Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Summer Celebrations, Southern Style.

It happens every year. As the school days dwindle, I begin dreaming of summer...the fabulous trips we'll take, the places to explore, the lazy afternoons by the pool, reading and playing, the late-night Scrabble marathons, and the enrichment activities that will keep our brains fresh.
And then, suddenly, it's July 24, and I'm panicked. School begins in less than a month.

We haven't even planned our vacation.

Granted, we've been busy. I went to San Francisco with the Garden Bloggers' Fling--and I will write about those fabulous, awe-inspiring gardens soon. The kids attended camps—lots of camps. Zoo camp, sailing camp, Humane Society camp, plus Mikey added a Lego camp to his line-up. In fact, we probably scheduled too many camps, but the kids really wanted to attend these camps. Mikey tried to add a science camp—but I put my foot down. After all, the kids need to swim and play and just be lazy. It's summer, for goodness' sake! Then, Peter's parents arrived from Switzerland on July 9 and left yesterday. Needless to say, it's been crazy.

My vision of summer never matches our reality. I've blamed the torrential, non-stop rain. Or maybe it's the fact that Peter and I aren't very good at just doing nothing...which, in my daydreams, is really what I envision for summer. A chaise lounge by the pool, frosty drink at my side, book in hand, while our sweet children swim and play quietly together.

(Our neighbors will attest that “play quietly” is an oxymoron, at least applied to our kids.)

There is one thing, though, that always lives up to my summertime expectations:

Frogmore Stew.

Now, fear frogs are harmed in the making of this classic southern dish.

Also known as Beaufort Stew, Lowcountry Boil, or Shrimp Boil, this one-pot dish is, for me, the essence of summer.

Fresh from the field sweet corn. Succulent shrimp. New potatoes, just harvested from the garden. And the bonus? Just one pot to wash. Truly, an easy, delicious, finger-licking good dinner best served with an icy beer.

For the history buffs, Frogmore Stew originated in the Frogmore community on St. Helena Island near Beaufort. However, versions of Frogmore Stew exist throughout the coastal regions of the south. Some folks say that the dish is really just a compilation of whatever the fishermen's wives had on hand to throw in the pot. Personally, I like to add a little brightness to the traditional mix of corn, shrimp, and sausage by adding colorful sweet peppers to the pot.

Plus, the peppers soak up the spices and add a little surprise heat to each bite.

The hardest part of Frogmore Stew is peeling and deveining the shrimp. It's a nasty, time-consuming job, but I love shrimp—so it's worth it.

(I remember once when I was about 11 or 12, my dad bought five pounds of fresh shrimp while we vacationed at the beach. We had to peel and devein 5 pounds of shrimp, which took ages. I'm sure, being a preteen, I made the appropriate gagging sounds while I took out the veins. After it was clean, he boiled it for a couple minutes in salted water and chilled it to make shrimp cocktail. For years afterwards, he always shook his head and reminisced about how long it took us to clean that shrimp—and how we all devoured it in less than five minutes.)

Last week, during my in-laws visit, I thought it would be fun to serve them a traditional southern dinner and dessert: Frogmore Stew and Peach Crisp. The Peach Crisp, usually a no-fail staple in my dessert repertoire, didn't crisp—it looked more like peach soup. The Frogmore Stew, however, turned out almost exactly as planned. I posted a photo on my Facebook page, and several people asked for the recipe. Here, for your taste of a southern summer dish from a former Yankee girl, is my variation on Frogmore Stew:

