Valentine’s Day in Retrospect

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Let me just throw this out there:  He-Man showed out!

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 I mean, I did have to leave out the sale paper with the necklace circled, the after-tax price calculated, AND remind him that the paper had not been laying under his face so conspicuously for no reason, but he pulled through.  Then he surprised me with flowers.  There was a semi-torrential downpour laying siege to this little corner of nowhere when I heard a knock at the door.  Angel, of course, brought it upon herself to try to take this unknown interloper down.  When I finally got her penned up – still barking – in the bedroom, I was able to let this soggy little man into my house.  It was the local florist.

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Now, before you all go judging me on the clutter and candy in the background, allow me to inform you that I am packing five days in advance to go to Tampa for He-Man’s birthday.  ‘Cause I’m sweet like that.  And I guess that’s why I ended up with flowers.  I have had a long, disappointing string of relationships over the last few years but I can honestly say that the last year with He-Man has been time well-wasted.  I say wasted only because we both agree that we should be doing a little more with our lives, but I digress.  We have had time to get to know one another on an everyday, in-your-face level and I love it.  I also love him.  He is so sweet, thoughtful, caring, and all the other mushy stuff that people say about “the one”.  He is also capable of leaving me speechless with a note that came with the flowers:

Claire, I love you so much!  I could never picture a day without you, sweetheart.  Sunshine or rain, every day with you is a blessing.  Love, Your He-Man.

…..!!!

The part that really got me was that he actually signed it “Your He-Man” because he is trying to support my attempts at blogging in leu of a real social life since waiting tables makes me hate people. His support means everything to me and I know that I have it no matter what.

This has been the best Valentine’s Day I’ve ever had – hands down – and I even spent the later part of it in the ER being treated for a moderate laceration on my finger.  I tried going for the gold in can-opening and failed miserably, but that’s another story for another day.  The stupid Russian judge low-balled me anyway.  Until next time, I will be basking in the glory that is He-Man and, for those of you who have stayed with me this long, thanks for reading.

Claire

All I Could do Was Gesture For Them to Switch

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clairejohnston94:

A favorite post from one of my favorite blogs! I read the posts in my half-cigarette breaks (because lets face it, when you only have 10min to smoke, pee, and steal food, no one gets their full nicotine fix) and it helps get me through the shift… Enjoy this all-too-common occurrence.

Originally posted on Break Room Stories:

A couple orders food together. Man gets a plain hamburger and the female gets a hamburger ketchup only. They call me back to the table and the man says he ordered it plain but got ketchup and the girl says she wanted ketchup but got a hamburger plain. I still don’t know if they were trolling but all I could do was gesture for them to switch hamburgers as I was dumbfounded.

-Kelly

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PSA: I am no longer afraid of fondant.

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That’s right, folks!  I have conquered my fear once and for all.  I don’t suppose that it was much of a fear, now that I think about it.  After all, who in their right mind could live in fear of something as delicious as fondant?!

Still, this sticky, white icing that comes in the form of dough is something that has stymied my baking for almost two years.  The first time I tried to make it, my confidence got the best of me.  I had just finished up the “perfect” batch of the sweet stuff and was about to transfer it to my cake when it sloughed off the rolling pin and on to the floor.  I was heartbroken and I couldn’t imagine what I had done wrong.  I followed all the steps, you know, and it was from that day forward that I lived in fear of having to use fondant.

Until today.  Today I decided to come to terms with this rather irrational intimidation so that the ghost-fondant of my past will not come to haunt me when I make He-Man and Nam-Eh’s birthday cake.  I chose to do some extra homework this go-around and I found some wonderful resources that I would like to share with you.

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This is an old-fashioned applesauce cake which was covered in home-made buttercream icing and topped off with some not-so-scary marshmallow fondant.  Click on the aforementioned components to see where I figured out how to make them.  I must commend the maker of the marshmallow fondant tutorial.  Not only did she make it look very easy from start to finish, but she is also has tutorials for some of the coolest gluten-free food I’ve ever seen! (Seriously, you’ve got to see her recipe for a cauliflower pizza crust!)

