Last year, I blogged about my experience using Sharpies to decorate mugs and other ceramics. I used a series of Sharpie and other brand permanent markers and none of them worked well enough for me to spend any amount of time and effort on something useful for me or as a gift. I had previous experience with some other products designed for ceramics, and wanted to see what else was available. I’ve got some excellent results to report!
This fall, you can’t turn around in a grocery store without running into some sort of seasonal pumpkin-flavored product. Admittedly, we are enjoying our fair share of pumpkin products, like Trader Joe’s pumpkin ravioli, numerous pumpkin pancake mixes, Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Granola cereal, Pumpkin Spice M&M’s, Pepperidge Farms’ Pumpkin Swirl bread, Thomas’ pumpkin spice bagels spread with a thick layer of Trader Joe’s pumpkin butter…those are just some of our favorites. But what interests me most is what to do with those pie pumpkins in the farmer’s market/CSA box that is of a more savory nature than sweet.
Tonight’s version of a pumpkin dinner is a derivative of the Creamy Chicken & Pumpkin Pasta from taste.com.au. Since I can’t just make a recipe as-written, I always adapt it. Sometimes it’s adapted for speed, sometimes to lighten it, sometimes because I don’t have a particular ingredient, and sometimes just because I’m contrary. This time it’s because I’m reducing the fat. I’ve “found” a new (to me) way of cooking chicken breast so it tastes great and has a lovely moist, tender texture, yet uses no added fat. Continue reading
I wish I’d have taken a picture of last night’s dinner before I started eating it. I had no idea how good it was. But my hubby and son both really, really liked it, so I’ll post the recipe. Next time I make it, I’ll add a picture.
Dinner was inspired by the fresh lobster ravioli that my family and I love at Trader Joe’s, then other items gathered while wandering around Trader Joe’s. Of course, this will work just fine with regular tomatoes and fresh asparagus, though the orange cherry tomatoes are sooooo sweet!
Tablespoon or less of olive oil
1 pound/quart of Mixed Medley Cherry Tomatoes (minus a cup or so for snacking)
Half of a 12oz package of frozen asparagus spears (frozen was so much cheaper than fresh and it was still tasty)
3 cloves garlic,
1/2 cup water
1 tsp lobster bouillon (or chicken, vegetable, or omit)
1 splash dry sherry (or two splashes)
1-2 tsp tomato paste
1 Tbsp real bacon bits
2 – 9 oz. packages of Trader Joe’s Lobster Ravioli
Start the water boiling for the ravioli.
In a skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the tomatoes and stir frequently for a few minutes.
Meanwhile, if using frozen asparagus, defrost in the microwave (add water to a dish, cook on high for 2 minutes). Cut into bite-sized pieces.
When the tomatoes begin to burst, add asparagus. Attempt to use a garlic press to add the garlic straight to the skillet. Settle for largish masses of mashed garlic. Mash the garlic with the spatula to further smash into smaller pieces. Inhale the lovely smell of the garlic. (Warning: this will attract hungry people to the kitchen!). Stir well.
The goal is to have all the tomatoes burst open and their liquid yumminess makes some sauce. Needing more sauce than that, add some water, the bouillon, a splash of sherry, a squeeze of tomato paste from a tube, and the bacon bits. Keep stirring occasionally to ensure that those tomatoes burst .
Now is probably a good time to put the ravioli in the water. It takes about 4 minutes to cook them. Keep stirring the sauce as it cooks down a bit. Add more water if it gets too dry.
Drain the ravioli. Put the ravioli on a plate and top with the sauce. Serve with rosemary focaccia (also found at Trader Joe’s) and some dipping oil. Serves 3.
I’ve found lobster bouillon at specialty stores. It’s not organic, so Whole Foods won’t order it. Southern Season in Chapel Hill carries it, and it’s available online. I keep it on hand to make the copycat recipe for Chi Chi’s Seafood Enchiladas, where it really makes a difference to recreate the flavor of the restaurant dish (which is good, since the restaurant chain is now out of business). For this dish, if you can’t find it, I’m sure that chicken or vegetable flavors would work well.
As far as bacon bits, buy the real bacon bits, not the “bacon flavored” ones (unless, of course, you need a non-pork option). I always keep a package on hand, because I have several recipes that need 3 strips of bacon. It’s much easier to use 1 Tbsp of bacon bits/pieces for 30 calories than to fry up the whole package of bacon for three strips and deal with the bacon grease. And I save all those calories by not eating the rest of the cooked bacon that should have gone to another recipe! The resealable package keeps nicely in the fridge for the next recipe, too.
