Thursday, December 31, 2015

First Visit: Books on Broad, Camden

We are on our way for a short vacation to Seabrook Island, SC. It's just two nights, and it's raining pretty much nonstop so we won't be doing much biking or walking on the beach, but we'll be out of the house. That's what really matters.
It's pretty wet down here in central South Carolina. We are taking the scenic route through Camden, Sumter, and Manning and will drive right between Lake Moultrie and Francis Marion National Forest before hitting Charleston. We've never been through some of these places so we are enjoying the scenery. But there sure is a lot of standing water! 
We stopped in Camden for coffee at Books on Broad: 

It's a cool bookstore with new and used books in the front and then a coffee shop in back. The staff are very personable and had a tip for a place to eat in Kiawah, should we venture there. 

The coloring book craze has hit here, too, and the store sponsors a monthly coloring party!

Now, everyone who knows me, knows I would never find coloring to be a relaxing activity. I'd stress out about what colors to use, and if I strayed out of lines, I'd give up. There is also all that hunching over my poor neck couldn't tolerate. 
But this coloring party! Now THIS could be something I could do! Wine! Refreshments! Count me in!

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

My Favorite Things: Wellibob Rain Boots

I have never in my adult life owned rain boots. For that matter, I've never owned a raincoat, either, until last year. 

What changed my opinion about the usefulness of these? Two things: 
1. It keeps rainin'. And rainin' and rainin'
2. I have been replacing all my old shoes with expensive, orthotic-friendly shoes and I don't want to wreck them. Or the orthotics, for that matter.

Being a huge fan of all things British, my hopes naturally went to wellington boots. But who wants to wear the huge, black boots you see in all the BBC mucking about in muddy farmyards wearing these boots that reach nearly to their knees. Wellington is style, not a brand, by the way. I didn't know that. 

I wanted something that would be able to accommodate an orthotic because I would be walking the dog in them. And I wanted something that would short. And so I found Joule boots. I love these. That's all.

By the way, Joule sells all kinds of things. You should shop around in there. Not just boots, but also shoes and clothing. Pretty cool stuff.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Perfect Turkey Gravy

I've only managed gravy this great twice, so I'm writing it down:

The day before
Roast some turkey parts in the oven at 350 degrees until they are caramelized. If you have spatchcocked your turkey, these parts can be the backbone and neck. If you have not, you can purchase a package of wings or drumsticks and use those. 

After you've roasted the pieces, deglaze the pan with a cup of water, scraping all those wonderful roasting bits from the pan. Pour all the liquid into a container and store in the fridge to use the next day. 

Take the pieces you've roasted, and simmer them for a couple hours in 6-8 cups of water. Store that stock you made in the fridge for  the next day. Do not pour the stock into the pan drippings you made. Use a separate container.

On gravy day
Melt a stick of butter in a saucepan and whisk in 3/4 cup flour. Turn it down low and cook this (yes, it's a roux) for 4-5 minutes. Keep stirring it during the cooking time to prevent scorching. Don't allow it to get very brown...just a dark golden color.

Get the pan drippings and the stock containers from the fridge. Skim off the fat layer from the top of the pan drippings and discard. Whisk the remaining pan drippings into your roux. Now start whisking in some of the stock in 1/2 cup increments. You most likely will use 3 cups of the stock, but add it slowly. You want to monitor the thickness of your gravy so you get exactly what you want. As you add 1/2 cup, it'll seem watery and then tighten up with a few more seconds of cooking as it absorbs the flour from the roux. Once you get it the thickness you want, adjust the salt and pepper. Let it simmer for a few minutes.

I made my gravy about 3 hours before dinner. So poured it into my very small slow cooker and let it wait there on warm. It didn't scorch and didn't require any real attention. But you'll want to check it periodically to be sure your slow cooker isn't too hot. 

Friday, December 25, 2015

Pour Over Coffee

I found one of these in my stocking and immediately put it to good use. Really, I don't know why I never bought one. They really aren't expensive...maybe $10...and they do make the best cup of coffee you can have. 

