Holiday Roadtrip, Part 1b: South Carolina

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On our way south from the Smokey Mountains we stopped at a pizza joint in Columbia, South Carolina. Zpizza is a small franchise that features fresh, organic ingredients including a gluten-free dairy-free pizza. So while my husband got a normal (but organic) personal pizza, I was able to enjoy my allergy-free pizza fresh at a pizza parlor. What a treat! We loved it so much that we considered get two more pizzas for the road, but our better senses finally kicked in knowing that they would be yucky by the time we ate them.

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I wanted to find some other activity out of the car and saw lovely photos of Finlay Park a few blocks away. So we drove there and were immediately confused because each parking lot we pulled in to had rows of homeless sleeping around the grounds. My husband said I sure knew how to pick the good spots. So we didn’t get out to look at the gardens. Our whole trip seemed filled with homeless visitors: South Carolina, Savannah, Orlando, Georgia, and Tennessee. It reminds me of a statistic by brother quoted his pastor sharing, that of the top 7% of the whole world’s population is rich, but “rich” is defined as an equivalent of $30K income and up. Just think about it for a second…that means despite our wanting and desiring to buy more and move up the social chain, that we’re already rich. WE’RE RICH. It’s a humbling thought. Want to see where your income stands against the world’s population? Check out the Global Rich List.

Jenny

Holiday Roadtrip, Part 1: Gatlinburg

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We’re roadtrippin’ our way to Florida for the new year and stop one was in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. We drove down from Indiana during a snow storm, and I hate to say it but my momma was right–the roads were treacherous. We barely escaped FOUR wrecks! We were happy to make it to our rental that night.

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We stayed in downtown Gatlinburg at the Mountain Vista Luxury Rentals in Baskins Creek #311. It’s a two bedroom, very large condominum. Although it was by no means a picture-perfect mountain cabin, it was awesome. We felt like we were at home. I even cooked a few meals there to save us money. I made butternut squash seasoned with thyme, sea salt, and cracked pepper tossed with olive oil and pecans. I threw it in a ziploc and packed some seasoned chicken breasts in another baggie. Served with some Christmas leftovers of rolls and raw veggies made for a fast, easy dinner.

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I must say that we were disappointed by Gatlinburg. I’m not even going to talk about Pigeon Forge, other than to say drive around it if you can. But downtown Gatlinburg is a mile of stores selling cheap trinkets like crystal figurines and airbrushed shirts. There were tons of tourist attractions too, but we’re not into that. Also, the food choices are horrendous. There’s hardly anything healthy, fresh, nor whole. We tried to go to their one health food store but found it closed, despite the holiday hours posted on the door stating it should be open. I also tried to visit the local coffee stores in the morning, but apparently no one gets up before noon.

 

We hit the same road blocks–literally–when trying to visit other areas. I really wanted to take the driving tour through Cades Cove, a historical 11-mile loop with preserved cabins and barns from the 1800s. If you’re looking for some antiques and primitives off the beaten track, we stopped at several along the TN-73 scenic highway along the way to Cades Cove, though we never made it there. That road was closed due to snow. So we went across the county to another road that is known for good photo-ops to find it closed as well. Rats. So my advice is not to go to Gatlinburg in a snow storm. Here’s the photos we did catch.

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We did get a couples massage while in Gatlinburg. It was actually back in Pigeon Forge. The idea of it was super fun, but I can’t recommend the place we went to. We also enjoyed some very nice steaks at The Peddler. Our server even had the kitchen make me special vegetables that were butter-free because of my dairy allergy (that was a great treat for me!). And our tip when visiting The Peddler is to avoid the wait by heading straight upstairs to their “Lodge.” It’s first-come-first-serve seating, and the windows stretch floor to ceiling, giving a much better view of the river than their main dining room offers. I’d also recommend visiting the Coffee and Co. Their coffee was locally roasted and yummo, and I drooled over their selection of hand-stamped jewelry, handmade wallets, and natural clothing line.

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I just don’t understand the hype over Gatlinburg. It just wasn’t a fit for me – it’s not my type of shops, not my type of food, and not my type of scenery. We must have been spoiled while in Yellowstone National Park when we visited a while back, because the Smokies just didn’t compare in beauty to the mountains in Montana and Utah.

So onward we go, hopefully to warmer weather!

Jenny

Cupcake Decorating Party

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We had a Cupcake Decorating Party today. Thought it would be a good creative outlet while socializing (and it let me finally use my new Martha Stewart Cake Decorating Kit). We had about 15 gals show up to decorate.

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I jazzed up the house by decorating with a cupcake theme. I covered existing hangings with cupcake art I made using scrapbook paper. I made a festive curtain using matching fabric scraps and tied cupcake ornaments to it.

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My family helped me bake a bajillion cupcakes ahead of time as well as icing. We laid them out on the tables along with sprinkles so we could get down to business.

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You didn’t have to tell this bunch of girls twice to get started!

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This is like coloring for adults. Everyone really got into it and enjoyed playing around with different tips.

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There was even an attempt at a tie dye cupcake. Pretty neat if you ask me.

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Even the kids got involved. I made sugar-free, gluten-free, dairy-free cupcakes from scratch for them. We even made the icing sugar-free and dairy-free by using Ideal xylitol and Earth’s Balance.

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Guests took home cupcakes in these cute carriers I found at Big Lots. In the end I think it was kind of therapuetic and a fresh twist on the holiday cookie decorating. Nothing’s better than spending an afternoon with friends than adding cupcakes to the mix!

