The twins’ 4th birthday!

This past weekend, we made a trip across the state (literally) to spend some time with the precious grand twins. Hard to believe those two have turned FOUR already!  They are cute, smart, loving, lively, articulate, and oh-so-huggable! I think this is such a special age because they are still at the point where it’s really exciting for them to have grandparents come visit. Actually, I hope that never changes, but…. in all likelihood, it will.  So for now, I’m cherishing the fun times we have together.  This year was not a kids party, it was just all the grandparents getting together to wish the twins a happy day – and shower them with love, attention, and gifts, of course. Unfortunately, little Jake was running a fever that day and not feeling well at all.  He wasn’t as perky as usual, so if he looks a little tired, he was. I didn’t take many photos as I forgot my camera, and I’m not thrilled with the quality of pics that my phone takes.  Here are a few.

Happy BIrthday to Jake and Katelyn!!

Happy Birthday to Jake and Katelyn!!

 

Blow out those candles!

Blow out those candles!

 

"Is it your birthday today, Katie?"

“Is it your birthday today, Katie?”

 

Grammie Suz and Katelyn!

Grammie Suz and Katelyn!

 

We had a lovely visit with the twins, their parents, the other grandparents, as well as my brother, “Uncle Brian”.

On another note, our cat Jinx has been dealing with some health issues lately. He was recently diagnosed with IBD, “Inflammatory Bowel Disease”.  He was prescribed an antibiotic pill and a steroid liquid. First, let me say that I think he’s doing better.  We’ll know for sure next week when he goes in for a weight check – we hope he will have gained up from his meager 7 pounds.  Giving him the pill has been a total nightmare. We have tried nearly every method to get him to take the pills – from pill pockets, to hiding it in food, wrapping it in cheese, and just prying his mouth open and shoving it in.  Sometimes we are successful, but much of the time – not so much.  The liquid seems to go in easier and the steroid seems to have helped the inflammation in his gut.  One thing we are supposed to do is put him on a “hypoallergenic” diet. He will eat the special dry food, but NO WAY will he consume the prescription canned food. Today I got out my meat grinder attachment and ground him some cooked chicken thighs. He seems to really like it. I may be making more cat food in the future!

catfood

I made enough to freeze six zip-lock bags for future use. I couldn’t believe how easy it was to grind the chicken… I’ve had this attachment for literally years, and this was the first time I tried it!  Here’s hoping our Mr Jinx is up a few ounces – or even a pound – on his next vet visit.  :)

* For all of you cat food purists out there – this ground chicken is just a supplement to his regular food. I realize it is NOT a complete food, with all nutrients necessary for cat health.  Someday I may buy the powdered nutrients that one adds to meat, to make homemade food into a complete cat food.

 

Our trip to Death Valley – a photo post!

Last week we took advantage of some very cheap airfare down to Las Vegas, a place we enjoy visiting every so often. We stayed at our favorite hotel (the SouthPoint) and rented a car as we always do.  We have our little “routine” – upon arriving at the airport: we take the shuttle to the car rental center, grab our car, and head directly to In-N-Out for awesome burgers. Then we check in to the hotel, settle in to our room, play a few slot machines, and have dinner somewhere.  We don’t stay up crazy-late because who wants to feel icky the next day?  Not us. We’re way too old for that.  We also love to go to shows and have seen probably 20 shows in Vegas, most of which have been excellent.  Since we’ve seen so many Cirque du Soliel shows, we decided to try something different this time.  We went to see a winner of America’s Got Talent, a magician called Mat Franco.  What a great show! Completely family friendly and yet totally captivating and amazing.  Young Mat is such a personable fellow, and you’ve just gotta love a guy who does a tribute to his biggest fan in every show – his Grandma!! Anyway, we didn’t want to spend all our time in (smoky) casinos, so we decided to head on over to a place we’d only ever heard about, Death Valley National Park. It took about 2 hours (an easy drive) to get there. Our entry was free, since one of us is over the age of 62 and has a “Golden Age” pass {get one for $10 if you’re over that magic age – it’s good for the rest of your life!!!}.  Apparently Death Valley is known not only for extreme temperatures (134 degrees F), but also for the mining of Borax.  I remember my Dad washing up every evening after work with “Boraxo”…. and I also remember putting powdered Borax into my laundry years ago.borax

 Anyway, enough rambling on —-I hope you enjoy my photos.  :-)

DV1

DV2

DV3

DV4

DV5

DV6

DV7

DV8

DV9

DV10

DV11

DV12

DV13

DV14

DV15

DV16

Cooking with Suz – Round 2 – Using leftovers

wastenotLeftovers.  A fact of life.  First let me say that I really do hate throwing out food…. it was ingrained in me as a child that to be wasteful is practically a sin!  “Waste not, want not” the old adage goes, so I really do try not to throw stuff out – although sometimes I’ll admit that it just can’t be helped. Anyway, in today’s “Cooking with Suz” I’m going to show you how I recently used up some leftovers and turned them in to something really tasty.  Of course, you can always simply reheat whatever is leftover, but in this case, I had small bits of “this and that” and decided to make it into a Frittata! Not only was this easy, it was quick and really delicious.

