Come On In and Set a Spell

Be yourself; Everyone else is already taken.

— Oscar Wilde.

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Meal Planning: The Nightmare

AKA: One Size Does Not Fit All

This is a topic that I’ve struggled with for longer than I care to admit. Not the actual ‘doing’, because I do have my method. The problem is, my method is not what you see posted all over the place and touted by <cough> experts.

Now, I do want to give a shout out to those <cough> experts who actually provide thoughtful, useful ideas and methodologies that people can use. But I want to give a Huge Shout Out to those who understand that works for Person A might not be a workable solution to Person B and poor Person C is left hanging.

Here’s the thing: No two households are the same. They may look the same on the surface, but when you look deeper, you start to see the little realities that make the One Size Fits All Solution unusable.

For Example: How often you grocery shop usually depends upon how often you have money in your bank account. Weekly. Biweekly. Monthly.

What you shop for is dependent upon how much you have to spend AND how you are able to prepare it. If you know how to prepare it.

What you shop for also depends on what you eat. Some folks have serious allergies or health issues. Some folks, hard as I hate to admit it, really don’t particularly care about food. They eat to survive. Others have had some seriously bad experiences in the kitchen and are not too inclined to repeat the disasters. Some just never learned how to feed themselves.

Then, there’s that component that relies on – you guessed it – Time.

How much time you have to spend on the preparation of meals. How much time you have aside from functions like work, school, and the host of other out of the house activities that eat up time. No pun intended.

Knowledge Is Power

Here’s the thing, you know all the answers to the major questions. You also know if you need to learn new things to help you make more of the knowledge you already have.

If you need to learn to cook. Do it! Even if you don’t particularly like to cook, learning will help you work better, more efficiently in the kitchen so you don’t have to spend so much time and money in the kitchen.

Learn how to shop for food. Better choices lead to better meals which lead to better health and a healthier bank balance. You aren’t wasting money on food you end up tossing in the trash.

Better choices come from knowing what works best for certain recipes. Slow cooker recipes, for example, make the most of cheaper, tougher cuts of meat. (Translate: Save money.) They are usually easy to prepare and don’t require you standing over a hot pot. They are pretty much hands off. (Translate: Great for novice cooks.)

Time is an issue: If you can set aside one day a week to prep your meals, you save a lot of time during the week actually cooking the meals. If you want to kick it up a notch, set aside a day or two per month to actually cook those meals or do the heavy cooking required for what I call – and use – the Building Block Method.

By having the majority of the prep work done in advance, you take the stress out of deciding and cooking at the last minute.

The Building Block Method

If you’ve been around here for any length of time, you probably know I prefer to shop in bulk and prep a lot of things in advance. I buy large flats of chicken to cook for casseroles, or large quantities of ground beef to pre-cook for casseroles or prepare as patties that go directly into the freezer. I make use of my oven and my slow cooker to make the process easier and maximize the time and space I have available.

The “Building Blocks” are parts of potential meals that are ready to go when I’m ready to eat.

The cooked meat or poultry becomes

  • Taco or burrito filling
  • Soup
  • Casseroles
  • Added to salads
  • Pasta dishes

If I am in the mood for taco salad, I have the meat ready to go. All I have to do is defrost and set up the salad. Pasta bake? I pull out my favorite pasta sauce and I have a quick and easy main dish.

I make sure to have all the building blocks I need at hand.

  • Cheese
  • Pasta
  • Rice
  • Eggs and milk
  • Soup or soup base
  • Herbs and spices
  • Ketchup, mustard, and other base sauces

By having these items on hand, I have the freedom to create a wonderful meal without stressing over what is in the pantry and if I need to get groceries. I can do as much, or as little, cooking as I want. Added bonus, I can try new recipes if I choose without a major trip to the market.

You can use meal planning to help you in many ways and you can make it as easy or complicated as you like. Do what works for you!

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Taking A Breather

Or, A Change is as good as a Rest.

Hard to believe that it is almost October. I caught Rachel Maksey’s video about her version of the Strawberry Dress and her contemplating a list of Halloween videos and it got me to thinking. Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s Day.

I don’t think I’m ready!

Not to mention really in the mood.

