Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Katie Cooks: Bean Dip edition

Is it cooking if you don't use the stove? If you don't "hot it up" as my grandmother used to say? This is an incredibly easy recipe...made even easier because there is no cooking involved. It's requested almost as much as my grits casserole. And my children think it's sacrilege to have Mexican food without bean dip. I got this recipe from my friend and Creative Memories consultant Patty - who always used to serve it at crops. This is also the bean dip that Madalyn "stole" cheese from (check out the comments from this post to see that gem of a story).

Here are all the ingredient:

Put the beans in the bottom of a pan. We like to smoosh the beans so that the dip is not chunky. Is smooshing a word?

Next, add salsa. We're wimpy and use mild:

Next layer is Ranch dressing. When people have this dip this is the part that perplexes them. Make 'em guess. They'll want to think it's sour cream...but they know that is not it. But for some reason, they don't think Ranch. When you add the ranch, attempt to keep it as a layer and not mix it with the salsa. This is a challenge. Sometimes you just have some nice pink salsa when you are done.

Finally top with cheese. Dont' let small children steal this part. Or put it back.

Serve with chips. If your children are anything like mine...they'll want any leftovers for breakfast. You can always top with other things like diced tomatoes or olives or jalapenos. We don't. Because we don't like them.

Here is our simple recipe (and yes, it's another without measurements. You don't need no stinkin' measurements)

1 small can refried beans


Ranch dressing

shredded cheese

Add beans to bottom of dish (I use an 11x7 or 9x9 dish. If you are going to use a 9x13, you'll probably want 2 cans of beans.) Spread evenly.

Top with salsa

Add Ranch dressing, Spreading over salsa.

Top with shredded cheese and whatever else you want to add.

Eat with chips. It keeps for about a week in the fridge. If it lasts that long. Enjoy!

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Sunday, April 27, 2008

Preachin' the Message

I was a Creative Memories consultant for almost 9 years. I taught people how to organize their photos and put them into beautiful scrapbooks. But for me, scrapbooking is so much more than that. And if you will allow me this indulgence, I am going to get up on my soap box and preach. Perhaps I am preaching to the choir…but it never hurts to hear the message again.

Where are your pictures? Maybe a bigger question to ask is where are your mother’s pictures? Are they in a shoebox? Perhaps thrown into a jumble in a shopping bag along with various sorts of memorabilia? Or if you are fully entrenched in the 21st century, your pictures might be in the new version of a shoebox – your computer’s hard drive.

Now some of you might actually have your photos in albums. And then there will be those of you that put your photos in decorative scrapbook albums. But, are the stories that go along with those pictures written down? What about the basics – the names, dates, places and simple details that you thought you would never forget?

Now, what is a sermon without some quotes from the scriptures? In Psalms 78:2-4 it says: “I will utter dark sayings from of old, things that we have heard and known, that our fathers have told us. We will not hide them from their children, but tell the coming generation…” Also, in Proverbs 3:3 – “do not forget my teaching…write it down on the tablet of your heart.”

By journaling your photos, you will leave footprints for your family…influencing the future by passing down values, convictions, and heritage. By journaling your photos you will save and savor fragile, fleeting memories for yourself and “the now,” AND preserve it for future generations. By journaling your photos, you will pass down a rich heritage…preserving your voice and life message. By journaling your photos, you will record a passing era and lifestyle and will leave an entertaining document for those you love.

Some people say that they do not scrapbook because they don’t have time. Or that it’s too expensive. Or they aren’t into crafts. Well, let me be the first to say that scrapbooking doesn’t have to be time consuming, expensive or crafty (because I don’t do crafts. At all). I make works of heart, not works of art. I don’t do fancy pages…but I work to capture forever the memories…the stories…the things my children said that made me laugh till I cried. For me, scrapbooks don’t have to be elaborate…but they do need to be meaningful. Let me show you a few pages:

(the above is probably the "fanciest" type of page that I do. Most of my pages look like this: Nothing but words and pictures)
And here is one that is a work in progress - no words yet - it is incomplete in so many ways (and I do NOT mean that it needs any decoration!):

Written personal expression offers depth, poignancy and humor missed in visual images. Placing your precious memories in albums, complete with journaling, offers you a way to appreciate your past NOW and experience joy by sharing your legacy TOMORROW. Memory is such a fragile and unreliable thing…and our minds tend to be cluttered and temperamental. Making an album to celebrate your life, your heritage, or your family is one of the most meaningful and lasting things that you can do.

