Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Cleaning tip of the week

Those of you who know me well are probably laughing your butts off right now, because you know I only clean when the Pope drops by for a visit. But, I just tried this, and it works REALLY well, so I figured I'd share!

I haven't cleaned our bathroom in, um, a while. So our sink was looking kind of nasty. Well, I know that vinegar and baking soda make a great cleaner, so I set out to see if I could make the sink clean itself.

I took a little shaker jar (like you'd put parmesan in) and filled it with baking soda. Then I grabbed our spritzer bottle of vinegar and headed in. First, I spritzed down a little part of the sink with vinegar. Then, I sprinkled baking soda on top. Then, I spritzed more vinegar on. I let it sit for a few seconds, rinsed it off, and, while it wasn't CLEAN, it was decidedly cleaner than the rest of the sink.

At this point, hubby came in to see what I was doing...

Hubby: Whatcha doing?

Me (demonstrating): Trying to make the sink clean itself - see?

Hubby (laughing): Ohhhhhhhh, I see - you're building science fair volcanoes in our bathroom!

Well, laugh on, bucko, because then I tried this:

I spritzed the whole sink with vinegar. Then, I sprinkled baking soda over the whole thing, and followed that with another spritz of vinegar. Then I left it there while I took a shower. Got out, grabbed my sponge, and the all the grunginess wiped clean away. No muss, no fuss, no scrubbing. Just wiped it right off.


Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Orzo and rice pilaf

2 tablespoons butter or margarine
1/2 cup orzo
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1/4 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup long grain white rice
2 cups chicken or veggie broth
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1/2 cup peas - frozen or fresh
1/4 cup shredded parmesan cheese

In a medium saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter or margarine. Add orzo, garlic and onion. Cook, stirring frequently, until orzo is browned. Add all remaining ingredients except for the parmesan. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. Turn heat to low, cover and let cook for 20 minutes or until rice is done. Stir in parmesan cheese, let stand, covered, for a few minutes.

Monday, May 28, 2007

An unplanned weekend

We had no plans for this weekend. We like it that way - gives us freedom to do what we want, or we can be antisocial if we want to (our usual M.O. - we may be the most antisocial married couple on the planet, I'm not sure!).

Saturday we took the dogs up in the mountains. We were checking out the area where we usually camp to see if our favorite camping spot is still there (it's been a couple of years). It's a beautiful, private little spot at the bottom of a ravine, next to a creek. We haul all our camping gear down the hill from the car - and it's totally worth the effort! Unfortunately, they've done some selective logging at our spot, and, while it's still campable, the trails down from the parking lot have been decimated and it's no longer private. Ah, well, that's what we get for camping on Weyerhaeuser land, I suppose. There are, we're sure, plenty of camping spots farther in but since we'd already high centered my poor car twice, we didn't go in any further.

So, we took the dogs for a hike and then headed out. Stopped on the way home to visit hubby's dad and stepmom. They just got back from a road trip to Arizona and told us all about their adventures.

Sunday, I was sick and wasn't about to leave the house. Hubby was cleaning out the shed (finally finished on the outside, yay!), and wanted to burn some scrap wood, so I sat by our outdoor fireplace and fed the fire while reading my book. Then I went to bed about 5:00 and watched a bunch of Northern Exposure episodes and a fabulous movie - The World's Fastest Indian.

Today, we went to Home Depot to buy some shelving materials for the shed. Hubby fell in love with the Fast Track System, so we bought a bunch of that stuff plus the shelving. At least we'll be organized! After lunch we're heading to the movie theatre so I can get my Johnny Depp fix, and then I'm making us a real dinner - grilled chicken, orzo and rice pilaf, and a green salad from the garden.

Hope you all are having/had a great weekend!

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Ginger Scones

These don't have the same texture as a traditional scone (more gingerbready), but they are really good!

2 cups flour
3 tablespoons brown sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 heaping teaspoon powdered ginger
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 cup butter
1/3 cup molasses
1/4 cup milk
1 egg yolk
1 tablespoon finely chopped crystallized ginger (or more to taste)
coarse sugar (such as turbinado or demerara)

In a large bowl, combine dry ingredients (except coarse sugar and crystallized ginger). Cut in butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Make a well in the center and add molasses, milk, and egg yolk. Stir into flour mixture until moistened (don't overstir this). Sprinkle crystallized ginger over the top. Knead, adding flour as necessary, 10 times (this will mix in the ginger). Roll out into an eight inch circle. Cut in eight wedges and place at least one inch apart on a greased baking sheet. Sprinkle with coarse sugar.

