Wednesday, June 29, 2011

True Believer: Chicken Pesto Sandwiches and a Picnic on a Hill

In Boone Creek, North Carolina (which isn't actually a real place, although the other day when I was browsing Nicholas Sparks' website I found out that it's modeled after Pamlico County), journalist Jeremy Marsh has been invited to investigate some mysterious lights that appear from time to time in an old cemetery. (Click here for more about the mystery of the ghost lights.) The town has a rich history, including a Civil War skirmish that took place on Riker's Hill (also fictional). Jeremy asks Lexie Darnell, the librarian, to show him Riker's Hill, because from the top one has a good view of Boone Creek, including the cemetery, a railroad trestle, and a paper mill across the river--which Jeremy suspects may have something to do with the graveyard lights. At lunchtime one day, taking a break from his research at the library, Jeremy accompanies Lexie to Riker's Hill, where they share a snack of cheese and crackers, fruit, and Snapple. They don't stay too long--it's January after all.

Boone Creek is also the home of Herb's Restaurant, the most popular eatery in town. It's owned by Lexie's grandmother, Doris, and she is known for her famous chicken pesto sandwich, one she has named The Albemarle. When Jeremy visits Herb's to have a chat with Doris--the person who invited Jeremy to Boone Creek in the first place--she serves him her signature sandwich, on homemade bread complete with fresh tomato and sprouts.

Not far from here there are real hills and valleys that were sites of actual Civil War skirmishes and battles. One of these, Lee's Hill, was the command post of Gen. Robert E. Lee during the battle of Fredericksburg in December of 1862. From the top, Lee had a sweeping view of the town below, and he watched as the Union army crossed the Rappahannock River, occupied the town, and advanced on the Confederates, who were entrenched just below him on Marye's Heights (now the site of the cemetery where many of the Union soldiers who were killed are now buried). Even though the Confederates were greatly outnumbered, their strategic position behind a stone wall was a perfect defense, and nearly 13,000 Federal troops were killed or wounded that day.

Later, in May of 1863, Marye's Heights and Lee's Hill were overrun by Union troops during the Chancellorsville campaign.

(Here are some links if you want to read more about Lee's Hill and the Battle of Fredericksburg. It's fascinating stuff; now you know why it's taken me so long to get this post published.)

Read the National Park Service description of Lee's Hill here and here.

Battle of Fredericksburg links:

National Park Service

Civil War Trust


Now for the food:


Every single pesto recipe I found had three ingredients in common: basil, garlic, and pine nuts. Since Moe is allergic to nuts I wanted to make a pesto that he could eat. I didn't find a nut-free recipe, but I did find some suggestions for people who wanted to leave them out; namely, sun dried tomatoes and lemon zest. I didn't have a whole lot of basil--I didn't want to cut too much off the one on my deck because the plant is still kind of small, and I didn't want to buy it in the grocery store--but I did have a nice big bunch of cilantro that I had bought the previous weekend at the farmer's market and still hadn't used.


One large bunch of cilantro

one small bunch of basil

one small bunch of parsley, optional

About a third of a cup of sun dried tomatoes

Zest of one large or two small lemons

Four or five cloves of garlic

Olive oil, about two tablespoons

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Put all ingredients into a food processor and chop until it's the consistency you like.

For the sandwiches, I found this recipe for chicken pesto sandwiches with Havarti and carmelized onions, and adapted it slightly. Here's my version:

Four to six boneless chicken breasts, sliced through the middle to make thin cutlets

Cilantro-basil pesto

sliced tomato

Alfalfa sprouts

Bread of Your Choice

Place the chicken cutlets in a gallon-sized ziploc bag and add about half the pesto. Seal the bag and use your hands to cover all the chicken pieces. Refrigerate for at least two hours.

Grill the chicken until done. Spread reserved pesto on bread; top chicken with a tomato slice and sprouts. Add cheese or mayo if you wish. Enjoy!

(adapted from For the Love of Cooking: Pesto Chicken Sandwich with Carmelized Onions and Havarti. I think next time I'll try it with the onions and cheese--it looks and sounds delicious.)

The chicken and the bread. I made our favorite homemade buns for the sandwiches. I've posted the recipe here and here.

