Thursday, December 6, 2012

weekly goals


I went back and looked at the last list of weekly goals I made and I'm here to report that I didn't get it all done.

So, this week I'm keeping it simple. See the mess up there in the picture? There is a bit more than is visible there but I don't have a panorama setting on my camera, and you can get enough of an idea of what's going on in the room from the picture.

To clean it up is my goal for this week. I do have other ideas floating around in my head about things I'd like to do and undoubtedly will do, but my one and only real goal for this week is to take care of this mess in that room.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

doing my civic duty


I had a summons for jury duty yesterday. And it's okay if you immediately look away or click the red "X" at this point to spare yourself some drivel on a boring topic on a Tuesday morning. It won't hurt my feelings.

I've been summoned before but I was always exempt. I had a bunch of little kids, but now that they have grown up to the point where they don't require my presence at every single moment, I can no longer claim the exemption. I don't know why Harris County wanted me for jury duty. I'm mean and cranky. I didn't want to go - not because I don't want to do my duty as a citizen but because it was all the way downtown. At 8 o'clock in the morning. There's the parking to deal with, or deciding if I should ride the bus. And then the whole downtown nightmare with its one-way streets and its Famous Last Names From Texas History street names and its down-on-their-luck men peeing in corners. (If you can help it at all, never step in a puddle downtown.)

The bus seemed like a good option because
  1. I got a free ride by showing them my jury summons. (They gave me a free pass for the ride home.)
  2. I wouldn't have to worry about parking my car in the right lot or dealing with rush hour traffic.
But then again I also wouldn't have any control at all over what time I got there or what time I might get home, or truth be told, if I ever would get home again. I also don't know how to ride the bus beyond climbing aboard. Did you know that the bus is dark inside? And that they have white stripes painted across the front aisle that make you think there is a step there when there really isn't? The stripe is there just to make sure first time bus riders try to take a step up on a flat surface. So that you'll look like an idiot in front of all the people who know what they're doing.

I just love it when that happens.

I also don't know how to make the bus stop when I want to get off short of hollering down the aisle at the bus driver. Which if you have ever ridden the bus you may have noticed that nobody else does.

So maybe I should drive my car down there? But then I still don't know if I'll get there on time (there's a particularly meaningful warning in the summons stating that they lock that doors shortly after the start time and if you aren't there you might get to pay a fine or go to jail for contempt but for sure you will have to come back another day, which is the most urgent incentive there is to show up on time.) and now I really have to worry about the one-way streets and finding my way out of there to try to get back on the freeway.

And so naturally I was feeling a lot of anxiety about the whole thing. I didn't want to go because I'm not a morning person and it was downtown. I wasn't sure I could get there on time or maybe even at all and I was nervous about the consequences that would certainly befall me if I didn't. And then what if I got selected to be on a jury and had to go back again the next day or maybe even more days than that, and hear all about some awful, terrible, sad, tragic story that started with somebody minding their own business and ended when some other dude took it upon himself to mess it up in some way for everybody, and "everybody" was now including me. It all seemed like a special kind of hell and I wanted nothing to do with it.

In the end nothing happened. I sat there chatting with the woman sitting next to me for 3 hours. (This is where I'll say that of course it was raining for the first time in months and I had to walk blocks and blocks from the bus stop to the Jury Assembly Building in the wind and pouring rain and show up to jury duty soaking, sopping wet.) My number never got called so I got released from jury duty and went home. On the bus. In my freezing cold, squishy wet shoes.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Insomnia


With my good Mr. Dub out of town for the last week I have been spending my nights laying in bed listening to the burglars rattling around downstairs. And waiting for them to come upstairs. You know, so that it (the battle) can finally start. The suspense is killing me.

One night this week it was super windy and the house was creaking and whistling and there was one super loud creak that woke me up from dozing, and was followed swiftly by a ringing "bong" that sounded like the plumbing coming apart. So I realized while I was laying with my heart pounding that what had happened was that one side of the house had settled/sunk down as much as 8 inches, thereby popping the outside faucet off the main water line that leads into the house. I was pretty sure bricks were falling off the front and side of the house.

My imagination sometimes gets away from me when Mr. Dub is away at night. Sometimes I am okay during his trips, and other times, I'm not. I think it might be related to where I am in my cycle. There is a sort of hysteria/mayhem/headache/fatigue/insomnia thing which comes along as part of that, and then when I add in some anxiety about fighting off the bad guys by myself and my normal routine being out of whack because I don't have him here leaving and coming home at the usual times, and I'm left to lay awake at night and imagine things.

Last night I finally just got out of bed and cleaned out my closet. I ended up with a bag to donate, a bag of trash, stray craft supplies that were relocated, some Christmas decorations that had escaped from their bins were put out with the rest of the decorations, and other decorative items were rearranged and re-purposed into new pretties for my bathroom - two apothecary jars filled with natural and tumbled rocks.

I like pretty or interesting rocks. Some of them I've picked up or purchased in places we've visited, and many of them my children, knowing that I like rocks, have collected for me.

Today I've gone into my closet a few times just to enjoy the new peace and spaciousness. It's a good feeling.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Out of chaos, beauty


At least, getting closer to beauty.

I sewed for hours and hours and hours yesterday, making this gift. It's not done yet, as you can plainly see.

We pulled down the Christmas tree and all the Christmas decorations last night because my Little Friend is inexplicably chomping at the bit to get Christmas up and running this year. I don't remember ever having our decorations out in November, but this year it's happening.

So all of our regular home decoration items have been moved and disrupted and are waiting to be put away for the next month, all the Christmas bins and boxes and halfway-put-out decorations waiting to be arranged and rearranged and otherwise stowed, the tree has been removed from its box, put together and fluffed, but only 2/3 lit and consequently otherwise undecorated because some of our lights apparently got tossed when Christmas got put away last year, along with all of yesterday's "normal-everyday-living" mess which didn't get cleaned up as the day went along because of the hours I spent sewing instead of doing chores.

Have you ever noticed that most times, things get worse before they get better?

I'm not sure where to start on this chaotic mess today, but I do know that there is beauty hiding underneath it.

Monday, November 26, 2012

food waste


Are you tired of hearing about this yet?

This week saw a few things going into the trash:
  • a full bottle of sage. I'm not sure if it started out as ground sage or sage leaves in 1995, but when I pulled it down from the back of the very tip-top kitchen cabinet, which is at least 3 feet over my head, it was sort of fluffy and dusty and had no more fragrance.
  • a full bottle of honey mustard. I thought about this before I threw it out because I'm not sure either honey or mustard ever go bad but it had turned dark brown in the bottle and looked more like barbecue sauce. It must have other stuff in it besides honey and mustard.
  • a handful of squishy grapes.
Things bought by Mr. Dub who promptly went to France for a week without them, and which I must now deal with:
  • a package of fresh spinach
  • 1 1/2 bananas
I already put the bananas in the freezer before they had a chance to get freckled, and I am looking into how to freeze fresh spinach. Maybe if I lightly steam it, then squeeze it dry and put it in a freezer bag? It would be good in quiche or lasagna.

On the menu this week:
  • Try to eat all the fresh food in the refrigerator/pantry. There are a variety of things - a couple of slices of leftover pizza, one leftover chicken sausage, stuffing, eggs, lots of fresh vegetables, some cheese, some pie crust dough. There is not quite 2 cups of pureed pumpkin which will become pumpkin bread that I will give to some friends. I am trying to spend only $10 for fresh food at the grocery store this week. I have also allotted some money for food storage items depending on what goes on sale.
  • I have at least a dozen fresh lemons that I got from my neighbor in a trade. I will try to find some things to make with them.
I rearranged the top shelf in the cabinet where I found the sage and honey-mustard. Now there are things up there that I like to have on hand all the time but that don't go bad, like extra boxes of salt and baking soda.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

making



I'm taking some time while my good Mr. Dub is out of town to work on a Christmas present.

A few days ago I had a momentary glimpse, a vision, you might say, of what my front room would look like if I didn't have all my crafting stuff in there. It would be emptier for sure, but so much more peaceful and serene and there would be so much less accusation and guilt.

