a view from the laundry pile…

…it's all about perspective.

A rose is a rose

Even though Fred has the “greenest thumb” I’ve ever seen (seriously, he can stick anything into the ground and it grows. You should see our shoe trees…kidding, of course, but he is an amazing gardener), most of the vegetable garden and flower beds have  been “washed out” with all the rain and unusually cool weather we’ve had this year.

However, the roses seem to be thriving because of this weird summer. Any bugs that started to infiltrate just up and left on their own (probably got sick of the rain, too) and the roses are all now growing like weeds – only prettier. After It’s so nice to look out in the yard and see some color!

 

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Say “Si! Si!” to the burrito!

I really don’t know how long it would take me to get tired of eating Mexican food if I ate it on a daily basis but, in the name of science (or any other name), I’d be willing to sacrifice myself to find out…

I cook Mexican food 2-3 times a week for lunches/dinners…sometimes breakfast…and, when I don’t feel like cooking Fred — the kind, loving, and always hungry person he is, takes me out to dinner — and it’s usually for Mexican food. (It really is a win-win situation as far as I’m concerned).

Very rarely do I use an actual recipe for things outside of baking. The ingredients in Mexican food are so ‘forgiving’… like, if you add too much cheese to your burrito. (Yes. That was a test. Everyone knows there’s no such thing as “too much cheese”). The ingredients can be tailored to suit everyone’s taste buds – which is what makes it so versatile. This week, I’m thinking, homemade refried beans would be mighty tasty.

I couldn’t find just one recipe for refried beans that sounded like what I was looking for so I decided to make up my own based on what I read from several recipes. I’m an experienced enough cook to do this. *cough*

IMPORTANT: While I was reading up on beans and looking up different recipes, specifically using dried, red kidney beans which are my favorite, I found the most surprising information on them. Did you know they’re toxic if eaten undercooked or raw? Apparently most, if not all dried beans are – especially kidney beans. They need to be soaked at least 12 hours and boiled (full rolling boil) at least 10 minutes to remove the “lectin,” which is the stuff that makes you sick. Apparently, as few as 5-6 undercooked or improperly cooked beans can cause reactions you really don’t want (ie; counting bathroom floor tiles for hours on end…or worse). Of course the tinned or canned beans have already gone through this process so they’re okay. But I’m determined to make mine from scratch so I will dirty another pan to soak and boil before I crock pot. If you never hear from me, again, after this posting, you’ll know I should’ve boiled the beans 11 minutes instead of 10 (just kidding…).

LB’s Slow Cooker Smokey Refried Kidney Beans

This recipe makes a lot of beans. You can certainly cut the recipe down (but they freeze great!) or use some of the beans for other recipes. Me? I’m going to refry them all.

1 lb dried Kidney Beans

(Note: Everything past this point is just a “starting point” for flavoring the beans – use more or less of any of these to suit your taste).

1/4 finely diced Onion (white, red, or yellow…all good).

1/2 tsp. Liquid Smoke (love this stuff. Being a vegetarian I can get the smokey flavor without all the attached animal)

1/2 tsp. Salt

1  tsp. minced Garlic

1/2 tsp. Cumin

1/4 tsp. Chili Powder

Cooking Oil (you can use other types of fat, such as bacon grease or lard, or leave it out, altogether. The fat just makes them ‘creamier’ and adds a bit of flavor).

Directions:

The day before: Place the beans in a large cook pan/pot and fill with clean water (about 2″ past the top of the beans) and let them soak, at least, 12 hours before you start to cook them. 

Day of cooking: Drain the beans, rinse them, add more clean water, and boil them (a good, rolling boil) for, at least 10 minutes (if the foam gets ‘wild’ while they’re cooking, just skim it off. Fred named this “bean scum”…lovely image, eh?). Drain the beans and add them to the slow cooker. Add clean, hot water to about 1″ below the rim of the cooker.  Add 1/2 of each of the rest of the ingredients EXCEPT the oil (you’ll be adding the rest, plus more for taste and consistency, once the beans are done). Cook on low for 4 hours then switch to high for 4 more hours. Remove the beans and drain any remaining liquid from cooking.

