Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Take Back Bad Produce

By Karla Jones Seidita, Home Economist

I just got back from returning produce I recently bought at the grocery store.  

It doesn't matter which grocery store because they're all to blame.  

They sell produce that looks beautiful but winds up being terrible.

Last week, I bought some gorgeous looking (and wonderfully fragrant) peaches.  I thought they'd be great.  I brought them home to lovingly, slowly ripen. 

Two days later, the peaches were the perfect stage of ripe-ness but when I bit into one, it was pulpy and dry.  Not a speck of juice ran down my chin!

Thinking it was just a bad peach (that can happen), I cut into another, then another and, by the forth peach, I realized it was going to be the whole batch.  They were AWFUL.  It didn't matter that they were "local" and on sale....they were awful at any price!

We live way out in the country and I don't get to the grocery store every day, so I put the peaches into the freezer till I was able to make a trip to town.

A week later, I took them back to the store, receipt in hand.  

The clerk cheerfully took them back never asking why.  I thought it was important for her to know why I returning the peaches so I told her.  I asked her to be sure the peaches got back to the produce manager so he (or she) could see what was going on with their produce. But I saw her dump them into the trash as I left her counter.

I never used to return produce - or much of anything for that matter - but now I seem to be spending 2 days a week at the grocery store - 1 day shopping and the other day returning.

Grocery stores (and I shop them all) spend lots of time displaying their produce attractively and keeping it fresh looking but they should also be sampling the produce to see exactly what they're selling.  

Shoppers around the world taste produce before buying.  It's expected.

We used to do that, too, but somewhere around 1960 as small stores and farm stands gave way to super markets, the practice stopped.  

Now-a-days, tasting a grape or a bit of lettuce is considered shop lifting. So, we buy good looking produce expecting it to taste as good as it looks.

When it doesn't, we throw it out.
What we need to do is return it!

Here's my current list of pet peeves.....

  • Bananas that never turn yellow but rot inside their green peel.
  • Bitter, tough to chew lettuce, cucumbers, kale, and collards.
  • Pulpy, juice-less peaches.
  • Dry, tasteless watermelons (Yes!  Dry, watermelons!!) 
  • Plums that stay rock hard and never ripen.
  • Strawberries that are moldy the day after you buy them.
  • Onions that look good on the outside but are brown and rotten at the core.
  • Apples without taste.
  • Bags of potatoes that contain a few mushy ones.
My list is endless.

Yes, I know I should shop at the farmers' market and I do but, like you, sometimes I just don't/can't.

If the produce you buy isn't good, take it back. Don't be afraid!

Just put it in the freezer until you can get back to the store and return it frozen.

It's the only way stores will know you're not happy.


Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Answering Your Questions About Wine

Monday Morning Post

We didn't have a picture of a glass
 of wine but we did have this
cheezy little photo....
after all, wine & cheese is
a pairing aux natural!
This week our mail bag was chock full of wine questions.

Here's what you asked and here's how we answered.

Q. Are there any vitamins or minerals in a glass of wine?

A. Yes. The main nutrients in a glass of red table wine are calcium, magnesium and choline. Not large amounts of any of them but like all foods, they contribute a little bit to the overall diet.

Q. Does a glass of wine count as a serving of fruit?

A. Sorry, no, but nice try.

Q. Does wine provide the same health benefits when used in cooking as it does when drunk?

A. No one knows for sure.... so, until we learn more, be sure to drink a glass of wine whenever you cook with it.

Q. What wines can I serve to someone with allergies to sulfites?

A. According to the USDA, only 1 percent of people have a true allergy to sulfites. That number goes up to 5 percent among people who have asthma.

All wine naturally contains low levels of sulfites. Many winemakers add additional sulfites to their wine after fermentation to increase their shelf life.  The USDA requires that all wines with sulfites in excess of 10 parts per million be labeled with the disclaimer "contains sulfites."

A USDA certified organic label on a bottle of wine indicates that the wine was made without ADDED sulfites.  Other countries have various standards for organic labeling which vary widely.

Q. Are There Pesticide Residues in Wine?

A. Don't know.  We looked and looked and asked everyone we thought should know with no luck. We're concerned about pesticide residue because grapes are not washed before they are crushed. Washing grapes, say wine makers, inhibits the wine making process.

Grapes, in Virginia, are a heavily sprayed crop. We have been reassured by many Virginia winery owners that spraying is stopped well in advance of harvesting to allow the pesticides and fungicides to break down into natural compounds.

