Friday, February 26, 2016

Foodie Fridays: Tomato Coconut Soup

One of my favorite lunchtime meals is tomato soup with a grilled cheese sandwich.  I have been looking for a quick and easy tomato soup recipe so that I can wean myself away from the canned version, and came across one for Tomato Coconut Soup.  I don't normally add milk to my tomato soup, but the use of coconut milk in this recipe intrigued me, so I decided to try it.  I really like this variation -- you don't even taste the coconut milk, but it gives the soup a creamy taste and consistency.  The only change I made was the addition of carrots for a bit of sweetness, as canned tomatoes can taste a little bitter sometimes and I was trying to avoid putting in the sugar that is so prominent in canned tomato soup.  In the photo above, the soup is topped with Asian rice crackers, which are very crunchy and resist getting soggy.  The recipe makes a lot of soup, so I can have my favorite lunch all week if I want!

Tomato Coconut Soup

1 T. vegetable oil
1 C. diced onion
1 C. diced celery
1 C. diced carrot
salt and pepper to taste
2 C. water or stock (I used unsalted vegetable stock)
1 can (14 oz.) diced tomatoes (I used unsalted)
1 can (14 oz. coconut milk (I used the light version)
1 can (16 oz.) tomato sauce (I used unsalted)
1 can (6 oz.) tomato paste

Heat the oil in a skillet over medium heat.  Cook and stir the onion, celery, and carrot in the hot oil until softened, about 10 minutes.  Season with salt and pepper.

Combine the onion mixture with the remaining ingredients in a large pot and bring to a boil.  Reduce the heat and simmer until heated through, about 15 minutes.  Remove from the heat and blend the soup with an immersion blender until smooth.  Serves 6.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

This 'n That Thursdays: Orchid Madness at the State Botanical Garden of Georgia

Orchid information display just inside the entry to the
visitor center/conservatory.

This past Saturday my husband and I stopped by the State Botanical Garden of Georgia in Athens to visit their February display for an event they are calling Orchid Madness.  Orchids seem to enjoy flowering in February (our own small collection is starting to bud as well), adding some welcome color to this cold and dreary month.  While the state botanical garden does not have anywhere near the extensive collection that the Atlanta Botanical Garden owns, what they do have is lovely and made for a bright spot on an overcast day.  Here are a few of the photos I took of their beautiful orchids:

A tree branch painted white and wound with twinkle lights
is hung with tiny pots of miniature orchids (all for sale!).

A variety of lovely displays.

Orchid information poster (in case you want to actually
read this, I kept the original photo file size, so just
click on it to enlarge).

I hope you really love orchids, because I have an insane number of gorgeous close-up shots to share (it really was Orchid Madness at the Garden!).  Remember, you have been warned!

My husband was fascinated by these very tiny little orchid flowers.

The foliage on this orchid plant was just beautiful.

We really wanted to take this lovely blue pot full of mixed
orchids home with us!

Whew!  Did you manage to make it all the way through?  I have decided that orchids must be so photogenic that even my mediocre photography skills can't seem to ruin them!  Normally I would try to winnow out all but the best examples, but I just couldn't seem to do that with these fabulous flowers.

Lest you think the State Botanical Garden of Georgia only has orchids, I did manage to take just a few photos of their many other plants:

I love bromeliads almost as much as I love orchids.

My husband was very impressed with this huge staghorn fern.

This banana tree, complete with fruits, was also huge.  It is planted
on the basement level and reaches all the way to the top of the
conservatory ceiling, which we are guessing is close to 50 feet high!

The conservatory starts at ground level and winds down to a
basement floor, where this lush oasis complete with pond is located.

It is still a bit early for the outside gardens, but even in late winter we found some inspiring vegetation:

I really want this 'Burgundy Glow' Bugleweed for our garden!  It
truly does glow, even on the overcast day when we were at the Garden.
Online descriptions for this plant indicate that the leaf color is a more
variable tricolor, but at the Garden at this time of year it was a
uniform carpet of burgundy.

My husband liked the pretty shape and vibrant colors of the
'Ballerina" Grayleaf Cranesbill leaves in winter.

Along the pathway to the visitor center, this lovely trillium
has a bud almost ready to bloom.

Orchid Madness is an annual fundraiser for the Horticulture department, with special events each week in February.  These events include a reception, two orchid care classes, and a finale on the 28th called Orchid Sunday, which celebrates the vanilla orchid.  Although we did not participate this year, I would love to take the orchid repotting class next year, and if possible we will stop by for Orchid Sunday next week, although we also plan the visit the Atlanta Botanical Garden for their Orchid Daze gala, also called Vanilla Sunday, on the same day.  I guess you can never see too many orchids in the month of February!

