Tuesday, November 29, 2011

I'm on a binge again, this time it's Chicken Tortilla Soup. It started Black Friday when we stopped in for a quick lunch at On the Border. We'd spent the morning shopping for bargains, hard work and I had worked up quite an appetite. I was chilled to the bone and it took me all of two seconds to decide a hot bowl of soup was just what I wanted. It was so good that when I was shopping the next day with Daughter #1, I ordered it again!

Ever since we lived in south Texas, I've been on the lookout for the recipe for Chicken Tortilla Soup like they serve at Huisache Grill in New Braunfels, Texas. It had a smokiness to the broth, definitely ancho chilies and "built" just so... broth, veges and/or rice, crispy corn tortilla strips, monterey jack cheese and chunked avocado to garnish. Lovers of tortilla soup know what I'm talking about, it's not just chicken soup with Rotel added.

I went through my recipe stash today looking for one I'd clipped from the San Antonio paper. Not from Huisache Grill, their recipe is most likely in the back of a bank vault. This one is from Casarita's in San Antonio and is quick to fix, start to finish in about 20 minutes... less if you have leftover rotisserie chicken.

Casarita's Tortilla Soup
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/2 large onion, chopped
1 (10-ounce) fresh chicken breast, cut into chunks
1/2 tablespoon ground cumin
2/3 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon white pepper
3 1/2 tablespoons tomato sauce
1 gallon water
2 ounces chicken base concentrate (not the powder)
2 small yellow squash, sliced
1 zucchini, sliced
1 carrot, thinly sliced
1 small fresh tomato
1 small bunch cilantro, leaves only, chopped
Garnishes Per Serving:
2 ounces sour cream
fried corn tortilla strips
1 slice avocado
grated cheddar cheese

In a large pot heat the oil, add the onion and chicken and saute for several minutes until the onions are transparent and the chicken is lightly browned. Add the cumin and the black and white pepper, mix then stir in the tomato sauce. Add the water and the chicken base concentrate and stir to dissolve the base. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer gently for approximately 20 minutes. Add the sliced squash, zucchini, carrots and tomatoes and simmer briefly, just until the veges are tender.

To serve, pour into heated bowls, top with chopped cilantro, tortilla strips, avocado and cheddar cheese.
Makes 12-15 servings

OK, that's a big pot of soup, so for all of you out there that are wanting to try this but not eat it for a month, here's a few revisions to make a much smaller amount using my BFF Rotisserie Chicken and Swanson's new Chicken Stock.

It's not the same thing as broth, this is the simmered down, Grandma version that makes things "taste" homemade... don't tell anyone this secret!

Starving, Can't Wait/Casarita's Tortilla Soup
1 teaspoon vegetable oil
2 tablespoons onion, chopped
1 cup rotisserie chicken breast, shredded
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
1/8 teaspoon white pepper
2 teaspoons tomato sauce, I like El Pato Mexican tomato sauce- a little spicy
1 26 ounce carton Swanson Chicken Stock
1/4 cup yellow squash, sliced
1/4 cup zucchini, sliced
1/4 cup carrot, thinly sliced
1/4 small fresh tomato
2 sprigs cilantro, leaves only, chopped
Garnishes Per Serving:
2 ounces sour cream, this seems generous to me- I'd use less
fried corn tortilla strips
1 slice avocado
grated cheddar cheese, I'd use monterey jack

In a medium pot heat the oil, add the onion and saute for several minutes until the onions are transparent, add the shredded cooked chicken. Add the cumin and the black and white pepper, mix then stir in the tomato sauce. Add the broth, the sliced squash, zucchini, carrots and tomatoes and simmer gently until veges are tender, approximately 10 minutes.

To serve, pour into heated bowls, top with chopped cilantro, tortilla strips, avocado and cheddar cheese.
Makes 2 large or 4 small servings


Monday, November 28, 2011

If we'd only known...