Russian poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko wrote “in any man who dies, there dies with him his first snow…his first kiss…his first fight.” And Alex Haley wrote: “when an old person dies, it is like a library burning.” Write down your stories and leave a legacy that will last lifetimes. (amen)

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Saturday, April 26, 2008

Who are you people? Part 2

About a month ago, I wrote a blog entry about the “hits” that my blog gets. At the time, I was just checking out my cluster map to see how many visitors a day I get. After some comments…I added both sitemeter and neocounter. Because I want to know who comes to this site. And who actually reads my ramblings. I mean, who are you people?

Neocounter is really cool because it tells you total visitors from each country. At first I had a city counter…but if I wanted to continue to use it after the trial, I’d have to pay for it. Ummm…the rivers of cash from Amazon and ads are in a drought…so, the free version is what I use. I’m always amused to see new countries added to the Neocounter. Just added Saudia Arabia today. I have actually had to look up one country: Montenegro.

Montenegro is a country on the Adriatic bordering Serbia, Bosnia, Croatia, and Albania. See:
I have had visitors from 31 countries. Who are you people? You’ll notice that there are a lot of countries with just one visitor. That means they didn’t come back. Perhaps it was a mistake when they stumbled into my patch of the internet. The only international that has posted on my blog with any sort of regularity is Lorna from Socks and books – she is in Denmark. But what about the hits from Australia? Or The Netherlands? Or England? Who are you people?

Now, Sitemeter allows me to go to a whole new level of obsession with my blog statistics. I can see how many people are on my site at a certain time…how many hits per hour…the number of page views…how long they stayed…and where they came from. I can see if they jumped over here from another site. Or, what becomes endlessly fascinating are the Google searches that are done. Oh, wait. Let me clarify. Endlessly fascinating. To me.

There are some “normal” searches that yield hits to Sunshine and Lemonade: book searches – someone looking for previews of “Lover Enshrined” and “Brisingr.” Lots of people looking for reviews of “Body Drama.” Then there are recipe searches – for Irish Soda bread or chicken cordon bleu. And more recently, people have searched for “sick Japanese Maples” and “Japanese Maple Farms in Georgia.”

There are strange google searches. Like for poison spiders. Or four day old diaper. Why would someone do a search for that?! And I have had my first “porn” hit. They were searching…with a variation on the words “Katie Cooks.” Not exactly spelled the same way. Which makes me curious. If they were looking for “cooks”—why would they actually click on my blog. It’s *obviouisly* not what they wanted to find. But they looked anyway. Just in case. And that search has been done twice. I don’t really want to know who these people are.

Really…who are the rest of you? Come on, click on comments and say “hello.” Stop lurking. Blog lurking. Blurking. Stop it. You know you want to say “hi” or “hola.” Or whatever. Pretty please. Or I might have to find another stat counter. And obsess a little more.

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Thursday, April 24, 2008

Thursday Thirteen: Where in the World is Kat?

Today’s Thursday Thirteen actually has a theme. One of the things I really liked about TT was that there were no rules. Except for the 13 part. Now it’s almost like the Ten on Tuesday. Plus three. But, that’s okay. I can sorta deal with change. Just ignore that twitch in my eye.