The real advantage of pour overs is that you can control the temperature of your water and the speed of the brewing. And if you periodically end up buying beans that "aren't your favorite" because you couldn't get to your regular purveyor, you can fool around with the grind, temp and pour to make it work. After all, if you popped $12 for the convenience of getting beans at your grocery store, you don't necessarily want to throw them away when the coffee sucks. Granted, sometimes you have to. I threw away a pound of organic, free trade beans marketed by a local grocery store chain once because there was just no redeeming quality to them that I could find. But this morning I brewed a cup of a major coffee chain's "Breakfast Blend" that I think is roasted too dark, and it was a lot less bitter than it was yesterday through my drip maker.

Do you really need this ceramic pour over cone to do a pour over? Not really. I have done pour overs using the brewing basket from my small Black&Decker coffee pot (Mine doesn't have one of those shut-off things that stops the water from coming through if you pull the carafe out). I just put a filter in there, set it on top of my coffee cup, and pour over that. But the basket of my coffee pot has a flat bottom, so while it makes a pretty good cup, a cone makes a REALLY GOOD cup.

Cones work better because, when you pour the water in and wet the all the grounds, it runs down through more grounds before landing in your cup. Flat bottoms allow the grounds to cover a wider surface area in a thinner layer, so you end up extracting less coffee from each square millimeter of grounds.

As to the temperature, my trusty Black&Decker doesn't heat the water all the way to 212 degrees. Again, it makes a pretty good cup of coffee, but when the water is at boiling and poured, I find I get a better cup. For me. Other people might prefer it cooler.

Do you need a fancy schmancy pour over pot, with it's curvy spout? No. My electric kettle works just fine. Just pour over the grounds in a thin stream, wetting all the grounds, and wait for it to go through. Repeat a time or two, and then enjoy!

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Peace Doves

I started making paper cranes on November 18, 2009. I was sitting at the reception desk at work during our regular receptionist's lunch. I was bored. I can't do my own work there because all the stuff I do is confidential. So I started surfing the 'net and stumbled upon origami cranes. I always give the cranes away and the following spring I made 132 for the class of 2010 and mailed them in a letter after graduation. I've done this for every class since then.

In the letter I congratulate them on their accomplishment, tell them who I've sent their final transcript to (if they are going on in their education), and how they can get transcripts in the future. 

I've always closed with a personal note based on Psalm 91:4 (which I've also written on the inside of each crane), telling them it's my prayer that they will always sense God's leading and guiding and protecting hand in their life.

Each year I reconsider making all those cranes. The classes have gotten larger and larger and should I continue to put a Christian message in that letter? Each year, as I think about that and fold cranes, I end up with one or two parents or graduates who cross my path and tell me how much the letter and crane and meant. And so I keep doing it. Last year I reached 1000 paper cranes, hitting 
 with the class of  2015.

But I think it's just a matter of time before someone complains about the letter. 

So I'm going to switch it up before that happens. I'm going to switch from cranes to doves and I think my letter is going to mention peace. These are hard times now, with suspicious, angry people all around and scary things happening. I want our graduates to seek peace and help spread peace. 

Here the first few I've made. I think I'm going to use colored origami paper and fold them inside out. That way there will be little peeks of color on some of the edges. 

Monday, December 21, 2015

Movie: Caffeinated

Saturday we watched "Caffeinated" on Amazon Prime. This is a
"Farm to Cup" documentary about the coffee we drink. There was a lot of good information about good coffee. Not mass-roasted and sold Folgers, but the small batch coffees we drink at our local coffee shops and roast in our homes. (Yes, I'd love to get into that.)

The documentary allowed us to meet a couple of families who grow coffee, taking us from the plant to the bag, and then we followed the coffee to the roaster and ultimately the cup.

Oh, and this film confirmed what I've always sort of half thought: sometimes the worst cup of coffee you can have is in the place where it is grown. Most growers send their best beans to the U.S. and other countries, and they drink the leftovers at home for the locals.

