Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Still Here

I’m still here, even though I seem to have dropped out of the A to Z Challenge.  I’m thinking about trying to finish it out, even if it’s unofficially, just to get back in.  Good idea or waste of time?
Last week just got really crazy.  First of all, the weather went insane; one day we were wearing shorts and sunscreen and the next day we were wearing coats and gloves.  I don’t think my squash and zucchini plants survived the cold.  I planted them way too early I suppose.  My flowers seem to have made it.  They were still in pots, so we were able to move them on to the screened in porch and cover them up with old towels.  I’m hoping the weather will stay warm enough for me to plant them this weekend. 
I totally blame the weather, but I also got knocked on my butt with some sort of cold/sinus/allergy thing.  It pretty much felt like a herd of angry cats took up residence in my throat and then tried to claw their way out.  Not fun.  I just had no energy and felt terrible. I’ve been going to bed early and drinking lots of tea, water, and orange juice, and have finally started to feel a little better.  Early bed time and chicken noodle soup are still on tonight’s agenda, however.  Aren’t I exciting?
We also had three sick fur kids last week.  Frankie started vomiting excessively and had to go to the vet.  Lots of expensive tests later, it was determined that he seems to have acid reflux. He’s currently on Pepcid, and seems to be feeling much better.  The first few doses went fairly well, but now he seems to think he’s had enough.  He bit the HELL out of me last night when I gave him his pill!!!  I think it’s going to be Nick’s turn today. 
Emma went back to the specialist on Friday, and they repeated several tests.  We’re still waiting on the results of one more test, but they’re leaning toward a behavioral issue.  I’m still deciding if I think that’s accurate or not, and we’re currently researching a few different things to try for her.  We will also talk to her regular vet before beginning any new medications; he’s a really good vet and has more of a history with her than the specialist. 
We were hit in the parking lot as we were leaving.  All three of us are fine, and the car is fine. The woman who backed into us just seemed like a total idiot, and tried to pet Emma without asking first (which is a very sore subject with me).  Between feeling terrible and being worried about Emma, let’s just say that I definitely was not at my most charming.  At least everyone was fine. 
Duke has developed the very bad habit of eating anything he can possibly scavenge when we go out for walks.  I promise we’re not starving him, in fact the vet wasn’t terribly pleased with the amount of weight he has gained since we’ve had him.  But he still scavenges for anything even remotely edible when we walk him.  Unsurprisingly, this causes him severe gastrointestinal problems sometimes.  He needed to go out about every hour and a half Saturday night.  Nick and I took turns taking him out, but I’m a light sleeper and it takes Nick a while to go back to sleep, so neither of us got much sleep Saturday night.  Duke has some medicine now, and seems to be feeling much better.  I just hope he stops his scavenging.
We rented The Book Thief from Redbox and watched it over the weekend.  It was excellent!  I loved the book, and thought they did a really good job with the movie.  It has been a while, so I want to re-read the book now, but from what I remember, it seemed like the movie stayed pretty true to the book.  Have you read the book or watched the movie? What did you think?
I’m looking forward to catching up on all of your posts that I missed last week, and hope everyone in blogger land is doing well.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Never Say Never

Are there things you’ve said (or thought) that you would never do or like that you one day find yourself doing and/or liking?
For me, yard work has turned into one of those never say never things.  As a teenager, I hated yard work.  I swore that when I had my own house I would never garden, and that I’d pay someone (that was well before I realized how much things cost) to cut the grass.  Well, never say never.
Nick and I bought our first house about three and a half years ago.  It has a very small yard, but every year I’m finding myself doing more and more in the yard.  And I find myself actually enjoying some of the yard work.  
This weekend was beautiful and warm, and Home Depot had a Spring Black Friday Sale. There’s another never say never.  I never would have thought I’d utter the words, “Home Depot is having a Spring Black Friday sale.  We should go and get things for the yard.”  But once again, never say never.
We decided to go with some raised beds in the back yard for our vegetable garden, and we are slowly mulching and planting flowers in various beds around the house.  We’re both really excited about the raised beds because we’ve read and heard a lot of good things about them. We put the first one in on Saturday, and I am ridiculously proud of it.  I only have four plants in it so far.  It’s still a little early, but I just had to go ahead and try to get started.  We’re planning to put one more in this weekend, and will be planting lettuce in it.
We had a cold snap (hopefully the last one) last night and today, so I’ve moved all of my flowers onto the porch.  Yet another thing I never thought I’d do.  I’ve already planted the more cold tolerant flowers, and I’m looking forward to planting my daisy, marigolds, and petunias as soon as it warms up a little more.
I never thought I’d say this, but I’m really excited about our plans for the things we want to do with the yard, and the vegetables we plan to grow. 
What about you?  Any never say never things you’ve surprised yourself with?

