Time on My Hands to Save $$$$

A couple of weeks ago on a Saturday afternoon I was bored. There didn’t seem to be anything interesting on TV, so while I was dinking around in my kitchen there was a show called Extreme Couponing playing on the adjacent family room TV. The show had several concurrent episodes playing. I was kind of half paying attention until I noticed some unbelievable amounts of money these people were savings due to their efforts of combining coupons with grocery store sales until they were getting most of their items for pennies on the dollar. In fact, even free. And in some cases even getting paid to take the stuff away. Imagine paying $5 for hundreds of dollars worth of stuff.  Never mind that these coupon superstars tend to buy tons of stuff that they don’t actually need right away and fill their garages and every spare inch of storage spaces within their homes with stuff they call their stock piles. One woman even borrowed space from her neighbors! Hoarding –only in neat little piles.

After filing our taxes a couple of months ago, I decided to take a look at our spending habits by analyzing our joint checking account and income for the past year and created a monthly budget based on what I found. Without a doubt our biggest monthly expenditure is groceries –even more than our housing, vehicle and utilities all together! We don’t eat out often and when we do, we eat at inexpensive venues and fast food places. And I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but prices have been on a steady climb, so it is only going to get worse.

No need to dumpster dive for coupons anymore!

No need to dumpster dive for coupons anymore!

Extreme couponing is not a new concept… and I’ve come to realize these shows were not so new either. While printed (and printable) coupons are still out there, this method of combining and “doubling” coupons isn’t so available anymore at places where I shop. The best you can hope to do where I shop is use a coupon on a sale item. Just the same –as I have done periodically throughout my adulthood– I’ve decided to give “couponing” a go once again. Only this time, deciding to get smarter about it. After all, even though I’m retired, I’ve decided the time I’m going to invest in this endeavor is of value. So I was inspired on that Saturday afternoon with the knowledge of my out-of-wack grocery bill, that it was high time I found a way to cut costs any way I can without sacrificing our lifestyle choices if possible –though we could definitely stand to eat a bit healthier. (By that I mean less.)

Coupons have a lot of rules. I try not to embarrass my self further at the checkout (while I'm holding up the  line) as the check goes through reading each and every one of them in the pile!

Coupons have a lot of rules. I try not to embarrass my self further at the checkout (while I’m holding up the line) as the checker goes through reading each and every one of them in the pile!

So how do you find out how to do it nowadays? Why the internet of course! While I now peruse the weekly flyers that fill my mailbox every Wednesday for coupons (both grocery and restaurant types), I’ve also discovered online sites where you can print manufacturer’s coupons. The best site by far is coupons.com where you virtually ‘clip’ manufacturer’s coupons from hundreds that are available. You have to download their printer app due to the bar codes that are printed on the coupons (fyi not working on Chrome). They print three to a sheet so I try to make my total print job in multiples of three so I don’t waste paper. –Need to take into consideration the cost of paper and ink. Then I use a cheap little paper cutter to manually clip my coupons at four sheets at a time. I then file my coupons (by expiration date) in a notebook with sleeves that are tabbed to reflect areas in a grocery store where like item types would be grouped so I don’t have to spend a whole lot of time rifling through all of my coupons to find them while I’m shopping.

Krazy Coupon Lady

Krazy Coupon Lady

That’s just the beginning and it reflects the ‘old fashioned way’ of coupon or discount grocery shopping. There’s more! Yes soooo much more to try and learn! Much of what I know now I’ve learned from a couple of gals that have a website called the Krazy Coupon Lady.com. Joannie and Heather became nationally known a little over a year ago on the now defunct Nate Berkus Show.  They have a lot of YouTube videos that tell you how to “save money in 2015” by utilizing the internet to not only “stack” coupons but get money back by rebating (with your smart phone!) from sites named Ibota, Jingit, Checkout 51, Shopmium and Slice. For the most part you use your phone to scan your receipts and match your purchases to the items on these sites and get coupon-similar refunds. You can also collect refundable points on some sites just for walking in the door! They also tell you how to shop certain stores like Costco, Walmart and Target that have apps to help save additionally. What’s more the Krazy Coupon Lady does a lot of the footwork and figuring out for you by sharing via email “deals” that combine coupons, store sales and rebate sites for maximum savings.

