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Tuesday, September 27, 2011

How to Be Awesome at Cooking: Dog Treats!

So we have these dogs now. 

We're like, foster parenting them for a few months.  It's really fun, except when they do something crazy like knock over the trash can or start going through packages of Ramen noodles.  But anyway, mostly fun.

However, I have learned that dogs are expensive.  Really expensive.  Especially for two larger dogs.  The food, the treats, the grooming, the vet bills, (OMG the vet bills!!), etc.  It all adds up.  So last week we ran out of doggie treats, and instead of buying more, I decided to make some.

I found a recipe in an old kids' cookbook that I've had since I was little, and I've always wanted to try it.  Here are all the things you will need:


1/4 cup hot tap water
8 chicken bullion cubes
1 package active dry yeast
1 teaspoon sugar
1 1/2 cups tomato juice
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups wheat germ
1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour

(It called for wheat flour and all-purpose flour, but I didn't have any wheat flour, so I just used all regular-type.)

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees and pour the water in a large bowl.  Add the bullion cubes and crush then with a fork.  Stir in the yeast and let it stand about 5 minutes.  (The directions never said what to do with the sugar, but I believe it should go in with the yeast here.)

Add the tomato juice, 1 cup all-purpose flour, and the wheat germ.  Stir to form a smooth batter.  Then stir all the rest of the flour (both kinds, if you have them).

At this point, your dough is like, a soft brick. 

No, really.

It's really dry and rubbery, so I had to use my hands to finish mixing.  Then you take a couple of hand fulls of dough and put them on the counter to roll out.  The instructions say to flour the counter and use more flour if the dough is sticky, but mine was so dry, I didn't really have that problem.  Then you roll it out with a rolling pin.

This took actual effort.  I actually got a little winded from doing that, which is kinda sad, but it's really tough dough.  Really it is.  My getting winded had nothing to do with my lack of physical prowess.  For reals.

Anyway, you roll it out to 1/4" thick, and then you use cookie cutters to cut out shapes.  It's way easier than making Christmas cookies, which never stay in the right shape for me.  These things worked great!  I made two shapes.  Small ones and big ones.

Then you cook them in the oven at 300 degrees for an hour, and then turn the oven off and let them dry in there for about 4 hours. 


I think next time though, I might not cook them quite so long or let them dry so long.  They were really hard, and the dogs had a little trouble with them. They still ate them, mind you, and seemed to like them just fine, but I noticed that they were a good deal more difficult to chew than the treats they were used to.

Oh, and did I mention that I made 30 treats, which is how much comes is a normal treat package, and I didn't even use HALF of the dough?  I kept the rest in the refrigerator and made more later, and I still haven't used it all.  I would say, with the size treats that I made, I could get over 100 treats out of one recipe. 

Price-wise, this was definitely a win.  The wheat germ was the most expensive ingredient that I had to buy, and I used about $2 worth of it.  I had to get tomato juice, of which I used about $1 worth, and a yeast packet is like, $.25.  Total, it probably cost around $5 to make, while most regular-sized bags of dog treats cost around that much, for 20-30 treats.  So, it's like getting a buy one, get two free!

Plus, I used the extra tomato juice that didn't get used for the treats to make tomato soup, so it was a win for everyone!

Friday, September 23, 2011

How to Be Awesome at Giving Advice

Chances are, whether you are young, middle aged, or older, whether you are male or female, whether you are in a relationship or not, whether you are expecting a child or not, you have probably heard, and probably given, pregnancy advice.  It's like we, as human beings, can't help it.  We see a pregnant woman, and we just can't resist the urge to tell her how we know it's a boy or a girl, how she should or should not be doing that, how we know what the baby is doing right now, etc.  I am so guilty of this.  I grew up hearing people around me give that advice, so naturally, I passed it along as well. 

The thing is though, the more I read and research this whole pregnancy thing, the more I realize that a lot of the advice that we are so familiar with is actually completely wrong.  Most of the time, it's harmlessly wrong, but sometimes it actually has consequences.  Either it causes the mom to go way out of her way and inconveniences her for no reason, or it may actually be bad advice.

So today, we're going to play a little game.  I'm going to give you some common pregnancy advice, and I want you to tell me which pieces of advice are true.  First one to get them all right gets a shout-out!  (I numbered them so you can just use numbers in your answer.)

