Cool and crisp summer salad – Two Beans and a Little Peanut!

finished salad

Wow, this week has got away from me. Again. Before things get out hand I have a post today which will surely make any true southerner happy as it features an ingredient beloved most, the peanut. Of course, in the South we have a penchant for taking something ordinary and making it, if not extraordinary, then just plain ‘different’.

‘Different’ would probably be the word used to describe a boiled peanut by non-Southerners who take the leap of taste that is boiled peanuts. In my mind boiled peanuts are best when purchased green, boiled at home and chilled in my own refrigerator. Pop open a nice cold beer, grab a bowlful of peanuts and find yourself either:

1) a hammock, preferably near a sea breeze; or

2) a comfortable lounge chair on your favorite porch

Add in some good company who are of a similar disposition as yourself (or at least decent conversation) and you’re set for several hours of good times. Boiled peanuts also make fine company for a fishing trip, college football tailgating and an afternoon at the beach.

In my household, my daughter and myself are the boiled peanuts lovers – Dear Hubby can leave them, apparently. I still cannot quite figure that one out. But this leaves plenty for Girlie Girl and me, although she has not quite mastered opening them yet, so that task falls on me. I’ll give her one more summer and then she’ll need to step it up. Hey, she can open a steamed oyster, why not a peanut?

If you’re not familiar with preparing basic boiled peanuts please see my previous post, The Art of Peanut Perfection. My recipe today is one I thought about for a long time, since 3-bean salad is a summer time favorite of mine. I thought boiled peanuts would be a good replacement for kidney beans (not my favorite, anyway!) My biggest obstacle was shelling enough peanuts without me and others (who shall remain nameless) eating them all first. I finally got my chance after Girly Girl and I practically overdosed on them at Edisto Island. We had eaten enough, for that day at least.

Use fresh beans if you can – fresh wax beans are practically impossible to find here – so I used canned here. Fresh greens beans are bountiful now as are peanuts – no reason not make this pretty make-ahead side dish that gets better even after a day or two in the frig! The addition of the cayenne pepper gives it a bit of a kick too, but no worries… just relax back in that hammock and crack open another cold one!

Fresh green beans and raw 'green' peanuts - pretty!

Fresh green beans and raw ‘green’ peanuts – pretty!

"Other" ingredients include onion, bell pepper, red wine vinegar, olive oil, agave nectar, and spices.

“Other” ingredients include onion, bell pepper, red wine vinegar, olive oil, agave nectar, and spices.

Here are the boiled peanuts, shelled. Yum!

Here are the boiled peanuts, shelled. Yum!

 

Par boil the fresh green beans lightly, cool and snap into thirds. Mix the vinaigrette together and simply add to all the other ingredients in a large bowl. Mix gently, cover and refrigerate until it's eatin' time!

Par boil the fresh green beans lightly, cool and snap into thirds. Mix the vinaigrette together and simply add to all the other ingredients in a large bowl. Mix gently, cover and refrigerate until it’s eatin’ time!

 

2 Beans and a Little Peanut Salad

  • 2 cups cooked, shelled peanuts
  • 2 cups wax beans (fresh cooked or canned)
  • 2 cups fresh green beans, cooked and snapped into approx 2 inch pieces.
  • 1 medium size sweet Vidalia onion, peeled and sliced into thin rings
  • ½ cup sweet bell pepper, chopped
  • ½ cup red wine vinegar
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 – 1/3 cup agave nectar
  • ½ tsp celery seed
  • ½ tsp pepper plus extra to taste
  • ½ tsp garlic salt
  • ¼ tsp. ground cayenne pepper mixed with 1/4 tsp ground black pepper

In a medium bowl mix the vinegar, oil, nectar and spices and salt. Wisk together well and set aside.

In a large bowl mix the peanuts, beans, onions and bell pepper gently. Pour approximately ½ the vinaigrette (above) over the vegetables and mix gently. Add a little more vinaigrette and mix again. Cover the salad and refrigerate at least 2 hours before serving. Add a bit more vinaigrette before serving, mixing well to coat all the vegetables. Note that you probably will not use all the vinaigrette, however…

Leftover vinaigrette is great as a salad dressing base – just add in some citrus like lemon or orange juice and maybe some minced thyme or oregano.

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Ramblings: Don’t fear the pluff mud, it’s the least of your worries!

Triumph!

Triumph!

Over the weekend I was a witness to a spectacle of human fortitude, sportsmanship and an incredible amount of mud. It was the inaugural Face Your Fears mud run, held in the neighboring town of Bluffton, SC.

Apparently mud runs are becoming quite popular, a thrilling step up from the run-of-the-mill 5k or 10k races that occur with regularity here in the Lowcountry (and probably everywhere else in the US). Our area, i.e. the ‘low-country’ is well, low and muddy, so it’s the perfect locale for this kind of adventure race.

This is pluff mud. Stepping into it you could sink a mere 6 or 7 inches... or 3 or 4 feet!

This is pluff mud. Stepping into it you could sink a mere 6 or 7 inches… or 3 or 4 feet!

We even have different kinds of mud here – sandy mud, red clay mud, and our own indigenous “pluff” mud. Pluff mud is the bees knees of mud. It is heavy yet fluffy with a sticky viscosity that will suck the Keds right off your feet. Pluff mud is found in the salt marshes – it’s the rich, organic matter formed from decaying plants, sea creatures and every other critter that’s ever lived (and died) in the estuary. Pluff mud has it’s own distinct aroma too – as native son Pat Conroy says, “I don’t know of any place that smells like this. It’s a magnificent smell. It’s the smell of where all life comes from. I love that all shrimp, all crab, all oysters are born in the marsh.”

