Bucket List

Happy Birthday, USA

I have, as do most people familiar with the movie, a ‘Bucket List’. Most of it is in my head, but the older I get, the more important it is to commit it to paper. I would hate to be at the end and say ‘Oh man! I was gonna do (fill in the blank)… but I forgot!!

Some of the things on my list include places to visit, things to create, experiences to have. Today is the 4th of July. When I was growing up, my parents and our friends spent the 4th on the lake where my husband will soon live once again. When our children were young, we enjoyed the holiday at my mom and stepdad’s lake house in the North Georgia mountains. Mom is no longer with us and my step dad no longer spends much time at the lake house that his mother bought over 50 years ago. However, the 3rd and 4th generations (my step-siblings and myself as well as our children) enjoy being there… it just hasn’t worked out in several years that we can all be there over the Independence Day holiday for the past several years. So, on my list is a desire to have the whole family at the mountain lake cabin for the 4th once again.

Also… and maybe more realistic… is the desire to spend a July 4th in New York City to see the Macy’s Ignite the Night Fireworks display. Of course, I also want to see the Ball Drop in Times Square on New Year’s Eve someday… but I don’t think I will be able to talk my husband into that. Too cold, too many people, too late at night! Our son, who lives in the city, would have to have an apartment or office within view and that is quite doubtful… every free minute he can squeeze out is spent getting OUT of the city!

Happy 4th of July!

Macy's July 4th Fireworks

Fireworks on the Hudson



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A Fall Wedding – The Ceremony

It’s been almost 6 months since our daughter and son-in-law’s wedding. We are still recovering. It was a great night… what I remember of it (thank goodness for the video!!)… and we are most grateful for our dear friends and relatives who pitched in and helped with the wedding reception set up and break down!

The late afternoon wedding began with a classical harpist playing as guests were seated. Music played a big part in the wedding with the church organist playing music selected by Jordan, tenor Kenrick Johnson singing ‘Oh Perfect Love’ and, best of all, the recessional by a local gospel choir singing a rousing rendition of ‘Oh Happy Day’!!

Customized programs with hand embossed decoration.

Bride escorted by her Poppa

Our priest gave a very personal homily directed to the bride and groom prior to communion. I was quite touched by the ceremony uniting these two young people, and tried very hard to remember to live in the moment! Really happy that the video has finally arrived to help me do just that! :)

The new Mr. and Mrs. Bell

Next…. The Reception!


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Engagement Excitement

One year ago today was the night that our daughter was ‘officially’ engaged! A long anticipated moment, it was sweet, personal and very much ‘staged’ the same way that my husband and I were engaged: no fanfare, no fireworks, no videographer. Just as Mike had done years before, Davis popped the question and presented her with a beautiful ring while sitting in the car in the driveway! It might have been a bit different, a bit more elaborate, but Jordan was anxious to meet friends for dinner and was a bit put out with the delays (including Davis ‘formally’ asking Jordan’s dad for his blessing… in the garage because it was the only place they could speak without her tagging along!) Needless to say, she forgot all about being in a rush when she found out what was going on!

A fall wedding was planned and we all became caught in the swirl that was known simply in our house as THE WEDDING! Over the next several postings, I will reminisce about our process and add the do’s and DONT’S that brides and their moms should find helpful.

Tonight as I think back on that evening, I am glad that I kept my mouth shut on all of the ideas that I had about what he could do to make it ‘special’… because for them, it WAS special! Of course, if he had ‘asked’ for help, then I would have done whatever he wanted me to do to create something special. However, he didn’t ask, did what was perfect for them and I am thankful that I didn’t act (too) pushy. I did make signs for them to hold reading ‘we’, ‘are’, and ‘engaged’ that I had them hold while I filmed them for ABC’s Good Morning America’s ’3 Words’ segment, which ABC aired (unbeknownst to them…) the following week! Probably should have mentioned that… instead of having one of Davis’ employees tell him about it at work… oops!!