Bake at 400 degrees for 12 - 15 minutes or until golden brown.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Road Trip!

Now, don't get all excited, it's not MY road trip! My friend Amy is heading to Minnesota with her son and her S.O. this summer, and she asked me to research car activities for the soon-to-be second grader. She's a woman after my own heart and won't let him take that pesky portable DVD player!

I suggested that she buy postcards along the way and have him keep a travel journal on the back. That's what I do when I travel - it makes a great and inexpensive souvenir! I also suggested she hold things in reserve and dole them out throughout the trip so he frequently has something new to look at. I think I suggested something else, but now I can't remember what it was!

And then, I turned to my good friend google (what DID we do before google, anyway?)...

I found the coolest website! has a TON of great ideas and free printables - lots of different bingo cards, song lyrics, and more.

The family crafts page at features 10 great travel activities, though I can't say I know anyone who would dare take glue on a road trip! Do they still make those roll-on tubes of clear glue? I used those as a kid. Not too messy.

The Parent Site has some more great ideas. This makes two sites that suggest giving your child a sheet of aluminum foil and letting them make whatever they want with it. Intriguing. Not something I would ever have thought of!

So Amy, there are a few ideas to get you started. Seriously, the bingo cards at are pretty darn cool. Wish they had those when I was going on all those horribly long car rides as a kid!

Anyone have any other ideas for Amy?

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Spring/Summer reading

I used to be a big reader. I almost always had a book in my hand. The past few years, though, I haven't really been into it - most of the time, I don't even want to read a magazine! I think grad school killed my love of reading for a while...

Anyway, I'm starting to get back into it, mainly because there's not a whole heck of a lot to watch on TV lately and we're still too cheap to get cable or satellite!

So what am I reading?

A month or so ago, I read The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle. It's a book for younger readers, but also a great read. As a collector of books for little ones and older kids, I was thrilled when a dear friend thrust it into my hand and told me I *had* to read it. She was absolutely right!

After that, I read Girl with a Pearl Earring. Fascinating novel about the fictional story behind an actual painting. Beautifully written, if you can get past her clunky use of similes (but that's the English major in me talking)...

Then, I picked up Devil in the White City. This book is not for everyone. Mamazuzi, this book is definitely not for you! But if, like me, you are both fascinated by the minds of psychopaths and love history, this is an excellent read. It's the true story of the building of the Chicago World's Fair, and the serial killer who took advantage of it.

I just finished Don't Try This at Home, a hilarious look into some of the world's most famous chefs' biggest kitchen disasters. Warning - strong language in this one! But a great read, nonetheless.

Now I'm reading Twinkie, Deconstructed. It's about where food additives come from. I'm only on chapter four, but already it's made me laugh out loud in places, and shudder in horror in others. On the whole, though, I suspect it will have the same effect that Fast Food Nation had on me - it will just make me hungry. Not at all the effect that these books are supposed to have!

Next on the list, moving away from nonfiction for a bit, is The Smoke Jumper. I actually started it over the weekend, but then I picked up the Twinkie book at the library so I set it aside for a while. It's by Nicholas Evans, the same author who wrote The Horse Whisperer, a book I really enjoyed.

But, I've also put another book on hold at the library, so if that comes in first, The Smoke Jumper will have to wait a bit longer. That book is Isaac's Storm, by Erik Larson, the same guy who wrote Devil in the White City. What can I say, I really like this guy's style!

Anyone reading anything good?

Friday, May 18, 2007

My Best Potato Salad

Yummy, yummy, yummy!

4 medium potatoes, peeled and diced
4 hardboiled eggs, chopped
3 medium dill pickles, chopped
4 green onions, sliced
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
1 tablespoon brown mustard (such as Gulden's)
1/2 teaspoon celery seed
pinch salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper

In a medium saucepan, simmer potatoes until just fork tender. Drain and rinse under cold water. Put in a bowl and add eggs, pickles, and onions (you can also add sliced celery if you want - I almost never have it on hand).

