Saturday, April 19, 2014

#1,587 Church Family Easter.

One of the best things about being a Southerner is that this headline appears every Easter on the front page of the town newspaper, and that's not just considered acceptable—but essential.
The church family Easter egg hunt was this morning around lunch and it was just adorable and perfect and sunshiney and 75 degrees is all. I got to wear one of my new Quarter Century dresses, so I was tickled before we even left:
We walked out of the front door with fresh cupcakes, a football and a frisbee in tow and at the sidewalk met the Webers and their dog, Nala, headed to Gardiner Park too. Our favorite park in town is just the next block over, actually it's Jim and Mal's front yard, and the church uses it for different outdoor events from time to time, like the family Easter egg hunt. Someone in a horrifying cute Easter bunny costume makes an appearance at the end, but somehow I missed snapping his photo. Hmmm.

 Lucy and Sugar were there, of course.

Busted our minister getting into the cookies before lunch was served.

 That hat! The best.

The same architect who designed NYC's Central Park designer Gardiner Park. Isn't that cool?

It couldn't have been more picture perfect. I wish you could've been there! It reminded me of that scene in Steel Magnolias. You know the one I'm talking about?

Afterward, we nearly killed ourselves hustling to dig and finish both flowerbeds before sundown. Ben was spreading mulch after dark by the light of the truck low beams, so who knows what it actually looks like out there now? I snapped this picture before the light was all gone—sans mulch. I can't wait to show you how it really looks finished once the flowers all grow to be full size. I ended up going with trailing rosemary, lavender, delphiniums, angelonia serena, and white lantanas. I'm so glad we've done it! Please excuse the leaf blower, mulch and water jug. We were moving like crazy people to get it done.

Friday, April 18, 2014

#1,586 Coconut Cake + Shopping.

As is the family tradition in recent years, Ben and I host Easter at our house and I always am in charge of the ham and the coconut cake. I set to work baking first thing when I woke up this morning and came up with an amalgamation of recipes to create what I hope will be the best coconut layer cake I've ever done. In case you're interested in a cake that's not too difficult, I'll share with you! I made 2 kinds of icings, and that's important to the structural soundness of the cake. The base is a box mix, but you won't follow those instructions. Don't be afraid. We can still call it scratch, as far as I'm concerned. If you won't tell, I won't either.

Wait. Too late, I guess.
Coconut Layer Cake with Italian Creme Icing

1 package (21.6 ounces) yellow cake mix 
1 cup sour cream
4 large egg whites
½ cup water
1/3 cup vegetable oil

1 teaspoon coconut extract

The cake is super easy. Here's what you do. Preheat to 350, grease and flour 2 round cake pans. Put the ingredients in your stand mixer, mix on high until all the lumps are smoothed out. Divide between the two cake pans. Bake them for 25-30 minutes. When they're done, set them aside to cool completely. I leave one in the pan, and flip the other onto my cake stand to cool.

While those are baking, you'll make the first icing. You'll need:

Cream Cheese Coconut Icing
1 stick of room temperature butter (NOT margarine!)
1 package (8 oz.) of cold cream cheese
a few cups of confectioners sugar 
     (I'll let you decide on that—I don't love it terribly sweet and only use about 2 cups)
1/2 tsp. coconut extract
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

Put the cream cheese and butter in the stand mixer on low speed until creamy. Add the coconut and vanilla extracts and the confectioners’ sugar, a cup at a time, beating on low until just combined. Increase the mixer speed to medium-high to whip the frosting and fluff it up a little. Scrape this into a different bowl and set aside. This will go between the cake layers because the Italian creme isn't dense or stiff enough to support a cake layer on top of it. It would just all squish out and be a mess.

Now we make the magic special amazing super exotic and European icing.

Italian Creme Coconut Icing
1 cup of heavy whipping cream
1 package (8 oz.) of Italian mascarpone cheese
a few cups of confectioners sugar 
     (I'll let you decide on that again)
1 tsp. coconut extract
1.5 tsp. vanilla extract
2.5 cups of flaked coconut
Toast your coconut on a baking sheet in the oven. Don't let it burn! I let it toast a little, then shuffled it all around with a fork and toasted a little more before removing and setting aside. Pour the whipping cream into the stand mixer, and beat on high until stiff peaks form, put this in a different bowl and set aside. Put the mascarpone, extracts, and confectioners' sugar in the stand mixer and beat until creamy. Add the whipped cream and mix on medium until well incorporated and fluffy and creamy. Check it for sweetness—add a little more sugar and mix more if you need to.