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Review of One Good Cowboy by Catherine Mann

One Good Cowboy (Diamonds in the Rough #1)
by Catherine Mann
Genre: Contemporary Romance/Category Romance/Cowboys/Animal Rescue
Age category: Adult
Release Date: April 1, 2014



Blurb:
From Ex to Eternity?

To inherit his family's empire, Texas cowboy-turned-CEO Stone McNair must prove he has a heart beneath his ruthlessly suave exterior. His trial? Finding homes for his grandmother's rescue dogs. His judge? Johanna Fletcher, the woman whose heart he broke.

Sure, Johanna can handle a week traveling the country with her ex-fiancé to fulfill his dying grandmother's request. She and Stone want different things—plain and simple. But there's nothing plain about Stone, or simple about the heat that still flares between them. One week may not be long enough….

You can find One Good Cowboy on Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/18774824-one-good-cowboy?ac=1   

You can buy One Good Cowboy here:


About the Author:
USA Today bestseller Catherine Mann and RITA Award winner, Catherine writes contemporary romance for Berkley, Harlequin, and Sourcebooks, With over two million books in print in more than twenty countries, she has also celebrated five RITA finals, three Maggie Award of Excellence finals and a Bookseller’s Best win. A former theater school director and university instructor, she holds a Master’s degree in Theater from UNC-Greensboro and a Bachelor’s degree in Fine Arts: Theater (with minors in both English and Education) from the College of Charleston. Catherine and her flyboy husband live on the Florida coast where they brought up their 4 children – and still have 5 four-legged, furry “children” (aka pets). Catherine is an active volunteer with her local Humane Society, serving on their Board of Directors and fostering puppies and special needs dogs (she stopped counting at a hundred). She recently checked off a major item on her “bucket list” by completing the hands-on training for the Florida State Animal Rescue Coalition. Catherine enjoys hearing from her readers and can be found online daily.  To receive an autographed bookmark, send a SASE to: P.O. Box 6065, Navarre, FL 32566

You can find and contact Catherine here:


I received a free copy of One Good Cowboy by Catherine Mann in exchange for an honest review, which was pretty exciting for me since this was my first time being a given a book to review.  The blurb really grabbed my attention when it mentioned finding homes for rescue dogs.  As someone involved in animal rescue, I decided it was a book I definitely wanted to read.

Overall, I enjoyed One Good Cowboy.  I’m giving it three stars out of five, which means I liked it.  There were a few things I didn’t love about it, so I’ll start with the negative and end with the positive.  That’s just how I like to do things.

The negative:  The names of the characters and pets pretty much drove me insane.  Stone McNair’s grandmother is a billionaire and the founder of a jewelry company, Diamonds In The Rough.  The family also owns and operates the Hidden Gem Ranch.  There’s definitely a jewelry/precious stone connection there, but in case you miss that somehow EVERY single pet has some kind of jewel/precious metal name.  The dogs are Sterling, Gem, Pearl, and Ruby.  The horses mentioned by name have names like Goldie and Opal.   Then there’s Stone.  His cousins are Amethyst and Alexandrite.  It just seemed like a lot of overkill to me. 

There also seemed to be some overkill in letting you know just how wealthy the McNairs are; the private jet, the insanely famous and wealthy social circle, and the ability to just buy all new clothes and accessories in the middle of a trip.  Once again, it seemed like overkill by the end.

I know neither of those things are very big deals, and it’s probably just me, but that’s how I felt.

The positive:  First and foremost, the fact that the book essentially starts off with a dying woman’s wish to see her rescue dogs placed in good homes.  You had me at rescue dogs OR being responsible enough to make sure there’s a plan in place for pets in the event of their owner’s death.  Both?  I’m definitely in.  This was the first time I’ve read a romance with any kind of animal rescue connection, and I just love that being added in as a subgenre.