In a small bowl, combine mayonnaise, vinegar, mustard, celery seed, salt and pepper. Stir thoroughly, taste and adjust seasonings if necessary. Mix into potato mixture.

Refrigerate several hours or overnight to let the flavors meld.

Happy Friday!

It's Friday, everybody! Hope you all had a good, productive week. I was planning to go out today, but it turns out it's a nightmare allergy day (I could really use that rain they're predicting this weekend!), so I'm staying in and having a kitchen day. My plan is to:

- Pre-cook some sausage crumbles and bacon, to have in the freezer ready to go for various recipes.

- Make a batch of lentil-rice balls, to have in individual serving sizes in the freezer for when there isn't anything else to take for lunch.

- Make some oven-fried chicken fingers and potato salad for our picnic tomorrow (we're going to Enchanted Forest for our niece's birthday, and we really don't want to pay the prices for food there, so we're going to be the cheap ones who go back to the car to eat!).

- Make some bran muffins and ginger scones for snacks.

And, whatever else I find I want to do throughout the day. Normally on kitchen days I do things like make meatballs to freeze, pre-cook chicken for casseroles and such, and things like that, but we're low on ground beef (and I have to save some for tacos), and for once I don't have any chicken thighs awaiting the boiling pot, so I won't do that either. So I guess it's really a mini-cooking day.

Oh how my garden grows...

Thought it was time for a garden update. Things are coming along beautifully! I'm about to pick some radishes (I was waiting for them to turn red, till I remembered I didn't buy red ones this year, LOL!). We've already harvested lettuce, spinach, and a few pea pods for a salad. Here are some pictures!

The peas are "pea-ing" (ar, ar, ar):

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We have multiple kinds of lettuce, and the biggest spinach leaf I've ever seen (it's at least nine inches long!):

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Two kinds of beans have come up (yellow and green):

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And the leeks are popping - can you see them?

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The tomatoes and peppers are all going strong (and the basil is popping between the tomatoes):

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And the strawberries are too stubborn to die...

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And this? This is the artichoke that ate Washington County. Play nice, artichoke!

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How are your gardens doing?

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

This week's menu

We're eating well this week. I love, love, love to cook when I have time to do it right. It's probably a good thing I'm not a housewife - I'd never get out of the kitchen!

Sunday - meatloaf, stuffing, fried cabbage, and peach cobbler.

Monday - crockpot BBQ boneless ribs, potato salad, homemade rolls, and corn (carb overload, to be sure, but oh so good!)

Tuesday - grilled chicken tenderloins, potato salad, rolls, and green salad (first of the garden lettuce - yippee!). Oh, and leftover cobbler with ice cream for dessert.

Wednesday - chicken enchiladas and green beans, and I think we'll have the rest of the cobbler for dessert.

Thursday - stuffed peppers and boiled artichokes

Friday - tamale pie

Saturday - we'll be gone all day for my niece's third birthday party, so I'm sure we'll be eating out...

I cleaned out the big freezer today, so I actually know what's in there now. I need to develop a freezer inventory system. It's an upright freezer, so it's easier to keep track of stuff than with a chest freezer, but still, I found things that had been in there since 2004 (like a package of bacon completely encased in ice). I'm trying to figure out how best to do this - I'll blog more about it when I figure it out!

Easy Creamy Chicken Enchiladas

I made this tonight with a mix of leftover grilled chicken breasts and shredded boiled chicken from the freezer. It is definitely better with the grilled chicken!

2 cups chopped cooked chicken
1 cup salsa
1 medium onion, chopped
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon chili powder
6 flour tortillas
2 cups shredded cheese, divided (I used a mix of cheddar and jack)
1 cup chicken broth
1/4 cup flour
1 cup evaporated milk
1 small can diced green chiles

In a medium size skillet, combine the first six ingredients (chicken through chili powder). Simmer until nearly all of the liquid is gone. Spoon 1/6 of the mixture into each tortilla, top with a hearty pinch of cheese (I use about 1 cup of the cheese total inside the enchiladas). Roll each tortilla and place seam side down in a greased 9x13 baking dish. Bake at 425 degrees for 15 minutes or until tortillas are browned.

Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, heat the chicken broth over medium high heat until bubbly. Stir flour into evaporated milk, mix until smooth. Pour the milk mixture into the broth, stirring constantly. Add chiles. Cook and stir until the mixture boils; continue to cook and stir two minutes or until thickened.