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Jenny

Sugar-free, Dairy-free, Gluten-free Peppermint Hot Chocolate

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In attempt to fight off a sore throat, I stopped and bought some peppermint tea on my way home. I’m not a big fan of teas, even one as plain as peppermint tea, so I started thinking of a way to doctor it up.

Since I’m also on a no-sugar no-dairy no-gluten fast right now, it requires being content with simple ingredients in order to enjoy something indulgent. Well, this one really hit the spot!

I created this peppermint hot chocolate by adding unsweetened cocoa to the steeped peppermint tea. Then I added a fair amount of agave nectar to taste. I topped off with a splash of unsweetened soy milk. Okay, I have to admit that the marshmallows aren’t sugar free but if it makes it any better, I didn’t eat them!!

To others I’m sure this drink would be bland in comparison to Starbuck’s, but for me and my special diet, it was yummo!

Jenny

Indiana Yellow Summer Salad

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Yeaaah! I think this is my first official original recipe. Inspired by local roadside produce stands and Chef Daniel Orr who emphasizes Indiana produce, I present to you Indiana Yellow Summer Salad. All the produce came from roadside stands and grown in Indiana. I noticed the produce included  colors other than the norm, mainly yellow. I’ve never had the yellow version of these veggies, so I bought them all and created this dish. The “green” beans tasted the same, but the yellow tomatoes were the best ones I’ve ever had in my whole life. The herbs came from my (and my mother’s) backyard. We shared the dish at a lake party on Saturday. Yummo!

Recipe for Indiana Yellow Summer Salad  

– 4 ears fresh sweet corn
– 1 quart yellow wax beans, ends snapped
– 1 quart yellow tomatoes (use slightly less than whole quart), halved
– 1 small yellow onion, thinly sliced
– 1/2 yellow-green chile pepper, thinly sliced

– 1/3C fresh basil, chopped

– 1/4C fresh oregano, chopped

– 1/2 TBS fresh dill, chopped

– 2 TBS red wine vinegar

– 2 TBS white balsamic vinegar
– 1 TSP agave nectar
– 2 TBS extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO)

– Pinch of sea salt & fresh-cracked pepper

  1. Heat up grill. Peel back husks of corn but don’t tear off. Remove silk, rub with EVOO and salt & pepper to season. Tightly re-wrap husks, and wrap whole ear in aluminum foil. Repeat with all four husks.
  2. Grill ears of corn for about 20 minutes total, rotating every 5 minutes or until there’s slight grill marks on all sides of the corn.
  3. Let corn cool, then slice off kernels with a knife. I like to leave in chunky pieces so that you can tell it was fresh off the cob. Place in large bowl.
  4. Meanwhile, cook snapped yellow green beans in boiling water for 3 minutes. Move to ice bath to stop cooking.
  5. Place chilled yellow green beans in bowl with corn. Add tomatoes, onion, pepper, and herbs.
  6. In a separate dish, mix salt & pepper, red wine vinegar, white balsamic vinegar, and agave nectar. Whisk together ingredients while pouring in EVOO.
  7. Pour mixture on top of veggies and toss. Serve at room temperature. To save time, grill corn the night before with your dinner.

There it is, an original by Jenny Erb–Backyard Chef.

Jenny

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Homemade Butters

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My mother often goes on about some store-bought flavored butters that she enjoys. Upon viewing the ingredients, I was unhappy to find corn syrup solids and preservatives listed. So I decided to try mixing my own. I started by softening sticks of vegan Earth Balance butter.   I whipped the butter and then split into two to make one garlic-herbed butter and one honey-spiced butter. For the garlic-herbed butter, I added:

  • Garlic powder
  • Mrs. Dash seasoning
  • Basil
  • Oregano
  • Salt
  • Pepper

For the honey-spiced butter, I added:

  • White sugar
  • Brown sugar
  • Honey
  • Cinnamon
  • Clove
  • Nutmeg
  • Salt

I didn’t measure the ingredients, but would taste test then make adjustments. And boy did I eat a lot of bread! The flavors tone down over a day as they marry together. Since my mother-in-law’s birthday was in a few days, and she just got a new bread machine, I decided to give her my first batch along with mixed dry ingredients for a bread recipe. The handmade gifts needed labels, so I placed the butters in pretty glass jars and finished with sticker labels. I placed the bread mix into a plastic zip bag then stapled a paper label across the top. The best part is that these butters can be used on so many other things besides bread. We already used the garlic-herbed butter on quartered potatoes. You could use the honey-spiced butter on sweet potatoes, pancakes, or oatmeal. The garlic butter would also be good for sauteing with vegetables or steaks.

Jenny

Whole Wheat Pitas from Scratch

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Inspired by Food Network, last night we had homemade pitas! I started with a whole-wheat pita recipe made in the KitchenAid. First, you must know how horrible I am when it comes to baking or dough. The fact that they came out edible is a miracle! Next time I will roll them thinner, bake them for a shorter amount of time, and add more seasoning because they came out a little too crispy and a bit overwhelming in taste. But they were beautiful with their raising pockets of air!

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For the chicken souvlaki, I marinated it using a recipe from Sandra Lee. This also included a recipe for Tzatziki sauce that came out great. Overall, this turned out to be a great, fun dinner, made from scratch.

Jenny