Sunday, July 31, 2011

Macaroni and Cheese (The BEST ever recipe)

THE Best Macaroni and Cheese recipe EVER and I’ve tried a ton of them, including every recipe published in the Southern Living magazine for several years running … all failed and most were dumped in trash can ...literally!  But this one … OMG this Macaroni and Cheese is to die for.  Great quality cheese is a must!!!  This recipe is from one of my very best friend’s, Tracy Reider, who is an amazing cook!

2 cups Elbow Macaroni
3 Tbsp Butter
2 to 2-1/2 Tbsp Flour
Salt and Pepper to taste
2-1/2 cups Whole Milk (I use 1/2 Whole Milk and ½ Half-n-Half)
1 cup (8 oz) Sharp Cheddar Cheese, grated 
1 cup (8 oz) Yellow American Cheese, grated (from Deli not pre-packaged)

Cook macaroni and set aside.  On burner set to medium, melt butter, flour and salt and pepper to make a roux.  Slowly stir in the milk until well blended.  Add cheese and stir until melted.  Stir in the macaroni.  Pour into a greased casserole dish.  The mixture should be soupy.  If not, add more milk or half-n-half, as needed.  Optional: Mix a half cup of shredded cheese and breadcrumbs and sprinkle over the top.  Bake at 350 degrees for approximately 30 minutes or until bubbly.  Helpful Hint: To easily grate the cheeses, freeze for about 30 minutes or so prior to grating.  

NOTE ABOUT CHEESE: Don't try to 'measure' your cheese AFTER grating it ... if you bought an 8 ounce package then that is ONE CUP ... it will look like a lot more after it is grated but that is the right amount!  Also, when buying the Yellow American Cheese from the Deli ... I get them to cut it in one big hunk (8 ounces/1 cup = half a pound).

Update (Oct 28, 2012): I continue to get rave reviews on this Mac n Cheese recipe and I CANNOT emphasize enough the importance of making it just as I do ... with top notch ingredients ... DO NOT skimp or cheap out.  The brand of 'Sharp Cheddar Cheese' I use is Cracker Barrel ~ Natural Sharp Cheddar Cheese and the brand of 'Yellow American Cheese' I use is either Boar's Head or Land o Lakes from the deli ... cut into a hunk and not sliced ... I grate them myself!!!  I also only ever use Whole Milk and Half n Half ... never the low fat or skim milk stuff.  YES its fattening but its not like you eat it all the time!  If you want it like mine you must use the GOOD cheeses.

A couple times I made it using fresh farm made 7 year Sharp Cheddar that Scott brought home from Wisconsin ... NOW that was awesome!!!

Another great thing about this recipe ~ I've made a half a recipe and have also doubled it and get great results every time!

Summer Rental ~ Mary Kay Andrews (Book Review)

Summer Rental, Mary Kay Andrews’ newest book … just in time for summer reading!  And what a great summer read it was.  I was on that beach in Nags Head NC with all these characters … living it right along with them.  Glued from start to finish!!!  Now I wanna move to the beach … to live … indefinitely!  Woohoo!!  You can check out this author and learn more about her at … she has a cool blog and along with her awesome book jacket designs … she’s written some great ‘Southern Setting’ books that I highly recommend!  AND … She’s a Georgia Girl!

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Tripping Without My Honey

I’ve never gone on a vacation without my hubby but since becoming an empty nester and a stay at home … hmmmm …what do you call what I do when NOW the kids are grown?  Anyway, Scott works, has very few vacation days and I don’t so I decided I’d go visit our Alex and his Heather in Seattle.  I’d planned this trip for quite some time (he’s been stationed out there for almost 3 years now).  Having my sister go with me …an added bonus!

First on our sightseeing tour … Point Defiance Park in Tacoma … a be-u-ti-ful National Park, which is FREE to visit … for now anyway … we walked along the shore of Puget Sound (which is HUGE … we saw portions of it in three cities ~ Tacoma, Seattle and Olympia), hugged a humungous tree (estimated to have been just a sapling at the time of the birth of William Shakespeare … yes, you read that right AND estimated to remain there for another 500 years … long after we are gone, my friends), stopped to say hello to a few raccoons on the side of the road (one appeared to be begging … literally… for food) and walked through some amazing gardens, rose gardens, iris gardens, Japanese gardens …  Washington purports to be the Evergreen State and we were assured of that from the time we left the airport … fir trees everywhere … or “Christmas Trees” as my sister calls them … perfectly formed and ready for lights LOL  Later we rode around Tacoma to check out the city … saw some beautiful architecture and places we wanted to come back to see later.

