Carmen Cooks: Your New Signature Cocktail

Carmen Cooks: Your New Signature Cocktail

A couple of weeks ago I got to share with you my favorite recipe from Samin Nosrat’s Salt Fat Acid Heat (link) and this week I want to share my take on several great summer cocktails. These recipes are super easy to follow and many of the fresh ingredients are ones you may have growing in your garden or can purchase locally. The mint at my home is growing in full force and I just adore my phenomenal lavender plant so of course I had to use these in my creations! I chose three delicious and refreshing drinks that are easily customizable. The original recipes are accessible through links below, but the following instructions are my take on these classics. Cheers!

Tangerine Moscow Mule

(adapted from Blood Orange Moscow Mule)

Tangerine Moscow Mule


1 meyer lemon cut into 8 wedges
1 mint leaf
2 oz vodka
2 oz tangerine juice
4 oz ginger beer (here is a link to my favorite)
Crushed ice


In the cup, muddle together a lemon wedge and the mint leaf to release juice and the mint’s flavor. I find a wooden reamer does the trick! Add the vodka and tangerine juice to the lemon and mint. I love this little bird-shaped juicer. Pour in the ginger beer and stir. Fill the glass with ice and garnish with lemon, mint, or both! Enjoy!

Tangerine Moscow Mule Tangerine Moscow Mule

Tangerine Moscow Mule Tangerine Moscow Mule

Peach Lavender Sangria

(adapted from Lavender Sangria)

Peach Lavender Sangria


1 750mL bottle of Prosecco
½ cup Altes Fasslager (this is an Austrian fruit brandy)
½ cup triple sec
2 cups of Pellegrino
½ cup lavender simple syrup (you can make this by bringing to a simmer ½ cup sugar, ½ cup water, and 2 tsp dried or fresh lavender and then cooking for 1 minute. Then strain the lavender buds out and let cool)
Fresh sliced peaches


Add sliced peaches to the bottom of a pitcher and top with prosecco, brandy, triple sec, lavender syrup, and Pellegrino. Stir and chill. Cheers!

Blackberry Mojito

(adapted from Blueberry Mojito)

Blackberry Mojito


1 cup fresh blackberries
4 oz clear rum
10 fresh mint leaves
2 teaspoons sugar
Juice of 2 limes
6 oz Pellegrino
Splash of Blackberry Manischewitz


In a food processor, puree the blackberries. Add mint and sugar to a weck jar. I always use a weck jar instead of a cocktail shaker! Muddle the mint and sugar and add the lime juice, rum, and blackberry puree and shake it up! Pour ice and club soda into glasses and then pour in the blackberry rum mixture. Add a splash of Blackberry Manischewitz and stir. Garnish with blackberries, mint, and lime. Salud!

Blackberry Mojito Blackberry Mojito

Photos Courtesy of Gunner Robinson Photography


I hope everyone is having a wonderful summer so far! Whether you are relaxing at the beach, on your way home from vacation, or just trying to make it through this heat, it is time to give your plants some summer love! Following spring and the first chunk of summer weather, I like to call July the “third season”. It’s possible that your plants got fried during these warm days, so it is time to refresh your containers, window boxes, and flower beds. Adding colorstar fertilizer to any new plants will help extend their season. Succulents are also a great option if you don’t have a lot of time for your plants. Other than freezing temperatures, succulents can stay alive almost year-round! Go around and pull out dead or bloomed out plants and see some of my favorites below to add to your containers.


FULL SHADE: This plant needs a little more love and attention but does great on a front porch. Caladiums and Maiden Hair Ferns are just a perfect combination. Now I did not even plant these guys, I literally took them out of the pot and put them into a container with no holes. Both of these plants love water- they are what I like to call water hogs. I give them two cups of water once a week for them to thrive.

