Breville Smart Toaster Oven Review

 

So help me, I fought against buying this machine. There was no way I was going to spend that much for a toaster oven. I’d already been burned once buying what I thought was a top of the line KitchenAid that I hated from Day One.

The KitchenAid was about $100 eight years ago. It was substantial, not the lightweight cheapies you see everywhere, but holy moley, was it hard to program. Push that button, twist that dial, sacrifice a unicorn, and hope for the best. Greg never got the hang of it. I only managed if I studied all the dials first so I knew what to touch first.

I was so glad when that thing bit the dust.

But I wasn’t prepared for sticker shock. The Breville BOV800XL Smart Oven was twice the price of the KitchenAid. In its defense, it’s also a convection oven, but still.

In a moment of weakness, Greg guilted me into buying the Breville. From the very first slice of toast, I was hooked.

• The controls are easy to understand and intuitive.
• The cooking area is ample. I can cook six slices of bread, a 12 inch pizza, and a whole chicken.
• The trays can be moved to three different positions.
• The convection oven part cooks in 2/3 the time of regular baking.
• It is EASY to clean. I cannot stress this enough. My old machine tore my hands apart every time I wanted to get into every nook and cranny.

It is expensive. There’s no getting around that, but I can honestly say it was worth it. Except for some Christmas baking, I have not used my regular oven since getting the Breville.

Greg was right. I was wrong. There! I admitted it on a public venue.

If you’re looking for a toaster oven, invest in this one.  I’ve used mine nearly every day since I got it in November and I’ve not had even the teensiest problem. Big ovens are fine for roasting turkeys or baking wedding cakes, but for everyday meals, the Breville is all I need.

If it lasts as long as the old one, it’ll be money well spent.

****

Speaking of money well spent, I am happy to report our floors are finished. It looks beautiful. If we can get some of the furniture back in, I’ll post pictures later this week.


This Week’s Menu, January 22, 2017

Menu for the week of January 22, 2017

Sunday
Breakfast: Bacon and eggs
Lunch: Red beans and rice
Dinner: Salmon with sauteed spinach

Monday
Breakfast: Cheese quesadillas
Lunch: Brisket sandwiches (from frozen sliced brisket stash)
Dinner: Steak and salad

Tuesday
Breakfast: Sausage biscuit sandwiches
Lunch: Leftover brisket sandwiches
Dinner: Spaghetti with garlic bread

Wednesday
Breakfast: Breakfast burritos
Lunch: Corndogs
Dinner: Baked chicken

Thursday
Breakfast: Pancakes
Lunch: Leftover chicken in sandwiches
Dinner: Shrimp-fried rice and egg rolls

Friday
Breakfast: Oatmeal
Lunch: Leftover shrimp-fried rice
Dinner: Taco night

Saturday
Breakfast: Leftover pancakes
Lunch: Tabouli and hummus
Dinner: Cheeseburgers

 

What a week it’s been. For those of you who caught last Monday’s post, 75% of my house was stripped bare of furniture and then workmen sanded, scraped, and refinished all my wood floors. It took them three and a half days and they did a magnificent job.

I’ll have to post pictures later this week. As I write this I’m cooped up in a tiny room with only my laptop. We probably won’t be able to move furniture back until Monday.

For now I’m glad it’s over.  It’s hard on man and beast alike when our routines are so disrupted. Probably the only ones who didn’t notice a difference were the farm animals.

We still have furniture to move, but at least the house is ours again. No more smell, no more noise. Home, sweet home.

 

Prepping For Another Major Renovation

 

I’m getting my floors refinished! That’s the good news.

Better news: I don’t have to get on my hands and knees and sand the floors myself.

The bad news? We have to move four rooms of furniture and appliances somewhere else. I honestly don’t know where we’re going to put everything.

This is how I hope it will look!

If we put the car outside, I guess we could put the bulk of the furniture in the garage, but I have a few delicate and HEAVY pieces that I’d like to move in as short a distance as possible. I also have to box up a ton of delicate figurines and decor that have to be stored separately and carefully.

For the last few days, we’ve been slowly boxing or dismantling things to move. I’m hoping the refinishers will help us move the really heavy pieces.

The refinishing will take at least three days, maybe four depending on when we can move the furniture back. We’ll have to leave the house entirely for the last two days because the fumes from the varnish will make it unlivable. I’m hoping I can find a pet friendly hotel nearby.

The first day won’t be so bad. I plan to make coffee and coffeecake for us and the refinishers. We can do cold sandwiches later in the day. But once the first coat of varnish goes down, we’ll have no access to the kitchen, or any other part of the house except for Greg’s study.

This puts a small kink in my No Spend January because we’ll be without a kitchen for three days, so we’ll have to eat out. I think the best fix I can do for that is to tack on one more week of no spending in February to make up for January.

Update on No Spend January: We’re actually doing quite well on our goal. Greg hasn’t complained at all. Once this is all over I’ll give a better account of where the pros and cons came in.

