A blog about "nothing"!

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Turkey Dinner Redo!

I'm cooking a turkey dinner today.  No special reason.  When they had turkeys on sale around Thanksgiving, I bought a second and kept in the freezer with the idea to cook it sometime during the grey and gloomy days of winter.  Little did I know that it would be such a great idea!
Our Thanksgiving dinner went fine except for one hitch which prevented us from having our traditional dinner of left overs after the holiday.  Everything turned out great...except the gravy.

Because of my wheat allergy, I use corn starch to thicken my gravy.  I've never had an issue before with lumps, but this time it was a bit of a mess.  I put the first round of corn starch in and it didn't seem to thicken AT ALL.  So I did it again, and next thing I knew, I could see these giant lumps forming, yuck.  I got out my immersion blender and managed to "repair" the problem, but the worst was yet to come.  My husband went out to the kitchen to get seconds, and when he came back to the table he said "boy, that's some weird gravy, it has an inch of skin on it already!"  By the time we were done eating dinner, the whole pan had solidified!!!!  My nephew's comment was that I had made "Turkey Jello" for dessert. (Ewwwww)  I left it on the stove until I cleaned things up in the morning and I literally just walked over to the garbage can with the pan, turned it upside down, and solidified gravy came out.  I was not only highly ticked off, but also puzzled as to what went wrong.

After I thought about it, I remembered that the last batch of something I made with gravy in it had issues with minor lumps.  Hmmm...then I realized that when I made that batch, I had some corn starch from an old package and some from the new one I had just bought.  So I got the can out--Clabber Girl, which I had used before with no issues.  Then I noticed something on it that I hadn't seen before: "fortified with calcium".  It really made me wonder, so on my next trip out, I bought a totally different brand of corn starch and next time I made gravy, I used it instead.  No lumps! 

Anyone else ever have an issue with this???  I still have the can of Clabber Girl, I thought maybe I could use it for baking, but now I'm thinking I probably should just toss it in case it's a bigger issue than just the calcium.  Very strange.  Looking forward to my turkey dinner today though...and leftovers over the weekend!!! :)

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Best Movie Ending...Ever

One of my all time favorite movies is "The Usual Suspects".  I was thrilled to pieces when Kevin Spacey won the best supporting actor award for it because he was fantastic in it.  The whole cast was.  And the storyline was superb.  I will warn you, if you haven't seen it, it does have some rough language and more than the periodic moment of violence.  But it isn't what I would call gratuitous, it all fits the story, and it doesn't go on and on like some movies I've seen.  But enough about that.

The ending makes what is a very good movie great.  I don't want to give too much away just in case you haven't already seen it.  But it does leave you thinking "whaaaa??????"  Every time I watch it, I totally love the ending.  And let me just say that if you haven't watched it yet, make sure you have time to watch it again because the ending leaves you feeling like you missed a lot.  It's storytelling at it's best.

This movie has been out for a while, long enough that I had originally taped it on a VHS tape!  I'd been telling a co-worker about it and how I thought she and her husband would enjoy it.  She agreed, so a few days later, I brought the tape in for them to watch.  I told her there was no hurry to get it back.

Several weeks passed.  One day while we were at work, she handed me the tape, but as she handed it to me, she told me that she had a confession to make.  There was another movie on the tape after "The Usual Suspects", and they decided to watch it too.  She told her husband to go ahead and start the tape and she would be right in.  When she walked into the room, "Wheel of Fortune" was on the TV.  She asked him what was going on.  He said he'd started the tape.  Well...he'd accidentally hit the record button, and was taping "Wheel of Fortune"...right over the end of "The Usual Suspects"! 