At this point you’re ready to mash and fry them. Preheat your pan (I use a Dutch Oven for this instead of a non-stick pan as I can get a little wild with the potato masher) then add just enough oil to coat the bottom of the pan.** Add the beans, the rest of the ingredients, and start mashing away!

I cook them about 5-10 minutes before deciding if I need more oil or not. The consistency will change some as they cook.

** If you preheat your pan before adding the fat, you’ll have less of a problem with food sticking.

I ended up making “green chili burritos” with the beans (bean burritos covered in green chili salsa & topped with onions & cheese).  They were delish!

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Mini Italian “Monkey Bread”

As I was making the lasagna for last nights dinner, I wanted bread to go with it but didn’t have a lot of time to spend making it. I had refrigerator biscuits, on hand, but that seemed a bit ‘bland’ (and I love trying new things in the kitchen – especially when they turn out well enough for Fred to eat it without requesting a large glass of water…) so I adapted the directions from the traditional sweet Monkey Bread and the ingredients from two other favorite roll recipes and this is what I came up with — I see endless flavor combinations for this recipe. Next time I’m going to try black pepper and onion. Yum.

Mini Italian Monkey Bread (makes 12)

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup melted Butter
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried minced Onion
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried Basil
  • 1/8 teaspoon Garlic Powder
  • 2 (12 ounce) cans Buttermilk Biscuits (OR make your own dough from scratch – recipe below!)
  • 2 Tbs. grated Parmesan Cheese

Directions:

Combine the first 4 ingredients in a medium bowl. Cut the biscuits into quarters (or, if you’re using the large biscuits, cut each into 6 even-sized pieces) with kitchen sheers, a sharp knife, or a pizza wheel.

Gently toss the biscuit pieces in the butter mixture to evenly coat.

In a regular sized muffin tin (ie: not “mini” or “giant”), place 6-7 pieces of the coated dough into each muffin cup. 

Sprinkle evenly with the 2 Tbs. Parmesan cheese.

Bake at 400F for 12-14 minutes (check after 10), or until golden brown.  Serve warm.

o( ‘.’ )o  o( ‘.’ )o o( ‘.’ )o o( ‘.’ )o o( ‘.’ )o

Nancy Reagan’s Monkey Bread

Recipe courtesy First Ladies Cookbook

Ingredients

  • 1 package Dry Yeast
  • 1 to 1 1/4 cups Milk
  • 3 Eggs
  • 3 tablespoons Sugar
  • 1 teaspoon Salt
  • 4 1/2 cups Flour
  • 6 ounces Butter, room temperature (goes in the dough)
  • 1/2 pound melted Butter (to roll the dough in)
  • 1 (9-inch) Ring Mold

Directions

In a bowl, mix yeast with small amount of milk until dissolved. Add 2 eggs and beat. Mix in dry ingredients. Add remaining milk a little at a time, mixing thoroughly. Cut in butter until blended. Knead dough, let rise 1 to 1 1/2 hours until doubled in size.

Roll dough onto floured board, shape into a log. Cut log into 24 pieces of equal size. Shape each piece of dough into a ball, roll in melted butter. Place 12 balls in the bottom of the buttered and floured mold, leaving space between. Place remaining balls on top, spacing evenly. Let dough rise in mold for 30 minutes. Brush top with remaining egg. Bake in preheated oven at 375 degrees until golden brown, approximately 25 to 30 minutes.

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Upcycling an audio cassette

I know I’m not ‘inventing the wheel’ on this one but taking unwanted or unused items and making them useful again is always a good share (and I think this is kinda cute…).

Audio Cassette Business Card Holder

The first thing you’ll want to do, even if you decide not to embellish it, is break out the little tabs that go in the wheels of the cassette. If you don’t, you won’t be able to hold more than 1 or 2 business cards in your new holder. The first one I tried (yes, a little bit of “trial and error” here), I just ‘popped’ it off with a pair of needle nose pliers which left rather large cracks in the case (you can see the results in the middle photo). But I did figure out that, if you hold the cassette tightly down against a flat surface and grab the tab as close to the bottom as possible with your pliers, you can gently and slowly pop it off and you should be able to avoid any cracking this way (and, if it does crack, a little, I doubt anyone will notice). File down what’s left of the tab to smooth it out (I used a paper emery board and it worked fine).

