The Grill Pan

I have exactly one cast iron pan.

It’s a grill pan – the kind with the little ridges in the bottom to make those cool “I grilled this but not really” marks in your hamburgers and steaks (and also to hold whatever you’re cooking up and out of the grease while it drips off, but that’s boring, since there’s no fire underneath to flare up at every drop of fat that sizzles into it). I bought it when we upgraded our range this past spring to one with an induction cooktop, which if you’re not familiar with, uses a magnetic field to excite and heat up the metal rather than heating coils (so the stovetop doesn’t actually transfer heat to the pan, it just excites the metal in the pan until the pan itself gets hot). I wanted to try something in cast iron on it, and since our patio is far too warm to use for actually grilling in the summer (never mind all the yellowjackets looking for a handout), a grill pan seemed like a good choice.

I’m not normally one to want to fuss with maintenance on anything, including pots/pans and dishes. I make very few exceptions – pretty much everything in my kitchen needs to be dishwasher safe, or it doesn’t stay long. The grill pan is one of those exceptions though, and I have a love/hate relationship with the extra care it requires.

My stainless steel all just goes in the dishwasher and gets nested back into the cupboard until I need it again. Easy peasy, no effort on my part.

The grill pan though…I have to scrub the larger bits loose with a scraper, then use a finer scrub brush to loosen the rest of the gunk, and then wipe it out with a dish cloth and rinse several times before it’s clean (yes, I know if I cleaned it shortly after using, it would probably be easier, but I’m not that person and never will be, so it’s not going to happen). Then, after it’s clean, per a web site on “easy cast iron care” I read, I rub a tiny bit of oil all over the inside, heat it back up for 10-15 minutes, and then leave it to cool overnight to keep the seasoning strong. It’s either that,or re-season it long and slow in the oven every so often, and I can guarantee you I will never remember to do that. And if I did by some chance, I’d never actually make the time. I know this about myself.

Needless to say, on nights I reach for that pan, I sometimes hesitate a few seconds, wondering if I should just use a stainless steel one instead so I don’t have to worry about the care ritual later that night. And I always find myself grudgingly placing that pan on the stove, knowing I’m going to be annoyed by having to care for it later, but still inexplicably drawn to…well, something about it.

It’s not even the cooking, really – sometimes I can finish what I start in it on the stove, but with thicker or still-somewhat-frozen steaks, I have to finish them in the oven (the grill pan is small enough to do that, but it is heavy, and then I have to move things around, etc). The grill marks and searing are nice, but that’s hardly worth the effort. And yet…I still reach for that pan several nights a week, even for things like grilled cheese that is going to seep into those grooves and make the cleaning process even longer.

I think a lot of it is the aesthetics. I like how it looks, and I like watching food cook in it. Basically the same reason I use actual bone china teacups for my late night cuppa, even though they also require washing by hand. Also, it’s the only pan that requires that kind of care. If I were using several cast iron pans for different things and had to scrub and season all of them every night, that would probably make me rethink my options. Though this one in particular is harder to clean by default solely due to all those ridges. A flat pan would take far less time to clean and care for.

And it would also be far less interesting.

I often find myself standing at the sink, scraping gunk out of the pan ridges, and trying to decide whether I’m enjoying the meditative task, or just enduring it for the joy of actually using the pan. I still haven’t decided, honestly. Maybe it’s a little of both.

I’ll let you know if I ever figure it out.

The Grill Pan

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Thoughts from the Kitchen

I recently ordered a couple of aprons. Full-length ones, that cover from chest to mid-thigh. I’ve never been a huge fan of aprons, mostly because I’m not fond of skirts or a lot of fabric flowing around my legs. But so many of my t-shirts (even the black ones) are dotted with grease stains (and no, I haven’t washed a chapstick in quite awhile), I decided it was time to do something.

