WIP Wednesday & Kitchen Musings

Well, the good news is that I’m half-way across Sleeve Island! I finished up the first sleeve of my never-damn-ending Scottish Ale pullover.

I’m so dang sick of this sweater, it’s unreal. But I am not allowing myself to touch another project until it’s finished, because if I don’t get it done soon, I never will. I am ready to put this one in my rearview mirror for sure. I can already tell the sleeves are not sized very well, and it looks like other knitters had similar thoughts based on project notes in Ravelry. I don’t care at this point, though. I will finish it, and if it doesn’t fit, oh damn well.

In unrelated news, we’ve been going strong on our 20% better initiative. I put in an order to the farm that included beef, pork, chicken, sausage, and local butter (Morrell Dairy Farm) and honey (Hummer & Son).

These quiet January days let me slow down and be a little more methodical with cooking and menu-planning, which has helped keep the waste to a minimum and given our budget a break from the frenetic entertaining of the holidays. I’ve been leaning into all the comfort foods. I used the smoked ham hocks for a big pot of purple hull peas, the sausage for Monday red Beans and rice with cornbread, and the ground sausage for Saturday morning biscuits and gravy (with bacon, eggs, and cheese grits…well, because). At the Husband’s request, the chicken took a decadent gravy bath and landed on a pile of buttery, fluffy mashed potatoes, while the honey added sweetness to a new roll recipe that I test-drove during a baking binge. I’ll smother the pork chops in a mushroom mustard-cream sauce tomorrow night, and the local butter will jazz up carrots that need to evacuate my crisper drawer. Overall, I would say our kitchen energy feels both cozy and intentional.

Speaking of the kitchen, my goal to bake more this year is in full swing, and I’ll give an update at the end of the month, but here’s what was on the menu this week:

I made this Brownie Cake with Cookie Butter Frosting, which was a big hit with everyone. I will note that the brownie took a wee bit longer to bake than the recipe stated, but otherwise, anything with cookie butter has my vote,

I also baked these Nutella Cookies, leaving out the chopped nuts so the kids wouldn’t riot. The Husband absolutely loved them, and I think they will make the permanent rotation.

Finally, my local botanical shop released a special edition Mardi Gras candle, and you can bet I did not pass Go on my way to snatch that up.

So, that’s the Wednesday update. I’m off to get dinner started. Oh, and guess what? Good thing Bean and I did not murder each other in the making of her science fair project. That booger won first place. Will wonders never cease…

 

20% Better–Improving the Way We Approach Food, Community, and Sustainability

It’s no secret that sustainability, “shop local,” and reducing our carbon footprint have been hot topics for a while. Unfortunately, my little corner of Louisiana is the complete anthesis of any of these ideas (except for some trailblazers who I will talk about later). We do not have any recycling program in my city, or composting. The grocery store will not only give you 40 plastic bags, but you will also often see just one item packed per bag (yep, no lie). Most of our stores are big box (with a few exceptions), and the farmers’ market looks a bit anemic compared to what you see on TV. So, let’s just say it’s not the easiest place to explore sustainability.

Some of my Southern upbringing has helped. I’m a fair scratch cook, know how to can the garden produce, and I sure can stretch a meal. My husband maintains the garden, which also contributes when the weather hasn’t wiped it out (seriously? 8 degrees in Louisiana?!? RIP winter garden). But I confess, a few things got me thinking, or should I say re-thinking my current state of homemaking:

  • Walking through the empty grocery store at the height of the pandemic made me realize just how fragile the supply chain is.
  • Losing our city recycling program shone a light on just how MUCH garbage our family produces.
  • Seeing so many small businesses close permanently in recent years.
  • The dumpster fire our environment is becoming.

Because if all of this, I’ve felt the urge to make some improvements, but I needed to be realistic about getting started. First, I knew any changes couldn’t be too impactful on my family’s routine, or they would rebel. Second, I needed to be realistic about what I could really incorporate both in time and budget, since I would be 100% in charge of this endeavor. Third, it would require some research on what is available locally and what I might need explore online.

