Thursday, December 22, 2011

It's a Wrap

Oi! - sorry I haven't posted in forever. On break from school right now and so some semblance of a normal life has returned to my household. Should be able to squeeze in a few posts before the next terror is upon me semester-wise. p.s - what does 'oi' really mean anyway? and if i don't know, why do i use it.... ?

So, I have to confess that I don't really get into the holiday decorating spirit that much. Actually, truth be told, I don't get into it at all. As in, I still have my summer-themed wreath hanging on my front door. Sad, yes, I know.
I used to decorate and have an entire bin of holiday pretties in the attic but the actual act of using them has gone by the wayside over the past few years. It's for a number of reasons, none of which I can explain without being in my computer chair for hours typing, so we will leave that for another time (or maybe never at all), but let's just say this time of  year you won't find my house in the community holiday open-house parade. (Side note: Has anyone ever gone on one of those? I have always wanted to! - just to fulfill that nosy bone in me, i guess.....)
My mom, on the other hand, is a Christmas fairy. Or at least she would be if such things existed. Her house is perfectly decorated with holiday flowers, homemade centerpieces with dried cranberries and candles, and holiday cards displayed in a holiday sleigh. The tree is trimmed perfectly (okay, my dad helps with that a little), the holiday menus are planned deliciously, and there is fresh pumpkin bread and hand-squeezed orange juice for Christmas morning brunch. She makes gift lists (and checks them a gazillion times) and the gifts are arranged beautifully under the tree, a pile for each family member, wrapped to perfection. Really, she is amazing. I envy it. All that and a full-time job, too. (yeah, yeah, i know... and i can't even find time to empty my dishwasher everyday.)
Anyway, back to the wrapped gifts. My mom - a.k.a: Christmas fairy lady -  buys the best wrapping paper. Embossed, textured, glints of shimmery patterns in rich hues and color-saturated designs. Thick and heavy, it's the kind that scissors glide through with a satisfying 'zing' and that creases with perfection under your fingers. Soooooo much nicer than my usual dollar store roll of wrapping paper stuff.

Such a sad pity that it all goes into the trash after the festivities are over. :-( (I'm not even a huge save-the-earth activist person, but really, isn't it? I mean, aren't there groups out there, somewhere, picketing this time of year with 'save the wrapping paper' signs?)

And so, last year I didn't throw any of that  beautiful, expensive paper away. I opened all my gifts gently and re-folded the paper and brought it home with me. And this year I wrapped all my gifts in it! My family kidded me, my husband shook his head (endearingly!) as I smoothed it all out on the living room floor, and my local dollar store mourned the loss of my meager dollars, but I couldn't be more thrilled with myself! My gifts look great and I did good by both mother earth and my wallet. And yes, there might be a faint wrinkle here or there, or a crease down the middle of a package that wouldn't normally be there, but overall it won't change the way people look at, or feel about, the gifts under the paper. And you know that is the truth!

I am doing it again this year and I challenge you to consider it too. Or at least start out small and save the bows that people rip off and leave in heaps on the floor - all they need is a little spot of tape on their bottom to be good as new, you know......

p.s - ugh! I really wanted to post pictures of the above mentioned beautiful, 2nd-time-around-wrapped gifts but my camera bit the dust last week. Great timing, huh? Guess you'll have to just use your imagination.... if it helps, they paper was red with gold snowflakes....