The dress, by the way, turned out with Rachel’s usual flare. An interesting take on an Internet Phenomenon.

Came across a video channel called “What’s For Tea?” that is produced by a lady who lives in Scotland. She and her husband have 2 kids and live in a lovely corner of a lovely country. She, Cheryl, shares the recipes and weekly shopping she does for her family. I have to admit that as much as I enjoy just hearing her talk, she has lit a flame to try out hot water pastry. She did a version of Mary Berry’s Lemon Drizzle cake that made my mouth water, too. Yum!

Mr. C scored what we think is an original Louis Vuitton bag recently and I have to admit that as much as I’m not enticed by designer bags, this one is a bit thrilling. <shrug> What can I say?

Thanks to an upgrade that Audible did to their service recently, I’ve been enjoying some original Ellery Queen books in addition to my usual monthly haul. The series originated back in the late 1920’s when two cousins worked together to write a story for a contest. I’ve enjoyed the books off and on over the years and the magazine was a favorite find at second hand stores.

Audible has worked hard to make the service more accessible and appealing to a wide variety of ages and preferences. If you are like me, and love being read to, I strongly urge you to check it out.

I’m currently working my way through the latest entry in the “St. Mary’s Chronicles” series. Who knows where I’ll go next?

Jeopardy! returns with new shows on 9/14!

Think I’m in the mood for a bit of Hanna Barbera this afternoon. Ciao!

Revisiting Literary Friends

I’ve been a reader for as long as I could read. That would be somewhere in excess of 6 decades. I tend to prefer historical novels and detective stories with some science fiction and fantasy thrown into the mix.

As such, I’ve covered a reasonably decent swath of material at local libraries. One, in particular, I pretty much cleared out. 🙂

Recently I’ve mentioned that I have been listening to a lot (a LOT) of Sherlock Holmes. For some reason, Holmes, who was a favorite when I was much younger, has become a reliable literary companion when I want something to read, but not have to dig too deep in to keep up with the story.

After quite a few <cough> rereads of Holmes, I recently switched back to the Amelia Peabody series. I have several of the books on audio and enjoy the reader immensely. The books are well written, click a lot of the boxes on my “types of books I want to read” list and, overall, are quite an enjoyable experience. You can learn more about them by reading the Amelia Peabody Series Wiki.

Over on my Reading Table, I have the latest Jim Butcher work along with several shorter pieces that may take a while to get to. I keep hoping that the latest installment of Diana Gabaldon’s “Outlander” work will be published soon – and I know she is at that point in the process where she is closer to the finish line – but…

The one constant of this time is the need for distraction and engagement. I’m grateful to have some old friends to rely on and be able to find new ones to add to the mix.

So, what’s on your reading table?

Footnote: For those who might be confused, I listen to a lot of audio books. As such, I use the terms ‘listen’ and ‘read’ interchangeably.

The Pretend Cooking Show I Discovered

Yep, you read that right. Jennifer Garner’s Pretend Cooking Show popped up in my YouTube feed last night and I … haven’t had so much fun in ages! I looked up the channel (“Garnerish”) and immediately subscribed.

She is funny, engaging, interesting and real. The recipes are easy to do and, frankly, inspiring enough to get me thinking about what I can do in my own kitchen.

Oh, if you are interested in a look from a different POV, check out “Every Recipe from Jennifer Garner’s Pretend Cooking Show”. You won’t regret it – even if you don’t particularly like to cook.

Sunday Traditions

Or, I suddenly realized I have a few new “things” I always seem to do on Sundays. 🙂

A few weeks ago I commented to a friend that I seemed to get more done on the weekends than during the week. The response was that we were so used to “catching up” at home during the weekends because the week was full of work.

I have to admit, this makes sense, but only if I were still actually ‘working’. I have no explanation (let alone excuse) for what is occurring now.

As for Sunday Traditions, well, it seems I have acquired a new way to ease into the last day of the weekend. Both Mr. Carrington and Luke Catleugh post their weekly vlogs on YouTube Sunday mornings and it is a lovely way to focus the eyes and ease into a cup of coffee.

