Tuesday, January 31, 2012

I love my blog.

I really do.

One thing I like to do with my blog is check the site meter. This little gadget lets me know what pages people are visiting. When I go to check out that page to see what my visitors are looking at, I get to read what I once wrote.

It's good for my self-esteem. I like me.

I have the usual number of faults and bad characteristics, just like everybody. It's true that I do try to focus on the good and the pleasant and the happy and peaceful when I'm writing my blog. It's true that there are lots of times in my real life when people make me feel small or stupid or unsure of myself. It's true that sometimes I am small and stupid and unsure of myself all on my own, without any help from anybody.

But when it's just me and I'm left to myself, I like me. My blog reminds me of that.

Monday, January 30, 2012

yeasted cornbread

I found this recipe, sort of, on allrecipes.com. The online recipe is geared toward a bread machine which is something I don't have.

I used to have one but then I got rid of it.

It was given to me by an old lady from church. She (and her husband) were moving out of their lovely home and in with one of their children and were consequently unburdening themselves of most of their possessions. She was so generous with me, I think because I had been kind to her, and I have a few of her kitchen things. They aren't marked in any way, but they are known to me. I remember her with fondness and gratitude every time I use one of them.

So there wasn't any guilt in getting rid of the bread machine. I wanted it at first, but then after I had it for awhile I realized that it was too big to live on my kitchen counter, and took up a lot of real estate in a cabinet. And because I rarely used it - it made only one loaf at a time - I sent it back out into the universe. I hope someone somewhere has it and loves it.

(The nice thing about having my own blog is that I can write all the random thoughts and back-story about anything at all and I don't have to get to "it" immediately. "It" being a bread recipe, in this particular instance. The recipe follows. Eventually. Feel free to skip down to the bottom and bypass completely the drivel and endless explanations.)

I was looking online for a bread recipe that uses cornmeal. I have popcorn kernels in my food storage, and although I like regular popped popcorn that you eat out of a bowl while watching a movie, making it once or twice a year like I do doesn't exactly justify having 200 lbs. of kernels sitting in my spare room. I ground some into cornmeal to make cornbread, but again, even though that's the express purpose for which it was purchased, cornbread isn't something that I make so often. Usually just when we are having homemade soup or chili. I may have gotten a little carried away when I bought all that corn but it's ours now, and I wanted a recipe that would help us eat all this corn in my own lifetime.

So here it is. I have tweaked it from the original to suit it to my own needs - no bread machine, and preferences - no trans fats or fresh milk. Feel free to change it around to suit yours.

Yeasted cornbread

In a large mixing bowl combine:
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup cornmeal
  • 1/4 cup dry milk
  • 5 teaspoons dry yeast

In a microwave-safe dish combine:

  • 2 1/4 cups water
  • 6 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 6 tablespoons butter

and microwave on high power for a minute or two until butter is starting to melt and water is about 115 degrees F. How long exactly depends on how cold your water and butter are when you start, right? The mixture should feel warm but not hot. Pour it into the dry ingredients and beat for 30 seconds. Add:

  • 2 eggs

Beat on medium-high speed for 3 minutes. At this point I change the paddle attachment to the dough hook on my stand mixer. Then slowly add:

  • 4-5 cups all-purpose flour, one cup at a time

and knead for 5-8 minutes until dough is smooth and elastic, and cleans the side of the bowl. Pull dough out of the bowl, knead it by hand on a floured surface for a minute or two to refresh your hand-kneading skills and to revel in the experience, then oil the bowl, put the dough back into the bowl, and turn the dough over inside the bowl so that the top side is oiled. Cover with plastic wrap and let rest for an hour or so until it has doubled in size. Punch dough down, divide and shape into 4 loaves. Cover the loaves and let rise until dough has doubled again. Bake at 375 degrees F for 25-30 minutes. Loaves are done with they are a deep golden brown color and sound hollow when tapped on the bottom. I have 8x4x4 pans, so they are on the small side. If I was using 9x5x4 pans I would divide the dough into only three loaves and bake them a bit longer.