Have you ever had any remodeling where you had to leave your home? Did you book a hotel, or did you stay with friends/family?

Greg is not happy about leaving the house unattended, but we have no choice. There’s no way we can stay in a house with fumes. I’m particularly sensitive to chemical odors so there’s a chance even 24 hours won’t be enough for me.

I have posts planned for later this week, but I’m not sure if I’ll publish them because I probably won’t have access to a computer while the house is in disarray. So if you don’t hear from me, that’s why.

 

This Week’s Menu, January 15, 2017

Menu for the week of January 15, 2017

Sunday
Breakfast: Spinach omelette
Lunch: Macaroni and cheese
Dinner: Orange chicken with rice

Monday
Breakfast: Biscuits and gravy
Lunch: Grilled cheese sandwich
Dinner: Leftover chicken in sandwiches

Tuesday
Breakfast: Coffeecake and coffee
Lunch: Rice bowl with beef and beans (pre-made frozen meal)
Dinner: Burgers (if we have access to our kitchen)

Wednesday
Breakfast: Coffee and biscotti
Lunch: Skipping lunch
Dinner: Pizza

Thursday
Breakfast: Oatmeal and juice
Lunch: Skipping lunch
Dinner: Dinner out

Friday
Breakfast: Toast and juice
Lunch: Tuna fish sandwiches
Dinner: Mexican lasagna with salad

Saturday
Breakfast: Fruit popovers
Lunch: Mexican lasagna leftovers
Dinner: Vietnamese garlic shrimp with rice

 

This is going to be an odd week. We have workmen taking over our house starting Tuesday and there’s a good chance we won’t have access to our kitchen Wednesday and Thursday. That means eating out.

We’ve been preparing all week by moving furniture and getting the house as clean as possible. I’ll tell you more about the upheaval in tomorrow’s blog.

In other news, we sent four roosters to chicken heaven a few days ago. I boiled the chicken and made homemade chicken noodle soup from the broth and meat. I put everything in 2-person portion containers. Now the next time one of us comes down with a sore throat or cold, the soup is ready-made. All I have to do is defrost and heat.

Vacation or Staycation

 

Are you planning a vacation this year? I was kind of hoping we’d visit family and friends this year, but with Greg’s knee surgery on the horizon, I don’t know if it’ll happen. I’d rather get him well than force him to hobble from place to place.

We do plan a couple of mini retreats to some conferences we’d like to attend. One will be for Mother Earth News, the other is still up in the air since it will be around the time Greg might have surgery.

I’m babysitting Ozzy, my friend’s little schnauzer next week while she goes gallivanting around London. Da bum! (I can call her that. I love her to bits!)

She always goes on amazing trips. Australia, China, Japan, France, England. I must live vicariously through her as she regales me about the things she’s seen and done.

She’s going to miss Highclere Castle (Downton Abby) though. Wrong time of year. It’s on my bucket list. That and to visit my good friend, author Mike Keyton and his family.

Although we probably won’t visit my family this year, there’s a good chance several of them will visit me. One sister is moving to Arizona, so the high desert might be calling us in the next couple of years too.

I like weekend getaways. I’ve done enough staycations to last a lifetime, so I’m anxious to get out and see something other than goats and chickens. They always appreciate me more when I come back.

Are you going anywhere in 2017? Is there any one place on your bucket list that you’d like to visit?

Mountains? Beach? City or Country? I’m a cross between museum hound and rock climber, so I teeter between mountains and big cities. I’d like to go back to Italy some day, but Greg doesn’t have much interest in his ancestral homeland.

How to Eat When You’re Dead Broke

 

When we moved down to Texas from Chicago, we were newly married, and like most young people, dead broke.

For the first year we lived hand to mouth because Greg was the only one working. Texas is BIG, and there was no way to get around unless you had a car. At the time I didn’t even know how to drive, let alone afford a second car.

Luckily, even at a young age, I was a natural organizer and budgeting expert. I made meals stretch like you wouldn’t believe.  Pasta was a staple. A single chicken had to last all week. Ground beef was on the menu only when it was on sale.

I got good at being creative with food. We were really broke, living from paycheck to paycheck. Unlike today, we didn’t have internet, computers, cell phones, or streaming video.

We had a 9 inch black and white tv and a whopping three channels of programming. We had a stereo from our single days, but that was pretty much it for entertainment. We read a lot, but only books from the library.

I’m telling you all this so that you’ll understand that even though it was tough to make ends meet, we still ate well. This, despite the fact that with our then hyper metabolism we could eat a water buffalo under the table.

You can actually do a lot with a few ingredients. It won’t be shrimp scampi and rib roast, but it’ll keep body and soul together.

If you’re cash-poor, concentrate on staples. Your prices may vary but these are the prices I found last week at my local grocery store.

