Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Life is great, have a cookie ...


I'm just not that into writing words right now. But I made cookies! The really cool thing about snickerdoodles is that anyone with a normally stocked pantry will have all of the ingredients on-hand. I'd post the recipe but I don't remember where I got it; google "snickerdoodles" and pick the one that looks simplest. That's what I did.

In other news, I'm still maintaining a semi-regular meditation practice. And I've learned the word "practice" is key. For a while I just felt like I was just struggling--struggling to maintain straight posture, struggling to keep my shoulders from tensing, struggling to keep a comfortable seat, struggling to keep my thoughts from running away with me ... and then I realized that the struggle is actually what it's all about. When you mention this sort of thing to experienced meditators they will often say "That's why they call it practice." Zing!

OK then. My life is awesome. Have a fabulous day.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

I always liked the name Martha ...

baba ghanouj

Sometimes I really love having a productive day at home completely to myself, which is what Sunday turned out to be. I did have tentative plans, but the extreme heat canceled them (I had been planning to go to the Durham Food Truck Rodeo* for my third time, but since it looks like it's going to be monthly I figured it would be OK to miss the one that occurred in 100+ temperatures). So I ended up spending the whole day (with a few small excursions to various stores) at home actually getting stuff done. And some of the stuff I did was cooking and baking.

It's the time of year when my friend Cindy's garden produces an overabundance of veggies, so Saturday I accumulated a kitchen full. I shredded a bunch of zucchini and stuck it in the freezer for future zucchini projects (I'm going to try a savory zucchini bread). I have way more tomatoes than I have time to do anything with, but I also don't have time to run around finding homes for them.But she had so many they would have just fallen off the plants and rotted on the ground because she doesn't have time to pick them all. So I took them ... I suppose the worst thing that could happen is they end up feeding the worms in my compost pile instead of the critters and bugs in her garden ...

Anyway, she gave me a couple of eggplants, and I really wanted to have a go at baba ghanouj, which I adore. I had tried many years ago to make some and it turned out horrible, so I was a little afraid to try it again. I think my mistake that time was that I didn't roast the eggplants correctly or long enough. So I looked online for some tips and I found a nice little video on Chow. Worked like a charm! So then I just followed this recipe, except for the part where it told me how to roast the eggplants, and I ended up with absolutely the best baba ghanouj I've ever had. Yay me! I'm definitely going to add eggplants to my garden next year, because this stuff is habit-forming.

I also had some lemons lying around so I decided to make glazed lemon-coconut bars. I started with this recipe but I completely didn't follow it because I didn't have Bisquick (I formulated a substitution with flour, baking powder and salt ... thanks internets!), I didn't have a half-cup of egg substitute (I used two real eggs instead) and I accidentally mixed the 3/4 cup of sugar with the base layer, so I had to add another in the top layer. Yes, I used twice the amount of sugar. Anyway, the result was delicious, but not terribly good-looking:

glazed lemon coconut bars

*The Durham Food Truck Rodeo looks like it will be happening monthly at Durham Central Park. Probably the best place to find out when the next one will be is the Durham Central Park blog. I had a great time at the first two and plan to go to them as ooften as I can in the future.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Have a seat ...


I think I may have mentioned here the new meditation habit I'm trying to establish. Did I also mention that in pursuit of such, I was going to make myself a zafu, which is the Japanese way of saying "meditation cushion"? So anyway, I made the zafu (pictured above), and I'm quite pleased with the way it turned out. (But I'm going to make another because I think I may actually be more pleased with one that's a little smaller in circumference.)

I used these instructions, which were pretty good. The one thing they didn't specify was finishing the ends of the pleated strip before you sew it to the top and bottom circles. I think that's sort of a crucial step, and fortunately I recognized it needed to be done and did it before it would have entailed any seam-ripping. The other thing it doesn't specify is how much one should adjust the length of the pleated strip to account for any decrease in the circumference of the circles. This is something I'll need to monkey with when I make my next one. Also, I'm going to add a handle to the next one, which will be pretty easy.

I stuffed it with buckwheat hulls from this place, which is actually local (Morrisville) so I was able to save a bit on shipping by picking them up. I think it's pretty cool that the woman started the buckwheat hull business to provided employment opportunities for developmentally disabled people. So if you need buckwheat seeds or hulls, that's where you should buy them.

Since I just used fabric I already had lying around, the only out-of-pocket cost to me was the buckwheat hulls (I used about $10 worth). It only took me about 2 hours to make, and I've got more time than money so it was really worth the effort (I would have spent at least $45, probably more, on an already-made zafu). The best thing is that I was able to make it to my own preference, which is important in a meditation cushion because discomfort can be a big obstacle to establishing a regular meditation practice.

Once I make my second zafu I'll still have enough fabric left to make a zabuton, which is a little mat you put your zafu on (it cushions your knees and ankles). Right now I'm just using an old folded-up comforter for that purpose. It works just fine ... but if it's cheap and easy to do I may as well make a matching one. Right?

