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Last Saturday was my second year to host a late summer Saturday brunch for our “Secret Sisters” group. After enjoying our favorite brunch dishes potluck style, we assembled care packages for our recent high school grads, so we can send them off to college with a surprise box full of goodies packed with love and care.

I’m not a huge fan of fruit punches, but a brunch just calls out for something special and fun to drink, and there are many mocktails and non-alcoholic drinks that are fun and refreshing.  Last year, I tried out two new beverages on the group: June Bugs and Green Grape Glaciers.   I made grenadine for the June Bugs when I saw how easy it was to make your own.

This year I created my own concoction, which I dubbed Peach-Orange Fizz.  It’s reminiscent of Fuzzy Navels and Mimosas, minus the alcohol.

Here are the recipes for all three, including directions for making your own grenadine.  Each recipe makes 8 servings and can be scaled up or down depending on the number of guests.

June Bugs
 6 cups (48 ounces) ginger ale
8 tablespoons grenadine*
8 tablespoons orange juice
6 scoops orange sherbet
Mix together and serve.  (To make in advance, mix all ingredients except sherbet and add it just before serving.) 


Homemade Grenadine
Grenadine comes from the French word “grenade” which means pomegranate.  Most of the commercial grenadines no longer contain pomegranate juice, despite its rise in popularity and healthful qualities.  The commercial syrups also typically contain a lot of high fructose corn syrup.  Try making your own – it’s quick, easy and arguably healthier.

1 8-ounce bottle pomegranate (I’ve also used POM’s pomegranate and cherry juice – yum!)
1/2 cup sugar

In a heavy saucepan, bring juice to a boil and let it reduce to half (about 10-15 minutes; keep an eye on it while it boils.)  Add sugar; stir to dissolve. Cool before using; refrigerate.

Green Grape Glaciers
4 dozen seedless green grapes
32 ounces white grape juice
32 ounces cold sparkling water

In advance, wash, dry and layer grapes on a wax-paper lined cookie sheet and freeze for several hours or overnight.  To mix, combine all but a dozen of the grapes and other ingredients in a blender and pulse until blended.  Pour into glasses, divide remaining grapes among glasses.  Can also add a mint sprig if desired.

Terry’s Peach-Orange Fizz
1 large container frozen orange juice concentrate
1 liter peach-flavored sparkling water*
1 liter lemon-lime flavored sparkling water*

Mix together and serve immediately.  


*You’ll find flavored sparkling waters in your grocery’s beverage section, usually near the seltzer water and club soda and drink mixers.  They are artificially sweetened, so if you’d prefer, you can substitute a lemon-lime soft drink (Sprite, 7-Up) for half the sparkling water and add a few ounces of peach nectar.

Happy brunching,

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When I cleaned out the coat closet, one of the organizers held gobs of new (okay, we’ll go with “unused,” since some of them are almost vintage) cards. Birthday, mother’s and father’s day, anniversary, random holiday cards, get-well, congratulations, sympathy cards, thank-you cards, invitations, personalized cards, and blank cards.  All occasion, every occasion, if there’s a card for it, I’ve probably got one.  Somewhere. And this doesn’t include the boxes of Christmas cards I gathered up and placed in one of those six tubs that will transfer to the new coat closet.

After the closet cleaning was done, I took that teetering stack of cards and plopped it on my desk. I then dug around in two other hidey-holes I knew of, and came up with even more unused cards. 

I confess: I am a card fiend. Hallmark has my number, and all card stores issue a siren’s call I can’t seem to resist.  I buy the cutest cards and then I often lay them on my desk where they stay until it’s way too late to send them.  I wonder if this is a recognized addiction?  Hopefully this process was a DIY intervention…

The next step was to sort through them and toss any that were wayyy outdated. The remaining cards are now organized so I can rifle through them at a moment’s notice and find an appropriate card for the occasion. They are going in a box along with the other select few items destined for my new desk and drawer space.

My promise to myself (which I am making publicly today) is that I will use up these cards first before buying any others. And I will look for opportunities to send a card. (If I spent $2 or $3 on the card, surely I can cough up four bits for a stamp to send it, right?)

Who knows? I might actually meet the goal of sending my Secret Sister at least one card each month this year.

Too bad I didn’t find a stack of moving announcements.  Guess I’ll just have to break over and order some.  (And uhhhh, SEND them.)

Happy card-ing

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Recipe of the Week: Broccoli-Raisin Salad

Our annual recipe booklets – cute, huh?

This recipe is among my very favorite salad recipes, and the dressing is the same one I use for regular coleslaw.  This recipe is made extra-special by the fact it came from one of my past Secret Sisters at Highland Heights.  

Susan usually makes this salad – and many other yummy foods – for us when we converge on her house for an annual paperback book and DVD swap.  It was also the recipe she submitted for our 2008 recipe book, which focused on salads.  (This year’s book will be all about brunches, and promises to be full of exceptionally delicious recipes, too!)

Susan’s Broccoli-Raisin Salad

Ingredients:
2 cups broccoli, chopped
12 strips bacon, cooked crisp and crumbled
1 red onion chopped
1 cup raisins
1 cup sunflower seeds

Dressing:
1 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

Directions:
Mix broccoli, bacon, onion, raisins and sunflower seeds.  Mix dressing together separately and pour over broccoli mixture; toss to coat.  Serves 8.

I have doubled (and even quintupled) this recipe for large gatherings; in fact, I made it for my mother-in-law’s 70th birthday party last summer, and it got rave reviews.  If you’re making it ahead, I recommend mixing the dry ingredients together in one bowl and blend the dressing in a separate container. Refrigerate both until ready to serve; combine and toss just before serving.

