Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The Yolk's on Me!

How could I have been cooking for 30 years without seeing a double-yolk egg? This one went into my mac and cheese tonight, but I would never have used it in baking because it would most likely alter the recipe results.

I always break my eggs into a small dish or measuring cup, instead of directly into other ingredients, primarily to prevent shell fragments from getting mixed in. (And because I have to poke around with a fork to remove the little white strand attached to the yolk, which may or may not be the umbilical cord, but creeps me out anyway.) Some recommend it in case you happen to get a rotten egg (I never have!) Now, I'm thinking the possibility of an extra yolk might be another good reason for doing it, since it could ruin a whole batch of batter.   

Have you ever cracked an egg and found more than one yolk? Do you break your eggs into a separate bowl?

You can read more about multiple-yolk eggs here. There's even a picture of one with four yolks! Apparently, the chances of a double yolk are about one in 1,000. But most are discovered in the production process and used in other egg products rather than being sold as whole eggs.  These two were inseparable, but there are many images online showing distinctly unattached yolks.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Baggie Challenge Successful and Another Reason to Call Me Crazy

With two weeks of school remaining, I think it's safe to say our baggie challenge has been successful. Here's what's left of the 200-count box we started with in September: 

When friends are waving their hands in the air dismissively and reminding me that "a baggie is, what, a penny or two?", it really almost sounds silly even to me. I mean, if I see a penny lying on the ground, I won't pick it up. A nickel? Maybe. A dime? Probably. A quarter? Definitely. So why do I insist on reusing baggies? (You can read more about that here and here if you want.) Because pennies add up to dollars!

We got through nine months on less than half a box. If I had thrown them away after just one use, I think I would've needed about a box a month. That's an extra eight and a half boxes of baggies! At around $3 a box, I saved over $25. Brand name Ziplocs cost at least a dollar more per box, so you can add in another $8.50 for purchasing the store brand. And that's without even mentioning the one box of quart-size baggies for the freezer, and one box of gallon-size for storage which I expect to last until this time next year.

Maybe you can't buy anything with a penny. But if you had an extra $25 (or $33), would you spend it on baggies? That's what I thought. That's why I wash and reuse mine!

Another Reason to Call Me Crazy

I'm actually a bit flattered when people call me crazy. It feels like a good kind of crazy when you know you have $25 in your pocket that most people spent on baggies...

So here's another reason to call me crazy:

We haven't bought plastic trash can liners in 16 years. When we moved into this house, we discovered that paper grocery bags fit our pull-out kitchen trash can just fine. And we don't just repurpose them once. We use each bag many times, until it becomes stained or torn. All you have to do to make this work is refrain from putting liquids in your trash can. If you really need to put something wet or sticky (like eggshells or coffee grounds) in there, you can enclose it in the plastic packaging from another food item, a worn-out zip-top baggie, a plastic grocery bag, or the bag your newspaper comes in.

Again, I urge you to think about your use of disposables. Reusables may be the key to saving money at the grocery store. But before you start thinking I'm all environmentally conscious, I should admit that's not what motivates me to do these "crazy" things. I just don't like to buy things just to throw them away! But I did make my contribution to the landfill with three years' worth of disposable diapers. Some conveniences are worth the cost.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

6 Ways to Clean with Vinegar (Tuesday Tips: Kitchen Edition)

I have always stocked apple cider vinegar, red wine vinegar, balsamic vinegar, and distilled white vinegar in my pantry for cooking. Over the years, I have added several gourmet varieties for use in salads and other recipes. Recently, in my quest to reduce our cleaning product cost as a way of saving money at the grocery store, I have discovered vinegar as a cleaning agent.

The first thing to know is that the variety used for cleaning is distilled white vinegar. Secondly, vinegar should never used on porous surfaces like granite or marble because its acidity can be damaging. Lastly, I can perceive no difference in the taste or performance of apple cider or distilled white vinegar, regardless of price, so I purchase the most economical brand available (usually a house brand). Shop for other vinegars like wines: taste a few in each price range and find out what suits your palate and budget.

Here are a few cleaning-with-vinegar tricks I have tried:

1. Rid your microwave of that awful "burnt popcorn smell": Put 1-2 tablespoons of vinegar in a cup of water and boil for 2-4 minutes. Then leave the microwave door open to air out overnight.

2. Clean your microwave: Use the same method as above, making sure the water boils long enough to steam up the inside of the microwave. Leave the door closed a few minutes to give the steam a chance to loosen any food debris, then wipe it down with a damp cloth.

3. Remove mineral deposits from your tea kettle: Fill your kettle half full of water and add 1/2 cup of distilled white vinegar. Boil for a few minutes, then dump out the water and dry inside the kettle.

4. Clean your coffee maker: Run 2 tablespoons vinegar and a pot of water through a brewing cycle in your coffee maker. Then run clear water through once or twice, until the vinegar smell is gone.

5. Freshen your garbarge disposal: Freeze distilled white vinegar into cubes and run a few through your disposal. The ice will clean the blades and the vinegar will freshen.

6. Another way to clean your garbage disposal: Pour 1/2 cup baking soda into your disposal, followed by 1 cup of vinegar. When the foaming stops, rinse with hot water.

I have found formulas using vinegar for everything from toilet cleaner to weed killer and am dying to try a few. I'll let you know the results!