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Do you have to have a garden to have a garden party?

Yet again, my bons mots have been wasted on Facebook lately, mostly because it's so easy to get a cheap laugh over there. No need for complete sentences! But Facebook is really sort of a black hole ... you post your most profound sentiment and maybe get gratified by a few comments, but then it just disappears beneath the weight of all the subsequent stupid stuff you say or post. And by you I mean me. At least if you put it in your blog someone searching the term "mr. ray's hair weave" could stumble across it years later and maybe, just maybe, appreciate your little pearls of wisdom. Or whatever they are. ("Mr. Ray's Hair Weave" is the second most popular search term that brings people to this blog behind the term "bunch of pants." I completely understand the urge to search on the term "Mr. Ray's Hair Weave", as I, like everyone else who lived in the DC area in the '70s or early 80's, would love to find an online video of the beloved Mr. Ray's Hair Weave commercial. So far, no luck. If you got here because of that search, you may or may not find this post interesting.)

But that's not why I came here today. I came to talk about tomatoes and basil. But I just expended all my energy writing that rather overlong paragraph above, so I'll talk tomatoes and basil another day. Except that I'll ask one question: What can I do with basil aside from making pesto?

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

I had a plethora but I'm not sure where I put it

My friend Cindy gave me several massive zucchini, so of course the first thing I did was make some zucchini bread:

zucchini bread

It's awesome stuff. I may have to make a ton more to use up all this zucchini. Then I'll walk around giving loaves away like I'm the zucchini bread fairy.

You didn't ask for the recipe, but I'll give it to you anyway (I've been using if for about 10 years now and I have no idea where I first got it or I'd give credit):

* 3 Eggs
* 1 cup Oil
* 2 cups Shredded raw zucchini
* 1 3/4 cups Sugar
* 1/4 teaspoon Baking powder
* 2 teaspoons Baking soda
* 2 teaspoons Cinnamon
* 1 teaspoon Salt
* 2 teaspoons Vanilla
* 1 cup Chopped nuts
* 2 cups Flour

Put zucchini in strainer and press or squeeze with hands to get excess liquid out. Beat eggs, sugar, and oil together. Add flour, baking powder, soda, cinnamon, salt, vanilla, and nuts. Mix together by hand. Add zucchini (minus liquid). Beat mixture. Pour into 2 greased, floured, loaf pans.
Bake 1 hr. at 350 deg. F. Recipe may be doubled.

Also, I got some really great news via a fortune cookie the other day:

awesome fortune

When I first saw it I thought "a pony?" until I remembered that I haven't actually wanted a pony since fifth grade. So it must be the ability to smite people because I've always wanted that. Heads up jerks and wrongdoers!

I recently read a bunch of Albert Einstein quotations and the communication via fortune cookie reminded me of one of my favorites: "There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle." I think I like the second.

Saturday, July 03, 2010

Live in the moment and then just try to have really good moments ...

i think the sky is amazing today

Hi kids! I'm having a good life right now. Maybe that doesn't make for good blogging, but oh well ...

My gnome still hasn't made it home, but Rakka sent me a new one:

i have a new gnome!!

I need to get him in a frame and on the wall. I would say at least he'll be safe from thieves there, but apparently there has been a rash of break-ins in my normally boring (but wonderful) neighborhood. The thieves are only taking the computer and the TV from every house they rob. I don't know if the sound of my three bloodthirsty beastlets is enough to keep them out of my house, but I can take my computer with me when I leave and my television is one of the old heavy behemoth kinds that I would probably have a hard time giving away on Freecycle. My only worry is that someone breaking in would leave the door open and let the dogs out--they are really the only things I value.

Also, in vaguely interesting news, maybe, I'm taking the next logical step from a regular yoga practice and trying to meditate for reals. I mean, I've sort of tried in the past, but it was always easy to get frustrated and think it was a waste of time and then start putting it off because the kitchen needed tidying, etc. But now I've stepped it up and am getting serious about it. So my next project will be setting up a proper meditation place in my house. Currently I sit on a few throw pillows on top of an old comforter in the living room, but I've decided I'm going to make myself a proper zafu and zabuton and arrange part of my spare room as my sitting area. Yeah, hard core! The reason I'm DIYing the cushionry is because that stuff can be hella expensive. Oh yeah, I'm also going to make a yoga mat bag. I'll let you know how it all turns out...

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Monday, June 21, 2010

hi gnome, i'm home!

So is it a coincidence that my garden gnome was stolen from my yard and suddenly gnomes are popping up on overpasses and other high places all over Durham?

Possibly ... my gnome wasn't small and cute and easily hoisted to high places. He was 2 feet tall, made out of concrete and rather heavy. Still, I miss the little fella. If you see him, please steal him back for me.

In other news, my dog is totally effing cute:

pinky tug

and any day now my first tomato is going to ripen:


Or not ... I took that photo almost two weeks ago and the dang thing is still just growing bigger.

How are you?

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Fabulous! Thanks for asking.

