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Busy November

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Jillian here. Happy November. This month is chock full of happenings. The first weekend, I spent with writer friends at a lake house about 2.5 hours from me. My friend’s uncle owns it and he allows her to use it … Continue reading

Wedding Report

I’m back from my trip to Texas for my cousin’s son’s wedding. It was a great time but I came home to two cases that caused me a lot of stress. Grr. It makes me mad that I can’t seem to have a minute without some crazy lawyer getting spun up and filing junk while I’m gone. It’s a conspiracy, I tell you!

The bride and groom are an awesome, fun-loving couple and we had so much fun, it should be illegal. LOL.  Now, don’t get me wrong- nothing against the law was done but their friends sure do party hard. A few times, I found myself wondering if these people were really almost 30. They were having a ball but I have no idea how they were going to feel the next day.

The rehearsal dinner was fab. It was at a place called Vincent’s in downtown Houston. It was Italian and I had to very best filet I’ve ever  had in my life. It was done to perfection and so very, very tender. *swoon*

The wedding was gorgeous. It took place at a renovated horse farm in Tomball, Texas. The ceremony was outside at a replica cantina and the reception was in the renovated barn. The bathroom area was made from some of the old stalls. Super cute.

During the ceremony, the bride’s veil came off and she called out, “Man down.” We all laughed as her mom and a bridesmaid fixed it. When she was set, she said, “Time in.” I love, love how she didn’t even hesitate and was so comfortable being herself in that environment.

The cutting of the groom’s cake was also amusing. The bride and groom pretended it was super difficult. So funny. They are going to have a wonderful marriage full of love and laughter, I know  it.

Here’s a few pictures: including the “man down” one. 465396400417436437440

They Found What?!?! by Valerie J. Patterson

Picture it: Monday afternoon, a lovely day for al fresco dining, a pleasant meal, good company, and, well, rodents!

There, I said it.  I didn’t want to say it.  I don’t even want to think about it, but there it is.

Monday, my friend and co-worker, Debbie and I went to a local eatery for lunch.  As soon as we stepped outside the courthouse and into the sunshine we were refreshed and happy to be anywhere but inside.  We walked a few blocks to one of our favorite places–a Mexican restaurant–and were delighted to see new wrought iron tables and chairs and big umbrellas lining the sidewalk.  I looked at Debbie and smiled.

“Shall we eat outside?”

“Absolutely!  It’s gorgeous out here!”

We went inside and informed the host we would have a table outside.  He grinned great big and said we would be their first patrons to use the new tables.

Outside we went.

The sun was shining, the service was excellent, and the food was as tasty as always.  Plus we both tried a new dish.

Then, a few days later a friend texted me and asked, “Hey, did you hear the Mexican place was shut down because of a rodent infestation?”

I thought for certain I was going to lose the dinner I had just finished eating.  I left my kitchen where I was doing the dishes, and sat down on the sofa and gagged!  I texted back that I had not heard that news, and that I was trying to process it without being sick.

How does this happen?  How do you run a restaurant and not know you have a rodent infestation?  How do you not take care of it immediately?  How is it possible that you have to be shut down by a Food Safety Inspector before you deal with it?  How do you continue to serve unsuspecting patrons?

Truth be told, if I frequented the Department of Agriculture’s website and viewed the reports of the restaurants I eat at, I’d never eat out again.  Ever.  I’d brown bag lunches and my freezer would be stocked with meals I had prepared myself.  And let’s be honest, this would be far healthier for me anyway.  Again, let’s also be honest in admitting every now and then we all enjoy a good meal out somewhere.  Who doesn’t want or need a break from the kitchen here and there?  Or to step outside from work occasionally?

I recently read an article that said if you want to know how clean a restaurant’s kitchen is, use the restroom.  If the restroom is not clean, neither is the kitchen. If this is true, then perhaps if I had used the restroom before dining al fresco, I wouldn’t have eaten at that restaurant Monday.  I’ll never know.

What I do know is this: It’ll be a long time before I go there again…if I go there again.  Even though I know it will be up to the standards of the Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety when it reopens, I will be remembering that they didn’t care enough for my health as a patron to run a clean kitchen to begin with.  It took me almost 2 years to return to a restaurant that had received a bad report, and they weren’t closed down–for rodents or anything else!

Until next time, may your kitchen pantry always be full of a variety of inviting choices and may the restaurant you choose to eat at be clean and rodent-free!  Maybe check the restroom before you sit down!

