Sunday, December 30, 2012

Happy Herbs

This afternoon I was shopping at a small Middle Eastern market near my house.  After I gathered the things on my list I wandered over to the produce section to see what was there.  The only thing that caught my eye today was the cilantro.  This store always have the best price on the herb; the bunches are cheaper and twice as large as the ones at the grocery store down the block.  Even though I didn't have a specific use for it, two bunches jumped into my shopping bag...a whole dollar's worth!

 There's no way I'll use up all that cilantro before it goes bad, and I hate to waste food.  I chopped and froze one of the bunches to use in cooked dishes, but that still left one bunch.

Like most herbs, cilantro's really best when it's fresh.  I used to have a problem with fresh herbs going bad before someone told me they'd last much longer if I'd treat them like cut flowers. It sounded crazy, but I tried it and it really works!

It's easy to do. The first step is to snip off the bottom of the stems. (I throw them in my freezer stock bag.) Next, fill a glass with a couple of inches of water and place the stem ends of the herbs into the water in the jar. Cover them loosely with a plastic bag and store in the refrigerator. Change the water after every couple of days or if the water starts to discolor.

Using this method, I've had fresh herbs last for more than a week.  That's plenty of time to make a Mexican dinner.  Or Indian.  Or maybe Vietnamese.  I wonder if I'll be making another trip to an ethnic grocery store?

Friday, December 28, 2012

Make It Easy

Following our family tradition, the extended family celebrated Christmas at our house.  I had to work on the morning of Christmas Eve, so I planned an easy dinner.  The main dish was a spiral-cut ham.  I asked Hubby Tony and each of the kids to be in charge of a dish--cole slaw, a veggie tray with two types of dips, a bread tray, and desserts.  I made pans of macaroni and cheese and Baked Brown Rice.  It was easy to put the pans in the oven; all I had to do is remember to take them out at the right time!

1 1/2 cups brown rice, medium or short grain
2 1/2 cups water
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 teaspoon kosher salt

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Place the rice into an 8-inch square glass baking dish.

Bring the water, butter, and salt just to a boil in a kettle or covered saucepan. Once the water boils, pour it over the rice, stir to combine, and cover the dish tightly with heavy-duty aluminum foil. Bake on the middle rack of the oven for 1 hour.

After 1 hour, remove cover and fluff the rice with a fork. Serve immediately.

Thursday, December 27, 2012


I received a call today at the mall Customer Service desk from an elderly woman asking for the number for our Discovery Channel store.  She explained she'd received one of their electronic chess games for a Christmas present and had a question about it.  I had to break the news to her that we don't have that store, nor does any other mall in town.

The woman started laughing and guessed that the person who'd given it to her must have had the game in their closet for a while or had received it and regifted it. I suggested that perhaps it had been ordered online (a process which seemed foreign to her), but she was positive she was correct. The woman was a good sport about the whole thing, and thanked me before she hung up.  Her biggest concern seemed to be how to write a thank you note that wouldn't reveal she knew the background of the present.

Later in the day I was curious, so I went to the Discovery Channel Website and searched for "chess". There were no matching results.  According to Wikipedia, the Discovery Channel closed all its retail stores in 2007.

The woman WAS right!

Monday, December 24, 2012

I Guess You're Never Too Old

Our church has two Masses on Christmas Eve--4:00 and 6:00.  Traditionally we've gone to the later one, but this year the kids had left on a road trip and were returning to the house mid-evening, so Hubby Tony and I decided to go at 4.

I knew the Mass was very popular.  On a normal Sunday we allow 15 minutes to get to church.  Today we doubled that, and still didn't get a seat.  Tony and I stood immediately behind the last pew in the center right section.  By the time the priest walked down the aisle there were people standing six and seven deep along the back wall, and lines snaked down the side aisles.   Right before Mass started a seat opened up immediately in front of me and I grabbed it.  Tony could have squeezed in, too, but he chose to continue standing.

During the opening hymn I observed the people in the pew in front of me, and decided it held several generations of one family.  There was an older woman (the matriarch) in the center of the group, surrounded by the family groups of her children, their spouses, and grandchildren ranging in age from teens to babies.  The youngest baby was being passed up and down the row, but she eventually ended up directly in front of me; I couldn't help but smile at her until I realized I was paying more attention to her than I was to the sermon and stopped.

Later, while the collection was being taken, most of the people in front of me were singing.  However, one of the adult children (who looked to be about my age) was holding an extended conversation with his spouse.  After several minutes,  his mom turned his way and gave him a withering stare.  At first he didn't notice, but when the stare continued she got his attention; he stopped talking and grabbed a hymnal.