I like this bread because it has the slightly gritty texture of the corn. The flavor and crumb are very good. It slices well for toast or sandwiches. My Pretty Girl says she likes this bread better than my other bread. Which is plain ol' Honey Wheat Bread. Which I may go on and on about on my blog at some other time.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

End of Week 5

This week for dinner we had:
  • boiled dinner (kielbasa, red potatoes, cabbage)
  • chicken Caesar salad
  • meatloaf, mushroom risotto, and green beans with a country pear tart for dessert
  • spaghetti and garlic bread
  • Eggs Benedict and sliced oranges
  • beef stew with yeasted corn bread and apple pie

This week was the first time I've ever poached an egg or made hollandaise sauce. It was easy and I'm not sure why I've never made eggs Benedict before. I found a recipe for the pear tart in a cookbook I have, and it called for a browned butter crust which I've never heard of or noticed in the book before. It wasn't so noticeably different from regular pie crust and I don't think I'll bother with it again.

Short story: Making the browned butter crust involved browning some butter in a saucepan and letting it firm back up again in the refrigerator before cutting it into the flour. My family was greatly disturbed at the sight of a cooking pot in the refrigerator. At least three of them asked quite urgently, "Why is there a pan in the refrigerator?" They're funny.

The mushroom risotto was so delicious. Here's how I made it:

  • 5-6 cups beef stock
  • 2 tbsp. butter
  • 2 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1/2 an onion, finely chopped
  • 6-8 button mushrooms, finely chopped
  • 1 1/2 cups arborio rice
  • some grated or shredded Parmesan cheese (a handful or so)
  • about 2 tbsp. finely chopped parsley

I heat the stock in a separate pan and keep it hot - nearly simmering - while I'm working. Melt the butter in the oil in a big saute pan. Saute the onions and mushrooms on medium heat for a few minutes until the onion begins to look more transparent. Add the dry rice and continue to saute for another 2 or 3 minutes. Begin adding the hot stock a cup or so at a time and stir mostly continuously until the liquid is absorbed. (Don't bother with a ladle. Just use a pot with a handle and pour the stock into the saute pan.) Add another cup of stock and stir until liquid is absorbed, repeating this step and stirring pretty much constantly for about 20-25-30 minutes until the rice is done. The directions on the rice box say it only takes 20 minutes. It almost always takes me 30. It is done when the rice is cooked through and there are no hard centers in the rice grains. One way I can tell that it's done is that the rice releases a starch and the sauce becomes creamy instead of watery, and the rice/sauce sort of gathers itself together so that it will stay on a fork rather than drip through it. The rice should still be firm but not crunchy. Remove from the heat and stir in the cheese until it's melted. Stir in the parsley. This is SO good. There were no leftovers.

We tried some new things for dinner this week. They were all winners. I am not at all a fan of mushrooms but I've discovered if I chop them up small enough they don't bother me. Since I had some in my Bountiful Basket a couple weeks ago, I felt like I should use them. I didn't think they weren't awful, and everyone else loved having mushrooms in stuff.

This week I spent $72.67 on groceries. I have containers of beef stew stashed in the freezer - enough for two family dinners - and enough leftover ingredients to make eggs Benedict for three people.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Today I think I'll...


I felt like cooking when I woke up this morning, and although I enjoy cooking I hardly ever feel like I'd rather do that than something else. So happy day for my family!

It's good too, because today was Bountiful Basket day. In this week's basket is:
  • 8 Fuji apples
  • 8 bananas
  • 1 quart strawberries
  • 6 navel oranges
  • 3 grapefruits
  • 8 onions (which includes a few extra from my bff D. Because D doesn't do onions.)
  • 5 baking potatoes
  • 3 broccoli crowns
  • 1 cauliflower
  • 1 pint cherry tomatoes
  • 1 head of romaine lettuce

I still had some produce left over from last time so cooking had to be done to clear out the old stuff in order to make room in the fridge for the new. I've baked an apple pie already this morning with the rest of the apples from last time, and started some beef stew. The beef stew used up the remainder of a big bottle of V-8 juice that needed to go, 8 or so button mushrooms, two onions, the last of a head of garlic, a couple of tomatoes, plus celery and carrots that I bought at the grocery store.