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Cooking Classes!

My sweet husband, who loves desserts, surprised me with a cooking class on desserts presented by Barbara Fairchild, editor -in-chief of Bon Appetit Magazine and author of the eight pound tome, Bon Appetit’s Desserts. Now Mike’s problems with glutens and celiac disease have limited his enjoyment of dessert, so I imagine that his desire for me to learn more about making dessert was wishful thinking. However, there were several great recipes that they prepared that had no glutens and Barbara suggested that the BA test kitchens had had wonderful results with the King Arthur Gluten Free All Purpose flour. So here we go!!

Janet McCracken (left) food contributor at Bon Appetit with Barbara Fairchild at the Central Market (Dallas) demonstration kitchen.

Janet McCracken (left) food contributor at Bon Appetit with Barbara Fairchild at the Central Market (Dallas) demonstration kitchen.

The recipes demonstrated included Deep Dark Chocolate Cheesecake (pictured below), Lime Snowball Cookie (a lime flavored Mexican Wedding Cookie), Peppermint Bark Triangles, Pumpkin and Brown Sugar Creme Brulee,  and Apple-Cranberry Croustade (rustic French Pie). There are hundreds of recipes, any one of which will make you want to get busy in the kitchen and invite friends over to eat dessert first!

Deep Dark Chocolate Cheesecake! Heavenly!!

Deep Dark Chocolate Cheesecake! Heavenly!!

Find cooking classes your own area for some great recipes, cooking tips and inspiration to share your new knowledge with your family and friends! Gourmet grocery stores, kitchen shops, department stores and cooking schools often have short 1-2 hour classes featuring staff chefs or visiting celebrity chefs and cookbook authors. Turn the cooking school experience by asking several friends to join you… or better yet, start a cooking school ‘club’ and go en masse to several classes a year!

As Barbara (and Julia) would say: Bon Appetit!

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Mom’s Favorite Shrimp Dip

This is a great summer by the sea or lake dip! However, my mom always served it on Christmas Eve as well… it was her favorite, after all!

Mom’s Favorite Shrimp Dip

1 (8-ounce) container sour cream
1 (3-ounce) package cream cheese, softened
1 envelope dry Italian salad dressing mix
8 ounces shrimp, cooked and finely chopped
3 green onions, chopped, white ends and green tops
Club crackers
  1. Beat sour cream, cream cheese and salad dressing mix in small mixer bowl until creamy. Stir in shrimp and green onions.
  2. Transfer to serving dish. Cover; refrigerate for 1 hour. Serve with club crackers.

Makes 2 1/2 cups dip.

Needless to say, it is important to keep anything with mayo cold. If you don’t own a shrimper or icer as it is sometimes called, then you can create one by using two glass bowl, one significantly smaller than the other. Line the first bowl with crushed ice making sure it goes up the sides. Push the smaller bowl into the ice firmly. Use the smaller bowl to mound dip, mayonnaise based chicken or tuna salads in or even fruit salad… anything that should be kept or served cold. This will not protect the salad or dip without a few other precautions. Do not put in direct sun light, keep an eye on the ice and replenish as necessary and return the dish to the refrigerator as possible if you are outside… of course, with this shrimp dip, your biggest chore will be refilling the bowl!

Posted in 4th of July, Summer | Leave a comment

To Market, to Market, to Market We Go!

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With July 4th almost on us… and in my mind, the mid-point of summer, a thought left over from my own school days… farmer’s markets have sprung up all around us. From road side truck beds full of tomatoes and watermelons to multi-block affairs with protective roofs in big cities, there are opportunities in every area to procure fresh foods for our summer family suppers and celebrations! On our recent trip to Spain (where I took these photos), we were enthralled with the beautiful multi-storied Mercados  that displayed fish and meats on one level, fresh fruits and vegetables on another along with deli style stalls with cheese, breads and olives!