While I was rifling through my things looking for the supplies for this project I realized again just how much there is for how many projects and I felt a little overwhelmed and alarms started going off in my head. All I can do now is refrain from buying any more things and make all the still very awesome and cool projects I'm supplied for right now. I've managed to stop the too much shopping and not enough doing, because otherwise I'm no different from those crazies that get put on TV. Whenever I feel like getting more stuff for a new project all I need to do is go in there and remind myself of all I currently own and get going on some of it.

It's a lot.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Country bread



I am making dressing for Thanksgiving tomorrow, from scratch, for the first time ever - up until now I've always bought the packaged cubes or crumbs of bread to make "homemade" dressing with. I found a recipe that sounded good and decided to make it. The recipe calls for "country bread" which sounds fancy and perhaps expensive but I found a recipe in one of my cookbooks for "country loaf", had all the ingredients on hand, and figured "why not?" so I baked it! (What I didn't do was take a pic before slicing into it but you can't tell in the pic.)

It's different, and delicious! It's very large, about 12" in diameter, and if/when I made it again, I will divide it into two smaller round loaves to make it more convenient for sandwiches and toast.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Food Waste Report


There's a lot on the "thrown out" list today:
  • more taco meat. I need to think about whether I should stop making tacos at home unless we have guests. Except for me, no one who lives here likes them, and I have a hard time getting through a lb. of taco meat all by myself before it becomes questionable.
  • beet greens that turned to a black mush
  • some not-so-fresh spinach
  • 3/4 cup cooked rice*
  • 2 Activia yogurt cups that expired in September*
  • 1 can chopped mustard greens that expired in the year 2010*
This week's successes:
  • made some very tasty potato salad with some homemade sweet pickles that were given to us last Christmas, some pickled peppers from a jar in the fridge, and some celery and green onions from the crisper bin. The potatoes were beginning to sprout eyes but I cut those off and the potatoes seemed fine otherwise. Do you find that Yukon Gold potatoes start to go bad more quickly than russet potatoes? It seems like I hardly have them in the house before I suddenly need to use them up quickly.
  • made pinto beans and ham with the ham bone I had in the freezer and a random bag of beans that I think I got for free from the grocery store when I bought something else. I bought the ham a couple of months ago and trimmed lots of meat off of the bone but wasn't sure what to do with it after that. I'm glad I saved it because after simmering for hours with the beans I found a lot of meat to go back in with the beans. The ham and beans were so good, and really hit the spot when we got some cold weather. I made some corn muffins to go with them.
  • found a recipe for a jam tart that I intend to make with a pint of strawberry-fig jam that we received as a gift last Christmas. The jam might very well be delicious, but it is kind of icky looking - brownish and chunky and syrupy - which is why we still have it. I intend to blend it up into a smooth paste and make the tart with it. If we don't like it, well, at least I tried.
  • organized the kitchen pantry a bit and found some things that I had forgotten about.
Meal plan for this week:
  • the rest of the ham and beans.
  • chicken sausages from the freezer with leftover potato salad.
  • cod from the freezer baked with pesto I found in the pantry. I will serve this with a long grain/wild rice mix I have in the cupboard.
  • Thanksgiving Dinner.
  • turkey paninis with pesto from the pantry and some cheese I have in the fridge. I might try my hand at making homemade ciabatta bread, or I may see if they have any on the day-old bakery rack at the store. I will make another potato salad with the remaining potatoes, pickles, pickled peppers, celery, and green onions to go with the paninis.
  • turkey soup with leftover rolls.

*My good Mr. Dub bought these things and never ate them, and my Little Friend and I don't eat yogurt or mustard greens. (I don't think Mr. Dub eats mustard greens either. He bought the one can at least 2 1/2 years ago and never ate them.) He cooked the rice for his breakfast one day two weeks ago and then gave up on it before he finished it.
The blame for the rest of the thrown-out items rests fully upon my own shoulders.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

goals for the week


I had some productive days this week.

Things I've accomplished:
  • Cleaned up a few little piles of stuff that I had made of things I wasn't sure what to do with. They had been there so long that I'd forgotten what was in them. I've sorted, made decisions, and then filed, shredded, put away, and otherwise dealt with everything in those piles. I also went through my "regular" piles of stuff and did the same thing; these two piles - by the telephone and on the desk - are a sort of holding area for things that I use all the time like my address/telephone books and temporary things like coupons, school notes, business cards and other bits and bobs that I might (or might not) need in the near future.
  • Went through two desk drawers and pulled out and shredded old bills and insurance documents that I no longer need to keep.
  • Found a place very near my home that accepts plastic bottles and cardboard for recycling. (The recycling bins at our elementary school across the street only accept paper.) In the true spirit of recycling and frugality I have turned sturdy, waxed cardboard boxes into recycling bins for paper/cardboard and plastic bottles. I have yet to create a system/routine/habit whereby I actually take these items over there in a timely manner, but it's still a tiny step forward. The goal there is to not turn the garage into a hoarded-out trash heap propped up by good intentions.
  • Made some delicious but simple meals out of ingredients I had on hand, which was good because that instantly freed up some room in the budget to get the big, acorn-laden oak trees in our front yard trimmed.
  • Searched for and printed out recipes to use up some of the things in the pantry that will otherwise never be used. I've realized that although some of the responsibility is mine, other people do play a part in this by buying items for themselves that they don't have a plan for or never get around to eating, or by people outside my family giving food items to us as gifts that I don't know how to use. It is my responsibility to eliminate food waste coming out of my own kitchen and at the same time not become intolerably controlling of the other people I live with or an ungracious receiver of thoughtful gifts from people who care about me.
  • Kept myself caught up on daily tasks like laundry, dishes, and tidying up. It really is true that when you have fewer things you have less mess to clean up at the end of each day.
Goals for next week:
  • spend time each day with Jake discussing algebra and the Spanish language.
  • clean up the pine needles out of the flower beds and rain gutters.
  • organize and contain our camping gear. This includes trying to get the musty, mildewy odor out of the family-size tent.
  • get everything out of James's closet and put painter's tape around the shelves and trim in anticipation of painting the walls in there.
  • Organize and contain more efficiently the items that James has kept.
  • work on handmade Christmas gifts for extended family members.
  • order supplies I still need for other handmade Christmas gifts.
  • call a couple of dear friends and set up a time that I can visit with them.
  • stop dilly-dallying about whether or not I should continue with a nasty book I've been reading and just throw it away.
  • finalize the menu for our Thanksgiving dinner, study the sales circulars and shop for the ingredients, prepare as much as possible ahead of time, and make meal plans that use up the leftovers.
  • make and pressure-can stock with the turkey carcass on Black Friday.
  • make a Christmas card list and start collecting addresses.

Friday, November 16, 2012

pantry cooking


Today I cobbled together some online recipes to make a pot of soup that I am calling:

Enchilada Soup

1 lb lean ground beef (I used a pint jar of pressure-canned ground beef)
2 tablespoons dehydrated onion flakes (or 1/4 cup chopped yellow onion)
1 clove garlic, minced
1 14.5 oz can diced fire-roasted tomatoes, undrained
1 11 oz can whole kernel corn, undrained
1 15 oz can red kidney OR pinto beans, rinsed
1 15 oz can black beans, rinsed (I used some cooked black beans I had in the freezer)
1 20 oz can red enchilada sauce
1 cup beef broth (I used 1 cup very hot water and 1 tsp. beef base paste)

Brown the ground beef with the onion and garlic. Add the other ingredients and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer 10 minutes. Serve in bowls and top with tortilla chips, shredded colby-jack cheese, and a spoonful of sour cream if desired.

Makes 3 quarts of soup which I have placed in the freezer for dinner on cold wintry nights.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Cucurbits


Cucurbit:  (ky-kûrbt)
n. 1. Any of various mostly climbing or trailing plants of the family Cucurbitaceae, which includes the squash, pumpkin, cucumber, gourd, watermelon, and cantaloupe.
2. A gourd-shaped flask forming the body of an alembic, formerly used in distillation.
 
