Plus One: 201st Post [insert confetti in my previous post]

As it turns out, the post marking my fifth anniversary on WordPress, Five Years, was also my 200th post on WordPress. If you’re playing along at home, that makes this is my 201st post. [Cue confetti.]

I should have noticed the number when I wrote the 200th post and celebrated then. Acknowledging it here feels a little like missing the train by 1 second – celebrating a milestone plus 1. Happy 51st Anniversary! Happy 200+1! (Boom-chicka par-TAY.)

But plus 1 is good, right? It’s good luck to put an extra candle on a birthday cake. I like having a little more. And I didn’t even manage my Five Year post on the actual fifth anniversary. So it’s kind of like I got a theme goin’ here.

Again this leaves me room for improvement for the 300th post. Or maybe even something else.

I could just celebrate random numbers. I kind of like 222. And 250 is pretty good. Hopefully I won’t miss the 3.1415 Pi Day that’s coming up.

I should get some confetti.

Five Years

WordPress just gave me an achievement shield! Well, not just, technically it gave it to me a few days ago. It’s an anniversary shield. I registered here on WordPress five years ago. Technically, five years and two days ago. (No special shield for the extra two days.)

I’m not sure if I should be proud or sad or what. I think I ‘m proud! I started making posts on my old AOL website. It was kind of a pain to upload to that. I didn’t know what a blog was back then. Later I blogged a bit on Blogspot before moving to WordPress. Blogspot was not as flexible for a lot of things. It was hard to focus as much on writing, somehow, when I spent so much of my time pulling my hair out in frustration. But lots of people still use Blogspot. It works for them. Maybe it’s better now than it was then.

In the meantime my hair is much longer. I probably need a haircut. And I do manage to blog stuff here on WordPress. Though my total number of posts over the course of five years is not a spectacular average pet year. This, however, does give me a relatively easy goal to try to beat. So that’s what I’m gonna do. That, and a haircut. Soon.

Happy Year of the Sheep or Goat

Happy Lunar New Year!

Achievement Unlocked

Today, work on the repairs to our building was officially completed in our home.

Sure, we have a few things left, but those are things we’ll take care of ourselves.

Ahhhh…

Happy New Year

Wishing everyone health and happiness for 2015! All the best …

Woke Up

That I was tired this morning was nothing new. My attempt at making a hot beverage was.

I put a cup in the microwave so that I could make myself a quick cup of tea or maybe instant coffee. (I know, I know — instant, the horrors, right?)

Zapping it for one minute, our recently installed, new microwave beeped in readiness. I opened the door and picked up my somewhat warm cup only to discover it was dry as a bone.

The microwave had not boiled it out or magically beamed it to another planet. I had failed to put any water in the cup. The microwave must have warmed the small amount of ambient moisture so that parts of the cup and inside of the microwave were warm. That seemed like a really bad thing.

I feared I’d broken our new microwave. Shorted it. I was still craving a hot, caffeine-containing beverage. Clearly, I needed one. Maybe two. I tried again. I made sure I filled the cup with water this time and once again put it in the microwave, setting it to “cook” for one minute.

The microwave sounded different. I knew that sound — the sound of a fan blowing without the magical hum of a magnetron (the part that cooks) in the background. This was the sound our previous microwave made when it was “on” but not heating anything. Broken. That’s why we got the new microwave…

“Oh please, I do not want to go through that again,” I mentally pleaded to the god or goddess of kitchen appliances and regular God too. “Please let it not be broken.”

Maybe I was wrong about the sound. I opened and closed the microwave, turning it off and on again. I let it run for a bit. If it was already broken I couldn’t possibly break it more, could I? Then that distinct background hum finally kicked in. It was working again.

But by the time it beeped, my cup of water was only vaguely warm. Not hot. Dare I zap it some more? I decided to let the whole machine cool a bit. Maybe it had some kind of safety feature that turns off the magnetron if some half asleep idiot tries to zap an empty cup something gets too hot inside. I hoped.

Once all had cooled, sure enough it worked fine. Yay! I zapped my cup. And in about a minute I had a piping hot, not-so-instant, cup of coffee. A pot on the stove would’ve been quicker and tasted better too. But it worked.

“Time-Saving” Food

After blogging about time-saving “food” here’s my take on the flip side – “time-saving” food.

