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Archive for July, 2009

I did something different this year.  On New Year’s Eve, I usually make a mental list of some resolutions that are pretty general things I would like to improve in the new year (eat better, more exercise, cleaner house, more organized, etc.), but they quickly fall by the wayside because they’re too vague and I have no specific goals.  This year, I decided to make only one  resolution.  My resolution was simply to eat more fruits and veggies.

So throughout the first part of the year, I did make an effort to always stock some kind of fruit in the house – we had alot of apples and pears during the cold weather months and berries like crazy as soon as spring arrived.  I also made an effort to keep plenty of fresh salad veggies available – we always have iceberg lettuce for green salads but I made sure to have colored peppers and cucumbers as much as possible for a more nutritious and interesting dinner salad.    I made sure to bring fruit every day to work in my lunch and made sandwiches and wraps with at least lettuce on them and often some veggies as well.  I felt like I was making good progress.

Over the last 6 weeks, I participated in a health intitative through my employer – completing several different programs will result in a reduction of my insurance premium every month of 2010.  That was a bonus, but I picked programs I would enjoy.  The one I participated in this summer was to log how many fruit and veggie servings I was eating a day for 6 weeks.  I was surprised when I started that even though I had upped the fruits and veggies I was eating, I was still having trouble hitting the 5 a day minimum.  So, I had to try a little harder.  Instead of a handful of berries on my breakfast cereal, I put a huge handful of blueberries and a huge handful of strawberries for two servings.  At lunch I started putting ALOT of greens in my wrap and some veggies, plus making sure I had a fruit on the side.  At dinner we always had our dinner salads but I tried to start replacing starches with things like green beans on occasion.  When I tried a little harder, I was able to get 5 or 6 servings most days.

I had always wanted to join one of the community supported agriculture (CSA) programs, but local ones fill up fast or cost alot and I worry about whether we would like most of what we got.  Instead I started looking around stores for new things to try on my own.  Last week, when I visited my sister in Chicago, she took me to a local market (Michael’s – I think it was in Naperville) that clearly caters to an international crowd.  I almost fainted when I saw their produce department.  Even though I wasn’t in my home kitchen, I picked up a half of a papaya and brought it home.  No one else in my house likes it except me, but I enjoy having something new.

So, her’s what I’ve learned.  For a New Year’s Resolution, pick one (do-able) thing that you think will give you the “biggest bang for your buck” (or biggest pay back for your time or investment) and just stay focused on that all year long.  If you made lots of vague New Year’s Resolutions, take the time now to narrow it down and use the rest of this year to work on THAT ONE THING.

Little by little, we’ll make some progress together.  Let me know what you are working on.  It could have to do with health, money, your home, your job, etc.  Come on, just pick one!

Best regards,

Lynn

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My mother-in-law kept about the cleanest house of anyone I knew and she was sweet to boot, so whenever she offered a tip, I would listen because she always did it to share information and never to criticize.  One tip she gave me was to never use fabric softener on towels – it does make them soft but also makes them less absorbent.  So I haven’t used fabric softener on my towels for years.  I was visiting my sister last week and noticed that while her towels were a little silkier than mine, it was harder to get dry.  My towels are by no means rough and I much prefer having them be very absorbent rather than a little bit of added softness.  In addition, I recently bought a set of hand towels that are a cotton/bamboo blend.  I have noticed that they so far are a little silkier than my other towels without using fabric softener and still very absorbent.  These towels are Vera Wang towels from Kohl’s – I got them on sale with a 30% off coupon so they were very reasonably priced.  Next time I get another good coupon I will probably replace a few bath towels.

But back to fabric softener.  Yesterday I was washing bedding and ran my son’s blanket and an afghan through the washer.  I have completely stopped using fabric softener at all – I have read and heard in various places that it essentially deposits a coating on your clothes that can build up on your clothes and in your washer.  When we bought a high efficiency (HE) front loading washer last year (my 20 year old washer blew its transmission and spurted transmission fluid all over a load of sheets – what fun!), I did a lot of research and much advice about keeping the machine running clean and efficiently recommended using only HE detergent and avoiding additives like fabric softener as much as possible.  So I just stopped using fabric softener on most occasions and don’t really see a difference in our clothes.