I've known for 30 years that I am allergic to watermelon and cantaloupe, and have figured out in the last 10 years that cucumbers really do a number on me too. I'm talking itchy, watery eyes, itching and swelling tongue, mouth, and inside my ears. My stomach and intestinal tract are also not happy when I eat those foods.
 
I've never had a problem with zucchini. Not long ago I realized that is because I always eat zucchini cooked, not raw like I would eat watermelon or cucumbers. Did you know that heat - otherwise known as "cooking" - denatures the proteins that causes allergic reactions in people? It's not a foolproof fix, but it lets me eat a bit of an otherwise totally off-limits food.
 
I thought pumpkin was okay for me. Not so. Having food waste on my mind yesterday, and realizing that I was waiting for two pumpkins to go bad so that I could finally throw them away (pumpkins that my Pretty Girl and my sweet little Buttercup picked out at the pumpkin patch) a light went on and I decided that I would roast them and puree them and freeze them for pies and other pumpkin goodies. (Did you know that the demand for pumpkins in the U.S. each Halloween equals 1.1 billion pounds, most of which is discarded and headed to landfills after the holiday? Meanwhile, children are starving right here in our own communities...)
 
Well, after cutting open and gutting them and generally fiddling with them trying to get them ready for the freezer,  I now know that that whole Cucurbitaceae family bothers me greatly. The skin on my hands was so itchy they were throbbing. I sincerely hope that this doesn't mean I have increased my sensitivity to pumpkin and that I will still get to eat some pumpkin pie next week. Because pumpkin pie is my favorite, and it will really be disappointing if I can't eat it anymore.

I think the word "cucurbits" substitutes nicely for any cuss word.

Monday, November 12, 2012

throwing it out


More food waste this week:
  • a few wilted, slimy green onions.
  • some (more than some, actually, more like quite a bit) freeze-dried strawberries that had turned black.
  • a cup or so walnut halves that I found in the cupboard that had gone rancid.
  • three bananas from the freezer that turned to black liquid when I thawed them to make banana bread.
  • a moldy orange.
I need to be more careful and aware about what I'm buying at the store and then have a more definite plan to use what does come home from the store with me. I am learning something about myself and that is I am very random. "Spontaneous" sounds better though, don't you think? But honestly, I have all these random things in my fridge and pantry and no idea what to do with them. I think it comes from my long-standing habit of buying ingredients rather than meals and will be solved by better meal planning and recipe organization and plain ol' care and thoughtfulness.

It is also taking me some time to get used to buying less and cooking smaller meals which I need to do now that most of my children have flown the coop. I don't have a good sense yet of exactly how many potatoes to peel, for example, and it's getting tedious trying to eat up all the dinner leftovers for lunch every single day.

I also need to have a meal plan and recipes for "food storage" items like the freeze-dried strawberries before I buy them instead of impulsively buying them because they look interesting. Because as it turns out, none of us ever choose a handful of freeze-dried strawberries for a snack or meal.

This week's successes:
  • gave away some powdered fruit drink to someone who will use it. We didn't care for its bitter grapefruit taste. When I bought it I was under the impression it was orange or tangerine flavor.
  • ate the last bowl of bordering-on-stale cereal from a box that had to be either eaten or thrown out. Cereal is something we don't eat much of now that my older children are gone.
  • made nearly all meals from the pantry, fridge and freezer instead of buying lots of new groceries.
  • ate all the lettuce that was threatening to turn pink by adding it to whatever I was eating at lunch. Why does iceberg lettuce turn pink when all other greens turn brown or black? It's a mystery.
On this week's menu:
  • more lemon-poppy seed muffins for breakfasts and snacks, made with two lemons that have been hiding under some other stuff in the crisper bin. I have no idea how long they've been there but they still look fresh.
  • chicken salad sandwiches made with green onions and craisins on homemade rolls.
  • ham and pinto bean soup. I will use up the "trimmings" of the ham to make stock and use it in the soup. I will make cornbread to eat with this.
  • chicken and rice soup using some single-serving size packages of frozen rice/veggie mix. I have no idea where these came from and it's not something I would ever buy but they are taking up valuable real estate in the freezer. (I have had three young adults, each with their own cars and money and agendas, living with me for months in the last year so it's entirely possible that one of them bought these things and I haven't totally lost my marbles.) I also have homemade chicken stock in the freezer that will be used up in this soup. We will eat the soup with leftover rolls from the chicken salad sandwiches.
  • I need to figure out what to do with some leftover homemade macaroni and cheese. I wonder if it would turn creamy again if I add a little more milk while reheating it? And then added some ham chunks to turn it into a new dinner?

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Progress feels great!


I don't claim to be very financially savvy, but I know that in order to raise your chin above the filth you have to live on less money than you make, and that when you owe people money they own a part of you.

A couple of months ago my good Mr. Dub said to me, "I'll never be able to retire, will I?" and that hit me like a ton of bricks. I think I do pretty well managing our budget and I feel like I'm learning more all the time, but time passes like a speeding train and with our kids currently in the "high rent districts" of teenager-hood and young-adult-dom and not a lot of decades left until retirement age there is clearly a lot of improvement that is needed. One of the blogs I read talks a lot about living on what has seemed to me a drastically low percentage of your income in order to retire early and enjoy what he terms "financial independence" but is actually a way of life in which you can do whatever you want including quit your 9-5 job so long as you keep a tight grip on your spending. So I have thought a lot about how low I can go in regards to spending Mr. Dub's hard-earned salary so that he does not have to work at his job one more day than he absolutely wants to.

This week we paid off one of our three loans (which include our mortgage, a car loan, and a home equity loan). The home equity loan is paid off three years early, and it looks like, barring an unseen and very costly emergency, we are set to pay off the car in a couple of months which will be nearly four years early. That will leave us starting the new year 2013 owing money only on our mortgage and freeing up a lot of my good Mr. Dub's salary to put toward our own financial independence.

I think with our new president elected to another term it is even more important to have your financial house in order and plenty of food and money safely tucked away for that proverbial rainy day.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Sorting


About a month ago I went away for two days and while I was gone there was a leak under the kitchen sink. The mopping up of which precipitated a powdered cleanser spill. Consequently everything came out of the cabinet and without me here to supervise the putting back of it all I haven't been able to see/reach/get to the cleaners I use on a daily basis.

So today I pulled it all out and vacuumed, wiped down, did a bit of de-cluttering, and reorganized. Which turned into a whole morning spent doing the very same thing to all my lower kitchen cabinets and my extra pantry shelf cabinet. I did some serious decision-making in my baking pan cabinet and chose to keep only the things that I use more than once a year. I hope this means that it will be easier to get things in and out of this cabinet now that there's more room. I've seen racks that are meant to hold baking pans in a straight instead of tipping vertical position but I wonder if they are more trouble than they are worth, or if there are ones that cost a bit more but are more efficient and sturdy? I may check into that, because I can't deal with fiddly and troublesome in the kitchen even if it looks cute while it's not being used.

While I was down on the floor with a bucket of hot water and some rags I decided to wipe out the inside of the oven as well. I read a tip online months and months ago that you can clean up sticky, baked-on messes in the oven with baking soda and water. Which may be true for some people but not for me. I was left with an even bigger mess and gave up on it and have lived with the slowly browning baking soda crust in the oven ever since. It did come up pretty easily today with plain old hot water so maybe the tip I read is meant to take a long time to work. The oven looks pretty good now and I'm not wheezing and choking from overpowering oven cleaner fumes so that's good and as they say, all's well that ends well.

(I also heard a tip for cleaning the oven racks which I am trying right now and will report on later. I heard that if you put your oven racks in a big trash bag with some ammonia and seal it up and let it sit for a few hours, that the fumes from the ammonia will clean the racks and the baked on orange-brown flecks on the racks will wipe right off. We'll see.)


Also de-cluttered and reorganized is the kids' bathroom closet. I try to keep things in there that visitors might need but I think there is still quite a bit more of that than we will need in a year or so, and not enough of the things that the little boy who lives here will need in the next year.

