Revealing My Sources

When The Husband and I were first married, we lived in a less than desirable part of town (I once saw someone ‘jogging’ down the alley with a TV on his shoulder — great for those more intense workouts, you know!) with very interesting neighbors, the kind that could be the fodder for several books. One of the more colorful characters and one of my favorites was B. He was always very kind and polite to me, though he looked quite rough. He enjoyed the simple pleasures — his Harley, his sports car, his beer and weed. You could tell when he was smoking — all the doors and windows were shut, the curtains were drawn, and you could practically get high from the exhaust of his swamp cooler. He was busted by the DEA and ATF twice during our 8 mos at the apartment. I never inquired as to his sources because I really didn’t want to know.

But a good source of vanilla beans, now there’s something worth finding out. A year ago Cookie Baker Lynn posted about vanilla beans and I bookmarked it to check into later. About six months later I finally bought a pound of vanilla beans from Saffron.com. Yes, that’s right. A pound! Now, if you are used to buying your beans in those jars ranging in price from $7-20 with only 2-3 beans in them, you may be wondering what lottery I won. But this is an amazing source for excellent beans at prices that make using them only a little more expensive than good eggs.

They arrived in a box with a golden foil wrapping around the vanilla.  I inhaled deeply, just sniffing the package periodically for a couple of days before I finally opened it.  I think The Husband was afraid I was going to start snorting lines of vanilla seeds 😛  Mmmmm, it smelled so good!  I finally opened the package and the beans are just luscious.  And there are so many of them!  No need to skimp! So, of course, I’ve been adding them to everything. I make vanilla yogurt about twice a month, I toss them into cupcakes and frosting, pastry cream, and of course, ice cream and frozen yogurt.

Because Saffron.com has a minimum order of $12 and a pound of vanilla beans is $20 (plus shipping — $8.55 in my case), I chose the full pound as the most cost effective choice. If you think you will not have the need for roughly 125 vanilla beans (you just aren’t being creative enough), then consider buying a pound and splitting it with a couple of friends. You could have 40 beans for the cost of buying just a few at the grocery store.

Why Not To Shop When Hungry

Yes.  That says 15 lbs.  I did think twice about it.  It seemed like a good deal.  We will not be worried about vitamin A deficiencies at our house! 😉

My Hero!

Thursday was a friend’s birthday and she had a very simple request: would I please make her a birthday cake. No problem! Surely we can bake a birthday cake with no wheat, no dairy, no egg, no almond. We’ve done wacky cake/crazy cake/depression cake/war cake ad nauseum so I tried some new recipes.

First was a chocolate cake that used maple syrup for the sweetening. I’m going to give that it’s own post later. Second came an orange cake that is essentially the wacky cake made w/o cocoa but with orange juice in place of water. Meh. It was moist and tasty but not quite the texture for a layered cake, especially when made with barley and whole grain spelt flour (coarse and grainy).

Finally I found a recipe for a ‘white cake’ and the birthday girl asked for a lightly spiced cake so I decided to play with that and added a little cinnamon and nutmeg. It stuck to the pan. It has great texture and taste, but it wouldn’t release from the pan.

In order to salvage the third cake, I resorted to an old standby: trifle. The birthday girl asked for cherry or orange flavors so I went looking at the store. I was thinking of possibly layering some cherry pie filling with Cool Whip but that seemed so pedestrian. Then I found Hero Black Cherry Preserves, which particularly caught my eye because they don’t list high fructose corn syrup as an ingredient. It says, “black cherries, sugar, glucose syrup, citric acid, fruit pectin. All natural ingredients. No preservatives. No artificial flavors or colors.” Doesn’t that sound like something you could eat? Into the basket it went.

Once at home, I stirred the contents of jar into the largest container of Cool Whip Light I could find and alternated the cherry preserves/Cool Whip mixture with crumbled cake.

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It’s not a proper birthday cake, but I think it will convert a failed baking effort into a tasty dessert. Stay tuned for more birthday cake drama! 😉

I’m Back With Fake Foods

We’re back from the beach and, while the car is cleaned out, the house is strewn with laundry in all stages and misc “stuff”.