Today’s topic is Thirteen places I’ve visited. I actually did a similar list for a Ten on Tuesday theme of 10 places I would take a visitor in my town. And then with all my blogging over the past week about our cruise to Grand Cayman, Cozumel, Belize, and Honduras…you don’t need to read about those again. I’ve also done a Wordless Wednesday about Mayan ruins…so we’ll skip that, too. I have not traveled a lot…but I’ll see what kind of list I can cobble together:

1. Baltimore, Maryland – Usually one of our unwritten rules for traveling is to know someone that lives there. So that we have somewhere to stay. My friend Kelly and her husband Darren live in the suburbs of Baltimore and we have been a few times to visit. Downtown Baltimore is really neat – and there is a lot to see and do around the Inner Harbor. We have been to the aquarium, taken a boat ride to Ft. McHenry, and seen a baseball game at Camden Yards (not in the inner harbor...but not too far away).
2. Amish Country – on the same trip to visit, we went to Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. What a gorgeous area. We took a buggy ride through Strausberg, went on an Amish house and farm tour, and then went to a Smorgasbord in Bird-in-hand. 3. Washington, DC – as Baltimore is only a little over an hour outside of DC - it equals another day trip. We have done the Smithsonian museums – American History, Natural History, and Air & Space; We have walked around the mall…seen the Washington monument and the White house (from the outside); we have gone to the National Zoo; And both of my grandfathers are buried at Arlington – which is a very cool place to walk around. What is really great about DC is that most everything is free. What I still want to do: go inside the White house and go to the Holocaust Museum.
4. San Antonio, Texas – Another trip to visit a friend…and this time to my best friend, co-conspirator, and college room mate, Cindy Sue. This trip was just me and Katie – and Katie’s first trip on an airplane. Madalyn was not born yet – but she has looked at the small album I made of our trip here, that she is convinced that she went, too. Most of our time was spent visiting...but we did venture out one day to the Alamo and the River Walk. I don't suppose Chuck E. Cheese counts as a place to see in San Antonio...but we did go there!
5. St. Louis, Missouri – my aunt and uncle (and my 7 cousins) live in the very small town of Perryville – about an hour south of St. Louis. One of my favorite excursions was to a place called Johnson's Shut Ins. The shut-ins were formed over millions (and millions?) of years ago by the Black River running through volcanic rock...and carving out this mini-natural water park. So, it's like a huge rocky water fall that you can climb, swim and slide down to the bottom.

And then...what is St. Louis without a visit to the Gateway Arch?

6. St. George Island – this is where we go to the beach most summers. And it is fabulous. The island is not commercialized at all…there is one small hotel there, otherwise it is just houses. There is no fast food or grocery stores…you have to drive 20 minutes to Apalachicola to find a Burger King or a Piggly Wiggly. We are counting down the days to our trip in July. (the first picture is the view of the beach from the Widow's Walk in our house) 7. Asheville, North Carolina -- When I was a teenager, my family visited Biltmore estate...but I appreciated it much more as an adult. Michael and I went for our first anniversary. The home is amazing...and you have to walk around and admire the gardens. They even have their own winery. When we were there, we took a behind the scenes tour - which I would highly recommend if you decide to visit.
8. Boston -- We did a crazy thing right before Katie turned 3. We drove to Boston. From Atlanta. See? Insane. Michael was born right outside of Boston...so we had family to stay with. And Baltimore is a half way point - another place to stay. The trip was in the stars. I wish I knew exactly how many miles we put on my car this trip! While in Boston - we did day trips to Ipswich (when they were filming "The Perfect Storm"), drove all the way Cape Cod to Provincetown, drove the entire Mohawk Trail into New York, and finally we went into downtown Boston - taking the Ducks tour and then walking around Boston Common, Trinity Church, Boston Public library, the Freedom Trail, and finally ending up in Chinatown for dinner.
9. Minneapolis -- I have only been here twice - for my Creative Memories conventions. But what a beautiful city. I was there in August...and the weather was so nice. I had just bought new make up before my trip - and I remember thinking that it was just great makeup - it really did a great job. Until I got home and realized it was just that Minneapolis doesn't have the humidity that Atlanta has. Another place to go in Minneapolis: the Mall of America - complete with an amusement park inside the mall!
10. Chicago -- When Cindy and I were in college...her parents moved from Columbia, SC to Naperville, IL - so it was a new place for both of us to visit. We went to: the Field Museum, Shedd Aquarium, the water tower for shopping, and even to Comiskey Park to see a White Sox game. What we didn't do was see Oprah.
11. Chattanooga -- This is one of the few places that we go to where we actually stay in a hotel! And if you are going...you need to stay at the Holiday Inn in downtown Chattagnooga - at the Chattanooga Choo-choo. The lobby of the hotel is an old train station/depot...and you can even stay in train cars if you want. There is a beautiful indoor pool here, complete with waterfall, gorgeous gardens, and free electric bus transportation to all the sites downtown. And downtown, you can go to the aquarium and to a great children's museum. We also like to drive up to Rock City Gardens and Ruby Falls.
12. Bahamas -- Katie and I went on our first cruise together - just a three day trip to the Bahamas. It was my first experience with the warm, blue waters of the Caribbean and with snorkeling.
13. Disney World -- If you have been to Disney World...you've been everywhere, right? We had annual passes two years ago...and made three trips to the World...for a total of over 21 days in the parks. And I still don't think we saw it all.

