Saturday, February 28, 2009

Thank You, Award Fun, and The Search Is Over

I'd like to start this post by saying thank you for the kind words and expressions of sympathy regarding my brother in law's death. I appreciate it very much.

Yesterday was a crazy day for awards, wasn't it? Thank you again to those of you who gave me an award. I think Lissaloo and I got the ball rolling in the morning thanks to Donna. By the afternoon, awards were flying all over the place! I hope you all enjoyed it as much as I did. Even though we've never met in person, I think of all of you as friends. What, too mushy? Let's just group hug and move on!

And, finally, the search is over. I'm pleased to say that we finally found a car for our son! We found something that met our criteria and his. It had to be either 4 wheel or front wheel drive for us (snow, Michigan, you get the picture), it had to be sporty and fast for him. So here it is (drum roll, please)........

a 1993 Dodge Stealth! It's in great shape, it's just a little dirty. Unfortunately, we won't be able to get it plated and insured until Monday so he's stuck with looking at it or sitting in it. Or he could round up some friends, borrow my husband's truck and head for the mall. Can you guess what he decided to do? Thought so!

Friday, February 27, 2009

Mixed Bag

I have a mixed bag of emotions going on today. I'm sad, angry, guilty, frustrated and happy all at the same time. If you're interested in knowing why, I'll tell you. Let's take this one emotion at a time, shall we?

Sad. I'm incredibly sad today. I heard from my father in law that the coroner has finally decided on a cause of death for my brother in law. He died in October, so we have been waiting all this time to find out what happened to him. The answer? Smoke inhalation. He died in a house fire, so you would think that this wouldn't come as much of a surprise, but it does. Initially we were led to believe that he had no smoke in his lungs and may have died before the fire started.

Angry. I'm angry about the way the media, the police and the coroner handled this case. At the time my brother in law died, the media referred to him as a squatter. They portrayed him as an insignificant homeless drifter who wandered into a house and decided to live there illegally until he sealed his own fate by drinking, smoking cigarettes and lighting candles. There is very little, if any truth to that. He rented his home, so he wasn't a squatter and he was anything but insignificant to his family. Had he been drinking and smoking before the fire started? I don't know, maybe he was, but I doubt he drank so much that he accidentally lit his house on fire and couldn't get out. Could arson or foul play have been involved? We'll never know because the police don't see cause for an investigation. I wonder if the landlord cashed his insurance check yet.

Guilty. We hadn't seen Gordy in a long time. He moved around a lot so he was hard to keep track of. He had been living in that house for nearly a year and we didn't even know it. Even though he was legally blind, he was self sufficient and never asked for anything from anyone. He was a nice guy who would give you the shirt off his back. His electricity had been shut off and he was getting by with candles until he could get it turned back on. I feel so guilty that we didn't know that. We would have had it turned back on or taken him in at our house. The "what ifs" haunt me. Could we have prevented his death? I'll never know.

Frustrated. As if all of the above weren't frustrating enough, we're still getting nowhere in our search for a car for our son. I emailed someone who placed an ad on craiglist yesterday. Here is the response I got. This has been directly copied from the email they sent me:

Hello,I did not listed the car on ebay only this transaction is made through
ebay.I'm in Orlando, FL(we just moved here because of my new job),the thing is i
had 2 guys promise me to buy it and pick-it up :one didn't show up and the other
called saying he lost the money, so i can't afford to take days off my work for
that, that iswhy i gave to a shipping company that will ship it to the next
owner, it is sealed in a container, so i'm trying to sell it online,so if you
want to buy it i will ship to you and deal trough eBay (since i had it on their
site for a while).You would have to send me your full shipping address and if
you do that you can consider it yours. You will buy under these therms
: - you pay to eBay and they will transfer the funds to me only after you
get the car - shipping cost will be supported by me - you are given a
5 days inspection period to decide if want to keep it or ship it back at my
expenseYou pay eBay the payment, they will ship the car, you get within max 3
days, inside the car you get the bill of sale,the title,owner`s manual,2 keys
and the rest of the paperwork.depending on your decision ebay will transfer the
funds to me or give it back to you and ship the car back to me at my expense.1st
step is to send your full shipping address to ebay to send you an invoice and
assist you.P.S. I am waiting for your response and if you agree,don`t forget to
send me your info!

I'll be sure to give her my social security number while I'm at it. When my kids tell me something unbelievable I often say "See this bump on my head? I got it when I fell off the turnip truck yesterday." That applies here. Do people really fall for this? What a waste of time.

And finally, happy! I'm ecstatic that I got my first blog award! Thank you to both Donna of My Tasty Treasures and Lissaloo of One Step At A Time for bestowing this honor upon me! If you haven't visited either of their blogs in a while, you must do so!

In accepting this award, I am passing it on to 10 other bloggers. Here they are:

A dash of life

An admittedly lazy thirty-something's P90Xperience

Looking Beyond Food

Making our own memories

One Step at a Time

Pam-fried Family Life

Tattoos and Teething Rings

The 5th Sister

Tried and True Cooking With Heidi

Yesterday's Tomorrow

The rules for this award can be found here.