The night before, we’d had filet of sole, orzo with spinach and feta, {oh DO click on that link for a very tasty side dish recipe!} and broccoli.  With a cat in the house, you can bet there was no fish leftover {not sure the cat actually got any… it was so good! I bread it with this stuff}, but we did have leftover broccoli and orzo. The next morning I decided to try a frittata with my leftovers.  What’s awesome about a frittata is that you can pretty much use anything (within reason) that you have leftover and turn it into something wonderful.  I used what I had – the beauty of frittatas:) – and so can you.  So, here’s how it went:

frit1

First off – (highly important) choose an oven proof skillet!!  I have a set of  perfectly awesome Dacor Hot Dots cookware, given to me a few years ago by my dear friend and neighbor, Susan Banton. What a fabulous gift that I’ve used over and over and will no doubt last literally the rest of my life!!  Thank you, Susan!  So, one could use an all steel skillet like mine, or cast iron would also do.  Whatever you do, do NOT use a skillet with a plastic handle of any kind! Yikes.  All right, enough of that. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.  Melt a tablespoon (or so) of butter in the bottom of your pan, then add whatever leftovers you may have.  I added the orzo with spinach & feta as well as the broccoli. Sauteeing some onion would also be good…. leftover potatoes – cut up; diced ham or other meat; oh shoot, the possibilities are endless. You want these leftover ingredients good and warm before adding the eggs.

frit 2

Many frittata recipes suggest using 8-12 eggs. Unless you are feeding an army, that’s totally unnecessary! I beat 3 eggs well, added a bit of salt and pepper, and a couple of Tablespoons of milk or half & half, mixing everything well. Over medium heat, pour your egg mixture as evenly as possible over your heated leftovers!

frit3

So, it’s not perfect, but there are eggs everywhere so I was happy.  Allow the mixture to begin to cook on the stovetop for about 3 minutes.  Then sprinkle on some grated cheese (I used cheddar and possibly some parmesan) and place the whole thing uncovered into the oven for 15-20 minutes.

frit4

Here’s the finished product!!!  It cut into pie-shaped servings easily and tasted awesome!  Try a frittata soon, you won’t be sorry AND you’ll probably use up something you may have even ended up throwing out!  YUM!

Cooking with Suz – Round 1 – Beef Burgundy

Today I’m starting a new “series” on my blog entitled “Cooking with Suz”. I absolutely love to cook, and…. I truly enjoy making food that satisfies my hungry hubby.  I’ll also fully admit that I love to eat everything I cook, and yes, it may be a bit of a downfall of mine, but what good cook will simply prepare food, not really knowing how it tastes? I’m a full believer in tasting as you go, so you can adjust flavors along the way, not waiting till the end of the process and then hoping for the best.  So, that’s my philosophy – “taste as you go”.   Today’s recipe is an old family favorite that I have made literally hundreds of times, Beef Burgundy or, if you want to be fancy and attempt a French accent, “Boeuf Bourguignon”.  Yes, this recipe is modified from the original (I don’t mess around with Pearl Onions, carrots, or bacon), and it does incorporate the use of red wine.  Since it bakes in the oven for nearly two hours, all the alcohol is completely eliminated from the dish, but the incredible rich flavor lives on.  So let’s get started!

BB1

First off, you need some beef…. and I do NOT recommend your basic “stew meat” – I always buy top sirloin steak in the “Family Packs” at the store, it’s cheaper in bulk and you can freeze pieces individually and thaw as you need them. Top Sirloin is a cheap(er) steak that is flavorful and still nice and tender, much more so than round steak. Cut up your meat into bite-sized chunks, heat some olive oil or canola oil in your roasting pan (here I’m using my mom’s pan from her 1941 wedding – I love it!). Make sure the oil is hot so that your meat begins browning as soon as it hits the pan. Brown and stir, brown and stir.

BB2

Next we add a chopped up large yellow onion. Or sweet onion. Or red onion.  Chop up whichever large onion you happen to have and throw into the pan after the meat has browned a bit.  Stir that around nicely.

