Thursday, January 31, 2013

How You Like It (Part 2)

Yesterday I posted a recipe for Southern style cornbread and promised directions for a version of the sweeter, less dense Northern style (which is what the cats noshed on.)

This easy recipe is a copycat of Tippin's, a long-departed restaurant that had several locations in the area. Tippin's was known for their delicious pies, but they also served a wonderful cake-like cornbread accompanied with a crock of honey butter on the side that could pass for dessert.
"Tippin's" Corn Bread
1 (8.5-ounce) box corn muffin mix (such as Jiffy brand)
1 (9-ounce) box yellow cake mix (such as Jiffy brand)
1/3 cup milk
1/4 cup vegetable oil
2 eggs
1/3 cup water
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  In a bowl, mix all ingredients together. Let mixture set for 5 minutes, then pour into a greased 9x9 baking pan. Bake for about 20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.
What's your favorite type of cornbread?

Five years ago today: New Thing #20--Snow Day!

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

How You Like It (Part 1)

Sage left a comment on my last post about bad cats and cornbread asking if I could post a recipe; she'd never had it.

Of course I could, but first I needed to figure out which recipe to use. There are two basic types of cornbread--Northern and Southern, and a few differences between the styles:
  • SWEETNESS-Southern cornbread uses very little sugar, but Northern cornbread uses a significant amount.
  • TEXTURE-Southern cornbread is contains more cornmeal and very little flour, while Northern cornbread typically uses equal amounts of flour and cornmeal.
  • BAKING VESSEL-Southern cornbread is traditionally baked in a sizzling hot cast-iron skillet or corn stick pan; in the North, they generally bake cornbread in a baking dish.
Most people have a definite preference for one type or the other.  I like my cornbread Southern style--dense, savory, and kind of gritty from the cornmeal.  My go-to recipe is from a tattered and stained copy of Betty Crocker's Cookbook (New and Revised Edition) that I received for a wedding present more than 30 years ago.  How times have changed- the recipe suggests using bacon fat as an option! Shortening works just as well, and I'm sure it's healthier.
1 1/2 cups cornmeal
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 cup shortening or bacon fat
1 1/2 cups buttermilk
2 eggs

Heat oven to 450°F. Mix all ingredients; beat vigorously 30 seconds. Pour batter into greased round layer pan, 9x1½ inches, or square pan, 8x8x2 inches. Bake until golden brown, 25 to 30 minutes. Serve warm.

Note-To cook it in a cast iron skillet, put the shortening in a cold pan. Put pan in the preheating oven while you prepare the rest of the batter. When oven is hot and the grease is melted carefully pour it into the batter and mix well. Pour batter back into pan and bake for 15-20 minutes.
Tomorrow I'll post an easy recipe for Northern-style cornbread

Five years ago today: New Thing #19--Blogging for Beginners

Monday, January 28, 2013

Doing Wrong

Yesterday a group I belong to at church hosted our annual parish Chili Supper, an all-you-can-eat extravaganza of chili, chili mac, and hot dogs with or without chili. (We aim to please!)

The Chili committee cooked the food in the school cafeteria.  They handed out a recipe for cornbread and asked each member to bring a pan and a finger-food dessert of their choice.  During the event volunteers cut the cornbread and wrapped it for serving at the main line, and the people at the dessert table set out portions as needed.  A third station offered drinks.

On Saturday I baked my cornbread in a disposable aluminum pan. After it cooled I covered the pan with plastic, protected it with a large baking rack, and set it on top of the refrigerator. Yesterday after church I made carrot cake cupcakes with cream cheese frosting. Shortly before it was time to leave for my work shift I decided to move both cooking projects to the car so I wouldn't forget anything.

When I took the cornbread down, this is what I saw:

The picture doesn't do the damage justice; the hole was about an inch deep!  There were only two names on the list of suspects-Jackson and Pepper, the cats.  One of them got to the top of the refrigerator (probably from the counter) and then nudged the baking rack out of the way to have a cornbread feast.  Neither would confess to the wrongdoing. 

I brought the pan with me but left it in the car, figuring if the kitchen started running low on cornbread we could cut away the ruined part and serve the rest.  Fortunately there was plenty; as a matter of fact there were a couple of pans that weren't even used.