I'm still having fun with money and food. Also cleaning supplies. I haven't really posted much about my coupon conquests because, well, wouldn't it just get a bit boring after a while? But also because I had established such a stockpile of cheap or free food and household supplies that I realized I could just not go shopping at all for a while. Of course I had to buy perishables (mostly stuff you don't usually find coupons for, like milk, fruit, veggies and eggs), but I really didn't need much else because I had stocked up in the previous months. So aside from a few odd incredible deals (like doubles at Kmart and triples at Harris Teeter), I just haven't been shopping much.

Until yesterday, that is. It's Harris Teeter Super Doubles time again (that's when they double any coupon up to $1.98 in value), and I had a great trip. I used my quota of 20 doubleable (is that a word? Is now ...) coupons, all but one over $1 (plus one non-doubleable $2 coupon). My order rang up at $56.23 (after "VIC" savings, which were $17.55), and I paid $12.62 after coupons. Here's what I got (You can click it to see it bigger, y'know):

The two Mystic Pizzas? Free! (There's a little line on the box that says something about it being the pizza that made the movie famous. I don't remember the pizza in the movie being frozen ... but I digress. But wait, that's not all I got free! Also free were the cans of Muir Glen tomatoes, two Reach dental flosses, two Kashi Cereals, two Hersheys Extra Dark chocolate bars and three McCormick spices. The rest of the stuff was just really, really cheap. (If you're wondering how I figure out the best deals, I use the lists at Southern Savers.) I plan to make at least a couple more trips before Super Doubles ends next week.

I've gotten so accustomed to not paying anywhere near full price for so much stuff in the grocery store that I think long and hard about buying just about anything that isn't. Do I really NEED this? I ask myself. Usually in the case of milk, eggs or fresh fruit and veggies, I'll answer yes, but I still look for those things on sale or frequent the places where they are usually cheaper. (Fruits and veg are usually cheaper at Kroger and Food Lion than at Harris Teeter, and often even cheaper still at Compare Foods.) Sometimes for other things I decide that no, I don't actually need it, which ends up saving me even more money.

So anyway, in other news, you didn't actually ask but I'll tell you that life is good. No, life is great. No, make that fabulous. The "bad" things that happen seem to always turn out to be good after all. I hope that's how it is for you, too.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Meet me after school and I will beat you like gorilla

I think I got bored with blogging again. I'll go ahead and keep blaming the volcano. See, if I had taken my trip to Wales, I'd have easily had all sorts of new and interesting thoughts to share simply because my mind would have been in a completely different place. I had been hoping to come home seeing the world with new enthusiasm (or something like that), which is what always happens after I go somewhere. Then I would have written about it, posted photos, maybe even tried making new foods based on something I had eaten there ... but no. Alas. I stayed here and couldn't think of a damned thing to say that seemed interesting enough to mention here.

I'm trying to revive a less-than-successful meditation habit that I had tried to establish previously. It's not as exciting as yoga (which I'm also still doing regularly), but I can see some benefits. If you do it lying down it's a great way to fall asleep ... which is why you're told to sit up. But what If I really need the sleep? Seems like a win-win outcome to me ...

Oh, I suppose since I brought the subject up a few months ago that I should mention it now and be done with it: the swell fellow I had met back in January turned out to be not so swell after all. So now I get to go out on "dates." It's OK.

I did get mildly excited over the weekend about some rhubarb my friend Cindy gave me. Yum, rhubarb! I decided to try making rhubarb bars with it, but after the baking the result behaved nothing at all like a bar, but more like a cobbler:

rhubarb thingie

It was damn tasty, though, and that's what really matters. I'd post the recipe, but I can't find it now.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

At least the kitchen works

Stupid volcano.

If you've been paying attention to The News, or maybe my Facebook status feed, you won't be surprised to learn that my trip to Wales did not happen. I'm more than a little bummed out about it, and I've shaken my fist at the volcano a few times, but there's really nothing to be done. The only positive is that Continental Airlines turned my non-refundable ticket into a refundable one, so I'm hoping that in however many weeks it takes them to process the refund, I will have a chunk of cash to apply to the debt on my new furnace.

I could have taken the whole week off anyway, but I decided to just take two days and save the rest for later. I may think of something fun and cheap to do with the time (like visit another friend out who invited me out to the Pacific Northwest, maybe? I can use frequent flier miles for that one ...)

So now I'm back to the same old same old, with no lovely memories of my adventures in Wales to shore up my spirits.

Maybe I need to bake a cake or something ...

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

It starts out as a flirtation and ends up an expensive habit

Hi, it's me! I've started and not finished several blog posts over the last ... what? Two months? I can't be bothered to check. I've been doing the same old things:
  • Making some delicious food, including but not limited to: no-knead bread, lemon curd, coconut cake, little lemon souffles, "camping" doughnuts, lemon angel torte and frozen lemon yogurt. In case you can't tell, I'm really into the lemon right now.