Friday, December 21, 2012

A Poem For The First Day Of Winter

Winter Dark

Winter dark comes early
mixing afternoon
and night.
there's a comma of a moon,

and each street light
along the
puts its period
to the end of day.

a neon sign
punctuates the
dark with a bright blinking
exclamation mark!

Lilian Moore

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

On The Case

The past few days have been a flurry of activity because the Christmas holiday begins at our house tonight when the first of the boys arrives at the airport.  Between now and the big day they'll rotate in and out, spending time with the parentals and each other. While they're here every bedroom will be filled.

Last night I finished the last of the wrapping.  There will be a couple of bulky presents under our tree this year. I hate using massive amounts of wrapping paper for large boxes.  The past few years I've solved the problem by making bags out of fabric or using pillowcases from the thrift store. There was one present, though, that was the wrong size for anything I had on hand.  It only takes a few minutes to sew a bag if you have material that doesn't ravel.  I didn't.  I added "go to Goodwill and find pillowcase to hold big present" to my list of errands.

Goodwill didn't have much on the racks, and I didn't have time to check the other thrift stores in the area, so I settled on a warm brown-colored case, hoping I had some ribbon I could tie around it that would make it look Christmasy.

A couple of weeks ago when the weather got cold I got out the flannel sheets. However, I didn't have enough for all the beds.  Yesterday I purchased an inexpensive set, washed them, and this morning I put them on the bed.  I think they look appropriately masculine, don't you?

The only problem with twin sheet sets is they only come with one pillow case, and there are two pillows on the bed.  The extra pillow had been encased with a blue case which coordinated with the  bright green, yellow, and blue striped percale sheets.  Even by my low decorating standards it wouldn't work with the new set, but the case I'd bought earlier in the day would.  Problem solved.  (Can you see it peeking out from behind the flannel?)

So what did I wrap the gift in?  A pillowcase from the bottom of my linen drawer.  It doesn't look remotely holidayish, but as long as there's a present in there I don't think the recipient will mind too much.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

No Covers Allowed

My post at the mall Customer Service desk gives me a front row seat to a piped-in music Christmas concert, which starts the moment I come in from the parking garage and ends when I walk out at the end of the day.

I hear a lot of holiday tunes, but I NEVER get tired of this one.  (Only this original version, though.  No covers.)

Sunday, December 16, 2012

It's On Us

On Friday Hubby Tony and I had made tentative plans to meet at the gym after he got off work. In the middle of the afternoon, though, I decided that there'd be no workout for me.  I had some vague cold-like symptoms and a nap sounded like a better plan.

I relayed the information to Tony, and encouraged him to go to the gym anyway.  His normal time to get home came and went, and I was pleased that he'd decided to take care of himself.  When he got home I asked him how his workout was.  He had a sheepish look on his face, and said he had a story to tell me.

Instead of going to the gym, he'd worked a little later and went to Kohl's to do some Christmas shopping.  He made his purchase, then ran into a friend and spent a few minutes talking.  On the way out of the store, he was stopped by an official-looking person who asked him a few questions, then told Tony "your purchase is on us today."


I vaguely remembered hearing about the Kohl's Dream Receipts Sweepstakes on the radio. They're picking one shopper at random every day in every Kohl’s store, and Tony was our local store's lucky winner for the day.  In addition to refunding the money he'd spent, the store also gave him a $10 gift card to give to someone else.  He chose me; I have a good idea what I'm going to do with my little bonus.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Five Star Day

I read my horoscope in the newspaper every day while I'm eating breakfast, but don't take it seriously. This morning, though, I was pleased to see that I was slated to have a five-star day!  The horoscope said:
"In the morning you could have a case of the lazies or seem a bit passive.  By midafternoon, you'll start acting like the Energizer bunny, and few can hop as fast as you.  What you initially had resisted doing becomes a piece of cake." (Jacqueline Bigar)
I needed that bit of positive information with my cup of coffee. This week the mall I work at started its extended holiday hours.  My alarm's been going off at 5:30, an hour earlier than normal.  I wake up, shower, and eat breakfast in the dark.  Because I'm getting up so early, every evening I'm exhausted and falling asleep on the couch before 9:00.

The day did begin slowly.  My shift today started at 8:30, which meant I was on the road in the thick of the morning rush hour.  When I got to the interstate I inched along.  The traffic was so annoying I got off one exit early and drove on surface streets until I got to the mall.  To add insult to injury, I had the sun in my eyes most of the trip.

I set the Customer Service desk up for the day, then spent the time before the mall opened walking around and seeing which stores had updated their displays since yesterday.  Some days I enjoy walking in the mall, but today wasn't one of them. My back ached, my feet hurt, and I had a headache.  I returned to the desk just in time to turn on the lights and wait for the first customer to arrive.

