Thursday, September 18, 2014

Thanks to Parker, A Blog Was Born

When school ended at the end of May 2013, Sherri and I had been retired for one year. Luanne had just finished up yet another year of teaching kindergarten. Having spent the majority of our careers together, we were missing one another. When Sherri called and suggested we get together, Luanne and I were ready to go, so we hopped in the car and headed to Fayetteville, TN to a quaint little place called Okra. As we sat at the table enjoying our yummy lunches, we all began to reminisce about all the fun times we had together. Sherri, who had been battling multiple myeloma for nearly five years at that time, told Lu and me how important it was to her to spend time with us. She said she didn't know how much time she had or how long she would feel good, but while she was able, she wanted us to make spending time together a priority. Luanne and I were very much in agreement and that is when Luanne said the words that started it all. She said we should set definite dates for getting together to go new places and "we should blog about the places we visit and the food we eat".  That was it! Sherri and I were all in! We pulled out one of the paper napkins on the table and begin trying to think of a name for our new blog. After throwing out a dozen ideas, one of us, and I am not really sure which one, said, "How about Three Friends and a Fork"? That was the name, we all agreed. I offered to set up the blog, because I was the only one who had ever set one up before. Little did I know, setting it up would also mean, do all the writing!

It has been 15 months since that first blog. In those 15 months, the three of us managed to get together for a blog post, all three of us at the same time, 10 times. Some of those outings resulted in more than one blog post. Many times we couldn't all three get together because Sherri was just too sick. Other times, it would be only Sherri and one of us taking Sherri to the doctor. Or sometimes we were all together, but we were in a hospital room somewhere. Many times we got together when she really didn't feel like going, but she was determined, so we went. It wasn't enough and now it is too late. Our friend lost her battle with multiple myeloma this morning. Our hearts are broken and we know nothing will ever be the same. 
Parker could make a party out of getting our hair done!
Parker was full of surprises and she loved them, too!

Here is Sherri administering a kindergarten screener to my little Rob. She was a wonderfully gifted teacher and she had the best disciplined class of anyone.

Working with Parker was always fun and funny!

Sherri was tough, funny, irreverent, witty and observant. She was like George Carlin, she just looked at the world in a humorous and perceptive way. Her dry sense of humor and ability to cut through the nonsense and get right to the heart of the matter combined to make her one of the funniest people we have ever known. She was famously impatient and incredibly stubborn. She hated glitter and was super organized. She was never late and she didn't like to wait around. She loved to line dance, but she hated country music. She was something of a Rain Man when it came to music. She could tell you the name of any song, who wrote it, the year it was written and all the lyrics. Sherri was Bruce Springsteen's biggest fan. She never missed a concert if there was one nearby and last April, as she put it, 

"Well I got another Springsteen concert under my belt and indeed , tramps like us, baby, we were born to to run." 

Bruce, you will always have other fans, but you will never have another like Sherri.

I was looking back at some of the things she has written and I had to smile. They are so Sherri. One Facebook post that made me bust out laughing at the time and is classic Sherri, is this one about a time when she went to visit her mom in the nursing home. Sherri loved her visits to the nursing home and she liked to talk to all the residents and sometimes she would play games with them. On this particular day, she had been batting a balloon back and forth with her mom and some of the other residents and had placed her car keys on a table while the game was going on. Here is the story in her words:

Went to visit my Mom yesterday at the nursing home and I learned an important lesson. Never leave your car keys unattended as most of the residents are planning an escape. My keys were sanitized and returned to me after being found down Mildred's pants.

The next time she went:

I am going to visit Mom. I am wearing pockets .

And finally:

I had a good visit with Mom. I think Mildred gave me the evil eye.

On another day, she was wishing Mick Jagger a happy birthday:

Happy 70th, Mick, the original "Prancerciser".

And finally, Sherri, the ultimate people watcher, overheard this conversation at a gas station and, in true Sherri form, had to add her own commentary:

Overheard in a gas station a minute ago, " My forehead got sunburned yesterday. My part got blistered too." I didn't ask what part. I was laughing inside.

Parker, Three Friends and a Fork will never be the same, but it will always be in your honor. God speed, my friend. We love you. 

Three Friends and a Fork give our friend Sherri and all the fun times we had 3 Heavenly Yums UP!