I need to find somewhere to hang them that they’ll be both easily accessible and very visible (pantry door? Hook on the very limited wall space somewhere?). And I need to make putting one on before cooking a part of my routine. Not that I really have a “routine” to cook, per se, except for on Sunday mornings when I divvy the vitamins for the week into pill boxes first. So, I can make putting an apron on the thing I do next right after that, and most importantly, right before I start cooking bacon. Which is probably the majority of my grease-stain problem.

In the evenings, it will just have to be a “thing” – as soon as I go to the kitchen to cook, I put on an apron. Maybe I’ll make myself a “nag” reminder. That might be easier than forgetting more often than not and never really building it into a bonefide habit.

In other kitchen news, our local Lucky’s grocery store closes this week, and I was bummed out at first, because there are several things I’ve gotten used to being able to get there (like organic worchestershire sauce, strange as that sounds – I actually just really like the taste better). When they announced they were closing (just a relatively short time after my favorite local “mainstream” store closed), I knew there were only two other stores in town that carried mostly natural, healthier-type foods. Both are on the smaller side, one being *much* smaller, and the other one sells only organic products, which excludes several local products. I decided on Natural Grocer’s, the “organics only” store, just because they’re a little bigger and though I’m not fond of the location, I definitely like the store itself better.

Interestingly,the change has been a good one, and I kind of wish I’d done it quite awhile ago. I can get all the items I used to get at Lucky’s there for less money, and I’ve discovered some other things that Lucky’s didn’t carry, but I’m happy to be able to find in healthier options than our local Albertsons has.

Which brings me, in a roundabout way, to a conversation I had with an acquaintance I ran into in Natural Grocer’s last weekend. She was picking out some non-dairy creamer because Lucky’s was the only store in town who had carried milk from our only local dairy (a town a few hours away), and she feels very strongly about buying local dairy. Natural Grocer’s won’t carry the local brand because it’s not organic. So she was passing up all the “grass-fed/free-range/humanely kept” organic milk simply because it wasn’t local. And it got me wondering how I felt about that myself.

I buy local meat all the time – and I know our beef is grass-fed & well cared for on my friend’s country property before it gets to us. Pork I’m not so sure about, and chicken is generally frozen from Costco in packs that we can’t eat fast enough or a rotisserie chicken from…well, Albertson’s I guess, since Lucky’s is gone and Natural Grocer’s doesn’t have them.

Milk, however, I’ve been buying from Albertson’s, because there are only two of us, so if it’s not ultra-pasturized, even a half-gallon of whole milk will go bad before we can drink it (or more often, eat it on cereal & cook with it). The organic brand that Lucky’s sold wasn’t ultra-pasturized, and honestly, it just didn’t taste all that great. Our local milk wasn’t ultra-pasturized either, and I wasn’t impressed with the taste of that either.

Natural Grocer’s does carry a line of organic milk that’s ultra-pasturized, so I picked up a half-gallon to try. We’ll see how it tastes, but if it’s good, I’ll probably switch to that even though it’s more expensive. Natural Grocer’s is actually cheaper all around, so I can afford the extra.

Naturally, that got me thinking back to meat again. We buy local, as I said earlier, but is that really the best criteria for meat that I’m not sure on the growing/raising conditions? I was looking at bacon in Natural Grocer’s and the labels were all similar. Free-range, grass-fed, humanely raised and “harvested”, uncured. The latter two made me pick up a pack just to try, expecting a rather bland or insanely salty pack of bacon. But it was actually delicious, and I think we’ll be adding it to our rotation at least once a month (possibly twice).

They have chicken thighs in packs of two, which in the long run, is probably better and less expensive than throwing out half a pack of frozen thighs from Costco. And again, raised, cared for and killed humanely. Honestly, I think that might be more important to me than how local the meat is, even though I’d be very happy if I could get local meat responsibly raised as well.

So, interesting thoughts from the kitchen this week. The one other thing I’m excited about is the red lentil pasta I found at NG. I love pasta. Pasta sticks to my fat cells like glue. I’m really hoping some of these alternative pastas that are more protein and far less carbs will be the happy medium to my love-hate relationship with flour-based pasta.