The regular pace of the Customer Service desk has been ramping up; in early November we'd sell three or four gift cards a day.  Now it's more like 60 or 70 each day, and rising. Although many orders are just for one or two cards, there are also the people who want to get eight, nine, or ten--one for each of their children's teachers, or everyone in their office.

I answered a few questions before the first person came and asked about gift cards, but after that there was a steady stream of orders.  I don't know if my horoscope was actually coming true or it had turned into a self-fulfilling prophecy, but I was moving through the people with ease.  There's a rhythm to selling large quantities of gift cards.  Swipe the card in the reader, load it, then set it to one side.  Swipe the customer's charge card and while you're waiting for the receipt write the amount on the back of the card and the sleeve. Assemble everything while the receipt is being signed then hand the order to the customer.  All the while making small talk.

There's usually only one person working at the desk at a time, but during the holidays two people are scheduled.  My co-worker and I helped each other out, which made the time go even faster.  Before I knew it my shift was over and it was time to clock out.  I didn't exactly hop to my car, but since I don't have to work for a few days there was certainly a spring in my step as I left the mall.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Merry Christmas To Me

Our house rule has always been that you shouldn't buy yourself anything in December, but last week I splurged on some new seasonal dishes for the house.

Amazingly, it coordinates with every plate color

With all the extra eating we do around the holidays we never have enough plates (and I get tired of continually washing things up).  Several years ago I purchased some country-blue-and-maroon-snowflake-embellished salad plates that coordinated with the stoneware we had at the time. However, last Christmas I was lucky enough to receive a set of Fiestaware as a gift. We continued to use the snowflake plates for the rest of the holiday, but they didn't exactly match the new plates.  When I saw the Christmas Tree pattern Fiestaware I decided to upgrade.

I now have eight embellished salad plates and eight solid color larger ones.  Hopefully that's enough.  If not, we can always use the bread plates...

Sunday, December 9, 2012


When I picked up the co-op produce basket on Friday, it had one item I wasn't familiar with--persimmons.  The four squat fruits at the bottom of the basket had shiny skin and resembled orange tomatoes with large calyx leaves attached to the top.  Before we could eat it some research was in order.

There was lots of great information at the Websites and Foods. I found out that persimmons are native to China. They spread to Japan centuries ago and were introduced to California during the middle of nineteenth century.  The fruit is low in calories, and a good source of dietary fiber, Vitamin C, and antioxidants.  There are two types of persimmons:
  • Those with astringent fruit (hachiyas), which are high in tannins and extremely tart until they're fully ripe.  They are elongated and oval shaped, and are commonly peeled and pureed into a pulp to add to baked goods.
  • Those with non-astringent fruits (fuyus), which are lower in tannins, have flat bottoms and a squat shape. The skin of fuyus can be eaten or peeled.
Based on these descriptions, I decided I'd received fuyus.  Now that I knew what I had, I needed to figure out what to do with it.  I found a great article on WikiHow called How to Eat a Persimmon.

After dinner tonight we tried persimmon for dessert.  I figured the exotic fruit would take a lot of work to prepare, but it couldn't have been easier.  I washed it, cut off the top, sliced it into chunks, then served it.  Even though the peel is edible, we decided it was a little too tough, so we scraped the flesh off with our teeth and threw the skin on a plate.

With the first bite of persimmon I was hooked! The fruit tasted similar to a mango, but had a different consistency.  We finished off one, then cut up a second one.  Then a third.  When we were done there was a huge pile of skin on the plate and not much else.  Tony graciously offered me the one remaining persimmon, which should taste great in my morning yogurt.

Saturday, December 8, 2012


Hubby Tony and I were close to the University City Loop at dinner time, so we made our way to Cheese-ology, St. Louis' gourmet macaroni and cheese restaurant.  Yep, a restaurant dedicated to mac and cheese.  They offer more than a dozen choices ranging from basic to sophisticated, along with a vegan option. Three salads, a couple of desserts, and drinks round out the menu.

It can be hard to find a parking place in The Loop on a Saturday night, but we were lucky and only had to walk a couple of blocks.  When we got up to the counter the friendly cashier answered our questions and took our order when we'd finally made up our minds.  I chose the Mediterranean (with mozzarella and goat cheese, artichoke hearts, sun dried tomatoes and Kalamata olives). and Tony got The Hill (provel cheese, salsiccia, and a layer of marinara on top).  We also ordered a large spinach salad to share.  They asked if we wanted our mac and cheese with or without breadcrumbs on top, which I thought was a nice touch.   After we paid we got a number and took a seat at one of the metal tables in the small eating area

 It only took a couple of minutes for the salad to arrive. The combination of fresh baby spinach, dried cranberries, walnuts, and bleu cheese topped with raspberry vinaigrette dressing was tasty, and it didn't take long for us to polish it off.  Five minutes later the main courses were brought out in small cast iron skillets with red handle covers.  Thank goodness, because otherwise they would have been too hot to touch.