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Homekeeping Inspiration

A quote from this book I picked up at the library sums up my homekeeping philosophy better than anything I've ever read:

"It is of the utmost importance... to make home attractive, not merely to a stranger, but to all the family. Order and neatness in all the domestic arrangements will, of course, conduce largely to this end. No dwelling can have the air of comfort, and cheerfulness, and thrift, without this essential condition." 
(The Farmer's Almanac, 1876)

How much time do people in your house spend searching for misplaced items, or digging through a piles to find what they are looking for? Does clutter in your living space prevent you from relaxing and enjoying your leisure time? Have you ever scrambled to neaten up the house in anticipation of a guest's when your family has lived with the mess all week? Your family deserves to live in a pleasant environment and should work together to achieve it.

I'll be the first to admit that I am not neat by nature, but I have learned that it's worth the effort to make sure there's "a place for everything, with everything in its place." And I'm not bragging on my homemaking abilities. My husband is an excellent cleaner and organizer, and my daughter was taught early on how to contribute. As a result, neatness and order dramatically reduce stress in our household. 

I'm not suggesting that your housekeeping habits have to be perfect. Just keep your home in a way that makes your family the happiest. Beauty and comfort are certainly important contributors to our well-being. And organization helps life run smoothly, creating a calming and soothing atmosphere in which your family can thrive and prosper.

Would you say that the degree of attractiveness, neatness and organization at home affects your state of mind?

Monday, April 22, 2013

Why Meal Planning Doesn't Work

If you still find it hard to accept that the only way you're ever going to really lose weight is to consume fewer calories than you expend (I know I do), you may want to just stop reading now. Because I'm going to explain why A Year of Meal Planning was over after just a couple of months. 

I've learned that while you do have to buy groceries (which I was already doing a decent job of) and think about a week ahead (which I was also doing fairly well) to put wholesome meals on your family's table and lunchboxes, an overflowing pantry and a list of planned meals a mile long still won't guarantee success. 

So what, then, do you have to do to get your family fed?:  
  1. Think ahead about what meals you'll need to prepare for the week and shop accordingly.
  2. Cook (or prepare) and assemble them into meals. If you've stocked your freezer casseroles, as a lot of "planners" advocate, remember that you can't eat them frozen, so allow time to thaw and reheat.
That's it. You can do all the elaborate planning you want, but unless you plan to cook (and actually do it), your family will be eating restaurant food or carry-out pizza, despite your best intentions.

No amount of meal planning works if you don't cook! 

Others posts in the series (which are only useful in conjunction with the act of cooking): 

New Year's Resolution Update

A balanced, nutritious (and often even delicious) dinner has made it to our table most nights so far this year. Of course, a few poorly scheduled days and evenings have resulted in a few unexpected pizzas, but overall we have done very well. Our grocery expenditures are within budget and our restaurant spending is now under control and in a reasonable range.

In summary, though 2013: A Year of Meal Planning only made it a few posts into the new year, I think "planning to cook" is here to stay!

How are your resolutions going?   

Friday, April 12, 2013

Ever Seen a Bat Up Close?

This little bat has lived behind our shutter for the last several Springs and Summers. Unfortunately, we disturbed his nap yesterday as we were doing some exterior maintenance.

He hung there and stared at us for a moment before flying away and landing in the grass, where I took the top photo. After taking some time to get his bearings in the daylight, he left (presumably to find a new, safer place to hang out for the rest of the day). 

I had never had an opportunity to see a bat up close with its wings spread! It's amazing how they fold all that up and squeeze into a tight, dark spot (upside down) for a nap. 

We also have many bluebirds flying around, and there seems to be nesting activity in at least two of our bird bottles, so we hope to have more bird bottle babies this year.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Pineapple Chicken Salad

Spring makes me want to eat chicken salad sandwiches!

My Mom used to make her chicken salad with just mayo and a little chopped celery. I liked chicken salad back then.

But I've loved chicken salad since I learned to make it this way. Bright and cheerful are not adjectives normally used in food writing, but they describe this fruity chicken salad perfectly!

Cheerful Chicken Salad

Desired amount of chopped chicken breast (I use the kind in a can)
Mayonnaise or salad dressing (I use Miracle Whip Light, Hellman's, or Duke's)
Chopped walnuts
Chopped celery 
Canned pineapple chunks
Garlic salt or other desired seasonings

1. If using canned chicken, drain completely, then use the can lid to press out as much more liquid as possible. 
2. Place chicken in a bowl and stir in enough of your chosen dressing to moisten and bond the chicken together.
3. Stir in as much or as little chopped celery as your family likes. 
4. Stir in as many chopped walnuts as desired.
5. Drain the canned pineapple, then squeeze out as much liquid as possible with your hands. (This is important! If you don't, there will be too much liquid in your chicken salad.) Mix in the pineappple chunks.
6. Season with garic salt or other desired seasonings you wish.
7. Chill before serving.

My favorite way to eat this chicken salad is on wheat toast with a lettuce leaf, but it's also elegant and delicious served atop a fresh green salad. The restaurant where I picked up this recipe used to serve it that way, with a huge banana-nut muffin on the side! Yum.

By the way, my second favorite chicken salad, served at the first "ladies' luncheon" I ever attended, was made with Hellman's mayonnaise, chopped celery, and green grape halves! Also extremely simple, fresh and delicate.

What's in your favorite chicken salad?