Five years ago today: New Thing #17--Fun with Soap

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Unwelcome Guest

Sometime Tuesday night while I was sleeping a stomach virus came to visit, making himself comfortable in my body.  I woke up with a horrible headache, and when I got up to get some aspirin I felt hot and clammy.   For an hour or so I tossed and turned in bed, and then my digestive tract revolted, trying to expel the unwelcome visitor.  However, Mr. Virus announced he was going to stick around because he wanted to spend some quality time with me.

In my opinion, he was an unwanted intruder.  I had a lot of plans for the day, including a shift at work.  Mr. Virus didn't care about my opinion, though, so when the alarm went off I got up and sent a text to my boss, giving him plenty of time to find a replacement.  Then, since I was tired of being in bed, I grabbed my pillow and went to sleep on the couch in the family room.

Mr. Virus was a very rude guest who refused to be ignored.  He didn't like any of the food I offered him, even though I tried to keep it to things he'd enjoy like hot tea, saltines, chicken noodle soup, and bananas.  He kept demanding that I jump up to run to the bathroom (once sending Pepper the Cat sailing across the room from my lap in my mad dash).

On the other hand, he didn't seem to mind that I didn't have the energy to shower (or even brush my teeth) and sat around all day in sweats watching lousy daytime TV.  Or even the fact that I ignored the dirty dishes in the sink and took five naps.

Mr. Virus didn't bother to share his departure plans with me.  After my "dinner" of a piece of dry toast and hot water with ginger syrup I called my boss to let him know not to count on me again today.  As the night went on I felt a little less queasy, but still tired; as much as I fought it I ended up taking a late-evening snooze on the couch which left me sleeping fitfully most of the night.

Good news, though.  This morning I realized that Mr. Virus has packed up and moved on.  He didn't bother to leave a house guest thank-you gift, but frankly his being gone is gift enough!

Five years ago today: New Thing #13--Hearth & Home

Tuesday, January 22, 2013


Last summer we had record-setting heat.  Now, the temperature isn't close to setting any records, but today's low of 12° will be the coldest of the season.  And the cold stuff is predicted to stick around for a few days.

I'm not a fan of either extreme, but if I was forced to pick one it would be cold.  Here are a few reasons why:

  • Being too cold is easier to fix than being too warm; you just put on extra clothes.
  • When you're running errands and have to park far away from the door, instead of turning into a puddle of sweat walking to the entrance you're warming yourself up.
  • The cold weather kills off some of the insects, and the outside allergens come to a screeching halt.
  • When I leave in the morning several hours before I head to work I can put my lunch in the car and don't have to worry about keeping it cool.
  • The water from the bottle in my car is always nice and chilled.  Sometimes its even icy.
  • In winter I can put organic things like chicken skin, meat fat, and bones in the outside trashcan and not worry about it going rancid and stinking to high heaven.
  • The piece of fruit I left in the car to eat on the way home still tastes like it came straight from the refrigerator (instead of halfway cooked).

Five years ago today: New Thing #11--So, Do You Soduku?

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Pressing Matters

Back in May I experimented with making my own corn tortillas. They tasted much better than the ones from the store, but rolling out the dough out to a consistent thinness and shape by hand was a bit of a challenge. Over the summer I saw an article about tortilla presses in a local food magazine, and put that on my mental list of things to buy.

I should have transferred my thoughts to a physical list, because it took me until last month to take action on it.  In between Christmas and New Year's, though, Hubby Tony and I made a trip to the "Little Mexico" section of St. Louis on Cherokee Street, and I popped into a market to look at their selection of tortilla presses.
There were four types: plastic, wood, aluminum and cast iron. I quickly decided the plastic models didn't look sturdy, and the wood models were too big to store. That left aluminum (which were shiny silver) and the cast iron (with an electrostatic black coating). I couldn't decide which type to get, so I brought both up to the cashier and asked him which one was better. I suspect his English wasn't very good and he didn't know what I was asking, but when he pointed to the cast iron one I made up my mind.