Assemble the cake! Spread the cream cheese icing generously on the top of the bottom layer. Go crazy! Put your top layer on, and pile on the Italian creme icing. Slather it on the cake's top and sides with a butter knife, smoothing it out as you go. Use it all. It's the best thing you'll ever do. Pack handfuls of the toasted coconut all over the icing. Refrigerate until you're ready to serve.

Thank goodness for the empty fridge in Jim and Mal's guest house that's keeping watch over my cake until Sunday. I can't yet vouch for it, but I can't see how it could go wrong. You know?

I also realized I still didn't have an Easter dress, so I told Hope to meet me and made the 2 block trip to Quarter Century, my favorite place to buy a special dress in Laurel. It's gotten so so cute lately with all the Darling dresses and Free People and Tracy Reese stuff. I left with a little more than I meant to... Got a gorgeous (and not too pricey) chartreuse lace cap-sleeve dress for Sunday, a fun yellow and white Tracy Reese linen shirtdress and maxi skirt (both half off!), and another comfy chambray tunic that I'll wear to death until Christmas, most likely.

I can't tell you how it tickles me that there is a cool place to shop here at home. It feels good to shop local, especially since my childhood friend Kandace's mama owns it now.

And finally... You'll be happy to know that I made my decision and went shopping for my new flowerbeds. Tomorrow we'll plant them and I'll tell you which plants were the winners. I'm sure you'll be waiting with bated breath, right?

P.S. That dang Southern Living contest is going on until September 30. Would you mind clicking here and hitting that 'vote' button? We were in 1st place, but now we're trailing!

Thursday, April 17, 2014

#1,585 Digging in + Waffle Music.

Look at the progress made today on one of the flowerbeds out front!
I still haven't really decided on what flowers I want. I'm totally agonizing over it. It's so dumb! I only know I want something tall, whispy and with small white blooms on the back row near that stone border, but what IS that going to be? And the shorter ones, I think I've made up my mind—some lavender + Russian sage or lantana or catmint + trailing rosemary down low. It's going to be raining so we won't get to work on it tomorrow, but maybe I can make the nursery run. Any last minute tall white perennial suggestions? I love bridal wreath but it's TOO big. Don't want anything taller than 3-4 feet max. It's hard being terrible at flowers. I'm clueless.

Tonight after the gorgeous Maundy Thursday service at church, we were craving breakfast for supper so we headed to Waffle House where we met this adorable family—the Griffiths. We sat at the next booth and were wildly impressed with their jukebox choices as a family (Prince, Elvis, Rolling Stones, Otis Redding, and the kids picked Wagon Wheel). 
It was so good to see a big family like theirs talking to each other excitedly over dinner, seeing such well-behaved boys talk to us grown ups like they were grown-ups themselves. Cuties!

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

#1,584 Getting Serious.

The time has come.

We're gettin serious about the yard and shop, finally.

We've got a plan in place and are getting quotes from different contractors to see who can make it happen for a fair price, but we will soon be building this shop:
Except with a shingled roof, yellow walls, white trim, and stained wood doors (to match our house)... On the slab we had poured back in September.

And Jesse came over to remulch our front beds this afternoon, which has me fired up to finally put in the sidewalk herb garden I've been dreaming about this weekend. Here's what we're working with (check out that tiny triangle of flowers between the front walk and sidewalk):
In 2011 we planted lantana in these beds that bloomed like crazy.
AND I LOVED THEM! Was totally the cottagey, English, tiny bloom, wild look I was going for. It bloomed spring and fall for 2 years then inexplicably died and never came back. How does that happen? Seriously, how?

I might try a few lantanas again, and with any luck, we'll have something sort of like this going on right along the sidewalk, parallell with the house at 7' x 14' on each side of the walkway, facing the street instead of the tiny triangle beds in the corners :

These two images (above and below) are my biggest inspiration. Help!

