Friday, December 30, 2011

Around the intertubes

This has nothing to do with the post.  I just liked it.
Do you want to recyle and make some money? Here is how you can do it.

You know how MIT pioneered the idea of Open Course Ware, where you can have access to lecture notes and readings and other resources for MIT classes for free?  Yes, other universities have followed suit on this.  MIT's taken it a step further now: for selected OCW courses, you can take an OCW Scholar Course.  What's the difference?  According to MIT, "They differ from our other OCW courses in that the materials are substantially complete, limiting the need for textbooks or journal articles to facilitate learning. The materials are also structured with independent study in mind, with content arranged in logical units through which learners progress."  If you want to learn online, have a more structured curriculum, but are okay with not having access to instructors or teaching assistants (or getting credits), this is a great solution.  I like this idea, because I like learning things just for the sake of learning.

This is not good newsEven with the clarification, it's sobering.  For what it's worth, I don't think that the 50% of people in the census survey who are "poor" or "low income" are slackers or spendthrifts.  I think this economy is terrible.

However, those who have means (or at least a high credit limit) are keeping the overpriced handbag business afloat.  Perhaps the solution for all of us is to get jobs in the handbag industry?

This extreme couponer found some deals and donated them to the area's needy.

Different places have different ways to mark the new year, and they often have foods that are known as New Year's food.  You can learn about some of them here

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Heaven scent

Get it? Get it???

Okay, enough with the bad puns.  I wanted to make my place smell nice, and had the idea to use the mini-crock that came with my six quart slow cooker.  I put in a sliced lemon, whole cloves, and cinnamon (I should have used cinnamon sticks). 

Other combinations I've used are: orange peel, cloves, cinnamon, or orange or lemon peel and rosemary or dill or mint.  I'll also throw lavender into the mix, if I have any on hand (which I haven't had for the past couple of years--I used to grow it but haven't lately.  I probably should start again this spring with lavender).  Sometimes I'll use a cut up apple that was in danger of spoiling (or I'll save apple peels in the freezer and use them instead of citrus rinds).

I like candles but I don't light them very often.  Something about the scents or the chemicals make my nose run; the only candles I can tolerate for longer periods are soy candles.  So this is a good alternative.  It also releases a mild, not an overly strong scent into the air (as long as you don't use the commercial potpourri, which is frankly rank).  A lot of candles smell great, but they also smell strong.

Other things I do when I feel like my home is too stuffy: I crack open a window.  Even if it's just for a few minutes.  Revolutionary, I know.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

New Year's Resolution

When I drive to my parent's house, I pass by an artificial waterfall.  It sounds beautiful; I love the sound so much that I will open my window in the dead of winter just to hear it.  And when spring begins and the birds start making noise, I keep my home's windows open (and my car windows down) so I can hear them.  When I worked in town, I used to sit on the side of the subway train a view of the skyline (espeically when I was commuting at night). 

And that's my resolution this year--to notice and savor every beautiful thing that I encounter.

Yeah, I know.  You all were probably expecting me to promise I'd save a truckload of money or I'd commit to a new diet and exersize regimen or I'd somehow do something constructive and responsible. 

Bah.  Not that these things aren't good and laudable, and I always give such things the old college try.  But I find that I'm much happier in general when I notice the good things around me.  The small things.  The smell of freshly cut grass or the sound of frogs in the pond in the park where I walk.  The quiet of the very early morning and the stars (when I can see them--even the burbs have enough light pollution to blot a lot of them out).   

So that's mine.  As well as "perfect the ma po tofu recipe I found because OH MY GOD MA PO TOFU IS DELICIOUS." 

Monday, December 26, 2011

Daikon, how I love to pickle you

Last week was the last pickup for the winter share of my CSA.  I got a little weepy when I got home, because once I make my way through these, I have to brave the crowds and foolishness at the grocery store, and I do not like the grocery store anymore.

My CSA has daikon.  This makes me so happy.  I lived in Japan oh--about 15 years ago now--and I really fell in love with daikon there.  They pickle it, they shred it, they cut it into long strips to eat with something oily and fried like tempura or katsu don.   I love the stuff.  Steve from World of Okonomy had made me some pickled daikon a while back.  I thought I'd give it a go last week.  Both of these are refrigerator pickles; I did not can them.

As you can see in the picture to the left, I did a couple of versions.  The one in the old pickle jar (to the left) is something I did on the fly--I put sliced daikon in a jar of vinegar with a teaspoon each of pepper corns and mustard seeds (it had been full but I've been making my way through it).  It's good, but wow is it tart--I should have heated the vinegar up with some sugar first.  But it's fine, and it goes well in a salad.  My parents enjoyed this in their salads for Christmas Eve dinner. 

The one on the right--in the canning jar--was pickled carrots and daikon.  The recipes I found varied; the one I used called for one parts sugar to be heated with two parts vinegar until the sugar dissolved.  Cool the vinegar in the fridge, then pour over carrots and daikon cut into matchsticks, a seeded and chopped Thai chili (or red chili), and chopped cilantro in a jar.  Place in fridge; it will be ready to eat in four hours.

I didn't have a Thai chili or any chili peppers, so I used crushed red pepper.  I did have cilantro so happily used that.  Next time I'll do a proper dice and cut of the carrots and daikon but as I said, I wanted them a little bigger for my salad, etc.  It is a delicious condiment. 

I think I am going to try my hand at kimchi.  I love kimchi but I've never made it myself before.  A slightly spicy and tart pickle added to a salad adds great flavor.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Happy, sugar and fun filled day

My family celebrates Christmas.  We don't go crazy (except with food, there is always too much food, but I regard that as a good thing).  We get together, exchange gifts, eat, talk (sometimes bicker) and have fun with the kids.  This Christmas was no different.  My sister is an excellent cook and this year was no different.  She made truffles (OH GOD YOU TEMPT ME WITH CHOCOLATE) and brownies and cookies, and she made prime rib (awesome, by the way).  I invite her and her family to my place for Christmas Eve dinner with my folks but they usually go to mass at 4:00.  As usual, my family was very generous.  I hope they know I'm not BSing them when I say that they don't have to get me anything (though I will make very good use of the kitchen stuff and cookbooks and gift cards). 

My parents are able to come for Christmas Eve dinner.  Last night I made them the dishes they'd enjoy--haddock the way they like it (breaded and baked with butter), salad (with picked daikon, which they enjoyed), spinach, and carnival squash.  I made a sour cream cake as my mother loves that; she zoned on the fact that I was going to make a sour cream cake and came to my place with pie.  So I have an apple pie in the fridge and am looking forward to some very unhealthy but delcious breakfasts this week.

I even made it to my church's Christmas Eve service--a lot of carol singing in a candlelit church.  The final song, Silent Night, is always sung as we light individual candles.  It was beautiful, though I think my yelping from the dripping hot wax marred the end of the song (those cardboard protectors aren't worth, well, cardboard). 

All in all, a good Christmas.  Though I'm ready for a nap.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Naga peppers revisited

Earlier this week, I posted about the sadistic spice of the Naga pepper.  My friend Sara actually had found recipes for this and she enjoyed them a lot--she made relish and a spicy sugar.  She said, "I used this recipe for the relish with only minor variations  and I cut 3 fresh Naga peppers in half and buried them in about 2 cups of sugar, stirring once a day for the first week and then once a week after that until the peppers were dry."  So. . .may be something for me to try.  Well, maybe with a Jalepeno or an Habenero.  I'm not quite macho enough to venture near a Naga. . .

Sara's info also pointed me to Rambling Spoon, a new addition to the blogroll.

