Friday, May 31, 2013

Charleston ~ Finally!

Pineapple Fountain in Waterfront Park
Charleston, SC
I’ve been wanting to visit Charleston South Carolina for over 28 years!!!  When Scott and I married the first time our honeymoon was spent driving up the east coast starting on Tybee Island, Georgia and on up to the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel and into Delaware and then over to my new home in Pennsylvania … it was not via the Interstate … nope … no fun there.  We took the state two lane highways closest to the Ocean … and it was a beautiful trip though we really didn’t stop any where to spend real time … didn’t have a whole lot of money nor time.  But what we did get to see was free and we saw a lot … a lot of God’s beautiful country side and of course, a lot of the ocean and man’s beautiful cities.  One of the cities we went through was Charleston, SC and I’ve always wanted to go back for a real visit.  Well we finally did it!  Granted in a weekend you don’t get to see everything you want to see but I definitely want to return some day!!!

We met our oldest son and his wife there … we arrived on Friday afternoon and they arrived later that evening.  We had a great time with them and touring the city.  Did tons of walking … that was the plan … to stay in historic Charleston and walk to everything we wanted to see and boy did we walk, and walk and walk.  Note to self: take sneakers when you plan to do a lot of walking … flip flops don’t cut it!!!

There are lots and lots of beautiful historic homes, ally ways and streets of both brick and cobblestone … all must sees.  The architecture is amazing!  I am so into old architecture and history so this city was a perfect place for us to visit.

We did a horse drawn carriage tour via Palmetto Tours and these tours are on the lottery system (you have no idea which section of the city your tour will be on until you are actually ON the tour) … however, we enjoyed the one we got and our guide was both humorous and knowledgeable.  Saw the Old City Jail, dating back to 1802, and heard all the scary gruesome tales about it … its in stages of being renovated so it doesn’t crumble … apparently though the only way to see inside is to take a ghost tour and that just did not appeal to me … no way no how!  It’s supposedly the MOST haunted building in Charleston and from hearing the tales … I can understand why!

We took the trip to Fort Sumter via Ferry Boat … I was a little disappointed by it only because the narrated tour on the boat over was not as informative as I had expected.  Most of the Fort is in ruins so you really do not get the full impact of its place in history but I’m glad we did it.  It was pretty cool to see the architecture … or what was left of it … a good part of it was built much later on … in the 40’s or 50’s, I believe.

Fort Sumter
We also visited one plantation; most are about 10 miles outside town so driving is a must.  We decided on the Drayton Hall Plantation because it is the only one preserved as it was back when it was built in 1738.  We even walked the grounds after the tour which are immense and beautifully set on the Ashley River.  A must see if you are into history.

Drayton Hall

Ashley River behind Drayton Hall
In all of the walking we did we saw Battery Park, the Pineapple Fountain (in Waterfront Park), Rainbow Row, 'Slave Market' or City Market (though the name implies that slaves were sold there … NOPE … its an actual marketplace which dates back to 1807 and is more like a flea market today but they sell all kinds of neat stuff … a must see, for sure) and King Street (Charleston’s Rodeo Drive).  To me, King Street (the residential area which is toward the waterfront and Battery Park) had the most beautiful historic old homes.  We also saw numerous beautiful churches and historic homes that we just didn’t have time to tour … next time though, for sure!  We really enjoyed walking the streets of Charleston on our own and viewing  the architecture up close and personal! 

Battery Park

King Street (Charleston's Rodeo Drive)

We visited one cemetery beside a church where the graves were so old the headstones had fallen over so they propped them up against the fence … I’m always respectful of the dead in cemeteries … keeping my voice low.  Well my daughter-in-law thought it would be funny to scare me by jumping out from behind a bush and when she did I screamed so loud I bout woke the dead and peed in my britches LOL

The cemetery we visited ... bout woke the dead!

I’d say, our only disappointment in Charleston is that most of the shops and businesses open late ~ 11ish (as a lot of storefronts noted) and closed at 5:30ish … with the exception of Market Street restaurants and a couple shops … Market Street seemed to come alive after dark.  Oops and another disappointment … the only locals we met were transplants from up north or out west … Michigan, Indiana, Oregon, etc.  I would have loved to run into some native Charlestonians!!!