FULL SUN: If you follow me you know I just love succulents! They just keep getting prettier and prettier every year to me. Now of course in the south you have to replant them every year (unless you can bring them in every time there is a threat of freeze). But if you are just slap done with watering your containers this summer and you came back from vacation and everything looks fried, just stuff and shove some succulents. They love the full sun and take the dog days of summer.

FULL SHADE: Hydrangeas, tropicals, and any mix of ferns always dresses up any container. If you water your Hydrangeas well they will eventually fade and look antique like in this photo.

FULL SUN: White Mandevilla, succulents, pink Angelonia, and pink Trailing Vinca love the heat and will put on a show for days!

FULL SUN: Boxwood, purple fan flowers, cuban oregano, and diamond frost just love the summer heat and full intense sun.

Since its release in 2017, I hope you have heard of the new revolutionary cookbook Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat by Samin Nosrat and its following Netflix series by the same name. Nosrat’s work boils all cooking down to four simple elements: Salt, Fat, Acid, and Heat . Her philosophy is this, anyone can be a great cook if they can learn to master these four elements. While the cookbook contains wonderful recipes, Samin also explains in detail the use of salt, fat, acid, and heat in cooking. Her stories and years of experience helps any reader to not just follow a recipe but to learn how to cook from the ground up. Along with illustrations for New York Times author and illustrator Wendy MacNaughton and forward by Michael Pollan, Samin pours out her heart and expertise to teach anyone how to master their own kitchen.

Growing up with my father as a chef as I talked about in my Father’s Day Blog I had the opportunity to try so many unique recipes and types of food. My dad’s chef friends would invite us to their restaurants and during trips to Austria as a child I was introduced to food from around the globe. Because of this, I love learning new techniques and new ways to cook. After watching the four-part Netflix series featuring Samin and her recipes, I fell in love with her style, love for cooking, and her techniques. This week I made her Basil Pesto recipe and I want to share this recipe with you all! Below you can find her recipe along with my notes from the process and pictures of my time in the kitchen! Also keep reading to learn about our next giveaway!

Basil Pesto

¾ cup extra-virgin olive oil

2 packed cups (about 2 big bunches) fresh basil leaves

1-2 garlic cloves, finely grated or pounded with a pinch of salt

½ cup pine nuts, lightly toasted and pounded

3 ½ ounces Parmesan, finely grated, plus more for serving (about 1 heaping cup)


The key to blending basil in a machine is to avoid overdoing it, because the heat the motor generates, along with oxidation that can occur from over chopping, will cause the basil to turn brown. So, give yourself a head start here, and run a knife through the basil first. Also pour half of the olive oil into the bottom of the blender or processor bowl to encourage the basil to break down into a liquid as quickly as possible. Then pulse, stopping to push down the leaves with a rubber spatula a couple of times a minute, until the basil oil becomes a fragrant, emerald-green whirlpool. To prevent over blending the basil, finish the pesto in a bowl. Pour the basil oil out into a medium bowl and add some of the garlic, pine nuts, and Parmesan. Stir to combine, then taste. Does it need more garlic? More salt? More cheese? Is it too thick? If so, add a little more oil, or plan to add some pasta water. Tinker and taste again, keeping in mind that as the pesto sits for a little while, the flavors will come together, the garlic will become more pronounced, and the salt will dissolve. Let it sit for a few minutes, then taste and adjust again. Add enough olive oil to cover the sauce to prevent oxidation. Refrigerate, covered, for up to 3 days, or freeze for up to 3 months.

For our recipe, we tossed the pesto with ziti bronze die pasta. This pasta is made with durum wheat semolina rather than bleached flour. Bronze die refers to the way the pasta is made, creating a better texture allowing the pasta to hold sauce better. Boil water and salt generously. Add pasta and cook for approximately seven minutes.

I also lightly toasted my pine nuts before moving on to make the basil oil. Don’t over roast these nuts!

