Monday, November 2, 2015

I Call Them "Tips"; You Call Them "Hacks"...

Lately, in my travels around the web, I keep running into something called "life hacks". Clicking in usually reveals some kind of easier way to do something in your everyday life. What was once called 'household hints' or 'tips' are now called 'hacks'. I have no idea why and to me, it sounds kinda stupid. But I thought I'd share a few of mine.

If you have a dog or cat that eats canned food, you may find yourself with dried-on food that seems nearly impossible to remove short of taking a chisel to it. A conscientious pet-owner would wash the dish every time their pet finished a meal. But I have a job, and a long commute, and "conscientious" has never been something I've particularly aspired to.  So, I bought an extra food bowl for Bumblebee The Cat. When his food gets dried on and adheres to the bowl like glue, I use the clean bowl to feed him. Then I dampen a paper towel, fold it over and place it inside of the bowl with the stuck-on food. After a half hour or so, the leftover bits are soft enough to just wipe out of the bowl. If you forget to come back in a half hour and the food is still stuck, pour a little water into the middle of the paper towel, wait a little while and go for it again. 

Here's another:  Before your pick up the bag of flour in the supermarket, stop by the produce section first. Get one of the clear plastic bags, take it to the baking needs aisle and drop the paper bag of flour in there. Those paper bags do not hold onto finely sifted flour very well, do they?  Too often you have a fine layer of flour on your hands and other items in your cart, or worse yet, you rip the bag and wind up with flour everywhere. Put it in the clear plastic bag. As you use the flour, seal the clear plastic with one of those clips you use to close your potato chip or pretzel bag.

I spent most of the morning cooking. It's my day off and I find cooking to be the kind of zen thing I enjoy doing when my mind is somewhat troubled. Not in the mood to talk about my troubles yet again here, but suffice it to say that cooking is a lovely distraction -- not to mention, I bring the leftovers for lunch each week and it saves me a ton of money.  Buying breakfast and lunch in New York every day gets expensive.

A couple of nights ago, I made chili.  I ran out of cumin and I needed a tad more tomato sauce, so I put what I'd made in the fridge until I could get the necessary ingredients.  This morning I added the stuff that was missing and also a pinch or two of salt and pepper. Made all the difference!  Like many, I cut way back on salt years ago in order to stave off high blood pressure.  Slowly I've started to add it back to recipes, though.  Hypertension is genetic in my family, I'm already on meds that are controlling it very well and I still don't own a salt shaker. I rarely add extra seasonings at the table.  Truth is, salt brightens the taste of food, truly. Meals are very bland without the proper seasonings and what's the point of that? Food should be more than just fuel.

I also made smothered chicken this morning which I will serve with some yellow rice and broccoli. good!  I grew up making it with water but now I use chicken broth to make the gravy instead. Seriously yummm.

I've been working on some new bracelets. I came across these cute little ohm charms and had been wondering how they'd work as bracelet closures.  I think they're pretty cool.  

Oddly enough, though, I find my attention keeps turning to necklaces these days and have gotten inspiration from several sources.  I think it might be time to add to my collection. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Catching Up

It's been far too long.  It would be wonderful if I could report that the absence of posts is due to a whirlwind summer full of fun, sun, and merriment.  Au contraire.  The summer was one of uncertainty, stress, with a small scoop of the usual what-have-I-gotten-myself-into-this-time situation...

Too personal to report here and now. When and if I come out on the other side of this, I'll be back with more details -- salacious, even. At the moment, I'm just putting one foot in front of the other with things that require more immediate attention:  trying to figure out if and how I can retire in two years or less; preparing for my second knee replacement surgery in January; trying to decide if Bumblebee the Cat needs a companion.
I am restless. Unsettled. I don't like this. I don't like 'sticking a pin' in things and revisiting them later. I like to deal with things as they come and be done with them. I hate surprises; I always have. I like to KNOW. I have a decision to make fairly soon and once I make it, things will become clearer.  But even though I'm feeling a tad restless, I'm no longer feeling stressed. I'm fine for now. Probably should stop chatting about it now before I veer into the morose.