  • Coupon stuff. Still saving lots of money. Too lazy to recount all the free and incredibly cheap stuff I've gotten over the past couple of months. My favorite deals this week were free nature's Own 100% Whole Wheat bread and 12 oz. of New England Coffee for 99 cents.

  • GETTING READY FOR MY TRIP TO WALES!! Less than a week to go! My mother has graciously agreed to stay at my house and look after my dogs. I hope she doesn't get too bored. She adores the $7 fabric store on 15-501, but how many times can she go there before it gets boring too? She's been to Durham before, though, so hopefully she can find her way to some fun. What's good for a 70-something woman to do in Durham?

Monday, February 22, 2010

I once offended a foodie by calling him a foodie

Oh noes! All I can think of is food! A couple of years ago I lost 20 pounds and I've been extremely happy with the svelter me. (Also, it's helped my dog agility tremendously; I have way more stamina and my knees and feet don't get sore after a weekend of competing.) One of the things that helped me maintain my weight is the fact that I've never been overly interested in food. I mean, I love to eat and I adore yummy things, but usually I'd rather go hungry than put much effort into making anything. I guess I'm just lazy.

Now that the Swell Fellow and I have been cooking regularly, I'm thinking a lot about food, mostly searching for recipes that would be fun to try. When S.F. isn't around, I'm still not terribly inclined to expend much effort on my food, but I seem to have a lot more yummy leftovers hanging around, which means I'm eating really well without much effort.

Egads, the last thing I want to do is fatten up again. Good thing I have a treadmill! I bought it off of Craigslist last year, mostly because I wanted to teach the dogs to walk on it so I could exercise them and keep them fit for agility even when it was crappy a cold and getting dark really early. But I use it way more than they do. Mostly I walk on it, but I'm working in longer and longer periods of running. It's a fabulous way to not feel guilty about spending a long time in front of the TV. Joss Whedon shows are a great accompaniment to a treadmill workout.

Anyway, back to food ... I think I want to try my hand at something heavenly but not very healthy my mother used to make for us: pork tenderloin sandwiches. Oh, christ on a cracker those things were heavenly! The funny thing is that my mother was never a really great cook, but you couldn't tell it from her pork tenderloin sandwiches. If she could make them, surely I can too, right?

In other food-related incidents, my sourdough starter seems to have gone bad. Apparently it requires a bit more maintenance than the Betty Crocker cookbook let on. It's like the little tiny turtles I had when I was a kid: they look so cool in the store, but then after you get them home you realize you can't forget to feed them and clean their little habitat. So I've been looking into that as well, and will be collecting some of the links I find over at delicious (where I also seem to have accumulated a plethora of recipes over time).

Friday, February 19, 2010

NEW Feature! Unsolicited and perhaps even unwarranted product reviews!

In yet another a blatant attempt to get companies to send me free crap stuff (HELLO, PILLSBURY! Have I not said enough how much I love your crescent dough? Oh wait, it's very nearly free most of the time if you combine the right sale with the right coupon ... so I suppose I can buy my own) I'm going to, maybe sometimes if I feel like it, post product reviews.

Today, We have one GOOD and one BAD. I'll do the bad one first so I can end on an upbeat note.

TAZO Organic Chai Spiced Black Tea
. When I bought this (on sale and with a doubled $1 coupon at Harris Teeter), I thought I was treating myself to an indulgence, because even discounted it cost more than I usually pay for tea. I drink a LOT of tea, so I can't afford the good stuff. Good thing I'm mostly content with the cheap stuff. And I will continue to be, because this stuff is horrible. Bleah, even the memory of it is nauseating me. See, I don't really know from chai. Other than the odd bit here and there at Thai restaurants, I've only ever had Stash brand chai spiced tea, which is quite yummy. So I thought that being all hoity toity and expensive, TAZO would maybe be yummier. And they make it sound yummy on the box: "To create your own version of TAZO® ORGANIC CHAI, you would have to accumulate many frequent flyer miles shuttling between Asia, Africa and Central America gathering rich black tea, sweet cinnamon, zingy ginger, spicy star anise and warm cardamom." But the predominant flavor of TAZO® ORGANIC CHAI is none of these things. No, Tazo Organic Chai would be better named TAZO® BLACK PEPPER TEA, because it tastes like I filled a tea infuser with ground black pepper and steeped it for several minutes. Even sweetening with honey didn't help. If you think I'm kidding or exaggerating, or you're thinking "Mmm, black pepper tea sounds delish," then I've got a box with 17 tea bags left in it to for you (I gave the stuff three chances before I decided I could stomach no more). Let me know if black pepper tea sounds like your thing and I'll figure out how to get it to you. (I'm even willing to send it to Guam if you want it, Santos!)

When I want to splurge, I'm buying Stash tea from now on (which is cheaper anyway).