Frogmore Stew

  • 2 pounds fresh shrimp, peeled and deveined. (We're lucky to have a vendor at Hub City Farmers' Market that sells fresh South Carolina shrimp...divine!)
  • 3 lbs. Kielbasa, cut into 1-inch slices (most recipes call for a spicier sausage, but my family isn't crazy about heat)
  • 4 lbs. red new potatoes, washed, skin on
  • 2 medium onions, peeled and sliced into 1/2-inch sections
  • 3 large sweet peppers, seeded and cut into 1/4-inch slices (I use red, orange, and yellow to add color)
  • 10 ears sweet corn, shucked and cleaned, broken in half (It makes it easier to fit into the pot.)
  • 1 3-oz. bag prepared shrimp and crab boil spices (I use Zatarain's Crawfish, Shrimp and Crab Boil in a Bag)
  1. Fill a large stock pot half-full with water. Add the bag of spices and bring to a boil.
  2. Add potatoes, onions, and sausage. Boil for 10 minutes.
  3. Next, add the corn and peppers. Boil an additional 8 minutes.
  4. Finally, add the shrimp and cook until pink, about three minutes. Don't overcook the shrimp.
  5. Drain immediately and serve with sides of butter for the corn and cocktail sauce for the shrimp, if you like. 
(The meal feeds about 8 adults.)
FYI: If you have a ventilation hood on your stove, run it while the pot boils. The spices tend to make my eyes tear, and I inevitably start coughing my head off. Maybe it's just me, but it seems to help to have some ventilation while cooking. Or I'm just a spice wimp.

I have to say, my in-laws looked perplexed when confronted with the big bowl of food on the dinner table. They were good sports, though. My father-in-law commented, in his heavy German accent, that the mix of ingredients was “strange” to them. They had never eaten sweet corn!

Can you imagine? What is summer without sweet corn?

Strange or not, everyone seemed to enjoy Frogmore Stew.

Except our picky children, of course.

But that's OK. Because for a moment, eating my share of two pounds of shrimp and several cobs of sweet corn, it finally felt like summer.
Remember I said that the Frogmore Stew was "almost" as expected? 
After we all finished eating, I suddenly remembered that I forgot to add the potatoes.
In fact, I never got them out of the pantry. Oops.
No one seemed to suffer from lack of potatoes, fortunately.

Now, it's time to book our vacation. We're thinking of taking the kids to Florida, somewhere along the Gulf, to snorkel. While I love South Carolina beaches, the water is too murky for snorkeling. Any good snorkeling beach recommendations?

Only 26 days until school resumes.


I think we'll need another Frogmore Stew before school begins. 
Happy summer!



Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Finding the Blooms in July.

Today is Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day, hosted by May Dreams Gardens. Usually, my biggest problem for July's Bloom Day is the overbearing South Carolina drought. 

Not this year.

This year, my challenge is to find blooms in the garden that haven't melted away due to the enormous amounts of rain Upstate SC is experiencing. Did you hear the sad new about the South Carolina Botanical Garden? They recently installed the Natural Heritage Garden, an exhibit that included many rare and endangered plants, and the torrential rains caused horrific damage to the garden.  If you'd like to donate to help rebuild the garden, you can find information here.

Crazy, crazy weather.

Still, even with our daily deluge of rain, I found a few blooms to share with you.

Casa Blanca favorite. I fear a vole snacked on many of the bulbs, because these are the only few that I've seen this year.

The large kitchen garden is a tumble of overgrowth and unripe tomatoes. Honestly, the foliage is lush and green, particularly in the herb garden at the front of the raised beds.

The flowering herbs are major pollinator havens.

But although the garden is green and bursting with vines, everything is late. I've yet to find one cucumber. Last July, we were already searching for recipes to use up our insane harvest of cucumbers.

Tonight, we ate the first beans harvested from our Three Sisters Garden. The corn definitely likes the rain, but the squash vines below melted. I planted more squash seeds, hoping for a fall harvest.

I can only hope that the veggie garden experiences a quick burst of productivity in the bit of sun that reached it today. Bruschetta is calling my name...but I need my heirloom tomatoes to ripen! 

Everyone is confused. Typically, by July the gardenias are sleeping. Not this year--they continue to infuse the air with their delicious scent. 

In the newly planted pollinator garden, the monarda is a good example of too much rain. Don't you just want to hand it a towel? Poor thing.

The lemon balm, while usually just a bit of a nuisance, truly became a bully this summer due to all of the rain. Fortunately, its tiny blooms attract lovely little pollinators, so I'm giving it a warning. If it continues its ill behavior, there WILL be consequences.

The tall verbena is bent over, beaten by the rain. I'm too embarrassed to show you the full photo, because it proves that I'm a softie for trying anything to keep a few blooms in the garden, even when they need to be yanked out by the roots. I keep crossing my fingers that I'll walk out tomorrow morning, and it will be standing at attention, nice and straight.

I know. I'm pitiful.

'Rozanne' seems to have withstood the worst of the rain. 

But even the poor stargazers are too saturated to last long in bloom. 


