On the Brink of Epiphany

I struggle with a picky eater…really struggle.  The list of foods on E’s approved list are very few with very little variety.  We are down to practically 1 fruit and 1 veggie that he will eat consistently…apples and corn…frustrated does not even come close to describing how I feel.  I have been purusing sites like 1oo Days of Real Food and my registered dietician friend Kelli’s site…I have wonderful intentions in my mind, but translating them into a healthy variety of foods that E will eat…well, it seems nearly impossible.  I am on the edge of both insanity and clearing out EVERY BIT OF JUNK FOOD and starting over.  I worry about what will E eat if there is nothing but REAL food in the house…will he starve himself?  Will it be a ‘game of chicken’ to see who caves first?  I am focusing on E because the other 3 kids eat whatever is in front of them typically…I know 3 out of 4 ain’t bad, but if I could get E to eat 5 different fruits and 5 different veggies, well I wouldn’t be writing this.

For the record, I recently took E for his well check-up…he is perfectly healthy and growing fine.  He is on the lean side of the curve, but that is a good thing.  Our pediatrician told me that “he wished all of his patients were as healthy as him”, he did discuss eating more of a variety of fruits and veggies with E directly.  I will say this for the kid, he will try things…I believe he convinces himself he doesn’t like (insert any number of foods here) before it ever hits his lips.   I am persistent…but so is he.

I just read Food Rules by Michael Pollan.  It is a very quick read, but I found it extrememly interesting.  I am waiting for another of his books, In Defense of Food, to be transferred to my local library.  I borrowed Food Rules from the library, but I will be buying a copy ASAP.  One thing that struck me was using smaller dishes to eat on.  While we were on vacation, at Darling Husband’s family ‘beach house’ (not on the beach, but near the beach), I noticed how small the bowls and glasses were.  They are from a LONG time ago…the house has been around since at least the 50s…who knows how old those bowls and glasses are.  Those bowls made me wonder if they were big enough to serve cereal to the kids in for breakfast…and the glasses were the size of our ‘kiddie cups’.  This got me thinking then…and when I read it in that book, well duh!  People didn’t used to consume the mass quantities that we do, so they didn’t need huge dishes.  People also didn’t consume so many processed foods…the women cooked all day, literally.  I remember visiting my Grandmother in Portugal as a small child…she was plucking the feathers from the chicken we were gonna have for dinner that night…talk about real, unprocessed food!  Now, I am not a crazy person…I would not even consider something like that, my point is this was in my lifetime, granted it was in a different country.

I am currently not sold on the “organic” food craze.  Organic does not equal free from pesticides…only free from chemical pesticides.  From the ‘scratching the surface’ reading I have done, some of the pesticides that are approved for organic farming are quite toxic…to people and the environment, that being said, I have a hard time believing that the organic produce in my local chain grocery stores is any better for the environment than the conventionally grown produce.  I have my favorite local produce stands and I have heard about some farmers markets that sound promising.  I do buy my ground beef from a local farm, it is really reasonably priced and is 100% grass-fed.  I am a firm believer in buying local.

Today’s secret revealed…my biggest fear is the possibility of creating a negativity toward meal times and food.  I don’t want to argue and fight about eating, but I want my family to eat better.

And, for the record, this does not stem from how we started out with food…E, being my first born, I put TONS of effort into making him a healthy, well-balanced eater.  I bought only organic produce, prepared his fruits and veggies myself, he ate a huge variety…I don’t know where things went so horribly wrong with his food preferences.  When children started coming in pairs, I didn’t have the time to go to such efforts…talk about a well-laid plan blowing up in my face!

A Summer Sunday Must

I decided we needed a big Sunday dinner, my little Luke had been begging for my fried chicken…they all go crazy for Mama’s Fried Chicken (it is really Grannie’s Fried Chicken, but they didn’t know her).  What goes better with fried chicken than creamy mashed potatoes, cantaloupe, and…OKRA?!?  Oh yes!  One of the pleasures of surviving the oppressive heat and humidity.  I used to find this, very rarely, in AZ…here, it just takes a trip to my local produce stand.  I love going to that little stand…the old fella that runs it with his wife is the sweetest!  I don’t make it batter-dipped, like you find in the frozen foods or at Cracker Barrel…I make it like my Grannie taught me. 