Thanks to friends who love them some spicy food, I've recently been using a lot more spicy things in my cooking--I'm getting less and less shy about adding Jalepenos and chile peppers in my dishes, though I don't do the amount true spiceheads love.  I'm not ashamed to say that food is not an extreme sport for me.  I do like a slight kick in certain dishes, but there are others where I don't feel that a lot of spice is very appropriate.  (Say, poached salmon with a yogurt-dill sauce.) 

So, for those of us who are relative neophytes to hot peppers, check out hot peppers and how to handle them.  Wear gloves when you cut any hot pepper.  Just trust me on this one, okay?

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Root vegetable magic

One of the fun things about joining a CSA is that many of them provide you with recipes to try so you'll have some idea how to prepare the produce that is new to you.  However, another fun thing is that they will sometimes provide some excellent recipes for the known produce you get from them as well.

My CSA sends a newsletter each week.  It has a list of produce members will get that week, news about the farm and a recipe featuring one of the vegetables that are available for pickup.   Last week they sent around a recipe for aromatic parsnips and carrots, which they got from  It simply never occurred to me to blend the spices that this recipe calls for, but they work very, very well with carrots and parsnips.

It takes maybe 30 minutes to make, so if you're looking for a really quick vegetable side dish, it's probably a no-go.  However, it adds a real kick to any meal.  It's a wonderful combination of sweet, savory and spicy, with hints of lemon and a tang of cinamon. It offered a bright and complex taste; I really, really liked it. Your kitchen will smell like heaven when you make it, and you'll be quite tempted to forgo the main course (or just make this the main course).

I did a few things differently, as I was pressed for time---I didn't shred the lemon peel, I just used the juice, and  I didn't crush the fennel seed.  It still came out great.

This did inspire me to start thinking a little more creatively about side dishes.  I often steam or sautee vegetables, maybe with a little garlic or some herbs (depending on the vegetable I'm cooking).  Sometimes I'll pan-sear something (like brussel sprouts) or I'll roast them.  But I think combining different herbs or spices is something I should start doing, especially ones that I may not have considered before.  Like cinamon.  Yes, people use cinamon for winter squashes, as well as brown sugar.  Have I mentioned that with the exception of Thanksgiving, I do not cook squash with sugar? What is that point of that? It's sweet enough.  And I associated cinamon with sugar, so I didn't bother using it when I cooked vegetables.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Potatoes, potatoes everywhere I look

My CSA is still going strong; I will be picking up fresh produce until the end of the year.  I plan on renewing (and also renewing the winter share) as the food has been out of this world.  We're still getting lettuce and mesculun mixes, as well as beets, daikon, winter squashes, carrots, parsnips, potatoes, and yams.

Here's the thing: I am not much of a potato eater.  Maybe I'm rebelling against my heritage, but I'm more partial to rice and pasta (or a nice, crusty bread).  However, I can't bring myself to toss my produce, so I am making efforts to eat them. 

I had already made curried lentils and potatoes several times.  It was a big hit every time I made it, but the thing is, the recipe makes a lot of food and I have several containers in the freezer which I am slowly but surely munching my way through (it's great for lunch).  I had gone out to breakfast with a good friend and saw something that intrigued me--poached eggs with hollandaise sauce on potato pancakes.  The potato pancakes the eggs were on looked like the crispy potato pancakes in this recipe at  So I figured I'd try that.  I was out of bread, I have plenty of eggs, and heck, why not?

So I stayed mainly close to the recipe, but I think I ended up using more onion than was called for (won't do that again), and I added herbs--some dried oregano and ground thyme, as well as some garlic.  This recipe made six pancakes.  Instead of poaching the eggs (I'm not good at poaching them and I'm not that jazzed about hollandaise sauce), I fried them in olive oil, so no, this wasn't the most healthy breakfast between the fried potato pancakes and the fried eggs.  But it was nice--the eggs were yolky, I had crispy potato pancakes to mop the yolk up with, and I was pleased overall.

Other ways I'll use the potatoes is to make potato breads and pastries and soups.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Friday Blog Around

Donna talks about the pros and cons of giving gift cards.  Some people really hate the idea of gift cards, saying they're impersonal.  Me, I disagree.  First of all, I don't exchange gifts with many people, so the idea that many people should be sweating what my heart's desire is makes me laugh and cringe at the same time.  Second, a gift card forces me to spend the money on myself, and allows me to pick something I want.  It feels luxurious--like I'm splurging.  And I am.  Also, my parents have requested restaurant gift cards because they do find them very useful and they really enjoy going out to eat.  I'm happy to oblige.  Keep in mind, however, if you give them or ask for them, that there are risks associated with them.

Nicoleandmaggie talk about their favorite Christmas books.  They include Hogfather by Terry Pratchett, which was a fantastic book.  One of them recently had a scare (thankfully all is well), so please go give your best wishes.

Jenn hosted a cookie swap and posted some videos on cookie recipes.  I went to a cookie swap earlier this week and made butter cookies.  It was my first time to make butter cookies.  The cookies were. . .well, it was my first time, as I said.

MMMMMM . . .kumquat marmalade.

Bryallen shares her tips for keeping your hands warm and dry in the snow.

Many people will be celebrating Christmas soon.  Christmas is now thought of as a time for family and togetherness.  Judy shows how important family is, and how family members are sometimes people who join you, not just those who are born to you.

I am the working poor is back! Hooray! 

These look delcious.

Have a great weekend, everyone.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

One thing I'll never cook for my friends. Or my enemies (well, maybe my enemies). . .

This is what demon spices look like. 
. . .anything with the Naga pepper.  The Naga pepper is the hottest in the world.  Think about that.  This thing puts Habeneros to shame, and those things make Satan cry.  I like spicy food, but I also like the skin on my tongue. 

I don't get the whole extreme food (or extreme anything) trend.  Like overly preachy or overly folksy cooking shows, that nonsense sucks the joy out of cooking and eating.  When you have to wear gloves--and possibly a mask--to cut or chop a pepper, it's too hot.

I once chopped Jalepenos for some salsa I was making, and some of the juice sprayed onto my face.  I'm not joking when I say that the place where it hit burned for about 30 minutes.  I can't imagine how horrible it would have been if it had hit my eye (I once got black pepper in my eye--somehow--when I was a kid and I refused to touch the stuff for years after).  Can you imagine how horrible it would be if it was a Naga pepper?  Ugh.

The East Coast Grill in Cambridge, MA has capitalized on the masochistic streak of some people, and serves a pasta dish made from this nasty little hybrid one week out of the year.  They call that week Hell Week.  And it's Hell Week this week.  You want a plate of the sadistic pasta?  You have to sign a waiver.  For real.  No thanks! I like enjoying my food.

I'll have to revise what I said about friends and dinner yesterday--I am happy to eat whatever you serve me.  As long as what you serve me won't make me pass out, cry, or do serious physical damage as it goes down. 

Note to friends: no Naga peppers, okay?

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Some simple rules for cooking for friends

I've been having people over for dinner a lot these days, and I've kind of developed a system around this.  So here are some simple rules to follow when you have people over for dinner.

Music is important.  When you're cleaning your place, you want something fast, something that will get you moving.  So feel free to play, say, Paul Oakenfold or Babes in Toyland or Iggy and the Stooges.  Or other musicians that appeal to you, since I'm reasonably sure that my selections have probably horrified 98% of the people who read this blog.  But you get the idea.  Play something that will not mellow you out but get you moving. 

