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Green stuff that isn’t pesto

Hi, again, Dear Readers:

Well, spring is definitely here in south Texas, even though many folks north of the Mason-Dixon line are still holding onto their hot coffee with both hands. It’s that time of year for opening the windows or patio doors to let the fresh air in, and having dinner outside, if you have the space.

Neighbor E and I took a ride to our lovely new HEB this morning and got a few supplies we both needed. It was slim pickings in the nibbles department, so we were a bit disappointed. I mean, it’s Friday! We only had a little of the guacamole and corn chips, and at the Kitchen Connection, some cabbage, crusted fish and sauced chicken. Not bad, but not the usual stuff we find in that HEB.

After he put away his groceries and took his adorable but slightly neurotic Chihuahua Speedy for a walk, we headed over to Chipotle for some lunch. Why Chipotle? We each had a coupon for a free meal! He got tacos, I had a steak bowl, and I’m telling you. . .delicious. Wish he hadn’t offered me some of the chips. Oh, I could go back for a few bags of those–salt and vinegar–but I won’t. A couple of blocks away is one of our local post offices, where I shipped out a bag of HEB Breakfast Blend (decaf, and I ground the beans in the store) to my sainted aunt, who moved into a senior apartment building last week.

Coffee!

Coffee!

My brother bought her a new couch and a new coffee pot; her sister bought a two-chair bistro set, and someone else bought her a new mattress and box spring. I can’t do much right now, but today I sent her delicious some coffee to enjoy in her new coffee pot.

I’ve got some pictures from the garden, which didn’t go dormant much this past year, since our “winter” was pretty mild. It really was 80F on Christmas Day, pretty much the same as Melbourne, Australia–go figure. I was cooking it up in shorts and a t-shirt two days before our next cool front. But spring brings all kinds of new things, and the HeatCageKitchen garden is full of them.

Remember last year when I had an overload of Anaheim chile peppers? That could happen again this year–the tree is coming back with new growth:

That's the top, and the biggest pepper on the tree so far.

That’s the top, and the biggest pepper on the tree so far.

Speaking of peppers, these bell peppers may be as big as they’re going to get. “Baby bells?” Who knows, but they look like they’ll be ready to pick soon:

I hope they get bigger.

I hope they get bigger.

That plant may be ready to pull, but we’ll see. I went looking for another bell pepper plant this morning in HEB, and I found one. Pinot Noir Peppers!

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I don’t expect them to taste like wine, but I wouldn’t mind if they did. (No alcohol, of course.) Fingers crossed for a bumper crop of these.

The jalapeno plant is blooming again, too, but I didn’t get a picture of that. Now, I’m really hoping to have some fresh garden garlic this year, and it looks like I probably will–the garlic scapes never dried up:

Garlic!

Garlic!

Regular readers of this humble blog have long known about my love for about re-growing cuttings from grocery store produce, particularly onions. I don’t know where I got the last batch, but they’ve been real over-producers:

Green onions to your heart's content.

Green onions to your heart’s content.

Now what’s with the bulbs on the top? Flowers! No kidding.

The top of a green onion. First time that's ever happened to me.

The top of a green onion. First time that’s ever happened to me.

As many times as I’ve done this, I’ve never had them flower. Hopefully they’ll drop seeds in the soil and I’ll have onions forever.

I’ve actually eaten a couple of strawberries from the new plants, and I really need to get out there and put them in a bigger pot so I can pick them all summer:

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Ditto for the basil, which I discovered can be re-propagated by cutting parts and putting them in water, just like celery and lettuce. Oh, and look what I just found!

My first tomato!

My first tomato!

Here’s hoping these two plants are also prolific producers once I get them in a bigger growing facility.

Remember the gifted oregano plant from Neighbor R?

Fresh Oregano!

Fresh Oregano!

It’s doing pretty well since I cut it:

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Mint’s doing great too, all I need to do is make that Mojito, darnit.

Remember The Lettuce Experiment? Well. . .the stubs didn’t last long, but something strange happened. Maybe one of those heads wasn’t romaine after all, because it’s growing back differently:

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Lettuce! (Mint at the upper right.)

I haven’t tried it yet, but maybe when the sole tomato ripens. In any case, the GER reminds me that lettuce is a winter crop, so I hope it lasts.

Just above the mutant lettuce is the celery that I recently cut and used in a salmon salad.

Celery, redux

Celery, redux

Let me point out that this was was made like tuna salad, with canned salmon, boiled eggs and the like. I didn’t think to take a picture of it before I cut it, but I can tell you that the other two celery stubs that were growing well were hidden by this one, and they didn’t make it. So I have to wait until this one grows back, or maybe move it where it will get more sun. Soon as I get back in the garden and pot all the plants that are still in the tiny containers. And spray DIY weed killer.

The citrus trees are doing well. The flowers have fallen off, and the fruit buds are starting to appear. I am hoping for a bumper crop this year, and I’m diligently watering them to prevent the remaining buds from falling off. This is the biggest bud on the Meyer lemon tree:

Meyer Lemon bud

Meyer Lemon bud

I only got two of these fantastic lemons last year, so fingers crossed. This tree had 7 buds at last count, but the Key Lime tree gives me more hope:

Key limes

Key limes

Key lime buds

Key lime bud closeup (there are more buds elsewhere.)

