A Side Dish Good Enough for a Meal

Whenever I can make a meal out of something typically served as a side dish, I give myself two gold stars. Not only does oriental veggie stir-fry over noodles make a great side at dinner or even a meal in itself, the leftovers are perfect for lunchtime and hold up very well in Grace’s thermos. This is one of those dishes that just keeps on giving. I think this is definitely a three gold star recipe.

With spring in full swing and the garden beginning to consume quite a bit of my time, weather permitting, dishes like this one are definitely going to be getting a lot of table-time. If you’d like to check out my recipe I just posted it on Simply Grateful Cooking Oriental Veggie Stir-Fry Over Rice Noodles.

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A day full of gardening and just a little time left over for throwing together a quick stir-fry for dinner, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.

It’s Out Of The Box!

Yep! I finally opened it. I received a huge box about a week ago from Amazon and this afternoon I finally opened it.

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You might be wondering why it took me so long. How could I wait for nearly an entire week before opening this very big, super heavy box? Wasn’t the suspense killing me? Didn’t I want to rip it open, pull out its contents, and find out what was waiting for me? Well, sort of.

Yes, I did order it.

Yes, I knew what was inside.

Yes, I have wanted it for a very long time.

Yes, when Hubby finally told me to order it I jumped all over it and did it that night.

Yes, I could hardly wait to hit that “Purchase” button.

Yes, I tracked the shipment from the moment I hit “Purchase” until the day it was to arrive.

Then reality hit.

What if this wasn’t something I would really use?

What if it came in and wasn’t all I’d hoped for?

What if I’d just wasted more money on a truly nonessential than I’d ever done before?

Buyer’s remorse?

I’m not really sure. All I know is by not opening the box I was in a wonderful state of denial that was only disrupted slightly every time I passed by the unopened box sitting in the foyer.

This afternoon however I finally mustered up enough courage, curiosity, whatever you want to call it, to finally open the box and then open the box that was in the box, and finally open the box that was in the box that was in the box and pull the most expensive kitchen gadget I have ever owned.

Coming to the decision to purchase this did not come easy. I’ve been thinking about it for a long time. I blame television for this. Specifically the food channels. Watching cooks enjoy the convenience offered by all the wonderful gadgets their gourmet kitchens are stocked with, is bound to cause me to have a certain amount of kitchen-envy. And when I shared my desire to have one such convenience in our kitchen, Hubby told me to order it.

Well now, this was before he had any idea how much something like this cost. Hesitantly, almost in a whisper, I told him this was not an inexpensive little investment. No, this was not a purchase to be taken lightly. It was one that would require more than $10 – $15 for say a whisk or $100 for an induction burner or even $150 for a really big microwave. This would take close to $300 and honestly it is not a necessity — it’s a dream, an indulgence, a toy.

Sure there were more expensive ones. A professional model could cost anywhere from $1000 to $1500, but then where would I put such a monstrosity. The trouble was that there were cheaper models for say $30 – $70, but then they wouldn’t have the cool features that made this gadget the indulgence I so wanted.

Sheepishly I told Hubby the price. He didn’t even flinch. He said, “Buy it.” Then he added, “Or I’ll buy it for you.”

Wow! That was a surprise. It probably shouldn’t have been because he would certainly reap the rewards of this indulgence, and he knew it. Still, who in their right mind would spend this amount of money on such a luxury?

Me I guess!

So this afternoon, while Hubby was out of the house (why I waited until he was gone I have no idea because he was the one who told me to order it) I slit the tape open on the box and opened it. Peering inside, what did I see — another brown box staring at me. (Too many years of reading Brown Bear, Brown Bear What do you see!)

I cut the tape on that box and opened it, only to find yet another box inside. This box though was different, it was the box for what I’d ordered. I flipped open the tab on the side of the box and Grace helped me lift out my brand new, never before seen in this house, stainless steel, 2.1 quart self-contained frozen dessert maker that does not require pre-freezing with extended cooling function and high-efficiency compressor.

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In other words — I bought an ice cream maker! An ice cream maker with a built-in freezer! 32 pounds of stainless steel.

