A blog about "nothing"!

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. 

Sunday, November 1, 2015


Do you shop at Aldi?  If you don't, why not???  I do understand that there are still areas in the US where Aldi doesn't have stores, and let me just say, I feel bad for those people.  But if you live near one, and you don't shop there, you really should.
Not familiar with Aldi?  It is a grocery store chain that is classified as a "deep discount" chain, originally started in Germany, but now with locations around Europe, the US and Australia.  Aldi's basic idea is that they carry primarily their own brand instead of numerous name brands, reducing square footage which in turn, reduces expenses and overhead.  Their prices are significantly lower than most grocery stores and when they do have name brand merchandise, it is generally at a discount price as well.
I first discovered Aldi about 16 years ago.  They had stores popping up here and there in our area, and I wasn't at all familiar with them, I assumed (quite wrongly) that it was just another regular grocery store chain.  It wasn't until part of my photography club met up at the home of one of our members that had recently relocated.  Aldi was close to his new home and he was telling us all about it and how much money he was saving.  I decided it was worth checking out. 
I started out by buying 10 items we used a lot of.  Don't ask me what they were exactly, I do remember buying a can of corn.  My thinking was that 10 items wouldn't break the bank and I could try a variety of items in different categories.  I was very impressed with what I bought and the next time I went, I bought more different items.  As the months progressed, we had tried just about everything we would use regularly, and for the most part, everything was good.  The only thing I ever remember being so bad that I wouldn't buy it again was a spaghetti sauce.  At the time, they had two different ones, this was the cheaper of the two.  Luckily we'd only bought one jar, it wasn't good at all and they no longer sell it, so I guess we weren't alone in thinking it didn't taste good!  I've since bought it there (under another label) and it is good, I used to use it all the time when I made lasagna.  Now that I make my own, it's no longer something I purchased in a jar.
Aldi is a fantastic place to buy staple items like flour, sugar, etc.  A friend of mine for whom money was no object always went to Aldi to buy baking supplies for doing all of her holiday cookie and pie making.  Since I do the bulk of my cooking from scratch, I regularly stock up on basic items.  Their spices are good, we've gotten so we prefer a lot of their condiments and pickles, and their cheeses are terrific, always consistent in taste and quality.  We live in a state where dairy prices are highly regulated and Aldi is the one place we can get these items at the best price.
Items we aren't fond of:  butter (it doesn't melt well), bread (not as fresh as my hubby likes) cereal (tastes fine, but the boxes are puny).
Items I highly recommend:  all of the dairy items (except butter), tea mixes, tortilla chips, rice chips, storage bags, frozen thin green beans.
Everything else I have bought there has been good to very good.  Produce overall is very good, but I will warn you, it does tend to go bad rather quickly.  I'm not sure if it's because of how it's stored, or some other reason.  If you are cooking for a large family this is probably not going to be an issue, but with just two of us, sometimes I end up throwing things out before I can use them up.  Price depending, this still might not be a deal breaker though.  You just have to know what these items are selling for at the competition in your area.
Meat was something that was just okay for a long time at Aldi, but in recent years, some of the stores have added an actual meat counter instead of selling everything frozen.  I regularly buy pork chops and/or loins, ground beef and chicken this way, and I have absolutely no complaints, many times it's better than what I'd been buying at local grocery stores.  I started out buying frozen whole chickens there a couple of years ago and just in the past year they have gone to selling fresh chickens, they are fantastic. 
Aldi has a few interesting "quirks" that help them keep prices lower.  You have to insert a quarter to get your shopping cart, but you do get that back when you return it. This eliminates the need to pay someone to regularly retrieve carts from the parking areas and cars are less likely to get damaged.  You have to pay for the grocery bags, but they welcome you to bring your own.  This is probably one of my favorite things about Aldi (besides saving money) because I have a real problem with the number of bags thrown out and/or wasted.  In the US they don't take credit cards or checks, but you can use a debit card.  Cash is always welcome.
Another thing that I love about Aldi is the fact that the store is smaller.  Since they aren't carrying 5 varieties of the same item, they need significantly less floor space.  It makes shopping far less stressful and I can be in and out in no time. 
The drawback is that Aldi doesn't carry everything.  If you are cooking something that needs an unusual ingredient, you are probably going to have to make a stop at a bigger grocery store.  I've gotten in the habit of going to Aldi first, then filling in at another grocery store with the items I couldn't get there.  I still buy the bulk of my groceries at Aldi though. 
So how much money do you save?  Depending on where you live and the prices at the competition, the savings can be anywhere from 30% - 50% off.  About a year after I started shopping at Aldi's on a regular basis, I had no choice one day but to stop and pick up a few things at another store (it was a Sunday and at that time, Aldi stores in the US weren't open on Sundays).  I was floored to see how much money I had been wasting for all of those years by shopping at a larger store. 
Now, I will tell you about one caveat with shopping at Aldi:  quality changes.  In order to get the good prices that they can pass on to consumers, Aldi buys their products from a variety of manufacturers.  I'm sure it's probably on a contract basis.  The problem with that is when the contract runs out, they may continue selling an item, but it's now being made by a different company.  This can cause anything from a minor change in taste to a huge change.  The good part though is everything Aldi sells is covered by a "Double Guarantee":  "If, for any reason, you are not 100 percent satisfied with any product, we will offer a Double Guarantee where we will gladly replace the product AND refund your money."  How can you beat that? 
Get that shopping list ready!  Give Aldi a try!  Even if you do it the way I did by starting out with a handful of items, I think you will be pleased.  And that's all I have to say about it, I'm getting ready to head out the door to Aldi myself. 