Eggs: $1 a dozen. (Interesting: Organic eggs run $4 to $6 per dozen.)
Milk: $2.40  (Can be cheaper. This goes on sale a lot.)
Butter: $3 (for 1 pound, generic)
Beans, bagged: $3 (for 4 pounds)
Cheese: $4.50 (1 pound block, brand name)
Cabbage: $1 (2 pounds in weight)
Potatoes: $3.50 (for 5 pounds)
Pasta: $1 ( for 1 pound)
Rice: $3.40 (for 5 pounds)
Flour:  $2.50 (for 5 pounds)
Oatmeal: $2 (18 oz canister)
Peanut butter:  $5 (for 40 oz)
Bread: $2 (This is for a name brand. Generic brands are nearly half the price.)

Ground beef: $3 a pound though sales usually run them for $2.50 a pound.
Chicken: $5 for an average sized whole bird.

The total for all these items is $38.90. Let’s be generous and raise the total to an even $50 by adding a few more things like spaghetti sauce, tortillas, and a couple more pounds of ground beef.

Depending on who you’re feeding, this amount of food will easily feed the two of us for two weeks. That comes to $25 a week for TWO people.

If you buy in bulk, the unit pricing will be lower. If you buy on sale, the total goes down again.  For example, if I were to buy pasta, I’d wait until summer when my grocery store slashes the price to about 48 cents for that same one pound bag.

Stores run flour, butter, oil, cheese, and turkeys as loss leaders the week before Thanksgiving. You bet I stock up then. Beans and rice are cheaper if bought loose by the pound. Ethnic stores prices are generally less than regular stores for staples. If you can ride along with a friend to your local Costco or Sams, the price drops again for bulk items. If you have an Aldi grocery store nearby, your prices drop again. They have the best prices on produce.

Me being me, I don’t buy a 5 pound sack of flour. I buy it in 25 pound bags. I don’t just buy my meat on sale, I buy it in bulk when they are loss leaders in the grocery flyer, or better yet when they had gone on clearance for a third of the price.

Back when we were cash-poor we visited bread store outlets that sold day-old bread for 75% off. I’d freeze the bread and thaw it out as needed.

When vegetables are starting to turn I can get a whole bag of assorted veggies for $1 at my local Kroger. That makes a big batch of vegetable soup.

I can feed two people well at the regular prices you see above, but I can expand this list so much farther just by using the tricks I’ve used all my life.

What can you make from the ingredients above?

Breakfast
• Oatmeal
• Muffins
• French toast
• Omelettes
• Biscuits and gravy
• Potato pancakes
• Pancakes

Lunches/Dinners
• Stir-fried rice
• Chicken stir fry
• Chicken soup
• Chicken salad
• Chicken fajitas
• Roast chicken
• Taco salad
• Tacos
• Burgers
• Egg salad
• Pasta
• Buttered noodles
• Grilled cheese sandwiches
• Peanut butter sandwiches
• Beans and rice
• Bean burritos
• Bean soup
• Bean chili
• Pizza (you make the dough)
• Rice bowl with shredded cabbage, chicken (or beef)
• Loaded baked potato
• Mac and cheese

This is very much the way we ate when times were hard. None of this is fancy, and sometimes it got downright boring, but that’s life. Maybe we can’t afford bacon on a $25 a week budget, but right now my local store has pork butt for 97 cents a pound, far cheaper than hamburger.

Eating cheaply without sacrificing quality is doable. I can’t promise you organic chicken, or cherries out of season, but when every penny counts, I can feed you from staples alone.

When you’re cash-poor you have to think outside the box. The first year was the hardest on us, but we lived this way for almost three years. And before anyone says this is a miserable way to live, I can tell you with complete sincerity that this was probably the happiest time in my life. We were poor, but we had each other. We had purpose and the will to make things better. We knew if we kept to good money habits, life would get easier, and it did.

Maybe because we were young we were too dumb to fail. All we knew is that this was all we had and it was up to us to make the best of it.

Can you suggest any other meals to make from the ingredients above?

 

This Week’s Menu, January 8, 2017

Menu for the week of January 8, 2017

Sunday
Breakfast: Scrambled eggs mixed with spicy ground beef
Lunch: Egg rolls and fried rice
Dinner: Steak

Monday
Breakfast: Bagels with cream cheese
Lunch: Steak salad (using leftover steak)
Dinner: Shrimp scampi

Tuesday
Breakfast: Cheese quesadillas
Lunch: Sloppy Joes
Dinner: Fajitas

Wednesday
Breakfast: Fajita leftovers in an omelette
Lunch: BLT sandwiches
Dinner: Salmon with Orzo

Thursday
Breakfast: Pancakes
Lunch: Red beans and rice
Dinner: Baked chicken

Friday
Breakfast: Breakfast burrito
Lunch: Sausage on a roll
Dinner: Lynn’s pot roast

Saturday
Breakfast: Leftover pancakes
Lunch: Leftover pot roast
Dinner: Nacho plate

Last week it was bitterly cold, but this week it will warm up considerably. Most meals will be quick, or at least easy because we’ll probably spend most of it outside, raking leaves and tending animals.