Start with okra, of course.  Here, it is known as “a mess of okra”, I didn’t need a big mess ;).

So after you give these a quick rinse, slice them thinly…perfect uniformity is not necessary.  If you have never dealt with okra before, you should be warned that they are slimy when you cut them…like a kid with a cold…kinda gross if you don’t know what to expect.  I had to wash my knife half way through…don’t let this deter you, they are well worth the slime.

Now, in a bowl add corn meal (2 parts) and flour (1 part) with some salt and pepper (to your liking).

Mix the dry ingredients, and toss in the sliced okra.  This is where the sliminess is helpful :), the cornmeal mixture sticks easily.  I use my hands to toss the okra around.

Once all of the okra is nicely coated, get your skillet ready.  This is one of the rare occasions that I cook anything other than cornbread in my cast iron skillet.  If you don’t have one, you can use a regular skillet or frying pan.  I add a bit of oil to the bottom and turn the heat on med-high.  Add the okra in, but don’t just dump the bowl, you don’t want the excess flour and cornmeal in the pan.  I use my hand to ‘sift’ the okra.

Let it sit for a bit, you don’t want to mess with it too much.  After a few minutes you can use a big spoon to start turning scoops over.  Some will already be nice and golden brown.

You may need to adjust the heat up or down, don’t have it so high that it burns.  Super dark brown is fine…black, not so good.  If you turn it too often, you will lose the ‘breading’ & that is what makes it so delightfully crunchy…patience…

Getting there!  See some of the darker golden brown…go ahead and sample one of those!

Darling husband grabbed a spoonful everytime he walked by!  I hope you enjoy okra this way.

Today’s secret revealed…I’m getting ready to attempt my very first hoe cake!  I’m going with a biscuit type rather than a cornbread type…gonna have to use my cast iron skillet for this too!  On a roll with breaking my own rule :).

Fried Okra
Recipe type: Vegetable Side dish
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 4-6
  • 2 pounds fresh okra, thinly sliced
  • 1 cup corn meal
  • ½ cup all purpose flour
  • ½-1 teaspoon kosher salt (adjust to taste)
  • ½-1 teaspoon pepper (adjust to taste)
  • cooking oil (I use canola)
  1. In a bowl, combine corn meal, flour, salt and pepper.
  2. Toss thinly sliced okra in corn meal mixture, until coated.
  3. Add oil to coat entire bottom of skillet and heat on medium-high.
  4. When pan is hot, add okra in (sift through hands over bowl to avoid excess corn meal mixture).
  5. Stir and turn occasionally until dark golden brown and crisp.

 Linking up with The Southern Institute’s “Creative Me Link Up”!

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Summer Chicken

I’m back from a much needed vacation…the laundry is conquered…and I’m ready to get back into my groove!  I am ready for some home-cooking, I get tired of eating out quickly…and 11 days nearly did me in, I make poor choices when eating out.  I wanted something fresh and delicious…that utilized some of my home-grown goodies.  I have all but lost my tomatoes, they grew so big that the cages buckled…and a storm took them out.  Now my big heirloom beefsteak plant is literally lying over on its side (Darling Husband helped me untangle it from the cage).  We shall see if it continues to produce.  My cherry tomato is barely upright, but still producing TONS.  I found this recipe via Pinterest by Goddess of Scrumptiousness…love that name!  I used her recipe as the framework for mine.

I’m calling this Lemon Herbed Chicken in Creamy Cherry Tomato Sauce…DH would never eat something called Garlic Gravy, he’s weird like that.  First up…marinate the chicken.  Start with the fresh herbs, I used rosemary and lemon thyme.

 I chopped these pretty finely.  Then add the zest of one lemon…

Next, the juice…

To complete the marinade add a couple of tablespoons of olive oil and salt & pepper.

I was making this dish for myself and my guinea pig friend Sandy, so I used the zest and juice of a whole lemon and let it marinate for several hours (3-4)…when I make this for DH, I will probably only use the zest of ½ a lemon and marinate for less than an hour…he says heavy lemon reminds him of dish soap…I happen to love lemon…ahhhh, compromises ;).   

I used chicken tenderloins, and cut them into 1 inch chunks…great time-saver, plus my grocery had them on a super sale & I stocked up.  Toss them around in the marinade, then off to the fridge.

