Thursday Thoughts

No Griping Zone
I promise that today I won’t do any complaining about the cold weather. It is October in Colorado. The temperatures are about what they should be, after all. And my hair stylist broke it to me the other day that it is supposed to be an El Nino year, meaning lots of snow. I, however, will be in AZ for most of it.

Snuggle Up
Having promised I won’t complain about the snow, I will restrict myself only to telling you about the most wonderful winter item I sell on my Etsy page……

These wonderful blankets are made out of the softest, warmest chenille blanket yarn that you can imagine. They are lap-sized, perfect for covering up as you watch television or read a book. The blankets are 48 inches long and 39 inches wide. The assortment of yarn colors is large. I sell them for $65. If you’re interested, see the link above to my Nana’s Whimsies Shop.

A Different Color
Our seemingly endless construction project continues. We have a painter who is working diligently on painting most of our ceilings and walls. You know, those walls that I said I couldn’t live with 26 years ago when we moved into our Denver house. The man is amazing, and bit by bit, the house is looking better. At the same time, Bill is doing some of the finishing touches such as baseboards. I am seeing a light at the end of the construction tunnel.

Smile, You’re On Candid Camera
The grandkids’ school photos are dribbling into Nana. Kaiya and Mylee always take a good photo…..

Cole’s photo makes me laugh. He looks like he’s grimacing, but I am assured that the look on his face is simply his version of saying cheese!…..

And perhaps cutest of all is this photo of Micah. I know he’s saying cheese, but there is enough mischief in his eyes to know that it was all he could do to sit still…..

Keep those school photos coming, Family. I love them most of all.

Ciao!

Cold Feet

The weather is still cold, and I’m still crabby. I can practically hear you all now collectively saying, “Oh, for the love of all that is holy and good, will the woman get over the fact that the nighttime temperatures dropped into the 30s.” But I finally figured out that the reason I’m crabby actually has little to do with the weather. I’m crabby because, well, I’m simply a grouch. I’m getting a head start on the Get-Off-My-Lawn-Old-Person Crabbiness. And I’m pretty good at it. I learned everything I know from my brother who can do grumpiness better than anyone, especially for a pretty pleasant guy. It’s a gift.

As I pondered my crabbiness as it relates to cold weather, I realized that while Bill dislikes cold weather even more than I, he has a valid reason. Cold weather exacerbates his PD symptoms. In cold weather, his hands get so cold, they could cool down a pitcher of warm lemonade.

I, on the other hand, dislike cold weather primarily for two reasons: coats and shoes.

I’ve never been a big fan of shoes. Most of my grandkids are the same way. They deposit their shoes in the entryway as soon as they come in the house. They would leave them off until they go home except for the fact that if their visit involves outdoor activities, I insist they wear shoes outside because we have lots of wasp visitors. Wasps as in the mean-spirited stinging insects, not wasps as in Princeton grads who summer in the Hamptons.

My grandmother used to tell me a story about the time she took me to the five and dime store a couple of blocks from the bakery when I was 5 or 6 years old. When we left her apartment above the bakery, I was wearing shoes. When we returned, I was not. We trudged back to the store and went aisle by aisle, finally finding the shoes which I had apparently discarded. I have no recollection of that day, but I also have no doubt that the story is true. I still often wish I could discard my shoes while shopping.

Take yesterday’s trip to Target. I was forced to wear regular close-toed, rubber-bottomed shoes as there were snow flurries on and off all day long. Rubber-bottomed shoes and I don’t get along. After a couple of episodes of my shoes sticking to the floor as I walked, nearly sending me flying, I finally began carefully lifting my feet as I took a step. I resembled a dressage horse…..

Alas, the weather required me to wear something other than my flip flops.

As for coats, I hate them. HATE them. Winter coats truly make me feel as though I’m in a strait jacket. Trying to get in and out of the car is bad enough, but the simple act of putting on a seat belt is like wrestling Hulk Hogan. So frankly, I mostly don’t wear a coat except under the most dire conditions. Like 10 degrees below zero.

It won’t be long before we leave for AZ, where I still often don’t wear shoes. There’s no snow, but there’s scorpions! They make me even crankier than cold weather.