Sunday, October 11, 2015

The Evil Potato

Most of us know that potatoes can be healthy and bad for you at the same time.  They have lots of good nutrients, but they are also full of starch which isn't so good. I've since discovered another reason I have to eat them with caution.  Potatoes (and other nightshade family plants) have large quantites of alkaloids, which for some people are no problem, but for others can be a pain--literally.
I started researching this recently after having repeated issues whenever I ate baked potatoes.  With potatoes in other forms the reaction wasn't quite as bad, sometimes not at all.  It usually involved gut pain/bloating, and could be very annoying.  Several years ago I mentioned it to my mom who told me that my dad used to have terrible issues with IBS and that potatoes seemed to aggravate it more than anything, particularly baked potatoes.  Hmmm...

I discovered that while all nightshade plants contain alkaloids, potatoes have the highest level.  You also have to beware of potatoes that are "growing" or have green spots on them as those have an even higher level in them (and to some people can be toxic).  What I found even more interesting was that how you cooked them also affected the level of reaction.  Boiling them or deep frying seemed to do a much better job of reducing the alkaloid levels, which explained why mashed potatoes have never bothered me.  The fact that potatoes have the highest level also explained why other nightshades (peppers, tomatoes) didn't seem to affect me. 

Something else I discovered was that high levels of alkaloids can affect pain levels in people who suffer from various forms of arthritis and gout.  I couldn't help but think that it might explain some of my arthritis flare ups.  I recently had a very bad week all around and I think I can trace it directly to some potatoes I baked. 

So what does this all mean?  Well, for me, potatoes are going to be one of those things that I eat very cautiously.  Most of the things I read suggested eliminating them for a while and then reintroducing them to see if you get a similar reaction.  Since I've had this reaction multiple times, I think I can pretty much say for certain that it's part of the problem.  In the meantime, if I do choose to eat a potato type item, I'll be much more particular as to how it is cooked.  Baked won't be on of those options.  You have no idea how sad that makes me because that is one of my favorite ways to have a potato and it's super easy to prepare.  Just my luck.  But, I'd rather not eat that and feel good than to deal with pain on multi-levels.  In some people it can cause other problems as well.  No thanks!

Now if I can just figure out why cucumbers hate me so much...

I'm going to miss you...