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How daring are you? Think you could invite friends to join you for dinner without a clue as to what you are going to cook? Or maybe, a bit less daring with a few ideas up your sleeve, but nothing on concrete until you get to the market and see what looks good. I have been known to plan everything down to every last morsel as well as just throw caution to the wind and hit the markets! It is certainly easier now that I can look up recipes online by ingredients and quickly have dozens, even hundreds of choices!

Cruise to Spain 2010 366

This year, we have our own mini ‘farmers market’ in our backyard which is overgrown with cucumbers and includes squash, jalapenos, cayenne peppes, red bell peppers and, that old Southern standby, tomatoes. I have Googled cucumbers right and left because cucumber salad is good, but we are in need of some variety!


So… with cucumbers on the brain, let me share with you my favorite recipe for marinated cucumbers. This is similar to the recipe my mom used for cucumber sandwiches, which were a staple at summer teas in the South. At least in our part of the South! I’ll give the variation for the tea sandwiches as well!

Marinated Cucumbers

1 cup Rice Vinegar

1/4 Canola Oil (or VERY light Olive Oil)

16 pkts of Splenda sweetner (you can use sugar, about 1/3 c – 1/2 c, or to taste. A sweet-n-sour effect)

1 1/2 tsp dried basil (or 4-5 fresh leaves, chiffonade cut)

salt and pepper to taste

Mix all together.

Peel, halve and thinly slice one onion (we like sweet yellow onion varieties like Vadalia)

Peel, halve, seed and cut into 1/4″ half moon slices.

Toss onions and cukes in a glass container. Pour dressing over and toss gently once more. Cover and refrigerate, stirring every day. Will keep 3-4 days, the more they marinate, the better!

Tea Sandwich Variation:

Make marinade as above. Slice the cucumbers and the onions so thin you could almost read thru them. Marinate overnight, at least.

For each sandwich, cut the crust off of 2 slices of good quality white bread (not rustic white, instead opt for grocery store-1950s-variety WASP white bread) . Spread each slice generously with a high quality mayonnaise (my momma used Hellman’s, so that is what I use).  Drain cucumbers with a slotted spoon and place a couple of layers on the mayonnaise, then top with the other slice of bread. Cut into desired shapes… or forget the tea sandwich aspect and just eat! :)

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Peppered Pear and Spinach Salad

This great recipe is from Divine Feasts Highlands Style, a fund raising cookbook from The Church of the Incarnation in Highlands, NC, a divine village that my family and I visit at least once a year in the cool, lush, green Blue Ridge  Mountains of south eastern North Carolina.

Peppered Pear and Spinach Salad

2-3 ripe pears, peeled, cored and quartered

8 large handfuls washed and dried baby spinach or mesclun salad mix


3 Tbs olive oil

1 Tbs freshly ground pink and black peppercorns

Juice 2 lemons


2 large good quality croutons

1 Cup toasted pecans

3/4 freshly coarse grated Parmesan cheese

Mix dressing ingredients together. Toss pears and greens together. Pour dressing over, gently tossing. Add toppings and toss again. Serves 4-6

This great cookbook can be ordered for $20.00 plus $5.00 shipping from:

The Church of the Incarnation

520 Main Street

Highlands, NC 28741


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4th of July Celebration & Recipes

Celebrate the 4th of July!!!

Here it is a week before the American holiday known as ‘The 4th’… American Independence Day! It’s is the perfect holiday to be as cheesy as possible with lots of the National colors of red, white and blue, stars, stripes, fireworks, cookouts and friends!