This isn’t just any ice cream maker though. This one is pretty much a set-it-and-forget-it type ice cream maker. No ice to worry about, no salt, no cranking. None of that for me. I just mix the ingredients, let cool if necessary, put in the removable bowl and press start. In sixty minutes or less I have up to 2.1 quarts of homemade, from scratch ice cream, sherbet, gelato, ices, sorbet, or even drinks.

Seems like a lot of fuss over an ice cream maker, but making homemade ice cream with any other type of machine seems like a whole lot more time and effort than I have to give. The one we bought should cut the time necessary making it in half.  Okay, so absolutely not a necessity, but how nice it will be to serve fresh, homemade ice cream to the family far more often. Plus, won’t guests be surprised when I serve them hot from the ice cream maker desserts (or rather cold from the ice cream maker desserts).

Of course, once out of the box yet another dilemma confronted me. What should I make first? Something rich and decadent? Something quick and simple? Something, anything…please!

Well, my initial plan was to make the ice cream mixture first thing in the morning and then freezing it in the ice cream maker just before dinner. This was out because it was already past three o’clock. So, I did the next best thing and whipped up a batch of vanilla bean custard base and will freeze it tomorrow afternoon right before dinner. Hubby has already had his hands/fingers in the custard base and can’t wait until tomorrow!

I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream — and for this I am — Simply Grateful.

A Sweet Indulgence

As of late, one thing I have decided is there are just some things in the kitchen that should not be skimped on and my grocery bills have reflected it. Not that I’ve gone out and bought the most expensive everything and anything, but each trip to the supermarket, or maybe more like every other trip or every third trip, I pull out a list of what I consider “sweet indulgence” ingredients and buy something from the list — especially if I happen upon a sale.

Not everything on the list is expensive. Some items are just ingredients that I would not use very often, making it hard to justify purchasing them. Others are a bit on the pricey side but there are some ingredients you should NEVER buy imitation or knockoff’s of, it’s worth spending the extra money.

The other day while picking up a few items at a specialty fruit market (someplace I don’t usually go unless there is a sale of some sort), Hubby and I found a sale on mascarpone cheese. This cheese is best known for its use in tiramisu, but is a wonderful addition to many other rich desserts. A container that would normally be anywhere from $6.50 to $8.00, was marked $3.50 and the expiration date was not until the end of May. What a find! I picked up two containers knowing I would find a use for them.

Some nights I go all out on dessert for the family and spend half the day working on something special. Other nights they are lucky if they can find packaged cookies buried in the freezer. A day or so after finding the deal on the mascarpone cheese in between putting the finishing touches on dinner and serving it, I whipped up a mascarpone cream and soaked some fresh fruit in sweetened Marsala wine. Talk about a rich, decadent dessert!

Although this particular dessert was not something Grace could enjoy with her sensitivity to dairy, Hubby and Zeb devoured the custard bowls filled with the fruit and cream combo. If you’d like to see how I made it, check out my post on Simply Grateful Cooking for Mascarpone Cream with Sweetened Marsala Berries.

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This dessert could probably be made with a less expensive cheese such as ricotta, but the rich, smooth mascarpone, albeit typically pricey, made this dessert “company worthy,” and for this sweet indulgence I am — Simply Grateful.

Fresh Air!

Three days ago at this time we were getting a snow storm! It began around 11 in the morning while Hubby and I were at the gym and didn’t let up all afternoon. Then it turned into freezing rain and things got really fun out on the roads.

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Where did that come from? It wasn’t in the forecast and with predictions for temperatures in the 70’s by the end of the coming week, who’d have thunk?

Well, that’s Michigan for you!

Anyway, after a few “too chilly to set foot in the garden” days, today I finally broke out of the house and headed to the garden to get my hands dirty. It was glorious. I spent nearly two hours planting a few bulbs, turning over the new designated pea garden, and watching as Bell rooted around every nook and cranny in the backyard as if she’d never been out there in her life.

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Bell rootin’ around.

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Everything seems new and exciting to Bell.

Hubby was at the gym with his man-friend, Zeb was at the gym with Gramps, and Grace was still at school. Finally — time to myself.