We packed it all up and took a little trip to Lee's Hill where we spread out our blanket and took in the view, the history, and a yummy picnic.

I had mine on gluten-free bread with a nice thick slice of locally grown tomato (the first of the season--delicious!) and some alfalfa sprouts. The rest of the family skipped the sprouts. I don't mind because that means more for me--I love them.

We brought Brie and apple-smoked cheddar cheese, apples, fresh local cantaloupe, and crackers (gluten-free for me of course). The Limited Edition Amazing Race Payapa Mango Snapple was a big hit!

General Lee had a much different view without all these tall trees.

During the battle, a cannon exploded and nearly killed Lee and Longstreet. Later an artillery shell that was sent their way from Stafford Heights across the river landed nearby; fortunately it failed to detonate.

Stay tuned for what I like to call "Lexies' Super-Easy Lighthouse Linguine" !

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Barbecue, Eastern North Carolina Style!

Last winter I made our favorite Southwestern style barbecue for Larry's birthday. Since A Bend in the Road has a barbecue connection, and like most of Nick's novels, it's set in Eastern North Carolina, I decided for authenticity's sake I would try a barbecue recipe more like the one Miles Ryan would have eaten at his favorite diner.

After browsing the Internet for recipes, I decided to try this one, from The Houndstooth Gourmet:

(Oh, by the way, if you click on the link to the recipe and read the comments, you'll see one complaint that this isn't REALLY North Carolina style barbecue because it should only have cider vinegar and pepper flakes, and nothing else. I don't care. I like this barbecue sauce.)

Crock Pot Pulled Pork in an Eastern NC BBQ Sauce


• 2 large yellow onions, cut from pole to pole and sliced to your liking
• 3 lbs. pork loin (be sure that it has a decent fat cap) or pork shoulder
• 1/2 cup balsamic vinegar or pomegranate balsamic vinegar (Sharon here: I used a combination of balsamic and pomegranate vinegar since I had both)
• 1 cup apple cider vinegar
• 1 cup red wine vinegar
• 6 tbsp brown sugar, dark
• 3 tbsp sugar
• 2 Tablespoons paprika
• 2 teaspoons kosher salt
• 1 teaspoon fresh-cracked black pepper
• 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
• 2 teaspoons crushed red pepper flakes
• 2 Tablespoons spicy brown mustard
• 1 Tablespoon garlic powder

Layer the sliced onions on the bottom of the crock pot. Place the pork loin on top of the onions, fat cap up. Place the remaining ingredients in a mixing bowl and whisk to combine. Pour over the pork and onions. Set the crock pot on low and cook for 6-7 hours until pork is fork-tender and ready to pull apart. Baste the pork with the sauce and onions about once an hour. Also, as the pork nears finishing, check the acidity of your sauce to adjust for sweet/sour ratio that is to your liking.

Remove pork and shred/pull. Reserve sauce and onions separate to serve a la minute with the pork. If you keep the pork and sauce together, the sauce will get absorbed and you will not be able to “dress” your dish and have those juices flowing down your chin!


The sauce was amazing, and there was plenty of extra to mix in with the meat. The meat itself was a little dry, probably because a). it sat in my freezer way too long and b.) I left it in the Crock Pot an hour or so longer than I should have. The spicy-sweet sauce took care of that nicely, though! I was able to freeze at least a pint of leftover sauce; next time we want barbecue I'll roast a nice fresh pork loin in the oven and use the sauce I already made. It might even be good for a weeknight!

I had mine on gluten-free bread. I wanted to make my favorite Bobby Flay coleslaw, but since I was already making two cakes (this one and this one) and strawberry pink lemonade that day, I decided to pick some up at the deli this time.

Stay tuned for some DELICIOUS chicken and pesto, with a teensy lesson in Civil War History.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

7 Quick Takes, Volume 5


I finally got some herbs planted on my deck! One thing I love about summer is cooking with fresh basil, parsley, thyme, and mint. I think I'll make some mint tea this weekend.


Strawberry season is pretty much over, and I used some of the last local berries to make strawberry pink lemonade. I made it last New Year's when we had our A Walk To Remember party, and it was good; but this batch was heavenly.


