Thursday, November 29, 2012

Keeping the Oven Clean

When we bought our house in Georgia, I found an interesting thing in the oven.  I had never thought of doing this, but I have done it ever since!  

Here's a picture:

In the bottom of my oven is a thin aluminum plan (the kind that you buy at the grocery store) covered in aluminum foil.  I purchase the extra long roll of foil for this project.  I cover the pan and place it in the bottom of my oven.  

When something spills, all I have to do is replace the aluminum foil on the tray.  Many people put a cookie sheet under things to catch spills.  I don't like to do this because it can impede the cooking of the bottom of the pie or other baked food.  

Yesterday, my muffins spilled over and the smell of something burning crept into the kitchen.  After the oven had cooled, I just pulled the tray out and replaced the foil!  Yippee!

I've had self-cleaning ovens before and have tried oven cleaners, but they leave horrible smells.  This little trick has saved me a lot headaches!

Coping with Food Allergies

Recently the husband of a good friend of mine was diagnosed with celiacs.  It feels as if I am meeting more and more people who have special diets.  I have watched from afar as my friend has just jumped right in.  Her whole family is eating differently to make it easier on her husband because of his need to take gluten and lactose out of his diet.  I have been so impressed with her dedication and her efforts to love her husband well.

As a host, I want to love our guest well when they come into our home.  I want to understand what I need to watch out for.  In my mind, food allergies are different than being a picky eater.  I remember trying to accommodate one picky eater who came to our home on New Year's Eve 9 years ago.  I changed my main dish just for her and then it turned out that she didn't like that either!  I couldn't do anything more.  But, food allergies are much more serious.  My friend's husband has to miss a day of work if he eats the wrong thing.

So, I was excited when I got the chance to review The Total Food Allergy Health and Diet Guide for review.  This book was by Alexandra Anca, a registered dietician, with Dr. Gordon L. Sussman, a medical doctor.  It is a chockful of information!  This book covers various food allergies, associated health conditions, the diagnosis of food allergies, managing the allergies, what products to watch out for, and then recipes.  Half of this book is recipes, which is the part I most wanted.

I found the information about allergies informative.  If I was starting down the road to food allergy testing, this book would provide good explanations of allergies vs. intolerances, how to understand different types of testing, and what I need to watch out for.  One note the author does make strongly, which I agree with, is that elimination diets shouldn't be started without medical supervision and advice.  We can unintentionally take nutrients out of our diets without making up for them.  The first half is full of charts and medical information.  But, if you or someone close to you has a food allergy, this information would be very important to have.

I have reviewed one or 2 gluten free cookbooks before.  The mix of flours used has always been very expensive, which has deterred me.  That was something I noticed right away with this cookbook.  The baking ingredients are much more doable--both to find and afford.  I made the applesauce muffins for my friend, her husband, and another gluten-free friend.  I did substitute cranberries for the raisins because I didn't have sulfur free raisins.  They were all very impressed!  Both families wanted the recipe and said they were better by far than other gluten free muffins they'd had.  The recipe did specify things like gluten free baking soda and gluten free vanilla.  I had to buy a new container of Clabber Girl and my Costco vanilla was labeled gluten free.  

As I looked through the other recipes, I was pleased.  The recipes are ones I'd make for company and are simple enough to prepare.  I wanted this book so that I could be a good host and make meals that everyone will eat when we have gluten free guests.   

If you're looking for a general food allergy book to help you cope with multiple food allergies in your family, or if you are like me and need some recipes when you have guests with food allergies over, then this is a very informative and helpful book!

Please note that I received a complimentary copy of this book from Robert Rose publishing for review.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Why I Conserve

A few weeks ago, I was talking with a young gal about saving money when it comes to groceries.  She shared with me that she was concerned about thinking too much about it--and focusing on the money saved.
This popped into my mind this morning as something else crossed my mind.  

I have started to play around with turning off the burners on my stove and turning off the oven before the food is done cooking.  I've been trying to conserve energy.  During last winter, our energy bill was high for my tastes so through the year, I tried to find ways to minimize our home's loss of heat.  

* I made sure the doors and windows were caulked and sealed around the edges.  I  was quite surprise at what I found!  
* We put a storm door on the front door and screen door on the back.  We also replaced the back door.
* We installed a low flow showerhead on our shower so that we would consume less hot water.  
* I time the girls' showers.

On our to do list is to replace the older windows and insulate the water pipes in the basement.  But, that didn't get done yet.  They haven't come to the top of our priority list yet for our budget.  

