Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Post-holiday catch-up blogging.

I wound up catching a cold about a week before Christmas. But by the time the 24th came around, I was already getting over it, but still feeling quite a bit run down. Christmas weekend was a very relaxing and low-key time with my inlaws at their weekend place in the country along with their dear friends who live in the same area. Exactly what I needed. My only complaint was that it rained all day Saturday and into Sunday morning, so I didn't get to really enjoy the beautiful scenery and landscape very much.

I did no holiday baking this year because I was sick. I will probably make the ginger-spice cookies that my Dear Friend requested, but for New Year's instead of Christmas.

The garden is semi-dormant, the only things growing are broccoli, lettuce, and kohlrabi. I'm working on plans for Spring 2012, and have been browsing a great heirloom seed catalog I got in the mail.

I've been on a jewelry making spree the past few days though. I had materials for a bunch of simple projects sitting in my supply box, and one of my Christmas presents was a little bag of colorful glass lampworked beads from my Dear Friend. I wanted to make something special with them, so I made a bracelet. And while I was at it, I completed some more projects. Mostly pendants that just needed stringing onto chain or cord, and a clasp assembly attached. And a repair job for a cool vintage necklace I bought years ago but had kept just stuffed in my supply box in a ziplock bag. Here's the bracelet I made with the beads I was given:

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Winter Solstice

The wheel turns, Winter arrives, and a new year begins!

For me, the night of the Winter Solstice means a chance to reflect on where I've been and where I'm going.  Giving some thought to the past year's regrets, mistakes, and missed opportunities; and then letting them go so I can focus on moving forward. New directions, new endeavors, a new start!

Friday, December 16, 2011

I tried a new recipe: Spicy Tempeh & Green Beans

I had bought a pack of tempeh at the store, because I remembered having it before and liking it, and my husband had never eaten it before, but wanted to try it. Both of us really like green beans, so when I was browsing tempeh recipes, I came across this one:  Spicy Tempeh & Green Beans  and it looked like something we'd like, and I had most all of the ingredients already.

So, we gave it a try. The only substitution I made, was to swap a about a half teaspoon of dried red pepper flakes for the chopped red chilis that the recipe called for. It came out a little bit spicy, enough to give it some zing, not bland by a long shot.  And we had it over some plain jasmine rice, which was perfect with it. I'd actually made it earlier in the week, and we liked it so much that we got more tempeh and green beans and made it again last night.  Definitely a recipe that got printed out and put into my "food bible". The Food Bible is a large three ring binder full of page protectors where I keep my tried and true recipes on file.

It's a really simple recipe, and the most involved part is preparing everything to go into the pan. Also, I was able to find all the ingredients at a large local supermarket, without having to drive to a health food store, ethnic market, or gourmet food supermarket. And no wok, no problem. I just used a heavy large pan to stir fry it up in.

I'm looking forward to trying this recipe with green beans from my garden this coming Spring.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Non-extreme couponing experiment, the results are in!

I wanted to see just how much I could save with coupons by using them for things I would be buying anyway, and in quantities I usually buy them in. Would the little bit of effort I put forth in clipping from the weekly newspaper insert, my monthly All You magazine, and keeping track of the random coupons I get through the mail, have a financial payoff at the end of a month?

My only rule was that I use actual coupons from newspaper, magazines, or the mail in actual stores. So, I didn't count electronic coupon codes for online orders in my total. Three things to take into consideration:  1.) I'm only shopping for two people. 2.) We don't eat much processed food. 3.) We don't stockpile beyond our small pantry.  Also, I didn't put much effort into tracking down sales at different supermarkets to use coupons with for double savings. I shopped where I usually shop, with coupons that came to me in one way or another.

In the course of a month, I wound up saving $67.08 with minimal effort couponing.

It doesn't sound like a whole lot, but over the course of a year, it does add up to a nice little sum.  And considering that I put forth maybe fifteen minutes a week into clipping and organizing coupons, it certainly wasn't much of a time drain.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Catch-up blogging, random topics.

So, we did go to the Moody Gardens festival of lights last Friday night in Galveston. It was awesome! It covers a really large area, but there are places to rest here and there, and other things to do besides walk and see light displays. About two thirds of the way through the display, they have an area with a large fire pit, concessions, fire jugglers and other performances, a giant Christmas tree to take photos around, and places to sit. A conservation group was selling s'mores kits for a couple of bucks, and you got to toast your own marshmallow over the fire pit. That was fun, the last time I made a s'more over a fire pit on a cold night was more than five years ago. You could also just sit around the fire and warm up, which is what we did for a while because it was a pretty cool night, especially right there with the wind coming off the water. I don't know if we'll get to go back before the end of the holidays (I think it runs through New Year's day). But if the opportunity presents itself, I wouldn't turn it down!