Thankful by Valerie J. Patterson

It’s that time of year when people everywhere seem to take more than a glance at their lives and count their blessings.  While I think that is important every day of our lives, I, too, find that I reflect more at this time of year.

Of course, I am thankful for the big things: my husband, my family, my job, a roof over my head, food on the table, and money in the bank.  But I am also thankful for the trees in our backyard and the beauty they add to my day.  I’m thankful that I have a garage to park my car in, and that it is always either warm or cool depending on the season.  I’m thankful for lunches with friends, warm hugs on Sundays after services, kind words from strangers, and the cool gel pillow top of our bed–I love a cold bed as opposed to a warm one!

I give thanks for slippers, robes, cold glasses of milk and homemade cookies.  Brilliant sunshine streaming into the living room, full moons in the evening sky, and salty, buttered popcorn.

I am incredibly thankful for each and every morning my feet hit the floor!

I’m sure my list could go on…and I hope while you read you are compiling a list of your own list.  It’s important that we give thanks for large and small blessings, not just now, but always.  We have so many good things in our lives, don’t we?

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The following is my very favorite fruit dip.  I promised to share it this summer, but only just remembered I had not done that.  It is very simple and so very good!  Enjoy!

8 ounces of Cool Whip

one 7 ounce jar of Marshmallow Creme

one 3 ounce package of Philadelphia Cream Cheese

Blend all ingredients in a bowl until smooth and silky.  Chill an hour and serve with fresh fruit of your choice.

This dip is incredibly easy, and so very delicious!  The perfect light appetizer, evening snack, or treat for work.

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I have been absent from Over the Backyard Fence for a little while, and I apologize for not being here to read and comment the past month.  I hope to return in a more regular way very soon.

Until next time, may your turkey be moist, your pies spicy, and your family gathered around you!  Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours!

I’m Back and Then Gone Again

Jillian here. Now that I’ve wrestled the computer out of Hobbes’ hands, I can tell you all about the fab time I had with Laurie, Lavada and Laurie’s husband. We had a wonderful visit. Mark is a master at making his own apple cider- he even built the press- how cool is that? I very much enjoyed the taste of it and killed a two liter of it while I was there.  He also has a superb garden and we ate fresh from it as well.

Speaking of gardens, I have to tell you, Lavada has shared pictures of hers with us but man, those do not to the place justice. She has created a beautiful outdoor oasis and she should be very proud of it. It has a definite wow factor.

They fed me so much good food while I was there, I got quite spoiled. Lots of great meals and laughter around the table. It was an easy visit and just like home. Except the cooler air was much appreciated. I’m glad they arranged that foe me. 😉

Highlights (as Hobbes said) were the fish market- with beautiful flowers- the space needle, Mt. Rainier (where I got super car sick- bleh), the capitol building and the awesome scenery and the old houses we looked at.

The weirdest thing about the trip was meeting so many people from Florida and even a guy from Alabama who’s dad is best friends with someone I know. How wild is that?

A great trip and now it’s time to plan one where we can all meet up!!

I am in Rhode Island as you read this. Visiting my son and daughter-in-law. Hadn’t  been anywhere in a year and now two trips in two months. That’s how I roll.

Warning: System Overload…

No, not a message from my computer…but from my bathroom scale. The poor thing has been teetering on the edge for several months now and has finally given up the ghost. I can’t help but feel guilty that I was largely responsible for its eventual demise, and it was hard to ignore the groan it emanated every time I stepped on each day.

Despite having battled forth since January this year, I can only lament my dismal efforts to relieve the poor scale of the humongous motherload it endured each morning. So, as I unpack my pristine new replacement, I give it my assurance that I will indeed attempt to do better in future.

I know the main things I need to avoid – chocolate, cake, biscuits, sweeties. But there are loads of hidden calories in seemingly innocent foods. From now on I’ll be reading labels and working out exactly what’s in the things I eat and drink. While waiting for coffee at a local cafe, I happened to look up and noticed that the calories in my morning soya mocha topped 310!  Added to which, the calories in my evening low-fat snack bar were actually 175! Almost 500 calories per day on what I’ve been considering incidentals. I read that it takes 3500 calories to lose a pound in weight, so just by cutting these two things out, I could lose four pounds a month, and a stone in four months, three stone in a year. Wow, and double wow!

Now to put it into practice. My waistline…and new bathroom scales…will thank me for it.