So I have started a box of items that will live in my coat closet that are up for grabs. Stuff that is still good (like dishes and baking sheets) or brand new (like cleaning products, candles, and men's body wash which my Little Friend with his sensitive skin will never use). Whenever my friends or family visit they can look through the box and pick what they like and take it home.

You know, my own Grammy used to have a box like that. There really is a circle of life.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Bierocks

(Sorry about the blurry pic)

Somebody I used to know a long time ago taught me how to make these. They are awesome. You kind of have to know how to cook from scratch to make them, because how well they turn out depends on how well you are able to judge what you're doing. There are official recipes out there with ingredient amounts and cooking times and so forth but to me this is the kind of food you learn how to make by watching your grandmother or some other family member do it.

Bierock
  • Make a batch of regular white bread dough. Use whatever recipe you normally use for plain white bread. (You could use frozen bread dough but I've never done that and am not familiar with it but for sure let it thaw completely.) Let the dough have its first rising.
While your dough is rising do the following:
  • Prepare according to package directions a box of beef-flavored Rice-A-Roni or something similar and equivalent. I think the rice is not typically traditional for bierock and if you decide not to use it you could either increase the amount of meat, cabbage, veggies, or just make fewer bierocks. 
  • Brown and jab into crumbles a package of breakfast-style sausage (like Jimmy Dean's or Owens) and a lb. of ground beef. I do this with them both together in the same pan. It's all getting mixed up anyway.
  • Finely shred and then chop some cabbage. When you're done the cabbage bits should be about the same size as grains of rice and you'll want a few cups, about as much as you have rice and sausage. Other recipes have longer/larger shreds but I don't want to have to deal with big pieces of cabbage coming out of my bierock when I take a bite.
  • Finely chop some vegetables: onion, something to add color/flavor/texture like a green and/or red bell pepper or a shredded carrot, and depending on how spicy your sausage is, you might like some minced garlic.
  • You don't need seasonings because the sausage is very flavorful and boxed rice mixes are typically salty enough to season the cabbage and other vegetables too. If you use plain white rice you could add some salt and pepper and maybe some beef bouillon granules to its cooking liquid. 
Combine all of your cabbage, rice, meat, and vegetables into a giant bowl. I do this while the meat and rice are still very hot to let the cabbage and other vegetables have just a little bit of cooking from the heat because except for the relatively short baking time this is the only cooking your veggies will get. You'll want them chopped up pretty finely for that reason. Set it all aside and let it cool a bit.

Punch down your bread dough a bit and let it rest for a few minutes to relax it. Cut it into chunks a bit smaller than a tennis ball or baseball. I usually get 24-30 and try (but never really succeed) to get them all about the same size. It doesn't matter if they're not perfect. Roll out one of the chunks on a floured surface into a circle about 6-8 inches in diameter and place 1/4 cup or so filling into the center. Fold the dough over and pinch/crimp/seal the edges very well. (Your bierock will look like a calzone or an empanada. That's the idea here. In fact you could say that a bierock is a German style calzone or empanada or turnover.) Place it on a lightly greased baking sheet and keep making until your baking sheet is filled - I usually get 6 on a sheet. You could let them raise a bit more but making them one at a time like this they usually rise a little and I bake them off immediately and get busy with the next pan. Bake for 18-22 minutes (it depends on the size of your bierocks and how puffy they got while you were working) in a 375 degree oven. Cool on a wire rack. I store leftovers wrapped in foil and placed in a big ziploc bag in the refrigerator or freezer.

This recipe is not hard to make. It is time consuming and there are a lot of steps and then afterwards the mess in the kitchen is huge - flour all over the kitchen counters, bits of chopped cabbage everywhere including on the floor, every big bowl and cooking pot and baking sheet you own get dirty, etc. That's part of the reason why I think that only experienced cooks would make something like this. If you are used to no more effort than sliding a frozen lasagna into the oven or putting cans and bags of pre-prepared food into the crockpot then this is going to be quite overwhelming for you.

But if you can get past that the recipe makes a lot of food and they are delicious and easy to reheat for lunch or dinner for the next few days.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Emergency prep


I made some fire starters yesterday for the good low price of FREE. I would use them in the event that I don't have utilities during a disaster (like a hurricane) but still wanted to eat cooked food or if I needed heat. I would definitely only start a fire outside, not in the house. When we made these in Relief Society a couple of months ago we lit one as a test and it burned for 15 or 20 minutes, and left a small greasy wax stain on the concrete sidewalk. (I should check sometime when I'm at church if it's still there or it has worn/washed away.) Because of the stain I wouldn't want to burn one in my family room fireplace.

I used:
  • a cardboard egg carton
  • sawdust
  • dryer lint
  • an old candle
That's it.

It took me a while to eat a dozen eggs, and save up enough dryer lint. I got the bag of sawdust from a friend with a woodworker husband. The unscented candle is from a wedding I helped with about a year ago. I shaved a big pile of candle wax (which turned out to be way easier than I thought it would be - I used an old serrated steak knife) and melted it in an empty tin can in a small pot of simmering water, put a spoonful of sawdust in the bottom of each egg cup, stuffed as much dryer lint into each cup as I could, then poured the melted wax over everything. I let them set until completely cool and hard and will store them in a drawer in my storage room. I will make more eventually but need to eat a few more eggs before I'll have another egg carton to use.

To use them, you cut or tear one of the cups away from the carton and light the paper with a match. The paper and lint are very combustible and the wax and sawdust keep the whole thing burning for a good while.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Into the abyss


So... I've been sick. Remember a couple weeks ago when I said I was sort of sick? Yeah, well, it got worse.

I ended up in the doctor's office and she gave me some antibiotics for a sinus infection and bronchitis and some antiviral cream for an ugly sore on my nose.

(Lately the skin on my nose gets very upset when I have to blow more than a couple of times. It responds to lots of blowing by getting all oozy and hurty and infected. I need to find a better way to deal with nose-blowing.)

So I have spent a lot of time at home alone in the last couple of weeks. I have been:
  • Taking naps. 
  • Washing my hands.
  • Disinfecting things.
  • Contemplating the universe.
  • Perusing facebook.
  • Wishing that I got beautiful and tragic when I get sick instead of drippy and crusty and ugly.
  • Thinking about my wish to do a "no-spend" month and deciding that it best wait until after Christmas.
  • Looking around at all the things I have to work on and do and create already in my possession.
  • Sorting through some of my craft supplies.
  • Deciding that I don't have to wait for an official no-spend month to stop spending on craft/project materials.
  • Getting busy on finishing up some unfinished projects.
I started the project which you get a glimpse of in the photo a few years ago. Bernat (the yarn company) had a "crochet along" project on their blog wherein you (or I, actually) and anyone else who wanted to join in online would check in every week for a clue (the pattern) for that week and make it. The end result would be an afghan but you wouldn't know what it looked like until you had created all the squares and saw the last clue which was going to be the directions on how to put it all together. I dutifully made all the squares each week, learning how to do new crochet stitches and how to block crocheted items, but still growing more and more worried that I wouldn't like my end result, and sure enough - when I saw the final week's instructions and how the finished project was supposed to look I was sad and unhappy and not impressed at all. So I put the whole thing  away and felt bad and guilty for wasting money on the yarn, and disappointed about all the time and anticipation and hope and dreams for a project I would never love. And I never finished it.

I got it all out and looked at it again while I was sick. I put aside my least favorite squares. I took the squares that I like and lined them up into an afghan configuration. I left it there on the floor for a while while I went to do something else and then came back to get my "first impression". I did this a few times before I came up with something I truly liked. It turned out that to get an afghan that was a good size I needed to crochet a few more squares of the patterns that I liked the most so I did that. And now I am connecting them all together to create an afghan that I will be satisfied with. I found an awesome way to do that that is less time consuming and more attractive (to me, at least) here, since sewing it together (for any knitted or crocheted project) is my least favorite part of yarn projects.

I think it will be pretty. I think it will be a gift. I'm not sure who will get it. I get a lot of gift-giving anxiety when I give something handmade because not everyone likes stuff like that and I don't want other people to have to watch their own homes become cluttered up with crap I made because they can't get rid of it because I made it. At the same time, my own house is already filled up with crap I made so it has to go somewhere. I have considered that I could stop making the crap, but I do enjoy doing crafts and it fills my time. It keeps me both off the streets and away from the slothfulness and consumerism generated by daytime TV, you know?