Look what I happened upon the other day in the paperback section of my grocery store:

Sometimes a new cover design on one of Nick's books means there is a movie coming out in the near future. Alas, I'm afraid that isn't the case for this one. I guess the publisher decided it was time The Rescue had a fresh new look.

The guy looks a little like Ben Affleck, from the back...and the girl, hmmm....

That gives me an idea--Who would YOU cast in a movie version of The Rescue?


Last weekend some dear friends had a cookout to celebrate the end of the school year. I brought the stuffed mushrooms I made for The Wedding, and they were a huge hit!


I've started reading Stieg Larsson's The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. It has kind of a slow beginning, but I've been assured by several people that once the story gets going it's hard to put down. I'll let you know how I like it; and if it's good maybe I'll try to read the whole trilogy this summer. In between re-reading Nick's books, of course.


Last week Larry graduated from the eighth grade! There was a Mass and graduation ceremony at church for all the eighth graders at the Catholic school. And a reception and a party, and plenty of cake for everyone.


Stellar Sparks Tweets (posted by @SparksNicholas on June 6, 2011)

Love is what makes you smile when you're tired.

Word to the wise: If someone invites you to their wedding, it's bad form to say, "Sorry I can't make it, but I'll come to your next one."


We're having a picnic on Saturday (my family doesn't know that yet, tee hee) and I'll be making chicken pesto sandwiches. And I haven't forgotten about that barbecue recipe; it's next on my Cooking Nick's Books to-do list. Have a fabulous weekend!

And be sure to check out Jen Fulwiler's Conversion Diary for more Quick Takes!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Bonus "Wedding" Post: Allergy Free Vanilla Cake

I was planning to share this recipe in my next 7 Quick Takes, but I realized it deserves a whole blog post of its very own.

Now, before you hit the "back" button and decide not to read this because a). no one in your family has food allergies and b). you want to make a cake that actually tastes good and these dairy-free egg-free ones usually taste like sawdust, keep reading! This may be just what you're looking for. (By the way, that sawdust thing? Just a myth.)

When I made our vanilla cake with sour cream frosting, I also wanted to make a cake that Allergy Boy Moe could eat. I asked him if he wanted me to fix the banana cake I usually make for his birthdays, (click here for the recipe; and to see a few cakes I've made for him, go here and here) but he said no, he wanted a vanilla cake. That's OK, I assured him, because I don't have to put bananas in it; I can leave those out and add more vanilla instead. No, he said, he wanted a REAL cake. Whatever that means.

Often when I'm baking for Moe, I'll use Egg Replacer in place of eggs Normally I'll mix a tablespoon and a half (heaping) of Egg Replacer with two tablespoons of water for one egg. It usually works very well, as long as the recipe doesn't call for more than a couple of eggs; things like brownies and cakes usually call for three or more. (Your should have seen the brownies I tried making with it. What a mess.) I'm a little apprehensive of trying a new egg-free cake recipe for fear of what it might turn into. I decided to pull out our box of Egg Replacer and see if there were any recipes on it I could use (I've made the pancakes--actually, my mother makes them every time we come visit and the kids finally convinced me to try them too. I'll share that one with you sometime as well.)

Anyway, I showed Moe this recipe

and he took one look at it and said, "Yes! Make that one!" and then skipped off to finish his Wii game or whatever it was he was doing. Well, all right then! I guess by a "real" cake, he meant something different than what he usually gets.


2 cups all-purpose wheat flour
1 cup brown sugar
3 teaspoons (one tablespoon) baking powder
1 teaspoon Ener-G Egg Replacer
1/4 cup plus 1/2 tablespoon shortening
1-1/3 cups water
Flavor of your choice(optional)*

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Mix the first four ingredients together. Add the shortening and mix well. Add the water and flavor and mix two minutes. Pour into a greased eight-inch cake pan. Bake for 30 minutes or until the middle is firm to touch.

*I added about a teaspoon of vanilla. I also added soy milk powder to the dry ingredients to give it even more flavor. I'm sure you could replace the water with soy or rice milk (or cow's milk, for that matter) and it would probably work just fine.

Using brown sugar gave the cake a nice golden color, and a slight nutty flavor.

Most people cringe at the idea of eating cake made without eggs because sometimes, they're not quite as good as the traditional variety (personally I think allergy-free baked goods have gotten a bad rap). This one, however, was delicious. I know because I snuck a bite. (I'm supposed to be on a gluten-free diet, but hey, I HAD to test this new recipe out...) And it met with Moe's approval, too.