Yesterday, however, I did add just a dribble when I washed the blanket and afghan.  They seem to build up a lot of static electricity and a touch of fabric softener seems to help with that.  But I just added a dribble to the dispenser – certainly did not need a whole capful.  In the dead of winter when everything is quite dry, I might also add a tiny bit of softener to loads of wash, but otherwise I don’t use it.  I think the bottle I have may last me for several years!

So my household tip for the day is to try leaving out the fabric softener if you use it and see what you think.  If things are too rough or full of static, start using it again, but start with a really small amount and build up until you get the results you want.  Not only will you save money and reduce the amount of unnecessary manmade chemicals you come in contact with, but it’s possible you might extend the life of your clothes and appliances.

Hope this tip helps.

Best regards,

Lynn

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Last week a local supermarket had rump roasts on sale, so I picked up about a 2.5 lb roast for about $4.  When I brought it home, my husband groaned because it is one of the few cuts of meat that we often are not too successful with.  I did some internet research and put together a SLiM Page with the results I found.

http://alpha.searchlikeme.com/slmpages/651/

My experience has been that with the cuts of rump roast I generally buy, if I try to roast it, it will come out dry and tough, so I decided to go with a crock pot recipe and last night I made the Rump Roast Au Jus from Allrecipes.com.  You can find the original recipe in the SLiM Page link above.  I modified the recipe slightly as my roast was smaller and I wanted a thicker gravy to serve with mashed potatoes.   It came out great, but as the comments on Allrecipes.com suggested, it might be too peppery for some, so cut back a bit on pepper if you are worried.  We had to salt a bit at the table, but I don’t mind doing that – I generally only salt things lightly while cooking so we can adjust when we eat.  I served this with packaged mashed potato mix and a green salad.  It is definitely a keeper.

Rump Roast Au Jus – Lynn’s version

½ T. ground black pepper

½ T. paprika

1 t. chili powder

¼ t. celery salt

¼ t. ground cayenne

¼ t. garlic powder

1/8 t. mustard powder

1 2.5-3 lb rump roast

½ C. water

2 T. cornstarch mixed with 2-3 T. water to thicken gravy at the end of cooking

Mix all seasonings together to make a dry rub and rub all over the rump roast (I did not put any rub on the fat slab that you usually find on one side of the roast).  Place the roast in a Crockpot (I put it fat side down), pour the water around the sides (I tried to avoid rinsing the rub off as I was pouring), put the cover on the crock pot and cook on low for about 7-8 hours.

I checked on the roast and turned it a couple times during the cooking so that different sides would sit in the au jus.

To serve, I put the roast on a platter to rest and poured the juice into a sauce pan on the stove.    You may cover the roast with tinfoil if desired while it rests.  If you have not done it already, mix the cornstarch with some water.    We do this by putting both in an old Tupperware kids Sippy Cup with a lid – put your thumb over the spout and shake to mix.  Be careful when you remove your thumb as a little cornstarch mix may squirt out.  (If you don’t have a Sippy Cup or something else to shake and mix, then just whisk the cornstarch and water together)  Take the lid off the Sippy Cup and slowly whisk about half of the cornstarch mix into the gravy.  Bring to a gentle boil and see if it thickens to the consistency you like for gravy.  If not, whisk in more cornstarch mix and let boil gently again.

Slice or shred the beef and serve with gravy and mashed potatoes.

Let me know what you think.

Best regards,

Lynn

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My husband and I love to cook so much that our kids enjoy the benefits of our cooking, but really are not called upon to do much cooking themselves.  Both kids have had middle school home ec classes, but ironically, there wasn’t much cooking for either of them and I worry that they won’t have proper skills when they go out on their own.

My daughter has been a little bored at times this summer, and occasionally she has expressed an interest in learning “how to cook.”  Her only cooking experience thus far is a little bit of baking for class projects and 4H.  So yesterday when she proposed that we have baked potatoes as a side dish with dinner since we hadn’t had them in a long time, I thought it was an easy way to give her a little bit of experience in the kitchen.

