Strawberries are In!!

I get all giddy about strawberry season. I love me some strawberries, and so does my little Pitter Patter. We eat a bushel of them at our house each week. There are times that this can be a very expensive habit! I almost stroked out at the Piggly Wiggly the day they were $6.99/pint. Had to pass on by them that day.

However, it the last week strawberries have come down to less than $2 per pint. I came home from the Western Supermarket warehouse sale with six pints the other day. Since we have eaten our store of strawberry champagne jam from last year, I decided to replenish. Today is the day that I finally have some free time to can jam, and wouldn’t you know it – we’re all out of champagne! Now, normally I don’t make a special trip to the grocery for one ingredient. Goodness knows I’m in there enough as it is. But, y’all, this is one recipe that is worth the extra trip. Homemade strawberry jam is yummy, but when you add in a cup of champagne, it becomes gourmet. Heavenly. Divine. Nectar. Worth the trouble to get dressed, break away from schoolwork, and load the girls up in the car.

I’m sure that if you are reading this from anywhere in the sunny south, you probably have beautiful strawberries available for dirt-cheap in a grocery near you, too! Go get some and make strawberry champagne jam. You’ll love being able to pull it out during the long, cold days of winter!

Taste and see that the LORD is good; blessed is the man who takes refuge in him. (Psalm 34:8)

Mango Poppy Seed Dressing

Hey, Bloggos! I just wanted to pop in quickly on this cold Friday afternoon to tell you about a really tasty salad dressing I found at Publix the other day. We have been in a rut with our salad dressings, stuck on O’Charley’s honey mustard and homemade ranch. I shopped the aisle at my Publix for some new ideas, and their house brand Mango Poppy Seed dressing caught my eye.
Listen, you don’t even have to roll your eyes at that picture quality. I have done it for you already. It was just so much easier at the moment to grab my iPhone than to find my good camera and switch the lenses and download the pictures and edit the photos. Don’t let my poor choice of photographic images convince you that this dressing isn’t worth your time. It so is.
It is tangy. It is light. It is sweet. It’s not creamy or savory in any way. It pairs well with chicken. In fact, the other night I grilled some chicken tenderloin strips and used this as a marinade. Delish!
Now I know that a 17 degree winter day isn’t the best time to try a cold, crisp salad. All I can say is that I ate this beauty for lunch today while sitting in front of a roaring fire enjoyed it to pieces. I used:
Romaine Lettuce
Red Bell Peppers
Grilled Chicken
Publix’s Mango Poppy Seed Dressing
(If I’d had them, I’d have used sliced fresh mushrooms as well. And possibly sunflower seeds.)


Do yourself a favor and get a bottle.
(Publix is not paying me for talking about their little salad dressing. Publix has never even heard of the Hill Hang-Out.)


We had a little birthday in our house yesterday (more about that later), which was good cause for us to try out a cupcake bakery that we just found out about. I didn’t know that such a place existed in Birmingham. I mean, walking in to the storefront is like being a judge on Cupcake Wars. You get to mull over the yummy treats and make your top selections. We walked away with a half-dozen assorted treasures. Here, in their own words, is what we tried:

Mississippi Mud: Chocolate cake with a chocolate fudge filling, topped with marshmallows & a drizzled fudge frosting. A staff favorite!

Caramel Sea Salt Mocha: Chocolate cake with a mocha frosting, topped with a caramel drizzle, a coffee candy & a sprinkle of sea salt. (This one had quite a reputation to live up to. I’d heard a lot about it. I mean, sea salt? In a cupcake? Well, you wouldn’t believe how succulent the sweet and salty combination is.)

Birthday Cake: (This was MA’s choice. I couldn’t find the description online, but it was a yellow cake with chocolate buttercream frosting. There was a luscious chocolate filling, and it was topped with colorful sprinkles. Just right for a birthday!)

Paparazzi: Melt-in-your-mouth sour cream butter cake studded with poppy seeds & topped with our famous almond buttercream.