Thanks for stopping and by and letting me share my bag of crazy with you! I hope to post a Friday Night drink recipe tonight. I have a feeling I'm going to need it!

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Just For Laughs

I was hoping to have a delicious recipe or fun project to share today, but sadly, I have neither. What I do have is another stupid story where you can laugh at me. I have plenty of them, in fact. And who doesn't enjoy a good laugh?!

I should start by saying that my husband and I have lots of good ideas. Really, we do. We like to brainstorm on weekend mornings while we have our coffee. We've come up with some winners, but also a few losers. This one was a loser of an idea to the nth power. It really was.

We were planning our vacation a few years ago and decided it would be a good idea to come up with a way to earn a little extra spending money. Maybe something the family could do together. A garage sale? No, doesn't sound like fun. Bake sale? Nah. A paper route? Great idea! Let's do it!!

Mr. Willoughby called the local paper and found out there was an available route in the next town over. The circulation manager said this route could be done by one person on foot in about two hours. Perfect, we'll take it.

Several days later the newspapers arrived. We didn't know that they were going to have to be folded and bagged, but we were still optimistic about our new family job. We happily sat folding and stuffing newspapers into plastic bags. There sure were a lot of them, though. Did they give us extras? That was when we looked at the map and realized we would be delivering papers to the entire town. Huh? Around 500 houses in two hours on foot? It just didn't seem possible, especially since we were told specifically that the papers had to be put on the porches.

Saturday was the day we chose to start our delivery. There was no specified day, they just had to be delivered by sundown on Sunday evening. They gave us canvas carrying bags, but we chose to take our wagon instead. There were so many newspapers that we couldn't take more than half at a time.

After about the second street, it was clear that this wasn't going to be a fun job. It was hot and sunny and the kids got tired and wanted to quit. Still, we pressed on and managed to finish our deliveries just before dark. If I recall correctly, it took somewhere around 5 hours. Could it be that the circulation manager lied about how long it would take?

So the next week we devised a new strategy. We wouldn't take our daughter along because she tired out too easily (she was 4 at the time) even riding in the wagon. She would go to Grandma and Grandpa's while we made our deliveries. Also, we would split up and get multiple streets done at the same time. Maybe going later in the day would be good, too, after the temperature dropped a bit. Once again, we barely finished before dark. We needed a better plan.

In the meantime I found out that this route, as well as the route in our town, was often handled by mentally challenged adults. A van would drop 5 or 6 of them at the end of a street and they would deliver to all the houses on the street and then move to the next street via the van. You can see how much faster that would be.

So when Saturday rolled around again, since we didn't have 5 or 6 people to help, we decided to drive to each street and run from house to house. It was the only way to get finished in a few hours.

Again it was hot. I was wearing an old shirt and shorts because, even with the bags, you would end up with newsprint on your clothes. And that's when it happened. I was mistaken for a mentally challenged person.

I was running from house to house so I'm pretty sure I was sweaty and disheveled. I ran up the front walk toward a house when the family dog came running toward me. The owner and his family were in the yard and he said "Don't worry, he's friendly. He just barks a lot." To which I responded (panting and out of breath, I suppose) "I know what you mean, my dog is like that." And he said (as if talking to a two year old) "Do you? Do you have a doggie, too? What's your doggie's name?" What do you say to that? "Her name is Molly, and by the way, I'm not mentally challenged?" I don't even remember what I said. It was then and there that I decided I didn't want this job anymore!

The next week when the papers were delivered to our house they included an extra advertising circular. It would add a half pound each and we would get an extra 3 cents per paper. There was no way were going to do it, not for that money. So we quit. The circulation manager had to come and remove the papers from our front porch. While he was loading them in his van and swearing under his breath, I stepped outside and said "You can deliver those by yourself on foot in two hours!" Hah!

Friday, February 20, 2009

The Bar Isn't Open Yet

Mr. Willoughby and I had such fun with the Long Island Iced Tea drink demo last week that we decided to make it a Friday blog tradition. However, Mr. Willoughby is working late tonight so I don't know when the bar will open. I know you're thinking that I could demo the drinks myself, but I usually shy away from drinking alone (as far as you know). Besides, Mr. Willoughby is a better mixologist than I am. If it gets too late tonight we may have a Saturday drink demo. I didn't want to leave you hanging on a Friday night, though, so I will be posting about tequila.

I know that a lot of people stay away from tequila because it gives them a headache or a bad hangover. In our experience, that doesn't happen as often if you buy a high quality tequila. We're partial to 1800 brand. It's what we usually have on hand. Last weekend we decided to go all out and pick up a bottle of Cabo Wabo. If you're a Sammy Hagar fan you've heard of this brand. Sammy owns the distillery that produces it. It doesn't come cheap, a bottle will set you back about $45. Mr. Willoughby made margaritas with it and says they are the smoothest he's ever had. I only had a sip, so I can't give much of an opinion but I'll take his word for it.

When the Willoughby bar does open, I'm not sure what drink we'll be making. Got any ideas for me? Please add your suggestions in my comments. I'd love to know what drinks you like. And because we've discussed alcohol, I feel I have to say it again. Please drink responsibly. No driving or operating heavy machinery, ok? Cheers!

