Wednesday, January 18, 2012

More "Quick" and "Easy" Kitchen Tips

OK.  I should probably let this die, but it's too much fun.

First, make sure you have the proper pre-requisite to continue reading this.  Good?  All right then.  Some more "helpful" ideas from 1980...

"To reduce foam when pouring carbonated drinks over ice cubes, rinse off ice cubes with water before filling glasses."  Or, pour more slowly.  Where's the fire, pal?  Relax!

"When out of cream, try the beaten white of an egg in your coffee."  Or, knock on your neighbor's door, tell them of your plight, and they will go out and buy you more cream if it will keep you from doing this.  And, if they're not so neighborly, drink it black.  It won't kill you.  I promise.

"Leftover whipped cream: Drop dollops of whipped cream on a cookie sheet, then flash-freeze before storing in plastic bags."  Leftover whipped cream?  Whoever heard of such a thing?

"Fill a large bowl with cheap wine and set it under the sink.  The roaches will drink it, get drunk, fall in it, and drown. This is not a joke.  Its been known to have great results."  First, I didn't accidentally leave the apostraphe out in the word "its".  I quoted directly.  Second, this might work fine, but the mental image just freaks me out.  I imagine all the roaches leering at each other and talking like Peter Lorre over their boxed wine.  Yuck.

"Two similar stockings of different shades can easily be made into a matching pair. Drop them into boiling water and add a couple of tea bags.  Remove them when the water has cooled and they will match perfectly.  The more bags you use, the darker the shade will be." And the more interesting tea time will be!  Just make sure to clean up before the neighbors drop in, or you'll have to explain why your pantyhose are on the stove.

But let it not be said that I was all criticism.  There are actually a number of applicable and very good tips in this worn-out little pamphlet.  Here are some that I have actually used, with positive results:

"Add one-half envelope instant cocoa mix to one cup of strong black coffee."  Ross, not generally a coffee person, calls this the "poor man's mocha" and he enjoys it, especially if I add a splash of flavored creamer or whipped cream!

"Prepare frozen juice concentrate as directed.  Fill glass half full and mix with club soda for a nutritious soda pop."  I also like to mix cranberry juice with diet ginger ale.  Delish.

"[Brown sugar] won't harden if stored in the freezer."  It's true!

I am just wondering how long it will take all of our Good Housekeeping magazines and Food Network shows to start sounding ridiculous.

Time will tell. 

And maybe my kids will be making fun of them then.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Let's All Make Celery Curls the Quick and Easy Way!

I know we often have an idealized view about the fabulous 1950's.  In spite of the rainbow of kitschy colors, the blooming technological advances and the apex of the nuclear family, with its perfect little house, white picket fence and 2.5 children, I know that there were a lot of underlying struggles in America that were hidden by housewives straining to keep their kitchens and their laundry sparkling clean.  Still, sometimes I dream of having a life back then, when things were still somehow simpler, more authentic, more...wholesome? 

Well...except for the food

With that in mind (and clutching lovingly to my fresh cilantro, avocados, whole wheat pasta and skim milk - none of which seemed to find any type of home in the 1950's), I wanted to share some more "recent" kitchen tips with you, which you may find as appealing as mandarin orange slices suspended in glittering aspic.  Garnished with parsley, of course.

As a bit of a joke, my step-mum gave me Mary Ellen's Best of Helpful Kitchen Hints (copyright 1980) that she had either found lying around the house or discovered at a yard sale.  Being all for anything vintage, retro, or kitschy, I dove right in.  Apparently, I forgot that in 1980, many women, and certainly housewives, were still chained to the stove all day, worrying about such crucial issues as reviving wilted lettuce, the yellow-ness of their potato salad and walnuts sinking to the bottom of muffins while they bake.

Heavens. To. Betsy.

Now, I'm saying this as a fairly conservative (i.e., "old-fashioned") woman who genuinely loves cooking and being in the kitchen.  So you know this stuff is rough.  But you make your own decision.  Let me share some of these valuable insights with you.  May I?

"To make celery curls: Cut celery into three- to four-inch pieces.  Cut each piece into narrow strips, leaving about an inch at the end uncut to hold the piece together, then put them in ice water until they curl, about half an hour."  Celery curls?  What, are they garnish for a salad?  Pfft, that's what bacon is for.

"Boil cracked eggs in aluminum foil twisted at both ends."  Or, you could bite the bullet and just scramble the darn thing.  It's already halfway there.

"Have your canned ham sliced by the butcher, then tie it back together, garnish with pineapple, and bake.  No messy job of slicing it hot."  Maybe not, but your butcher will think you're a loon for bringing him a can of ham to chop up.  Then he'll make fun of you when you leave.

"To make bacon curls, fry only until cooked but not crisp.  Then take bacon from the skillet and twist around the tines of a fork.  Pierce with a wooden toothpick and broil under a low flame to complete crisping."  Oops, I spoke too soon about the bacon.  Not only does it get special treatment, too, but it can hang out with the celery curls on top of my salad.  And it only takes three times as long to prepare!  Brilliant!

"Grind beans until coffee is very fine, or use a food processor.  You'll need about one-third less coffee than you ordinarily would."  And you think no one will notice the brackish bitterness of your ill-used espresso grind, hmm?  You probably used too much water in your Mr. Coffee, too.  Heathen.  Or better yet...

