In the Garden Mid-July 2014

photo 11One of my earliest memories is being in the garden with my family, sneaking ripe tomatoes off the vine and into my mouth before my Nanny could see. Nanny and Pawpaw always planted a huge garden, and I can remember watching them go through the huge process every single year. photo 111Planting, Harvesting, Canning, Eating. Summertime was great in our house. Sometimes our meals were made of things completely pulled from the garden that same day. Sweet slices of tomato, bright green onions, and chewy new potatoes cooked with fresh green beans. What a feast!

photo 4I’ve lost both my Nanny and Pawpaw over the past five years, but their lessons have stuck with me. We hung on to their house in northwest Tennessee for a bit, but in the end the family decided to sale it this spring. The good news is that while the garden may not be there anymore, I’ve kept the traditions alive and well in my own life. Andrew and I made plans in early summer for a “small” garden. In his mind I’m sure he was thinking about a couple of tomato plants and a pepper or two, but I sometimes tend to go overboard without realizing it (okay, sometimes I know good and well what I’m getting myself into, and I still take the plunge!).

photo 311Fast forward to mid-July and we currently have about 17 tomatoes, 10 peppers of all shapes and sizes, 10 squash, 4 eggplant, and rows and rows of corn, green beans, okra, cucumbers, and melons.

A small garden, right?

I’ll be honest: we’re not pros, but we’re learning! Everything has been planted without a tiller this year, and that was a lot harder (and more expensive) than we’d originally thought it would be. I can remember Pawpaw walking behind a huge red Troy-built in the hot sun throughout the summer, lifting the heavy machine up and turning it around at the end of each carefully placed row. Since this is our first year of planting a garden of our own, we weren’t ready to make such a big investment, and we didn’t bother renting one as the transport back and forth was a bit of an issue. Instead, we dug holes for the individual plants, and supplemented the existing dirt with garden soil and compost. Then we added a layer of landscaping fabric and wheat straw to hopefully stifle the grass within the garden bounds. photo 5We did the same sort of process for the rows of vegetables we planted from seed, although this did require us to come back once the plants had sprouted with an additional layer of newspaper and wheat straw to keep the grass from taking over. It was determined, but so were we!

So far we’ve had a plethora of zucchini, and more cherry tomatoes than we know what to do with (spoiler alert: I made a tomato pie). The big tomatoes are green and healthy looking on most of our plants and the ones we started from seed are looking the healthiest – we call them our “tomato babies”.photo 511 I picked our first “mess” of green beans the other night, and found 3 medium cucumbers hiding when I was staking up the vines yesterday. I had just been complaining that I was ready to make some pickles! The corn is short, but there are ears growing, and the okra has little fruit that looks promising. Our watermelon have exploded, and if all the little melons make it to adulthood, we’ll have plenty of sweet treats to last us.

photo 21It’s been such a fun adventure! No, everything isn’t growing – the planters full of lettuce, rhubarb, beets and chard hardly sprouted and I replanted the bins with flowers and squash last week. The crooked-neck squash stay small with really hard outer skin, which the internet says means they’ve cross-pollinated with the patty pans, so they’re pretty close to inedible. BUT – the butterfly garden has grown into a butterfly forest, and we love sitting on the porch and watching things grow. I love waking up early and wandering out to the garden with cup of coffee in hand checking out what’s grown overnight while Wally chases rabbits. It’s comforting and makes me feel like I’m back in my grandparents’ backyard.

photo 1I think they’d be happy if they saw how far I’ve come in the past five years. Things aren’t perfect, but I’m a long way from where I’ve been. And just like our garden, as the days, months, and years go by, I’ll keep growing. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some pickles to make.


Como Steakhouse in Como, Mississippi

photo 1Okay okay, I’ve been a busy lady. Please don’t think this blog has been brushed aside permanently, but let’s just say that work has been a bit crazy, and the extra time I once had to devote to personal projects has disappeared, replaced instead by rushed “lunch breaks” that consist of me scarfing down my lunch at my desk. Still, I’ll try to be better.

photo 2Even with the increased work-load at my M-F job, we’ve still been finding time to relax and explore on the weekends. In fact, family came to visit last weekend, and we made the trek down to Como Steakhouse. My boyfriend has been telling me about this place for months, so I was glad that we finally found an excuse to visit. Located on an adorable town square in Como, Mississippi, we waited for an hour and a half for a table. (Next time we’ll make reservations!) By the time we were seated we actually ate an entire basket of saltine crackers before the waitress could bring our drinks. It got pretty serious there for a second.