When I was young I didn’t care for that smell myself, but as I grew older pluff mud forever linked my brain with the coast. Its smell became sweeter and instantaneously recognizable as soon as it hit my olfactory cortex. To me that smell equals “home.”

Now, back to the race. So although our area was fashioned perfectly for a “mud run”, lo and behold if it seems that even a mud run has become passé – enter the “fear” part of the equation. Rumors were running rampant prior to the race, regarding the obstacles being added to induce ‘fear’. I heard there may be some electric shock(s) and perhaps live animals. While I discounted electric shock figuring the liability cost would be prohibitive, I thought, “hey, live animals could occur even if the event producers didn’t plan any.” Alligators, poisonous snakes (eastern diamondback, cane brake rattle snakes and water moccasin are common here) and leaches and eels are indigenous in our rural (and not so rural) landscape.

After wading through a muddy pool of frigid water it's up a 20-foot "mountain".

After wading through a muddy pool of frigid water it’s up a 20-foot “mountain”.

Luckily our temperatures have been quite cool over the past couple of weeks, consequently the likelihood of any reptiles lurking out and about on a cold morning was low. So here trudged our group (Girly Girl and I were the support staff) into the rainy, cold morning at Palmetto Bluff Resort. Now Palmetto Bluff has been named one the top resorts in the U.S. (2012 Conde Nast) and it IS quite impressive with an atmosphere replete with Southern nuances and an extremely accommodating staff. But the Face Your Fears mud run was on the OTHER side of the resort – the decidedly “natural” side. Other than a few dirt roads weaving throughout, several shorn acres of corn and an irrigation pond or two this part of Palmetto Bluff looks the same as it did 20 years ago, probably the same as it did 100 years ago.

As the race grew closer the rain drizzled on and off and the mud got muddier. Perfect. When it was all said and done my sis and Dear Hubby made it through and received their ‘dog tags’. Obstacles included a 20-foot high dirt ‘mountain’ climb, a vat of ice, an army-style crawl under barbed wire, straw bail jumping akin to a Mario-brothers game, and lots and lots of mucky pluff mud! No gators or snakes were reported to have joined in the fun. Almost as soon as they were through the finish line, Dear Hubby told me he was ready to take on

After the climb and sliding down the other side, run a hundred yards where a huge vat of ice water awaits.

After the climb and sliding down the other side, run a hundred yards where a huge vat of ice water awaits.

more ‘fear” next year, while my sis may chalk this up to the bucket list… one and done!

About the Face Your Fears Mud Run: Face Your Fears is the creation of Thomas Viljac of Bluffton, SC. Challenge yourself to face your fears both physically and mentally!

The course options included:

Course “B” (the Courage Course) with 3 miles and 16 obstacles and Course “A” (the Valor Course) with 10 miles and 25 obstacles, not including 2 mystery obstacles, the “Game Changers”.

The Face Your Fears Foundation supports four charities. All proceeds are equally distributed to The MARSOC Foundation, US Navy SEAL Foundation, Lone Survivor Foundation, and Brothers In Arms Foundation (SOCOMM).

The last obstacle was a jump into one of the lagoons. At least most of the mud gets washed off...

The last obstacle was a jump into one of the lagoons. At least most of the mud gets washed off…

Dear Hubby helping my sis out of the pond. Ever the gentleman!

Dear Hubby helping my sis out of the pond. Ever the gentleman!

They made it! No snake run-ins, leech entanglements or broken limbs. Just lots of shivering and some muddy clothes to wash.

They made it! No snake run-ins, leech entanglements or broken limbs. Just lots of shivering and some muddy clothes to wash.

To brag or not to brag – that is the question…

My advertorial appearing in the November Bon Appetite magazine (page 118 to be exact). It’s about biking and dining on Hilton Head Island, SC.

“Make him stop Mom! He took the lollipops and licked them both! He took mine!” I exclaimed, stomping out the room.

Another ‘fight’ among siblings, echoing many that took place in my childhood home between my brother and me. My younger brother and I were at constant battle for several years arguing over every thing from who got to watch what on television to who broke all of mother’s fancy beeswax candles. Funny thing was that on more than one occasion, even when I was most assuredly in the right, the episode ended with me bawling my eyes out over my brother receiving his stinging punishment.

Like a tiny Sybil I would go from telling my brother to “stop it!” and pleading for my parent’s intervention only to get it…and then cry even louder as my brother was marched out to choose his own punishment from the infamous “switches bush”. At the time I remember thinking, “Why am I crying?” and to this day I have no idea, but obviously it still sticks in my mind. I was relieved to no longer be “picked on” but curiously, not happy that my brother was being punished, either.

So when I was told that an advertorial I was writing as the Hilton Head Island Foodie Vibe Blog (one of my paying gigs) was going to be in Bon Appétit magazine, I was, needless to say, thrilled. I’ve been a BA fan for many years and to get my name in print in this, a national food magazine; it’s a big deal… I think.

But, and here’s where my “Sybil” personality steps in. Do I tell people? I mean my southbyse.com followers and fellow bloggers? My Facebook friends? Will I seem like a braggart? After all, it’s an advertorial, not an editorial, so is it really anything to be that excited about? Yes, I wrote the advertorial. Yes, I’ve enjoyed eating at the restaurants I mention. Yes, that is my name in print.

Maybe I care too much about what others think of me or question if I can live up to anything positive that (I hope) people think about my writing and my blog projects. Like Eleanor Roosevelt said, “Do one thing every day that scares you”, so I’ve got that taken care of for today, apparently.