The crazy weather here is doing strange things with my garden. I got more cucumbers off of the vines. I thought they were done, but no... And the green beans are still piddling along, making a few new beans here and there. The kohlrabi isn't doing much in the way of bulbs,  nor is the broccoli making florets. The lettuce is doing well though. I got a heirloom seed catalog in the mail this week, and have been going nuts over all the amazing varieties of vegetables that I've never even heard of before. I'm going to be placing an order by the end of the month, for some new things to try in my Spring 2012 garden. With our climate, we can do at least some gardening year-round, but Spring planting needs to be planned out and ready to start going into the ground by the end of February.

This is the year that we'll be doing some "edible landscaping" in the front yard. The plan I think will be to get a small fruit tree in the ground, and at least one decorative planting bed that combines flowers, herbs, and vegetables. I still haven't decided on a species of fruit tree, but am doing my research to see what would work best for us. I've been paying attention to landscaping in the neighborhood and other areas in our town when we're out and about. It seems like most of the landscaping is pretty straightforward. Planting beds bordered with bricks, concrete shaped border blocks, or large stones. I figure the more it looks like the rest of the yards on the block, the less of a chance somebody might try to cause a problem over front yard vegetable gardening. And I'm trying to pick varieties that are ornamental as well as edible.

It's 3 weeks for us at the fitness center now. I've been going at least 3 days a week, I would love to feel up to going every day though. But, I'm having to work up to it since I'm in such bad shape to begin with. I am seeing a difference already, which is encouraging. This morning it was a lot easier to climb up out of the pool than it had been when I first started. And I've been able to stand a little longer and walk a little farther before the back pain starts. Dear Husband is seeing the start of benefits as well. He does go a little more often than me, too. He does 3 full sessions of cardio + strength training a week, and then on the off days he does just the cardio. He hasn't been every single day, but is averaging 5-6 days a week so far.

We've been making a point to eat healthier too. Especially a good proper breakfast when we get home from exercising. One thing I have been doing is making vegetable omlettes and egg scrambles. I take a bunch of spinach, maybe kale too, onion, shallot, garlic, and different mushrooms, chop them up and saute them all together, drain the liquid, and save them in single serve portions in the fridge so it's ready to go. I'll dump the veggies in the nonstick pan, warm them up and spread them out evenly, pour a couple scrambled up raw eggs in on top (or two eggs worth of egg beaters) and let it cook for a bit until the bottom is firm. Then I'll flip it, sprinkle some shredded cheese on the top, let the bottom cook and the cheese melt, flip it in half, and slide it onto the plate. I eat it with either salsa or hot sauce along with a cup of yogurt or a little glass of kefir and it makes for a very good breakfast.

As far as crafts, I've finished the fingerless mittens/hand warmers that I was making for presents, and a quick super bulky yarn black crocheted tam hat. I'm working on a burnt orange tube scarf with the smallest round knitting loom in my set, and when I'm done, I'll put a giant pompom on each end for fun. I'm making a cloak for somebody for a Christmas present, will have all next week to get it done. Cloaks can be difficult, but this is just a basic one without lining. And I hope to really get started on some of my sewing for myself too. I'm suffering from the "closet full of clothes and nothing to wear" syndrome.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

I love Christmas lights, the more the better!

I love Christmas lights!  For more than ten years now, one of my favorite holiday rituals is to go driving around to look at decorated houses. We used to go with some friends, we'd stop and get cups of coffee or cocoa from the coffee shop, and drive around a few local neighborhoods that were known for elaborate Christmas displays. Now, we just go alone, and have also started going to see bigger organized light displays too.

Earlier this week, we went to the Dickinson Festival of Lights - you follow a winding walking trail through a park, past dozens and dozens of colorful light displays. It's a nice little Christmastime outing, and the best part is that there is no admission fee! The night we went, was uncharacteristically cold for our area, which kept the crowds to a minimum, which was good because it's a very popular attraction.

Tomorrow night, we're going to the Moody Gardens Festival of Lights  in Galveston. A much larger and more elaborate paid-admission display. You walk along the sidewalks that wind through the Moody Gardens complex, and there are displays set up everywhere. We happened to be there last month, the day before the display officially opened and got to see them testing some of the lights, and from what I was able to see, I'm really looking forward to it!

There are so many different places to go see lights in our area, that we couldn't possibly see half of them in any one holiday season. But I try to see as many as I can. When we're out in the evenings, I like to cut through different neighborhoods on the way back home, to see if there are any really over the top houses to enjoy.

With all of this love of Christmas lights, you'd think my house would be covered in them. But, no...we keep them simple. Maybe someday I'll find the time and energy to do something really special with lights, but for now I'm good with just enjoying other people's displays.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Garden to table: Roasted beets

Last week I cooked the beet greens, today I cooked the beets themselves. I like beets prepared in any manner. Pickled, thinly sliced raw in a salad, and roasted. My husband only likes them roasted, so that's how I made them this time.