I still have half a head of cabbage (which I will use to make bieroc later today) and some blackberries which will become gelato. I found a recipe in one of my cookbooks for gelato and I'm excited about trying it. I need cream and rock salt before I can start.

Since I started getting these baskets I've been wondering how long fresh produce sits in trucks and warehouses before the grocery store sets it out for sale. My mushrooms, tomatoes and blackberries are still good and they've been in my fridge for two weeks. Things like that from the store only last a day or two before I have to use them, or what usually happens is that it goes bad before I get to it and I have to throw it out.

When I bring home my bountiful basket I feel rich. I see all these good things to eat, and I look around at my home and my family. I feel fortunate that I have the skills and the time and other resources to make it all into meals that will benefit my family.

It's abundance. It's blessedness. I'm grateful.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

End of Week 4

I think I skipped a week blogging about my weekly menu and grocery shopping. I had a busy weekend last week and just didn't get to it. We did eat, and I did buy groceries. Here are the stats:
  • Salisbury steak, mashed potatoes, carrot coins
  • chicken fajitas
  • chili and cornbread
  • chicken, spinach, and pesto lasagna with garlic bread
  • rotisserie chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy, and green beans
  • a couple of nights eating leftovers

I spent $77.39 at the store, and still have:

  • some frozen chicken breasts,
  • some turkey pepperoni ( because I never made the pizza we were going to have one night),
  • plenty of lunch meat and sliced cheese for lunches,
  • and lots of cereal and eggs for breakfast.

What I've noticed is that groceries are so expensive! I'm trying to not use my debit card but to instead pay cash for all the items that I buy. Careful meal planning and paying cash are keeping my grocery bills down but I don't know if I really can do it for $10 a day. It was an arbitrary number that I picked out of the air - I made no effort to look back and see what I had been buying/spending ahead of time. It has eliminated my careless way of buying groceries, which was to see what was on sale and go get those things, and along the way put a lot of other random things into my grocery cart because they looked good, never really noticing what I was spending on groceries other than a sinking feeling in my stomach looking at my bank balance going down, down, down every day. Now I am making a list and sticking to my list. If I decide to vary from the weekly menu when I'm at home staring into the fridge, the ingredients come from what we have on hand instead of another trip to the grocery store. So even if I'm a bit over $75 each week, I think it is still progress.

There are exceptions. I'm okay with that though. Not only am I trying to be more frugal, I could stand to be a little more flexible. Saturday was a busy and long day for me, so we bought the rotisserie chicken when I was really too tired to do anything else. It was a big, very delicious bird, and fed us all dinner one night, and was leftovers for a couple people the next night. When I do go to the grocery store for additional items, I make a list and stick to that list. No more random shopping.

I think next week I will post a month's worth of grocery totals to compare January with previous months. Then I'll have something concrete to look at for those times when I need to get myself back on track.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Rubber band, anyone?

Have you ever heard the advice to keep a rubber band around your wrist and snap yourself when you realize you're having negative thoughts? I guess it's supposed to make you associate physical pain with those thoughts and unconsciously train your brain to stay away from that line of thinking. Is that right? I don't know. Behavior modification techniques always seem kind of silly to me.

Anyway, remember one of my new year's resolutions to have as the foundation of my interaction with other people to be that they are smart, kind and important? I remember it. I do. I am remembering it when I am actually talking to other people, and when I'm considering saying "hello" to someone that I know and happen to see accidentally, like in the grocery store or something (which is a thing I find very hard to do).

And yet these are the kinds of things I find myself thinking about strangers throughout the day:
  • Dolt!
  • Dork!
  • Idiot!
  • Putz!
  • Shmuck!
  • Moron!

Most of the time these smart, kind and important strangers are guilty only of being in front of me, or are in some way blocking or delaying my left turn, merge, or attempt at parking. Or causing me some other sort of inconvenience.

(But seriously, people, is it SO hard to have your things ready to go before it's your turn in the bank's drive-thru lane? Why do you wait until you're in the #1 position to find a pen, endorse your paycheck, and fill out a deposit slip?)