The best method to finely chop garlic is to remove one clove with the paper still on. Slice off the top and bottom ends of the clove then smash with the flat side of your knife. This makes it much easier to remove the paper. Once you have just the clove, continue to smash with the flat side of your knife 2 or 3 more times. Then run the knife through a couple of times. That’s it!

I used a combination of parmesan and pecorino romano. The best way to shred the cheese is with a microplane. This method creates small and perfect shreds of cheese. It can also be used to grate your garlic!

I used fresh basil that I borrowed from my mother-in-law’s garden and chopped first before blending like Samin suggests. Be sure to remove any flowering blooms from the top of your basil to avoid a bitter flavor.

Mix it all together, pour over noodles, and top with cheese. Enjoy!

We are such big fans of Samin’s work, and we want you to be too! Email us at assistant@nectarandcompany.com your favorite family recipe to win your own copy of Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat. Giveaway opens Friday, June 21, 2019 and ends 12 PM Thursday, June 27, 2019. Must be 18 years old to enter. Only open to residents of the United States of America. Winner will be chosen at random. The winner will be notified by email on Friday, June 28, 2019. Only one entry per email address will be considered. If the winner does not respond with their mailing address within 24 hours, a new winner will be chosen at random.

Independence Day is just a couple of weeks away and it is wonderful to watch our nation get into the holiday spirit. With flags everywhere and our nation’s colors on every piece of merchandise in stores, it is time for you to start planning your party or barbeque! Our team here at Carmen Johnston Gardens just loves this time of year as we celebrate the freedom our country represents and those who have worked so hard to make it possible. July 4th is the perfect chance to share this gratefulness with friends and family over good food and fireworks!


When we moved into the house we now live in, Tommy and I knew we had to create a space for entertaining our friends and family. For us, this area is just outside of our sunroom with a long table surrounded by rosemary, lavender, and a boxwood hedge. The best part is the view we have of our pond and the way our boxwoods frame the space. I firmly believe entertaining should not be a burden or challenge but should be something fun and easy so you can actually enjoy the event you plan. This belief is what makes me keep a few go-to party ideas on hand, so I don’t have to stress to make any event perfect. In today’s blog, I want to share some ideas for a July 4th themed table scape that will make any entertaining space ready for your friends and family!

I start with layering my table ware. Build a base with a classic and simple charger. I have a set of burled wood ones I got at an event long ago from Target! This season they have several wonderful and minimalistic options available for you to choose from- check out this link! Next, I use a set of blue and white melamine plates that I found at Tuesday Morning. I love melamine plates because they are versatile, easy to store, and best of all, are dishwasher safe. I am going let you in on a little secret with my choice in napkins. These dish towels from Ikea are my go-to for so many occasions…so much so that I own almost 100 of these! The reason I love them so much is for their simplicity, ability to go with so many things, their large size, and because of how cost effective they are! Lastly, I use a napkin holder from Two’s Company (link) to tie everything together. I love this specific one because they have a place to put a small amount of water to hold a bit of greenery or a flower. This adds a live component to your plate! At our home, we actually use our silver on a daily basis, rather than keeping it in a silver chest. This place setting is a great chance to break out your own silver as it lends a level of elegance to your setting.


Now, on to the floral arrangement! I used some gorgeous vases from Two’s Company (link) in groups down the table. Both the large and small blue and white vases have come from their store. These vases are a staple in my entertainment décor because they go with so much. Also, while I definitely advocate for using planters with plenty of drainage, these pots are great vases because they hold water and don’t have a hole in the bottom. In the large vases I placed blue hydrangeas. My tip for you when using hydrangeas in arrangements is to gather several blooms into a large ball and then use a zip tie to secure the stems. This helps them to stay in place especially if you are moving the arrangement from one place to another. The small vases each have several red dragon wing begonias in them. Both of these are very common garden flowers which makes them easy to find! I don’t have either of these growing in my garden this year, but I have a neighbor who does! I’ve been known as the “garden bandit” around our neighborhood but asking to borrow a few blooms is always a great way to supplement what you already have growing!