It sounds like most of the US got hit with that cold front last week. We even got a dusting of snow. It melted away the next day, but it did get bitey cold. It got down to 13 degrees! And I felt it to my bones! Thank goodness it was quick.

How to Clean Your Toilet Without Cursing (too much)

 

Nobody likes to clean the toilet. Nobody.

If you do, there’s something genetically wrong with you. I have a sister like this so I’m not judging. I just want you to get professional help.

The best advice for cleaning the toilet is to do it regularly. I start with that fizzy stuff and let it sit while I work on the outside of the toilet.

Call me weird, but I like to wipe the seat and the porcelain rim with alcohol. I’ve heard professional housekeepers use cheap vodka. I suppose that’s the same idea, except you can still drink the vodka after your shift.

Once the bowl and the outside porcelain is clean, I flush to see what’s left. Even with regular maintenance sometimes there are tough stains that refuse to budge. This is when I bring out my bestest friend when it comes to scrubbing.

I use Pumie Scouring Stick. It’s a block of pumice stone and it is the very BEST thing to use on hard water mineral deposits, scale, and the yucky stuff.

Pumie also comes with a handle, but I’m not scared to get up close and personal if it means I can get into tighter corners where a handle won’t bend.

I’ll use the generic cleaners for everyday stains and deposits, but for the tough stuff, pumice stone has never failed me. Just be sure it’s wet before you start scrubbing.

If you want to go organic with cleaners, here’s a link to a tutorial to make your own toilet bowl cleaner bombs. These look surprisingly easy.

Want something even easier? Toss in a couple of denture cleaner tablets. No one in my house wears dentures, but the next time I find some at a garage sale, I might just pick them up.



Surgery in the Future?

 

Greg has been complaining about his knees for a long time, but lately, he’s really been hurting. I’ve learned that men in general don’t handle pain well. That, or they’re just more vocal about pain.

I knew this time Greg was suffering though. I had nagged him for months to see a doctor, but that ‘man gene’ kicks in and he refused to go until it had become unbearable. That’s when he got the news.

I was with the X-ray technician when she took the X-rays and I could see immediately how bad his right knee had become. No wonder he yowled whenever he had to take a staircase.

You know how a knee joint works; the rounded surfaces glides on top of a cushion. His ball joint looked like a flat tire. It was scraping bone on bone. I know this type of pain well. Fortunately, mine was more manageable. His is not.

As usual the doctor prescribed an injectible lubricant, and if that didn’t work, steroids. It’s just my opinion, but masking pain does more harm than good. It makes you believe you’re back to you’re old self when in reality you’re wearing down that joint even faster.

He’ll do the lubricant to see if it helps, but I don’t know if he’ll bother with the steroids. I think he’s better off getting the knee replaced. Either way, we’re looking at 3-5 months before he makes a final decision. The other, less damaged knee also needs attention. Hopefully that will only be arthroscopic surgery. We’ll know more next week.

I anticipate two surgeries for Greg this year. That means nursing a stubborn old man, rehab, and somehow getting him to walk more once he’s stable. He’s a grumpy patient at the best of times. Getting him to do something he doesn’t want to do is like pulling a mule up by the tail.

Oy.

So if somewhere around midyear I start to sound tetchy, it’s probably due to Greg’s rehab. I suspect he’ll do the prescribed drugs for a while, but if his condition is anything like mine (I think it’s worse), the drugs won’t help.

Any advice on how to deal with a post-op patient? Is there anything I should be aware of regarding knee replacement? What questions should I ask the surgeon?

 

No Spend January

 

Welcome 2017! I intend to have a good year and to hell with the naysayers.

Every once in a while we have a “No Spend” month. For us, they generally occur in the summer, but I thought we’d start the year out right, and have a No Spend January.

I’m doing this for several reasons.

  1. We spent a lot of money in 2016. We paid off a house, bought new cabinets, and went on a mini vacation.
  2. Putting a halt to spending after the holidays feels like a natural pause in this cycle we call consumerism.
  3. January is cold in Texas. That makes it easy for us to use that month to cocoon and curtail spending.

The rules are simple. You buy nothing unless it’s necessary. Basically, this limits you to your regular monthly bills, groceries, and fuel for the car.

This means no expenses for clothing, eating out, cocktails, (coffeehouse) coffees, movies, manicures, massages, or impromptu getaways.

It’s a shock at first, but it goes by faster than you think. Once you’ve done it, it’s ridiculously easier the next time.

You come to realize that you didn’t miss that fancy coffee all that much, and your friends could just as easily bring a bottle to your house while you watch a dvd, or talk about that book you both got for Christmas.