One can hope, right?

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Baking Therapy

I spent quite a few hours in my kitchen this past Saturday. My father-in-law’s birthday was last Friday, and we were celebrating Saturday. My husband asked if I’d make a Sour Orange pie he’d seen on America’s Test Kitchen for his dad, who loves lemon meringue and other such sour things. I offered to make some coleslaw too, since hubby and his brother had decided to make ribs (heat & serve – Curly’s from Costo…so good!) and baked beans (BIL’s recipe) for the dinner.

I started off with the crust for the pie, then made the coleslaw while the crust was cooling, and then made the pie filling…and then hubby mentioned that his dad was out of his favorite peanut butter cookies and had hinted for more. So I whipped up a batch of those while the pie was cooling.

Then I had 4 egg whites leftover from the pie filling, and decided to make orange flavored (lightly) meringue cookies to go with the pie. So, I did that, made some orange-flavored whipped cream to go with the pie, and the meringues were just barely done by the time I had to head out the door with all that food.

One would think I’d be tired after spending all day in the kitchen, and I was. But it was a relaxed sort of tired, and my mind was clear and calm (always good before spending time with family of any sort). Everything I made was a big hit, and I had so many meringues that I took some to work on Monday, sent some to work with hubby, and still have some we’re nibbling on at home.

I know a lot of women (people, for that matter), don’t like to cook, or like having help in the kitchen. Not me. I like having the kitchen to myself, and if you offer to help, you’re very likely to be turned down. My kitchen is my “alone” space, a space where I don’t have to make room for other people, or try to work around someone else. I can do what I want, how I want, and when I want in that particular domain, and I don’t have to deal with compromise or interaction or even communicating what I’m doing when. I like having that time to myself, and my small galley kitchen gives me a great excuse for turning down company – there really isn’t a lot of space for more than one person to work in there. I actually kind of hate open kitchens because they invite people to “watch” or help with the cooking process.

Selfish? Of course. And obviously I’m polite and offer to help whenever I’m at someone else’s house (and normally people take me up on it and we have a good time, though I am more grateful for large/open kitchens in that scenario). But when I’m home, in my own domain, kitchen time is much-needed “me time”, and a sort of sneaky, yummy way for this introvert to recharge the social batteries a bit.

That’s probably why I like doing food prep for the week on Sundays – hardboiled eggs for breakfasts, making burritos, meat pies, or whatever else might be nice to have in the freezer for quick lunches, and prepping salads/cutting fruit for eating later in the week. I love food, I like to cook, and I love to bake (though I don’t much, because…calories & carbs), and while kitchen time is a lot of work, it’s also very therapeutic for me.

The only thing I’m really not fond of is the cleanup. But, it’s a small price to pay for the joy of making something I know that I (and hopefully others) will enjoy. And honestly, since I always have the kitchen to myself for my nightly clean-up time too (I don’t clean until late at night), it’s another good transition time when I can let my mind wander, and look forward to one last cup of tea once it’s done.

Now, if I could just figure out a way to cook, bake, taste, and not have all those calories stick like frickin’ glue…that would make this particular hobby/therapy absolutely perfect…

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On Food, Cooking, & Eating

No, I don’t have a menu plan drawn up yet this week, though I have the beginnings of one in my head, and by the time you read this, I might have actually committed it to “dry erase magnetic menu board”. It was another incredibly busy weekend (don’t see those ending until the snow flies again, honestly), and while I need to figure out how to make time for menu-ing, it hasn’t happened yet.

But I do make time for meal prep on Sundays – making things ahead of time to keep the freezer stocked with “homemade fast foods” and the fridge stocked with my weekday breakfasts (two hardboiled eggs and five prunes, eaten in the car on the way to work – yay fiber/protein rich finger food!). I try to stagger the larger freezer-stocking recipes so I don’t have to do so much all at once, but this past weekend, I needed to restock both oatmeal bars and burritos, and I found myself sort of grumbling under my breath about having to take the time and thinking about buying such things pre-made like we used to in order to save the time on Sundays.