I know I really want lavender and rosemary, but PLEASE can any of you flower geniuses (I know you're out there!) tell me what the other flowers are, or what I can use to get the effect? I'd like it to be a linear bed that goes from shortest to tallest but I don't know a good short plant down front (something greeny and herby or cabbagey), medium in middle (lavender and rosemary?) and then something tall and wispy. Only shades of purple and white and only perennials—hopefully requiring little maintenance and blooming fall and spring. I'm open to suggestions, so please... Go!

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

#1,583 Why Stay in Mississippi?

This morning I had the great pleasure of speaking to a group of high school juniors who are at the top of their class from all over south Mississippi at my alma mater—Jones Junior College. I was the keynote speech on why you can stay in Mississippi and be successful, which is actually a topic I'm pretty passionate about. I hate that some people think they have to leave here to have a great career. There were a couple hundred kids, which made me a little nervous since I'm used to speaking to college-age groups in a classroom setting where I can field questions and I knew perfectly well that 16 year old people would be pretty mum at 10 am. Jesse is president and in the student recruiting organization so he and that group were leading the high school kids in some loud and rowdy games to wake them up before I spoke, thankfully.

Ben tried to take pictures with my nice camera, but this is the best we got—while I was waiting backstage:
Look! They're awake!

Byron was there, of course.

And the school gave me a little gift for speaking which was totally unnecessary—getting to do it is gift enough. I so loved being a student there. I hope these kids who will be there in a couple years will love it the same way Ben and I did.
Mama is there on the left, just out of the frame. She hates all pictures of herself, but GOSH she was looking cute today. I hate you can't see!

People are apparently surprised by my height when they meet me in person if they've only seen photos of me online. How tall do you think I seem to be? Weird—but now I'm just curious since it's happened more than 3 times.

Monday, April 14, 2014

#1,582 Curls + Pizza Roberto.

First things first—I've not worn my hair curly in quite sometime. Not since it's been really short, at least. With such rotten rainy weather (which I actually happen to love—I don't find it rotten at all!), I decided the humidity might be on my side so I gave curly a try. I was shocked by how it behaved! My cousin Kelsa has been raving about this matte styling powder she got at Sally's, and her hair always looks so cool. She's always worn a pixie cut with so much finesse, I can only hope to do it half as well. So I got some for myself a few weeks ago but didn't really understand how to use it and left it unused in my cabinet. Today, I got brave... And I loved how it made my hair thick and textured. It was crazy. If you've got short, fine hair—try it. It's cheap and it's fabulous.
I'm thinking of going curly every day for a while.

So anyway—one of my favorite pasta dishes to make is Robert St. John's Pasta Roberto from An Italian Palate, and lately I've been craving homemade pizza like mama and I used to make when I was little. After work in the stormy weather I ran to the grocery and picked up a few different things with plans to make Pizza Roberto! It was just as good as I had hoped it would be. Awwwwww yeah.

What you need:
canned refrigerated Pilsbury pizza dough or a fresh loaf of French bread
olive oil
garlic salt
a jar of alfredo sauce
a jar of pizza sauce (not pasta sauce—honestly I think the cheapo Ragu is the best)
shredded Italian cheese blend
red bell peppers (diced)
yellow onion (diced)
a can of sliced mushrooms (drained well)
1 lb. of Jimmy Dean sage sausage

Mix all the alfredo sauce and pizza sauce together, set aside. This is the magic.

Brown and crumble the sausage really well, drain off the grease and move to a bowl with paper towels in the bottom to absorb more.

We made it two ways—one from pizza dough, one on a loaf of French bread. I preferred the dough, but it just depends on if you want crunch (which I didn't tonight). I sliced the bread lengthwise and brushed olive oil generously on both, then shook a little parmesan and garlic salt over them, then toasted them in the oven for a few minutes at 425. Once the dough was a little golden and the bread was toasting around the edges, I took them out.

SMOTHER crust and/or French bread in the sauce, sprinkle your cheese and toppings on, then bake at 425 for about 10 minutes, then turn on the broiler and watch it closely so it doesn't burn. It only takes 1-2 minutes at most before you burn it! Anyway. It was delicious. You'll love it. It's good to dip into the special sauce as you go!

Have you had a coconut fudge Newton Fruit Crisp? You could also called it Girl Scout Somoas without the guilt. They're incredible.

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