Nature Valley Granola Nut Clusters.
ZOMG! This stuff is edible crack. I almost regret having tried it (it was on sale at Kroger and I had a stacking e-coupon+paper coupon combo that made it free) because now every time I'm in the grocery store I have to go check the price to see if I can let myself buy it. (Tricky, because while it's with the granola bars at Kroger, Harris Teeter stocks it with the nuts. I don't know where Food Lion keeps it because they don't double coupons so I rarely shop there.) Seriously, this stuff is good. The problem is the regular price is just completely wack and no one in her right mind should ever pay it. A 5-ounce bag, which they claim is 4.5 servings but in real life it's really two, or maybe even only one depending on how you're feeling, has a regular price of $3.99. But regular prices are for chumps. So I'll only be buying this stuff when the combination of sale price and coupons puts it at 99 cents or less. Then you better believe I'm stocking up. Not that a stockpile will last me very long because like I said, a bag can be one serving, depending ...

DISCLAIMER: In accordance with some new rules about bloggers and free stuff, I hereby declare that nobody sent me diddly in exchange for these reviews.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Did I mention there's free chocolate?

Our Wednesday night recipe was something light and simple that I found over at Martha Stewart: Chicken Tenders with Cucumber Salad and Chickpea Couscous. It looked a little something like this:

Chicken tenders with chickpea couscous and cucumber salad

I forgot to buy raisins, so the couscous did without, and I added carrots to the salad because I thought it could use a bit of orange color. It was all really tasty, and I'll definitely try it again.

Now what shall we cook next week? Something Mexican, maybe?

And now for the "Coupon Dork" portion of our presentation, a little segment called "How much did Lisa save at Harris Teeter Super Doubles?" See, every so often Harris Teeter has Super Doubles, during which coupons up to $1.98 in value are doubled (HT always doubles coupons up to 99 cents). It's really a lot of fun, if you're idea of fun is saving a bunch of money and getting stuff for free.

I've been twice already. It was so much fun the first time I just had to go back. Actually, they will only double 20 coupons per day, so you need to go more than once to take full advantage. Also, you can only use 1 coupon on buy-one-get-one-free items at HT even though each item rings up at half price, so if you want to use more than one coupon you need to separate the items into two orders.

On the first visit, the order rang up at $48.58 (most of the items were on VIC special; without that discount it would have been about $20 more). After the coupons were scanned I paid $14.16, $4.61 of which was for the produce (for which I had no coupons). Here's what I got (the photo is annotated because I'm that geeky; click on it for full effect):

On the second visit I picked up a few items that weren't on VIC special, but were a good price with the doubled coupons. It rang up at $41.97 ( would have been about $50 without VIC discount), but I paid $12.33. And I got free chocolate! It looked like this (except that I bought another bag of coffee that I forgot to include in the picture; click for the full annotated goodness):

Mmmm, free chocolate ...

Monday, February 15, 2010

You can't expect to wield supreme power just 'cause some watery tart threw a sword at you

Once again, it's bullet point time here in Pantsville. It's because so many things I think or do just don't seem blogworthy enough for their own posts. I don't know why I think this way because, hell, its my damn blog and if I want to string together a few non sequiturs and call it a post I can, right? But I think maybe that's what Facebook is for. And now Google Buzz, which is Facebook with an edit button and without so many people.
  • Oh damn, my first bullet point was going to be about Google Buzz, but then I kinda just said what I was going to say about it.

  • We made another recipe. See, Wednesday night is sort of "Cooking With The Swell Fellow Night" because it's a night I don't have doggie classes and he doesn't have table tennis. Yes, he plays competitive table tennis. Anyway, on Wednesday we made salmon with spinach sauce (I'd link to the recipe but I think it came out of a cookbook. Like an actual paper one.) and steamed vegetables (you don't need a recipe to make steamed vegetables). Actually, he made the salmon and the sauce, with minor help from me, and I made the steamed veggies. We didn't really pay attention to the presentation, so the photo isn't fabulous, but here it is:

    salmon with spinach sauce

  • I made the sourdough bread. I didn't think I needed the vital wheat gluten Crystal had recommended (even though I had bought it ... see below) because I was using white flour. But the loaves still didn't rise well, growing out more than up. But it tasted great. I didn't take a photo of it. I'll wait for a loaf that doesn't look weird.

  • Valentine's day! Best one in ages! I got flowers, made cookies and we even made a vaguely heart-shaped pizza:

    red red red plate o' hearts vaguely heart-shaped ...

    The cookies were just your average shortbread cookies, and I had meant for the royal icing to be smooth and more red. But I didn't have enough red food coloring and I didn't make the icing runny enough to pipe on properly (the recipe said "not too runny," but I think whoever had written it was thinking it would be used for flowers and shapes. So tip: for cookies you want the icing runnier.) After I wrestled with the decorators bag (I think the hardest bit was getting the icing IN the bag! Is there a trick? Mine got soooo messy ...) I decided that rather than getting the icing out of the bag, making it runnier and 'then putting it back in, I'd just spread the icing with a damn knife.