We finally came up with a bit of an answer on  According to their November 1, 2007 posting, scientists from the Department of Analytical Chemistry, Nutrition and Food Science at the University of La Laguna (located in the Canary Islands, Spain) examined pesticide levels in 10 different white wines using a technique called solid-phase microextraction.

The tests found trace amounts of 12 different pesticides that are widely used in grape cultivation in the wine, but concluded that the levels were well below the maximum allowed.

Q.  Making wine seems so complected!  Is there an easy way to make wine at home?

A.  Oh, my yes!!
Wine has been made for thousands and thousands of years by people with far less equipment than modern wineries have.  Wine is nothing more than fermented juice.... any kind of juice from any kind of fruit.  We have periodic wine weekends at Cheesecake Farms and we'll show you how to make an easy, basic home vintage.... no special equipment needed!!   Email us for the dates...


   Our home made wine fermenting !!!!!!


Thursday, February 18, 2016

Tea & A Topic at Cheesecake Farms - A Deliciously Different Group Outing in Virginia's Gracious Hunt & Wine Country

Tea & A Topic
Cheesecake Farms 

Steeped in southern grace and Virginia style, Tea at Cheesecake Farms is an elegant way to get-together.  Stir in a fun but tasty educational presentation and you’ve got a deliciously different group outing.

Tea is refreshment served between lunch and dinner but, in this tradition, we also offer a morning Tea seating.  

Rather than the typical English Tea, we serve Tea Virginia style offering a yummy array of farm baked goodies topped off with plenty of southern hospitality! 

You'll nibble your way around a luscious, cook's choice buffet of Virginia sweets and savories with plenty of hot and, in season, iced tea for sipping. Then, while you relax, you'll listen to your choice of a fun, informative and educational topic.  

Tea & A Topic - an educational class with refreshments!

Served by reservation for groups of 12 or more. 

At Cheesecake Farms, we pour Virginia Hunt Country charm into each and every cup!

Tea & A Topic
Cheesecake Farms
For groups by reservation 

Monday thru Thursday

Choice of Seating Time

  10 AM to 11:30 AM
2 PM to 3:30 PM

$39.50 per person


The Topics

From the list below, choose a topic of interest to your group.  Topics may vary seasonally and are updated from time to time.

Presentations are approximately 20 minutes with remaining time for enjoying the tea and socializing.

1.  Suits Me to a Tea

In this presentation you’ll learn that herbs are more than just a sprig of parsley added to dress up a plate.

You’ll discover the nature of herbs, their nutrient values and how to incorporate them into everyday foods and beverages.

Ideas will be shared for creating your own tea garden of flavorful herbs for crafting into lovely, homey, health giving teas…….   No green thumb needed!

2.     Guests for Breakfast

Laugh along with Inn Keeper Karla Seidita as she shares interesting anecdotes and melting moments about what it’s like to run a bed & breakfast.

3.     How to Make a Cheesecake that Doesn’t Crack

Before becoming an Inn Keeper, Karla Seidita owned and operated a whole sale cheesecake bakery for 20 years in Fredericksburg, Virginia.

How to keep a cheesecake from cracking was her most frequently asked question.

With a little kitchen magic and a few tricks of the trade, Karla will waltz you thru the secrets of a perfect (and uncracked) cheesecake! 

4.  The Elegant Art of Wine Tasting

We'll tease your senses as we waltz you thru the steps & teach you the fine points.  You'll discover extraordinary tastes from even the most common everyday wines. You'll learn to sniff, swirl & sip just like a pro!

Novice or connoisseur... it's easy once you know how... And fun, too!!!


Christmas Tea & A Topic 
Plus Christmas Shopping!!

A holiday program guaranteed to put you in a festive mood! 
     "The Elegance of A Natural, Hunt Country Christmas" 

We'll have our special holiday boutique, too, with oodles of great stuff for browsing and buying!!

Everyday.....Weekends, too.
December 1 thru December 20

Great Program
Great Refreshments
Great Stuff to Buy

Reservations now being accepted. 
Don't wait and be disappointed. 
Limited availability after November 1, 2016.

Christmas Tea & A Topic
Cheesecake Farms
For groups by reservation 

December 1 thru December 20, 2016

Choice of Seating Time

  10 AM to 11:30 AM
2 PM to 3:30 PM

$49.50 per person



Q.  What's the minimum & maximum number for Tea & A Topic?

A.  The minimum is 12 people.
     The maximum is currently 24 but we are creating a new, larger space and are always happy to talk with you about the needs for your group.