So, in the meantime, I have been thinking about how I can conserve energy that we consume.  We already turn off lights in our home when those rooms aren't in use.  My mother in law once came to our house recently and wondered if we were home, because so many lights were off!  I also don't turn the lights on in the bathroom unless I need them.  During the daytime, there's plenty of natural light from the window.  

So, that leaves laundry and cooking--the largest consumers of energy (next to bathing).  Laundry.  I run everything on cold and our clothes (even whites) do come out clean.  With our dryer, I only run full loads.  I do add extra time instead of having to rerun the dryer twice because a very full load wasn't drying completely on a regular time amount (41 min. normally vs. 50 mins. with the extra time).  

Cooking...  We have a gas stove and electric oven.  Ovens are a huge energy hog.  And sometimes I forget to turn it off as soon as I'm done baking.  So, recently, I started playing around with turning it off early.  I tried one tray of cookies.  They did cook through in 14 min. (normal 8 min. cooking time), but they weren't browned.  So, instead whenever I remember, I've started turning off the oven halfway through the last tray.  It extends the time less. We have a gas stove and I often cook with cast iron, which retains heat well.  When I'm making pancakes, I turn the stove off when I've flipped the last batch and am cooking the last side.  It helps me not forget to turn the stove off and it saves a bit of energy.  

But, why do I do it?  I could say it's just to save money, but that isn't the whole truth.  Honestly, I really like to use less--energy, stuff...  I feel better about conserving.  It is a way that I can be a wise steward of what God has blessed us with.  I don't want to be wasteful.  

The mattress arrived...

2 nights.  

First night.  Did we make the right choice?  

Second night.  I slept.  I don't know if I woke up in the night, actually.  Maybe I didn't.  My husband agreed that he slept better too.  I'm thinking that it takes a bit of time to get used to the foam mattress.  

I'm hopeful!

We'll see what happens tonight.  Will I sleep through the night?  For the first time in a very, very, very long time?  I really, really hope so!

Monday, November 12, 2012

Mattress Shopping... Again

The past two weeks I've been shopping for a new mattress for our bed.  We bought a bed 11 1/2 years ago when we got married.  For the past four or five, it has been too soft.  As my husband's shoulders have become increasingly more painful, we both realized that it's time to get a new mattress.  My husband lives with chronic pain, so if I can do something to help, I always want to.  So began the search for a new mattress...

I went to three chains around us.  Sleepy's, Mattress Discounters, and Boscov's (a department store).  At Sleepy's and Boscov's, the salespeople couldn't tell me much about the mattresses or the differences between them.  It was up to me to figure things out.  The third store was where I learned a lot.

I met a salesman who's been selling mattresses for 30 years.  He explained so much to me.  So, I'll try and explain it clearly here.

Point #1:  Sleep number beds are like the waterbeds from 20 years ago.  With waterbeds, the water was always trying to find a way out and it often eventually did.  With sleep number beds, air is under pressure in the beds.  That air is constantly trying to find a way out.  And eventually, it does.  The salesman explained to me that after a few years, people find themselves waking up in the night to pump their beds back up.

Point #2:  Sixteen years ago, mattresses were flippable.  You could use both sides of the mattress.  Then about 12 years ago, one of the manufacturers used the results of a survey (which said that 40% of people never flipped their mattresses) and began making 2 or 3 nonflippable mattresses.  They sold well.  So, they started making more and pretty soon all manufacturers followed suit.  Now, they've reengineered the coils so that you really couldn't flip them even if you wanted to.  Of the three stores I went to, only Boscov's carried 3 mattresses that were flippable.

Point #3:  More springs.  That sounds great, doesn't it?  Sure.  But, the salesman explained to me that in order to do that, the springs had to be smaller and of a smaller gauge wire.  So, is it a better deal after all?  Maybe, maybe not.  It isn't certain.  What is for sure is simply a selling point if people want more springs.

Point #4:  Warranties.  The total warranty period is a combination of 2 things.  1. a full warranty for the first so many years.  Then, 2.  a prorated warranty for the remainder of the period.  What's covered?  Pretty much if the mattress turns out to sag in the middle after a few years because of defects.

Point #5:  Mattresses are made for our society at large.  So, decide what mattress you like based on how it feels, not the label.  A person's weight will affect how they sleep on a mattress.  This was the point that made me know that I needed my husband to try out the mattresses too.  He had wanted me to just pick one out.  But, he weighs 70 lbs more than me, so of course the mattress will feel different to me than to him.

