Puttin’ on the Grits

My dad eats a meal I call Grits Fully Loaded almost every morning.  It’s deilcious.  Quick cooked grits topped with shredded cheese, a salsa like Texas caviar, and a poached or fried egg.


Grits is just a great vehicle for lots of food.  Including leftovers.

I’ve been experimenting…

Grits topped with pulled pork and bbq beans, sauteed peppers and mushrooms and cheese.

Leftover mango chicken samosa filling (mango, chicken, potato, spices and cilantro) and a poached egg.  Shockingly good.  I thought the mango would be too weird, but actually the potato threw me and the mango was awesome.

Quick cooked grits are ready in around 5 minutes making them faster than rice.  They taste like very little so you can doctor them however you like but they are extremely filling and I feel so nourished after eating my bowl.

Spice Update

Ooo that title sounds like a reunion announcement for a certain British girl band. Sorry. 

My first blog post ever was From Allspice to Za’atar.   After years, I have updated my labels to printed ones and all of my bags are now snack size. There’s still no going back to spices in their given containers for me. 

Exceptions to this…


I keep ground cinnamon in a container so I can sprinkle as I need. 

I mixed one with sugar to keep because nothing is better on French toast. NOTHING. 

Whole cinnamon I keep in its bag not with the other spices because it absorbs the smell of the other Cs. Mainly cumin. I opened my cinnamon sticks to make stovetop potpourri, but no cinnamon smell was left. 

Pretty much everything else is in those four containers.

Functional storage of anything is beautiful. 

3ms How I Love Thee…


Gallery arrangements are my favorite way to hang pictures.  Mostly because I can’t decide on just a few pictures to put on the wall and I love that you can add variety.  Maybe gallery style is post-trend, I’m not sure, but I do know the easiest way to do one, 3ms.

These are mostly before pictures of what our home looked like before we, and my in-laws fixed it up.  It is in our entryway and I love it!
I’ve seen examples of using butcher paper and outlining each frame, marking where the nail goes.  I’ve heard about people putting toothpaste on the hanging bracket and placing it on the wall just so, leaving a minty mark where to drive your nail.  Both good, but I still prefer no holes in the wall.

The posters are heavy, so I used 4 of the medium velcro strips
I eyeball my arrangements and use Velcro 3ms.  Well, I eyeball and when I do my final sticking I do use a pocket level.  Usually I’ll lay out all my frames and items on the floor and snap a picture for reference on my phone, but it always changes as I’m sticking it on the wall.  When you’re hanging many frames or items, I find that I don’t have to be exact with the distance between.  I just try to line up one with either the top or bottom of the frame next to it leaving approximately the same distance around each one.

Are they more expensive than nails.  Yep.  Do you need to use enough so you don’t hear your frame go bump in the night.  Yep.  Do I still recommend them, ABSOLUTELY.

The velcro is my favorite for picture hanging for the ease of changing your picture out every now and then.  I also love that I can really get a frame level, taking it back off the wall if needed.

Yes, those are Christmas lights with clear cups with cut up old jeans hot glued to them.
It’s as quick as a sticker so I waste no time doing a whole wall like this.  When we moved in, I had large things hung in every room in under a week.  That makes you feel quite homey.

I use other 3m hanging strips and hooks in other places too.  My kids’ light strands are up with tiny clear hooks.


Mason jars with herbs are above my kitchen sink with strong 3ms, and my metal colander and library bag are both hung with double 3m plastic rungs.

Hang without holes!


Managing the Mess in the Toddler Boy’s Room


I walk in to my son’s room and I’m often momentarily overwhelmed by… 

So tempted to get rid of all of it. But, no. It just needs tidying. It won’t take long if I break it up. 



No floor space. 

That didn’t help. Now it’s just more. 

Okay. Bed first and throw all of the stuffed animals to the back. It’s where they’re kept for now. 😦

Make the bed…

Stick the weapons in a bag on his chair. Someday I’ll do those awesome peg board walls with all of them on display, but not today. 