Stand By Me

It’s not tipping I believe in. It’s overtipping. – Steve Martin, My Blue Heaven

I must start by reminding you that I warned you yesterday that the cold weather was liable to make me grumpy. This perhaps explains — no, justfies — why I’m taking a stand.

Yesterday, Bill and I went to Tokyo Joe’s for lunch. We haven’t been for a while, but their chicken and rice bowl sounded good on a chilly day. I placed my order and handed the cashier my credit card. The setup was all fancy-dancy, you know, where you sign your name with your finger on an iPad. But before you do that, there’s a spot where you are to add your tip.

And that’s the point where I took my stand. I didn’t tip. I didn’t overtip. I didn’t undertip. I simply didn’t tip. Because all she did was take my order, and frankly, didn’t smile even once as she did that.

Now is the point where I will tell you that I am a good tipper. While the fact that customers have to subsidize restaurant servers’ wages via tipping annoys me, I’m also aware that if that practice went away, restaurant owners would be required to pay their servers better and that cost would be passed on to consumers. So I tip. And frankly, no matter the service, I almost always tip at least 20 percent. But that’s when a human being is taking my order, placing the order with the kitchen, bringing me my food, filling and refilling my water glass, listening to my complaints if necessary, and so forth.

Not just standing at a counter, punching in my order, and taking my payment.

So I’m taking a stand: no more tipping counter help. Haters, don’t hate.

The practice of tipping counter help sort of snuck up on consumers. A few months ago I was at a bakery near our house that specializes in cinnamon rolls. There a sign on the counter that said: If you think we did a good job, leave us a tip.

No. Nope. Nein. Your paycheck requires that you do a good job.

I grew up working at my dad’s bakery. I gave every person really exceptional service. I would take their order, place it in a bag, ring up the order, take the money, and give the necessary change, all with a smile and concluding with a thank you. I didn’t have to move from behind the counter. I didn’t have to refill coffee cups. I simply put donuts in a bag. No tip.

Restaurant servers get paid terribly low wages because they earn tips. I didn’t ask the cashier about her paycheck, but I’m pretty sure it is more than the base salary of the server that works at the Village Inn down the street.

Wow. Now that I’ve gotten that off my chest, I feel a lot better. I’ll just wait to hear from all of my family members and friends in the food service business. Probably no birthday gifts this year.

Oh, and by the way: I also have stopped contributing money at places where the cashier asks, “Would you like to donate money to the Give a Kid a Break Fund?” Why? Because I would rather give money directly to a nonprofit instead of giving Target or Whole Foods or Walmart the tax break and the decision about where the money goes, thereby allowing them to boast “Benny’s Big Box donated a million dollars last year to charity.”

Have a nice day. And you’d better hope that the weather warms up.

 

I’m Swiss But the Steak Ain’t

As I’ve mentioned in the past, Pinterest frequently decides what it thinks I’m interested in, and sends suggestions to me. The suggestions are often inexplicable and confusing. For a while, for example, I was getting pin after pin about how to build a chicken coop. I don’t want to build a chicken coop. I also don’t want to style my hair in an angled bob, mostly because I’d have to grow my hair for two to three years in order to cut it in such a style. I’d sooner shave my head.

Lately, however, I have been getting numerous suggested pins for Swiss steak. And for once, Pinterest got it right.

I frankly had forgotten all about Swiss steak. It was on Mom’s regular meal rotation. I recall liking it very much, especially if I could dip the meat into mashed potatoes. The tomatoes provided a tangy gravy that I loved. But she must not have had a recipe, because it certainly wasn’t in her recipe box upon which I rely to make her dishes, and peruse frequently.

Though I hadn’t given it a single thought as a child, I began wondering why it was called Swiss steak. My paternal grandparents immigrated to the U.S. from Switzerland, and I don’t recall Grammie making Swiss steak. I’ve visited many German restaurants in my life, and nope, no Swiss steak at any of them.

So I googled it. It appears no one really knows how it got its name, though most agree it didn’t originate in Switzerland. The best suggestion I read was that it came from the word swissing, which means pounding fabric to make it flat. Since Swiss steak involves tenderized (or pounded) meat, it makes a certain degree of sense. Well, a teeny-tiny bit of sense.