Last year I broke down and joined the legions of cooks and moms who own and use a slow cooker. Since then I’ve discovered a new pet peeve. I hate to see recipes for slow cookers that label themselves, “time-savers,” but in reality are far from.

Time-saving recipes need to save time. Just because food is cooked in a slow cooker and could be ready when I get home doesn’t mean it saved time. If I had to get up at 3:00 in the morning to prep the food then I will probably be too tired to eat it when I get home. Zero time saved. Or if a recipe calls for only 4 or 5 hours of cook time, then it is not a weekday recipe that will save time. I’m not going home on my lunch hour to make dinner!

I want recipes like this:
1.) put raw food in Crock Pot
2.) cook on low for 9-10 hours
3.) enjoy!

But there are recipes aplenty that require lots of prep like chopping, layering, and cooking the food before it goes into the pot. Why would I want to pre-cook anything before I put it in a COOKER? Except maybe double-cooked pork, but that’s … Oh you know what I mean.

I get that browning adds flavor, but I wonder how much of that flavor really holds up when food is cooked in a slow cooker all day. I’ll try a comparison some time. Even if it does enhance the taste, is it worth it on a regular basis?

To save time you can start with food that’s already totally cooked like rotisserie chicken. If you shop around you can find rotisserie chicken that don’t cost much more than buying a raw chicken. These can be a huge time-saver! But you can’t feed your family only rotisserie chickens, and you’ll want to watch salt and other flavorings that might be added to store-bought rotisserie chicken. For that matter, you can slow cook your own chicken in a crock pot. Save the bones from either, put them in a slow cooker all day, strain and you’ll have a great (not too hard) chicken stock. This is one if the times home-cooked makes a big difference in taste. Freeze or refrigerate and you can use it to make lots of easy soups.

There are time-saving ways to cook food out there! But not all slow-cooker recipes are created equal.

When Taste of Home shared this recipe for Slow Cooker Enchiladas on Facebook it was the perfect example of a not-so-time-saving recipe. There was a lot of good and bad feedback:

Slow-cooker Enchiladas

Yes, it looks totally delish! And I would love to try it. But it has everything that bugs me about a “time-saving” slow-cooker recipe — ingredients that must be chopped and pre-cooked twice before the goop is then layered multiple times with tortillas in a slow cooker and left to cook for only 5-7 hours. What part of that is supposed to help with a busy schedule?

I wouldn’t be so bothered if it just advertised itself as a tasty recipe and left it at that. I will make time for increased yum factor on a weekend, some weekends anyway. (And I still take issue with pre-cooking food before I put it in a Crock Pot.) But the cook describes herself as a “busy wife and mother” and says this is a handy recipe. The implied saving of time – that’s kind of where it lost me.

Because in the amount of time it would take me to prepare and cook these enchiladas I could have prepared and cooked an entire Thanksgiving turkey! With stuffing! And cranberry sauce. Not all from scratch, mind you, but it would be yummy food.

The slow-cooker enchilada recipe apparently allows the author to cook dinner after lunchtime and keep it warm until the entire family is home for dinner. I’m sure it works well for people who are home after lunch and can chop, cook, re-cook, layer, and turn on a crock pot for dinner.

But what about people who can’t do that? I don’t think those tortillas will stand up to 10 hours in a slow cooker. I tried that with pasta once. It was delicious-smelling paste!

Once you cook everything as the recipe suggests, I’m worried that the tortillas will get mushy even at 5-7 hours. Maybe refrigerate the cooked goop then spoon it out and reheat in an oven, toaster oven, or microwave when you get home? You could even eat it another day. Reheating it in an oven or toaster oven could even give the tortillas brown, crispy edges and it’s probably less than 20 mins to the table once you get home. Still too much work?

With the slow-cooker in mind, the recipe is basically salvageable with a few busy-mom hacks:

1) Dump raw meat into slow cooker along with seasonings and canned foodstuffs.
2) Cook on low for 8-10 hours.
3) Warm tortillas in toaster oven or a hot pan. Or not. Or use corn chips or crispy tostadas.
4) Spoon goop over tortillas (or chips or tostadas) and top with cheese. ENJOY!

If you sub corn chips for the tortillas, you probably can’t call these enchiladas anymore. So top with some lettuce and tomatoes for a delish taco salad.

