Wednesday, September 26, 2012

DIY (do-it-yourself) Fall Projects

My mom is a very crafty and creative person. You can do a lot with a little if you encompass both of these qualities and she does just that.
She is also thrifty!
Take this pink paper mache letter, my mom bought this at a thrift store for $2. What would you do with it? She asked herself this question and then imagined and transformed the pink H into this
She simply spray painted the H with chalkboard paint and then let it dry before writing Fall and Halloween messages on it with chalk.
You would never guess what she used to make this fall wreath for our front door.
I will give you a wear them.
Ok I will tell you. She used men's ties. She found the ties for 15 cents at a store we love called Dirt Cheap. Her creative mind came up with a use them for. She strung the ties on florist wire and created a ruffle effect. She then secured them on the wreath. She added paper mache pumpkins to the wreath which she wrote with a fine point sharpy fall messages like Happy Fall Y'all. The M (for Miller) received a quick paint job that transformed it from white to red. Voila` the simple wreath was transformed to a beautiful fall wreath.
My mom is also adding fall plants to our front porch to go along with the fall decorations. She simply taped off a square with painter's tape on a clay pot she had. She was able to give this old pot some character.
Decorating for the fall does not have to be costly or difficult. Think outside of the box. Find those mystery box items (think of the Masterchef episodes when the contestants are given a mystery box of ingredients and transform them into a masterpiece of a meal) around your house and yard and then use them in creative ways. Most importantly, have fun! Be sure to take a moment and revel in your work.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

1st Birthday

John Michael McKenzie's 1st Birthday
Last Tuesday, my nephew celebrated his 1st birthday. My mom and I had not seen my sister, brother-in-law, and nephew in a month since their move to Shreveport, LA. We decided to drive there on his birthday to celebrate and spend the week. I decided before I left home that I would make John Michael a healthy smash cake. If you haven't heard of a smash cake, it is the cake specially made for the birthday boy/girl and he or she usually smashes into it. haha!

So for John Michael's cake I used my sweet potato-banana muffin recipe  but cut out the sweet potato part and added more banana I used mostly honey for sweetener and Greek yogurt to add moistness for some of the butter that I eliminated. JM loves bananas. He is our little monkey (:
I prepared the topping at my sister's house which was simply whipping cream I beat until soft peaks then whisked in some vanilla yogurt. I piped the "icing" onto his cake by cutting a slit into the corner of a zip top bag.
John Michael didn't quite know what to think of the cake so his daddy gave him a little taste of the "icing" and it was all over from there.
                                                       Needless to say he loved it!
On Saturday we had a birthday party for John Michael with my dad and younger sister and my brother-in-law's family. Again, I wanted to make John Michael a smash cake. My sister asked my mom to make the big cake which was a monkey cake to go along with the monkey theme of the party. I decided to make our little monkey a banana flavored but also shaped cake.
 For this cake, I baked a round cake and cut it into a peeled banana. For the "icing," I wanted it to hold better than just whipped cream so I beat whipping cream until soft peaks and added some Dream Whip as a stabilizer and a little powdered sugar for sweetness. I colored some of the "icing" yellow and some brown. It was so simple and easy to make and decorate his cake.
The monkey cake my mom made turned out so cute and most importantly it tasted good too.
 My crafty older sister made these jars to hold peanut candy (monkey food), m&ms (monkey poop), and twizzlers (monkey vines). She simply wrapped ribbon around each jar and placed a cut out circle from wrapping paper on top of it.  She then taped on the felt monkey head that she bought from a craft store. The whole expense of the craft project probably cost $12 which includes the price of the jars which came from Fred's dollar store.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Sweet Potatoes

Whether I am visiting a city for business or pleasure, experiencing the local cuisine is always on the agenda. My mom traveled with me this past weekend to Winston-Salem for the Bookmarks Festival. Last week, I just so happened to run into Robert St. John at one of his restaurants in Hattiesburg, MS. After telling him about my upcoming trip, he expressed that I needed to visit Sweet Potatoes restaurant. I was excited to get a recommendation before I even left and he had me at sweet potatoes, one of my favorite vegetables.

Fast forward to Friday night, all of the authors were invited to a meet and greet. Heavy appetizers were served, but Mom and I made sure to save room for dinner because we planned to visit Sweet Potatoes. Robert wasn't the only one to suggest the restaurant; almost everyone since my arrival to Winston-Salem had suggested it as well.

Sweet Potatoes is a Southern restaurant with a unique twist. Sweet potatoes can be found in most items throughout the menu. Mom and I began with the fried okra and green tomato basket served with a sweet potato aioli. Sweet potatoes in an aioli intrigued me. (An aioli is basically a mayonnaise base flavored with garlic.)
Many of their entrees are served with sweet potatoes in some form including mashed or candied, in a cornbread and a cornbread dressing. We had their yard bird which was a smothered chicken dish. The waitress said that it was one of the popular items on the menu, and it was a very moist and tender chicken. I asked for a slice of their sweet potato cornbread on the side. I am a sucker for cornbread. I love it and especially partial to skillet cornbread. The golden amber square of cornbread with specks of brown cinnamon and spices came to the table just shortly after the chicken. It didn't look like any cornbread I had ever seen. I spread a little of the honey butter on a piece and sampled. Oh, wow! I immediately fell in love with this cornbread. The slightly sweet flavor of the sweet potato was very much present and the spices complemented it nicely. Mental note to try making this at home!
Sweet potatoes are featured on the menu from start to finish and speaking of finish, the dessert menu looked good. Mom and I were torn between two desserts, but thought if we were ever going to have a great tasting sweet potato pie, it would be here. Immediately after ordering the pie, I turned to my mom and said, "Did I just order sweet potato pie?" For some reason before ordering, I had an image of the year my sister Leslie and I fell in love with pumpkin pie. We had a slice of the pie for breakfast, a snack, and dessert. I couldn't get enough of that pumpkin pie. So after waking up from my pumpkin pie dream, I realized I had just ordered a sweet potato pie. My previous experience with sweet potato pies were that they tend to be heavy. I like a light, creamy almost mousse texture pie. I snapped myself out of the moment and my reluctance for choosing the pie over our other option. I was going to have an open mind. The pie came to the table. I examined its appearance. Golden brown crust was the base for the layers of sweet potato. "Yes," I said, "layers!" Sitting on top of the crust was a single layer of sliced sweet potatoes and then the common smooth sweet potato layer followed. A dollop of cinnamon whipped cream and a dusting of cinnamon-powdered sugar were the finishing touches.

If the appearance of the pie was any indication of its flavor, then I was in for a treat. The crust had a slight crunchy texture and buttery flavor. The layer of sliced sweet potatoes didn't weigh down the light and creamy top layer of the pie. The flavors exceeded my expectations. It wasn't like any sweet potato pie I had ever had. My mom and I took a bite after bite, being sure to include the cinnamon whipped cream and the dusting of cinnamon-powdered sugar with each morsel. We left enough of the pie on the plate to not feel like gluttons and exited the restaurant with a happy heart and a full stomach. I think I walked off the slice of pie as my mom and I trucked the several blocks back to our hotel. I wish the several blocks was an exaggeration. If only my sense of direction was as good as my cooking because somewhere along the way, my mom and I got a little lost but that story is for another day.

*Try my Sweet Potato Peanut Butter Blondies recipe in my cookbook or my sweet potato banana muffin recipe on my blog