Today I used the press for the first time.  First I made the dough (a mixture of masa harina, salt, and water), divided it into portions, then rolled the portions into balls. Next I put a piece of plastic wrap on the base of the press, placed a ball of dough in the center of the base, then covered it with another piece of plastic wrap and pulled down the top of the press to smash the ball into a tortilla.

Holy Cow! I ended up with a perfectly flat round. I did it again and again, with the same results. The tortillas got cooked in a hot frying pan for a minute on each side, then piled on a plate.  They tasted great topped with pulled pork, Mexican cole slaw, avocado dressing, and salsa.

And since I still have 2/3 of a bag of masa left, I see more tortilla-making in my future!

Five years ago today: New Thing #9--Popcorn on a String

Friday, January 18, 2013

A Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

Ever had one of those days? It happened to me yesterday.

  • The first half of the day was OK, but when I left work things went downhill fast. First, the car oil change appointment took fifteen minutes longer than they told me it would. 
  • I left the repair shop to find that traffic on Manchester Road was bumper-to-bumper and the drive home that should have been taken five minutes was doubled.
  • When I got home the cats huffily announced I was late getting them their food.  
  • After feeding the cats (who didn't even offer a thank you) I checked on the pot of beans I started soaking after breakfast, and discovered I hadn't put enough liquid in; the halfway-rehydrated  top layer stared back at me accusingly.  It would now take longer to cook and I planned on having beans with ham for dinner.
  • While the beans were cooking I had a forty-five minute online chat with a Tech Support representative to clear up a computer issue and discovered it wasn't the hardware; I was at fault.
  • Because I was busy on the phone I didn't quarterback the beans properly.  Even though the few I tested before I served them were done, some of them in the bowl I had for dinner were a little hard.
  • After dinner I tried to make some changes to the contacts in my email address book, only to be told "it wasn't available at this time" and I should try again later.
  • I figured some exercise might restore me to sanity, so I threw on some warm clothes and got ready to take a walk. The wires to my mp3 headphones got tangled up in my ear-warmer headband; all of a sudden I was trying to strangle myself!

That did it!  Right in the middle of the kitchen I threw a tantrum.  I shrieked, threw the headphones, and pounded the counter top (which is granite and hurt my hand), then apologized to Hubby Tony and the cats and sent myself to my room.  I ran a nice hot bath, poured in some bath oil, then sat in the water until my toes started pruning.  Afterwards I put on my night clothes and came downstairs to sit on the couch.

 Pepper the cat stretched out on my lap.  That, and a bowl of chocolate ice cream, made it all better.

Five Years Ago Today: New Thing #8--Hi, my name is Kathy

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Call Me

I've had my iPhone for a little over two years; the contract period was up in the fall and I was qualified for an upgrade. At first I was just going to keep the old phone (a 3GS), but as the weeks went by there were more and more problems.  I guess that's not surprising. Apple is now selling the iPhone5; in cell phone lifetimes mine was geriatric.  Having the newest phone isn't important to me, so after some research I decided that I'd replace my phone with an iPhone 4S which I could get for half the price of the newest one.  However, I wasn't in any hurry to take care of the project.

We've always gotten our phones directly from the wireless carrier, either from a corporate store or the company Website.  A couple of weeks ago I was walking around the mall before I opened the Customer Service desk and stopped to talk to someone who worked at one of the third-party phone stores.  I told him I was in the market for a new phone and jokingly said I'd have to come check out his selection when I decided it was time.

One day last week when the mall was very slow the salesperson came to find me at the desk. He showed me the Windows 8 phone he used, and told me all about its features.  He even used the phone to take a couple of pictures of the store across from the desk so I could see how well the camera (both standard and front-facing) worked.  At the end of his demo, he mentioned that if I bought one of the phones from his store it wouldn't cost as much as it would from the wireless carrier.

I was intrigued, but needed to think about it.  The Windows 8 system is completely different from what I'm used to, but I didn't know anything about iPhones before I became the owner of one.  I could learn.  Over the weekend I did some research and Monday after work I stopped by the store to make the purchase.

Since I wasn't buying from the carrier, everything took a little longer to complete.  The salesperson had to pull out a three-ring binder that contained directions for third party vendors.  It took him a couple of tries to log into the system, and in the middle of the process had to change his password.   Since I had to wait around so long, he threw in a free phone cover as an offering for my trouble.