She was very apologetic, and I was laughing my head off.  It got even funnier after I got home and put the tape in the player.  He couldn't have timed it any better as to when he hit the record button, there is a scene where one of the characters comes to a key realization--and suddenly Pat Sajak is saying "give the wheel another spin!!!"  I started laughing again, it was without a doubt the funniest thing I'd ever seen, it put me in mind of an episode of "Seinfeld" where Elaine tapes herself dancing over the end of a movie.  Then of course, all sorts of crazy ideas started running through my head, where you could lend this copy of the movie out, with the ending totally ruined and see how confused you could make someone with it.  I still laugh hysterically when I think about it.  As the saying goes, "timing is everything!"

Anyhow, if you haven't seen it already, I highly recommend it.  But not the "Wheel of Fortune" ending version!  I did eventually throw the tape away, but every so often, I wish I'd kept it for a good laugh.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

The Subtle Benefit of Thrift Store Shopping

If you read this blog with any regularity, you know I love to shop at thrift stores.  The reasons are varied--finding unusual stuff, saving money, the thrill of the hunt.  But there is a benefit that isn't so obvious at the time of purchase--learning the pros and cons of a particular brand or style without the expense.
I've mentioned before that a huge benefit of thrift shopping is being able to try brands I might not otherwise try because of the price.  One example was a t-shirt that I only paid a few dollars for that was brand new, but would have been closer to $20 had I purchased it from a retail store.  It was a nice shirt, but not worth $20.  With another purchase I discovered a brand that I wasn't familiar with because it was made for a large retailer that I don't regularly shop at.  Now that I know, I seek out this brand when thrift store shopping because it not only fits me well, but holds up well too. 
Several months ago, I bought this sweater set.  It was brand new, and at full retail would have been over $100.  I paid $7.95 for both pieces.
I am really glad that I only paid $7.95 for it as opposed to the $100.  Why you ask?  Because after a couple of trips through the laundry, it is looking rather dingy.  Not what I would have expected for items that cost that much.  I have other similar items from other companies that didn't cost as much that are holding up better.  This isn't my first experience like this with this particular line either, a year or two ago (can't remember) I bought another sweater made of the same fabric (same company) at a thrift store (also brand new) and it pretty much did the same thing. 
Yes, disappointing.  But not to the point of being distressed since I don't have $100 invested in it.  At the end of the season I will donate the items to charity, there will still be plenty of wear left in them if someone else doesn't mind it.  For me it does bug me, but that's just one of my "things".  The upside is that from this set and the other item I purchased, I've learned NOT to buy them at full retail, or simply not at all.  For the 3 items I have just over $12 invested, had I purchased at full retail, it would have been close to $150.  I can deal with $12, $150-not so much!
The new year is here, I hope everyone had a great holiday season!  Our holiday was a bit messed up, just after I wrote the last post, Miss Laney got sick with some sort of intestinal bug--and then so did I!  A trip to the vet and some medication and she was fine, but it was a bit of a messed up Christmas.  Someday I'll learn not to write posts like that! LOL!  What I did learn is that recent studies are showing that Norovirus may be transmittable between dogs and humans, makes me wonder if perhaps that is what we both had.  Fortunately we are both back 100%.
Do you have anything you want to work on in the New Year?  I'm still working on getting rid of some of the excess around here.  I've come a long way since I started, but there are still things that can go, and I'm going to work on that.  My word for this year is "clean"--I think it applies to so many areas in my life, and now that we are getting things thinned out, it's time to do a floor to ceiling cleaning.  I spent some time organizing things in 2015, now it's time to finish that and fine tune it.  We are getting there.  I have to say that I definitely like this "word of the year" concept a whole lot better than resolutions. 
In the spirit of "clean", I'm going to attempt to limit myself to one thrift store outing per month.  I will go to several stores in the same day, but that's it, when the trip is over, no more till next month.  I'm also going to be far more choosy about what I buy too.  Most of what I've purchased has been useful,  but I've had a few things that I've ended up hating or getting rid of because it was a frivolous purchase.  More fine tuning I guess.  The upside is at least I didn't pay full price.  It makes it a little easier to donate those items knowing I don't have a lot invested.  I simply look at it as a monetary donation to the organization I originally purchased it from.
I hope all of you are well and I just want to wish everyone a Happy New Year!  To 2016!