One fabulous, wonderful, I'm-so-excited-I-can't- think-straight piece of news, dear readers: I'm going to be a grandmama again! In about 5 months, I will meet Baby Boy Hernandez #2. Love being a grandparent!  Mostly fun, very little work and my current grandson is so cute, I could eat him up with a spoon. He's smart, affectionate and kind-hearted as well. Yes, I know. I'm gushing.  I originally posted this photo on Facebook and it's one of my favorites.

No doubt Baby Boy #2 will charm the heck out of me as well.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Carrot Cake and Sutton Foster

Apparently carrot cake is a 'winter' dessert. Who knew?  This will be a short post this time around; at the moment, my life's not all that interesting.

Just went back to work after nearly 3 months of recovery from a total knee replacement. I'm not anywhere near 'recovered'; that's gonna take some time.  But alas and alack, I don't have unlimited sick time so I had to go back eventually.  This means I'll probably spend a little less time baking than I had been but never fear: I don't plan to abandon it altogether.

The lopsided carrot cake pictured was one of my last attempts before rejoining the workforce. I have to say, I'm kinda proud of that thing. The cream cheese frosting was a tad too cream-cheesy but overall, it was gooooood.  The cake ain't all that pretty and it involved lots of ingredients and lots of steps, whew!  But it tasted as good as any carrot cake I've ever bought. Moist, flavorful, chock-full of nuts and raisins and even some visible carrot bits because I didn't chop them up fine enough in my food processor. It was cool though. I liked the way they looked,  I prefer cakes with texture and this one had texture to spare.  However... carrot cake is heavy and I suppose at this time of year, a pastry chef's fancy turns to lighter fare like fruit tarts or lemon pie.

I'm not really a 'pie person', so I went looking for some kind of cake or cookie recipe more appropriate for the season.  I just found one for olive oil lemon cake. Sounds weird .. but I have to make it, and of course when I do, I will post the results here.  Can't imagine what the first person who made this was thinking. What made them think that olive oil belongs in a cake?  How did they know it would taste good?

Not gonna post the carrot cake recipe but if the olive oil lemon cake comes out OK, we'll see.

Change of subject: Being stuck at home generally involves tons of TV-watching and trying to find something that doesn't bore you into stupefaction. I stumbled on an ABC Family series called Bunheads. Produced by the folks who brought you Gilmore Girls, it's very much like that program: humor and light drama in a small town populated by quirky townspeople and fast talkers who grew up elsewhere or left and came back.  In fact, a couple of the featured players of Gilmore Girls are in this show as well. The 'bunheads' in the title are young ballet dancers and the star of the program is Sutton Foster, a Broadway actress who is seeking fame on the small screen these days in a new show called "Younger".  Both Bunheads and Younger are interesting enough but for me, the jury is still out on Foster. I find her a little too self-aware... it's like I can feel her 'acting'. She sings well but her dancing?  Nice but nothing special. Just my two and a half cents.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

TKR Recovery... and Lemon Pound Cake!

Wow....didn't realize it had been so long since I last posted.  I'm here to tell you folks, total knee replacement is no joke!  More about that later.

Facebook used to be my favorite time-waster. That dubious honor has now been bestowed upon Pinterest. Go to Pinterest to look up ONE thing and I promise you, you will be there for HOURS, clicking, clicking, clicking through until you completely forget what you were looking for in the first place. It's that good. One of my favorite things is where people post their versions of recipes they found on line. This is HIGH-larious, people!!  I'm going to include a link at the bottom of this post. If you haven't seen this before, please go and take a look. But make sure you're not eating anything because you will surely choke or swallow your gum when you take a look at these cooking and baking FAILS.

Speaking of...I'm happy to report that my baking has improved by leaps and bounds. Well, maybe not LEAPS and BOUNDS, but I'm getting there. I'm a pretty good cook but I've been working on becoming a better baker during my total knee replacement recovery.  Here's my version of the aforementioned Pinterest thing:
A lemon buttermilk pound cake posted on Once Upon a Chef:

And my version of same:

The recipe called for fresh lemon zest and lemon juice, not lemon extract or food coloring, so please note: the cake does NOT come out yellow like their photograph. I'm guessing that the photographer added the tint because it makes the cake LOOK more lemon-y.  Not necessary; the cake tastes quite lemon-y and my taste-tester, the Object of My Affection, aka OOMA ate a good deal of it, although he isn't supposed to. He's a diabetic but he's a bad boy a lot of the time. Sigh... a story for another time.