But yes! I will be excited and try not to be scared of the critics out there in cyberspace. And while I did not break any of my mother’s candles and the switches bush has long been pruned away, I still argue with my brother – over which kind of cranberry sauce is better with Thanksgiving turkey or the correct temperature for smoking a pork butt.

Let’s just say the blogger in BON APPETITE wins – for now at least!

PS. In this issue there is also an excellent article on preparing a Thanksgiving turkey, including my preferred method – brining.  If you’d like to ‘practice’ this method before your big turkey day fête, try my tea brined chicken recipe.

Blog Award: One Lovely Blog Award

You like me! You really like me! Well, Anne at Uni Homemaker does, so thanks Anne for nominating me for the One Lovely Blog Award! Made my day, yes sir’ree.

As a recipient of this nomination, I am required to:

  1. Thank the person who honored me with this award and post their link(s)
  2. Nominate 15 other blogs for this honor
  3. Tell readers 7 things about myself

Here are the 15 other blogs that I nominate for this award, in no particular order:

  1. remcooks.com
  2. acorninmykitchen
  3. rantingchef.com
  4. wordsandimagesbycynthia.com
  5. putneyfarm.com
  6. onceuponarecipe.wordpress.com
  7. Bucket List Publications
  8. cookingwithcorinna.wordpress.com
  9. Canadian Hiking Photography
  10. Homemade with a mess
  11. A Wee Bit of Cooking
  12. Food Glorious Food
  13. The Oven Mitt
  14. Two Spoons
  15. Simple Provisions

And, because I know you’re on the edge of your seat, here are 7 “things” about moi:

1. I have 3 sisters, all older and 1 brother, who is younger.

2. My favorite pie is blueberry with a double-crust straight up – no funky additions or flavors needed.

3. My husband and I married on New Year’s Eve in lovely Savannah, GA.

4. I can catch a trout (fly or spin), clean it and make a delicious pecan-crusted trout meunière…over a camp fire.

5. When I was 17 years old, I won the blue ribbon at the SC State Fair in the adult category for my apple pie.

6. I had my daughter and only child when I was 43… proving it’s never to late for dreams to come true.

7. Besides working in marketing and advertising on and off for over 20 years, I was also a floral designer for two.

Treasure Island: Salvaged Cumberland Charts

The perfect spot to display my latest masterpiece! They greet me instantly when I wake in the morning.

I am thrilled to have my first guest blogger on southbyse.com, Kate McEvoy!  Kate and I have known each other a long time, bonding over the mysteries of traversing the singletons life and our mutual love of vintage chic, good food, and Savannah, Georgia.

Now that we’re both married ladies with our own families, we see each other less but thanks to the wonders of this digital age we keep in touch and as it is with good friends, we can pick up our conversation left dormant months ago, with no fear of upsetting one another with “you haven’t called me back!” Kate’s writing is truly fresh and she has an enviable sense of style in everything from home décor to clothing to outdoor spaces. When Kate told me she found these cool charts of Cumberland Island and had the idea of blogging about them, I jumped at the chance to share her creativity in southbyse.com.

Cumberland Island  is just off the coast of southern Georgia, about as close to the Florida border as you can get and still be in the Peach State. It is a naturally magical place – with tall, billowy sand dunes, wild horses, huge moss-draped live oak trees and remnants of past glory among the ruins of the Carnegie, Green and Stafford mansions.

I was lucky enough to visit this beautiful place several years ago and highly recommend it, because with all of it’s wild loveliness it is difficult to describe – it’s meant to be experienced. Accommodations include two choices: camping (close-in near the ferry landing which is what I did on my visit, or backpacking to the interior) or at the other extreme…the timeless, award-winning Greyfield Inn. I’ll confess I have always wanted to visit the Greyfield.  (Are you listening dear hubby? )

Treasure Island: Salvaged Cumberland Charts (Kate McEvoy)

Here’s my dog Cookie and her proud new fetch, properly rewarded with an ear rub and a green biscuit.

I’m Kate, southern by birth, Savannah by variety. In Savannah people are known for having their own unique way. I don’t mean one unique way shared by all, but an expectation that everyone is entitled to her own expressive behavior. Paula Deen likes big hair, big twang and big butter…and that’s just cool. But she accounts for just one, and that leaves about a hundred thousand more blends of peculiar Savannah wine.

From the very start, my ‘way’ was a blazing passion for all things homespun. I gather I’m driven by a desire for my mark on the world to be utterly one-of-a-kind. My book bags, Halloween costumes, dorm bedding… they were all hand-crafted treasures. Today, happiness comes from my many original or often repurposed discoveries. Actually you can boil me down to a constant project list and a storage unit of diamonds waiting patiently in the rough.

No big surprise I target weekend yard sales as the very best vehicle for spotting affordable new treasures. The allure of possibility at a rummage sale really gets my engine revving. Though utterly penniless, I recently stopped at a neighborhood sale while out walking the dog and walked away with the score of the century. In the fiery heat of a record-hot summer, I skipped home unfazed – ecstatic about a couple of old nautical charts! I found them in a pile of castaway junk marked FREE. That’s right, sale price = $0!!

The authentic seal for one of the charts.

Here’s what came of my find: two worn maps of Cumberland Island with catchy kelly greens and subtly faded blues. One chart is north island; the other its southern counterpart. How much more perfect is this pair for new wall art? There’s actually a bedroom called “Cumberland” at my family’s beach home on Tybee Island. In fact, the house itself is named “The Barrier Islander” in honor of Georgia’s coastline. The theme runs prominent throughout our happy vacation home.