The ENTIRE recipe of sauce (minus the ravioli, bread, and dipping oil) has 408 calories and 18g of fat. You can drop that to 288 calories and 4.5g of fat if you eliminate the olive oil (substitute a bit more water). Now, divide that by 2 or 3 people, and you have a really healthy, delicious sauce. I’ve added it to the SparkRecipe.com site that has a recipe calculator. You can view nutrition as well as a nice, printable format here.
In Part I, I chronicled my beloved little dishwasher as it burst into flames on June 29, then took almost a week to determine that it couldn’t be fixed; Part II discussed the process of shopping for and deciding on a new one. According to the confirmation, it should be delivered 10 days later, on July 15. Hand washing dishes for two weeks isn’t so bad, is it?
It’s summer, so we can grill out to save on cleanup, right? Yeah, unless it’s the wettest summer on record! We used paper plates, I made as many one-pot or grilled meals as possible, and kept track of our glasses and mugs to reuse as much as possible during the day. But some things, like the sheer number of sports water bottles that we use due to the three of us working out so often, were very hard to cut down. I got through it, though, and found that the old dishwasher made a fine drying rack.
On Wednesday the 10th, the manufacturer called. Why the manufacturer? Apparently they and the big box store we bought it from have a dedicated line and use that to inform people about the subcontractor for delivery and installation. The call was about the delivery and installation that was scheduled for Monday. But instead of telling me when they’d be out to deliver it, they said that “the reason for our call today is to let you know that due to unforeseen circumstances there is been a late change in your appliances delivery date,” and we’d receive a phone call with the new date within 24 hours. The next phone call informed me that the date was changed to Friday the 19th and to expect another phone call 24 hours prior to the time they’d come out.
Postponed to the 19th? I have to wait FIVE MORE DAYS? Nooooooo!
Not only did I have to wait, but on Friday, I had several things to do. I had my favorite exercise class at noon, and I had to go pick up my daughter’s first anniversary cake from the baker (daughter lives 4.5 hours west of here and she and her hubby wouldn’t be in town in time to pick it up). I needed to call the baker on Thursday to tell her when I’d be out to pick up the cake. It’s a bit of a drive, so I needed to plan on at least an hour for this. No problem, the installers will call me on Thursday, right?
More hand washing dishes. [Insert Jeopardy theme song here.] More putting off making dinners that require a number of dishes for preparation or serving. *sigh* More fingernails breaking and very dry skin on my hands. More eating out, just to avoid washing dishes!
Thursday: Waiting for a Phone Call
I carried around the phone to ensure that I don’t miss the call from the installers. I didn’t go to the grocery so as to ensure getting that phone call in order to have time to plan for and call the cake baker. I put everything on hold so I could get that *@$# phone call. Finally, at 3:30, I was unable to wait any longer and I called the number they left to find out what’s going on.
The chirpy person who took my call gathered my information. Following some script, he told me that they’d be out tomorrow (yeah, that IS what I stated) then assured me that I would get a phone call 24 hours prior to them coming out. “Clearly not,” I said, “unless they’re coming out after 4:00 tomorrow!” Begrudgingly, he looked it up and determined that they’d be here between 11:00 and 3:00. Cool…that trashes the whole darn day. No exercise class for me, and I hope that works for the cake baker.
I called the baker and told her about the dishwasher. She was wonderfully empathetic, and said that she had just finished frosting and needed about 20 more minutes to finish the decorating. She suggested that the 11:00-3:00 delivery time frame guarantees that they’d be there at 3:30 tomorrow, so why didn’t I just come over and get it now? YAY! That would make life MUCH easier! (If you’re in the Triangle in NC and you need a wedding cake, Cinda (of Cinda’s Creative Cakes is AWESOME! Not only is her customer service FIRST RATE, but her cakes are both gorgeous and TASTY!)
Friday Morning — Delivery Day!
The phone rang at 8:15am. If it’s ok with me, the installers can be here in about 40 minutes. What? OK…I had planned on doing a few things first (like emptying the dishwasher and the cabinet under the sink to access the water shutoff, not to mention taking a shower!), but OK, whatever. At least I’ll get my day back!
I got everything done (minus the shower) just in time. The guy was talkative and very glad that we could accommodate them getting here early. He hoped the other customers would be able to do so, too.