The weather has turned cold in Colorado, making it finally feel like fall. If I sound sentimental, just wait. Some weather forecasters are predicting snow, and then I will go back to just being grumpy.

But cold weather makes me in the mood for comfort food. You know, like Swiss steak. When the house is chilly and it’s even colder outside, running the oven for a few hours in order to braise a tough piece of meat into submission is a great idea.

So is making bread, which I did on Saturday. Breadmaking is a challenge to me. I have never been quite satisfied with my result. Until Saturday, that is. My white bread turned out perfectly. The outside was crusty and the inside was soft, with a perfect crumb. It had a nice yeasty, slightly sweet flavor, thanks to the addition of honey. (And don’t worry, I didn’t waste a drop of Dee’s Bees Honey on my bread; instead, I bought inexpensive store brand honey. I will put Dee’s Bees Honey ON the bread instead of IN the bread.)…..

And, by the way, despite the fall weather, I didn’t make a single pumpkin spice anything. But I did bake some raspberry cream cheese danish, thanks to store-bought puff pastry…..

By the way, at the end of the day, out of all of the numerous Swiss steak recipes fed to me by Pinterest, I chose to use a recipe by Alton Brown, as it seemed as close to my mother’s recipe as I could recall…..

 Swiss Steak

Ingredients
4 cube steaks
2 t. salt
1 t. black pepper
3/4 c. flour
1/4 c. vegetable oil
1 large onion, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 stalks celery, chopped
1 T. tomato paste
1 14.5 oz. can diced tomatoes
1 t. smoked paprika
1 t. dried oregano
1 T. worcestershire sauce

Process
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.

Season the steaks on both sides with the salt and pepper. Place the flour into a pie pan. Dredge the pieces of meat on both sides in the flour mixture.

Add enough  vegetable oil to just cover the bottom of a Dutch oven set over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, add the steaks to the pan. Cook until golden brown on both sides, approximately 2 minutes per side. Remove the steaks to a plate and repeat until all of the steaks have been browned.

Remove the last steaks from the pot and add the onions, garlic, and celery. Saute for 1 to 2 minutes. Add the tomato paste and stir to combine. Next add the tomatoes, paprika, oregano, Worcestershire sauce and beef broth and stir to combine. Return the meat to the pot, submerging it in the liquid. Cover the pot and place it in the oven on the middle rack. Cook for 1 1/2 to 2 hours or until the meat is tender and falling apart.

Nana’s Notes: This is basically Alton Brown’s version of Swiss steak. I used cube steaks that have already been tenderized, whereas he used bottom round and tenderized it himself, mostly because he is Alton Brown. I only used 2 cube steaks, but left everything else the same. It took 2 hours. We ate it over mashed potatoes. Yum. Welcome to cold-weather cooking!

Friday Book Whimsy: Bone on Bone

I don’t normally review books that are part of a series because oftentimes, if you haven’t read the series, you won’t understand what’s going on in this particular book.

I’m afraid this is true of Bone on Bone, by Julia Keller, but it doesn’t matter. Here’s why: If I can get just a couple of people to pick up the first book in this series –A Killing in the Hillsyou will be hooked.

The series takes place in a small town in West Virginia, not too far from Washington, D.C. Bell Elkins grew up in Acker’s Gap, and wanted nothing more than to get away from her small hometown. She was the daughter of an abusive father, and her mother was dead. Her sister Shirley went to prison for killing her father as it was looking like he would begin sexually abusing her like he was already doing to Shirley.

Bell grows up in foster care, and eventually goes to college, and then law school. She marries and has a daughter. She has a good life as an attorney in a major D.C. law firm until she realizes she is called to go back home to Acker’s Gap. She does so, and then becomes district attorney, where she faces all of the problems in small towns everywhere, mostly drug abuse.

Bone on Bone is the seventh book in the series. I don’t want to give you a lot of background because so much happens in books 1-6. Suffice it to say that Bone on Bone finds Bell facing a new beginning in Acker’s Gap.

The town is still facing a drug abuse crises – primarily opioid abuse. It is up to Bell and the former deputy sheriff who was seriously injured in Book 6 to come face to face with this crisis that is threatening to ruin the town she loves so much.

The Bell Elkins series by Julia Keller is meaty and gritty. The stories ring true and the characters are flawed but interesting and full of heart.

