Who Is Anastasia?

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New Castle, Indiana Zone 5, United States
When I was 55, I decided to embrace the things I love and hold precious and dear, regardless of anyone else's thoughts and opinion. I am a visual folk artist who loves flowers - my own flowers, grown and/or painted by me. I love good, hearty, exotic foods, and I love to prepare them myself. I love the secret garden situated in my backyard, regardless of how overgrown and wild it gets. No longer able to afford a vacation, this will have to be it for the time being. In the winter months, I still enjoy it. Anyway, here I am sharing my art, favorite recipes, cocktails, gardening tips, and just my usual vents and bantering. After all, I'm old enough to say whatever the heck I want to now ...


My Book Available on AMAZON

Stacey Torres ART Prints

Stacey Torres ART Prints
A very limited selection of reproductions from my paintings can be found here

May 25, 2009

Pink Lemonade Cocktail

This is delightful and refreshing whether you're hosting an (adult) gathering for a crowd, or an intimate get-together for two in the backyard.

I also feel a "cocktail cupcake" idea comin' on ...

1 (12 Oz) can frozen Pink Lemonade Concentrate, thawed
3 (12 Oz) bottles of chilled Beer (not dark)
3/4 cup of Skyy Vodka chilled
Stir together first 3 ingredients; serve on ice and garnish with fresh raspberries, cranberries or citrus slices

May 24, 2009

Strange Fruit - In the Garden

Well, there's been this little vine lurking around my garden - in the daylily bed, to be precise - for a couple of years now. Last year, it had the sweetest little purple blooms on it, as it rambled happily through the bed. Two days ago, I noticed the blooms a bit early, and thought it was so pretty. So, I went to one of my online garden clubs, and inquired if anyone could identify it. I figured it was a weed and/or volunteer, but wasn't familiar with it.
Anyway, I discovered this morning, that the little varmint is Deadly Nightshade a/k/a Belladonna - highly toxic in every way. Huh! Two to three of its berries, which bloom late summer, can be fatal to children, and 15-to-20 for adults. It's deadly to domestic animals, yet rabbits and birds are immune ... what the heck is that about?
So, I'm off to hack the intruder off at the ankles ... too bad; I liked it.

May 23, 2009

Refreshing Ginger Peach Iced Tea

You will need 6 bags of Ginger Peach Tea, any brand

1 can of Diced Peaches (in juice; not syrup)

Brew the Tea normally (yes, on top of the stove - don't microwave the water!!)

Let steep 15 minutes, remove bags, and let cool

In a 4 qt. pitcher, add steeped tea, diced peaches (including juice), 2 cans of peach nectar.

To the above, add 20 oz. of Ginger Ale and Apple Juice until the pitcher is full to your liking.

May 22, 2009

Whiskey Steak

For all you grillers out there, Happy First Holiday of the Season. So, here's a new recipe I discovered for whiskey steak.

16 ounce beef sirloin steak
2 cups Whiskey
4 cups Mushrooms; sliced
4 cups Onions sliced

If desired, lightly tenderize steaks with a meat mallet. Place in a ziplock bag with 1 cup Jack Daniels (or other whiskey) and marinate overnight.
Fire up grill and grill steaks the way you like also put a shallow pan on the grill with 1 cup whiskey in. Add mushrooms and onions cook until tender serve over steaks and side dish of your choice.

May 21, 2009

Cherry Coconut Cupcake

The basis for this delectable cupcake is:

1 box of French Vanilla Cake Mix

1 box of Cherry Jello (reserve 1 tablespoon)

1 half gallon (minus 1 cup) of (premium quality) Cherry Vanilla Ice Cream, Melted.

3 large/Jumbo Eggs
1/2 cup vegetable or canola oil

Mix the above until well blended - I stir by hand because it's good exercise, and just makes me feel like I'm doing something basic - since I'm using a mix! About 150 stirs should do it. Note: The ice cream replaces your liquids. You may have to adjust this amount to get the proper consistency.

Pour about into a cupcake pan, lined with paper liners, about 3/4 full. Bake at 350F about 20-25 minutes - check as it bakes, because the Jello may cause it to burn. When done - they will be springy to touch - let cool entirely on a wire rack.