Humorous side note ~ When I ran a spellcheck on this post, it highlighted the word "mixologist". Among the suggested words was sexologist. Hmmm, interesting.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Paperwork Update and Awkward Moment

I don't usually post more than once each day, but I'm going to today.

First of all, an update on my lost paperwork, I still haven't found it. However, I found out that I can get a replacement copy of it (for $20), so I can stop looking. That's a relief!

And now, on the lighter side, I was reading Muddy Runner's blog about taking Tango lessons. It sounds like such a fun thing to do, even though I'm not much of a dancer, myself. I used to go to the dances in high school and all my friends and I would get in a circle and sort of "jump" to the beat instead of really dancing. If I try any "real" moves, I look a little like I'm having a seizure and other dancers in my vicinity are likely to be hurt by my flailing limbs. It's just not in my genes, I guess.

Now slow dancing, that's different. I can do that. I'm not talking about any fancy steps or anything like that, but I'm not too bad at it. My husband and I have never been hurt or injured others while dancing. Slow dancing is fine by me.

This brings me to my story of awkwardness. Years ago (I was still a teenager), at my brother's wedding reception, they had a bride's dance where men could take turns dancing with the bride. It was a slow dance and very dignified. No one looked foolish. When that was over, they announced a groom's dance and invited the ladies to form a circle around the groom and take turns dancing with him. Two of my friends were guests at the reception, so the three of us joined the circle. Things got awkward as soon as the music started. This was no slow dance, this was full out shake your booty dance music! My friends jumped out of the circle so fast there were skid marks on the dance floor, but I didn't react fast enough!

I should pause here and tell you two things. Number one, my brother is a worse dancer than I am. Bad, bad, bad, bad, bad. Did I mention he was bad? Number two, I was a bridesmaid at this wedding, so when you picture this, remember that I am wearing a dusty rose bridesmaid's dress and my brother is wearing a silvery gray tux. Got it?

Ok, back to the story, the music starts and my brother is standing in the middle of the circle sort of twitching back and forth to the beat. I don't recall who jumped in and danced with him first, but there were only a few of us, so my turn came second or third. What a nightmare! He's twitching and I'm flailing. And we look like Donny and Marie because of the way we're dressed. Oh, the humility. Thank goodness no one video taped it.

"Misplaced" Anger!

I'm so mad that I could scream! In fact, I just might. I'm going to sit right here at the computer and scream my head off. Maybe it will make me feel better. Hold on a second, ok? (Insert sound of me screaming). Nope, it didn't help.

Why am I mad? Because I can't find some really important paperwork that I need. I seem to have misplaced it (or someone else in this house did, but no one's fessing up). I'm usually a really organized person, so it makes me crazy when I can't find something. I've been through literally every inch of this house and I still can't find what I'm looking for.

There have been times when I thought I lost something and then realized that, instead, I had taken leave of my sanity for a short while. Want to laugh at my stupidity? Here are a few examples:
  • I drive an SUV now, but I used to have a car. Once, after returning home from the grocery store, I opened the trunk to take the groceries out. They weren't there! I immediately assumed I had left them sitting in the shopping cart in the parking lot. I jumped back in the car, started it up and turned my head so I could see to back out of the driveway. That's when I spotted all of my bags in the back seat! It's only a five minute drive from the store, how could I have forgotten that I had put them there?
  • When my son was a baby, we lived in a house where the laundry room was in the basement. While he was napping, I ran down and quickly sorted the clothes into piles on the floor, and threw a load of whites in the washer. Later, when I heard the buzzer go off, I headed down to put them in the dryer. When I opened the washer, it was empty. I don't know why, but my first thought was that the bleach had completely disintegrated the clothes down to molecules. I even looked in the washer's drain hose! Of course, what I had actually done was add the detergent, bleach and fabric softener, but left the pile of whites on the floor. I can only assume that, my son being a baby, I was a little sleep deprived. I mean, come on, it's bleach not sulfuric acid!

If those stories aren't stupid enough for you, here's a bonus story. It's not about losing something, but more like finding something.

  • I looked out the window one night and saw a strange mini-van parked in our driveway. It was late at night and dark outside. I went and woke my sleeping husband to tell him that someone had parked in our driveway (I didn't tell him what kind of vehicle it was). He looked out and said he didn't see anything strange. Just his truck and my Mom and Dad's mini-van. I forgot we had borrowed it while the SUV was in the shop. You would think I would have at least recognized it!

Believe it or not, these are isolated incidents and I usually have a good memory. Now what was I looking for?

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Take My Money, Please!

I'm sure you often find yourself wondering "What does Willoughby do in her spare time?". You don't? I guess I just assumed.....

What I have been doing with every waking second of free time is looking for a car for my son. Saturday is his 16th birthday and he'll be getting his driver's license (shhhhhh, if you're really quiet, you can actually hear my hair turning gray).

I can hardly believe that our little boy, our first born, is old enough to drive. It seems like only yesterday that he was five years old and driving his battery operated Jeep through the backyard. He mastered a three point turn and could back that baby into it's parking spot in the garage after the first week (I'm not kidding!).