That’s why I came up with the idea of “20% Better” for our home. If we can just start by doing 20% better in terms of sustainability and shopping locally, well, that’s pretty manageable, right? Here is how it’s going so far:

Food

One of the most significant improvements we’ve made is sourcing about 60% of our meat and dairy locally. Between the farmer’s market and social media searches, I found four local producers for sustainably produced meat (Mahaffey Farms, Sample Farm, Smith Family Farms, and Wooldridge Meat), including one that will deliver to my door for a fee (worth it because the gas to get to their store in the next parish is actually more than the fee). Morell Dairy Farm in the north part of the parish began stocking their products in several area stores, so I am able to access local milk and butter. When I tell you the quality is night and day compared to what I was buying at the Wally-World, I’m not kidding. Is it more expensive? Of course, but honestly not as much as I thought, and the extra expense has me thinking more consciously when I am meal planning to reduce waste. Not only am I getting better products, but I’m also spending my money directly in my community.

Household

In trying to reduce our plastic footprint, I’ve been test-driving two companies: Dropps for laundry detergent and Blueland for household cleaners. While I like Dropps so far, including the compostable packaging, I have to give Blueland a thumbs-down. I just don’t think their products clean as well as what I have been using (and HATE their bottles), so it’s back to the drawing board on that. If you have less-waste household cleaning products that work, let me know because I’m still searching.

One of the biggest impacts to our household waste has been this countertop composter I purchased from Vitamix. When all five of us are home, we have a LOT of food scraps from cooking. If we were to toss it in the compost bin outside, the sheer volume would turn it into a rotten, stinky garbage pile in a week. Our neighbors would not appreciate that whatsoever, and I have enough naughty trash pandas and possums causing mayhem as it is. I use this gadget every other day, if not daily when the boys are home. It reduces my veggie and fruit peels, eggshells, coffee grounds, chicken bones, and other kitchen waste from two liters to about 1/4 cup of dried organic matter ready to go into the compost bin or directly into the garden. This picture is over two weeks of kitchen waste, now reduced, that is about to go out to the garden:

 

The household component of “20% Better” is a work in progress, but I’m hoping to find more ways to cut down waste until such time that the city gets it’s sh$t together and brings back recycling.

Shopping Local

I confess, I am guilty of succumbing to the siren song of Amazon Prime, especially since my options locally are often big box stores with limited inventory. We also only have one big-name bookstore with less-than-ideal selection.  Often, ordering online is the only way to get some things, especially books and specialty ingredients (well, specialty for my corner of Louisiana). However, over the past year, we have also been paying attention to local businesses and artists with the help of social media. We found a local botanical shop (Clean Slate Botanicals) and befriended the owner/maker. His candles smell amazing and last twice as long as Bath & Body Works, and I can return the locally produced ceramic container for discounted refills. We purchased several works from local artists featured at 318 art Co. as we’ve slowly decorated the house, and 20% of our Christmas gifts came from local artists or entrepreneurs. We’ve followed local business pages and are trying to attend more area events to see what else our community has to offer.

So, that’s what’s going on around here. We started the “20% Better” initiative last year, and my goal for this year is to build consistency, expand our efforts gradually and incrementally, and just be more conscious about the whole sha-bang. I know we tend to feel like it’s an “all or nothing” mentality when it comes to change or improvement, but I’m approaching changes one small strp at a time. I think the biggest challenge is simply taking the time, because it does take planning and a little research to make informed decisions and changes. Speaking of shopping local, that reminds me…I need to go pick up a King Cake for the weekend. It’s Mardi Gras Season, Y’all!

**Usual disclaimer: This blog is not monetized or sponsored in any way. The links I provide ARE NOT affiliate links, they are just for your convenience. All reviews are of products I pay for with my own money, and I have no problem telling you the truth about them. If you see an ad on my site, that comes from WordPress, my site host, as the toll of free blogging. I have no control over the targeted ads they display to you**

Cookbook Review: “Save-It-Forward Suppers” by Cyndi Kane

Save-It-Forward Suppers : A Simple Strategy to Save Time, Money, and Sanity (Hardcover)

Ok, I have a confession to make. With the exception of post-Thanksgiving, my family will rarely eat leftovers. I don’t know what it is about this clown car of a household, but these peeps act like a “leftover night” is more of a punishment than a valid meal option. As such, I’ve gotten pretty adept at meal planning and portioning, but when I heard about the premise of this book, I was intrigued.