Around here, a 16-ounce box of Egg Replacer usually costs around nine dollars. That might seem like a lot, but considering that (and I haven't actually done the math, so I'm only guessing here) eggs cost somewhere between two and four dollars a dozen--depending on where you get them and what kind-- and one box can last me several months, I KNOW each box is equivalent to several dozen eggs at least. You'd be spending less money because you don't have to buy all those eggs. (If anyone has figured out how many "eggs" you can get from one box of egg replacer, I'd love to know.)

I made some double-chocolate cookies the other day with it, and guess what? You'd never know they were egg-free. Larry just wolfed down three of them and raved about how good they were.

Stay tuned in the next few days for 7 Quick Takes, and a new recipe for barbecue I tried recently!

Sunday, June 12, 2011

True Believer: Easy Weeknight Pasta

True Believer is the first half of a two-part story that continues with At First Sight. I've read that Nick had originally intended for it to be only one book, but the story got so long and complicated he decided to divide it into two. This was just fine with me, because when these books came out, one came in the fall and the other in the spring. Two Sparks books in one year! That hasn't happened since.

Meet Jeremy Marsh, a city slicker journalist from New York, who travels to the fictional town of Boone Creek, North Carolina for an article he's writing for Scientific American. The town is known for its rich history, and more importantly, the mysterious lights that appear from time to time in an old graveyard. There are all kinds of legends surrounding these lights, and many people are content to believe they are caused by ghosts. Others are inclined to suspect a more logical explanation, and Jeremy is called on to get to the bottom of the mystery.

We interrupt this blog to bring you the following cartoon, Mater and the Ghost Light.

Now back to our regularly scheduled blog post.

Enter Lexie Darnell, the town librarian. Upon arriving in Radiator Springs--er, Boone Creek--and after checking in to his motel room at the Greenleaf Inn (which is owned by the local taxidermist, and to Jeremy's horror, is decorated with an assortment of dead animals), Jeremy decides to check out the cemetery that is the cause of so much excitement in town. There he finds a beautiful lady wandering among the graves and strikes up a conversation with her. Turns out that as the librarian, she has been assigned the task of helping him find the books and articles he needs to do the research for his story.

We soon learn that it was Lexie's grandmother, Doris, who wrote Jeremy and asked him to investigate the graveyard lights and write the article explaining the cause of them. Doris, it seems, has a sixth sense, a kind of ESP if you will, and is able to perceive things most people can't, like reading people's moods and predicting the sex of babies in the womb. Doris doesn't buy the old ghost light story, and wants Jeremy to solve the mystery once and for all.

Lexie grew up in Boone Creek, and was raised by Doris after her parents were killed in an automobile accident. Lexie and Doris are very close, and Lexie often drops by Doris' house after work and the two cook dinner together. After meeting Jeremy in the cemetery and at the library, Lexie finds she is quite taken with him, but at the same time finds him a little bit arrogant and self-centered and doesn't quite know what to do with those mixed feelings. That night while preparing and eating a simple meal of pasta and salad, Lexie is quiet and Doris suspects that it has something to do with the tall dark stranger who's just rolled into town.

What are Lexie and Doris having for dinner? Pasta tossed with sautee'd bacon, onions, and garlic, and a tossed salad with tomatoes and carrots.

I found this wonderful applewood smoked bacon at our local butcher shop. I don't think I'll ever buy bacon anywhere else.

I diced up the bacon along with some onions, and sautee'd them together with some minced garlic,

and tossed it all up with some spaghetti.

After throwing together a tossed salad,

...dinner is served! I had gluten-free rice pasta on my plate, and a hunk of fresh mozzarella on the side. Easy and delicious!

Lexie and Jeremy do fall in love, as you may have guessed; I'll tell you a little bit more about that as we continue our journey through this two-volume soap opera. We'll have another picnic, and we'll also try making the pasta sauce that Lexie whips up for Jeremy when he shows up unannounced at her beach house one cold winter afternoon.

In the meantime I'll be revisiting a couple of earlier books with an Eastern North Carolina barbecue recipe, and we might even make ice cream. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The Wedding: The Cake is Key

Do you have any idea how long it took me to make this last weekend?