photo 3Spoiler Alert: if you’re looking for white tablecloths, pages of options, or anything vegetarian or vegan, you should probably skip this one. These folks have obviously paired down their menu to only the things they do well, and the meat is what people make the drive for. Yes, the sausage plate has a great reputation, but at the end of the day it’s cubed meat a cheese. As far as your side options go, you get a salad and baked potato (i.e. there are no options). But the good news is that despite what some might consider as  negatives, when your steak appears before you, it’s all worth it. Our entire party opted for ribeyes (I’m a little bit embarrassed to tell you that we each ordered the 20 ounce steaks), and they were everything a steak needs to be: juicy, well-seasoned, and a bit charred on the outside. So good!

photo 4The dining room can get a bit smoky since there’s a huge grill in the corner where everyone’s steak is cooked, but it wasn’t overpowering. If you’re planning a special night, I’d recommend going early, as many of the specials and desserts were sold out by the time we ordered. My heart broke a little when I wasn’t able to sample the Como Delight that I’d been hearing such great things about. If you find yourself at Como Steakhouse in the near future, have a slice for me.

photo 5




Como Steakhouse

203 N Main St, Como, MS 38619
(662) 526-9529

Open M-Th 5:00pm-10:00pm, Fri and Sat 4:30pm – 10pm, Closed Sundays

Bluegrass Pickin’ on the Collierville Town Square

photo 14I’ll let you in on a little secret: I haven’t always appreciated small town life and West Tennessee as much as I do these days. In fact, I was that high school kid who couldn’t wait until graduation so she could spread her wings and fly away to the big city… of Jackson, Mississippi. Ha! Yes, looking back now my logic was a little bit flawed, but living away from Tennessee taught me to really appreciate what was in my backyard all those years growing up.

photo 24These days I am not as social as I used to be, admittedly. While I love the great restaurants and free concerts in Midtown and Downtown, the drive and prospect of fighting the crowds is usually enough to keep me at home in my garden or curled up on the couch with a good movie or a Netflix marathon. However, we did find something awesome last weekend that made me happy we decided to venture out on a Friday night: Bluegrass Pickin’ on the square in Collierville. Stay with me now…

photo 32If you’re someone who loves watching live music, even if you’re not the bluegrass type (as my boyfriend can tell you, I am not), you should really check this event out. Every Friday night beginning late Spring through early Fall music lovers from all over the Midsouth gather on the beautiful Collierville town square beginning around 7pm. Depending on the week you go, you’ll find that folks break off into lots of small musical groups with every instrument you can think of from fiddles to steel guitars. It’s so fun!

photo 1We brought lawn chairs, but next time I’ll definitely pack a picnic. It’s a great event for people watching, and the entire event is incredibly family (and even dog) friendly. To be honest, I felt a little bit like I was back in Mayberry for a minute on Friday night – and I mean that in a good way!

photo 23This is by no means a professional-only event. There are varying skill and experience levels, and the group seems warm and inviting to new members – even if they’re not perfect. I truly enjoyed moving from group to group, seeing how the different musicians blended together. It was also fun to watch players move around the square, joining in for a few songs in one group and then moving on to the next. It made the entire experience a fluid one, where the sounds changed as time went on and new members joined in.
photo 13Don’t be scared away by the twang! If you’re a musician or just a music-lover, make your way to the square next Friday for a laid back, inviting event that reminds you of just another reason you chose to call the Midsouth (and especially small-town Midsouth) home!

You can find more information here! I’ll be back later in the week with a MS steakhouse review, and maybe even a recipe or two (I have to go grocery shopping first!). Have a great week!

A Thursday morning at the Collierville Farmer’s Market

photo 11I am a sucker for a good farmer’s market. Give me a bearded group of guys with guitars singing twangy songs, food trucks, and stacks of fresh/local vegetables and I’m in my own special kind of heaven. Don’t even get me started on the skinny jeans or the plaid shirts. A good farmer’s market should feel like a Mumford and Sons video in my opinion. But I digress…

photo 4The unfortunate thing about the farmer’s markets in the greater Memphis area is that they’re SO far away from where we live (I know, I know, it’s all about me, right?). Since we’re on the outskirts of the city, it can take us 45 minutes to get downtown, and that commute gets even worse when we hit traffic. One day I’ll tell you all the story of the night we attempted to go for a “quick dinner” downtown during BBQ fest. That was super fun.

