Sunday, December 31, 2006

Name Brands Revisited

I posted a few weeks ago about name brands in the kitchen. As I made it through the holiday baking and cooking season, I came upon a few more that are definitely a step above their competitors.
For quick homemade salsas, soups, and pasta sauces, I prefer Muir Glen brand of tomatoes and tomato products. Unfortunately, I can't always find them around here. Cento is a good substitute. The Muir Glen Fire Roasted Tomatoes are the best ever. They are organicWhen fresh isn't possible, these are the way to go.

When making my toffee, fudge, or just a chocolate chip cookie, I prefer Ghirardelli chocolate chips. My favorite are the 60% Cacao Bittersweet Chips for the rich deep chocolate flavor.

Of course, King Arthur Flour is the way to go when making high quality baked products. I haven't made bread or pizza dough recently, but when I do, I have to have my King Arthur!

That's all for now.

Happy New Year everyone!

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

A couple of recipes

I hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas--time with loved ones, good food, and good things from Santa! Santa was good to me this year--I got a 32 inch flat screen TV. Awesome! I didn't realize how bad the picture was on my old TV until now. I also get all these HD stations that are just amazing. Now I just need to get satellite or cable so I can start watching all of my science/history/food channels again!

I came upon a hot sauce of a friend's recently, and asked him how he made it. It's surprisingly simple, and oh so easy to make. It's also super hot, but you can adjust it to your liking. It's addictive.

Hot Salsa
12 jalapenos
1 can whole tomatoes (Muir Glen Fire Roasted are best, but not necessary)
1 t. salt
1 t. garlic powder (or to taste)

Cut stems off of jalapenos and boil in water for 1 1/2-2 hours, until they are falling apart tender. Drain. Add to food processor with the other ingredients and pulse until the right consistency is achieved. Adjust salt and garlic as needed.

That's it. The hardest part is breathing when the jalapenos are boiling!
This is really good and will be the salsa I turn to from now on. I do want to try smoking the jalapenos soon--I have a huge grill and they'd be good this way to.

The other recipe is for peppermint fudge. It's addictive as well. I came across some Andes Peppermint Crunch chips a while back. They make a slightly minty pink fudge; a crushed peppermint topping gives them some crunch.

Peppermint Fudge
1/2 stick butter
6 oz. evaporated milk
1 1/2 c. sugar

Bring above to boil. Boil for exactly 7 minutes.
Stir in 10 oz. bag of peppermint chips and 1 jar of marshmallow creme. You can add about 1/8 t. peppermint extract if desired. Stir until blended. Spread onto parchment lined baking sheet. Top with crumbled peppermint candy. Let set for 2 hours; slice and serve.

**You can also use the Andes mint creme de' menthe chips for a slightly different flavor and brown fudge.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Merry Christmas & Happy Holidays!

Wishing eveyone out there a wonderful, peace filled holiday.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Name Brands

I'm not one of those people impressed by name brands (Gucci, smucchi, LV, Coach, etc.). It's just a name...I especially hate the ones that have the name or initials plastered all over the prodcut (LV purses for instance). Now, I do like a good pair of Cole-Haan or Dansko shoes because they make my feet happy! But ultimately, it's not about the name brand.

The exception is food items. Yes, there is a time where brand does matter! As I was making dinner tonight (Pork Won-Ton soup over brown rice), it started thinking of the items that I really prefer a certain brand vs. whatever is cheapest. I use Better than Boullion for those times I need broth and don't have any in the freezer. It tastes better, has less sodium, and just takes up a small spot in my 'frig. I use chicken, vegetable, and beef. Another favorite brand that won't come as a surprise to 'foodies' is Penzey's spices. Yes, I have to mail oerder them but they are worth it! Actually, they are much cheaper than the stale stuff you can get in the grocery store. Some of my Penzey favorites are: Hot Chili Powder, sage, white pepper, all types of cinnamon, and their rosemary. I do have a cabinet stocked full, but those are some of the better ones.

Those are just a few of my 'name brand' favorites. I'll check back later to list some more! Right now I'm off to make a batch of regular fudge and then some peppermint fudge.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

There's nothing like real friends

...the ones that'll be there for you through thick or thin, or drive you home w/in 2 hours of meeting you because they realize you've had 3 too many gin & tonics. Friends...

