So, it’s no secret that I am a cookbook hoarder, so I figured I might as well start sharing my reviews so you can make up your mind whether a potential purchase is worth the cabinet space.
This week, I picked up Come on Over by Food Network personality Jeff Mauro. Now, as part of a mini-disclaimer on this review, you should know I love watching the show “The Kitchen” every Saturday, so that definitely influenced my purchasing decision. I’ve made many of Jeff’s recipes from the program over the years, so I was especially interested in seeing this book. I’m going to break my review down based on the key components that I look for in a great cookbook. To start, just know the premise of the book is geared toward entertaining, or get-togethers as we say here in the south. The chapters fall into the category of occasion, rather than course.
The Real Disclaimer: Before you even read this review or purchase the book, you need to know that several of the recipes in this book are dishes that have already been featured on “The Kitchen” or “The Sandwich King.” Now, some have small tweaks since their Food Network debuts, but if you watch the shows and are expecting all new recipes, yes there are some, but a few are not.
Appearance/Layout: This book gets a “thumbs up” in this category. First, the images are well-shot, and nearly every recipe has a picture, which is a big plus for me. I’m not a fan of books that are all flat-print with a limited photo page insert of a few recipes in the middle. Additionally, the pictures are beautifully styled, but not in the so-over-the-top manner that plagues a lot of popular food bloggers nowadays. The images are appealing but not unrealistic. As for layout, it’s clear, concise, and makes sense. The chapters are divided into themes/occasions, and the page layouts are comfortable to read and navigate. You won’t have to flip back and forth a bunch.
Readability/Story/Context: I enjoyed reading this book, as Jeff is a seasoned storyteller with a wonderful sense of humor. So, rather than skipping over the recipe intros and anecdotes, I took the time to read them with pleasure. I enjoyed the family stories and history. The sprinkles of nostalgia help showcase a slice-of-life of an Italian-American family, but also how Jeff merges past, present, and various travel inspirations in his recipe development and food life.
Recipes and Cookability: This book embodies great variety and broad appeal, even for picky eaters. I don’t feel as if any of the dishes were too complicated. If I had to rate it for cookability, I can safely say that an advanced beginner would have no problem with any of the recipes. From past experience, the Greek Lemon Chicken and Orzo Bake and General Tso’s Chicken Sandwiches are already staples in our house. I’m going to try his dry-brined turkey for “Friendsgiving” next weekend, which, if it works, would be a welcome change from my gallons-of-brine-ordeal that is my traditional Thanksgiving turkey. I also placed the Citrusy Honey-Tequila Shrimp on deck this week as well. I think that the words “tasty” and “accessible” dominate my opinion of the majority of these recipes, though the dessert/baking chapter was not my favorite.
The Verdict: If you don’t watch The Kitchen, this is a definite buy. If you already watch the show, it’s worth flipping through at your local bookstore to evaluate if you are going to be bothered with a few of recipes being repeats (even with the small tweaks). As a fan, it still was a good addition to my library, so final verdict is a “thumbs up” all around. Worth the time and dinero.
**Remember, my blog is not sponsored or monetized in any way. No link in my posts is an affiliate link, and these ideas are all my own. None of these companies know who I am, and all of this is crap I buy with my own dang money. I’m just not that cool, y’all**
During what would have been Mardi Gras Break, we ended up taking a quick trip up to Utah with the Heathens. Which coincidently, we made it up to the snow just as Snowmageddon hit Louisiana. With G-Man in college, it’s rare that he gets a break that coincides with his siblings, so we wanted to do something as a family when we could. I’m not too familiar with Utah at all, nor do we have any experience with winter sports/activities, so we just kind of winged it. Here’s a rundown of what we did, where we ate, and what we learned.
I felt wayyyyy too intimidated to try and plan a ski outing on our first trip. We would need (I think) equipment, lessons, and as warm-blooded southerners to the core, I already had to spend the big bucks on cold-weather gear. Seriously, the heaviest coat I own is a fleece hoodie, so outfitting everyone with coats, boots, pants, etc. was a project. But seriously, skiing seems like something that you don’t just try on a whim, and we probably would have needed the “complete idiots guide” or something. When you have never even driven in snow, hurtling down a mountain and busting my uncoordinated ass didn’t feel like the best way to start the vacation.
However, we still had a blast in Park City. We started the day at Park City Peaks, where we went on a two hour snowmobile excursion. The ranch is located about a 20-25 minute drive from town, and their trails are amazing. We started by driving to a practice area to get the feel of the snowmobiles. G-Man drove one by himself, I drove one with Bear riding on back, and the husband drove the third with Bean. (We did let Bear and Bean drive a little in the practice area, but not on the trails or up the mountain). If you have never driven one, I will say it took a bit of strength to steer and keep on course, and we certainly felt some soreness the next day. We went through backwoods trails, up the mountain and back down again. Two hours was PLENTY of time, and felt longer, but everyone had a blast. We were careful to dress appropriately in multiple layers, waterproof boots and outerwear, gloves, and googles. They provided helmets and the guide was super-nice. I’d definitely do it again.
After a quick lunch, we then moved on to Woodward Park City to go snowtubing. This destination also has skiing, snowboarding, and such, but I just purchased a two hour pass for the tubing. Luckily, they have a conveyor belt type of escalator to help you get to the top of the hill, and also a smaller hill available for younger kids. We loved it, especially going down the hill together as we held onto each other’s tubes. I wish I had pictures, but I was more focused on keeping my gloves on and my hands warm.