When you are ready, cook the chicken over medium-high heat with some olive oil.  This will only take a few minutes on each side.  The higher temp will produce this lovely color…

And, Yes!  This chicken is divine on its own…would be fabulous on a salad!  Now let’s move on to the sauce…I love a good sauce!  I used the same pan…added a few tablespoons of butter & a few of olive oil, plus some minced garlic (whatever your taste preference is, I probably used 3-4 cloves worth…I buy it already minced).  Once the garlic becomes golden add in a couple of tablespoons of flour (AP or whole wheat, whatever you usually use…today was AP for me).  Give the flour enough time to cook, 3-5 minutes…I stir it nearly constantly.

We are almost there!  Add in some chicken stock (I only had canned broth today, I used 1 can)

And some dry white wine…great excuse to have a glass ;)…

When the liquids are well incorporated, and the sauce starts to thicken…add in some chopped fresh basil (a handfull of leaves will do…1-2 tablespoons) and your cherry tomatoes.  I used about 1½ cups (that is what I had ripe at the moment), you could certainly use more if you have them.

 When the tomatoes begin to pop, toss in some grated parmesean cheese…a half a cup will do…more if you want.

Now it is time for the chicken to go back into the sauce…along with some fresh parsley.  I love the colors of this dish!

I decided to give brown rice pasta a try, if you are on a gluten free diet and want to try this dish…you can sub rice flour for the regular flour.  The rice pasta was good, but I think it would be better in a cold asian pasta salad…next time I will use my usual whole wheat pasta for this.  Add the pasta to the sauce…

Give it a good toss to coat the pasta…and you are ready to serve! 

Isn’t that pretty???  This is a dish that is perfect for summer…or when the gloomy days of winter get you down, this will perk you up. 

Today’s secret revealed…I had some trouble in the past zesting citrus fruits, something just wasn’t making the process as easy as it looks on all of the cooking shows I watch.  I finally realized that the skin of the fruit needs to be really dry…so I wash mine and let it sit out for a while to cut down on the condensation (I usually keep citrus in the fridge).

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An Encore

Surely you didn’t think that a single post would sufficiently cover my love of Fried Green Tomatoes.  I like to make a big batch, and hide a few to have as left-overs…if you leave them out, they will be eaten…sometimes we have to think of ourselves, just a little bit ;). 

This brings me to another very Southern delight…the tomato sandwich.  Yes, just tomato…well and Duke’s mayo…and a bit of salt & pepper.  If you don’t have Duke’s (because you don’t live in the South, sorry!), the next best thing is Hellman’s (aka Best Foods if you’re out West).  These are a VERY seasonal item…not worth having a tomato only sandwich with a hot house tomato in January!  I only really want one of these when I, or whoever gives me the tomato has picked it.  Don’t get me wrong…I LOVE a B.L.T., but there is this brief window of time each year that you can keep the lettuce, and serve the bacon on the side (I’m not one to turn down bacon). 

The only thing I like to add to my fresh from the garden tomato sandwich…is a couple of slices of fried green tomatoes…oh yes!  Take a look…

I was so thankful for the leftovers…my little Luke had to have one, too…he was lucky I hid enough for him ;).  I warmed the Fried Green Tomatoes in the toaster oven, they were perfectly crispy, just like when fresh! 

 No Southern meal is every truly complete without sweet tea…this day, I had some BEAUTIFUL York County, SC white peaches to add to my tea…heaven!

Today’s secret revealed…did you know, that despite Georgia being “The Peach State”, that South Carolina is the largest producer of peaches in the South?

One more…when storing fried leftovers, pack them with paper towels, it will help keep them from becoming soggy.

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Summer in the South

What comes to mind?  Lightening bugs…sweet tea on the porch…oppressive humidity…tomatoes fresh from the garden…peach ice cream…I could go on and on.  Southern Living tweeted a few weeks back “can anyone tell us why green tomatoes are such a Southern favorite?”…my response was “because we get so excited to have tomatoes fresh from the garden that we can’t wait for them to turn red”.  I believe Fried Green Tomaotes are one of the most Southern dishes.  This is the way I make them…

I am using three green tomatoes freshly picked from my garden…around here you can find them at the grocery store, too.