While I do catch myself thinking these unjust, road-ragey thoughts, I haven't yet figured out how to stop them from coming. Snapping my wrist with a rubber band seems painful and unpleasant.

There must be a better way. I do want to change my thoughts about other people. I know it can be done. Probably my heart has to change before my thoughts will.

I will work on figuring out how to love and respect strangers who get in my way or annoy me for no good or apparent reason. So far, it's very hard.

Friday, January 20, 2012

What I think about Suze

I recorded, and subsequently watched, Suze Orman's new show "Money Class".

I was less than impressed.

She makes a big deal about what she calls "standing in your truth". About how what you have - the brand of your clothing, your cars, furniture, vacations, etc. - doesn't have anything to do with who you really are. Who you really are is manifested in your kindness, your courage, your integrity, your good heart, your artistic soul, your whatever. And so forth.

Which sounds all great and everything. But then she goes on to tell people that the last thing you should pay when money is tight are your credit card bills. The most important debt that you should pay off is your student loan debt. Why? Because you can't get rid of student loan debt by declaring bankruptcy. You still have to pay it off. Next in the order of importance is mortgage and car loans because the lien holders can take those things away from you if you don't make your payments. And you still have to put gas in the gas tank and food in your belly. You have to keep the electricity and other utilities going. Credit card bills are "unsecured" debt so nothing can happen to you if you don't pay them.

One lady Suze interviewed had made a deal with the bank that held her mortgage. She needed to reduce her payments because she had lost her job and her bank cooperated with her and she was able to stay in her home. Because she remained unemployed for a long time she was now having trouble making even the drastically reduced payment. Her bank was now talking about foreclosure, and this, understandably, was a great sorrow to the lady. Suze asked her what her original loan amount was - $209,000. She asked what other condos in her building were currently going for - $100-150,000. (Hello, real estate bust!) Suze advised her that her best bet was to let the bank foreclose on her, "repair" her credit, and come back in a few years and buy another condo at half price.

What in the world do these things have to do with "standing in your truth"? How are you truthful or integrous when you buy merchandise on credit or sign a loan with a bank, and then decide it's in your best interest to un-shoulder these burdens? People realize that these debts don't just disappear, right? They get passed on to everybody else. Maybe you are feeling a great burden lifted off your shoulders, but everyone else's burden just got a little more weighty. But hey, as long as you feel better, right?

What's the moral difference between government bailouts of big corporations and people defaulting on their mortgages, car notes, and unsecured debts?

Monday, January 16, 2012

You is kind.

You is smart. You is important.

I watched the movie "The Help" last week. One of the main characters in the book is Aibileen, a black maid who tends the children of the white families she works for. In spite of the hideous way she is treated by the white, female mother, Aibileen gently and insistently tells her child this: You is kind. You is smart. You is important.

I gave a talk in church on New Year's Day. My assignment was to give "a leader's message for the new year" to the ward. Which made me feel a lot of anxiety and pressure. I mean, I am a leader in the congregation - it says so right in the church bulletin every Sunday - but to me that means that I have extra responsibility, not additional insight or skills. And certainly not an agenda or anything like that. So coming up with "a message for the new year" for everyone else felt like a hardship. After a night spent tossing and turning and praying for guidance I did come up with one, and it is to have love as your motivation for the things you do in your life. In everything from setting new year's resolutions to repenting of your sins to interacting with other people.

"You is kind. You is smart. You is important." What would be different in my life if I started with that as the truth about everyone I interact with each day? And then added love for them from my side? Although the most obvious message in the book and the movie is that Aibileen is a wonderful and selfless person who is loving and generous in spite of the persecution and fear present in her life, the underlying message, for me at least, is that love and unselfishness is the only way to eliminate persecution and violence in the world.

So even though it is unselfish to offer love in return for unkindness, it's really the only way to change the world for the better for yourself. It's like Minny says in The Help, "You think they gonna make a law that say you gotta be nice to your maid?"

Mother Teresa said, "Spread love everywhere you go. Let no one ever come to you without leaving happier."

