Saturday, May 21, 2016

Fun Modern Art Idea Book

Ideas.  I love them!  I love sitting down and taking ten minutes to write out plans to some project I'd like to do or an event I'd like to plan.  Writing down my idea energizes me.  But over the years, I've come to realize that many of my ideas get to remain just ideas--at least for a while.  There simply isn't enough hours in the day to pursue all of my ideas.  Even so, I love to brainstorm and my mind is often spinning.

As a result, I smiled like I was opening up a Christmas present when I received a new book in the mail recently.  The book was Your Idea Starts Here by Carolyn Eckert.

This book contains 77 ideas about what to do with ideas in the beginning middle or ending stages. There are ideas like recycle, share, wait, critique... and others that I won't give away in this review.   You can view a preview of this book on Amazon or on  For each idea about ideas, there is a graphic and description of that idea.  Many interesting stories are included about little inventions that have changed our lives.   I could flip open anywhere in this book and smile.  I do not generally like modern art, yet most of the graphics in this book are just that--modern art.  And I love them!  I genuinely enjoy looking at this book--at the lines, composition, shadows, color, and subjects of the graphics.  My husband also enjoyed looking at all the pictures.  One thing which occurred as I read this book was that I laughed out loud often or at the very least smiled regularly in my reading.

As a book, it is well written, interesting, engaging, and easy to read.  All of the formatting makes the text easy to read and understand.  The graphics add to each idea about ideas and don't take away from the text.

You can see a preview of this book on Storey's website HERE.  This is a book is one you would give someone looking for ideas.  I greatly enjoyed this book!

It would be a perfect college graduation gift!

Please note that I received a complimentary copy of this book from Storey books.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Seafood Salad

My husband asked me recently what I enjoy doing.  My reply to his question was that I am finally enjoying cooking again.

For a long time, I didn't enjoy cooking.  I always felt like I was inside a pressure cooker, ready to explode and working as fast as I could to get dinner on the table.  But, I have begun to finally make myself get started earlier when it comes to cooking dinner.  I've also realized that I needed to look for the enjoyment in my cooking.  As I began looking for it, I discovered that my enjoyment in cooking comes when I try to think about what I'm cooking and be creative.

Today I was really hungry after mowing the lawn, cutting down a rose bush, weeding two flower beds in the front yard, and trimming the grass along the fence.  (I did a little at a time while taking multiple breaks to teach my kids and help them get their work done.)  Nothing in the refrigerator appealed to me when I was finally done with the yard work, so I decided to make some pasta seafood salad. Here's the recipe I came up with: (my youngest son and my pickiest eater both gave it a thumbs up)

Seafood Salad

4 oz. imitation crab, chopped
12-15 shrimp (1/2 pound) cooked, peeled and chopped in large chunks
3 cups cooked pasta (small noodles like shells, elbows, or small rotini)
pinch of dill (to taste)
1 tsp deli mustard (or 2 if you like more mustard)
Juice of one lemon, fresh is preferable
1 tsp worcestershire sauce
1/4 tsp pepper
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup light mayonnaise
1/2 medium size red bel pepper, diced
1/4 cup minced red onion

Mix everything in a bowl and chill.  Add more salt and pepper to taste.  You can also add 1/4 cup diced cucumber and/or 1/4 cup diced carrot to taste.

This is going to be lower fat than most versions because I added more lemon juice and cut the mayo.  It doesn't taste heavy.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Awesome Cookies

My family's favorite cookies are the ones made with recipes from my mom, grandmother, and great-grandmother.  But, that only leaves me with a small handful of recipes and my family loves variety.  I have looked over the years for more cookie cookbooks because I enjoy making cookies.  A few years ago, I was blessed to find King Arthur's Cookie Companion.  In it, I found several good recipes that I could add, which my family enjoyed.  Even so, I am always up for trying new recipes in the hope of finding some treasures... and this week I was ecstatic to find a new cookie book that has already added two new recipes to my family's cookie list.

The cookbook is a small one that won't take up a lot of room on anyone's shelf.

Cookie Classics Made Easy by Brandi Scalise surprised me.  A few of the old standards are there along with some new ones.  We made the Apples Rolled in Autumn and Chocolate Reese's Peanut Butter.  Both were very flavorful cookies and my family loved them!