Black Friday's midnight shopping started with a first ever (at least for me) trip to Waffle House. There was a long conversation on Facebook the other day about Waffle House's scattered, covered and smothered hash browns. I had been filled in on that gastronomical delicacy by my GRANDson. He's only 11 but he's been introduced to Waffle House by his parents, preparing him for a life of many tastes and flavors, people and food! Make no mistake, it's more than just a big breakfast. 

Did you know that Harvard Business School says Waffle House is one of America's top examples of  entrepreneurial achievement? No other chain has a fan club like Waffle House, loyal customers who are greeted with a big "Hello" as they enter, no matter what the time of day or night. 

When we got there around 11, the place was packed. Nearly every booth was taken, even the stools at the bar were occupied. My husband, the world traveller, says the bar has the "choice seats," since you can watch your meal being prepared! The waitress couldn't have been nicer, or more efficient. She had our coffees poured within minutes and our order placed. Everyone was talking about going shopping, there was a camaraderie between us... preparing for the start of Black Friday!

As delicious as Thanksgiving turkey with all the trimmings was, my waffle with a side of crispy bacon really hit the spot! If you've led a sheltered life like me, give Waffle House a try the next time you're hungry, here's a gander at the menu...

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Not Grandma's Apple Cake

I found out the other day that the recipe we call Grandma's Apple Cake isn't hers at all. I've given it to many, each time telling them it was my mother in law's recipe. All these years the hand written directions have been in a recipe box with other dog earred clippings, everytime we moved, it moved. I even put it in our family cookbook and noted that it was my father in law's favorite!

We are taking apple cake up to the VA Nursing Home tomorrow. I'm taking The Imposter Apple Cake, she's taking The Real Grandma's Apple Cake.

This was the conversation with my mother in law...
Me-"I noticed the recipe is for an 8x8 pan, do you think I can double it?"
Her-"Mine makes a big pan."
Me-" So you've doubled it before?"
Her- "No, it's written that way."
Me- "It's the one you gave me when we first got married, with the coconut in the glaze?"
Her-" No, there 's no coconut."
Me- " Mine says coconut in the cake batter too."
Her-"That's not my recipe."

Just Good Apple Cake (someone's favorite, just not my father in law's)
2 cups apples, peeled and diced
1 cup sugar
1 beaten egg
1/2 cup Wesson oil
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup coconut
Combine apples and sugar, allow to stand 30 minutes. Add egg, oil, vanilla, flour, soda, salt and coconut. Blend well and bake in 8x8 greased pan at 350 degrees for 45 minutes.

4 tablespoon milk
4 tablespoons butter
2/3 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup coconut
Bring milk, butter and sugar to rolling boil. Remove from heat and stir in coconut. Stir and pour over warm cake.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

The Community Correspondent

We had a lovely Thanksgiving meal at our daughter and son in law's. They are the most wonderful hosts, not just saying that to brag... they have a genuine gift of making you feel so welcome! The food was so delicious and it was wonderful being together after a year of many ups and downs. This could easily have been the Thanksgiving that would have been difficult, but instead it was one we will remember fondly.

I can remember Mom and Dad getting their hometown paper, the Boone County Headlight in the mail. Every week Grandma Risley would send Thursday's copy with the Community Correspondent columns. They looked forward to receiving it and would read every word and then discuss it at length. There would be news of births and deaths, church news and who visited who on Sunday... really! Just to let you see how delicious this part of my past was, I'll try to recreate the column...

Hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving. So many in the community were blessed to have friends and family at their tables to make the holiday special. Southside Baptist served up it's annual potluck to members and guests, all are welcome at the dinner held the Sunday before Thanksgiving. It's always well attended, every pie, cake or cobbler known to mankind can be found on the dessert tables!

Juanita Tilton tells us she and Bill were honored guests at the home of their granddaughter Stephanie at Rogers. They had the most wonderful time and enjoyed a delicious Texas Style fried turkey prepared by Stephanie's husband Ken. The meal had all their favorites and the best part was being together!