I do that often – complain about the work I create for myself, that is. And then I remember why I do it, and shut up and get it done, thankful that I’m lucky enough to be able to make the time. Health and taste are almost always the reason I make something rather than buying it. I started making oatmeal bars at home because my husband (who isn’t even eating them at the moment) didn’t like the fiber bars we were buying because they tasted too much like coconut (and honestly, I wasn’t all that fond of them either). The burritos we used to buy came/come in beef or bean flavors, but not both together, which always annoyed me. And of course after reading the labels on both packages and finding a lot of stuff I’d rather not have in there for various reasons, I decided to make my own.

As I was standing there, rolling burritos with less filling than I personally would have liked but just enough to fill them without over-filling, I got to thinking about how every Monday I eat one of those burritos that look somewhat “scant” when I’m making them, and it’s plenty of calories to take me all the way to my 4:30pm oatmeal bar snack. I don’t feel hungry, and I don’t need more…it’s plenty, even though it *looks* like it won’t be enough.

Which made me think about how little we really *need* to eat for optimal health (not even just survival, which is less yet, but truly optimal weight and performance), and yet we so often blow right past that need just because…well, because it doesn’t look like much, for one thing, and for another, we have access to a lot of really good food, whether we buy it or make it. It’s *so* good that we don’t want to stop when we’ve had enough. Or even when we feel way too full. We still want more, and we often have it.

I love food, and I love to cook and bake. I love a lot of different tastes and textures and colors and scents, and affording them wasn’t always a luxury I had. When I was young, we were poor, and we ate a lot of antelope meat (couldn’t afford beef, and antelope was easier to find than deer when my dad went out hunting with my grandparents). I like deer quite a bit. Antelope, not so much. It’s often tough and “gamey” and the only real way to make it less so was to cook it with a lot of spices. By the time I hit high school, I’d perfected using just enough pepper and garlic to make an antelope steak taste like sausage. Ironically, I don’t get wild game anymore – hubby didn’t grow up on it, and as is pretty common, it’s too rich for his system.

I learned to cook pretty young, first helping my mom and grandma in the kitchen, and gradually doing more myself. My mom went back to work when I was 13-14 or so, and that year, it was my job to make dinner every night. We had a lot of Hamburger Helper (with wild game, of course), but I also went through my first recipe book as well as my mom and grandma’s old ones, and since we often didn’t have the ingredients needed for any given recipe (and couldn’t just go buy them), I learned early on how to experiment with substituting in pretty much every recipe.

To this day, even though I can afford the “proper” ingredients and have a very well-stocked pantry, it’s extraordinarily rare that I make it through a whole recipe without changing something, even if it’s just because I think it will taste better. More often, if I want to learn to cook something, I’ll go look up a bunch of different recipes and then make up my own version using a bit from this one and a bit from that, etc. Yes, even with baking, though I don’t do that too often any longer due to the carbs and calories involved.

Which brings me back to portion sizes, and health, and how little we need for optimal “performance”. I try to keep my portion sizes down, but man…it’s hard. Mostly because I love food, and love to cook, and the correct portion sizes for my body are really very small. The correct foods for my body don’t include carbs, but who doesn’t love a beautiful french bread for dipping, or corn chips for chili, or pasta here and there? It’s kind of a delicate balancing act, and one I’m still a long way from perfecting.

Even without carbs, it’s hard to get in all the fiber and veggies I need for one day. Fiber takes up a lot of calories, but thankfully veggies don’t. By the time I get in all the fiber, protein and good fats I need, I’m either right at or already over my calorie limit for the day. It’s crazy and fascinating all at once.

Obviously, exercise is something I need to do often (and I’m working on it), but so is cutting those portion sizes even smaller, and accepting the fact that I really don’t need nearly as much food as I’m taking in. Acknowledging that I eat too much, and I do so because I enjoy it, and the consequences of that is a less than optimal body.