The blooms of the phlox also succumbed to the rain. Surprisingly, though, I haven't battled powdery mildew on the plant like I normally do.

Also, I'm typically battling black spot by now on the roses--but so far, not this year.

The buddleia seems to enjoy the gallons of water each day, thankfully. Our bees and butterflies congregated on the three bushes today, making me think I should keep the Epi-Pen a little closer while I took photos.

Fortunately, the bees were too busy with the flowers to bother with me. 

The beautiful daylilies I recently purchased revolted against their soggy new home. They're growing well, but they refuse to show their pretty faces. Yeesh, what prima donnas. These few daylilies planted last year were kind enough to add a bit of color to the perennial bed.

However, my trusty friends, the Japanese anemones, are preparing for an early show. They're full of buds, just about to burst any day. 

The little ice plant isn't loving all of the water, but it's a trooper and continues to produce a few cheerful blooms...

...and the gaura also tries to hang in there for me, withstanding the moisture and the attack of Japanese beetles. 

Have I ever mentioned how much I despise Japanese beetles?

Fortunately, the nasty beetles haven't damaged the lantanas throughout the garden. However, only the lantana in the mailbox garden is blooming. The others need Mr. Sun to shine down on them to encourage some color. Soon.

Now, we all know hydrangeas should enjoy water...right? For about a week, the hydrangeas looked magnificent. The Brides Blushed beautifully, the Twist & Shout partied hard in the garden, cute little Pee Gee beamed with blooms in the shade, and the oakleaf bushes drooped dramatic cones.

And then, the lovely flowers turned mushy.  

So. Depressing.

Thank goodness for the garden cheerleaders! Bright little Black-Eyed Susan vines add a touch of cheer in hanging baskets...

...while perky purple coneflowers refuse to melt under duress. 

I admit, I often curse rudbeckia. It's such a bully in the front perennial bed. The more I thin it, the more prevalent it becomes.

However, I'm rethinking my aversion to it. It's been a trooper during the summer storms, and I have to give it credit for the bright, lovely patch of cheer it's added to the entryway. 

Both Rose of Sharon bushes just began blooming--and they're heavy with buds. Thank goodness. I need some color in the back sitting area.

Mandevilla is so reliable. Honestly, I love this vine by the pool. Even the rain can't dampen its spirits.

The poor hardy hibiscus, experienced a tough spring. First, the leaves served as a snack for every caterpillar and Japanese beetle in the garden until the leaves resemble lace. Then, the rain makes the blooms rather...sad. Normally, they're so perky and cheerful, but right now they just look so tired from the effort of opening.

My very happy surprise, however, is a new addition to the back garden by the pool: blackberry lily. A gift from my friend Janet's garden (aka The Queen of Seaford), these adorable little lilies produced blooms one week after transplanting them--and they just keep on going without complaint. I think they may be my new favorite plant! 

How's the weather in your garden? Wishing you rain (but not too much), pleasant days, and happy blooms!



Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Garlic: A Stylish Display to Ward Off Vampires.

With a pre-teen girl in the house, there's bound to be a brief obsession with Twilight. I'll admit--I read the books, and I even went to the first movie with my book club friends. 

I know. My credibility is shot now, isn't it?

Until recently, though, the first movie ended my Twilight entertainment-spree. But then, somehow, our tween girlie entered the land of vampires and werewolves.

She became Twilight obsessed. 


She read the book series four times. She watched the movies on a continuous loop. She even convinced me to stay awake until 2 a.m. to watch the remaining movies with her.

By the way--she's Team Edward all the way.

Finally, after weeks of vampire talk, we confiscated the books and movies and told her it was time to move on to other entertainment.

(Thank goodness for horses and all horseback-riding book and movie series.)

Truly, though, her obsession with vampires made me think we'd need to hang garlic around her neck to ward off future, potentially undead, boyfriends.

Instead, we decided to decorate the kitchen with our garlic harvest. It's still within easy reach should a vampire decide to pay a house call.

For several years, I've wanted to make a garlic braid to hang in the kitchen, but somehow--it never happened. As we all know, I'm not the craftiest person. I'll Pin all kinds of adorable garden crafts, but the reality is that my projects never turn out quite as I envision them. In fact, I've been known to buy all of the components for a project--and then chicken out, fearing my disappointment when my efforts don't measure up to the original project.

