Being Southern by birth & heritage, I grew up with my mom serving very specific foods on New Year’s Day. Supposedly, each food offered some sort of mysterious prognostication for the coming year. Our menu always included a pork roast with plenty of garlic, black-eyed peas cooked with bacon, cabbage with onion sauteed in bacon grease, candied sweet potatoes, & corn bread, also made with bacon grease. Now, I’m a sucker for a good tradition, after all, that’s part of the reason I went to Texas A&M! As such, I have carried on this tradition with my family, for the most part. Sometimes, however, the traditionalist in me is in conflict with my inner rebel…the rebel usually wins! That being said, this year I thought I would shake things up a little bit…but I couldn’t completely ignore the tradition!

Besides eating good southern comfort food, New Year’s Day has always been about college football & bowl games at our house. So what better way to celebrate than to combine the two? Are you ready for this amazing concoction? …wait for iiiiiiiiiiiiiit…Año Nuevo Queso…the latest sensation in New Year’s cuisine! It has everything…pork to signify prosperity, black-eyed peas for luck, greens for wealth, corn for those who might miss the cornbread, lots of cheese, & a little beer…we are talking football here! This is another one of those grandma-slappin’-good recipes! Notice, there are no sweet potatoes. That would be weird & I don’t think they are widely traditional…I think my mom just cooked them because my dad like them so much!

Año Nuevo Queso

  • ½ pound breakfast sausage, or chorizo
  • ½ large onion, diced small
  • 2-3 jalapeños, minced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 beer, divided
  • 4 ounces cream cheese
  • ½ cup half & half
  • 12 ounces shredded cheddar cheese, or muenster, asadero, monterey jack, or a mixture
  • 1 can black eyed peas, or 2 cups cooked, rinsed & drained
  • ½ cup salsa
  • 1 bunch collard greens, about 2 cups cooked, diced small
  • 1 cup whole kernel corn
  • ½ cup sour cream
  • 1 teaspoon lime juice
  • salt
  • pepper
  • ¼ cup fresh cilantro, chopped

Method

  1. Brown the sausage in a 4-quart pan. Add the onion; cook until tender. Stir in jalapeño & garlic; cook until fragrant.
  2. Pour in ¼ cup of the beer; deglaze the pan to get all the yummy little bits off the bottom & sides. Drink the remaining beer as you finish making the queso!
  3. Stir in cream cheese, half & half, & cheese. Stir until melted…do not boil!
  4. Mash black-eyed peas coarsely with a fork; stir into cheese mixture.
  5. Stir in salsa, greens, corn, sour cream, & lime juice. Salt & pepper to taste. Heat through.
  6. Remove from heat; stir in cilantro. Serve immediately with tortilla chips…& more beer!

Have you ever actually read the ingredients on many of the spice or seasoning blends that you purchase, and ultimately consume? Well, here are a few examples of what you might find.

Silicon dioxide…that’s ‘sand’ to us common folk, one of the main ingredients in making glass. This is added to many, many items as an anti-caking agent so lumps don’t form. Didn’t your parents tell you not to eat sand when you were a kid?

Cellulose powder (or cellulose in any other form)…commonly called ‘sawdust’. This, too, is used as an anti-caking agent…works for beavers & termites!

Then there’s the ever-popular MSG, or monosodium glutamate. This is a flavor enhancer…why add more herbs when you can just throw in a chemical that makes it taste like there are more herbs? Make sense, right? MSG has recently enjoyed a comeback with it’s new moniker, ‘umami’, but it is still the same old MSG that many people are allergic to.

Some of my favorites include ethoxyquin (also used as a pesticide), calcium stearate (also used as a plasticizer for making plastics and as a surfactant, which is the sudsy stuff in detergents), and carboxymethylcellulose (I don’t know what this is, but can you even pronounce it?)