Two years ago when we made the trek to FL, with the brand new trailer the Husband had spent weeks building and had just finished the morning we left, we were in a horrible crash in Hoover, AL on the return trip which totaled the car and the trailer (although, thankfully, no one was seriously injured). Now every time we pass from Cullman, AL (around mile marker 300) until about mile marker 240, I’m a jittery mess. The Husband wishes I’d just pass out for the entire length of AL. I have a loathing for all things ‘Bama since that trip. I’m sorry if you are from AL and like it there . . . my experience seriously tainted my view.

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This time we witnessed an accident in TN on the way down. Crazy Man in a little Dodge Shadow was weaving back and forth, driving fast and erratically. I pleaded with the Husband to NOT pass Crazy Man b/c I didn’t want him lodged in my door so he dropped back and let another car get between us. We watched him run off the road on one side, jerk the car back on the highway and then weave his way to the other side. He spent a considerable amount of his driving time riding on the dividing lines. Suddenly he was weaving on the center line and BAM! he ran into the back corner of a semi. But he hit on the corner and, when the semi slowed, the car slid sideways and got under the trailer bumper tangential to the trailer and traffic. Amazingly, no one else hit him or was hit as the truck skidded to a halt and the Shadow’s tires went up in a black cloud and everyone on the road slammed on their brakes to avoid colliding. Crazy Man got out of the car and we pulled over. Another couple pulled over and said they had called 911 a few miles back to report the Crazy Man’s driving. He was seriously impaired. He immediately grabbed a cigarette and started smoking it . . . what’s that you’re trying to cover, Crazy Man? The Hispanic truck driver and his wife seemed to *believe* Crazy Man when he started saying that his brakes didn’t work — Hello? If your brakes don’t work it doesn’t affect your ability to *steer* and you certainly don’t have to drive 75 mph *uphill* and you could certainly get off at an exit and slow down and use your emergency brake to stop. Not buying it, Crazy Man. After 45 min of waiting, the other couple came back to say they were going on — the police had their cell phone number and info . . . still no police on the scene . . . but they pointed out that the truck had only a little black smudge on the bumper to indicate it’s involvement in the accident while Crazy Man’s car was totaled — hood smashed in nearly to the windshield, etc — and the man says — Now that there, *that’s* justice. We waited for the police for another half hour or so. By the time the police arrived, Crazy Man was trying to say the truck driver was changing lanes and hit him. Urgh! We finally got back on the road and made it safely through AL and to FL. Whew!

We stayed in Cape San Blas this time. We’ve been to the Destin area about 5 times (I can easily recommend both the Southern Resorts rental company and the Maravilla condo/beach house complex) , Seagrove once, and decided this time we wanted to be further away from people even in the off-season. Unfortunately, that also meant being away from the Food Network and HGTV, which was somewhat disappointing but we had a great beach and, due to so few people and the lay of the land, etc, there were TONS of seashells on the beach.

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We had lots of beach to ourselves to build mermaids:mermaid.jpg

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and to check out the wildlife:

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like this grumpy looking fellow, whom we disturbed during sandcastle construction:

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Unfortunately, I misunderstood the meaning of ‘our only store in town’ and decided to drive 20 miles further to get groceries the first day we were there and ended up in a tiny Piggly Wiggly that had NO SEAFOOD — in FL?! A few yards from the beach?? Also, I couldn’t find any sunscreen in the store . . . ?!? I was a little grumpy when I got back to the condo b/c it was Sunday and the little seafood shops were closed so you couldn’t tell if they were closed just for Sunday or if they weren’t open for the tourist season yet. A few days later I tried the store that was closer only to find out that it was a different store than I thought and was a much larger Piggly Wiggly that did, in fact, have fresh bay scallops, fresh shrimp and fresh red snapper. Aaaahhhh! That’s more like it. 😉

Because our family numbers six and the car has finite space, I try to pack very lightly and get what I need there and then be frugal as regards to using it all up before we leave, etc. The first few times I took along flour, sugar, baking powder, and about half the kitchen, or so it seemed. Some condo kitchens are more well-stocked than others but this one was particularly Spartan. Just the basics (not even salt and pepper in the cabinet). I only packed our 1 gallon pitcher and two-burner griddle to supplement. So the cooking was exceedingly simple. One night I wanted some biscuits to go with dinner but didn’t just want plain white fluffy Bisquick biscuits so I added about 1/4 c. shredded colby/jack cheese and of the 1 c. of liquid, I used about 1/4 c. Italian salad dressing and the rest milk. I bought a garlic pepper grinder and a pizza seasoning grinder and added a few twists of each to the batter as well. Not quite the Red Lobster cheddar biscuits, but they were tasty.