Monday, December 5, 2011

I Get By With A Little Help From My Desserts

Well, so far my attempts at gluten-free/dairy-free/corn-free cooking and baking haven't been anything to celebrate. A so-so soup or two, lots of salads, bunless burgers smeared with avocado, rice noodles galore and one batch of very flat, very crumbly cookies. That's okay though - I am not getting discouraged! I know with a little more tweaking and playing with ingredients it will all come together. It has to because without the occasional (okay, weekly) treat I am pretty sure I would turn into an old scrooge! With that said, I will admit I am feeling more confident already, especially since this super yummy pie I made is living proof that deliciousness is (still) possible.
I used a recipe for the crust from GFE - - an amazing blog that is a miracle find for the newbie (or oldbie, too!) in the world of gluten free living. It took less than 5 minutes to make and was so tasty it fooled even Mr. 31, who did a double take when he saw me eating it. It makes a more crumbly, flaky crust than a rolled out dough would make, but we didn't even notice. For the pie filling I used a regular recipe from one of my favorite cookbooks and made the modifications I needed. Pecan pie calls for corn syrup, which doesn't work if you are allergic to corn, so I substituted honey for it. We noticed that after the first day the pie actually tasted sweeter - almost the way honey takes on a sweeter 'taste' as it crystallizes sometimes. I think next time I will use a portion of molasses mixed in with the honey. Any thoughts on this? Also, I can't use butter so I used Earth Balance Butter Substitute. It was the first time I used it... still a little up in the air with my feelings on it.
All in all the pie turned out great and we had no problem scarfing it up in a matter of days. (And yes, I did have a piece for breakfast one day. You know you would have done the same.)

No Roll, Never Fail, Press In Pie Crust (Gluten Free, Dairy Free, Egg Free, Soy Free, Nut Free, Vegan)
1 ½ cup gluten-free flour mix (see notes)
1 tbsp granulated sugar
1 tsp salt
½ cup vegetable oil
2 tbsp milk (dairy or non-dairy)
¾ tsp xanthan gum (optional; see notes)
Sift flour, sugar, and salt into 9-inch pie plate.
In a separate small bowl or large glass measuring cup, add milk to oil and stir vigorously with a fork until oil turns into little droplets. (I usually measure my oil in a glass measuring cup and then add the milk to that cup.)Pour milk and oil mixture over dry ingredients and mix. (I just use the same fork that I used to mix the oil and milk. It works great.)Pat crust out with hands, trying to make thickness the same throughout and extending crust as high as you would like on the sides of the pie plate.

Fill and bake per your recipe. *On her blog Shirley mentions that you can use a variety of different flours it this recipe, according to what you like. Just be aware that changing the flours may change the consistency. Also, she noted that you could leave the xanthan gum is optional - I left it out because it is a corn derivative so its out of bounds for me.

 Pecan Pie Filling

3 eggs
1/8 tsp salt
1/3 c. sugar (I used organic cane sugar)
1/3 c. brown sugar
1 c. honey
1/4 c. Earth Balance Vegan Buttery Sticks, melted
1 c. pecan halves
1 tsp. vanilla
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Beat eggs with sugar, salt, buttery sticks, honey and vanilla. Add pecans and mix thoroughly. Pour in pie crust and bake for 40-45 minutes or until knife inserted halfway between outside and center of pie comes out clean.

Check out the fancy cut job. :-) Mr. 31 must have done that.....

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

I'll Have A Slice Of The Humble Pie, Please.

"Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing."  Prov. 12:18

When I was young, I had a terrible problem with running my mouth. My moms 'popular' punishment of washing my mouth out with soap happened at least a few times a month, but it didn't help. I just plain had a lack of self-control when it came to talking back. Somedays I wonder why that 8-year old part of me never learns.

Maybe it was 'one of those days'. You know, when you wake up feeling crabby, but truth is, that isn't really an excuse. My morning went fine but my afternoon just went downhill, starting with when I had to call Verizon to deal with a billing issue. Mr. 31 and I finally got cable and internet in the house after all these years. It's been 3 months and we haven't been charged the correct amount yet. Talk about frustrating. On this months bill they charged us for a package we don't even have! Anyway, I call to take care of that and after being on hold for 20 minutes the woman who answers the phone verifies all my info and then says that, due to her system being updated, she can't help me and I'll have to call back. Me call them back.
I started out being patient and kind. Really, I did. But not only could she not help me, she couldn't transfer me to anyone else. I don't use it often, but I have a business-woman, no-nonsense edge of my personality and it kicked into gear right about now. No, I wasn't going to call back, we were going to take care of this right now. Did she really want me to believe that Verizon updated its system at 2 p.m. in the afternoon during business hours? You get the picture.... I probably wasn't the most pleasant customer she had that day. Afterwards, (and no, we never did resolve the issue, still waiting on that one) I felt a little guilty. I should have been kinder. I should have been more understanding. I should have taken a deep breath and remembered how un-important this was in the scheme of things.