Those couple of hours out in the fresh air truly cleared the cobwebs from my head, reset my perspective, and improved my mood tenfold. The weather is only supposed to get better as the week progresses and I plan on making sure I get outside at least an hour each day — by myself. This might require getting up a little early, or perhaps sneaking out when no one is looking, but no matter what it takes, I’m outta here.

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The new pea garden in progress.

Hubby came home before I finished turning over the garden I was working in and wanted to know why I hadn’t waited for him. Okay, now I could have answered him in several ways, reminding him about how the garden is my “thing” and for the past two years I have done all the gardening by myself. Granted this wasn’t necessarily because I wanted to do it all by myself, but with him working pretty much 24/7 away from home, there was really very little time for him to dedicate to gardening. Plus, when he was home, I certainly didn’t want him to have to work. We had to spend some time together after all.

But, rather than bringing anything up that might make him feel bad I just smiled at him, gave him a kiss, and told him I was almost done, he could help me finish tomorrow and then I could plant the peas. Still, his guilt was palpable and this really bothers me. I don’t want him to feel guilty about me gardening or anything else that he wasn’t around to help with. I enjoy being outside with my hands in the dirt and know he really doesn’t. He thinks now that he’s quasi-retired, he should be doing all the things he was never able to do before. I keep telling him he doesn’t need to, but at the same time don’t want him to not have any purpose. Everyone needs to be needed.

This is just yet another bump-in-the-road on our journey as we adjust to his retirement. For so many years I’ve been responsible for everything here at home, asking for help only on the rarest of occasions. It was how things had to be. I didn’t always like it, but after 23 years of it, I had to come to terms with it or go crazy. I did the “going crazy” thing the first few years of our marriage and didn’t really like it, so I finally came to terms with it. Now I’ve got that same choice again.

I can either come to terms with Hubby needing/wanting to help out with things around here or I can go crazy. So, have I learned from past experience enough to forego the “crazy phase” and skip right to the “coming to terms” one?

Doubtful.

With the promise of warmer weather and lots of fresh air in my future though, maybe I won’t stick with the “going crazy” phase as long this time and perhaps transition into something like a “simply irritated” phase instead. But then again, this is the Simply Grateful blog, so that wouldn’t be very sporting of me, would it?

Anyway, it was beautiful here in Michigan today — the weather was perfect, the sun was shining, Hubby was home nearly all day — and for all these things I truly am Simply Grateful.

All Or Nothing

Ever since Hubby quasi retired I feel as though I’ve been running a race. Every day is a whirlwind of running around and at the end of the day I couldn’t even tell you what I’ve done. The only normalcy that has not changed is I make dinner every night. We have a set dinner hour of 5:30 which gives me a few extra hours than I had pre-retirement to decide what to make and do the preparation. This should theoretically be a good thing, but for some strange reason the supposed extra time I have to cook seems to elude me. Let’s blame Hubby for that too, seeing as of late he’s the best excuse for everything that just isn’t working out the way I thought it would.

Anyway, when it comes to dinners, it’s pretty much an all or nothing thing. When there’s a day that Hubby and I aren’t running around all morning into the afternoon or we haven’t worked on projects around the house all day, I seem to spend the entire day in the kitchen. I’ve been making homemade pasta, two to three new recipes sometimes in one meal, experimenting with lots of new ingredients, and really serving some five-star dinner entrees.

When we do run errands or have projects to work on however, I have no desire to be in the kitchen at all. It doesn’t matter if we’ve been gone or working for only an hour or so, that little blip in my routine/schedule is enough to take my ambition or whatever you want to call it away. Thankfully Hubby has been tremendously understanding — too understanding in my opinion — when dinner happens to be just hot dogs on the grill thrown together ten minutes before it’s time to sit down and eat.

I’m not so understanding. The guilt of it all has been weighing on me, so for the past two weeks I’ve been perusing cookbooks, magazines, cooking websites, and favorite blogs for quick meals that require little to no effort, are made with ingredients I typically have on hand, and create the illusion that I’ve done more than just sit on the couch all day eating bonbons (which I haven’t been doing, but again, I just can’t seem to figure out where the time goes and what I’ve been doing, so who really knows).