Cyndi Kane, otherwise known as Ree Drummond’s best friend, has long been featured on Ree’s blog and TV show, so I was familiar with her in that capacity. However, I don’t follow her on social media, so I didn’t realize she was venturing into her own cookbook publishing.

This book aims to provide a weekly meal plan where components of certain dishes are reimagined or repurposed into different meals later in the week.  For example, Sunday’s Ham shows up in Jambalaya and Ranch Beans later in the week. I will say that, to that effect, this book holds very true the premise. The weekly meal plans are diverse enough so that the “leftover” components appear as entirely newly imagined dishes. It reminds me very much of how I aim to transform Thanksgiving leftovers beyond the turkey sandwich. However, rather than rambling, I’m going to break down my review into neutral notes, pros, and who this book is or isn’t for.

Neutral Notes

  • This book has ZERO photographs. Instead, there are lovely watercolor illustrations throughout, but if you judge a cookbook on the photo situation, be aware that it’s 100% artwork. I know people can be damn picky on this front, so the disclaimer is important.
  • Cindi is self-described mother, wife, homeschooler and home cook. She focuses on family-friendly meals that are somewhat healthy and budget-friendly. As such, she includes an occasional supermarket shortcut like a commercial seasoning packet, jarred sauces, Bisquick, and jarred garlic. The recipes are very much aimed at a home cook. If you are averse to a few processed ingredients or are on a special diet, look this over to see if it goes against your current approach to food.
  • The author admittedly grew up in the low-fat, diet/crazed/weight watchers’ culture of the 80’s. Occasionally, this shows in some of the choices and language in her recipes.

Pros

  • This book really is accessible for home cooks. The recipes are all straightforward and approachable, with no complicated techniques or hard-to-find ingredients in the average US supermarket.
  • The meal-plan menu approach is budget friendly, reduces waste, and does lean toward a good mix of home cooking with a healthy-ish direction here and there. If you want to open a cookbook and have a week’s worth of meals planned out, this IS for you.
  • The author includes timelines, lunch ideas, and “getting ahead” tips that I appreciated.
  • Even if the meal plan approach isn’t for me some weeks, there are still some solid recipes I will be trying on my selectively picky eaters.
  • The writing is conversational and aimed toward home cooks, and the layout is visually appealing and easy to use. I especially chuckled at the way she talks about “biohazard” chicken.

This book is for:

  • Home cooks who want family-tested recipes that are approachable/accessible.
  • People starting out in their next chapter of life (newlyweds, college students/graduates, anyone jumping into the deep end of home cooking/planning with no or rusty experience).
  • Budget-conscious cooks who value using up ingredients to their fullest.
  • People interested in streamlining meal planning and prep.
  • Busy homemakers short on time and interested in a ready-made weekly game plan.
  • Really, this reminds me of the old-school Junior League/church cookbooks from my childhood. Uncomplicated recipes that are designed for busy families with supermarket ingredients.

Pass on this one if:

  • If you are into “chefy” or “authentic” or coffee-table cookbooks.
  • If no photos in a cookbook is a dealbreaker.
  • If you are a hyper-foodie and get a thrill from test-driving complicated techniques or bold flavors.
  • If you are on a specialized diet or a food philosophy, including paleo, whole 30, are a vegan, or keto. (I’d still look it over, though)
  • If you have such severely picky eaters to the point that you can only see using one or two recipes out of it.

Overall, I’m glad I bought the book, and I have earmarked several recipes to try on weeknights. Knowing that dinner will be a little easier after escaping the fifth circle of hell (otherwise known as school carpool line), made it well worth my twenty bucks.