Starting with the idea that people are kind, smart, and important. Having love as my motivation to make the world better. Making it real, and not just an ideal. Believing that I can do all things, even these things, through Christ, which strengthens me. It's going to be a big year.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

End of Week 3

This week for dinner we had:
  • sloppy joes and french fries
  • spinach, bacon, and roasted red pepper quiche
  • spaghetti
  • a casserole-style dinner with rice, cheese, salsa, and chicken
  • a celebratory dinner out
  • and a couple of nights where people fended for themselves or ate leftovers

I spent $85.76 this week on groceries - a little more than I had budgeted for but I still have quite a bit of food left over that will be used next week. I think it will take me a while to figure out how to not stock up at the store when I'm shopping. I am getting the hang of not going to the store all the time, and only paying cash for things. I am beginning to love living on cash, but I'm still carrying my debit MasterCard around because it feels kind of dangerous to not have it with me. What if I needed it? I ask myself why I would need it, and although there are reasons I think the danger of reckless spending because I have the card is more likely than me needing my debit card because I had an emergency on the way to the grocery store or the post office. It's kind of ridiculous that I am on the wrong side of 45 years old and still don't quite have a handle on self-discipline when it comes to spending money. Although I think I am pretty good at it, there is still much room for improvement and I admit that I get a sort of thrill from shopping, even though I don't enjoy it. I just have to keep telling myself that spending money doesn't fill any kind of emotional or mental void. I know in my head that it doesn't. But it actually kind of does, although it's very short-lived. I haven't been practicing this way of spending long enough to see any big rewards but I'm not giving up, and the small successes are helping me stay on track.

In my Bountiful Basket this week I got:

  • two giant heads of romaine lettuce
  • a classically beautiful head of cabbage (seriously, where do they get this gorgeous food?)
  • 4 big slicing tomatoes
  • 5 avocados
  • 1 basket of button mushrooms
  • 8 bananas
  • 12 or so gala apples
  • 6 oranges
  • 4 or 5 lemons
  • 4 bosc pears
  • 2 pints blackberries

All that for $15. (The extra head of romaine and pint of blackberries I got because my Little Prince and I volunteered at the drop site - you get a prize when you work.)

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Week 2

of the Great Grocery Challenge of 2012.

This week for dinner we had:
  • baked potatoes
  • pork roll-ups ( a quick dinner that is sort of like a taco but not Tex-Mex)
  • cheesy potato/carrot/ham soup and apple crisp
  • roast chicken with sweet and spicy sweet potatoes and steamed green beans
  • Parmesan risotto with chicken and green beans
  • chicken Caesar salad and sliced oranges
  • light chicken Alfredo over linguine and salad

I spent $44.11 at the grocery store this week, mostly on juice and Gatorade, and a few things for our New Year's Eve party. I notice that we've eaten a lot of chicken this week - I roasted a whole chicken one afternoon and stripped all the meat off of it after dinner that night. It lasted quite a while. There were lots of green beans and oranges in my Bountiful Basket last month that we are still working through! Bountiful Baskets is next Saturday - I still have onions, green beans, and oranges left from last time. By the end of next week I'm sure they will be gone.

I have determined that I am going to have a budget of $100 per month to restock my freezer, pantry and shelves. That way I won't find myself completely out of everything at some point. I will use this $100 to take advantage of good weekly grocery sales. I am still baking bread every few days and my family is still eating it up. I'm sure it's not cost-effective to bake bread, but since I already own the ingredients I figure it's already paid for and we might as well eat it, right?

I've noticed this week that trying to keep a tight grip on the grocery budget has had the added benefit of making me use up food that I have in the house instead of going to the store and spending money for something different. Also, I haven't been making a ton of food for dinner each night - basically only what I think we'll eat that night with maybe one serving for leftovers. These two things add up to a lot less food waste in the last two weeks than normal. Yes!

To make pork roll-ups I use my bottled boneless pork loin chunks that I processed in my pressure canner over the summer. I drain them well and heat in a dry skillet, adding salt and pepper (because I canned it without any seasoning). I mix some thinly sliced green onions with some grape tomatoes that I cut in half, and add a dressing made of red wine vinegar, olive oil, salt, pepper, and finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley. Put a few pork chunks in a warmed flour tortilla and top with the tomato mixture. Roll it up like a soft taco. Super good!