Between the time I had the surgery, January 21, 2015 and two weeks ago, I'd lost about 11 pounds. Needless to say, if I keep this up, those pounds will be back. I promised myself I'd keep the weight off and try to lose a few more pounds so I'll have to pace myself and/or when my baking is successful, I'll try to send most of the goods off somewhere so that there is only a little left for me and the OOMA.

As promised: Huffington Post did a piece including hilariously funny pictures of people's horrible attempts at baking; I'm including the link here:

If you get forget it, just go to Pinterest's search box and type in "baking fails". You will wet yourself. Seriously.

Back to whining about my recovery: 
The surgeons and hospitals give you tons of information about the need for knee replacements, how the surgery is done, basic information on follow-up care, and advise you that at the end of the road, you'll not only return to tiptoeing through the tulips without a cane, you'll be water-skiing. But no one truly prepares you for what you'll be dealing with initially, namely:  months and months of daily achiness, stiffness and occasional brief bouts of tears and depression due to your loss of independence and mobility.  Would not discourage anyone from doing this -- in fact, I'm going to get the other knee done next year -- but honestly, it's no walk in the park, pun intended.

I don't remember if I explained all this before but if I haven't, think about this for a second:  The surgeon cuts through all the soft tissues of your knee down to the bone; saws off the ends of your tibia and femur bones, drills into them, hammers and glues in the prosthesis, and then sews and glues you back together again. This is major surgery and it hurts majorly for several months. I'm sure I mentioned before that I found a terrific online forum,, that has been extremely helpful in finding other people to commiserate with, as well as to allow you to provide encouragement for the newbies as you go along your healing journey. Not sure what I'd have done without them, and without the help and support of the aforementioned OOMA who has been a saint in putting up with my occasional crabbiness.  I'm used to taking care of myself and when my independence is curtailed for any reason, I am The World's Worst Unhappy Camper. Yes, I am.

Mind you, everyone recovers at different rates and there are those who make it through at warp speed, posting about how they threw away their pain meds a week post-op and then danced and hiked the night away three weeks after surgery. I want to slap the crap out of those people and ask them to please go away, enjoy your life and don't post anymore.  But I don't.  My surgeon, who I trust and respect tells me that I am right where I should be, and only time + a little activity + rest when I need it will get me back to normal.

Back to work in two weeks. Not sure I'm ready!

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Today's Musings: Perfect Chicken Breasts and the House of Cards

So, it's been nearly six weeks since the knee replacement surgery. I guess this is more or less the halfway point in recovery. My surgeon cleared me for 12 weeks and initially, I had the crazy idea that I'd be back to work in 4 -6 weeks. Yeah. Sure.  Um... not so much. Knee replacement surgery is NO joke, ya'll.  Kneecap and surrounding area still has some swelling and the knee is very stiff.  The good news is that I finally lined up an outpatient physical therapy facility that may work out.  I've been trying to do some exercises on my own but I do think I'd benefit from professional help. I'll admit, though, I'm a little apprehensive about it.

I refuse to buy into the 'no pain, no gain' way of thinking. I know you have to endure some level of uncomfortability (is that a word? I think so.), but I don't agree with the notion that you should submit to extreme pain during the manipulation. I'd rather take it slower and have the recovery take a little longer than have someone bend, push and pull my muscles into submission.  Not gonna happen. I discussed this with the director of the facility who disagreed but respected my feelings about it. We'll see how it goes. I did learn something useful however, during that first session: it  may be time to use heat rather than ice on my knee. I still use ice for the kneecap sometimes but the PT suggested that I abandon ice altogether and use heating pads. He says that ice contributes to the stiffness. Some of the folks on agree with him. I'm going to try both and see which feels better.