However, do not play this stuff when you're say, weilding a large sharp knife and trying to slice vegetables.  Just trust me on this one, okay?  Shaking your butt to some dance music or flinging yourself around to Iggy Pop is not wise with a blade.  This is the time to switch to something more mellow, like Spanish guitar or Billie Holiday or some other relaxing music that you're into.

Food is important, but don't go overboard.  I never follow this rule, by the way.  I tend to make too much and send people home with the leftovers.  But by not going overboard, I mean, don't go making special trips to get ingredients that you'll only use once in your life for a particular dish.  Make dishes that require what you've already got (or tend to keep) in your pantry.  It's one thing to get one or two things you don't normally need--I had naan bread for one get together, and I don't typically have it in my home (though I love the stuff).  But don't make dishes that all require things you don't typically keep onhand. 

Make sure you know any dietary restrictions.  Look, you have someone coming who keeps kosher or halal, you want to make sure you're not serving anything swine based.  Make sure you know for sure if someone's vegetarian or if they're full on vegan.  Make sure you know if someone has food allergies.  Stabbing someone with an epi pen because you made pesto or used a red curry paste that used shellfish kills any dinner buzz. 

Don't be afraid to put people to work.  Everyone needs a sous-chef.  Everyone could use help with cleanup.  And speaking strictly for myself, I'm more comfortable as a guest if I'm doing something to help out. 

Don't overstress.  Do you know why I enjoy going to friends' houses for dinner?  Because I don't have to cook! I don't expect a five-star gourmet meal.  I expect to eat, and visit, and have fun.  That's it.  And that's all people expect when you make them food. 

If you have a slow cooker, use it.  Otherwise, you'll be in the kitchen all day and not hanging out with your friends.  And the point is, to hang out with your friends.  The friends you want to keep are the ones who'd gladly eat boxed mac and cheese as long as they got to hang out with you.  Those are keepers.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Tea snobbery

I have learned something about myself through this blog.  No, not that I'm a huge attention hog--that's something I've known about myself for years.  Heck, just ask my folks about that, it's legendary.

No, I've written a couple of posts about my manufactured snobbery.  And I've realized that I've been horrifically snobby in weird ways pretty much all of my life.  One of the weird ways I've been snobby is through tea.

We already know my views on coffee and food.  However, did you know that I'm insufferable when it comes to tea?  It's true.  Granted, if I'm lean bank-balance wise, I'll buy the very inexpensive stuff but then I end up doubling up the tea bags.  I used to only use loose leaf tea, but then I was far too interested in brewing and drinking an entire pot of tea.  Then it grew to two.  Then three. . .when I was regarding sleep as just an option I could take or leave, I realized I'd have to go to herbal for a while.  But a good black tea is just so delicious.

I never used to order tea if I went out to eat, because up until 15 years ago, restaurants only served one brand of tea.  And that brand, if it was honestly named, would have been "Soggy cardboard shavings."  I'd get coffee, because I am no coffee connesieur.  Now most places have decent teas available.  (Though your average diner does not have PG Tips.  Come on.  PG Tips are just bags of caffinated heaven.)

I will not drink tea out of a thick mug. I prefer to drink it out of something thinner--a more delicate mug or cup, though a cup and saucer is best.  I have several cups and saucers (they used to be my nana's).  I'd bring one to work but I'd hate to have it break on me there.

For me, it's not just about the tea itself, though that's certainly a big part of it.  It's the experience.  If I'm by my lonesome, I'll have it out of one of my thinner cups/mugs.  But sometimes I'll have it in the delicate cup and saucer.  It feels a lot more festive.  And I tend to feel a lot more civilized.

But don't ever take me for a Victorian wanna-be.  I don't take kindly to corsets, disenfranchisement, slavery, or child labor.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Luxury coffee

Yes, I know, I griped about the romanticization of the Latte Factor, but keep in mind, I'm now giving you a tutorial on manufacturing the snobbery I suggested.  Most of us do try to be careful with our cash and making our own coffee is one way many of us do it.  If you're like me, often the most affordable choice coffee-wise is the choice that will never win you any friends among coffee aficionados, however, all is not lost if you're a snobby demanding princess like yours truly.

First, when you make the coffee, make it a little stronger.  Throw in one or two extra scoops of coffee into your percolator, coffee maker, or french press.  Then, put in or two ingredients from the following list:

Ground up cardamom pods. If you have a coffee or spice grinder, you can get this done fairly quickly--if you have a decent knife and/or a mortar and pestle or a heavy bottle and bowl, you can crush them this way, though it's more time consuming.  Cardamom pods are expensive in the grocery store; don't go this route.  If you want to try this, go to an Indian grocery where you can get spices very reasonably priced or try online.  You can also try the powder instead of grinding the pods yourself, but keep in mind that the powder loses its potency quite quickly.   So I prefer the pods.  Grind about two pods per cup of coffee you're brewing, and mix in with the grounds (if you have coffee beans that you're grinding, just include the pods in with the beans before grinding).  It adds a nice, warm liquoricey flavor to your coffee.

Cinnamon and nutmeg.  I'll add a teaspoon of cinnamon and/or nutmeg to the coffee grounds before brewing.  It gives it a warm, sweet flavor.  I suppose you could get the nutmeg pods and grate them yourself, but I go through a lot of ground nutmeg so I'm quite comfortable getting the ground stuff.

Cocoa.  If you want a hint of chocolate flavor, add a teaspoon of cocoa to the coffee grounds.

Vanilla.  Take a teaspoon of vanilla extract and add to the coffee grounds.

Whole or ground cloves.  Go very easy on these; cloves are very strong.  Use one or two whole cloves, or 1/8 teaspoon ground in  the coffee grounds.

Milk/cream.  Now, if you're like me, you like your coffee with a lot of milk.  I heat up the milk before adding coffee to it--the drink stays hot for longer and it feels quite luxurious.  If I'm in a hurry, I heat it in the microwave for 30 seconds or so.  If I have time, I heat it in a small saucepan over medium heat on the stove.  I take a whisk and keep stirring it/frothing it to keep the milk from scalding at the bottom.  (I do not have a frother.)  If you want a stronger flavor of added spices, you could put them in the milk instead of the coffee grounds (well, except for the ground cardamom pods).  I haven't done this, though--I tend to add things to the grounds and let the subtle scent/flavors carry the day.

When I take coffee to work with me in the morning I prefer to heat up the milk.  If I don't, the coffee is cold and bitter by the time my commute is over.  This way, it stays hot.  It's also kind of luxurious.

And this means that I'm far less inclined to buy coffee at a Starbucks, since the stuff I make really is much, much better.  That ain't sour grapes, that's just some really luxurious coffee.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Not-so-chirpy advice: Don't go to salespeople if you need financial advice

Poor Carl Richards.  He's the financial planner who wrote a book about his financial woes.  Apparently, he's getting hate mail by the bucketfuls.  He's also getting a small but vocal group of defenders and even new clients.  Susan Antilla at BusinessWeek makes the very good point that a financial planner or a money manager with serious personal financial woes may be tempted to rip you off.  It's not something to scoff at.  (For what it's worth, I think Richards made some bad decisions that we are all prone to making.  He's also a fee-for-service planner now, not a "financial advisor" who has to depend on commissions to keep his income up.)

However, I couldn't help but notice this:

It doesn’t help that stockbrokers often are motivated to cheat because of six-figure upfront bonuses that convert into personal debts to their firm if they leave or get fired. Scot Bernstein, a California lawyer who represents aggrieved investors, says it keeps the pressure on brokers to follow management’s sales agenda even if it means fleecing customers. The shady firm desperate to do business sends a message “that we can toss you out on your ear for any reason, including if you don’t want to sell variable annuities to a 90-year-old,” Bernstein says.
Did I ever tell you about my time of unemployment?  Oh, it was grand, if by "grand" you mean "riddled with anxiety."  I kept up a good front of being positive, and there were days that I felt that way, but I was painfully aware of the fact that I could be in serious trouble when unemployment ended and I burned through the emergency fund I had saved up. 