I’m Late! I’m Late for a Very Important Date! by Valerie J. Patterson

Good Saturday morning to you!  As you can tell by the title, I’m late…with this blog article!  Thursday evening as I began to head here to type in my article, the Internet went out and stayed out until sometime Friday afternoon.  Friday evening–after a stressful week–I couldn’t muster the energy to type in my article.  Very sorry if you came and saw NOTHING from me!

The article I was going to post will wait for another day.  Instead, I’ve been inspired by my laziness to offer up something thought-provoking and perhaps memory-recalling!

Last month, Steve and I took our annual wedding anniversary trip, which was quite lovely, very relaxing, and extremely revitalizing!  As is our normal habit, we take one route to our destination and another route back home.  It was on the route back home that brought the only sad note to the entire trip.

While I was growing up, my family practically spent the entire summer camping/living in a very rustic, deep in the heart of nature resort in Deep Creek, Maryland.  Those summers were some of the best times of my youth.  Every trip, we stopped at a restaurant called the Lone Star.   We were such regulars, the waitresses would recite our beverages as we were seated at a table!  This place had the best fried chicken!

There was nothing special about the place.  It was a large diner along the highway, but the food was good, affordable, and the place was clean, the waitresses friendly, and it was a staple in our summer lives.

It’s been years since I last ate there.  In fact, I don’t think I could tell you when it was that I was last a patron there, but in my mind, it remained the same: same waitresses, same food, same decor.  That is until Steve and I happened to pass it on our way home from vacation.  We passed it and my eyes flew to the giant FOR SALE sign in the parking lot.

I made Steve turn around and go back.  I snapped a few pictures, sighed some heavy sighs, and shed a tear or two.  It sounds silly, I know, but my life has changed so much since the death of my dad that I simply wasn’t prepared to see one more casualty of my childhood.

Life is meant to be ever changing as opposed to stagnant.  It’s meant to be a journey of new places, people, and memories created.  You’re intended to go through it as an ever changing being as well.  However, as we age and lose people in our lives it sometimes becomes difficult to let go of “things” that remind us of simpler times or loved ones.

As I said, it’s not like I frequented the Lone Star, but the loss of it means I can never go back!  Perhaps this is also a good thing.  Everything changes with time.  Perhaps being able to go back…and actually going back…would have been harder.  New waitresses.  New menu items.  New cook.  New tastes.

There’s a saying that you can’t go back home again.  I think this is true.  I think it’s a bittersweet “good” thing that you can’t go back.  Not being able to go back keeps our memories pristine and unchanged by time.  While it is hard to let go of the past–be it people, places, or objects–let go we must.

Until next time, as the weather turns cooler, may you have many memories to wrap around you and leave you with a warmth that touches your heart!

When life hands you lemons…

I’m sure we’ve all heard that old adage, when life hands you lemons, make lemonade, but for me it’s not that simple. You see, the kitchen is not where I am at my most confident, so those lemons might not end up as juicy thirst-quenching lemonade. Over the years I’ve tried to learn to be a good cook, but it never seems to work out. I stick to the recipes, weigh and measure everything, make sure the oven is at the right temperature, but all to no avail.

A recent attempt at making gluten-free bread failed miserably with the finished result resembling a replica of the Hunchback of Notre Dame. Then there were the lemon cupcakes that ended up as flat as biscuits, and chocolate covered strawberries that nearly had AJ heading for the dentist chair with a cracked tooth.

The most common sound emanating from our house is the sound of the smoke alarm going off, usually because I’ve wandered away and got caught up in something more interesting than being in the kitchen. A friend (a really good one, I hasten to add) once mentioned that the only action my oven ever saw from me was when I polished it. The same friend bought me a lovely message board and couldn’t resist leaving a little joke on it. It’s a good job I love her, isn’t it?Message Board

My lack of culinary skills has been at the heart of many a joke. Work colleagues never quite let me live down the fact that AJ had been searching for somewhere to hide my Christmas present one year and decided that the oven was the safest place because I rarely went there.

What’s strange is that every time we’ve moved house over the years, the first room I head for when we view a new place is the kitchen. If the kitchen isn’t right, then the house isn’t right. Plus, I adore watching TV cooking shows, and just love buying new kitchen gadgets and equipment.

How I’d love to be able to cook, and really admire those who can throw ingredients in a bowl and a while later produce a mouth-watering dish. But alas, it doesn’t seem to be on the cards. It’s a good thing AJ likes cooking (and is good at it) or the poor chap would likely starve as a result of my woeful attempts.