Naughty and Nice: Chocolate and vanilla marble cake, topped and filled with vanilla and chocolate frosting.

Simply Strawberry: Delectable strawberry cake with a strawberry buttercream filling & frosting. (This one was my favorite!! The frosting tastes like fresh strawberries. Divine!)

Y’all, if you haven’t been to Dreamcakes, go the next chance you get. They are located on Oxmoor Road in Homewood in the cutest little storefront! Lots of exposed pipes and original brick. Very cute cafe tables and chairs. It is such a quaint little neighborhood place. You’ll love it!

Top 2010 Posts

2010 was a great year for the Hill Hang-Out. We had lots of new readers this year, and I’m so tickled you all decided to take a peek into our little lives. As you know, this blog is about a little of this and a little of that, and my most-read posts reflect that. I am nothing if not a jumbled mess of unrelated topics. “Eclectic,” I prefer to call it. Judging from the list of Hill Hang-Out posts you read most often, you are an eclectic bunch as well. Maybe that’s why we get along so well. 🙂 Here are your 2010 favorites:

10. Sweet Shot Tuesday

9. Five Favorite Gifts

8. My Mississippi Day

7. Book Review: Jesus Calling For Kids

6. This Little Lady Got A Makeover

5. The Only Thing I’m Committing To Is Being Non-Committal

4. Home Is Where Your Art Is

3. The Decorating Files

2. Old Made New: Thrift Store Finds

1. Hill Preparatory Academy for Girls: Curriculum Choices

Several of these most-read posts were posted on blog linky parties, and many of my readers have come to the Hill Hang-Out from these fun events. Many thanks to Darcy and Emily for sharing their success with others!

Reindeer Cupcakes

My friend Catherine posted a picture on facebook of some very darling reindeer cupcakes that she and her children made for a Christmas party at school. They were so very precious, and I knew my girls would love to make something similar.

You can use any boxed chocolate cupcake mix or your own favorite chocolate cupcake recipe. If you need a great recipe try my favorite one here. For the icing, I used store-bought cream cheese icing and chocolate icing. I just mixed about half a can of the white into the whole can of chocolate. That gave me the color I wanted. The antlers are broken pretzels – I used the big ones. The eyes are a dot of cream cheese icing with a chocolate chip in the middle. The mouth is a mini Nilla wafer with a Hot Tamale on it. Just cut the end off of the Hot Tamale and stick it on the cookie, using a smidge of icing so it will stick. Catherine used a Tootsie Roll to make little ears on her reindeer. I forgot to buy those at the grocery, so our reindeer are of the earless variety. My girls didn’t even know they were missing.
It was a fun afternoon project and, as you can see, the girls were all smiles about their creations!

Wekend Recap… From LAST Weekend

I love the Christmas season! Honestly, I do! But we move at the speed of light from one activity to the next, which leaves no time for sitting down and writing about those memories while they are actually happening. Since I have two little girls who are a bit under the weather today, which has caused us to stay home from church, I will take advantage of my time and catch up.
Last weekend was actually one of the BEST family weekends we have had in a long time. Because of several family Christmas happenings, both Jonathan’s and my parents were in town, along with Jonathan’s grandparents. Grandma and Papaw Hill are 88 and 90 years old, and have not traveled much over the last few years. However, they got a wild hair and decided to come to Birmingham for the weekend. What a fun surprise it was for us to have them come for a visit! We knew if we were ever going to get them to come back, we better show them a good time while they were here!
On Saturday morning while MA and I were at rehearsal for our church Christmas program, Jonathan took his grandparents for a ride through Birmingham, showing them all of “our” sights. They enjoyed seeing his office, our church, and they took a drive through some neighborhoods where they were blown away with the size of the houses! 

Saturday afternoon we went to the nursing home to have a Mills family Christmas with my precious grandmother. It was such a joy to be able to gather her family together to spend a great afternoon celebrating with her. Almost all of her grandchildren were able to be there. (We missed my brother’s family who live in Dallas and weren’t able to be there.)