And a quote:

"Reality is the leading cause of stress amongst those in touch with it."
Jane Wagner

Friday, December 15, 2006


Click here to read a letter a principal in Illinois had to send home to parents.
Pure disgust.

Per my post earlier this week about kids these we had a fistfight involving 3-4 5th graders. I don't know details...but heard it wasn't pretty. Even worse, a pre-kindergartener, a kindergartener (I think), and a couple of other kids were caught in the bathroom BEATING UP a non-verbal student with Down Syndrome, a sweet and unassuming 2nd-grader. I am appalled, thoroughly appalled and heartbroken.
I don't think the boy was actually physically hurt--a teacher came upon them fairly quickly, but I'm sure he is traumatized! Paddlings for those perps? Absolutely! I think if I was a parent and my child was one of the instigators, he'd be getting a paddling and then some. Seriously.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Lots of cooking going on!

I feel like I've spent more time in the kitchen lately than I have in weeks!
Today was our 3rd and final Feast Day at school. My group chose to do a Taco Bar, and I signed up to do taco meat. Now, I like my taco meat dry, not saucy. I add cayenne, onions, and lots of cumin. If it's just for me, I add a can of drained/rinsed black beans to the meat. Yum.
Well, as most people like a saucier beef, I went on a quest to find a taco meat recipe. I chose this one from Cooks Illustrated. I cooked a little over 5 lbs. of meat. I also added a little extra chili powder and a lot of cumin.
As far as saucy meat goes, this was OK. It was spicy, which is how I like it, but I can do without soggy taco shells, so in the future I'll continue to make my taco meat more on the dry side!

Tomorrow is my turn to bring snacks for our pod. Fortunately, I have my TAs to help, so I'm only taking a couple things. I've made 10 lbs. of Mixed Nut Spiced Toffee the past few nights. I'm taking some with me to work. The rest has either taken to Bunko night, put in gift packages, or gone to my neighbor. Oh, and I've also eaten some. My other item for the pod is the Caramel Frosted Chocolate Chip Zucchini Sheet Cake. This is a recipe I made several times last year and then forgot about it. It is so moist, so flavorful, and actually pretty easy to do! There is a huge thread over at the CL boards on it if you want to read more. This is the type of recipe I'll keep going back to. I can't wait to breakfast to dig in!

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

It hits when I least expect it

I was folding laundry, my mind in a far off spot thinking about who knows what. Then it hits like a lightning bolt out of a clear blue sky. I miss Dakota. With Christmas approaching, thoughts of what I am missing, what my parents missing is fresh in my mind. I realize that the Christmas holiday hasn't been the same since 2001, his last with us. We go through the motions but really, all our minds are on the emptoy spot with us and within us. I know he's not what Christmas is about and while I don't forget the real reason for the season, I also realize that the magic of Christmas is more real, more special, more fun when there are children around. Granted, he'd be 9 so not the little kid embedded in my memory, but still someone to spoil and to love and to make us laugh.

Christmases Past


3 1/2 months old and oh so fragile and oh so precious.

His biggest brother was the best--he loved him so much.
1 year, 3 1/2 months

1999 (I think)

With his papaw.

2 years, 3 1/2 months

Ready to dig in.

3 years, 3 1/2 months


Fully immersed in the Christmas spirit.

His last Christmas to physically spend with his family.

4 years, 3 1/2 months

Less than 7 months later, he was taken from us.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Kids these days

"I'd be rid of 80% of my discpline problems if we we able to paddle them."
The above is a quote from a school administrator I know. It was seconded by another administrator. I know there are plenty who are against paddling, spanking, etc. because how can you teach w/ violence? However, as I see more and more kids (not my own students...they're really too young and have so many other issues) who have no respect for authority, who constantly torment their teachers and other kids...I can't help but wonder what a good old-fashioned paddling might do to stop that behavior in its tracks. After all, suspension doesn't do anything but reward the kid with a day home. In school suspension doesn't work either--what fun it is to not have to listen to the teacher all day!

I sat around and listened to my 60 year old dad and the above mentioned administrator talk about the good old days--when they were in school. They got into their share of mischief, but got the paddlings for it when they got caught. They have some dandy stories to share, like the one that resulted in my dad running outside and bawling because he got whipped so hard. But you know what? Neither of these men were scarred by this. They both have led productive lives; both served in the military (one for 20+ years). They admit that those licks were enough to send a message. They can sit back and laugh about it now, and admit that they deserved every last one of them!

