Tuesday, July 30, 2013

You Say Tomato, I Say No Problem

There is one food that I can point to as being the most detested, loathed, dreaded food of my childhood, and it's name is Tomato.  This was a problem for me as a child, because one of my mother's favorite foods was (again) Tomato.  She would serve it, sliced and possibly salted, on our dinner plates, and one of my earliest childhood memories--one that I have never forgiven my mother for--is of being forced to sit in front of said plate until I forced myself to consume said Tomato, despite the fact that the flavor of this raw, salted tomato was so loathesome as to invoke an involuntary gag reflex whenever I put a piece into my mouth.  The way my child mind remembers it, I had to sit there for over four hours--which probably means I was there at least twenty minutes.

So, I think it's a testament to how much my palate has grown that the ingredients for last night's dinner consisted of scarcely more than this:

Almost five pounds of lovely, not-sinister-at-all tomatoes!  They were less than $1 a pound, so I decided it was time to make some homemade Tomato Soup.  (The recipe is from Food Network Magazine, naturally.) I only made the tomato soup part of the recipe this time; I invented my own grilled cheese sandwiches, which ended up being muenster and gouda with bologna, on grilled garlic bread.  

It all turned out so delicious, and smelling so good, that I forgot to take a picture of the meal for the blog, so you all will have to settle for a picture of the leftover servings of soup.  My sweetie thinks I have ruined her for canned tomato soup for life!

As for me, I think I can say I have finally cured my aversion to tomatoes for life.  Though I doubt I will ever choose to serve them sliced and salted as a side dish...

Monday, July 22, 2013

Fire Moon

By my admittedly eclectic reckoning, as the second Moon of the Summer season, last night's sunset was the Fire Moon's Eve.  My sweetie and I did go outside after dark, but at our latitude, actually seeing the Moon in our heavily wooded area was a bit futile--even at midnight She hadn't quite crested the treeline.  It was a clear night and we did see a bit of moonlight through the trees, which was nice enough, since in the Pacific Northwest we often only see the Moon in spirit.

For today's Moon dinner, I couldn't think of anything better for the Fire Moon than to use my new(ish) charcoal grill!  I thawed out some pork chops from the freezer and rubbed them up with some sage-based Pork Rub from our local World Market, and also toasted some ears of corn on the grill, which I served just with butter and salt.  It was a simple meal, but it was very enjoyable.  I had forgotten how good corn-on-the-cob could be; it's been years since I had it, and I don't think I've ever had it off the grill before.

I'm going to try to carry the fire energy from this Moon forward into the coming month, when I have a fuller work schedule and the passion and productivity will certainly come in handy.  And of course, tonight during twilight will be an excellent time for a Full Moon Reading to get some extra insight to take forward with me.

No matter how you name your Moons, I hope you all had a blessed one!  I think I did.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Balancing Act

Whoo!  I'm coming down from a string of long working days--wrapping up with a fourteen-hour day on Thursday.  I'm only now starting to feel like a person today after that.  So now that I'm well rested and have a day off, of course I decided to make an epic shopping/couponing run!  Five stores, three-and-a-half-hours, and a whole car load of good deals.

After the shopping trip, it was a bit late in the afternoon (or is 5:00 considered "prevening"?) so I decided we would have a "convenience dinner" with one of the products I got a good deal on:  I prepared a Velveeta Cheesy Skillets meal (Beef Stroganoff), which I served us half of and put the other half in the freezer, and then I made a side dish out of canned asparagus spears and my Cheaty Cheese Sauce that I just invented tonight:

Jessie's Cheaty Cheese Sauce
Cheez Whiz (around 1 tbsp per person)
Heavy whipping cream

  1. In a small bowl, warm Cheez Whiz in microwave. (Try not to boil it over like I did.) 
  2. Add heavy cream in small amounts, stirring after each addition, until the sauce is the desired consistency. 
  3. Use microwave to warm sauce back up if necessary. 

I know it really wasn't gourmet fare or anything, but my sweetie and I agreed it was really good.  I think this type of "semi-homemade" meal might help me find my new balance between having a job and still enjoying the kitchen; it's the type of thing I could put together even on a work night (assuming I actually got home at a usual hour), and I think it's better and more fulfilling than just bringing home take-out--not to mention significantly less expensive.  As a side bonus, these convenience-food items seem to be the kind of thing you're most likely to find a juicy coupon stack on, which means that shopping for them can be rather fun too.