Next day we went to Seattle … just 20 minutes away and wow what a beautiful city … very clean (there were trash cans on every street corner … no excuse for anyone to litter) and gorgeous architecture.  The streets that lead down to Puget Sound reminded me of what I’ve seen in movies of San Francisco …steeeeeep …and we walked them so I know just how steep they were.  We parked and walked EVERYWHERE!!!  Oh and hanging baskets … huge beautiful hanging baskets on almost every street light (no need to worry about watering LOL)  Oh and homeless everywhere … park benches, in store front alcoves and lots of musical instruments being played for cash donations (very pretty music too, I might add) … acoustic guitars, electric guitars, bongos and just plain ole singing a capella and then some selling their wares, from bracelets to mini-totem poles … NOT a single one was pushy or begging.

First stop … the very first Starbucks.  Wow that place was hoppin … busy busy …the barristas were exceptionally nice and of course, as always, the Frappachino was refreshing!  Next … Pike’s Place Market … and we didn’t get to see it all … it would take days … literally!!!  Really really cool indoor marketplace … if they don’t sell it in there … it probably doesn’t exist … well maybe lol ~ fresh flower bouquets for $5-15 … BIG gorgeous bouquets too, seafood of any type, and cherries, cherries, cherries … I could go on and on … a definite MUST SEE if you are ever there!  Oh but the ‘tossing of the fish’ is just all-for-show … its not the real tossing of the fish like you see on educational channels where they toss them from the boats to the dock … its all an act so I wasn’t impressed.  On to Underground Seattle …tour was cool and interesting but a little pricy for what you actually get to see. 

Some interesting facts I learned: Seattle once boasted the tallest high-rise west of the Mississippi, in fact, it still stands, a gorgeous building, but it is surrounded by much taller high-rises - Seattle used to be below the streets and sidewalks that exist now (what is now the basements … was once the ground floor of the buildings) - when they first built the city UP, ‘skylights’ were put into the now existing sidewalks (for light below) made of a glass that after years of exposure to air has turned purple … very pretty - Seattle’s first plumbing system pipes (1854) were made of hollowed out logs … eeeeww! 

On to the waterfront (Puget Sound)… gorgeous … there’s a sidewalk/boardwalk so we were able to walk along the water for blocks and blocks and blocks.  Plenty of restaurants to choose from and from the waterfront you look up at the city.  And finally … there’s the Sky Needle, built in 1962 for the World’s Fair … it is now swallowed up by the high-rises (the photos of Seattle that you see must have been taken from a peculiar angle) … the view from up there?  AMAZING!  It’s a MUST SEE … at least once!  Overpriced though!  We went up at night and it was an awesome view (found out when we bought our tickets that we could have bought a ticket for 2 trips up in same day … once during daytime hours and then again at night … which, if I had it to do over, I would have done).

Well by now you’re probably asking ‘so how was the weather … is it really like they say it is… oh yes, most definitely!!!  Dreary one minute … sunny the next …cloudy, sunny, partly cloudy, misting, cold, overcast, back to sunny … one day the high was 67, next it was 67 with a heavy breeze making it feel much colder … then it was 85 one day …very unpredictable …it was hard to know what to wear … we wore jackets tied around our waists for those hours where the weather turned and it got cold … …and then they’d come off again … our jackets weren’t always as warm as what we really needed … DID NOT LIKE the weather!!!