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Not so great memories of Christmas past...

Everyone always gets nostalgic around the holidays, talking about fun things that they remember from Christmases before.  However, one subject is usually forgotten.  Those Christmases where someone (or everyone) got sick.  Coming from a large family we've had our fair share, but not a ton.

I had a bad go round of illness when I was younger due to the fact that I'm allergic to eggs and was unable to be vaccinated for many of the childhood illnesses.  So I had the no-so fun experience of getting them all--measles, mumps, rubella.  The only one I missed was chicken pox and I waited until I was in my late 30's to get that--ugh!  The good part was that I had all of the rest fairly close together, and while I missed a lot of 1st grade and remember very little of the holiday, by the time 2nd grade rolled around, I was past the worst of it and if I did get sick, it was usually something related to my throat.  I really don't remember much of any of it either, one advantage of getting it all over with by the age of 6.

The first Christmas I can distinctly remember being sick over was when I was in 5th grade.  It was a bummer of a Christmas for me to begin with because my one sister wasn't going to be home for it, she and her husband were living in Turkey at the time.  Then I got the flu.  I don't know about the rest of you, but getting sick tends to taint the rest of what goes along with that holiday.  I remember distinctly two of the things I got as gifts that year--a Donny Osmond album and a Barbie GMC travel van.  But truthfully I didn't feel much like playing with them and even months later, I would look at that van and kind of get queasy to my stomach!  It got worse as the holiday progressed too, I remember watching TV all by myself over Christmas break because even though I was better, everyone else had gotten it and they were in bed.  Not fun.  That was definitely a year where I was glad when school started again.

I don't remember having much more trouble over the holidays until I was an adult.  And usually it was something I picked up from someone else during some sort of Christmas celebration, so I wasn't usually sick until right around the New Year.  One year I got sick while we were hosting a New Year's Eve party, I just felt worse as the night progressed.  Then I worried about everyone else getting it, luckily they didn't.  But the funny part of the whole thing was on New Years Day.  One of the TV stations was running the 1970's mini-series "Holocaust" and I wanted to watch it.  I remembered some things about it, but not all of it.  There I was with my fever, all bundled up in front of the TV, watching and shivering away, when with just the last episode left to run, the power went out.  And it was out all night.  So I still don't remember what happened to some of the characters!

The best (if you want to call it that) sick memory didn't happen to me personally.  But it did involve family members.  My sister and her sons were both sick several days before Christmas and my mom was trying to figure out a nice way to "un-invite" them, she didn't think we all needed to be exposed to whatever they had.  She agonized about it all week, then decided she would have to just suck it up and hope for the best.  As fate would have it, Christmas morning, my brother called.  His family were all sick and they weren't coming!   A Christmas Miracle!  Right then and there my mom decided that Christmas would be postponed until the upcoming weekend when everyone would be better.  She got her wish.

It did present a different problem though--we didn't really want to cook the big dinner we had planned for just 3 people.  There aren't many restaurants open on Christmas day, so we ended up at a nearby truck stop.  I was actually surprised at how busy it was, but I imagine since they were one of the few places open, that helped.  We had a good meal, and chatted with the waitress.  We told her what had happened and she jokingly said "oh, I hope you weren't having cheesecake!", and she said that it was one of her favorite things.  We laughed because we had planned on that for dessert, my mom had made one from scratch.  At that point the wheels started turning in my head.  We quickly drove home, my mom cut a piece of the cheesecake and packaged it up, and I ran it back out to the truck stop to give to the waitress.  She was so excited, she told me she got off work in about a half and hour and she was going to eat it then.  Merry Christmas to her.

There is a bit of irony in the story.  We did have our celebration over the coming weekend as planned.  But we didn't have ANY cheesecake.  Because between Christmas day (which I am thinking was a Monday that year) and the Saturday we actually had Christmas, it molded!!!  So the waitress was the only person who got to enjoy any of it.  I hope it was good!