E and I saw the citrus plants for sale today at HEB, and there were lots of buds on the Meyer Lemon plants. He doesn’t have room for one, and I’ve already got one. If I were able to buy one for a gift, the GER might have gotten one for the Funk House/Junk House back garden. (Not this time, sorry.)

Now, the Italian flat-leaf parsley has been a prolific producer, and I just cut what I want and let it grow back. It happens pretty quickly:

Italian flat-leaf parsley

Italian flat-leaf parsley

Good for all kinds of things, including pesto, either as a base herb or as an additive to the pesto if you don’t have enough basil. However, I found another use for parsley when I went looking for something to use fresh oregano for. It’s green, it requires a blender, but it is NOT pesto. Not Italian, either. But it sure is tasty.

Chimichurri Sauce.

If you’ve never heard of it, that’s OK, not everyone has. It’s green, but it’s not pesto.

Since I’m not remotely familiar with Argentinian cuisine, I’ve never had the occasion to have it. However, when I went to Pinterest to research fresh oregano recipes, that’s what kept coming up. So I made some for dinner with AC last week, drizzling the sauce of roasted chicken breasts. She said it was good, but I haven’t heard from her since. Neighbor E enjoyed it too. I like it, although admittedly, the recipe I used makes a lot of it, so I’ve put it on more stuff. Chimichurri is traditionally drizzled on steak. But it’s so good, who cares what you put it on?

This is the recipe I used, and if you’re interested, there is also a list of 20 additional ways to use it. Like pesto, it’s a raw sauce that’s versatile and adds a great flavor to whatever you put it on. If you’re one of those people who likes dipping bread in pesto or olive oil, chimichurri is a different flavor to savor.

I had regular oregano, not the spicier variety, but didn’t bother with the pepper flakes. I thought it was good enough on its own, and didn’t need it. Want to try it? I didn’t take enough pictures, but here goes.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 cups fresh Italian parsley leaves
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 1/4 cup hot & spicy fresh oregano leaves (or regular with a large pinch of red pepper flakes)
  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt (or to taste)
  • freshly ground black pepper

 

Directions:

Place all ingredients into a high-powered blender and blend until very smooth. Allow to sit at room temperature for at least 30 minutes to allow flavors to meld. Use as desired.

Since I didn’t have enough parsley growing out back, I headed to my fancy HEB for a few ingredients, only to be told, “we don’t have any parsley today.” HUH? No parsley? No kidding. So after I finished my shopping, I still had to stop at Kroger to get parsley. All Kroger had was organic parsley, at $2 a bunch. I wasn’t taking any chances at a third grocery on my street, so I just got two. And I washed it really good and sliced it off the stems:

Don't chop too much, the blender will take care of most of it.

Don’t chop too much, the blender will take care of most of it. Just make sure your parsley is rinsed CLEAN.

Toss it all in the blender, no kidding, and it’s DONE:

Tah-dah!

Tah-dah!

We had chicken breasts and a nice salad with it, as well as the Cashew Bread. The next day, I used the rest of the lettuce and made a chicken salad. Just chopped up the remaining chicken breast:

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Tossed it over the salad green:

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And added more of the Chimichurri sauce.

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Whether your dinner is hot or cold, this stuff is GOOD.

Also discovered that it was time for a new gasket on the ol’ blender. It leaked despite a new cutting assembly and neck collar. The gasket was the only part I haven’t replaced yet. Well, I have now, it arrived yesterday. More karma of spare parts. I really hope that’s the last of it–I made some Pea & Pesto Soup last night, and it worked just fine, no leaking. Lesson learned: the gasket should be the *first* thing replaced if your blender is leaking, or, bought along with any additional spare parts ordered.

If I didn’t make it home safely from HEB or Trader Joe’s one day, at least all my appliances will be in good working order, right? That’s important, as the GER will tell you, when you’re having an estate sale.

If you’re considering what to have for dinner, especially if you’re cooking for more than one, consider whipping up some chimichurri sauce this evening, or this weekend for a quick flavoring for something next week. It’s fast, easy, tasty, and will give a fresh flavor to whatever you add it to or drizzle it on.

Enjoy!

Summer Simmer: The Crock Pot

Hello, Dear Readers:

Well, I’m back for a bit. The copywriting training went well, and I’ve been quite busy working on my marketing materials–and getting a little brain freeze occasionally. No, Blue Bell ice cream is completely unavailable, and I don’t want any other kind. Soon the “great ice cream listeria hysteria” will be over and Blue Bell will be in stores again. No, it’s been the writing and constructing of things I’ve needed for a long time. I have a better understanding of it, but it’s a bit slow going. There will be an email to the coach/instructor soon, if for no other reason than clarification of a few things.

One idea borrowed from my copywriting website is a page for my writing samples. I realized one night that I could start a recipe section on this website, and I have. At the top of the page, you’ll see a link to recipes, (you can click on the link too)  where my favorites old and new will be available as PDF files. I even created a logo that I think I’m going to use on the recipes and maybe elsewhere on the site. I’m not a designer, so that’s a “C priority” right now. But there are currently four recipes there, one from this post, and more will be added as I can.