Why, oh why, don't I learn the first time?

Cue 5:00 p.m. I rush home from work and am busy throwing together a quick dinner so I can get to my evening class on time. Mr. 31 and I are chatting and he mentions that he stopped by the bank today to pay the mortgage and they charged him a late fee and he isn't sure why. Unless he doesn't realize it, all bills have been on time. Can I call tomorrow and double check on it? (Let me quick mention that as long as we have been married he has taken care of the bills and I don't even give it a second thought. I like it that way.)  I should have said 'sure, no problem, babe!'. I should have remembered that I love him for being so responsible and regimented and said, 'hmm...sounds odd...but lets look into before we jump to conclusions.' Instead, I jump like a crazy woman. I bang my fork on the side of my bowl and say, 'WHAT??? Do you know how important the mortgage is??'  <sigh> You can imagine my tone of voice, right? And, without rehashing the whole ugly situation to you right now, lets just say I proceed to freak out and be a very ugly person for several looooong minutes.  
Finally, I call our bank. It is a 3 minute conversation. She pulls up our account and says oops, they made a mistake and yup, we are perfectly fine and no big deal, they will just apply the extra to principle. <giant gulp>  Do you know what I felt like as I hung that phone up?
I apologized to Mr. 31 right away. One thing that marriage has taught me is that saying you are sorry immediately, when you realize your mistake, is the best thing to do. And saying it with sincerity, of course. Which I was -- sincerely sorry that I had said all those sharp things - and Mr. 31 is a wonderful person, and of course, he said 'its okay'. But really, saying sorry can't erase what came out of your mouth, or how you acted. And I know that I was out of line and let my tongue cause hurt.

UGH.  So yeah, I am feeling pretty crappy right now. Maybe I'll take two slices of that humble pie....

Monday, November 28, 2011

A Better Buyer

With the holidays approaching I have been thinking a lot about what type of 'consumer' I am - especially with the financial instabilities of today all around us. Lately, when I count my blessings 'work' is near the top of my list.  Mr. 31 is self-employed, and although it seems simple, the biggest gift these days is that he has had steady work for the past 2 years. It goes without saying that our economy is in a sad place and I feel blessed that, although we have tightened our purse strings, we are not suffering, as many Americans are. With that in mind I have made a little resolution to support the small businesses and independent stores in the area as much as I can, instead of the large, chain stores. At first I thought it might be hard - after all, I love browsing on, but I am the type of shopper who needs to touch something in person, especially if I am buying it for someone else - however, the more I delve into the idea, the easier I see it being. I have already created a little list of stores and merchants in the area who have great gift ideas and who I hope to support in the future. It might not be as easy as just going to the mall and doing one-stop shopping but I feel like the end result that it accomplishes makes the entire gift-giving process that much more worthwhile.  In fact, the more that I look, the more that I see - how did I live so long in the same town and never visit all the small, artisan styles stores around me?
Another great idea -  a facebook friend of mine posted this article and it is a wealth of awesome gift-giving ideas that support wonderful businesses and charities! I hardly know where to start......  so far I am loving (they have gluten-free goodies!),, and  Check it out - I guarantee you will find something that you like!

Friday, November 25, 2011


Our thanksgiving was wonderful. (Hope yours was, too!) As usual, everyone pitched in and brought a dish or two and we had a gourmet feast of yumminess. But the food, really, I could have done without. It paled in comparison to the remainder of the evening.....
After dinner my grandmother pulled out a giant box of old family photos and we all sat around on the floor for hours and pawed through them. We laughed, and reminisced, and gasped in horror at hideous outfits and hairdos, and shared memories evoked by still life images, frozen in history through the lens of a camera.
Family is one of those things you can never replace. After all, who else remembers when you had that frizzy perm with 3 inch-high bangs and frosty blue eyeshadow and still loves you anyway?