Joanie & Heather

Joanie & Heather

Another “new in 2015” idea is online grocery shopping. Krazy Coupon Lady tells you about these features available on Amazon. There’s a couple of ways to save: One is to ‘subscribe’ to certain items that you purchase in regular intervals. Subscription prices are slightly less than their regular price and can be combined with Amazon’s virtual coupons. The other way is to utilize Amazon Prime Pantry. You have to subscribe to Amazon Prime ($100/year) and pay shipping by the box.  The system shows you what percentage of the box is filled as you add items to your “shopping cart”. These items may have virtual coupons available to be applied. I placed my first order yesterday and it arrived in todays mail! The postman said he delivered three of them today. I was surprised others in my community knew about it as it’s a new thing (and we’re not! LOL). Amazon doesn’t sell perishables like fresh vegeys or meat and their prices aren’t usually cheaper than the same items at the local grocery store, but you don’t waste gas or have to find a place to park. Considering it got here so fast, I’m already feeling like I won at least a small battle as I order a lot of things from Amazon besides groceries. I’m still in the ‘trial’ period for Amazon Prime (which means I haven’t paid for a membership yet) and even though my first order shipped free, not sure it’s going to be worth it. I don’t have a Costco membership either for the same reason. On the fence on this one still and I’ve got a couple of weeks yet to decide.

So far it feels like I’m spending a lot of time on this coupon thing and it will take a lot more time to see a return. Partly because I’m enjoying a new hobby I suppose. Time will tell…

 

 

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Of Pinterest

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It’s seems surreal to me that I’ve been “pinning” for more than a couple of years now.  I tried looking into my profile on the site to see when I actually joined Pinterest and couldn’t find it. I know it’s been more than a year that I converted my account to a pro account as a means of exhibiting my portfolio of work (and perhaps drumming up some business).  I’m guessing that happened about the same time I changed my business emphasis to 3D computer rendering from kitchen design and drafting. What I do remember is all of the hoopla about the ethics of the program and concerns over copyright infringements.  I caught a lot of flack from some and even lost a few Facebook ‘friends’ in the process. Especially those in the art and design community who take real issue with the idea that I might be giving away my work for free (or worse) stealing theirs! I recall my comment at the time was something like: “If you don’t want people to share images on Pinterest, then don’t put it on the internet!”  Seemed rather simple to me.

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I was surprised to discover one of my original computer renderings on somebody’s website one day who obviously found it on the internet (probably on Pinterest or even possibly from my own website PamDesigns.net). They didn’t claim to have created it. Just borrowed the image for their site. It would have been nice to have been asked or at least given credit for it.  Just the same, I was flattered that of all the gazillion images out there in the electronic ether, they found mine and decided it was perfect for their purposes. Purposes that were pretty benign. So I didn’t raise a stink about it. Recalling my statement regarding putting stuff out there on the interwebs… I stood behind my comment. I put it out there and felt that in doing so relinquished any control or possible monetization I might have received otherwise. My theory –the (so far) free internet is cheap advertising and the best way I know of to get my work out there without leaving the comfort of my office chair.

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“How’s that workin’ out for ya?” chided the naysayers. My response: “Not so good.” I’ve not received much business over the internet, via my website, Pinterest boards or any other social networking activity I’ve been involved in over the past six or so years since I first opened my Twitter account. So I have to say LOUD AND CLEAR FOR ALL THE WORLD TO HEAR that social media is not a magic pill for marketing a business. The emperor is in fact naked as a J-bird. There is still no replacement for the tried and true reasons for most business success that has existed since long before social media, computers, cell phones or even TVs were ever invented. If you are successful in business, you know what those reasons are. I’m not going into that in this post.