After the Jeep, he graduated to go-carts, dirt bikes, and 4-wheelers. I've been aging at warp speed ever since. In fact, I think I may have even jumped ahead a few years the time he decided to show me that his dirt bike could do 70 mph in six seconds.

Back to the matter at hand, Mr. Willoughby and I decided that we would buy him a car for his birthday this year. We're not looking for something new (have you priced a new car lately?), or extravagant, just reliable transportation that looks sporty. And because we live in Michigan where snow is an issue, 4 wheel drive or front wheel drive is a major plus. We haven't kept this a secret from him, he knows all about it because we wanted him to have some input.

We have a few different models in mind, so we've been searching all the usual places; local car lots, the classifieds, Craigslist,, etc. There have been a handful of cars that meet our criteria, but we've run into a few problems. One of the worst of them being people that don't call you back!

It is generally accepted that the economy is sagging right now, so you would think anyone selling a car would be falling all over themselves to take your money. You would think that, but you would be wrong! My husband called a woman about a car we were interested in. She told him she was at the store (it was her cell phone number) and that she would call him back when she got home. That was two days ago, we've left two messages since and still haven't heard from her.

Yesterday, we found an ad for a car at a dealership, but there weren't many details. Mr. Willoughby called for more information so we could decide whether it was worth the drive to go see it. The salesman he talked to said he wasn't aware that they had that car on the lot (or had ever had it), but he would check and call back. He never did! I know that car salesmen work on commission, so you would think that even if the car in question wasn't available, he would have called back and tried to sell us something else. Not so.

The ridiculousness goes on and on to include people who don't remove online ads once their cars are sold (this wastes our time and their time), sellers who take an exterior photo of one car and an interior photo of another and try to pass them off as the same car, people who want to meet you in odd places to look at their vehicle, dealerships that won't give you a price over the phone, it never ends.

So where does this leave our son? If you see a 16 year old driving a battery operated Jeep on the road, you'll know!

Sunday, February 15, 2009

There's Something In My Seat!

I hope everyone had a wonderful Valentines Day. I'd love to tell you about my evening.

As I told you before, my husband and I had plans to go to a concert. I listen to alternative rock most of the time, but I've got a real soft spot for 80's music. My favorite 80's band is Starship (or Jefferson Starship, back in the day). We go to see them every time they're in town. We've seen them in upscale theaters, outdoor venues and everything in between. They put on a great show and it's always a good time.

When I saw that they were coming to town for Valentines Day, I got really excited. Mr. Willougby and I decided this would be our gift to each other. We ordered tickets right away, front row, orchestra left.

We had never been to this theater before, but we were impressed when we got there. It is only about an hour drive to get there. The parking was close (and free). Inside, they had a small bar where we each got a glass of wine (white zinfandel, but what can you do?) and sat at a small cafe table. We don't go out without the kids very often, so we were downright giddy.

About ten minutes before showtime, we went into the theater itself and found our seats. When I say we had front row, I really mean front row. We could touch the stage while sitting down. It was fantastic.

We had chosen the first two seats in the row. Mr. Willougby sat in the aisle seat and I sat in the second seat. There was an empty seat between myself and the next person in the row. I assumed it would remain empty because, really, who goes to a concert alone? I would soon find out.

Just as the lights went down, a very large woman came barrelling in. Guess where her seat was? Directly next to mine. Ok, no big deal, I can live with having to share my armrest. As soon as she sat down, however, it was painfully clear that I would be sharing more than an armrest. She was far too wide to fit in the seat and the excess spilled over into my seat. Her rear end was literally resting against my right leg even after I scooted myself to the far left of my seat. Let me say that I have every sympathy for someone who struggles with their weight as I do. I'm not model thin, myself, not by a longshot, but I do fit into a standard theater seat with room to spare.

I thought, maybe, if I put my elbow on the armrest, she would adjust herself and move over a little. No luck, she was oozing over the armrest, too. I tried to ignore it, I wanted to enjoy the show and I didn't want to be rude, but I seriously dislike having a stranger's body parts pressing against me.

As soon as the band started playing, things started to get worse. She kept pulling her purse off her arm, elbowing me in the process, so she could write notes on a piece of paper. She would scribble something down and the put the paper back. This was followed by some strange, seated dance movements accompanied by more elbowing and oozing farther onto my seat. Occasionally, she would reach out and touch the stage and then pull her hand back as if it were hot. That's when I realized that she was a little nuts, too!

This behavior continued for the entire concert. I wanted to say something, but I couldn't think of anything that wouldn't be insulting. Still, though, I was miserable. We paid $50 per seat and she was taking up at least $25 of mine.

Starship was great, however, and I did enjoy the show. They played most of my favorites (there's never enough time for all of them). By the time they got to their encore, however, I couldn't take any more of this woman's purse and elbow. I got up and stood at the end of the stage. I know some of the band saw me and I hope they didn't think it was any reflection on the show. Ms. Rude noticed, too, because she kept staring at me.