It's been a few days now and I'm still getting used to the phone, but it can do some pretty nifty things.  You can personalize the start screen with tiles, which you can rearrange and resize.  One of the coolest features is the ability to sync information wirelessly with the Windows Outlook calendar on my home computer.  The biggest negative I've found is the paucity of apps.  I've had to give up my beloved Words With Friends, but I hope with the game's popularity that will be temporary.

Five years ago today: New Thing #6--The Power of Pine

Monday, January 14, 2013

Just Perfect

Instead of exchanging presents with each person in our extended family at Christmas, everyone brings one wrapped present and after dinner we play a rowdy game of Rob Your Neighbor.

This year I ended up with this plaque, which is perfect for my kitchen in all ways... sentiment, style, and color.

Five years ago today: New Thing #4--It's a Mystery to Me

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Oh, What A Beautiful Day!

Yesterday, you may remember, was my birthday.  At the beginning of the week Hubby Tony told me he was taking Friday as a vacation day in my honor; I should come up with a plan for celebrating it.

I mulled over a lot of ideas, but since the forecast was calling for a bit of spring in the middle of winter (with a high of 65° instead of the normal 40°) I knew we needed to do something outside.  It was chilly and rainy on Thursday and I was concerned they fickle Mother Nature might outsmart the meteorologists, but when I woke up Friday Thursday's rain was gone, replaced by a beautiful partly-cloudy sky.

Tony and I walked to St. Louis Bread Company (AKA Panera) for breakfast, then came home to shower and get organized for the day's main event--eagle watching in Alton, Illinois, just over the state line.  In winter when the lakes and rivers freeze in the northern United States and Canada, eagles migrate to the area on the Mississippi River between the confluences of the Illinois and Missouri Rivers. They stay from late December through March, where they can catch fish in the unfrozen water.

This wasn't my first attempt at eagle watching.  Back in the mid '90s I took Sons Brian and Donald to the area for an eagle-watching weekend.  We went in late February;  it had been a warm winter and most of the birds had already left to return north.  We didn't see a thing.  I was hopeful that this time I'd have better luck.

The most direct way to get to Alton from St. Louis County is the Clark Bridge, a 4,620 feet cable-stay span over the Mississippi River. It's named for William Clark of Lewis and Clark fame.   When we got to Alton our first stop was at the visitor center, where we picked up information and learned the best places to see eagles.  We headed north on the Great River Road, stopping at a small park to enjoy the picnic lunch we'd brought.  Even with my jacket on it was a little chilly, but for January it was awesome!  I looked for eagles flying over the river in front of me or perched in the bluffs behind me.  No luck.

After lunch we continued our trip, stopping to look at the river in Grafton, where two nice ladies were walking their dogs and took our picture.  They told us they lived in a condo not too far from there and had been seeing a lot of eagles.  Unfortunately, the only thing Tony and I saw was a flock of seagulls in the parking lot.

Our next stop was Pere Marquette State Park.  The original portion of the park's lodge was built during the Depression by the Civilian Conservation Corps, and features a row of windows overlooking the river, a huge fireplace, and a life-sized chess set.  We stopped at the front desk and found out the scenic driving route through the park was closed due to a downed tree.  No eagle-watching in this park!

Originally we were going to backtrack and take the same route home, but for the sake of variety we changed our plan and took the free Brussels Ferry across the Illinois River to Calhoun County. Our tour book said, "Eagles are active near the Brussels Ferry, where they enjoy perching in the tall cottonwood trees lining the river banks." I didn't see any birds, so I don't think the birds got that message, but the ferry ride was fun.

On the other side of the river we were going to stop at a wildlife refuge, but when we missed the turn we decided we were getting tired. We followed the signs toward the Golden Eagle Ferry, which crosses the Mississippi and ends up in St. Charles County.  Once again I got out of the car to look for eagles.  I turned around and saw this:

Not the eagle I was looking for, but I guess it would have to do.

Five years ago today: New Thing #2--Flexibility is Good

Friday, January 11, 2013

Where Does The Time Go?