Just noticed a lot of ‘ease’ being used. Hmm

Both gentlemen post interesting catch ups, shop hauls, DIYs, etc and I enjoy being brought along when they venture out, or even around the house. While Saturdays are currently the domain of MayMay or DIY Dani or Alexandra Gater or even Rachel Maksey, all of whom I enjoy for a variety of reasons, I relish the quiet entry into a day that might include some blogging, a bit of crafting or a game or two.

I’ve recently been bingeing the Raymond Burr version of “Perry Mason” courtesy of CBS All Access. There have been several evenings of episodes that didn’t end until the wee hours of the morning.

I’ve been watching this show for as long as I can remember. It debuted before I was born. My earliest memories are of being tucked into the daybed in my Grandmother’s dining room and listening to the show as the adults watched it in the living room right next to where I lay.

The shows never grow old or tired. The stories are always interesting and well done.

This, too, might easily become a part of the weekend tradition; Saturday easing into Sunday.

Don’t know about you, but I feel a Sunday nap coming on. Perhaps it is the result of too many late nights?

Have a great week!

Upping Your Home Decor Game – The Easy Way

Many of us struggle to find ideas that we want to incorporate into our homes. Some focus on the latest Pinterest ideas, others on what shows up in design magazines or shows. The rest look to friends and family for ideas.

What do you do when all those options come up empty?

I’ve gotten some of my best ideas watching shows on YouTube. Yeah, YouTube.

A few years ago I discovered the Australian version of Better Homes and Garden by watching their weekly show. It has all the usual features; food, home decor, DIY, gardening, and travel, along with some great local color. What caught my eye, however, were the fresh ideas for DIYers and folks looking to upgrade their homes without spending a lot of cash.

You can find the show’s YouTube presence by looking for “Great Home Ideas”. The full hour shows have been broken down into focused episodes and there are curated playlists.

“Alexandra Gater”, “Hermione Chantal” and “Mr. Carrington” each produce shows that focus on home decor and DIY projects for those who are either renting or purchasing their first homes. Money is tight, and folks are looking for affordable, easy to do options.

Hermione has been working on renovating her 1900 circa home for the past couple of years and the evolution of that project is quite interesting.

Alexandra has worked with “DIY Dani” Gater to produce some well thought out and reasonably easy DIY projects that can be done to upgrade any living space – no matter if you rent or own.

Mr. Carrington loves to thrift shop and upgrade things he’s found during his trips around London. I have to tell you that I’ve been inspired by many of his projects – and have fallen in love with his rooftop container garden.

One show that has totally surprised me in the ‘inspiration’ department is “Escape To The Country”. This U.K. based show’s focus is finding new homes from people who want to move to the country. What I’ve found interesting is the different design esthetic that can be found in many homes in the U.K., Scotland and Wales.

While here in the States we tend to use tiles of one color (predominately white), I’ve seen many homes that utilize many different colors when tile is used in kitchens or bathrooms. That simple alteration changes what is a basic tiled wall into a focal point and provides a bit of warmth.

I’ve long been a fan of “This Old House” and similar shows, but one thing that I’ve noticed over time is the tendency to stick with the latest trends. When those seem to be colorless and little or no texture or woodwork, this is pretty dull. Now if you like that sort of look, great. If you don’t it can be very frustrating.

This leads me to another YouTuber, “Farmhouse Vernacular”, where a young couple is sympathetically renovating a 1900 era Kentucky farmhouse. Watching them work on each room and talk about the how and why they are doing what they are doing gives the viewer a lot of information and perspective on the process. It also provides a bit of, shall we say ‘permission’, to not do the latest thing.

If you are looking at your space and wanting to make some changes, but not really sure how or where to start, I suggest you check these folks out and see what they have to offer in the way of ideas and inspiration.

Don’t be afraid to take your time, either. Sometimes time is the one thing you need to create a beautiful space.

Enjoy the journey!

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Sweet Hot Mustard Chicken

Recently I found this recipe of Chef John’s over on AllRecipes.com.

I love Chef John, but he has a fondness for hot things that I just don’t enjoy. That is why when I pulled out the boneless, skinless chicken thighs and started gathering the rest of the ingredients, I ignored the cayenne and chipotle. I didn’t have red wine vinegar, but I did have apple cider vinegar. I also did not have fresh onion or garlic, but I did have the powders in my spice drawer.