While the rest of the country says “spring,” the 80-degree days are here, so we’re pretty much back into running our air conditioners 24/7 except for the recent spate of cool fronts that have come through. I’ve been wearing shorts for some time now, and even with the breezes we get, it’s still warm. Neighbor K’s adorable Daft Pug isn’t interested in the long walks anymore, but he’s good about. . .well, going outside for a sunshine break.

The HeatCageKitchen garden is roaring along–I’m getting tomatoes! I now have only three Meyer lemons growing, after one dropped off during the rainstorm this morning. . Mint, pesto, onions, parsley, cilantro–they’re all getting bigger, and so is the Anaheim chili pepper plant. Oh, and I’ve re-done the ‘re-grow your lettuce” experiment; it’s working this time, but I should plant one or two more lettuce cuttings. More on the garden soon.

Neighbor J upstairs has gotten into the habit of giving me the Sunday paper when he’s done with it, mostly for the coupons. He keeps the sports section, so naturally, I’m not complaining. He’s also the neighbor who has generously given me some venison and some raw honey on occasion. I need to bake him some muffins or a cake soon, as well as a couple that live in a different building. They generously planted some free landscape things in front of our little enclave; someone else dug up the free plants. Neighbor K and I keep saying we’d get around to it, but this sudden gift happened on Good Friday.

Remember: gifts do not always come wrapped up at Christmas. Ask anyone who’s received something handmade from me, like The E Man and friend of the blog KJ, both in New Orleans, who each received a package of handmade items recently; KJ didn’t know it was coming.

Speaking of The E Man, I recently helped him find Trader Joe’s in Baton Rouge. He happened to call me a couple of weeks ago and mentioned that he was in Baton Rouge, and I said, “Are you going to Trader Joe’s?” No, but he wanted to, so I employed a strategy I’ve used before: faith, hope, and Google Maps. He took a casual ride up Perkins road, saw lots of newly constructed housing and was amazed. It only took about 15 minutes or so, and he had to take another call. When I called back he was in the store and found the coffee samples. I may have created a monster.

Now, speaking of warmer weather, if you’re one of those people who has a taste for iced coffee, take heart. Nick Usborne at Coffee Detective has you covered. Nick just posted a tutorial on making iced coffee at home–and it couldn’t be simpler! I’ve been making it one cup at a time, and when I put almond milk in it, well, the milk curdles. No more. I first started drinking iced coffee when it was just hot in the Boeing building, and I poured my fresh coffee in a glass of ice and have loved it ever since. Check out Nick’s tutorial and start making your own. I did, using some decaf Community coffee last night.

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I just used the big French Press. Twice. Made it a little stronger than I should have; but since this was the first time, I’ll be able to do better next time.

If you have the room, and I don’t, you can also make coffee as you normally would and make coffee ice cubes so your drink isn’t diluted. Maybe in the country house.

Anyway, into the pitcher it goes for whenever I want some.

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If you go to a coffee shop, you will pay good money for iced coffee. Since Starbucks uses some kind of sugar-heavy mix, when I ask for a decaf iced coffee, they make it fresh for me. I don’t do that often, honest.

Sweet, cold, delicious iced coffee. Nothing like it, and made at home.

Sweet, cold, delicious iced coffee. Nothing like it, and made at home.  And I’ll have it for a few days. Thanks, Nick!

Now, I’ve written before about the wonders of the Crock Pot. Do you have one? Do you use it? Seriously, do you? Well, you should. If you don’t, go get one. But before you do, let me tell you what you can find. Well, let me tell you how I found out about all this.

I first started using one when I lived with the GER. When we weren’t getting along and I was planning to move, I stopped at Big Lots one day after a Buddhist meeting (I didn’t want to go home, basically) and found that they had white Crock Pots for $19.99 each. (This was 2004.) I bought a big round 6-quart and a smaller, oval 4-quart. I used both of them regularly, but slacked off a bit in recent years (I’ve been busy.)

One of the biggest draws is that the 110v Crock Pot doesn’t heat up the entire kitchen like your 220v stove will. Put food in it in the morning, and it’s ready to eat when you get home, no extra cooking, baking, or anything. So. . .with summer on its way, dust yours off, read the instruction manual and get started.

Continuing The Karma of Spare Parts, (oh, you have no idea) I haven’t used either of my Crock Pots in a while because a) the 6-quart needed a new knob to replace the melted and cracked one that didn’t work well, and the 4-quart oval needed a new lid after the old one lost the handle. I just got sick of waiting. Finally. . .I got on Crock Pot’s website and ordered them, darnit!

They arrived Easter Saturday, and I was SO happy. . .I had a piece of pork ribs I was going to drown in BBQ sauce, and I was going to make a breakfast, too, all on Easter Sunday. I figured the ribs would fit in the 4-quart one. Nope–change gears. Pulling the 6-quart out of the cabinet and transferring the meat, I moved the 4 quart to the other side of the kitchen. The plug caught in my apron somehow, I felt the pull when I moved, and before I could stop it, the next thing I heard was. . . .CRASH.