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“So why do it?” you might ask. I continue my pinning obsession for the same reason I began it. Because it’s fun. For the most part, it’s electronic scrap booking. I now claim 252 boards which contain 83,000+ pins. Aside from just a few of those boards exhibiting my own work, my boards are divided up into my various areas of interest. I do this by ‘coding’ my board titles. Certain very large areas of interest such as recipes have the words A Recipe ~ at the beginning of each board’s title. This makes it easy for me to locate boards to file pins in. OK –I know this makes me sound a little OCD –perhaps if the shoe fits (and can be counted and organized)… 😉

9cb3a1c39ca3a5b77dba8aa031336905If an area of interest is somewhat small, I’ll give it a unique title. For example, one of my recent favorites is a board called “A Country Life” that has images of  life on the farm that remind me of growing up on my folk’s farm in Southern Oregon. I also have a board called “I LUV Oregon” because I lived there for a big part of my life and still visit once in awhile. One aspect of  social networking has been since it’s inception (probably due to the now defunct My Space and emphasized with Twitter) is the goal of gaining followers. I remember how flattered I felt when my Twitter following reached a few thousand. I never failed to post dozens of #FF (Follow Friday) mentions weekly and made it my mission to “Tweet” at least five times a day seven days a week. I remember the controversy over issues about “original tweets vs. re-tweets”, promoting business tweets vs. spam, and over tweeting…  In the past year or so, my Tweets have dwindled to just a couple a week and most of those are Pins.

2093c5859d3fe8f6cca11a548f632592Ironically, my Pinterest following is almost 30,000 at this point. I count but a few of my Pinterest followers as ‘friends’ because we’ve been sharing pins long enough that I recognize their names. Many were Facebook friends to begin with. It was never my intention to mass a following on Pinterest. As I’ve stated in the past, my interest in Pinterest started out as a self-serving obsession. It just so happens that there seem to be a lot of people out there who have the same interests as I do that are pretty commonplace  ~ like food, travel, gardening, art and interior decoration. I’ve a few boards that speak more about my personality like the “Whimsey” board or the “# Things_To_Know_Before_Dying” Board (written on purpose like a Twitter hash tag) where I relegate comments that I find funny or  political satire and issues. I even have a board where I pin this blog’s posts! I also have some unique board titles like “Mermaids and Seafaring Folk” and “Sueños del Estilo Español” .

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Aside for the inception of the “pro” format developed by Pinterest that has a slightly different formatting that the original format (and I can’t really remember what that was), Pinterest has evolved and features have been added. One significant feature is that you are alerted now when you try to pin an image that you previously pinned. They even tell you which board you pinned it to. It works about 80 percent of the time. I still troll my boards for duplicates. However, there have been times that I will purposely pin an image to more than one board.

03655326dd6f4771a8519783169a2f88There are rules. You are not supposed to pin an image without consent from the owner or creator of  it.  That is a loosely enforced rule. Actually, Pinterest doesn’t remove images unless the copyright owner requests it to be. At least weekly I get a notice that one or more of my pins has been removed. They are always sure to tell me it’s not a reflection on me because I unwittingly got it from somebody else. Thanks Pinterest!

38856d4410e324ecd09b0629d06d25b9Most of the ‘rules’ I’ve run into have been contrived by other users. One such ‘rule’ came from a woman who decided to proclaim in her profile that anybody pinning more than 10 pins from any of her numerous boards would be blocked from further pinning of her boards stating that doing so was ‘bad Pinterest etiquette’. So… she blocked me and sent me a pin to let me (and all the world) know what bad pin thief I was. Well I otta!!!!! and I did. I blocked her back. Bitch.

I have rules (self imposed really).

  1. I don’t belong to group boards because they become insufferably long and often end up off topic.
  2. I wish there was a board size limit of 1000 pins. (I limit mine to that amount.) It just makes it easier to find stuff.
  3. I make sure the ‘cover pin’ for each board is still a pin on that board. It drives me crazy when I go to somebody’s board because I was inspired by the cover pin just to find out after scrolling through 3000 pins that it’s no longer there!
  4. I don’t allow other people to pin to my boards. (see rule #1) I have only one board from my son that we share –it’s of his dog Mila Wolfavich.
  5. I don’t pin anything to do with clothing fashion, makeup or little kid’s room interiors or parenting. I did my stint. I’m over it.