I’m not judging anyone for the food choices they make, and I hope that’s not how this sounds. I’m completely focused on myself here, and what I need. Which is “less”. And my most recent food project is to do exactly that – eat less, and accept that I need less. Part of that is presentation – making “less” look nice with good presentation, and part of that is looking into smaller plates and such, so that “less” looks like more than it actually is. Mind games are sometimes handy.

I’ve lost about 2lbs in the last six weeks or so, which is slow going, but it’s going in the right direction, so I’m not complaining. Cutting portion sizes and lowering carbs way, way down has been very beneficial, and so has the weight training program I put myself on (not to mention all the concrete blocks I’m building garden walls with in the backyard). I’d like to lose about 15 more pounds, but I’d settle for 5-10. We’ll see how it goes over the next few months. This stupid over-forty metabolism is for the birds, I tell you what. But hopefully by Christmas I’ll have good news there, and also some smaller-portion meal examples to share.

And tonight, we’ll probably have fast food for dinner, because we have to go get another load of cement bricks for the back retaining wall. And I don’t cook when we have to go out and about right after work. Baby steps!

Do you like to cook? Love to eat? Tell me your favorite recipe (or three)!

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The Eclipse, More Kitchen Organization & Writing Discipline

Got your glasses, film, or cardboard viewer ready? Or your favorite internet/TV channel for viewing things like, say, a solar eclipse?

I’m lucky enough to live in the path of this year’s eclipse – we’ll get 93% coverage here, which is pretty darn close to total. I do have a pair of clip-on eclipse viewing glasses that are so dark you can’t see a single thing through them except the sun (seriously – you couldn’t walk around with them on…you’re blind) – they’re in my desk at work so I can catch the view out the window (or take a break) at the darkest point. It will last through my lunch hour, so I’ll be able to sneak peeks here at home as well…should be much more fun than your average Monday.

I was really young when the last eclipse passed over our place here…just three or four. But I actually do remember my mom making a pinhole viewer out of a cardboard box so we could watch it, and it was absolutely fascinating to me.

In other news, I spent a lot of time working on my kitchen this weekend. Cleaning, rearranging, planning how to rearrange a few other things on my countertop to accomodate a toaster oven (which I’ve never had, but really want), and just moving things around to make things more efficient.

I think I have a working plan, but we’ll see. My new microwave should be here today or tomorrow, and I’m apprehensive because it’s so much lower wattage than my current one. But it looks so much nicer (goin’ retro, baby!), it takes up a lot less space, and as long as it will heat up leftovers/lunches and defrost meat, that’s really all I need it for. Fingers crossed!

I get paid tomorrow, and I’m planning to order the new toaster oven then. I found an inexpensive one with really good reviews with a retro look that will be much more fun than the normal boring white or black box, so I’ll order that, and wait anxiously until it gets here (hooray Amazon Prime!).

I also found an app this weekend that I’m pretty excited about – Grocery Tracker. I’ve been wanting to keep better track not just of what I need, but of what I have in the pantry, plus have a way to automatically take things out of the pantry when I use them and put them back on the grocery list. This app will do all of that, from menu planning to inventory (of the fridge, both freezers and the pantry) to automated grocery lists. It’s incredibly robust, so there is a learning curve, but I didn’t find it difficult to get started with at all (and the barcode scanner works very well too – less data entry is good!). I spent a fair amount of time taking inventory of food I have in the house this weekend, but it’ll be worth it in the long run (and once something’s in the database, it doesn’t have to be added again, just scanned, so much easier).

In other news, I’m updating my writing blog again, so if you’re interested in what I’m working on, head over there for this week’s post. The new writing schedule is working out…okay. Not perfect, but that’s mostly because I’m so tired late at night and easily distracted. I think this week I’ll either write by hand late nights, or use my Alphasmart Neo, just to avoid internet-distraction & wasting time.

