Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Summer Reading

I love reading, and summertime brings back great memories of walking to the library and coming home with an armful of wonderful books. I would sit outside under the shade tree and read for hours. At bedtime I would sneak in a flashlight, so I could read after the lights were out.

Growing up, my boys never enjoyed reading like I did. They were too busy with sports and video games. Despite their lack of enthusiasm, every summer we would join the reading program at the library. I would either read aloud or they would read to themselves, but we would read everyday.
Books have always been a big part of my life, but especially in the summer. So when the temperatures start soaring, I plan my summer reading. Here is what I plan to read this summer. It's a mix of fiction and nonfiction with some history and a little self-improvement.

The Orphanmaster by Jean Simmerman

Little Night: A Novel by Luanne Rice

I hope everyone finds time to read this summer, no matter what's on your reading list.What are you planning to read this summer? I'd love to hear your recommendations!

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Monday, May 28, 2012

Memorial Day

Today, while we're all enjoying the beginning of summer, let's take time to remember the brave men and women who gave their lives for our freedom.

God Bless America!

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Friday, May 25, 2012

Memorial Day Cookout Ideas

Monday is Memorial Day and the start of summer! It's time for cookouts, pool parties, and picnics. So what are you cooking this weekend?  Here are a few Texas Cottage recipes that will be perfect for a summer cookout.

Let's start with the best first, dessert! Make individual Berry Trifles in jelly jars.

 This Slow Cooker Barbecue Brisket   is so moist and tender you won't need a  knife! The recipe includes instructions for both a dry rub and a spicy bbq sauce.

The  Slammin' Salmon recipe shows how to marinate and grill salmon for those who want seafood instead of beef.

Try these Barbecue Beans  for a little kick.

Greek Pasta Salad is a healthier alternative to traditional potato salad.

Couscous Salad can be served either hot or at room temperature.

 Peach Crisp is made with fresh peaches and, of course, served with vanilla ice cream.

Blackberry Cobbler and vanilla ice cream. YUM!!

These  S'more Cups  will be a hit with the kids and everyone else!

Hungry, anyone?

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Monday, May 21, 2012

Lemon Yogurt Cake

As I've mentioned in several posts, I've been dieting in preparation for our son's wedding, and even though his wedding was a month ago, I am still losing weight. Even though it's not a competition, I do feel a little superior because I finally passed Hubby in pounds lost. I've lost 29 pounds, and he's lost 27! You're doing great, honey, but I'm doing better!  No competition. Ha!

We both love sweets, but we try to limit them to low-fat and low-sugar versions. I modify recipes so we can still enjoy a little dessert. Our other son's mother-in-law (Thanks, Sherry!) found this delicious cake recipe, and since it was a Barefoot Contessa recipe, I had to give it a try. This is my low-fat version. The original recipe can be found at Food Network.

Lemon Yogurt Cake

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup plain nonfat yogurt
1/2 cup Stevia Cane (sugar substitute to equal 1 cup sugar)
3/4 cup Egg Beaters (egg substitute to equal 3 eggs)
2 teaspoons grated lemon zest (2 lemons)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 cup confectioners' sugar
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line the bottom of a standard-sized loaf pan with parchment paper, grease and flour the pan.
In a small bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt. In a separate bowl, whisk together the yogurt, sugar substitute, egg substitute, lemon zest, and vanilla. Slowly whisk the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients. With a rubber spatula, fold the vegetable oil into the batter, making sure it's all incorporated. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for about 50 minutes, until a cake tester placed in the center of the loaf comes out clean.
Cook the 1/3 cup sugar and 1/3 cup lemon juice in a small pan until the sugar dissolves and the mixture is clear; set aside.
When the cake is done, allow it to cool in the pan for 10 minutes. Carefully place on a baking rack in a sheet pan. While the cake is still warm, pour the lemon-sugar mixture over the cake and allow it to soak in. Cool the cake.
For the glaze, combine the confectioners' sugar and lemon juice and pour over the cooled cake. Slice and serve with fresh berries. Makes 12 servings.

Note: Each serving equals 210 calories, 9 grams fat, and 28 grams carbohydrates. Without the glaze, each slice has 170 calories, 9 grams fat, and 18 grams carbs.
The original recipe has 291 calories, 11 grams fat, and 44 grams carbohydrates.
This nutritional information is an approximation using Spark Recipes recipe calculator. 

Cakes made with  fruit make the perfect summer dessert. Here are my recipes for  Mandarin Orange Cake and  Banana Split Cake. Neither one of these is reduced calorie (although they are delicious!), but I think I can modify them. I'll give it a try next time I need a dessert for a get-together.