Point #6:  Foam is the new thing.  For years, it was only tempurpedic who made foam mattresses.  Now, there's another option.  icomfort from Sealy has 2 choices.  1 is a completely foam mattress (which is supposed to have a cooling layer in it) and 2 is a coil mattress with a foam topper.  The mattresses vary by the thickness of the foam and the effect on how you sleep.  icomfort prices are a bit negotiable, but tempurpedic's prices are firm.  They should be the same wherever you go.

Point #7:  The price of a mattress at most mattress shops is like buying a used car.  The price the salesman gives you is based on the % commission he would like to earn on the sale.  They have a book that says, If you want x% commission, then sell the mattress for y price---for all mattresses (except Tempurpedics) in the store.

In the end, I heard from several friends that a good mattress made all of the difference in the world for them and that a good mattress is worth it's price.  I couldn't bring myself to pay the price for a foam queen mattress though without my husband trying it out first.  So, we went out Saturday night.  My husband is like many men.  He asked me 1) we only have to go to 1 store, right?  2) we aren't going to be at the store all night are we?

In the end, we tried the icomforts and the tempurpedics.  The Tempurpedics felt more firm to him, so we settled on the second to the bottom one, which was comfortable and in our price range.  Tuesday it will arrive and we are looking forward to it.  I really hope it will help him sleep and not wake up in pain every morning.  I'm secretly hoping that I will be able to sleep through the night too (since I haven't in almost 10 years).  

So, that's what I learned about mattresses this week!

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Carnitas Tacos (sort of)

Tuesday is taco night at our house.  This week we had a gaggle of people over, so I continued with our tradition of Tuesday Taco night with a little extra food.  

Normally, I make either a meat filling or refried beans as our base.  This week, I made refried beans, meat filling and pork filling.  

As I was getting ready to make the pork, my husband requested that I go to the store and get a pork roast.  I told him I was going to use pork chops.  He began to object, but then I asked him to give me a chance to do it my own way and to see how it turned out.  I can't remember the exact way it played out, but that's the gist of it.  He didn't know that I'd been using pork chops instead of pork roasts for a while.  

It turned out well.  There was only a tiny bit of the pork left after the meal that my mom scraped together into a tupperware because she didn't want to waste any of it!  

For the meat, I brown 1 lb. of ground beef with 1/2 yellow onion, minced or chopped, and 1-2 cloves of garlic, minced.  I keep a jar of minced garlic on hand to make things quick (BJs or Costco is the cheapest place to get this).  When it is all cooked through, I add 1- 8 oz. can of tomato sauce.  Then sprinkle cumin, chili powder, and oregano over it.  Stir to mix.  

For my taco shells, I put a little oil (2-3 Tbsp)  in a nonstick frying pan.  My mom used to do this when I was a kid.  Heat up the oil in the pan.  Place the corn tortilla in the pan.  Little bubbles should surround the tortilla right away (but you don't want it too hot).  Let it fry for a few seconds.  Then, turn over with tongs.  Use a wooden spoon  in your other hand and the tongs to gently fold the tortilla in half.  You want to be careful not to break the tortilla as you fold it.  Let one side crisp up and then flip over to crisp the other side.  Place on a paper towel lined plate when done.  

For the pork filling (which got the best reviews of the bunch), I used boneless pork chops.  I have found that you can get these on sale for less than a pork roast goes for and they work great in a crock pot.  I trim off the fat off the outside of the chops because then I don't have to worry about getting it out of the crock pot when I'm ready to shred the pork.  

First, brown the pork chops in a little oil in a fry pan until they are lightly golden on each side.  Then, place the pork chops in a medium crock pot.  I used 2 lbs. of pork chops and this crock pot.  Add all ingredients from this recipe to the crock pot:  Actually, for 2-3 lbs. of pork chops, I added half of the sauce ingredients to the crock pot which was just right.  When I'm making BBQ beef or BBQ pork, I use a full recipe of sauce and 3-4 lbs. of meat (and serve it with grated cheese, sauteed mushrooms, and buns).  Depending on how thick the pork chops are, this recipe can be fixed in 3-4 hours.  On Tuesday, they cooked in 3 1/2 hours on high in the crockpot I used.

On the side, we had sliced olives, minced red onions, chopped cilantro, shredded lettuce, chopped tomatoes, salsa fresca/onion salsa, cholula and Tapatio, grated cheddar cheese, and sour cream.  

I need to be honest and admit that my kids don't love tacos.  But, my husband and I do, so this is just one of those meals that I make every week.  They like some combinations of fillings quite well, though.  Unfortunately, they each like a different one, so I can be assured that each week 1 of my 3 might object.    But, they eat their tacos and I am hopeful that they will acquire a taste for them. :)  The refried beans are nice because the vegetables are already in them (without the kids knowing).