You can slice these to whatever thickness suits you, I like mine about ¼ inch thick.  I always use a serrated knife, mine is a bread knife, it works perfectly for slicing tomatoes. 

All sliced!

Now, you are going to need a few more ingredients:  AP flour, cornmeal, buttermilk, salt, pepper, and oil for frying.  Go ahead and put all of the sliced tomatoes into a dish and add buttermilk…enough to be able to coat all of the slices. 

These can soak in the buttermilk for as much or as little time as you want.  I have immediately started dredging and frying….and I have let them soak overnight…whatever you need or want, just if it is for a long time put them in the fridge ;).  In a separate dish, add equal parts of flour and cornmeal (I used around a cup of each for this) and salt and pepper (probably close to a tablespoon of each).

Mix them together until well combined.  You will want to go ahead and add an inch or less of oil to a deep skillet over medium heat.  Now it is time to dredge those tomatoes…I give them a gentle shake to get rid of some of the excess buttermilk before putting them in the dry mixture.

Now gently drop these into the hot oil (be sure your oil is ready…I mix a little drop of buttermilk with some of the dry stuff and drop it in…if it starts bubbling and rises to the top the oil is ready).

Give them a few minutes before flipping them…the edges will become golden when it is time to flip.  They will get a lovely golden color when they are done…

Lift them out of the oil, I like to hold them over the oil for a few minutes to allow as much excess oil as possible to drain off…then place them on a platter lined with a couple of layers of paper towels.

One batch down…several to go!  Keep it up…you might need to taste one while the others are cooking, just to be sure they taste okay ;).  This is a tedious process, but well worth the effort!

Heavenly deliciousness!  Enjoy!!!

Today’s secret revealed…the night I made these, I used the same method to do zucchini slices and onion rings…all were a smashing success!  I did the onions last so the buttermilk didn’t get onion-y.  That was a lot of frying…but so yummy!!!

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Why Reward a Priviledge?

This hit me like a ton of bricks.  I read this post over at www.100daysofrealfood.com, it got my brain turning.  Why are we compelled to offer rewards…be them candy, stickers, junky toys…for something that is truly a priviledge?  Activities for kids are really expensive to begin with…just being able to participate should be reward enough.  There are plenty of kids who, for financial or physical reasons, are unable to participate.  I haven’t been known to reward my kids for a great practice, or going to practice…but I also haven’t really emphasized how fortunate they are for being able to play baseball, basketball, or football.  Everything is expensive when you multiply it times 3, in our case…and soon times 4 when Em starts.

That’s Robo-O…he loved getting into the Catcher’s gear!  Now, if they had a spectacular game and made a huge play…we may have gotten some ice cream.  I do think that they were deserving of a treat in that instance. 

Something else that really amazed me…E got some money as gifts for his First Holy Communion.  He really needed a new bike.  Darling Husband did some searching around and found a really high quality bike, just right for where E is with his skill level (still needs the coaster brakes, but ready to learn to use the hand brakes).  We gave E the option of us purchasing him a lesser quality bike (which we really didn’t want to do), or sharing the cost of the nicer bike.  He chose to contribute his own money and get the nicer bike.  I believe he has a much better appreciation for his new bike.  He has ridden it every chance he has had…including everytime we have gone to our neighborhood pool.  I like that he has a vested interest in the bike.

Today’s secret revealed…I really worry that I have over-indulged my children…I want them to grow up with a sense of appreciation for the things that they have, they are quite fortunate…I hope they realized it (or that they will one day).


My Signature Dish Recipe & Linky Party!

This is the dish, that when my husband called at 4:30 in the afternoon in early December 2011 and asked what I thought about him inviting his boss over for dinner that night, I remained fairly calm and said “sure, I can make that happen”.  Never mind that a mere 30 minutes prior to that call, I had begun dragging the large boxes of Christmas decor up from the basement.  Fortunately, I had dusted while having a lengthy conversation with a friend that morning…very out of character for me…I must have had some sort of premonition.  I was a mess, the kids were a mess, and the house was strewn with Christmas decor…not decorated, just piles everywhere.  I did the best I could with making everything and everyone presentable.  Thankfully, our dinner guests knew that he had sprung this on me last minute, making the dinner itself that much more impressive.  This is one of those dishes you would think takes forever to prepare, but in reality you could be eating this in around 30 minutes if you needed to.  Let’s get started!

