Marching Through March

I know I've sung this song before, but where has this month gone??? 

Since I last posted, I headed my PT Cruiser (known as a "Peety" to other PTC drivers...:) Miss Lillie Pearl south on I-85 for a work-week in the Big Peach.  It was absolutely beautiful in Atlanta, with nearly everything wearing Spring finery:  redbud, crabapples, azaleas, and Bradford pears...all at the same time!  Of course, you know what comes with all those blossoms:  p-o-l-l-e-n.  More on that in a minute.


Shopping!  My fav Jo-Ann's in Duluth, GA
 As usual, I packed as much into one week as I possibly could.  In addition to client sessions, I scheduled a dentist appointment (yes, I still go to Dr. Tatiana Shifrin, the same wonderful dentist I went to when we lived in Duluth...:), and some personal time for catching up with old friends, one of whom introduced me to a new-to-me Cuban restaurant called Havana South in Buford...thanks KD!  I made it to my favorite craft store, Jo-Ann's Super Store in Duluth, (photo, left) where I found some inspiration...and a fantastic bin of buttons, which had been marked down drastically.  I love a bargain bin, don't you?

Ooh la la! LaMadeleine's in Duluth, GA

I got to eat at one of my favorite restaurants, La Madeleine Country French Cafe, in Duluth.  I used to eat at the one in Dunwoody at least once a week when I worked at SEMA Group Telecoms in the Perimeter area, and it was always my choice for my birthday lunch (when the Boss was buying with her company AMEX card...:).  Everyone else wanted McCormick and Schmicks or something equally as pricey.  Me?  I wanted the Tomato Basil Bisque, a freshly tossed salad (like the Mediterranean...which was a special), and fresh breads with butter and house-made jams and preserves...not to mention the luscious dessert selection (just like in the photo to the right...:). 

You know, there is a part of me that misses living in the Atlanta area, still...after all these 9 years.  That is, until I tangle with the infamous traffic.  Then, I'm just happy for the wonderful memories...and glad that I now live somewhere else a tad saner.  Our I-85 is not nearly as crazy as their I-85.

Because of a last minute reschedule request, I found some time on my hands on Thursday, so I thought I'd  devote a few hours to retail therapy at the Mall of Georgia, including a substantial block of time at Nordstrom's and Nordstorm's Rack.  By Wednesday night, however, I began to realize that the sore throat and congestion I'd been trying to ignore was NOT a result of my earlier visit to my dentist.  When I started sneezing several times an hour, I had no doubt.  They're backkkkSpring Allergies.  Oh dear.

Instead of shopping, I spent Thursday in bed, dragging myself out only to go to Walgreen's down the street for "reinforcements."  That included additional Benedryl (which make me sleepy), some Allegra-D (which doesn't make me sleepy), a new bottle of Nyquil (for the night-time miseries)...and a couple of Krispy Kreme donuts at the drive-through location next door.  You know..."take two of these, and call me in the morning."  Ahem.  Having the Tigers get knocked out of the first round of the NCAA Tournament (which is indeed wacky this year...:) certainly didn't help my disposition one little bit.  I managed to get up and out to get my work done on Friday, but I realized I'd have to put my departure off until Saturday.  That was a tough decision to make, for many reasons...not the least of which was that Bro J and SIL J were in NC for the weekend, and I'd miss some precious time with them. Sigh.

I made it home...just in time for my "allergies" to morph into some sort of upper respiratory infection, complete with fever for three days.  Poor Mr. T.  He'd already been responsible for Nana's care while I was gone, and now he had another patient on his hands.  Good grief.  Still, I was able to dodge the bullet of vertigo (always a fear...), and I got to read several of the China Bayles mystery series (I'm not sure what rock I've been under these past 20 years...how did I manage to miss this delicious series by Susan Wittig Albert for so long??), so it wasn't all bad.


21 (Karat) Gold...
...Finches, that is!
 I'm happy to report that we've all survived and are getting back to normal this morning.  Well, if you can call this morning "normal," that is.  We awoke to find snow falling as we started the final week of March!  Too warm to stick, thank goodness...but unusual for sure.  Of course, it was just a year ago that the Big Tornado devastated a nearby portion of HPNC...so, I'll take a soft snowfall any day.  We also noticed that all of the bird feeders were being well-visited, as you can see from the number of goldfinches (photo, left) under the squirrel-proof feeder (where there were three more birdies on board!).  They didn't let a little snow stop them.  Neither did Mr. T, who is off to NJ for the work-week.