Make Filling:

1 can Cherry Pie Filling w/Extra Cherries
1 tablespoon of Kirsch
Stir to blend well

With a sharp paring knife, cut a little "cork out of the center, about 1" deep and 1" diameter. Use a teaspoon to fill the hole, trim the "cork" and plug the hole back up.

Make Frosting:

1 container of (pre-made) Coconut Frosting
1 cup Shredded Coconut
1 tablespoon of cherry Jello
1 teaspoon of Maraschino Cherry Juice (you will need a jar of Maraschino Cherries with Stems - stems are optional); drain the cherries on a paper towel

In a large bowl, blend frosting, Jello, cherry juice - adding coconut last. Stir until blended, and frost the cupcakes. Garnish with a cherry in the center.

May 20, 2009

Diva-Licious Brownies

This is my favorite brownie recipe. It was originally found on the back of a Ghirardelli Double Chocolate Brownie Mix box - I tweaked it to make it unique and my own:

1/2 C (1 stick) butter, melted

1 box Ghirardelli Double Chocolate Brownie Mix

1 C shredded coconut

1 C butterscotch chips

1 C Ghirardelli Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips

1 lg Toffee/Almond Chocolate Bar (i.e., Symphony - I know, its Hershey's - Chopped

1/2 C chopped pecans

1-1/4 C (14-oz. can) sweetened condense milk

Preheat oven to 350F. Coat bottom of 13x9x2" pan w/melted butter. Sprinkle brownie mix over butter. Top with coconut, chopped chocolate bar, butterscotch chips, chocolate chips and pecans. Drizzle with sweetened condensed milk. Bake 30-35 minutes

PIE IDEA: Mix Brownie Mix per box instructions. Pour into an unbaked pie shell, and sprinkle with coconut and chopped chocolate/toffee candy bar. Bake pie until it becomes puffy, and the crust is golden brown!

Preheat oven to 325F

May 19, 2009

The Seasonings of Our Lives - The History of Soul Food

The History of Soul Food

People love comfort food. It’s something you eat when you don’t feel well, or had a bad day. It consoles you. My husband seeks comfort in a certain chicken soup I make. There’s no recipe for it. I just make it as I feel it, but its origins came from my grandmother’s kitchen. In most African American families, comfort food is simply Soul Food.

What is Soul Food? Every ethnic group has its own, but traditionally, it’s a term used for African American cuisine. It’s hard to describe, because each dish has a unique signature from the hand that actually prepares it, using ingredients, spices and techniques from various regions in the south and Africa, from family to family throughout generations. Soul food restaurants are found anywhere in the world, particularly in cities with large black populations, i.e., Chicago, New York, London, New Orleans, Washington, St. Louis and Paris, including fried chicken and waffle houses, fish huts or upscale rib joints.

Soul food was created out of necessity during American slavery. African slaves were only given the leftovers and undesirable cuts of meat from their masters’ tables, who took the best for themselves. Vegetables on a slave’s humble table were only grown by and for themselves in a tiny plot outside their cabin door. But, slaves ate better than their owners, who ate mostly fatty foods, little or no vegetables, tons of sweets and drank alcohol, leaving them lethargic. Slaves needed to be energetic to work, so they had large vegetarian meals with iced tea or lemonade instead of spirits. They made do with what was at hand. Fresh vegetables found in Africa were replaced by throwaway foods from their owners, such as the tops of turnips, beets and dandelions. They discovered new greens, like collards, kale, mustard and pokeweed, using lard for flavor from a slaughtered hog and rendered cracklin' from the skin. From the smokehouse, they were given weekly rations of cornmeal, a pound of meat and maybe blackstrap molasses. They used onions, garlic, thyme and bay leaf, creating savory dishes. Cornmeal became bread; meat (usually pig's feet, hocks, chitterlings, pig ears, hog jowl, tripe, or crackling) was the main dish with big portions of greens, while the molasses and cornmeal were a special dessert.