The first cookies, Apples Rolled in Autumn, had a strong spice flavor to them and were nice when baked a little crispy.  The crispiness helped them last more than one day because normally apples make cookies get mushy the day after.  The second cookies were an even better surprise.  My family happens to love chocolate cookies.  I don't usually make larger cookies because they don't cook through very well, but these did!  They had a sort of brownie like texture in a cookie.  My 10 year old daughter made them (with just a little help from me).  We used a size 40 ice cream scoop to scoop out the dough onto the cookie sheets.

Some of my determiners of whether or not a cookbook is a good one is whether the ingredients work together, whether the directions are clear and work, whether the timing is correct or close to accurate (in my experience), and whether the formatting of the book makes the recipe easy to follow.  

Here's how this cookbook did.

1.  Ingredients:  The combination of ingredients was great for both recipes we made.  A few of the recipes did use something called Bischoff butter, which is cookie butter.  Cookie butter is super-duper high in calories so I think I'll hold off on making these recipes unless it's a very special occasion.

2.  Directions:  I did use parchment lined cookie sheets when I baked them and the oven temperatures that the cookbook calls for.  But, I did make one change.  I have been a one bowl cookie baker for years like this author (she explains this in her introduction).  My mom and I feel very strongly, though, that you must cream the butter and sugars together first thoroughly to make sure that there are no lumps of sugar in the batter.  This author recommends using room temperature butter instead and mixing a bunch of ingredients together at the beginning.  Other than this difference (creaming the butter and sugars first), I did find that the directions were clear and easy to follow.  My ten year old daughter and twelve year old daughter (who made the other recipe) successfully made the cookies (using my added direction of creaming the butter and sugar first).

3.  Timing:  This isn't an essential determiner for me, but the closer the better.  The first recipe was off by quite a lot.  The apple cookie recommended baking time was 20 to 25 minutes.  I baked them for only 16 minutes.  The second cookie, Reese's, was closer.  The recommended baking time was 15 minutes and I found that 13-14 minutes was better.  That was a lot closer.  Even so, I'd recommend starting to check the cookies from this book 3-4 minutes before the shorter baking times and 5 minutes before the longer baking times.

4.  Formatting and Graphics:  The photography is done well and makes the cookies appealing.  The formatting is mostly easy to follow.  I wish she had separated her second step into two or three steps. Spacing would have made it easier to follow each recipe and keep track of where I am in adding ingredients.

Given all of these comments, it's probably surprising that I'm ecstatic that I have new recipes from this cookbook to add to our family's cookie repertoire.  In all four of the areas above, this cookbook isn't perfect.  But, the fact that the first two recipes we made tasted wonderful trumps all of that in my mind.  Normally, I won't even consider reviewing a cookbook until I've made several recipes, but I wanted to review this cookbook after we made only two batches of cookies because the cookies were so good!

If you don't have a lot of space and are looking for a good cookie cookbook, check this one out!

Please note that I received a complimentary copy of this book for review from Storey Books.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Toilet Paper

My mom was over this week and said something to me that I thought a little unusual.  She asked me what toilet paper I buy.  She really liked it.  I explained that I buy either quilted northern or charmin when it's on sale at Target in large packages.  I worked it out that I pay about $3 for 6 rolls (sometimes a little less).  I know that the rolls are advertised as "double rolls", but that's been an advertising gimic for so long that I haven't been sure whether or not to believe it.

Well, according to my mom, it's true.  She explained that the same thickness of 7 thin squares is only 3 squares of the thicker paper.  Hmm...

I just thought I'd share this in case you'd ever wondered if the advertising was true the way I had!

Friday, April 29, 2016

Easy and Beautiful Ice Cream Pie

Tonight we celebrated my son's birthday with a family dinner.  For dessert, I made a chocolate ice cream pie (his request).   I modified a recipe I found over on Fine Cooking's website HERE.  Here's a picture of the pie I made (although I think it looked better in person!).

I discovered recently that you can melt creamy peanut butter and it will turn to liquid pretty quickly (30 seconds in the microwave).   It will also reharden quickly.  You don't need to buy peanut butter topping for ice cream.