Had to throw this in ... see the sign?  We thought it was funny.
Waterfront Park ... some kids were having a ball!!!
A weekend in Charleston is just not long enough ... so many things to see!

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Mediterranean Style Stuff Bell Peppers with Quinoa

I’ve made Stuff Bell Peppers in the past trying various recipes I’d find and they always always turn out like crap … greasy or tasteless or over done.  I searched and searched Pinterest trying to find a great new recipe to try but found nothing that seemed like the perfect recipe, at least to me … I found some flaw in everyone of them.  So I came up with my own and danggit if it didn’t work … turned out perfect!  Scott even said “best Stuff Peppers I’ve ever had” so this recipe is a definite keeper (and just so ya’ll know I don’t post my failed recipes … only the ones worth sharing … always).

Oh and this is a healthier version since I used Quinoa instead of rice!!!

Mediterranean Style Stuff Bell Peppers with Quinoa

4 lrg or 6 average sized Green Bell Peppers
1 Onion, chopped small but not minced
3 Garlic Cloves, minced
1 Tblsp Olive Oil, for taste
1.5 lbs Organic Ground Beef
1 tsp (heaping) Oregano
3-4 pinches Crushed Red Pepper Flakes
Sea Salt and Freshly Ground Black Pepper, to taste
½ cup Quinoa, uncooked
1 can Rotel Tomatoes with Green Chilis
1 can Diced Organic Tomatoes
½ cup Crumbled Feta

Brown Ground Beef in a skillet over medium heat, about halfway through browning add the Onions, Garlic, Olive Oil, Oregano, Red Pepper Flakes, Sea Salt and Pepper and continue cooking until browned.  (drain off fat if necessary … I didn’t need to as the Ground Beef we buy doesn’t contain much fat).

Add the Quinoa and both cans of Tomatoes and continue cooking on medium-low heat (simmering) for about 15 minutes or until Quinoa is cooked. 

Add Crumbled Feta and stir until melted in.  Remove from heat.

While the meat mixture is simmering … Cut tops off your Bell Peppers and clean out the seeds.  Fill each Bell Pepper with the meat filling and sprinkle with additional Crumbled Feta on top.  Replace tops to the Bell Peppers and place in a oven proof dish that has been oiled with Olive Oil (so the Peppers do not stick).  Cover dish with Aluminum Foil.

Cook in 350° oven for about 30 minutes.  We like our Peppers still a little on the crunchy side.

NOTE: I only used 2 large Green Bell Peppers cause that’s what I had on hand and its just me and Scott so I let the remaining meat mixture cool and then put it in a freezer bag, popped it in the freezer for next time!!!

Yummmmm ... it was so delicious!

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Ginger Ale … does yours contain real Ginger?

Like a lot of people I love Ginger Ale especially when I have a sick tummy … Ginger is known to be good for nausea but when the Ginger Ale I’d been drinking didn’t seem to be helping and seemed awful dang sugary, well … I read the ingredient label.  I was shocked to discover it didn’t even contain Ginger.  And I was a little pissed off too cause I expected something called “Ginger Ale” to contain Ginger … wouldn’t you??? 

Now when your talking Ginger Ale, Root Beer, Birch Beer and the like … you expect them to be made from the actual ‘root’ from which they were given their name, right?  Well …not any more!  Originally they were but somewhere along the line, for bigger profits or cost effectiveness, who knows, it has changed and now like a lot of “processed foods” they have become processed to the point there is no real or natural ingredients in them any longer.  To me … Ginger should be the FIRST ingredient … period!

 I compared the ingredient labels on various popular brands of Ginger Ale and you can see from my photos … not a one of them contains Ginger … at all!  Oh sure, they say “natural flavors” and one even touts ‘Made with Real Ginger’ but the word “Ginger” is NOT on any of their ingredient lists.  So I got to wondering …

What does “natural flavors” actually mean?  Here’s what I discovered:


 “…the FDA definition of "natural flavors" and "natural flavoring" allows for the substance to be extracted from plant or animal "matter."