"Reuse old coffee grounds by placing them in the oven on a flat pan for half an hour at 350 degrees.  Then combine with half the usual amount of fresh-ground coffee."  Because your guests aren't worth the fifteen cents that pot of fresh coffee actually costs you.

"Pizza cuts more easily with scissors."  It's arts and crafts time!  While we're at it, I can also fold your napkin into a swan and glue sequins to your fork. 

"For wrinkled buns, moisten them slightly and heat in a 350 degree oven for a few minutes.  No more wrinkles."  Does this work on people, too?  What about shar-peis?

"Make fresh onion salt instantly: Cut a slice from the top of the onion, sprinkle salt on its juice, and scrape with a knife."  Or, you could, you onion salt for 89 cents at Giant Eagle.

"Reuse cards you receive for any occasion by putting a little household bleach on a cloth and rubbing gently over any handwriting."  Because re-gifting isn't cheap enough.  Introducing: re-carding!

There's pages and pages more about what to do if it's windy during your outdoor meal (sew pockets into the corners of your tablecoth and weight it down with keys...which is far more sensible than my mother using her staple-gun, anyway), how to ensure your loaf of bread is crusty, but not too crusty, unless it's supposed to be crusty, then it will be very crusty, and so on and so forth.  Sometimes, I read over the book for a laugh while I'm eating my vitamin-fortified whole grain cereal with vanilla flavored organic soy milk and drinking my sustainably-sourced Kenyan coffee and as my husband is blending non-fat Greek yogurt with whole California strawberries, pulp-free Florida orange juice and clover honey to make his smoothie.

Man, people used to be so fussy about their food, huh?

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Fables, Frogs and Fearlessness, or: What I've Learned from the Muppets

Jesus used quite a bit of the time He spent teaching by sharing parables with His audience.  A parable is a simple story designed to reflect a much larger, more complex and ultimately, more important, concept.  His sweet little tale about the shepherd who leaves 99 sheep to find the one who strayed is a simplified picture of the love of the Lord, who actively and passionately seeks out the lost and needy, rather than only coddling and catering to the ones who are healthy and safe.

With that in mind, and also the sudden, renewed appreciation for the Muppets (as evidenced by the re-release of merchandise and movies, thanks to the latest Muppet film), I wanted to share with you some great life lessons that I am learning from those furry, floppy, fuzzy, friendly puppet-superstars of stage and screen.

Lesson #1: Your best defense - and your best offense - is TEAMWORK!  In every single Muppet movie, and in many episodes of the show, the Muppets must work together to achieve a common goal or overcome seemingly impossible odds.  Sometimes, one Muppet or another, who thinks he is better off without the group (or that the group is better without him), isolates himself and leaves himself open to danger or, maybe worse, the temptation of self-pity!  The author of Hebrews agrees with this.  In Hebrews 10:24-26 he writes, "And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another - and all the more as you see the Day approaching."  How much better are Christians - and Muppets - who work together, enjoy each others' company, and share their talents for the greater good?!

Lesson #2: It's okay to be different.  It's better to stick out in a crowd than to fit in but be heartsick inside.  It took Gonzo the Great years to finally realize this, but maybe he would have found peace sooner if he'd just read John 15:18-20: “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.  Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master." If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also."  As Christians, we are called to do things differently, and not to be ashamed when others question us.  Some people may see things as acceptable that we don't.  It's okay to take a stand - no matter what people might think.  Because, inevitably, you'll learn that...

Lesson #3: No matter how weird you are, you will still have genuine, honest-to-goodness friends who love you!  What a bunch of zanies the Muppets are!  They are wacky individuals with their own talents and styles, but they're held together by one small frog who sees the potential in all of them, and who loves them enough to prove it by being there for them!  Paul called both individuals and the young church bodies his "dear friends" in almost all of his letters to them.  Although he was eagerly trying to correct their wrongs and help them become more mature Christians, he didn't write these letters as though lecturing spoiled children; he wrote to lovingly discipline and improve them...just as anyone would want to see a good friend reach his or her full potential.  Paul had friends.  And Paul was a weird one.  Zealous Pharisee one day, born-again Jesus freak the next.  Trust me.  If Paul had friends who loved him, so do you!  And if you can't seem to find any, remember: Jesus is always on your side!

Lesson #4: Integrity is important.  Know what I love most about Kermit?  It's not his wicked banjo-playing abilities or his fashion sense.  It's his committment to integrity.  Although he is never afraid to change his approach to make himself heard (that is a whole lesson in itself!), one thing Kermit always holds on to is his sense of what is right, and what is important.  Thanks, little green dude, for reminding us that, when things get tough, the one thing we can never run away from is our own character.  So we'd better make the most of it!  In Proverbs 10:9, there's a short and sweet way of putting it: "Whoever walks in integrity walks securely, but whoever takes crooked paths will be found out."

Lesson #5: Always have a song in your heart.  On occassion, you may need to share it!  The roads of life get bumpy.  Bad things happen.  Sometimes, really bad things.  But if you're always ready with encouragement, you can help ease someone's bad day.  And, the cool thing is, sowing those seeds of kindness has a way of coming back to you.  Some call it karma...but I call it blessing.  There's a simple principle that leads us to believe that, when we plant apple seeds, we get apple trees.  Orange seeds give us orange trees.  When we plant kindness and encouragement, we do reap it.  It doesn't always show up when we think it should, but I truly believe that it all comes back to us.  Besides, life is just more fun with a soundtrack - even if only you can hear it!