I liked Stone and Johanna, and I liked them together.  They had broken off their engagement several months before due in large part to a lack of trust, communication, and a lack of compromise.  The week together with the dogs placed them in close proximity to one another and more or less forced them to acknowledge and resolve their issues.

There was definite heat between the two of them, they just both seemed to get caught up in the picture of how they wanted things to be, and didn’t really give much thought to where the other person was coming from. 

The issues they faced seemed pretty realistic for the most part; children or no children, how and with whom they socialized, total (or lack thereof) honesty, and how much each was willing to give to make a life together.  I enjoyed the give and take between the two of them to come to a workable solution, and definitely felt like they were a couple I wanted to see make it.


This was my first time reading Catherine Mann, and I think I’ll definitely give some of her other books a try.  What about you?  Have you read any of her books?  

Monday, April 14, 2014

Life

I had a plan going into the A to Z Challenge to write and schedule a lot of my posts for the week on the weekends, and have everything scheduled to post on its assigned day of the week.  It takes a really, really long time for pictures to upload, and I thought that would be easier in addition to allowing me more time to visit other blogs during the week.

Sometimes life gets in the way of plans, though.  That was the case for me this weekend.  Nick was off, the weather was beautiful, we had a class Saturday morning, and we had plans with Nick’s grandparents to attend a nearby festival.  We took advantage of the beautiful weather to get a lot of yard work done.  We put in our first raised bed, which I’m extremely proud of (probably more on that in a later post).

This made me think about the things that make up our lives, and how much time we spend doing them.  Life is busy, and it seems like we’re constantly juggling to fit everything in.  Obviously, some things are more necessary than others, and some have a much higher priority than others, but they’re all part of our lives. 

Here are the major things that make up my life:

Work.  I imagine this one is a biggie for most people.  It’s 40 hours a week, probably for the next 40 years, unless we win the lottery or something.

Fur kids.  We have six of them right now, so taking care of them and spending time with them takes up a lot of time.  It’s time we both feel is time well spent, but still a lot of time.

Volunteering.  For hubby it’s at the Fire Department, usually at least one day a week.  For me it’s something involving animals.  Today it will be driving to a kill shelter in South Carolina after work to pick up kittens to bring to the no-kill shelter here.

Home and yard work.  The dishes and laundry (and sweeping and dusting) seem to be never ending.  No matter how much we try to streamline it, they still take time.  This is also the time of year when yard work becomes a major thing.  At least we get to be outside for that!

Cooking.  This is how I spend a lot of my time.  I love cooking.  Most of our socializing seems to involve having people over to out house to dinner, and I’m in the process of writing a cookbook.   I spend a lot of time in the kitchen.

Spending time with family and friends.  This one is so easy to push to the side, but so important to make time for.  Because Nick’s work schedule is pretty crazy we have to be very conscientious about blocking off time for the two of us.  I also think it’s very important to spend time with family and friends, even if it’s just meeting someone for coffee to catch up.  


Of course there are other things, but those seem to be the main daily and weekly things that make up my life.  

What about you?  What are the main things that make up your life?  

Sunday, April 13, 2014

The Winner

Thank you to everyone who participated in my Guessing Game last week, especially those of you who expressed your very kind wishes for good news from my next MRI.  In answer to the questions about that, no, I haven’t had it yet.  I’ll be calling later this week to have it scheduled for sometime close to the end of the month, and am hoping it shows more shrinkage.  Thank you for all of the kind words about that.  You’re all so nice. 


There were a few very creative guesses, including Betty’s (from A Bench With A View) guess of “Jamming”.  Jacqueline (from Cheapskate Blethering) had the closet guess with “Just give in to your inner cat lady”.  So very, very close!

However, no one came up with “June Is Adopt A Shelter CatMonth”, and the fact that I will be turning my blog over to all things cat rescue related for the entire month of June.  I suspect this means that none of you are teetering on the edge of crazy cat lady status…

My highly technical method of determining the winner was to write everyone’s name on a sticky note, toss the notes in a bowl, and draw.  Fancy, huh?  Milo supervised and approved the whole process. 

And the winner is…


Anna, please send me your mailing address so I can get your chocolates on their way to you.

Thank you again to everyone who participated! 

