Friday, December 31, 2010

Cheater Potato Cheese soup

I have the "there's nothing to eat and I'm hungry" syndrome going on here. I want something quick. I want something hot. I want something creamy and smooth. I want potato soup. I want some BAKED potato soup. I do NOT want to have to cook raw potatoes. I do NOT want to fry bacon. Besides, I don't HAVE any bacon to fry. I don't have any sour cream. I do, however, have 2 packets of instant potatoes in the 4 Cheese flavor. I DO have grease saved from cooking bacon (hey, it's a Southern thing!) and I DO have cheese. Humm....I think I have an idea. Oh, nuts.

4 cups of water
1 package Idaho 4 Cheese instant potato buds
3/4 cup plain potato buds
1 Tbs bacon grease
4 oz medium sharp cheddar cheese (four 1/4" thick slices from the end of a brick of cheddar cheese)
1/4 cup feta cheese

Put the water into a microwave safe bowl and heat until it's "boiling" temp.

Add a packet of 4 cheese potatoes. Realize that what you thought was a second packet of potatoes is actually some yellow rice that will take 24 minutes forever to cook. Grab plain potato buds and dump in some - about 3/4 cup's worth, and bacon grease for flavor. Stir well. Let it sit for a few minutes to rehydrate. If it's too much like mashed potatoes and not soup, add some more water to it. If it's too watery, add some more buds.

Break up the cheddar into small pieces. Add it and the feta and stir again.

If the cheese doesn't melt, nuke the whole bowl for a minute or two. It will melt then.

Eat it. All of it. Because you haven't eaten today and it's 7pm. And you're HUNGRY.

"Why didn't you stop and fix something to eat EARLIER????"

"Because there's NOTHING to eat!"

"There are about 40 boxes that held 4 gallons of milk in EACH and they are now FILLED with FOOD! And the boxes are even LABELED with the category the food is in. What do you MEAN "there's nothing to eat?!?!"

"Ok, Ok. There's food to eat but I don't feel like cooking!"

"Since WHEN does flavored yogurt from the STORE have to be COOKED???? Since WHEN does milk and cereal have to be COOKED?? And green beans? It takes 30 seconds to walk to one of  at least SIX boxes marked "Veggies" and grab a can of veggies. 30 seconds to open the can and drain them and 3 minutes to heat them. You call THAT Cooking?? And it takes 2 minutes to grab a can of green beans, corn, tomatoes and a jar of the potatoes, one of the carrots and one of the chicken that you canned, pop the tops and toss the contents into a bowl, juices and all. Another 5 minutes or so to season it and nuke it. Garlic and onion powder, Adobo, a large pinch each of thyme, marjoram, basil and oregano. Gee, 7 WHOLE minutes 'cooking'. I'm sure it would have KILLED you to have SLAVED over that meal. AND you'd have had leftovers for tomorrow AND Sunday! Oh, and it would have taken you about 5 minutes to get the bread dough out of the fridge, shape it into two boules and let them sit for 90 minutes and then baked them for an hour. You would have had 2 or 3 days' worth of bread. You have pie crusts in the fridge. You could have eaten soup for 2 meals and then thickened the leftovers and made pot pie out of them and had another 4 meals from that! Another 5 whole minutes of 'cooking'."

Sigh. I hate it when I get all logical with me.

Hanging Laundry to Dry Indoors For Dummies

(Like ME!)

When I moved to my one-bedroom duplex from a four-bedroom house this summer, I had to downsize. A LOT! Some of the things that didn't make the mile trip to the new place was a lot of my homeschool books (still need to sell them), my freezer and my dryer. There is simply NO ROOM to have them in this house. Life is all about choices, and these things were not as important to me as what I kept here with me. DK's let me keep some of my stuff in the basement of the house they're renting. Except the dryer. That's upstairs and they're using it. And since both work full-time and my daughter's pregnant, I figure the dryer is of more importance to them than it is to me. I'm not drying work clothing for two. Most of what I dry is what I kick around the house in and a few towels.

Which means, I've had to figure out how to get my clothing dry on some kind of line. I'm thankful that where I live has a nice clothes line in the back yard. I'm also glad for all the times as a child BD (before dryers), that I had to hang the family wash on the line.

