Making Perfect Iced Tea: Things My Mama Taught Me (and a few I learned from HGTV)

Making Perfect Iced Tea| How To Make a Perfect Glass of Iced TeaToday I’m resurrecting a series of posts called, “Things My Mama Taught Me.”

I wouldn’t really call myself a domestic diva, but I am a good Southern cook, who routinely OD’s on information. I love all things about hearth and home, I am always on a quest for finding the most efficient way of doing the most mundane thing.

Thus, this series. I’ve got a lot of odds and ends of info rattling about my head, and I figured some of you might find them helpful and/or interesting.

In this series, you will find tips, tricks, recipes, favorite resources, and the like.

Today, I’m going to tell you how to make delicious and perfectly brewed iced tea.

When I was in college and living with three roommates in a two-bedroom apartment, I was the tea maker. My roommates—Southern girls though they were—had no clue how to make iced tea. They thought tea came in a brown powder form in a can.

Sacrilege, I tell you. Absolute sacrilege.

Since then, I’ve been perfecting my iced tea skills, and we always have a gallon in the fridge. I can’t go more than a few hours without a cold glass of tea. Alone, I probably drink 1 gallon every 2 days or so.

Making perfect iced tea is simple. Follow my tips below.

Iced Tea

makes one gallon

In a small saucepan, boil about 3 cups of water. I never measure; just fill up the saucepan.

When the water boils, add 3 family size tea bags. I actually use decaf tea now and have never been able to make any distinction in flavor.

Remove the pot from the heat. Cover the pot with a lid and allow to steep. I think it should steep at least 10-15 minutes, but 30-45 minutes will give you a deeper flavor.

Next comes the controversial part: sugar. I am not a big fan of super-sweet tea. When it is super-sweet, the flavor of the tea is obliterated by the syrupy flavor. If I want syrup, I’ll drink Coke. So, I typically only add about 1/2 cup sugar to the warm liquid and stir to dissolve. (Obviously, add more sugar to adjust to your taste.)

Pour the tea mixture into a one gallon jug. Fill the jug with cold water to make one gallon.

In my ideal world, my iced tea is served over a glass FULL of ice, with fresh-squeezed lemon, and sprigs of mint.

Absolutely, positively perfect refreshment. Ahhhh.

For sweetness/more flavor without the sugar:

  • Try using Stevia instead of sugar.
  • I also use 1-2 drops Lemon, Orange, and/or Bergamot essential oils per glass. The oils give a delicious flavor. You may find you don’t miss the sugar when flavoring with essential oils. *Note: Never add the oils to iced tea unless it is in a glass container. I only consume and recommend consuming 100% pure therapeutic-grade essential oils by Young Living.
  • I periodically experiment with brewing a herbal or flavored tea along with the original teabags. Just replace one tea bag with about 3 smaller bags. I like to use orange spice, green citrus, and raspberry leaf.
  • I also use an Iced Tea Maker frequently now to make iced tea. I do love it, and I think it does a fine job. I bought some bulk cut herbs (raspberry leaf ), and brew them in my iced tea maker with my tea bags.
    Directions: Follow machine’s directions for making tea. Place 3 large bags into the maker. Put 3 heaping T of raspberry leaf herb (or herb of your choice) into a plain coffee filter. Fold the corners of the coffee filter like wrapping a gift. Staple together to close. Place herb pouch on top of tea bags and brew as normal.

Some good fast iced tea options when you’re out:

  • Sonic Route 66 iced tea, half sweet and half unsweet with extra lemon
  • McDonald’s large tea, half sweet and half unsweet with extra lemon

What about you? What’s your favorite iced beverage? What’s your favorite hot beverage? Do you have any tips for making the perfect glass or cup of whatever?


Disclosure: I am not a medical doctor. Any statements made on this blog about essential oil use are not meant to treat, diagnose, or cure any condition. My statements about essential oils are my opinion and are based upon my own experiences and research.

I occasionally feature affiliate links in my blog posts. Should you follow my link and make a purchase or join a membership website, I will be compensated for my referral.

Thanksgiving Dinner Menu and Recipes

thanksgiving menuIt’s not too late to do your grocery shopping and cook an amazing feast for Thanksgiving dinner. I’ll be doing that Thursday, using my mom’s delicious recipes. Follow these recipes and you’ll have an amazing meal, I promise!