A newer feature on Pinterest is the ability to make hidden boards. These come in handy for pro designers, architects and such who want to make boards specifically for their customers. I haven’t tried it but I think it’s a great feature. If I wasn’t retired, I’d probably use it.

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Some things I wish they would fix:  Dragging and dropping pins from one board to another would be nice. Currently you can drag and drop boards from one location in your collection of boards, but you cannot rearrange or change the sequence of pins within a board. You have to change the pin details in order to move a pin from one board to another. This gets pretty time consuming when creating a new board because the existing one is too full. I do this frequently (probably evidentiary of my burgeoning OCD).

b9d2f058a6255780cbad8e98c5ef4ddbOther pet peeves:

  1. Pinning an image of a recipe and discovering that it does not link directly to a recipe.
  2. Trying to move a pin from one board to another and being told I can’t because the pin has been reported as a link to spam “by somebody” unknown. Yet it’s allowed to remain on the board I put it in. Doesn’t make sense to me.
  3. People who think I know what the brand and color name is of the paint on the wall in the room.  How the Hell should I know? Is it too hard to click through to the origin of the pin to ask the manufacturer or original pinner? Jeesh! It’s amazing how many people assume that I am the original pinner of anything except my original work. Duh!
  4. Nonsensical comments on my pins. Glad you think it’s “beautiful” but I’d rather have a conversation beyond that if you are going to go to the trouble of commenting on one of my pins.

I don’t spend as much time as I used to on Pinterest. Usually an hour or so when I first get up in the morning with a cup of coffee after I’ve gone through the email. I spend more time going through my existing pin boards as it seems I don’t see as much new stuff anymore. Don’t get me wrong. Pinterest has enriched my life in ways I could not have anticipated. It’s been the source of inspiration for much of my creativity since I’ve found it as is displayed throughout my home and my work. I just think my participation has leveled out so that I don’t spend an unhealthy amount of time at it.

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It’s seems to be my stopping point for my search for time-wasting endeavors I’ve taken into the world of ‘social networking’. Perhaps because it’s less about social networking (for me) and more about scrap booking and collecting ideas. The images in this post are taken from my board titled “Of Pinterest”. If you want to find the sources for any of them, you’ll have to go to the Pinterest site to my board. If you click on the image, it will hopefully direct you to the source link. If not, please accept my apology and lack of due diligence –it just may be an image without a URL attached.

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Gadgets

Awhile ago I wrote about a thing called a Garlic Zoom that chops garlic. Now there’s a gadget that peels them for you too.

This morning on The Kitchen (Food Network) was one of my favorite periodic segments where they demonstrate gadgets vs. the old fashioned way (like using a paring knife). Today one of those gadgets was a simple silicon tube that is used to peel garlic. Checking them out on ebay, one can get one for as low as a buck and they come from China. garlic peeler

Now I’ve always done it the old fashioned way with the side of a wide chef’s knife that really is kind of messy, sticky peels stuck to your hands and you come away smelling like a clove of garlic. However, this new garlic peeling method works really slick and the smell is left on the gadget and not on your fingers.

I don’t actually have a garlic peeling tube, but I do have a couple of small silicone objects with which I decided to see if I could get the same results. One was a larger cupcake mold and the other was a silicone jar opening pad that was a give-away from my bank (several years ago). Both of these worked like a charm, though the jar opener worked better and I don’t like the idea that my cupcake mold might forever smell like garlic.cupcake mold

 

With the jar opener pad, I just folded it over like a taco shell and inserted a few garlic cloves inside. Then you roll it just firm enough not to crush the clove. And voile’ the peel comes off like magic sticking to the silicon in small shreds. My jar opener has a textured side that I used against the garlic and it seems to work better than the smooth side. I peeled a whole garlic (with 20 cloves) in less than two minutes. Clean up is a breeze and no more stinky garlic fingers! The jar opener pad can be rinsed under water or even go in the dishwasher if you are worried about garlicky smelling  jar lids. jar opener

I guess the take away from this post is there are lots of ingenious gadgets on the market that are inexpensive and don’t take up a lot of space (like the silicone jar opening pad, the garlic peeler or the garlic zoom). More importantly, you may find things you already have may do the trick nicely.