What kind of messages are today's kids getting? I still see a lot of good kids out there, but there are some who you can just imagine wearing stripes in their future because they are continually allowed to be slapped on the wrist and then sent out to wreak more havoc...over and over and over...

Monday, December 11, 2006

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Christmas Eve In Sarajevo

This is a video done with Savatage and the Trans-Siberian Orchestra...

TSO is one of my favorites to play come the Christmas season. Enjoy!

Saturday, December 09, 2006

The Season of Giving?

Today was the annual Santa Toy Run in my hometown. They got quite a few toys today and about $5,000 donated to go towards Santa's Workshop, a local charity. They start around 10:30, ride across town, and then set up in a parking lot where people can stop and donate. There was a pile of toys on the grassy median between the parking lot and the main street (for those of you familiar with this town--old Lightner's parking lot). So, shortly before I arrived, a red car was stopped in traffic. THey saw a back door open and thought someone was donating a present. A lady got out, grabbed a toy (a basketball) from the pile, and hopped back in and took off. Long story short, someone got a tag number, a police car was in the parking lot, they stopped the perp., someone made a correct ID, and the lady was arreested and will spend the weekend in jail. Over a $10 basketball that she probably took on a dare. Oh wait, it gets better. They found a baggie of cocaine in the car, so all 3 adult passengers were arrested. There was also a minor (what an example they were setting for this young man). Had this person needed help getting gifts for her family, these were the people she could have asked. What an expensive basketball this is turning out to be! Stupid, stupid, stupid.

Friday, December 08, 2006

A Good Evening

In my last school district, I was told that once upon a time, if teachers wanted to go out for a happy hour after the end of a long week, they had to go to the next suburb over. Heaven forbid a parent or administrator see you having a margarita or a glass of wine after a long week!
I'm in a smaller town now, but don't really worry about things like that. In fact, tonight I went to a joint birthday party for a student of mine and his mom. Had a couple margaritas, shared some good food and conversation, and was duly entertained by a precocious 4 year 362 day old and his big sister. Fun times. And they wouldn't even let me pay for my own drinks!

Not much else to say from here...

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Oh Christmas Tree

This is the first year I've had my own 'grown-up' Christmas tree. I had some small ones in college, but nothing to write home about. After I moved away from OK, I never had trees because I always left for Christmas. This year, now that I am not traveling more than 45 minutes, I decided it was time to have my own tree.
Last year, my mom and I began painting glass bulbs. I bought as many as I could find on clearance. I finished them up this year and thus had about 150 ornaments for my tree, and it was relatively cheap as ornaments go. I will take some of my favorites to attach to gifts, and then buy more bulbs at the end of the season to paint for next year. I have a handful of other ornaments that are sentimental in value, and they just sort of blend in with the others. I also got a real tree. I even got it up (about 7 ft) all by myself, though I'm sure if anyone would have been here to see they would have been laughing! That also explains why it's slightly crooked. Here's some pictures of the bulbs and then the final result.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Hot Buttered Rum

Hot buttered rum is something that has often intrigued me. I mean, melted butter and rum sounds good, doesn't it? I've tried it over the years and I never did live up to its name. However, either my taste buds have changed or I've finally altered a recipe enough to suit my tastes.
I pulled out my 'basic recipe Bible', Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything. His recipe uses water, and that just doesn't appeal to me. Using his as a very basic guide, here is how I made mine.

1 cup low-fat milk, heated
1 shot (1 1/2 oz.) rum (I used Cruzan Vanilla Rum)
1 t. real butter
1 t. sugar--I like brown but you could use white

dash of cinnamon
dash of cocoa powder

Last night, I mixed some of my chai spice hot cocoa mix in and it was pretty tasty. Tonight I just did a bit of cinnamon.

Mix heated milk with other ingredients. Stir to dissolve sugar and melt better. Serve.

It's that simple, and really very smooth. I need to be careful--I can't afford these calories every night! It's a nice drink to warm your bones, and I hope it will help me sleep tonight.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Do you wear it on your head?

Or sit on it?