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Meal Planning

I'm just going to say that meal planning is one of the best habits I've gotten into EVER.  I used to think that people who did this were obsessive compulsive.  Some are, but for the most part, it is a handy tool that can help you to eat healthier, eat a better variety of foods and save money.  It's not hard either.

My foray into meal planning started because I was tired of eating the same things over and over, annoyed that I would get to the end of the groceries I had in my refrigerator/freezer/cupboard and not have much of a variety.  We were throwing out too much.  Plus we were eating out far too often.  Usually that happened because I hadn't thought ahead about what I wanted to cook and neglected to get anything out to thaw and didn't have anything simple to make.  I'd had enough.

The truth is, you can make meal planning as simple or as complicated as you want it to be.  I know people who plan down to every detail what they are going to cook and do their grocery shopping accordingly.  I chose a much simpler approach instead.  I go buy groceries and plan from that.  A huge plus is that I can take advantage of what is on sale at that particular time instead of having to stick solely to my list. 

Here's what I do.  I make a list of things I know we are out of.  I buy primarily staple items such as chicken, pork, hamburger, potatoes, lettuce, frozen veggies, etc.  I'm going to tell you right up front that we eat very little that comes out of a box.  At present, the only boxed foods in our pantry are white rice, taco shells and some ramen noodles, in our freezer some minute steaks and 2 pizzas.  That's it.  Everything else I cook from scratch, so I make a point of keeping basics on hand at all times along with a nice variety of spices. 

Once I come home from the grocery store, I make a list of what main course items I bought and add to it what I may still have in my kitchen.  It might look something like this:

Pork Chops
Spaghetti Sauce

Then I write down the days of the week and figure out what we are going to have as the main course for each of those days.  If we are going out to eat on a specific day, I write "Out" in that spot.  We try very hard to limit our dining out to two times a week. 

Th--pork chops

The nice part of this is it eliminates possibly eating the same thing two days in a row.  Plus we try not to eat red meat two days in a row, or starchy items like potatoes too often.  At this point if you wanted to, you could then write in what you want as sides to go with each of these items, going from what you just purchased and already have. That's up to you, I don't unless it's something very specific that I know I need to do some advance prep on or I want to use up. And you have at a glance a list that tells you each night as you prepare dinner, what you may need to get out of the freezer to thaw for the next day! As we use up each main course item, I cross that off my list.  It makes it simple to know what I have left for my next meal planning session, as well as what I may need to buy.   As soon as we run completely out of an item, I start my shopping list for my next trip to the store.

At any given time, I may have anywhere from a week to 10 days worth of meals planned out.  I've also gotten into a habit of planning specific items that I know will yield a decent amount of leftovers towards the end of the week so that we have easy lunches for the weekend.  It has taken a bit of practice, but the end results have made me a very happy person.  We throw out far less food, we eat a much bigger variety and I've actually gotten down to doing one big grocery shopping trip a month!  I still have to go pick up perishables such as milk, bread and fresh vegetables/fruit here and there, but overall I find myself using what I have in stock much more efficiently by shopping this way.  It eliminates all those awful temptations to just throw things in the cart. 

Twice a year I do what I call a grocery "purge".  We eat down to the point where there isn't much left in the house.  I do it in the spring because we eat different things in the warmer months, plus I don't like to have as much in my refrigerator/freezer during the spring/early summer as we live in an area where the weather can change at a moments notice and we might find ourselves without electricity.  It doesn't happen nearly as much since we have moved, but it still happens.  My other purge is usually in October, more as a space maker since I know I'm going to have a frozen turkey to store (sometimes two) as well as other holiday foods.  Once the holiday/storm season is over with, I restock and go back to my usual game plan until the next purge.  This also eliminates things getting lost in the pile and going bad.  I HATE that!!!  We might have a few "interesting" meals towards the end of the purge, but that's okay, to me it's worth it.