Eating out is a major obstacle for us. It helps now that we have a menu to follow every week, but if we’re caught far from home at mealtime, we still eat out. This January that becomes verboten. I will catch some serious grief from Greg because he REALLY likes to eat out, but it’s only one month. How bad can it be? I guess we’ll find out. 🙂

Doing a “No Spend” month will do a couple of things for you. Aside from saving money–and who doesn’t need that after hemorrhaging all that moola for Christmas–you learn where your spending leaks lie.

It’s a sobering report card on how you’re doing financially.

The first time we did this, I was shocked at all the “little” money I spent on things that were otherwise ignored. If Greg buys a coffee, I had to buy a cranberry muffin. If we went to the movies, add another ten bucks for popcorn and drinks, or dinner afterward.

There’s a dollar for a can of Coke. Five bucks for that dvd in the clearance bin. Ten dollars for that new wine Greg found. Fifteen dollars for that book that caught my fancy. It all adds up.

That’s the irony. I thought it was the big things that hurt our savings and that’s totally not true. It’s the little things that we never ever notice because it’s just a few bucks. What will it hurt? Right?

For one month, thirty whole days, we stop.

From experience, I know that there will be a LOT more in my bank account. We simply don’t realize how much we spend on the little things, or how fast they add up. I also know it might feel like sacrifice (in the beginning) but that only proves how spoiled we are at getting what we want when we want it.

Try it once (without cheating) and compare your results with a normal month. Even when you think you’re on a strict budget, a No Spend Month will show you how many things are really hidden luxuries in your life.

Could you do a spending freeze for thirty days? Have you ever done it?

What’s on tap for 2017? We have a few not-so-nice things we need to get done this year, but the sooner they’re done, the sooner we can go do the things we want to do. More on that in the next post.

This Week’s Menu, January 1, 2017

Happy New Year!

Menu for the week of January 1, 2017

Sunday ~ New Year’s Day
Breakfast: Pancakes
Lunch: Cheese and crackers
Dinner: Shrimp and vegetable tempura

Monday
Breakfast: Bacon and eggs
Lunch: Leftover tempura
Dinner: Fried fish

Tuesday
Breakfast: Leftover pancakes
Lunch: Potluck (whatever’s left in the fridge)
Dinner: Taco salad

Wednesday
Breakfast: Orange Danish
Lunch: Sausage on a bun
Dinner: French onion soup

Thursday
Breakfast: Biscuits and gravy
Lunch: Soup
Dinner: Fried rabbit

Friday
Breakfast: French toast
Lunch: Leftover rabbit
Dinner: Burgers

Saturday
Breakfast: Bagels with cream cheese spread
Lunch: Soup
Dinner: Pasta with garlic bread

Happy New Year!

It’s been our tradition to make tempura at least once during the first week of the year. It’s usually a lot of work–for me–which is why I don’t make it more often. I love tempura. I cut up big slices of squash and eggplant and dip them in tempura batter along with mushrooms and snap peas. I add shrimp to appease Greg so he doesn’t think it’s all vegetables.

I designed a new Menu logo for 2017. That should make it easier to distinguish from the old menus (which are now in its own category).

I’d like to try new recipes this year. I’m not much on experimentation when it comes to cooking, but if it’s recommended to me by friends I’ll try it at least once.

For the month of January we are sticking to a strict menu with no eating out…but I’ll tell you more about that on Monday.

Happy New Year, everyone! I hope 2017 blesses you with what you need most.

 

This Week’s Menu, December 25, 2016

Modern studio background, sepia look

Merry Christmas!

Menu for the week of December 25, 2016

Sunday ~ Christmas
Breakfast: Fruit kolaches
Lunch: Cheese and crackers
Dinner: Leftover rib roast  Yum!!

Monday
Breakfast: Bacon and eggs
Lunch: Soup
Dinner: Baked chicken

Tuesday
Breakfast: Omelette
Lunch: Rib eye sandwiches (Last of the rib roast)
Dinner: Pasta with shrimp

Wednesday
Breakfast: Pancakes
Lunch: Corndogs
Dinner: Pizza

Thursday
Breakfast: Breakfast burritos
Lunch: Deli-style sandwiches
Dinner: Taco salad

Friday
Breakfast: Leftover pancakes
Lunch: Sausage on a roll
Dinner: Red fish

Saturday – New Year’s Eve
Breakfast: Bagels with cream cheese spread
Lunch: Big dinner so we’ll probably skip lunch
Dinner: Finger food spread: Deli meat, cheeses, spinach dip, vegetable crudites,

 

We had our big meal Saturday night so Christmas will be snacking on leftovers. The rib roast turned out perfect and there’s plenty for at least two or three nights of meals.

For New Year’s Eve it’s been our tradition to make a platter full of finger foods.

I hope you’re having a wonderful Christmas and that you’re spending it with those you love best.

From my family to yours, have a safe and happy Christmas. May 2017 bring you prosperity, good fortune, and good health.

 

 

The Last Hurrah for 2016

americauna-chicks-96Other than my Sunday menu posts, this will be my last regular post of the year. I generally take off and recoup between Christmas and New Year’s Day.