Old Cookstove

If  you should find yourself in Danville, AL, do yourself a favor and plan to head to the Mennonite owned Old Cookstove and eat lunch with Grandma Yoder. You won't be sorry, because this grandma knows how to cook up a spread.

Recently we drove to Oakville to the Chickasaw Trails cross country meet at the Jesse Owens Park and Oakville Indian Mounds. On the way home, we took a little detour in Danville to visit Grandma Yoder. We were just a few minutes before opening, so we waited on the wide porch for Grandma to let us in.

When she did, we went straight to the front counter to pay and be seated.  At the Old Cookstove, you pay before you are seated. For adults the cost is $11.99 and includes an all you can eat hot buffet, salad bar, dessert bar and homemade ice cream.  If you are lucky, you might get treated to some Mennonite tunes while you eat. Occasionally Grandma Yoder and family get together and entertain their guests with a few acapella hymns.

On the hot buffet, I counted at least 20 items, including meatloaf, fried fish, chicken wings, chicken livers, mashed potatoes, gravy, fried okra, field peas, carrots, lima beans, corn, homemade breads and more. My personal favorite is the chicken wings. I don't know what herbs and spices they put on their wings, but they are yummy. I also love the mashed potatoes and gravy. The potatoes are smooth and creamy, just like I like them. Another one of my favorites is a pickled item on the salad bar. I don't know if it is pickled green tomatoes or something else, but I love it. Since the Old Cookstove sells canned jams, relishes and jellies, I thought they might also sell these pickles, but I didn't see them on the shelf. Too bad! I was ready to bring some home. Old Cookstove also has a cookbook for purchase. I think I will pick one of those up on my next visit, especially if the chicken wing recipe is in there.

The dessert bar includes cakes, cobblers, dessert sauces, brownies, trifles, banana pudding and the aforementioned homemade ice cream, still in the churn. You can fill up on sweets, assuming you have any room left after hitting the hot bar and the salad bar.

The cakes look wonderful and I have been told that the coconut cake is particularly delicious, but I can't seem to get past the chocolate cobbler with homemade ice cream and homemade hot fudge sauce. Talk about a chocolate coma!

Chocolate cobbler with homemade ice cream and hot fudge sauce

Homemade ice cream with strawberry sauce

Old Cookstove's famous coconut cake

If you find yourself in Danville, or near Danville or even in north Alabama, make a beeline to Grandma Yoder's. You will not be sorry and you will not be hungry when you leave.

Three Friends and a Fork gives Old Cookstove 3 Righteous Yums UP!

Old Cook Stove on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Cake Decorating: Part 2

 I told you about some cake decorating kits from DeAgostini that I have had the opportunity to check out. Last week I focused on the first kit. Now I get to tell you about the second kit. 

Cake Decorating kit two came with three guides, plus two star cookie cutters, a modeling tool, three reusable piping bags, a decorating tip and coupler set, a set of alphabet embossers and the previously mentioned binder. That's lots of cool equipment and there are also tons of recipes and techniques, so let's check it out.

The Mini Cakes for lessons two, three and four are iced petit fours, monogram cookies, and rose topped cupcakes. Essential Equipment included decorating tips, embossing tools, and modeling tools. Classic Recipes were carrot cake, New York style cheesecake, and Chocolate Marble cake, while the Special Occasions cakes were a Blossom cake, India inspired swirl cakes, and a Big Bow cake. The Cakes for Kids included farm animal cupcakes, a Patchwork ABC cake, and Rainbow Whoopie Pies. Finally, the Decorating Masterclass focused on piping basics, leveling, trimming and layering cakes, and working with fondant. As I said, that's a lot! Other recipes included chocolate cookies, cinnamon cake, Madeira cake, almond buttercream, banana cupcakes, and rosewater cupcakes. Whew! Are you tired yet?

The very first mini cakes lesson involves making petit fours. My parents had a cake and catering shop for years and the one thing I remember is how much my daddy hated making petit fours. People loved them however, and kept ordering them. So he decided to raise the price in the hopes that  people would quit ordering the hateful little cakes. But, no! They kept right on ordering! No matter how many times he raised the prices, he could not get people to quit ordering petit fours. You might think I would skip right over this section, but my curiosity has gotten the better of me. Here is my chance to find out what it was about petit fours that made my daddy despise them so much.  I can't wait to try the petit fours out! I will be sure to let you know how it works out for me and if I hate petit fours as much as my daddy!