While we wanted to eat dinner in Park City, and even had reservations, we were worn out after tubing and headed back to the hotel. However, if you are planning a trip, I highly recommend planning dining reservations in advance. Even with almost two weeks lead-time, most of my “first pick” dining options were booked up already, or only had super-late seating available. In fact, this was pretty much the case for most places we went on this trip.
SLC and Surrounding Areas
Beyond our snow adventures, we did some exploring around the SLC area. The kids loved K1 racing, which was basically indoor go-carts on steroids, and I enjoyed the Natural History Museum. We also checked out some record shops (Sound & Vison Vinyl was the favorite), yarn shops (Blazing Needles was awesome and welcoming), and the City Creek Center for shopping.
As for food, here’s a quick summary:
We dined at the Red Iguana, which has been featured on Food Network. We enjoyed it, and I will definitely go back. They had a menu full of authentic Mexican dishes, but also plenty of options that are more familiar for those who expect “Tex-Mex”, *cough, cough* like my kids. (In Louisiana, Tex-Mex dominates, so I loved experiencing new-to-me flavors and dishes). Again, get reservations in advance, because they stay packed.
We checked out the Strap Tank Brewery and Squatters Pub Brewery, both of which offered typical pub food. Both had plenty of options for our diverse group of eaters, like sandwiches, burgers, pizzas, steaks, etc.
The kids and I had a hearty breakfast at Black Bear Diner, which is a chain I was unfamiliar with. It had a large menu of typical diner fare, and is a good spot for families. I really liked the waffle.
For date night, the husband and I went to Cultivate Craft Kitchen, which we love. The menu is creative and seasonal, and we sampled the Toffee Brie, English Chips, Risotto, and great cocktails. Highly recommend, but probably not a good place for kids, hence the whole date night thing.
After loving Cultivate, we all went to its sister restaurant, Cliff Dining Pub the next night. This is more family friendly but still has an upscale atmosphere. Everyone really enjoyed this spot, and we will be back.
So, overall, the trip was a fun break for us, and I can see giving skiing a try next time. I think the area is fairly easy to navigate, though be prepared to walk forrrr—-evvvvv—errrrr in the new airport. That was a workout! For this Louisiana girl, the liquor laws are a head-scratcher, but everyone we met was soooo nice. If you have any must-see/do/eat suggestions for next time, please leave a comment. We only hit up what I threw together in a quick google search, so I’d love to know what to add, especially in warmer weather seasons. I highly recommend getting dining reservations in advance, as well as attraction tickets (the Natural History museum is on limited entry, so you have to buy tickets in advance).
Now, it’s back to virtual learning, spring cleaning, and knowing that just when we get settled in, Daylight Savings Time will be here to mess it all up again. Send margaritas, stat!
**Just a reminder–This post is not sponsored, and any included links are NOT affiliate links. My blog is not monetized, and these are places I went and spent my own money.**
**Remember, my blog is not sponsored or monetized in any way. No link in my posts is an affiliate link, and these ideas are all my own. None of these companies know who I am, and all of this is crap I buy with my own dang money. I’m just not that cool, y’all**
The husband has recovered (mostly) from the ‘Rona, and through careful quarantining, the kids and I did not contract the virus. He has pretty sick there for a while, and is dealing with a lingering cough and fatigue, but we got lucky. Thanks for the well wishes.
So, as I have been shopping for the holidays and planning for the new year, I thought I pass along some of the things that I really enjoyed this year (other than the endless warmth of the 2020 dumpster fire).
I really love Knife Aid. It’s like the Netflix of knife sharpening. You pick how many you want sharpened and they send you the materials to pack up your knives and mail them in. Then, they send them back to you perfectly sharpened. It’s only about a week in turnaround time and very convenient. I have used them twice, including last month.
I love OXO containers. My pantry is out of control, and these are helping me tame the chaos. I still want more.
A bluetooth meat thermometer was game changer. Yes, I use it when smoking meat, but I also use it for so much more. For example. I used this on Thanksgiving for the turkey, which meant I could watch the temp in real time, and also not lose heat from constantly opening and closing the oven to check on the bird. I also use it for cooking roasts, prime rib, chicken and more. You can go about your day without worrying that you are going to overcook an expensive piece of meat or undercook the poultry.
I am totally OBSESSED with this one. So, it’s basically a murder-mystery subscription box you get each month, but think of it like a limited tv series with episodes. One “season” lasts a few months, or you can purchase past “seasons”/mysteries in their entirety. You get all kinds of clues and documents to investigate, but they also have cool online components to enrich the experience. We are currently working our way though the Blair Witch season and the Cadence Theater season. If you are stuck in quarantine, pouring over clues in order to catch a killer is a great way to pass the time.
I am in love with Hue-It Hand Dyed Fibers. This local-to-me Louisiana artist specializes in small-batch dying, and has an incredible portfolio of colorways. Most of her stuff sells out fast but she takes preorders if you missed out on a colorway. I recently snatched up a couple of skeins that are just waiting for the right pattern to come along.
My neighbors gifted me this book after we had a mini-Thanksgiving this summer (they are in our “pod/quarantine bubble”). This book is LEGIT cool. These recipes are not for those looking for basic pies. These guys compete around the country and their ideas are complete bananas. Favorites so far are the Strawberry Margarita Pie and the Caramel Popcorn Pie.