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Kohlrabi

Last year’s CSA boxes introduced me to a few vegetables I’d never tried before.  No surprise there, really, since I’m a little late to the vegetable eating party.  (I spent many years with green beans and lettuce being about the only vegetables I would eat.) 
One of my new experiences was with kohlrabi.  I had never seen or heard of kohlrabi before it showed up in our first CSA box.  I thought it looked more like something out of a sci-fi movie than something off of a farm.  Fortunately, the farm has pictures of the more unusual veggies to help folks like me figure out what in the world we have. 
Once I learned that I was in fact in possession of kohlrabi, and not something left behind by a UFO, I turned to Google.  I learned that kohlrabi is basically in the cabbage family, that it comes in a few different colors (isn’t the purple pretty?), that the leaves are edible and can be treated basically like any other green, and that you’re really only limited by your imagination and culinary preferences when it comes to preparing and serving kohlrabi. 
Garlic and olive oil are my main go-to things in the kitchen.  If in doubt, I tend to sauté it in garlic and olive oil, and maybe add a little Italian seasoning.  I love garlic and olive oil, and most of the time it’s a good fallback plan.   I decided that garlic and olive oil would be my plan for the kohlrabi.
It had a texture very similar to potatoes (or apples) but smelled a lot like cabbage.  Cabbage isn’t my favorite thing, so I decided on a lot of garlic at that point.  Because the texture reminded me of potatoes I decide to go with a sort of home fry approach.  I just fried pieces of it in the olive oil with lots and lots of garlic, Italian seasoning, salt, and pepper. 
It turned out alright.   It had a little more of a cabbage flavor than I liked, but it was alright. Nick liked it a little better than I did.  We basically agreed that it’s something we can eat when it comes in the CSA box, but not something we’d choose to buy on its own.
We also tried tossing some chopped kohlrabi into vegetable soup.  I didn’t care for it.  I thought it gave the whole soup too strong of a cabbage flavor.  Nick thought it was okay. After that we pretty much stuck to the original home fry way of preparing the kohlrabi.
The greens were no problem.  We seemed to have some sort of greens in pretty much every box, so we just cooked a big pot of whatever greens we had on hand almost every week, or sautéed them and served them in quiche. 
So what about you?  Have you tried kohlrabi?  Do you like it?  What’s your favorite way to prepare it?  Do you think it looks a little sci-fi?

Friday, April 11, 2014

June Is Adopt A Cat Month

Howard
I’ve mentioned before that I’m a crazy cat lady.  I feel no shame, and actually proudly proclaim my title.  I love cats.  Always have.  Always will.  We currently have four cats (Howard, Milo, Frankie, and Tara) which seems to be our limit for the moment.  All four of them are rescues, and I like to think that we’re giving them all a pretty good life. 
Frankie





Unfortunately, not all cats who wind up in shelters are as fortunate as our quirky quartet. 2012 statistics show that 70% of cats in shelters are euthanized.  That number is really high, and really scary, especially when you think about the fact that so many of those cats are perfectly healthy, adoptable cats.  There just wasn’t a place for them. 
Milo
Fortunately, June is Adopt A Cat Month!   A month all about adopting your very own feline companion or two!  Shelters are full of cats and kittens of all ages, colors, and personalities just waiting for their very own homes. 
Marta - a cat we fostered
In honor of June being Adopt A Cat Month, I am planning to give my blog over to cats for the entire month of June, and I’m hoping for your help and participation.  I’m also offering a prize to encourage participation and further help the kitties.  I want to feature rescues and shelters, and maybe some stories of rescued cats, and I’m looking for guest posts to do this.  Is there a cat in your local shelter who has been there too long?  Is your shelter trying to raise money to build/expand/improve their cat area?  Are you a rescue looking for volunteers for transports, foster homes, etc.?  Are you trying to place a special needs cat?  Does your area have a spay/neuter program in place for cats?  Are you a rescuer who has found an effective way to make the shelter/adoption process less stressful for cats?  I’d love to have your blog post on it.
Here are the rules:
1.       Absolutely NO cats and/or kittens for sale, NOTHING from breeders.  I am a FIRM believer in “adopt don’t shop”!
2.       You must send a link for the shelter or rescue the cat is from or that the story is about.  The link will be included in the post.
3.       Please include a link to Sweet Tea Reads on your regular blog, (you’re not required to have a blog to participate) if you have one, on the day that your post is scheduled to appear. 
4.       All posts and pictures must be received by Friday, May 23, 2014.  Please send them to dlzecher@gmail.com.  Once I get them all scheduled I will email you with the date that your post will appear.  I cannot guarantee the acceptance of all posts, but I will respond to all entries, and post updates as to the number of spaces left, etc. 
5.  Please keep an eye on your guest post to respond to comments and any questions about your cat, shelter, etc.  You're in a better position to answer specific questions than I am.  
Let’s use the power of Blogger for the good of cats during the month of June.  Maybe, with a little luck, we can get the right cat (cats) seen by the right person (people).  Crazy cat people unite! 
Tara
Now, on to the prize.  Every rescue or shelter (must be a non-profit organization) featured in a post will be entered into a drawing for a $25.00 donation from me.  Multiple posts featuring the same place will result in multiple entries.  I will announce the winner on Tuesday, July 1, 2014. 