I thoroughly enjoyed my entree.  The large chunks of sun dried tomatoes, artichoke hearts, and olives were mixed in with the tasty cheeses.  It wasn't oozing with sauce, but there was enough.   The bread crumbs on top added a nice crunch.  As much as I liked my food, though, I liked Tony's even better.  It tasted just like a St. Louis-style pizza, with the distinctive taste of provel. His dish had more sauce in it, and when he was done I scraped the sides of his pan to get the last of the gooey sauce.

Nothing like a good meal of comfort food on a chilly almost-winter night!

Friday, December 7, 2012

Basket Of Produce

A while back Hubby Tony told me he overheard a couple of his coworkers talking about the food they get from a co-op.  It sounded like an interesting concept, so I asked him to get more information. He did.  Based on that information, last week I placed an order.  Today I picked it up.

The St. Louis Area Community Helpings Coop operates in St. Louis and the Metro East area over the river in Illinois.  They have a nice system; there are no contracts or long term commitments, and you only participate when it's convenient.  There's a delivery every 2 weeks at more than 60 different locations.  I was pleasantly surprised to find a location about two miles from the house.

All of the ordering is done online.  I chose their Produce Basket, which was advertised as "50% Fruits, 50% Vegetables, 100% healthy and delicious".  They use PayPal, so I was comfortable paying for it online.  Not long after I submitted my order I received a confirmation email, and the next day I got another email telling me what was going to be in the basket and giving me some recipe ideas.

All week I've been looking forward to the pickup.  At the appointed time I was at the delivery location with a laundry basket to carry my things home.  I wasn't sure where to go, but when I saw a large refrigerated truck in the parking lot I figured I was in the right place.  There were about a dozen other people there, many of them with school aged children.

Because this is a co-op, everyone pitched in to help sort and distribute the food.  I wasn't sure what to expect, but the process was easy.  Small cards containing numbers were laid on the sidewalk, and every order was assigned a number.  If the person was there they set their box or bag down, otherwise the items were piled on the sidewalk. Each person claimed an item (mine was a box of green peppers) and dropped the appropriate amount at each number.  It was a little chaotic, but 15 minutes later everything was distributed.  I picked up my overflowing basket and headed for the car.

For the next two weeks, we'll be eating our way through Braeburn apples, oranges, bananas, pineapple, persimmons, green peppers, romaine lettuce, baby carrots, Napa cabbage, broccoli, grape tomatoes, baby portabello mushrooms, and bi-color corn.  The original list had a couple of things that weren't delivered, but I know I'll find a use for the dozen brown eggs they substituted.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012


This is the view from my kitchen window:

My tradition of putting Christmas lights on the deck goes back quite a few years.  While Hubby Tony is busy doing the front of the house, I take care of the back.  The colorful bulbs provide a bit of holiday cheer every night when I'm fixing dinner.

Over the years I've come up with a good system for putting up these lights.  I start at the farthest point from the deck door and wind them around the top rail until I reach the stairs at the other end.  Next, I attach an outdoor extension cord to the end of the lights, pass it under the deck and bring it up by the door, then nestle the cord in a gap in between two deck floor boards until it reached the outlet six feet away.

This year the weather was nice the weekend before Thanksgiving, so I got out the tub of lights and strung them up.  Took me fifteen minutes.  After I got done I realized I had a problem.  We had the deck replaced this summer and the large gap between the floorboards for the extension cord wasn't there any more.  Without that gap it was dangerous; someone could trip over the cord and get hurt.

I went away to ponder alternatives. While I was thinking Hubby Tony came to me with a suggestion.  What would happen if I took the lights down and put them up the opposite way (starting closest to the door and ending at the far end).  Then I could lay the cord on the deck right next to the house.  No one walks there so it wouldn't be in the way.

I decided to try his suggestion.  It took ten minutes to get the lights off, and another twenty to string them back up.  I ran the cord across the deck, then plugged the lights into the timer and the timer into the outlet.  The lights were ready for their big reveal on Thanksgiving.  That night (and every night since then) they've turned themselves on at dusk and off six hours later.