It’s all about discipline, really, and when I’m tired, I have none (or very little, anyway). Which leads to being more tired because I stay up later, get less sleep, and do the same cycle the next day. So this week, analog/low-digital writing options for late nights, and getting to bed on time. Fingers crossed…

On Food, Cooking & Meal-by-Mail Services

Ooo…that last one got your attention, didn’t it? Meal-by-Mail, you say? What the heck is that?

Allow me to enlighten you…

I love food. I love eating, and cooking, and fresh ingredients that are local when I can get them or fit it into our lifestyle (note: we live in Montana, so if we *only* ate local, our diet would be pretty limited/boring after awhile, especially in the winter). I’ve mentioned that I hate menu planning, and I’ve finally made peace with the fact that I’m never going to just sit down and plan out a full week’s worth of menus the week before. And definitely not before going grocery shopping – how would I know what produce looks good on any given week if I don’t go to the store first?

Oddly enough, I like to grocery shop (about the only kind of shopping I actually enjoy). When you enjoy grocery shopping, and don’t enjoy menu planning, it’s kind of a recipe for regular budgetary indiscretion and seriously overstocking the fridge with perishables.

I should probably mention I’m not all that fond of budgeting either. Though I am rather fond of paying off debt…but that’s a whole ‘nuther post. The fact is I *can* budget, but I often don’t unless I’m working to pay off or save for something specific.

In any case, I spend a lot more on food than I need to, and considering there’s only two of us, I end up wasting a lot more than I should. Fresh produce, mainly – meat never goes to waste since I can pop it in the freezer, but fresh fruit/produce often goes bad before I can freeze it (and some can’t really be frozen with good results, obviously). No, I don’t have a good composting solution in place. That’s a whole ‘nuther post too.

Enter companies like Blue Apron, Home Chef, and a plethora of other new/trendy “meals-by-mail” services. The geniuses who started these companies decided they could get people cooking and fix the problem of too much food waste all while making restaurant-style profits for themselves. They basically do the meal planning for you (like any of several meal-planning services out there), but they take it one step further and send you all the ingredients – exactly the amount you need for each meal depending on how many people you’re cooking for – and charge you an average of $9.99 per meal to do so. You get the box with the amount of meals/recipes you signed up for, follow the recipes, and voila! You’re cooking at home, eating healthy (depending on what you get), and paying…well, quite a bit more than you would buying in bulk for the same meal, but without the potential wasted extra food from bulk.

As I said, it’s around $10 per meal, per person, so it’s not cheap, but it’s no more than going out to eat either (less in many cases). I wish one of these services would have it set up so that you buy the meat, and they just send everything else, as I prefer to buy/eat local meats (Montana = excellent home-grown meats). And there are the ever-present philosophical arguments about supporting your local stores over a mail service, carbon footprints for having things shipped in (if I were going to worry too much about that, my Amazon Prime membership would be the bigger issue), and the extra packaging for the bits and drabbles of things sent with the orders. All of which are good arguments, but I think sometimes depending on your personal situation, things even out in the end.

Typical three meal Blue Apron delivery.

                       Typical three meal Blue Apron delivery.

I ordered boxes from both Blue Apron and Home Chef, so I could compare the services. I have to say, I’m impressed with both of them. Blue Apron is more of a “foodie” service…they’re not so concerned with health as much as good, tasty meals (though they are very concerned with sourcing things responsibly, and they’ll take all packaging back for recycling too, which is excellent). I have to say, I’ve made four meals from them so far, and the only one that was just mediocre included couscous (which I’d never made before), which neither of us had tried, and it wasn’t bad tasting, it just sat really heavy on the stomach. Everything else has been very good, and they pride themselves on never repeating a recipe in a year. That’s a pretty big departure from my limited weeknight repertoire. Their smallest order is three meals for two people, but of course you can order more for larger families.

We’ve gotten just one Home Chef box so far, but both meals were simple and very good. The packaging is a bit nicer with Home Chef, as everything is packaged together for a meal rather than separate plastic bags for each item – which means less packaging waste. Also super-easy to find in the fridge – just grab the bag marked with the meal you’re making, and the meat (if there is any) and you’re good to go. Blue Apron’s ingredients are a bit more segregated, but still, no big hardship to grab, by any means.

