It’s Tomato Planting Time

It’s time to plant tomatoes again, and I just planted mine. I’m cutting back on the garden this year because I don’t expect to have the time to tend a large one. I reduced the number of tomato plants and cut out all the other veggies entirely. Gotta grow some tomatoes though.

I plant them nice and deep – with about half of the stem underground. Pull the leaves off the portion that will be buried. The stem you bury with grow roots to help support the plant and it also encourages the tomato plant to grow stronger stalks and branches.

There are all kinds of recommendations for soil additives, but I’m lazy and have decided that mixing in a couple of scoops of Miracle Grow soil for fruits and vegetables is just as good as anything else.

When you plant the tomatoes, be sure to water them well to help prevent shock.

Tomatoes prefer several hours of sun each day, but I try to plant mine where they receive morning and mid-day sun, but not evening sun. The evening sun seems to be too much for them once the temperatures soar.

When watering tomato plants, remember they don’t like wet leaves. Water at the base of the plant without getting the leaves wet whenever possible. It’s also best to water in the morning so any moisture on the plant evaporates before night. Wet leaves at night tend to equal sickly tomato plants.

Growing tomatoes in the back yard or in a container on a balcony takes very little effort and the rewards are huge! Real, homegrown tomatoes are a completely different food than the hothouse tomatoes available at the grocery store. I love homegrown tomatoes but won’t even eat the grocery store kind. I pick them off salads and sandwiches. No thanks.

So I encourage anyone who is planning any sort of garden this year to include tomato plants. There are plenty of varieties to choose from. Smaller tomatoes like Romas or Cherry or Grape tomatoes are wonderful for salads. If the acid in tomatoes bothers you, maybe try growing a yellow tomato. They have great flavor and less acid. If you want to make sauces and will be blanching and peeling them, maybe go for a larger variety like Beefsteak. It’s also nice to mix in a few early producers like Early Girl.

Shopping at my local Wal-Mart this spring, I was stunned to see they are carrying some of the heirloom tomato varieties. So it’s no longer necessary to trek out to a major garden center to find a big selection. Just about any store that carries vegetable plants will have several varieties of tomatoes to choose from!

If you don’t garden, I encourage you to try buying tomatoes from local farmers if you haven’t before. The difference in taste and texture will have you going back for more!

Ann Chambers is the co-author and editor of Carver’s Tomatoes which includes updated versions of all 115 of George Washington Carver’s tomato recipes plus a biography of Carver. Carver’s Tomatoes is available online for only $2.99 at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple, Sony or Smashwords.


Strawberry Season is Here!

I stopped at a roadside stand a few days ago and bought a special treat. The first locally grown strawberries of the season. There are few things more wonderful than fresh-picked strawberries!

One of my favorite ways to fix them is to clean them, chunk them up, stir them about in a bit of sugar and then eat them! If I can get my mitts on some Angel Food cake, pound cake, or shortbread – all the better. But the strawberries alone make a fantastic dessert or snack. Oh, and homemade whipped cream will never go to waste in my house!

Looking at the recipes in my newest book, Gourmet Ice Pops for Kids and Adults, my love of strawberries is evident in the number of recipes that contain strawberries! Plenty of them, for sure. Here’s one from the Kid’s section of the book.

Strawberry Banana Pops

1 small package instant banana cream pudding mix

1 3/4 cups milk

2 cups sliced strawberries

1 tablespoon sugar

Place all ingredients in blender and blend until smooth. Pour into ice pop molds, add sticks, and freeze.

For anyone using the HCG diet or looking for low calorie and low fat treats, try this strawberry delight.

Strawberry Lemonade Pops (HCG)

2-3 strawberries, mashed

Lemon juice, from 1/2 lemon

8 ounces water

Stevia to taste

Mix all together, pour into ice pop molds or small paper cups, add sticks, and freeze.

This drink is 1/2 of a fruit serving on the HCG diet. This recipe can also be made using Lemon Drop flavored liquid Stevia as the sweetener.

However you like to eat them, it’s strawberry time and that’s a great food celebration!