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Another night I wanted to make a dessert but didn’t want to really bake so I made a Faux Frozen Mousse or Frozen ‘Cheesecake’ or some such Fake Food. I filled a Piggly Wiggly graham cracker crust with a mixture of a small tub of Lite Cool Whip and two Yoplait containers of blueberry yogurt. Then I froze it until dinner time. It was tasty, popular, and a nice light flavor to follow the seafood dinner.

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Wacky Nut Job

At the Grocery Store tonight I was picking up a bottle each of red wine vinegar and balsamic vinegar from the clearance rack, opposite the regular vinegar shelves, when behind me I hear a Man complaining to his Wife/Girlfriend about the abundance of foods.

Man: Like look at this — what kind of Wacky Nut Job needs more than one bottle of vinegar?

I almost said, “Excuse me, Wacky Nut Job coming through.”

I figured that would be nicer than a sneering snobbish remark on the uneducated oafs that assume one bottle of vinegar is sufficient for all cooking purposes.

Of course, I didn’t actually SAY anything, but I chuckled to myself.

I don’t particularly think of myself as a vinegar fan or that I use it either frequently or generously. Then I started a mental tabulation — at home I have white/distilled vinegar (although I grant you that I usually only use that for mopping the floor), cider vinegar for all sorts of things, rice vinegar for my Asian foods, a different variety of balsamic vinegar that I love for marinating beef, and . . . did I use up the rest of that raspberry vinegar? I know I finished off the huckleberry vinegar. Oh my! Wacky Nut Job! I guess the only common vinegar I don’t buy is malt vinegar, which I associate with fish -n- chips and I’m not particularly fond of breaded, deep-fried white fish.

So, confess, are you a Wacky Nut Job?

Abundance

I thought of you last night. Really, I did. As I was putting the last fresh fruits and veggies in my cart, I thought — oh, I should bring someone shopping with me. Someone with some control.

Yesterday I went to the post office and afterward drove to the Husband’s favorite take out place b/c I didn’t have much left in the kitchen and didn’t feel like cooking, a common Thursday occurance. But all the people who had been snowed in for Valentine’s Day were taking advantage of a night out — I couldn’t even find a place to park. I drove home and scrounged up a dinner that was made primarily of boxed stuffing and frozen vegetables with a small amount of chicken/apple sausage. I won’t be posting any recipes from that. So, after the kids were in bed, I trudged off to the grocery store, feeling completely uninspired with the week’s menu I had made and not really wanting to cook at all.

Sometimes I’m convinced they put some sort of happy drugs in the air supply at the grocery. There was hardly anyone there last night — I parked only four cars from the door. It was quiet. That alone is like a drug for me . . . ah, quiet in which to *think*. I have a routine to my shopping — I start at the back of the store and work my way to the front so the frozen items stay cold and the fruits and veggies don’t get squished. By the time I had gotten to the produce, I had nearly an hour of therapeutic quiet and was beginning to feel quite good, optimistic, even unrealistic, about what I might cook in the coming week. Sunday is the Chinese New Year, and while my parents lacked the foresight to give me a Chinese grandmother, I started planning some of my favorite foods. Egg roll wrappers are on sale. Bean sprouts. Red bell peppers for the same price as green — and not mushy, but firm and lovely. Garlic. Snow peas.

From there, it was a short step to Food Fantasyland. I started looking at some of the foods on the shelves that I’ve never purchased and wondered what they taste like and how to cook them. Daikon. Taro root. When I start wondering if I ought not give beets another chance, I *know* I’ve been in the produce aisles too long. I put a couple of blood oranges in my cart. Based on conversations with MN, I bought a couple temple oranges, too. I bought parsnips, Heather. I’m going to bake them with some chicken and vegetables. I’ll let you know how it turns out.