Q.  Our group is fewer than 12.  Can we still come?

A.    No problem!
Simply take the total cost for 12 people (the minimum) and divide it by the number in your group.

So, for the minimum number of 12 X $49 per person, the total would be $588. 

If you only have 10 in your group, for example, the individual price per person would be $58.80.

Q.  Our group is larger than 24.  Can we still come?

A.    Email or call with your requirements and we'l see what we can do.     or   540-439-2188.

Q.  Can we come on weekends?

A.   From January 2016 thru November 2016, Tea & A Topic is available Monday thru Thursday.

During December 2016, a very special Christmas Tea & A Topic is available daily – including weekends.

Q.   Can we get the regular topics during December instead of the Christmas presentation? 

A.    Sorry, no.

Q.  What type of foods will be served?

A.  We offer a generous refreshment buffet of farm baked sweets and savories.  The menu is seasonal and always cook's choice.  Offerings may include cakes, cookies, tea breads, tea sandwiches and of course cheesecake!  The beverages are hot tea and, in season, iced tea.    

Q.  Do you serve sugar free foods?

A.  Some of our buffet selections may be naturally free of added sugar but we do not cook, bake, use or offer artificial sweeteners.  Guests are certainly welcome to bring their own preferred sweeteners for their tea. 

Q.  Can you accommodate special dietary needs?

A.  Sometimes.  Please discuss your needs with us before you make a reservation.

Q.  Can we get coffee instead of tea?

A.  Sorry, no, but we’ll have plenty of hot water on hand (sugar and creamers, too!) so guests who prefer coffee can bring their own instant to stir into hot water at their table.

Q.  Are you handicap accessible?

A.   We are not barrier free, but some of our areas have easier access.  Please discuss your needs with us before making a reservation. 

Q.   Can we pay at the door?

A.      Sorry, no.

Q.  How do I make a reservation?

A.   Decide on a date & time plus an alternate or two.
      Call or email to check availability.
      Tell us the number in your group.
      Pick a topic.
      Pay the deposit or pay in full.  (See the Fine Print below)

      That's it!  We'll take it from there!!


The Fine Print

Tea & A Topic is available year round.

Choice of seating time: Morning Tea – 10 to 11:30 AM   or   Afternoon Tea – 2 to 3:30 PM

Tea is refreshment offered between meals and should not be considered breakfast or lunch.

A non refundable deposit of $150 is required to make a reservation.  With regret, no reservations are made without a deposit.  Requesting a date without a deposit does not reserve the date. 

The balance is due 4 weeks before your tea.  Full payment is required if booking 4 weeks or less.

Tax is included in the price.

With regret, there is no credit or allowance for unused or undesired parts of the package.

All individual payments of your group members must be collected by your organizer or other designate and come to us as one single payment. We cannot accept partial payments or payments individually from each member of your group even if they are to be charged.  For your convenience, we accept Mastercard/Visa/American Express. 

Inn Keeper Karla Seidita or her assigns will host your tea and deliver the presentation.  Although unlikely, Cheesecake Farms or its assigns reserves the right to substitute a different topic.

We do not have a dedicated kitchen to accommodate allergy related or religious food needs.

We do not cook with, serve or provide artificial sweeteners.   Alcohol is not permitted. 

Please discuss any special needs or wheel chair accommodations needed before making a reservation. 

With regret, there is no discount for children.

Individual Cancellations
Handle individual cancellations within your group.  It’s helpful to have a waiting list to fill in spots quickly & easily.  With regret, we cannot give refunds for individual cancellations or no shows.
Those arriving late will blend into the group session and allotted time.  There is no extension time for those who come late. 

Group Cancellations
4 weeks before the tea – Full refund less the $150 deposit
Less than 4 weeks before the event – No refund

In the unlikely event that Cheesecake Farms or its assigns cancels your Tea for whatever reason, you will receive a complete refund (including your deposit) - the full extent our liability.



Sunday, February 14, 2016

Good Health Made Easy - Cutting Out Hidden Sugar

Trying to cut down or cut out sugar?
You know it's a healthy thing to do.
It's obvious that there's sugar in cakes, pies and soda but there are lots of places where sugar is hiding.   

Hidden sugar can cause big problems.
Grocery store ketchup, for example, is red like tomatoes but it's practically all sugar. 
You'd never pour a bowl of white sugar over your French fries but it's easy to cover them in ketchup.  To your body, they are both the same. 
Commercial sugar free ketchups are not the answer. They're loaded with artificial sweeteners (which you shouldn't be eating) and are priced sky high.
Here's a quick and easy, home made, sugar free ketchup that tastes yummy and is sooooo much healthier than store bought. 
Adults will find it surprisingly good for dipping fries, pouring over meat loaf, and (with a little added horseradish) topping a shrimp cocktail.
Children with a sweet tooth may not be able to go cold turkey from store bought ketchup but, over time, you can win them over.