I used one of the metal file drawers from a previous project (my “file cabinet turned tool holder”) as a small paint booth and gave the cassette a couple of coats of primer, drying well in between. I did spray it, inside and out, because I wanted to make sure that whatever I did next (ie; decorate it) would have a good surface to stick to.

I’m sure there are tons of ways to decorate this to make it work for you. I came up with a few that might get you started. You can paint right on the holder (1st photo) or, if you want to “multi-use” it with different business cards, take the cardboard insert from the original cassette (2nd photo) and use it as a template to cut out other (lightweight) cardboard inserts that can be decorated with markers, pens, or paints to match your business cards. You can also glue on a favorite photo (3rd photo) or go through a magazine to find interesting or business-relevant pictures (either glue them on a template or right to the holder).

Expanding on the first idea (painting it), I thought of adding writing to the front — to further promote your business or as a personal message that you’d like to extend to current and future customers. It might be a good way to catch their eye. (I just added the words via Photoshop — if this had been what I chose for mine, I would’ve hand-painted it. This was just to give you an idea of what it could look like).

What I finally ended up with, for my first card holder, was based on my business cards, themselves. The cards are rather ornately done in various shades of purple flowers so I wanted something a little “subdued” (but, if you have more plain business cards, more detail might be nice). I love to do faux finishes so I did a quasi “marble-like” finish in purple and green with a clear finish to preserve the paint. I think it turned out rather well and am excited to do the others…

Now, what to do with the rest of the cassette? I’ve been poking around the internet and have found that you can use the tape in place of twine (to bind newspapers, for example) or crochet it into bags and other useful items (check with anyone you know who crochets – they might have a use for it). I’ve also seen the cassettes made into lamp shades (really cute) and small storage boxes.  If they’re still usable, donate them to a charity or thrift store. One of the most clever uses I saw was weaving them in to “fabric” (textile). You can read their story here: http://www.sonicfabric.com/about.html (they also accept tapes as donations if you’re looking to get rid of some).

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Quicky & Easy Chocolate Peanut Butter Truffles

Fred’s been on a fire call since 4am. I’ve been up since about 4:01…and there’s not much chance I’ll be getting back to sleep now that the sun is coming up. So, I’ll make the most of it and get up, clean, and be productive…or else I’ll make a mess in the kitchen and cook since the house is nice and cool right now…

Chocolate Peanut Butter Truffles (makes 12 truffles)

Mix 1/2 cup Peanut Butter (I used creamy but crunchy would work) with 3/4 cup Graham Cracker crumbs (either put them through the blender/food processor or crush them in a zippy bag with a rolling pin. Both are equally annoying at 5am) until it resembles a “dry-ish paste” (you may have to add a bit more peanut butter or graham cracker crumbs to get the right consistency).

Divide into 12 pieces and roll into balls. Place the balls on a flat surface (like a glass or ceramic plate) and freeze about 1 hour. 

Melt 1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips (or whatever kind you want) in the microwave until just melted – about 1 minute, stirring every 20 seconds (make sure it doesn’t stay in too long – it’ll get hard and/or burn).

Take the peanut butter balls out of the freezer and 1 or 2 at a time, roll in the chocolate (this is messy…your kids will love it) then drop into a bowl of cocoa (I used dark) and roll them around, covering all the wet chocolate (I started with about 1/3 cup of cocoa and ended up with “extra”).

For best results, keep them in the fridge until you’re ready to serve them (unless you eat them all before they get there and you have to break open a box of Oreos to serve your company…not that I’ve ever done that).

Here are a few more truffle recipes for you to try!

Oreo Truffleshttp://candy.about.com/od/kidfriendlytreats/r/oreotruffles.htm

S’More Truffleshttp://candy.about.com/od/trufflerecipes/r/smores_truffles.htm

“Aztec” Truffleshttp://candy.about.com/od/chocolate/r/aztectruffles.htm

Vegan Chocolate Truffles http://www.stmwellness.com/vegan-chocolate-truffles/

Irish Cream Truffleshttp://allrecipes.com/recipe/irish-cream-truffles/detail.aspx

Lavender Truffles (I must try these) – http://allrecipes.com/recipe/lavender-truffles/detail.aspx?event8=1&prop24=SR_Title&e11=truffles&e8=Quick%20Search&event10=1&e7=Home%20Page