One such meal was one that I made tonight and was a real hit. Both Hubby and Zeb couldn’t say enough about it and already they’ve both called dibs on the leftovers. Definitely a keeper. Plus, this is one that I think I could vary using different types of meat, cheese, and/or sauce.

Although this is a “sandwich” and Hubby has always teased me by stating “You know you’re in America when you have a sandwich for dinner!” even he thought this was a hearty meal not to be scoffed at. He even commented that if we were to have a sandwich shop or something like that, this would be the one to bring everyone in. I didn’t serve it with any sides other than pickled green tomatoes, but making some homemade potato chips or even a quick batch of french fries certainly wouldn’t hurt.

If you’d like to check out the recipe, it’s on Simply Grateful CookingBarbecue Chipped Ham Sandwiches.  I’m not sure that I’d want to make serving sandwiches for dinner the standard around here, but with sandwiches that can hold their own at the dinner table, I’m willing to relax a little and serve them guilt-free, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.

A Life in Transition

Based on the number of posts I’ve made lately, it’s a wonder anyone actually still stops by my blog. Yet, each day there are a few views and a few visitors, encouraging me to press forward.

It’s difficult to consider blogging when your life turns completely upside down. It didn’t happen in an instant, thus why my consistency has been lagging for months now. No, it’s taken several months for life to finally flip from one end of the normalcy spectrum to the other and now I’m in the process of digesting what, for the moment, is the new “normal.”

Hubby sold his business! After 28 years at what was the “current” business and another 10 years before that in other businesses, he, for the first time since he was 16 years old, does not have a job that consumes him 24/7. It has been a long time coming, something he has wanted to pull himself out from under for years. With the economy as it is, selling a business has been slow and hard. The only plus is that he didn’t have to walk away from the business. He did actually sell it, not for what he paid for it, not for what it is truly worth, but at least it was for something.

Now for the first time since I have known him, he doesn’t have a job — other than finally being home as a husband and father. Funny how for the past 28 years (the amount of years we have been together – 23 married and 5 before that dating) the thought of him really being here seemed an impossibility and now he is here practically every minute.

The transition has been interesting and not surprising — challenging. He is trying very hard not to get in my way or step on my toes, as I’ve been solely in charge of taking care of everything here at home with little to no help from him for the past 23 years. Yet, he is also trying to be as helpful as possible, almost as if he’s trying to make up for lost time.

My thought is that all those years are gone and at this point don’t matter. There is no “making up” for anything. We did what we had to, what we thought was right, what had to be done at the time. Now we need to move forward, not dwell on the past. Trouble is that I am so accustomed to not having anyone to turn to for most things around here, that having him here is awkward at best and cumbersome at worst.

I thought when everything was done, and the papers were finally signed, life would somehow fall back into place. That my routine and every day existence would somehow pick up where it had left off prior to all the time I had to spend helping Hubby get things ready for the sale. But, no. Nothing is the same. Well, the kids lives are still basically the same. They go to school, have their own activities, come and go as they have. That part of my life is still the same as well. I get up and get them both off to school, but when they are gone, when I would normally have the house to myself so I could plan my day and do “my thing,” I have Hubby to contend with.

The first week it was fun. It was nice to have someone here all the time to chat with, someone to share my morning coffee with, someone to run all my errands with. That was the first week.

By week two I was beginning to look for excuses to run up to the grocery store by myself. I got up early so I could have some time to myself. I went to bed a little earlier than he so I could read or unwind in peace. Heck, he had only been sleeping at home two nights a week for over a year and only four nights a week prior to that for the past five years or so. It’s definitely a change dealing with someone whose sleep schedule is going to bed after 11 o’clock, closer to midnight, when I have typically gone to bed between 9 and 10 o’clock for the past four years or more.

Then there’s the issue of filling in the time. Hubby isn’t without responsibilities. He has an online job that he works several hours a night, six days out of the week and he has an eBay business where he sells various items. These “jobs” however do not fill all the time that he has available and him going from having no time to all the time in the world — not an easy transition.

I’ve been trying to understand his position. I have accepted that he needs to get out of the house and do “something” every day since his “retirement.” Unfortunately though, my life cannot become his. This is the case for two very important reasons.