 

 

Garlic Zoom

800px-GarlicBasketI have to admit I can be a sucker for new gadgets. I have a salad slicer with lots of components sitting in my cabinet that I’ve never used because it just seems so fussy to bother with. Most of the gadgets I see can really be replaced with a single sharp knife. So who needs ’em?! Right?

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Well, last weekend on the Food Network channel’s new show The Kitchen they reviewed some gadgets and one of them was a little object with blades inside with wheels called a Garlic Zoom. It seemed kinda silly. Then while at Ross a couple of days after viewing the show, there was actually one on the shelf for a little less than $6. I thought why not do my own test to see if I would agree that the best solution for chopping garlic is still a good sharp knife as indicated by the show. So at worse I  would be out the price of a latte and one more piece of junk stuffed in my gadget drawer.

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Imagine my surprise when the thing actually worked! You do have to take the skins off of the garlic cloves. And I do that with the side of my chef’s knife cracked against the side of the clove –so I guess I still need a knife for that part. But that’s all –then just stuff the peeled clove in the top of the little door on the gadget. Then you just roll it on the counter and the little chopping knives in it go to work creating a nice mince. 41r3vWHFdLL31kKmlJdNwLEasy Peasy!

You can see in the bottom picture there is a bigger door that opens to get the chopped garlic out and makes it easy to clean. Just rinse it out  but be careful of the little knife gizmo inside that comes out as it is pointy and sharp!

I’d say the co-hosts on The Kitchen missed the mark on this one. It’s easy to use, easy to clean and is tiny so it doesn’t take up a lot of storage space. I would highly recommend it especially for those with difficulty mincing with a knife which happens when people get older (than the co-hosts on The Kitchen). The Garlic Zoom gets a big thumbs up from me!

IMG_0001[1]It worked pretty good on a serrano chile too. I just cut the stem off and cut it into thirds and popped it in. I use the seeds because I like them hot. Pretty much anything bigger wouldn’t work so good because this gadget is tiny and you need to use a fairly firm chile to get it to work.

FYI… they sell for closer to $10 on Amazon plus shipping. I’m not sure I would have bit for that price. I got mine at Ross when they just happened to be stocking the shelves with a new shipment of kitchen stuff.

In the Spirit of Things

Am I hearing the distant and faint “jingle, jangle” of Christmas bells?  No, I’m hearing them loud and clear coming from my TV!  And I don’t want to be.  I am simply amazed at how much earlier year after year the folks responsible for the commercialization of the Holiday Season manage to con us into decking our halls with the latest trends in festive baubles and bling.  It’s too early folks!  I don’t want to sit down to Thanksgiving Dinner and see my Christmas Tree.  And, when I do put up my tree, it is going to look pretty much like it did last year.  I want the children at my table (if I had them) to have dreams of the pumpkin pie -not sugar plums- dancing through their little heads.  (Actually I haven’t a clue what sugar plums are and have obviously never made them.)  Though I certainly expect they shall be dropping hints about what they hope to discover on Christmas morning-  under the tree that is NOT up yet.  Yesseree –I’m a nostalgic traditionalist and love the notion of the holidays as I have dreamed of them my entire life.  While I dream of change in politics (such as may occur as a result of Obamacare)… when it comes to holiday traditions, I do not.  Some things should never change.  The unfolding of the seasons this time of the year is the one thing that makes the passing of summer tolerable. (We don’t get to see much in the way of seasonal changes here on the California Central Coast, so I have to be content with the images I’ve found on Pinterest and the Autumn wallpaper and screensaver I created for my computer screen.)   I’m not getting any younger, so I want the unfolding to drag on as long as possible.

My Facebook  friend Pat recently bought a house.  Since retiring from a career of many years as a flight attendant she is finally going to spend her Holiday Season at home and is finally getting to celebrate Christmas on Christmas.  She posted a picture of her tree that she recently put up in her new home.  It is lovely!  A comment followed by another FB friend to her post  “You’ve been in the air toooo long; It’s Happy Thanksgiving then Merry Christmas !!!! LOL 😉;) Hope you have BOTH!!!!! :)”  Considering her history ~she gets a pass I think.

