Sunday inspiration be sure to visit Charlotte and Ginger at Spiritual Sundays .

For more beautiful photos from around the world go on over to the Scenic Sunday blog.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Christmas in July Part 3

Once again I had to do the baking in the morning because of the heat......but once the pies began to bake the house really did smell like Christmas. My post today is a recipe for Southern Sweet Potato Pie, my Dad's recipe. I can't remember a Christmas when we didn't have several of these sitting out on the counter during the Holidays. While I realize sweet potato pie is something you can enjoy year round, to me it just says Christmas so I have to include it in our little "Christmas in July" celebration.

Daddy's Southern Sweet Potato Pie
3 medium sweet potatoes
1 tsp salt
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1 cup sugar
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 can evaporated milk, 12 oz.
1/4 stick of butter, cut into 6 pieces, room temperature
Boil sweet potatoes with jackets on until they are tender. Place them on foil or wax paper on counter until they cool. At this point the jackets should slip off the potatoes very easily. In a large bowl mash up the sweet potatoes until they are smooth but still course in texture. Add cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and the sugar and mix well. To this add the beaten egg, evaporated milk, and butter. Butter pieces do not need to be mixed in completely. Pour into two 8 inch pie crusts or into 1 large deep dish pie crust. Bake on a cookie sheet at 425 degrees for 15 minutes, then turn temperature to 350 degrees and bake for another 45 - 50 minutes. Pies are done when toothpick in center comes out clean. When pie cools serve with a big dollop of whipped cream!


.............a little planning in July goes a long way in December. Join me next week for tips, book recommendations, and some really great links!
There's a great Recipe Swap going on over at Go on over for some great cooking ideas!

Drop by at Designs by Gollum for more delicious recipes

Also Ann has some great recipes over at her site today.