The 4-quart oval stoneware piece was in pieces, although the brand new lid and heating unit were fine. Oh, this was a big problem. I had to go out anyway, and one place I did go was Wal-Mart to, ah, “rent” another Crock Pot until I could get a new stoneware insert for the 4-quart. (Returned it a week later.) Meantime, I had a schedule and I had to get on with it. The day was saved, and the next day, I was cruising through a cookbook and found a chocolate custard recipe to make.

The next day I called Crock Pot and asked if they might have any white ones, but no, all they have now is black. That’s OK. I also needed to make sure I had the right one, and I did. The new stoneware arrived a few days later, and all was back to normal, more or less.

The Crock Pot started out as a bean cooker back in the 1970’s, and I’ve actually used it for garbanzo beans recently; that’s the subject of an upcoming post. But it didn’t take long for people to figure out that inexpensive cuts of meat cook up really nice and tender in it. Whole meals can be made in them, if you like (and if you have a small family.)

I clicked around Crock Pot’s official site, and I found a number of interesting things, including recipes, travel gear for Crock Pots, and something I wish I had when I was working–a Crock Pot for lunch! It’s small enough to tote around and carries just enough for lunch. You just plug it in at your desk and your lunch is nice and hot whenever you get to it. No waiting for a microwave that may not be sanitary, or leaving your lunch in the community fridge where someone might mistake it for theirs (or worse, mess with it.)  Awesome, and I wish I’d known about these a long time ago.

Now, the technology side comes out when I see the WeMo web-enabled Crock Pot. If you’ve never heard the term “The Internet of Things,” well, it means stuff that we use every day that is (or will be) *Internet-connected. While the smartphone is an obvious example, this is a definite contender. You download a free app for your smartphone, and you can turn the temp up or down, or turn the thing off by way of your phone. Great idea for people on the go, but it begs one question:

Do you really want your dinner hooked up to your WiFi?

Look, I’m kind of tech-savvy, especially after being in IT for 8 years. I’m so glad I have an iPhone (even if it is a 4.) The iPhone does, shall we say, butter many parsnips, and it’s a great help in a lot of ways. But connect your Crock Pot? Is that really necessary? One of the benefits of slow cooking is that if you’re a little late, it won’t burn. This, of course, is your choice, but even as a writer who does marketing, I just think it’s techie for the sake of being techie.

Up to you, of course.

There is also a blog, a spot for replacement parts, customer support (US based) and a page where you can order food just for your Crock Pot all ready to drop in. Call me whatever you like, but is it that difficult to cut up some stuff and throw it in? I’ve seen them once or twice in stores, but you can order them online. Up to you.

My first, and favorite book for slow cooking is The Everyday Low Carb Slow Cooker Cookbook, which I bought when it was new. (The GER wasn’t sure what to make of that, but that’s OK–I still confuse him to this day.)  Another one I have but only recently rediscovered is Dana Carpender’s 200 Low Carb Slow Cooker Recipes from 2005. That’s where the next recipe comes from. (I also have her book 15-Minute Low Carb Recipes, which I also need to go back and look at sometime.)

If you’ve never used a slow cooker before, or you need a refresher, let me tell you the basic rules:

  1. You put the food in
  2. You put the lid on
  3. You plug it in
  4. Turn it on
  5. Leave it alone

Got it? One other thing–make sure that when you put the lid on, it is covered and there are no “escape holes” for heat to leak out. You could come home to dry, tough food you weren’t expecting. I’ve done it, that’s why I say that.

When you go to clean the stoneware, make sure it’s cooled, or you use hot water to wash/soak it with–or you’ll be getting on the Crock Pot website and ordering a replacement.

Last night I went on Pinterest and typed in “Crock Pot Hacks.” I actually started another board to save them. One tip that I found was to line the crock with foil makes it easier to clean and helps everything cook evenly. However, I found a list of tips here that you might find interesting. One pin involved wrapping potatoes–sweet or russet–in foil and baking them in the slow cooker, but dry. Another one involved some wire and stuff, turning it into a sous-vide machine. I’m not posting it here because I do NOT want any of my readers getting shocked because it looked easy to do. (I’m thinking about you, GER, ’cause I know you’ll try it.)  But if you’re interested in finding new recipes, or other stuff you can do with a Crock Pot, check out Pinterest for more. Just start searching–you never know what you’ll find, and it’s not like Facebook at all.

Last night on Facebook I saw a short video titled “Shredding chicken like a boss!” It was a video of someone with a hand mixer shredding chicken that was obviously cooked in the Crock Pot–it was still hot. (Looked like chicken breasts, in a big Crock Pot.) The cook used the hand mixer on low speed, and the chicken was shredded in no time! It may be on YouTube as well.

Now–dessert time. How about some chocolate custard made in the Crock Pot? (That’s one of the recipes on the new page.)  It takes just a few ingredients and couldn’t be simpler.