When the house lights came up, I told Mr. Willougby to grab my purse and jacket, I just wanted to high tail it out of the theater and get away from the woman who had basically sat on my lap. After I left, she approached my husband and said "I'm sorry if I did something" to which Mr. Willoughby responded, "You just spoiled her whole night" and she said "I was just trying to have a good time" and he said "Yeah, by being an inconsiderate *expletive*!" Just another reason I love Mr. Willougby, he always knows just what to say!!

I had hoped to have some pictures of the show to share with you, but as luck would have it, I remembered my camera, but left the memory card sticking out of the port in my computer! I tried to take a picture with my cell phone, but the battery was almost dead and it wouldn't work! I got a few pictures with my husbands cell phone, but I haven't figured out how to transfer them to the computer. If I do, I'll post them. For now, I'll post a few from a concert last summer.

If you'll indulge me, I'd like to leave a few personal notes to the band, should they ever read this (I'm sure they've got nothing to better to do than read my blog, right?)!

Mickey - As usual, I was blown away by your performance! Your voice truly gets better every time we see you, it's amazing! I was a little worried for your safety last night when the rude woman next to me stood up to smack your hand, I was certain she was going to pull you off stage. If I ever get the chance to meet you in person again (I met you a few years ago), I've got a question I'm just dying to ask you.....
Stephanie - You really rocked White Rabbit and all the rest of the Airplane tunes! Really impressive!
Mark - I know you saw the nut case sitting next to me, she was right in front of you. Admit it, I saw you smirk! Seriously, though, the Fooled Around And Fell In Love solo was amazing!
Phil - That keyboard solo? It's mind blowing! We loved it!
Jeff - You had your dance on last night, my man! My son is a bass player, how you can play like that and dance at the same time I'll never know. That kick was pretty awesome, too.
Pelican - As always, soooo impressive!

Thanks for the indulgence! On a scale of one to ten, I'd have to give the show a ten, the seating however........

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Happy Valentines Day!!

Happy Valentines Day, everyone!
I hope you will be enjoying it with someone you love. I don't have anything delicious, wonderful, thought provoking or amusing to share with you today because I have plans tonight and need to get a few things done around the house. My husband and I are going to a concert this evening. I'll tell you all about it tomorrow, so be sure to stop by! Until then, make a pitcher of Long Island Iced Tea (see below) or some Kahlua Mousse (farther below) to share with your sweetie.

Friday, February 13, 2009

The Bar Is Open

It's Friday night, and more often than not, that means Mr. Willoughby and I have a drink together. Sometimes we're lazy and make do with Captain Morgan and Coke, or simple Margaritas. Tonight, however, we're having my favorite mixed drink. Drumroll, please........Long Island Iced Tea!

If you've never had one, let me impress upon you that this drink does not contain tea in any form. It looks like tea when it's done, hence the name. This drink is amazingly smooth, despite the fact that it contains a whopping five kinds of liquor. There are many different recipes for a classic Long Island, but we like this one the best. You will need to make some simple syrup (equal parts water and sugar, bring to a boil for one minute, cool). We always use a high quality tequila because the lesser quality brands will give you a bitter tasting drink, but other than that, you can go for less expensive brands of everything else.
Here's what you'll need:

  • 1 part Tequila
  • 1 part rum
  • 1 part vodka
  • 1 part gin
  • 1/2 part triple sec
  • 1 part whiskey sour mix
  • 1 part simple syrup
  • ice
  • Coke or another cola

As you can see, we make this in a pitcher. You can also make it by the glass, if you want to. Pour all your liquors into the pitcher (or glass) and stir well to combine. Your mixture will look like lemonade at this point.

Add ice to glasses. Pour mixture over ice to within several inches of the top of the glass. Add a splash of Coke, but don't stir. That's it! Serve.

See how it looks like tea once you add the Coke? I've never actually calculated the total "proof" of this drink, but it packs a punch! Please, don't enjoy this beverage if you are going to be driving or operating heavy machinery! And if you have a few and make a total fool of yourself, don't blame me (but do be sure and give me all the details). Happy Friday, everyone, and please drink responsibly.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Dessert For Two!

With Valentines Day just around the corner, I wanted to share an indulgent dessert recipe. I've scaled it down to make two servings, so it's a perfect ending for your romantic Valentines Day dinner. It has alcohol in it, so it's for adults only. If you're the type who waits until the last minute to do things like this, this recipe is perfect for you. It only takes about 10 minutes from start to finish and you probably have most of the ingredients already.

Kahlua Mousse

Before you gather your ingredients together, place a bowl and beaters in the refrigerator to chill. Now you'll need 1 cup heavy cream, 1 ounce Kahlua, 2 teaspoons of instant coffee powder (I grind instant coffee crystals in my spice grinder to make powder), and 1/4 cup sugar. Remove the bowl from the refrigerator and dump all of your ingredients in together. Yes, take the beaters out first! Now beat the mixture on high speed until it becomes stiff. Don't go crazy with this step or you'll end up with Kahlua butter instead of Kahlua mousse! You should stop beating when stiff peaks form in the bowl and/or on the end of the beaters (see the last picture in the block to see what I mean).
Now, decide how you want to serve it. You can put it in a pastry bag without a tip and pipe it into wine glasses, that looks very nice. Or you can pipe it into bowls, also nice. You could put it in one large bowl and use it as a dip for strawberries. You could top it with whipped cream and shaved chocolate. Still want more ideas? You can serve it over pound cake, ice cream, chocolate cream pie, vanilla wafers.....use your imagination!