Until next week, stay warm and make sure the wood pile's high!

Friday, November 25, 2011

Never leave children alone with flour

You may have seen this on FaceBook already.... all I can say is this is a God.Fearing.Mom who somehow managed to keep her cool! It does say at YouTube that she was in the bathroom sick while her two boys were busy making Frosty Land. Oh my, all I could think of while watching it was how I would clean it up... what does that say???

Wednesday, November 23, 2011


There's an old saying, "If you've forgotten the language of gratitude, you'll never be on speaking terms with happiness." I think that the holidays opens our eyes every year to the many blessings in our lives. We have a roof over our heads, food in the pantry and good health. Those are the Big Ones... or are they? Could you be happy if you didn't have a home, or you had to worry about where you next meal was coming from? What if you faced serious health issues, could you find gratitude anywhere in that?

On my way to town, I pass by Sunshine Road. Sounds like the perfect "Christmas Card Address," the kind that invokes memories of cozy homes with smoke curling out of the chimneys. In reality, it's one of the poorest parts of Benton County with small, ramshackle trailers. Many are without heat  and running water. How could that be? Well, it just is. One of the residents of Sunshine Road rides with me to and from town occasionally. She walks, in the rain, in the cold, in the heat of summer to work at Wendy's. I'd say Mary is my age, she has a grandson the same age as mine that lives with her. She's always cheerful, carrying her backpack and sometimes loaded down with sacks of groceries. A smile on her face, she told me once with pride that she owns her trailer.

It's in our hearts where gratitude lives and grows. We either feed it daily or we let it die a slow, horrible death. Look around you this holiday season and you will see many opportunities to feed the gratitude in your heart and in the heart of others.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Simply Good

Do you ever think you have too much stuff? This time of year we start putting out all the decorations, the trees, the garlands, stringing lights and trying to remember where everything goes and how to plug it all in gets a little stressful. Boxes and boxes of ornaments that were made by our daughters, bought on trips or precious memories from our past.

When we were building the house, we lived in a house at Bella Vista. It was one of those vacation rentals, the house was furnished with everything down to an iron and ironing board. All we had to do was bring our clothes and our toothbrush. It made the interim period from when we were supposed to be in the new house and out of the old house, bearable. The BVPOA managed the rentals, some were used by the owners for summertime fun, the rest of the year they rented them out. It was an older ranch style home, probably built in the 1970's Inside that house where we lived for roughly 12 weeks, was everything you need to be happy. It had the amenities that were common in houses of that time period, i.e. 3 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms. We lived there quite comfortably for 2 1/2 months with one tv and one phone. The kitchen had a stove and refrigerator but no microwave. In the cabinets there were a set of pots and pans, just the basic set... no dutch oven, no omelet pan. It had one cookie sheet and one set of mixing bowls and enough dishes for 4 people to have a meal. When we finished dinner I washed the dishes, there wasn't even a dishwasher. It was kind of nice, simple and uncomplicated.

I think about that sometimes when I'm unloading the dishwasher.... plates and bowls of every size, glasses, mugs for coffee and cups for tea, spatulas and whisks, knives, knives and more knives. How can two people dirty up so many dishes in one day? I.Don't.Know.

We have too much, yet we can't give up a single fork. The sentiment behind so much of what we call our "stuff" keeps us just shy of  "hoarders." I love tidy and efficient so I don't think I'll ever go there. I still like standing at my sink washing my morning coffee cup and breakfast spoon, pretending it's that first apartment on Church Street.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Dear Santa,

Dear Santa,
Just in case your elves are running a little behind this year, I was thinking you might need some help with the many gifts on your list. We have a brand new place to find unique, one of a kind gifts in Arkansas. It's the new Crystal Bridges Museum Gift Shop at Bentonville!