Southern cooking quickly took on a whole new meaning when the slave became the plantation house cooks. With their palate for spice and herbs brought from Africa, they were able to prepare delectable dishes for their masters. Fried chicken was introduced by the African slave. Plain boiled potatoes paled compared to new sweet potatoes (similar to the African yam). Black cooks created hearty puddings and baked pies from apples, peaches and berries for the master’s table; but made fried pies (Maginty’s) to keep in a pocket for a sweet snack while working in the fields from scrap or dried fruit. Because there was no time to roll out dough to make pies for themselves, they improvised with a short cut we now call a cobbler. The slave’s meat of choice was possum because they could only hunt in the late hours of the night after their work was done. The large pot that was kept boiling in a slave’s cabin became their comfort. After long days in the field or the owner’s house, family and friends could gather around, sing, pray and tell stories of their ancestry.

Some escaped slaves took refuge with Native Americans who taught them to use ground sassafras leaves as a spice, called “filĂ©” (pronounced fee-leay). Every region has its own signature soul food. Rich, saucy dishes with a French accent are from Louisiana; Carolina's Spanish culture favored dishes such as jambalaya and sausage. Soul food also told a story. One is how the hushpuppy got its name from the dredging of the catfish that would have been thrown out. The cook sent it down to the slave quarters where women added milk, egg and onion and fried it up, tossing it to the dogs to keep them quiet while they ate, "Hush Puppy! Hush Puppy!"

Years ago, I moved to Indy and my friend, Becky, said I couldn’t cook soul food. Becky, who was much younger, insisted on lessons. My first lesson was pork neck bones with white beans and hoecakes. “What kind of cakes?” I never heard the term and was afraid to ask, but she explained hoecakes were corn bread batter heaped onto a spade or hoe held over an open fire to make a quick bread. We lived downtown Indianapolis. Where in the world would we find an open fire? She taught me a lot that first winter. Funds were lean and soul food seemed affordable. Not to be confused with hoecakes, ashcakes are a cornmeal mixture baked in an open fire, and the baked bread is washed after cooking, and then served.

Nothing was ever wasted in a black kitchen. Leftover fish became croquettes; stale bread was bread pudding, and every part of a pig was used. The liquid from boiled vegetables is "pot likker," a type of gravy or tea. Good, black cuisine was wholesome food using everything available.Sunday dinners were a traditional time for families to get together for a good home cooked meal, gathering at, not to the biggest house, but the one with the best cook. Usually it was a pitch-in, and the women would cook up a storm. Men didn’t take part, unless there was ‘cueing (barbecue) going on. The term ‘Soul Food’ evolved in the 1960’s; everything was soulful then. Now, when we think of soul food, we think of a much richer table, with trays of ribs, candied yams, greens, fried chicken and catfish and sweet potato pie and melon. Every Black family has its own traditional way of cooking. Some folks like hogshead cheese on saltines, hot sauce and a bottle of beer; crab cakes; carrot and raisin salad; fried corn or pone; red beans and rice; fried liver and onions; beans and ham hocks; stewed okra and tomatoes; cornbread dipped in buttermilk; smothered chicken; fried buffalo fish, pickled or barbecued pig's feet; fried cabbage with wings; bean pie; neck bones; spiced tongue; chittlin's; tripe; gumbo; oxtail stew, pucker-up lemon cake; breaded pork chops with a ‘mess’ of greens; real potato salad, black-eyed peas and grits. A southern dish, grits are eaten for breakfast, lunch or dinner; plain, with butter, gravy, cheese or deep-fried. And, thank God southerners brought fried chicken and waffles to the northeast.

For centuries, soul food was cooked and seasoned with pork. We now know a steady diet of trans fats can contribute to obesity, hypertension, cardiac/circulatory problems and/or diabetes. It’s a fact that African-Americans sometimes have a shortened lifespan because of this, and new methods of cooking soul food use more healthy ways for frying (vegetable/canola oil instead of lard) and using smoked turkey instead of pork.