How we celebrate differs from region to region, city to city, even neighbor to neighbor! Baseball in the park, a backyard barbecue, splashing at the beach, or a boat ride on the lake, there are as many choices as there are people in the USA! It’s not too late to organize your own celebration for next weekend:

Freedom Baby

1)    First, check out the offerings in your community. Will there be a parade. fireworks display, community concert or block party? If there is something that you can tag your party onto, planning will be much simpler! For instance: if there is a parade, can you gather some family and friends to enter a float, decorate a golf cart or even bicycles? Part of the party will be the decorating! If there is a fireworks display, invite everyone over for an old fashioned pot luck supper, asking everyone to bring a favorite dish to go with whatever you are throwing on the grill. Then at dark, go as a group to see the fireworks, serving homemade ice cream out of a cooler with cookies as you all Ooohh and Aaahh! parade

2)    Select your venue, be it a nearby lake, your summer home, a public park or your own back yard! Don’t hesitate to ask guests to bring their own lawn chairs if you need more outdoor seating, but keep in mind the summer heat, especially in the South. Make sure that you have enough shade. You may need to rent a tent or use pop-up canopies to provide relief from the sweltering sun. If parking will be an issue, suggest that your guests carpool if possible.

3)   Organize your guest list, keeping in mind how many people your venue can accommodate. A list of total strangers to each other will not an exciting party make. While it is smart to include new folks in your mix… that is how people get to know one another, after all… be sure that a simple majority know and like each other or have such a huge list of common interests that they will think they have known each other always!

4)   Plan your menu. For a small crowd, I usually do everything myself and if guests insist on bringing something, I usually steer them in the direction of an appetizer, beverage or dessert. We were invited to a large 4th of July party this year in which the invitation broke everything down ‘church supper style’.  That is to say, people with the last name initials A-D were to bring appetizers, E-H were ask to furnish the salad of their choice, I-L a vegetable dish, etc. This is a great way to organize a crowd and make sure the potluck offerings are evenly dispersed!

Of course, you may wish to provide the entire menu yourself, but the Independence Day holiday seems to bring neighbor to neighbor, friend to friend in a way that we rarely see any longer. It is this old fashioned gathering together that makes a pot luck dinner a natural!


5)    If you don’t have some built in activities, like swimming, boating or horse back riding, that are part of your venue, plan some group activities that will get everyone involved! Such a tug or war game, volleyball, croquet, or pitching horseshoes, just to name a few. Appoint those folks who won’t or can’t participate to be the official photographers, others to be the score keepers, and those that are left to be the cheering squad! The important thing is: Don’t leave anyone out!!!


6)   Check with your city or county ordinances regarding the use of personal fireworks. Some areas ban them completely while others allow some, such as sparklers, but not nothing that shoots into the air. Whatever you do, make sure that you follow your local laws. More importantly, if you do ‘shoot off’ fireworks, designate one person to be in charge of safety. That person needs to make certain that no one does anything to harm themselves or others by holding fireworks or aiming them at people or buildings. Provide a bucket with sand to place bottle rockets and Roman candles in, a water house with the water  running… just in case, and a first aid kit. Children should never be allowed to light fireworks on their own. Be certain that there is nothing on the ground that will trip the designated lighter as he or she makes a dash away from the lit explosive. Last, but certainly not least, the lighter of the fireworks should not have imbibed in any ‘adult beverages’ that would impair his or her judgment or physical abilities.

7)    Last, but not least… remember WHY we have able to celebrate our independence since 1776.

For the next several days, I am going to post some great 4th of July recipes. The first is my Aunt Mary Frances’ Barbecue Sauce. Enjoy!

West Texas Barbecue Sauce

1/2 C   Hot, brewed, decaf coffee

1/2 C   Ketchup

1/4       Sugar

2 Tbs   Worcestershire Sauce

2 Tbs   Vinegar

1 tsp     finely grated onion

1/2 tsp Salt

Dash of pepper or to taste

Combine all ingredients in saucepan and bring to a boil. Turn heat to low and simmer for 10 minutes. Makes 1  1/3 cups of sauce. Delicious on brisket, ribs, chicken, and makes a great topping on meatloaf.

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Wedding Season!