Speaking of filling my time, I did a real job this week. Where I got dressed up in a skirt and some real shoes which were not flip flops and went and talked to complete strangers for hours and hours, and will be paid by a real company for doing this. I was filling in for a friend of mine whose job this is while she was on vacation, and may never have or take the opportunity to do it again. But it was interesting and boring at the same time, just like a lot of my own "work", and I learned that while I don't totally suck at it I don't really want to do it all the time either. I am infinitely grateful that I don't have to, and also grateful that I know I can do it if I need to.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Food waste


Although I continue to have some food waste, it is better than it was before I was keeping track. I find myself actively thinking about it and planning accordingly while I'm gazing in to the refrigerator.

Wasted last week:
  • one serving size heap of a long grain/wild rice concoction we didn't love when I served it for dinner
  • 1/4 cup leftover green beans
  • 1/3 bottle Caesar salad dressing
  • 2 slices of stale homemade whole wheat bread
Last week's successes:
  • baked the last of the sugar pie pumpkins that I bought a couple weeks ago to can. I had filled up the pressure canner before I got to this last pumpkin and didn't want to run another batch. I've baked this pumpkin and will puree it in the food processor and freeze for a pie to be baked later this month.
  • used up a bit of bottled lemon juice from the fridge and some poppy seeds that I've had in my pantry for years in these muffins. The texture of these muffins was really great, although the lemon flavor wasn't quite obvious enough for me. I will make these again when I have a fresh lemon on hand and will add some lemon zest to the batter in addition to the juice.
  • baked some pumpkin/chocolate chip cookies out of the one jar of pumpkin that didn't seal when I canned pumpkin.
On the menu for this week:
  • Apple pie with pie dough from the freezer and apples from the crisper bin.
  • Bierocks with filling from the freezer.
  • Tacos with ground beef and cheese from the freezer, tortillas from the pantry, and lettuce and tomato from the veggie bin. I am about to lose the lettuce if it doesn't get eaten soon!
  • Chicken enchiladas using up the rest of the corn tortillas in the pantry. Also enchilada sauce and bottled chicken from the pantry, and cheese from the freezer. I will freeze half of the enchiladas for dinner another week. I will serve the enchiladas with some tex-mex style rice made with rice, dehydrated onions, and homemade tomatillo salsa from the pantry, and some fresh cilantro paste from the fridge.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Empty space


One of the things I love about our home's main living area is that there is empty space available to look at. Not a lot, but enough. When I look through/under/between the chairs and tables I can see corners, walls, carpet, baseboards, etc.

It's restful.

I love keeping my bathroom counter cleared off too. For the same reason.

Monday, October 29, 2012

This week's food waste


There was quite a bit:
  • Two cups of wilted, browning spinach
  • 1/2 cup taco meat
  • 2 slices of bread
I took the spinach out of the fridge to make veggie pizza last week and was surprised to see that it was mostly bad. I salvaged what I could, rinsed it off, and put it on the pizza. There was still a lot to throw away. The taco meat I found in the back of the fridge in a ziploc bag. I remember putting it in the bag because I was out of small leftovers containers. Then the bag obviously got pushed toward the back where it was hidden and promptly forgotten. This confirms my theory that too many leftovers in the refrigerator leads to wasted food. The bread was in the freezer and when I took it out to thaw to make some french toast I noticed that there was a lot of ice crystals in bottom of the bag which I dumped out so that the bread wouldn't absorb the water and become soggy when the ice melted. Well, instead of soggy two of the slices were rock hard and maybe a little bit freezer burned too. Lesson learned: the freezer is not the answer to all my leftover food storage problems.

This week's successes:
  • Instead of tossing out the whole package of spinach when I saw that some of it had "turned" I picked through and got the leaves that were still good. In the past I would have thrown away the whole box without seeing if any of it was still usable. Same thing with the leftover stale bread.
  • The spinach/tomato pizza was good. But my sweet little Buttercup does NOT like "lettuce" and sliced tomatoes on what would otherwise be tasty pizza.
  • I ate simple foods at home this week when I was hungry instead of buying pre-made or drive-thru food while I've been sick.

On the dinner menu this week:
  • Homemade chili made with ground beef and black beans from the freezer and homemade cornbread.
  • Broccoli/rice/chicken casserole from the freezer.
  • Chicken sausages and homemade macaroni and cheese.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

finished!


I finished up the latest afghan this morning. I really like the color combination in it: medium and dark blues, turquoise, teal, spring green, kelly green, and yellow.

Stats:
  • 57" x  61"
  • 100% acrylic vworsted weight yarn (easy care: machine wash cold, tumble dry low)
  • Mostly scrappy with a few newly purchased skeins in order to get it to a good size and keep it in the same color pattern.
Next up is this pattern. I hope that it will be truly scrappy. Meaning that I won't have to buy any more skeins of yarn to finish it, even though I only need a few additional ounces, thereby creating even more leftovers. Did I ever mention that I have a lot of yarn?

Monday, October 22, 2012

food waste report


Last week I threw out about 2/3 cup leftover chicken gravy that, when I went to add it to some pot-pie filling, looked watery. It had separated somehow and you know how it goes - better safe than sorry. My goal is NOT to eat spoiled food, but to use it up before it spoils.

That's it. I think I am doing much better but I'm still shooting for zero food waste. (This does not include food that gets scraped off of Buttercup's plate that she refused to eat. That's not my fault, and I'm far too squeamish to stir "tasted" food back in to the family pot.)

Successes:
  • Made a chicken pot pie with the trimmings of some pie dough. (This worked fine although I wasn't sure about it when I started. I do have issues with homemade pie dough, remember?) Also used up some celery, onion and carrots in the crisper bin, some freeze-dried peas from the pantry, and some leftover rotisserie chicken. I think this was up-cycling at its finest.
  • Made a cheesy ham and potato casserole with some small potatoes and some ham from the freezer. Also used up some of the cheese in the deli drawer of the fridge. The cheese sauce did not separate this time, although the potatoes were a little too al dente. If I had cooked it a bit longer, would the sauce have curdled? We'll never know.
  • Took some beautiful, fresh, red seedless grapes to a baby shower. The hostess had asked me to help with the food by bringing a fruit tray and instead of going out and buying more for a variety I used only what I had on hand and arranged the clusters in an appealing way.
Meal plan for this week:
  • Still need to make that veggie pizza and use up some fresh spinach leaves and a tomato that I have on hand.
  • Spaghetti and meatballs with homemade french bread on the side. I'm excited to try this recipe.
  • Chicken/rice casserole with iceberg lettuce salad.
  • Chicken sausages with macaroni salad.
  • Maybe a pot of pinto beans made with a ham bone that I have in the freezer (but only if we run out of leftovers).

Saturday, October 20, 2012

staying at home


It's kind of nice when you get mildly sick - not so sick that you can't think straight but just sick enough that you should stay home and not infect everybody. A sore, ticklish throat, some mild chest congestion, headache, earache, and feelin' kinda droopy.

Yesterday and today I have been just enough sick. I pressure-canned 12 pints of sugar pie pumpkin for pumpkin pie, pumpkin bread, and pumpkin chocolate chip cookies, and today I worked my way through to the bottom of the mending pile. It feels good to have some of my work done.

I saved some of the seeds from inside the pumpkins to plant next spring. Maybe they'll grow and next year I'll have free pumpkins to can. Wouldn't it be cool if I didn't have to buy food to can? If I just grew some in the backyard instead?

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Guilty pleasures


 the author as a young child*
 
Do you read People Magazine? Where stars, starlets, and celebrities gush about how perfect their lives are, and only reluctantly admit that they are also anonymous philanthropists changing the world one famous person at a time? Do you believe that schtick?

Then Suri's Burn Book is NOT for you. On this website you'll get a daily serving of snark. I love it. It must be because it's not written by a starlet, only some anonymous someone pretending to be a famous and over-photographed celebrity.

