A blog about "nothing"!

Friday, January 30, 2015

Things that pop into your head...

I don't know why, but as I was reading something online, I remembered a trivet that my mother used to have.  It hung in the kitchen for years until one day she finally decided to get rid of it.  I can't remember if she ever used it as an actual trivet, I think she just liked the saying on it.  Out of curiosity, I started searching on the internet to see if I could find one like it. It didn't take long before I did:

The saying always cracked me up, I remember her explaining it to me one time when I was a kid.  Hers looked just like this one too.  Funny the things you remember!

Have a great weekend!

In case you're curious, I found it here:

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Cooking From Scratch: Let's get started!

Lately there has been a return to cooking from scratch as opposed to buying premade/prepackaged food items.  Reasons are varied: expense, quality, concerns about ingredients.  I'm glad to see more people embracing this, I think we've been doing ourselves a terrible injustice by eating too many chemicals and preservatives, commonly found in boxed/frozen foods.  I'm not knocking everything, but there are some things that truly should be left on the store shelves.

As someone with severe food allergies, I've spent my entire life reading the ingredients lists on packaging.  Some of the ingredients are downright scary too, even the ones I'm not allergic to!  I've only found a few premade items that were "safe" for me to eat, and I'll be honest, most of them taste horrid.  Too salty and a definite chemical overtone to them.  I really don't understand how anyone can eat some of this on a regular basis.  The only thing that I can think of is they have become so conditioned to eating these things, they don't realize that there are better tasting options.

One of the most common things I hear as an excuse for not cooking from scratch is "I don't have the time."  I am pulling the official "BULLSHIT" flag on this claim, it is simply an excuse.  I've found that many things cooked from scratch take about the same amount of time or even less in some cases.  Even if it takes 5 minutes longer, isn't it worth it to be sure you aren't consuming a bunch of junk that might cause health issues further down the road?  And it tastes SOOOO much better.

So, how does one get started on breaking the cycle?  Start small, and be sure you have the proper tools.  I remember watching an episode of Oprah where they were helping several couples pare down their debt, and one of these couples ate out constantly.  When they assessed what she had in her kitchen, she had next to nothing, not even a decent set of pots and pans!!!  You don't have to run out and buy everything at one time, buy one item per week to help you cook one particular recipe.  Before you know it, you will have a well equipped kitchen.  One of my favorite places to buy good quality, inexpensive kitchen tools/gadgets is T J Maxx.   Some of my favorite pans have come from there, many times these are very high quality pieces, but they have been discontinued for a new line.  Most of the time they are sold individually, so you can buy pieces as you can afford them.  No one cares if yours pots and pans all match, especially if you've cooked a delicious meal! 

One item I highly recommend for every kitchen is a crock pot.  I actually have 3 in different sizes I use for different things, I LOVE a crock pot.  What do I cook in mine?  Here's a list of things I commonly cook, I'm sure I probably missed a couple of recipes too.

Spaghetti sauce
Roasts (pork or beef)
Pork chops with kraut
Pork roast or chops with spices for Mexican pulled pork
Pork roast or sliced ham with BBQ sauce for sandwiches
Layered Potatoes w/cheese and bacon
Whole Chicken (this turns in to at least 3 separate meals)
Hot dogs with sauerkraut (one of my faves!)
Italian sausage in a tomato/pepper/onion sauce

Of this list, the one that probably takes the most prep time would be applesauce (all that peeling!) followed by spaghetti sauce since you need to brown the meat before you put it in.  If you want a meatless sauce, time saved! 

Probably the simplest with the biggest payoff is a beef roast, so easy and so delicious.  Sear the roast in a large frying pan.  While doing that, clean and chop up several potatoes, carrots, an onion and a bit of celery, throw that in the bottom of the crock pot.  Once seared, put the roast on top, add some water to the frying pan and scrape the brown off the pan (that's where all the flavor is!) and pour that over the whole mix.  Add some seasonings to taste, turn it on, put the lid on and walk away.  Depending on your crockpot, it will take 6 - 10 hours (the newer ones tend to cook hotter) and when you are ready to eat, your house will smell wonderful!  You can use the juices from the mixture to make gravy.  I haven't made one of these in a while, just typing that out makes me hungry for it, add that to the shopping list for next time. 