Thanksgiving Dinner Menu and Recipes

A Perfect Turkey

one 16-pound turkey, thawed
one onion
two celery stalks
one stick of butter
1 cup of cold water
1 lemon, cut in half
kosher salt
ground black pepper
garlic powder
3-5 sprigs of fresh rosemary (parsley, sage, and/or thyme would work well, too)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Remove giblets. Rub outside of turkey with salt and sprinkle generously with pepper and garlic powder. Inside the cavity, place one peeled onion, two celery stalks, one stick of butter, one cup of cold water, lemon, and herbs.

Wrap the whole bird in heavy aluminum foil, checking to see that it is snug and tight. Put wrapped bird in roasting pan and cover with the lid. Or, to make your own roaster, use two aluminum roasting pans to form a top and bottom.

Cook for one hour at 350 degrees. Then lower the temperature to 275 degrees. Cook for thirty minutes per pound (about eight hours for a 16-pound bird).

During the last hour (eighth hour), lower the oven to 250 degrees. At the end of that hour, turn the oven off. Allow turkey to sit in the cooling oven for about thirty minutes.

Cool turkey completely before slicing.


I know the timing can be a little tricky to figure out. Here’s a sample schedule (I’ll be doing something like this on Thanksgiving Eve):

8:00-8:30 Prep bird for baking
8:30-9:30 Cook at 350 degrees
9:30-4:30 Cook at 275 degrees

Set alarm for 4:30 to change oven temp
and go back to bed

4:30-5:30 Lower oven to 250 degrees
5:30 Turn oven off
5:30-6:00 Turkey sits in off and cooling oven

Move turkey to cool in refrigerator

11:30-11:45 Slice turkey and plate
Noon Eat Thanksgiving dinner

Cornbread Dressing

Make a pan of cornbread according to package directions. Allow it to cool, then cut and crumble it into bite-size pieces.

Chop one onion, two stalks of celery, and three cloves of garlic. Saute onion, celery, and garlic in 1/2 stick of melted butter.

Stir mixture into crumbled cornbread. Add salt and pepper and dried sage to taste. Add 1/2 cup of chopped parsley. Slowly add chicken or turkey broth by cupfuls until desired consistency (about 2-4 cups); we like it kind of mushy but not too watery.

Pour into a greased casserole dish. Bake at 350 degrees for 40-50 minutes until the casserole is browned and bubbly.

Sunday Sweet Potatoes

3 c. mashed yams (sweet potatoes) in sweet syrup (about 40 ozs.), drained
1 c. sugar
1/4 c. milk
1/3 c. melted butter
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 small can crushed pineapple
1 c. mini marshmallows

Combine all ingredients and put into baking dish.

1 c. coconut
1 c. chopped pecans
1 c. brown sugar
1/3 c. flour

Blend ingredients with 1/2 c. melted butter and sprinkle over top of potatoes. Bake at 375 degrees for 20 minutes, uncovered.

Thanksgiving menu | turkey recipe | dressing recipe | sweet potato recipe


Cranberry Sauce and the Resurrection

Creative Commons License photo credit: busbeytheelder

I noticed bags of cranberries in the produce department at the grocery store last week.

It’s not even Halloween, and already holiday meals are anticipated. Most people may not even notice the bags of fresh cranberries in the store. Most people, after all, get their cranberry sauce or jelly from an Ocean Spray can.

That’s how I knew cranberry sauce growing up: a red blob with the tin can shape intact. It didn’t look appealing, nor did it taste all that good. I vaguely remember it being a very tart goo. After trying it early on, I never did again. Why ruin an otherwise savory meal of turkey and dressing?

And then I began cooking my own holiday meals. Inevitably, somebody wanted “something cranberry” to go with the turkey. A few times, I’d purchase the obligatory cans. I never even thought homemade cranberry sauce was a feasible option. I thought it must be too difficult or too messy or something.

But one day—probably inspired by a cooking show—I decided to turn over the back of a bag of fresh cranberries. There was the recipe: sugar, water, cranberries, heat. It was so easy, so simple. And it produced something so fresh, so tasty.

I couldn’t believe I had been duped all these years by tin cans of red goo. (Mom, really, why didn’t you just make your own cranberry sauce?)

Earlier this week during a Bible study class, my friend and pastor talked about the fact that we are “resurrection people.” We possess the same power that raised Jesus from the dead. Our dead bodies will be resurrected at the last day. We are new.

What does it mean to live as a resurrection people? I wondered.

As I tossed this question around in my mind, I came back to the cranberry sauce. The dichotomy between what I knew to be—and had settled for—as cranberry sauce and what cranberry sauce can really be.

The surprise in all of this to me was that homemade cranberry sauce is really, really good, yet I had never known it to be.

The canned sauce is merely a shadow—almost an imitation—of the real thing. It’s like boxed mac ‘n cheese or instant iced tea. The shadow retains some of the trappings and characteristics of the authentic, but is ultimately a hollow representation.