By this point, you might be thinking to yourself, “Why is this a PSA? This is just rambling about some stupid cake and irrational fear if icing,” to which I answer: because you should be afraid.  Now that I have wrestled one of my demons, there is nothing to stop me from attempting more and more recipes that call for fondant.  Not to mention the fact that I still have TONS of fondant and buttercream waiting for me in the fridge.  Does anyone have a suggestion for what I should try next?  Does anyone have any irrational baking fears?

Until next time,
Claire – Fondant Slayer

BMO: A Cake Walk

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He-Man’s birthday is coming up (yay!) and to celebrate we are going to his hometown of Tampa.  As you may or may not know, He-Man and his twin, who we shall call Nam-Eh, have quite a thing for Adventure Time.  You could imagine my surprise when I found the link to this cake floating around on Pinterest.  “It’s perfect!” I thought.  While in Tampa, we will be having a little get together for the reciprocals and I have been charged with making the cake, among other things.  At first, I was all gung-ho about trying this out, but now I’m getting a little nervous.  I have a basic plan of action, though, if anyone would like to look it over for flaws.  After all, everything works well in theory.

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First of all, I will not be making tie-dye rainbow layers.  I will have six layers of cake in solid colors: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and purple.  Between the layers and under the fondant, He-Man has requested that the icing be chocolate, since we “have to” have white cake to add food coloring to.  Next, I will cover the stack of cake in a layer of fondant, which scares the bajeezus out of me.  I don’t have a good working relationship with fondant.  I hate it and it hates me back.  I will start with a large blob of white fondant, reserve about 1/10th of it, and color the rest with this lovely teal.  The reserved bit will be colored a softer teal, black, yellow, green, and red respectively.  These little pieces will be attached to the outer layer of fondant with royal icing.  Legs and hands will be formed out of the remaining, darker teal.

It’s all good in theory, right?  I do have a few questions that I would like to ask to anyone who has the least bit of baking experience.

1) Do you think that I should use wooden dowels to help stabilize the cake?  The idea has crossed my mind but I can’t say for sure whether or not it will be necessary until I get the cake into the air.  It shouldn’t be more than about 8”-10” tall, but the icing between the layers might cause it to be slippery.

2) What is your recipe for fondant?  There are possibilities all over Pinterest but I want something tried-and-true that I can’t mess up.  If you have a favorite method for making fondant, please don’t keep it a secret from me!

3) Should I keep it in the refrigerator?  I want to make it the night before so that if anything goes wrong last-minute, I will have the time to fix it before the party.  The question is, will putting it in the refrigerator for 18-24hrs cause the fondant to dry out and crack?

If you can help me out, please do!  The trip is still a ways away and I will have pictures of the finished product up as soon as I have something to show but I am a planner.  Please help me get my game plan together now so that I can save myself some scrambling and anxiety later.

Thanks in advance,
Claire

2014 Garden Wishlist

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This crazy, tentative list is my basic plan for how to tackle the garden this year.  It is much better than last year’s plan because of the simple fact that there was no plan last year.  At all.  I went to the greenhouse, picked out some things that looked nice, and stuck them in the ground.  This year, however, there will be order!  Or at least as much order as you can ever expect from me.  Below is a list of plants and a number.  This number either refers to a) the number of that type of plant I wish to have or b) the number of containers I wish to have filled with them.  Keep in mind before you judge me that the goal here is to begin self-sufficiency over the next year.  While it might sound like a lot for a backyard garden, it should, ideally, provide for three people for 365 days.

Tomatoes – 15a
Corn – 100a
Straight-neck yellow squash – 8a
Okra – 20a
Green beans – 20a
Zucchini – 4a
Potatoes – 10b
Onions – 10b
Garlic – 5b
Bell peppers – 6a
Pumpkins – 4b
Watermelon – 4b
Blueberries – 2a
Strawberries – 2 bundles, as they are sold
Pinto beans – 20a
Asparagus – 10a
Peppermint – 1b
Spearmint – 1b
Spinach – 10a
Cucumber – 2a
Basil – 1a
Chives – 1a
Dill – 1a
Oregano – 1a
Parsley – 1a
Thyme – 1a
Aloe – 1a

As you can see, there is a lot of work to be done before I even begin to plant.  I would like to think that I can handle this vast and lengthy list of plants with only my minimal experience and yet-to-have-purchased almanac to guide me.  This list is not really going to be part of the ledger I hope to keep of garden production.  Some things may not make it into fruition and other things may be added to the list later on.  Rest assured, photographic evidence of this mammoth undertaking will arise as soon as I have something to show for myself.  Truth be told, I will be proud of myself if I even get to do half of this stuff, as it will still be an improvement over last year’s garden.  If anyone out there has any suggestions regarding any of the aforementioned plants, I am all ears!

