Ode to Tums

You’d think I would know better; you’d think that I would learn.

I just can’t eat some dishes without feeling the burn.

Lasagna, how I love you; and pizza, you’re my fave.

It’s spicy or Italian food or garlic that I crave.

I love my chips and salsa, and feel I need the heat

of hot sauce or Tabasco almost every time I eat.

What’s salad without dressing, and that sweet, sour bite

Of vinaigrette, balsamic, or Italian that I like?

These foods don’t go down easy, and they put up a fight,

Making me sick at bedtime; keeping me up all night.

It starts with a full tummy, and then a little burp,

Next thing you know I’m belching, and re-tasting my dessert!

It’s not ladylike, I know; but it just can’t be helped!

This baby in my belly makes herself known with a belch.

A glass of milk may be helpful; home remedies I’ve tried:

Pickle juice and papaya can’t keep the burps inside.

‘Cause when I’m really struggling with bad acid reflux,

Milk just isn’t strong enough, all the home remedies suck.

In that moment I turn to a tried and tested source,

of relief (and calcium – it’s good for you, of course!)

I reach for the blue bottle, and when I hear the sound,

Of rattling pills I know that relief will soon be found.

Oh, Tums, I dearly love thee! Now let me count the ways,

You help me out and soothe me, and get me through hard days.

Sometimes I just need two pills, and sometimes I need four;

Many days the heartburn keeps me coming back for more.

Peanut butter sandwiches no longer pose a threat,

With Tums fighting off reflux, the challenge can be met.

I take them after dinner, and often before bed,

No longer am I tasting burps – it’s chalky Tums instead!

With a bottle in my purse, and one beside my bed,

I no longer have to fear the food that lies ahead.

So bring on the spaghetti! Please, someone pass the wings.

With joy I read the menu, and eat my favorite things.

So whether you are pregnant, or just have bad heartburn,

Please take this advice from me; heed the lesson that I’ve learned.

Indigestion can be cured, acid reflux can be fixed.

Go buy yourself some Tums – they always do the trick!

Christmas Cookies (Part Two)

IMG_2890My freshman year of college was a really great year. I loved my school and my friends, and I had the world’s best roommate. When Christmas season rolled around, my roommate and I decided to do some holiday baking. We bought magazines and collected recipes, and one Saturday we took over my parents’ kitchen. Our recipe selections were very ambitious for our cooking skills, and several of them were total disasters. Sweet “carnival” cornbread that baked over the sides of the pan and made a gigantic mess in the bottom of the oven? Check. Braided egg bread with a cream cheese filling that didn’t rise and was hard as a rock? Check. Mint layered bars with real (gross) mint jelly that no one wanted to eat? Check. Despite our failures, we had a great time and somehow ended up with enough edible treats to share with our friends in the dorm. And one of the new recipes we tried was an absolute winner. I’ve made this recipe every Christmas since, and often at other times of year, too. It’s always a hit, because seriously, what decent Southerner doesn’t love red velvet? And who can pass up the flavor of red velvet cake in the convenience of a cookie?

IMG_2889The best thing about this recipe is that it’s so easy – it uses a cake mix!

Red Velvet Cookies

  • 1 box red velvet cake mix
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/3 cup oil

Mix ingredients together until smooth. (A stand mixer with a paddle attachment works much better than a hand mixer with beaters. Trust me.)

IMG_2892Roll dough into 1 inch balls and place on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. (Don’t skip the parchment paper – it’s really worth the effort! And from my experience, cookie sheets with air pockets inside just don’t get the job done with these cookies.)

IMG_2893This next step is very important! I forgot and skipped it once and the results were disastrous. (I take ruined cookies very seriously.) Using the bottom of a glass (or the palm of your hand) flatten the dough slightly.

IMG_2894 Bake at 375 degrees for 8-10 minutes until the tops crackle. These cookies are easy to burn, so watch them closely.

IMG_2896Doesn’t that look yummy? But wait – it gets even better! While the cookies are cooling, mix up the cream cheese frosting. That’s right. We’re going to ice them.

Cream Cheese Frosting

  • 8 oz. cream cheese, softened
  • 1/4 stick butter, softened
  • 2 tsp. milk
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 4 cups confectioners sugar

Combine cream cheese, butter, milk, and vanilla in a mixing bowl. Beat on low speed until mixture is creamy. Gradually add confectioners sugar, beating until smooth.

Once the cookies are cool, frost away!

IMG_2898They don’t look perfect, but they taste wonderful. Christmas cookies don’t get much easier than this!