If you’re worried about how much fat may be in the dish when you can’t drain the meat ahead, then start with a very low-fat meat. OR skim the fat after everything is cooked. It floats to the top. Cook with free-range, grass-fed beef, and you’ll want to eat a lot of that healthy fat anyway.

I’m going to suggest yet another variation on this, and later I’ll post a simple Slow-Cooker recipe for Misc Mex Meat Goop. Cook it in a slow cooker and eat it how you like — in soft flour tortillas for burritos, over corn chips, in taco shells, or rolled into enchiladas and topped with a quick sauce. Real time-saving food!

Kitchen Nightmares, Level 3, “Hurt Me Plenty”

Last weekend felt like the difficulty setting on life just randomly upped itself a couple of levels. Kind of like when you’re in a treadmill and it gives you a random mountain to scale. Only, okay, nothing too major, so that’s something. But still.

Friday night I dropped half a chocolate peanut butter cream pie in my lap. We ate it anyway. (It was delicious!) The weekend went somewhat downhill from there.

Kitchen projects suddenly reset difficulty levels. “Hurt Me Plenty” level replaced the “Hey, Not Too Rough” level that I would prefer. If not for the lack of respawning monsters it would have felt like “Nightmare!” level at times. (These are difficulty levels for the video game Doom in case you don’t recognize them. Doom! And that’s kind of how it felt.)

We tried to install our new over-the-range microwave oven. This seemed like it would be such an easy task – remove broken microwave, install new, same-size, same-brand microwave, cook dinner! Presto!

Taking the broken microwave down was easy and lulled me into a false sense of confidence and security. I had watched many YouTube videos in preparation for the task. I felt well prepared. I piled a large stack of books on the stovetop to take the brunt of the weight, loosened a few bolts, and lowered the broken microwave to the floor. Easy. I didn’t break a sweat or even a fingernail. And I took a little pride in my accomplishment as a female and in doing it by myself. (I wanted it done and Dave wasn’t up yet. It was early.)

We had imagined the new same-size, same-brand microwave might actually attach to the same mounting plate already affixed to the wall (the metal bracket that holds the major weight of the microwave). But no.

We measured the old and new and nothing matched. Maybe that’s how life changes should be, but we had hoped microwave manufacturers would see things differently. There is both utility and efficiency in hardware consistency.

We had also hoped that, at the very least, the holes needed in the upper cabinet would be in the same place so that we could avoid turning the bottom shelf of the cabinet into Swiss cheese. I could have sworn at least one YouTube video said these holes were standard among over-the-range microwave ovens. But it was another no-go. As if the manufacturer randomly moved each hole several inches in various directions – except for one which is about two millimeters from where it needs to be. So close, yet so far! Pretty sure that was just to tease any annoy us. Ugh.

That’s when more trouble started. And I started to get sick. Not just feel sick, I mean I started sneezing my head off and having no energy. Time for a full-blown cold just when we’ve turned our one remaining construction-free room into a construction zone.

To be continued …

Foggy Morning Drywall

It’s a foggy morning this Wednesday, November 12.

We’re getting drywall! Finally. Work on our unit and entire building started almost a year ago when our balcony door was locked from the outside thus trapping our fresh-cut Christmas tree out on the balcony in a bucket of water. We could see it through a living room window and wondered if that would be it for the holidays.

They began work on the outside of our unit without telling us. We came home one day, and a sign had been taped on the outside of the balcony door window. The door was bolted (wired) shut from the outside. To be fair, technically, the former liaison to the community had posted a note in the lobby on the Friday before. Seeing as we couldn’t use the front parking lot anymore due to construction, we hardly ever walked through the lobby. The notice was in 12pt type and, at a glance, looked exactly like the previous note that had been up for two months. Out of date, it should have been removed. Danny claimed this was our notification. Communications where not his strong suit. We got a new liaison (our fourth) shortly after.

They would demolish the artificial stucco siding outside of our unit thus turning our balcony into a construction zone. We could no longer go out there except by clandestine escape through a window or the one day they let us out to reclaim our Christmas tree and a few clay flower pots left over from summertime greenery. It was cold and some of the clay pots had frozen themselves to the balcony which we freed with tea kettles of hot water. Sweet escape! The workers were helpful and nice as they helped us relocate the tree and pots.