Just like Vince Vaughan and Owen Wilson’s characters in the film ‘The Wedding Crashers’, I get excited when spring blossoms into weddings! Of course, time has change my perspective.  Decades ago as a child, I looked forward to the rare invitation that included children at the wedding. Oooohh the opportunity to see the bride coming down the aisle in a marshmallow poof of tulle and big hair. Then came the opportunities to be a bridesmaid myself… then the bride… followed by a few more years of my friends getting married. As I aged out of that group, my older friends’ children started coming of age. Now my children’s age group is having wedding after wedding and it is so much fun!

Of course it is not just the wedding itself that heralds the wedding season. It is the plethora of teas, showers, luncheons, cocktail parties and dinners that lead up to the big day that are the fanfare prelude to the ‘I do’ that seals the deal! Here in the south, we tend to go overboard… why have a couple of parties, when a dozen would be more fun?

Join the fun! If you are getting married, Yea! If you know someone who is getting married, help them celebrate by hosting a party in their honor! Below are some suggestions for party and shower themes. Please remember, that brides should only be treated to one or two showers and the guest lists should never overlap. How tacky is it to ‘request’ gifts over and over from the same people?

Showers (other than the tried and true ‘Kitchen Shower’ or ‘Miscellaneous Shower’ -

Recipe Shower – Guests are sent a recipe card to be filled out with a family favorite and brought to the shower. It can also be fun to ask the guests to bring a spice that is included in the recipe! Hostess gift: A recipe box or book.

Christmas Ornament Shower – Guests bring one ornament for the newlyweds Christmas tree. This party can be tweaked to accommodate other religions and/or holidays! Hostess gift: Tree Skirt, personalized Christmas Stockings or the tree topper!

Bar Shower – This is a great couples shower for those wishing to stock their home bar with libations and ‘tools of the trade’… shakers, bottle openers, etc. Hostess gift: electric corkscrew or set of wine glasses

Tool Shower – Another wonderful guy or couples shower… everyone needs a hammer, tape measure and some picture hooks! How far you take it, is up to the hostess! Hostess gift: Tool Box or electric screw driver.

Garden Shower – Wonderful for the couple who love the outdoors and own their own home with yard space. Rakes, bulbs, gardening gloves, bird feeders are all welcomed presents! Hostess Gift: Yard Cart or tool organizer.

Movie Night Shower – Guests shower the couple with DVDs of films for great low-cost entertainment during the early, lean years of marriage. Suggestions of preferences or a play list can be sent with the invitations. A variation of this party can be gift cards to video stores or to an Internet rental service such as Netflix. Hostess gift: Popcorn machine, basket or box to organize DVDs or framed vintage movie poster (if you are certain that it will ‘go’ with the newlyweds decor).

Fragrances Shower – With so many candle choices now, this is a great way to help the couple keep the sweet fragrance of young love hanging around for for quite awhile. Simply send a list of fragrances that the couple is partial to such as ‘vanilla’ or ‘almond’. There are candle brands and sizes for every budget. Hostess gift: candle snuffer or candle lighter! Another great hostess gift would be a ‘candle tray’ on which to gather and display candles!

Non-Shower Parties -

Ladies-Only Night on the Town: This does not have to be a bar crawl, but can be  fun and/or elegant! This is a great ‘dutch treat’ party in which all participants pay their own way! Start with drinks and appetizers at a special place with plenty of atmosphere… a great view of the skyline, a lake, park or ocean… move on to a special dinner, then enjoy a late concert, play or movie. Wrap the evening up with dessert and coffee!

Ladies-Only Night In: Starting with fun cocktails and appetizers, ask your guests to bring a favorite munchie or dessert. Skip the entree and concentrate on fun food only! Enjoy an evening of old classic movies such as “Father of the Bride” (the original Spencer Tracey – Elizabeth Taylor version or the Steve Martin – Diane Keaton remake), Robert Altman’s “A Wedding”, the 1978 satire where everything that could go wrong, does go wrong or any of the romantic comedies of the last 15 years or so! Allow some wind down time to chat and visit… the idea of this party is to allow the bride to slow down and enjoy her bridesmaids and/or other friends in the midst of the hectic pace of the wedding planning.

