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Napa Strong

I have been trying to shop for food locally grown which is fairly easy in the summer with farmers markets and vegetable stands. Buying veggies and fruits grown closer to home supports the local economy and cuts down on the fuel used to transport these items to the store. And who can resist a Georgia peach allowed to ripen on the tree and sold by the farmer who tended it?

A recent trip to California and specifically the Napa Valley area recently hit by an earthquake, reminded me of another “local fruit” that should be supported. West coast wines are plentiful and delightful to drink but are sometimes lost in the rows of Italian, French, Chilean, etc. wines at the local store. Driving through Sonoma and Napa reminded me that these grape farmers need our support as well especially in light of the recent devastation. I have sampled Georgia wines and support a select few when I can find them, but I have made a sincere effort to buy California wines since returning home from our trip.

Next time you pick up a bottle of wine, raise your glass to Napa Strong and help a farmer.

JLMA Jann

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Fabulous Find Friday-Sparkling Ice Drinks

My fabulous find this Friday is Sparkling Ice Drinks by Talking Rain. You can find them everywhere (grocery stores, Walmart, SAMs) for about $1.00 a 17oz bottle. Free of calories, fat, caffeine, sodium and carbs, they additionally provide a few vitamins and antioxidants. They are sweetened with Sucralose (the ingredient in Splenda).

Hubby and I like all the flavors but the lemonade ice tea and the pink grapefruit are our favorites although mango and raspberry lemonade are high on the list as well. They have a much stronger juice flavor than La Croix or Hint water.

Give them a try and pray that hot cocoa weather gets here soon!

JLMA Jann

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Fitness Pal will never be my BFF

If you have ever decided to track your daily food intake or exercise, you have probably heard of Fitness Pal, a handy dandy app designed to help you stay on track and achieve your weight loss goals. And I am sure the internet is full of great success stories of people who have achieved their goals using this app.

But I am here to say Fitness Pal is not my pal. What kind of pal would ask you to measure watermelon by the cup or croutons by the tablespoon? Or tell you after a full day of logging in and tracking every morsel you ate, that if every day was like that day you would lose 1 pound in 5 weeks? No friend of mine would alert me to this fact!

The reminders designed to keep you tracking your food, sent me an alert saying the reminders didn’t seem to be working so they would stop sending them. Slackers. It is not my fault homemade bread covered with homemade jam didn’t make your list or I would have happily logged it. If you eat yummy just made frozen yogurt but the cat licks your bowl, did I really eat 1/2 cup or is kitty baby responsible for some of it? Everyone knows birthdays, anniversaries, all holidays, including the ones only bankers get, Sunday dinners with kids or any meal eaten out with friends don’t count, so where is the little button you press that says “this meal did not count so it will not be logged in”? Clearly this app still needs some work.

Until they work the kinks out, I will abandon my fitness pal and hang out with my new mixer and oven that keep producing wonderful loaves of bread. Homemade Bread Pals. Who wouldn’t want to be their friend!

JLMA Jann

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List Making 101

My time between jobs is about to end and although I am looking forward to our upcoming vacation to the left coast and Day 1 of my new job, I shall miss these quiet moments I have come to enjoy. When my time off first began, I was anxious to fill the hours so as not to waste them. A list was made to make sure rooms were cleaned, appointments made, time was well spent. My answer to “what did you do today?” was filled with busyness and items crossed off my list. It felt good to get things done, knowing the projects would no longer keep appearing on future lists.

Somewhere around week 2, the “don’t waste a moment” list stopped changing. I baked bread, read books, drank coffee on the deck and neglected all of the items on my list. I could always clean out a drawer but when could I enjoy an unexpected cool morning out on the deck? I know the granite needs to be sealed but the kitty babies want me to pet them and the chaise is beckoning me to nap.

The old get it done list is still here somewhere. My guess is it will always be here and as my life pace picks up again, items will again be added and crossed through. But I have enjoyed not being list bound, doing what I want to do or not doing anything much at all. I have learned that some items on my list can wait. And wait. And wait.

But moments of peace and pleasure should be seized and enjoyed.

JLMA Jann

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Sunday Dinner

About a year ago, I ordered the special of the day at my favorite Italian restaurant, veal meatballs and pasta. As is sometimes the case, I came home that night determined to fix this wonderful dish for my family. After searching the internet and various food sites, I came up with a recipe we all enjoy and that is very easy to make-the perfect cooking combination in my book.

My two sons, Mick and Rich, Rich’s girlfriend Paulina, bonus son Kyle, hubby and I gathered around the table last night to eat “veal balls and spaghetti” as Mick refers to them. The conversation was lively as it always is and only briefly focused on the bread I served.

Earlier in the day, I decided to try a quick artisan bread recipe I found online. I do a lot of bread baking but had not tackled an artisan loaf and the ease and quickness of this recipe drew me in. I followed the recipe and online tutorial to the letter and produced 2 slightly raised, flavorless, hockey pucks. As tempted as I was to pull the safety net Sister Schubert rolls out of the freezer, I served the bread anyway. It wasn’t completely terrible but more importantly it was a reminder to all that cooking and baking don’t always produce the results we were expecting despite doing everything right.