Another good strategy is to plan your meals ahead.  This is another thing that people whine about-"I don't have the time..."--make the time!  I didn't start doing this until several years ago.  I got tired of coming home from work and realizing that I hadn't gotten something out to thaw to cook and we ended up eating a strange combo or went out.  I also found myself at the end of the grocery supply, struggling to come up with variety.  No one wants to eat potatoes three days in a row, it's not healthy either!  Now that I've been doing this for a while, I can't imagine NOT having a meal plan.  It makes grocery shopping easier, you find that you throw out less and you save money.  Plus in the long run, you do save time.  If I know in advance we have something going on that will make dinner preparation a hassle, I work around it, either scheduling that as a dinner out night, or by planning a meal that is quick and easy.  Those are great crockpot days, especially when I know I'm going to be away from the house for an extended time.  No more running around like a chicken with my head cut off.

How to plan?  It's pretty simple.  I make a list of "main course" items that I currently have on hand.  Then I write out the days of the week.  I make note of things we have going on for that week, then from there I figure out what to cook each day based on the on hand list and what is going on.  At any given time I usually have a week to two weeks planned out ahead.  As I'm cooking the meal for that night, I check my meal plan for the next 2 days meals to see if there is anything that needs to be thawed so I can get it out.  2 days?  Yes, if you are planning a crock pot meal, you need to be sure that what you are cooking will be completely thawed by the morning you want to prep it!  Sometimes overnight isn't long enough.

Here's my meal plan for the next week:  (we will go more in to detail on all of this in a later post)

Thursday-  Spaghetti  (sauce is cooking in my crockpot as I type!)
Friday-  Roasted chicken with oven roasted sweet potatoes and corn  (will cook a whole, fresh chicken in the crockpot.  Leftovers from this will be used over the next few days, both chicken and broth)
Saturday-  date night, dinner out!
Sunday-  creamed chicken with biscuits, mashed potatoes and green beans (creamed chicken made from some of the chicken cooked on Friday)
Monday-  Hash browns, pancakes and bacon, fruit  (we love dinner for breakfast)
Tuesday-  chicken quesadillas  (using the last of the chicken cooked on Friday)
Wednesday-  dinner out with friends

We try to limit ourselves to dinner out only once or twice a week, and most of the time we do very well at this.  Dinner out can be going to a sit down restaurant or bringing home Chinese take out.  It doesn't mean a four course meal with dessert every time. 

I'm going to try and share a recipe regularly, my hope is that as you read these posts and I comment on the recipes, you will be inspired to try them and to get back to basics (if you haven't already).  Cooking isn't all that difficult.  Once you get started, you won't want to go back to boxed food.  Step away from the box!!! 

Recipe for this "cooking from scratch" post:  Slow Cooker Mexican Pulled Pork Tacos

I found this recipe on Pinterest.  I was looking for something different with a Mexican flair and this fit the bill.  I'll be honest, when I cooked it the first time, I thought it smelled awful at first.  I truly thought we might be doing an emergency Chinese food run.  Boy was I wrong!!!  This is sooooo good, I usually make mine with pork chops since they are easier to "pull".  I just made this last week, and I ended up eating all of the leftovers for lunches for two days as well, there wasn't a single drop of waste.  I use salsa in mine (where it says tomato sauce or salsa), my favorite is Aldi's mild salsa, it takes about a half of a jar.  I always forget just how good this recipe is until I make it again!  I serve it with a bit of sour cream, shredded cheese and chopped up tomato on corn tortilla's, whatever you usually put on your tacos is fine.  Best part--it also freezes well, so if you end up with too much, you can have it again later.  One thing I have learned with crockpot cooking for only 2 people, my freezer is an invaluable tool. 

Stop back, I'm going to share more tips, recipes and ideas!  This is a subject that is near and dear to my heart, and I'm excited about sharing it with all of you.  Let's get cooking!

**most of the recipes I will be sharing will be wheat/gluten, egg, tree nut and honey free!  If I link to a recipe that includes any of these ingredients, I will be noting how I worked around it to avoid using these ingredients. 