Ann Chambers is the author of several delicious e-books, including Gourmet Ice Pops for Kids and Adults available online for only $2.99 exclusively at Amazon and 25 Quick & Easy HCG Recipes, available online for only $1.99 at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple, Sony, Kobo or Smashwords.


Lessons Learned from the HCG Diet

The HCG diet is unlike any other diet I’ve ever been on. It is a stickler. You must eat particular foods on a strict schedule and nothing else. All food must be weighed to ensure you are eating the right amounts of each category (proteins, vegetables, etc.). The structure really turned my schedule and habits upside down — but in a good way. I learned a few things.

Personal Accountability

One requirement during the HCG diet is the morning weigh in. This was a big change for me. Back in the day, I had a bathroom scale in my bathroom, but I rarely checked it. Who needs the aggravation, right? Then, one day while cleaning the bathroom, I tossed the dusty, rusty thing into the trash. Since then, no weighing except at doctor’s appointments. Always bad news.

Then I decided to try the HCG diet. It requires dieters to weigh each morning. And it’s fun to do when you are watching the pounds fall off. After completing the strict part of the diet, dieters are strongly encouraged to continue the morning weigh in to ensure the weight doesn’t sneak back on.

So, each morning I stagger into the kitchen to start the coffee, then weigh while the coffee brews. No skipping, no excuses. I am finding that it keeps me accountable. I’m accountable to myself.

I don’t want to pack the weight back on. So I tend to make better decisions. Not great ones always, but better than I would without that morning weigh in lurking in the back of my mind.

If I know I’m going to eat dinner at a restaurant and will order something heavy, then I try to eat low calorie, low fat for lunch. I try to remember to drink plenty of water always. These small adjustments make a difference.

I did the HCG diet last summer and maintained my weight pretty steadily until Thanksgiving. Ouch. Over the Thanksgiving week, I bumped up about 4 pounds. Between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, I held steady, but didn’t manage to take the weight back off.

Time for a New Year’s resolution round of HCG. I dropped those few pounds and more. And I’ve held steady since then. Easter was a challenge – believe me!

I truly think the morning weigh in helps with weight maintenance, at least for me. Whether I do or do not eat a bunch of Easter candy at night – I have to face that scale in the morning and I know how unhappy it makes me if the number jumps.

Portions Matter

When I first started the HCG diet, weighing all the food for strict portion control, I was amazed at the tiny servings. Sure, some meals were still large in appearance (primarily salads with a fluffy lettuce base). But most meals were a fraction of the size I was used to. 7 or 8 ounces of food total for a meal.

To make these dishes seem like a full “meal,” I starting using small dishes. A small bowl full of HCG chili just seems more satisfying than a big bowl with a little scoop of chili in it.

Instead of using the big plates and bowls, I used smaller ones that were a good size for the small portions.

Since completing the HCG diet, I continue to use the smaller dishes, and to consider portion sizes before preparing or serving food. Just how much of a dish do I really need? I’ve found the answer to be much less than I had been serving.

Most of our restaurants serve huge portions. We all know that. Luckily, several of my friends have also gone through the HCG. (I also have a couple of skinny friends who don’t need to diet.) Now, we tend to share dishes.

Most restaurants are very accommodating for sharers. Last week, several of us went to a local burger joint that has great food. We all love it. But this time was different. We split burgers – each eating a half burger and a half order of fries. And it was plenty of food.

In the past, we would all have ordered our own basket and then eaten most of the burgers and fries. And then had an overly full stomach for the afternoon and possibly heartburn. Definitely more of a sleepy, tired afternoon. And an ugly weigh in the next morning.

Our waitress was very nice about the burger basket splits. She brought the burgers already cut in half for us, plus empty baskets to make sharing easy. She got a nice tip for her trouble.

I’ve learned more and more about nutrition and food groups from participating in the HCG diet, but I believe the two biggest lessons I’ve taken away from this diet are personal accountability for what I’m eating (through the scales) and the importance of keeping an eye on portions.