That is the question. One of my dear, precious, and cute kids (a 3 year old) got one of these stuck on his head today. He went to the restroom to wash his hands, and came out with the training seat on his head. It took a stiff pull and a loud 'pop' to get it off.

Monday, December 04, 2006

A recap...something to be thankful for!

Reference my post from 8/10/2006: It Does the Heart Good for the whole story.

I received word from his mom that this former student of mine sat down and ate Thanksgiving dinner with his family for the first time ever. He was able to feed himself his food while everyone took in their traditional Thanksgiving dinner. I have to admit, I got teary eyed when I read this. I still remember his mother expressing to me something to the effect that it was a dream of hers for him to sit at the table and eat dinner w/ his family.
It makes my heart dancing happy to hear of this precious student's continued progress. It definitely makes all those days I went home with baby food (sometimes mixed with dried oats) caked on my clothes. :)

I was supposed to head to Dallas this weekend and was going to visit him. However, the weather put a dent in my plans (see pics below). I'll head down there in January and a visit with him and his family will definitely be on my itinerary.

I admit, sometimes this path I've chosen has been difficult, most notably financially. of course, I can afford a car and home so in that I'm fortunate. However, I've had to scale back my way of living a couple times now. It's hard. I'd love a real vacation--I need it! Right now, it's not in the books. However, any times I miss the 'things' I used to have, I am quickly humbled by the notes I get like the one I mentioned above from my former student's mother. The knowledge of what he's now accomplishing is worth more to me than any vacation or expensive pair of shoes. :) I am fortunate.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Spiced Blueberry Muffins

I made these last year (reviewed here) and have been craving them. I'm trying to stock the freezer with quick bites for those times I don't have time to cook, am out of my breakfast yogurt, or just want something different. I made banana pecan muffins a few weeks ago. So, I now have a couple different muffins stocked up. I think I will try some cranberry-citrus ones later this week.

Here is the recipe for the muffins. It's a Cooking Light recipe. I made a few modifications.

I used 1 cup of whole wheat flour in place of 1 cup of the regular flour.
I used brown sugar for half of the sugar.
I used LF cream cheese, because I am not a fan of the FF variety.
I used frozen blueberries (and maybe a few extra ones).
I used 1 t. cinnamon and also added 1/8 t. of ground cardamom.

They are still cooking, but smell wonderful!

The verdict: I can tell they are a slight bit grainier because of the whole wheat flour. Still, the blending of the juicy blueberries with the spiciness of the cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, and cardamom provides quite a flavor blast. This is recipe I will turn to again and again. I'm wondering how fresh chopped cranberries would work in the same recipe. THAT might be the recipe I make later this week!

Saturday, December 02, 2006


Snow. Lots of it (by Oklahoma standards). Steep driveway (when snow/ice is involved). Notice the tracks stop towards the top? Notice the ice at the bottom of the tracks? That was the 1/2 inch or so of freezing rain we got Wednesday night. As of 11:30 Saturday night, most of it is STILL there. My driveway doesn't get much sunshine.

Notice the unnatural parking position of my vehicle? Notice the mailbox nearby? I was a bit worried as I started the backwards slide. It's all good now though. I finally got the car unstuck. Then, after some driveway fun (i.e. getting a running start and driving up until the wheels started spinning) I finally got my car back into my garage. It's all good.

Friday, December 01, 2006

My Commercial Debut circa 2001

Anyone from around/in Oklahoma is familiar with the BC Clark jingle. BC Clark is a jewelry store in Penn Square Mall in Oklahoma City. Their jingle has been around for my lifetime plus about 20 years.

Several years ago, I was at the mall the day after Thanksgiving w/ one of my best friends, Carrie. For the record, I hate shopping on that day, but we decided to brave it. They just happened to be filming the commercial that day, so we sang it though we were cracking up through most of it (singing so isn't my thing, but after teaching a few years, I've gotten over the embarrassing part of it and don't really care how bad I sound). I never saw the commercial as I was still living in Dallas. Carrie never saw it either. However, my parents got quite a few calls that holiday season (and the next) of people asking if I did the commercial. It was quite humorous. Here I thought no one would notice.

I just saw this year's commercial and noticed the URL. Sure enough, my commercial is archived!
Here it is:
BC Clark Commercial

We are the 2nd to the last group and have a very short line "From BC Clark's". I'm surprised they haven't called me back asking me to come back for a bigger line. :)