First, heat up some almond milk and chocolate:

Almond milk and chocolate heated in a double-boiler

Almond milk and chocolate heated in a double-boiler

When it looks like that, whisk in your sweetener (I used 3/4 cup of SomerSweet, but the recipe calls for 2/3 cup Splenda, which you know I won’t use.)

The original recipe called for some kind of low-carb milk called Carb Countdown. I’ve never seen it, but the same amount of almond milk worked just fine. I don’t know if coconut, rice or other alternative milks will work, but if you want to try it, go for it. I just can’t guarantee anything.

Next, grease or spray a 6-cup glass casserole dish, and pour the cream in:

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I used a bit of olive oil, that’s why you see the globules on top. No big deal.

Then add the chocolate mixture, then the eggs individually:

One of six eggs, beaten one at a time.

One of six eggs, beaten one at a time.

Carefully put the casserole dish into the slow cooker, pour water around it, up to 1″ of the top rim. DO NOT get water into the custard, please.

Now cook it!

Now cook it!

Cover the slow cooker and cook it on low for 4 hours.

What you get later looks like this, but it’s not ready to eat yet.

Too hot to eat!

Too hot to eat!

You take the lid off and let it cool. When it’s not burning hot anymore, carefully remove it from the crock, cover it, and when it’s cool enough to refrigerate, well, do so. Once it’s nice and cool, this is what you slice and serve:

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NOW it’s ready to eat.

It’s rich, fudgy and substantial. Made in advance, it’s a nice option for a dinner party, or for a single woman to enjoy all week by herself. Hey–it’s my kitchen, I’ll enjoy a sugar-free, low-carb chocolate thing anytime I want.

Incidentally, the second time I made this, I topped a slice with some bought-on-sale raspberries and a light dusting of SomerSweet. Yum.

So, it didn't come out of the dish just right. I'm not FoodBabe, either.

So, it didn’t come out of the dish just right. I’m not FoodBabe, either.

A printable PDF copy of this recipe is available on the new recipe page, so you can try it today if you like.

With summer pretty much here in the south, and coming everywhere else, a Crock Pot is going to be a good thing to have around. There are so many models available in various price ranges that it’s a good investment for cooks everywhere.

There are hundreds of books on slow cooking; I just listed two that I have. But with all the cooking websites available, it’s easy to find and keep recipes you like and either stash them in your DropBox, save them to your hard drive or print them and save them in a notebook. I found two e-books last night on Pinterest–one Paleo and one gluten-free that I’ll be reviewing soon.

College students in dorms also might want to think about Crock Pots, too–and learn to use it before they go to school in the fall. Might that be a good gift idea for a graduating senior? Just a thought.

And really–now that the long, cold winter is done, you want to get outside again, right? Let dinner cook itself. It’s easy to do, and couldn’t be simpler. Follow simple directions and you’ll have some tasty food waiting for you on your schedule. (You almost can’t burn it–that should make the “I can’t cook” crowd happy!)

Have you got a favorite thing you use the Crock Pot for? Post it in the comments (nice, please), so we can all try it! (If I do, I’ll post a review later.)

Whatever you cook in it, get that slow cooker out and start using it again. After a few times, you’ll be glad you did.

Enjoy!

 

 

 

Amy's Birthday Extraordinaire (or, How I Got Sick Quick)

Hello, Dear Readers:

Well, my continued apologies for being so darn late. I was going to write, then postponed a couple of times, then. . .I got sick. And as I explained in my last blog post, I said goodbye to my third kitty cat in 3.5 years. Not feeling up to much of anything; sometimes the words don’t come.

I still can’t believe she’s buried in the cold ground.

Me and the GER are still grieving for Jezebel the step-kitty, and now it’s his turn to get sick. He was self-medicating with Nyquil, but he must be feeling better, because his last email discussed beer. . . .

Me, I haven’t been sleeping well, so I’ve missed some walking with Neighbor K. I’m still walking, but haven’t been at the same time as K. She’s been very nice about it. I’m going to try again tomorrow for the 4 am wake-up call.

Thanksgiving was. . .solitary. That was unexpected, but since the GER got sick, it was just me.  Well. . .I made some gluten-free bread over the weekend for turkey sandwiches. The seven-inch gluten-free apple pie was mine, all three pieces (not at once.) The cranberry sauce is gone, but I need to find a different sweetener than Somersweet; let’s just say I was stuck at home for a while.

Last night I made a turkey sandwich from last week’s Herb Roasted Turkey Breast, just like the one I made last year:

Turkey. Sammich.

Turkey. Sammich.

I made this baby with some of the Just Mayo I have in the fridge. Obviously I don’t use it very often. (Those are flax seeds, which give the bread a bit more crunch.)

Also included for dinner was last year’s Green Bean Gremolata, plus some quinoa. I had intended to make some sweet potatoes, but that didn’t happen. It was OK.

Now onto our featured subject matters.