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I should preface this by saying I think I’m a fairly typical housekeeper…there’s a little clutter that accumulates, but the house is reasonably clean underneath the daily stuff.  But when I throw a party, my otherwise latent OCD tendencies kick into high gear and I feel compelled to do things like arrange my socks by color, artfully organize the pantry contents, or repaint the laundry room or garage.  You know, things that are highly unlikely to be seen–let alone appreciated–by guests.

A party is also a good impetus for thoroughly cleaning and organizing anything that’s been bugging me. Rarely do I just stow something away unsorted, and for the record, I can say I have NEVER been tempted to use my oven, clothes dryer or dishwasher as temporary storage.  (I know a lot of people who confess to having done that, so if you’re one of them and you were smirking at my OCD-ness, just remember we all have our little quirks.)

And sometimes it’s a good excuse to “spruce things up a bit,” like my last-minute notion to  display my great-grandmother’s vintage aprons.

I guess it’s fair to say that my parties tend to come with a bit of self-imposed stress.   But I love entertaining, so it’s the price I’m willing to pay. So what is my favorite part of throwing a party?

Well, it’s not tidying up, although a looming red-letter day on the calendar does tend to get me in the cleaning spirit.

The cooking is fun (but it also makes another mess AND there is the risk of a “dud”), so it’s really not my favorite thing about entertaining either.

Having a great time with our guests?  That’s certainly a high point.

But my very favorite part of having a party?  Don’t tell the guests, but sometimes it’s the after-the-party.  We don’t throw “swing from the chandelier with a lampshade on your head” type parties, so cleanup is usually a breeze – pop a few serving pieces in the dishwasher, toss or refrigerate any leftovers, and take out a bag of trash, and it’s done.

After the guests are gone, the house looks great, my little clutter piles have been dealt with, my decor has been snapped into focus, and some area of our house might even sport a new paint job.  I can kick back, smile, and enjoy the memories of a fun time with family or friends, and not have to worry about mopping or organizing my closet, at least for a few days.

Today’s Secret Sister brunch was wonderful – I am blessed to have so many caring and fun Christian women in my life.  And judging from the food we enjoyed today, our 2010 cookbook is going to be chock-full of extra-yummy brunch recipes.

Next weekend, we just might get to see some old, err longtime friends from Oklahoma who are coming through.  Wonder what I might accomplish before they arrive?

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I’d love to take credit for this recipe, but I was simply smart enough to snag it from my mom before I got married.  It makes a great dinner entree, or a savory meat dish for a brunch.  When I take it to our annual “Salad Night” for Secret Sisters, I always come home with an empty dish.  I have modified it slightly (my modifications are noted below.)

Hot Chicken Salad

Mom’s original ingredients:
1 pound (approximately 2 cups) diced cooked chicken
1 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup finely diced onion
1 cup sliced celery
1/2 cup toasted almonds and chopped (I prefer slivered almonds, untoasted)
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon grated lemon peel
1/8 teaspoon white pepper
1/4 teaspoon salt (optional)
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese, set aside
Crushed potato chips for garnish (sour cream and onion work particularly well)

Terry’s modifications:
1) Substitute diced green onion (with some green tops) for the onion – adjust quantity to taste
2) Increase chicken to 3 generous cups
3) Reduce mayonnaise to 3/4 cup.  Add 1/2 cup sour cream and 4 ounces cream cheese (softened) – blend with mayonnaise before adding other ingredients.

Directions:
In a large bowl, combine all ingredients except 1/2 cup cheese and potato chips.  Pour into a shallow baking dish; top with potato chips and remaining cheese.  Bake at 350 about 25-30 minutes or until bubbling hot.

Makes 6-8 servings.

As you can see, this recipe is not exactly heart-healthy.  If you’re watching your calories or fat grams, low-fat ingredients may be substituted (mayonnaise, sour cream, cream cheese and shredded cheese) – experiment to find the right balance of flavor and texture vs. calories and fat.

This makes a great summer dinner with a fresh tossed salad and some bread, although someone may point out the irony of serving a salad-with-a-salad.

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TGIF

Most weeks are actually fun cruising through, but occasionally I have a week I’m just really glad to put behind me. This one is shaping up to be one of those, so I’m truly grateful it’s Friday. (It IS Friday, isn’t it?)

Winter finally loosened its icy grip on the South, and we’re back to daytime temperatures in the 40s and 50s. It seems almost balmy outside! I happily queued up with every other self-respecting ‘boro resident to wash my car yesterday, and was very thankful for the new Super Speed Wash that opened near us, complete with free, unlimited vacuuming. The car is shiny outside and relatively clean inside – hooray!

The final BHS swim meet for 2009/2010 was last night, and our frosh swimmer did awesome, especially in her 100-meter breast stroke event, giving the upperclassmen a real run for their money. I also got to catch up with some friends in Lebanon, whose daughters also swim…it’s hard to believe we all have kids in high school (and beyond) these days.

Tomorrow is our annual “reveal” meeting for the Highland Heights Secret Sisters (it was postponed last week due to the cold and snow that lingered.) Amy W. and Courtney D. have done an amazing job of getting members involved in this group, and it has grown and flourished under their super-organized and enthusiastic nurturing. I’m excited to find out who my secret sister has been; I know I have been blessed by her prayers and notes of encouragement throughout this past year. I’m also grateful for the opportunity I’ve had to get to know my “sister” better over this past year while thinking of her and praying for her and her sweet family.

I think I’ll make the hot chicken salad (mine is pretty similar, but I add a bit of cream cheese, and use potato chips instead of corn flakes) that I was planning to carry last week. For dinner I’ll try my hand at pan pizzas like these. My family loves pizza, and they say they like my homemade pizza, but I’m always looking for a better crust recipe. We’ll see how this one goes.

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