Please be patient with me, as this will be my first experience with guest posts.  If something isn’t clear or just doesn’t make sense, please ask in the comments, and I’ll do my best to improve things.  Let’s keep this fun and in the spirit of helping cats. 

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Italian Black Bean Wraps

It seems that most wraps are kind of southwestern/Mexican style, which is great.  We eat a lot of that kind of food, and really enjoy it.  However, we also love Italian food, so I thought it would be nice to come up with a recipe for some Italian themed wraps. 

These are really, really good.  They’re vegetarian, fairly inexpensive to make, and re-heat very well.  The recipe seems a little time consuming, but the slow cooker does the cooking while you’re away.  You also end up with enough beans leftover to make it a couple more times (which you’ll definitely want to do).

For the beans:

1 pound dry black beans, rinsed
1 large onion, chopped

1 bell pepper, chopped
7 cloves garlic, pressed or chopped
1 Tbsp Italian Seasoning
¼ tsp pepper
2 tsp salt
6.5 cups water

Combine all ingredients and place in a large slow cooker, cover, and cook on Low for seven hours.

For the wraps:

8 burrito size wraps/tortillas (I used the Xtreme WellnessTomato Basil Wraps. They’re really good, and they don’t have soy.  They do seem to be a little sticky, so your wraps will be a little harder to roll up if you use this kind.  You can use any kind, but I’d suggest a flavored wrap.)
1 cup orzo, cooked according to package instructions
2 oz cream cheese
1 cup spaghetti/tomato sauce
2 cups baby spinach, torn into small pieces
2 cups black beans (don’t drain them)
¾ cup shredded Mozzarella Cheese

Place cream cheese in a large glass bowl, and melt in the microwave.  Combine tomato sauce with melted cream cheese.  Stir in spinach and orzo.  Stir in black beans.  Divide mixture among tortillas, roll them up, place in two 9x13 baking dishes, and sprinkle with Mozzarella cheese.  Bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes.  Enjoy!


You will have four cups of black beans left.  Divide them into two freezer bags (2 cups each) and freeze for later.  Black beans freeze and defrost really well, so you’ll be able to make two more batches of this recipe.  

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Husband

I talk a lot about my husband Nick in my blog, so I thought I’d take my H post as an opportunity to introduce the other half of Sweet Tea Reads (even if he was raised by Yankees and doesn’t love sweet tea).

Nick is a volunteer firefighter (which has some definite perks), and works in another branch of emergency services.  He’s left-handed, soft spoken, and can’t stand for his food to touch.  He reads almost exclusively non-fiction; the really brainy stuff like higher math theories and science. 


Nick and I met on E-Harmony, had a few very long phone conversations, then a first date that lasted about five hours, and were married a little over a year later.  He says he wanted to propose on our first date (his grandfather proposed to his grandmother on their first date), but didn’t because he thought it might scare me off.  I’m very glad he proposed, but very glad he waited a little longer.  We just celebrated our fifth wedding anniversary on September 28th

Nick has a habit of getting distracted and losing track of time, so I actually thought he had left me on our first date.  No.  He just got into a long conversation with someone installing paper towel holders in the restroom and totally lost track of time.  I was getting ready to ask for the bill and leave when he finally came out.  That sums up a lot about our personalities; he’s much more personable and patient than I am.  He’s also a much friendlier person.  I tend to lose patience quickly and move on.

Somehow, though, we seem to be very well matched.  I suppose we bring a balance to each other.  He’s the voice of reason when I want to adopt every cat I find.  I keep us on enough of a schedule to fulfill our obligations.  We just work together.