As you can see, there is a lot packed into kit number two. I would think this kit would keep you busy with new tips, recipes and techniques for weeks!

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Cake Decorating

Here's a disclaimer: I am not a cake decorator. My mom is a cake decorator. She supplies the whole family with cakes for every occasion, so there really has been little need for me to hone my cake decorating skills. When I was given the opportunity to check out some new cake decorating kits by DeAgostini, I realized I would probably not be their most talented customer when it came to decorating. I have, however, made more than my share of cakes, so I felt a bit qualified to offer an opinion from that perspective.

My first two kits arrived together in a box with a binder for all current and future guides. Also, in the box for the first kit was a cookie press gun set with interchangeable tips, two butterfly cookie cutters in different sizes, a checkered cardboard cupcake stand, and the first guide. Actually, I believe the binder accompanies the second kit, but since I had it I decided to go ahead and put the guides into the binder and describe that process here.

Each guide is divided into 6 sections: Mini Cakes, Essential Equipment, Classic Recipes, Special Occasions, Decorating Masterclass and Cakes for Kids. Recipes included and skills covered are also neatly outlined in the beginning of the guide. 

The first guide includes the following recipes: Sugar Cookies, Buttery Yellow Cake, White Chocolate Cupcakes, Royal Icing, and Classic Chocolate Cake.

See the little white plastic pins in the center of the divider. Each one pops out and gets inserted into holes at the top and bottom of the binder. The pins are what hold the issues in the binder.

My first challenge was figuring out how to put volume 1 into the binder. After puzzling for several long minutes as to how on earth the thing worked and asking my family for suggestions, I realized the directions were included in the box. Duh! I hope other customers are more observant than I. In my defense, the binder is not a simple three-ring binder. There is some rigging involved. 

Once I had the binder sorted out, I looked through the first issue. It began with a lesson on frosted sugar cookies using the large butterfly cookie cutter. Three icing techniques are covered in this section: outlining, flooding and dotting.  The cookies looked beautiful and I may put these lessons to use at another time. Since we are getting ready for all things fall right now and since I live in a family full of males, I decided to forego the butterfly cookies and move on to the other sections.

The next section, Essential Equipment, focused on the pros and cons of different kinds of cookie cutters and the ways in which they can be used. It did not, however, mention the cookie press gun, which surprised me.

Section 3, Classic Recipes, was devoted to baking a buttery yellow cake, along with a recipe and tips and techniques. I decided this might be a good section for me to try out. The recipe promised to be simple, foolproof and moist, so I gathered my ingredients and equipment and set out to make the perfect moist yellow cake. One thing i noticed about the recipe right off the bat was that there was no flavoring of any kind in the cake. I have never made a cake without the addition of some type of flavoring so I decided to make that change to the recipe. The cake pictured in the guide was topped with whipped cream and raspberries and had a layer of raspberry filling between the layers, but the guide also offered alternatives to these. Since peaches are in season right now, I decided to top my cake with peaches and fill between the layers with peach preserves. Also, because I like the flavors of peaches and almonds, I decided to flavor my batter with almond flavoring and to add a splash of amaretto to my whipping cream.

The directions said to use two (8 inch) springform pans and to line them with parchment paper. Already I was questioning the simplicity of this recipe, because lining springform pans with parchment is not as simple as it sounds. I wondered why I wasn't just using round cake pans and greasing and flouring them, but I soldiered on, doing as I was instructed.  So much for simplicity.

The recipe also suggested adding up to 2T of milk if the batter looked dry. My batter did not look dry at all, but I added 1T of milk just in case.

When my cakes were done baking and had cooled enough to remove them from the springform pans, I finished them off with the peaches and cream and served myself up a slice. The cake looked good, but when I cut into it, I knew something was wrong. My cake was dry...very dry. I have a convection oven, which I have used to bake many cakes that have turned out moist and delicious, so I am not sure if that played a part in this dry cake, but clearly something went wrong. Ok, so much for foolproof and moist. The flavors were good, but in order to make the cake edible, I would have to add a juicy topping of muddled peaches to soak into the dry cake, similar to strawberries served over shortbread. I decided it was time to move on to another section.

Section 4 of the guide was devoted to making cupcakes with little fondant butterflies using the small butterfly cookie cutter. It included recipes for white chocolate cupcakes and buttercream icing, as well as tips for presentation and packaging.