Don’t get me started on the new “Black Thursday” that used to be “Black Friday”!  No, I haven’t done my Christmas shopping and this does not inspire me to jump in head first either.  I guess not everybody is going to be slaving over a hot stove putting a Thanksgiving meal together that usually eats up the major part of the day -a preoccupation that pretty much negates any opportunity to hit the mall at the crack of dawn in search of  ‘deals’.  Do I care that retailers are screwing their employees out of holiday family time?  No not really~ jobs are hard to come by these days and most people I’ve talked to are grateful for the opportunity to earn the cash.  Many of them are the ‘extra help’ hired for the Holiday Season anyway (earlier this season than before).  It’s pretty much expected if you work in retail.  Sorry guys.  I’m likely to do my shopping right here behind my computer screen as I mostly have for the past several years.  The lines are much shorter.

Many commercials this year are now focused squarely on the New Normal with a holiday twist.  I love that the TV gods have seen fit to allow gays to be portrayed on TV shows as parents, lovers, spouses, and well rounded respectable  individuals that have jobs and pay their taxes ~and not serial killers or serial victims set out to destroy the moral fabric of American society.  What I don’t love is that during the limited space and time continuum of a TV commercial, it is done with whiny insipid people who come across as ‘queeny’ so that you get that they’re gay.   Somehow, I’m anticipating a backlash in the future of TV programming ~ but perhaps my expectations are futile.  Laundry, dish cleaning,  toilet and floor scrubbing are still done pretty exclusively by middle class women of child-bearing age as they have been since the television was invented.  Good changes in the history of TV:  people of color do not necessarily get killed off first.  Bad changes:  Have you noticed it’s recently become OK to say “shit” during prime time on some networks?  Expected changes:  A commercial suggesting you give your same-sex partner the latest flavor  in KY for Christmas this year or what Santa will be giving Mrs. Santa this year because he’s started a daily regimen of Cialis.  ¡Oye! ~I’m so glad I don’t have little kids at home anymore so that I don’t have to explain stuff!

If you must put up a tree before Thanksgiving, this one is really cute! Love the owls!

So in the spirit of Thanksgiving, I’d like to end this post on a more pleasant ( and less snarky) fashion.  To celebrate the day in the spirit for which the day was made, I want to give thanks for all that I am grateful for.  I have a lot to be thankful for.  I have a wonderful home that has been recently remodeled with the kitchen of my dreams and the dust has settled.  I have a wonderful loving husband and three fabulous children and two brilliant and beautiful grandchildren that I am soooo proud of.  I voted in an election and am happy to say pretty much everything I voted for passed (which just never ever has happened in my life before) and my hope for change (in areas with actual importance)  has found new vigor.  I am grateful also that you have taken the time to read my meanderings and allowed me a brief moment on the soap box.  I truly hope you and yours have a wonderful Holiday Season the way you want it to be.

Recipes on Pinterest

Anybody who follows me knows one of my obsessions lately has been Pinterest.  After a few months of “pinning” I discovered it to be a fantastic source of recipes.  When I first started my Pinterest preoccupation, I tried to limit myself to certain themes trying to focus on design themes that included architecture, interiors, landscaping with special attention to kitchen design. Knowing my collection of boards would soon mushroom out of control, I decidedly avoided topics that included fashion, cute kids and animals, literature, food, and travel so that I could attempt to make my ever-expanding collection manageable.