BB3

Now we’ll add some spices. Here I’m showing my thyme and marjoram. I use about a 1/2 teaspoon of thyme and 1 teaspoon of marjoram.  You’ll also want to add some pepper and possibly salt.  Why possibly salt? Well, you also need to use either beef broth at this point, or a bullion cube. If you use beef broth, you’ll need to add some salt. If you use a bullion cube (as I do), it’s usually salty enough – at least for now. I use Knorr bullion cubes (they are large and worth two of the other brands). So it’s not shown, but I put in 1 & 1/2 Knorr beef bullion cubes at this point. Give it a good stir.  Time to then add some water. I’m guessing but about two cups or maybe two and a half cups. If you use beef broth, you’ll need about the same amount 2 to 2 and 1/2 cups.

BB4

On now to the “star of the show”, the wine. You’ve probably heard the old adage — don’t use wine to cook with that you wouldn’t drink — and I agree.  Yet, I think it would be shameful to use your best wine to COOK with, so I go for something that is “cheaper” but still tasty.  In this case, I had some Yellow Tail (Australian) Shiraz and used that. I poured in about a cup, more or less.  OH MY… the smell after the wine goes in and starts simmering…. heavenly.

BB5

Put the lid on your roasting pan and place the glorious concoction in a 350 degree oven for about 45 minutes.  Now’s a perfect time to pour yourself a glass, if you are the type that enjoys the juice of the fermented grape, as I do.:-)

BB11

After about 45 minutes, it’s time to check your meat mixture to make sure there is enough liquid for simmering. If it looks rather dry, add more water – or wine – or both.  Also, this is the window of opportunity to add those mushrooms. I stirred in about a cup, or thereabouts of sliced crimini mushrooms. Regular white button mushrooms would be perfectly wonderful too. After stirring well, taste the spoon. You may need some salt. Then pop the lid back on and return to the oven for about one more hour.

BB8

In this picture you see the meat and mushrooms after they have baked/simmered another hour. Now is the time to thicken up the mixture a bit and for that we are using either flour and water or cornstarch and water. In the above pic, I’m using my favorite Wondra Flour mixed with water – about 2 tablespoons of flour and 1/4 cup of water – or thereabouts. I love Wondra because it lives up to it’s claim of never clumping or leaving lumps in your gravy! The pan should be over the heat here, because to thicken this, it MUST boil again.

BB9

So, here we have it, the meat is SO tender, the mixture has boiled again and has reached the right “gravy-like” consistency. Give it one more taste test at this point, just in case you need a dab more salt or pepper. Of course you won’t eat this by itself…. you need something to put this magical medley of yumminess ON TO! Many people like to put it on top of cooked noodles, or even mashed potatoes.  But at our house, rice is the substance of choice.

BB10

So, here it is, the final product, Beef Burgundy on rice with one of hubby’s favorite veggies, Brussels Sprouts. I can honestly say that this is one of our favorite meals. SO tasty!

Hope you’ve enjoyed round one of “Cooking with Suz”!!

Check out my book reviews!

books

Hello everyone!  Just wanted to remind you that I have five book reviews so far this year, listed under the tab “Books 2016”, located at the top of the page.  I’ve read a few good ones already!!!!  I set a personal goal to read more and compute less (less computer time) and have been doing fairly well on that front I’m happy to report. I normally have at least two books going – one you can hold in your hand, and one on my Kindle.  I’m also listening to a delightful audio book at the moment, which I hope to review in the next week or so.  Just got a notice from my wonderful local library that a MUCH awaited book is ready for pick-up… it’s the brand new one by Pulitzer Prize winner, Elizabeth Strout called My Name is Lucy Barton. Keeping my fingers crossed that this new novel is half as good as the one that won the Pulitzer, Olive Kitteridge – what a great read that was!!!!

Making my own Kefir

I’ve done it!  I’ve successfully started culturing my own kefir!  So here’s a short Q & A on the basics of kefir….

  • What is kefir?  It’s a fermented milk drink full of very healthy probiotics.
  • Why not just eat yogurt if you want healthy probiotics?  Because kefir contains many additional probiotics, not found in yogurt.
  • Why do people want to ingest probiotics anyway?  Probiotics are excellent for immune health and particularly for me, they help keep my digestive system working properly. This is particularly important for folks like me with diverticulosis – we do NOT want diverticulosis turning into diverticulitis!
  • What does it look like?  I’ll post pictures below, but milk kefir looks like somewhat thickened milk.
  • What does it taste like?  I drink my milk kefir plain because I enjoy the slightly tangy taste. It also tastes a tiny bit “yeasty” and you can feel a bit of effervescence in it as well.  Many people like to disguise the flavor by adding fruit and making a smoothie. Since I like it plain, I don’t, but I won’t rule out the possibility for the future!
  • Why do you keep saying “milk kefir”?  Because there is also “water kefir”.  Water kefir is cultured slightly differently – I haven’t tried it yet, but plan to.  It makes a fruity, almost soda-like probiotic beverage.
  • Why did you start making milk kefir? Couldn’t you buy it at the store?  Yes, most stores carry kefir (plain and flavored) in the natural foods section of the store…. I’d heard it was easy to do at home, and so now, just for the price of milk, I’m making my own. Also, I started with milk kefir because it’s the easiest to do!
  • How long does it take?  It takes approximately 24 hours for about 1.5 cups of milk to culture into kefir. It sits out on the kitchen counter the entire time. If your kitchen is warmer it might culture faster, cooler may take a bit longer.