To continue getting unemployment, you have to make moves to look for work.  (I know, Captain Obvious, etc.)  This is fair.  On one particularly dry week, I was contacted by one of those insurance/financial planning firms that offers completely free sessions with financial planners. This was thanks to me putting my resume up on Monster. I had no desire to do this--I wasn't stupid.  I knew it was a sales job.  But it was an interview in a dry spell, and I was desperate. 

I'll give you the story's spoiler now: As it turned out, I wasn't desperate enough to take that job.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The Liebster Blog Award

Bryallen at The Frugal Graduate nominated me for the Liebster Blog Award.  Thank you so much, Bryallen!  If you don't read The Frugal Graduate, you definitely should.  She's a fun and upbeat problem-solver, she's smart and she has a lot of common sense.  She's also great at making gifts.

The Liebster Blog Award is a great way to get traffic to blogs you like but that aren't widely known.  The rules are simple:

  • Thank the person who nominated you and link back to them.
  • List your top five picks (who have less than 200 followers) and link to them, telling a bit about each one.  Leave a comment on their blogs to let them know you've nominated them.
  • Copy and paste the award on your blog.
  • Have faith that your followers will do the same to other bloggers.
  • Have fun!

It was quite difficult for me to pick only five.  Bryallen made it a bit easier by picking Judy, so she's already got a nomination.  (Look.  Anyone who puts an Avenue Q song in their blog is cool people in my estimation.)

So, I'm narrowing it down to food and/or money blogs.  Here are my picks:

I am the Working Poor.  I've linked to her before, granted, but she's a wonderful, family oriented person.  She's a hard worker and has a lot of intriguing ideas and posts.

World of Okonomy.  I actually know Steve in real life.  He's an excellent cook and photographer, and showcase both well on his blog.  He also has a great back story for each dish he talks about on his blog--and it's lovely to read about a lovely day out with his friends, or the latest movie he has seen, etc. as well as his culinary adventures.

Frugal Workshop.  Belinda is a practical, fun blogger who has a lot of great tips for leftovers and reusing things.

Miss Piggy Bank.  She's striving to save money and reduce debt in her everyday life.  Reading her blog is really comforting; you realize that you can get ahead and not just subsist on dollar store ramen noodles to do so.  Also, she put the idea in my head to try Nutella spread on pancakes.  Guess what I'm going to try this weekend?

Laurie over at Food is Beautiful.  I know her in real life as well--we're acquainted through the CSA we both belong to.  She posts about once a week, and she makes beautiful gourmet dishes from very simple ingredients.  I could have eaten a 16-course meal, and I'd still be hungry after reading posts like this one.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Christmas History

I am trying, very hard, to enjoy this Christmas season.  You may already know how I feel about Christmas.  Or, at least, Christmas gifts and Christmas shopping.  I turn into Scrooge every season.  I like the pagan roots of the holiday--the displays of lit Christmas trees and lights and ornaments break up a long winter and make it festive, but the mandatory gift-giving and required cheer annoy me. There's a lot of pressure around this holiday.  And there's a lot of stupid.  Either an overeager shopper pepper sprayed other shoppers on Black Friday, or she did it to keep them at bay and keep from being trampled.  Given past Black Friday debacles, I wouldn't be surprised if it was option two.

And I think to enjoy the holiday, I need to step back from it a bit.  Not participate in all the chaos around it.  Not beat myself up that I don't have decorations up or lights up or that I don't have the Christmas spirit, whatever that is.  Just enjoy the season, give the gifts to the few people on my gift list, and indulge in having people over for dinner and walking around to see the many, many Vegas style Christmas light extravaganzas out there.  (Unlike some people, I get a kick out of those.  I don't have the patience to do it, but if you do, Godspeed and good luck and I will enjoy the cheer that is your Christmas Vegas Display.  Thankfully, not everyone is as bitter and lazy as I am about these things.)

I avoid the stores on Black Friday.  I do what little shopping I need to do either before or after, and I strive to keep things simple.  Because here's the thing: Christmas was not always considered to be that big of a deal, holiday-wise, or it was considered decadent and verboten

No, really!

Did you know that Congress was in session on December 25, 1789?  That was the first Christmas under the new US Constitution, and no one was about to recognize a day that was seen as a more European cultural thing.  When the British separatists first arrived in the Massachusetts Bay, they outlawed the celebration of the holiday.  It was against the law to celebrate the holiday in Boston until 1681.  The Puritans under Cromwell's rule in England called it "an extreme forgetfulness of Christ, giving liberty to carnal and sensual delights."  (I am starting to rethink my Scrooginess.  Because wow, Christmas being sinful! That's an attraction right there.  Though a bit ironic.)

Christmas was not a federal holiday in the U.S. until 1870. 

We did not use Christmas trees to celebrate the holiday--that tradition (a German one, from pagan days) didn't get popular in the U.S. and the U.K. until Queen Victoria and Prince Albert had one.  (Queen Victoria, ever the trend-setter, also popularized the white wedding gown.  Before that, no one got married in a gown worn only for a wedding, let alone a white one.) In fact, at the beginning of the 19th century, what passed for a Christmas celebration would have been unrecognizable to us.  It wasn't until the end of the 19th century that the traditions we associate with the holiday took hold.

And yes, I know, it's fun--opening presents and singing carols and having a great old time.  I agree.  But I'm pretty sure that running ourselves into debt and clobbering each other to get the best door buster sale is proving the Puritan's fear of the holiday right and destroying the merriment  associated with the holiday.  It is most certainly not something Jesus would do.  That dude was not a shopper, from what I gather.  Nor was he much of a pepper spray aficionado or a trampler, for that matter.  I've read both the KJV and the Douay-Rheims versions of the Bible, and I've seen no reference to him either shopping, trampling, or pepper spraying.  Not even in the Apocrypha.  Not even for really steep, below-wholesale-price discounts.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Sweet potato and kale salad

I made this a couple of weeks ago.  I was going to take a picture, but I had friends over and I figured they'd be all, "Pamela, why are you taking a picture of dinner?" (In whispers to each other: See, I told you she's not quite right.)

I got a great recipe for this from  Unfortunately, I left the printed recipe at work, so I had to wing it.  What I ended up with was pretty tasty, though, and I definitely want to try the actual recipe I got from the site.

I took two yams, peeled them, cubed them, tossed them with a little olive oil in a small baking pan and sprinkled with salt and pepper.  I roasted them for about 25 minutes at 350 degrees.

While they were roasting, I sauteed in olive oil over medium heat chopped red onion and a bunch of kale that had been trimmed of its tough stems and cut into inch-long pieces.  I did this until the kale wilted.

I put the kale and onion in a bowl and the yams in a bowl and placed them both in the fridge to cool.  Before serving, I whisked together 1/4 cup balsamic vinagrette (you can use 1/4 cup olivie oil with a tablespoon of balsamic vinegar), 1/2 tsp of Dijion mustard, and a teaspoon of honey.  I combined the kale mixture and yams in one bowl and tossed with the dressing.

It was pretty good.  You could probably mix it up by using less olive oil and a little cider, or maple syrup instead of honey, or red wine vinegar instead of balsamic vinegar.  Just make sure the flavors complement the vegetables. 