Well some 190 boards later, I’ve included art, travel and food into my mix of topics. It’s likely I’ll never try three fourths of the recipes I’ve collected.  Many of them are from other well known sources such as food.com, recipe.com,  Delish and other popular recipe sites, though most are from sources that other pinners have found on blogs that I would have never encountered on my own.  What all of these have in common is their visual appeal that makes them ‘pin’ popular. Of course, presentation is everything when it comes to making food appetizing.  Right?  One unfortunate side is that some pins do not link to a recipe but just a pretty picture.  So sorry in advance if you click on one of my pins that doesn’t lead to a recipe ~ they tricked me too!  You can find me on Pinterest at http://pinterest.com/pamdesigns/

Here are a few of the recipes I’ve tried that I’ve found on Pinterest:

From the Busy Mom’s Recipe blog my favorite so far is this easy-to-make Asian chopped salad that uses inexpensive Ramen Noodles http://busymomrecipes1.blogspot.com/2011/06/oriental-salad-with-ramen-noodles.html.  I don’t think it was clear about which flavor to use, but I think the obvious one would be the Oriental flavor.  ImageDon’t skimp on the peanuts (unless you’re allergic to them) and don’t over-do it with the soy sauce in the dressing which will overpower the Oriental seasoning.

Another recipe that I like that is seasonal is this pumpkin coffee cake from prettygoodfood.com http://www.prettygoodfood.com/2012/02/pumpkin-coffee-cake-with-brown-sugar.html?m=1 .  I don’t use actual pumpkin for any of my pumpkin recipes.  I use butternut squash instead because I like the texture and flavor better.  When all of the Autumn posts started to manifest on Pinterest, along came all of the ‘pumpkin everything’ recipes.  Fine by me!  I’ve been counting the days until squash started showing up in the grocery stores. As soon as the butternut squash showed up, started buying them fresh.  I boil them until they’re soft, and freeze the mashed squash in two-cup bags which is the usual amount for most of the recipes I come across.   I love “pumpkin” flavor in everything from coffee drinks to ice cream.  I’ve also noticed a lot of not-sweet recipes lately that call for butternut squash that I want to try.  Image

This coffee cake recipe called for a glaze topping that I didn’t have all of the ingredients for.  So I made up my own ‘streusel topping’ with a cube of cold butter, 1/2 cup each of brown (packed) and white sugar, generous cinnamon (about two tablespoons–I like a lot) and a cup of chopped walnuts.  I blended it until it was crumbly and sprinkled it over the cake before baking.  It was wonderful, but made a huge batch that I think I will halve next time.

Another low calorie dessert is something called Aunt Betty’s 1-2-3 Cake from TheHiddenPantry Blog http://thehiddenpantry.blogspot.com/2011/11/aunt-bettys-1-2-3-cake.html that you can store as a dry mix and make individual servings in a coffee mug when your sweet tooth needs to be satisfied but not at the expense of your waistline.  The mix is very simple.  It’s just a box of angel food cake mix and a box of regular cake mix.  ~I’ve found the angel food cake mix is there primarily as a leavening agent but can have an overpowering flavor and texture.  If you want a more cake-like flavor and texture, mix only one half a box to angel food cake to a full box of cake mix.  You can make it any flavor you like.  Some I’ve tried are devils food, yellow cake, strawberry and lemon.  They are all delicious!  Image

Making the serving is as easy as 1-2-3!  You mix three tablespoons of the mix in a mug with two tablespoons of water.  Put it in the microwave for one minute. Top with a dollop of non-fat whipped topping. Done.

A recipe that was a hit at my house this summer was Mayonnaise Roasted Turkey that originated from the SheWearsManyHats Blog http://shewearsmanyhats.com/2011/11/mayonnaise-roasted-turkey/.  We had Thanksgiving a little early this year when my daughter and family, and my other kids and I all got together at the end of August.  This is a rare occasion as my kids are spread all up and down the West Coast and it’s hard to get us all in one spot at the same time.  This has never worked out during the Holiday Season, so we made our own and decided to have Thanksgiving early.  ImageIt doesn’t get any easier than this. You’ll want to try it in November for the ‘real’ Thanksgiving.  I’m going to for sure!

Latin cuisine is popular where I live and after being married to my Mexican husband for 20 years, I’ve learned to make some pretty decent “authentic” Mexican dishes.  Though I still like the Tex-Mex Gringo recipes I find.  He loves them too… calls them Taco-Tamale-Enchiladas ~pretty much because they all seem to have the same ingredients and taste very similar.  All can be fixed with a little Tapatio Sauce!Image

This enchilada casserole recipe from justgetoffyourbuttandbake.com blog   http://www.justgetoffyourbuttandbake.com/?p=3352 is a bit like a Mexican lasagne but has a lot of familiar taco flavors.  It’s really tasty and the leftovers freeze nicely for later.