* I seriously doubt Suri Cruise has anything at all to do with Suri's Burn Book. It would make me very happy to find out Katie Holmes was ghost-writing it. I'd have a kind of renewed faith in the future of the world.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Unloading


I have a lot of yarn. When I say I have a lot of yarn, I don't mean that I have more yarn than I have projects in mind. I mean I have more yarn than two people have projects in mind - about a hundred years' worth - because I inherited almost all of it from my grandmother when she died.

I don't know if she meant for me to take it all. I think it was the logical answer for the people who were cleaning out her things to bring it all to me because I do like to do yarn crafts, and because it was the easiest thing to do since I live in the same state, and I'm sure it was one big item to check off their to-do lists. I am telling myself that that is the way it was because right now, nearly five years after my grandmother's death, I know that I do not wish to use a lot of it. First, because it's not the kind of yarn that fits my taste, and second, it's tangled up with cat hair that makes me sneezy and drippy when I work with it.

I do feel some guilt about this. I have to tell myself that keeping her yarn doesn't keep her close to me. She's gone. She isn't coming back for it. I don't believe, way down deep in my heart, that keeping it safe in a drawer for the rest of my life and bequeathing it on to future generations the way she did is what she expects or wishes me to do with it. I don't believe that she expects me to knit the same kind of sweaters that she did for that reason only. At some point someone in the family has to say, "The diligent keeping of hundreds of scraps of yarn stops here." It may as well be me.

I have made multiple blankets and dozens and dozens of mittens with her yarn in an attempt to use it up. I recently came across a pattern that will use up a few more of the hundreds of "leftover" small balls of yarn that I have from her.

I have decided that when this blanket is finished I will gift it to a lonely widower in a VA nursing home. And then I will donate however much of her yarn is left to the "craft room" at the first nursing home I can find that has one.

If anyone is not happy with this, this is your official notice. If me keeping Grammy's yarn at my house keeps her close to you, I have to tell you that I've done as much as I can for you. You can come by anytime in the next three months and take all this yarn into your own home.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

I sense a disturbance in the force


and that means it must be time to do more de-cluttering.

Even after that whole "40 bags in 40 days" thing I did earlier this year there is still just SO MUCH STUFF in this house that it is disturbing and unsettling to me. It actually keeps me awake some nights. It is true that there is much, much less, and my desk - trumpet fanfare, please - has been clear for days, but there are still lots of times when I'm looking around at the end of the day, ready to simply tidy up so I can go to bed, and I have no idea where to start because there is so much stuff everywhere. I have come to realize that it is going to take several rounds of going through and deciding on each individual thing before I get the volume of our possessions to a level where I am totally comfortable in this house. For example, I cannot now remember the reasons I had for keeping some of the items in my closet the last time I purged through there, and have my eye on quite a few things that I am now ready to let go of.

That reality is part of my incentive to consider a "no spend" month. To really get to the bottom of the barrel, so to speak, and use up the dregs in the pantry and in the craft room, in the closets and under the sinks. What if we finally ate those cans of weird, inexplicable food loitering in the back of the pantry? What if I could finish enough projects that I have partially completed or have not started but have gathered the materials for? Could I get the remaining tools and supplies into a craft closet like that picture up there instead of spread out all over 1/3 of the downstairs because there is just so much? I think I could do a no-spend 6 months for many things actually, but I'm not sure my poor, spendy, consumerist heart could take 6 whole months. There is something about retail therapy in a craft or fabric store that makes me feel temporarily good, no matter how much I dislike that about myself. A craft/fabric store is just so full of color, and design, and promises of fun and self-fulfillment and the possible joy of creating some awesome thing that someone I love will love and appreciate.

I have been a little lonesome missing my two older boys and my husband who is in France on business this week. Buying more things isn't going to change that, but what do I do instead of shopping that will fill that void? I know that this is a big part of figuring it all out.

Monday, October 15, 2012

this week's food waste

Into the trash goes:
  1. a half-full bowl of ravioli that Avery started weeks (?) ago but never finished.
  2. one bunch of wilted/yellowing parsley. I never made what I bought it for.
On the menu this week to use up the stuff in the fridge:
  1. chicken pot pie which will use up leftover rotisserie chicken, a few small potatoes that are rolling around in the potato basket, some carrots and celery (that I took on an outing for snacks but got partially frozen in a fridge that was set too cold - they've lost their fresh quality but will be fine to be chopped up and sauteed), a few slices of bacon, about 2/3 cup leftover chicken gravy, with some pie crust trimmings re-rolled and made into the top pastry.
  2. a veggie pizza with fresh spinach, tomato and onion.
  3. a small cheesy ham and potato casserole with some leftover Velveeta and other random cheeses in the deli drawer, the rest of those little potatoes, some chopped onion, and a bit of ham that I have in the freezer.
  4. tacos and cilantro/lime rice for lunch for me one day.
Successes:
  1. I came up with a new way to cook/flavor rice based on a dish I had heard about but not seen a recipe for: cook 1/4 cup chopped onion in a tablespoon of butter and a tablespoon of olive oil for a couple of minutes. Add 1 cup rice. Saute, stirring occasionally until some of the rice grains begin to turn golden brown. Add 2 teaspoons chicken bouillon granules and 1 3/4 cup water. Bring to a boil and cover; turn heat to low. Cook for 17 minutes, turn off heat and mix in 1 tablespoon cilantro paste and 1 tablespoon lime juice. I made this for a small dinner party I had this week and it was a big hit. I get the cilantro paste at Walmart. I don't buy (and throw away most of) fresh cilantro in bunches anymore because it goes bad too quickly.
  2. Instead of going through the drive-thru or eating frozen prepared food from the store for dinner on an unusually hectic day wherein we needed good, hot food in a hurry I bought a rotisserie chicken. We ate some leftover mashed potatoes and green beans with it. By the time it's gone we will have had at least 3 meals out of it. Thank you to my good Mr. Dub for suggesting the chicken.
I am thinking about doing some kind of "No Spend" month in the near future. I am not sure I can do it, or even how much I really want to do it.  I'm just thinking about it at this point. Have you ever heard of it, done a no-spend month, or talked to anyone who had? What boundaries would you set for yourself for necessary spending in this sort of experiment?

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Enchiladas - bah!


They are a lot of work. I started making my chicken enchiladas today, got all my components ready and an assembly line set up, actually made two enchiladas, thought about how fussy and messy the process is and how it's impossible to get them out of the baking dish whole and intact anyway and then decided it would be a lot easier to make it into a layered casserole in the pan and then cut it into enchilada-shaped pieces to serve. So that's what I did.

It's ready to go and in the fridge waiting to be baked off at suppertime. I wish I had some canned pinto beans ready to make into refried beans. Maybe "can some pinto beans" will go onto next week's goals list. We do still have some really good apple pie for dessert.

I have been sorting and organizing photos today because tomorrow - TA DA! - I am headed off for a fun-filled scrapbooking adventure.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Perfect pie crust


That sounds like such a Suzy Homemaker thing to say, but I gave up on homemade pie crust a long time ago. Years and years ago. I tried so hard, but it just wasn't worth the hassle once Pillsbury came up with pre-rolled crust. I can't seem to find online what year they invented rolled out pie crust but it's been since I was married to my good Mr. Dub. You used to have to buy them frozen in an aluminum pie tin if you wanted pre-made crusts. Remember those? They were so, well, dinky. They always burned around the edges too, remember?

One day I was watching the Barefoot Contessa make crust on her show. I like The Contessa because she's friendly and real and she loves her husband. Anyway. I didn't have any Pillsbury crusts (which thing I almost always have on hand but for unknown reasons did not have this one particular day) and I wanted to make either a pie or a quiche and despite knowing better than to even try to make pie crust again I did it like she did. In my food processor. And for the first time ever I did not slice one or the other of my hands nor any fingers wide open in the process of either using or washing or putting away the food processor. It was like a miracle and I figured it must be a good omen. The recipe made two crusts so I stashed half the dough in the freezer even though I knew that was a big mistake because I can't make pie crust. (I had made my peace with that fact though. Nobody can do everything.) I chilled the other half of the dough for a little while and then I rolled it out.