Monday, January 26, 2015

Photo of the week, January 26, 2015

Mrs. Cardinal stopping by for a snack!  I can't believe it's the last week of January already, where did the weeks go?  I hope everyone is warm and safe, I know the East Coast is getting pummeled with a storm system that is dumping snow in feet, not inches.  We lucked out here, we didn't get nearly as much as they thought we would.  Happy to have dodged THAT bullet.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

The Brainwashing of the American Consumer

Sorry I haven't written much lately.  There are a lot of reasons-lack of time, lack of ideas, I haven't even been doing much thrift store shopping, so I can't even share that with you.  I went yesterday, but came home empty handed, selection is poor at best for some reason, plus I really don't need much.  I think I need to make a trip out of town!

Yesterday my husband mentioned something that set me off.  Not at him, but at the stupidity of Americans when it comes to this subject.  What is it?  The tendency to take the word of others in regards to our financial stability, instead of looking at the big picture, and going by our own comfort zone levels.

If you live in North America, you have had the good fortune of watching gasoline prices plummet over the past few weeks.  It's crazy how far they have come, it certainly is nice for the wallet.  Yesterday the hubby heard an advertisement for a car dealership:  "Gasoline prices are at an all time low, now is the time to buy that new truck you've been wanting!"  ARGH!!!!  The part that bothers me with this is unfortunately, there will be a portion of the public who will actually believe this.  That drives me bananas.  Seriously, gas prices have been going up for the past 15 years, what makes you think that this drop in prices is going to stay this way?  Especially if you've done any reading in to some of what is causing this.  If you are one of those stupid people who falls for this sales ploy, don't come running to me when you can't afford to fill the tank later on.  Idiots.

This is nothing new.  I remember being appalled (I hope it didn't show on my face) at the story a customer told me about how they bought a much bigger house than what they'd planned because "their real estate agent told them they could afford it."  WTF?!?!?!  OF COURSE THEY ARE GOING TO TELL YOU THAT!!!  Are you really that dumb?  The lack of common sense of the average American is mind-blowing.  The bad part is the final outcome, which we all got to see a few years ago when the bottom fell out of the mortgage industry.  Too many people fell for these lines, fed to them by unscrupulous mortgage brokers and real estate agents.  When we bought the house we currently live in, not only were we questioned as to why we were wanting to go backwards in our home value (we moved from a larger house with acreage), but also, gee, did we want to borrow more money than we were asking for because we qualified?!  This wasn't the first time we had ever encountered this either, when we took out a loan to do some home improvements, we ran it fairly close to what we knew we would need and nothing more, but the bank wanted to hand us extra money.  Thanks but no thanks.

Back in the early 1990's I read a book called "The Tightwad Gazette" by Amy Dacyzyn.  Written originally as a newsletter, it was a compilation of all of the best tips previously published.  To me, this book was invaluable as not only did it have lots of great information, but it also was a great contributor in changing my attitudes towards money.  I had only been married a couple of years at the time, but the lessons I learned in that book served me well over the years.  Probably the biggest thing for me was learning to distinguish a need from a want.  This is something that too many people have the inability to do.  It doesn't mean that you can't buy yourself something nice once in a while.  But you should have certain things in order before you do.

Another good influence for me was a television special called "Affluenza".  Produced in the late 1990's, it focused on the social, emotional, and financial affects of mass consumerism, but done in a fun way.  Throw in Suzi Orman, Clark Howard and Dave Ramsey--if you haven't listened to any of these folks, you really should.  Sure, some of what they have to say has a certain amount of salesmanship, but deep down, there is some really great information that can change your attitudes towards money. 