This cookbook was written by the founder of the Mosquito Supper Club restaurant in New Orleans. It’s beautifully shot and showcases Louisiana food traditions that are slowing being lost. If you have any interest an authentic Louisiana cuisine, this needs to be in your library.
So, my go-to recipe software, Living Cookbook quietly went out of business and has basically ghosted it’s customers. So, I spent part of the year test-driving Cook’n, MasterCook, and Paprika, which came out the clear winner. I think it was the easiest to learn/use out of the three, and with a more intuitive interface. I was able to import my Living Cookbook files, though I will say that some things did get lost in translation. I had to go back and check each recipe to correct some things that got garbled in the transfer, but the same thing happened with the other two as well. Otherwise, I’m happy using it, and very grateful for the cloud sharing ability.
This herb stripper was featured on Food Network’s The Kitchen, and host Sunny Anderson loved it so much she immediately said she was taking it home with her. I LOVE this. It strips those pesky thyme and rosemary leaves off of their stems in two seconds flat.
It’s Friday, and I am still in the trenches of what we call the May Gauntlet around here. This month consists of three of my family of five’s birthdays, Mother’s Day, another trip to Science Olympiad Nationals for the Hubs and Bear after winning State, Confirmations, graduations, finals for G-Man, driving test for G-man, and yet another week-long business trip for the Hubs. I am, in a word, overdone.
Meanwhile, I’ve been sneaking in crafting, reading, and knitting time in at every possible moment, lest I allow my “End-of-the-year-and-I’m-over-it attitude” to spew out all over innocent bystanders. While I know I will probably want to let my kids run away and join a circus within two weeks of summer vacation, the prospect of a break from carpool lines, packing lunches, the daily uniform search/6 a.m. emergency washing panic, and unplanned trips to the school because I forgot it was our snack day (again), is the only thing separating me from insanity.
Anyway, here’s a few things I have been really into this week:
I just finished The Wishing Thread by Lisa Van Allen. Magic realism and knitting? Sign me up. I am a big fan of Sarah Addison Allen, so this seemed right up my alley. Overall, it’s a cute book, and one that I enjoyed. The narrative of the family ties, local lore, the subtle magic, and hope all made this a nice, pleasant read. If you just want a light, feel-good read similar to Addison Allen’s works, this is a good option.
I love Rick Bragg, who, among his numerous writing accolades, also has his essays featured in Southern Living every month. I’m only about a quarter of the way through this, but I am so totally in love with it. His writing brings to life the essence of the times and influences that defined my grandparents and parents (both good and bad). I started this on Mother’s Day morning, and it felt like a bittersweet balm on my soul. It reminds me of cooking with my mom, and all the stories she would tell of our grandparents and cousins, and the recipes that were simply learned by doing. I still suck at this whole grief thing, especially since I got the grief sandwich going on, but this book reminds me that the stories and traditions mean they will always be with me.
This orzo salad from Food Network definitely wins our dang tasty seal of approval. While I skip the red onion because picky eaters gonna pick, the recipe is perfect for a cool summer side dish (very important when we will reach nearly 100 degrees next week). A couple of notes on this one–I just mix the whole shebang together rather than this pointless staging. You would have to mix it before serving anyway, and artistic efforts are lost on The Heathens. Also, I have a possibly controversial view on pasta salad recipes. I always make 1.5 times of the dressing that any pasta salad recipe calls for, if not 2 times because they always end up drier than I want if I follow the recipe. Thus far, my over-doing-it on pasta salad sauce (for creamy-type sauces) hasn’t steered me wrong. You could also add rotisserie chicken to this for a complete meal, but if so, I would definitely double the sauce just to be safe. No one ever said “My Pasta Salad is too creamy.” If they did, you should seriously side-eye them.
Time to fortify myself for the last week of school. That means whiskey, in case you didn’t know.
Sooooooooo, after lusting after the Workbox 3.0 from the Original Scrapbox, we finally bit the bullet and ordered one. Considering the hefty price tag on this item, it really is an investment that you need to feel confident about, and that you are making for the right reasons. Here are the contributing factors that tipped the decision to purchase this into the “yes” category.
I am a big crafter. I knit, I sew a bit, I embroider, I recently fell down the Cricut rabbit hole, and I make candles.
My yarn stash and craft supplies overtook my closet, under my bed, parts of the garage, the laundry room, and more. I spent far too much time digging through these areas to find stuff, which made projects take longer than necessary. It also sucked the fun out of the process
I do not have a craft room or space for one in my house, nor do I have a desk or office.
Any crafting required me to drag out sometimes heavy stuff to the kitchen table, which made the prospect of working on a project seem burdensome.
I wanted my closet back and you will pry my yarn stash from me at risk to your own life, so don’t even suggest downsizing.
After a lot of hemming and hawing, as well as review research, I ordered one. I decided on the black beadboard model and added the crown accessory (which is the crown molding on top with an included light kit.)
The first thing you need to know is that it’s at least a six to eight week turnaround time from order to delivery, so you could be waiting two months to get the product. Secondly, this ships in a large crate which has to be delivered by a professional freight service, and they will only put it in your driveway. You have to be home for delivery, and it better not be on a rainy day, because you will need to crowbar open the crate, and then you must carry about 30 boxes and container stacks into your house asap. I highly encourage you to talk to the freight company when they call if you have any concerns about a giant truck being able to get to your location and offload a large crate without incident.