Needless to say, when I heard that the Collierville Farmer’s Market was opening for the season just down the road from my office, I was excited – and then I realized it was only open each Thursday and had limited hours: 8am until 1pm. I work an office job five days a week, 8a-5p, so most mornings I’m stuck in front of a computer dreaming of my garden. Bummer. But I decided to look on the bright side and took an early lunch this Thursday to check it out.

photo 42While this one may not be as big and trendy as the Downtown Farmer’s Market that I drag my boyfriend to whenever possible, it’s still pretty spiffy! All the staples were there: my favorite “everything” bread from Lime Foods, the BEST local pickles from Old Apple Hill Brine, and lots of Midsouth based organic vegetable and meat vendors with everything I needed for dinners next week.

photo 12The market is based in the rear parking lot of Collierville United Methodist Church, and there was live music playing when I pulled up, with even a few couples dancing along! I definitely didn’t miss the crowds from the weekend markets, but there were still quite a few people shopping in the sunshine.

While the vibe was a little different, I still very much enjoyed myself, and I’ll definitely be returning next week. I’ve even convinced a couple of my coworkers to come along! If you’re like me and looking for local, fresh, organic products without the crazy drive into the city, you should spend your Thursday morning (or lunch break if you must), in Collierville.

Check them out on Facebook for more information. Here are just a few of the great vendors you’ll find there:

photo 21A New Life
Bartlett Soap Company
Bethel Road Farm
Cold Comfort Farm
Coldwater Alpaca
Daily Blessings Farm
Donna’s Kettle Corn
Faith Farms
Flavor Mavens
Fresh From the Farm
H&H Farms (later in season)
Jones Greenhouses
Las Delicias
Lazy Dog Farms
Leigh Ann’s Chicken Garden
photo 22Lewis Tomatoes (later in season)
Lil Brooklyn’s Italian Ice
Lilee’s Gourmet Bakery
Lime Foods
Mai Vue
Old Apple Hill Brine
James Overman
Robert Hays
Papi Joe’s Pepper Sauce
Paradise Seafood
Peach World
Pontotoc Ridge (next week)
Renaissance Farms
Ripley Produce
True Vine Farm
photo 5Wolf River Honey
Wolf River Popcorn

Have a lovely weekend everyone! I’ll be spending it snacking on the fresh plums and roasting up the gorgeous green brussel sprouts I picked up this week.

Chicken Quinoa Bake with Broccoli and Cheese

Hi, I’m Holly. Born in a small town in West Tennessee, I’ve lived in the Midsouth for most of my life. After a brief detour to Austin, TX in 2012 I’ve been back in the greater Memphis area since May 2013 and it’s great to be home! I live in a log cabin in North Mississippi with my sweet Arkansas-native boyfriend and a sometimes sweet but mostly spoiled rotten cocker spaniel, Wally. It’s a good life.

On this blog you’ll find little bits of the things I love most: cooking, gardening, and exploring the Midsouth (and maybe even further sometimes!). I’m not now nor have I ever been perfect as evidenced by the batch of quinoa I burnt last night and the two dead azaleas currently residing in our flower beds, but Ce la vie! We’ll learn together!

photo 6I don’t know about you, but I have given in to the slippery slope that is Pinterest. My boo and I have made a sort of serious effort to be healthier in the past few weeks (those 8 mini pies we had for his birthday last weekend do NOT count), and I’ve been a pinning maniac! Some recipes have been yummy, and others have been duds, but that’s the risk you take with Pinterest.

Apparently, I missed the boat when it comes to the trendy grains. I only just discovered quinoa within the past year, and while I do have to swallow hard when I put the tiny $8 bag in my shopping cart, I try to focus on its versatility and that I’m making a healthy choice. Another plus is that it lasts forever in the fridge and when made into a salad, only gets better the longer it marinates.

You can see why I immediately salivated when I came across the following recipe by Damn Delicious. White sauce, gooey cheese, and panko bread crumbs alongside broccoli, quinoa, and chicken so that I can justify the entire dish as healthy? Yes please. While it’s not the skinniest of dishes, it’s definitely better than a full-fat pasta alternative, and so it gets my seal of approval. I know that’s important to everyone!