Or, if you're like me, you've pulled a muscle in your back which you've made worse by standing at the counter using the hand mixer and taking pictures for your blog so you can't bend over to get the pastry bag out of the drawer and you just plop it in a wine glass and put a spoon in it!
A few quick tips ~ Although I haven't tried it, I think this recipe would be just as good with any liqueur that you like. Amaretto or Irish Cream would be good choices. Also, this will hold well in the refrigerator for a day or so without losing it's body or moussiness.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

My New Favorite Recipe

I have been experimenting with different recipes for some time now, looking for an easy "grab and go" breakfast bar. I've made quite a few; some were good, others flopped. Last week, though, I decided to try Playgroup Granola Bars from Allrecipes. I had seen it recommended before, but I'd never given it a second look. Why? Stupid as it sounds, I avoided it because of the name of the recipe. It sounded like something appropriate for toddlers, not older children, teens and adults.

I'm very pleased to say that I was wrong. This recipe is fabulous! It's moist and chewy and delicious. Exactly what I was looking for. It is also very adaptable to changes. I've made multiple varieties of it and they have all been successful.

If you follow the recipe as stated, it's fairly healthy with 5.5 grams of fat and 161 calories. Some reviewers cut out the fat by substituting apple sauce. I'm not a fan of the texture you get by using this technique in baked goods. I find it makes them spongy and rubbery. While I haven't tried it yet, I've considered substituting some of the vegetable oil with olive oil.

The recipe already calls for wheat germ, but you can easily add more without altering the texture or flavor very much. Flaxseed meal works well, too. The baking time isn't long enough to properly cook raw fruit, but any dried fruit is great. If you want to add chocolate chips and still lean toward healthy, dark chocolate chips have less fat and sugar and also have higher amounts of antioxidants. In any case, you'll know they're healthier than their mass produced counterparts because you control the ingredients.

Are you ready to try them yet? Here are our two favorite variations:
  • Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip (not as healthy) - Add 1/4 cup peanut butter to the wet ingredients. Leave out the cinnamon. Substitute 3/4 cup dark chocolate chips for the raisins.
  • Mixed Fruit (healthier) - Add 2 tablespoons Tahini (sesame paste) to the wet ingredients. Reduce wheat germ to 1/4 cup, add 1/4 cup flaxseed meal. Substitute mixed dried fruit for the raisins. Add 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg along with the cinnamon.

The baking time in the original recipe was far longer than needed for me. I baked all varieties for a total of 18 minutes. After they were cut and cooled, I individually wrapped and sealed them so they are ready to grab or pack in lunch bags.

I have ideas for other varieties I would like to try soon. Adding mashed banana and walnuts sounds like a good combination. Dried cranberries with white chocolate chips would probably be good, too.

If you haven't tried them yet, you really should. Then report back to me with your variations so I can try those, too!!

Monday, February 9, 2009

In Case You Were Wondering....