This is right after they came out of the ground last week, and had the tops removed and a rinse-off with the water hose. I let them dry and then stored them in the refrigerator in a plastic storage bag:

I further cleaned them, by scrubbing in the sink with a vegetable brush, then peeling the thick outer skin off and trimming away the root end and the base of the greens up top. Then cut them into halves and quarters, depending on the size of the beet.  The pink and white striped beets are a variety called "Chiogga", the solid ones are just common beets, and there are a very few pieces of yellow golden beets as well:

After they were peeled and sliced, I tossed them with a little bit of olive oil, some ground white pepper, a little bit of salt, and a little bit of onion powder. And then spread them out in a single layer in a pan. I baked them at 400 for 20 minutes, then gave them a good stir, spread them back out across the pan, and baked them for another 20 minutes:

Roasting the beets gave them a very mild and sweet flavor, you want to cook them until they are fork tender, but not overcooked. No need for a sauce, the olive oil and bit of onion powder makes into a bit of a glaze while they cook.  They really don't need any seasoning when they're this young and fresh, but the tiny bit of onion powder really works well with the sweetness of the beets.

That's it for the beets from my garden, I will for certain be planting them again. I think that Fall is the only good season to grow them here, but I will try some in late Winter just to see if they do anything or not.

Health/fitness goals, and setting them yourself versus some arbitrary ideal.

Dear Husband has signed up to work with a personal trainer once a week at the fitness center we recently joined. He had his first session last week, to assess his fitness level and set his goals. I was really impressed with his trainer, because right from the start there was never any talk about getting thin or ripped. Just getting some weight off, and improving fitness level without striving for a specific ideal.  It's a very intuitive approach:  "we'll work at it until YOU feel you're in a good place, then set up a routine to maintain it".  I like that a lot.

I'm pretty much following the same approach, just without a trainer. I know I want to be smaller, but exactly how much so, I can't say. I remember how I felt and what life was like at specific weight ranges, so I have a bit of an idea of what I need to work towards. But, I'll know I'm there when I feel completely at home in my own body again. Same with fitness. I'll know I'm there when I can do all the things I want to do with relative ease again. Putting that kind of a spin on it makes you really feel as if you're working for yourself, not for some arbitrary ideal or goal.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Crochet hat, scarf, and handwarmer set.

I actually finished this set over a week ago, but had packed it away in the closet, waiting for cool weather. I took it out to show it to the ladies at the crochet (and other crafts) group I belong to last night.

I used this yarn:  "I Love This Yarn - Stripe. Colorway - Somulant"  from Hobby Lobby. It's your basic budget acrylic worsted yarn, but feels a little nicer and softer than other budget acrylics I've worked with. I had seen this particular colorway and thought that lavender, along with orange, and then the brown and tan, was really unusual. Since unusual color combinations can go either way, I just bought one skein to play around with, figuring that if nothing else it'd be great practice yarn. I started crocheting with it and realized that I really liked what I was seeing, so I went back to the store and got the other two skeins that were in the same dye lot. The hook was a size I, and everything in the set is double crochet.

The hat is a basic beret/tam formula. You simply start with a magic ring, 15 dc into the ring to start your first round,  and make your increases like you were making a flat round coaster. And then when it's as wide as you want it, you stop increases and just double crochet around and around, building up the sides of the hat. When it's as deep as you want, you start decreasing to bring it in to the size of your head. To finish with, I did a couple rows of single crochet to stabilize it.

The hand warmers are simply rectangles, wide enough to wrap around my hands, and tall enough to span from my wrist to just above my knuckles. Then I stitched up the sides, figuring out how big and where to place the thumb hole. To get the thumb hole, you just mark it with a couple of pins, and stitch leaving the space between the pins open.

The scarf is nothing but row after row of double crochet. I had used up one and about a third of a skein making the hat and hand warmers, and I used what was left over from the second skein to start the scarf. Once I finished up the second skein, I took the third skein and cut off enough yarn to make fringe for both sides. Then I kept crocheting with that third skein until I ran out of yarn. So, three skeins in total for the entire set.

It was a simple, and fast project, and a nice way to add a fun and funky color accent to my basic brown sweaters. I've always loved "off" colors, and clashing color combinations, so this set is one of my favorite needlework projects so far.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Decorating for the holidays.

With Gizmo the kitten (half-grown cat at this point), I knew that I couldn't get away with putting up my usual holiday decorations. Too much glass and other breakable stuff, too much fake greenery and other chewable stuff.  So, I decided to decorate a little at a time, and see how it goes over. But I won't be putting up all of it. I can just see coming home and the tree being down on the floor and the cat chewing on light wires. Which sucks, because last year after the holidays, I got a small, but very high quality prelit artificial tree for less than $10 because I happened to walk into the store minutes after the clerk put the 90% off sign on them. I'd had one since I first moved out in '88, but after 20 years of use, it was pretty shabby looking. I'd been looking forward to using the new one this year, but I like Gizmo more than the tree, so it's all good.  There's always next year.