I put the marinade ingredients in a seal-able dish, mixed well, and added the chicken. It resided in the fridge for 24 hours and then the drained – but not cleaned – chicken went into the oven (see NOTES).

It was Fabulous!

Sweet Hot Mustard Chicken Thighs


Courses: Main Dish
Categories: Chicken
Serving size: 8 servings
Preparation time: 20 mins
Cooking time: 40 mins
Ingredients

8 large bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs
½ cup Dijon mustard
¼ cup packed brown sugar
¼ cup red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon dry mustard powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
½ teaspoon ground dried chipotle pepper
1 pinch cayenne pepper, or to taste
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 onion, sliced into rings
2 teaspoons vegetable oil, or as needed

Directions

1. Make 2 slashes crosswise into the skin and meat of each chicken thigh with a sharp knife, cutting to the bone. Cuts should be about 1 inch apart. Transfer thighs into a heavy resealable plastic bag.

2. Whisk Dijon mustard, brown sugar, red wine vinegar, mustard powder, salt, black pepper, ground chipotle pepper, and cayenne pepper in a bowl until smooth. Whisk garlic into marinade.

3. Pour marinade into bag over chicken thighs and massage marinade into chicken, coating each thigh thoroughly and working the marinade into the cuts. Seal bag and refrigerate at least 4 hours (or overnight for best flavor).

4. Move a rack to the center position in oven. Preheat oven to 450 degrees F (230 degrees C). Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and lightly oil the foil.

5. Scatter onion rings onto prepared baking sheet. Place chicken thighs on top of onion rings. Spray or brush thighs with vegetable oil; sprinkle thighs with additional salt and cayenne pepper if desired.

6. Roast chicken in preheated oven until the skin is browned, meat is tender, and the juices run clear, 35 to 45 minutes.

7. Transfer chicken and onions onto a serving platter. Pour pan drippings into a saucepan, bring to a boil, and continue boiling, stirring often, until drippings are reduced by half, 3 to 4 minutes. Skim excess fat from pan sauce.

8. Spoon reduced pan sauce over each chicken thigh and serve.

Notes

Used boneless, skinless thighs. Apple Cider Vinegar. NO peppers, etc.

Roasted @ 400 degrees in Convection oven.

Nutrition

Amount per serving
Calories: 351.6
Total Fat: 19g
Saturated Fat: 5.1g
Cholesterol: 105.9mg
Sodium: 764.8mg
Total Carbohydrate: 13.8g
Dietary Fiber: 0.6g
Sugars: 7.9g
Protein: 29.1g

I do think you could substitute pork and get a similar result. Let me know what you think!

Perspective

In my neck of the woods, Summer means Hot, Humid days that make most of us yearn for the colder days of Winter. Some even wish for snow.

Summer allows us to appreciate Winter.

The irony is that in the midst of Winter, when it is COLD outside, those same people profess a yearning for Summer.

It is a constant with Humans that we always seem to want what we don’t have.

This yearning isn’t a bad thing, overall. We get a chance to dream, to ponder, to plan, to consider. We get the opportunity to remember.

All of these things are important as we maneuver through Life. It is rarely an easy road and sometimes, it seems that the road is more difficult than it needs to be.

It is important to keep looking forward. What is behind us is not always as wonderful as we would like to think. That is not to say that we should forget where we’ve been and what we’ve experienced. Growing requires adding knowledge and experience along with the not always preferred, let alone perfect, experience of the past.

As with our weather focused folks, we need to experience both the heat and the cold to know the difference. Same goes for good and bad.

Enjoy the journey.

Berry Farm Treasures

Justin and Ally were at Knott’s Berry Farm recently to sample the offerings at the food festival. While the park isn’t open, there are lots of places to get wonderful foods to try. I admit a whimper or two…

I was pleased to see that Knott’s Berry Farm has a page of recipes on their website. Knott’s Recipes to Try is chock full of great ideas.

Food is often a big part of enjoying a park. I’ve eaten at Mrs. Knott’s Chicken Restaurant many times – and always enjoyed the meal.

I’m also a huge fan of the boysenberries. I look for ways to add them to my pantry any chance I get. 🙂

Check out the post – and don’t forget to search for more recipes. Bring a touch of the park home.