After the enchiladas have baked for 15 minutes, pour the sauce over them, sprinkle the remaining cup of cheese on top, and bake five minutes more, or until the cheese is bubbly.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Vacation, Day One

Well, I had to take a week off. I'm dangerously close to bumping up to the top of my PTO accumulation, so I'm home for a week. Since hubby doesn't get vacation, I'm on my own once again.

I was diligent this time in my scheduling - I only have one thing planned all week - lunch on Thursday with my brothers' wives and their little ones. Other than that, I've managed to leave the whole week open. I'm going to do my best to be completely anti-social.

I thought I was going to spend today cleaning the computer room. Turns out I did that yesterday, and my respiratory system is still trying to recover from the assault by dust, so none of that for me today. I got up at the usual time to make hubby's lunch, and he surprised me by saying "why don't you make tomorrow's lunch tonight so you can sleep in tomorrow?" This is new for him - usually he figures if he has to be up, I might as well too.

I went to Winco at 6:30 this morning. I love it there early - you have to maneuver around lots of boxes as they stock, but there were probably only 10 other shoppers in the whole store, so I could take my time and really enjoy it. And enjoy it I did - to the tune of three weeks worth of grocery money! Guess I'm not going to Trader Joe's after all this week! But, I won't need to go again for a good long while, except for bananas and maybe chips for lunches. I really have to remember that buying both meat and cheese in the same grocery trip adds up to a lot of money. Usually I buy one or the other, not both at the same time.

So what does the rest of the day hold? It's only 9:30, still early. I'm doing laundry, so I'll hang the first load in a bit. Then I think I'll go sit outside with my book and a cup of tea for a while. Once it starts getting hot (supposed to be 81 today!), I'll probably come in and clean the kitchen. I'll have time to make some good meals this week - might as well start with a clean kitchen!

You might not hear from me again for a few days, so have a great week everybody!

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Opinions, please!

So hubby has agreed to go away somewhere with me for a weekend sometime this summer. Now I have to figure out where we should go, where we should stay, and what we should do.

Anyone have any great ideas?

A few tidbits of info:

1. We'll be driving, so I'm looking for locations no more than three hours away.
2. With or without dogs.
3. Camping, yurts, hostels, motels, we're open.
4. We don't have a whole lot of money.
5. We like outdoorsy stuff. Hubby doesn't like anything artsy.

Thoughts? Suggestions? Websites?

Monday, May 07, 2007


This is the recipe I grew up with. I'm not saying it's the best recipe out there, but it's simple and tasty.

2 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon baking powder
2 eggs, beaten

In a small bowl, mix the dry ingredients. Add the eggs and enough milk to make the right consistency of batter.

For waffles, you want it kind of thick - like milkshake consistency. Otherwise it'll run right out of the waffle iron.

For pancakes, you want it fairly thin - like cake batter consistency.

If you're making waffles, you could add two tablespoons of cooking oil to the batter, but I prefer to leave the oil out and just spritz the waffle iron with some cooking spray.

When we make waffles, we always top them with fruit (hubby doesn't like syrup for some odd reason, so he puts jam on pancakes but wants fruit on waffles). We either use the little cans of frozen, sweetened, sliced strawberries, heated up, or apple pie filling, which we try to can a bunch of every year. But you can eat them however you like them!

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Lessons from the Laundry Room

Just got done hanging out another load of wash on the line (it's not sunny, but it's not raining, either, so we'll see how it goes). Got me thinking about how I do laundry...

1. Instead of buying detergent, I make my own soap blend from three ingredients. In less than 10 minutes (15 if I don't use my food processor), I can have enough mixed up to last us a year, and it costs about $5.00. Here's the recipe (and you can get all the ingredients at Winco or Fred Meyer):

1 bar Fels Naptha laundry soap
1 cup washing soda
1 cup borax

Grate the soap (I use my food processor for this). Mix with the washing soda and borax. Store in an airtight container. Use one tablespoon per load (I use an old soup spoon), two if the stuff is really dirty.

I prefer to use Zote soap, which I've found at the local Hispanic markets. It's a bigger bar, so I use two cups each of the washing soda and borax when I use that.