Okay so the key word here is “extracted” so the amount of ‘ginger’ in these Ginger Ales could be (if there even is any) extremely minute to fall under that category and possible not even real Ginger but a “natural flavor” made to mimic Ginger. 

And further from

Let’s start with the official definition as stated in the U.S. Code of Federal Regulations (Title 21, Section 101, part 22):
The term natural flavor or natural flavoring means the essential oil, oleoresin, essence or extractive, protein hydrolysate, distillate, or any product of roasting, heating or enzymolysis, which contains the flavoring constituents derived from a spice, fruit or fruit juice, vegetable or vegetable juice, edible yeast, herb, bark, bud, root, leaf or similar plant material…”
Interesting huh?  Does that sound like a product listing “natural flavor” on its ingredient list actually contains something real and not man made?  To me, it sounds like it could mean pretty much anything.  So basically … in my opinion … it means nothing … it doesn’t prove that Ginger is actually in the Ginger Ale and if it is there ain’t much of it yet they can still legally claim it to be “made from real ginger”.  Seriously?  Do companies think us that stupid? I mean if there really was a substantial amount of Ginger in the product, why wouldn’t it be listed … Ginger?  So my conclusion is there is none.

Can ya’ll imagine a recipe calling for ‘natural flavor’?  What would you add … what does that mean?  Means nothing, my opinion!  Or what about this scenario … I make a Chocolate Cake and you ask “so what kind of chocolate do you put in this and how much?” and I said “Oh its just natural flavors” OR I make a Coconut Pie and you ask “so how much coconut is in it … why can’t I taste it?” … you’d think I was crazy if I said “oh it contains natural flavors”.  See my point?  For a Chocolate Cake to be ‘chocolate’ the main ingredient should be … wait for it … duh … maybe CHOCOLATE or a Coconut Pie’s main ingredient should be …. Hmmmm let me think … maybe ‘Coconut’.  You get my point.  Read your labels, my friends!!!

So I’ve set out to find REAL Ginger Ale and it does exist … its just not made by the name brand companies we all grew up trusting and knowing … sad thing is I do remember a time when there was real Ginger in Ginger Ale (at least I think there was).  Sure used to taste different … better!  Haven’t you ever heard someone say “this just doesn’t taste as good as it did when I was a kid”?  Well, that’s because somewhere (I believe) over the years the companies we grew up believing in changed it on us … slipped one past us.  There is nothing in these Ginger Ales that even resembles what Ginger Ale should be … made from Ginger Root and Ginger being its first or second ingredient and NOT listed as a “natural flavor” in its last ingredient!!!  The ONLY place you find the word “Ginger” on the labels is EVERYWHERE but the ingredient list.  It’s obviously in the name and then written all over its carton or container … “made with real ginger” … only there isn’t any real ginger in it.  None   Nada   Nil

So my search continues for REAL Ginger Ale actually containing Ginger as one of its MAIN ingredients.  I’ve found some on the internet but have yet to get over to Whole Foods or Harry’s to find some, but I will!!!  No more FAKE Ginger Ale for me … I want only real and natural ingredients in my food … not processed crap and man made sweeteners!!

What do you think???

UPDATE: October 2013

I said I'd update once I found REAL Ginger Ale so here it is ~ both are available at Whole Foods and I found that Kroger carries Reed's in their 'health' food section at about same cost as Whole Foods.

I found 2 brands that I like ... Reed's being my absolute favorite and 365 being a less expensive alternative, even though I'm still not comfortable about fact they don't list Ginger Root as an ingredient but rather say "Natural Ginger Flavor" but I suppose that's close enough ... as opposed to just natural flavor ... that's a BIG difference to me.  Oh and both are non-alcoholic ... yes there is Ginger Beer that IS really 'Beer' and alcoholic but it is hard to find and of course found only in liquor stores.

So ya'll check them out ... I love the Reed's 'Extra' Ginger Brew but it also comes in the regular brew.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Quinoa with Chicken and Fresh Avocado and Tomato

You can't really see the Quinoa in this close up but I've posted another photo below.