I chose and washed the potatoes myself and then called her in to help.  I was worried about her stabbing herself with the fork trying to pierce the potatoes, but she did fine.  She was a bit grossed out when I had her rub a little olive oil on each potato before wrapping in foil, but she was successful, with no injuries.  We then tossed them in a cold oven and turned it on to 350 and I told her – “that’s it.  They will be ready in about an hour when dinner is ready.”

She was quite proud at the dinner table to let everyone know that she had made the baked potatoes.  I need to come up with some other things for her to do to work on her kitchen skills.  She loves Chex mix, so maybe she can try making that.  I work from a combination of 2 separate recipes, so it would be a good way for her to learn about adapting recipes.

If you have kids, what do you do to help them learn kitchen and other life skills?  Leave a comment with any tips you have.

Best regards,

Lynn

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A few weeks ago I wrote a post about trying to update my wardrobe before I start back to work in fall.  I started by getting a cute new haircut and buying some moderate height heels to replace my usual flats once in a while.  I determined that the most needed additions to my wardrobe included a stylish spring/fall coat, a couple of pairs of more stylish jeans to wear with heels, at least one tailored white blouse, and some interesting accessories.

I did do some looking around locally, but did not find anything to get me too excited, so I decided I would have to venture someplace bigger to have some better shopping choices.  My sister was on vacation last week, so I went to visit her in the Chicago area, where I could have more shopping options than I would know what to do with.

On our first afternoon out, she took me to Nordstrom Rack.  What a great store!  I must have tried on 20 pairs of jeans and about a dozen tops.  It gave me a chance to try some of the high end brands, like True Religion and 7 for All Mankind and to realize that those brands are cut for juniors with the very low rise and just were not what I was looking for.    On the other hand, a brand like Not My Daughter’s Jeans, which is supposed to cater to someone like me, still had that dreaded high-waisted “mom jean” feel.  However, I was rewarded for my trouble – I found the perfect compromise in a pair of Jag jeans – nice fit and waist that was not too high and not too low.  The only catch was that they only had them in one length that would be even too long on me with heels, but I bought them and will take them to be hemmed.   I called several local shops to get prices on hemming and it looks like it should be no more than $12 when I figure out where I should take them.

I also found a very cute pleated cotton jersey top that can take the place of one of the old boring polo shirts I always wear to work.  I knew it was ok when I brought it home and my teen daughter exclaimed enthusiastically, “wow, that’s cute!”  I also got a very soft plain white tee to wear under a low cut tunic that I bought last year and have been unable to wear to work because of the neckline.  I am not a fan of camisoles (I want better than the little bit of built in support they come with), so this tee is a good compromise.  Last, I bought a very classy looking lined lace shell.  The lace is sort of variegated in shades of brown and beige and I love the colors.  I don’t know about wearing sleeveless tops at work, so I will look for some kind of light shrug to wear over it.

So, 3 tops and one pair of jeans at Nordstrom Rack for $93 with tax.  I will definitely pop back in up there whenever I have time during future trips to Chicagoland.

The next day we went to one of those outlet malls.  One of the first places we walked into was Michael Kors.  They had a nice above the knee trench coat on clearance for $79.  While I was trying that on, my sister found a navy oil cloth coat with a different cut and when I tried that on, I thought, “this is the coat.”  Unfortunately, its price tag said $179 and the saleswoman said it was not on clearance.

We decided to continue shopping and I found a well-fitting pair of jeans at Ann Taylor.  I also had an epiphany.  Under current vanity sizing trends, I usually wear a size 4 (funny – I used to be a size 8 and I am no smaller than I was then, but suddenly I am a 4…).  However, when I try on a size 4 and  it doesn’t fit quite right, I conclude it is a problem with the style and not the size.  At Ann Taylor, the size 4 was not quite right so I tried a size 2 – perfect!  Same with a blouse I tried on.  It fit OK in the size I thought I wore, but when I went one size down, it fit much better.  I concluded that I might be buying clothes too large and need to start with smaller sizes and work my way up rather than try on something, see it “fit”, and end up with something that’s actually a little too big and boxy.