Getting started is probably the hardest part.  You need to do an inventory of what you have and either use it up, or shop for items to go with it so you can use it up.  Groceries are one of those things that are a constantly revolving item in your home, that you can't change.  But you CAN change how you shop and how you cook so that you use them more efficiently and find yourself far less stressed when it comes to cooking.  Meal planning is a tremendous help in these areas.  It also saves time. 

I've been meal planning for about 4 years and I say that if I can do it, anyone can do it.  Now I can't imagine not meal planning.  Start small and simple by doing 4 - 7 days worth. I know some people who plan an entire month at once.  Everyone is going to have different ways of doing it based on the size of their family, availability of groceries and the amount of storage space you have.  Regardless of all of those factors, even if you are someone who shops more than once a week, you will find that it truly helps.  When I started out I was a once a week shopper, it took me a while to fine tune it to the point I am now, but I know that I dread cooking dinner far less.  Just that factor or alone makes it worth it.  All the rest is just icing on the cake!

Monday, August 31, 2015


Several posts ago I mentioned about cleaning out some stuff in our house.  I've been putting things in the "thrift store" pile since then, and I took a bunch of clothing to another donation center.  Today I decided to tackle my craft room.  Oh dear.

It's the only room that I haven't already done a bit of purging in, and boy does it need it.  I have a bunch of stuff to go to the thrift store, a box of stuff I'm saving for my sister for a sale an organization she is in is having and another box for a friend.  And I'm not even part way done.  In fact, if you were to look in the room right at the moment, you might say "what did she do?"  Truth is I did quite a bit, but there is a long way to go!

I am definitely looking at things with a different eye.  Partially because my interests have changed.  Had I done this a few years ago, I probably wouldn't have gotten rid of nearly as much.  But I realize that some of this needs to go now, and I don't think I will miss it.  And as embarrassing as it is to admit, there have been a few things I've come across and thought "I didn't know that I had that!"

One rule I'm making from here on is this:  no more buying things for a craft project unless I am planning on sitting down and doing it within several days.  Also, no more hanging on to items I would otherwise throw in the trash because "I might be able to make something out of that."  Not that either of these things were horribly out of hand, but they could easily get that way. 

An area where I'm having a bit of a dilemma is photography stuff, primarily negatives.  Since I did a ton of photography for a number of years, I have literally boxes and boxes of negatives.  The slides won't be quite as difficult, I will run them through a viewer and I will know quickly if it's worth keeping or one to toss.  Not quite as simple with negatives.  But the other side to this is what are the chances I will EVER need them again.  I need to think on this, I may save that cupboard for last.

Have you ever tackled a huge cleaning project?  What "rules" did you set in place before, during and after to keep from having things get out of hand again?  Would love to hear what others have done!

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Perhaps I spoke too soon???

A few weeks ago I was lamenting the sad state of my veggies.  It seemed as though nothing was going to do very well.  I was right about the onions and the lettuce.  The lettuce we've managed to get two pickings off of and it looks dreadful already, I'm not holding out hope.  The onions I haven't totally given up on.  The tomatoes have done about what I expected, I've had enough so far to make two batches of fresh salsa and I see two more coming up over the next days into the weekend as a bunch of them are turning.  I'm not sure I'll get much more beyond that though, the plants themselves look dreadful and we aren't getting any new blossoms.  Oh well.

The real surprise has been our banana peppers.  We got these in so late that I didn't expect much to begin with, and then the weather certainly didn't help matters.  3 of the plants struggled along for a while and then all of a sudden everything took off.  We had tons of blooms and peppers started to appear.  The first few peppers were small though, but big enough for my salsa recipe.  However, over the past week or so, a bunch of these have taken off, and today I managed to make a decent harvest!

Yes, I managed to pick 10 today!  Now, I have to say that I have 6 plants this year instead of my usual 2, but 4 of these peppers all came off one plant.  The funny part is that the plant that seems to be producing the nicest ones is the plant that I fully expected to die!  Just goes to show that you can never tell.  We should have a few more pickings too, there is plenty of activity going on.  I guess I will be heading to the grocery store tomorrow morning for the ingredients to make sausage stuffed peppers--yummy!!