IngredientsFirst, the ingredients. Now you should know that I don’t totally subscribe to the whole organic foods hullabaloo, and my boyfriend definitely doesn’t (he’s a farm boy at heart). I do try to buy organic fruits and vegetables when they’re on sale (mostly from the farmer’s market when I can make the 45 minute drive to downtown on Saturday mornings), but when it comes to meat, eggs, and dairy the most important factor to me is that it’s fresh and good quality. I’m an almond milk addict, and I always choose free-range eggs. We also keep 2% milk in the house to keep the peace, and that’s what I used in this recipe.

You’ll want to begin with the prep work, but don’t worry, there’s not much of it. Preheat your oven, grease your dish, and get the quinoa on to boil according to the directions on the back (if you can cook rice, you’re already a quinoa master). Slice up your broccoli and when your quinoa has about five minutes left on the clock, add the florets right on top and cover. You may have to turn the heat up a little bit to get the steam rolling, but this will cook your broccoli quickly and you won’t have to dirty up another pan. Two birds, one stone. Smarter, not harder. You know all those things they say.

photo2The recipe says to brown your panko bread crumbs in another pan first, and while I did that this first time around, I won’t when I make it again. They’ll brown in the oven later, so feel free to skip that step altogether. Instead, salt and pepper your chicken really well and brown on both sides until just cooked through (around 3 minutes on each side). Did you know that most professional chefs say that the main mistake most home cooks make is not seasoning their food enough? I’ve found that meat tastes so much better when you generously (and I do mean generously) sprinkle with S&P on both sides, and then let it sit at room temperature for at least ten minutes. I don’t know the physics behind it, and I probably could never prove it, but it just makes things taste better to me so that’s the way I roll.

photo3Once the chicken is browned and out of the pan, it’s white sauce time! Take advantage of the yummy drippings, melt your butter and then add the flour. My secret to a smooth white sauce is to make sure I have just a little bit more fat than flour. It makes the paste that forms really spread all over the pan and that in turn makes it brown and not clump up. Once you’ve cooked the paste for a few minutes and it’s turned a nutty brown color, whisk in the milk and stir until it thickens a bit. You can see that I switched to a wooden spoon as the mixture thickened, and when I could draw a clear line through the back of the spoon when it was coated with sauce, I knew I was good to go. My Nanny taught me that trick.

photo4The rest is just a matter of assembly. Toss the quinoa and broccoli right on top of the white sauce along with the shredded chicken, cheese, and Greek yogurt. Quick note on the yogurt: all I had was vanilla in the fridge, so that’s what I used. I was worried at first, but it turned out just fine! After you’ve stirred it altogether, smooth the mixture out into your pan, cover with a bit of extra cheese, the panko crumbs, and bake at 350 for around 20 minutes. The original recipe only calls for five minutes in the oven, but I found that mind needed longer. This is a matter of taste I think, but I like to crisp up the top and make sure it’s all warmed through and bubbly.

photo 5When it comes out of the oven, you’ve reached the most critical step of the whole recipe: WALK AWAY. Seriously, the dish needs at least ten minutes on the counter to set and reach the pinnacle of casserole yumminess. I won’t lie, it’s gonna be hard, but I promise you can do this. When you come back, it’ll still be warm and ready to serve. Be strong!

We ate half the pan last night, and I have leftovers chilling in the fridge for lunches the rest of the week. The whole process took about an hour, and it’s something I’ll definitely make again. I enjoy cooking on weeknights, even if the recipe is a bit involved, but if you’re not crazy like me this one may be something to save for the weekends. Either way, it’s a somewhat healthy, warm and filling dinner that everyone will love. I mean, you can’t get much homier than broccoli and cheese, can you?

photo 7And just so you know that I am not the cooking guru (I know that’s what you were thinking, right?) here’s one casualty of the meal. I turned my heat up too high when my quinoa and broccoli were finishing up, and the bottom of my saucepan paid the price. I’ve been known to turn the burner up to high heat more often than not, but I’m working on it!

You can find the entire recipe over at Damn Delicious. I just had the leftovers for lunch, and they were mighty fine.

So there you have it: post #1. Let’s meet back here early next week, and I’ll share my farmer’s market adventures from later this week, and maybe even a review of an awesome steakhouse we’ll be trekking to this weekend for a late birthday celebration. My boyfriend keeps talking about the 25oz Ribeyes. Oye!