Several of my grandmother’s siblings were able to join us, which she was so excited about. She is very close to her brothers and sisters, and she lights up when they come to visit.

Our rather large family came from all over to be here. My dad’s cousin John and his wife Elaine made the drive from Mentone, Alabama. It has been years since these cousins have gotten together, so it was nice to catch up with them and hear about Mentone. We will definitely be planning to spend some time in this beautiful little community very soon!
But the star of the day was my cousin Danielle’s new baby, Luke. He was born last week, and they stopped by on their way home from the hospital. Don’t worry… she didn’t bring him in to the party. Too risky for a little guy! She stayed in the car and we ran out to take a peek at him. He’s a cutie patootie, for sure!

Saturday night everyone came over to our house for a casual soup buffet dinner. It was one of the easiest dinners EVER, and it was a lot of fun. I prepared all the soups beforehand and warmed them for the party. We had Spicy Tomato Soup, Loaded Potato Soup and Santa Fe Soup. I added a fabulous new Greek Feta Salsa that my sister-in-law passed on to me, garlic bread and banana pudding (also made ahead of time), and I was good to go! I enjoyed getting to visit with everybody instead of being in the kitchen the whole time. We will definitely do that again!
Sunday morning, the Hill family all joined us for church. We weren’t sure how Grandma and Papaw would respond to the more rocking contemporary atmosphere at Shades Mountain since they are accustomed to a much more traditional worship style at FBC Meridian, but we were excited to have them join us. They were good sports, and I think they even enjoyed it!
Sunday afternoon, we all went back to church for our annual Christmas by Candlelight program. This is a HUGE production that our church does every year, and the children’s choir always has a part. Mary Anneliese sang with her choir and also was a part of an ensemble this year.
Once again, I was humbled by the fact the my girls get to be a part of a church that teaches them how to worship with their whole heart. Our music staff does not treat a  performance like this as a “performance”, but rather shows the kiddos that they are leading the audience to the throne of Christ. And they do it while helping them build relationships that will last a lifetime. These girls will one day be each other’s support and accountability to keep their lives clean before Christ. They will inspire and encourage each other to greater heights and depths in Him. Can I tell you how grateful I am for that?

Hope your Christmas festivities are well under way as we celebrate the birth of the King of Kings!

Soup Week: Homemade Spicy Tomato Soup

I discovered Edie’s Spicy Tomato Soup last winter. I wish I had a dollar for every time I have made it since then. It’s a staple at our house. I have switched out the bleu chees for feta when I was out of bleu. I have used sour cream instead of cream and bleu once. You just about CAN’T mess this one up. It will be tasty, no matter how you do it.

I have never made homemade tomato soup. I have never even thought about making homemade tomato soup. I thought tomato soup came from a can. It never occurred to me that someone had to make it to put it into the can. I know, I can be a space cadet. I am also, clearly a child of the 80’s because “space cadet”? Really?

Back to the tomato soup. I saw this recipe on Edie’s beautiful blog called LifeInGrace. Edie is full of life, quite the stylist, homeschooler extraordinaire, retired physician, follower of Christ and so much more. She is also a fabulous cook. So when I saw her recipe for Spicy Tomato Soup, I was curious. I made it for dinner last night. It is now my favorite food. I mean, I know what you are thinking: How good can tomato soup be? In a word – unbelievable! The blue cheese, cream, and basil perfectly compliment that tomatoes. Jonathan also gave it two thumbs up. The only change I made was the brand of tomatoes. My grocery didn’t have Cento tomatoes, so I used three 14.5 oz cans of Hunt’s Fire Roasted diced tomatoes. Also, I couldn’t find the attachment for my submersion blender, so I used my regular blender. Caution: If you use a regular blender, only fill it about 1/3 full to blend because it will spill all over your counter and burn your hands if it is too full. Not that I would know. I just think it could happen. Theoretically.

Try it. I think you’ll like. Let me know and I’ll come over for dinner.