I'm just teasing, of course. That's a photo of OUR wedding cake, taken as we were cutting into it. (Do you really think I could build something like that? Not a chance.) I will tell you right now, with no apologies, that I have NEVER seen a more beautiful cake than the one we had at our wedding, and I have NEVER tasted one nearly as scrumptious as ours, either, before or since. I'm not kidding. It was literally melt-in-your-mouth delicious. Imagine the most delectable cake you've ever tasted; it was a hundred times better than that.

OK, maybe I'm exaggerating just a little. My brother-in-law's wedding cake was beautiful and delicious,

and so was my brother's.

Anyway, enough about those; on with the blog post.

A wedding takes careful planning. You've got to set a date, choose a venue, decide who will perform the ceremony, find a place to have your reception, and figure out who will be seated with whom. (What a nightmare THAT is.) Some couples go to marriage preparation classes. The bride has to find a dress and choose bridesmaids and then decide what the bridesmaids will wear. Flowers have to be purchased, the groom needs to pick the groomsmen and figure out what THEY will wear and arrange for rentals (the groom has the easy part, because that's pretty much all he has to do). The couple must decide what kind of music to have, maybe hire a DJ or a band, choose a menu, purchase more flowers, pick out the invitations, send the invitations, decide where to register for gifts, choose china and crystal patterns, register for a gazillion other gifts from towels to pots and pans to throw rugs. Then there are the details of the wedding ceremony to sort out: What will be the songs chosen? Will anyone be singing? Will we have a flower girl and a ring bearer? Oh, and let's not forget to get gifts for all the bridesmaids and groomsmen, and put out favors for all of the guests. And what about who to invite and who not to invite? Will there be alcohol served? Rice or birdseed? You have to choose a photographer, and hope and pray that they'll take good pictures without charging you out the wazoo. And whether or not you want to hire a videographer--in our case we asked a dear friend who had done such a good job taking amateur video of another friend's wedding, we asked him to do ours. For payment we gave him the same cheesy monogrammed beer stein that all the groomsmen got. He's still our friend.

My mother has said that the most important thing to consider when planning your wedding is the cake. A cake, she says, can make or break a wedding. You could have the most beautiful ceremony, delicious food, and great music; but if your cake tastes like sawdust it can ruin the whole thing. She says she has been to a number of weddings with cakes that looked absolutely stunning, but have been completely inedible. Personally I've never tasted a wedding cake that was THAT bad, but certainly some cakes are better than others. Mine being the best, of course.

Why am I telling you all this? In Nicholas Sparks' The Wedding, our hero Wilson, his wife Jane, and their daughter, Anna have exactly one week to plan a wedding. I had an entire year. Luckily they already had the perfect place, his father-in-law's stately house that Wilson has been renovating. They know people, too, and are able to pull some strings to find a caterer, a photographer, and they manage to find dresses for the bride and bridesmaids quickly. (Although, if you read the book, you might guess that someone had been planning it for longer than they let on--but I don't want to ruin the surprise ending.)

Nick doesn't mention what type of food is being served at this wedding, but he does say that the cake will be vanilla, two layers, with sour cream frosting.

Well, I thought when I read that, I've just gotta make one of those.

I browsed through all my cookbooks for recipes for vanilla cake and sour cream frosting, found one or two, but decided to turn to the Internet to see what I could find there. This cake from looked perfect:


• 2 cups (500 mL) sugar
• 4 eggs
• 2-1/2 cups (625 mL) all-purpose flour
• 1 cup (250 mL) milk
• 3/4 cup (175 mL) vegetable oil
• 2-1/4 teaspoons (11 mL) baking powder
• 1 teaspoon (5 mL) vanilla

Cooking Instructions

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (180 degrees C). Line two 9-inch (23-cm) round cake pans or one 9x13-inch (23 x 33 cm) rectangular baking pan with parchment paper. Grease the paper and the sides of the pan well.

2. In a large mixing bowl, with an electric mixer, beat sugar and eggs together until slightly thickened, about 1 minute. Add flour, milk, oil, baking powder, and vanilla and beat for another minute, just until the batter is smooth and creamy. Don't overbeat. Pour batter into the prepared baking pan(s).