It's little things like this that make me happy.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Don't Waste Any Of Your Seconds

Borrowed from my niece's Facebook wall:
You can be the most beautiful person in the world and everybody sees light and rainbows when they look at you, but if you yourself don't know it, all of that doesn't even matter. Every second that you spend on doubting your worth, every moment that you use to criticize yourself; is a second of your life wasted, is a moment of your life thrown away. It's not like you have forever, so don't waste any of your seconds, don't throw even one of your moments away.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Black Bean and Sweet Potato Chili

This afternoon Hubby Tony and I were coming home from an afternoon event and realized we hadn't figured out anything for dinner.

I started thinking about what was in the house.  There were some sweet potatoes that needed to be used, and I always have canned beans in the pantry.  Put those two together with onion, peppers, a can of tomatoes, and some spices and you have a wonderful pot 'o goodness (and one of my favorite dishes).

When we got home we sprung into action.  I chopped, Tony did the cooking.  Tonight we used proportionately more sweet potatoes (to get rid of them) and less beans.  We used green pepper, not red, and pickled jalapeno instead of fresh.  None of which mattered; this is a very forgiving recipe.  Forty five minutes later we were sitting down to eat.

And the best part?  Lots of leftovers.

Black Bean and Sweet Potato Chili (From The Great American Detox Diet, by Alex Jamieson)

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 medium red onion, chopped
1 red pepper, chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 teaspoons sea salt
1 large sweet potato, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 lime, zest and juice of
1 (28 ounce) can diced tomatoes
4 (15 ounce) cans black beans, rinsed and drained (or 6 cups freshly cooked)
1 fresh jalapeno pepper, seeded and chopped
1 tablespoon cumin
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 tablespoon cocoa powder
1 lime, cut into wedges (optional -- for garnish)
1 cup chopped cilantro leaf, washed and dried (optional -- for garnish)

1.  Warm the oil in a large pan over medium heat and add the onion, red pepper, garlic, and salt. Saute until soft, about 4 minutes.

2.  Add the sweet potato and lime zest, cook 10-15 minutes more, continuing to stir occasionally.

3.  Add the tomatoes, black beans, jalapeno, lime juice, cumin, chili powder, and cocoa; bring to a simmer, cover, and cook for 10 minutes.

4.  OR omit the oil, throw everything in a crock pot, and cook on high for 6 hours.

5.  Serve over brown rice with lime wedges and cilantro.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Christmas Traditions

The Christmas event season is in full swing, and there's not enough time to do everything.  Today the calendar section of the newspaper's Website listed almost a dozen activities, but we narrowed it down to four; each in a different part of town.  After some discussion, this year Hubby Tony and I picked one that was new to us--the Historic St Charles Christmas Traditions Festival.

St. Charles is just across the Missouri River to the west of St. Louis. It was founded in 1765, and served as the state capitol from 1821-1826. Many of the buildings in the brick-paved historic district historic area date to that time.  The buildings have now been turned into shops and restaurants that attract people all year long, and large crowds come to the area for special events

The weather the past few days has been so unseasonable, it's hard to believe its almost the end of the year.  When we left the house after lunch it was 70 degrees.  I was wearing a tee shirt and jeans.  And Christmas socks, because it's the season.  I also brought along a Christmas applique fleece jacket, just in case it cooled off.  (I ended up carrying it.)

We made a couple of stops before we headed across the river to St. Charles.  The bridge across the Missouri river is down to one span, but traffic wasn't backed up too badly.  However, once we got off the highway traffic was stop and go, and looked like it was backed up all the way to the historic area.  Fortunately we're somewhat familiar with the area so instead of following the line of cars to the east, we drove north for about a mile and found a parking spot a couple of blocks from Main Street where all the action was.

Main Street was packed, and it was hard to walk down the sidewalk.  I wonder if the nice weather brought out extra people?  When I needed to use the bathroom I had to wait in line behind a dozen other ladies before I could take my turn.  I went into a spice shop to buy a couple of things; the shop was so full it was difficult to navigate.

After I finished in that shop we walked across the street and browsed in a bookstore.  When we came out  people were starting to line the streets for the Santa Parade.   We thought about doing the same thing but it would have taken the parade quite a while to reach us, so we set out in the opposite direction.  This area was quieter and the sidewalks were easy to navigate.  We stopped in the building where Santa was holding court, but he'd gone to be in the parade.  However, the storefront had a nice train display with multiple layouts that were fun to watch.

By this time the parade was over, and the sidewalks were getting crowded again.  Tony and I decided to leave.  On the way back to the car, though, we stopped at a church that had a display of gingerbread houses, and got to vote for our favorite.  And use the bathroom again; there was no line at this one.