Ingredients (this will serve 4):

  • 1 pound large shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • olive oil 2-3 TBS
  • 1 can whole anchovy fillets
  • 1 large sweet onion, diced
  • 3 whole carrots, minced (I use my mini-processor)
  • 1 TBS garlic minced
  • crushed red pepper flakes
  • white wine (for deglazing the pan, maybe ¼ cup)
  • 1 large can tomato puree (28 oz)
  • 1 large can crushed tomatoes (28 oz, I use those with basil)
  • dry Italian seasoning mix
  • salt & pepper
  • fresh basil (I chiffonade mine…roll up the leaves and cut into strips)
  • fresh parsley, coarsley chopped

Start by heating a large saute pan over medium to medium-high heat, add olive oil to coat bottom.  When nice and hot add in the onions and carrots.

Let these work for a few minutes, then clear a small area to add in the anchovies.  I know they look icky, but trust me…they add a great base flavor for this sauce.  I usually buy the flat anchovies, but all I could find on this grocery trip was these…wrapped around capers, they worked just fine :).

Then you let them cook down, I help them by smashing them with whatever weapon utensil I have chosen to cook with.  Don’t be shy, they will practically dissolve…not the capers though.

Keep it all working, eventually the carrots and onions will become golden.  Time for the garlic!

The bits will start sticking to the bottom of the pan, allow the garlic at least a minute to sweeten up.  If you are a garlic fiend, by all means add it to your liking.  Ready for a drink???  Time to deglaze the pan, pour yourself a glass while you’re at it ;).

Let it all come together…it will be kind of a mushy consistency.  Now for the Diavolo…HEAT!  This should be to your taste, we like spice…so I add a lot of crushed red pepper.  You want at least a little bite, or it is just shrimp in red sauce…which is delish, just not diavolo ;).


 On to the saucy part of the show!

I try to always have some variety of these two in my pantry…I use it for my spaghetti, I also love making salsa with crushed tomatoes sans basil ;).  Stir ’em in!

Give this a few loving stirs, you want everything to come together…get those flavors all working together.  This is why I wear an apron…so I don’t have tomato sauce on every shirt I own.

Now, I like to give it a taste…then add in the dry spices…Italian seasoning, salt & pepper.  All of this to taste.  If you want a guesstimate, I would say 1-2 TBS Italian seasoning, 1 tsp each of salt & pepper.  You can add, taste…add more.  You can always add, so until you know how you like it…go easy with the salt.

Almost done with the sauce!  Toss in the basil, mix it all up…and let it simmer. 

I find the longer the flavors have to marry, the better…but it can be as quick as 10 minutes.  When you are almost ready to eat…in my house, that means Darling Husband is within sight (he’s been known to get involved in a project where 5 minutes = 2 hours)…drop the shrimp in.  I usually turn the heat up until I have a gentle bubble going on.  The shrimp only need 3 or so minutes.

I serve mine over whole wheat angel hair pasta, but fettucine or linguini are fabulous too!  One day I am going to make my own pasta…I need the pasta attachment for my Kitchen Aid before I attempt that.  I also like to finish it with a bit of chopped fresh parsley…

So, that’s my Signature Dish and I’m sticking to it…for now ;).  What is yours???

Please link up your Signature Dish post below!  Be sure to only use the permalink to the particular post (not just the URL for your blog).  I can’t wait to see what everyone is going to bring to the ‘table’!!!  I would appreciate if you include a link back this post over at your blog :)…if you would like, you can also include this:

Today’s secret revealed…still terrified no one will show up for my party, it is that insecure teenager coming out ;).

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Technical Difficulties

I had a post ready, well in my head ready, and I have been experiencing some serious technical difficulties.  All is well now, thanks to my very brilliant web host Rob.  I wrote to him and told him that I felt like Princess Leia…I said “Obi-Wan, you’re my only hope”.  As always, he fixed it quite quickly…his service is unparalleled, I mean it when I say I feel like his only client.  I never wait a significant amount of time when I have a question or problem.  He is a genius! 

So if you are in the market for a Web Host, please check out Rob Watcher…you can thank me later ;). 

