Birthday Celebrations

My brother has a birthday today – one of the Big Ones. You know what I mean, the number ends with a zero!

I was planning on hanging out with my bro for the night. I was thinking dinner at Outback or someplace nice, and then heading to his house for cake and some presents. I bought him a cool gift that i can’t wait to see him open up.

But evidently his girlfriend has to work tonight and she doesn’t want to celebrate the birthday tonight. They are going to celebrate on Saturday night, instead. So, I’m not the brightest one in the room. I thought that meant we were clear for getting together tonight and doing some guy stuff to celebrate. But no, he says he is not celebrating today – we are invited to a party Saturday night at his house, with him grilling steaks for everyone and she is baking a cake. The cakes are her “thing.” She actually makes them for paying customers and custom decorates them for a hundred bucks or so. I guess we’ll be impressed with what she does for him this weekend.

Waiting until Saturday is not a big deal for me, but I wish I had known earlier. This weekend is the big Fourth of July weekend and most of my buddies were going to be out on the lake all weekend. Now I have to cut the boating short on Saturday so I can clean up and head over to his house for the grill out. And I know he’s going to like this birthday present – can’t wait to see his face when he opens the gift!

Lightning Bugs in my Yard

Tonight while I was watering my garden as the sun went down, I noticed the first twinkle of yellow light from a lightning bug. Funny how it just took that first one to make me aware of the lightning bugs, and then shortly after I was seeing dozens of lightning bugs in my yard.

The garden I planted is doing really well, but it takes a lot of watering to keep the plants from wilting in the hot afternoon sun. I add about a gallon of water to each container in the morning and then another gallon at dusk. Tomorrow I plan on adding some fertilizer to the tomatoes and actually picking the first of the zucchini and green beans.

As far as bugs go, I have already found spiders in the garden and a few bean beetles. I know that the rabbits come around after dark and nibble a little here and there – I don’t mind the rabbits. But last night there was a skunk roaming around in my plants and that rascal destroyed an entire bean plant and one of the yellow squash plants by chewing through the stems right above the ground. I think I will head to the hardware store in the morning to see about fencing to keep the skunk and any other critters out.

 

 

Bourdain Eating His Way Around the World

Have you watched any of the Anthony Bourdain shows on CNN? Bourdain took a camera crew with him on little expeditions all around the world and ate local foods, on our behalf. There is no doubt in my mind that the man knows good food, but frankly I don’t really want to watch this snob stuffing weird food in his face. There are not many many people that I want to watch eat. One time there was an actress in a movie that ate food in a very sexy way. i think it was someone in the Shakespeare play, Taming of the Shrew. But it might have been a different one – I saw the movie and then I saw the same scene in a dinner theater play. But that was a very long time ago.

So, Bourdain does a pretty good job of filling you in on geography and the history of the area, he describes the native foods and films a lot of the food preparation. That was pretty interesting. Watching him eat – no so much. But the show was better than 95% of the garbage that is on TV lately, so what are you going to do?

Teaching Kids to be Frugal Shoppers

Involving children in the family’s grocery shopping is a good way to teach children about money and being a frugal shopper. Children can be involved in every stage of the grocery shopping trip. Let them help check existing pantry supplies to see what is needed. Have them actively involved while in the store by helping select items from the shelves. And make them aware of the budget and cost of each item that is purchased.

Grocery shopping for the household involves:

  • menu planning,
  • checking and replenishing inventory,
  • working with a list,
  • monitoring pricing and keeping within a budget,
  • unit pricing and relating value to quality
  • brand awareness and marketing
  • portion control or product yield, and
  • redeeming coupons or considering sale items.

All of the skills from a successful grocery shopping trip help run a household, but are also applied in the business world. Related real world skills can even lead to future careers in logistics, purchasing, accounting and manufacturing.

Once a child can count to ten, he is old enough to understand some of the basics of money management and comparison price shopping. Comparing items on the grocery shelves can teach children the concept of one item being greater than another, such as the difference between the prices of different brands or seeing how individual packages compare to standard family size containers and then how those compare to bulk sizes.

Allowing children to participate in redeeming coupons is another way to teach children about saving money. School age children can help find the items on the shelves that meet the coupon requirements. Make it a game like a scavenger hunt, and give the kids a small reward if they find all the coupon items correctly.

The Ideal Birthday

I wonder if anyone but the very wealthy allow themselves to dream of how they would spend the entire day and night on their ideal birthday? I know that I would love to do things as a big splurge for a day and use my birthday as an excuse for all of the excess. But the reality is that I am not independently wealthy and my birthday will be celebrated in a more practical manner. I will also be considering other people besides myself, as they want to spend time with me – or some may prefer not to – their choice!

This year my birthday will be spent sleeping in without having to answer to an alarm clock. That is a big luxury in itself! Then I will have a cup of my favorite, personal blend of fresh brewed coffee. I want to spend time with my dogs, maybe watch a chick flick, and not do a lick of housework. Then for dinner I plan to meet up with a few people at the Japanese restaurant for a dinner cooked to order by a fun, highly skilled chef.

I am really looking forward to this and even with all the other luxuries and possibilities of places to go and things to do, this is my idea of the perfect birthday for me this year.

Love to Sip on Eggnog

One of my favorite traditions over the holidays is a party that serves eggnog. Usually I can count on my good friend Lindsay to have eggnog at her party, but she has been having medical troubles this year and I’m not sure she is up for hosting her annual holiday party. I hope she feels better and enjoys the holidays, whether she hosts her party or not. She is a dear friend and I don’t like to think of her being ill.

