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Orchids bring back beautiful memories

I admire every kind of flower. I grow as many as I can fit in my tiny garden, even though I am 85 years old.

My favorite flower is the orchid because I remember my first one so well. When I started my career as a secondary teacher, the job included directing the class plays.

After my first successful production, the students presented me with an orchid bouquet, shipped from Hawaii. My students were so proud, and I was proud of them.

In later years, I have been in Hawaii three times, and the orchids are always so beautiful. They bring back beautiful memories as well.

Winterset, Iowa

Awaiting arrival of lovely lilacs

I don't think any flower has a better scent than that of the old-fashioned, pale-blue lilac. It was my mother's favorite, and it is mine, as well.

The first sign of spring for me is seeing the lilacs in bloom. I stand in the early morning sunshine and cut a big bouquet of them. When arranged in a large vase, the whole house smells like spring.

My old lilac bush died, and for several years I had not had any lilacs. Last spring as I drove around town, I envied every place I passed that had a lilac bush in bloom in the yard. I even went to a neighbor and asked for a bouquet, which she kindly gave me.

Last fall, a dear friend and avid gardener planted a lilac bush for me. She dug up the sod, which is no easy task, and planted it. Now, I am anticipating spring. I will have my very own lilacs to smell, hold in my arms and lift my spirits after a cold, dreary winter.

Lawndale, Ill.

Family recalls Christmas cactus

My mother-in-law had a spectacular Christmas cactus. It spent most of the year upstairs in a spare bedroom, and she would bring it down right after Thanksgiving.

There was always the fear that maybe it wouldn't bloom, but not one time did it fail. Delicate, red blooms would open up, and soon the whole plant would be covered. It was such a beautiful sight through the Christmas season, until it was time for it to go back to the upstairs bedroom. It required only a glass of water from time to time.

I don't know how old it was, or how many years Mother had it, but after she was gone, there was nobody to give it the care it had been used to all those years, and finally it just withered away.

Even now, after it has been gone for many years, some member of our family will recall how beautiful the Christmas cactus was when in full bloom.


Favorite flower appeared in time to lift her spirits

After Hurricane Katrina's untamed fury almost reduced my favorite flowers to ruin, I came to the realization that nothing is indestructible.

Over a period of 40 years, my husband and I had nurtured many shrubs and flowers, especially azaleas, camellias and gardenias into a fine display throughout our three acres. They were practically obliterated by falling trees and loggers dragging huge trees over the flowers spared by Katrina.

I refused to venture out to see the devastation up close, and I became despondent.

When we eventually got power restored, another bout of depression followed when I saw the real conditions of New Orleans and our nearby Gulf Coast. I should have been counting my blessings, but a deep feeling of despair remained.

Finally, I ventured out to see the extent of the damage. I was crying, of course, and I really felt sorry for myself. As I crawled and straggled through the area, I began to see red spots mixed in with the brush. They were spider lilies! The bulbs had been safely underground when Katrina bore down upon us.

From my grandmother's garden, I knew the growth pattern of the lilies, but I had forgotten them in my grief. I had planted many bulbs throughout the wooded area, and every September they pop up, almost as a surprise. Only a stem and a bloom appear, and then in a few weeks the foliage arrives. They are so numerous and common in the South that they are not nearly as esteemed as they deserve. The name spider lily does not do justice to this lovely, intricate flower.

Getting through the debris was a struggle, because I am 81, but I managed to pick an armload of lilies. The stems grew longer than usual to enable them to get through the brush.

I will miss what my late husband called his little Bellingrath garden, but I will try to remember the lilies that resurrected just at the right time to relieve my sadness. Therefore, I declare the spider lily my favorite flower of 2005.

Magee, Miss.

Bargain hunting

Everyone enjoys finding a bargain. Whether you save 50 cents or $50, most people would agree it's a thrill to save money.

Where do you look for bargains? What was the biggest bargain you've found? Have you ever found something you thought was a bargain but wasn't? Tell us your stories about bargains.