3. Bake in preheated oven for 30 to 40 minutes or until the tops are golden and a toothpick poked into the center of the layer comes out clean. (A single rectangular pan will take longer to bake than two round ones.) Loosen the sides of the cake from the pan with a thin knife, then turn out onto a rack and peel off the paper. Let cool completely before covering with frosting, if desired.

Servings: Two 9-inch (23-cm) round layers, or one 9- x 13-inch (23 x 33 cm) rectangular cake.


So far, so good... had a great one for sour cream frosting:


• 4 tablespoons butter, softened
• 1/2 cup sour cream
• 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
• 1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
• 1/4 teaspoon salt
• 2 3/4 cups confectioners' sugar

In a medium bowl, mix together the butter, sour cream, vanilla, lemon juice and salt. Stir in confectioners' sugar, and beat with an electric mixer until smooth. (source)

I will say that the next time I make frosting I will probably go with a simple buttercream, because this one tended to melt and run off the cake unless it was refrigerated. I even added extra powdered sugar to thicken it up a bit, and it was still pretty messy. I decided not to ice the sides of the cake; only the top and in between the layers. But it sure was delicious.

I had just brought home a bunch of fresh strawberries from the farmer's market the day before; they told me they were the last of the season and there wouldn't be any more next week. Inspired by the photo on the cake recipe's web page, I decided to decorate the cake with them.

I asked Joe if this tasted like wedding cake. "Should it?" he asked. I suppose not, since it didn't look much like a wedding cake.

Want to know a secret? It did taste good enough to be a wedding cake; I cheated and had a bite. And it was even better the next day; I know because I snuck ANOTHER bite. But not as good as our own wedding cake.

I had a gluten-free cupcake that I had in my freezer, made from Namaste gluten free vanilla cake mix. And a teensy bite of the big cake.

Wilson and Jane, even though they only had a week, tried to plan the perfect wedding for their daughter. They wanted the day to be special, because you see, thirty years ago Jane had wanted a big church wedding with all the trimmings, but Wilson had been an atheist at the time and wasn't interested in putting on a show. (Don't worry, he isn't an atheist anymore.) They had eloped and were married by a justice of the peace instead. Since the wedding was taking place on their own anniversary, it was even more important to make it perfect.

Sixteen years ago (almost), I was thinner, and Joe had more hair than he does now. And Father Joe (yes, Joe is his real name), our priest? He had more hair too.

(I promise I did not edit this photo. Whoever snapped this picture really did cut off our heads.)

Last September we took the boys to the Southern Maryland church where we married, and even took a drive by the hotel where we had our reception. Click here for photos and thoughts from that day.

You might be wondering what's so exciting about a book that seems to be all about planning a wedding. Well, for one thing, there is a little side story about Wilson and his father-in-law, Noah, who likes to go out every day and feed a swan that swims in the creek behind his retirement home; and why he is devastated when one day it doesn't show up for its daily Wonder bread. And of course, Nick always likes to throw a plot twist into every story; in The Wedding, the twist is a happy one. I know some people who have literally thrown certain Nicholas Sparks novels across the room when they finished them; I assure you, when you close this book you'll have a smile on your face.

Coming up, I'll tell you about an easy pasta dinner I prepared one night, inspired by True Believer; I'll also show you my first attempt preparing barbecue North Carolina style; and I'll share the recipe for the egg-free, dairy-free vanilla cake I made for Moe.

Friday, June 3, 2011

7 Quick Takes: Where I've Been for the Last Month

It's the end of the school year, and between my job at our parish preschool and trying to keep up with the end-of-the-year events at the boys' school, I've hardly had time to cook or read much of anything (except for reading a chapter a day of Rick Warren's book, A Purpose Driven Life, which I mentioned in my latest post over at Musings of a Catholic Mom). Consequently this blog has had to take a back seat for a while. Here's a rundown of some of the adventures we've had over the last month (some of which are slightly relevant to this blog, at least):


On Mother's Day, my husband and boys cooked me dinner. They've been doing this for the last several years; in the past they have traditionally made Stromboli. Since I've been gluten free for the past few months, they needed to come up with something different.