Remember, Blog Hop/Linky Party on Tuesday!!!  Get your Signature Dish posts ready :).

Today’s secret revealed…I learned something today that I really should have already known…BACK UP YOUR STUFF!  I am going to be backing up everything I have over the next week, I would suggest y’all do the same.

My Signature Dish

Everyone needs a signature dish…the one you can make at a moment’s notice…that you know will be a home run everytime.  Mine is Shrimp Fra Diavolo.  It is my original recipe, one of the few that I can claim as my own.  This is the dish we ate the night we got engaged at a great Italian Restaurant that is no longer in business.  I perfected this dish over a decade of attempts…I never had a miserable failure, but tried new little things along the way that finally made it just right.

 I think this is the PERFECT opportunity for a LINKY PARTY!  This will be the first ever here at The Secrets of a Southern Girl…very exciting for me :).  So mark your calendar for next Tuesday, June 19th.  I will post my Signature Dish recipe, and I hope many of you will share yours via the Linky Party!!! 

Today’s secret revealed…my biggest fears with my first Linky Party?  That somehow I don’t set it up right…and that no one links up.  Get out there and find an excuse to make your favorite dish, take some pics and head back here Tuesday!  I’m counting on y’all ;).

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Dressed It Up…For Less!

I’m not talking about my wardrobe…but my deck.  After a wonderful weekend celebrating my Bestie’s big birthday (yes, the big one), I came home inspired by their zen-ful patio.  It has a lovely pergola that is so heavily draped with jasmine that you can sit under it during an afternoon shower and not get wet…there are fountains in nearly every corner…a cozy seating area perfect for wine and conversation…and lovely flowers and plants everywhere.  Yes, it is as spectacular as you are envisioning…don’t you want one?  I do!  Someday I will have a pergola dripping with fragrant jasmine, until then I will have to work with what I have.  I do have a small covered area, the roof above it is tin…so an afternoon shower is lovely on my little sofa, but you might get wet if the wind blows the wrong way.

Since this picture, I have rearranged (again…it is a weekly thing, possibly due to the fact that when it rains all of the furniture gets crammed under the covered area)…I do have some colorful cushions, but they don’t suit my style or color scheme this year.  I moved these turquoise planters to the door we use most.

I love the pink and coral with the turquoise.  I’m in search of coral candles to replace the red ones on my mantle for summer, this is why I love turquoise…it is so versatile!  A close-up of one of the planters…

I know, I need to ‘dead head’ these.  I also like to include something sentimental…so I have a hibiscus in the decorative piece the Besties gave us for a wedding gift.  It does double duty of reminding me of that special day…hibiscus flowers always make me think of Hawaii (we got “Maui’d” LOL).

You had to know I would throw in a couple of things that I decided were worth trying to spruce up before deciding if they belonged in the donate pile.  This decorative garden ‘stone’ has been around for a looooong time.  The butterfly was originally a kelly green, I was never particularly fond of the color.  Last year, I was just about to donate this when I decided to try a quick paint job.  I used my favorite Robin’s Egg Blue craft paint followed by some antiquing glaze.  As soon as I started adding the paint, I knew I was going to keep it.  Here it is, after a year of being outside…

I really love the way the glaze brings out the details.  I had an old foam planter, you know the ones that look like clay, but weigh a few ounces?  I don’t even remember when I bought this…forever ago.  It was in bad shape.  There was a ring around the lower part of it from sitting inside something else.  It was headed for the trash…then I decided to see if I had enough left-over spray paint to save it.  I really love it now.

I still have the option of adding some of the antiquing glaze to give it more character, but I was not patient enough to do that this time. 

How do you dress up your outdoor areas?  I have a patio off the basement that needs some serious attention, so any ideas are appreciated!

Today’s secret revealed…would you believe me if I told you that I spent around $65 on my deck spruce up?  This post doesn’t include pictures of the other 4 planters I did.  My secret…the clearance plants!  All but 3 plants were on super clearance…most were only 50 cents!  The flowers that fill the turquoise planters by the door were $5.25 total!  I did “splurge” on those planters ($30 for both).  The planter I spray painted…those beautifully unusual petunias (the one type is purple with green on the tips) and other plants were a whopping $3.50…I love a bargain!

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