The cranberry sauce in a can? It’s a shadow of the feast that is to come. Homemade cranberry sauce? It’s nowhere near the banquet that awaits, but it’s a good reminder that canned cranberry sauce pales in comparison to the “real thing.”

Life in this world is full of shadows of that which is to come. To live as a “people of the resurrection,” we must not become too cozy here in the shadows. We mustn’t look to the things of this world to satisfy only that which Christ can. We must allow the shadows to prepare our hearts and offer anticipation for that which is to come.

And while I don’t think it’s necessarily a requirement, I heartily recommend eating homemade cranberry sauce every chance you get.

Disclosure: I am not a medical doctor. Any statements made on this blog about essential oil use are not meant to treat, diagnose, or cure any condition. My statements about essential oils are my opinion and are based upon my own experiences and research.

I occasionally feature affiliate links in my blog posts. Should you follow my link and make a purchase or join a membership website, I will be compensated for my referral.

Delicious Havarti Cheese Appetizer Recipe

So, it seems lately I’m posting recipes in response to tweets. My friend and fellow blogger, Brigid,  twittered that she was stunned she had just now discovered Havarti cheese.

That tweet reminded me of this awesome recipe passed to me by my friend, Pam Ferriss. I told Brigid that I’d post a Havarti recipe that would make her cry it was so good.

Get out your tissues and let out your belt a notch. This is gooooood!

(Please note that I’m writing out the original recipe in its entirety as it was given to me. I usually, however, make the easier, quicker version* as noted below.)

Herbed Havarti en Croute
(Heart & Soul)
1 sheet frozen puff pastry
1 t. Dijon-style mustard
12 ounces Havarti cheese
2 t. finely chopped nuts (walnuts or pecans, optional)
1 t. snipped parsley or 1/4 t. dried parsley flakes
1 t. grated orange peel
1 t. snipped fresh dille or 1/4 t. dried dillweed
1 t. snipped fresh basil or 1/4 t. dried basil, crushed
1/2 t. snipped fresh chives
1/4 t. fennel seed
Several dashes ground red pepper
1 beaten egg

Let folded pastry stand at room temperature for 20 minutes to thaw. Spread mustard over top of cheese. Sprinkle with nuts, parsley, orange peel, dill, basil, chives, fennel seed, and red pepper. Unfold pastry and center over cheese. Invert cheese and fold two sides over cheese, overlapping edges. Seal seam with water. Trim any excess pastry from ends and fold up. Seal seams with water.

Place seam-side down, on a lightly greased baking sheet. (Optional: Use trimmed pastry to cut out shapes of leaves or fruit.  Brush bottom of cutouts with water and place on top of pastry-wrapped cheese.) Brush entire pastry with egg. Cover and chill for 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Bake about 20 minutes or until pastry is nicely browned. Cover with foil if it browns too quickly. Serve warm with the fruit. Makes 8 to 10 servings.

*Quicker variation
1 can Pillsbury crescent rolls
8 oz. Havarti cheese
1 beaten egg

Unroll 8 crescent rolls and form 2 (using 4 rolls each) squares, mashing the perforations together.  Place cheese on 1 square of pastry and place other pastry square over top of cheese. Seal edges of pastry (use a little water if necessary). Brush egg wash over pastry. Place pastry on lightly greased baking sheet. Bake at 400 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes, until browned. Cover with foil if browning too quickly. Serves 6 to 8.

Photo credit:
Disclosure: I am an Amazon affiliate and receive a small commission based on sales from products I recommend. 

Cheap, Easy, Delicious Crock-pot Chicken

A few days ago, I responded to a friend’s tweet for an easy recipe for chicken in the Crock-pot.

Another follower and fellow blogger made it last night and sent me this rousing affirmation:

Seriously, the chicken was delicious. DELICIOUS! Have you posted the recipe on your blog? You should. Super-easy, super-cheap, and so tasty — the meat was tender and flavorful.

So, I offer it here for you now:

Easy Crock-pot Chicken
Place one whole chicken in the Crock-pot. Drizzle with olive oil. Liberally (be as heavy-handed as possible) sprinkle with seasoned salt, garlic powder, pepper, and dried rosemary. Pour about one cup of dry white wine* in the bottom of the Crock-pot (you may use water if you don’t have any wine on hand). Cook on low for eight hours.

*I buy the small four-pack of wine bottles to keep in the pantry. They each hold about 1 cup. Those little bottles are perfect for recipes. There’s no waste.