It sounds like such a non-event. "I rolled it out". Huh.

But I did. I rolled it out and baked my pie. Weeks later (last week, actually) I thawed and then rolled out the other half. It just laid down and let me roll it out. No crumbling mess. No sticking to the counter. No tearing. No fuss, no muss.

So tempting fate with all my might I did it again today. Made the recipe, froze half, and then I rolled out the other half. I just rolled it out and laid it down in my pie pan and made a pie.

Like it was no big deal.

You can get the recipe by clicking on the link there. I have it printed out and put in my recipe binder in my kitchen.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

A closer look



A cross-section, so to speak, of my brain.

There are a few things rattling around in here and I want to get them out.

I had a bit of vertigo for about an hour last night. I sat/laid/sprawled out in front of the toilet (in case of the unholy puking that comes with vertigo) until I passed out from exhaustion. Somehow during the 5 or 30 minutes I was asleep I hurt my toe. It feels better today, but I feel sort of washed out and hazy. I sent a lot of ESP messages to my good Mr. Dub that I was upstairs dying on the bathroom floor but he didn't hear them. Probably because the football game was on SO LOUD.

A handful of spinach leaves got thrown away today. There are also about 1 1/2 cups of red seedless grapes that are going out with the trash tomorrow. I feel bad about this. The good news is that I made the most delicious pizza ever tonight wherein I used the homemade tomato sauce that saved the tomatoes last week. I have also been using up any stale bread in French toast for breakfast in the mornings. (Tomorrow morning we will have a bit of bacon too, before that goes bad.) I have been baking bread for the last couple of weeks and I think I'm getting into a groove with it, but that is where all the stale bread is coming from. I have some chopped onions, some corn tortillas, and some "nacho/taco" shredded cheese that all need to be used up. Sounds like enchiladas on the menu tomorrow night. Sort of like these, but with chicken and green enchilada sauce. Tomorrow afternoon I am making pie dough, and an apple pie for my good Mr. Dub to use up some apples that have been in the crisper bin for...well...for a while now. I have thrown a rapidly degrading banana in the freezer but I don't have high hopes for it. It may just be delaying the inevitable, but maybe I'll make banana bread with it and some of its overripe brothers that are sure to come along?

My granddaughter was especially adorable today. Maybe because I wasn't feeling well? She says things to me like, "I sure love you, Grammy" and "Wait for me, Grammy!". She is such a love.

I finally got around today to taking care of some school nurse paperwork/cafeteria business that had to be done for Jake at his school. It is so nice to have it out of the way. I'm not sure why I hadn't done it before today, and when I try to analyze it what I feel like is overwhelmed and that nobody ever helps me - I always help everybody else. Which is stupid because of course other people help me. But that's my initial reaction to guilty feelings of inadequacy and procrastination. Is that lame and immature?

While Avery napped today I read a book. Pictures of Hollis Woods, by Patricia Reilly Giff. It's a Newberry Award winning book that I've had for awhile but never picked out of the bookcase until today. So sad, but the most satisfying ending! I found out today that it has been made into a TVmovie so maybe someday I'll get to watch it.

I am not ready for my scrapbooking adventure this weekend and I am running out of time to prepare for it. I might end up "getting ready for it" while I'm there. Which will not be the end of the world. It will just mean that I won't get as many pages done and I will have to take all of my scrapbooking supplies with me, instead of the more manageable amount of stuff I would only have to take had I been more diligent over the last few weeks. Is it okay that I've outgrown scrapbooking? Probably. I only have a few more pictures that were taken with film to scrapbook before I run into having to choose from digital pics on SD cards. I don't know if I'll continue with it at that point.

Because of some things I have seen and heard I have had a look at some of the stuff inside my head and heart the last week or so that I'm still trying to come to terms with. I have had an opportunity to wonder if I am a ultra-sensitive person who takes things in very deeply and feels them all. Because of things that have happened in my life I have always felt like I had to have a stiff upper lip, a thick skin, a rock solid shell. That I have to let things just roll off my back, never thinking about them too much or feeling them too intimately because I can sense that incurable heartbreak and insanity wait for me down that road, and, well, I have things to do that require a clear head and some sensibility. It's not fun or easy or lighthearted to be broken and crazy and I don't want to be there. It's a miracle to me that I was raised to stay away from drugs and alcohol because if I hadn't I would surely be a drunken, addicted, sorry, hopeless piece of humanity. I feel great sorrow for the people who have been through the things I have experienced and have turned to chemicals to escape their pain. I can see that it has only made their problems worse. I'm glad that I don't have to personally live through some things to learn from them.

That's enough.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Gift Idea?



I've been trying to look for ideas of things that I can make to give to close friends and extended family for Christmas. Things that I can make a lot of in not too much time and for not too much money but that will be meaningful and (hopefully) useful. Things I've made in the past include:
  • crocheted pot holders
  • knitted dishcloths
  • Christmas tree ornaments
  • pillowcases
  • homemade candy and other goodies
I found this on the Internet and with a few modifications to make it larger I believe it is the winner for this year. I already have quite a few skeins of a smooth, soft, satiny, and washable yarn that is made from 100% post-consumer plastic.

Reusable grocery bags (eco-friendly) made from yarn that's made out of recycled plastic water bottles (that are definitely not eco-friendly) that I already own. All it will take now is some time and effort.

Sometimes the world seems good.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Sleeping Beauty Redux


Remember this?

It's rivaled only by this:

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

My shame


I looked up some numbers. In the United States in 2010 approximately one in seven households were "food insecure". Meaning that those homes lacked the resources to provide enough food for themselves. On my side of the street on my neighborhood block there are eight homes. So statistically at least one house full of my immediate neighbors regularly went hungry in 2010. Globally the statistics are about the same - one in seven people are hungry.

Here is my confession: I throw away food. Pretty regularly, and much to my horror - without even thinking twice about it.

It is a shameful and entitled and thoughtless and cruel thing. I am trying to change that, beginning by reducing the amount of food we regularly waste in our home. I occasionally read a frugal-living blog and every Friday this blogger posts a picture of food that she wasted that week in an effort to publicly expose herself to the shame and embarrassment that should accompany such a practice. It has inspired me to do the same thing.

In the last two days I've thrown away about a cupful of spinach leaves that I let get soggy before we ate them. Also a squishy, rotting tomato, 1/4 of apple that had become brown and wrinkled, and a hard-boiled egg that was hidden in the depths of the fridge. I can't even remember the last time I boiled eggs. And why in the world would I eat 3/4 of an apple and put the rest in the refrigerator to never again see the light of day?

Nutrition facts:
1 cup spinach has 10 calories,  80% RDA of vitamin A and 20% RDA of vitamin C.
1 roma tomato has 22 calories, 20% vitamin A and 26% vitamin C.
1/4 of a really big granny smith apple has 20 calories and 5% vitamin C.
1 egg has 78 calories and more than 6 grams of protein.

That would have made an awesome, healthful and nutritious omelet with a side of sliced apple for some hungry person. Or for me. It's disgusting that this food has been wasted. Disgusting because I spent money to buy it in the first place, money that Mr. Dub earned and handed over to me without question. Disgusting also because there are people in our country, maybe even in my own neighborhood - men, women, and children - who went to bed hungry every night before that food went bad, while it was still edible.

Thinking about this for the last couple days has shown me there are some things I do without thinking that contribute to this waste. Last night we had spaghetti and meatballs for dinner, and while cleaning up the kitchen I saw that there were 6 meatballs left in the pan. I was all set to throw them away before I came to my senses and tried to think about it for one second. My thought process went like this:

"There aren't any noodles left in the pan. I'd have to make a whole new batch of spaghetti again before we will eat these meatballs. We don't like to eat spaghetti two nights in a row. What could I make with just six meatballs, anyway? This is ridiculous. It's not that big of a deal. It's only six freaking meatballs. But I am not throwing them away."