 

Stepping Gingerly into the New Year…But At Least There Will Be Cake

Whelp, we made it through the holidays, and though they were full of fun times and togetherness, I confess I was ready for the new year. I am more than happy for things to slow down so I can focus a little more inward. I love the holidays, I really do, but it’s been busy, and there’s always something externally to focus on–planning, cooking, shopping, list-making, and task after task that goes with the season. Honestly, I think we are all a little tired and rough around the edges, and it doesn’t seem like relief is on the horizon anytime soon. As the pandemic drags on, it’s hard not to feel disillusioned and mentally fried.

As I’ve posted before, I don’t necessarily think resolutions are a four-letter word, and this year especially, I’ve been taking a hard look about the common theme when it comes things I need to work on. This year, rather than a specific goal, like a 5k, diet, or other drastic change, I realized that a lot of things I need to work on come down to a simple question:

“Will this make me feel good?”

I know, it sounds counterintuitive toward improvement when vices are aplenty. But really, that’s what it boils down to for me. I’ve been working on an internal dialogue during the day that is helping me self-reflect when I’m making small choices, For example:

  • “Is all that scrolling on social media apps making you feel good? Actually, you usually end up feeling anxious or checked out, and like you’ve wasted so much time. You know what does make you feel good? Reading and knitting. Isn’t that the better choice for this bit of free time?” (I have since deleted several (not all) apps, and you would not believe how much better I feel mentally and emotionally).
  • “Is skipping your workout going to make you feel good? Actually, you always feel better after a workout, even a small one, and like you are letting yourself down when you don’t. Do you really want the self-disappointment voice nagging the back of your mind all day? You know the better choice here.”
  • “Yeah, another cocktail sounds great, but will that make you feel good? Nope, it will zap your energy and wreck your tomorrow. Water will set you up for more energy in the morning.”
  • “The pantry looks like the Ghostbusters just exercised a demon in it. It’s overwhelming to tackle today, but you can set a 30-minute timer and commit for that much. Doing anything will make you feel better than nothing.”

I know it sounds silly, but the simple act of consciously reminding myself that I feel soooooo much better when I am choosing even the smallest of better choices helps build momentum. For example, after tackling the Mount Everest of post-holiday laundry this week, I had a few extra minutes to spare. After looking at the pile of clean napkins, I thought, “Ya know, if I just go ahead and iron these now before I put them away, that’s one less thing to do next time we entertain.” So, I did. Small victories and all that.

It’s hard to imagine what this year will look like but working on small steps feels doable. That’s what I’m telling myself, at least. The bright side? Epiphany is tomorrow…and you know what that means? It’s Mardi Gras kick-off baby, and I foresee king cake and crawfish in my future.

 

Community Cookbook Throwback Thursday: “Tamale and Chili Pie”

I’m deep into my summer cooking rut. So, to break out of it, I’m dusting off the Community Cookbook Throwback Thursday inspiration. I wanted something quick and easy, so I turned to my collection of old-school Junior League Louisiana cookbooks.

If you are familiar with community/church/Junior League cookbooks from the 50’s through the 80’s, you know that measurements were questionable, the contributors assumed brand-names would last forever, and that they expected you possess an intuitive knowledge of whatever the hell they were talking about with their minimal instructions. So, with that disclaimer, let’s dive into the experiment of the Tamale and Chili Pie.

This recipe was submitted by Mrs. Alan Thigpen (Catherine Lagrange) in the Pirate’s Pantry Cookbook, which was published by the Junior League of Lake Charles in 1976. This book, along with The Revel and Cotton Country, are staples in our house. Yes, they are dated, but they are also amazing.

Now, here’s how it went. First, ingredients:

Check. Obviously, the brands have changed, but I think I got pretty close. I misread the size of the casserole, so I probably set myself up for failure in terms of the intended tamale-to-chili ratio.  However, I think my alterations and notes may land this one as a win for a fast family meal or for hangry teens. Here’s what I did:

First, I bought the 28oz can of tamales, hoping to stretch the recipe for the five of us. Despite being slightly alarmed by the reality of canned tamales (do you seeee that????), I recovered and realized that, after cutting them up, I really needed two of the 28oz cans to cover the bottom of my 9×13 casserole. My cutting hack was a failure, and I think the original chili to tamale ratio was not optimal al all. So, moral of the story? If you want to make a 9×13 casserole, just get 2 28-oz cans of tamales to line the bottom of it.