Until then,
Claire

New Hope for the Spring

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I have been setting goals today, y’all!  It’s pretty much just a list of smaller goals and how to achieve them with the long-term goal being self-sufficiency.  I’m not sure how long it will take to be fully self-sufficient, but I know it doesn’t happen over night.  Or even over a year.  This year, the idea is to test the waters and see just how much food we can produce and store for our little patchwork family and whether or not it is really more cost-effective.  Since gardening seems to be something that we just do in these parts, I can hardly see us stopping in the near future.  I can see, however, that we have a lot to learn.  The following is a list of things that I hope to accomplish before the end of March or so as spring begins to fade into summer.

1) Finish cleaning out the barn.  We have two rather large barns on the property that are full of junk.  We have had about three marathon cleaning runs on the Back Barn but it’s so dusty that after an hour or two we have to call it quits.  The space could be incredibly useful to us, we just have to take the time to make it that way.

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2) Plant a herb garden.  I have the desire to cultivate my own herbs in pots that can be moved around based on their individual needs and brought inside to enjoy year-round.  This should only be a small undertaking, but I’m not ruling anything out.

3) Finish the compost bin and start composting.  We have some of the basic construction already underway, but I broke the hammer.  Actually, “broke” is the wrong word considering that I managed to bend it.  Yes.  With the gracious help of He-Man’s dad, this project should be done and the composting underway in no time flat.  *fingers crossed*

4) Till the garden and make it bigger.  Last year’s garden was a decent size, but I am ready to go bigger.  We have crazy amounts of dwarf okra seed that I saved from last year’s harvest that I want to take advantage of and I have compiled something called the 2014 Garden Wishlist that, in another post, will show just how ambitious I’m getting.

5) Get the early crops in the ground to start the garden off with its best foot forward.  Last year there was no crop rotation.  Everything got planted at the same time and if it grew, it grew but this year I know better.  Early greens as well as potatoes, onions, and garlic (which will all be done in containers for easy harvest) will go in first.

6) Buy an almanac and actually read it.  I have always wanted and almanac but never actually took the time to buy one so if my assessments in #5 are a little off, I’ll figure it out sooner or later.

(photo courtesy Wikipedia)

7) Buy and learn to use a home canner.  This is also something that I have wanted for a while but never actually got around to buying.  I realize that not everything can be canned but I already know how to dry things and use the freezer so we won’t go there.  This is all about putting back some of what we produce to see how much is left over (if any) by this time next year, with the goal being to have a surplus and eventually a stockpile.

8) Keep a ledger of how much was spent on and produced in the garden.  Not only will this help me to decide whether or not this is a cost-effective way to spend 3/4 of the year, but also how many plants we need for the next year in order to attain self-sufficiency.

Eventually, perhaps many years into the future, I want nothing more than to never have to go to the supermarket again.  I want to be able to produce all of my meat, cheese, milk, and vegetables right here.  Is that so crazy?  That’s not to say that everybody should do the same, I just think that it is the lifestyle that I would like to pursue.  AND, in case you’re wondering what you can get me for my birthday this spring, I will be accepting solar panels, daffodil and iris bulbs, goats, and bee-keeping equipment. :)

Until next time, my dears,
Claire

Look who’s back! With cornmeal!

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Wow.  What an absence, huh?

I don’t have any excuses as to why I haven’t posted again other than that the holidays make me crazy.  Is anyone else like that, or is it just me?  I feel like you get all aflutter with the overwhelming joy of the holidays and then crushed by the universal “blah” that follows…

Speaking of blah, I’m having some pretty blah winter issues with my skin and I KNOW I’m not the only one in this boat.  It is because of this that I have decided to bless you, dear reader, with an invaluable nugget of information.  This information, however, comes at a price.  You have to scroll to the bottom of the page sit through one of my rather pointless stories.