The first time you make this recipe, add sugar to taste (white, brown or honey) or mix in some of you usual ketchup.  No need to scare the family with too much health at one time.
Then, each time you make it, reduce the amount of sugar or store bought ketchup you add until you settle on a home made ketchup that the whole family likes.   
Even with added sugar, this ketchup is light years away from the sugar loaded store bought kind....  and it has no high fructose corn syrup!

Quick & Easy, Sugar Free Ketchup

Makes 1/2 cup
Keeps a week in the refrigerator
Not tested for canning

1/2 cup canned tomato puree or crushed tomatoes
             (See Karla's Tip #1 below)
2 to 3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar (or to taste)
Salt and pepper (to taste)
Sugar (white, brown or honey) or store bought ketchup to taste - optional

Mix everything together.  Chill to blend flavors.

Cocktail Sauce
Add 2 tablespoons (or to taste) horseradish to home made ketchup.

Karla's Tips
1.  Both canned tomato puree and canned crushed tomatoes are thicker than fresh puree or crushed and taste more like commercial ketchup
2.  Double or triple the recipe to make enough to keep in the fridge for a week at a time.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Valentine's Day - Last Minute Tips to Get Him (or Her) in The Mood

Happy Valentine's Day!!!

Enhance your romance with any (or all!!!) of these cupid approved, mood creating ideas......

Fill the air with the scents of baking  
Cinnamon and vanilla make people feel warm, relaxed, cared for and loved. Who could resist that?  Bake something or just get a scented candle.  

Cook with garlic 
You've seen those Italian movies!  Enough said!!

Drizzle honey in your Valentine's tea

The custom of the honeymoon comes from ancient Persia where newly weds ate honey every day for a month after their wedding. 

Honey, it was believed, helped the couple begin their life together smoothly and sweetly. 

Spice up things with hot peppers
You'll get a burst of passion sizzling endorphins whether you go Chinese, Thai, Mexican or Creole.

Bring on the espresso 
Coffee for two is a romantic but ditch the decaf. Caffeine perks up the mood, boosts energy and stimulates the love center of the brain.

Don't forget the oysters
You can't go wrong with these aphrodisiacs from the sea.

Serve something chocolate 
The darker the chocolate the deeper the passion. 
These brownies are just what cupid ordered!

Chocolate Covered Cherry Brownies

Just like the candy only better! 
Serve with espresso and a glass of Cheri-Suisse (chocolate cherry) liquor. 
Now that's amore!

Makes 20 (1 inch) squares
Uses an 8 inch square pan

2 squares unsweetened chocolate
6 tablespoons butter (margarine not recommended)
1 cup sugar
2 large or extra large eggs (1/2 cup eggs)
1 teaspoon vanilla
2/3 cup all purpose flour
1 (16 oz.) jar maraschino cherries (drained - save juice)

Position oven rack so brownies will bake in center. Preheat to 350 degrees. Cut a piece of parchment or waxed paper to fit pan bottom. Grease pan. Put cut paper into pan and press lightly to stick.

Melt butter and chocolate together in a medium pot over low heat. Whisk in sugar, eggs, vanilla and 3 tablespoons of reserved cherry juice (save the rest for the frosting). Measure 1/2 cup drained cherries and cut into quarters. Add to chocolate mixture. Stir in flour mixing well.

Pour into prepared pan. Bake 25-30 minutes or until set and a cake tester comes out almost clean. Do not over bake. Cool in pan.

Spread with cherry frosting  (recipe follows). 

Karla's Tip:  Reduce heat to 325 degrees when baking in glass (like Pyrex) or ceramics (like Corning Ware). 

Cherry Frosting
No need to cut the cherries, they smash into bite size bits as you beat the frosting. 

6 tablespoons butter (softened- margarine not recommended)
2 tablespoon white vegetable shortening (like Crisco)
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar (sifted)
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup reserved maraschino cherries (from the 16 oz jar used to make the brownies)

Using a heavy duty electric mixer, beat butter and shortening together. Set mixer on low and gradually add powdered sugar. Stir in cherries and juice making a spreading consistency. Turn mixer on high and beat 3 minutes. Do not under beat.  If necessary, beat in a little more juice to make a spreading consistency.