Friday, December 4, 2015

A Different Approach to Holiday Decorating

I used to love the decorate for the holidays.  Any holiday, not just Christmas.  As I've gotten older though, I find it less enjoyable with every year.  And then there is the whole job of taking it all down too.  Yuck.

I think part of the problem is that our family and celebrations have changed over the years, and we now have very few "little persons" who come to our home for any holidays.  The majority of them have grown up and moved on, with a few of them having kids of their own.  I've discussed this with friends, and they agree that part of the fun of decorating is seeing the look on a kids face.  Time marches on.

I've weeded out quite a few of my Christmas decorations, and I intend to weed some more.  My plan is on Tuesday of next week to take a box to be donated.  I'm much more selective about what I put up.  But it still hasn't eliminated the dread of doing it all.

Last year I came up with a plan, and it worked very well.  I decided to have my own "12 days of Christmas", starting December 1st.  Each day I had to put up a decoration (or group of decorations like stockings, wreaths, etc).  On December 13th (my hubby's birthday) I do the last decoration which is the tree.  We don't have a big tree, so it's not as bad as in previous years, and it's sort of like saving the best for last.  The nicest part is when I was done, I wasn't annoyed or tired, and the house looked nice.  When the season was over, I just did the reverse, took down one or two decorations each day and put them away.  I do have to say that the way we have our decorations stored at this house makes this a much easier thing to do as well.

I have to admit that I'm already behind though.  First off, the date got away from me and I didn't realize December 1st had come and gone!  Wednesday I had a lot going on so it didn't get done that day either.  So yesterday I did a half catchup and put up two different things, and will do the same tomorrow.  Easy enough.

Does anyone else hate holiday decorating?  I think the other contributing factor to my dislike is that retailers have Christmas stuff out for sale earlier and earlier, and by the time it comes time to put them up, you are already suffering from overexposure. 

Now if I can just find a painless way to do Christmas cards and gift wrapping...

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Goble, goble?!?!

One of my favorite websites when I want a good laugh is Cakewrecks.  The website focuses primarily on cakes that have glaring issues--sometimes spelling issues, others with imagery that has problems and a variety of other hilarious screw ups.  I actually had to quit reading it on a regular basis because I would get to laughing so hard, I could hardly breathe.  They do sometimes have some awesome cakes on there too, but the basic idea is a good laugh at cake disasters.  Thus the name.
I've seen a few poorly done cakes, but nothing worthy of the website until recently.  My husband and I were at a nearby mall last weekend, minding our own business, when all of a sudden he started laughing.  When I asked him what was so funny, he told me.  I had to go back and check it out for myself.  And of course, I took a picture:
Wow.  Not only is that one sad looking turkey, but seriously, goble goble?????  Thanksgiving is a HUGE deal in the United States and at an early age we are exposed to Thanksgiving culture, learning about pilgrims, their interactions with the Native Americans and that first dinner of thanks.  And turkeys--they are almost as American at this time of year as apple pie.  Ben Franklin wanted to make it the national bird.  As kids we are all taught that the sound that a turkey makes is "gobble, gobble".   I guess this place that shall remain unnamed, that makes those giant cookies you can use as dessert, doesn't require it's employees to have a basic knowledge of spelling.  Yowsa.
Needless to say, this has been a source of much laughter in our house, my husband and I have said "goble, goble!" to each other many times since last weekend.  I can't help but wonder if anyone actually bought the giant cookie! 
So, in this week of thanks, from our home to yours:
GOBLE, GOBLE!!!  And Happy Thanksgiving too!

Thursday, November 5, 2015

One of my favorite things to make in a slow cooker

I've owned a slow cooker since I got married, and I've used it to cook a lot of different things.  For years I mostly used it to make sauerkraut with hot dogs, always for the new year.  Then I decided to venture out into some other recipes, most things have been hits, I can only think of one true miss.  A couple of years ago I came across something that I wish I'd discovered ages ago.