The photo is my little "test run" of catproof decorations I put up Friday night.  So far - so good, he hasn't even jumped up on that cabinet to investigate them. It was all thrift shop and discount store stuff. The most expensive and breakable thing would be the silver ornament tree, and it's plastic and came from Target. We stuffed a small string of green lights all the way up into it, and it looks really cool when plugged in. Not the tree I wanted, but a completely acceptable (and fun) substitute.  Now that I know Gizmo won't bother stuff up there, I will replace the silver tin boxes with real presents, as I get them wrapped.

Last night I put up some more of our decorations on the baker's rack, coffee table, entertainment center, and fireplace mantle. If he leaves them alone, then great, and I think I won't press my luck with much more. If he gets too curious, then I'll have to pack away some until he's more mature and sedate.

My decorations are mostly silver, white, pearlized, crystal glass, and green. There is a lot of brown in the living room, and the throws we have on the chairs have green in them. So, I figured green decorations would work best. I also really like the color green a lot. I like to decorate with a lot of fake greenery (real would be great, but it's even less catproof than fake). I like stars and snowflakes too. I probably won't buy much more. I have pretty much all the decorations I can use in the living room. And that's really the only room I decorate in.  I've known people who decorate in every single room, and that's awesome. But I can't get into it that much. It's just D.H. and I living here, so no need to do more than we already do.

The only thing I'd like to do more, is outdoor decorations. I've seen some beautiful ones around town in years past, so I have a lot of ideas and inspiration. At the end of the holidays, when I have a bit more spending money, I'll keep my eyes open at the after-Christmas clearance sales and see if I can find any good deals on things for next year.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Garden to Table: Beet greens

I had assumed that I wouldn't be able to grow beets in containers, but after doing some research, I found out that I could grow beets even in fairly small containers, as long as I was okay with baby sized beet roots. Which is fine by me, I like the greens just as much as the beets, and decided it was worth the time to experiment with them in my garden.

I decided to plant these Assorted Beet Seeds in long narrow window box type plastic planters, six plants to a box, staggering them to maximize distance between plants. I had six boxes, so after thinning, it left me with 36 plants. I had them lined up along the sidewalk that runs up against the front of my house, between the main and side driveway. And that way they could get full sun as well as what little bit of rain we've been getting. They grew really well, and the dark red beets made plants with pretty burgundy stems and deep red veins in the dark green leaves. I will certainly use those as part of my edible landscaping in the future. Once they got to a size where the greens were just starting to be crowded together, the beet roots ranged from the size of a large gumball to a large chicken egg. I decided to go ahead and pull them so that I could plant some lettuce and radishes in the containers.

 Beet plants, in their containers this morning, just before I pulled them.

Beet tops and roots, after being pulled, before cleaning.

Beet tops/greens, after being separated and rinsed.

Beet roots, after being washed, tops removed.

I decided to hold onto the roots, and roast them later in the week, but the greens needed to be cooked right away. You can eat the baby ones in salads, the leaves taste (to me) like a cross between spinach and any other garden green like collards or turnip greens. Beet greens are more tender, like spinach, so they benefit from a quick saute, or a soft simmer. You don't want to overcook them, or they turn to mush. The stems are perfectly edible as well, so don't throw them away! 

To prepare the greens, I soaked and rinsed the leaves and stems very well, to make sure there was no dirt on them, or insects hitching a ride. Then I took the stems off, chopped them up fairly fine, and put them aside. The rest of the leaves, I stacked, sliced in half lengthwise, and then sliced into narrow strips. I like to cook my greens "Southern" style, or at least a take on it. I chopped up one and a half large onions, a couple good sized shallots, and six garlic cloves. I also diced up four thick slices of bacon for flavor and to provide fat for sauteeing the other vegetables.

Beet stems, chopped and ready to go into the pot

Beet greens, washed, trimmed, and sliced into strips.

Bacon, diced...along with chopped onion, shallot, and garlic.

To cook the dish, I rendered the fat out of the bacon over medium-high heat, and then sauteed the onion-shallot-garlic mixture until transparent. I added about ten good grinds of black pepper from the grinder, and a half-teaspoon of hot red pepper flakes. To that, I added a pint of stock (I had beef in the fridge, but you can use beef, vegetable, chicken, turkey, etc... whatever really. Or just plain water if you don't have stock. Dropped the heat to medium, and waited for it to come to a boil. Then I added the chopped up stems and simmered them for about five minutes until they were starting to get tender.