2016 was a fairly good year. Greg was home. We got lots of homestead projects done.

Made a little money with the animals this year too–enough to pay for those homestead improvements.

solar array

 

The biggest project this year was the solar power array. It still boggles my mind that I can flip a switch and get light (and power) without being on the grid. A big nod to Greg, who without knowing anything at all about making it happen, made it happen. He’s a genius! (Shh…don’t tell him I said so.)

We rebuilt the rabbit hutches, built more raised beds, and did a little landscaping to the front of the house on a very frugal nana at hay barn2budget. We built a hay barn. For the house, we painted several rooms, built a custom decorative fence to my atrium, and completely remodeled the kitchen.

We bought two new goats–Nubians. Sweetest freeloaders you ever saw.

We sold the house iGreg saying goodbyen east Texas. You cannot imagine how much that lightened my load.

We paid off our present house in full. No more house payments!

 

On the personal front, I did fifth-seasonvery few freelance jobs. I guess I could’ve done more if I had advertised, but I stopped all advertising in 2016 and only did a few projects for long time clients. I loved the covers I did this year though. It’s some of my best work yet. I’ve put a few on my gallery page, but a couple of clients haven’t published their work yet, so I still have covers waiting for a reveal.

I’m trying to decide whether to go bigger on my blog for next year. Different affiliates, guest blogging on other sites, and expanding my reach by joining a larger blog network. It’s either that or go back and get a regular job. \o/

Actually, I’m not opposed to having a regular job if it could be seasonal. A job at a nursery would be ideal. Think of all the plants I could get for wholesale!

Another bright spot of 2016 is that greg-iko-nanano one died on us this year. Any time I can say that, it’s a good year. Sadly, I can’t say that for several of my friends. They’ve had hard losses this year and it breaks my heart to see them suffer. I know what it is to lose someone you love. It crushes you.

We had a few bad times this year, but not many. The worst was losing one of my pregnant goats. We did what we could, but in the end we couldn’t save her.

We had a lot of break downs with cars, appliances, and plumbing this year. Very expensive, but non negotiable.

Money-wise, as the first FULL year of retirement, we did famously, despite some wallet gouging expenses. Living on a fixed income made us cautious, which in turn, kept us well above the cost of living.

For 2017 I’m looking forward to finally getting that fence up around our property, relocating some grapes and fruit trees, and maybe building another solar panel system for the house if we can agree on the best spot.

For myself, I’d love to pick up a few new clients for my design business, expand my blog’s reach, and maybe write a book about urban homesteading. If my arthritis will allow it, I’d also like to paint again.

I’m hoping 2017 will be a turning point for me professionally, and calmer for me personally. My ducks are almost in a row now. It’s been a plan several years in the making. If those ducks don’t all waddle away at the last minute, 2017 could be a very good year.

Am I ready? There’s only one way to find out. 🙂

What kind of plans do you have for 2017?

 

***

This year I bought all my gifts online, using the research I did for my gift guides. Multi-tasking!

I hope I gave you some good ideas along the way. This is probably the last day to buy anything online and have it arrive on time.

If you still need some gift ideas, check out my gift guides.

Gift Guide for Foodies
Gift Guide for Pets
Gift Guide for Readers
Gift Guide for the Animal Lover
Gift Guide for Gardeners
Gift Guide Just for You
Gift Guide for the Creative Soul
Gift Guide for Silver Seniors

San Antonio: Tourist Trappings

alamo-horse-and-greg

 

We went on a real vacation. Us. Him and me. Without dogs, housework, or cooking. Because I worry about bad guys, I prefer not to mention time away from home until after the fact. Why ask for trouble, right?

This time we had a trusted friend stay at our place to spoil our dogs and feed the farm beasts. In the meantime, we hit the road for San Antonio.

I like San Antonio. I always have. I love the architecture, the history, and the color. I even like the stones. Everything is made of stone down there.

If memory serves, it’s been close to 15 years since I’d been there last. What have I noticed?

• More tourists–including us.
• More tourist traps. You can’t go anywhere without someone snapping a picture and then offering to give you a copy for ten bucks (or more).
• Everything was more expensive, but at least all the Missions were still free.
• Traffic was hectic, even worse than Dallas.
• Noise everywhere

When you live in the sticks you forget how noisy the rest of the world is. You also forget that with all the extra people you tend to wait (a lot) in lines.

This year, we decided to make life easier and took a hotel right on the Riverwalk, the heart of San Antonio. It’s significantly more expensive, but I got a good deal. (I’ll tell you more about that in a minute.)

We hit the Natural Bridge Caverns on our first day and I finally got to take caving off my bucket list. We loved the caverns, but it was strenuous–and slippery with all the water running down the stalactites. Don’t try it if you have any existing injuries.

Of course, we also did the Alamo. I didn’t see the sign when we walked in that said, “NO pictures inside the Alamo”. That curator was making a beeline for me until Greg warned me and I quickly put my phone down.