The Decorating Masterclass section was a lesson in icing, the kinds of icing and how to use them. Six different icings, glacé, royal, fondant, fondant icing, gum paste and buttercream, were described. A recipe for royal icing and the different consistencies and uses of royal icing was included.

The final section, Cakes for Kids, described how to make a Fun Circles Cake, using fondant. I am not a fan of fondant, but it does make pretty cakes. The Fun Circles Cake was smooth and colorful. This section also offered variations on the Fun Circles Cake using M&M like candies or white chocolate buttons. I would be interested in how to get results like this using buttercream instead of fondant.

All in all, this kit covered several basic techniques for decorating cakes, cookies and cupcakes. Next week, I will tell you about the goodies in kit number two.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Oh, Fiddlefish!

On a recent trip to Alabama's beautiful beaches, I was a bit dismayed at the price of eating out on the Gulf Coast. It seemed every restaurant we went to, all the old favorites, had increased prices dramatically from years past. We rarely found anywhere that was under $100 for three people. The prices had escalated, but I did not think the quality had increased to the same level. So, it was a happy discovery to find a new restaurant in Orange Beach that was not only reasonably priced, but the food was very good, too. 

Fiddlefish, in the San Roc Cay shopping center, is located in what was originally a deli. It is a laid back, casual little place with a beachy personality. I especially loved the rustic wooden fish decorating the restaurant on the inside and outside. Another happy discovery, because the place is fairly new, we did not have to wait forever for a table. I am sure this will change when vacationers get wind of Fiddlefish.  Hmmmm...on second thought, perhaps I should stop right here!  Oh, ok...I'll share my secret!

We were seated in a booth and quickly given menus and drinks. After studying the menus, JD's buddy Rhett, who was extremely happy to find something besides seafood on the menu, chose the Fiddleburger. This burger was decked out in a fried egg, cheddar cheese, bacon, lettuce and tomato. Rhett was one happy fellow when this monstrosity was delivered. It was huge!  He told us it may have been the best burger he had ever had. The Fiddleburger came with a side of crinkle cut fries.

JD couldn't resist the Fiddlefish shrimp poboy when he discovered the fried shrimp were covered in Fiddlesauce, Fiddlefish's version of bang bang sauce. The big sandwich roll was split and over flowing with lots of big shrimp, lettuce, sliced tomato and red onion. JD said this was definitely the best shrimp poboy he had ever had.

While the boys made their selections quickly, I had a much more difficult time deciding. My inclination was to go with the shrimp taco, because that is always a safe bet for me. On the other hand, I felt the name of this blog might have to be changed to Three Friends and a Taco, if  I didn't branch out.  It was a bit late, and I really was wanting something on the light side, so the next thing I did was completely bewildering. I asked the waitress for suggestions and let her talk me into this behemoth of an overstuffed baked potato.  I still do not know why I did, because it was the direct opposite of small and light! 

The thing was huge, stuffed to overflowing with grilled shrimp, cheese, green onions and covered in crab and corn bisque. The dang thing would have fed a family of four! It was rich and tasty, but there was no way I could finish the whole thing. 

The best surprise of all came when the waitress brought out the bill. I could not believe how reasonable it was to eat at Fiddlefish. The total bill for all three of us including our drinks was under $40. We had lots of food, the seafood was fresh and expertly prepared, we didn't have to wait forever and the staff was friendly and helpful. This place is a bargain! Do not fiddle around! Go to Fiddlefish on your next trip to Alabama's Gulf Coast!

Three Friends and a Fork give Fiddlefish 3 enthusiastic Yums UP!

Fiddlefish Seafood Café on Urbanspoon

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Scottsboro's First Monday and Art Sunday...The Tradition Continues

Labor Day weekend is a big one in Scottsboro, Alabama. Two important events draw crowds to the historic town over the three day celebration. One event has roots that run deep into the early 1900's, while the other is a bit more recent, but just as brilliant.

According to the official Scottsboro website, First Monday Trade Days began in 1902, as a horse swapping event imagined by a local newspaper editor. James Armstrong, editor of the Scottsboro Citizen, dreamed up the cockamamie idea and, even though the first one was not a roaring success, Armstrong had the audacity to keep promoting it until it finally caught on.  One of his reasons? To bring crowds into the city...sound familiar, Scottsboro?

Today's First Monday begins on the Saturday before the first Monday of the month and the one on Labor Day weekend is the MacDaddy of all First Mondays. Each First Monday, including the Labor Day event, runs for three days, Saturday, Sunday and Monday, with Sunday being the busiest.