These “ingredients”, along with propionic acid, malic acid, guar gum, and many others, are labelled by the Food & Drug Administration as “food additives”. On average, Americans eat their weight in food additives every year. According to the FDA, a food additive is “any substance the intended use of which results or may reasonably be expected to result…in its affecting the characteristics of food.” In other words, they aren’t “food”, but they do things to our food. Many additives are actually derivates of foods, like paprika oleoresin, added for color…I mean, really…why not just use paprika, instead of a perverted form of paprika?

Because I want to ingest as little of this stuff as possible & because I don’t want my family to ingest it either, I make many of my own seasoning blends. This also allows me to control the amount of sugar & salt that is added to our food…I know, I’m a control freak…Son reminds me…often! Did you know that some Cajun seasoning blends contain over 30% salt? That means if you want more seasoning, you are also going to get more salt…a lot more salt, whether you want it or not. And many seasonings contain sugar or corn syrup derivates, but I don’t really want sugar in my tacos! So I am going to share with you my recipe for taco seasoning. It is sugar free & salt free, so you are free to adjust to your taste! This recipe is also free of sand & sawdust, so it may clump a little. Just break those little clumps up with a spoon & enjoy!

Taco Seasoning Mix

Servings/Yield: about 1 cup, enough to season 8 pounds of ground beef

  • ¼ cup chili powder (if you can’t find one at the store without all of the added “stuff”, try making your own with this recipe)
  • 3 tablespoons ground cumin
  • 3 tablespoons paprika
  • 2 tablespoons onion powder
  • 2 tablespoons garlic powder
  • ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper

Method

Mix all ingredients together thoroughly. Store in an airtight container. Use 1/8 cup (2 tablespoons) per pound of ground beef. Brown ground beef, add seasoning, water, & salt to taste; simmer for 10 minutes.


Cooler weather is here…it’s time to break out the long sleeves, jackets, & toe socks! And it’s time for some soul-warming soup, like Sausage & Cabbage Soup…not one of the most nutritious, but definitely one of the easiest & most comforting. To improve the nutritional value, make sure to use sausage that is free of nitrites & made from antibiotic & hormone free meat.

Sausage & Cabbage Soup

Yield: 8 servings

Fabulous with a piece of crusty bread to sop up all the wonderful flavors!

  • 2 pounds smoked sausage, thinly sliced
  • 1 head cabbage, shredded
  • 1 can cream of celery soup
  • 1 can cream of mushroom soup
  • 2 soup cans water, or more
  • 8 ounces processed American cheese

Method

Brown sausage in a 5-quart Dutch oven. Add cabbage; wilt for 3-5 minutes. Stir in soups & water; bring to a simmer. Add cheese; stir until melted. More water can be added to achieve the desired consistency, just bring back to a simmer after adding. Serve immediately.


One day this summer as I was cutting some fresh corn off of the cob to make some delicious Black Bean & Corn Salsa, it began to bother me how much of the “corn” was going into the compost bin versus how much was going into the salsa…I’m sure you’ve had the same thought. Being the frugal (read ‘penny-pinching’) person that I am, I began to brainstorm about what could be done with all that “waste”…because composting just isn’t enough! There’s bound to be some more use I could get out of those cobs & shucks!

Since I love to cook, I thought I could probably make a broth that I could add to some of the soups we love, instead of just using water. I’d never done it before with corn cobs & I’d never heard of such, but I decided to check it out. So I turned to the internet…a wealth of information & ideas at my fingertips! Lo & behold…ideas for corn broth, but not very many. I guess lots of people have never heard of such!

At first, I just simmered the corn cobs in a little water & called it corn broth. Then I decided to get a little more adventurous. The recipe that follows is what I have settled on & makes a delicious broth that will add depth to a variety of recipes. It tastes distinctly ‘corny’, so I use it in dishes, mostly soups, that contain corn…especially chowders. Adjust the amounts of everything according to how many corn cobs you have. I usually have at least 2 or 3, so it makes a nice amount to put in the freezer for later.