Today I'm celebrating two things: the day of my birth, and my five-year blogging anniversary.  I wrote a few posts documenting the run-up to my "Thing A Day" project before I turned 49, but January 11, 2008 was the first official day.

In honor of my birthday some of the restaurants and businesses in the area are lining up to help me celebrate by offering some type of freebie or discount.  The offers started rolling in by email and snail mail shortly after Christmas. I've made a pile of paper coupons on the countertop in the kitchen, and another virtual pile on my phone.

As in years past, there are a lot of food options: three casual dining restaurant chains, three local Italian restaurants, one local fast food spot, and two ice cream places. I could eat out every day for more than a week!  In addition, I've gotten offers from a mall department store, a chain shoe store, two cosmetic stores, a local pharmacy, and a local franchise of a national tire store.

After all the holiday excesses, though, I'm not in the mood for a eating lot of rich food or spending a lot of money, so I'll pick and choose which ones to redeem.  A few of the offers expire on my big day, but I have 30 days after my birthday to use the others.

I'm going to enjoy each and every one that does get used, though.  This day only comes around once a year.

Five years ago today--Happy Birthday To Me

Thursday, January 10, 2013

And I Didn't Have To Say A Thing...

Yesterday at the mall Customer Service desk a woman came up to me and said she was having trouble with a gift card she'd received over the holidays. She was visibly upset and I did my best to calm her down, explaining I could check the status of the card online. While I was logging into the software a second customer came up, almost pushing the first woman aside to ask me where the nearest restroom was.

I hate rude people and normally I'd explain I'd be with her in just a few minutes. This time, though I didn't have to. The first lady whipped her head around and snarled "can't you see she's busy?" The change in her demeanor was so extreme (think Jekyll and Hyde) that the second woman backed off, turned around, and left.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Strengthening and Flexibility

After more than a month of holiday frenzy at the mall Customer Service desk things are back to normal. Right after New Year's Day the seasonal calendar with extra hours came down off the bulletin board in the office, replaced with the regular leaner schedule.  By yesterday all the schools were back in session, and the regular mall walkers were stopping by the desk to say they were glad to get back in their routines.

Eleven months out of the year I start at noon on Tuesdays.  During December that changed to 11:00, which meant I had to miss my weekly Piloga class at the gym. Today, I was able to get back to it.

What's Piloga (AKA Pi-Yoga, or piyoga)?  It's a combination of Pilates moves and yoga poses.  The Pilates helps with abdominal and core strengthening and the yoga lengthens muscles and increases flexibility. I always feel better when I walk out after a session.  The Piloga class starts at 10:00, and runs for one hour.  I can get my exercise, dress for work in the locker room, and run one errand before my shift starts. There's no time to shower, but I do it first thing in the morning and the class doesn't leave me too sweaty.

Today at 9:55 I was standing in front of the group exercise room waiting for the previous class to finish so I could go in and claim my section of the floor with my mat.  It felt good to be there.  As I waited for the class to start I chatted with other "regulars" that I hadn't seen for the last month.

Pilates is all about the core muscles. After a month I expected to have trouble doing the exercises but it wasn't as bad as I thought it would be. Except for the roll ups.

In theory, they're supposed to be a smooth curl up from a prone position on the floor to a seated position, then back down one vertebrae at a time. Last year I'd worked up to doing six good ones at a time. Today, though, I felt like I was back at the beginning; my movement was jerky, and I had to cheat and use my arms to get all the way up.   We did two sets, separated by some stretches.  The second set was even worse than the first; my already-tired muscles refused to cooperate.

The class ended in the traditional way with a period of relaxation and meditation.  I think today that was my favorite part of the hour!

Sunday, January 6, 2013

All Dried Up

Last month when I cleaned out my office supply cabinet I found three 12-packs of retractable ballpoint pens, the remainders of a carton I bought a couple of years ago.  I used some of the pens at work, and the rest had gotten buried and forgotten.

I brought one of the packs upstairs and emptied the pens into the holder on my desk. They looked nice; however, every time I tried to use one they wouldn't write.  My rule is that a pen gets one chance to work before it gets tossed, but these pens were choice.  I wondered if I could do something to get them to work.  A quick Google search led me to the wikiHow article How to Restart a Dry Ball Point Pen, which had some great suggestions. I decided to give some of them a try over the course of the weekend.