But how to apply this to indoor drying. And WHY indoors. Well, I live in the SOUTH. The south is VERY GREEN. Lots of kudzu. Lots of trees. Lots of vegetation. And did I mention, LOTS of kudzu? But do you know WHY the south is green??? Because it RAINS. All. The. Time. At least where I do it rains all the time. Now, I'm thankful for the rain because I LIKE things green. If I wanted brown, I'd move out west. They have some pretty deserts. Brown deserts. That's nice to visit, but I LIKE green. So I deal with rain on a frequent basis. And you can NOT hang clothing to dry outside if it's raining. Or Snowing, Or..freezing.

So here's what I figured out to do.
Wash a load of clothing normally. If you MUST, wash it by hand. But my washing machine DID make the cut of "important" items to be kept. lol

I wash my clothes in homemade laundry detergent and rinse it in vinegar. I like the homemade soap better than commercial. It doesn't stink and I don't break out in a rash from left-over soap. Before I switched to homemade soap, I had cut back on how much detergent I was putting in the washer, but I still would have problems. My laundry detergent how-to is here. And for the record, you can make a batch of this up at one time. Sometimes, I'm just lazy and don't feel like spending the time grinding soap for a whole batch. And you could make liquid soap out of it, but takes more room to store it that way and I've never had any problems with the soap not dissolving in the washer, but then I do grate it rather finely by using my smallest grating wheel.

So, the laundry powder goes into the washer just like you would regular detergent. I put the vinegar into the little holder that you'd normally put your name-brand-add-it-to-the-washer dryer stuff. And turn the machine on and let it work. It works, I go post on my blog. lol

Now you have clean clothing. And NOW it's raining AGAIN and you really don't want to let it hang on the line 3 days until it decides to stop raining. I mean, no one around here would EVER be guilty of ANYTHING like that. Oh, hey, at least the clothes were well rinsed!

So, what to do? Well, hey, I have some hangers and I have a shower curtain rod. Hummmm. So, I simply hung the clothes on the hanger and then put the hanger on the shower curtain rod to dry. I've not had any problem with the clothes dripping because my washer does a good job of removing the water on the spin cycle. But it's been raining off and on for weeks here and after 24 hrs, my clothes were NOT dry. It's winter. The heater is on. If you count it being set to 66 degrees as "on". (That's what sweaters, sweatpants/shirt and socks are for. That's why the old folks used to wear HATS. Go put on more clothes!) So why didn't the clothes dry?? Well, it's cold enough to close up the house and put the heater on, but my brick house is warm enough that the heater isn't cycling as much as the a/c was blowing with it set to 78. (Go put on a light-weight cotton shirt, go barefooted. That's why the old folks used to wear cotton. Take some clothes OFF! Only don't answer the door that way, please!)

What to do? Cue the....FAN. Yes, my little fan that blew in the house to circulate the air so that the a/c wasn't running as much was placed on the bathroom floor and turned on. It then took about 3 hrs for the clothes to dry. (Cotton underthings and socks on hangers set about 1 1/2 inches apart.) Today, we have towels. Heavy towels, drying. I just hung them up about 30 minutes ago, and they're already about 1/3 dry.

Some suggestions for using indoor drying methods:

When you go to hang up an item, give it a good "snap" or two. Shaking it out helps get wrinkles out.

Use "spring"-type clothespins. The "peg" type won't work on a hanger. At least, I've never tried them on hangers because they work by putting tension on the fabric by "jamming" it in place. Fabric gets caught between the peg and whatever you're hanging the clothing on. Common sense tells me that a small diameter hanger isn't going to "jam" enough fabric for the peg to hold the fabric in place.

Hang your clothing on a plastic hanger or plastic coated hanger. You can use wood, but they're more expensive. I sometimes use metal, but you're risking getting rust on clothes if you do that too much. Unless you have a coating on the metal hangers.

I hang shirts up like I would hang them in the closet. I use clothespins on hangers to hang everything else.