One really great main dish recipe that’s fast to whip up is Parmesan Crusted Chicken that came from The Enchanted Cook blog http://theenchantedcook.blogspot.com/2011/10/parmesan-crusted-chicken-hellmanns-mayo.html via the Hellmans/BestFoods Mayo people.  Very few ingredients and easy to make. I didn’t have Italian herb bread crumbs, so I used the Panko I had on hand and added some Italian seasoning.Image

Southern Hospitality in Louisville

Last week I was a guest at the GE Monogram Experience Center in Louisville, Kentucky. Product manufacturers have come to realize the power of social media and have begun including bloggers such as myself in their training seminars. Mind you, I am also a professional designer and am likely to be interested in the type of products they produce and will be inclined to specify them if I know about them. GE Monogram provides these seminars weekly throughout the year to those who are primarily appliance dealers, developers and contractors. A couple of weeks a year, they have seminars geared toward architects and designers –those who are likely to specify but not necessarily sell appliances directly. This past week was one of those weeks. I opted to attend the fall session because it was after the new product roll-out for the coming year.

This particular blog entry however is intended to share my Louisville experience. GE Monogram folks were the epitome of hospitality and allowed me to participate in an adventure far more extensive than I could have anticipated. I will followup with a blog later on this week telling you about the wonderful appliances I learned about (and am now completely enamored with and coveting). No problem promoting GE Monogram here! But first let me tell you about my Louisville experience:

Nancy Pollock, Concierge for the Monogram Experience Center, is absolutely phenomenal. She coordinates the agenda, travel and lodging provided by GE to seminar participants from all around the country –day in and day out. Our group was a smallish (compared to the usual) of about 15.  Saying she does a fabulous job is an understatement. I can never begin to express my gratitde or the appreciation she deserves for making everything flow so smoothly from my travel arrangements, the accommodations at the 21c boutique hotel and art gallery, the Monogram Experience Center –and finally making sure I didn’t have a bored or wasted moment when the planned activites ended on the last day several hours before my departing flight was scheduled. She really had a way of making each of us feel appreciated for the time we spent with GE Monogram in Louisville.

“21c has been voted #1 Hotel in the U.S. and #6 in the World in the Condé Nast Traveler Reader’s Choice Awards 2009 AND 2010.” Here is some of the art that was on display while I stayed at 21c:

 

This is the room that I had all to myself!

Notice the red penguins. There were 4-foot models of these all over the place. They stood as guardians on parade along the roof outside. They had a habit of showing up in some odd places. You never knew when one would be standing just outside your door. Some guests might even find one resting in their bed when they returned to their room at night! Creepy!
21c has famous (infamous?) restrooms: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bq8hk-IPWJs&feature=fvw and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jsVap8Irclo&feature=related.  (These are the public restrooms not the ones in the suites.) The award-winning restaurant at 21C is Proof (referring to the local bourbon distilleries of course –there ware six of them nearby) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PEWMYahdE8o&feature=related.  We had dinner there the first night and it was incredible.
Aside from the GE Monogram Experience Center Events, she arranged other activities as well such as first-time-ever visit for the design group to the Louisville Arts and Crafts Museum and Gallery that is right across the street from 21c.

These are the hand-forged iron pulls that were on the main entry doors. There were many beautiful examples of ironwork at the gallery.

I purchased some beautiful blown glass earrings with the gift certificate that was bestowed upon me.  Each of the participants received a gift certificate to spend at the museum.  We were designers after all and we DO love to shop!

Central to the MEC (Monogram Experience Center) is a cooking theatre that is a lab with several kitchens stocked with the superstars of the Monogram collection of cooking and cleaning appliances. Our “culinary trainers” were Chefs Joe Castro and Brian Logsdon.  Both were not only wonderful chefs but just delightful people to get to know.  I’m so happy they have a blog that has several of their webinars posted on there that really give you a sense of the experience I had cooking along with them at the MEC. http://www.monogram.com/all-in-good-food/