I have a high efficiency, front-loading washer, and it works great in those. They require special, low-sudsing detergent. This recipe produces no suds at all.

2. Instead of fabric softener, I use plain old white vinegar. Some people put essential oils in it to make it smell nice, but I like my laundry to just smell clean. When I had my top loader, I put half a cup in the rinse cycle. My current washer has a fabric softener cup, so I just put it in that. The vinegar smell dissipates completely.

3. Things I've learned about hanging out laundry:
- turn colors inside out to avoid fading
- leave whites right side out to brighten and bleach out stains
- hang pants upside down so you can hang socks between the legs
- hang knit tops upside down so the shoulders don't get stretched out
- you don't have to wrap the fabric around the clothesline - just set it up next to it and the clothespin will hold it on there
- if, like mine, your line is in the "dog zone", scoop, scoop, scoop!

How do YOU do laundry?

Thursday, May 03, 2007

This summer's big project

Three years ago, we bought our house. It was built in 1984, when, apparently, junipers were en vogue. When we got it, the front yard was completely overrun with juniper bushes. Evil little suckers. Well, we knew from the start that something would have to be done. So the first summer, we ripped out all the junipers. The second summer, we left it. Last summer, we built a low retaining wall. And now we're sick of having the second ugliest yard in the neighborhood (second only to our neighbor next to us who only mows twice a year, whether it needs it or not). So this summer is our big relandscaping project.

I took this picture last summer, after we built the wall. It doesn't show the whole yard, but you'll get an idea of what we're up against.

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On Saturday we pulled out the rhododendrons (you see the edge of one on the far left, and one on the right) and the big red bush you see behind the pile of stones. All that's left are the four rosebushes along the fence and the big pine tree. DH has sprayed the grass, so it's going to die in a few days.

The strip between the sidewalk and the street will have river rock and several trees in it. Our neighbor across the street has this, and we thought it would be nice to match, making a kind of "entrance to the culdesac".

The strip at the bottom of the picture, between the driveway and the wall, will have a walkway about four feet wide along the driveway, and then a row of low plants (I'm not sure what yet - maybe creeping thyme) between that and the wall. Between the wall and the grass will be a row of plants (probably a dwarf lavender).

In front of the wall, the part where it's only about five feet deep, will have creeping roses going out to the sidewalk. Back where the wall curves up and gets deeper, we're going to put six planter rings, made out of the same stone as the wall. That will be my herb garden.

The grass will go to within about five feet of the fence, and we're going to hire someone to pour a concrete edge around the lawn. Along the fence I'm going to plant berry bushes. We'll also be putting a walkway of river rock around the house. And we're expanding our front "patio" area so I can put some potted plants out front.

Instead of bark dust (I hate bark dust), all the areas that need to be covered will be covered with hazelnut shells. We live about 1/4 mile from a hazelnut processing plant, and they sell the shells by the scoop.

That's the plan for now - it's going to be a TON of work (and a lot of money!) and will probably take 2 - 3 years. Wish us luck, LOL!

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

"Chocolate" Chili

Ok, this doesn't taste like chocolate. But the cocoa powder gives it a beautiful color and a very good depth of flavor!

3/4 pound ground beef
1/4 pound chorizo, cooked* (optional)
1 large onion, chopped
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 can chili beans, mostly drained
1 can black beans, drained
1 cup chopped tomatoes
1 cup frozen corn
1 jalapeno, most ribs and seeds removed, chopped (you can leave this out for mild chili)
1 small can diced green chilis
1 cup water
2 tablespoons chili powder
2 tablespoons cumin
3 tablespoons cocoa powder
2 teaspoons cinnamon
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon black pepper

In a large skillet, brown the ground beef, onions and garlic. Drain, and put into 3-quart or larger saucepan. Add remaining ingredients; stir to combine. Cook on medium-low heat for 20 minutes - taste and adjust seasonings. Repeat until the chili has simmered for an hour.

*Note: Chorizo is a flavorful Mexican sausage. I have found it at Thriftway in a "fresh pack" made with regular ground pork. I have also found it frozen, in tubes, in most stores. The regular pork kind is better - it cooks to a better consistency and isn't so watery. If you buy the frozen in tubes kind, do yourself a favor and don't read the ingredient label. I precook the whole package and then separate it into smaller packages in the freezer because I'd never use the whole amount in one dish!