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Uses for old sheets (part 1 of…more)

I found a lovely patterned, fairly good condition, soft flannel twin sheet at a thrift store (less than $2!) last month. The middle was thinning but the edges, including the part that folds down and under the mattress, was still in very good shape – lots of very usable fabric. I’ve done many things with old sheets that are no longer suitable for the beds, including lunch box napkins, reusable sandwich/snack bags, bandanas, and fabric storage and laundry bags — so I knew I’d have a use for this one (including using the center worn part for rags…I always need rags around here) and it didn’t take me long to figure out what my first project would be…

Reusable Make-up Remover Cloths:

~ Cut 3 each 3″ flannel squares for every 1 make-up remover cloth you want to make (3 layers per cloth).  I made 8 cloths so it was a total of 24 each 3″ squares. (I recently purchased a sewing rotary cutter and mat (finally!) but, until then, was making my smaller templates from cereal boxes – either will work).

~ To assemble, lay 3 squares on top of each other with two flannel squares right sides together. Line up the edges and pin the sides to keep any of the layers from moving around while you’re sewing them together.

~ Sew three sides, leaving one side open. Clip the corners to keep too much fabric from bunching up there and trim any excess fabric on the sides BUT don’t clip any fabric from the “open” side (you won’t have enough to work with during the next steps).

~ Turn it inside out and gently push out the corners with a soft tool (I use a wooden chop stick). Note: When you’re turning it inside out, make sure the two outside pieces are facing the right direction (ie; turn inside out from the 2 pieces that started face to face).

~ Fold the open side inward  (maybe 1/4″ or so) and give it a quick iron flat (this step isn’t necessary but it will make it a lot easier to sew a straight edge).

~ Top stitch around all 4 edges, sewing very closely to the edge and making sure to catch the fabric from the open side in the whole seam.

My finished cloths ended up around 2-1/2″ x 2-1/2″ square. You can make any size you’d like (but I wouldn’t recommend starting with anything smaller than a 3″ square only because it gets a little difficult (ie: a pain) to handle the 3 layers of fabric without bunching and weird seam issues).

To clean these, rinse out each one (as soon as you’re done using it) and toss them in the laundry. You can toss them directly into the laundry (risking them ending up with the other single socks that have disappeared into the dryers “black hole”), put them in a mesh bag (the type used for “delicates”) or clip them together using a sock clip (specially designed for the laundry/dryer), or large safety pins (a few cloths per pin).

Using the same fabric, I also made a simple holder for my 8 make-up remover cloths, to help keep them clean (and not lost) and two 8″x8″ matching face cloths (which I did exactly the same as the make-up remover cloths only I started with 9 x 9″ fabric squares — 6 of them for the 2 face cloths). And, the best part is, I still have lots of sheet fabric left over to play with so, off I go, scissors in hand, sewing machine at the ready…well, after I feed the dogs…

(BONUS!) Natural Make-up Remover

I was pretty happy to find this “recipe” for natural make-up remover to go along with my new cloths. Not that I wear make-up often but, when I do, it’s important to remove the ‘spackle’ when I’m done for the day.

1 cup Distilled Water*
1 1/2 Tablespoons “No Tears” Baby Shampoo
1 teaspoon Coconut Oil 

I’ve also seen recipes that  use a few drops of essential oil (most, if not all, of these can burn your skin if you use them undiluted) or Borax…(really? Borax? I won’t even use laundry soap that has Borax in it let alone rub it in my eyes…). The coconut oil smells yummy on its own and, because it contains “Lauric acid,”  it’s a natural anti-biotic, anti-oxidant, and anti-fungal —  making it very good for your skin.

*The advantage of using distilled water over regular tap or bottled is that, with distilled water, there are no chemicals (such as chlorine, normally found in tap water) or minerals.

Warm the distilled water in the microwave for about a minute (hot not boiling) then add the shampoo and coconut oil. (If you’ve never used coconut oil before, you might be surprised that it’s, basically, a solid — even at room temperature). Stir the mixture until the coconut oil has “dissolved” then store it, again at room temperature, in a clean, lidded jar or container.

To use this, dip one of the reusable make-up remover cloths and squeeze out the excess liquid and wipe off your make-up. 

Recipe and make-up remover cloths adapted from “The Sprout Store Blog” and “One Good Thing” (both great websites!)