  • I made a cake yesterday, but not just any cake: it was an extremely ambitious cake. I used this recipe. It would have been far easier and less time-consuming to have tried a recipe that used lemon extract, but no, I had to aim high. I think I may have zested a lemon before, but I had never pithed one. By the fourth one I had gotten the hang of it and stopped cursing so much. Anyway, I think the cake was fabulous. It looked OK, too:

    lemon pound cake

    I realized only after I baked the cake that I don't own a cake plate, or even a regular plate large enough for a cake. I also realized after I wanted to transport the cake that I own nothing suitable for that purpose. I had only just purchased the bundt pan at a thrift store ($1.99 at Cause For Paws) last week when I decided I would try to make the cake.

  • So last week I bought the vital wheat gluten, something that's not cheap ($5.99 at Kroger) and for which I had no coupon. I also had to buy cake flour ($2.99), which was another non-coupon item. I was dreading the relatively expensive grocery trip, but then I got my quarterly Kroger coupons in the mail. Every quarter Kroger sends out coupons along with a dividend voucher based on how many "points" you earn through purchases. My dividend was $9, plus there was a coupon for $1 off my next order. I used those plus a few other coupon/sale deals to make a batch of groceries that rang up at $28-something (from memory here--I've misplaced the receipt) cost $13-something. Here's the haul:

    The Oreos were free--I had gotten a coupon for becoming their fan on Facebook--and the Whoppers were on Manager's Special for $1 (I have a recipe I was thinking of trying that calls for malted milk balls). The Kroger mailing contained a $1 off $4-or-more fruit coupon, so that covered the apples and lemons, and a $1 off $4-or-more veggie coupon for the broccoli, asparagus and carrots. The chicken broth was on Manager's Special, and the Purex was a sale+coupon deal that made it something like $1.50. I didn't have a coupon for trash bags so I bought the smallest el-cheapo one, but that was a mistake because they really suck.

So, Wednesday night will be another cooking adventure, and it's my turn to pick the recipe. I have no idea what to pick. I'm open to suggestions. I was thinking maybe toad-in-the-hole, but that seems so unhealthy after this weekend's pizza, cake and cookies. I think something light may be in order. Any ideas?

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Just fill it with random text and bake

beast & roots

So really, all I seem to do these days is cook. I needed stuff to take to work for lunches, so I made a crock-pot pot roast. It actually behaves more like a soup because cooking the roast all night in the crock pot makes it just fall apart. Deliciously. I had no recipe. I just chucked the roast in and added onion, potatoes carrots and rutabaga. I had wanted to use turnips but Compare Foods, where I like to get my produce, was out of turnips. So I used a rutabaga and it works just fine. Then I added 2 cups of beef bouillon spiked with my secret ingredient: a big dollop of Marmite.

If my agility class is cancelled tonight because of rain I might just make some sourdough bread. And spend at least a half an hour on the treadmill ...

Monday, February 08, 2010

Because you're not made of invisible pork chops

Should I just attempt to sneak in the substitution of "we" and "us" for "I" and "me," or do I need to be explicit? OK, well, previously mentioned swell fellow is still around. Shall I just keep referring to him as Swell Fellow? S.F.? He does have a name, so maybe I should just use that?

Anyway, he likes to cook. Me, not so much, although I have been making an effort. But I've discovered it's actually fun to cook things with someone else. Here's our most recent pizza:

more pizza

Then we decided to try jaeger schnitzel, which was something he liked to eat way back long ago when he lived in Germany. From what I gather, "schnitzel" roughly means "cutlet." "Jaeger" means "hunter," and since jaeger schnitzel is made of pork, one presumes the prey was wild boar. Or maybe it got away and the hunters just stopped at the store for a tenderloin. Anyway, in our first attempt the schnitzel came out a tad dark:

jaeger schnitzel

So we tried again:

second try at schnitzel

It was yummy. Here's the schnitzel recipe and here's the potato side dish recipe.

Oh, also, I made bread, just because the swell fellow likes bread and it's something I already knew how to make. I was feeling all domestic and shit. But my whole-wheat bread never seems to rise nicely, so I think I need to learn a trick or two. But it tasted just fine.

whole wheat bread

I just used the ordinary wheat bread recipe from my Betty Crocker cookbook. Maybe I need to experiment a little with other recipes. At any rate, making the bread inspired me to whip up a batch of sourdough starter, which will be all ripe in a few days. So this weekend I think I'll make some sourdough bread, or maybe try my hand at sourdough whole-wheat.

So now that I'm feeling bolder in the kitchen, I decided to try something I've been thinking of for a while: homemade yogurt. See, I eat a lot of yogurt, and it gets expensive. And while there are lots of coupons for the mind-boggling variety of newfangled sugary or nutrasweety yogurt concoctions with stupid names, there aren't quite as many for big ol' tubs of plain, unflavored yogurt, which is what I buy. So I read that one can make yogurt in a crock pot, and I decided to try it. I found instructions here. And sure enough, it works! I didn't take a photo, but imagine a crock pot full of yogurt and you've pretty much got the picture. It came out a bit liquidy, probably because I used skim milk (and even though I put some non-fat dry milk in as a thickener), but I use the yogurt to make fruit smoothies in my blender, so it really doesn't matter. It's easy! It's cheap! And because Durham doesn't recycle plastic yogurt tubs, I get to feel a bit superior about not contributing to the waste stream. (Not that I really do; I re-use and re-use plastic yogurt tubs like nobody's business. Chances are if anything is being stored in anything in my house, it's being stored in a plastic yogurt tub. And still I have half a cabinet full of them.)