My maps have to be an improvement over the stock art found in a pre-cut Michael’s frame!

Well, let the projecting begin… A visit with a custom frame shop and I was quoted $600-$700. How dare they rob me of the pleasure and pride I take from frugality?!! I promptly hit up Michael’s art store for an alternative. During a 40% sale, I found a pair of rustic frames that totaled just $70. While imperfect in size, they were nimble enough to get the job done.

Using the empty frame as a cookie cutter, I determine the exact portion to be fitted within the final frame.

By folding instead of trimming, I retain the option for converting to custom frames in the future.

The backdrop for my new art – the Cumberland bedroom at our beach house. See the top image for placement of these framed charts in the room.

Fantastic butterscotch brownies make the flax seeds go dowwwn…

It’s fascinating how the human mind works. I wanted to post a recipe for butterscotch brownies, which is a childhood favorite of mine. I also want to find ways to make rich bakery treats like these, less caloric or at least healthier.

So I made these and tweaked my Mom’s recipe including adding some ground flax seed. Then I started thinking about how one can add or remove ingredients, change a recipe a little and make something wonderful better for you, many times with just a subtle difference.

In writing this post, the song “A Spoonful of Sugar” from the movie Mary Poppins, ‘popped’ into my mind… “just a spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down, the medicine go dowwwn”.  Adding or altering to make the-not-so-appetizing “go down”.  This lead me to think about playing the “favorite all time” game with my husband or friends. The topic of movies is an easy one.  Mary Poppins is one of my top three movies – along with Out of Africa and wait for it, Raiders of the Lost Ark.

“Fantastic Mr. Fox” is a movie our family loves – no sugar required to make the humor in this one “go dowwwn”. Fox Searchlight Pictures.

My criteria is that I can watch the movie over and over again, without getting sick of it – well, with a limit of maybe once or twice a month a month, for years. If I can watch and enjoy it that often, then it is great. Another movie that is creeping up to the top of the pops is Fantastic Mr. Fox.

Based on the novel by Roald Dahl, it’s chocked full of adult humor and witty repartee, it is also a clean movie and even our 4-year-old loves it – although she is clueless over why we are both chuckling most of the time. It’s good like that. Looking back it should have been named “best picture” of 2009… in my opinion.

Now dear hubby is a movie buff. He knows a lot about movies, old and new, with a particular fondness for science fiction and old classics like Lawrence of Arabia. Me, I can be content with viewing a movie relaxing on the couch at home, but he loves a real movie experience, i.e. going to the theater, eating popcorn, etc. I admit I do enjoy this too, although between the prices of the tickets and the snacks, our authentic movie theater “experience” is going the way of the dodo. I can wait awhile until the movie comes to blue ray or on-demand cable, thank you very much. We save the authentic and expensive movie experience for actual, great movies we truly want to view on a big screen, not a poorly written, awfully acted romantic comedy or special effects-laden bomb with no plot.

So you ask, what about those butterscotch brownies, huh? I got off on a tangent… see how the human mind works? Or maybe it’s just my human mind. Sigh. These butterscotch chewies remind me of childhood summers… picnics at the lake, fish fry’s in our backyard, and taking turns swinging in the hammock at the beach house. And while they’re certainly not “Mrs. Bean’s Famous Nutmeg Ginger Apple Snaps”, the inclusion of healthy flax seeds makes this snack just that much more, well, fantastic. Here’s hoping Mr. Fox would agree…

Straightforward ingredients including just 2 eggs and 1/2 cup of butter. I used light brown sugar but the dark brown variety will work too.

Melt the butter in a heavy bottom medium-sized sauce pan. We mix everything in this sauce pan except beating the eggs and milk together first.

This is a good recipe for young cooks and bakers – my daughter can break the eggs (no shells, either!) and whisk in the milk.

Once the butter/sugar mixture has cooled and the egg mixture has been incorporated, we add the flour mixture and those ground flax seeds.

After adding the vanilla and nuts (I like walnuts), pour into a greased 9 x 13 inch baking pan. Pop into a preheated 350 degree oven to bake about 25 minutes. Hint: Check after 22 minutes or so just in case your oven bakes fast – you don’t want to over bake these. They should be ‘chewy’.

…and soon enough you’ll have these gooey, delicious brownies. Allow to cool for a few minutes in the pan (that is elevated on a rack) and then cut into bars. Like chocolate brownies these travel well…for picnics, cookouts, tailgating.

Butterscotch Brownies

  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 2 cups packed brown sugar
  • 1 tbl. vanilla
  • ¼ cup milk
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup chopped nuts
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 2 tbl. ground flax seed
  • 1 tsp. salt

Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease bottom and sides of 9 x 13 pan with shortening.

In a medium saucepan, melt butter over low heat and stir in sugar. Stir until edges bubble, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool 10 minutes. Mix together the flour, salt and baking soda.

In a mixing bowl whisk eggs and milk until well blended. Using the whisk quickly add in a little of the warm butter/sugar mixture in the egg mixture. Then whisk the egg mixture back into the butter/sugar mixture. Beat until very well combined.

Add in the flour mixture until just combined. Stir in the vanilla extract and nuts. Pour into the prepared pan and bake for 23-25 minutes. Do not over bake. Allow to cool on rack for 5-10 minutes before cutting into bars.

Warning: Calories on board! Stuffed banana peppers make your grill sizzle.