Also, while the assembly instructions are pretty good, you will still need several hours and you really can’t do this without two people, so plan ahead for that. We ran into problems with damaged pieces (which I will get into in a minute), but had we not, this still would have taken the Hubs and me about two days to assemble, working in 3-4 hour increments.
Let’s get into the concerning aspects of my experience. When I opened the crate, none of the plastic bins were broken, but most had scuff marks on them. They were not packaged separately in the crate, and were only protected by paper between them to prevent sticking in their stacks (though some still stuck together and had to be finessed apart). I am still amazed I managed to separate them without breakage. Most of the cabinet pieces appeared intact, but Scrapbox provides a jar of touch-up paint, so they clearly anticipate items getting damaged in shipping. Given the price-point, that was kind of a raised eyebrow moment for me.
With so many boxes and pieces, it was impossible for me to open and inspect every item immediately. The boxes alone overtook my entire dining room, so we just started with assembly. If you have a small home or space, this process will overtake much more area than you think, because you will have boxes and pieces everywhere.
The boxes are labeled very well with numbers, as are almost all of the pieces, so Scrapbox has put in a lot of effort to make assembly as easy as possible for a piece of this size. That was a plus. However, we got about 1/4 through the assembly when the first problem cropped up:
These two pieces of the center component were broken when we opened it’s box. I emailed customer service, and they sent replacements. However, this took a little over a week, so I had a 1/4 finished Workbox with parts spread across my house, making my dining room unusable and my bedroom a maze. When the pieces finally came in, we resumed assembly and made it almost to the finish line. I wish that they offered expedited shipping for these issues, because, as you will read, it only got worse.
Then, we unboxed the crown addition, and it was cracked and unusable. I emailed customer service again, and again, they sent a replacement (another week+ delay and house in chaos), and guess what?
That’s what I saw as soon as I opened the box. So, we are now nearly a month in of trying to assemble this thing (after waiting nearly two months for it), two broken crown units later, and I am not happy. My husband is VERY not happy. In addition to this, I will say that generally, my customer service experience was good, but I did have to prod for follow ups or answers as this dragged on, which did not help my frustration level.
The next crown unit came, and praise Jeebus, it was intact! We finally finished assembly and I could actually see the conclusion of the project that would never end. Now, let’s take a look at my Workbox 3.0:
Above is the unit fully open, with desk extended, and the light on. A quick note on the plastic bins–every single bin has optional inserts or dividers that are included. So, you can divide the taller bins into sections for even more storage options, and the inserts for the larger, flatter drawers are perfect for notions. I am very happy with the level of optional customization without additional purchases. I can constantly re-work the bins and shelves to adjust to my needs. The light in the crown kit is nice and bright, and I like the finished look of the crown molding. However, it’s up to you on whether that is enough reason to spend that much extra. After the drama of the crown kit, I am still getting over my frustration. However, I definitely needed the light in my darker room. Now, lets look into the specifics:
Before I open the cabinet fully, there’s space on the backside for my Cricut mats, which is handy. You can hang anything on these that is fairly flat. I used small Command hooks. I will also hang up my fabric rulers on the other door at a later date.
The right door has a panel of Velcro zipper pockets, and a series of larger and smaller shelves/bins. I am using them for yarn, and am still working on loading up the smaller bins.
This is the top of the center panel. I have my bins stuffed with my Cricut vinyl, embroidery supplies, fabric, glue guns, paper, and more. The drawers host miscellaneous stuff.
The desk folds out easily, though the legs can be tough to fold up if they are feeling sticky. There is plenty of room in the desk cubby for my Cricut Maker and my Cricut Easy Press. If you do Cricut or similar devices, this is a big bonus for accessibility.
Below the desk, I store my sewing machine, ball winder and swift, my knitting needle binder, and pattern magazines.
On the left door, I store more yarn, more needles, some works in progress, Cricut tools, paints, and still have plenty of room for more. There are optional rods for easy ribbon dispensing, but I don’t need those at this time. I am still working on organization, but I have plenty of room to grow and adjust.
**Note** I did not put my candle supplies in here. Between the scents, dyes, and waxes, these materials can cause a lot of damage if they co-mingle with other stuff, so I keep those in the laundry room and isolated.
I’ve spent a lot of time crafting the past couple of weeks, and here’s what I think.
It’s basically a craft room in an armoire, because it looks nice and offers a functional workspace in smaller environments. This really was a perfect solution for me.
It solved almost all of my craft storage and workspace challenges.
Endless customization means this can change and evolve with my needs.
All the bins and dividers come with it, as well as the Velcro zipper pouches, so you are not just buying the cabinet, you are getting all of the components as well, which factors into the price value.
I can start and stop projects quickly and easily because my materials are within arms’ reach.
I get an incredible sense of satisfaction being able to see and access my materials in an instant, rather than dig storage bins from underneath my bed or risk a concussion pulling down my sewing machine from the closet shelf. I get a certain mental boost being surrounded by a perfectly organized craft room I can tuck away in seconds.
It makes me happy,
You could be looking at weeks/months from order to final assembly.
Scrapbox still needs to work on their quality control, especially when it comes to shipping. The jar of touch-up paint demonstrates that they know you will likely encounter damage. At this price point and time investment, I think they could do better, especially when it’s particle board and not solid wood.