If you forgot to tell your family how much you love them this week, maybe you should do it now.

p.s. - I meant to take some great photos to show you our turkey day feast, but with all the family fun I never even took my camera out. Sorry! :-(

Sunday, November 20, 2011

It's Nifty To Be Thrifty

Ever have this scenario happen to you?  A friend compliments me on my clothes. I say, 'thanks! I got it at the thrift store!' They look at me, and their eyes get wider, their eyebrows shoot up and they say, in this skeptical, ambiguous voice, 'Really?'  Yes, really. Actually, that is where I got half my closet. I am still trying to figure out what the stigma is....(if you know, please tell me! I mean, it isn't like I don't launder the clothes before I wear them! Sheesh....)
I love to shop. Years ago I worked in retail management and, even today, whenever I walk into a store and that starchy, ethereal scent of new clothes hits my nose I am transported back to those days of unwrapping piles and piles of shirts, and jeans, and sweaters. Folding them, applying size stickers in careful precision, and arranging them in impeccable piles of perfected fabric. Oh right, and of course, buying them. In those days I had more clothes than I had closet space. They spilled out of drawers and laid over furniture. Camisoles hung four to a hanger and t-shirts were stacked 10 high. I could go weeks without doing laundry. Yes, I had that many clothes. (sigh) I cringe when I think about how much money went into my obsession with new clothes. And when I left the house I was still the same person.... no better (maybe a little worse though) for all those expensive clothes on my back. At the end of the day, they certainly weren't making me any happier.
Today, I still love retail. And, the truth is, some days it is hard to resist that temptation to buy everything that I see when I go to the mall. Several things help to deter me: 1.) the closets in our 1920's house are minuscule. I think they should actually be called 'cracks in the walls behind a door'. 2.) My husband trusts me with our credit/debit card. Sure, he never really checks up on me or tells me what I can/can't buy but I certainly want to be a responsible steward of our finances for him and 3.) Paul tells us in 1 Timothy 2:9 that women should 'dress modestly, with decency and propriety, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or expensive clothes'. Well, there it is: without expensive clothes. Talk about seeing it in black and white, right?
And so I have fallen in love with thrift and consignment stores. (It wasn't hard - I am lucky to have several very lovable ones in my area.) And (alert: slight bragging moment ahead) I have pretty much perfected the art of thrifting. It's a huge thrill to go shopping and come home with 3 outfits for under $20. Not only does it relieve my wallet of 'shopping-stress' but it also allows me to go shopping twice as much as I would if I was shopping for full-price clothes and I still spend way less money! Plus, I have gotten some great steals - like high-quality name brand clothes that I would normally not be able to afford for basement prices. Give it a try!  
Some hints for thrifting:
  • Don't go when you are short on time. Give yourself plenty of time to hunt for those great treasures.
  • Examine everything! Check for tears, stains, discolorations, missing buttons, etc. Pay special attention to cuffs and collars, where dirt sometimes goes unnoticed at first. I have learned the hard way when I got a piece home and had overlooked these places. If a piece is dirty, determine whether it appears to be something that can be laundered out - unless it looks like dirt that happened while on the rack, pass on it. The stain is probably already set. If there is a slight tear or rip that can be easily mended, point it out and ask for a discount. Most places will reduce the price.
  • Get friendly with the owners of the store. This works best with smaller, privately-owned shops.  After you have been in a time or two, introduce yourself and compliment them on their selection, layout, whatever....  Getting friendly lets you use them to your advantage. If you are looking for a specific piece or size, let them know and ask if you can leave your phone number. This is a business for them and if they have a potential buyer for a piece, you can guarantee they will call you as soon as they see it come through the door. I have gotten some great dresses this way, not to mention some favors such as discounts and the privilege of returning something in spite of the no-return policy.
  •  Visit often. Thrift and consignment stores are always getting new things in.
  • In light of the 'visit often' idea, don't be tempted to over-buy. While it is true that you won't find multiple items at a thrift store, you don't want to buy things just because they are there. Ask yourself if you will really get use out of the piece. As my sister often says, 'if you are iffy, don't buy it.'
*A kind-of-important note: Although I buy a lot of my clothes at thrift stores, I haven't boycotted regular stores. I just make it a point to only buy things when they are on sale. Even staple pieces, like a great pair of jeans, or versatile shoes, or a seasonal jacket can be found at awesome prices if you follow sales and are patient. Unlike thrifts, chain retail stores do have stock, so you can guarantee if you wait for a reduction in price you will still be able to get what you want.