Okay so this is fair warning…if you are on a diet…if you are a vegetarian…if you avoid pork. What! Now pretend you hear squealing brakes and see wheels skidding to a stop. Who in their right mind would avoid pork? Well, let me tell you…

I know a few people and that’s okay by me – for religious reasons, for health reasons, for (ahem) “I’ve never had really well prepared pork so why all the fuss” people. But today’s recipe is not for any of those people. This recipe is extra special because it is my brother’s recipe, because it uses fresh local peppers, because it uses only 3 ingredients (4 if you count toothpicks, ha-ha) and because it is so darn good!

If the picture above didn’t reel you in like a catfish to a hunk of old pork rind, then STOP because “there is something wrong with you, son” – as local restaurateur and friend Hugh Lockman would say. This recipe is not for those on a diet – so stop reading this post immediately if this means you. Well, unless you think 205 calories is not too caloric, well then, you’re approved to proceed.

What with cream cheese AND bacon?!? I know what you’re thinking but my 100% non-scientific method of calculation gives me a number of approximately 205 calories and 10 grams of fat in one of these beauties. Have smaller peppers? Then can reduce the calorie and fat number per stuffed pepper accordingly. The peppers themselves have no fat but do contain copious dietary fiber as well as vitamins A, C and E, folate, niacin, calcium and potassium. And home grown or farmers market fresh? Buckle your seat belt ‘cause those exceed the taste limit in my book.

These are favorites of my hubby, and me too. We wait all winter and most of the spring for the new crop of sweet banana peppers to arrive at the farmers market. We even set out our own plants (see previous post) in the hope of having plenty to use specifically for this recipe during the summer.

While you can certainly use hot banana peppers, we prefer mild peppers with plenty of pepper flavor, but no real heat at my house. These are very popular at summer cookouts at the beach house, at the lake, at home. And special thanks to my brother John. His recipe has brought much grilling happiness to our table, and now hopefully to yours too.

The ingredients list is minimal but the flavor is maximum!

Peak inside the pepper. You need to remove the seeds and that stringy flesh they are attached to.

This is how the peppers should look after being cleaned.

Pepper stuffed with cream cheese.

Around and around we go with the bacon. Secure with toothpicks. I try to stick the toothpick through the meat of the bacon, rather than the fat.

Ready for the freezer. The peppers came be made up to this point and stored in the freezer, for up to a day. They need to freeze at least 1 hour anyway.

Here they go onto a sizzling grill. The cooking time depends upon your grill, i.e. how hot it gets and how evenly the heat is distributed. The best way to find out is by giving the recipe a try!

These peppers are almost done! Looks like I lost a toothpick. Oh well, I call ‘cooks treat’!

Ready for the dinner table. The combo of smoky bacon and roasted peppers smells so delicious… and only 205 calories! I don’t feel too guilty.

Stuffed Banana Peppers

  • 6 large (6”) sweet banana peppers
  • 12 oz. light cream cheese (about 1 ½ packages)
  • 6 pieces bacon (I use low sodium and nitrite free whenever possible)

Wash and dry the peppers. Split each pepper down the center along the long side, careful to not cut through to the other side. Clean out all the seeds and the stringy part inside. Wash and dry the insides. Stuff each pepper with the cream cheese – about 2 oz per pepper – smoothing to cover the entire length of the pepper. Once you’ve filled all the peppers, wrap 1 piece of bacon around each and secure with toothpicks. I usually use 2 each for medium peppers and 3 for these large ones.

Place stuffed peppers on a platter or baking dish, cover with plastic wrap and place in the freeze. Can be made up to this point up to one day ahead. Freeze at least 1 hour. Fire up your grill and place the frozen peppers on the grill. Watch them carefully and rotate to cook the bacon as evenly as possible, but avoid flipping them around too much. Once the bacon is cooked – after about 10-15 minutes – remove from the grill and serve immediately.

Make-It-Yourself Vanilla Extract

I like to bake so I use a lot of vanilla extract. My favorite extract is sold by Penzeys Spices and they offer both single and double strength as well as vanilla beans and sugar. However, I found that I could make a decent and economical vanilla extract myself.

As usual, the quality of the ingredients determines the quality of the end result – in this case extract. I use Madagascar beans and good quality rum such as Appleton, a smooth and rich Jamaican brand I discovered years ago. I find that the rum flavor works well with the vanilla naturally – they sort of melt right into each other. And the alcohol burns right out so don’t worry about your cookies and baked goods containing alcohol. I think some people use vodka and having tried that I think the rum is better. However, do not use spiced rum unless you want a strong, spicy rum flavor.

I use a smallish glass jar (4 oz., ½ cup size) with one bean. Simply split open the bean, scrape out the insides (these are seeds) and add to the jar. I throw in the leftover bean “skin” too. Then fill the bottle with rum, seal the lid tight and give it a good shake. Allow to sit and soak for at least 24 hours. Anytime I walk by it within that first 24 hours I’ll give it a little shake. Then use at will – ‘cause you’ve got extract people!

The ‘ingredients’: vanilla bean and rum plus a sharp knife, cutting board and glass jar.

Snip the end of the bean and split it right up the center.

The ‘innards’ of the bean – these are the seeds and are the most flavorful part of the vanilla bean.

The vanilla bean seeds get their closeup…at least it smells really great!

Place the seeds and the leftover bean skin in the jar, and…

…pour the rum in.

Close the lid tightly and skake it up, baby!

After a day of soaking up the vanilla bean flavor, you will have extract. Use at will! I never strain it either as I love seeing the tiny seeds in my baked goods, custards and homemade ice cream.

Sometimes you can teach an old dog new tricks!

So this post is about my husband. And before I get accused of calling him “old” or referring to him as a dog, I will state that he is 6 years younger than me and I absolutely adore dogs.