Scaffolding would go up a few months later, then temporary security walls with their pinky, fluffy insulation, clear plastic, and fresh-cut wood smell. And zero windows. No daylight! Just singing workers on the other side along with the sounds of construction. Banging. Saws. Drills. Yelling. It lasted for months.

The pink walls came down in September. I can see this foggy Autumn morning through actual windows. We’ve been in a holding pattern with odd gaps, large sections of exposed 2x4s and fluffy YELLOW insulation peeking out at us. It’s a bit drafty too, so I’m hoping drywall makes that a little better.

One room will be finished soon, then the rest. We hope. Maybe it will be almost normal and free of leaks. It’s a process.

Time-saving “Food”: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

What is time-saving “food”? It’s food we might eat to save time that isn’t much like real food in one way or another. This can be both bad and pretty good too.

Busy moms need to feed ourselves and our families. Too often we have so little time that we’re left with few choices and even fewer good choices. A poor diet can make us even more tired than we might already be!

To save time I often “eat” a protein shake that doesn’t even resemble food, but thankfully has better nutrition than a doughnut or bagel. Now if the rest of the family would eat them, everything might be a little easier, but not nearly as pretty or tasty.

Some “food” looks and tastes a lot like real food, but is so sorely lacking in nutrition I have to question its validity as a foodstuff.

My mom worked for much of my childhood. She was a nurse with a schedule that often left her little-to-no time to cook a real meal.

Occasionally we ate fast “food” which was usually fast indeed. Back then fast food never meant salads. The closest things to vegetables were the ketchup, onion, and pickles on our burgers, and I usually picked those off. Today’s fast-food options are only slightly better.

As a kid we feasted on TV dinners and frozen meals. The TV dinners could be kind of fun. They have the word, “TV,” in the name – it must be at least entertaining even if it’s not that good for me, right? And there were plenty of other non-TV frozen meals with such favorites as Stouffer’s Creamed Chicken over toast. Gotta love those spongy cube-shaped pieces of “chicken.” If you closed your eyes you could practically imagine you were eating space food. Once in a while, I even crave that creamy, chicken-flavored goop, but I think Stouffer’s stopped making it. Other standards included tuna casserole, oven-fried chicken, and pot pies. At least a few of those had veggies! But they were highly processed and loaded with salt and fat. Not the healthiest choices.

When Lean Cuisine and Healthy Choice frozen dinners came along, we thought they were a bit of a luxury. Wow, not a zillion calories! See that orange sliver? That’s a carrot. Except I’m always left wondering why there aren’t more veggies. Frozen meals can be puny. They have a serving of protein, sauce, a starch or grain, and a small portion of veg. Doubling or even tripling the veg wouldn’t raise the caloric content by much and it would up both nutrition and satisfaction.

Even when my mom cooked a real meal, the veggies were usually from Green Giant and came in a plastic pouch that she’d “cook” in a pot of boiling water. It was all very ordinary. At least they were better than canned!

As a working mom today, I have a few more options. While there are even more frozen packaged meals, we hardly ever make these for dinner. They’re more often a work lunch than a family dinner. There’s just not that much food in them! We’re left wanting more. (See my sentence above about adding more veg.)

Plain, frozen veggies with no additives are often just as quick and easy as their sauce-covered, poly-bagged, microwavable counterparts, and I can make huge portions. We can eat real food instead of “food”!

For now I’m the one that’s left eating a lot of something that’s, maybe, not technically much like food. I love my meal-replacement protein shakes! I don’t mean I love the taste of them. And I sure don’t like how they look — thick green sludge anyone? But I love how easy they are to make and how packed with nutrition they can be. My favorite brand is Vega One as it’s one of the least yucky. I almost like how they taste. That’s a special kind of ringing endorsement there. But it’s packed with a good quality protein, veg, fiber, antioxidants, omega 3s, and a lot more. They’re super easy – as I use a shaker bottle with ice and water. I actually feel better during the day when I’ve had one for breakfast. When I “eat” them regularly my skin even feels better. It’s a kind of “food” not really food. It’s definitely ugly. But it’s good for me and works well with a busy schedule. Maybe I can even get the family to “eat” one occasionally.

So time-saving “food” can be good. Can be bad. And sometimes it’s what’s for dinner.

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