The video below are Alamo re-enactors.

 

We walked a little bit of the Riverwalk, but Greg’s knees were really bothering him after the caverns so we had to limit our walking. Instead we took a trolley that took us to all the major attractions in town.

This included several of the Missions, including the Alamo, an artist colony, a cathedral where the remains of several of the Alamo fighters are interred, and El Mercado, a market with Mexican trinkets.

I wanted to do the carriage ride but I was tired of touristy stuff. The horse was exceptionally sweet though. He was a Belgian draft horse. Huge animal!

sammich

I had already taken some bites of my sammich. So hungry, and so good!

We did manage to eat at local eateries and not chains. Most were good but there were a couple of misses. We also did a cruise on the river which was lovely at night. Temps were just right. Not too cold or hot.

Being the obsessive/compulsive that I am, I researched everything before we left. I had a list of the best reviewed restaurants, attractions, and hotels.

Ah, the hotel. Let me tell you about our hotel. We stayed at the Westin Riverwalk. It was a toss up between the one closest to the Alamo, and the Westin. The Westin won because it had a deal of ‘buy two nights and get the third one free’. The only stipulation for this ‘deal’ is that you had to pay upfront and no cancellations were allowed. I made the reservation.

Only the reservation clerk charged me $200 more. I didn’t know this until we checked out. I pitched a fit, but the manager insisted that he could not offer a refund.

I insisted right back at him that the Westin had misrepresented itself. He finally suggested they could review the recorded phone conversation I had with the clerk, but it would take a couple of days. I told him I still had the page up on my computer at home from which I got the price we agreed upon. As soon as I got home, I emailed him a screenshot of it.

A couple of days ago I got an email with an apology and a promise of a refund on my credit card.

It’s possible it was purely a clerical error, but it also makes me wonder if they do this deliberately to catch unsuspecting guests. Call me cynical.

It was such a wonderful trip until we checked out. In a matter of a few minutes, they ruined my vacation. I still have good memories but the way the hotel treated me left a bad taste.

I will say that the room was lovely. The bed was the best I’d ever slept on in a hotel. Great shower, great in-house service, and a nice balcony on the riverside to watch the cruise boats go by. We were on the ninth floor so the noise was minimal.

All I can say is if you make a reservation by phone, ask the clerk to verbally repeat and confirm the price. It was the only way I was able to get my money back. He was supposed to send me an email, but he messed up the email address too, so all I got was a confirmation text. Had I gotten the email I might’ve been able to fix this before I left.

I’ll probably never go back to San Antonio. It’s beautiful, but it’s lost its innocence, and maybe so have I.

Has anything like this ever happened to you? What did you do?

The best part of the trip is that my good friend, Mel, looked after the dogs, and assorted farmyard beasts while we were gone. It was the most relaxing trip I had taken in years, knowing my kids were in good hands.

This Week’s Menu, December 18, 2016

Modern studio background, sepia look

Menu for the week of December 18, 2016

Sunday
Breakfast: Orange Danish
Lunch: Chili (still have enough for one more meal)
Dinner: Braised short ribs

Monday
Breakfast: Biscuits and gravy
Lunch: Chili
Dinner: Roast rabbit

Tuesday
Breakfast: Omelette
Lunch: Rabbit leftovers
Dinner: Leftover ribs

Wednesday
Breakfast: Pancakes
Lunch: Soup
Dinner: Shrimp stir fry

Thursday
Breakfast: Breakfast burritos
Lunch: Soup
Dinner: Last of the short ribs

Friday
Breakfast: Leftover pancakes
Lunch: Cheese and crackers
Dinner: Salmon with lemon butter

Saturday – Christmas Eve
Breakfast: Bacon and eggs
Lunch: Big dinner so we’ll probably skip lunch
Dinner: Christmas dinner with guests: rib roast, potatoes, peas, brussel sprouts, rolls and spinach salad

 

We normally have our big dinner on Christmas. This year we have friends coming over so we’re planning the big meal on Christmas Eve so they can spend Christmas with family.

I’m a little concerned that I might be coming down with something again. Not sure yet. Just a scratchy throat, but that’s how it started last time.

We had an impromptu vacation last week and only got back a couple of days ago. This is where I probably caught the bug of death. I’m downing big doses of echinachea and Nyquil at night. It could be the sudden changes in weather too. I don’t know for sure yet.

I’ll tell you more about our vacation tomorrow and why we kept it a mystery.

Gift Guide for Foodies

I was never a foodie until I met Greg. This is strange for a big reason. My dad was a waiter at a 5-star restaurant and he learned to cook from the best chefs in the country. He, in turn, would cook for us at home. Until I started dating, I didn’t know people didn’t eat as well as we did. I was a gourmet without ever having known it.