My husband and I had somewhat different childhoods, much of mine revolved around living out in the sticks and his, in the suburbs. I spent my summers making mud pies, learning how to fish with a rod and reel, and going to vacation Bible school. He spent his in the local soccer league, playing Ms. Pacman and water skiing.

And our personalities were and are quite different. My husband was a social butterfly, apparently, while I was a wallflower, content to fade to the background. Nevertheless, my quietly observant ways have served me well and make me a better writer now, I believe.

I also know about a few things that may seem a bit oddball. I can make a flower arrangement – and a pretty one at that – of and in just about anything. I can bait a hook, clean the fish that I catch and serve it up meuniere style – just pass me the butter and lemon. I know that a 1971 VW Beetle does not need radiator fluid – because it has an air-cooled engine – thus no radiator. I not only know what “topdressing” is (and it does not go on a salad) but also why one does it, and I know the proper way to catch Atlantic blue crabs… by hand off a dock.

All these things constantly surprise my dear husband and he calls me his “Renaissance woman”, which I take as a compliment. We joke that I could get all the most arcane questions on Jeopardy correct, well, if I did not hyperventilate and pass out first. And I could be tremendous on “The Amazing Race”, except I would never, ever do any of those stunts – afraid of heights, sorry!

My husband’s effervescent personality has served him well too. His success in business is due to a good mind, quick wit and friendly demeanor. So what he may be lacking in “MacGyver” skills is more than made up in his clever repartee or his dead-on Charles Nelson Reilly impersonation. And if you don’t know who Charles Nelson Reilly is, then I am truly sorry for you, so go watch some reruns of Match Game…now!

Since we’ve moved back to the coast I have been itching to get out and do some crabbing. There is no better feeling of satisfaction (and appreciation) than catching your own dinner, unless it’s growing it. This is something my husband and I would like to instill in our daughter. We planted our little container garden already, but we haven’t gotten our girl out to teach her some fishing skills, well until 2 weeks ago, when we were at Edisto Island.

I learned to crab a long time ago, at the Garden City, SC beach house owned by my aunt and uncle. The house was red and wooden and rickety, and featured two huge screened porches – one in front and one in back and no central air conditioning. All the kids slept on mattresses and cots on the porches, with the surf a constant but reassuring crush of sound, breeze and salty air.

Garden City was a spit of land – maybe ¼ mile wide and 1 mile long harboring a pavilion with a huge, old-fashioned wooden pier, an ice cream shop and one restaurant – the quintessential Carolina family beach. It was a childhood paradise, lost when Hurricane Hugo visited in 1989.

Luckily, my parents and extended family didn’t lose their minds over something like a ‘lil ole hurricane and a new Edisto Beach pad (circa 1970’s) became our coastal getaway. So that’s where we find our crabbing adventure these days. But yes, my 4 year old has never been crabbing – but alas, neither had my 41 year old!

The day before our beach weekend I spent an extra $7.50 buying a flimsy metal trap, some twine and extra sinker weights. We were going to partake in some surf crabbing (as opposed to dock crabbing but that’s for another post).

Hubby came home and saw this sitting on the sofa and asked, “What’s that thing on the sofa?”

“Oh, it’s a crab trap so we can show girly girl how to crab this weekend,” I said. “It’s a Lowcountry tradition, you know.”

“I know,” He replied. “But you’ll be the one showing her how.”

However, once we got to the beach things took a different turn. With confidence, Hubby set out into the murky, knee-deep inlet with a weighted, wire hand-pulled crab trap filled with the stinky crab-loving breakfast of champions – chicken necks. These had been purposely left out on the back porch overnight to “ripen” and that was an understatement. I clamped those stinkers into the trap. “That’s how you do it,” I said, wringing my hands in the surf to remove the residual slime and smell.

My husband slowly set the trap down and unwound the cord tethering him to the device. Backing up he asked, “Isn’t this the end of the beach where the sharks hang out – the shark hole?” Raising my eyebrow, I gave a quick nod and then instructions to “let the pot sit for awhile” as I ambled down the beach, excited daughter in tow, to look for seashells. My husband offered a slightly worried smile and waved me away with his free hand.

Three little crabs in a bucket…this was their lucky day as we turned them loose but… we’ll be back!

A few minutes later I saw him pull up the pot and – nothing. He lowered it back and started the process all over again. A powerboat glided by and a dolphin pod came up for air across the waterway.

Then I heard, “Got one! I got one!” We ran over and sure enough there was a glistening blue crab all feisty, pinchers at the ready for a fight. We flipped the fellow into our bucket. “Want me to take over?” I asked, knowing that in the past Hubby wasn’t too keen on the whole fishing and crabbing idea. “No way! I think I can catch a bunch more!”

I nodded ‘okay” but on the inside I was bursting with happiness. “Yes!” I thought. ‘Another one bites the dust’… hooked on crabbing and the salty air and all the wonderfully quirky things our Lowcountry life has to offer. Hubby hadn’t smiled and laughed like that in awhile. Plus, next time, he’ll be baiting that trap!

Sometimes the best you can do… is pretty darn good.

Zinnias and such… in the Southern garden.

My hands have been dirty for much of my life. We called it “working in the yard” when I was growing up and now that I am an older married lady I suppose I should be calling it “gardening”. Need to be proper and all.