So here we go, let’s make some kefir!  First off, the photo below shows the kefir “grains”. They are not acutally made of grain, just for the record.  They are a culture of bacteria and yeast. I got mine from a company called Cultures for Health and they came to me in dehydrated form. I rehydrated them in milk over a period of about 3 days.  The kefir grains grow, the more kefir you make, so pretty soon you have MORE than you probably need – or you can start culturing more milk at a time.

k1

In the next photo, you can see the cultured milk that is now kefir on the left.  I’m about to strain those precious kefir grains out of the kefir, so I can start another batch. The jars are pint size, although they look more like quart size in the pic. The strainer is made of plastic, including the mesh. Apparently you should never touch your culture with metal of any kind.

k2

Below, you can see that I’ve begun the straining process, carefully saving the kefir grains for the next batch.

k3

Here is the strained kefir, in a clean jar, covered with a plastic lid, ready to go into the fridge.  I think it tastes better cool or cold, so I don’t normally drink the room temperature stuff.  Although one could if one desired to!

k5

And here we have the next batch beginning.  The kefir grains have been added to milk to begin the culturing process. I use a paper coffee filter over the top, secured with a rubber band.  This way the kefir can “breathe”. The instructions made it clear that the top needs to be left open while culturing.

k4

I’m pretty excited about this little project.  It’s good for me, and saves me money, and the kefir grains supposedly last a year (or longer) if cared for properly.  When I feel like I’ve got enough for a few days, I can put my kefir grains “to sleep” in the fridge in some milk for up to two weeks. I’m still in the process of learning to make cultured and fermented foods, so there will probably be more on this subject as the year progresses!

Just a reminder — my 2016 book reviews are now at the top of the blog, under the heading “BOOKS 2016”.:)

 

 

Beginning my de-clutter journey

So I’ve done it. I’ve read the very popular book about the magic of tidying up and keeping things that ‘spark joy’ (see my book review under “Books 2016” tab at top of page).  While I didn’t agree with or even understand the whole concept, I do know that I’m definitely IN for the de-clutter challenge of 2016.  Well, that’s what I’m calling it, anyway.  I also started a de-clutter challenge with a really sweet YouTuber, Jen.  She gives us (the viewers)  tasks to accomplish five days a week and so far I’ve done pretty good.  Which brings us to this:

junk1

This is the contents of my junk drawer.  What a huge pile of….. junk!  Some of it is definitely useful, so it couldn’t all just GO.  By the way, the author of the aforementioned tidying book says she does NOT believe in junk drawers. Okay. That’s fine, but I wanted to keep my junk drawer – the deal is, I just wanted to open the drawer and be able to find my junk!  Here’s another view of the mass of stuff that had found it’s way into the drawer:

junk2

Actually, it’s hard to believe I was physically able to cram all this paraphernalia into one single area. It’s embarrassing that I’d amassed such a conglomeration of useful things mixed in with total garbage. Shame on me!  But, this is not about shaming, it’s about keeping useful things and things that spark joy.  Here is a pic of me, trying to decide just exactly what that spark of joy feels like:

junk3

The book’s author says to hold each item in your hand and decide how you feel about it. Just for the record, I kept both of the above shown items:)  A LOT of things did not make the cut. Some found better homes, with like items… but much of it ended up in the round file.  Here’s the finished look:

junk4

Wow. I can see everything I’ve got now.  I no longer have to DIG and ROOT around for anything, and I love that feeling. I hope to keep it (and all my other drawers, cupboards, closets, and cabinets) neat in the future.  YAY!

Today’s YouTube de-clutter task was to clean out your under sink area. I should have done a before and after but I just did an after.

junk5

Heck, it may take all year, but I am really determined to get this place into shape:)  My absolute WORST area (not counting the garage, because I am not “in charge” of the garage, someone else has to step up to that massive task…. well, I could do it, but the hubby is going to have to make some of these keep or discard decisions too) … oops, as I was saying, my worst area in the house is our home office.  It’s the 3rd bedroom that is a proverbial “catch all” for anything and everything. That’s gonna be a biggie. That project I’m saving for last. Oh my.