Using my dustpan (great for lego bricks and small toys) I scoop the dinos back into the fancy box. Ha!  It’s going in the closet. No one sees it. 

His favorite toys on the window seat. He loves things at chest level. 

That’s better. 

Then later we bought 50 cent brackets and hung shelves using boards from a broken down book case that we saved from being trashed. 

Now he has more chest level play surfaces and the floor is so much less cluttered!

I’m currently reading The Inspired Room (the book) by Melissa Michaels and she calls this “everyday on display.” 

Way Better than Progresso: Chicken Noodle Soup


I have a special place in my heart for canned soup.  But since I’ve been cooking from scratch more often, my preservative tolerance is lower.  Canned soups now taste so salty… because they are, unfortunately.  I’ve been perfecting my chicken noodle recipe over the years and I think I’ve got it just right now.

First… the chicken.  I use a boneless skinless thigh.  Just one to make 4 servings.  My husband and I each eat two bowls, so if you are only serving this soup, make more for more people.  Thighs render great tasty drippings for cooking your vegetables and boneless and skinless is so convenient.  Bonus, they’re typically cheaper than breasts.


Next the vegetables.  Mirepoix, which is fancy and French for onion, celery, carrot.  (We read a lot of Fancy Nancy in our house.)  I’m using ¼ of a large yellow onion that I slice pole to pole, 1 large carrot (though sometimes I like more) sliced, and 2 stalks of celery chopped small.


Broth – I use homemade almost always.  Actually, I wait to make soup until I have homemade broth usually.  Sometimes I want soup, but I don’t have broth so I plan to roast a whole chicken… for the broth and less for the meat.


Noodles – Stumbled on using rotini instead of egg noodles.  We love egg noodles, but with rotini I can cook them al dente (by 3 minutes undercooking, and by the time I stir back in the chicken and seasonings and serve, it’s perfect and what’s left in the pot doesn’t overcook.  Plus the starch gives a great natural thicker mouth feel to the soup.  I’m using 6 oz (1/2 the bag) to only 4 cups of broth, so our chicken noodle soup is heavy on the noodles, like my husband likes.  It’s almost more a pasta in chicken sauce than a soup.


Flavoring – I want the balance of flavor the 5Ss bring in almost everything I make.  Sweet – ½ t sugar, Salty – I salt the chicken thigh before browning, I salt the vegetables as they cook down, and I salt again when I taste.  Sour – I add about 1 tablespoon of fresh lemon juice when the noodles cook.  Spice – Louisiana hot sauce, just a few dashes.  Savory – Granulated garlic in the last 10 seconds of cooking the vegetables before adding in my broth.

Herbs – Fresh parsley is so pretty mixed in and sprinkled on top for garnish.  I also use celery leaves too.  Waste-free kitchen.



Happy Soup Season!





I first learned the 5 Ss from an article explaining the necessary components of any marinade.  Sweet, Salty, Sour, Spicy and Savory mixed with a fat makes a marinade.  You can make endless marinades by mixing up things you like in each of the 5 Ss.  But these 5 are also the backbone to balancing anything you cook.  Soup or stir fry or marinara or dip or almost anything you cook will taste better if you have all 5Ss.

1. Sweet – sugars, honey, molasses, syrup.



2. Salty – salt, soy sauce, fish sauce, etc.


3. Sour (Acid) – citrus or vinegar or wine


4. Spicy – pepper, chilies, red chili flake, hot sauce, cayenne, chili powder


5. Savory – Almost any form of garlic (minced fresh, granulated or powdered) or sometimes ginger or onion can count.

Once I learned the 5 Ss, I saw them everywhere.