So now I'm going to keep playing with the yogurt formula a bit. This time I used Dannon, just because that's what I had in the fridge (coupons!). But I think want to try starting a batch with some of the more expensive specialty yogurts (particularly Oikos and Chobani--they're quite yummy!). I've read that Trader Joe's Greek yogurt makes a great starter, too. Also, I want to try other methods of thickening it. I wonder what arrowroot or agar-agar would do? I'll have to research this ...

So now that I'm becoming kick-ass in the kitchen, what should I try next?

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

I'm trying to put the coup in coupon

A couple of weeks ago I went to the dentist for a cleaning and the hygienist started grilling me about what I was doing differently. It seems that during the bit where she prods my gums and calls out numbers to the assistant who enters them into my computerized chart, a couple of the numbers were too large (they were "5," to be exact). She asked if I'd been lax in flossing. I said no, well, not really, I mean, not terribly, OK, maybe slightly ... but the one big difference between now and 6 months ago was that my Sonicare toothbrush had snuffed it and I hadn't bought a new one because, well, have you seen how much those things cost? So she said I was most definitely to purchase a new Sonicare pronto, and gave me a $10 off coupon.

So $10 is good, but not good enough. I kept my eyes peeled, and discovered that this week's Rite Aid Sunday circular had a $10 off Sonicare coupon in it. Rite Aid allows you to stack their in-ad coupons with a manufacturer's coupon, so now I had $20 off my Sonicare. But I wanted more. MORE! I also had a coupon for $5 off a $25+ Rite Aid purchase. So I ended up getting $25 off my Sonicare, thanks to the magic of coupons. Now I'm hoping the magic of Sonicare will save me on future dental work ...

So the better-living-through-coupons project is continuing apace. I probably don't save as much or as consistently as girlnblack77 (my mentor!), but she's shopping for a family and needs to buy a lot more of the kind of stuff you can save big on with sales+coupons. For example, she's more likely to take advantage of a $5 off your next purchase offer on 5 bricks of Kraft cheese than I am because, much as I adore cheese (my motto: "Even bad cheese is good cheese."), 5 bricks at once is a bit more than I would typically use before mold set in.

But I do get my share of fabulous deals, such as (you knew I was going to use bullet points at some point, right? I adore bullet points.):
  • The Heluva Good cheese that was on sale for $1 and free after the $1 off coupon.

  • The 2 boxes of Electrasol Finish Powerball tabs (which I would normally not buy at all in favor of some house brand dishwasher detergent) that were on sale for $2.99 but brought down to 49 cents each after my $2.50 off coupons.

  • The Bayer Aspirin that paid me money after stacking Rite Aid & manufacturer's coupons. It's technically not supposed to happen per Rite Aid's coupon policy; when the value of the coupons is more than the value of that product, the coupon value is supposed to be adjusted down to the product price. But the entire value of these coupons was subtracted from my order total, which means that Bayer ended up giving me a discount on my other items as well. Thanks, Bayer! Love your aspirin! When it's free, at least ...

  • The free Dove 2-bar pack and bottle of lotion I got when I complained because they have a bogus coupon link on their web site. The link lures you into signing up for their e-newsletter, but then after you do that and try to print your coupon, you get a message that "There are no prints for this campaign." Then why do they have a link that says "Print coupon?" Who knows. I complained about it and they sent me coupons for free stuff. (The link is still there if you want to complain about it, too ...)

  • The closeout-priced Dickinson's Pumpkin Butters that were free after Harris Teeter doubled my $1 off coupons.
I'm now being recognized as "the organized one with the book" by at least one of the cashiers at my Kroger. Last night he said "I ought to get you to do my shopping for me."

"The book" is the 3-ring binder I am now using to organize my coupons. I had been using a little plastic accordion-style organizer, but I was finding it got full quickly and didn't give me enough room to sub-categorize my coupons, so consequently it was taking way too long to find what I needed quickly enough.

So I splurged on some plastic baseball-card collector inserts for a 3-ring binder. (I didn't splurge on a binder, because I already had a few of those, but if anyone has one of those expensive fancy zippery Mead 5-Star binders lying around that they want to get rid of, I'll take it off your hands ...) Then I took some time and organized all the gazillions of coupons into their little pockets, and now it looks like I'm very organized when I go to the store. Never mind that I'm not completely happy with how I categorized things and I want to redo it somewhat, I can now mostly find the coupon I need very quickly (like when I'm looking through those closeout bins at the front of the store and find something at a price that makes it free or close to it with a coupon.)