So let’s get down the nitty gritty. Before you shuck the corn, peel off the outer 2 layers & discard them into your compost bin. Also, cut the top of the silks off if they are brown & discard this into the compost as well. Wash the outside of the husk & pat dry. Now shuck the corn and cut the husks into smaller pieces, about 2-inches wide. Put the silks & husks in a saucepan. Cut the corn off of the cob & set aside for the recipe of your choice. Now add the cob to your saucepan…you may have to cut it or snap it in half so that it fits. Ok, you’re ready to make some corn broth!

Corn Broth

Servings/Yield:  about 4 cups

  • 1 corn cob, including washed husks & silks
  • 4 cups water
  • 2 peppercorns
  • ¼ teaspoon salt

Method

  1. Cut husks into 2-inch pieces. Put all ingredients in a 3-quart saucepan. Cover & simmer for about 30 minutes.
  2. Remove cob; allow to cool. With a sieve, strain remaining broth to remove husks & silks, pressing husks against the side of the sieve to remove any excess liquid. Scrape cob with the back edge of a knife & add to strained broth.

Most of us have seen the pictures of the lake taken recently. It’s a very sobering thought when you consider that it is possible for us to completely run out of water. Water is actually one of our most scarce resources. Sure, water covers about ⅔ of the surface of Earth, but fresh water only accounts for about 2.5% of the total water on Earth. Of that, 68.6% is frozen in the polar ice caps & glaciers, leaving less than 1% of Earth’s water available for use…but not really. Much of that “available water” is in the form of groundwater, meaning it is underground. Lakes & rivers, where most of us get our water, only account for 0.007% of the total water on Earth. (statistics from USGS) If water is so scarce, then why do we often take it for granted? I think it’s because it is so easily accessible. We just turn on the faucet & out comes clean, fresh water! Many times, we don’t stop to think where it comes from or what it takes to get it to our faucet.

If there is a bright side to a drought, it would have to be the heightened awareness of the scarcity of our water & what we can do to cut back on our usage. We are called by God to be good stewards of His creation. That includes not being wasteful, but also taking care of what we have. Not only is it not good stewardship to water the sidewalk instead of the grass, but it is also poor stewardship to not water our yards at all…just letting the trees die, most of which are older than all of us (& some older than my dad…he’s 87!)

We are all aware of the imposed water use restrictions, but there are many other things we can do to decrease our usage & still help keep the trees & plants alive. There are the obvious things, like

  • Make sure you don’t have any water leaks. If you do, fix them immediately.
  • When you wash your hands, get the soap first, then turn on the water.
  • Don’t keep the water running while you brush your teeth. Just turn the water to on to wet your toothbrush, turn it off while you brush, then turn it back on to rinse.
  • Of course, you have to wash your clothes & your dishes, so make sure that the loads are full to reduce the number of loads that you have to wash. If you wash dishes by hand, don’t leave the water running…catch a little in each side of the sink, wash on one side, rinse on the other.
  • Check the water usage on your toilet…it’s usually stamped on the top rim of the bowl, right behind the seat. Older fixtures use at least 4 times as much water as newer ones. Beginning in 1995, federal regulations mandated that toilets use no more than 1.6 gallons per flush, whereas older toilets use 6-8 gallons every time you flush. If you have an older toilet, just think how much water you could save if you replace it!
  • Refrain from filling or topping off swimming pools & hot tubs…these are a luxury, not a necessity, so let’s save our water usage for those things we really need!