First and foremost, I don’t want to become dependent on him and then have it all taken away. Being as independent as I am today was not an easy place to get. When we were dating and after we were first married, it took me years (yes years!) to come to terms with what our lives were like. I had a predetermined idea of what married life should be, and what I got was absolutely nothing like it. Not having a husband around for the most part was hard on all of us. It took me a long time to establish a home where everything and everyone had a place and when Hubby was home, he had very little to worry about and very little responsibility. He had two other priorities that came before me, the business and his parents.

Second, this is supposedly not a permanent change. I have suggested he take at least 6 months, but he can take as much time as he needs, but eventually he plans on either going out and finding some sort of job or perhaps some years down the road we might venture into a business that will be “ours” rather than his. The business was really his parent’s business, but for the past several years his father’s involvement has been limited and for the past 10 months nonexistent. A new business would be something we do together and I would truly be a part of, not just helping out when he absolutely needed it.

So because of these reasons, and many others, I am hesitant in becoming used to how things are and having him here. It’s still a lot like a dream — not a nightmare-type dream, but something that doesn’t seem real.

Anyway, by week three, which was this past week, things started getting a little strained. The main problem is that Hubby has never been home enough to know exactly what I do, how long I spend doing things, or realize that things don’t just happen without me actually having to do the work.

Did you know that hanging clothes outside on the line actually takes a lot longer than just throwing them in the dryer? Well, you could have knocked me over with a feather when Hubby pointed this out to me, but then I wouldn’t have that wonderful fresh outdoor scent, now would I?

Did you know there is far more to changing the carpet in a room, than just waltzing in, unrolling the carpet, and tucking it under the floor boards? Yep, you have to repaint the room (which is what was necessary to remodel our office), move all the furniture out, remove the old carpet, then put in the new carpet, and yes, you do have to move all the furniture back into the room as well. Go figure! When was all this done before? Well, before Hubby got involved, of course.

Did you know that dinner doesn’t rear it’s ugly head magically without me having to spend sometimes hours on my feet in the kitchen over a hot stove? Hubby certainly didn’t and him telling me that he doesn’t like to see me spending so much time in the kitchen really wasn’t comforting. I like to cook — didn’t he know that, isn’t it obvious?

Did you know that they sell cans of beans, vegetables, and fruit at the grocery store? Really? And here I thought pressure canning my own was the only option. What planet have I been on all these years? The things you learn…

Did you know a dog needs to be let back in the house shortly after you let her out? Hubby didn’t. Well, that is only of course if you ever want to see your dog again. I suppose the hope that she’ll somehow figure out how to let herself back in is always a possibility, but I’m not willing to wait for that to happen.

Did you know that lint actually collects on the carpet and needs to be vacuumed several times a week in order for the carpet not to become obscured by a thin-film of white that forms a low rising cloud when walked across? Why yes, yes I did. But, did you know we actually have two vacuums to remedy this particularly tricky situation and they can be used by both women AND men (if it bothers you that much, that is)!

And my big question to Hubby:

DID YOU KNOW THAT THE TOILET SEAT CAN ACTUALLY BE PUT DOWN WHEN YOU’RE DONE? AND EACH AND EVERY TIME, NO LESS! The wonders of modern technology!

Yep, a challenge. And this is only the beginning. I have only lost it emotionally with him twice so far (seeing that in writing it seems a lot worse than I initially thought), but have vowed to do my best to not let it happen again. Patience is something I need to practice and with the hope of spring being just around the corner, I think we’ll be okay. With spring I can get outside, leaving him inside, and have a little free time. Of course he has made it a point to tell me over and over again he is here to help. Please! Please no. Go to the gym, work on our taxes, spend some time with the kids –anything but help.

So a new chapter in our life begins.

I can’t say for certain that blogging will once again become something I can find time to do on a more consistent basis, but when I can, I will. Today I finally completed a post I started back in March on Simply Grateful Cooking called https://simplygratefulcooking.wordpress.com/2016/04/02/tomato-vodka-cream-sauce/. Check it out if you’re so inclined.

For now, I’m off to the kitchen to make dinner while Hubby heads down to the basement to workout. This way, dinner can magically appear and the illusion will continue, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.