So, how about you? Do you like to cook? Are you someone who can whip up a cake or meal from the ingredients in your store cupboard, without a recipe? If so, maybe you can send a little magic dust my way. Bon appetit!

Vinnie Pie? Yes, Please! by Valerie J. Patterson

We walked into the joint and my eyes darted left, my gaze fastening on the man behind the counter, Plexiglas separating him from the patrons.  High above his head, a pizza dough spins several times before coming down and landing deftly on his fingers.  High into the air it rose again, spinning before landing once more on his hands.  Flour seasoned his dark hair gray.  His eyeglasses are speckled with flour as well.  The dough is spread out onto a large silver pan and is soon covered with rich tomato sauce perfectly seasoned with a blend of Italian spices.  Coarsely chopped cheese covers the sauce before the talented hands toss massive chunks of spicy Italian sausage, thick, mouthwatering slices of pepperoni, and various other toppings onto the pie.  A blast of heated air escapes the massive oven as the door is opened and the pie is swept inside.

My dad corrals my sisters and me to a table, but our gazes remain with Vincent, our favorite pizza maker.  We wait.  Not always silently, either.  But, we wait.  Finally, the waitress delivers a massive pizza pie—so large it makes other places’ larges look like mediums—and sometimes smalls.  Dad hefts a slice onto my plate and I attack it with a knife and fork because it’s way too big and too hot for my little hands.  Juices from the pepperoni rolls down my chin, but I don’t care.  The taste explosion taking place inside my mouth has my undivided attention.  Life doesn’t get any better than this.

And that’s how it was when I was a kid.  My dad would take us to Vincent’s Pizza Park and we would have—by far—the most fabulous pizza to be eaten on the face of the earth.  My dad used to quip that his daughters teethed on Vincent’s pizza crust.  Then he used to brag that his three daughters could put away more of a Vinnie pie than any three boys could.

Vincent’s was my father’s absolute favorite pizza parlor.  The place itself was nothing spectacular.  The walls were lined with Frank Sinatra memorabilia—including his prison record.  The tables were non-descript Formica with run-of-the-mill dining chairs.  The place was always packed, but the main attraction—outside of the fabulous pizza—was the parlor’s owner and resident pie maker, Vincent.  He always amazed me with his ability to toss dough, shape it on the catch, and toss it again.  He was an artist of the pizza-making type.

My family gathered at Vincent’s on the one-year anniversary of my dad’s death.  My sisters and I were there to remember the man who’d help to shape us into the women we’d become.  We were there to celebrate the man who’d first introduced us to a Vinnie pie.  And we were there to eat pizza in his honor.

Whenever possible, I try to go back to Vincent’s for a large half pepperoni/half sausage pizza and a soda.  The drive is a little longer as I now live 160 miles round trip away from Vincent’s, but it’s always worth the trip and the traffic!

Vincent’s is touted from Pittsburgh to Timbuktu as being the premier place for pizza.  People travel far greater distances than I to get a taste of home.  If you’re ever in Pittsburgh and have a hankering for pizza, travel to Vincent’s.  You won’t be disappointed.

These two photographs were taken at my last visit in December.  You might want to get a paper towel out to catch the drool before you look at them!  The pizza was as good as I remembered, and so worth the wait and the travel.

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Until next time, may there be pizza-flavored memories in your life!

Yep. I Know. I’m Late.

I can’t even pretend to be late for a very important date like Alice’s white rabbit. And anyway, where exactly was he going? If he was afraid of disappointing those crazy folks at the tea party, they probably couldn’t even tell what time it was anyway. God forbid if he was trying to make the Queen of Hearts happy since she was all about “off with their heads” and that jazz. How’d she even get to be the Queen of Hearts anyway? Someone as unloveable as she was sure didn’t deserve such a title, did she?

Anyway, I could analyze Alice in Wonderland all day but who wants to do that, right? Is everyone ready for fall? I am. It’s been a long summer of death and sickness all around and it’s time for some fun and what we all love here in the south- Food on a stick season. In this area, we have a ton of fall celebrations including the seafood festival, arts festivals, the fair and Halloween carnivals. At each of these events, you can get all kinds of goodies served on a stick. We have kebobs, teriyaki beef and chicken, corn on the cob, Shrimp on a stick, candied apples, caramel apples, and even candy floss (cotton candy).

What’s your favorite fair or festival food?