So, while it still doesn't feel quite the same as a meal where I prep all the produce and ingredients "from scratch", I think it's going to be a good compromise for a lot of occasions--something easy enough to do after a day of work, but where I can still feel like I have a hand in the preparation and a chance to work some of my magic on it, even if it is just a little bit.

Sometimes a little bit of magic can go a long way, right?

Friday, July 5, 2013

Reasonably Extreme Couponing

With the recent changes to the household's employment situation, I feel like it has become even more important for me to save money on groceries and household purchases whenever I can.  However, we have made one major purchase recently:  Due to my new job, it was important for me to quit being a curmudgeon and get with the "digital age" by upgrading to an Android smartphone.  Fortunately, there are available 'apps' that can help save money, and maybe help this phone pay for itself to some extent.

You know, I actually hesitate to write about this type of thing, because one of my absolute least favorite shows on television is "Extreme Couponing".  I find myself becoming completely disgusted by the people whom they feature on the show; to me they are just these completely self-absorbed people who only care about adding to their hoard of stuff in their garage that they're never going to be able to use all of, and don't care who else they affect when they completely clean a store out of inventory on sale items.  It wouldn't even be so bad if they went out and got $1000 worth of stuff for 15¢ if they donated the excess to a food bank or something, but the way it's depicted, I just see them as a different kind of "hoarder."

That being said, I do think there's a middle ground, where I can search for good deals on things we will use, and to that end, I've started to learn the art of "Couponing."  I've been trying to combine sales with coupons for a while, but there are tricks to it that I hadn't quite stumbled on on my own.  I got myself all excited when I learned how to 'coupon stack,' which means I can use a "store" coupon and a "manufacturer" coupon and a bonus deal from an app like Ibotta (which I highly recommend, by the way) all on the same one item.  Very occasionally, there might even be a "Moneymaker" deal where the combination of sale, store coupon, manufacturer coupon, and Ibotta rebate can end up being cheaper than free!  I haven't actually done that just yet, but the possibility gives me a tingly feeling.

So maybe I am an "extreme couponer" at heart after all, then?  I certainly don't ever see myself cleaning out a store of inventory just so it can go bad on expensive-looking shelves in an expensive-looking garage.  But I do have to admit, I've been having a lot of fun finding deals that maybe not everyone else would.  I even joked to my sweetie the other day that I might bring home a receipt and announce that it was a "New High Score!"  I guess, to me the difference between "extreme" (in a bad way) and "reasonable" is whether or not the items go to waste, and whether or not I'm being considerate of other shoppers as I find my amazing deals.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Working Girl

For the past three-and-a-half years or so, I've been mostly unemployed, through no fault of my own.  (Actually, that's probably a story worth telling in its own regard, but that will have to be another time.)  It's been during this time where I've had a lot of time at home that I really ended up developing my skills, talent, and passion for the kitchen.  Sometimes it can actually feel weird to look back and realize that six years ago, I didn't even know how to cook.

Things have changed a bit this past month, though!  I have gotten a part-time job that may be working into a full-time job soon.  The thing is, I only work a few days each week, but on the days I do work, I can be gone from the house for twelve or fourteen hours.  And the first week, I worked four long days out of five, for training, which kept me away from the house (and the kitchen) quite a bit.  Because the job has me working with expert doctors, I don't even get to pack the nice bento lunches like I used to--I'm supposed to buy lunch for myself and the doctors during the clinic (as a reimbursed business expense)!  I understand that this is kind of a perk to have my lunch paid for by the company, but I liked my homemade lunches.  My poor bento boxes are getting neglected now.

For the [U.S.] Independence Day holiday, I have a stretch of seven days off in a row, so I decided to head out shopping on my first day off and get ready to reconnect to the kitchen!  The first thing I made was some wild Alaskan sockeye salmon, grilled and served with curried lentils and an arugula salad.  (The recipe was from my new Food Network Magazine, naturally.)  I hadn't had lentils outside of lentil soup before, and my sweetie was a bit skeptical of what curried ones would taste like, but we both agreed afterwards that it was a delicious dinner.

I've also been using my grill a lot this week, what with the record highs in the Pacific Northwest; I made some really awesome strip steaks, some sausages (with Girl-Scout-style foil-packet potato hash!), and of course hamburgers.  I'm still planning some shrimp on the grill, and maybe some more cedar-planked salmon.

And then on Saturday, it'll be time to go back to work.  I really can't complain, though, I do love my new job.  It's just going to take a little bit of adjustment, as it does for any change, to find a new balance, and not make plans that are too big for the energy level I have left after a thirteen-hour workday.