Home Chef two-meal delivery.

                             Home Chef two-meal delivery.

Home Chef’s smallest order is two meals for two people which is nice (though you will pay shipping for anything under $50), but they also offer a smoothie-per-week add-on that’s $5 per person, and a breakfast option as well, which is kind of fun (haven’t tried that yet – might later though). Our first box was just the 2 meals option, but I added the smoothie pack on for the next orders, as that will be a nice change for one breakfast per week.

Both companies send big, full-color recipe cards that not only have pictures of each step of meal preparation, but also includes the nutrient and calorie information. We’ve been keeping pretty careful track of our calories lately (and losing weight – hooray!), which requires a lot of math and estimation when figuring out the calorie count for homemade meals. So it’s a huge time saver to make a recipe with everything already measured out, and know exactly how many calories are in it without doing all that extra work. Saves me a good 15 minutes reading labels, making lists, and adding/dividing numbers. Plus, I don’t “cheat” with the portions just to avoid wasting leftover food, because with these pre-portioned meals, there is no waste.

Every week, each company lets you know when the next menu is ready, and you can go in and choose from several different meals if the ones they choose for you aren’t to your liking. But the selection is still limited enough that it’s not something you’ll agonize over, and you can only get certain combinations. That works great for me, because it forces me to just glance over it, substitute one or two meals if there’s something included we don’t like, and leave it at that. Both services also let you skip weeks, so you aren’t locked into the weekly thing – you could just do once a month as a fun thing if you wanted.

I’m really enjoying them at the moment – it’s fun to add new dishes to the mix without having to buy, say, a whole bottle of fish sauce or black bean paste just for one new recipe. And it’s nice to have several meals already planned and shopped for with an incredibly small amount of effort on my part – takes a lot of the “what do I feel like eating/cooking tonight” stress off without the added stress of sitting down to actually menu plan. My husband will be gone for the last week in July, so I’ve already skipped that week in the Blue Apron account, but I’ll go ahead and get the Home Chef delivery which will give me four meals since it’s just me, and two smoothies – and I’ll still get fresh produce for the week, where I wouldn’t be able to buy that in such small quantities just for myself at the grocery store without wasting a fair amount.

These won’t be for everyone, obviously, and who knows how long I’ll subscribe, but at the moment, it’s a fun, stress/hassle-free way to try a bunch of new things and keep track of calories more easily. If nothing else, by the time I’m tired of it or these companies go out of business, I’ll have a bunch of new recipes and cooking styles/methods/taste profiles in my wheelhouse (In one and a half weeks, I’ve already tried several things I’d never cooked with before, and used a couple of cooking methods I hadn’t used before as well). That’s a win-win, I’d say.

Now I’m hungry…

Of Concerts, Ballasts & Bread

Two things about the concert I went to Friday night:

1. If your voices can’t hack it anymore, and your harmonies don’t harmonize, just bow out gracefully and find something else to do. Seriously. Don’t go touring and ruining your own songs. It’s just…sad for those of us who love your music.

2. I’ll totally pass on any events held at the Brick Breeden Fieldhouse in Bozeman. Not quite bad enough for me to stop whining about our Metra, but when you’re touching the stranger next to you because the seats are just that close together and there’s no way *not to*, it’s too close. Way too close. He was nice and didn’t creep me out or anything, but still. Awkward!

I spent a good chunk of Sunday in my kitchen this past weekend. Actually, we spent a good chunk of Saturday there too, but that’s because the ballast in my last working florescent light fixture finally bit the dust, so we had to fix that or I’d be stuck with only the light over the kitchen sink, and the light over the stove to work by. Candlelight, basically, which is good for power outages and romantic dinners, but not so much for keeping digits intact while chopping vegetables.