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Refreshing Summer Drink Recipes

Just a quick blog share of these wonderful recipes found on “Sips Etc.”

What a great way to beat the heat this summer!

photo by Sips Etc.

(I think I’m going to try the Ginger Beer first…no, wait. Maybe the Raspberry Lemonade…)

http://sipsetc.blogspot.com/2012/01/sip-your-way-skinny-drink-round-up.html

Cranberry Grapefruit Sparkler
Fresh Kiwi Grape Juice
Fresh Ginger Beer
Citrus Tea Punch
Strawberry Banana and Flax Smoothie
Raspberry Lemonade
Pomegranate Citrus Juice
Three Tasty “Slim Down” Smoothies
Green Vegetable Cocktail

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A break in the clouds

Like most of the U.S., we’ve been having unusual weather. The other day we woke up, very early, to thunderstorms. You may be saying “so what?” — but we don’t usually have them here…and when we do, they never last 38 hours.

After the storm broke late on the last day, people seemed to be out in droves, even though the sun wasn’t shining. It was a break we all needed.

Fred and I went to dinner then walked around town that evening. It was beautiful.

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“Girls Night Out” Mini Quiches

Every now and then my friends and I get together for “girls night.” Sometimes we go to the movies, sometimes we go to dinner, and sometimes it’s just for drinks. Last night we gathered at one friends house for hor d’oeuvres and wine. Everyone brought something and it was all delicious. And the best part of doing a “dinner” this way is that everything always goes with everything else.

I wanted to try something “new” and use my mini muffin pan and pokey thing (I believe that’s the ‘technical term’ for a “tart shaper”) that I got from Pampered Chef (I love PC, don’t you?) to make some tasty little bites. I found a recipe, online, for mini tarts (but didn’t have much faith in the person who posted it. They’re actually quiches…and she left out a few key steps…and didn’t mention how long to bake them. However the recipe, in general, sounded good and I knew I could figure it out…or stop at the store, on the way over, and grab something else in case they didn’t…as Fred says, you should always have a “plan B”). 

Mini Quiches – 2 fillings, each one makes 24 mini quiches.

Pastry dough (for 48 mini quiches):

  • 1 cup butter, room temperature
  • 8 oz. cream cheese, room temperature
  • 2 cups flour (all-purpose worked fine)

In a large bowl, whip the butter & cream cheese until it’s well blended. Add in the flour and stir until it comes together. Shape into a ball, wrap in Saran (plastic wrap) and put in the fridge about 15 minutes or so to stiffen up the dough a bit. In the mean time, make the filling(s).

Cheddar Filling (makes 24)

  • about 3/4 cup cheddar, finely grated (tip: if all you have is a large grater, grate the cheese then add in about 1 tsp. flour, mixing well. You will now be able to chop the cheese finer without it sticking together)
  • 1 tsp. herbs (your choice, dried or fresh. I used dried rosemary)
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • dash salt & pepper (or to taste)
  • 1 finely chopped green onion (I used about 1 Tbs. red onion since I didn’t have green)

In a small bowl, mix the egg, milk, onion, salt & pepper. Set the cheese aside in another bowl.

Greek Filling (makes 24)

  • about 3/4 cup Feta cheese
  • 6-8 finely diced black olives (you could also use sliced)
  • 6 baby spinach leaves, finely chopped
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • dash salt & pepper

To make the pastry cups, divide your dough into 48 balls (unless you have a super-sized mini pan that holds 48, you’ll need to keep the rest in the fridge while you’re making these in batches). 

The muffin pan I have is non-stick. But I don’t trust non-stick so I gave each muffin cup a wipe of olive oil (at that time I had one hour to make all these, get ready, and get out the door. So I wasn’t taking any chances).

Place one ball of pastry dough per cup and either use your handy-dandy PC pokey thing or shape the cups by hand. Try to keep the pastry dough even on all sides and the bottom — and it’s okay if it comes up a little over the top of the edge of the muffin cup.

When the cups are ready, add your fillings. For the Cheddar I divided the cheese up between 24 pastry cups then added the egg/milk mixture. I used about 1 large soup spoon per pastry cup, filling it  just shy of the top (it’ll puff up when it bakes – and sink back down when it’s cooling). For the Greek, I divided up the Feta, spinach, black olives between 24 pastry cups then added the egg/milk mixture, same as I did with the Cheddar.