 

 

 

 

Christmas Cookies (Part One)

 Today, I felt like making cookies. Not just any cookies – oatmeal toffee cookies. I made these several times a few years ago, and they were amazing. I don’t know why I waited so long to make them again, but today I wanted them. The only problem was that I had lost the recipe! I thought it was in a family cookbook that my mom had compiled and given me, but nope, not there. I looked for it in the stack of recipes I’ve printed from various websites over the years – not there either. I couldn’t find it in any of my cookbooks. Where, oh where, did I get that recipe? And if I loved it so much, why didn’t I save it? What’s a girl to do?

Well, google it of course! After reading through several online recipes, I came up with what I thought was a close match to my beloved oatmeal toffee cookie recipe. I baked up a batch, and yes, they were as good as (or maybe better than) I remember!

IMG_2882Oatmeal Toffee Cookies

  • 3/4 cup (softened, unsalted) butter
  • 3/4 cup light brown sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 cups quick cooking oats
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 cups (one 8 oz. package) toffee bits (I use Heath Bits ‘O Brickle, not the chocolate coated Heath bits)

IMG_2881

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Cream together butter and brown sugar, then stir in the egg and vanilla. In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, salt, and baking soda. Stir the dry ingredients into the butter mixture, then stir in the oats and toffee bits. Drop dough by rounded tablespoons onto a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake for 15-18 minutes, until cookies have crisp, golden-brown edges.

This recipe makes about 3 dozen cookies. Today, I just baked a dozen and wrapped the remaining dough in plastic wrap and placed it in the freezer. I’ll have cookie dough ready to bake when my Sunday School class begs for a treat or when I need a dessert to take to a Christmas party. Besides, if I baked all of the cookies today, all three of us would eat more than we should!

IMG_2884These cookies are so good! JD informed me after I started baking that today is National Cookie Day. Maybe my subconscious knew that and triggered my craving? Either way, I’m always happy to celebrate made-up holidays and eat cookies!

IMG_2887Oatmeal Toffee cookies are Piper approved!

 

High Noon at the Rattlesnake Saloon

My parents like to go on road trips. As I’m writing this, they are on the back roads somewhere between Birmingham and Nashville checking out the fall scenery and discovering hole-in-the wall restaurants and shops. Last Saturday, however, they didn’t have anything planned, and invited me and Piper to ride along and explore with them.

Our destination: The Rattlesnake Saloon.

The Rattlesnake Saloon is a restaurant and bar built in the mouth of a cave. It’s located near Tuscumbia, Alabama, very close to where JD’s grandparents grew up. His Grandmom told me that before they had electricity, her mother would send her down to the springs near the cave to store their milk in the cool water. When JD’s dad was a teenager, the University of Alabama sent a research team to excavate the cave and recover Indian artifacts. Well, the Indians have been gone a long time, and electricity eventually came to the area. What’s left is a good burger joint and a fun afternoon!

When you pull into the parking lot, you might wonder if you’re in the right place. All you can see are horse stables and pastures. But if you wait in the parking lot for a minute, the “Saloon Taxi” truck will pull up and drive you down to the cave.

In the mouth of the cave, there are tables and a stage. In the Saloon building, there is a kitchen, a bar, and more tables. I was a little worried about taking my toddler to a saloon; but they don’t serve alcohol until 5pm, and the lunch crowd is full of families with children and church groups of senior adults.

We had read in the newspaper (and heard from several friends) that the Rattlesnake Saloon’s burgers had won a “Best in the State” award last year. I ordered the Rustler Burger, and it definitely lived up to its reputation. Fried cheesecake is also on the menu, and I wish we had left room to try it!

My girl had a great time, too. She danced and sang on the stage, ate french fries, and talked to the horses. She got VERY dirty, but that was just part of the fun.

I’m already looking forward to our next trip to the Rattlesnake Saloon, and I think you should check it out, too.

Rattlesnake Saloon Website

Rattlesnake Saloon on Facebook

Caramel Pear Preserves

A few weeks ago I gathered my courage and tried my hand at making preserves. A sweet couple in our church gave me a bucket of figs, some advice, and a vague recipe. I glanced at a few more recipes online, then plunged right into the world of preserving and canning. My Balsamic Fig Preserves were very good (especially eaten with pork tenderloin,) but the Vanilla Fig Preserves were our favorite. JD and I ate a whole jar in a week.

So, when my father-in-law brought me a HUGE bucket of pears, I knew just what to do with them. Now, my father-in-law is one of the kindest, most generous people I’ve ever met. He not only brought me pears, but he and my mother-in-law took Piper home with them to spend the night! They got to play with Piper, she got some quality time with her grandparents, JD got the TV to himself, and I got some uninterrupted time in the kitchen. Win-win-win-win.