For instance, spaghetti sauce usually has of course tomatoes (which are fruit and are sweet as well as acidic, sour) and salt and garlic and some spice, usually red pepper flake. If my own tastes flat I add red wine vinegar (sour) and up to a teaspoon of sugar. Sugar is an underused seasoning by the American home cook. I really learned to use it in Thai cooking, thank you Nancie McDermott for writing Quick and Easy Thai. Thai food is often sweetened with palm sugar, but brown sugar substitutes well.  When you use fish sauce you almost always add sugar to balance.  When you eat Thai and everything tastes crazy good while be balanced, it’s because Thai food has mastered sour, spice, sweet, savory and salt.

Sugar is in all our prepackaged meals for a reason, it makes things taste better, though food companies use crazy amounts and now everyone is diabetic. Why not use a little in your homemade things for taste with more restraint than big food business demonstrates.

Almost any of your favorite recipes you’ll find a balance of the 5Ss.  Salsa: Tomato (sweet and acid), salt, lime juice (sour), chili peppers (spice), garlic and onion (savory).  A BLT: tomato (sweet and sour), bacon (salt and spice and savory all in one).  This will blow your mind when you start to look at ingredients on your condiments…

Barbecue Sauce: Corn syrup and molasses (sweet), Vinegar and pineapple juice (sour), sodium benzoate and salt (salt), Jalapeno Pepper (spicy), garlic (savory)
Hoisin Sauce: Sugar (sweet), Salt, Garlic (savory), chili peppers(spicy), Acetic acid (sour)

Sweet Chili Sauce: Sugar (sweet), Red Chilli [sic] (spicy), Vinegar (sour), Garlic (savory), Salt
Remember, when you use these 5 ingredients with almost any fat it can be a marinade.  img_6347

Use them with extra virgin olive oil and make it a vinaigrette. When you have stock of the fab 5 in variety you never need to buy dressing or marinade again.  Even many of your condiments can be homemade.

When your vinaigrette needs an emulsifier, grab a teaspoon of mayonnaise or mustard.



I don’t know if this will be as enlightening to you as it was to me, maybe most people know this or at least know it in their gut (nice pun!), but it has made me a better cook for sure.


Vegetable Summer Rolls and Peanut Sauce


img_6096No stove required!  This may be the perfect summer dish, but I make these all year long.

The Steamy Kitchen Cookbook by Jaden Hair taught me the proper way to soften the rice paper and Anna Langbein’s cooking show on PBS is where I learned this simple method of making peanut sauce.  I only need a cutting board, a knife, an electric tea kettle and a pie plate to make these restaurant-pretty all-vegetable fresh summer rolls. They don’t have to be all vegetable, add chicken or pork by all means.  In the Steamy Kitchen, Jaden Hair has a great recipe for lemongrass pork that is awesome in these, but we most often just do vegetables and don’t miss the meat.

1. Gather ingredients…

I use a bell pepper, green leaf lettuce, a hot house cucumber, carrots, cilantro, crunchy peanut butter (or creamy and chopped dry roasted peanuts), and sweet chili sauce.

2. Chop your vegetables and start your tea kettle to boil.

3. Once your water is boiling, make your peanut sauce.  Mix almost equal parts crunchy peanut butter, sweet chili sauce, and boiling water.  About 1/4 or 1/3 cup each.  I add a little more peanut butter than chili sauce, but it’s by your taste.  Stir together then set aside.  The boiling water makes the mixture look awful, but it will smooth out while you stir and then while it sits.

4. Soften the spring roll wrappers.  Pour more hot water into your pie plate.  It should be hot or warm but not boiling.  You’re putting your fingers in it, DON’T BURN YOURSELF!  Working one roll at a time, place a round in the warm water and hold it down with your fingers, then turn it and submerge again, then pull it out.  It will still be stiff, but it becomes more pliable as you load it.

5. Load and roll.  Place a lettuce leaf (usually just the tops of the lettuce and let it come out the top, makes it pretty), carrots, bell peppers, cucumbers and cilantro and roll from the bottom up.  Place each roll on a plate as you make it.  Don’t let them touch or they will stick.

6. Serve with small dishes of your peanut sauce.

Click here for the recipe card.


Let me know if you try these!