Soup Week: Chicken Noodle Soup

The weather is finally turning a little colder here in the Deep South, which means it’s time for SOUP. I love yummy homemade soup, and we will be having a lot of it this winter. It’s easy, yummy, and most of the Hills in this Hang-Out will eat it without complaining. What’s not to love? This week’s posts will feature some new soup recipes as well as some of my “old” favorites. Hope you enjoy!

We spend most of our weekday time on the road these days. We go from ballet to soccer to church to the library to doctor and dentist appointments. We love being on the go and have purposely stacked our schedule so that we stay busy. However, that doesn’t leave much time for cooking elaborate dinners. Our favorite meals are ones that are easy, healthy, and everyone enjoys eating. Now that the weather has turned a little cooler (thank you, Lord!!) we will be eating lots and lots of soup. Chicken noodle is a particular favorite because we almost always have the ingredients on hand and everyone in the family will happily eat it!

This week, I had three leftover grilled chicken breasts in the fridge, so I cut them up and added about three cans of chicken broth, some leftover whole kernel corn, a handful of leftover fresh mushrooms, some chopped baby carrots, and a package of egg noodles. I would have preferred to add about a cup of chopped celery, but I didn’t have any on hand. I boiled it all together until the noodles were done.

Not a gourmet recipe, but one that we enjoy nonetheless. It’s even better that it is full of veggies, it’s cheap, and that my children say, “Oh goody! I love chicken noodle soup.”

Do you have a favorite soup that is quick and delicious?

Evolution of the Creamer

Hi, my name is Ashley and I’m NOT a coffee drinker. I know that might be surprising, even astonishing to some of you who are coffee connoisseurs. But the truth of the matter is that I’d rather drink a Diet Mountain Dew to get my day kick-started. I don’t frequent Starbucks. My coffee maker stays in my laundry room so that it won’t take up counter space. You get the picture.

It’s not that I don’t enjoy a good,  sweet, creamy, dessert-y, cup of coffee every once in a while, because I really do look forward to a Starbucks Peppermint Mocha. It’s just that I don’t require it to get through the day like so many of my friends do. I don’t enjoy paying $4 for a habit that once started, could lead to several daily stops at the drive-thru.

That being said, the weather is getting colder – and so is my house. I can’t stand to be cold. It makes my bones and joints ache and puts me in a general BAD MOOD. (Grandma, much?) The other day I was out of my Diet Dew, which really is a travesty in this house and could lead to somebody getting hurt and/or yelled at. Anyhoo, I pulled out the coffee pot for a little caffeine shot. The coffee was a good grade coffee, but I just am not a big fan of black coffee. I sweetened it, but that didn’t help much. I added cream, and it only improved the taste slightly. There has to be more to the world of coffee-drinking than this. I mean, coffee-drinking is big business. It is a social event for some people. People who love it really, REALLY love it. What am I missing?

So yesterday was in Publix picking up a gallon of milk when I spotted this in the dairy case…

Belgian Chocolate Toffee creamer? Could this be the secret ingredient I have been missing? I mean, toffee is one of my favorite candies. Nobody loves a Skor bar better than yours truly. And this doesn’t look like your Grandma’s creamer. It’s not the white powder fake-milk stuff that’s been around for years. This looks promising. Maybe I should give it a try.
I’m a changed woman.
I believe that the Belgian Chocolate Toffee creamer is, in fact, what I have been missing all this time. It is as if someone melted a Skor candy bar into my cup of oily, black bitterness and changed it forever. It is heavenly. It is better than dessert. And I have had three cups this morning. I might be up for days. Maybe I will find time to write this blog after all. Sure, that writing time might come at midnight when I can’t sleep because I’ve been pumping Belgian Chocolate Toffee faux-Starbucks coffee all day, but who cares!
I did a little research to see if there might, in fact, be other coffee-related wonders that I might be missing out on. A whole new world of opportunities has opened up for me..

And wonder of wonders…
 I think I’ll have another cup. 
Happy Tuesday, y’all.


This morning I woke and thought, “That’s strange. My house smells like burned blueberry muffins.”

And then I remembered.

Hope your Wednesday started off better than mine. 🙂