More about cooking with alcohol:

I buy chardonnay (dry white wine) to use in my chicken recipes. I buy merlot or cabernet sauvignon (dry red wine) to use in beef recipes.

Cognac is also delicious in chicken recipes. I have a chicken pot pie recipe where about 1/4 cup of cognac is added to the base sauteed veggie mixture and the alcohol cooks off before the chicken is added.

I add beer to chili and red wine to beef stew. In these recipes, I usually begin with a saute mixture of onion/garlic/pepper/celery, etc. I add the alcohol once those veggies are tender and cook for about 10-15 minutes. I then add liquid to the recipe (broth, tomato sauce, etc.).

Alcohol gives a great complex base flavor to my recipes.

How Sin Deceives

From Grace Gems

The Deceitfulness of Sin!
by Jeremy Taylor

“Lest any of you be hardened through the
 deceitfulness of sin!” Hebrews 3:13 (read ESV here)

First sin startles him,
then it becomes pleasing,
then easy,
then delightful,
then frequent,
then habitual,
then confirmed!

I think this progression is particularly helpful in dissecting how sin takes root in our lives. I immediately turn to food.

As you know, I’ve been blogging about my New Year’s resolutions and my plan to eat intentionally. I confess that I have sinful issues surrounding food (overeating, emotional eating, idolizing food, and so on).

Sin is especially effective when it deals with our senses (first sin, anyone?). I’m startled all the time by the enticement of food. Oh! That looks good. Oh! That smells good. Oh! I have a craving for …

That “startling” often triggers a sense of urgency upon which I must act. I’m immediately rewarded because it tastes so good. Science has pointed out that eating releases endorphins (I think; it releases some chemical in the brain, anyway, that registers “pleasure”), so I’m pretty much hooked at this point. The “pleasing,” “easy,” and “delightful” aspects just affirm my engaging in this behavior. The “frequent” and “habitual” just serve to establish the habit and “confirm” it in the fabric of my character.

Think of Eve. Talk about being startled! A talking serpent with a “pleasing” proposition? It must have been quite startling to hear the challenge to God’s authority, character, and trustworthiness come from that snake’s mouth. The Scripture makes a point of saying that Eve found the fruit pleasing to her eye.

When were you last startled? Did that lead to a pleasing experience? Could it be the planting of sin? Guard yourself so that you see the deceptive progression of sin, which can prey on your sensibilities.

Intentional Eating in 2010

I continue with my theme of “Living Intentionally,” as I turn my attention to my diet.

Ugh. The diet. The eating plan. The “lifestyle program.”

I think there’s just something to the saying that “life catches up” to you. I’ll be 40 this year, and I know I’m much less healthy than I was a decade ago. Fast food, processed food, sugar—it just makes me fat. It DOES.

A few months ago, I started the Transitions program. Transitions is a low-glycemic eating plan. It begins with a one-week fruit and veggie detox followed by twelve weeks of making new habits of healthier eating.

I did OK at first, then the stress of the holidays arrived and my motivation, focus, and resolve to stick to any eating plan that didn’t involve butter on top of butter and chocolate dipped in chocolate vanished.

Today I begin Day 3 of my fruit and veggie detox week. I am doing well so far.

Here’s where the “intentional” part came in: I know part of my failure in the fall was due to inconvenience. When do I eat breakfast? Often running out the door. What is breakfast? Something I can grab.

So, I decided to set myself up for success.

That’s intention, people.

Preparation is key:
I mapped out my menus for the week. It took a long time, but I persevered and tried to be as realistic as possible. From the menus, I made a grocery list and went shopping.

Sunday afternoon, I spent about one hour cleaning and bagging fresh veggies. I washed the apples and grapes. I sliced cucumber. I washed lettuce and chopped it. I washed grape tomatoes and blueberries. All of the salad ingredients are ready to go. A healthy snack just needs to be pulled from the fridge.

I also boiled several eggs. A hard-boiled egg is a great breakfast food or snack. Totally portable!

It’s been so easy and convenient to eat right out of the fridge. Love it!

Sub the ordinary starches with steamed veggies:
I made spaghetti sauce and pasta for my family. I can have the sauce but not the pasta. Instead, I sliced some zucchini, yellow squash, broccoli, and carrot and lightly steamed them. I poured the sauce over the veggies. Surprisingly, it was quite good.

I use these Glad Steaming Bags, which are excellent. You just throw in cut veggies and microwave for about 3 minutes. There’s a handy tear edge. The veggies are perfect. No mess. No clean-up.

Seasoning Is Vital! 
Garlic, onion, salt, pepper, cumin, vinegars. Liberally season the veggies and salads to enhance the flavors. Bolder flavors are more satiating. I pour balsamic vinegar on everything, and I love it!