2014's Labor Day First Monday was jazzed up a bit by the addition of Dale's Stuft food truck. Dale sells five different varieties of stuffed baked potatoes: Cow Tater, Pig Tater, Chicken Tater, Turkey Tater and Garden Tater.

I ran by Dale's after I had completed my shopping and picked up three taters for our dinner. Scott and Rob wanted Pig Taters and I chose the Garden Tater.

My Garden Tater
Pig Tater
I am not kidding when I tell you those taters were tasty! The combination of white sauce and bbq sauce is really divine. Scott said the pork was wonderful and the flavors on my Garden Tater were right up my alley...cilantro, lime, corn, black beans, green onions. Oh, yes, it was so good!

But the taters were at the end of my day, so let me back up! I arrived on the square in time for an early lunch at the Veranda Catering Company. Veranda had a special $5 menu just for the Labor Day weekend. One of the items on the menu caught my eye and since I had been hearing lots about the Veranda's chicken and waffles, I decided to try them out. Chicken and waffles are one of dishes I have been curious about, but have never tried. It sounds like an odd combination and I am not sure how they were invented, but it was a sweet idea. Veranda's chicken fingers with waffles and maple syrup are a marriage made in heaven. 

As I was polishing off the last of my meal, I kept noticing the beautiful plates popping up on other tables. Yes, I am nosy! I saw some delicious looking sandwiches, strawberry pretzel salad, sweet potato fries and desserts. Made me want to order a second round, but I knew I had taters to look forward to!

Veranda's strawberry pretzel salad...yum-o!
After leaving the Veranda, I strolled around the square, checking out the vendors and talking to friends along the way. I ran into my friend, Kelli, who had just polished off an entire tiger's blood shave ice with extra, extra cream and did not leave one smidge for me to photograph. She said she bought it for her son, but I noticed he was nowhere around and when I dusted the cup for fingerprints, his were not there! 
The local Three Arts Club sponsors Scottsboro's popular Art in the Park event.
Paper Moon is one of the favorite vendors at Art in the Park.
From First Monday, I hopped in my car and drove down to Caldwell Park to the other big Labor Day weekend event, Art in the Park, hosted by Scottsboro's Three Arts Club. This year's event was the 41st annual occurrence of the art fest. Proceeds from the event support art and educational endeavors in the community and talented vendors from all over come to share their creations. Everything from jewelry and paintings to candles and soap can be purchased at the tents set up under the shady canopy of trees in the park. 

WhimC is one of the local vendors with cute and colorful crafts.
Love this vendor's clever booth.
More original creations...
And for those who didn't dine on the square, there were plenty of food choices, too. BBQ, lemonade, chicken salad sandwiches and kettle corn were all available and looked delicious. 

My talented friend, John Warr, always supports this local event by bringing his amazing art. John does realistic wildlife and civil war paintings, as well as paintings of local scenes. His latest, The Osprey's of BB Comer Bridge,  commemorates the beautiful birds that have made their home on Scottsboro's historic old bridge. 

More fantastic John Warr creations...

One of my favorite vendors is Paper Moon, the brainchild of two talented sisters. Their paper maché creations have the feel of a Tim Burton movie and their booth is always one of the most popular in the park. Don't you just love this mischievous looking jack-o-lantern?

My friend, Lavinia, snagged a trio of pretty leather, freshwater pearl and stone necklaces. She shared them with me, so I could share them with you. Here are a couple of them. Unfortunately I didn't get the name of the vendor, but I am sure we could find out.

I found my own pretty pottery necklace at a booth called Artjewelz. My friend, Shannon, learned the importance of making up your mind when shopping near me. As soon as I told the owner I would take this cute Auburn tiger paw, Shannon acted like I had taken it out of her hand!  I had to laugh at her...but I didn't put it down! Next time I bet she makes her choices known! Too bad it was the last one! She was in luck, though. The owner is going to mail hers. 

War Eagle! 

And now we are right back where we started. I left Art in the Park and wheeled right back to the square, where I picked up three piping hot, over stuffed, baked potatoes and headed home just in time to avoid the torrential rain that began to pour from the sky. All in all, I would say it was a great day to be in Scottsboro, Alabama!

Veranda Cafe on Urbanspoon Dale's BBQ on Urbanspoon