If you’re interested, here’s a nice article on Trader Joe’s. I actually have one of those big blue hot/cold bags on the left of that rack; it’s huge, works great, and it’s $6. A related company (somehow) is Aldi, which I’ve not written about much, because, quite frankly, I’m not a fan. A small produce section, a little meat, a few housewares, and about 80% of the floor space is dedicated to flour-based mixes and other processed foods. Looks like a convenience store food pantry to me, and every time I go in there, I wonder why. The first and second time, I had a coupon. The third and forth, I was looking for something or other and was disappointed. So, unless you buy lots of boxed biscuit and waffle mix, bagged snacks and other junk food, well, Aldi may not be for you. Your choice, of course.

Right before Halloween, I found this:

One way to get brains. . . .

One way to get–or give–some brains. . . .

I didn’t buy them, but darn, that’s cute! If I had children around, you bet I’d be grabbing two of them.

Now, for those of you who have not been following this humble blog since its inception two years ago, my birthday was Sunday, October 26th. (Can you believe I’ve been food blogging for two years? Thanks, Akinnyi!) Now, last year it was a Saturday, and I also had a weekly paycheck. Not now, so I limited the spending. However. . . .

I started out (when I finally got up) with a Grand Slam from Denny’s:

Oh, yes. . . .

Oh, yes. . . .

They also asked for proof this time, which I was happy to provide. I was reading Backwoods Home magazine at the time, and there’s that cute kitty picture to the lower right. Awww. . . .

Like last year, I subbed a couple of ingredients to have it gluten free, so it cost a little, but I gave the waitress a bigger tip. She brought the cut fruit first, so I nibbled on that before the plate came.

Next up was Starbucks for my free coffee, which was downgraded to a Skinny Hazelnut Latte instead of the caloric Hazelnut Macchiato. I also headed to Sephora, which, if you’re registered, offers a little gift on your birthday; this year it was a nice shade of lipstick, which I may try to buy more of at some point, with some mascara. Last year they had something for men which I donated to the GER; he loved it.

I made some gluten-free pizza like I did last year, and instead of a cake, I made cupcakes. . .but they’re not my best work, so no pictures. I did, however, on Saturday venture into Nothing Bundt Cakes for one of their gluten-free offerings:
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While there is promise in this bag, I can promise it’s nothing like the one from Frost Bake Shoppe in The Woodlands.

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What’s up with the spider icing?

Chocolate Chip Cookie is the only gluten-free they offer, but that’s OK. That was the first flavor I had when I went to Frost the first time–and with a lot more icing.

Chocolate Chip Cookie cake.

Chocolate Chip Cookie cake.

Nothing Bundt Cakes has stores popping up all over the place, so if you’re interested, I give it a big. . .meh. (There is actually one next door to Trader Joe’s in The Woodlands, across the street from Frost Bake Shoppe. No kidding.) Seriously, it wasn’t bad, it was just. . .OK.  If you’re dying for something sweet and that’s the only place besides a convenience store, go for it. Otherwise, I’ll wait. I’m guessing it’s the replacement for the cupcake craze, but that hasn’t subsided yet.

Somewhere between Denny’s and Baybrook Mall, then home, I received another present: streptococcus bacteria. That’s right, I got strep throat on my birthday. I didn’t know about it until Tuesday, either. Monday I was REALLY tired and bowed out of a morning walk with Neighbor K, but figured I’d just stayed up too late or something. That’s all it is, right? I decided that Tuesday would not be the same–I walked with K, then headed to Starbucks for two fingers of regular in the big decaf. It worked! What a productive day! Then the GER had some fish, so I drove down to his place to get it, and on the way home, fatigue set in again. When I finally got in and shut my door, not long afterwards the “ring of fire” in the back of my throat happened, all at once.

Owwww. . .I was sick.

Makes sense, right? With a 24-48 hour incubation period, and I had full-blown strep. On Wednesday, I headed to the Redi-Clinic in Friendswood for a positive strep test and another round of amoxicillin, which I finished taking the following Friday. That evening, after starting the amoxicillin, my temp was running 101.2. Is this any way for a grown woman to get sick?

Count your blessings, ladies and gentlemen: My brother’s mother-in-law passed away a week before. The day he returned from up north, our uncle passed away suddenly after some medical difficulties at 74 (which isn’t really “old” anymore.) I stitched up some handmade things to send my aunt, (our mother’s sister), his widow, with a sympathy card, but haven’t heard back from her yet.

Later that night, I logged into Facebook to gripe about the strep, and one of my copywriter friends posted about one of her clients whose wife had a really bad kind of cancer and was given a week to live.

If that wasn’t bad enough. . .my walking partner, Neighbor K, was doing some housework and was standing on a broken pub-height chair. I think you can guess what came next. She’s going to be fine, but was injured enough to where she couldn’t get up and walk in the mornings with me, and was home from work for a few days.

K sent me a text message while in traffic asking me to take the Daft Pug out for a walk and feed him. No problem there, but when she told me more, I gave her the lecture about standing on a chair! Wal-Mart has stepladders for $15 (or they used to but they’re cheap.) Heck, she could have borrowed mine! But I make myself available if she needs something. We picked up her car from the urgent care clinic the next day.

I very quickly stopped griping about strep throat, OK? I’ll take the strep, thanks very much. Takes a week to get rid of for good, and I’m needed elsewhere.