I hope my boys grow up to enjoy cooking and maybe even their mother’s love of bread baking. So I do show them that not everything comes out right- bread that doesn’t rise, jams that don’t set, pies much too wet, meat much too dry. Poo happens in their mom’s kitchen and in their mom’s life and I hope their life journey will be easier knowing that it is better to try and fail than not try and wonder what could have been.

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Books you will never read in Bookclub

I have always enjoyed reading cookbooks, especially those cookbooks written by people with a passion for what they cook. Sometimes I will mark certain recipes to create later but mostly I just read them and absorb the language of food, the style of cooking, the pace of the life they are promoting. Long before The Food Network and even public TV cooking shows (who can forget Julia Child), there were cookbooks to teach us how to cook, how to serve and even how to arrange a table.

In my fresh out of college flight attendant years, when I didn’t cook often and ate out lots, I enjoyed reading the cookbook classics- Mastering the Art of French Cooking, The Joy of Cooking, Southern Living Cookbooks and in my world, The
Gasparilla Cookbook. It was rare that I actually created one of the recipes (who has time for recipes that begin with “On Day 1” when you will be out of the state on Day 3) but I enjoyed the journey from appetizer to dessert in a way most people enjoy a good novel. I am sure I picked up some tips along the way and no doubt my fondness for cloth napkins at every meal started with these classic books. The pace of life and the recipes presented were from a time when you created a meal and everyone sat down at the same time, no TV, no cellphones. Just candles, folded napkins and a meal made out of what was seasonally available or even grown in the cook’s garden.

Rachal Ray’s 30 minute meal cookbooks, are just what you would expect- fast paced, energetic and full of optimism. They are designed to get the reader from kitchen to table in 30 minutes, and while the recipes are typically fairly easy and unforgiving, you don’t necessarily come away with any great insight into the world of cooking. You finish fast, the family gets a home cooked meal and nutritionally you are better off than ordering pizza or grabbing a “99 cent heart attack” meal. It is fast paced reading, not really lending itself to being a “curl up on the couch and lose yourself” kinda book. But when I was a single, working mom with 2 hungry sons to feed, I appreciated her commitment to home cooked meals in a hurry. And she made me realize it doesn’t have to take all day or even all of one hour to pull it off.

Bread cookbooks are rarely fast paced or demanding of unique ingredients and are my favorite to read. Years before I baked my first loaf of bread, I enjoyed reading about the science of bread making. Bread recipes are less exacting, more suggesting. 4-6 cups of flour, water warm to touch and rising times that vary with the coldness of the kitchen. Bread making is more physical than most cooking as you must knead the dough and punch it down. Starters must be fed, yeast must bloom, dough must rise and yet since the beginning of time we have made, baked and lived on bread. I have found that a simple soup, omelette or salad seems far more satisfying with a warm slice of fresh made bread. The yeasty goodness of the bread brings out the best in whatever it sits beside. Slathered with butter and jam or drizzled with honey, it makes the perfect breakfast or before bed snack and completes all meals in between.

Read a cookbook. Create a meal. Enjoy sharing the gift of food with those you love or those you have just met.

JLMA Jann

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Blueberries on Sale

Blueberries on sale are like a beacon of light on a dark sea. I cannot resist it. Usually time constraints keep me from purchasing more than one or two pints but my current between jobs vacation is allowing me to indulge in all sorts of creative endeavors not normally allowed. So I loaded up my recycle bag with 6 pints of luscious blueberries and headed home on a hot, August day to create some blueberry magic.

Blueberry Jam is one of my favorite things to spread on homemade bread or scones. Thick, fragrant and packed with berry flavor, it is easy to make and perfect to share with family and friends. 2.5 pints of berries makes about 5 cups of jam and and I could eat it every day and be quite happy. My sons love this jam but of course need a loaf of homemade bread to go with it. They are so spoiled by me but I am so blessed with them that it all evens out.

With 3.5 pints remaining, I turned to my second favorite blueberry recipe- Blueberry Sauce. This requires only one pint of berries, some sugar, water, a little cornstarch and lemon juice. 10 minutes later you have a wonderful sauce to spoon over pancakes, gingerbread or homemade frozen yogurt. We ate dinner on the deck last night and even with the fans going, it felt a bit warm. Bowls of homemade frozen vanilla yogurt topped with this sauce, turned a slightly warm night into a perfect evening. Smeared on a pancake or ladled over a waffle, it makes one linger over breakfast and relish the intense blueberry flavor.

My blueberry trifecta is complete with a warm from the oven Blueberry Lemon Bread. Rich with butter, cream cheese, buttermilk and packed with berries, it is the perfect accompaniment for cup of tea or a cold glass of milk. A special treat for breakfast or the perfect ending to a light summer meal, it is everything I want in a bread. The lemony aroma of this bread as it cools on the counter will come back to me on a cold February day and remind me to pull out the berries frozen during the summer, make a loaf of this bread and enjoy a slice of summer by the fire.

JLMA Jann

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