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Tuesday, April 22, 2008

888 Challenge Check in

I have made some progress on my challenge list – and actually managed to complete 3 books during my vacation week – which is much more than I accomplish during a regular week. Because I blog. I started the challenge in February, and I have now read 18 books. I have also read a book “in process.” My friend Jennifer is an author…and has asked some people to read her book before she sends it off to publishers. So…19 books.

In the car, on the way to Tampa, I finished “Seduction of the Crimson Rose” by Lauren Willig. This is the fourth in Willig’s series about the “flower” spies of the London aristocracy during the Napoleonic wars (The first is “The Secret History of the Pink Carnation.). I really like this series. It has everything. Action. Adventure. History. And most importantly, romance. One of the things that I like about this series is that they are framed by another story: that of a grad student in today’s time doing research for her dissertation on the identity of the Pink Carnation. The juxtaposition of the contemporary romance with that of the regency time is a fun contrast. All the books in this series are very witty…but this one has a very cynical edge to it.

Next in line: Marie Phillip’s first novel “Gods Behaving Badly.” It is a comedy of the absurd. Imagine that the Greek Gods have moved from Olympus to a townhouse in London that they were able to get cheaply during the plague…and they haven’t cleaned it since. Because they are Gods. They have all but lost their powers because no one believes in them anymore. Even Eros doesn’t believe in the Greek Gods anymore and he is one! He says to his mother, Aphrodite, “I wish my mother was the virgin Mary.” Bickering Gods leads to seeking revenge on one another…and it takes a very ordinary human to step up and be a hero to save us all.

And while I am reading books that will never be read by my book group, I continue the trend with Zoey Dean’s “How to Teach Filthy Rich Girls.” This is a really clever book about a massively in debt Yale grad with an English degree. And having seen “Avenue Q” – you know that it sucks to be the main character – because what do you do with a BA in English?! If you are the heroine of this novel, you get the chance of a lifetime to have your debt erased by helping two filthy rich girls/Paris Hilton wannabes get into Duke. Take a moment to savor the vision. And the possibilities. One of the funniest parts of the book is the multiple guess questions that are proposed at the beginning of each chapter (she is trying to make studying for the SAT “relevant” to the girls): Choose the analogy that best complements the following phrase:
cardboard box : wino
Chihuahua : rock starlet
Cocaine : supermodel
Fendi Baguette : Sarah Jessica Parker
Drug arrests : Robert Downey, Jr.

While we were on the cruise, my husband finished “I hope they serve beer in hell” by Tucker Max…and he handed it off to me. First of all…I apologize to any of you who picked this book up after seeing it on my website…and for some reason thought it was a recommendation from me. It is not. It is a clear departure from most books that I read. I think it could be categorized as the antithesis to the chick lit genre. I will admit that I laughed out loud at several stories…but pretty quickly, the book got old and stale. Perhaps it’s funnier to people who actually know Tucker Max. I am sure that it is hilarious to people who like stories about drinking, whoring, and excrement. And if curiosity is getting the better of you…just check out Tuckermax.com and you can read at least half of the book there. For free.

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Monday, April 21, 2008

Are you SURE that you want to tag me for this meme?

I’ve been tagged again. My second this week. My second ever. Not that I am bitter or anything. I want to be like Sally Field and yell “you like me. You really, really like me!”

So…what is this meme about? I'm supposed to pick up the book nearest me, go to page 123, find the fifth sentence and then type and post the next three sentences after the fifth one.