If you like food movies and documentaries, this is a great one to watch.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

A New Home for My Knives

Yesterday Mensa Boy put up my new knife magnets. I'm delighted with them! Last year I received my first Shun knife from Taylor for Christmas and since then I've added a couple more, along with a Victorinox slicing knife.

We have pretty much no wall space in our kitchen, so we really had to think about where to put them. The options were: on the side of the cupboards by sink (our choice), underneath the cupboards, or inside them. Because the slicing knife is so long (the blade alone is a foot), and to avoid accidentally snagging one doing things around the kitchen, this location seemed best. It's slightly creepy having sharp knives hanging at eye level, but we should adjust ok. The magnetic strips were $15.95 each and are 10 inches long. They come in a variety of lengths and you can buy them at Lowes and other places, but the shorter lengths are harder to find. Be sure you read reviews. Some strips out there don't have magnets that are strong enough to feel secure. 

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

The Best Offer

I keep thinking about how much I enjoyed this movie the other day. Geoffrey Rush plays a renowned fine art auctioneer (with a secret), who is hired by an agoraphobic heiress to auction off all her art and expensive pieces. He suffers a range of emotions in his dealings with her, from disdain to skepticism, from anger to compassion and finally love. I wish I could tell you WHY I was so fascinated by this movie, but that would reveal the ending and that just wouldn't be right.

Just watch it. Really. Netflix.  

Monday, December 14, 2015

The Nightingale, by Kristin Hannah

As much as I'm a little worn out on WWII novels, I have to admit I've enjoyed listening to The Nightingale, by Kristin Hannah.

Yes, I know it's been on the NY Times Bestseller list for a while, so really who cares what little old me thinks about this historical novel?

But here goes: the book does often veer into the tried-and-true narratives about the Nazi occupation in France, as well as the brutal mistreatment of members of the resistance in the camps. BUT, the really great part of this book is the story of two women who worked to help people.

The bolder, brasher sister helped down ally pilots escape the Nazis, escorting them over the Pyrenees on foot to safety. These pilots, from various ally countries, met up with their units, allowing them to fly again.

The older, milder and more cautious sister, stayed in her hometown with her daughter as she waiting for her husband to be released from prison. She had Nazi officers billeted at her home, and ultimately saved more than a dozen Jewish orphans from certain death in the camps.

There many readers who say they chose their book because it was compared with another bestseller, "All the Light We Cannot See," by Anthony Doerr. I don't really see a resemblance, other than that both take place during the same time and same place. I personally didn't get to finish "All the Light," as I returned it to Audible after attempting to listen to it for 4 hours. I might try it again, but I got bogged down by the author's extremely detailed descriptions. There was just so much painting of the scene, that I couldn't hang out long enough for the real story. Maybe I'm shallow? I always feel a little shallow when this happens.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Weekend Breakfast

My weekday breakfast always happens around 8:30 or 9. At home I make a bowl of oatmeal with all the goodies and no liquid. At school, after all the students are tucked into their first block classes, I add hot water and cook it a couple minutes in the 'wave. Most of the front office staff eats breakfast around 9. And a lot of them eat oats or grits. 
But on weekends I like eggs over easy. Normally I slide them onto toast, but this morning I got to thinking about grits:

These are stone ground grits cooked with water and leftover cream from Thanksgiving. I stirred in some shredded cheese and set it aside. I cooked my egg and slid it on top. 
Will there be lunch in my future today? Most likely not. 
Oh, and don't tell Bear. I forgot to give him a piece of the egg.

Saturday, December 12, 2015


Richard Blaise, whom I've always thought was a leeeedle full of himself, apparently shares my opinion of Grayson, the chef I talked about on this blog the other day.

Here is link to his comments about episode three of Top Chef: I Have to Call it the Way I See it and Taste it. He refers to her as playing with a "chip on her shoulder." Good observation, Richard!