Behind my parents house we had a nice-sized vegetable garden and us kids spent many hours working (playing?) out there. Even in winter my brother and I dug for buried ‘treasure’, usually getting our clothes filthy and occasionally ending up with a prized find of an old Coke bottle or an unusually colored rock. I can even now give a fairly accurate rain prediction because of playing in that garden, but that’s a story for another post…

Since we lived out in the sticks (and there was no internet and only 4 – yes only 4! television channels) entertainment for the most part hinged on our own creativity and imagination. Well that, and a colorful cast of characters including my extended family, my parent’s friends and our neighbors. There was always something to do. The choice was either inside and that usually involved real chores or outside – also chore-related albeit a little more loosely defined. Most outside chores could be easily changed up, especially if my Dad was involved… and voilà, fun!

I spy with my little eye – squash blossoms! Need some of those to stuff with cheese – so delish. Not exactly Southern, but Southern Italian, at least.

This included that garden. Although my mom and dad considered it serious business (we ate, preserved or gave away all the produce we grew) mostly it was a pleasure to work the garden. My mother got her Park’s Seed catalog back in January and spent hours pouring over the choices and discussing the mail order with my dad. If we had been behaving they would even allow us to each pick out a packet of something they deemed worthy and feasible to grow in the number 8 USDA hardiness zone. Alas, my usual pick of English lavender never made the cut so I chose some unusual-shaped squash or exotic melon.

The Farmer’s Almanac, filled with lots of useful information on many subjects including “A Brief Look at Pruning”, spring and fall frost dates, a “scientifically compiled” fisherman’s calendar and monthly planting tables.

That garden was magical and wondrous. In just one week, after consulting the Farmer’s Almanac and the local weather forecast, my parents would have the whole garden either planted or in the least, partially planted and totally prepared for any last minute change-ups. After all, my Uncle Gene or Mom’s cousin George may drop off some tomato plants or excess seeds of some kind or another. Expect the unexpected at spring planting time.

When I was young, I loved feeling how cool and good the dirt was in my hands, even though the air was warm, even hot on my face. Now I think about that sensation whenever I need to relax. Funny how things like that, which happened so long ago can stay ever-fresh in one’s mind, but I can forget exactly where I left my smart phone within 2 seconds. Shrug.

The sense of accomplishment in planning, growing, tending and harvesting the garden is also a great feeling and one I long to pass on to my own daughter. I can write all day long about my own experiences but unless she participates it means zilch to her.

Bush tomatoes – hope ours do this well!

At the moment we reside in a beautiful little spot in the Lowcountry of South Carolina and while I tell everyone within earshot that “we’re never moving!” our current abode is a townhouse with no true yard (but a nice patio). True, we’re never leaving this diminutive ‘burg but I do hope for my own garden space, someday.

My daughter, and this fills my heart with pride, is a scrappy ‘lil gardener who would mulch a whole one acre plot with her child-sized garden tools if we let her. So this year, we’ve “done the best we can with what we’ve got” and created a tiny potted garden area with some bush-type tomatoes, sweet banana peppers and a variety of herbs out back. We’ve even got some zinnia seeds ready to sow in old paper egg cartons.

…and in the beginning there was…this. A humble container garden this year.

And the news on the street is that that there is a “super moon’ this weekend. According to the trusty farmer’s almanac this makes May 3rd-7th a great time to plant, entertain friends AND dig holes. How about a garden planting party? Sounds like my kind of fun.

The Art of Peanut Perfection

Boiled peanuts.

So I was cruising the aisles of the Piggly Wiggly (this is a grocery store) today when I remembered I needed some green onions. So I turned the cart around and made a b-line toward the produce department. After I picked a choice bunch of said onions, I headed back to the checkout and out of the corner of my eye, spied a barrel. This was not any barrel, but one topped with peanuts. And not any old, dry-roasted packaged peanuts, but fresh green peanuts. I thought, “oh boy!” and proceeded to fill a bag with a pound or so.

Now, this time of year is early for local peanuts and the ones I purchased today are from Florida. But seeing how that is only one state over (barely), I rationalized it is okay to buy just enough to satisfy my boiled peanut craving that has been flaring up over the last few weeks. So, as they now bubble and simmer in a heavy-bottom pot on the stove, I write this post almost giddy in anticipation of my briny treat, well ahead of June when our local SC peanut crop will be ready.

Fresh, green peanuts go into the pot for a salty, 4 hour "bath".

Boiled peanuts, pronounced “builled” peanuts (long on the “u” like the word ‘bull’) around these parts, should be cooked slowly for several hours. I would say 4 hours is the minimum. As far as salt goes, I tend to be a less is more type gal, as I am not one who salts anything and everything before I even taste it. Now my Mom loads on the salt and her peanuts are pretty darn good too, so I will state that one should start with a base amount and then salt to your own liking. They’ll continue to soak up the brine even after they’ve been cooked – if they last that long.

A peak in the pot finds the peanuts simmering away - won't be long now!

Boiled peanuts have become a sort of foodie fad of late. The Lee brothers, who hail from up the road in Charleston, have ridden to fame on the back of a peanut shell it seems. Well, and they wrote a cookbook that was named the ‘James Beard Cookbook of the Year’ in 2007 too. Even my current foodie-crush, Chef Sean Brock, serves boiled peanuts as an appetizer at his restaurant, Husk, that incidentally was voted 2011 Best New Restaurant by both Bon Appétit and Southern Living magazines.

The lowly boiled peanut has finally arrived, I suppose. Of course to me, this happened a long time ago. I ate them throughout my childhood and I most closely associate them now with good times. Like snacking on peanuts while fishing in the little jon boat with my daddy in the Congaree or  munching on them in the hammock on the back porch of the family beach house or later, while camping with friends in the forests of NC.