Dress: Goodwill $4, Boyfriend cardigan: Target on sale $14.99, Belt: Dressbarn on sale $9.99, Boots: Steve Madden on sale $60 (reg. $89) 

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Too Bad My Dishwasher Doesn't Have a Drive Through

I wish everything in life had a 'convenient' alternative. Like fast food - a quick, easy, and cheap option when you are feeling lazy or short on time. (But with a lot less calories and artery-clogging stuff that is....) 

I tend to try to take the 'easy' route when it comes to a lot of things in my life. I use my crockpot a lot. I stuff the washing machine to its full capacity with every load. Hmm.... sometimes I even wash un-like colors together. (I'm sorry, Mom!.... and yes, I at least use the cold water setting!) I barely pre-rinse as I load the dishwasher. When I invite guests for dinner I buy pre-cut veggies to save the chopping time. And so on and so forth.....

I almost don't feel guilty blaming my love of convenience on society. Everywhere we turn today there is a new product, or a flashy display at the grocery store, or a loud commercial showing us how to make our lives easier. Recently, I decided I was going to stop buying chemical-filled kitchen spray cleaners and just use anti-microbial essential oils and water, with some Borax on hand for harder jobs. Better for my family and the environment - you know, the old school mentality. Anyway, in order to find an empty spray bottle that I could put my own mixture in I had to go to three stores before I found one (thanks, Lowes!). The grocery store didn't carry them and the super-store was charging nine dollars! (Nine dollars??? Get out of here...its a plastic spray bottle!) But in the same isle there were at least 50 different types of chemical-laden, magically-do-it-all-with-one-swipe cleaners in an array of pleasing scents. Convenience trumps healthy, do-it-yourself-ness. You get my drift.....  
I can't however, in good conscious , say it is all society's fault. I think it is ingrained in us to want to find the easy way out. That isn't entirely a bad thing - after all, most of my crockpot meals are cheap and tasty and wonderful timesavers - but I worry sometimes that convenience gets muddled together with laziness. That crossed my mind one night when I tried, unsuccessfully to pour soap into my dishwasher and discovered this in the bottom of the soap box: 

Ugh. One giant, hard as a rock, lump of solid dishwashing soap. I tried tapping it against the box to see if it would break apart. Then the counter. Then I banged at it with a wooden spoon handle. Nothing, zip, nada. It was one concrete, firm hunk of soap. So I threw it in the trashcan. And then, in the next thought, I felt bad and fished it back out. That would have been a lot of soap (which equates to money) to waste simply because I felt like 'eating the bread of idleness'. (Pr. 31:27)
So, I got out a spoon and chiseled. And, currently, I have been using this same hunk-a-soap for nearly one month! - with hardly any reduction in size. Truly, I haven't even made a dent in it. Yes, its kind of annoying to bend over my dishwasher and use a spoon to grate away at the side of it, and yes, it takes a few extra seconds to fill my soap dispenser this way, but it works. And now that I think about it, I am ashamed at how much perfectly usable soap I would have been throwing away over my own lazy bone.

What is laying around your house, or being underutilized, or headed for the wastebasket in the name of 'convenience' that you can still make use of?

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Sharing is Caring.... and half the calories.