Enter Greg. He introduced me to other kinds of foods. Chinese food. Greek food. Street food, from greasy dives off Chicago back streets.

gift-guidesEventually, I wanted to learn how to make these foods at home. There was a lot of trial and error. A lot! But even I, a person with no real cooking skill managed to get it right sometimes.

I tell people I don’t like to cook, and it’s true. But most restaurant food can’t compare to homemade. I don’t mind the work as long as it’s appreciated, and I have a very appreciative husband when it comes to food.

Whether the foodie on your list loves to eat or loves to cook, I’ve got some great ideas for both.

Sea Salt
Pecorino Romano Cheese
Pancetta
Maple Syrup  Greg has been bugging me to buy real maple syrup. I’m not the syrup connoisseur that he is.

•  Meat Claws  If someone on your list bbqs, you’ll want to get them this. It’s pretty handy!
Silicone Oven Mitts  These are even cheaper than the ones I bought. I love mine!
Rub Away Bar  Great for removing smells from your hands.
Cheese Board

The Drunken Botanist  I’m not a drinker, but I am a gardener. In a survival situation without liquor, I could be a god!
Cheese Making Kit  Cheese making sounds pretty easy, but the kit gives you everything for the beginner.
Mushroom Kit  I’ve always wanted to try this. We actually have several different mushrooms growing on our place. Some are safe (I think) and some are poisonous (I know). Either way I’m too scared to take a chance without an expert at my side.
Homebrewing Kit  I have a nephew in law who brews beer on an industrial level. From what I hear it’s much easier to use the kit.

KitchenAid Mixer  This one is much nicer than mine. If you have a serious baker on your list, see if they have this one. It’s truly one of the best mixers I’ve ever used.
Cake Decorating Tips  I have friends who decorate beautiful cakes, almost too beautiful to eat…almost.
Marble Pastry Board  My friends who bake say that marble is the best for rolling dough.
Lazy Susan (Turntable) The nice ones can be pricey but they’re an elegant accessory. Greg already has a standing order to build a custom turntable for a friend.

Bread Dipping Set  I wrote a post on how to make your own bread dip, but if you want it already made up and nicely packaged, here it is.
Collin Street Bakery Apricot Cake For once there is something fairly famous close to where I live. Collin Street Bakery is a Texas Treasure. We buy a cake tin every year for ourselves and one for my mom. I love the apricot cake best, but the pineapple is good too. Thanks to Jennifer Shirk for reminding me.
Godiva Chocolates  The best chocolate I ever tasted were made by two spinster sisters in a tiny shop in our town. It was called Joey’s Chocolates. Nothing will ever be as good as those, but Godiva isn’t too shabby for a big commercial enterprise.
Laughing Man Coffee  I know as much about coffee as I do about alcohol, but Greg (my coffee expert) says this is a delicious coffee. It doesn’t come in fancy packaging, but it might be nice as a stocking stuffer. Interesting factoid: Laughing Man Coffee is a brand that Hugh Jackman launched to help developing nation farmers find a marketplace.

          

        

                 

        

  

Are you a foodie?



Christmas Dinner

Greg has already put in his request for Christmas dinner. Rib roast. I get to decide on the side dishes. I think I’ll do peas, mashed potatoes, and brussel sprouts, with croissant rolls. I’ll do a spinach salad because that’s what I like, but I’m pretty sure he’ll only have eyes for the roast.

I’m not sure what to do for dessert. Since October, we’ve had pumpkin, pecan, and apple pies.  A cake might be nice, but only if we invite company. Cake is just too much dessert for two people.

I’m not a dessert person so I never quite know what’s appropriate. I try to cater to whoever is sitting at the table. I’d really like to do something different and lighter, but I’m stuck.

What are you making for Christmas dinner? What kind of desserts do you make? If you have any recipes, I’m not too proud to ask either. LOL!

How big a crowd do you see on Christmas? I think we’re having friends over before Christmas since most people want to eat with their families.


This Week’s Menu, December 11, 2016

Modern studio background, sepia look

Menu for the week of December 11, 2016

Sunday
Breakfast: Oatmeal
Lunch: Polish, Chicago style
Dinner: Fajitas

Monday
Breakfast: Omelette
Lunch: Burgers
Dinner: Baked chicken

Tuesday
Breakfast: Waffles
Lunch: Tacos
Dinner: BBQ ribs

Wednesday
Breakfast: Breakfast burritos
Lunch: Fish and chips
Dinner: Pasta with shrimp

Thursday
Breakfast: Cheese omelette
Lunch: Gyros
Dinner: Chili

Friday
Breakfast: Cheese omelette with bacon
Lunch: Leftover chili
Dinner: Red snapper

Saturday
Breakfast: Pancakes
Lunch: Pasta salad
Dinner: Steak and potatoes

It’s not a normal week this week, but I’ll explain why later. Lots to do and lots to see. Christmas might be more for kids, but we get a kick out of it too. I love listening to Christmas carols, watching old movies, and watching little kids get excited when they see Santa.

Makes it all worthwhile.