In better times, I love the many parties and events that happen in my family and with my friends between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day. And I can count on at least one of those parties having a big punch bowl with home made, fully loaded eggnog. Lindsay uses an old family recipe and even grates the nutmeg herself. I have to admit that I have never had nutmeg and a grater in my hand. I don’t think I even know what raw or whole nutmeg looks like! I just buy ground nutmeg at the grocery store in the spices aisle. But Lindsay knows all about it and she says it makes a huge difference in the intensity of the flavor. I must say that she is right – Lindsay’s eggnog is the best I’ve ever had!

 

Leave the Window Open

It is amazing to me to find out how many different ways people prefer to go to bed and sleep each night.

First, there is clothing or lack of clothing. Some people like nightgowns and others like pajamas. Some people sleep in their underwear and some people take their underwear off. Some people fall asleep in their clothes and some people would rather be stark naked.

Then there is noise. Some people like to have the TV on all night so they have some noise. Others like to pop in a movie and fall asleep during the movie. When the movie ends, it becomes quiet. Others prefer music and will turn on the radio or their iPod to play songs they like to hear. During the summer, some people like to have a fan running – the motor noise can be soothing.

I like to have a night light left on, so I can find my way to the bathroom in the middle of the night if I wake up. I also like to leave the stove light on, so that I can make my way to the kitchen in the morning without stubbing my toe or bumping into anything before I can get to the coffee pot and the sink to get my coffee started. But other people think a light left on is wasting electricity and want the house to be totally dark.

Holiday Countdown Panic

Today I am in a bit of a panic. Christmas is only 10 days away and the countdown to all the holiday parties and gift giving is underway. This weekend is dedicated to decorating the Christmas tree with my sister Wendy and her two wonderful kids, and then going back to her house and decorating her tree, too.

We found a great place to buy our fresh Christmas trees – at one of the high schools that are letting the Boy Scouts sell trees in their parking lot. The trees are reasonably priced and they even flock them for you if you like the white trees instead of the natural green. Wendy and I both like the green, so flocking is not an issue for us, but evidently it is a big deal to a lot of people around here.

After we get the trees up, we will be exhausted, so we will probably order a pizza and just chill out in Wendy’s living room and watch some Christmas movies with the kids.

Next weekend is our company Christmas party. We will be having a sit down dinner and dance with a live band at the country club in Brentwood. I can’t wait to go and have a nice evening with everyone from work. But that means next weekend will be busy with the party and no time for any other shopping or baking or anything. So I have to get everything done this weekend and next week. After all, Christmas is only 10 days away!

 

Cooking with Sausage

Fall and winter means that hams and sausage are plentiful and less expensive than beef. This is a great time to stock your freezer with rolls of fresh sausage, sliced and cubed ham, and bacon. There are country cured hams, Honeybaked hams and smoked hams. Other pork products include spareribs, pork chops, pork tenderloin and Boston butt.

Tonight i will be cooking a big batch of spaghetti sauce, made from scratch and using sausage instead of my normal ground beef. I like the extra flavor that sausage brings to the sauce, and it goes well with a thicker, denser noodle like ziti or lasagna.

One of the local farmers opens a store just in November and December to sell the pork products from his own hogs. He has wonderful whole smoked hams that are 3 years old, 4 years old and even 5 years old. Of course, the 5 year old hams are the most expensive but they are so worth it! Just a few thin slices of any of his hams are enough to properly season a big pot of white beans or a kettle of greens.

Today I drove by his store to see what hours he will be open. There used to be a time when he was only open on weekends through the fall, but this year it seems he is open 7 days a week, from 9 in the morning until 6 at night. That will make it really convenient for me to go back next week and buy my ham!

 

Can You Trust a Skinny Cook?

A free meal is always nice, but if the invitation to dinner is from someone like Rachel Greenlief, I wonder if she is a good cook or not. My dad used to say to never trust a skinny cook, and Rachel is a gorgeous woman. She is so thin that I wonder if she eats anything at all? But she tells me she is a good cook, so I think I will take my chances on the one dinner and test out my dad’s theory. Let’s all hope he is wrong in this case.

The last time I dated a girl who bragged about her cooking, she told me that she grew up in the South and that she learned how to cook Southern Style. I had visions of crispy fried chicken, barbecue ribs, creamy macaroni and cheese, and coconut frosted layer cakes or pecan pie. I had visions of all the good things that Paula Deen cooks on her cable TV show. Maybe a little of the Neely’s – Memphis couple who have their own show on the Food Network cable TV show.

Well, she kept inviting me to dinner because she said that getting a babysitter was hard for her, and she promised the baby would be in bed before dinner so it would be just the two of us. I have to admit that I thought it a little strange for a baby to be in bed for the night at only 6:00 pm, but I took her word on it. Having a baby around wasn’t that big of an issue to me, unless it meant dealing with an angry and jealous baby daddy, but I decided to take my chances.

I showed up at six, sharp, and was greeted by her holding a crying baby who refused to go to sleep or play quietly the entire time I was there. Dinner was not until 7:30 because of the distraction of the crying baby plus she had to work that day. No good traditional southern food, either. We dined on Hamburger helper, canned peas and refrigerator biscuits. Now, I can cook all of that myself and it didn’t taste bad. But that is what I call great Southern cooking and I could not wait to make my escape after politely eating her dinner and getting home by eight thirty.

Let’s hope this dinner invitation is NOTHING like that other experience. And I will let you know if skinny cooks can be trusted.