Ok, Thames and Raoulysgirl started it, so I'm going to jump on board and post a list of interesting or at least unique things about myself. They both managed to come up with 25, but I'm not sure that I can think of that many! We'll see.....
  1. I'm smarter than I look. I passed the MENSA entrance exam when I was 15. I never actually joined MENSA, but I could. Also, when I was 18 I was a senior in high school and a freshman in college at the same time. I got a great job right after graduating from high school (great paying, I should say, I hated the job) and never finished college.
  2. I enrolled in design school about 5 years ago to become an interior designer. I loved the design portion, but the business end of it left me shaking in my shoes. When we got to the portion covering legal contracts and the potential for lawsuits from unhappy clients, it made me question my abilities.
  3. I have a phobia about hair. Once it is no longer attached to a living human being, it freaks me out. Even if I know who it belongs to (myself included), I can't stand to find hair on the floor, bathroom vanity, or anywhere else. In public places when I don't know who it belonged to, it actually makes me gag.
  4. I'm fairly skilled in basic carpentry, drywall mudding and taping, and the use of power tools. I miter cut and installed all the moldings on the our porch ceilings (they are a play on coffered ceilings). My husband and I like to build cabinetry and do all of our own home renovations.
  5. My husband and I will celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary this year. Even after 20 years I can count the number of arguments we've had on one hand. I know, it sounds crazy, but we have so much fun together that we never really argue. We have the same warped sense of humor and enjoy the same things so there's never anything to argue about. Besides that, I'd rather laugh about something than get mad about it.
  6. I'm terrified of heights. I wasn't when I was a kid, but in my 20's I developed a terrible fear being up higher than about 4 feet off the ground. I'm usually ok indoors, looking out a window in a tall building or looking out our second story bedroom windows, but I get woozy standing at a railing on a balcony or walkway.
  7. I've met quite a few celebrities, most of them through the company I used to work for. The nicest, by far, was Mickey Thomas (lead singer of Starship, met him at a concert, not through work). Tied for second would be Randy Travis and Cindy Crawford. The worst? Martha Stewart and Mario Andretti.
  8. I used to be able to do a back handspring (I was a cheerleader). I couldn't do one now, even at gunpoint, but back in the day....
  9. Despite my fear of heights, I love roller coasters. There isn't a coaster so high or so fast that I won't ride it. I may have several panic attacks while waiting in line, but I still love 'em!
  10. My husband, my son and I often speak in movie quotes from our favorite movies. I could give you an example, but unless you've seen the movie it probably wouldn't make sense. We've even got our son's girlfriend into movie quoting, because we're always doing it when she's around. Our daughter doesn't find it funny, but we do.
  11. I can't tell jokes. I love jokes, but I can't tell them because I always screw them up.
  12. Complete strangers like to talk to me. My husband is much more outgoing than I am, but still, strangers always talk to me. We were taking a walk once when a man in his front yard stopped me to tell me how long he had been out of work and how he was having trouble paying the bills. I didn't even know this guy!
  13. All of the kids in my family married someone who shares their middle initial. My husband and I both have the middle initial "E", my oldest brother and his wife are "J" and my other brother and his wife are both "M". Interesting, maybe not, but odd.
  14. There are four people living in my house, but only two astrological signs between us. My husband and my daughter are both Scorpios and my son and I are both Pisceans. Interestingly, my daughter was a preemie, but had she been born when she was due, she would have been a Piscean, too.
  15. I wrote a series of children's books. I haven't looked into having them published because I don't have them illustrated. I don't draw or paint very well so I've been working on computer illustrating them, but I'm not happy with the results thus far.
  16. I love the ocean, but after a near drowning experience, I'm afraid of the waves. I got pinned to the bottom by a constant series of waves just feet from shore. They knocked me down and I couldn't get my head out of the water long enough to take a breath. We vacation on the Atlantic every year and my husband has to hold my hand and walk me out beyond knee deep if the water isn't extremely calm. It always makes me feel foolish because I see small children splashing in the waves, but I can't shake the fear.
  17. I've never seen the Pacific Ocean in person. I'd like to some day. I've been all up and down the east coast, but never the west coast.
  18. I love to fish. I never keep what I catch, but I love fishing. I bait my own hook and take the fish off myself (except for catfish). I've always wanted to go deep sea fishing and catch a sailfish.
  19. I live for the flea market! We have a great local one, but it's outdoors so it's closed during the winter. From April through October, though, it's hopping! I'm counting the days until it opens for the season.
  20. I developed an allergy to oranges when I was a teenager. I used to drink orange juice in the morning before I left for school, but I started feeling sick shortly after finishing a glass. I test myself every now and then to see if I've outgrown it. The last time I tried a small sample at Sam's Club. It was probably no more than a few tablespoons worth of juice, but I broke out in hives and was sick for the rest of the day. Strangely, lemons and limes don't seem to bother me.
  21. I have very small feet. I'm only about 5' 4", but I have small feet even for my height. When I was in high school I wanted a pair of Nikes in a style that was popular at the time. The shoe store didn't have them in my size and sent me across the mall to the children's shoe store. I was 16 years old, sitting on a plastic animal chair and having my feet measured with a giraffe shoe sizer. My friends couldn't stop laughing!
  22. I don't have the typical female passion for purses and shoes like most women do. I have only one purse and several pairs of shoes. For dress shoes, though, I love ugly shoes. The uglier the better! I bought a pair of black shoes for a funeral a few months ago and they look like something a witch would wear. They're incredibly ugly but that's what I like about them!
  23. I have a habit of starting multiple projects at the same time and not finishing all of them. I can look around the room I'm sitting in and see three unfinished projects right now.
  24. I love overcast, rainy days. Some people find them depressing, but not me. I especially love rainy summer days. We have covered front and back porches and I love to sit outside and watch it rain. I like the sound of it, the smell of it, the way it seems to make the green of the grass and the trees so vivid. Even on vacation I like a rainy day. It forces you to find something to do that you might not have done otherwise. A museum, shopping, or something else indoors.
  25. I dislike the flavor of mint in anything but toothpaste and breath mints. Even then I'm more likely to choose cinnamon.

Wow, that was hard! Who's next?????

Friday, February 6, 2009

What's For Dinner?

I haven't posted anything about cooking lately. Strange, because I spend a good part of every day deciding what to make for dinner, reading recipes, talking to my online "foodie" friends, and cooking. I really do enjoy cooking and baking and I'm constantly looking for new recipes to try. Sometimes, though, I'm just too busy or tired to make anything that requires more than 10 or 15 minutes prep time. I prefer to make most meals from scratch, but everyone cheats now and then, don't they?

I'm not a huge fan of fast food. I had a cheeseburger from McDonalds recently that tasted like rust. It was so bad I couldn't eat it. I don't even want to know what would make a cheeseburger taste that way, and I probably don't want to know!