I made the “chili” as directed, using canned chili beans, ground beef, and a packet of chili seasoning. My other deviation from the recipe was to sauté the onion with the beef, as these clowns need their onions cooked into submission.

Finally, I spread the chili on the tamales, added a wee bit (your discretion) more Fritos than the recipe called for, and sprinkled cotija cheese on top in addition to the cheddar. Baked as directed.

The verdict? I hacked this recipe a bit for our tastes, but dang if it’s not an easy, cheap, teenage guy friendly dish. It’s a Frito pie on steroids. I think the original had a much heavier chili-to-tamale ratio situation, but by adding more (really inexpensive) canned tamales, you can stretch that fresh ground beef to feed a ton. However, if you like chili, double that part for the 9×13 casserole. I paired this with a southwest chopped salad, but grilled corn would also be awesome with it.

No, this is not gourmet food, nor is it something I would serve to company. But you know what it is? Meaty, cheesy, crunchy, spicy food that was quick, easy, and satisfying for kid/teen tastes. Perfect for a movie night, horrid Tuesday, or a pantry-pull situation. Now, I’m going to go back to dreaming of cooler weather and Halloween season.

Roasted Tomato-Lime Salsa (For Canning) the Attack of The Garden Tomatoes

Ohhhhh y’all. After I came back from vacation, I found myself staring down about 30 pounds of tomatoes that were ready right-freaking-then. Thus ensued days and days of canning.

Though I also made vats of marinara and vodka sauce base, the majority of that week’s harvest went toward Bear’s favorite recipe: Roasted Tomato-Lime Salsa. This recipe comes from one of my top four canning resources, Foolproof Preserving from America’s Test Kitchen. I love this book for clarity of instruction, and the “whys” of the steps. And, in general, any ATK recipe has thorough research behind it.

Some quick notes before I share the recipe:

  • If you need a basic knowledge of canning, the ATK book, and the Ball Blue Book are excellent guides. The Ball Blue Book is where I started, and I think it’s a staple resource that belongs in every kitchen. If you are a canning newbie, get your mitts on one. Also, America’s Test Kitchen’s site is a treasure trove if you need tested techniques on pretty much anything.
  • This recipe calls for commercially bottled lime juice. Don’t clutch your foodie pearls, there’s a reason for that. Fresh limes can vary wildly in their pH, while bottled juice remains consistent. The pH is what keeps the food safe, so unless you want to become a human science experiment, follow the recipe.
  • Speaking of which, FOLLOW THE DANG RECIPE. Canning recipes are literally science-based, tested procedures that safely preserve food. This isn’t the time for “a little of this…some of that…”
  • This recipe can be doubled. Just broil the veggies in batches, and simmer it a little longer, like 20-25 minutes.
  • Remember that all broilers and stovetop burners vary astronomically in output. This is the time you need to be a wee bit more observant, rather than trusting a recipe time range. Never leave a broiler unattended, unless you are hell-bent on meeting your local firemen.

Roasted Tomato-Lime Salsa (Canning)

Servings 4 half-pints

Ingredients
  

  • 2-1/2 pounds Roma tomatoes cored and halved
  • 1 onion sliced into 1/2 thick rounds
  • 5 jalapenos stemmed and halved lengthwise
  • 6 cloves garlic peeled
  • 1/3 cup bottled lime juice
  • 2-1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp sugar
  • 2 tsp chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1 tsp ground cumin