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Chirpy advice and the latte factor

Bite me, latte factor.
If I never see an article filled with chirpy advice about how you can save lots of money, it will be too soon.  Because really, I think these articles are geared for people who lost their six-figure jobs and had lots of budgetary fat to cut.  But most of us aren't in that position.

The Wall Street Journal published an article on how to save $10,000 by next Thanksgiving.  I had some hope--maybe I had missed something crucial, after all--when I saw this: You've heard the usual finger-wagging frugality lessons over and over. And you already do the obvious things, like cutting back on lattes, raising your insurance deductibles and steering clear of expensive stores.

Oh yes! Finally! Maybe there's a pundit out there who kinda gets it!

Or not. 

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Canning Dried Beans

I used up the last jar of Cannellini beans.  I had a one-pound package of dried Great Northern beans and figured I'd can them.  I do this a lot.  It's easier than buying cans of beans--it's less expensive, for one thing and it's easier to carry a few packages of dried beans home than their equivalent in canned beans.

The thing about canning dried beans--or any non-acidic vegetable--is that you have to use a pressure canner.  I very fortunately got one from my friend Debbie, who doesn't can so much these days.  She gave it to me as long as I agreed to loan it to anyone in our congregation who needed it.  I've made offers but so far, there are no takers, but it's here if it's needed.

I was so intimidated about using one of those things--I was convinced I'd either blow up my kitchen or can things wrong and kill all of my loved ones with botchulism.  Nope.  I looked it up on Youtube to see if I could at least get an idea of what was supposed to happen when the thing got up to pressure.  I found some very helpful videos that eased my mind a lot, and I've been a kindasorta suburban homesteader ever since.  Well, I would be if suburban homesteaders could buy their dried beans.  But you know what I mean.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Simple Gifts

Step away from the Bedazzler.
When I was a kid, I thought a handmade gift was really thoughtful and meaningful.  Also, I was a kid and didn't exactly have a lot of cash.  I often set about making my mother her birthday or Chistmas gifts (I don't think I ever did this with my Dad.  Mom: from the bottom of my heart, I apologize for inflicting my, er, craft ability upon you).  I tried to hand sew her an apron.  Keep in mind, I had never sewed before--if there was ever an undead apron, it was the monstrosity I made my mother.  For her birthday one year, I made her a tanning kit (look, the woman could probably reside on Mercury, that's how much her skin loves the sun.  Alas, I do not have this trait).  This kit consisted of an old Cool Whip container retrofitted with a mirror and a wire hanger (the better to direct the sun to herself when she was outside tanning).  You put water in the bowl part of the container to keep cool.  Yes, I thought it was brilliant.  My mother. . .well, to her credit, she was gracious.  But as far as handmade gifts having lots of meaning, well, let's just put it this way: I figured other people's handmade gifts had lots of meaning.  My handmade gifts had meaning, but the meaning was: WARNING! ASPIRING MAD SCIENTIST OR TRAINWRECKY CRAFTER AHEAD.  I thought "Here is a nice sweater you might like" or "Here's a gift certificate to your favorite restaurant, there, now you don't have to cook!" would be a better meaning as I got older.

If you are determined to make a hand made gift for someone, please look at the two examples above and promise yourself you will not try those.  Unless you want to alienate the recipient.  Then have at it!  Otherwise, there are simple things you can make or pull together that will go over well.

First, if you're handy with a needle and thread, Bryallen found instructions on how to make a bag out of an old sweater.  Actually, she has a lot of good ideas.  Mulled wine sachets, tissue holders, USB covers, handmade envelopes, cookies, chocolates, and herb garden and a framed drawing are all ideas she covers in her post.

You can do a homemade soup mix.  There are a bunch of sites with recipes.  Put them in a clean sauce jar or a canning jar, wrap some ribbon around it, and you have something for a busy person who sometimes needs an option for a quick meal.

You can decoupage something for someone who likes decorative things.  If they like candles, decoupage a jar with some shimmery tissue paper and put a tea light in it.  If they need storage boxes, decoupage some boxes with scrap cloth that goes with their decor.  You get the idea. 

You can make drink mixes or spice mixes

Chocolate covered spoons are also a nice option.  I mean, think about it--stirring chocolate into your coffee or hot chocolate, letting it melt. . .oh, lord, my moouth is watering now.

You can take a photograph you know the recipient will enjoy and frame it.  I did that for my Dad one year; I took a sweet picture of him and my niece, had a copy made, and framed it for him.  Or burn a CD of their favorite songs (I did that for my mother one year--and they did enjoy it on road trips, so yay!)

If you figure people are already going to be buried under a mound of cakes and cookies, you can make them spiced nuts.

If you can can things, then pickles, jelly, jams, salsa, or preserves are almost always welcome.  If you can knit, sew, crochet, carve, draw, or do something else that can be creative, then I think the gift world is your oyster.  (I'm not great at those things.)

Just remember. . .no ugly sweaters.  No Bedazzler.  And no retrofitted Cool Whip containers.

Friday, November 25, 2011

A Very Zombie Holiday

Well, considering my feelings about Black Friday, I think this is apropos. . .

(I found this on You Tube a while ago.  This is the earliest appropriate time to do it!)

Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Annual Zombie Shopping Apocalypse. I mean, Black Friday.

A week from today will be Black Friday, that very quintessential of American days.  The day after Thanksgiving, people will rouse themselves at ungodly hours (over the past several years, around 2:00 a.m.) and wait in line to get into a big box store that opens at 5:00 (or earlier in some places).

Things often got out of hand on that day, to the point where shoppers and employees died.

Don't get me wrong--some people, like Judy, are black belt Christmas shopping frugalistas, and good on 'em.  (Also, Judy and her peeps are in and out, no messing around.)

But me, I just can't.  I lack the patience required for dealing with other shoppers.

American readers know what I'm talking about, but maybe international readers don't--so let me paint a picture for you.  It's like the zombie apocalypse, except instead of slow-moving Romero zombies it's the fast-moving rage virus zombies, and they don't want to eat you or your delicious brains, they want to knock you down and step over you to get three $30 DVD players at Walmart.

I hate shopping in the best of circumstances.  On Black Friday?  Forget about it.  Malls packed with people and noisy toys and gadgets and store music systems just make me tired.  And cranky.

What I do on Black Friday--if I'm not working--can be one or more of the following:

  1. Make turkey stock and/or turkey soup
  2. Eat leftovers
  3. Resolve to pace myself with the leftover stuffing.
  4. Eat every last bit of the leftover stuffing and resolve to do better next year.
  5. Eat apple pie for breakfast.
  6. Read.
  7. Resolve to write out my holiday cards.  Find other things to do instead. 
  8. Nap.
  9. Meet up with friends.
  10. Go for a walk.
  11. Scritch my kitty.
  12. Clean.
  13. Watch a movie (maybe a zombie movie)
  14. Nap.  Oh, wait, I already said that, didn't I? Well, after a day of feasting, one needs a day of napping.

You get the idea.  I stay far, far away from stores and from anything that resembles constructive activity (except if it has to do with food).  Unless I don't get the day off, like this year, in which case I'll get lots of stuff done because I'll be one of three people in the office.

When I lived abroad, there were Christmas and winter holiday shopping rushes, but since there was no Thanksgiving, there was no designated day of OH MY GOD LETS GET THIS STUFF FOR REALLY CHEAP.  Christmas season was busy, certainly, but there was no one frenetic day.

So, fellow American readers, what do you do on Black Friday? Do you shop, or do you prefer to slack off like me?  And readers who live abroad who celebrate Christmas or other winter holidays, what is the shopping crunch like where you are?

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Crafty, crafty me (for once)

See that picture?  A success! I'm stunned.  (Though I did have a failure, which you'll see as well.)