I have no idea what kind of pears these are. They came from the backyard of a cute old man named Chief. They’re much harder than the pears I buy in the grocery store, but very sweet and crunchy. Once, at a family reunion, I picked some pears similar to this from my great-aunt’s pear tree. I didn’t have a vegetable peeler back then, so I peeled them all with a paring knife. That was awful. Pure torture. This time around, I was very thankful for that peeler.

If you’re so inclined to try making your own preserves, here’s what you need to do:

First, wash and peel the pears. I did this four pears at a time. I don’t really know why I chose to do it that way, but it just worked for me. Next, slice them thinly. I started out quartering the pears and using a paring knife to remove the seeds and core. But these pears were so hard that it was really time consuming. Plus, I’m clumsy and was afraid I’d cut myself. So, I started cutting around the core Barefoot Contessa style. I may have lost some of the good meat of the pear, but it was worth it to ensure I didn’t lose any fingers! As you slice the pears into a bowl, cover them generously with sugar. I added about a cup to a cup and a half of sugar after every eight pears. Just add as much or as little as you want keeping in mind that the more sugar you add, the sweeter and more caramel-ly your preserves will be. And don’t even think about using fake sugar. That stuff will kill you. Keep it real, and remember that these are a treat. If some sugar is good, more sugar is better!

Here’s where I added my secret ingredient: vanilla. I was surprised when none of the pear preserve recipes I looked at called for vanilla. It just seemed like a no-brainer to me! And I didn’t just use any vanilla; I used my best. This stuff, Los Cinco Soles Vanilla, was given to me by a couple at church who had just returned from a cruise to Mexico. (Being the preacher’s wife really does have some perks!) This is seriously the best vanilla I’ve ever tasted, and I’ll be ordering some more from here when I run out.

Just add a few drops to a teaspoon-full over your pears and stir them up. After all your pears are sliced, sugared, and vanilla-ed, cover them with plastic wrap and let them sit in the refrigerator overnight and macerate. They’ll release all their juices and soften a little bit. Here’s what they’ll look like the next day:

See? I didn’t add any water – that’s all pear juice. I was curious at this point and tasted a slice, and oh my goodness, it was so good. It was still crunchy, but extra sweet. A good foretaste of things to come.

Next, just dump the pears and all their juice into a big pot and turn it to high. When it comes to a boil, reduce the heat to medium and let it simmer away.

The pears will need to simmer for a while – probably two or three hours. Remember, they are hard pears and will take a while to soften. They need to cook low and slow, and as they cook, the sugars will begin to caramelize and add that yummy caramel flavor that we’re going for.

This is about halfway. The pears are getting softer, and I’m starting to break them up with my spoon as I stir. And by the way, as I was cooking these, I was doing other things around the house and watching the Olympics. If they’re cooking slowly over medium heat, they only need stirring every ten to fifteen minutes.

They’re almost done now. At this point, you need to watch them more closely to make sure they don’t stick on the bottom. You can keep chopping at them with a wooden spoon or use a potato masher to break them up. I like a smoother consistency to my preserves, so I mashed them up pretty good.

Notice the pretty caramel color? That’s what we’re going for. I once heard a tv chef say that in culinary school, if you’re asked your favorite color, the correct answer is always golden brown. That’s the idea here. Golden brown = sweet and caramel-ly.

Now, the hard part for me was deciding when the pears were done. Being inexperienced at preserves, I decided I was finished cooking them when all the liquid had cooked out and they were starting to “gel.” If you scrape across the bottom of the pot and the preserves stay separated for a few seconds, they’re probably done.

Now, here’s where we can do things several different ways. You should sterilize your jars and lids. (I washed the jars in the dishwasher and kept them hot using the plate warming setting until I was ready to use them, and I boiled the lids and rings in a small pot.) But after you put the preserves into your sterilized jars, they need sealing. You can use a water-bath method or a pressure canner, or you can cheat, like I did.

I can’t remember where I learned this method, but it’s a keeper. After your jars are filled, wipe the rims clean and screw on the lids. Then, just flip the jars upside down. The heat from the hot preserves will seal them. After 30 minutes or so, you can flip them upright and press down the seal. If it stays in and doesn’t pop out, it’s sealed and you’re good to go!

My HUGE bucket of pears yielded 12 jelly jars of preserves (in two batches.) They’re super yummy and taste like caramel. We’ll be eating them on biscuits and toast, and I’m sure I’ll find a way to cook with them, too.

Operation Pear Preserves = Success!