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


First off, let’s clarify what exactly a landscape designer or architect actually is. Yes, a landscape designer does tell you what color flowers to put in your yard and which bushes will best frame your windows, but the work of a landscape designer encompasses so much more. Hiring a designer is about creating “good bones” or a solid foundation for your yard. This is an investment that will not just last while you are in the home but, if done correctly, can last for decades. There are many wonderful things you as an individual can do around your own yard but hiring a landscape designer will help you avoid mistakes, and will they will bring the foresight and experience of what will and what won’t work for you!

My number one priority in any landscape project is functionality. My philosophy is that every aspect of your yard or garden should have 360-degree accessibility. You should be able to walk around each part of your yard and plants, shrubs, or trees should be planted where you can easily get to them. Also, your space should be designed specifically for your family. Do you have small children? There will need to be space for them as they grow whether that is a future basketball hoop or a playground! Are you trying to downsize? There is no need for you to have a massive garden or landscape design. Not only should a good designer help design what works for you now, but they should be looking towards the future. Some of the homes that we have worked on require a long-term plan of 50 years or more! A good designer will help you make wise investments about each aspect of your design.

One of the main things that I share with each client is that if you are not planning on making an investment towards proper irrigation and drainage in your yard, the rest of the project is a waste of your time and resources. Why? Because without correct water flow, other aspects of the landscape will not withstand time or outdoor elements. All it takes is one heavy storm to destroy plants without proper drainage. Irrigation will help your plants receive the right amount of water and without good coverage and watering, your plants will quickly fade. Without a drainage plan that expertly curated, your plants will sit in water and, just like any other living thing, will not survive. But if these aspects are done right, your yard and garden will be able to flourish for many many years. If you are wanting to make an investment in your home through landscape design, start with the good bones of proper drainage and irrigation.

While a landscape designer brings much to the table when it comes to your property, don’t get pressured into doing every phase at once! Live with your current landscape and get an understanding of what both you and your yard need! Start with a good drainage plan and after that you can move on to your evergreens, or your trees and shrubs. The last step for your yard is what I like to call the jewelry! This is all the color that gets added to your yard, from planted flowers to window boxes. When you are ready to make this investment in your home, sit down with a skilled and experienced designer who can help you create the best game plan for your space!

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

I have a huge affinity for window boxes in all shapes, sizes, and colors! They are very near and dear to my heart as they remind me of my childhood. My father is from Austria, and if you have ever been there or to other areas of Europe you probably noticed that window boxes play a strong role in the décor and personality of a structure. Growing up in Lawrenceville, Georgia, my dad brought his love of window boxes to our home and that memory has been with me ever since! We had window boxes on every window of our two-story house and my dad even welded a copper apparatus to water them! Each box’s key feature was red geraniums and I just remember looking out the window as a young girl and those red beauties being front and center.

A boatload of succulents!

The tall plant in the center is a Kimberly Queen Fern, the white flowers are white begonias, the trailing plant in the corner is called Jack Frost, and the green and white leaf plant is an Alexander the Great.

A window box can be a great way to easily frame a window and bring color to your home. We use them frequently on our client’s homes and the boxes on my own windows bring in gorgeous humming birds and butterflies! Below I have included a few of my favorite window boxes in all different shapes and colors coming from clients to our travels! Next, I want to share a few of my tried and true tips and tricks so you can have the perfect box this season!

Birds Nest Fern, holly ferns, and angel wing begonias make for a window box that loves the shade!

I wish I knew the names of each plant, but they are a fun and easy way to dress up any wall!

Tips from Me to You

  • Every box should have three types of plants- tall plants in the center, shorter plants as fillers, and a trailing plant to soften the edges. Some of my favorites are pink Angelonia (something tall), diamond frost and pink million bells (filler), and Cuban oregano (trailing).
  • Window boxes are small containers, so you need to maximize the space your plants have to grow. Don’t use rocks or pebbles at the bottom as they take up precious root space.
  • Add as much soil as you can to give your plants the most space
  • The bigger the box the better! Small pots turn into crockpots here in the south- they trap heat, killing your plants.
  • The tougher the plant the better, your box will be taking a lot of sun! The pictures below feature sturdy plants.
  • We love to build boxes for our clients because this way you can get the exact measurements you want. But if building isn’t your forte, check out these boxes from Home Depot.

The white lace-like flowers are lobelia, the pink ones are pink million bells, the green and white leaves are Cuban oregano, and the tall white flowers are diamond frost.