I grew up in what I would consider to be a middle-class family, capable of and willing to live well within our means.  To sum it up quickly, it almost reminds me of a Jeff Foxworthy-style anecdote: If you grew up thinking that Old Navy was high-end, your mom might have been a cheapskate.  If you thought Wally-World means Walgreens (because the coupons were better and that was your rollback), your mom might have been a cheapskate.  If you know how to make 2% from the last inch of whole milk in the jug, your mom might have been a cheapskate.  Need I go on?

My mom was awesome, don’t get me wrong.  I never felt like I went without anything because she made it work.  That is not to say that we were always just flat broke, its just that my mom really was a penny-pinching, tight-fisted, I-am-the-only-one-who-touches-the-checkbook kind of cheapskate.  It’s like she thought the world was out to rip her off.  She never paid for something she thought wasn’t important and – after watching copious hours of TLC – I am glad that she found toilet paper to be important, but that’s a rant for another post.  Some of her home-made concoctions have stuck with me, though, like the one I’m about to share with you all.

In my opinion, this is one of her best-kept secrets of all time and it still amazes me that there are not more suggestions like this on the internet.  Believe it or not, skincare is easy.  Not only is it easy, it can be very cheap.  My mom used cornmeal like it had been blessed by the divine.  Not just for cornbread and frying things – no sir!  I grew up with a little baggy of cornmeal living in my shower.  Cornmeal is an awesome exfoliator and if you have eczema like me or psoriasis  like He-Man, it can help with the itching.  Mix about a tablespoon of cornmeal from your live-in shower baggy with your regular body wash or lathered soap.  Wash.  Exfoliate.  Rinse.  Done.  It’s SO SIMPLE!  I do this after I shave my legs to get them ready for lotion.  I use it on my arms after an eczema flare-up to get rid of the flakiness.  I also use this on my face to get rid of blackheads and zits.

(photo courtesy Wikipedia)

Did you know that you can medicate your cornmeal?  I did!  The main acne-fighting ingredient in whatever you overpay for is salicylic acid.  Do you know what that is?  Asprin.  Put two asprin in your food processor and get it all munched up into a powder.  Mix that powder with about a cup of cornmeal and put it in a plastic baggy.  Let that baggy live in your shower.  The salicylic acid is a great acne-fighter, the cornmeal is a great scrub, and the best part is that it doesn’t stink like most medicated washes.  It just smells like whatever body wash you happen to be using.  This method also works wonders on razor burn, just so you know.  Have I blown your mind enough yet?  Because I’m not even done yet.

Do you remember when Garnier came out with that caffeine-powered under-eye roller thing?  Well, where do you get your caffeine power from in the morning?  Oh yes, I’m going there.  You can use dry coffee grounds the same way you would use the cornmeal as listed above, though I have never tried it with the emulsified asprin.  Use it on your face in the morning for a quick pick-me-up after it looks like your pillow gave you a high-five to the face.  This may not smell so wonderful with your berries-and-creme body wash but the effects are well worth it.

Now, this is the part where I leave a few disclaimers:

DO NOT get this in your eyes.  All the same rules apply for when you get something in your eye that was never meant to be there.  Flush with water for several seconds and contact a medical professional if you feel that something is “really wrong”.

DO NOT over-exfoliate.  Such a thing is possible and while you’re probably saying to yourself “oh it’s just cornmeal so it could never work as well as the stuff I actually pay for,” you’re wrong.  If you over-exfoliate it will feel like a sunburn, so have fun with that.

DO NOT use this while you are mid-breakout with your eczema, psoriasis, etc.  Wait until the breakout has cleared and you have been left with dry itchiness that you just have to get off this second.

Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, I know you’re dying to try it.  It really works so go pay Martha White a visit at the Wally-World of your childhood and let her scrub your back for you.  Just keep in mind that nothing goes better after a nice body and facial scrub than the right moisturization.  Be good to your body and enjoy feeling like silk for the next few days.

Until next time, happy scrubbing!

Claire