I can’t recommend the series enough. It isn’t light-hearted reading, but it is story-telling with a heart.

Here is a link to the book.

Here is a link to the book.

Thursday Thoughts

Fancy Dancy
Bill and I were eating lunch the other day at a burger joint. As we awaited the arrival of our food, I noticed the ketchup bottle sitting on the table in front of me. Fancy Tomato Ketchup, the label proudly boasted. It occurred to me that I had noticed the word fancy on other ketchup bottles. What, I wondered, had to happen to ketchup to earn the word fancy on its label. I’ve never seen fancy mustard or fancy dill pickles. So when I got home, I looked it up. It turns out that the word fancy is given to ketchups with “higher tomato solid concentration.” I don’t know exactly what that means, but it seems the ketchup lobby had a lot of pull at some point in its existence…..

Pumpkinless
My faithful readers know that I annually, around this time of year, have my pumpkin spice rant. You might wonder why I haven’t expressed my frustration about All Things Pumpkin, and here it is October already. It might be that I am mellowing in my old age. However, I swear the pumpkin spice craze has peaked and is on its way down. I didn’t see one single bottle of pumpkin spice Pepto Bismol this year.

Now That’s Big
In Wednesday’s blog post, I mentioned that Maggie Faith had been to our house and had enjoyed rice krispie treats and an orange soda as her after school snack. Her mother commented that it didn’t take a lot of imagination to understand why she likes to come to Nana and Papa’s house after school, given the treats offered. She added that Maggie had told her that the rice krispie treats were “as big as her head.” I want to go on record as saying that the rice krispie treats were absolutely not as big as Magnolia’s head. They were considerably smaller. Papa’s fist, perhaps…..

Freshen Up
Starting this morning — perhaps even as you read this blog post — our painter will begin doing what he does best — painting. A large portion of our house will look shiny and new in a few days. When we bought the house, I told Bill, “I like the house, but I can’t live with this paint color.” Well, I did, for 26 years.

Batter Up
Sorry to all of my loved ones who are Cubs fans, but GO ROCKIES.

Time Flies

I believe that days go slow and years go fast
And every breath’s a gift, the first one to the last. – David Frasier, Ed Hill, Josh Kear

I love those particular lyrics from country artist Luke Bryan’s song Most People Are Good. I’m not certain I agree with his notion that most people are good, though I hope he’s right. But I certainly believe that days go slow and years go fast.

Yesterday I was making my almost-daily run to the grocery store. As I was leaving, I overheard my favorite cashier — a man who has worked there for probably 15 or 20 years and whose line I will choose any time it’s practical because he’s so darn nice — express surprise at the time of day.

“Can you believe that it’s already 10:30?” he asked a fellow employee. “I hope the rest of the day goes as quickly as this morning has gone.”

I remember very well having that type of joyful reaction when a workday seemed to fly by. It was one of the reasons I always preferred being terribly busy rather than terribly bored. I had instances of both when I was an employee. Time seems to go faster when you’re busy.

Anyone who has grown children understands that the years fly by. We can remember when our kids entered kindergarten, made their first communions (Court looked so cute in his little blue sport coat and probably hasn’t touched a rosary since that day)…..

…..received special awards, graduated from college, got married, all like it was yesterday. Which is interesting, of course, can I can barely remember what actually happened yesterday.

The point is that the years just fly by and before you know it, your kids are grown. You look in the mirror and you can hardly recognize the person looking back at you. It’s the one thing I tell mothers and fathers of newborns: even though they tire you out and can make you crazy, enjoy every single minute with your children.

Grandchildren duties have kept me busy the past few days. There is truly nothing that makes me happier than spending time with our grandkids. Time with them is precious, because I know that before the blink of an eye, babies…..

turn into this…..

Addie was the bell of the ball at her high school homecoming.

So I am happy to take Cole to school and pick him up. I get to be the first one to listen to his stories about school. I sat with my friend Connor during Circle Time! And taking care of Maggie Faith after school for a while makes my heart soar. She’s my Death in Paradise-watching buddy, and a fan of my rice krispie treats…..

Not much better than a rice krispie treat and an orange pop at Nana’s after school.

Enjoy every single day! Your babies will be having babies before you know it.