My therapy includes moving around as much as possible at home as I've said before, To that end, I've been doing some light cooking several times a week.  "Light" cooking means making things that you don't have to stand at the stove and babysit. Enter perfect baked chicken breasts. For the most part, I'm a leg-and-thigh girl, never cared for white meat at all. But I now know that part of the problem is that it's way too easy to overcook white meat, and once that happens, it's almost inedible. Dry, bland, ugh.  Finally figured out how to do this right...well, the truth is, a former boyfriend actually showed me how to do this. The first meal he ever made for me was baked chicken breast with a side salad.  I was immediately disappointed when I first spied it on the plate. I don't do 'breaded chicken', I thought. "Not a fan of white meat chicken."  But I was raised right; Rather than complain, I figured I'd choke down a few bites and then find some gentle way to ask him to never make that again.  I cut into the meat.  It was juicy. It was tender. It was good.  What?  I mean, what?  I mean, WTF?  I had to know how he pulled this off. Simple, he said. Get yourself some Italian dressing (he was Italian, by the way), some boneless, skinless chicken breasts, and some
breadcrumbs. Pour the Italian dressing on the chicken breasts, roll them in the bread crumbs, throw them in a 375-degree oven for 30 minutes, and poof -- done and done.  Couldn't wait to go home and try it and yep, it was great!  Since then, I've made a few slight modifications; either way, this comes out perfect every time.  I sprinkle a little salt and pepper on the chicken breasts and then coat them with mayonnaise instead of Italian dressing. I don't really care for Italian dressing so I don't usually have it on hand.  (I try to avoid buying things that I know I'm only going to use for one recipe.)  Once the chicken breasts are coated with the mayo, roll them in a thin layer of breadcrumbs. I like to use Panko-style breadcrumbs for extra crunch, but regular seasoned breadcrumbs work just fine. Pour a healthy amount of breadcrumbs onto a paper plate and then roll the chicken breasts around in there. Shake off the excess and place them in a roasting pan and bake for 30 minutes at 375 degrees. You don't really have to flip them although I like to at the halfway point (about 15 minutes in) because if you don't, the bottoms will not be as crispy as the tops. Not a big deal, really. Also note in the photo that I like to cook them on a rack, not only because they crisp up better but also the rack makes for easy cleanup -- and I'm ALL about easy cleanup. (I hate washing dishes -- always have.)  If the chicken breasts are large and very thick, pound them for a few minutes with a mallet or heavy implement and try to make sure that all of them are more or less the same thickness. Also, I don't normally buy the chicken breasts labeled as 'thin-sliced'. Those cook in minutes and they're better for stir-frying or pan frying.

Season Three of The House of Cards just started so, like the rest of the world, I'm doing the binge-watching thing.  I'm a long, long-time huge fan of Kevin Spacey. Around 30 years ago, he starred as Mel Proffet on a fantastic CBS series called "Wiseguy".  His acting was masterful back then and I just knew the guy was one to watch. I was right.  Do yourself a favor and rent or buy this series. Try to ignore the 80s fashion and hairdos and pay attention to the acting and storylines. Good stuff. Anyway, Robin Wright has fabulous chemistry with Kevin Spacey. She is as cool as the proverbial cucumber in this series -- and her clothes!  Whoa... not my personal style at all but on her, and for many other women -- the look is PERFECTION.  Classic. Spare, simple, clean-lined, no bright colors or jarring patterns- perfection.

Back to the series.  I'm sure my readership is so small that what I'm about to say will hardly matter. Still, I'm going to avoid saying too much. I'm only a few episodes in but so far, I'm a tad disappointed. Oh, Kevin and Robin and the rest of the gang are at the top of the game as always but now that Francis has reached the top of the  mountain, his actions are far less Machiavellian because they no longer need to be. So, he's a little less fun.  This reminds me of that other wonderful political drama, The West Wing. There were times where I didn't understand one single thing that was going on when the story delved deeply into some kind of political strategy or maneuvers, but I loved the acting and direction so much, I remained glued to the screen. I knew that at some point, the clouds would part and the storyline would be less about politics and more about people. I don't always understand politics and frankly speaking, if the topic at hand doesn't impact me, I don't much care about it. Anyway, hoping that the action will pick up on The House of Cards eventually.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Cooking as Therapy

So now I'm about 3 1/2 weeks into my recovery from total knee replacement surgery.  Hasn't been an easy road but it's not as bad as I anticipated. The pain is more aggravating than excruciating, and I find myself to be more impatient with the swelling and stiffness. It really limits your mobility and I'm having problems finding a physical therapy facility that accepts my insurance. Oh well, boring...let's talk about something else.