I use either those special pants/skirt clothes hangers or clothespins and regular hangers. I hang pants by the waistband. I open the pants out flat and put the hanger behind the waistband and clip it in two spots. I do not stretch the waist out with elastic waists, but do put them straight across the top part of the hanger. I end up with portions of the waistband not on the hanger, but the portion that is on the hanger is enough to let the pants dry.

I hang underwear by twos. I lay one pair flat, put down the hanger so that the "BOTTOM rung" of the hanger is where I'm going to put the clothespins. I then lay the second one on top of the bottom part of the hanger hanger and clip them together, one clothespin on the left side of the item, one on the right side. I then take and clip a pair of socks to the "upper rung", one on each side of the hook. I fold the sock over the edge of the hanger and clip it in the middle of the sock. One pin to each sock.

And for Christmas, I was sent a Wally-world gift card and bought myself - a second shower curtain rod. One that is tension mounted. And I put it so that it ran parallel to the regular shower curtain rod, but in the middle of the bathtub, and above the shower head. Tensioned that bad boy in place and then washed a 3 of loads of laundry.  I hung the heavier pants and shirts I had on the screwed in shower curtain rod and hung the lighter underclothing, socks, and smaller towels on the tensioned rod. Worked GREAT!

And when the clothes are dried, there's only a few things that need folding. The rest get taken straight from the shower curtain rods to the closet and hung up. Woo wee! No more laundry piles. Well, at least CLEAN laundry piles. Now if I'd only DO the laundry more than once every two weeks, I wouldn't HAVE 4 loads that need doing. Oh, well. Baby steps, baby steps.

Fire retardant in furniture and green living

I received an email a while back asking me about washing upholstered furniture and curtains with soap to remove fire-retardant from them. (Soap as opposed to detergent. Detergent is what all of the stuff you buy in the store to clean yourself, your kids, your dishes, clothing, etc. is. Soap will remove fire-retardant, detergent will not.)

About the fire-retardant. That's a toughy. I was a paramedic and I know that most people that die in a fire die from smoke inhalation, not burns. In other words, they die from breathing in toxic fumes rather than the fire touching them. The offending fire-retardant chemicals are what keeps petroleum products from going up like charcoal lighter when the fabric is exposed to a flame. It is supposed to slow down ignition of the fabric. And since the FEMA website states that a house fire can become dangerously involved in only TWO minutes, and that a house can easily become fully involved in FIVE minutes, you want as much time as possible to get your family and yourself out of the house.

You probably can remove the retardant by washing the item in soap. You're going to either have to take the pillows to a commercial laundromat with a large-item front loading washer or do them one by one in the bathtub. You could also simply remove the covers, wash them, hang to dry and then put the pillows back into them - assuming they have a zipper construction in the back/side of them.

I would simply cover the offending pieces of furniture with a 100% cotton sheet. It will keep the "toxins" off of you, but yet, if some how they are exposed to flame, they won't go up like charcoal soaked in gas.

In fact, if you're worried about/allergic to the chemicals, instead of washing it out of all your furniture/curtains/clothing, I would be replacing my stuff with 100% natural materials. Natural materials are not as quick to ignite and they don't burn with a toxic smoke - though the carbon monoxide/dioxide will still kill you. Until I could afford to replace my belongings, I would simply cover my things with natural materials.

Do a YouTube search of house fires and see how quickly man-made items ignite. From the time of ignition on a house, you can have a house fully involved in less than 5 minutes. A house trailer can be up in 7 SECONDS. It's because of all the petro products used in them and they way buildings are constructed. This is why fire-retardation formulas were invented - to slow down the ignition and give people more time to get OUT of a burning house.

You can make your own fire-retardant. It's near the bottom of the linked post. 

Truth be told, you're probably going to have more problems from the materials that furniture is made from than the fire-retardant. If I recall correctly, foam has formaldehyde amongst other things in it. And formaldehyde is in carpet, furniture and other items. The borax and boric acid are at least naturally occurring minerals -as opposed to the myriad of petro-chemicals found in most of the items we have in our homes and there isn't a lot of it used to flame-retard clothing, bedding and upholstery.

All-in-all, if it were me, I wouldn't remove the fire-retardant, I would use cotton sheets or make cotton slip covers and use those to cover my furniture. (How to do that is available on the 'net.) The extra minute or two that the flame-retardant provides can be the difference between getting yourself and family out of a burning house or dying in it or suffering permanent lung and/or brain damage from toxic smoke.