Send your letters to Kate Marchbanks, 1503 S.W. 42nd St., Topeka, KS 66609-1265.

Eggs are the main ingredient for great-tasting, easy meals

In other parts of the world, scrambled eggs take on a new identity. As our global neighbors know, scrambled eggs can be flavored with just about anything and make a quick and easy meal solution from morning through night. For a change, try the recipes here or invent your own special meal-in-one with the foods you like most or have on hand.

It's easy to make these delicious tortilla baskets.

Golden Corn Eggs in Tortilla Baskets

Heat oven to 425°F.

Fit each tortilla into a 10-ounce custard cup, allowing tortilla to form a fluted, flower-shaped bowl. If necessary, fold tortilla into quarters, place in cup and unfold to rest against edges of cup. Place tortilla-filled cups on a baking sheet.

Crumple each of 3 sheets aluminum foil to form ball about 3 to 4 inches in diameter. Place 1 foil ball in center of each tortilla.

Bake until tortilla edges are crisp and light brown, about 8 to 10 minutes. Remove tortillas from cups. Invert over foil balls. Continue baking until bottoms are crisp, about 3 to 4 minutes. Remove from oven. Set aside.

Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, beat together eggs and pepper sauce until well-blended. Stir in corn.

Evenly coat a 10-inch omelet pan or skillet with cooking spray. Over medium-high heat, heat pan until just hot enough to sizzle a drop of water. Pour in egg mixture. As eggs begin to set, gently turn with pancake turner or spatula, forming large, soft curds. Cook until eggs are thickened and no visible liquid egg remains. Do not stir constantly.

Spoon about 1/2 cup egg mixture into each tortilla bowl. Top each with 1 tablespoon cheese and 1 tablespoon salsa. Yields 3 servings.

There's no need to rush to the store to put this colorful one-dish meal on the table.

Bow-Tie Spinach Scramble

3/4 cup thinly sliced sweet red pepper
1/4 cup bottled reduced-fat Italian salad dressing, divided
4 1/2 cups chopped fresh spinach (about 3 to 4 oz.)
6 ounces bow-tie OR spiral pasta, cooked and drained
3 to 6 eggs
3 to 6 tablespoons skim milk
Parmesan cheese, optional

In a 10-inch omelet pan or skillet, stir together peppers and 2 tablespoons dressing. Cover. Cook over medium heat until peppers are crisp-tender, about 1 to 3 minutes. Add spinach. Cover. Cook until spinach is wilted, about 1 to 1 1/2 minutes. Stir in pasta and remaining dressing.

In a small bowl, beat together eggs and milk until blended. Pour into skillet. As eggs begin to set, gently turn eggs, vegetables and pasta with a pancake turner or spatula, forming large, soft curds. Cook until eggs are thickened and no visible liquid egg remains. Do not stir constantly. Sprinkle with cheese, if desired. Yields 3 servings.

For breakfast, brunch, lunch or dinner, you can please family or friends with these pretty wraps.

Egg, Asparagus and Ham Wraps

3 half pieces multi-grain uncrisp flat bread OR 3 (7-inch) whole-wheat tortillas
3 tablespoons garlic-and-herb-flavored cream cheese spread
3 ounces thin-sliced cooked lean ham
Cooking spray
1 1/2 cups fresh asparagus, cut into 1-inch sections OR 1 package (9 oz.) frozen asparagus cuts
2 to 3 tablespoons water
3 eggs

Spread each flat bread half with 1 tablespoon cream cheese. Top with ham slices. Set aside.

Evenly coat a 10-inch omelet pan or skillet with cooking spray. Add asparagus and water. Cover and cook until crisp-tender, about 8 to 10 minutes. Drain well.

In a small bowl, beat eggs until whites and yolks are blended. Pour over asparagus in skillet. As eggs begin to set, gently turn eggs and asparagus with a pancake turner or spatula, forming large, soft curds. Continue cooking until eggs are thickened and no visible liquid egg remains. Do not stir constantly.