I'm not much of a craft person. I have dreams of doing things beautifully and frugally, of being the perfect and hip suburban homesteader who can knit, can, sew, garden, and Homemaker MacGyver her way through life's travails.

Reality is very, very different.

I'm all thumbs.  I tried knitting, and I'm not bad if I do it for a while and I have an easy-to -follow pattern (though I keep forgetting how to cast on).  My mother was a good knitter when she did it, though she takes pains to tell you that she thinks she knits too tightly (I like that because any sweater or scarf she'd make would be thick, substantial, and warm.)  She made the best slippers, and little stockings to hold packets of Lifesavers for the Christmas tree.  Like me, little things out of place bug her--she knit my niece a baby blanket, noticed a dropped stitch when she was almost done, and unraveled it and redid it.  I managed to knit an alien dishcloth when I was recovering from getting two impacted wisdom teeth out (thanks to a bad reaction to the painkillers, I was on an Advil regimen and so had a clear enough head to do the dishcloth).  The same thing happened with a dropped stitch--I noticed it when it was almost done, I couldn't let it go, I unraveled it and redid it. (If nothing else, I have a special talent for being neurotic.) I have tried to take up knitting again since I got my cat four years ago, but she enjoys pouncing on the needles while I knit. Which is cute, but not so great for whatever I'm working on.

I haven't actually used this yet. I really should, eh?
I took sewing lessons and even managed to make a pillow cover, a bag and a purse (though the purse is pretty amateurish).  But again, time, money, and confidence are lacking here.  I am resolving to make some simple things in 2012, just to show myself that yes, I can do it.  (I was never under the illusion that I could make an entire wardrobe, but a few simple things like a skirt or a bag would be cool.)  I managed those other things with a lot of guidance from a very patient sewing teacher, Mikala.  Honestly, I credit her with showing me how much fun craft can be, and how artistic it truly is.  Or how artistic it can be.  I have the color and design sense of a mole.

Well, Mikala hosted a one-day decoupage workshop in her studio.  I thought, "Hey, why not?  It's not expensive, it's on a weekend day, and I haven't seen her in ages!"  So I signed up.  Oh, she does things right.  The woman had mimosas for us.  Now, although I couldn't have a mimosa, having the alcoholic tolerance of an anorexic mosquito and needing to drive home after, it was a nice touch.  (I had a mixture of cranberry and orange juice instead.  Delicious, by the way.)

Decoupage is one of those fun crafts that doesn't take a lot of money but can be a lot of fun, and strangely satisfying.  You can use paper or cloth scraps (or pictures from magazines, you get the idea) and glue them to old jars, boxes, or containers (or other things like picture frames or light switches) to give them a new life. You add more layers of glue on top of the paper or cloth to create a protective barrier. It's not as difficult as you'd think (though it's not completely easy).  One of the students in the class last weekend made her vase look like it was ceramic; it was really cool.  You can even do it to furniture, though that's more advanced and requires a fair bit of sanding.

I like the idea of reusing things.  I brought in an old jar to use.  Mikala had cloth and paper; for the jar I envisioned a candle luminary type thingy.  ("Thingy" is a technical term. Really.)  I figured I'd get an led tealight (not a real one, I have a very curious cat) and put it inside when I was done.  It wasn't difficult at all.  I'll probably get some ribbon and wrap it around the rim.

As you can see, I don't do the pretty flower stuff
Mikala had vases and some boxes from the dollar store.  Ironic, since the dollar store boxes were already really pretty.  However, I wanted to try my hand at using cloth, and so I did.  And. . well, it doesn't look too bad in the picture, but I know I could do better.  A few tips--don't try to glue paper or cloth right to an edge--it's fine to wrap it around corners and glue it down.  It would have looked a lot better if I did that.

Practice will make perfect, I'm sure.  Now I just need a tree.
I also managed to reuse an old canning lid.  Finally! I had tossed the ones I had been saving away because well, I didn't want to end up on Hoarders, crying over the prospect of clearing out a room filled to the brim with old canning lids since "I can reuse them somehow, I swear!"  Now I can--I'll need to practice more, but I think I can turn these into Christmas ornaments.  No, I do not have a tree.  But I do have friends with Christmas trees, and a Unitarian Universalist Church that has a holiday fair every year, so. . .I can reuse these.  I can use scrap cloth and paper and ribbon.  I can make all kinds of stuff!

But I can't keep it in my place.  As I said, ending up on Hoarders is not my life's dream.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Financial planners and falling a long way down

Boston Gal linked to the New York Times story about Carl Richards, who lost his home and found himself in financial hot water--made all the more humiliating because he himself is a financial planner.  He has written a book outlining where he went wrong and the very human feats of (il)logic of his that helped him get there, which is one way to bounce back from something like this, I suppose.  It's not unusual to see people who have made a mess of their financial lives straighten out and come back as personal finance pundits--Trent Hamm and Mary Hunt are two such people who've done it.  (I myself veer away from giving chirpy advice because I find it very irritating.  Also, I'm no one's example to follow.)

What Richard's situation seems to have boiled down to was the herd mentality.  Everyone else was doing it so it couldn't be a bad idea, right?  So he and his wife made some spectacularly bad decisions, but they seemed just fine because everyone else was making them and not suffering any bad consequences.  And I remember those years--well-meaning people advised me to walk down that same path, and acted like I was horribly neurotic for not wanting to do so. 

I'm not writing this to berate him--we all screw up, we all make mistakes, and we all make decisions we shouldn't based on what we want to believe rather than on what is actually wise.  But I do think this is a good story to keep in mind the next time a pundit or an advisor or a mortgage broker or a real estate agent or anyone else gives you advice that seems a little reckless to you: it probably is.  Respect that voice of doubt in the back of your head.  These people are not your friends.  They don't care what happens to you after you sign on the dotted line.

Err on the side of caution. The worst that can happen if you're wrong is that you don't have the thing you wanted and you're not in debt that you can manage.  The worst thing that can happen if you're not wrong and do it anyway is that you don't have the thing you wanted and you're in debt you cannot manage. 

Friday, November 11, 2011

Link Festival

First, I know I'm American, and this is from Blackadder, a British comedy, but I think it's appropo for today. (And yes, House fans, that's Hugh Laurie, and yes, that's why I always picture Dr. House as suddenly doing a monologue on how he's a bit of a thickie.)

 I'm going to be in my friend's wedding today--so it's long gown and sparkly cruel shoes for me tonight.  I'm very, very happy for my friend, who's a riot to hang out with.  I took my last vactation trip with her (in 2006)--we went to Mexico.  She's a dance instructor and has won numerous awards for ballroom and Latin dancing so of course we had to go to a salsa club in Playa del Carmen.  She impressed everyone there.  She had just started to really get to know the man who would later become her boyfriend, then her fiancee, and soon her husband. 

So, since I won't be around today, I'm linking to people whose past posts you may have missed.

Last month, Donna Freedman blogged about the Web Economy [BS] Generator.  Although I am a shameless policy dork, I am kind of in love with that site.  Thank you, Donna!

Over at MSN Money, Andrea wonders if she could survive on minimum wage and realizes that she probably couldn't (if she had to pay rent or a mortgage).  She doesn't have cable or a lot of luxuries.  She thinks she'd have to give up her car insurance if she was in that situation--but in my state, if you own a car, car insurance is mandatory, so you could increase the deductible and/or drop collision and comprehensive insurance.  I know I couldn't make it--and I bought my place back in 1999, when housing prices were much lower than they are even today (though that may not be the case soon, sigh).  Frankly, I remember struggling when I made $19,000 a year after graduating from college--most of my take home pay went towards my share of the rent ($400 for me), my car (either constant repairs for the rust bucket I owned, or the payment for the newer car I later purchased), food, utilities, and gas.  (I didn't have cable either.)  At even today's minimum wage, I would have had to move back in with my parents, and that would not have turned out well (rents in this area have gone up significantly since then).  I can't get judgy towards people who aren't making that much and who are struggling with debt. 