So far, these changes are making it easy to maintain my weight. Except, of course, for the Thanksgiving debacle. But there’s always next year.

(Ann Chambers is the author of 25 Quick & Easy HCG Recipes, which was recently updated to include more than 35 recipes. The book also includes an explanation and overview of the HCG diet. 25 Quick & Easy HCG Recipes is available online for only 99 cents at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple, Sony, Kobo or Smashwords.)


The Summer Harvest Yet to Come

The Ranting Chef visited and liked our blog, so we decideed to take a gander at his blog. This delicious-looking shrimp and tomato salad recipe looked so good that we had to tell you about it.

With summer just around the corner, a new salad recipe is always welcome!

Click the link below to see the recipe with several photos. Yum.

The Summer Harvest Yet to Come.

Gourmet Ice Pops for Kids and Adults – New Release

Our latest cookbook is out just in time to beat the heat of summer. Gourmet Ice Pops for Kids and Adults is a fun, illustrated cookbook filled with great ideas for frozen treats.

There are few treats more satisfying than a frozen popsicle on a sunny day. But why eat the boring same-old pops from the grocery store? They tend to be filled with sugar, corn syrup, and chemicals.

Making your own ice pops is quick and easy and it opens the doors to a world of great flavors. When making pops yourself, you can be sure to only include healthy ingredients or adjust recipes to include your kids’ favorite foods or to eliminate an ingredient your kids just won’t eat.

Although they are a dessert item, by creating pops make from fresh fruits, fruit juices, yogurts and natural sweeteners like honey, you can indulge in delicious treats that are still very healthy!

Ice Pops can be decadent and heavy, but many of the recipes included here are light and healthy. Starting with juices or teas, many of these delicious pops are low calorie and low fat or even no fat! (Don’t worry, we’ve included plenty of naughty Pops as well.)

This book is full of recipes and ideas for delicious, gourmet ice pops, divided into 3 sections — kids favorites, gourmet flavors, and adults only (recipes with alcoholic ingredients). Skim through the Table of Contents and you’re sure to find your new favorite!

Gourmet Ice Pops includes more than 50 delicious recipes with tips and notes to help you create your own variations! Includes color photos and illustrations to make the book more entertaining plus a hyperlinked table of contents for ease of use.

Currently available for only $2.99, exclusively at Amazon.

Devil those Easter Eggs

Easter is just around the corner so it’s time to gather the deviled egg ideas to use all those hard boiled eggs!

First, to have Easter Eggs, you need hard boiled eggs. For anyone who doesn’t know how to hard boil eggs, here’s the easy way:

Place a dozen eggs in a single layer in a large saucepan then add enough cold water to cover them by about an inch. Cover the pan and heat to full boil then turn off the heat. Let eggs stand in the hot water for 20 to 25 minutes then run cold water over the eggs to cool.

After the Easter Egg Hunt, you may be left with lofts of eggs. We always check them carefully and only use eggs that have no cracks in the shell, then make deviled eggs. Our favorite recipe follows.

But if you have lots of hard boiled eggs and want to get adventurous, try adding an extra ingredient or two to the deviled yolk mixture. If you make a ham for Easter, dice up a bit of ham and include it. Or if you are an onion fiend, try mincing up some chives for festive-looking deviled eggs. You could even add both ham and chives for a special treat!

Southern Deviled Eggs

12 large eggs, hard boiled and peeled

1/2 cup mayonnaise

3 tablespoons sweet pickle relish

2 teaspoons prepared mustard

Salt, to taste

Pepper, to taste


Cut eggs in half, lengthwise. Remove yolks and place in a small bowl. Mash yolks with a fork then stir in mayonnaise, relish, and mustard. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Fill egg whites with yolk mixture. Garnish with paprika. If made in advance, store covered in refrigerator until serving.

Note: Spoon filling into a sandwich baggie and snip off the corner to create a dispenser. This makes it quick and easy to fill the egg whites.

Southern Deviled Eggs recipe is from Family Holiday Favorites: 50 Delicious Dishes, available online for only $2.99 at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple, Sony, Kobo or Smashwords.