  1. If the mom has cold feet, the baby is a boy.
  2. A lot of heartburn while pregnant means the baby will be born with lots of hair.
  3. Refusing to eat the heel on a loaf of bread means you're having a girl.
  4. Dangling a wedding ring over your tummy shows the gender.  (If it spins side to side or in a circle.)
  5. If you see a mouse while you are pregnant, your baby will be born with a hairy birthmark.
  6. If you carry out front, it's a boy.  If you carry in the middle, it's a girl.
  7. Eating berries causes splotches on baby's skin.
  8. If you sweat a lot, it's a girl.
  9. Taking a bath can drown a fetus.
  10. If you crave orange juice, it's a girl.
  11. Stretching your arms over your head can cause the umbilical cord to wrap around the baby's neck.
  12. If you carry high, it's a girl.  If you carry low, it's a boy.
  13. If you carry high, it's a boy.  If you carry low, it's a girl.
  14. If you have dry hands, it's a boy.
  15. If you crave greasy foods, you will have a short labor.
  16. If you wear high heels, your baby will be cross-eyed.
  17. If you get angry a lot, your baby will have an angry personality.  (Or sad or stressed or whatever.)
  18. Drinking Castor oil will induce labor.
  19. If the baby's fetal heart rate is fast (over 140) it's a girl.
  20. You should avoid eating peanuts while pregnant or you increase the risk that baby will be allergic.
Ok, tell me which ones are true.  :o)

**UPDATE:  Given how many people have told me several of these, I am really suprised at how many people answered correctly.  The answer is, none of them are proven to be true.  Several people brought up good points about annecdotal evidence or further studies needed, which are both valid, but as of right now, none of these "facts" have any scientific studies to back them up.  Congrats to The Watcher in the Dark, Megan F., Djinn, and Michelle H.  You are smarter than an old wives' tale (or something like that).  :o)

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

How to Be Awesome at Driving--Speeds

I hate driving.  I really do.

There are a lot of reasons why I hate driving, but just leave it at that.  I hate it.  Especially highway driving.  It's scary and dangerous.  I don't drive if I can at all help it, i.e., if someone else is there to drive instead.  For the last seven years, I've been really lucky, because I lived within walking distance of my school, so even when I drove, it was like, two blocks.  And I was really close to just about everything else that I needed to get to.

But now......

We moved far, far away, and it takes me at least 30 minutes to get anywhere, and 45 minute to get to school, where I volunteer and tutor.  And it's pretty much all highway, so I just have to get used to it.  Not gonna complain.  Just something new to get used to.


Driving more has made me realize that really, there's only one reason I hate driving.  I mean, the scenery is nice, listening to the radio is fun, going places at 70 mph is awesome, but the one thing that is completely horrible about driving is the other people who are also driving!!

People are complete jerks when they are driving.  Seriously, driving and the Internet have a lot in common.  There is a sense of anonymity that leads people to do things that they would not do if they were face to face with someone.

So I have compiled a handy list of ways that you can be awesome at driving, and I expect that after everyone reads this, we won't have these problems anymore and driving will be way more fun.

1)  Be a Human Being.  Drive a Normal Speed.

I am more and more convinced that everyone on the roads either goes perpetually 15 miles under the speed limit or 15 miles over it.  Both are equally annoying.

I am not a speed demon, but I usually go a couple of miles over the speed limit just to keep people from being angry at me.  And yet, without fail, someone will get behind me and pull two micro-inches from my bumper to let me know in no uncertain terms that I am the slowest person who has ever driven a vehicle, and that they will mow my #$@ down in two seconds if I don't speed up or get off the road.

That's how I interpret tailgaters.

First of all, this is dangerous.  What if a squirrel ran across the road?  You would hit me, because if I reduce my speed by even half a mile per hour, you will careen into my car like a fat kid at the dessert buffet.  Second, I'm not getting a speeding ticket for you, Mr. I've Got This Really Important Thing I Have to Do.  You may be willing to go 60 in a 20, but it would be my car they pulled over, for sure.  And third, it's just so freakin' rude.  Imagine if you were at the grocery store, and some old lady were walking slowly through the aisles.  Yes, it's kind of annoying, but would you push your cart right up against her back and follow her relentlessly until she moved aside?  Please, I hope not.  You would wait patiently, 'cause you're a normal human being.  Cars do not change this.  Be a human being.

This problem is made worse when someone is in front of me, preventing me from going faster.  What would you like me to do, SUV Mom in a Huge Hurry?  Fly over the car?  Get my extendable tires and drive right over it?  Geez.  The other thing that makes it worse is when we're not on a small road, but a major highway.  If there is a perfectly good left lane over there for you to pass me on, and you STILL tailgate me, you are a jerk, and if I had rocket launchers on my car, you would be the next Rocketman.

But like I said, driving too slowly is just as annoying.   I'm not talking about someone driving the speed limit, 'cause that's just fine.  But someone driving way under it does get on my nerves.  Please note, though, no matter how slowly someone is driving, you still don't have permission to tailgate them.  Just, no.