Now, despite all that, my birthday was made a lot happier due to the actions of friend of the blog AK, who took me seriously when I posted this silly thing on my FB wall on September 29th:

Dear Santa:

The holidays are coming and I’ve been very, very good. Check with the HPD, they’ll vouch for me. No tickets, accidents, or assault charges again this year. 🙂

I would like to ask for the Suzy Homemaker washing machine and dishwasher, both of which are now on eBay. They work, just like they’re supposed to. I promise I will take good care of them and use them happily. I can wait on the stove, since there are frequently a number of them available.

But if someone gets them before you or your elves are able to bid and win, I’d be happy to have the Super Grill or the stand mixer in working condition. Please note that as happy as I would be with the Super Grill, I can’t cook a whole turkey with it.

Also, would you please bring Jezebel a nicer attitude. She’s getting pushy around dinnertime, especially when I’m eating. I can’t make a cup of coffee without her meowing in the kitchen.

Also, please let me know what gluten-free treat you’d like me to bake for you this year so I can leave whole bunch in a basket by the fireplace. The cat won’t touch them, honest. Let me know if they need to be sugar free as well. I can make some lovely gluten-free vegan raspberry scones that nobody ever turns down. I promise they won’t taste like baked flour balls, unlike other baked items you’ve had.

Thank you, Santa.

Sincerely,

Amy

Along with it was the listing for this Suzy Homemaker washing machine, which I posted with the “letter.” I was just messing around. . . .

AK is an awfully nice person, and knows that I’ve had a difficult year. So, without telling me, she bought it and had it shipped to me, arriving a week before my birthday.

Here it is, no kidding, mine, all mine:

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(more…)

The Karma of Spare Parts

Good evening, Dear Readers:

I have a few minutes, so I thought I’d tell you a little more about the search for spare parts that’s been going on in my life. Specifically, something I neglected to mention in my last post.

See, I hate something that’s broken, doesn’t work, or is just sitting there collecting dust for the “one day” that I’ll get around to it. Since I’ve been home most of the time, I notice them, and in the last month or so, I’ve been fixing them, too. The last time I was home all the time, I figured out how to clean out the peephole in my door so that I could see out of it. The manual doorbell doesn’t ring anymore, but I can indeed see who’s there. Then I went to Neighbor R’s place and did the same for her, so now she can see outside too.

I do have a sewing machine that needs fixing, but I’ll get to that later. Ditto for the leaky bathtub faucet, which numerous YouTube videos are dedicated. I’m getting ahead of myself.

My Dad was a “fix-it guy,” and often me and my brothers were conscripted to be “helpers.” When I was about 7 or 8, I bragged to someone or other that my dad could fix the air conditioning and everything else; fortunately, he was not “volunteered” for anything from my commentary. We weren’t that much help, but eventually I started picking up a few things. I’m no flame-haired “Tim the Tool Man Taylor,” but from time to time I’ve learned to fix small things and didn’t have to call out for repair (from either the former landlord or a service company.) Mike Rowe, the “Dirty Jobs” guy, might even be a bit impressed. Neighbor K turned me on to looking it up on YouTube, since she’s fixed a few of her own things that way. Why didn’t I think of YouTube before?

So let me tell you how this all got started. . . .

Some time ago, my air conditioner started draining water inside. The new landlord couldn’t be bothered, and this went on for many months, nearly flooding the place at one point. I started putting towels in that space below the unit, and because the water stunk, this required the towels to be washed. That was fine until. . . .

The washer stopped spinning. That means that everything had to be wrung out by hand. This started a repetitive motion injury that my left elbow is still healing from, but it’s getting better. Laundry took a long time.

Months of stress later, I decided, stuff it, I’m going to fix the problems myself. I chanted to have them done by a certain time frame (2 weeks, I think) and hot dawg, it was! I did it!

First, the AC. After some research on YouTube, I went to Wal-Mart and purchased a little wet-dry Shop Vac that worked perfectly and sucked all the gunk out of not only the drain pipe but the drip tray, which was also clogged. I poured a hot bleach/water mixture into the pipe, and then beyond the coils into the drip tray. That was over a month ago. . .how dry I am!!

At no time did the prior landlord ever suggest putting bleach and water down there twice a year. I would have been happy to take care of it, and it would have saved a lot of money and aggravation. But it’s done, and I hope to never have that happen again.

Then through some correspondence on our local Nextdoor.com, I not only got the name of a reliable and honest appliance guy, but also a YouTube video on how to replace the motor coupling in the washing machine. I did, but still ended up calling the guy, who showed me that I’d failed to reconnect the wire between the carburetor and the motor. Once he did that, I was back in business. He did charge me $40 for the call, but that was just fine–total cost was under $100. And I’m washing all my clothes happily again.

In my last post, I mentioned the replaced glass plate and rotating ring assembly in my 11 year old Sunbeam microwave that had long ago gone by the wayside. With the model number from the back, and a few online clicks (on the iPhone, no less) I had it in about 10 days. Sometimes I just look into the microwave and gaze at it. . .I’m so happy to see it looking and working perfectly normal again.

Next was finding the the replacement part for a discontinued but functional coffee grinder on eBay.