Twenty-minute duck? Laurie, I am so coming to your house for dinner.

Judy has her plans all set for Black Friday.  (Good lord, woman, you are organized!) Me, I either hang out in my jammy pants or I work.  I'm working this year.  Very few people will be in the office so I'll be (hopefully) able to get some stuff done. 

This is a really pricey impulse purchase.  While I can be quite the impulse buyer myself, I don't think I could get into that much debt on impulse.  I'd have the longest-running anxiety attack in history if I did that--it would last the length of the car loan.  More along that theme, Wise Bread points out that a new car can even eat into your retirement savings, so leave the impulse purchases to the odd pack of gum or Pez. (Come on.  Pez is awesome.)

Len Penzo pointed out that whirlpool tubs are for suckers.  The closest I can get to having a whirlpool tub is blowing bubbles in my bath through a straw.  And even if I had the money--or the space (small bathroom, and a small condo make this an unlikely purchase for me), I wouldn't get one for the reasons he outlines.  Though I am a fan of leisurely baths.  When I lived in Japan, I loved the bathtubs there.  The one in my home was heated (you wash before bathing, and you cover the tub after using it so other family members can bathe).  I was also a regular at the public bath house and went to hot springs when I travelled around Japan on vacation.  (If I was a multi-billionaire, I'd buy a place in Arima, which has lovely hot springs, and I would host my friends in Japan and overseas to come and hang out for mega spa days.  This is highly unlikely to happen, however.)

World of Okonomy made a salad from heaven.  Salads can be decadent--I have learned to love them.  One thing I love about Steve's blog is that he doesn't just talk about food, he talks about his whole day up to the time he makes the meal he features. 

Miss Piggy Bank has posted several interesting things since this one, but go give her three cheers for paying off her credit card.  I know there are advantages to using those things if you are financially responsible and have very good impulse control, but let's face it, most of us humans lack those things!

While you're at it, give I Am The Working Poor some atta-girls for reaching debt-free status, and some encouragement in the face of the troubling news about her workplace

The Frugal Graduate made some gorgeous wrapping paper--makes me want to forgo the stuff in the stores and try this.  (She's posted lots since then, but you really want to check this out.)

Boston Gal posted about a financial planner who fell on hard times.  I have thoughts, many of them, but I'll save them for a separate post.

Have a great weekend, everybody!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Butternut squash and apple soup

This is something that adds a lovely, elegant touch to any meal.  It's excellent with a crisp salad and crusty bread, or as a starter before a more substantial dinner.  It's creamy and buttery (yet uses neither cream nor butter).  It's sweet and savory, and it's a great thing to have if you are going to be eating something particularly spicy for your main course. 

It's also very easy to make.  I made this last weekend with the butternut squash I had gotten from my CSA.

Take a large butternut squash, slice it in half, and remove the seeds and the seed pulp.  Place in a foil lined baking dish, drizzle with a little olive oil (especially in the cavities) and add one sage leaf to each cavity (if you have them available; you can freeze fresh sage and take out a little of that and use it).  At this point, if you prefer the mellower taste of roasted garlic, take two to four cloves, place in the pan, and drizzle with some olive oil.  Roast in a 350 degree oven until it's tender--I usually do it for about an hour or so.  (If you're pressed for time, start it in the microwave.)  Once it's done, remove the sage leaves and scoop out the butternut squash; place it in a bowl.

Meanwhile, clean and slice two leeks (white and light green parts only).  Peel, core, and chop a grannysmith apple.  And chop a medium sized onion (or use about 3/4 a cup of chopped frozen onion from your grocer's frozen food section).  If you didn't want to roast your garlic, take two to four cloves, smash and chop them.  Sautee all of these in a stockpot in some olive oil over medium heat, until translucent and fragrant.

Add the butternut squash (and roasted garlic if you decided to use that) to the pot, and about 4 cups of chicken stock or vegetable stock (turkey stock is also acceptable).  Bring to a boil  and then allow to simmer for ten or fifteen minutes.  At this point, you either want to transfer it in batches to a food processor or blender and puree it, or use an immersion blender right in the pot.  Puree it and allow it to simmer more.  Add a little more stock as it will get very thick (unless you like it very thick). 

You can add roasted squash seeds, crispy fried sage, or just a sprinkling of black pepper or chili pepper for a garnish if you wish (if you prefer it spicy, I'd do a little streak of cayenne or chili pepper).

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Healthy Snacks

Steve did some wonderful things with kale and peanuts, so if you've got a hankering for a healthy snack, check out his blog for a second.

Last weekend, I roasted some winter squashes from my CSA.  I used one in a soup and one I froze for use later.  But one thing I love to make and eat whenever I cook any type of winter squash--be it pumkin, delicata, butternut, or any other kind, are roasted seeds.  My mother used to make these after we carved Halloween pumpkins and I'm not exaggerating when I say that if I had to chose between the seeds and candy, I'd choose the seeds.  I would have cried for my lost candy, but I still would have chosen the seeds.

These are delicious.  They are very good for you, they are very easy to make, and since you already have them onhand, it's really no big deal to make them.  Double points for productivity if you're roasting the squash instead of boiling it, as that way you've got an oven already going (however, there are times I just slice and add acorn squash or kabocha in nabe or a miso-infused soup, so then I will quite shamelessly get the oven going just for the seeds.  I know.  Wasteful.  Ah, well. . .)

Basically, take out the seeds and the pulp around them, and pop out as many seeds as you can into a strainer.  Try to get rid of as much of the pulp as you can; there will be a little stuck to the seeds, but you will take care of that once you're done getting rid of the big chunks of pulp.  Rinse the seeds in the strainer under cold water, and swish them around with your hand to separate them from the little pieces of remaining pulp.  Pat them dry with a clean towel, and place on a dry cookie sheet.  Sprinkle with salt, pepper, or whatever ground dried herbs or spices you like.  (I like just a touch of salt, but I've heard that a little bit of cayenne pepper and garlic granules are also nice as well.)  Bake in a 350 degree oven for about ten minutes or so.  You'll have to check, so maybe about midway through pull out the sheet and see if they're getting toasted.  Stir them a bit to make sure the seeds are evenly cooked and put them back in.  When they're done, take them out and allow them to cool (well, I do steal a few hot seeds).  Eat and enjoy.

These are great as a straight snack, as a garnish for soups, or an addition to salads.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Scaling back for Christmas

Before you read any further, I will eventually post some ideas about certain homemade gifts you can make.  But this post is a rambly one about actually scaling back on who you give to and how much you give, because sometimes, you just don't have the time or the inclination to make inexpensive gifts, especially when you're not sure if the recipient will like them or use them.

Christmas really stresses me out.  I prefer to exchange with my immediate family only.  Even then, I keep it simple (my sister and I agreed that we were a little old to be buying each other gifts all the time, and gave each other a pass for Christmas, though she still gets me things because I get things for her kids.  Well, no kidding! I like being an aunt, and she's the only sibling I have.  She's also in no danger of having 17 more kids, so I think I can swing this).  I would rather not exchange with everyone within a 100 mile radius of me.  I remember hearing someone on TV talk about getting a bunch of small things that she could throw together and create a gift  if someone brought her something and she didn't have anything for them (I think it was tea light candles and small voitive holders).  I shook my head at this.  Anyone who knows me in real life, please know this: I don't want anything but your friendship and your company.  I'm not just saying that. 