In other Top Chef news, here is a great, entertaining blog about it, written my Max Silvestri

Wednesday, December 09, 2015

First Visit: Smelly Cat Coffeehouse & Roastery

Mensa Boy and I went "bummin'" Sunday and needed up in NoDa at Smelly Cat. I had some vegan chili and a pourover of their grind of the day. It's a nice little coffee shop, and on Saturaay they have a little artisan market behind them.
The chili was good but had soy crumbles in it...not my favorite way to cook vegetarian or vegan. 
They have a separate little bar for pourovers, which is nice, since they take some time to make. 

Tuesday, December 08, 2015

When He Wants to Spend $100 on a Tree Stand

Let him.
Last year our stand leaked and we didn't catch it for a day or so. It soaked several board feet of our bamboo flooring and Mensa Boy had to replace it. 
So he searched high and low and came up with this super-de-duper stand with a foot pedal you use to lock the tree in place, and a FLOAT that tells you the water level! It's the Krinner Tree Genie XXL, and I won't have to put water in until it tells me to!

Monday, December 07, 2015

Top Chef: California (SPOILER ALERT, Ep 2)

Ominvores cooking vegetarian....

In the second episode of the new season of Top Chef, Chef Grayson, from New York, ends up in a group doing a pop-up restaurant that is vegan. She proceeds to whine her way through the episode, stating several times that she like meat and, at one point, says "I put in meat in everything."

Well, her team pretty much sucked and she did not get sent home that time.

Here's thing...I think it takes real skill to cook vegan. I told Bob, "I can make anything taste good if I throw meat in there."

Just sayin'

Sunday, December 06, 2015

Saturday, December 05, 2015

Carolina Bison (and Elk)

Carolina Bison has really made my life, as head cook of the Paulson household, a lot simpler. I have two meat-seekers in my home and they really don't mind my attempts to use something other than big industry's beef, chicken or pork. Carolina Bison has been a hit here when the weekly red meat involves something ground.

Last night we had a simple goulash (macaroni, beef, tomatoes) using Carolina Bison's ground elk. It was fantastic, if a little lean. I usually use 90/10 ground beef in my goulash, but thought I'd try the elk this time instead. Harris Teeter carries Carolina Bison and had it on sale for $8.99 for one pound package. I guess it turns out that goulash really could use a little more fat in it to get that great flavor. I drizzled ghee in mine and that helped quite a bit.

I think the next time I use it, I'll buy a pound of Elk and a pound of their beef (yes, they have bison, beef and elk), mix the two packages together, and then freeze half. That is what you'd do with venison, which is also very lean, so I'm thinking that could be just the ticket.

Incidentally, all three of our grocery stores, Publix, Harris Teeter and Food Lion have carried Carolina Bison. Food Lion has always been a dollar cheaper on it than the other two, so yesterday I went there first. But there was NO SIGN of it anywhere in their meat case! I'm hoping they were just out of it, and not that they've decided to stop carrying it.

Thursday, December 03, 2015

Is it Time to Write More?

I met another like-minded person yesterday. Actually I've known her for a couple years, but only in just a drive-by sort of way through the school. She's a parent and was in for a routine visit with her daughter and School Counselor. After her meeting, we were chatting and the subject of food came up. Then acupuncture, then doctors, then more food. Nutrition, cooking...and so I found another person who cooks for their family, dislikes processed foods, watches what she eats, and is generally a food nerd. Huh. She texted me today and said she has a Facebook page devoted to healthy living and food and such, and I thought, "I used to do that. Write about food and this and that." And so I pulled up this site and saw that the last time I gave up on this page was mid 2012. Maybe nobody will read this page, but I'm thinking I should write on here some more. Maybe it will be good that nobody reads it, because then I can express my more outrageous opinions...that I don't believe in Capital Punishment, but I'm ok with the Confederate long as it's shown on private property... or displayed in museums that have displays about American History. Maybe I'll talk about how I'm not really in favor of incorporating Indian Land. Or maybe I'll just write about food and link stuff to this page about it...things to eat...places to eat... Maybe.