Cake in a mug (or bowl)

OH, my stars! Do you REALLY want me to teach you this trick???

Ok, here goes.  There's 2 ways of making cakes in a cup/mug/bowl. One requires a boxed cake mix and a small  box of instant pudding. The other is completely homemade.


5 Minute Cake in a Mug
Large Mug; or small bowl (Make sure it will hold 1 1/2 cups liquid because if it's too small it will spill out.)
4 Tbs flour (that's plain flour, not self-rising
4 Tbs sugar
2 Tbs baking cocoa
1 egg
3 Tbs milk
3 Tbs oil (cut to 1 or 2 tbs)
3 Tbs chocolate chips(optional)
1/s tsp vanilla extract

Spray PAM in mug. Add dry ingredients to mug, and mix  well.
Add the egg and mix thoroughly.
Pour in the milk, oil and vanilla extract. Mix well.
Add the chocolate chips (if using) and  mix again.
Put your mug in the microwave and cook for 1 1/2 to 3 minutes. It's ok if the cake rises over the top of the mug.
EAT! (This can serve 2)

To make a vanilla cake: Add 2 Tbs more flour and don't add the cocoa. (can add any flavor extract)

To make lemon cake: Add 2 Tbs more flour and leave out the cocoa. Add 1 tsp lemon extract. instead of vanilla extract.

Here’s a more brownie-like, simpler/faster recipe:
4 Tbs flour
4 Tbs sugar
2 Tbs cocoa
2 Tbs oil
2 Tbs water
Cook for 1 minute. A little longer if your  microwave is old.

Jello 5-Minute Cake
4 Tbs all-purpose flour
3 Tbs sugar
1 tsp sugar-free jello powder, any flavor
1/8 tsp baking powder
1 Egg white
3 Tbs milk (or soy milk)
1 Tbs vegetable oil
1 Heaping tablespoon unsweetened applesauce
1/4 tsp vanilla extract
1 Microwave-safe bowl or mug

Mix flour, sugar, Jello and baking powder
Mix in egg white
Pour in milk, oil, applesauce and vanilla, and mix  well
Put in microwave for 1 1/2 - 2 1/2 minutes (add 30 sec if necessary) on maximum power
Cake is done when it looks "dry" on top and just starts to pull away from bowl. When you touch the center top, it springs back, but doesn't leave any "goo" on your finger pad.

Peach cobbler in a mug
2 Tbs sugar
2 Tbs flour
1/4 tsp baking powder
Measure all into a small Ziploc bag, seal and shake to  combine.
1  (4oz) container (snack size) peaches

Place the peaches cup in a mug lined with tissue paper, add  the cobbler mix on top.

Attach Tag:
Melt 1 T. margarine in mug;
when melted, add mix and 2 T. Milk. Stir well. Add peaches on top of the batter and cook 2 minutes.

Gingerbread Cake In A Mug

Microwavable/Oven Safe Mug (must hold at least 1 1/2 cups)
4 Tbs Flour
2 Tbs dark brown sugar
1 tsp cocoa powder
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/8 tsp cinnamon
pinch of nutmeg
pinch of ground cloves
Round Tag
Snack or Sandwich size Zipper bags

Piece of Homespun (opt.)

Place these instructions on tag:
To make Gingerbread Cake

Gingerbread Cake Mix

2 Tbs Molasses
1 egg, small one is good

2 Tbs Warm water

In a small zipper bag, place all ingredients, zip bag and shake them together, and tie off with a piece of homespun (opt.). Place into mug for later use. On  Round tag write, "Gingerbread Cake Mix"
Attach a nice gift tag to the mug handle or tuck a small  card inside your mug with the following directions:

To Make Gingerbread Cake
In a small bowl, place Gingerbread Cake Mix from small bag. Add  molasses, egg and warm water and blend together with fork until thoroughly  mixed, about 1 minute. Pour mixture into a lightly greased mug. Place in  microwave for 1 1/2 - 5 minutes on High. Since times can vary for each microwave, I recommend  checking every 30 seconds after 1 1/2 minutes to see if it's done. Enjoy!!!