Of course, there are always pre-packaged prepared foods, but I don't like most of those. I'm convinced that some of them are 100% synthetic and contain no actual food. On the bright side, there are a few that I really do like and keep on hand most of the time. My favorite is Tyson Homestyle Chicken Tenderloin Fritters.These are not the precooked, heat and eat variety you find in a bag in the freezer section of the supermarket. I'm referring to the 5 pound food service pack available at warehouse clubs. They are prebreaded (or is it prebattered?), but not precooked. Also, they are whole pieces of chicken, not chopped and formed.

We first bought this product a few years ago when another customer in Sam's Club told my husband it was the best chicken she had ever had. We grabbed a box and decided to try them ourselves. It wasn't until we got home that I realized the directions state that they must be deep fried. I don't have a deep fryer and I seriously dislike heating up a huge pan of oil on the stove. Instead, I decided to bake them. I bake them at 450 degrees for 40 minutes and they come out perfectly crisp and golden, and without all the extra fat. They are every bit as good as the fried chicken you can get from a restaurant, but cheaper and more convenient. They're great served as is, with dipping sauce or on a bun as a chicken sandwich. I also like them sliced and served over a tossed salad or pasta.

One other prepackaged product that I think is worth mentioning is Zatarains Jambalaya with Cheese. I usually have a box or two on hand. It's fast and easy to make in the microwave.
I generally make it as a side dish without the meat. You do need to alter it a bit, though, or it will be too dry without the added moisture and fat the meat would provide. I up the amount of water to 3 full cups and add a splash of olive oil. Then I microwave it, covered, on high for 23 minutes. I made a triple batch of it for a party a few years ago and it was the first thing to disappear.
Please feel free to share your favorites in my comments! I love to hear everyone else's shortcuts!

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Wet Rooms, Dry Rooms And My New Love

A long time ago I read an article about making the time you spend cleaning your house more efficient. It had some good ideas, but it also had some points I would disagree with. Namely that you shouldn't bother to clean anything that is already clean.

I've instituted a new cleaning routine around my house that is working well and saving me loads of time. Basically, it involves cleaning what is already clean to prevent it from becoming dirty (or dusty, etc.). I know, you're wondering why anyone would want to do that. I'm telling you, it sounds crazy, but it works for me.

Here's how it works. First, you have to start with a clean house. After that, it's a matter of dividing rooms into one of two categories; wet rooms and dry rooms. In my house wet rooms include the kitchen, the laundry room, and the bathrooms. Dry rooms are the living room, dining room, bedrooms, office and hallways. Are you with me so far?

On day one you quick clean the wet rooms, on day two you quick clean the dry rooms. After that you just continue to alternate.

What constitutes a "quick clean" you ask? I'll give you an example of what I do.

Wet Rooms (bathrooms) -

  • Squirt toilet cleaner in toilet
  • Spray tile cleaner on shower tile
  • Clean mirror
  • Wipe down vanity, faucet and sink with antibacterial cleaner
  • Brush and flush cleaner in toilet
  • Wipe down toilet with antibacterial cleaner
  • Rinse cleaner off shower tiles
  • Run Swiffer over floor

Dry Rooms -

  • Dust all surfaces
  • Run Swiffer over floor (we have hardwood floors)
  • Vacuum Rugs

Since I've started this system, I spend less than 30 minutes a day cleaning my house and it looks and stays clean all the time. I still have daily and weekly tasks like loading/unloading the dishwasher and doing the laundry that aren't included in my 30 minutes. Washing floors and windows aren't included either, but I do those as needed. It's basically a maintenance system, clean once and then maintain. It's quick because nothing ever really needs to be cleaned. Obsessive, you say? Maybe, but it makes me happy. And it leaves me more time to work on important things like my blog!

On the same note, I have to tell you about my new love. Yes, it's a cleaning product. I contacted the manufacturer of my kitchen cabinets to find out what I should be using to clean them. They recommended Simple Green cleaner. Have you tried this stuff? I swear, it's magic in a bottle! It's concentrated, so I dilute it for my cabinets. For tough jobs, I use it straight from the bottle. My porcelain kitchen sink has never been so sparkling white and my cooktop shines like new. My grocery store carries it in the automotive section. How did I ever live without this product?!

And now, with all my extra free time, I'm going into my clean kitchen to make some home made dinner rolls! More on that tomorrow....

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Don't Forget To Hug Your Kids Today

You can never take a single second for granted. You just can't, because you never know what tomorrow will bring. We got a tragic reminder of this yesterday when we heard that a local teenage boy had committed suicide. We sat in stunned silence when we heard the news. My son knew this boy and they had mutual friends. There just aren't words to express the shock and sadness.

Out of respect for the family's privacy, I don't want to be too specific with the details. I will tell you that this boy was 18 years old and came from a loving family. Over the weekend, while no one was home, he shot and killed himself. My heart aches for this family and the agony they must be going through. I simply can't imagine it.

My husband and I made sure to talk to our son about it and remind him that he can come to us with any problem, no matter how big or small. We know that he knows that, but it bears repeating. It's so hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel sometimes when you're a teenager. Even the smallest problems can be so all consuming.

Please, don't forget to hug your kids today.