Instructions
 

  • Get your canning set-up arranged with jars sterilized and simmering in your water bath canner, lids hanging out in warm water, and all your gear together.
  • Cover a sheet pan with foil and place tomatoes and onions, cut side down on it. Broil the veggies until the tomatoes are well charred (anywhere from 10-15 minutes). Remove the pan from the oven and offload the veggies into a bowl. Add the jalapenos, cut side down, and garlic to the empty sheet pan and broil until jalapenos are also charred, 8-10 minutes.
  • Transfer the jalapenos, garlic, half of the tomatoes, and half of the onions to food processor and pulse until it's a thick puree. Transfer to Dutch oven. Transfer remaining broiled tomatoes and onions to the food processor and pulse into ½-inch pieces, 2 or 3 pulses; add to Dutch oven.
  • Stir in lime juice, salt, sugar, cilantro, and cumin. Boil over medium-high heat, stirring often, until salsa has thickened slightly, probably 8-15 minutes depending on your stovetop.
  • Ladle the hot salsa into the hot jars, leaving ½ inch headspace. Use a wooden skewer or popsicle stick to remove air bubbles. Wipe rims clean, top jars with warm lids, screw on bands until fingertip tight, and return jars to canner.
  • Bring water in canner back to a boil. Process jars for 15 minutes for up to 1,000 feet, 20 minutes for 1,001 to 3,000 feet, 25 minutes for 3,001 to 6,000 feet, or 30 minutes for 6,001 to 8,000 feet. Remove jars to a cooling rack and let sit undisturbed for at least 8 hours. Check seals and store. If any failed to seal (hey it happens to even the most experienced canner), grab some chips and have a movie party. Don't forget to label them, and you can decide yourself if sharing is caring. According to Bear, that would be hard no.
Tried this recipe?Let us know how it was!

Changes, Summer Travels, and Catching My Breath

Whelp, we limped across the virtual schooling finish line, not with a bang but a whimper. No rocking out to Alice Cooper’s “School’s Out for Summer” in the carpool line as is our tradition, but rather a heavy sigh that this chapter is hopefully, maybe, possibly, better-be-or-my-liver-can’t-handle-it closed. My two youngest kids have not been in the classroom since March 13th of 2020, and while they made virtual school work and received excellent grades, I think we can all agree that no one wants to experience a repeat of this academic year. It’s weird to think that a few years from now, some doctoral candidate will publish a study on just how this pandemic turned a generation of learning on its head.

Now that 80 percent of our household is vaccinated, life is returning damn-near normal. After school concluded, I called my friend who is also a travel agent and had her throw together a quick, impromptu vacation for us. We ended up in Jamaica! This was our first family trip outside of the states, and it was both fun and educational. I learned so much along the way, while also realizing how much I need to learn.

We swam with dolphins and went snorkeling, tubing, and deep sea fishing. After all of the missed milestone celebrations last year, this trip was a blessing and the perfect summer vacation for the family.  The voyage back to Louisiana had its hiccups, but after the past year, well, perspective has become something we strive to maintain.

While we still have a lot more summer to go, it’s difficult not to think ahead of how much our days will change when the Heathens are back in the classroom this fall. We will be back to carpool lines, school lunches, routines, and socializing, but I’m not naïve enough to believe that we will all make the transition seamlessly. I’m mentally preparing myself for how tired they will be resuming full schedules and being more active. Also, Bean’s virtual learning only took up about 4 hours of the day, so she is used to large sections of free time between lessons. Will they be ostracized from their old friends and peers after being home for the year? We shall see, I suppose.

Meanwhile, I’ll be over here canning and counting down the days.

PSA–pssssst. The Halloween décor is hitting the shelves at places like At Home. If you know, you know.

 

 

Tuesday Musings

Spring has sprung here in Louisiana, and while I am loving all of the flowers and returning color, my allergies are off of the charts this year. It’s a pollen wasteland, and my poor car looks like someone doused it in a vat of yellow powder. I’m still in phase 1 of my allergy shots, so I’m hoping next year will be better.

The bright side of the season is that we have been heating up the pool on the weekends, so we are getting plenty of fun exercise, which is especially important for the virtual school kids. I can’t even believe it’s been a year since they have been in a classroom. When we first went on lockdown last March, I thought the two-week window was sure to be enough. If you told me that, a year later, I would still have my kids home, I would never have believed it. I confess I’m worried about how this year will have impacted them both academically and socially, but I guess only time will tell. We made the best decisions we could when we had to choose.