They went to the store and brought home brie with walnuts and caramel for an appetizer,

steak, corn-on-the-cob, and potatoes. The steak and corn were cooked on the grill, of course!

For dessert: Flourless chocolate mousse cake.


Our neighborhood sits on what used to be a quarry years ago, and is now a wooded subdivision surrounding two small lakes. I think our yard must have been where all the trash was dumped, because we are constantly digging up bits of broken glass and porcelain. One Saturday while admiring a Nehi bottle Joe had pulled from the dirt a few years ago, Curly and Moe decided to see what other treasures they could dig up.

(OK, the Nehi bottle is the one Joe found. Curly and Moe dug up the rest.)


A group of middle school kids from our church attended the annual Junior High Bash for the diocese at one of the Catholic high schools. I went along as a chaperone. The kids played on bouncy stuff, ran around, ate pizza, heard some fantastic music and inspirational talks, and attended Mass in the gym. After Mass, Father Z, the chaplain of the high school, caused quite a stir when he drove the "Popemobile" through the throng of cheering kids. A good time was had by all.

Father Z made many references to our friend Iron Man during his homily.

A ladybug I watched as we lounged around on the grass.

OK, OK, I know it was just a golf cart with a picture of Blessed(!) Pope John Paul II in back...


A vendor was selling morel mushrooms at our local farmers' market, and I decided to bring some home. After browsing the Internet for ways to cook them (because morels can make you sick if eaten raw) I found this recipe:

Morels (bunches of 'em)
Butter/Margarine (3-4 tbsp's)
Frying Pan (non-stick is good...iron skillet is better)
Flour (1/2 cup or so)
Salt/Pepper to taste.


Melt butter/margarine in frying pan (don't overheat it!!!!!)
Coat Morels in flour (either in gallon ziplock bag that has flour in
it or using a plate covered in flour)--coat the cleaned morels well with
Sautee mushrooms (gently) in butter/margarine.
Salt and pepper to taste.


There are a ton more recipes for morels where that came from. In fact, one recipe suggested soaking the morels in water for several hours before cooking them, so I did that. Supposedly this would draw out some of the toxins that could make someone sick who ate them raw.

I sliced the morels lengthwise before coating them in gluten-free breading

They looked and tasted a little like fried oysters. Yum! Too bad morels are only in season for a short time. Until next spring...


May is the season for fresh strawberries,

sugar snap peas (we didn't even cook them; they were so crunchy and sweet I didn't want to ruin them!)

and peas. That's a hunk of homemade butter I bought from a Mennonite family that sells meat and eggs that they raise on their farm, and baked goods that are to die for. Lately I've been scarfing down their coconut macaroons, because to my immense delight, they're gluten free.


A parent of one of the kids at our parish preschool came in one day with two good-sized plastic posts of mint for me and for the teacher I work with. A close friend of said parent, a grandfather of one of the other kids and a native of Cuba, seemed quite excited about this, and began to describe to us how to make mojitos with our new mint plants. Yeah, baby!

I replanted it into one of my own pots. I've heard mint grows pretty big; I probably should have used a bigger one. This weekend, I'm hoping to get some basil and maybe some thyme to add to the little herb garden on my deck.


I've been following Nicholas Sparks on Twitter for a while now, and lately he's posted some tweets that have made me laugh out loud. Therefore I'm now launching my "Stellar Sparks Tweet of the Week" feature right here with these two gems:

R.I.P. #osama--if you were still alive today you'd be drowning.

(posted May 2, right after Osama bin Laden was killed and buried at sea)

And on May 29 Nick posted this:

Advice from my parents: "People never really grow up. They just learn how to act in public."

Oh! and Nick likes to tweet updates about his progress writing his new book, The Best of Me, due to come out this fall. He's almost finished with it. Click here for a sneak peek!

On Sunday I'm making a two-layer vanilla cake with sour cream frosting to finish up our journey through The Wedding, and by this time next week (hopefully) this blog will be back in full swing. I've got some fun projects planned for the next book, True Believer; one of which is leaving me slightly stumped, and I'm thinking seriously of asking Nick himself for advice. Not that there would be a chance in heck that he'd actually respond, and I'm sure I'll come up with something on my own, but still...a girl can dream...

Check out Jen Fulwiler's Conversion Diary blog for more Quick Takes!