When it was time for the greens themselves, I had to add them a half at a time, because even my big stock pot wasn't room enough for that pile of greens (easily four gallons worth). I added about half, closed the lid, let them wilt for about a minute, then added the rest. Once they had wilted, I gave it all a good stir, dropped the heat to low, and let it simmer gently for ten minutes. Any longer and my greens would have cooked to mush.  Because of the dark burgundy stems, the liquid is a bright magenta color, and the stems turned a brilliant shade of purplish-burgundy. It tastes great, I didn't even need to add salt. I got about a gallon worth of finished cooked greens, which we will enjoy over the next week. Very fresh, very healthy, and very tasty! Later in the week, I will prepare the beet roots themselves, probably roasted because that's the way my husband prefers them, and I like them that way too.

Finished Southern style beet greens, still steaming!

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Baking for Thanksgiving: Apple-cinnamon kolaches.

One of my inlaws' friends has never had a kolache. She's heard of them, but never had a chance to taste them. When I was describing them to her, she said that she'd really like to try apple filled kolaches. favorites are the traditional poppyseed, cheese, and prune. But, apple is good too!

My grandma (dad's mom) made the best kolaches, and I tried a few different kolache dough recipes before finding this one:  Dorothy Bohac's kolache recipe  It's the one that most closely matches what I remember from childhood, and works for both sweet kolaches and sausage rolls. Also, since I don't usually want to make such a big batch, I found a blog where a baker cut the recipe down to scale, so I usually use this take on it: Small batch kolache recipe  That scaled back recipe made the dozen apple kolaches in the photo, and had enough dough left over to make six sausage rolls (or pigs in a blanket). 

And the dough is multi-purpose. You can fill it with sweet filling as in the photo above, wrap it around a piece of sausage to get a pig in a blanket, or even completely encase a filling inside of it to get a filled bun. I've experimented with it and a really good way to use it is to take a scoop of mixed up chopped up leftover ham and shredded Swiss cheese and completely encase it before baking. Makes for an excellent breakfast on the go. There are kolache shops where you can get all kinds of fruit and savory filled kolaches, so the possibilities are endless. Just keep in mind that it's a slightly sweet dough, so you don't want something so savory that it won't work with it.

For the filling above, I took two apples, peeled and chopped them up pretty finely. I had a Granny Smith and I think a Gala apple. I like the mix of tart and sweet in the filling. I heated up a couple tablespoons of butter in a saucepan, added about a half teaspoon of cinnamon, then about six grates of fresh nutmeg, and added the apples and sauteed them until they were starting to get tender. Then I added a fourth a cup of brown sugar and pinch of salt and kept sauteeing on medium heat until the apples were tender and the juice was thickening into a syrup. I let it cool in the pan until I was ready to fill the kolaches. Before I put the filling in, I brushed the kolaches with butter and sprinkled cinnamon sugar around the raised edges of the dough so that it wouldn't be just plain. Usually I use plain sugar with sweet kolaches, sometimes vanilla sugar. But cinnamon sugar works well with apple. The streusel crumble on top is called posypka. I just mixed half flour and half sugar, a couple pinches of cinnamon, and drizzled enough melted butter to make it stick together in crumbs. You put that on before baking.

If you've never had a kolache, it's a bit like a danish. A soft semi-sweet bready dough with a fruit or cheese filling. They're time consuming to make from scratch but not that difficult. I haven't tried freezing the dough, but the finished kolaches (especially sausage rolls and filled buns) freeze well.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Big fuzzy blue scarf.

Here's the big fuzzy blue scarf I made on a knitting board:  Authentic Knitting Board  I used the long afghan board because that's the only one I have, and used the default (1 inch I believe) gauge between the two rows of pins. The yarn is from Hobby Lobby, their Yarn Bee brand. The style and color is Infatuation : Vintage Teal  .  I doubled the strands, working two at once, and it took almost 8 skeins to get a really long and wide scarf. I'm tall, so I like for the tails of my scarves to hang to at least mid thigh on either side, after draping it behind my neck. Also, I used a standard double knit stitch on the loom, and that eats up quite a bit of yarn as well. It's not budget yarn, so I bought it whenever it was on sale. I committed a mortal knitting sin and bought a couple of different dye lots, but used one of each at a time, so it looks uniform from end to end.

I love the shade of blue, I think it goes really well with gray, and the fleece fabric I bought to make a Winter coat or wrap out of is charcoal gray.  So, I'm hoping to get it sewn in time for the first really cool night of the season so I can wear it together.  The only problem is that the scarf is pretty heavy, so I don't want to have it tied in a knot up against my throat. It fits well with the tails tossed back over my shoulders, or folded in half with the tails looped through the middle. It's also very "sproingy". The corners tend to pull out of shape a lot, but it's just the nature of the yarn and stitch I used.  But it's soft, warm, and fun. My friend said it looked like I shaved a muppet to get the yarn. LOL! It kinda does...