So, after following the steps on Fine Cooking for the crust.  I let it cool and then filled the bottom with a layer of chocolate ice cream.  Then, I spread the hot fudge sauce on top and melted 1/3 cup of peanut butter.  I drizzled that over top of the hot fudge sauce and put the pie in the freezer.  Later in the afternoon, I made the small scoops of ice cream and layered them on top.  I chopped up some mini reese's cups and sprinkled them over top.  Then, I drizzled 1/4 cup hot fudge sauce like the recipe recommended plus another 1/4 cup of melted peanut butter.

It really was a yummy pie.

Most of the time I bake pies, but this one was nice and easy to make!

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Annoying phone calls...

95% of the phone calls we get on our landline are junk calls.  It is very, very annoying.  Yesterday, I called our phone provider to inquire about breaking the contract for our phone line.  The fee was more than I was ready for (of course), so I asked what I could do about these annoying phone calls.  Here's what I learned...

#1  You have to re-register on the Do Not Call list every year.  EVERY YEAR!  Here's a link to the site:

#2  That list is updated quarterly.  QUARTERLY!  So, if you register in January, your number won't be on the list until the end of March :(  Better late than never...

#3  I could change our phone number... but that invites other kinds of issues.  Who knows?  The person who had that number previously might have been getting even more junk calls than I do now!
#4  Verizon has a Call Block Feature on their app/website.  I need to write down the frequently calling wrong numbers and simply go into the site/app and record them.

#5  My phone has a call block feature.  I've been lazy and haven't used it.  Today I started using it.  I looked up the directions online and it was simpler than I had realized.

Basically, I learned that if I want to get rid of these calls I will need to be proactive in blocking them.

When our current contract is up, I can switch the physical phone I use, discontinue our landline, and get a link2cell phone which will allow my kids to talk on the phone via my cell phone line.

Any other ideas about how I can get rid of these nuisance calls???

Post script... The phone just rang.   Then, I saw the screen.  Call blocked.  CALL BLOCKED!  Yippee!  One down, many more to go... he he he.  But, I have hope!

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Some of my favorite kitchen utensils...

Today a friend of mine and I went for a walk and she asked me about parchment paper.  I love parchment paper.  I purchase a 1000 sheet box from the webstaurant every 2-3 years.  The paper doesn't curl like it does if you buy it on the roll and it's astronomically cheaper than buying it in small quantities.  My mom bakes a lot and so do I, so we go through it at a good pace.  After we talked about parchment paper, my friend asked me if I have any other favorite gadgets.  I told her about the treat I found yesterday at Ollies, a bargain store near where I live.

The set I bought only had the purple, orange, and green models, but it was only $4 instead of the $12 that Amazon wants for this set of five mini spatulas.  I hesitated when I picked them up at the store.  I had seen them in the weekly ad, but I had been given a much shorter mini spatula several years ago that was quite frustrating to use.  So, of course I hesitated.  But, I love them!

I have already used them 3 times in 2 days!  I used the spoon spatula twice to get mayonnaise out of the bottom of the jar and didn't end up with a messy hand!  Happy day!  Then, I used the orange spatula to scrape the peanut butter jar clean.  I was able to get enough out for 2 extra sandwiches!  Wow!  

Now, there's one caveat about this set.  When I brought them home, one of the handles was a little rough in a few spots.  So, I grabbed a piece of 220 sand paper from my kitchen junk drawer and sanded all three handles down for a minute.  Then, I took out the jar of mineral oil in my kitchen, which is a foodsafe way of finishing wood, and poured a little on a piece of paper towel and rubbed the handles down.  I could have skipped doing this, but it made me happy to improve the handles.  

Then, tonight at dinner I used another of my favorite utensils--my flat metal whisk.  
This is a 12 inch Best Manufacturers Flat Roux/Gravy Whip.  I have two whisks.  One is a rounded model with silicone on the wires so I can use it in nonstick pans.  This whisk, though, is my favorite.  I've had it for twenty years or so (I'm not sure what brand mine is).  I use it for gravys and... for frying!  It works so much better than using tongs to lift oysters, chicken, and fish out of oil after being fried.  (Tonight we had fried oysters for dinner.)  

I do have lots of kitchen utensils I love, but I am very thankful for these spatulas and whisk!