Looking back over the past year, we experienced a lot. From the early days of cooking with limited resources and making masks for my friends and family, to household-only holidays and the pains of virtual school, it’s certainly been a wild ride. It’s so weird how you can get used to the unimaginable. Walking around the store last March, with everyone wearing masks and the empty shelves, felt like some kind of dystopian nightmare. Now, it’s just your average Tuesday. Even though we have a much more normalcy than we did in the early days, I still wonder how long it will be before we ever feel truly “normal.” I received my first shot of vaccine, which was a little morale boost. I told my friends I will never complain about the school carpool line again. (Yeah, we all know that’s a lie)

On to happier thoughts. Unfortunately, our winter garden took a beating in Snowmageddon, and we lost all of the broccoli, lettuces, and some of the cabbage. The carrots are ok, and the brussels sprouts are iffy. We already planted our tomatoes, jalapenos, and cucumbers, and relocated the herb garden to a better area in the yard. Since the yard was a construction zone last year, it was nice to go through our spring routines of planting the garden and freshening the flowerbeds. The best news, however, is that our irrigation systems emerged unscathed from the storm, other than a tiny part that our landscape guy replaced in about 30 seconds (for free, no less. I send him a lot of referrals). With so many burst pipes in the area, we could not believe we got so lucky on that deal.

Well, I think I’ve rambled on long enough. Can you tell I’m avoiding cleaning out my closet? Procrastination is my middle name.

Things I Loved in 2020

**Remember, my blog is not sponsored or monetized in any way. No link in my posts is an affiliate link, and these ideas are all my own. None of these companies know who I am, and all of this is crap I buy with my own dang money. I’m just not that cool, y’all**

The husband has recovered (mostly) from the ‘Rona, and through careful quarantining, the kids and I did not contract the virus. He has pretty sick there for a while, and is dealing with a lingering cough and fatigue, but we got lucky. Thanks for the well wishes.

So, as I have been shopping for the holidays and planning for the new year, I thought I pass along some of the things that I really enjoyed this year (other than the endless warmth of the 2020 dumpster fire).

I really love Knife Aid. It’s like the Netflix of knife sharpening. You pick how many you want sharpened and they send you the materials to pack up your knives and mail them in. Then, they send them back to you perfectly sharpened. It’s only about a week in turnaround time and very convenient. I have used them twice, including last month.

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I love OXO containers. My pantry is out of control, and these are helping me tame the chaos. I still want more.

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A bluetooth meat thermometer was game changer. Yes, I use it when smoking meat, but I also use it for so much more. For example. I used this on Thanksgiving for the turkey, which meant I could watch the temp in real time, and also not lose heat from constantly opening and closing the oven to check on the bird. I also use it for cooking roasts, prime rib, chicken and more. You can go about your day without worrying that you are going to overcook an expensive piece of meat or undercook the poultry.

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I am totally OBSESSED with this one. So, it’s basically a murder-mystery subscription box you get each month, but think of it like a limited tv series with episodes. One “season” lasts a few months, or you can purchase past “seasons”/mysteries in their entirety. You get all kinds of clues and documents to investigate, but they also have cool online components to enrich the experience. We are currently working our way though the Blair Witch season and the Cadence Theater season. If you are stuck in quarantine, pouring over clues in order to catch a killer is a great way to pass the time.

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I am in love with Hue-It Hand Dyed Fibers. This local-to-me Louisiana artist specializes in small-batch dying, and has an incredible portfolio of colorways. Most of her stuff sells out fast but she takes preorders if you missed out on a colorway. I recently snatched up a couple of skeins that are just waiting for the right pattern to come along.

The New Pie by Chris Taylor and Paul Arguin

My neighbors gifted me this book after we had a mini-Thanksgiving this summer (they are in our “pod/quarantine bubble”). This book is LEGIT cool. These recipes are not for those looking for basic pies. These guys compete around the country and their ideas are complete bananas. Favorites so far are the Strawberry Margarita Pie and the Caramel Popcorn Pie.