Cakes from a boxed mix:

Birthday cake in a mug (this will make 8-9 individual cakes)
Place mix in a pretty mug, lined with tissue paper, add a  couple little birthday candles and a book of matches (if the recipient is old  enough to light them! Great Birthday idea for College students, Elderly who  may only want a "little" sweets, etc.)

cake mix any flavor
4 serving size(small box) instant pudding mix , any flavor
Blend ingredients well until completely mixed.
Measure 1/2 cup dry mix into sandwich bags. (Makes 8-9 bags worth)Tie it closed using ribbon or use sandwich, snack or quart-size zipper bags

Yellow cake mix - vanilla pudding - chocolate glaze
Yellow cake mix - lemon pudding - raspberry glaze
Lemon cake mix - lemon pudding - lemon glaze
Devils food cake mix- chocolate pudding - Hazelnut glaze
Pineapple cake mix- coconut pudding - cherry glaze
Butter flavor cake mix - butterscotch or cheesecake pudding - strawberry

Glaze mix:
(only makes one bag, so if you're giving away these mixes/want them made in advance, you'll have to make 8 or 9 of these bags.)

In a separate snack or sandwich-size zipper bag combine the  following ingredients:
1/3 cup powdered sugar
1 1/2 tsp dry flavoring - you can use Koolaid, lemonade mix, breakfast drinks (Tang), cocoa, Coffee-mate flavors (powdered), or extracts. Extracts will have to be added by the cake maker, unless you have powdered extracts.

In a large coffee mug place a Cake Mix; a glaze mix and  attach a tag with the
instructions for cooking.:
Grease or spray coffee mug/bowl with cooking spray.
Empty Cake  Mix into mug
1 egg white
1 T. Oil
1 T water.
Blend with fork  until smooth.
Place in microwave and cook on high for 1 1/2 - 2 minutes.

While cake is cooking add 1 ½ tsp water to glaze mix in zipper bag. Close and gently rub bag until glaze is smooth. When cake is done, remove from microwave, cut a small hole in the corner of glaze packet and apply glaze to your mug cake.

Eat while warm!

You can add a couple teaspoons of either Just Whites egg replacement powder or Powdered Eggs to each individual  packet of Cake "mix". On directions tag, you will need to add an additional 1 T water (so it says to add 2 T instead of 1) to recipe and remove reference to adding an egg white from instruction card.

Brownies in a mug

4 Tbs instant brownie mix
1 Tbs mini m & m's
1 Tbs Chopped Walnuts
1 Tbs Chopped Pecans
1 Tbs Dried Chopped Cherries

Measure all small Ziploc baggie, seal.
Place in a Mug lined with Tissue paper, attach pretty  tag.
Attach Tag:
Pour mix into mug
2 Tbsp water; mix well.
Microwave for 1 minute.

Cinnamon Honey Bun cake

Measure the following into a zipper bag and seal.
1/3 cup yellow cake mix

Add the following into a separate zipper bag, seal and label as Topping Mix:
2 tsp brown sugar
1 tsp finely chopped pecans
1/4 tsp cinnamon

Attach Tag:
Empty Cake mix into mug.
2 tsp Oil
1 T. Water
1 Egg White
Mix this together well.
Sprinkle topping packet on top.
Cook on high in microwave for 2 minutes.

OPTIONAL OVEN METHOD: Mix everything just as described  above. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place Mug in oven and bake for 20 minutes.  Enjoy!!

 I forgo the cup in favor of a cereal  bowl that came in my dish set. It's not the very smallest bowl, (old-fashion finger bowl size) but the next size up (cereal bowl size) - it holds about 2 cups. I don't have to clean up any  overflow and before, they sometimes would overflow the cups.But then, I  don't have any really large mugs. I only have the regular-sized ones  that come with Cornelle dishes.

I have an old microwave and I only cook my cakes for about 1 min, 30 seconds to 1 min, 45  seconds or they are overcooked. Some of these times seem awfully long for newer microwaves.