Here's the thing.  I feel like, from my experience, people go the speed they want anyway, especially on the highway, so what's the point of trying to make a rule of it?  Yes, every now and then someone gets a ticket, but really, compared to the number of people I've seen pulled over, the number of people going 90 mph is way higher.

So we do away with speed limits and instead, have speed lanes.  Right lane is for 70 mph and under. Middle lane is for 71-79 mph.  Right lane is for 80+.  No one can tailgate or they get a ticket, and if they're not doing the right speed for their lane, they get a ticket, so the cops still make money.

But I also like the cars on rails from Minority Report.  That was cool, and seems easier.  Let's do that.

And yeah, I know I sound like an old woman, whining about how everyone drives like crazy people, but if they would STOP DRIVING LIKE CRAZY PEOPLE, I would stop whining.  More driving tips coming later.

Friday, September 16, 2011

How to Be Awesome at Cooking: Ketchup!

Let's start by playing a game called Awesome/Not Awesome.

Awesome:  Getting to stay home, especially while I'm pregnant and not feeling well.  Also, especially since we moved at the end of the summer, and the house is still in boxes.

Not Awesome:  No paycheck.

Don't get be wrong, we have plenty of money to live on.  I am a teacher, at a private school no less, so it's not like I got much anyway, but it has meant a lot of adjusting.  Basically, the fun money is gone.

Awesome:  Going to Dragon*Con this year for the first time.  (Separate post about that later.)

Not Awesome:  Spending way more money than we should have at Dragon*Con.

Atlanta hotels ain't cheap!

Awesome:  Having plenty of food in the house, thanks to a housewarming shower and my mom making food for us to freeze and eat later.

Not Awesome:  Missing a few really important condiments/ingredients.

I'm trying to hold out on grocery shopping until next payday so that I can justify all the money we spent at Dragon*Con.

So that leads us to today's awesomeness.  I have corn dogs for Brian for lunch, but no ketchup.  And if there's one thing that boy likes, it's ketchup.  He would never complain about not having it, but he probably won't eat corn dogs without it. 

So I decided to make some.

Turns out, it's not very hard at all, and I already had all the ingredients.  Awesome!  I got the recipe from this website.  It's actually someone who lives in Morocco, so that explains why I guess they have to make their own ketchup.  Maybe it's not a local favorite.  Anyway, it's a good basic recipe.  No, I didn't start with tomatoes, although that would have been cool.  I started with tomato paste, but you can do it the hard way if you want.  I didn't feel like straining stuff.

Here are all the ingredients you will need:

2 cans (ea. approx. 140g or 6 oz.) tomato paste
2/3 cup corn syrup
2/3 cup vinegar
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon cayenne or ground red pepper
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon onion powder (or 1 teaspoon finely grated onion with the juice)
1/8 teaspoon Allspice

Mix all of the ingredients together in a saucepan or pot.

Cover and simmer over medium heat for 25 to 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Allow the ketchup to cool before serving.

The ketchup will keep for one month or longer when stored in a covered container in the fridge.

I used the empty ketchup bottle we just finished.

I was running out of garlic powder, so I used a little garlic salt to finish the 1/2 teaspoon, and then just reduced my salt.  Also, I was worried because after I simmered it, I tasted it, and it was pretty spicy.  I had made a note to reduce the amount of cayenne pepper, but when we ate it after it cooled for a couple of hours, it wasn't spicy at all.  Guess it just needs time to......ketchup.  hehehe

The biggest thing I would change about the recipe is the simmering time.  I'm still getting used to my gas cooking range, but I had it set below medium, and it was cooking way too fast.  After ten minutes, it was at the point where I think I overcooked it slightly.  I would put it on low for ten minutes or less and see how it looks after that.

It tastes pretty good.  Like I said, I think I overcooked mine a little, so it's thicker than normal, but I like the taste.  We had burgers that night for dinner, and Brian loved it, so I think it's a go! 

Also, this site has a similar recipe but without the corn syrup, if you don't like that.

As for the price, well, the average price for a 32 oz. Heinz ketchup bottle at Wal-Mart is around $2.50, which is really not bad.  You can get a can of tomato paste for $.44, and you need two of those, plus the corn syrup and vinegar, which costs like, $.75-$1.00 for the amount you use, plus some spices you already have at home.  So all in all, you might save like, a dollar.  Not really a huge savings, but since I already had all the ingredients, I did end up saving money 'cause I didn't have to buy anything.  Mostly, I think the reason people make their own is for the "green" aspect.  You don't have all the dyes and chemicals.  Plus, if you had your own tomato plants, you wouldn't have to buy that, so that would be cheaper.