Bake at 350F for 20 minutes (checking at 15, since ovens vary). Let them set a minute or two before removing from the muffin pan to a cooling rack. 

How easy was that? I think I’m going to try mini cheesecakes next…

Here’s a link to the Pampered Chef website in case you don’t know anyone who sells it locally (and no, I don’t work for them – I just really like their products!) http://www.pamperedchef.com/ordering/shopOnline.tpc

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Re-uses for plastic pill bottles

If you’ve been following my blog, at all, you’ve figured out that I love to upcycle, recycle, and re-use whenever possible – sometimes just to be practical, sometimes just see if I can do it (I love a good challenge as long as it doesn’t involve a trip to the E.R.).

Plastic pill bottles. Realistically, there must be dozens (or more) uses for these, including taking them to the veterinarian (which is what I do with most of ours) and animal shelters for re-use, to the homeless shelters to store small items, or turning them in to a local recycling plant (if you have one).

I try to keep a few back to have on hand because I’m always finding a new use for them. In addition to keeping a couple in the car to collect wildflower seeds from our travels, I also use them to store small crafting beads and earring backs. (I’ve even heard of someone using them to store Barbie doll items like shoes, brushes, & purses – clever!) 

Here are a few other uses for the (washed out and dried) bottles…

This is my emergency sewing kit. It has some safety pins, a couple of buttons, some duct tape (wrapped around a piece of plastic drinking straw and used in case sewing is not an option for that hem that’s falling out), needle and thread. I have white and black thread – each is wrapped around the end of another piece of plastic drinking straw (long enough to hold the thread but short enough to fit in the bottle). I clipped a 1/4 inch “notch” at the end of the straw to keep the thread from unraveling. The needle is always kept threaded – you can slip it into the straw and stick the thread in the straw notch to keep it from falling out. The only thing I’m missing is a little, inexpensive pair of nail clippers to cut the thread with (a small pocket knife would work but you can’t travel with that).

Rubber band 3 or 4 pill bottles together (use several rubber bands — some to hold the bottles together and some in case you need an elastic!) and use them to organize your desk or drawers. Push pins or thumb tacks, paperclips, safety pins, straight pinsstaples, postage stamps, or even small erasers will fit. Write the contents (or color code?) on the lids and you’re good to go – and no more spilling! Leave the lids off on wide-mouth bottles and use for pen/pencil holders.

(Here’s a great wish list of fun and useful office gadgets; http://workawesome.com/office-life/11-gadgets-you-should-have-on-your-office-wishlist/ My favorite is the “app magnets.” Must put those on my Christmas list…).

You can also use the wide-mouth jars as a small first aid kit for your car, purse, or travel bags. You can get many small packs or singles of things at the local drug store (ie; hand wipes, aspirin, etc.) and, for other things, like I have here (sting, iodine, & alcohol wipes), you can purchase singles of these at http://www.shelfreliance.com/all-products/emergency-kits-supplies/first-aid.html. Add a few band-aids (adhesive strips) and any other item you think you might need, like a small whistle or burn cream packs and you’ll always be ready for those little mishaps. (Get a few of each thing to make up several small first aid kits to keep on hand, no matter where you are).

I’m always needing change for something so I keep a small pill bottle of it in my car. This smaller size is perfect for quarters (and you can always see if you’re running out!) but I also include a few dimes, nickles, & pennies – you never know what you’re going to need when you’re out and about.

I’ve also used pill bottles to; store matches for both camping and my go bag (you do have your go bag ready, don’t you?); to keep a couple of plastic bags on hand (I know, a plastic bag doesn’t seem too important but, when you’re traveling with dogs, something always seems to get wet and/or barfed on so it’s a godsend – really); to store toothpicks that won’t fit in the regular holder; and for all those hardware bits and pieces that I have just one or two of rolling around the junk drawer.

(And, if you get really creative, you can decorate these with mod podge & papers, fabrics, paints & markers (for plastic) — and have the kids help. They’d love it!  And, speaking of kids – please don’t use pill bottles for food. Small kids might not know a bottle of medicine isn’t for them to eat if they associate the bottle with food/candy).

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