The simple fact is we, as a society, have been brainwashed in to believing that living a good life isn't based on experiences, but more on what you own.  HOGWASH!  I think back to an interesting experience I had back in the late 1990's.  I left my job to take some time off and pursue my photography further.  We were living off one income, and doing just fine, we just didn't have tons of extra cash to spend on frivolous stuff.  Not long after I quit, our VCR died.  While it would have been nice to have just run out and purchased another, it not only wasn't in the budget, but to us it wasn't a necessity.  My gosh, you should have heard the comments when people found out we didn't have a VCR at the time, I was stunned.  I never realized that not owning an electronic item directly affected my net worth as a person?!?!?!  It didn't change my attitude though.  We did eventually replace it when I went back to work and our finances were better, but it was more because we wanted it, not because of what anyone said.  We are currently experiencing a similar reaction when people find out we don't have satellite or cable anymore.  Sorry, but I like that $90 in our bank account far more than I need to watch some brain numbing television program.  (oh, and by the way, we still have that VCR!)

I recently read an article that was based on a number of studies involving consumerism and addiction.  To quickly sum it up: "consumption without need is the hallmark of addiction, and "consumerism" is defined as "the equating of personal happiness with the purchasing of material possessions and consumption." *  After some of what I've seen and personally experienced, I can say that this statement is probably close to 100% accurate.  As a result, we've become self centered, disassociated, depression is at an all time high.  And advertisers, retailers, sales people, etc. have all been taking advantage of this, much in the same way drug dealers tempt their clients.  Scary, huh?

My advice?  Quit listening to those who want to sell you things, and to those who seem to judge your self-worth by what you own.  Figure out where you are comfortable when it comes to money and debt.  Only YOU can ultimately control what you spend and what you have. 

For further reading:
Your Money Or Your Life by Vicky Robin, Joe Dominguez and Monique Tilford

Clark Howard

*"Are You Unhappy? Is it Because of Consumer Addiction?" by Charles Shaw

Monday, January 19, 2015

Photo of the Week, January 19, 2015

This isn't the world's greatest photo by any means, but it has a funny story behind it.  When we lived at our other house, we hired a friend of ours to do some remodeling work.  Two rooms needed gutted down to the studs and redone.  He was working on gutting the second room when he popped out and said "by any chance was there work done on this house done by the Amish?"  I told him that we'd been told that they had done some work, but had no idea what exactly they had done since our family didn't build the house.  He told us we needed to see this.  I guess this was our confirmation!  Byler is a very common last name in the Amish community where we live, and seeing as we knew there hadn't been any work done in that room for at least 38 years, this served as our official answer. 
You never know what you might find behind those walls!

Monday, January 12, 2015

Photo of the Week-January 12, 2015

Here is Miss Laney at about 5 months, she was such a cute puppy!  She looks like she's smiling, doesn't she?  That was such a horrible winter, and she was a champ when it came to house breaking, poor thing got lost in the snow it was so deep.  She certainly grew in to a beautiful dog and she makes us laugh all the time, she's a natural born comedian.  I'm always amazed at how dark some of her hair turned when I look at her puppy pics.

I hope all of you are safe and warm, the past week has been a challenge for so many people due to bad weather.  As much as I hate to say it, I'd rather have snow than frigid temperatures.  I think ours are finally over with, I sure hope so.  I think every joint in my body was aching before it was over with.  I'm ready for spring!

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Photo of the Week, January 6, 2015

Happy New Year!  You're being watched!!!  This is a photo of a cat we used to have named Little Guy.  She used to love sitting in the front window, watching birds and whatever else wandered into our yard.  She frequently peered out at us like this. 

I hope everyone had a wonderful holiday.  I have to laugh, my last post I had said I was on a break.  Talk about predicting the future.  That very afternoon I noticed a scratchy throat, a little sore.  Over the next few days I had the worst sore throat I've ever had in my entire life.  Then it turned into nasal congestion of epic proportions, then in to my throat, and I spent the entire holiday season coughing my head off.  I felt so lousy that our Thanksgiving celebration was postponed from Thursday until Sunday.  It's almost gone now, I'm almost afraid to even say that for fear of jinxing myself, I've never had anything hang on quite like that.  Apparently it is now reaching epidemic proportions here in the US, news reports say the flu virus that they gave the inoculations for this year mutated and now no one is protected.  Needless to say, I didn't get much done that I had planned for the holiday, it was definitely a "wing it and hope for the best" season.

Anyhow-hope this post finds everyone in good health or at least getting better if you've been sick.  2014 was a challenge for so many people I know in so many ways, so I'm wishing everyone a wonderful 2015 full of good things.