I saw so many beautiful things, some of them will be perfect Christmas gifts for friends and family! 

There were designer belts by Joe Brogdon...

His belts are worn by Bruce Springsteen, Kid Rock, Demi Moore, Billy Bob Thornton, and The Red Hot Chilli Peppers. If you've been shopping exclusive stores such as Distractions in Aspen, Fred Segal on Melrose, Cowboy Cool in Dallas, Barbwire in Scotsdale or Falconhead in Brentwood, then you've most likely spotted them on the shelves.

I'd be wanting one... if I still had a waist!

Beautiful Dian Malouf jewelry, worn by the likes of Cher, Elton John and Linda Ronstadt!

Aren't these gorgeous?

Oodles of Made in America gifts, love that too!

I've been a very good girl this year Santa and I'd really love these earring, they mirror the curves of the gallery wings at Crystal Bridges!

We can't wait until you come to our house, we're counting down the minutes!

Joy C.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Let the games begin...

It's started already, the craziness that IS the holidays. Planning and fitting every.last.thing. in is always hard. There are conflicts of times and dates and you want to do it all, just how to do it?

To the rescue... BusyBodyBook planners and calendars are the best idea out there for keeping track of the whole family's schedules and activities, side by side so you can tell at a glance who's supposed to be where.

Lots of uses for the planner other than Moms w/kids, you can also use it for household or work projects, babysitter instructions, meal planning, fitness routines and diet tracking, holiday or vacation preparations... YOUR priorities.

BusyBodyBook planning calendars were created by a very busy mom, it's an amazing tool to keep us sane! Let the games begin....

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Tennessee Treasure

Time has a way of erasing the past, especially in rural America. All along the roads that lead to Mom's house at Lead Hill are homesteads that were once thriving farms. They now stand empty, in decay. The fields that once grazed cattle are now overgrown with Johnson grass and cedars dotted every few feet, it breaks my heart.

A couple of weeks ago when I found Gary Loucks' Outdoor Wanderings, I was immediately hooked by photography that will take your breath away. Locations and waterways, nature and wildlife that is rarely seen. Gary's job puts him right smack dab in the middle of Mother Nature's best and most beautiful. 

 The day I found Gary's blog, he was right in the middle of uncovering the mystery of Scona Lodge, Alcoa Aluminum's exclusive resort on the banks of Tennessee's Lake Chilhowee.
The once thriving resort has literally disappeared from the face of the Earth. Every brick, board and shingle gone... as if it never existed. The Lodge and three other exclusive houses, sheds, roadways and patios all evaporated, vaporized.

The grounds once boasted golf courses, shooting ranges, trout ponds~ now the mountain top that welcomed the privileged from big business is hidden under layers of forest and Kudzu.

Follow along with his faithful companions Scout and Shade, as Gary paddles along Tennessee waterways with Douglas in his heart...

To read about Scona Lodge start HERE, more on the mystery at...

Thanks so much Gary for allowing me to post some of your fabulous photography! I'm hooked like a big fish now and can't miss a single blog...

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Crystal Clear, it was Guggenheim Great!

Our trip to the new Crystal Bridges Museum was... was... well it was unbelievable! Don't be expecting "small potatoes," it's Smithsonian Spectacular, it's Guggenheim Great, it's Metropolitan Magnificent, just take a peek...

Curvy and sexy, yes she is!

Dolly Parton by Andy Warhol

Smart and sophisticated...

From every view, beauty to be found!

Hallways and stairwells leading us from our past...

to our future...

From the beginnings of America...

to her growing pains.

We didn't know at times where we were going,

facing hardships head on-

We didn't give up, we forged ahead,

Now in 2011, we can look back and feel proud of America's strengths.

 We can look around and see just what hard work and fortitude can accomplish.

Here for generations to come, paid in full by the family that called Sam and Helen Walton "Mom and Dad."

From that five and dime on the square at Bentonville, the American Dream is alive and well!

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