They went into the refrigerator and I chopped them up into a quiche that I made for dinner tonight. Also into the quiche went the spinach leaves that were still good. While rummaging through my veggie bin looking for salad ingredients I came across a number of tomatoes, the one which was too far gone and had to be tossed, but the others, while not exactly fresh and perfect were still on the good side of okay. But barely. So I simmered them in some water, put them through my food mill, and made them into fresh tomato sauce which will be stashed in the freezer until the next time I make soup.  I'm ashamed to say that previously I would have found it "easier" to throw away the whole bagful of tomatoes rather than pick through them to find any that might still be good.

While cleaning up the kitchen last night I also came across 3/4 of a graham cracker that I immediately went to throw away, because for heaven's sake it was the last graham cracker in the box (I had broken off a piece of it to give to Avery for a snack) and I'm not going to put one partial cracker back inside an otherwise empty box, am I? My newfound awareness stopped me in time and I wrapped it back up in its wax-paper wrapper and she had it again for a snack today.

It's the worst sort of entitlement. "These things are mine and I can throw them away in the trash if I want to, la de da."

I know I have a long way to go and there is a whole 'nother part to this that I'm not even going to go into right now which is that me figuring out how to not throw away food from my own refrigerator helps exactly zero hungry people.

But it's a starting point, and I'm on it.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

The Desk


Do you remember that one of my goals was to keep my desk cleared off this year? Remember how piles of clutter disrupt my mental and emotional equilibrium and over-all sense of well-being? It's here, and here. My desk is, obviously, a trouble spot for me.

Ugh.

Here's what's on my desk this morning that doesn't belong here:
  1. Lists #2 and #3 of items that I will need to compose 72-hour kits for my family. This means list #1 is missing.
  2. 1 giant box of baby wipes
  3. 1 Michael's coupon
  4. 1 pink comb
  5. a roll of double-sided tape
  6. a box cutter
  7. 3 recipes that I printed off the internet
  8. my Primary binder
  9. the water bill
  10. 2 Walmart receipts
  11. two 1-cent euro coins
  12. one 3-cent euro coin
  13. one 5-cent euro coin
  14. 1 rubber band
  15. 1 packet of fairy portraits
  16. 1 gas card bill
  17. 1 mortgage statement
  18. 1 wedding announcement
  19. 1 scrap of paper with an important phone number/address scribbled on it
  20. 1 receipt from an internet order of sewing supplies
  21. 1 empty 3-ring binder
  22. another recipe
  23. 8 pages that I photocopied of handwritten notes I took during training meetings
  24. 1 blank sheet of cardstock
  25. 1 printed out email
  26. 1 family home storage center order form
  27. 5 pages of receipt/rebate info for the new cell phones I ordered over the weekend
  28. 18 empty page protectors
  29. 1 Fire Safety merit badge workbook (Am I the only one who finds this ironic?)
  30. 2 bank statements
  31. 1 check re-order form (Uh, hello. I might want to take that over to the bank today. It might be important.)
  32. 2 church bulletins from 2 different weeks (which may give you an idea how long my desk has been cluttered)
  33. 1 velcro-strap thingy to hold electronics' cords together
  34. 1 freebie mass-mail magazine that lists all  of some unknown person's best-picks for home service providers
  35. another gas card bill
  36. 1 plastic packet of some metal pins that hold bookcase shelves up
  37. a bobby pin
  38. a Student Diet Modification Form that I should probably fill out and return to my Little Friends's school
  39. a Home Depot pre-approved credit card offer
  40. Mr. Dub's YMCA key chain tag
  41. some dust
  42. something sticky that's been smeared.
Once just a couple of things begin piling up my desk it becomes a dumping ground for everything that anybody (but mostly me) can't spontaneously and immediately figure out what to do with, or that is "momentarily" placed here to be put away later in the place where it actually goes.

The sweet, peaceful after:

Monday, October 1, 2012

31 Days


I've seen a few blogs the last few days that are doing some variation of a 31-day challenge. Like 31 days of lame excuses, or 31 days of writing for 31 minutes each day, something like that.

I like the idea. Here are some things I've thought about for a 31 day challenge:
  • exercising 31 days in a row
  • blogging 31 days in a row
  • really studying the scriptures 31 days in a row
  • and other things that are equally good for me
but after much reflection I've decided that I'm not in a good place to do something that will take a lot of additional effort or time every single day for 31 days.

I decided that my 31-day challenge will be to make my bed. Every day for 31 days, starting today on October 1, I will make my bed. They say it takes 3 weeks to make doing a thing a habit, and while I do make my bed semi-regularly there are lots of days when it never happens and I (and my good Mr. Dub) get into a rumply, messy bed at night.

Reasons why I don't always make my bed:
  1. Both of us like to lay down on the bed after getting out of the shower. We live in a usually hot, always humid climate and laying down on the bed under the ceiling fan helps with cooling down/drying off like a towel cannot. Unfortunately a shower doesn't always happen first thing in the morning. Since I don't like it when I (or other people) lay down on the bed after it's made, I like to wait till we're done with showers before I make the bed.
  2. People laying down on/messing up my bed after it's made is a pet peeve of mine.
  3. Related to reason #1 is I sometimes wait to take a shower until I have to go somewhere, and then I might be in a rush to get out of the house.
  4. Once the day is in full swing I just don't think again about making my bed.
  5. Sometimes it seems like so much effort for such a small thing when it really only takes about 2 minutes and makes a big difference in my attitude/feelings about my house.
Because bed-making time varies for me from day to day I don't have a lot of hope that it will become an ingrained habit after a month of doing it.

I'm doing it anyway. I feel like the queen when my bed is made and fancy and beautiful, and like some sort of grubby scrub when it's not. Also, I wanted to pull the coverlet up over me last night because I got a little chilly and it was all balled up at the end of the bed. That is not fancy.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

New dinner recipe


Last week I auditioned this Bayou Chicken Pasta for a "pantry" meal. I've been looking for recipes that can use either fresh or freeze-dried/dehydrated/canned ingredients so that I can make them no matter how long it's been since I last went to the store.

Below is the recipe as it's written (with my notes in italics).

Bayou Chicken Pasta - serves 6-8

16 oz. linguine (I used spaghetti. It would also be fine with penne.)
1/4 cup salt
2 tbs garlic oil (olive oil)
2 12.5 oz cans chicken (1 pint bottled chicken)
2 tbs Emeril's Essence seasoning
1 tsp salt
1 cup freeze dried onion flakes (I used a small fresh onion, chopped, and 3 green onions, sliced that needed to be used up)
4 tsp dried chives
1/2 cup water (I never used this. Maybe it's meant to rehydrate the onions?)
1 7 oz. can diced green chiles (I used a small green bell pepper because I had one that needed to be used up)
1/2 tsp. garlic powder (I used two cloves of minced fresh garlic)
2 cans evaporated milk (mine were the 12 oz size. I was happy to find another recipe that calls for canned milk!)
1 15 oz. can diced tomatoes, undrained (the fire-roasted kind are my favorite)
1/2 cup reserved pasta cooking water (I didn't need this)
1/4 cup parmesan cheese (shredded, but grated would work just as well)
1 tbs dried parsley

(I also added 4 stalks of chopped celery because it seemed like the right thing to do.)

Cook pasta in large pot of boiling, salted water until al dente. Before draining reserve 1/2 cup pasta water.
While the pasta is cooking prepare the sauce: season the chicken with 1 tbs Essence seasoning and 1/2 tsp. salt and brown it over medium heat in 1 tbs. garlic oil (I skipped this entire step and just added the chicken at the end, seasoning to taste.) Add a tbs. oil to a skillet and cook onions, chives, garlic, and chiles (and the celery and bell pepper). Add the milk, 1 tbs. Essence seasoning, and  remaining 1/2 tsp. salt and heat over medium heat until sauce is boiling and reduced by half, stirring constantly. Stir in the chicken, the drained pasta, and the tomatoes and heat through. If necessary, add the pasta water. (Mine was a little bit too thin already because I wasn't sure how long you should boil the sauce and I was in a hurry because I was hungry. After it cooled it thickened up quite a bit.) Add the parmesan cheese and dried parsley flakes. Serve immediately.

This was an easy and very tasty meal. Everyone who ate it enjoyed it. I think I will put it in our regular dinner rotation.