Oh, and the biggest advice I can give you?  Wear an apron from start to finish.  Seriously.  Maybe even wear like, a muumuu or something.  Or just be naked.  (No......I take that back.  It's hot, and it splatters.)  The point is, this is a messy recipe.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

How to be Awesome at Cooking: Pop Tarts

There are few things more awesome than Pop-Tarts.  I literally lived on pretty much just them for a decent portion of high school.  Yes, I mean literally.  That's why I can't eat the brown sugar cinnamon ones anymore.  But that's a different story.

Anyway, my mom was in town recently.  By about the fifth day of my pathetic calls to Florida, whining about how I couldn't get out of bed and I felt terrible, I think she thought I was dying and decided to come see me as soon as possible.  She came for two weeks, and it was awesome.  I am not at all exaggerating when I say that I spent most of those two weeks lying on a cot in the kitchen while she cooked/cleaned/took care of me.  It was great, and she is awesome.

While she was here, she had the brilliant idea to try to make homemade Pop-Tarts.  And who says no to that?  So we did.  Well, mostly she did.  I just came in for the fun part at the end.

We got the recipe from this website.  It has a great step-by-step tutorial on making them.  We did about half brown sugar cinnamon, ('cause those are Brian's favorite, and he is the big Pop-Tart eater in the family), a couple of Nutella, and a couple of strawberry and raspberry jam.  They looked like this before we cooked them.

And they looked like this afterwards.

I ate that little tiny spare one in the middle.

To keep track of which ones were which, I made the dots on the top in the shape of the first letter of the filling.  That was my one genius idea.

We topped them with some basic icing that Mom made,

And a little cinnamon on the brown sugar cinnamon ones.

and they were pretty good.  Good enough that everyone who ate them liked them.

However, I don't think I would make them again, at least not like that.  Here's why.

1)  The pastry was a shortbread, basically, and it was pretty thick and dry.  Now, normal Pop-Tarts are pretty dry, too, but they aren't so thick.  Of course, we could try to make the dough thinner, but we were having a hard time keeping it together as it was.  I don't think we could have gone any thinner.

2)  Because of the dryness, they really had to have icing on them.  Unfortunately, you can't put the icing on ahead of time, because real icing (i.e. not plastic, which I assume is what Pop-Tart icing is)  melts in heat, like a toaster.  And homemade icing doesn't store very well, so that means every time you want to eat one, you have to make more icing.  Kind of defeats the point of an easy breakfast pastry.

3)  This wasn't a problem for us now, but a couple of weeks ago it would have been.  You can't really put these things in a toaster.  We have our toaster oven out now, so that was fine with us, but they really don't do well vertically.  They are too crumbly.  Remember?  Shortbread.

4)  The process was pretty involved.  I mean, not "I slaved all day over these" but still, considering that the point of Pop-Tarts is to have an easy breakfast, it's kind of a stretch.

5)  The price wasn't that much better.  You can get a box of Pop-Tarts at Wal-Mart for a little over $2, and I'm sure that the price of the ingredients was about that much, plus time factored in.  All in all, not that great an exchange, and honestly, they didn't taste that much better.

If I did it again, I would probably buy pastry dough instead of making it from scratch.  That would make things a lot easier, and maybe even make it taste better.  Still, it was interesting to try.

Monday, September 12, 2011


I'm back!  Ok, so it ended up being a longer pause than I thought it was going to be, but there's a good reason, and most of you know it by now.

I'm pregnant.  Yay!

We found out two days after we closed on the house, and I commenced morning sickness/exhaustion exactly one week after we moved in.  Fabulous timing, right?

So everything got put on hold.  Unpacking, hobbies, cooking, cleaning, getting out of bed...everything, for six weeks or so.  Luckily, I wasn't actually sick for more than about a week.  The worst thing for me was the exhaustion.  Standing up was such a Herculean effort, that it didn't leave me much energy for anything else.  It was really weird. 

But happily, I am finishing up my first trimester now, and the energy is coming back slowly.  Still not up to where I was this summer, but that's ok.  I can do more than two things back to back now, which is a HUGE improvement on a couple of weeks ago.

Oh, and for the baby info:  little Cricket (our pet name for now) is due on March 26.  We will find out if it is a boy or a girl at the end of October.  We are super excited. 

That said, I am ready to start blogging again!  Instead of the daily posting schedule I was on for the summer, though, I am going to post Monday, Wednesday, Friday for now and see how that goes.  I'm excited about sharing a couple of things I've already done and lots of stuff I want to try.  As always, tell your friends, because it's super exciting to see lots of people reading the blog!  I don't know why it's exciting, but it is.  :o)

More coming soon. 

(Hint:  What do Pop-Tarts, ketchup, and cars have in common?)