Customer service starts great but may need prodding if your issue lasts longer than the initial encounter. Despite small delays, I believe the service is still good and my perceptions need to be taken in context of my extended experience and frustrations. Additionally, I wish they expedited shipping after my assembly dragged out so long due to damaged goods.
Delivery offers potential challenges to people who live in apartments, small homes, rural areas, and more. If delivery seems expensive, it’s because an actual freight company is delivering a giant crate on a forklift. You have to factor this in when considering your purchase.
Pay attention to the dimensions and measure your space. This may be as wide and tall as many armoires, but it’s also twice as deep, not to mention the room needed to open the doors to full extension. If you need to, cut ribbon or paper strips to help you layout a visual example of the dimensions. It’s bigger than you think.
Take pictures of any and all damage, from the crate upon delivery to any damaged pieces you encounter. After the second crown was delivered, I had my camera ready and took numerous pictures of the box on my porch and it’s condition, the damage observed as soon as I opened the box, and the open and broken light kit within the box. This not only helped resolve the issue with Scrapbox, but they thanked me because it could help them with shipping insurance issues.
Do not assume you can assemble this by yourself or quickly. It’s a project, though it’s not difficult. Manage your assembly expectations and you will be ok.
Be honest about why you are buying this and the cost. For me, the cost really was worth the utility it brings, the solutions it offers, and I use it every day. I was lacking in storage and hating spending 10-15 minutes dragging out my equipment and materials across the house before even starting a project. If you have a viable solution for a craft space outside of this, I encourage you to explore that first (unless you have the expendable income to buy this at will). Don’t buy it because it looks cool. Buy it because the you are honest about the cost-benefit analysis. The cost for most people means that it needs to be a true solution, and not just a whim.
So, there ya have it. I bought the thing, I hated the process of finishing the thing, but I now love the thing. If you have any questions, leave a comment and I’ll be happy to help!
**just a reminder. My blog is not sponsored or monetized. This my own review of an item I paid for myself at full price. Original Scrapbox doesn’t know me other than the headache I brought to their customer service. My review is mine alone. If you see any ad on my blog, that’s from WordPress, and I have no control over whether or not you see an ad or its content. That’s free blogging, yo. **
To kick off the first installment of CCTT, I decided to play it fairly safe and select a recipe I was reasonably sure everyone in this house would eat. (For info about my CCTT project, read here).
This recipe comes from Cotton Country, which was published by The Junior League of Monroe, Louisiana in 1972. The book includes over 1000 recipes, and this particular recipe was submitted by Mrs. Armand E. Breard.
I made this following the directions exactly, and both the husband and the Heathens liked it. You really never can go wrong with a good broccoli rice casserole, and this version is a tasty, basic recipe that is also quick and easy to throw together.
**For CCTT, I will post the recipe exactly as written in the cookbook, but provide my notes and interpretations at the end.**
ProcedureIn a large skillet, sauté the onions and celery in butter until the vegetables are clear. Cook broccoli according to package directions; drain well. Mix broccoli with soup and cheese; add celery and onions. Stir in rice; season and mix well. Put into a greased casserole and top with bread crumbs. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes. This cam be mixed ahead and frozen.
I used a package of steam-in-the-bag frozen broccoli and I think it was about 10 or 12 ounces
You can easily substitute cream of celery in this
I used Cheese Whiz, and I think a small jar is about 8 ounces. If you can’t find a small jar, just use half of the 15-ounce jar. If you go with grated cheese, NEVER use pre-shredded cheese in casseroles and sauces. The anti-caking agent they put on pre-shredded cheese to prevent sticking also prevents it from melting evenly and you won’t get the best result in any recipe.
I only added a couple of dashes of Tabasco to keep the Heathens from fussing too much.
I’d say I probably added 3/4 tsp. salt and 1/2 tsp. of pepper for the seasoning, but just play it by ear.
When she says “clear” in reference to the veggies, she just means translucent/softened.
You can use seasoned breadcrumbs for this or plain.
Usually, the term “casserole” means a 9×13 dish, but when I added the mixture, it ended up being a pretty thin layer in the pan. Next time, I will use a smaller dish or double the recipe.
This would be a great potluck dish or side for a big gathering.
You could turn this into a full meal by adding cooked chicken, but I would consider increasing the sauce by half to accommodate the chicken.
***Insert meaningful and insightful intro here…or not***
Before my mom passed away, she amassed quite the cookbook collection, many of which she inherited from her mother, or were gifts from the dozens of cousins, aunts, etc. that make up my huge, southern, zany extended family. And that’s where this post and the new series on my blog begins…
I remember spending hours flipping through those books, and not really understanding all of the history they contained, or what they represented to my mother. I would sit at her small, marble-topped kitchen table, turning the wrinkled, dog-eared pages while she miraculously bent our tiny, galley kitchen to her culinary will. Often, she’d pause mid-dinner prep to wash my cornsilk-like hair in the sink, setting a towel on the edge to cradle my neck before sending me off to a proper bath.
I always knew when she was feeling particularly down or frustrated, because that’s when she would fry chicken. After I had kids, she confessed that cooking our traditional fried chicken dinner (with rice, gravy, peas, and biscuits…preferably with mayhaw jelly), was a mental and emotional escape. She found that cooking that meal was the closest connection she could find to her own childhood memories, as well as a unique therapy when tackling the more difficult of life’s challenges.