This tablespace only took me about 15 minutes after pulling all my supplies together and it was so easy to create! I love finding new ways to use some of my tried and true table staples and I am so excited to share my ideas with you! Tag us on Facebook and Instagram to show us the table settings you create! @carmenjohnstongardens

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to lead a floral class and teach a wonderful group of ladies my favorite arrangement tips and tricks. Every year the Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl holds a charity golf tournament at Lake Oconee for NCAA coaches, professional golfers, and celebrities. The Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl Challenge has given a total $8.4 million to charities since its beginning in 2007. As the coaches and others play across the course, their wives are invited to attend various events and luncheons as the weekend commences. This year we were asked to lead a floral class for the wives and got to spend several wonderful hours creating arrangements, developing friendships, and eating delicious food! 

The arrangements were so fun and easy to put together that I wanted to share them with you!  We used simple and elegant glass vases for this arrangement- you can find a similar one online here. They work best to group several of the vases together! Below we have written out our instructions for the breakaway arrangement and have included images of the types of flowers we used. Also, you can find a gallery of images from our event below.  

Recipe for a breakaway arrangement:

  1. Braid mini lavender callas. Place one on each end of the 4-tube vase and wrap
  2. Weave the curly willow – place on either end and wrap around the vase (Remember this does not need to be perfect…just stuff and shove 😉)
  3. Fill the vase with water
  4. Anchor the ends with mini green hydrangeas
  5. Anchor the center with roses: 4 pink mondial, 3 white vendela, and 3 lavender cool water
  6. Layer 3 pink or purple sweet peas, 3 double pink or purple Lisanthus, and 3-4 yellow or pink tulips.  Remember to remove the foliage and peel back like a banana …it helps the stuff and shove process 😉
  7. Extend the arrangements. Place 2 long pieces of mini clematis one on each end
  8. Fill your two tube vases with water
  9. Anchor the end of the break-away arrangements using your 2-tube vases with flowers like ranunculus (Clooney ranunculus), roses, or tulips.  Nestle your clematis between the vases.  I also love to use confederate jasmine growing from my garden if I can’t find clematis.  
  10. And don’t forget the mint! It always adds a refreshing element to any floral arrangement. 

We love succulents, so low-maintenance! If you are a forgetful water-er or frequent traveler, these are the perfect plants for you. Succulents are perfect for the hot summer sun since they love to dry out. We planted with an Atlanta couple at the Home Depot in Midtown last weekend; check out the video below for a step-by-step tutorial. Make sure to check out the other posts on Planting a DIY Succulent Garden and Rehabbing Your Succulents. A few key points:

  • Succulents like a drier environment. Make sure you are using a high-quality ‘cactus soil’ or mix some sand into your regular potting soil that you have on-hand for proper moisture and drainage.
  • When picking succulents, make sure to choose a variety of colors, shapes and textures for richest look. I love to plant in odd numbers in containers because it makes centering and balance much easier.
  • Ensure your plants have some room to grow in their container with proper drainage. Space about 2 inches apart, and keep those roots in tact when planting.
  • The marble chips polish off this look perfectly, so clean and modern! These were less than $5 at the garden center! (similar here).
  • Make sure you aren’t over-watering your succulents. 2 times a month is plenty

And…. a few of my favorite succulent images

© 2013 | Haley Sheffield | www.haleysheffield.com

© 2013 | Haley Sheffield | www.haleysheffield.com

A small succulent garden in my favorite color pot, turquoise! From my post on How to Rehab Your Succulents.

2015-04-26 08.00.59

If you want to make a big impact, more is more! I love all of the varying colors and textures. From my post DIY Succulent Garden.

‘Tis the season and this gal is jolly!

I am so looking forward to “Christmas at the Cloister” this weekend. It is sure to be an incredible time filled with beautiful designs and holiday cheer. I hope to see you there!


Happy Holidays!

XO, Carmen