So there you have my husband, Nick, the other half (another H!) of Sweet Tea Reads for a little glimpse of the man in the posts. 

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Guessing Game & Ghirardelli Give-Away

Do you have a letter that you’re really, really excited about during the A to Z Challenge?  A post that just makes you happy, and that you can’t wait to share?  I do.  It’s the letter J.  I knew a couple of months ago what my J post was going to be, and I’ve been looking forward to sharing it since then.  There’s no skipping ahead, no matter how excited I may be about a later post, but I can have a little fun with a guessing game and Ghiardelli give-away for my G post.

I found these Ghiardelli (another G!) chocolates and thought they were really cute, and perfect for Spring, so I decided to make them the prize in my guessing game.  All you have to do is make a guess as to what my J post will be about. 

Here are the rules:

All guesses will get you entered in the give-away.
A correct guess is worth two entries.
You can guess multiple times (one guess per comment) if you’d like.
My J post is scheduled to publish at 12:00 a.m. Central Time on Friday, April 11, 2014, so all guesses made through 11:59 p.m. Central Time on Thursday, April 10, 2014 will be entered in the drawing.
I will announce the winner on Sunday, April 13, 2014.

Now, here are a couple of clues for you:

My J post relates to a post from November of 2013.
My J post involves something that is happening later this year.


Good luck with my guessing game! 

Monday, April 7, 2014

Feeding Feral Cats

About a year and a half ago a local spay and neuter organization asked for volunteers to help feed a local feral cat colony.  I didn’t know anything about feral cats, but being a cat person, I called the volunteer in charge of the colony. 

 



I learned that there is a colony living behind a nearby hardware store, and that volunteers feed and manage the colony.  I also learned what makes a cat feral rather than stray.  Basically, stray cats are cats that have become lost or been abandoned.  They’ve had interaction with humans, and can be approached and petted.  Feral cats are much more wary of humans, and usually cannot be approached or petted.  They are often cats who are the offspring of stray cats. 

Because feral cats cannot be adopted into homes the goal is to humanely manage a colony through providing adequate food and water, a TNR (Trap-Neuter-Release) program, and providing medical care for any cats that may become injured.  The goal is basically to keep them healthy, and to keep them from reproducing. 

Estimates vary as to the number of cats in our local colony, but most of us believe there are somewhere around a dozen cats.  One gentleman who is retired largely heads up our little group of feeders, with about five of us taking a day or two a week to feed the cats. He’s also the person who coordinates with the local T-N-R group to make sure any new cats are spayed/neutered, and to get medical care for any cats that any of us notice with an injury. 

Most of us have never met in person; we just exchange emails to work out feeding schedules and to discuss what’s going on with the cats.  We’re all cat lovers, so we’re happy to work together to get them fed, adjusting the feeding schedule as needed to make sure they’re fed on holidays and any time one of us is out of town. 

We’ve all managed to find a favorite cat, or two, and we update each other whenever we haven’t seen a particular cat in a while.  One volunteer builds shelters for the cats during the cold weather, and most of us take them treats when we feed on a holiday. 


It’s not a complicated or official system, but it seems to work.  The cats look good, and the colony doesn’t seem to be growing. While none of us are able to pet the cats, or even get very close to them, they do seem to know and expect us.  They sit and wait just a few feet from the feeding area in the mornings.  It seems like they know we’re coming, and maybe know they can trust us, even if it’s only to bring them food every day. 

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Emma’s Eleventh Birthday

The birthday girl
Emma turned eleven on February 15th, and we decided to celebrate with doggie cupcakes and new toys for her and Duke.   

Cupcakes
I made the cupcakes from this recipe, using whole wheat flour.  The recipe says to make six cupcakes with the batter, but I did seven, and will probably do eight the next time.  The cupcakes are fairly dense and solid.  They smell incredibly good!




Enjoying Cupcakes
Waiting for cupcakes!
After the cupcakes cooled completely I frosted them with a mixture of plain Greek yogurt and peanut butter.  I didn’t measure.  I just stirred the two together until the consistency seemed good.  It took a little over half of an individual sized Greek yogurt, and about that much peanut butter.

We turned the afternoon into a little party with hats for Emma and Duke.  I also tried to put hats on the cats, but they prefer to celebrate without hats.  Frankie was the only cat I managed to get a hat on, and he wore it for about three seconds.  Such is life with cats.