Then there are the less obvious things, that maybe you haven’t thought of, like

  • Take “Navy” showers. For those who did not grow up with the benefit of a dad that served in the Navy, this may be a foreign concept. It’s simple…turn on the water & get wet, then turn off the water, soap up, then turn the water back on & rinse off…voila! A Navy shower!
  • Catch your shower water in your tub, or just don’t drain your bath water. Dip it out with a big bowl & carry it outside to water your plants & trees…this will take several trips!
  • Shower with your spouse (guys, you can thank me later!) Not only does this use significantly less water than individual showers, it also gives you some much-needed “alone time”.
  • Put a large bowl or soup pot in your kitchen sink to catch the water from washing your hands or grapes or broccoli or… When it’s full, carry it outside to water your plants & trees…again, multiple trips.
  • Don’t pour out the water you used to soak your beans or cook your pasta (or potatoes, or whatever). Put it in a bowl, let it cool somewhat, then carry it outside to water your plants & trees.
  • Use the above idea for just about anything else you can think of…old dog’s water, that glass of water that someone didn’t finish, __________________ (fill in the blank) Pour it outside on your plants & trees…they will thank you for it & you won’t have to use the sprinkler as much!

Now for the really obscure (read “hippie”) ideas:

  • Do you really need to take a shower every day? Probably not. Now, some of us do…I live with someone that gets quite sweaty & definitely MUST shower every day! But for many of us, we don’t really get dirty or sweaty every day, so a shower is not necessary EVERY day. Besides, the more you shower, the more you wash off the natural oils that keep your skin moisturized…then you have to use more lotion to replace those oils so your skin is not dry. Ok, some of you are saying, “But I need to wash my hair!” Well, then, wash you hair…in the kitchen sink with the sprayer. This uses A LOT less water than showering. Then use a damp washcloth to freshen the “pits” & “nether regions”; reapply deodorant & you should be good to go for another day!
  • Is that shirt (or pants or shorts) really dirty after just one wear? Maybe, maybe not. Does it look dirty? Does it smell dirty? If the answer to both of these is “No”, then it’s probably not really dirty & could be worn again. Re-wearing clothes that aren’t really dirty helps reduce the number of loads of laundry that you have to wash, & Mom, or whomever does the laundry at your house, would sure appreciate that!
  • My personal favorite, for the hardcore conservationist…”If it’s yellow, let it mellow. If it’s brown, flush it down!” Remember the toilets from above? Multiply the amount of water your toilet uses per flush and the number of times you flush per day. This tells you how much water you could save each day by following this simple little mantra! (Believe it or not, in my previous life as a high school teacher, we asked the students to adhere to this one year when there was a severe drought!)

Many of these things can become lifestyle changes that will help us to always conserve water. Some of them are best employed under extreme circumstances, which I believe we are in now. And a few of these ideas require a bit of effort on our parts, but I think having fresh water in the future is worth the effort now. We each need to do our part to reduce our water usage & set an example of good stewardship for future generations. One person’s usage isn’t going to make a huge difference, but 20,000+ working together will!


The subject of poems & songs. What you sing in church if you don’t know the words. The focus of jubilees & festivals (in Stockdale, Hempstead, & McDade, to name a few). The Thump in Luling….Ahhhhhhh, watermelon. Few things signify summer more than ice cold watermelon. (& I, for one, am glad summer has officially arrived. I’m tired of these over 100° ‘Spring’ days. It’s time to cool off with a 97° Summer day!) Mark Twain quipped that watermelon is “king by the grace of God over all the fruits of the earth. When one has tasted it, he knows what the angels eat. It was not a Southern watermelon that Eve took; we know it because she repented.”

Because watermelons are 92% water, early explorers used them as canteens. They are also high in Vitamins A, B6, & C. A 2-cup serving has more lycopene than any other fresh fruit or vegetable and about 10% of your daily requirement of potassium…a much needed mineral to prevent muscle cramps. All of these factors make watermelon a very refreshing & healthy snack on these sweltering summer days. Darren prefers his watermelon the old-fashioned way…ice cold, in hand. I, however, take a more civilized approach…I prefer mine juiced. To juice a watermelon, just cut it up & put the red ‘meat’ in the food processor (seeds too). Puree, then strain through a fine-meshed sieve…voila! watermelon juice! Since we are a house divided, our watermelon must also be divided. I usually cut half of it up for Darren & juice the other half for me, keeping it in a pitcher in the fridge.