I think I have Pinaphobia...the fear of craftiness failure.

But honestly, a garlic braid? That shouldn't be complicated, right?

Here's a reality check: my vampire-crazy girl just got her first French braid--at the hairdressers'. 

You see, I can't braid.

Well, I can't French braid.  And from what I read, making a garlic braid is much like French braiding--you keep adding in pieces (in this case, garlic stems) to form the braid.  

Because Kristen constantly braids horse tails and manes, the thought of braiding doesn't throw her into a panic. She volunteered to make the braid, while I played photographer.

(Perfect. A mother/daughter crafting activity that requires no crafting from this mom!)

Before the braiding begins, you first need some garlic.


Fortunately, two weeks ago, I harvested our garlic. It was one of those evenings when I trudged to the garden in my decent clothes, just to take a peek at the beds, and wound up harvesting garlic because it suddenly looked ready.

I know. This is why I never have any decent clothes--they're all stained and nasty from my impromptu garden forays.

After harvesting garlic from the garden, it needs to cure for about two weeks in a shady location. The racks in our garage provided the perfect garlic-curing station. Of course, my poor Prius sat in the driveway, but our garage smelled like an Italian restaurant for two weeks. Mmmm. 

Don't wash the garlic--just remove as much soil as possible. After the garlic dries, the soil will be easier to brush off the bulbs.

If you didn't plant garlic last fall, never fear--visit your local Farmers' Market and buy some beautiful softneck garlic (with the stems still attached.) I saw gorgeous varieties at my local market last Saturday.

Remove as much soil as possible from the bulbs. You can use a soft toothbrush, or you can use a brightly painted fingernail to remove the dirt and outer wrapper of the bulb. Using scissors, trim the roots of the bulbs to about 1/2 inch.

Several sites recommend soaking the leaves (which I'm referring to as stems, although softneck garlic doesn't really have "stems") of the garlic to make them more pliable. Our garlic stems were quite flexible, so we didn't bother with this step. If your garlic is extremely dry or brittle, you may want to place the stems between two wet towels until the stems soften and bend easily. 

Cut two pieces of twine, approximately two feet in length. Select three large softneck garlic bulbs and place them side-by-side, with the center bulb slightly lower. Only use softneck garlic, as hardneck garlic will not be pliable enough to braid.

Tie one piece of the twine around the stems, just above the three bulbs, forming a secure knot. (You can trim the twine later so that it doesn't show.)

Now the fun begins. Cross the right stem over the middle, then cross the left stem. The first, easy step in braiding.

Now, the fun begins. Add another bulb to the right, but place the stem in the middle. Cross the right stem over the two middle stems. The "right" stem is now in the center. Then add another bulb to the middle, again keeping the stem in the center. Cross the left stem over the middle. Now, the "left" stem is in the center. Add another bulb to the left side, stem centered, and cross the new left pieces over the additional stem.

Continue adding bulbs, always aligning the new bulb's stem with the center stems, then crossing over.

So glad my girl volunteered to help, because I can't imagine trying my hand at braiding--and juggling the camera. There's no way it would have ended well.

For the first braid, we selected 13 bulbs. As we reached lucky 13, we centered it at the top. Once all of the bulbs were braided in, Kristen continued braiding the stems, forming a nice, even six-inch braid.

Finally, using the second piece of twine, she tied off the braid, first making a knot to secure it, and then adding a bow for cuteness.

Pretty cute, don't you think?

Inspired by my daughter's braiding ability, I tried my hand at it, making a longer braid of some of the smaller garlic bulbs.

I'm just not meant for projects like this. I kept confusing myself, trying to remember which stem needed to cross where. Good grief.

Still, I didn't give up, and we now have two garlic braids hanging in the kitchen, within easy reach should Edward Cullen decide to appear.

And I've promised Kristen that I will watch many YouTube videos to learn how to French braid this summer.

It's the least I can do, because too soon she won't want me invading her space and helping with her hair.

(But if we keep lots of garlic in the house, perhaps we won't need to worry about ANY boys--undead or alive--for awhile!)

Do you have a favorite garlic recipe? Mine is shrimp scampi, which you can find here.

Happy braiding!