I was visiting my first born and his wife this past weekend and Kay made this one night for supper ... so delicious!  Everything she has ever cooked has been delicious and most of the time healthy too!    Anyway, its relatively easy and quick and so perfect for those hot summer nights!  There's really no recipe but you can't mess this up!  And I looooove Quinoa!!!

Quinoa with Chicken and Fresh Tomato and Avocado

Cooked Chicken, cut up (I precooked mine with Pesto but you could use Rotisserie Chicken if you'd like) 
Fresh Tomato, chopped
Fresh Avocado, chopped
Crumbled Feta (now I added this to this dish cause I looooove Feta on just about anything)

Cook your Quinoa as directed.  I had never actually cooked it myself before and was a little worried because I heard it was hard to cook.  NOT!  I cooked it as directed on the package (Organic Quinoa) and it turned out PERFECT!!!

Place cooked Quinoa in a bowl and add your chopped up (precooked) Chicken, chopped fresh Tomato, chopped fresh Avocado and sprinkle with Feta, Sea Salt and Pepper (if desired).  I personally add Sea Salt to almost all my fresh veggies: (1) its not horrible for you like table salt and (2) it brings out the flavor and sweetness in fresh veggies and a little goes a looooong ways!!!  Believe me this is one healthy and delicious meal!!!

Here's what Cooked Quinoa looks like up close for those that do not know.

*Now for a little facts about Quinoa:

courtesy of
For those of you who may have never had Quinoa ... it is very similar to rice or pasta but completely different in taste ... it has a taste all its own.  Whereas with Rice or Pasta, I like to add Salt, Pepper and Butter and/or EVOO ... with Quinoa, you don't really need anything, to me, I could eat it plain (but cooked, of course lol).

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Beefy Pinto Beans and Cilantro Soup

I came up with this recipe from a similar recipe I found online … I changed it so much it’s not even close to the original recipe any longer so no credit necessary.  Soooo if you love Cilantro like I do … you will looooove looove looove this soup!

Beefy Pinto Beans and Cilantro Soup

2 cans Pinto Beans, rinsed and drained
2 Tblsps Olive Oil, divided
1 lb Ground Beef (I use organic)
1 tsp Season All (No MSG) seasoning
1 Onion, chopped
3 Garlic Cloves, minced
2 tsps Oregano     
1 Tblsp Cumin
1 Tblsp Cilantro
2 cans Beef Broth (Low Sodium)
2 Tblsps Tomato Paste
1 can Diced Tomatoes (I use organic)

Heat 1 Tblsp of the Olive Oil in a large heavy soup pot.  Add Ground Beef and Season All, then sauté until beef is well browned.  Remove Beef to a bowl and set aside, drain, if needed.

Add remaining Olive Oil to pot, add Onion, Garlic, Oregano, Cumin and Cilantro and sauté for about 5 minutes, or until Onions are starting to brown. 

Add one can of the Beef Broth slowly to pan to release the cooked on bits of Beef and Seasonings.  Add Beef and remaining Beef Broth, Beans, Tomato Paste and Tomatoes.  Bring to a slow boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer for about 30-45 minutes.

Garnish: Freshly sliced Green Onions, fresh chopped Cilantro or fresh squeezed Lime Juice.

Healthier French Fries

Here's how I make mine ... adjust your amounts according to servings needed (I was cooking for just two).  

2 Baking Potatoes, cut into fries
Sea Salt
Olive Oil
Baking Stone

After cutting Potatoes into fries, place in a bowl of water for about 20-30 minutes.  Drain and dry on a paper towel making sure to get off as much moisture as possible.  This step is important as I swear that it's what helps to keep the French Fries crunchy and firm ... not soggy.  Place Potatoes in a bowl and toss gently with Sea Salt and Olive Oil (about a Tablespoon).  Spread out singly on a Baking Stone.  Bake in oven that has been heated to 425 degrees for about 20-30 minutes, making sure to turn them halfway through cooking time.

Oh and by the way ... that's a Feta Stuffed Burger handmade and grilled by my hubby!