What does one do with all of that watermelon juice, you might ask? Well, I’ll tell you…I drink it…in any one of 5 delicious adult beverages that I so enjoy. Probably my favorite one is the Lady Bug. No, I think it’s the Watermelon Cooler. Welllllll, the Watermelon Martini is also pretty stinkin’ good. It’s the Watermelon Margarita, definitely. I got it! The Watermelon Mojito…two great refreshments in one!

Below you will find the recipes for the Lady Bug & the Watermelon Martini. Click the links above on the recipe names to find the others. A couple of them call for sour mix. I have found that homemade is best…as usual (& also very easy)! So enjoy my recipe for that too!

For more watermelon fun facts, recipes, & information, click here! or here!

Lady Bug

Servings/Yield:  1 servings

2 ounces vodka

1 ounce sour mix

4 ounces watermelon juice

Method

Stir all ingredients together. Serve very cold.

Watermelon Martini

Servings/Yield:  1 servings

2 ounces vodka

1 ounce sour apple schnapps

1 ounce watermelon juice

Method

Put all ingredients in a shaker; shake well. Pour in a martini glass; enjoy.


After being boxed for about 10 years, my sewing materials have finally found their new home…I’m Sew Excited! Why, you ask, have they been boxed? Because we moved to Brownwood (10 years ago), bought a house that needed COMPLETE renovation (which we are still not done with), & I had no place to put them that was accessible…until now. Darren finished a particular room in our house allowing me to shift things around so that I could finally move my sewing materials to their home…& I could finally have a hobby again!

I know it’s becoming a lost art, but I LOVE to sew. For me it is a creative outlet & very relaxing. My mother, however, was just the opposite…sewing made her VERY tense (it was best to stay outside & play)! Unfortunately, I enjoy it so much, I can easily get involved in what I’m doing & lose all track of time…oh, you’re hungry? Well, yeah…I mean, it’s 9:00 & we haven’t had dinner yet! Oops!

One of the first things I needed to do with my new-found fun was make a few aprons. Aprons are a key part of my wardrobe as a stay-at-home mom. I wear them when I cook, wash dishes, clean, pot plants, pick the garden…anything that could potentially get my clothes dirty. I even wear one when I sew to carry my scissors, pins, whatever. The last time I made aprons was nineteen eigh…oh, that’s not important! Suffice it to say it was a long time ago & they are getting worn. It’s time for some new ones.

As I unpacked my sewing materials, I found several cute fabrics that I wanted to use to make aprons. I even had coordinating fabrics that I could use for the trim. If you’ve ever bought bias tape to trim something, you know that color choice is very limited…plus it costs a fortune considering how much fabric is actually in it. So I decided I would make my own. It’s a little time consuming, but sooooo worth it! First, I had to estimate how much trim I would need for each apron. Then I cut 2-inch strips of fabric, making sure to cut more than necessary to account for what is lost when the pieces are sewn together. Next, I sewed the strips together. To do this, place the fabric ends together, at 90 degree angles. Sew together across the corner…this gives an angled seam, which will be easier to sew through later.

 

 

Now trim the seam allowance to 1/4-inch & press the seam open.

 

 

 

 

Next, press your strip of fabric in half lengthwise. Now open the fabric strip back up & press one half of the strip toward the center, bringing the raw edge about two-thirds of the way up toward the center. When you finish this side, turn the strip around & do the other side.

 

 

Finally, fold your trim back together & press. All exposed edges should be folded & the raw edges should be concealed in the center. Using 2-inch strips will yield trim that is approximately 5/8-inch wide. If you want larger or smaller trim, just cut your strips accordingly…the method is the same. Now your perfectly coordinating trim is ready to be used! Happy sewing!

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