And you'd think the cashiers would hate me because I'm holding up their line, but some of them get almost as excited to see how much is going to come off my total as I do. On Sunday one Kroger cashier very helpfully pointed out that I had picked up a bar of the the wrong kind of cheese to qualify for the 10-item mega sale. She could have just said nothing and then left me doing math in my head trying to figure out why my bill seemed way too high in the end, but she held up the line while I went back to exchange it for the right cheese. It's almost as if store employees like me even more now that I'm one of the coupon geeks than they did when I was just an ordinary shopper. OK, I know, I'm taking this a bit too far ... I'm sure they don't like me at all. They're just nice and friendly in a way I never noticed them being before.

All in all, even though it's more of an effort and not always so convenient, extreme couponing has made grocery shopping way more fun for me. It's like a treasure hunt, in a way. And the prize is free cheese. Free cheese!!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

I had more bullet points than this but I've misplaced them

  • Yes, it's been two weeks since I last blogged. I've been busy, and by "busy" I sort of mean "lazy."

  • That swell fellow I blogged about two weeks ago? Really swell, thanks for asking.

  • I think the homemade pizza has almost been perfected. It looks something like this:

    completely awesome pizza

    You can achieve it using this crust recipe and this sauce recipe.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

When life hands you rhubarb, make pie ...

So getting stood up may have been an actual good thing (I think they call it a blessing in disguise around these parts). Not that I want to go getting all personal here again when I should be writing about badly-made food and power tools. But I had coffee with a really swell fellow yesterday.

Ooh, good band name: The Swell Fellows. Write that one down.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Ooh, check me out, I'm crowdsourcing!

So for various reasons* I don't get too personal here, which often leaves me little to blog about. But I'm going to bend the rule a teeny bit because, well hell, it's my damn blog, isn't it? I can do whatever I want.

Anyway, every since The Former Mr. Pants and I split up, I've been working on a "new life resolution" of sorts, that amounts to: be happy, goddammit! OK, so it's a little more evolved than that ... I've been trying to maximize my good, happy and optimistic qualities and keep negativity to a minimum. It's a tall order and a daily struggle, believe me. I really had to do it, because otherwise I think I would have fallen into a pretty deep depression. The whole divorce thing was a big bummer ... but in hindsight, not as big a bummer as the marriage had been. See? That's being positive ... I am able to see what a good thing my divorce was. Yay divorce!

OK, so I don't write too much about this personal quest for happiness because that veers dangerously close to the kind of sappy earnestness that makes me cringe. Besides, other people write about being happy a lot better than I would. Also I just can't help being snarky and sarcastic, and I would just end up making fun of myself for trying to be happy. That would get confusing ...

Oh, but I digress, as usual ... those who know me outside of this blog know that in the two years since the former Mr. Pants and I split up I've done a wee bit of dating (most of it to one person, see snarky asterisk below). I could fill acres of cyberspace with my reflections on the topic, but I'm too lazy for that right now.

But I am curious about one bit of modern dating protocol ... or maybe etiquette is the right word. I'm hoping to hear some thoughts on this ... here's the scenario: I went out a couple of times with a guy. We had a few e-mail exchanges, some phone conversations, a few text messages back and forth, and I was thinking he was pretty swell. He seemed to think I was kinda swell as well, or so it appeared to me. We friended each other on Facebook, yay, and things seemed peachy enough. Then he stood me up the third time we were to meet.

He apologized very sincerely and admitted it was rude, but his reason for standing me up was nothing like car trouble or a ruptured appendix or anything unavoidable. It amounted to "Getting together with you turned out to be not so important to me." Of course, he phrased it much more tactfully and apologetically than that, but the take-home message for me was that he obviously just wasn't that into me. So I eloquently and politely declined any further involvement with him because, well, why invite heartbreak?

Anyway, I guess he did me a big favor (this is me being positive!), because better to find these things out sooner rather than later. I really did think he was a swell guy, and given some more time I probably could have wrapped my mind around him and tied it in a knot ... which would have made the heartbreak of discovering he just wasn't that into me much worse. So he saved me lots of anguish by delivering the message in a timely manner.

So my protocol question is: considering that I don't bear him any malice, well, not much at least, do I unfriend him on Facebook or leave it be? I mean, unfriending someone seems like a spiteful, bitter thing to do, and I'm all about avoiding spite and bitterness (all it does is feed on itself and grow until it takes over your life). Then again, it's not like I really consider him such a friend at this point ... but my friending policy on Facebook tends to be liberal and inclusive so maybe that shouldn't matter. I mean it's not like he's my enemy. The one good thing is that Facebook doesn't notify people when you unfriend them, so unless they are actually paying attention (and I have no reason to believe he is), they don't get a message that may amount to a big "f**k you." I've been trying to cut down on sending that message to people.

So what say you, oh trusted crowd?

*One of the reasons was that a major participant in my life for a small portion of 2008 and a large portion of 2009 had asked not to be mentioned here. But because all agreements with him became null and void the day he broke up with me via text message, I'll now say that he was the inspiration for the "Reverent Smiths Listener Dealbreaker" axiom I posited a few weeks ago.