Additionally, when the former landlord installed a new dishwasher, some external plastic parts (like the handle across the top of the door) were badly cracked. Eventually they fell off, and I’m sure that when I move out of this place, the new landlord would call that “damage,” and charge me for it. Nope–I have the replacement part for that too, I just have to talk to the GER about how to un-install the dishwasher, or call my appliance guy again. I’ll get on YouTube and research it. I can’t cut the power to the whole place, then I can’t see what I’m doing!

Stuff like that can be found online at Easy Appliance Parts. A week later, they were here. Just haven’t replaced them yet.

So, I went to the Woodlands on Monday, and had to go back today (although I headed home after a bite at Starbucks.)  When I go to Sur la Table, I like to buzz through and just look at stuff. New linens. Pure white dishes (Williams-Sonoma has their own line, too.) Spatulas of all kinds in huge crocks. And then there’s the coffee area, with Bodum French press pots and Bialetti stove-top espresso pots in different sizes and styles. This time, something caught my eye.

Replacement parts.

Now, I’ve bought replacement glass beakers for the Bodum pots that I have (especially the 2 cup, which I have broken twice), so I knew I could either get them there or order them online from Bodum (along with filter assembly parts as well.) But I never thought about Bialetti.

What makes Amy think of Bialetti, you might be thinking. . .take a look a this:

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Because the bed is where I have the most space to take these pictures.

Where in the world would I get something like this? Where else?

The GER.

While the GER currently looks for specific things to sell on eBay, at one time he and his late wife used to do all kinds of antique stuff. He found this at a work site and it was being thrown out. I think we’d been dating about six months when he gave it to me. I LOVED it, and still do, but this is why I did not use it:

That gasket used to be white.

That gasket used to be white.

It sat on a shelf with some pictures and other antique-y things, until I realized on Monday. . .I could get replacement parts!

Who knew?

Who knew?

Carpentry expert Norm Abrams wrote a book called Measure Twice, Cut Once. That’s also a catch phrase with carpenters (another thing my dad used to do; I sew like he used to do carpentry.) Hint: not just for carpenters, OK?

Unfortunately, I didn’t take any measurements, and just presumed that what I bought would fit. And it didn’t. . .this one turns out to be a 4-cup, not a 3-cup. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

I found out when I started to remove the filter plate and pick out the dry-rotted rubber:

Ewww. . . .

Ewww. . . .

Eventually, I got all of it out and removed the old filter plate:

I always wondered what was in there. Now I know.

I always wondered what was in there. Now I know.

And that’s when I discovered that not only did the new filter plate not fit, the gaskets wouldn’t be coaxed into place, either. So I did what I frequently do in these situations: pulled out a Brillo and started cleaning the heck out of it.

For all the years I’ve had this pot, I never noticed that it had a name on it:

Ever seen one of these before?

Ever seen one of these before?

I’ve looked in a few place but haven’t found any history on the Flory Express, but I did find a similar model listed on eBay. For nearly $55. Not bad for an old Italian coffee pot, is it?

Pretty nice!

Pretty nice, and in good condition.

Someone else has one just like it for sale from Australia for $65. Makes me think about it. . .but it would be interesting to see who buys one of them. I didn’t see any bids on either one.

In my little neck of the woods, though, I got on the Bialetti website, took measurements as instructed, and I’ll soon have a new funnel basket and two packs of the gasket and filter plate. I hope they fit. If they do, I’ll be makin’ me some stove top Cafe Americano. . .if not, I give up. I’ll add it to the eBay fray.

Of course, I have my receipt from Sur la Table, and will return the gasket packs when I go back to see Dr. Davis in the next few weeks after all the labs come in. They may only take back the unopened pack, but if they offer a store credit, I’ll be getting a bottle of olive oil and maybe a spatula or something.

I’ve scrubbed the metal parts as best I can, going through two Brillo pads. The Bialetti name is barely visible on mine, but it’s there, and also has some inscriptions on the bottom. When the parts arrive I’ll be boiling water and vinegar on the inside, and may check out some other cleaning options. I found a few here, but so far, it’s still grungy looking on the inside; I may be stuck with that. I did try pouring boiling vinegar water in it earlier, but nothing happened. The outside is still a bit funky, too, but since HRH Queen Elizabeth isn’t coming for coffee, nor Martha Stewart, I think I’ll be OK with it. I plan to boil water in it once or twice before I actually attempt using it for real coffee.

You can find these neat little pots at the Bialetti website, Amazon.com, Cost Plus World Market, Williams-Sonoma, Bed, Bath and Beyond, and many other retailers.

You can also read more about the history of the Bialetti stovetop espresso pot and company here. Wikipedia also has an entry with a little more info.

So, if you’ve always wanted to try one of these, they’re not difficult or terribly expensive, and I’ve known quite a few devotees to the Bialetti.

Me, I just wanted to fix something, so I’ll let you know what happens when I get the parts. Maybe I’ll make the GER some decaf espresso and bowl him over. Sometimes it doesn’t take much.

The GER is taking me on a “foodie adventure” next week, so I’ll let you know how that goes, too.

Enjoy!

 

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