Spoon about 2/3 cup of the egg and asparagus mixture onto each flat bread half over ham. Roll up. Secure with wooden picks, if needed. Serve whole, cut diagonally into halves, or cut into pinwheels. Yields 3 servings.

These flavorful, filling sandwiches are quick and easy to prepare.

Pepper and Egg Sandwiches

1 1/2 teaspoons cooking oil
2 1/4 cups chopped green, yellow and/or sweet red pepper
3/4 cup chopped onion
3/4 teaspoon chopped garlic
6 eggs
1/4 cup skim OR low-fat milk
1 to 1 1/2 teaspoons pizza seasoning
3 artisan bread rolls, halved

In a 10-inch omelet pan or skillet over medium heat, heat oil until just hot enough to sizzle a drop of water. Add pepper and onion. Cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are crisp-tender, about 6 minutes. Stir in garlic. Cook for 1 to 2 minutes more.

In a small bowl, beat together eggs and milk with seasoning until blended. Pour over vegetables. As egg mixture begins to set, gently draw an inverted pancake turner completely across bottom and sides of pan, forming large soft curds. Continue until eggs are thickened and no visible liquid egg remains. Do not stir constantly.

Spoon 1/3 of the egg mixture onto half of each roll. Top with remaining roll half. Yields 3 servings.

Cooking for two causes couples to change kitchen habits

Pillsbury has seen the future of American home dining, and it's coming in twos. By 2009, 75 percent of people in the United States and Europe will be empty nesters, according to a 2005 Datamonitor report.

In a cooking world seemingly dedicated to preparing hefty meals, it's not always easy for empty nesters to transition to small-scale cooking. These recipes were created to help empty nesters adjust to cooking, buying and storing foods for two-person households and connecting to their significant others.

This mouth-watering beef sandwich is a fast, easy dinner solution that's sure to please.

Bistro Beef Sandwiches

4 Pillsbury® Oven Baked frozen crusty French dinner rolls
1/4 cup water
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1/8 teaspoon garlic salt
1 teaspoon olive OR vegetable oil
1/2 small onion, sliced, separated into rings
1/2 cup thin bite-size strips red, yellow and/or green bell pepper
2 slices (3/4 oz. each) provolone cheese, quartered
4 thin slices (1 oz. each) deli roast beef

Heat dinner rolls as directed on package. Cool completely, about 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a small bowl, stir together water, Worcestershire sauce, cornstarch and garlic salt; set aside.

In a 10-inch skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat until hot. Add onion and bell pepper; cook for 3 to 4 minutes, or until vegetables are crisp-tender, stirring occasionally. Reduce heat to medium-low. Add cornstarch mixture; cook and stir until slightly thickened. Remove from heat.

With a serrated knife, cut each roll in half crosswise. Place 2 cheese slice quarters on the bottom half of each roll. Top each with 1 slice roast beef and one-fourth of the vegetable mixture; cover with top halves of rolls.

This classic combination of apples and caramel comes together in a warm, old-fashioned dessert just for two.

Caramel-Apple Shortcakes

2 Pillsbury® Oven Baked frozen buttermilk biscuits   
1/2 teaspoon melted butter
1/2 teaspoon sugar
Dash of ground cinnamon
1/4 cup caramel topping
1 medium apple, peeled, sliced
1/4 cup frozen whipped topping, thawed

Bake biscuits as directed on bag; place on a wire rack. Brush tops with melted butter.

In a small bowl, mix sugar and cinnamon; sprinkle over biscuits.

In a 1-quart saucepan, heat caramel topping over medium heat just until warm. Stir in apple; cook for 2 to 3 minutes, stirring occasionally, until apple is crisp-tender.

Split warm biscuits; fill and top with apple mixture. Top with whipped topping.

Grilled chicken breasts get a kick from a quick, easy coating of Parmesan cheese and taco seasoning mix.