Boiled peanuts are truly THE road food snack of the South. Travel any off-the-beaten-track bi-way in SC, GA, AL or the Florida panhandle and you’ll find a peanut man (or woman) stirring a big billowing pot of peanuts. SC highways 11, 17 and 170 come to mind as does FL highway 98 below Tallahassee and GA highway 80 going out to Tybee Island.

Typical roadside peanut stand. "I brake for boiled peanuts"!

Stop and buy a bag…or three. Resistance is futile when it comes to riding in a car with a warm bag of boiled peanuts – go ahead and dig in ‘cause that first bag will be gone, baby gone, by the time you reach your destination. I guarantee that. And not stop? That would be worse, never admit that you passed up hot boiled peanuts on a road trip. That’s akin to passing up a cold beer on a sweltering August day after doing yard work or such – completely preposterous.

And speaking of preposterous, it would be silly for me to give step-by-step instructions for making your own boiled peanuts – it’s just really that easy. That being said, when you find that peanuts are available in your area grab a couple of pounds and give this a try:

Boiled Peanuts

  • Fresh, green peanuts – rinsed with water
  • Salt
  • Water

In a large heavy bottom pot with a lid, place peanuts and cover with water. There should be at least 1 inch of space at the top of the pot. The peanuts will float but you should be able to stir them easily without inadvertently slinging water or peanuts out of the pot. Stir in salt – I use 1 tablespoon per pound of peanuts. Bring to a boil and stir. Turn heat down to a low simmer, loosely cover and allow to cook for about 4 hours.

Check the pot about every 30-45 minutes, stirring well each time. After 4 hours, taste a couple of peanuts to see if they are done. They should be solid but soft without any ‘bite’. If they are not, continue cooking another half hour and check again. Turn off the heat, and allow to cool in the briny water …or remove from the pot and start eating! Some people like to add hot sauce and other accoutrements – but my preference is the original, no extra accessories required …pass the paper towels!

The Mayonnaise Wars – Throw it at Me!

My recipe for shrimp spread or dip, if you will. Not even my husband, a true "non-mayo-er" can resist this appetizer. I wonder if he realizes there is mayo in it. Cats out of the bag now!

In the landscape of southern cooking – and eating – there may be no more divisive ingredient than mayonnaise. Feuding families split over which brand they prefer: Kraft, Hellman’s, Blue Plate or my personal favorite, Duke’s. And believe it or not, there are even those who not only don’t like mayonnaise, they admit that even the thought of it makes their duodenum cramp a bit.

True Southerners would consider those folks the politically incorrect “c” word – crazy. (And being ever so polite would never actually say this to their face.) This is likened to not enjoying a warm bowl of creamy grits, homemade hushpuppies, or worse yet, turning your nose (and your tongue) up at pit-roasted, hardwood smoked pork barbeque. Sacrilege.

Considering myself to be a non-judgmental type person I will admit that I too, find it hard to believe that someone would not like all the delicious eats that include mayonnaise in their ingredient list. First off there’s potato salad, then there’s the BLT sandwich, deviled eggs, pimento cheese, and yes, even ranch dressing.

When presented with a “non-mayo-er” situation an uneasy feeling of disbelief sweeps over me. Something is wrong here and I must ascertain the answer ! Like a therapist searching for the clues of life-long anguish, I pester the non-mayo-er, pleading with them, “but why don’t you like it?” There must be something sinister lurking in your past, way back there, behind the pickled jalapeños and the expired yogurt, that slammed the door on all delights deemed, nay doomed, mayonnaise-y in your refrigerator of life.

When I say that my own husband is one of these non-mayo-ers, you may be surprised. Believe me, he will be surprised to read that I’ve spilt the beans regarding his little aversion in the blogosphere. But I am not here to judge or defend. Actually I am here to state that I love mayonnaise and all that it contributes to my spring and summer table.

Apologies to Paula Deen, but I won’t be “slathering my corn with mayonnaise” or recreating my own Mother’s beloved congealed salad recipes (most of which contain mayo) verbatim on South by Southeast. However, I will show how simple it is to make homemade mayonnaise, a superior condiment to any jarred brand, in my opinion. And offer recipes (with step-by-step how to) for some delish sides like old-fashioned potato salad and new favorites like Madras chicken salad sliders.

Duke's Mayonnaise. Created by Mrs. Eugenia Duke in Greenville, SC in 1917 (Yes, 1917!). Since 1929 it has been produced by the C.F. Sauer Company, still in Greenville using the same time-tested recipe. And happily the market for Duke's is expanding. You can even get it in Pennsylvania and west into Missouri now. Go Duke's!

That being said I do buy and use Duke’s Mayonnaise. This is my “family mayo” and no other brand graced the threshold of my parent’s kitchen, ever. Even though my mother is very frugal, no off brand mayo for her either, only Dukes would do. And heaven forbid, she would never allow the “whip” (you know what this is!) into a grocery cart much less onto a tomato sandwich!

What makes this specific brand so good? To me, it’s because I’ve grown accustomed to Duke’s – the clean flavor with just a subtle tang of acidy vinegar kick, I suppose. And honestly, I know what to expect and I appreciate that. Consistency is an undervalued commodity.

So, do you have a favorite mayonnaise? Or other condiment that you cannot live without? What makes it special? Throw it at me (but be nice, please). I would love to hear all about it!

Blue Plate. This is a southern mayo straight out of New Orleans via Gretna, LA. It's a cajun staple.

Kraft. There's a style and a size for everyone, pretty much.

Hellman's. There was no 'light' version at my local grocer, however, there was olive oil, for the cholesterol conscious.