Another photo above, you can see how the stitches get lost in the fuzz. It has a ribbed kind of texture, which is just what you get when you do the basic "stockinette" stitch on a knitting board. It's the same on both sides, completely reversible. The yarn itself is made from two different fibers. A furry/eyelash type strand, and one that is little squares every inch or so. I really like a lot of novelty yarns, but this one was nearly impossible to knit on needles and I couldn't make any progress with a crochet hook either. So, a loom or board it had to be. I had started it on needles last year but only got about 16" and gave up. I had bought all the yarn, and didn't want it to go to waste, so it was good that the board worked with it.  It's just a fun scarf, and I am going to really enjoy it.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Garden haul!

Here are some of the things I've picked from my garden over the past few days. Lots of cucumbers, including one monster one that had been hiding away behind the lattice the vines are growing up. I try and pick them before they get so big, because they're still sweet and tender and the seeds aren't tough. But occasinally one gets missed and turns into a whopper. There are still at least ten more baby cukes on the vines. No more flowers, too cool for that now, but I'll have at least one more little picking worth of cucumbers before they're done for the season. I also got the last two eggplant, the plants need to come up now to make room for more carrots. And poblano peppers too. There are still a lot of small ones on the plants, and a bunch of tiny jalapenos finally too. The beans are a mix of green and burgundy bush beans. There are some still on the plants, and a few blooms too. But I think the bulk of the beans have already been picked and enjoyed.

I took a couple of the cucumbers, and just rinsed and sliced them into rounds, and mixed them with a "dressing" made from some nonfat plain bulgarian yogurt, a little bit of Penzey's Mural of Flavor seasoning, some finely sliced green onion (white and green parts) and a pinch of salt. I usually use dill, but my Dear Friend had brought me a gift box of four small jars of salt-free seasonings, and I wanted to try out the Mural of Flavor, since I had never tasted it before. It's awfully good! The green beans, we boiled until just fork tender but still crunchy. And tossed them with a tiny bit of melted butter, some Penzey's Forward seasoning (from the same gift box) and a pinch of salt too. Very good as well.. It's funny how the burgundy beans turn green as soon as they hit that boiling water. The poblano peppers are going into my Southwestern omlettes for breakfast, and the eggplant will go in with some zucchini and tomato to have with pasta and chicken breast for supper tomorrow. The rest of the cucumbers are going to become salad for the Thanksgiving table at the inlaws' house.

Random blogging topics to start the week: Fitness, Thanksgiving, cooking, crafts, gardening, shopping, gifts

I had my first workout at the new fitness center this morning. It was awesome! The pool was pretty much empty when we got there at 6:30, only one lady swimming laps in an outside lane. I got into the opposite outside lane, found a good depth (right between 4'6" and 5') and started to move. It's hard to describe what I do, when I do solo aquacize, but I make sure to keep both my legs and arms in motion at all times. I can be jogging in place while doing a weight lifting motion with a pair of foam aqua "barbells", or just suspending myself in the water and kicking my legs high while moving my arms back and forth. Aside from the specific stretches I do, it's just a matter of getting moving and staying moving. I did 45 minutes. I had gone in planning to do a half hour, and if I felt okay, then keep on for a full hour. But, Dear Husband had finished his workout and we needed to get home so he could start paperwork. Tomorrow we'll get there at six, so I have plenty of time and can do the full hour. It felt good to move my body like that. I've always loved going to the gym. This one has a really comfortable atmosphere and is very welcoming and low-key. The staff is all friendly, and the membership is made of people of all ages, shapes, sizes, physical abilities, and fitness levels. My mp3 player worked out great too. I made up an upbeat playlist of songs by Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, Goldfrapp, Madonna, and Britney Spears. Not the kind of music I listen to when I want to just chill out, but it's great dance music to exercise to and has the kind of beat that keeps your energy up.

Thanksgiving this year is going to be a small gathering with the Inlaws and some of their friends who don't have family in the area. We're just having a scaled-back version of the traditional turkey dinner, and spending some time together visiting. I seriously doubt that I will be doing any Black Friday shopping. I already did all of my Christmas shopping, the little bit I had to do... and I hate the crowds. I have a little bit of cash left from my shopping budget, so maybe we'll go out over the weekend and do something fun. Dear Husband will be tinkering around with his van a bit, and I have gardening to do too. But not three days worth. Hell, he might have to work Friday, in which case, it's just another day for us. I want to put up the little bit of kitten-proof Christmas decorations that we have. I have a lot of decorations, but most of them aren't kitten-proof. So, just like with the Halloween decorations, the Christmas decorations will be seriously minimized. Not sure if we're even bothering with outside lights this year. D.H. really doesn't want to bother. All the lights we have are old and need replacing anyway. I don't think I want to spend the money this year. But. we'll see just what is useable, and what needs replacing. Maybe it won't be as much as I'm suspecting. In which case, we'll put at least some up.