You still have time to enter the BlogHer and Travel Texas $100 Visa gift card giveaway.  Just leave a comment on my Back-to-Nature in Texas post.

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Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Garden Vignettes

I think it was back at Easter while at a family gathering at my brother-in-law's home, that I found myself wandering around the backyard. After overeating and sitting for a while, I felt the need to get up and stretch my legs. So I took my camera and went in search of some photo ops. I ended up spying into the neighbor's backyard (no fence, so it was unavoidable), and found this amazing garden.


I love how the garden is decorated with flea market and garage sale finds. The old shutters and doors and empty clay pots give the garden a cottage feel.  I've been trying to emulate this in a small way in my own yard.

Looking at these photos inspires me to go outside and work in the garden. How about it, are you inspired?

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Thursday, May 10, 2012

Baked Tilapia and Shrimp

I'm always looking for new and healthy recipes for fish, because Hubby and I try to eat seafood at least once a week. For this recipe, I modified a Barefoot Contessa recipe to suit our taste and budget.

At our local grocery store, tilapia is one of the cheapest fish available. It comes fresh or frozen in individually wrapped fillets, so it's convenient to have on hand for a quick meal. It thaws quickly and cooks in minutes.

Baked Tilapia and Shrimp

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup chopped yellow onions
1 tablespoon chopped garlic
6 Roma tomatoes, chopped
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 cup dry white wine 
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil leaves (optional)
2-3 tilapia fillets (about 1 pound)
1 pound large shrimp, shelled and deveined

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Heat oil in medium pan and saute the onion over medium-low heat 5-10 minutes until the onion is translucent. Add garlic and cook for 1 more minute. Add the tomatoes, salt, pepper, white wine, and basil. Simmer uncovered over medium-low heat for 5 minutes. 

Meanwhile, lay the fish fillets in a single layer in a baking dish and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Add the shrimp to the dish. Pour the sauce over the seafood and bake uncovered for 20 to 30 minutes, until the fish and shrimp are cooked through. Serve with couscous, rice, or pasta.
Makes 6 servings. 

Note: Substitute a 28-ounce can of plum tomatoes if fresh Roma tomatoes are unavailable.

Printable version 

Don't forget to enter the giveaway for $100 Visa gift card from BlogHer and Travel Texas!  Just leave a comment on my Back-to-Nature in Texas post.

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Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Back-to-Nature in Texas!

I've discovered a few things over the last few months of walking almost daily in our neighborhood. First of all, walking helps with weight loss. Second, walking is a great way to exercise because you can do it anywhere. Third, I get bored easily.

When the weather started warming up this spring, Hubby, Iris and I began exploring the hiking trails in nearby parks and woods on the weekends. We usually walk quite far on these hikes, and we always enjoy the opportunity to get "back-to-nature".

Recently we took a day trip to Brazos Bend State Park to hike on some of the numerous trails. Hubby and I packed a picnic, grabbed my camera and the dog and drove about an hour to the park. Upon arriving we took a tour through the Nature Center, where we saw baby alligators and several different snakes. The park has a great educational center complete with exhibits, programs and a Junior Naturalist Club.

We decided to skip the outdoor concert and headed out on a trail. Only 15 minutes into our hike we were in for a shock! There was a large alligator sunning himself on the path! Turns out Brazos Bend is well known for its alligators.

We stayed a good distance away as advised by the park staff. I switched to my telephoto lens to get some photos without having to get any closer. After a few minutes of waiting for the alligator to move off the trail, we decided we couldn't walk around it without risking our lives or that of our dog. Actually, we were in no danger, as long as we didn't get too close or annoy the alligator. After consulting the trail map, we turned around and found a new route.

I don't know how far we hiked that afternoon, but we walked for at least two hours. Iris was so hot and tired! I think her tongue was practically dragging on the ground. Poor baby, I need to get her a short summer cut. We took water with us, but no snacks. I was starving by the time we got back to the car! Luckily it was a short drive to a big, grassy picnic area with lots of wonderful shade trees.

Turns out, state parks are not just for camping (we did lots of that while the boys were growing up), but are great places to spend the day. With almost 80 state parks in Texas, it's easy to find one to enjoy.

Like most Texas State Parks, Brazos Bend has miles of hiking trails, fishing (no fishing license needed), wildlife and educational programs. State parks are a great value (children under 12 get in free) and family-friendly. If you're in need of an affordable vacation, try a Texas state park. Whether you camp overnight or just spend a day, you'll have a great time!

If you want to plan a trip in Texas, check out for information.

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