When we moved to California, Mom was alone in a new place with no family and support system, which looking back, must have been incredibly lonely for her. Sometimes, her loneliness seemed like an invisible raincloud that blanketed our home, and she retreated to the kitchen like it was the only connection to her family and sense of home she could find. I also remember that, during these low periods, she pulled out the same few cookbooks from her collection, which were published works from the assorted regional chapters of Louisiana’s Junior League, churches, or other community cookbooks.
When she wanted to try something new, those were the books she looked to for a familiar foundation. Unlike a nationally published cookbook full of glossy photographs of culinary perfection, Mom was more inclined to try a new recipe that she knew came from the communities of her home state (as well as what came from her mother’s and aunts’ generation), and I think these books helped ease the homesickness that seemed to be her constant companion during those years. Other than the familiar recipes and techniques of her up-bringing, any recipe experiments began with a foray into those collections for research she felt she could trust. Looking back, I see that they were more like dictionaries and encyclopedias for a generation that wouldn’t see accessible internet or even unlimited long-distance calls for many years to come
By the time I was in middle school, I knew that the chocolate pie recipe I liked was in The Revel, the Christmas cookie recipe was in Cotton Country, and if I could not remember which recipes she had tried, I could always see her handwritten code in the margins to clue me in (a “check-plus-plus” meant she really liked it). I didn’t realize until we moved home, and I had spent more time with my extended family, that the various Louisiana Junior League and community cookbooks from that era were staples in every kitchen. Growing up in southern California, I did not realize how much community cookbooks were such an ingrained part of our Louisiana culture.
Unfortunately, I don’t have access to Mom’s cookbook collection, so when I stumbled across a copy of Cotton Country at a local bookstore, I snatched it up and ran to the register like I was Indiana Jones avoiding that whole boulder issue. What is amazing about the iconic cookbooks of the various chapters of the Louisiana Junior League (published in the 60’s and 70’s) and local churches, is that they continue to be staples in many of our homes, which is why I was able to find this one. For example, Cotton Country was published in 1972 by the Junior League of Monroe, with a first printing of 10,000 copies. Since that time, the book has gone through 21 additional printings, with some topping 60,000 copies per printing, and the most recent being 5,000 in 2016. The book I purchased is identical to the original publication, with the only upgrade being a hardback binding that replaced the annoying comb binding. The book has no photographs, hundreds of recipes, lots of original artwork, and demonstrates just how much a labor of love these books were for their creators. I remarked to my husband about how much work these books were for local communities, because they were complied long before we had computers and software to streamline the process. From the meticulous index to the sheer volume of recipes, I imagine this book, and those like it, was a momentous undertaking and a great source of pride for the women who created it.
As I flip through the recipes, they seem like a microcosm of a by-gone era, both good and bad. I see how much they focused on entertaining (some have notes “will feed 25 for appetizers, or 12 for entrees”), which is something I think we all could use a little more of (entertaining, that is). I feel like the more digitally connected we get, the less meaningfully connected we become to our friends and neighbors, and that a little real togetherness could do us all some good. These books also often give the ambiguous language of seasoned cooks (“just add to your taste”), which definitely reminds me of the women in my family, and why growing the confidence in cooking through experience is important in familial development.
However, along with all the feel-good nostalgia, I also know that these books also reflect the imbalances of race, gender, and socioeconomic classes that were just as much a part of those decades as beautiful Crab Mornay in elegant silver chafing dishes. In fact, each recipe in my recent purchase features the contributors’ names not as their own, but as a subset of their husbands. For example, rather than see “Mrs. Ann Smith,” you see “Mrs. John Smith,” a tradition that luckily seems to have faded slowly as modern South catches up. If anyone ever tried to call me “Mrs. Bayou-Husband,” I’d probably snort my cocktail right out of my nose. I well know that as charming as many of these books are, and the nostalgia they trigger, we could uncover an entire underlying narrative of racial and class dynamics that deserves acknowledgement, and that I could never do the justice that it deserves.
So, let’s circle back around to what this post is really about. A couple of months ago, I lost my father suddenly, and without warning. I’m trying to process the year-after-year grief sandwich life keeps serving me, losing my grandmother, mother, and father in such a short, successive time. After Mom died, that grief was like acid, eating away at me and it’s pretty much been a self-pity party ever since. This was a trauma I did, and do not, handle well. Except for those times when I kick myself in reminder that I am so blessed, it’s ridiculous. I wallow, but I also kick my own ass nearly everyday because perspective is the first step to a more graceful approach to the grief sandwich digestion project.
I think one of the most difficult parts of losing both parents is that I also feel like I lost a connection to my grandparents, because my parents helped keep their histories alive through their own stories and memories (though I was truly blessed to have my grandmother on Dad’s side live to see all of her great-grandchildren born and to be here for me into my mid-30’s). My mom regaled me of stories of her mom, including that she was a master sewer though my mom could not sew a stitch. I’m scared that I’ll lose those pieces in the telling of the stories to my own kids, and that they lost their own maternal grandparents at such a young age, when I had most of mine into my late teens to 30’s. I had the village. My kids’ village has shrunk in ways they will never know how to miss, but it also encourages me to embrace what’s still here.