Nana/Momma/Edith has actually had a fairly good week, health-wise, but she received a personal punch this morning.  We learned that her good friend and traveling buddy from Pickerington had passed away last Saturday. Eileen had been quite ill for a long time, so the news wasn't a shock; still, it was sad nonetheless.  She was a sweetheart and will be missed.  This makes the second of Mom's Ohio friends to die in recent months; her other good friend and traveling buddy from Pickerington, Thelma, left us at the end of January. As you can imagine, Mom feels each and every loss very deeply.

Me?  I feel great today compared to the last few days.  But because I missed one week to work and then pretty much slept through another week, I am so far behind in everything that I'm feeling overwhelmed from the get-go.  Last week, I couldn't even pick up my heavy Master Gardener training binder, much less focus on the lessons, so now I have several chapters to read and complete assignments...before class begins on Wednesday morning.  I also have a volunteer activity scheduled for Thursday. 

I decided that we need some comfort food today to help us feel stronger, so I pulled out my recipe for Ham and Veggie Bean Soup.*  It was a favorite of my dear Daddy's, who liked it so thick that it was hard to still call it a "soup." More like a chowder, I'd say. "Thick enough to hold the spoon upright."  After years of trying to make it thick enough to satisfy without having to mash all of the beans into mush, I finally learned the secret:  add 1/2 cup of mashed potatoes just before serving!  What could be easier?  I'll serve our soup with hot Garlic Cheese Beer Biscuits and some apple slices.  Yummm!

Check out the recipes below when you need a bowl of comfort, too.  And remember, one foot in front of another...


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*Ham and Veggie Bean Soup
 
Ingredients:
 
1 cup dried navy beans
4 cups water
1 T. butter (more or less)
1 ham steak (about 8 ounces), cut into small cubes
1/2 cup diced carrots
1/2 cup diced celery
1/2 cup diced onions
3 whole peppercorns
1 clove (whole)
1 bay leaf
1/2 tsp dried thyme, crushed (I also use fresh, when I have it)
1/2 tsp salt (I use Paula Deen's House Seasoning instead)
1 can chicken broth + enough water to equal 4 cups
1/2 cup seasoned mashed potatoes



Directions:
 
1. Soak beans according to the package, either overnight or using the One Hour Shortcut method (which is what I do).  Be sure to drain the soaking water off the beans before you cook them again in 4 cups of water to soften, prior to assembling the soup.



2. While the beans are cooking in a Dutch oven (following the soaking period), melt the butter in a skillet over medium heat.  (I also add some bacon grease for flavor.)  Lightly cook the ham steak cubes.  Then, pushing the ham to the side of the skillet, wilt, but do not brown, the onions, carrots, and celery until tender, stirring occasionally.


3. Add the ham and vegetables to the beans in the Dutch oven; add the seasonings, the chicken broth (or stock) and enough water to cover by 1"; heat to boiling.  Boil for 1 minute.
4. Reduce heat to low; cover and simmer 1 1/4 hours or until beans are tender.

5. Remove the bay leaf, the whole peppercorns, and the clove. To thicken the bean mixture, crush a few of the beans with a potato masher; then, stir in seasoned mashed potatoes, about 15 minutes before serving.

6. Cover and simmer 15 minutes longer or until soup is as thick as chowder.


Serve with hot garlic cheese beer biscuits, for a real tasty treat. 

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Garlic Cheese Beer Biscuits


Ingredients:

2 cups self-rising flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon sugar
1/3 cup shortening
3/4 cup grated sharp Cheddar
3/4 cup beer (or slightly more, if needed)
1/2 tsp garlic salt, more or less
1/4 stick butter, melted


Directions:

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

In a medium bowl, mix flour, baking powder, (1 tsp salt, opt.), and sugar together using a fork; cut in shortening until it resembles cornmeal. Add cheese. Stir in beer all at once, just until blended; add enough beer to form a soft dough. Do not over-stir.

Using an ice cream scoop, fill well-greased muffin cups to 3/4 full. Brush biscuits with melted butter which has been blended with garlic salt. Bake for 10-15 minutes.



Enjoy!

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