My contribution to the Family Feast is going to be dessert. I figured for 7 people, two pies is more than plenty. A pumpkin pie for sure, but since not everybody likes pumpkin, a fudge-pecan pie too. And I was asked to make a small batch of apple kolaches for one of the friends of the family who has never had them before, so that they can have them for breakfast Friday and Saturday. I found a recipe that makes a third of my usual kolache recipe, and I'll be giving that a trial run tonight to see if the dough works out right. If so, we'll have some sausage rolls for breakfast the rest of the week. I might bring some cucumber salad, simply because my cucumber vines seem to have put out one last burst of cucumbers before it gets too cold. It's not the usual Thanksgiving fare, but they're ripe and ready and need to be used.

I finished up a crocheted scarf the other day. I need to take photos of some of my projects so I can post them here. But I had found some cheap acrylic yarn that looked (and felt) nicer than what it is. And the yarn is one of those self-patterning ones with different colors and effects. I liked the way it crocheted up, so I went back and bought enough to make a beret/tam hat, a pair of fingerless mitts/handwarmers, and a long fringed scarf. Everything is just double crochet, so simple as can be.  I've got one knitting project in the works right now. A pair of 2X2 ribbing fingerless mitts for Dear Husband in a charcoal gray color. I had made a pair for Dear Friend in hunter green and D.H. liked them so much, he asked for a pair of his own. Well, since the scarf and hat I already knitted for him are both charcoal gray, I figured might as well make these to match. He likes them better than gloves because it's easy to use his camera for work (he does insurance claim appraisals so he has to take a lot of photos of damaged cars and property) and he can use the touch screen on his phone too. I'm hoping to have those finished by the end of next week, for his birthday present. But if not, it'll be done in time for Christmas for sure. Over the weekend, I got a couple balls of sock yarn and a pair of tiny knitting needles to use with it because it was on sale and I figured it was a small enough investment to see if I could actually manage working on that small of a scale without my hands cramping up. I can do basic garter and stockinette just fine, so I am going to make a pair of mitts for myself and see how long it takes. If not too long, I might sign up for a sock class at a knitting store.

My garden is doing quite well. The beets are growing like mad. They're about an inch and a half across, and have nice glossy dark greens. I will probably pick half soon and let the others go just a little longer. They can't get too big because they're growing in trough-like window box containers, so not enough room to get really big.  But beet greens cooked like collards or mustard greens one night, roasted baby beets the next. Cucumbers did me proud, as did the green and burgundy bush beans. Broccoli is starting to really grow, and the kohlrabi is making bulbs finally. The first lettuce is doing really well, but the carrots are just piddling along slowly. Same with the chard. I guess too hot still? Zucchini showed a lot of promise, but then we had one hell of a cloudburster and I guess the water did bad things because they started to crap out on me. Oh well... I'll try again in Spring.

As I already wrote, I am most likely NOT doing any Black Friday shopping. Years ago, my friend and I would make a middle of the night run to Garden Ridge Pottery while they had their marathon sale, and there was usually nobody in the store after midnight. But, that was years ago, there isn't anything anywhere that makes me want to get out early or fight the crowds for. I like shopping just fine, but I can't tolerate the crowds like I used to. I'd rather go somewhere like a little independent shop that really needs the business, a craft show, or order offline.

Gifts this year are mostly handmade, but not all by me. I got a few items from artisans who are so good at what they do. I know what I do really well, and stuck to that for my personally handmade gifts. I'm of the opinion that handmade is awesome, but it really needs to be done well. Those people who really like the kinds of things I do well get handmade by me. Some others get handmade by somebody else. And a few get store-bought because they're just not handmade kinds of people. And that's okay.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

I finally found a good place with a pool to exercise at.

Back when we lived on the other side of the city, I belonged to an amazing wellness center with a huge pool area. And it was literally five minutes from our apartment, so I went almost every single day, sometimes twice a day. With the back problems and mobility limitations I have, the only way I can manage a good solid workout is in the water. On land I can walk around, but have to sit frequently when the pain gets too bad. In chest to shoulder deep water, I have no pain whatsoever and can go as long as I want. My doctor wants to see me doing 30 minutes of sustained vigorous activity at least five times a week, preferrably daily. I can't walk briskly for a half-hour without having to stop and rest at least a few times. So, my options are limited. When we moved to this area, I didn't know of any indoor pools that I could use. I had been exercising with an exercise ball, but it was mostly upper body work with light hand weights. Imagine a kind of "sit and be fit" exercise routine, but on a big ball instead of in a chair, and a bit more strenuous than what I've seen for chair workouts. But, it got to the point where the exercise ball was hurting my back too much and I needed to find another pool.