Fiesta Grilled Chicken Sandwiches

2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
1 tablespoon taco seasoning mix
2 boneless skinless chicken breasts
2 slices (1/2 oz. each) pepper jack OR Monterey Jack cheese
4 Pillsbury® frozen crusty French dinner rolls
2 tablespoons chipotle OR regular mayonnaise, optional
4 leaves leaf lettuce
2 tablespoons salsa

Heat gas grill or coals. Mix Parmesan cheese and taco seasoning mix. Coat chicken with cheese mixture.

When ready to grill, carefully oil grill rack. Place chicken on grill over medium heat. Cook 10 to 12 minutes, turning once or twice, until juice of chicken is clear when center of thickest part is cut (170ºF). Cut each chicken breast in half crosswise; top each with half slice of cheese to melt.

To heat dinner rolls, place rolls in foil on grill during last 6 to 7 minutes of cooking time.

Spread mayonnaise on bottom halves of rolls. Top with lettuce leaf, cheese-topped chicken, salsa and top half of roll.

To broil chicken, place on broiler pan; broil 4 to 6 inches from heat using grilling times above as a guide.

Here's a simple, yet elegant dish.

Salmon-Asparagus Biscuits

Heat oven to 375°F.

Arrange frozen biscuits and asparagus on an ungreased cookie sheet. Drizzle oil over asparagus. Bake for 20 to 24 minutes, or until biscuits are deep golden brown and asparagus is crisp-tender.

During last 10 minutes of baking, microwave butter in a small microwavable bowl on High for 20 to 30 seconds, or until melted and hot. Stir in mayonnaise, milk, lemon juice and dill weed.

Spoon salmon into another small microwavable bowl; cover. Microwave on High for 30 to 45 seconds, or until warm.

Split warm biscuits; place halves, cut side up, on individual plates. Top each with tomato slice and hot asparagus. Arrange warm salmon on top of asparagus. Drizzle with mayonnaise mixture.

A Letter From Kate

Dear Readers,

I've developed a real fondness for tulips. They look so beautiful and graceful in a vase, and they come in so many wonderful colors. I remember having them at our house when I was a child, and that's when I became enchanted with them.

I didn't even know we had tulips at our house until my husband and I had lived there a couple of years. That's because my husband, Jay, didn't know what the leaves of tulips looked like, and he had mowed them down with the lawn mower every spring before they could bloom.

One year, he was late with the mowing, and as I was pulling out of the garage to go to work one morning, I saw the leaves and tulip buds just getting ready to bloom at the base of a small tree. I stopped the car and jumped out to investigate. That night, I showed Jay the fragile little stems and leaves and asked him to be careful the next time he mowed. He did, and we had three lovely red tulips that year. They were so bright and cheerful, they made me smile every time I drove into the driveway.

The following year, I was excited when I saw the leaves of the tulips pushing through the ground. I watched them every day, and I was very sad one day to see that rabbits had chewed all of the leaves and blooms. We took preventative measures the following year, and I was pleased to see the tulips once again.

This year, I'm hoping that my tulips will be spared from the rabbits and lawn mower, so that I can enjoy their beauty again.

Kate Marchbanks

Together With God

Spring flowers are my favorites. The deep red of tulips, purple-tipped iris, the bright yellow of jonquils, and the unforgettable beauty of morning glories fill me with the joy of spring. After a long, cold winter of bare tree limbs, seeing those colors make me feel the beginning of spring and the feeling of a fresh start.

I've always regarded spring as a chance to start over. It's time to prepare the gardens, clean out attics, open windows and water flowers. Spring flowers carry a large responsibility in restoring the promise of newness to the world. Maybe that's the reason their colors are so brilliant.

Father, thank You for rebirth of life every year, for giving us beauty in our world to remind us of Your promise. May we always have the brilliant colors of spring flowers to wake our senses to the joy of living. Remind us to smile, to enjoy the warmth of Your love, and to celebrate the renewals of our lives. Amen.

- D. Susan Rutz