Spa Day: This is a great party for the female family members of the bride to host for the ladies of the wedding party the morning of the wedding. Contact a local day spa about package rates on Manis-Pedis. The girls can come in their PJs, breakfast can be brought in and served while the girls are getting pampered. If there is a hair salon attached, this will be a great time for them to have their hair done for the wedding, as well. Depending on the size of the wedding party, some day spas will open early for the party only! Almost like having a private spa of your very own!!

Cooking lesson: This party works well for small groups as they are invited to gather around the cooking island (if in a private home) or the demonstration table (at a cooking school) while the chef demonstrates easy to fix yummy food that will also serve as the party food for the event. The chef will usually ask the bride to act as sous chef and assist him during the prep! The price of the event can be creatively handled by hiring a senior culinary school student to be the ‘guest chef’!

Crafting for the wedding: Almost entirely gone are the days of ‘rice bags’ to toss at the departing couple after the ceremony, mostly due to fear of liability… rice can cause slip and fall accidents and for that reason has been replaced by birdseed, which crunches flat when stepped on. Still some venues disallow any sort of toss be it rice, birdseed or flower petals as an issue of cleanup. However, there are many options to chose from that are just as wonderful to wish the happy couple a great life! Bells, bubbles or sparklers are fine choices… dress them up with a bow and a card thanking your guests for joining you on this special day! Invite a group of friends to help with any sort of ‘crafting’ job for the wedding, from stuffing programs, tying bows, & packaging favors to grander projects like flower arrangements and welcome bags for out of town guests!

Never feel that you alone must host a party. Most parties today are hosted by as few as two or as many as two dozen hostesses depending on the type of event, the number of invitees and the projected cost of the party. More hostesses help keep the cost of the party manageable. Always prepare a budget upfront that everyone is comfortable with. If the actual costs will be higher than the initial budget, add more hostesses if you cannot reasonably trim costs. NEVER overspend your budget without consulting all hosts and/or hostesses prior to spending more than agreed upon. Keep in mind that asking about money while all together in a group can be uncomfortable for some people. If someone is reserved and quiet during initial discussions about budget, it is kinder to ask confidentially what their expectations of expenses are for the party. It is unfair to allow peer pressure to cause someone to overextend their circumstances and go into debt. Be kind.

I learned just this week of a shower in which all the details had been agreed upon by the hostesses. Quite out of the blue and right AFTER the invitations were in the mail, the rest of the ladies received an email from the hostess in who’s home the party was held explaining that the party was going to cost 5 times the agreed upon amount, asking them to cook the food (rather than having it catered as planned), and adding an additional segment to the party that the other hostesses had voted down. In other words, she paid no attention to what the majority wanted and went off on a tangent of her own choice. At the end of the email was a somewhat snarky comment (thought by some to aim at instilling guilt) that she alone would pay the difference and to not worry about the additional expense. I know that at least some of the other ladies decided to indeed let the ‘overboard’ hostess pick up her overages! This has ruined the party for the ladies and has caused a riff that may never be cured! Totally unnecessary.

Wedding season parties are suppose to be fun, creative and never should they ‘break the bank!’

Send me ideas of your best parties and showers to share!

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Holidays Over? Hardly!

I know that there has been a collective sigh of relief that the non-stop hustle and bustle of ‘The Holidays’ is over… yet we are heading right into more!

Valentines, St. Patrick’s Day, Easter, Passover, President’s Day, Memorial Day, Eeyore’s Birthday (you know, Eeyore, from “Winnie the Pooh”!)… None of these carry the same entertaining pressure that the Fall and Winter celebrations do, which makes celebrating them far more relaxing!

I will have much more about this in the coming weeks. So put your thinking cap on and start planning some fun late winter and spring gatherings. Don’t forget that wedding season is upon us… more about that coming as well!

Valentine’s is up first so check out are great goodies from LovedTheParty.com and send some love to your favorite people!

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