I decided that one way to try and prevent an even deeper dive into the unhealthy grief sandwich starts with these cookbooks that defined so much of both my mom’s life, but also all the people in my crazy, zany, lovable family. Both Mom and Dad carried emotional weights from their own upbringings, and I want to learn from what worked and what didn’t. As a crafter, cook, and general maker, of course my approach starts with “PROJECT!!!”
I’m starting a new segment on the blog called “Community Cookbook Throwback Thursday” in which I will make a recipe from an old Junior League, church, or otherwise community cookbook close to me. You will see an unvarnished attempt at the recipe of the week, even if it fails epically, as well as my notes on how to translate the vague portions and directions into coherent words for an actually repeatable recipe.
So, if you actually managed to read this, you get a gold star! Stay tuned for culinary adventures and plenty of mishaps. And maybe, by the end of this little or big experiment, grief won’t be quite such a four-letter word. No promises there, but I promise a good cocktail along the way.
After spending an inordinate amount of time shopping online yesterday, I was ready to hit the ground running today and spend some money locally. Not 15 minutes after dropping the kids off, the school called and Bean is sick again…sigh. We had to take her to the ER a couple of weeks ago, so the fact that she is sick again so soon is frustrating.
Anyway, if I can’t get my Christmas shopping on, I can have a cocktail and give you some gift ideas for the knitter or fiber enthusiast in your life:
A yarn club subscription. I recently posted about my love of Yarnbox, but there are dozens of suppliers to choose from. This makes a great gift because most knitters are yarn-obsessed and who doesn’t like a treat in the mail? These can be on the more expensive side, but they are definitely a thoughtful gift that all but the Grinchiest knitter will love.2. Knitter’s Pride Knit Blockers. These things are the bomb, and most knitters would love it set or two. They help save time and create more even edges. I have a set, and I swear by them. Good prices too for a mid-range gift. I think one set will set you back about 25 bucks.3. Cute knitting-themed shirts or mugs. These can be easy stocking stuffers, or a super-affordable gift if you are in a situation where you need to spend under a certain amount, like an office gift exchange. You can find these at places like Knit Picks, Café Press, and Etsy.4. Cute stitch markers. I go through a lot of stitch markers, and I am always in need of more. Etsy is definitely the place to look for a fun selection, and you will be supporting handcrafters as well. These are usually affordable, and can be a great individual gift or an add-on.5. A handmade yarn bowl. Again, Etsy would be the place to look for these. They come in so many styles, which means you can find one to fit even the most eccentric knitter’s personality. 6. Personalized tags for knitters. I love adding a personal touch to my gift knitting (for those who have not been booted off the knit-worthy island), and these are not something that most people will splurge on consistently. As a southern girl, I love all things personalized and would monogram alllllllll the things if my expendable income allowed such.7. Along those lines, these types of knitting tags offer a cute way to alert people of the fiber content and washing instructions. Mighty handy, and again, just not something many knitters have lying around.8. As always, a gift certificate to your local yarn store is never a miss. If you don’t have a local yarn store in your area, look at online options, especially hand-dyers. Just avoid certificates to big-box stores because their selection is rather limited for a real fiber enthusiast.
Now, for the cautionary part. Most knitters always have their eye on new needle sets, knitting bags, spinning wheels, yarn kits, or other high-dollar accessories. Trust me, every knitter out there has a wish list in the back of their minds. However, like most people who are passionate about our hobby, we are also VERY PICKY about our core tools. While these make great gifts if they are on your knitter’s wish list, you need to be sure that you know exactly what they want while shopping. For example, I cannot stand knitting with bamboo needles, so brand new expensive set of bamboo interchangeable needles would totally miss the mark. So, if you can get your hands on intel about what they specifically want, go for it! Otherwise, play it safe. If you do want to invest in a big-ticket wish list item, you want to be sure that it’s right, which makes you awesome-sauce!
**Remember, these ideas are mine and mine alone. No one pays me or gives me crap, because I’m just not that cool. There’s no links or affiliate business going on up in here. Also, if you do see an ad on my blog, that’s from WordPress, not me and I have no control over that deal**
Hey Y’all. I am going to leave the below post as is, but I wanted to update and let you know that, unfortunately, I have become unhappy with the direction Yarnbox has taken over the past few months and am cancelling my subscription. There’s been a lot of changes in the company (under newer management), their practices, customer interactions, and Ravelry community culture. They also have consistent logistical problems with the site and shipping. I’m not going to go into particulars, but there is extensive discussions about these issues in a few Ravelry groups. My decision to cancel comes from the recent trend of populating new boxes with their overstock from previous months or their other subscriptions. I wanted to update you, because if you are researching a yarn club treat for yourself, I can no longer recommend Yarnbox at this time. I hope they get past the hiccups they are experiencing. In the meantime, I may reconsider giving Knitcrate another try, but if you have a yarn subscription you’d recommend, I’d love to hear about it. Remember, my opinions are my own, no one pays me or gives me free stuff, and I got no skin in the yarn business game. I just want to update you that, for now, me and Yarnbox are breaking up.
So, earlier this year, the husband and the Heathens gifted me a 3-month subscription to Yarnbox, which is a monthly box subscription for knitters/crocheters. I love yarn, and I love getting packages, so this was the absolute perfect gift. After my three months was up, I wanted to branch out and see if other subscriptions were just as satisfying, so I gave Knitcrate a try for a couple of months. Ultimately, I cancelled that one and went back to Yarnbox.