Hubby replaced the ballasts in *both* light fixtures (the main one hadn’t worked in over 5 yrs…we’re lazy like that), and we went ahead and put LED bulbs in them as well. My kitchen is now insanely bright, and while I can certainly see a lot better, I can also see just how dirty the place is (I suck as a housekeeper – always have). This is going to require some serious cleaning, like soon.

Anyways, on Sunday I took the time to do a little reorganizing (not as much as I’d have liked, but again, lazy), and a few food prep things for the week that I think will benefit us in the long run, if I can make it a habit. A couple of weeks ago, I ordered a breadbox, because I think my pantry is keeping bread too warm/moist, and a yogurt maker to replace the one I tossed a couple of years ago.The reorganization was to fit the breadbox where I wanted it (and it’s perfect there). Now if I could just figure out where to put the FoodSaver machine it ousted…

I’ve been wanting to get more probiotics in, and I’m not terribly fond of the yogurt choices in the store (didn’t want to just take a pill, either), so it seemed like a no-brainer to go back to making my own. Yogurt is crazy-easy to make…scald milk, cool it a bit, add plain yogurt or starter culture, and keep it warm for the next 10-12 hours (which is what the yogurt maker is for…basically an incubator for bacteria cultures). Voila, yogurt. Easy peasy. I bought some granola and I have jam, honey & real maple syrup available for sweeteners, so that will make a great after-workout snack. My first batch is already in the fridge.

I’m kind of tired of plain hard-boiled eggs for breakfast on Thursday, and I’ve been thinking about making some egg/omelet muffins to freeze, but I haven’t quite gotten around to it yet. Hubby suggested I make pickled beet eggs – hard-boiled eggs pickled with beet juice, and I thought that was a great idea for something different. I found a recipe online, and on the same site there was a recipe for curried pickled eggs too, which also sounded intriguing. So I made a batch of each yesterday, and they’ll have to sit in the fridge for a few days before we can even try them, but hopefully by Thursday, they’ll be all tart & pretty. If it works, there’s our Thursday breakfast for three weeks or so. Very nice.

The last thing I did was to mix up a batch of Soft American Style White bread dough from my Artisan Breads in 5 Minutes A Day book. The whole premise of the book is that you can keep a wet version of bread dough in the fridge all week, and then only take out and bake what you need for any given day (need hot dog buns, take enough out for that, shape them, let them rise, bake them, and leave the rest of the dough in the fridge). It’s a way to have fresh bread whenever you need it with very little hands-on time involved. There’s really no reason I can’t do this, if I can find the right dough styles that my husband will like. And this will solve my problem of having to buy too much bread and throwing a bunch of it out every week…I can just bake what we need the night before we need it. No more waste, no more plastic bags, and it’s healthier too.

It does require some advance planning, but I can keep it loose, which is more my style than a hard & fast menu for the week. I can designate a couple baking nights per week (say, Monday and Thursday? AKA: nights when there’s nothing on TV until 8pm), and decide that day what kind of bread I need for the next day or two’s meals (homemade bread should be okay for two days or so). Then Saturday I can bake up whatever dough we have left for the weekend (if any), and mix a new batch on Sunday.

You’d think the decision to try this would create more stress, trying to fit one more thing into my schedule, but honestly, it’s kind of alleviating stress. I really wanted a solution for all the bread we were wasting, and this seems like it really could be “it”. I’m excited to try, in any case. I can always go back to buying bread if I need to.

As you might imagine, this gives me the urge to make other things at home that we currently buy for the convenience of it (because believe it or not, I enjoy doing the homemaking-thing as a general rule)…but we’ll see. I tend to take on too much, burn out, and backslide to worse than where I was before, so I’m going to just coast with this for awhile and see how it goes. Or try, anyways.

For those of you who might be so inclined, some links to pertinent info:

Homemade Yogurt Instructions (cooler edition, but the idea is the same)
Pickled Beet Eggs (and three other pickled egg recipes)
Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes A Day

It’s been awhile since I made bread, and my first batch of dough is a bit on the dry side, but I’m gonna see how it bakes up anyways, and it’s raising on the stove now. Cross your fingers…

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