Okay…what is closest is the last book I finished: “I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell” by Tucker Max. Ummm…it’s closest because it’s here to give to the next guy that wants to read about such debauchery. It’s hilarious…but just wrong. In oh SO many ways. I think Tucker Max might have an aneurism if he knew that a late thirty something, home schooling mom read his book. And laughed out loud. But…this is a dangerous assignment.

Okay…I’m going to look now. You have been warned. You might just want to stop reading here. If you are my daughter, stop reading here. Go do your school work. This is a post that is not for you. Go away. Find something important to do.

Okay…really going to look now. Found page 123. Yep…this is a mistake. But…you know, I follow rules. (no comments from the peanut gallery) And here is what is there:

“I wait patiently for about three minutes, then I start pounding on the door, screaming at him that I am going to sh*t on his bed if he doesn’t get out of there. A short time later he opens the door laughing his *ss off, and says, “That was perhaps the most prodigious sh*t ever. I just put that toilet into therapy.”

Somehow, I think I’ll never be tagged for a meme again. Or at least not for books. You never know what I might be reading. And that is a pretty “innocent” excerpt. Really. (And for those of you with a love of debauchery and some morbid curiosity…the events after this quote are gross beyond words…and leads to Tucker Max being PERMANENTLY banned from Embassy Suites. And if your interest is truly piqued now…click on the book in my “kat has read” section…so that I can have a veritable river of cash flowing into my coffers from Amazon referrals.)

Now the hard part…who to tag now. I think I have tapped out my "regular" readers. When I did the meme over the weekend…I went to read what everyone did…and who they tagged. And some of those people were so excited to be tagged. I am sure they will be thrilled to be tagged again, right?! What on earth will they think of being tagged by me…when I have only read their blogs once. Will they refuse to get this far down in the post because of my book selection? Will they be so thrilled to be picked, they will ignore my obviously bizarre taste in books? I guess we’ll all find out:
Jill at One Wired Woman
Tracey at Make Room For
Heather at Mindless Junque
Ctina at Tinalina Time

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Katie Cooks: Grits Casserole edition

I am sure that most families have a favorite recipe. The one that is requested the most. Each weekend, I sit down with the grocery list and plan out our meals for the week. Usually I ask the kids what they want for dinner. Lately, I have had a lot of requests for escargots. Ummm...that is not exactly in my repertoire. But the one item that is consistenly asked for (demanded sometimes) is my grits casserole. And now I am going to share it with you. And your family can now demand it of you on a regular basis. Even if you claim you don't like grits.

First...brown your sausage.

Then measure out a cup of quick cooking grits. And if you cook anything like Katie does, do it over the sink...so that this mess will stay in your sink and not on your counters or floor. And then add them to boiling water.

While that simmers, mix your milk and eggs.

Now combine everything in a bowl, topping with some melted butter with salt and pepper.Pour into a baking pan and cook.


We serve it with biscuits and fruit salad. Although I have strange children who do not like their fruit to touch other fruits. They are not thrilled that there is pineapple in my fruit salad. And Madalyn only wants the grapes and clementines; and Katie only wants the strawberries and clementines and maybe a watermelon piece. Picky, picky.

Katie says that it is more fun to eat grits casserole than to make it. Honey...this is why restaurants were invented. And dish washers.

Here is the simple recipe:

3cups water

1 cup quick cooking grits

3/4 tsp salt, divided

2 lb pork sausage, cooked and drained

8oz shredded cheese, divided

5 eggs

1 1/2 cups milk

2 tb butter, melted


Bring water to a boil and slowly whisk in the grits + 1/2 tsp salt. Reduce heat, cover and simmer for 5 minutes.

In a large bowl, combine grits, sausage and most of the cheese (reserve some for the top). Beat the eggs and milk and then stir into the grits mixture. Add the butter, pepper and remaining salt.

Transfer to a greased 13x9 pan. Bake uncovered at 350 for 1 hour or until a knife comes out clean. Sprinkle with the remaining cheese and bake 15 more minutes. Let it stand about 5 minutes before serving.

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