First I attempted the obvious ideas.  I shook the pen, tapped the tip against a hard surface, and scribbled vigorously on a piece of paper.  Nothing.

Next, I took the ink cartridge out and blew into the end opposite the ballpoint, and rubbed the pen on the bottom of my rubber-soled tennis shoes.  No luck.

Feeling frustrated, I rubbed the tip of a pen on an emery board, then ran some hot water into a bowl, removed the ink cartridge from several pens, and immersed them in the water.  I soaked the tips in rubbing alcohol, and repeated the soaking process with hairspray. None of theses did the trick.

The easy solutions weren't working, so I tried a more complex one.  I put the ink cartridges into a Ziploc bag and put the bag in a pot of boiling water for five minutes.  Negative.

By this point I was getting pretty discouraged, so I passed on the more extreme ideas--heating up the ballpoint tip with the flame from a lighter, forcing a wire into the tube, and taking off the metal tip to push the ink down from the other end of the tube; these were too potentially messy for me.

I  think I've just about exhausted all the options.  It pains me to throw all the pens away, but do I have any other choice?

Friday, January 4, 2013

What's Your Type?

How many of these traits could describe you?
  • Ambitious
  • Workaholic
  • Rigidly organized 
  • Multi-tasker
  • Competitive 
  • Impatient
  • Take on more than you can handle
  • Want other people to get to the point
  • Obsessed with time management
  • Have a propensity to anger and hostility
They're all characteristics of people with Type A personalities.  Type A and Type B personality behavior was first described in the 1950s by Drs. Meyer Friedman and Ray Rosenman.  They said that high-strung Type A behavior could raise the chances of developing coronary disease.

I don't consider myself high strung, but I definitely have many of the characteristics of a Type A personality.  To find out just where I was on the Type A/Type B spectrum, I took the Type A Personality Test at

The test contained 73 statements.  For each of them I had to indicate where I fell on a five-point scale (from Strongly Agree to Strongly Disagree).  When I was done I received a report with the results.  On a 100-point scale I was pleasantly surprised to see I had a score of 50...right in between the high-strung Type A and the easy-going Type B.

I'm thinking that means I have the best of both.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

It's Time

Usually I extend Christmas until the feast of Epiphany (the end of the season in the Catholic church) on January 6th, but because the holiday started at work for me the day after Thanksgiving yesterday I decided I'd had enough--enough rich food, enough decorations, and enough clutter. It was time to start getting back to normal.

I was craving green vegetables, so Hubby Tony and I stopped by the grocery store for a bunch of kale.  For lunch I sauteed it with garlic and some leftover green onions, then topped it with fried eggs and served the dish with a whole-grain pumpkin muffin on the side.  The simple meal really hit the spot.

Tony got in on the act healthy act, too, tossing the last six stale cookies in the compost pile, including a reindeer cookie with chocolate covered pretzels for ears, black M&Ms for eyes, and a red one for the mouth.  (This morning when I opened the lid of the bin, those black eyes stared back at me accusingly.  I threw the coffee grounds on top of them and closed the lid.)

My first redecorating job involved getting the ladder from the basement and using it to remove the silk poinsettias from the built in plant shelf four feet above the front door of our two-story foyer.  The shelf got a good dusting, then I replaced the normal brass planter containing an silk ivy trailing plant.  To see if the plant's arranged correctly I have to climb down off the ladder and climb up the steps to the second floor. It always takes a couple of tries to get it right.

After dinner we started on the tree, removing swirls of garland, dozens of ornaments, and multiple strands of lights.  Tony disassembled the tree, then carried the pieces downstairs while I picked up fallen plastic needles and pieces of silver garland off the carpet and threw them away.

This morning I finished taking down the holiday decorations and replaced them with the regular decor.  I moved the boxes from the basement (where they'd been holding the items we took down last month) up to the main level, emptied them, refilled them with Christmas things, then carried them back downstairs.  Before I left for work all of the everyday items had been put back in their places in the family room and the area over the cabinets in the kitchen.  

It felt good.