I mentioned in my post about Aldi's that they sell very good fresh chickens.  They aren't really big, usually somewhere between 4 1/2 and 5 1/2 pounds.  These fit very well into my medium sized slow cooker which is a 5 quart oval shaped one.  And talk about super easy!  Plus with just two of us, we can get 3 - 4 different meals from just that one chicken.  Doesn't get any better than that!

It's really very easy to do, I'm going to explain it here.  You can also do this with a frozen chicken, just make sure it's thawed completely first.  I start out by putting some cut up onions and celery in the bottom of the crock pot, usually a small onion cut into fairly large pieces and a stalk or two of celery is all you need.  If you have some carrots around, cut one of those into a couple of pieces and add it.  Remove the chicken from the package, make sure you check to see if there is anything stuffed inside.  Once in a while you may find a little package containing the giblets.  I usually just toss that out, not a fan.  Place the chicken in the crock pot on top of the vegetables, then season liberally with seasoned salt and Mrs. Dash in your favorite flavor.  (If Mrs. Dash isn't available where you are, use pepper, oregano, basil, rosemary and a bit of garlic salt, or any combination of some of your favorite spices)

Now is the trickest part--how long to cook?!  If you have one of the newer slow cookers, you will probably only need to cook it about 6 hours on the low setting.  If yours is older, 8 - 10 hours on low.  Why the difference?  Because "someone" (I suspect in the legal department) decided that slow cookers cooked at too low of a temperature to be safe.  So they jacked up the temperatures on them.  This annoys me to no end because A)when have you ever heard of someone getting sick from something cooked in a slow cooker  B)it screws up a lot of recipes that people have been using for years, and lastly C)it defeats the idea for the working person to throw their meal in their crockpot, go to work and come home to a yummy meal.  If you tried that with some of the recipes I have now, you'd come home to burnt offerings or worse yet, your house burnt to the ground.  As William Shakespeare said "kill all the lawyers!"  In this case, I couldn't agree more.

Okay, so your chicken is done and you're scratching your head--now what?  Here's what I do with mine.  I get a large baking pan/dish out, and carefully lift the chicken out with some tongs.  Don't be surprised if it falls apart a bit, cooking in the slow cooker does cook it thoroughly.  I then cut some of the meat away and we eat that the first night with some sides--potatoes, a veggie, onion rings, whatever.  What to do with the rest?  First thing I do is drain the juices through a strainer into a storage container and stick it in the refrigerator, tossing the veggies.  After it has been in the refrigerator for a while, the grease will separate and rise to the top, as well as harden.  You can then pop that off and into the trash, leaving you some wonderful, low fat chicken broth!  The rest of the chicken I pull apart into small pieces and with that I can make several different things:

Chicken gravy with chicken chunks over biscuits (using the wonderful broth I just described!)
Chicken Tacos
Chicken Quesadillas
Chicken Soup (also using the broth)
Chicken chunks on a tossed salad
Chicken salad
Those are our personal favorites.  I love the fact that these chickens cost about $5 and I can get such a variety of meals this way.  Other than the bones and the skin, there is very little waste.  And it's sooooooooo yummy!  A little tip I will give you is to refrigerate the cooked chicken overnight before pulling it apart, it comes apart much easier that way.  The nice part about this too is that the broth as well as the chicken you have pulled apart can all be frozen if you don't want to use it right away.  I almost always have a container of chicken broth in my freezer for something further down the line. 

Slow cookers are a wonderful tool that I think every cook should have and learn to use.  It's a great appliance for making a home cooked meal on those days when you don't want to be in the kitchen for an extended period of time.  I use mine quite a bit during the summer months, it's a nice way to cook a dinner without adding heat to the kitchen.  Plus I can be off doing other things, most recipes don't require much attention once you have the ingredients together. 

Do you have a slow cooker?  And what is one of your favorite things to make in it if you do?  I already shared my spaghetti sauce recipe and I'll be sharing more of my crock pot favorites in the months to come.