Monday, November 7, 2011

Jayne's Dried Cranberry and Chocolate Chip Biscotti

Last year, my coworker Jayne made these and they were divine.  I figured I'd make a couple of batches recently she very kindly shared the recipe with me.  Warning: the dough is very tasty and you'll be in danger of gobbling it up before you even bake the biscotti logs.  Jayne said that she could never get hers to be hard; I do recall that when she brought them in they were soft and oh-so-delicious.  I was able to get them hard and biscotti like, but honestly, I do prefer these biscotti softer.  (So Jayne's kind of the queen of the ultimate luxury biscotti. . .)

This makes for a really nice gift for people with a sweet tooth (and obviously, no health issues around sugar), especially for the holidays. 

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Has nothing to do with the purpose of this blog

. . .but if you can, check out Louis vs. Rick.  It is the story of a man who taught his cat how to IM him.  Start from Episode 1 and work your way through--there are only eight episodes up so far.  It's worth it.  I laughed so hard I cried, and then ended up with the hiccups.  So maybe you shouldn't read it if you're prone to the hiccups if you laugh really hard for a long time.

However, if you have a cat, you will relate.  I have a cat, and yes, if she could IM me, she'd do pretty much the same thing.  (Well, she doesn't pee on people's things.  She'll just roll around in them and sleep on them.  BECAUSE IT WAS IN MY SPOT, MAN.)

Thursday, November 3, 2011

What is success?

J.D. Roth over at Get Rich Slowly has a post up about the difference between the wealthy and the poor, where he mentions the a couple of books that list the supposed traits of each.  Like J.D., I thought the assumptions these authors trotted out were simplistic at best.  But. . .it got me thinking and then going off on a tangent.

Two of the most successful people I know are my parents.  They are not driven, Type A people.  My father has never vied for the corner office, and my mother was never one to want bigger or better things.  If you asked my father what he did, he'd tell you he was a father.  That was his job.  And if you asked my mother what she did, she'd tell you she was a mother.  Their family was their first priority, always. It wasn't the Cleavers or Ozzie and Harriet, but I wouldn't have been happy in that kind of home.  I know they love me, no matter how much I make them want to tear their hair out (oh, my teen years were epic).

They aren't perfect by any stretch, but then, neither am I.  But I'd consider them very successful.  They have children who love them, grandchildren who love them, and friends, family, and colleagues who respect them and like them.  They love each other, they genuinely like each other, they are content with what they have, and they have built a very happy life together.  I'd rather have a happy life, content with what I have, surrounded by friends and relatives who I care about and who care about me than billions of dollars. 

Who do you consider to be successful?  And why?

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Salmon with watermelon radish

I enjoyed my CSA take last week.  I got brussel sprouts (which come on a large stalk; who knew?), yams, potatoes, watermelon radish, kale, mesculun mix, garlic, butternut squash, scallions, lettuce and those infamous ears of popcorn.  It was the last share of the season for the summer share, but I had also bought a winter share, so I'll be rolling in winter greens and squashes.

I made a very substantial lunch on Saturday--I took a small salmon fillet from the deep freeze pan seared it with some salt and pepper, and topped it with chopped, sauteed watermelon radish, and had roasted brussel sprouts and a yam on the side.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Well, that was a big bag of fail

I got cobs of popcorn from my CSA last week, and I was very excited to make some.  One of the workers at the stand showed me how to get the kernels off the cob.  I couldn't wait to taste some local, fresh, popped sweet corn.

I took the kernels out--I read that you can pop the whole cob, but that the kernels stay on the cob after, and that's not how I'd like to eat popcorn.  So I took them out, and picked out all of the bits of the dried cob that came off with them.

I popped them on the stove (I could get a popcorn popping container for the microwave, but I do like it on the stove).  I heard some kernels popping, but then. . .nothing.  Then I smelled something burning.  Argh! So I took the pan off the burner, and this is what I had.

I still have two cobs; I'll ask what I should have done differently.

Sunday, October 30, 2011


This is not the flower box the squirrels tore up.

This is not a picture I should have been able to take on October 30.  I had to skip out on a Jack-and-Jill wedding shower last night because of the weather--it was sleeting and snowing and pretty windy, and traffic was crawling at 40 miles per hour.  Which was just fine with me--I'm not a fan of getting killed because other people shrug off hydroplaning--but still, I was never going to make it to the place, which was an hour away from on a clear day with little traffic. 

Now, I am sure this will melt off later as they (and by "they" I mean meterologists) are talking about temperatures getting up into the 50's later this week, but. . .wow.  Actually, it will go away today because it will be in the high forties but still.  Wow. 

I shudder to think what other people in the state are going through--some parts were supposed to get something like 6-12 inches.  In October.  And thanks to a lot of downed trees (the leaves haven't yet fallen, so there was a lot of heavy, wet snow not just on the branches, but on the leaves), there are a lot of people without power.

Friday, October 28, 2011


I made biscotti last week, though I don't think it came out as good as it could have.  I think it needed more anise extract, although the recipe I used called for only one tablespoon.  I think next time, I'll add more.  I brought some to my parents' house on Sunday--my mother had made some homemade soup, and was quite happy to take the biscotti.  She likes it a lot, and she and my father said said father could taste the anise no problem.  Ha! So there, you doubting voice in my head!  (But checking out this woman's biscotti, and all I can say is that I am not worthy.)

 I'm not sure if I should only toast them lightly or toast them until they are very crunchy and hard.  The biscotti I've had before I started to make it was more of a dunking cookie; you were supposed to dunk it in your coffee or tea.  And, I later found out, sweet wine if you rolled that way.

I am not entirely confident in my cookie-making abilities--really, my baking prowess is limited to bread, sour cream coffee cake, and chocolate fudge cake.  I made biscotti last November and everyone seemed to like it but . . . well, let's just say I won't be satisfied with my biscotti until a Sicilian grandmother declares it delicious.

Now, here's a fun fact: twice-baked breads/cookies like biscotti trace back to Roman times.  Pliny the Elder (according to Wikipedia, anyway), said that twice-baked goods could last for centuries (no, they really can't, and yes, I think he was exaggerating).  I do think that twice-baked goods are the basis for the Dwarf bread that Terry Pratchett writes about, with the crucial difference that twice-baked goods--or at least, the biscotti that I know today--are edible and delicious.  (You don't know about Terry Pratchett?  Good lord, you must read his stuff, he is a riot! OK, I will stop putting my dorkiness on breathtaking display now.) 

Roman soldiers and people traveling on long journeys took twice-baked goods with them, as they did have a long shelf life (though not centuries).  I'm doubting that the troops were dunking almond flavored biscotti in their cappuccinos (since coffee was not in Europe at that point) or mugs of sweet wine, though.  I think they were probably eating savory twice baked breads.  Though it would be quite a statement to pack what we know as biscotti today.  I am not fighting a war or marching on any cities unless we have a supply of good biscotti.  And Chianti! My God, not the swill you sent with us last time.  And for the love of all things holy and profane, would it kill you, Emperor to send us to places that grow and use some herbs? Do you have any idea what it's like to eat food without any decent herbs?  What do you think we are, uncivilized? I may be a soldier, but I do have taste buds.

Me, I like biscotti because it's very easy to make, it is sweet but not overwhelmingly so, and it is just perfect for a hot drink like coffee or tea.  It also does last a long time.  But not centuries.