The cake is done when it springs back  when you touch it, but doesn't leave any cake on your finger. It will  also just begin to pull away from the edge of the bowl. If you leave it  in too long, and 15 seconds longer than 1:45 for my oven is too long,  and the cake will begin to get hard on you. It's still edible, just not  as good. so keep an eye on the cooking until you know what works in your  oven. Oh, and my oven is an older, lower-powdered oven, so newer ones  may cook these cakes even faster.

I also use a whole large egg. Sometimes people give me "yard" eggs. I  use what I have. I got tired of throwing away the egg yolk. The yolk is  where the nutrition is. Of course, it's also where some fat, calories  and cholesterol are too. So use common sense. If your Dr. says no egg  yolk, don't use it, just separate the egg or use egg beaters-type  product. Otherwise....toss the whole thing in and save yourself a minute  in separating it.

I have found that I like to mix the oil, water and egg up together  in my greased bowl and then add the dry cake mix part. I then just cook it in the bowl. Wash the fork off and use it to mix the icing and  then use it to eat the finished cake straight from the bowl. Nice  serving of cake, one bowl, one fork and a cup to mix the icing in is all  that you've messed up in the kitchen. Clean up time, 45 seconds! lol  And nobody will be any the wiser!

I've added everything into my cakes - nuts, choco chips, a spoon of  jelly, candy. You name it, it can go in. About 2-3 Tbs is about right  amount of total add-ins. I stir things like nuts into the mix on top of  the oil/water/egg mixture so it gets a little coating on it so it  doesn't sink as badly. Things like jelly, I just plop around the top of  the mixed up, but uncooked cake and then nuke it. (Chocolate devil's  food cake with chocolate fudge pudding and raspberry jelly on top to  sink into it. OH! YEAH!) covered in just plain powdered sugar or  chocolate frosting. Uh hum, Oh YEAH!)

For the frosting/icing/glaze, I have used just plain powdered sugar over the top. I've used powdered sugar and extracts with some added  water to make a paste/frosting/icing or glaze (how thick it is is whether it's a paste/etc. or glaze). I've added some softened butter in,  I've left it out. I've added cocoa powder to it. You can add Jello to  it - sugar free (ok, so we're making cake and we're going to save 30  calories or less? ) or regular. You can add different  "Coffee-mate" coffee flavorings to it. (if you use liquid instead of  powdered, make sure you add that BEFORE you add ANY water. 

And I'd mix  the powders together and then add the liquids to it. Some things like  cocoa don't like to mix in just plain water. But mixed with the other  powders and it doesn't give you any grief. I've also used lemon juice in  the icing with a yellow cake mix/lemon pudding mix. Same rule with  adding liquid extracts. Add those FIRST because it counts as part of the liquid that liquefies the powdered sugar and then add any more water.  But when I've messed up, I just add more powdered sugar. lol You can  even use regular sugar and heat it on the stove adding everything you want to add but the extract . Add the extract after it's off the heat so the flavor  doesn't disappear on you. I prefer icing over a glaze, so I  don't add as much liquid to my powdered sugar.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Darlene's Christmas simmering potpourri

Darlene's Christmas simmering potpourri

6 springs from Christmas tree (Frazer Fir is what I had)
1 orange skin in pieces. I had taken the skins off in about quarters.
1 grapefruit skin. I had taken the skins off in about 6 pieces.
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp nutmeg, ground
1/2 tsp all spice, ground
1/2 ginger, ground
6 whole cloves
1/2 mace, ground
1 Tbs cinnamon, ground
water to nearly fill the pan
Put in large saucepan. Bring to near boil. Turn down, let simmer for as long as you'd like to smell it. Check every hour or so and replenish the water as it evaporates.

This is as free form as you want to make it. Have whole spices instead of ground ones, use them. Conversely, only have ground spices - use those instead. Add the smells that you like. Don't use those spices. Only have dried fruit skins or zest - use that instead.

Just WATCH the water level. I have been using a 2 quart sauce pan and have had to refill the water about every 2-3 hrs. I'm so ADHD that I have to set a time to remember to check the pan!

Next time I make this, I'm going to put the tree sprigs on a paper plate and cover it with another one and use a hammer to beat the pieces to release the oil in them. I think I'll have more of a "Christmas tree" smell if I do.