Getting RID of his hat!
Emma and Duke seemed to really enjoy the cupcakes, and I think Emma had a happy eleventh birthday.  They certainly looked cute.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Delivering Dinner (Or Any Other Meal)

Home-made Chicken Noodle Soup in Gelato Containers
At some point in time, everyone has some upheaval in their life and could use a little help with meals.  Sometimes the upheaval is good; a new baby or moving into a new house.  Sometimes it’s bad; illness, surgery, a death in the family.  Regardless of the circumstances, bringing someone a meal during a time when something major is going on in their life is a great, practical way of letting them know you care about them.
Delivering a meal to someone doesn’t have to be a major ordeal, and you don’t have to be a gourmet cook in order to do it.  A simple casserole can be enough to let them know that you’re thinking about them, and can go a long way toward making their day a little better. 
My mom has always been really great about taking people a meal during times of need, and she’s really good at it.  I’ve tried to learn from her, and have added a few things of my own over the years, so here are a few suggestions to make it better for everyone involved:
-          Deliver the meal in disposable dishes.  Chances are you’re delivering a meal in the first place because of something major (usually stressful) going on.  Don’t add to that stress by causing someone to worry about getting your dishes back to you, or worry about breaking them.  The bonus for you is that you don’t have to worry about when you’re getting your favorite baking dish back.

-          Find out what they like to eat, and about any food preferences, allergies, styles of eating, etc.  If you’re close to the person you likely already know, but just ask if you don’t, or aren’t sure about the rest of the family.  Some people aren’t comfortable telling you they don’t like a dish you suggest, so I’ve found it helpful to offer several choices.  I usually do something like list five or six different things I can make for them and ask them to choose which one they’d like.   People seem to be more comfortable saying something like “Spaghetti sounds good” than “We don’t eat ham”. 

-          Don’t stay too long when you deliver the meal.  There’s no one good rule here, so you just have to use your best judgment.  Keep in mind that if someone is recovering from surgery or has just had a new baby they’re likely tired, and may not be up for much of a visit.  Be very mindful of any treatments (like chemotherapy) that can compromise someone’s immune system.  It may be better to meet a family member somewhere and deliver the meal to them.  Ask what is most convenient for them.

-          Make sure you bring any necessary additions to the meal.  If you’re delivering a meal to family members in a hospital or hospice, make sure you provide paper plates, utensils, napkins, drinks, etc.  If you’re including salad bring a bottle or two of dressing, etc. 

-          If you’re worried about your culinary skills (or lack thereof) consider teaming up with a friend or co-worker to deliver a meal.  It might seem less overwhelming if the job is divided between two people.

Delivering a meal to someone during a time of need is great way to show you care about them.  Don’t stress out about it.  They will likely appreciate the fact that you care every bit as much as they will enjoy the meal. 

Thursday, April 3, 2014

CSA

We joined a CSA program for the first time last year, and liked it so much we’ve joined again this year.  If you’re not familiar (I wasn’t until a few years ago), it stands for Community Supported Agriculture and is designed to help farmers and local consumers.

Basically, you (the consumer) pay for a share of produce in advance and then receive your share on a weekly basis once the growing season begins.  The benefit for you is that it’s usually far less expensive than what you would pay at the grocery store or farmer’s market, and you know where your food is coming from.  The benefits to the farmer are being guaranteed their money, having funds available at the beginning of the growing season, and sharing some of the risk.  There are no guarantees as to what or ho w much you will receive.  In a bad year everyone gets a little less.

Despite the fact that last year was considered a bad year (it rained incessantly, so some crops were ruined), having a CSA share was a really good experience for us.  We were able to sign up for a half-share, which is more than enough for two people, the pickup location was very convenient, and we both tried a few vegetables we had never had before.  We also ate a lot more vegetables than we ever had before.  The boxes varied some from week to week, depending what was in season, so there was plenty of variety.  The 
produce was organic, and was all very good quality. 

The first box was a little overwhelming, just having a lot of vegetables at once and not having a clear plan as to how to use them, but we learned to plan meals around vegetables and found some great recipes online.  We also had some great vegetable soup.  And we just ate a lot more vegetables, which was a very positive change for us.