Next day … back to Tacoma for some museums (and it just so happened they are FREE on the third Thursday of the month AFTER 5 pm and open til 8 so we had to pay for the first museum and then after that they were free)… since it started out being very cold and misting rain and was predicted to stay that way … first stop the Museum of Glass … some beautiful glass artwork but MOST of it (and this is no exaggeration) is outside (and FREE to see 365 days a year) on the ‘glass bridge’ and walkway.  It was definitely overrated but I did enjoy watching the glass blowing … could have sat there all day watching in fascination.  Next we went into the Washington History Museum which was right next door … fun and interesting since I love history.  We skipped the third museum since the weather cleared up (or so we thought lol) and went back into Seattle with a mission to FIND the Sleepless in Seattle houseboat.  We ended up visiting a small but pretty little park on the edge of Lake Union (the houseboats, contrary to what I thought are NOT on Puget Sound but rather on a lake) … an abandoned oil refinery made into a park … kinda cool … and dang if it didn’t get downright COLD!  We couldn’t stay long … too cold!  Sadly, we didn’t find the Sleepless in Seattle houseboat.

Next day … Portland, Oregon … not such a pretty city … architecture was too modern for my taste.  We went with the intention of visiting one of their gardens but ended up missing it because it closed so early.  We did, however, see Pittock Mansion, located high up on the mountainside overlooking Portland, Mt. Saint Helens and Mt Hood … amazing view.  It was built in 1914 but sadly Mr. Pittock only had 5 years enjoyment living there as he died in 1919 at the age of 83!!!  Since the gardens were closed … we found the world’s largest book store … Powell’s which covers an entire city block and then some … 68,000 sq ft of new and used books!!!  I found a few bargain books (hardbacks) … had to limit my purchase!  Portland has street vendor trailers everywhere … lined up and parked in parking lots … each with their own specialty … we ate lunch off one of the Greek ones and it was pretty good.  Not only was I disappointed in the architecture of Portland, the homeless were everywhere and hippies galore (more so than in Seattle).  In fact, Starbucks didn’t want us to use their bathrooms at first because they have a problem with the homeless, druggies and mentally instable persons coming in to use it!!!  With the exception of the one guy in Starbucks, who was from Orlando, the people were very unfriendly!

Next day …we headed for the shore … the Pacific Ocean!  Drove through Olympia and right through Twilight Country just outside Forks, WA (for you Twilight lovers) and yes it looks exactly like its described in the books and shown in the movies!  No vampires though!  LOL  When we got to the beach (Ocean Shores, WA) we drove right onto it … you park wherever you feel like it and then cars, mopeds, trucks and even horses ride up and down parallel to the ocean.  The air was freezing!!!  The water … warm like bath water and dirty … like lake water … eeeew.  AND no big crashing waves as I had expected.  I was very disappointed.  There were people on the beach dressed in various types of seasonal clothing from bikinis to winter coats lined with fur!!!  We didn’t stay long as it was too dang cold … in fact, we stopped on the way out of town for hot coffee!!!  July in Washington!!!  We headed back towards Tacoma and decided to stop in Olympia (Washington’s capital for those who might not know) … another beautiful clean city with a beautiful capital building… a small town though compared to Seattle.  We walked along the sidewalks/boardwalk of Puget Sound and saw some crab, fish, tons of jelly fish and two very large red jelly fish, which I’d never seen before.

Our last day … Mt. Ranier, which is completely visible (on a good day) from McChord AFB.  Wow … the first time I saw it (after being there for 3 days) I couldn’t stop saying ‘damn’ … it was so immense and breathtaking!  On this our last day we drove up to Mt. Ranier National Park thinking we’d do some hiking and maybe get a glimpse of the mountain closer up.  Unfortunately, just before we entered the park there was a motorcycle accident (2 motorcycles) caused by a deer running in front of them and involving a fatality.  Very sobering.  Since the road we were travelling was the only way in or out of the park we had to wait some 2.5 hours before we could continue.  We didn’t realize it when we started out but the road inside the park goes up nearly ¾ of the way from the top of Mt. Ranier … wow what a view and what an awful time for my new camera to start acting up!!!  I did manage to get a few good shots but none at the top where we got out … dressed in flip flops, jeans and tees … into the snow covered ground!  A definite MUST SEE if you are a nature lover or someone who appreciates God’s beautiful gifts of the outdoors!

If I get the chance to go back to Seattle (maybe after our grandbaby is born) I definitely want to do one of the water cruises on Puget Sound or maybe even the Ducks.

Thank you Alexander and Heather for being such awesome chauffeurs and tour guides!!!  I love ya’ll very much and am so glad I got to spend time with you two … ooops I mean three!!!