Brought by cooks in railroad galleys and the great migration to the North, these meals are enjoyed by most everyone, regardless of background. It’s no longer just a black thing, it’s comfort food. Remember this, if your family’s favorite comfort food is lasagna, it’s soul food. If corned beef and cabbage puts you in a trance, it’s soul food. If your grandmother taught you her grandmother’s special cherry pie recipe, and it gives you joy, then it’s soul food. If it’s part of your heritage, makes you feel good all over, and is cooked with love and tradition, it’s soul food.

Updated Hoecakes
1 C self-rising flour
1 C self-rising cornmeal
2 Eggs
1 TBSP sugar
3/4 C buttermilk
1/3 C plus 1 tablespoon water
1/4 C bacon grease or oil
Oil or butter for frying
Mix ingredients well except for oil. Heat oil in a skillet over medium heat. Drop mixture by tablespoonfuls into hot skillet; approx. 2 tablespoons batter per hoecake. Brown until crisp; turn and brown on other side. Drain on paper towels. Leftover batter will keep in fridge up to 2 days. Makes 17 cakes

May 2, 2009

An Accidental Passion

It takes courage to grow a cottage garden. Contrary to its appearance, it takes patience and planning. These free-form beauties are natural and comforting, taking you back to childhood.

I am an accidental cottage gardener. Several years ago, when economic reality set in and I knew I would not be taking a vacation anytime soon, I decided to have a "small" getaway in our backyard - the one that looked like a golf course - just grass. I discussed this with my family, who never really responded, and in seven days, I created a little plot of loveliness. With the help of a neighbor, a small fence went up on three sides, and contained my little paradise. In this area were seven daylilies, a bellflower, one blackeyed susan and butterfly bush, two obedient plants (mine are), and one Laura phlox. At the end of the summer, my mother bought me three dying plants that were about to be discarded from a big-box-store; a red twig dogwood, peegee hydrangea and a rose of sharon. These were all about three to six inches tall; no leaves and no signs of life. The dogwood is now about eight feet tall; and just as wide; the rose of sharon is a proud six feet, and my hydrangea is close to four feet tall. Over the past five years my tiny plot has mushroomed; the fence falls on a regular basis;there are over 25 daylilies, four rose of sharon bushes, numerous heirloom roses, tons of lilies, wildflowers, masses of perennials and three small trees; all lush and obscene, as my "Mum Harriett" would say.

I have two grandmothers to thank for my passion for (non-conforming) gardening. Nana had a rose garden in Queens that could bring the White House Rose Garden to its knees. I'm talking about big, blousy hybrid tea roses, musk roses, huge ramblers and rugosa under our windows (to keep burglars out) and a monstrous grape arbor coveted by the entireneighborhood. All blooming non-stop from Easter Sunday until late October it was fabulous. The prize-winning hybrid teas that she and an my godfather scouted in catalogs and nurseries along the Eastern Seabord, were the stars. It was also not beneath her to have my grandfather stop the car on a lonely Long Island back road where a wild rugosa rose was growing; harvest the seeds from the hips; and grow a rose bush.

To my amazement, I too have mastered this little skill. Rose hips also make awesome tea. I don't know how many starts and seedlings made their way to our backyard wrapped in a linen hanky in her purse.

In this rose garden, strange cohabitations took place. Tomatoes, okra, peppers, spearmint, squash and beans were planted in between stately Queen Elizabeth, Tropicana and Peace roses. You had to know how to walk through this botanical maze, smell the roses, smell the mint, Concord grapes and the heady tomatoes all at the same time. This wasmy introduction to the cottage garden.

"... It is the image of the quaint English thatched cottage with a riot of colorful flowers just outside the front door that is mostoften associated with the term Cottage Gardening ... A small spot of land near the house or cottage was often the only land available. Fresh fruits and vegetables were often miles and miles away. Thus, these little postage stamp gardens were originally planted with fruit trees, and vegetables ... Sometimes the lowly herb was included, almost as an afterthought. These herbs were often more of a medical necessity than the seasoning to make a grand meal." Mountain Valley Growers.