I love to bake. Especially on Sundays when we get home from church and Mr. 31 hunkers down in the tv room for his fix of Sunday afternoon football and the house is peaceful and quiet and the whole afternoon stretches itself out in front of me and says 'i am all yours, honey!'.  It is giant stress relief for me to pull out my cookbooks and page through them until I find that recipe. The one that makes me drool. And so, as it often goes in our household, we have a yummy pan of treats on Sunday evenings. And Monday, and Tuesday, and Wednesday evenings, too. Recently though, in light of a gluten and dairy allergy rearing its very ugly, (not to mention grotesquely annoying  and horribly frustrating) head in yours truly, it hasn't been as much fun to bake. One because the finished product mocks me from the counter and two because Mr. 31 gets to eat twice as much of the goodies and I can't imagine that is any good for his waistline. 

And, yes, I know that I can make all sorts of delectable, gluten-free, dairy-free yummies (trust me, I am working on it!), but sometimes you just want to take comfort in the old staples you can bake by heart and you don't feel like turning your kitchen into a chemistry lab to figure out substitutions and flour-alternatives. And so, instead of cutting out my weekend baking therapy all together, I have decided to share. Each time I make something yummy I am going to challenge myself to pack half of it up and give it to a friend, or a neighbor, or a random stranger (umm... okay, maybe that last one won't work out so well...) with a little note attached to it. I often chat with people and leave thinking that I want to thank them for being in my life, or encourage them, or let them know they are in my prayers. Follow-up isn't really my forte though (frowny face).....and then weeks later I remember and am mad at myself that I didn't get around to it. I thought maybe having some treats to attach my sentiments to would help me be more diligent. And besides,  who doesn't like fresh baked goods, right?

I started this past weekend and made this absolutely delicious, homemade doughnut recipe that I found in this seasons Better Home and Gardens FoodGifts magazine. They were super quick and easy to make and when my dad (a tried-and-true-chocolate-cake-donut-expert) tasted them he said they were 'perfect'.  I'll admit, gluten-laden though they were, I even took one (big) bite. Trust me, it was worth it! P.s. - If you don't have doughnut pans, I bet these could be made in cupcake pans or small molds. You would just have to adjust the bake time. My thought is that the small investment I made in a doughnut pan was well worth it because these are going in my recipe box as a versatile, easy treat to make for lots of occasions!

Right about now is when I caved and took a bite....
Decadent Chocolate Doughnuts 
1 1/4 c. all purpose flour
1/2 c. packed brown sugar
1/3 c. unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 c. granulated sugar
1 tbsp. instant coffee or espresso crystals
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/2 c. milk
1/2 c. butter, melted
1 c. miniature semisweet chocolate chips or pieces 
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Generously coat 2-inch doughnut pan. In a large bowl stir together flour, brown sugar, cocoa powder, granulated sugar, coffee crystals, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Make a well in center of mixture. In medium bowl combine egg, milk and melted butter. Add liquid mix all at once to flour mix, stir until just smooth. Stir in chocolate chips. Spoon batter in resealable plastic bag, snip hole in one corner of bag. Pipe batter into prepared pan, filling rings half full. Bake for 6-8 minutes or until tops spring back when lightly touched. Cool in pan on a wire rack for 2 minutes. Invert doughnuts onto a wire rack. Cool pan and re-grease between batches. Coat doughnuts with powdered sugar, granulated sugar or glaze.
If using sugar coating, place sugar in resealable bag and add hot doughnuts to bag. Shake lightly to coat. Remove and cool on racks.
Powdered Sugar Glaze: In a large bowl stir together 4 cups powdered sugar, 2 tbsp. corn syrup, and 1 tsp. vanilla. Stir in enough milk to make a thick glaze of drizzling consistency.

*My tips:
  - The recipe says you will get 36 doughnuts. I only got 18. I filled my doughnut pan about 3/4 full with batter which gives you a rounder, plumper doughnut. 
 - Don't skip the 2 minute cooling period in the pans. 
 - I baked my doughnuts for 10 minutes. This gave me a more cake-like doughnut. Less cooking time gives you a fudgy-er doughnut. (Both, to me, seem equally delicious!)
  - Instead of drizzling my glaze, I dunked the tops of the doughnuts into the glaze and them let the excess drip down the sides as the glaze hardened. I, also, only made 1/2 of the glaze recipe and had plenty.
Letting the glaze cool