I thought I had found one at a local community health and fitness center, but the facility just sucked and I only was able to make myself go a handful of times before I gave up. First of all,the pool was only 4 feet deep at the center. I'm 5'11". To be in the correct chest to shoulder depth, I need more than 4 feet of water. You wouldn't think that a half a foot of water would make that much difference, right? But it did! The only way I could make that pool work was to exercise in the very center, and crouch down at that. And there was only one lane open for people to do anything but lap swimming, so unless I got there at the crack of dawn and did my workout before anybody else showed up, I was S.O.L. And no air conditioning in the pool area. There were these big vent windows and exhaust fans. But when you have a heated pool in a big concerete and steel room on the Texas Gulf Coast, and no a/c, you get a muggy, stuffy mess. It was just unpleasant. And then there were the locker rooms. Tiny, with only one big open changing area, the only benches were narrow and low. Also, to get to and from the pool, you had to walk through the middle of the exercise area. Which was always overly air conditioned. So, I'd have to walk from a warm pool in a stifling hot room, through a freezing room, just to get into the locker room and deal with the lack of creature comforts in there. Also, the staff and administration were all rude or indifferent. I can't remember a single person smiling at me on any of the occasions I managed to suck it up long enough to exercise there.

But, I found a new place, reccomended by a lady at the crochet and knitting group I go to sometimes. A fitness center about ten minutes from my house, with a MUCH better layout and MUCH nicer pool. We went and joined yesterday. It was significantly cheaper than the sucky place too. There are actual changing rooms in the locker room, a women only sauna, women only fitness area, and a very large pool that goes to five feet at the center. As well as a large whirlpool pool. Something the other place didn't have at all. You just can't compare the two facilities, the new one is so much better. I think it'll work out well for us. Dear Husband can walk on the treadmill and do the circuit machines while I do my water exercise. I probably won't be doing the structured aquacize classes because we need to be finished and back home by the time they start. But, there is an aqua zumba class one night a week, which sounds like a hell of a lot of fun, and I want to take that one as often as I can.

I had done some physical therapy at the place we belonged to on the other side of town, and at the end, the PTist helped me come up with a good solo water exercise routine I can do without an instructor. Also, water walking is a good exercise for me too. Just walking back and forth in chest deep water. You're getting the resistance from the water, so you have to work harder than walking on land. And it doesn't hurt my back. If I'm there and nobody else is in the pool, I can do that across the middle. But otherwise, I can stake out a spot and do my little routine.

I've been gathering my stuff up and loading some fun upbeat music on my waterproof mp3 player. This is the one I have:   It's a neat little gadget, but my only complaint is that the waterproof headphones are short and it's meant to be used with the entire unit hooked on a goggles strap. I don't wear goggles, so I have to wear the MP3 on a little cord around my neck, or clipped onto a headband. Which isn't a big deal, but I was under the impression that the headphone cord extension was waterproof too. But for the price, the sound quality is acceptable and it holds a charge plenty long enough for a week of workouts. It gives me something to listen to.

I'm looking forward to my first swim there, hopefully in another hour or so.

Friday, November 18, 2011

My (non) extreme couponing experiences.

I'm not much into couponing, at least not like the kind of couponing you see on the extreme coupon show. I don't put forth much effort into finding, clipping, and organizing the coupons. And I don't have a stockpile of free or nearly free goods. But I do save some money with coupons, and it does add up over time. I'm curious as to just how much I'm saving with them, so I am going to keep a log for a month and see just how much I manage to save. It'll be a neat little experiment.

I get the weekly newspaper coupon inserts most weekends, and occasionally a second copy from somebody who saves it for me. Also, Dear Friend saves different kinds of coupons for me whenever he comes across some that he thinks I can use. I also get some from the All You housekeeping magazine I like to read. And too, some come in the mail, those are usually for local businesses. I get electronic coupon codes for craft stores and to use for online orders of clothes and other items. I'd say that very little of my couponing is for food or other supermarket items. I'm also on a few manufacturer mailing lists (paper mail and online), and get coupons that way too.

I've got a handful of coupons ready for my grocery shopping trip tomorrow morning, and a few codes for the different craft stores. I need a couple of things to finish a sewing project, so that'll count towards my weekly tally as well.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

My new blog!

I'm not much of a blogger. I don't have anything of great importance to say. I'm not really trying to entertain or educate readers, nor am I interested in blogging for bucks or trying to snag a book deal out of it. I just write to keep a kind of a journal of what all is going on in my life and in my mind at any given time. Why even bother publishing it then? Because people are curious, and they like to kill time reading blogs. I had a simple little MySpace blog and was always fascinated that people there would actually read what I wrote, because it was usually pretty mundane stuff. I also like to browse random blogs now and then myself, so I figure I might as well stake out my own little corner of the blogosphere and keep on with it.