A Neat Water Alternative
I’ve just discovered flavored sparkling water. Canada Dry makes one, which I like. But this week, I discovered La Croix sparkling water in berry flavor. It has a hint of cherry Icee flavor to me. No calories, no sugar, no artificial sweeteners. Very good. Quite refreshing. And a little more exciting than plain water. I got this idea from a water-hating friend.

I feel good about this second try. I feel intentional. Intentionality for good health involves a CONSTANT reminder and affirmation that every decision is important. Nothing is slight. Every GOOD decision is an affirmation that I’m heading in the right direction. Every NOT-SO-GOOD decision is an opportunity to be more intentional.

This is hard. Oh, so hard. But by God’s grace, I will persevere.

Menu Plan Monday—December 7

It’s going to be kind of a busy week with a few nights out. Chris has music practice two nights this week, Susanna has her first cheerleading practice (and I’m coaching!), and we have a date night this week.

Monday—steak fajitas (I cooked a flat iron steak on Saturday night)
black beans

Tuesday—Asian tilapia pockets (tilapia fillets on broccoli slaw with garlic, ginger, soy, honey, rice vinegar); bake at 400 degrees for about 15 minutes

Wednesday—crockpot BBQ ribs

Thursday—dinner out/cheerleading practice night!

Friday—date night/kids eat at sitter’s

Saturday—Sloppy Joes, baked potatoes

Sunday—dinner at church/Christmas concert

Thanksgiving Day 2009 in Review

I am worn to a pulp but happy and full.

After last night’s marathon prepping/cleaning session, I worked this morning on finishing everything.

The meal was fantastic and my turkey turned out perfectly! Just as anticipated: tender, moist, flavorful. And my dressing? So savory! I made cranberry sauce myself and narrowly averted a sugar disaster. The recipe called for 1 cup of sugar, but I only had about 1/2 cup on hand. (I can’t believe I forgot to buy sugar!) I used brown sugar to make up the difference, and it was just fine.

I am continually amazed at a few things when it comes to hosting family and guests in our home for holiday meals:

  • I could wear my bikini (OK; you know I don’t really HAVE a bikini, but go with the illustration, OK?) while cleaning and cooking and I would still sweat like a pig. With a hot oven and people crammed in the house, I just about DIE of sweating.
  • When I am in the throes of cooking, preparation, and getting food on the table at a certain time, my children are ESPECIALLY needy, clingy, and underfoot. Moving a hot pan of something from point A to point B? There’s a kid right behind me. Balancing breakable dishes in my hands? Kid’s there tugging on my pants. Wanting food, drink, to watch a show, to ask for the millioneth time when we will eat—you name it and my kids are on it. There could be 15 adults within an arm’s reach and every child, every time, would find me, in the recesses of the house when I am engaged in some important and timely activity.
  • My father is LOUD. Very loud. Very, very, very loud. He’s a loud talker; a loud laugher; a loud cougher. And if you want to be heard, you have to be loudER than Daddy. And that gives me a headache. A lot.
  • BIG mistake: raising the issue of the Adam Lambert performance at the AMA’s. Big. Mistake. Somehow this comment digressed eventually to outsourcing American jobs to countries overseas. Huh? I have no idea. (Thanks, Chris.)
  • Wine. Wine is always a good idea at any family gathering. More wine? Yes, thank you.

Happy Thanksgiving, y’all.

Turkey’s Cooking Tonight

It’s Thanksgiving Eve and I almost forgot to post tonight. But you know–I have that commitment to NaBloPoMo and all, so here I am.

Tonight I prepped everything for cooking in the morning and put my turkey in to bake all night. My feet, legs, and back are killing me, but I made a lot of head-way. Hopefully, everything will go smoothly tomorrow and I won’t be so dog-tired that I can’t enjoy my guests. As I cooked tonight, I watched this week’s episodes online of my favorite soap, “The Bold and the Beautiful.” It’s my little guilty pleasure.

Growing up, I remember vividly waking on Thanksgiving morning to all kinds of wonderful smells. We’d sort of watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade while preparing for guests. Mom always chose kind of a weird time to eat, like 2:00 p.m. (We are eating at noon tomorrow. I figure that gives us TWO opportunities to eat, which I love.) Speaking of soaps, I also remember that Mom liked to watch the soaps on and around the holidays. She used to say that she liked to see how they celebrated with their decorations and pretty clothes. It’s true. It’s always fun to watch at Thanksgiving, Christmas, and the Fourth of July.

I want my kids to remember Thanksgiving morning smells when they reminisce on their growing-up years.