Friday, January 6, 2012

It's winter...

...but it sure doesn't feel like it.

No matter. It has to be cold for at least a day or two eventually. I finally finished knitting a scarf and an adorable ear-flap hat for my niece C. I can't wait for her to see it!

The hat - oh my goodness. A bigger kid who belongs to a friend of mine was trying it on yesterday and I couldn't believe how cute it is. I see myself making lots more of these!

Thursday, January 5, 2012


I love how there are people in this world who exude tranquility. I possess a certain kind of peace that comes from inside me but if you chanced to meet me you would never, upon describing our interaction to someone else, call me "serene". You wouldn't say to your friends, "Let me tell you about this incredibly serene person I met yesterday".

You just wouldn't.

I am pretty okay with that. Sort of. I wish I was gentle and tranquil and serene but I'm not. Calm and gentleness don't lay easy on my tongue. I may have those feelings from time to time, but not on a regular basis and certainly not spontaneously or when required. In fact, at the exact moment when I most need to feel tranquil and filled with love, that is usually the very moment when I feel frustrated, agitated, and flustered instead. Maybe a little angry too, just to make it interesting.

I wonder how people do that. Were they born this way, or did they learn it? If you can learn a thing like serenity, do you have to practice it all the time or does it become second nature to you?

However it happens, I'm glad people like that exist and that I run into one of them once in a while. It's a gift, like a breath of fresh air.

Monday, January 2, 2012

New Year's resolution

To take care of things more promptly. I am usually pretty good about getting things done eventually, but procrastination is a problem for me. These are the things that get to me:
  • The three serving items (from a wedding that was months ago) that belong to other people that are still in the trunk of my car waiting to be returned. This is something that can be taken care of in less than 30 minutes and only involves me driving the items over to their rightful homes so you might think maybe it doesn't belong on a resolution list, but there are so many things just like this in my life - recycling the giant pile of newspapers by the front door, putting away the last few random items from a trip to the store, taking the books back to the library on time. The list could really go on forever. Why do I not do these things immediately instead of adding them to the list of Things I Have To Remember?
  • The confusing, cluttery pile that is my desk. I am going to clear it off once a week instead of once every two weeks. I am going to do this every Monday morning because I am usually home and otherwise unoccupied on Monday mornings. The thing about my desk is that I put stuff there that has to be dealt with. Things that need to be filed, or shredded, or paid, or resolved in some way. Sometimes I don't know what to do with an item and it will sit there for weeks or maybe months. And walking by the messy desk, as I do multiple times every day, and seeing it and knowing that all that awaits me adds to my anxiety.
  • Mending and other kinds of repairs. Clothing, closet doors, holes in walls, loose screws, etc. Since I'm already baring my soul in this post I will tell you two of them - a pile of mending that has been sitting on my bathroom counter for over a month. It might have even been there for two months. And the door to the laundry closet that only needs to be glued, clamped and allowed to dry. The actual repair time would take ten minutes. It could dry overnight, and then I could have the door back on my laundry closet the next day instead of propped against the wall in the upstairs hallway which is where it's been for the better part of an entire year. Why do I make myself learn to work around these things instead of just fixing them? It's beyond ridiculous.
  • Correspondence. I love sending cards and letters to people and it's only because I don't take the time to sit down and do it that I don't do it more often. I have in my possession all the beautiful cards and letters (and the envelopes they came in so I have the right addresses!) that people who care about me and my family sent to us for Christmas. I am going to write each of them a note or letter expressing my love and appreciation for them. I will work through the whole stack by January 31. I will spend time on Sunday mornings doing this, and also whenever I remember to work on it during the week. I am going today to buy stamps for this project.

I think getting a grip on this will help me make my life easier, happier, and more pleasant. It has to, right? Living a life where things are taken care of, put away, uncluttered, and in good repair and where free time is actually free instead of filled with anxiety about all the unfinished tasks? It sounds blissful to me.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Thoughts on changes for a New Year

The Road Not Taken, by Robert Frost.

TWO roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.