My home-based physical therapy includes walking, standing and going up and down the stairs. My stamina is not 100% yet but many mornings I wake up with a burst of energy and I've decided to use it to start cooking again. The Object of My Affection -- who will from here on be referred to as My OOMA --could live on sandwiches, restaurant meals and takeout for the rest of his life. Me, not so much. I like going out but I also enjoy cooking and I prefer most of my meals be made at home. I'm not a health fanatic by any stretch, but come on, we know the deal: you tend to eat smaller portions at home and also tend to consume less fat, sugar and salt.

On today's menu: Crustless spinach mushroom quiche.

Several years ago, I went on a sort of Atkins/South Beach diet and this is one of the recipes that got me through.  Clearly, the key to losing weight and keeping it off over the long term is to eat the kinds of foods you love. Who doesn't love quiche? I have to take my morning meds with food so I've been chasing my pills with Activia yogurt. It's tasty, relatively healthy and good for the digestive system but it' know, yogurt. Not really satisfying, not yummy, not sexy. Quiche hits all the right buttons, and if you do it right, you don't miss the crust at all, I promise.

I already had most of the ingredients: eggs, onions, spinach and mushrooms. Just had to get some cheese from the supermarket.  This quiche needs no cream or milk, which sends up an alarm for some. If you like your quiche particularly creamy or custardy, this might not be for you.   Some might say that the texture is more like a frittata or an omelet. Me, I like quiche in whatever form it comes in!  To keep things light rather than dense, it helps to whip the eggs with a whisk until they are kind of fluffy before you throw the rest of the stuff in.

Oven set for 350, I pour the mixture into a muffin tin and set the timer for 30 minutes.. Just about the time my energy starts flagging and I need to rest, these puppies are ready to come out of the oven.  I made six of them and ate two the first day.  Wrapped the others in foil and popped them in the fridge.  I had one for breakfast this morning, heated up for a minute in the microwave and served with ice cold orange juice. Oh man, this is a definite YUM. Might be able to get the OOMA to eat this instead of a blueberry muffin tomorrow ... but I doubt it. OOMA doesn't like mushrooms. I don't even understand that; I could eat cooked mushrooms in anything: spaghetti, eggs, burgers -- bring on the fungi!

New subject: What do they call people who look to the web to manage their entire lives? Web hounds? Web sluts? Internet nerds?  Whatever, I am she. Or, she is me. Or something. I shop on line, bank on line, pay bills on line, found several boyfriends and one husband on line and any time I want to know anything about anything, I research the hell out of it on line. Found a FABULOUS forum called Anything and everything you ever wanted to know about hip or knee replacement surgery or recovery is here and they have forums to boot!  Reliable professional information is key, but anecdotal information is golden.  If you or anyone you know is a candidate for surgery, go there now:

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Let it Snow, Let it Snow.... Ugh

Anyone who sings that 'Let it Snow" song in front of me has an apparent death wish. I do not love snow. Anymore. Loved it as a kid because, you know, what kid doesn't think snow is the coolest thing ever? As long as you're warm enough, if you're under the age of 12, you're thinking about snowmen and snowballs and epic snow battles and not having to go to school.

Being an adult in the workforce is a whole 'nuther ballgame. Instead of dreaming of snowmen and sledding, you're obsessively scanning all the local news channels for weather reports and looking out of the window every hour on the hour. We've just been hit with a pretty impressive snowstorm and I gotta say, I'm SO glad I'm on the inside looking out. It's only been a week since my knee replacement surgery; in fact, it's a week to the day, and I thought I'd have cabin fever by now.

Au contraire.

All I'm thinking about lately is junk food. Being trapped at home due to inclement weather automatically generates visions of chocolate in all its forms.  As I've gotten older, my taste in junk food has changed. No longer interested in Hershey bars or commercial snack cakes, oh, no,no! I want my ever increasing cellulite to be attributable to decadent Godiva chocolates and $4.00 cupcakes from fancy bakeries. Tried to talk my daughter into making a chocolate cake for me. I'm a pretty good cook but she's a much better baker. Baking and me, well, we just don't get along. Becoming a good cook takes practice, instinct and dedication...baking is completely different. Baking is chemistry. Alchemy! In the right hands, x amounts of butter or sugar or flour or leavener come together and generate just the right amount of  browning, crisping, moistness, whatever. I don't have those hands, sadly.  Maybe I'll just settle for some Oreos for now.

By the way, the image above is not my home. (^_^)