(Note, I subscribe to Yarnbox classic, and since cancelling my Knitcrate, they have changed their plans so my old subscription would now be considered the Artisan crate, which looks like it has come down in price since then.)
So, what’s the appeal of a yarn subscription? I get to try new yarns that are not typically at my LYS, and discover something new every month. However, before I go into why I favor the Yarnbox, here’s the points of comparison I started with because all of us fiber geeks are as diverse in preference as it gets:
The Yarn–I want to see quality and quantity for the price, and I think Yarnbox wins out (see below). I like variety as well. Yarnbox lets you set some preferences about colors, yarn weights, etc., so you can better tailor what you will get to your taste. For example, you can say “never send me brown yarn,” if you have a hate on for brown. To my knowledge, Knitcrate does not let you set any preferences, but this could have changed since I cancelled. I believe both boxes sell any leftovers so you can snag an extra hank if you love something and want a bigger project’s worth of yarn.
Patterns–Both boxes come with a couple of patterns. For some, this is part of the value, but not for me. I am super picky about patterns, and I don’t waste time knitting a pattern I’m lukewarm about. Ravelry is my playground when it comes to pattern hunting. If you place a big emphasis on the patterns that come in these boxes, you should check out their respective groups on Ravelry to get a feel for them.
Extras–Knitcrate Artisan came with a small extra or two each month. Yarnbox typically does not, though they did include a Soak sample (wool wash) in last month’s box.
Cost/Value–They are about the same (now, not when I had Knitcrate), though Yarnbox offers discounts for pre-purchased subscriptions, rather than month-to-month, but this is immaterial to me since I do month-to-month.
So, let’s take a look at some of my Yarnboxes:
These are just a few, but each month, I feel like I’m getting introduced to new yarns, new companies, and the quality and yardage for the cost is great. I’ve only been disappointed one month out of about seven, but that was more about my personal taste. Also, I get lots of colors but never anything I hate.
My first month of Knitcrate came with a cute keychain charm, a wooden llama needle gauge, and here was the yarn:
Don’t let the picture fool you, these are pretty small hanks, though they are of good quality, (for comparison, this Knitcrate provided 340 yards of sport weight yarn, while the above Yarnbox with the purple Sugar Bush Bliss was 525 yards of sport weight ). Also, they come from a very well-known company with wide distribution. The next month seemed more promising with two bigger hanks and…scissors. But dear lort, the color:
Trust me, it’s a lot brighter than the picture looks, and just not me. However, I was happy with the quality and discovering a new yarn brand that wasn’t such a big player, so it definitely was more of what I expected than the first month.
So, after a couple of months, I realized I was underwhelmed by my Knitcrates. I think the notions idea is cute, but in reality, it’s stuff I don’t need. I have 25 pairs of scissors and about 10 needle gauges (especially since all my interchangeable needles have one included). I’d rather put those dollars toward more yarn than on the chance of really redundant accessories.
Remember, patterns are not on my priority list, so both boxes are equal in that aspect. What sealed the deal was the chance that I would be paying for yarn that was just too far outside of my preferences. Also, at the time, my Knitcrate Artisan was about 10 bucks more a month than my Yarnbox, but I think they have since lowered the price, so take that for what it’s worth.
Ultimately, I think Yarnbox appeals to me because I feel like I get great new yarns, learn about new companies/indie operations, and I get to have some preferences while maintaining the surprise. So, take my opinion with a grain of salt, and I’m going to get back to my knitting.
***The usual disclaimer: Neither of these companies know me, because I’m just not that cool. My opinions here are all my own, and nobody gave me free stuff, or solicited my blog, or promised me a cameo in the next Kanye video. I just like talking about yarn…and food…and my abject hate for warm weather in November.***
We are deep in the heart of Mardi Gras season, which means lots of crawfish, parades, and King Cakes. When I’m not overindulging, I’m enjoying time with family and friends, making memories and celebrating everything good about my neck of the woods.
In the meantime, here’s a round up of the things I’m into this week, which are clearly food related given my current climate:
Watching: A Chef’s Life. I guess I am late to this PBS gem, but I now binge watch it on the weekends. The combination of a character-driven documentary that still focuses on southern food culture is like crack for peeps like me. If you need some inspiration for your own garden, this show also delivers on that front. Bonus: It’s free to watch online via PBS.
Reading: Speaking of which, I’m reading Deep Run Roots by Vivian Howard, the chef in the aforementioned show. This cookbook is an opus, and I love every page. I found it after hearing about the documentary, and it’s one of the most well-executed cookbooks I’ve seen in a long time. However, I will give the disclaimer that it’s more of a 40/60 balance between recipes for home cooks and wannabe chef/foodies, so flip through it before you buy. I’m really particular about the cookbooks I will drop cash on (versus online spelunking for recipes), so I understand if this brick isn’t for everyone.
Listening: I’ve gone down the podcast rabbit hole, and I was probably last to know about The Sporkful. I come from a family that talks about our next meal while we are eating the current cuisine, so I appreciate a podcast that constantly looks at food and culture with the same obsessive eye that we do.
So there ya have it. A snippet of my indulgence for your foodie pleasure. Back to the kitchen, and that leftover piece of King Cake.
**Disclaimer–This post was not sponsored in any way, and none of these people know who I am. I’m not that cool, dude, just tunnel-vision afflicted.**