It’s exciting to see what the box has every week, and try to guess what will be in the next box.  I also really liked that we were more conscious of eating vegetables while we were getting our box.  I’m really looking forward to this year’s share.  We should be getting our first box sometime in the next four to six weeks, and I can’t wait to see what it has.  

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Breadman Bread-Machine Review

My Mother-In-Law gave me a Breadman bread-machine for Christmas last year, and I absolutely love it.  It’s my first bread-machine, so I don’t really have a good point of reference to say it’s better than others, but she has the same one, and it’s her second one.  The first one was a different brand, and she said it just didn’t hold up as well.
My mom had a bread-machine when I was a teenager, and all I remember about it was that it didn’t seem to work very well.  It kind of put me off of the idea of bread-machines for a while. But last year, I had a fairly big health scare, and have been trying to avoid soy since then. Trying to avoid soy is a monumental task because it’s in pretty much everything, even most breads.  I finally found two different breads in the grocery store that didn’t have soy, but they were about $6.00 a loaf, and they really weren’t that good.
I’ve also started reading a lot of blogs about cooking, cooking on a budget, and making slightly better food choices.  Quite a few of them mentioned bread-machines, and I found some bread-machine recipes that looked really good.  The idea of making home-made bread seems a little intimidating, and very time consuming to me, but the idea of dumping ingredients into a bread-machine and coming back to fresh bread in a few hours seemed wonderful.  So I put a bread-machine on my wish list.
French Bread w/ Rosemary 
The bread-machine has been wonderful.  The breads are delicious, and the ingredients are all things I can pronounce.  I really hate math, so I haven’t taken the time to figure out the cost per loaf based on the ingredients.  I do know that a bag of flour isn’t $6.00, and we get a lot more than one loaf from a bag of flour, so I think it’s definitely cheaper than the bread I was buying before.
You have to measure very carefully, and the machine moves around a little bit (don’t put it on the edge of the counter) during the kneading process.  It’s largely just put your ingredients in, push a few buttons, and come back later, which I love.  Oddly enough, you have to stir the ingredients during the Quick Breads cycle.  I didn’t stir the first time I used that cycle and ended up with a floury mess, but it has been fine when I follow the instructions and stir. 
This bread-machine has a delay feature that I love.  You can delay the baking by up to 24 hours as long your recipe doesn’t have dairy products, or anything else that can spoil quickly.  I always make a lot of soups and stews in the slow cooker during the colder weather, and it’s wonderful to be able to set the timer on the bread-machine so that we come home to hot soup and fresh, warm bread. 
All in all, I have to say if you’re considering a bread-machine, go for it.  It seems to be a good investment, especially if you’re trying to avoid certain ingredients in your food.   Breadman seems to be a reliable brand, and has some great features including the delay setting, a fruit/nut dispenser, and the ability to customize and program your own settings. 

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Alcott vs. Austen

Photo Credit Here
I’m a huge fan of Louisa May Alcott.  I have been since I was eleven years old, and read Little Women for the first time.  Jo March was (and still is) the coolest character ever with her temper, independent ways, and love of the written word.  Once I wandered into Jo’s world, I was forevermore an Alcott fan. 


I’m on my second copy of LittleWomen because my first copy literally fell apart from having been carried around so much, and read so many times.  I usually re-read it at least once a year. 

Jane Austen, on the other hand, is an author whose books I have never been able to get into.  I’ve tried, I really, really have. I make it about 25 – 30 pages in, and then I just can’t take it anymore.   I give up and move on to a book I enjoy.  I don’t know what it is, but I’ve never read something of hers and wanted to read more.

Friends and family tell me I “should” like Jane Austen’s books, and that I’m the Jane Austen “type”.  I’ve been given dozens of copies of various Jane Austen novels over the years, and they’ve all made their way to thrift stores, or used bookstores in trade for other books.

It really bugs me to be told I’m the Jane Austen “type” since I don’t like her books, but it also bugs me that there doesn’t seem to be (or at least I’ve never heard about) a Louisa May Alcott “type”.  Maybe none of us are cool enough to be typed as the creators of Jo March. 


I just think it seems like Jane Austen gets a lot more attention than Louisa May Alcott as a great author whose books you simply must read, despite the fact that Alcott’s books are much better than Austen’s.    So where do you stand on the matter of Alcott vs. Austen?  Are you a fan of either?  Both?  Neither?