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This cookbook was written by the founder of the Mosquito Supper Club restaurant in New Orleans. It’s beautifully shot and showcases Louisiana food traditions that are slowing being lost. If you have any interest an authentic Louisiana cuisine, this needs to be in your library.

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So, my go-to recipe software, Living Cookbook quietly went out of business and has basically ghosted it’s customers. So, I spent part of the year test-driving Cook’n, MasterCook, and Paprika, which came out the clear winner. I think it was the easiest to learn/use out of the three, and with a more intuitive interface. I was able to import my Living Cookbook files, though I will say that some things did get lost in translation. I had to go back and check each recipe to correct some things that got garbled in the transfer, but the same thing happened with the other two as well. Otherwise, I’m happy using it, and very grateful for the cloud sharing ability.

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This herb stripper was featured on Food Network’s The Kitchen, and host Sunny Anderson loved it so much she immediately said she was taking it home with her. I LOVE this. It strips those pesky thyme and rosemary leaves off of their stems in two seconds flat.

Other Favorites

Knitting Podcasts

Knitmore Girls, Down Cellar Studio, Yarniacs, Two Ewes

Food Podcasts

The Sporkful (hands down one of the best), The Splendid Table, Gravy, Milk Street, Good Food.

Food Websites/Blogs

Damn Delicious, Half-Baked Harvest, Foodie with Family

Shows I’ve Binge-watched

Lucifer, Virgin River, The Chef Show, Castle Rock, The Umbrella Academy, Westworld, Anne with an E, Sabrina the Teenage Witch (Netflix), His Dark Materials, The Outsider, Perry Mason.

So those are a few things that I really loved this year, and made this insanity a little bit better. We’ve been through a lot of changes, but we also had a lot of fun.

Here’s to 2021 not being a trainwreck.

Is Buying a 2021 Planner Invoking More Bad Juju?

Welp, we finished up the first quarter of the school year, and while virtual learning is the definition of the fifth circle of hell (rivaling my nemesis known as the school carpool line), Bear and Bean kicked ass and took names. Their report cards were a huge weight off of my shoulders. I’ve struggled with the decision to keep them virtual while so many of their peers returned to full-time classrooms. Would they be able to keep up? Would they resent missing out on the fun parts of school? Would they still learn with equal quality from home? I’ve been more stressed than a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs. But, in the end, they ended up being pretty dang good at managing it.

Meanwhile, at some point, it occurred to me that, if all they needed to do school was an internet connection and a workspace, well, that did not necessarily have to be at the house, right? Two margaritas later, I threw together an impromptu trip to Destin, Florida. October is pretty much the end of beach season, and hurricanes have been like “Hey 2020, hold my beer.” So, I easily found a condo, we hopped in the truck, and that was that. Despite G-Man being off to college, the remaining four of us have been together all day loooonnngggg, every day. Just experiencing a change of scenery made all the difference in the world. The only downside was tire issues on the way back that transformed an 8 hour drive into 13 hours of no fun. Regardless, fresh air, good food, and quiet days made it all worthwhile.

Other than the last-minute trip, we’ve been cooking, baking, and sharing time with our neighbors.

But now, I’m looking forward to the holiday season. Normally, I am the drill sergeant that refuses all Christmas until after Thanksgiving. Thanks to 2020, I’m like, “Turn on Hallmark. I need cotton candy for my brain!” So, I’m throwing my arbitrary holiday rules out the window.

I went to order my yearly planner as I always do in November (my favorites are from Commit30 fyi), and it dawned on me that maybe I am jumping the gun. My 2020 planner sits on my side table, mostly blank or full of plans that never happened.

Is ordering the new one inviting trouble? Us Louisianans are a notoriously superstitious bunch, so I am hoping I’m not daring the universe to up the ante in 2021. In the meantime, it’s time to break out the Thanksgiving binder, hunt down the turkeys, and accept the fact that, yes, we are all still in this for the long haul. But I live in the land of the drive-thru daquiri, so it’s all gonna be ok.