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Wish List Wednesdays: Bill Tosetti Dalmatian Coasters

With the approach of spring I am ready for more color in my life, and these Bill Tosetti Dalmatian Coasters (set of four for $14.99) from Amazon will help.  The pop art-inspired design on these glazed ceramic coasters is fun, the colors are cheerful, and I am of course a sucker for anything Dalmatian!  There are also a couple of other dog breeds available from Amazon as well as from The Collector's Addition, but the series has been discontinued so supplies are limited.  Don't wait too long if you would like to own a set of these coasters!

Friday, February 19, 2016

Foodie Fridays: Easy Cheesy Spaghetti

I happened across this article about a spaghetti recipe that has gone viral, so I decided to check it out for myself.  The original recipe was modified to an even simpler version called Creamy Three-Cheese Spaghetti.  I used this modified version and made my own changes (less spaghetti and cream, more cheese).  The dish is quick and simple to make and is quite tasty on its own, but I had some Baked Mushroom and Greens Stuffed Tomatoes left over from our Valentine's Day brunch, so I served the spaghetti topped with one of the tomatoes.  When you cut open the tomato, its juices run into the pasta, and the filling can be stirred in as well.  The flavors of the tomato and its filling are a perfect complement to the rich and creamy pasta, and the addition turns the dish into a complete meal.  This recipe is another great comfort food for the dreary and cold winter days we have been enduring lately (but I just know that spring can't be too far off!).

Easy Cheesy Spaghetti

8 oz. spaghetti
1 T. olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 C. heavy cream
1 C. shredded cheese (I used a casserole blend)
salt and pepper to taste
3 T. minced fresh parsley (optional)

In a large pot of boiling water, cook the spaghetti according to package directions.  Drain, reserving 1 cup of the past water.

While the pasta boils, heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat.  Cook the garlic until fragrant, about 1 minute.  Add the cream and about 1/3 C. of the pasta water.  Stir in the cooked spaghetti and toss until the pasta is full coated and the liquid is simmering.

Remove the skillet from the heat and add the cheese.  Toss constantly, adding more pasta water if needed, until the sauce reaches your desired consistency.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Garnish with parsley if desired and serve immediately.  Serves 3.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

This 'n That Thursdays: Doggie DNA Tests

Maddie (left) and Ruby (right).

Have you ever gotten your pet DNA-tested?  After we adopted our unusual-looking (in a good way!) mixed breed dog Maddie, we decided to have her DNA analyzed to get some idea of just what those breeds might be.  We were guessing some sort of setter and hound mix, the latter most likely Beagle, because she has a hound face and ears plus short and stumpy Beagle-like legs, but a sort of long-haired coat and an especially long, plumy, curved tail that is definitely not hound-like.  We have never had a setter before, but thought she might have some English Setter in her:

From Northwoods Bird Dogs

Since we were having Maddie tested, we decided to get our terrier mix Ruby done as well.  We, and everyone else who has seen her, have always assumed that she is part Pit Bull:

From Wikipedia

However, her small delicate head, long and slender legs, and upright brushy tail all indicate some other breed(s) as well, one of which we thought might be a Rat Terrier (or "Feist" dog, as they are known locally):

From NCHuntAndFish


This week I got our dogs' test results back, and we could not have been more surprised!  According to Maddie's results, she is likely mostly part Beagle, which was not unexpected.  However, the next most likely breed turned out to be the Chow Chow, and that really perplexed us, although it could explain the plumy tail, I guess.  She also showed traces of Parson (Jack) Russell Terrier and Rottweiler!  Hmmm!!!

Even more amazing were Ruby's results.  Her DNA test came back as likely mostly part Irish Setter!  This is for a dog that could not look and act less like an Irish Setter (Maddie is a much more plausible candidate, in our opinion!).  Next most likely is the Australian Cattle Dog, with a bit of Boston Terrier, Pembroke Welsh Corgi, and Poodle thrown in!  Even if she does have DNA from each of these breeds, the fact that Pit Bull did not show up at all completely befuddles us! Ruby was a stray who followed me home one day.  We live in a rural Georgia county where Pit Bulls and Pit Bull mixes are extremely common, so the fact that no trace of this breed showed up in her results is confusing, to say the least.  Oh well, in the extremely unlikely event that we ever consider moving to an area that bans Pit Bulls, we can simply whip out her DNA test results and assure everyone that Ruby is just an Irish Setter mix in disguise!


The test kit did warn that if dogs shared toys or other items, the cheek swabs used to run the DNA tests might have compromised results.  Even though I tried to make sure, as instructed, that the dogs did not put anything into their mouths one hour prior to being swabbed, they could have briefly grabbed something when I wasn't looking and messed up their tests.  I have concluded that the only way to make sure their samples are clean would be to have a professional do the collections, but for now we are deriving considerable amusement from our Beagle/Chow Chow and Irish Setter/Australian Cattle Dog mixed breeds!

From VCA Animal Hospitals (left and right).

From VCA Animal Hospitals (left) and vetSTREET (right).