Anyhow, after paying for my jeans at Ann Taylor ($47 with tax – way more than I usually spend but way less than some of the premium brands I thought I might need to go to for a good cut and fit, and these should not need hemming), we returned to Michael Kors to look at jackets again.  As I was painfully concluding that even if it was $100 more, I preferred the navy jacket, the saleswoman came over to apologize profusely because she had not actually checked the current price at the register when I had first asked if the jacket was on clearance and it turned out that it was.  I told her that it made my day to find out the coat I wanted most was on clearance for $79, so I cheerfully bought it.

With that, my sister and I ran out of steam and headed home.  I still have about $150 left in my self-imposed budget to find my tailored white shirt and some accessories.  I thought it was a productive shopping trip.

Best regards,

Lynn

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At our house, we frequently have leftover coffee in the pot long after everyone is done wanting hot coffee.  Usually the pot gets turned off and the leftovers sit there until they get dumped out just prior to my making a new pot of coffee.  The only exception to this process is when my husband is traveling and I make coffee to take with me in a travel mug to work.  Since I have to make a minimum of a 4 cup batch in my coffeemaker to get decent coffee, I will pour what I want into my travel mug, turn off the coffee maker and pour the remainder into a regular mug that can be microwaved, cover it with Glad Press and Seal, and put it in the fridge.  Since it is fresh coffee promptly refrigerated, the next day I can reheat it in the microwave, pour it into my travel mug and add my cream and sugar and not have to make coffee on the second day.  The second day’s coffee may not be quite as fresh as the first day’s, but it tastes fine and I feel better about saving time and money.

But on to iced coffee. I have tried in the past to make iced coffee at home with varying degrees of success.  Yesterday I did a web search and found several sites offering advice.  Here is a slim page with some of the links I found most helpful (this blog post is included as one of the links).

http://alpha.searchlikeme.com/slmpages/648/

This morning, I made a larger than usual pot of coffee so that I would have leftovers.  After everyone had coffee, there was still about 3 ½ cups left in the pot.  I poured the hot coffee into a glass pitcher (Yes!  Finally a use for an antique pitcher I didn’t know what to do with) that I had warmed with tap water first (didn’t want to risk it cracking).    One site recommended adding the sugar to the hot coffee so that it dissolves well.  That’s always been one of my problems with iced coffee.  I doubled the amount of sugar I use in hot coffee, so I added 6 teaspoons of sugar to the 3 ½ cups of coffee in the pitcher, stirred well, covered with Press and Seal ( I love Press and Seal!) and put it in the fridge.

At lunch, I filled a glass with ice, poured in the cool coffee (it was in the fridge for only a couple hours and hadn’t fully chilled yet) to fill the glass just over halfway.  I then added about the amount of half and half I would use in a cup of coffee and filled the rest of the glass with 1% milk.

Turned out great!  I still have half a pitcher of coffee in the fridge so we’ll see how well it keeps if the kids don’t figure out how to make their own and use it all up this afternoon.

If you try it, let me know how it turns out.

Best regards,

Lynn

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Just a short post today as I have just returned from a long drive.  I had an opportunity today to realize that we can enhance our lives when we look for fun and humor and approach things with a good attitude.

I was on the highway for several hours today and had to deal with my fair share of traffic and rude drivers, though for the most part it was a pretty smooth trip.  About halfway home, I was pulling up on a large tanker truck.  The back of the tank was painted brown and had a lot of words written on it, but from a distance, I could only read one – “COFFEE.”  I suddenly got this image in my head of this giant tanker truck filled with liquid coffee on its way to make deliveries to Midwest coffee shops all along the highway.  My face broke into a huge grin and I chuckled to myself, “it’s a coffee tanker!”

Pulling up closer to the truck, I finally could see that it was a Pilot gas truck and that the full text on the back advertised that Pilot had the freshest coffee on the road, or something like that.  I still would not release my image of the coffee tanker, though, and chuckled harder when I saw the flammable liquid warning on the back of the tanker.  “Huh,”  I thought.  “I never knew coffee was flammable.”

For the rest of the drive, whenever I got bored, I would think of the magical tanker of coffee plying the highways to help tired motorists and smile again.

A silly distraction, but we all should have our laughs.  Think of something today that makes you smile – it’s even good for your health.

Best regards,

Lynn

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