A cottage garden is a mix of beauty and utility. They started out as a practical solution to limited space and money. In France, they were called un jardin potager; in pioneer America, kitchen gardens; during World War II, we knew them as Victory Gardens. Over time, as we gained more access to fresh produce and modern medicine, gardens included more and more flowers, both wild and cultivated. Today, most people think of a cottage garden as bounteous amounts of flowers billowingaround the garden gate and tumbling over an arbor. Years ago, space was at a premium, and with newer homes built on smaller lots, the same holds true. So, I, like millions of others, grow flowers and herbs close together attracting wildlife.
Speaking of wildlife, our Red Heeler, Maggie, had a strong affinity to pinks. She loved dianthus and would sniff them and sleep in the sun among them for hours. She died suddenly three years ago, and two days later, so did my pinks. They've never grown back. Now, our Blue Heeler, Rudy, has a strong affinity to peeing on the new pinks and stealing tomatoes, peppers and little watermelon (grown in pots and a kiddie pool to protect them from "wildlife.") I don't know the colorsof my clematis or lupine, because the rabbits have their way with them first. We do get visits from hundreds of goldfinch, bluejays, cardinals, chickadees and titmous. From my grandmother, Harriett, I've learned to identify these beautiful birds, and what flowers attract them. From her, I also learned a thing or two about edible flowers, such as nasturtium, beautiful orange and red flowers that taste peppery in salads. Just ask Rudy!

My favorites are hollyhock, English lavender, catmint, feverfew, veronic, phlox, and of course my roses, night blooming tobacco (nicotiana) and, ah, datura. Lilies rule and morning glories are welcomed; a bold little beauty few gardeners dare allow past their gates. These flowers have no real purpose but to delight me with eye candy. Neighborhood children walk by the 15 foot Russian sunflowers that hang out at the end of the summer, and yes, I still give out free sunflower seeds to anyone who asks, nicely.
About *&^#%* weeds. Do you allow certain weeds in your garden? I do. After years of fighting a losing battle against creeping Charlie, I've learned to accept and live with it; and so have the roses and hardy hibiscus. It runs amuck, and it really doesn't hurt anything. There's a huge burdock named "Thing" growing under a patio peach tree. Thing is about four feet wide, two feet tall - bigger than my so-called giant hosta, and currently shading and smothering several of my Sumatra lilies, and will be pruned soon. His bottom leaves are about two to three feet long. I grow silver beacon (dead nettle), but don'treally like the wild nettle, and there's clover, garlic and chives.
Surprisingly, I love ragweed at the end of the summer mixed in with my scarlet roses -- and no, it's a myth, it does not bother my allergies - it does not give off a pollen. My brutal battle with thistle is never-ending, but, you guessed it, I never use pesticides or chemicals.

My methods are totally unorthodox, and I scatter sow so many seeds that I'm afraid to pull up unidentifed things; and sometimes it's too late to know if it's a weed or not. Queen Anne's lace recently moved in from the corn field behind us, and a beautiful visitor two years ago -- a wild verbascum in shades of cream and fuscia; over seven feet tall!
I also have Chinese foxglove, honeysuckle and Dame's Rocket, which is a biennial, but it comes back every year as it re-seeds. It's supposed to be spring blooming, but I've had it stay as late as July. It's my favorite thing in the garden.
My neighbors are in a state of shock from April til November. This is not your typical manicured lawn with a few geranniums huddled against the house. It's wild, earthy and appears out of control. That's because I grow them as nature intended. What survives, survives; what perishes, perishes. I don't recall God thinning out seedlings on the side of the road when a wild crop of ditch lilies pop up. So, what about the golf course out back? Well, most of it's still there. I hate grass and lawns, preferring groundcover any day. But groundcovers seem to look and perform best in shade, which I don't have yet, and may not live long enough to sit under the shade of the little seedlings acquired from the Department of Natural Resources. Cottage gardening is not for everyone, but for now, I'm content to vacation in my little Jungle of Eden.

The Backyard --Today's Vacation Spot

The Backyard --Today's Vacation Spot
A simple garden meal in the shade. No, it's not my backyard, but it looks identical to the one I grew up with at our home in Queens. Looking for an original pic of it to post soon!

Old Fashioned Tips