I showed him the old dishwasher and he immediately crawled under the sink to turn off the water. He sat right back up and showed me his wet hands (kind of like a toddler who had made a mess) and said I had a leak. Apparently, the valve is bad and he couldn’t install the dishwasher. He carefully explained that while the valve worked when fully on and fully off, he couldn’t take on the liability if it leaked after he installed the new one. He couldn’t touch it. Not even if I signed a waiver. We went through a series of scenarios…what if I disconnect it and they take the old one and simply leave the new one? Nope, can’t touch it. He called his boss while I called my husband. Nope, he says, he can’t touch it.
OK, what about leaving the new one without taking the old one? Nope. REALLY? Well…he finally said he could do that. He and his buddy grudgingly went out to get the dishwasher and brought it in. You’d have thought they just carried an elephant into the house. I signed the paperwork and they were gone.
My son, who witnessed the whole thing, couldn’t believe how little work they wanted to do. He felt that they just wanted to be done for the day.
Fixing the Valve
I called my husband to update him on this latest twist. We decided that replacing a valve is not a DIY project. I called the plumbing company we used a few years ago and described the problem, that the valve leaks only when not fully off or on which caused the installer not to install the dishwasher. He sighed and said that’s the symptom of an old valve, not a faulty valve, and should never be a reason not to install (it sounds like he gets a number of these calls, and he was frustrated). It’d be $90 for the service call, and about $15 for the new valve. He’d send someone out in about an hour and a half.
Great. Now I get to wait longer. Glad I got the cake picked up, and there goes my exercise class.
As promised, the plumber shows up about an hour later. I tell him what’s going on, and he casually strolls to the sink and disappears under the sink with a wrench while listening to me continue on about the details. About 72 seconds later — before I finished the details — he stands up and says that it’s fixed. It was simply a loose nut! I just paid $90 for him to tighten a nut?! The plumber correctly identified which big box store we got the dishwasher from, noting that he gets a lot of calls just like this, which is frustrating for the customer. [An aside: he said that it's fine to buy dishwashers from the big box stores, but either install it ourselves or pay him to do it.] Despite spending $90 to have him tighten a nut, he was a very prompt, pleasant, knowledgeable, and informative guy. I’ll definitely call Cary Plumbing again.
I called the delivery hotline back and explained the situation, noting that the delivery team said they’d have a lot of down time today. They couldn’t tell me, but if I called another number, it connects to someone else that could. That number could tell me that the next available time was Tuesday. TUESDAY? I told the whole story again – supposed to be delivered last Monday, THEY changed it to Friday, THEIR installer incorrectly had me spend $90 to tighten a nut, and now they can’t come out for another FOUR days? “Yes ma’am,” she chirped. Fighting back what I really want to say, I tersely inform her we won’t be needing further installation services. Could she please ensure that the $38 installation fee and the $19.99 dishwasher installation kit charges are refunded to me? No, she can’t do that, but if I call another number, they can help me.
I call the other number. No, they can’t help me quite yet because the installer hasn’t yet completed the work order in the system. But if I call back Monday… I cut her off at that point, reiterating the story, and that I have paid for the installation kit with the parts needed to install but it wasn’t left with the dishwasher, and now I’m going to have to go out and buy another one! She was very understanding, and said that if I could give her my email address, she’d send me a $25 gift card for my troubles and I could then use that to purchase the kit. I should have it in 2-3 hours. She was very friendly, got my email address, and told me that she’ll make a note to look at this on Monday and ensure the credits went through.
I spent the rest of the afternoon checking on my email so I could go get the kit. About 5 hours later, we went to the other big box store, since I had no gift card in my inbox. And it was $5 cheaper there.
Saturday: DIY Dishwasher Installation
My husband and son spent quite a bit of time on Saturday installing it. Someone who does this for a living wouldn’t have had any trouble, but for someone who doesn’t do this often, it takes a while to thread the cables and hoses and level the thing. It’s not hard, just tedious and full of trial and error. But by Saturday afternoon, I had a brand new dishwasher that worked! YAY! And I also have the old one that doesn’t work in the middle of the kitchen.
I was able to load a sink full of dishes into the dishwasher. It was quiet and I was happy that I had a new dishwasher.
About That Thing in My Kitchen, Not to Mention the Refund and Gift Card…
Having maneuvered around the mass in my kitchen all weekend, on Monday I called back again to ask them to come pick the old one up – after all, free removal was one of the reasons why we bought the dishwasher where we did. They could come get it on Wednesday. Oh, OK, I can deal with it in my kitchen for another few days, as long as we don’t have to carry it down the stairs, put it in the truck and drive it to the dump.
Another Tuesday spent waiting to find out when I could expect them on Wednesday. The answer: between 2:30 and 6:30pm. Not believing that, I freed up the whole day to ensure I wouldn’t miss it. I should have gone to my noon exercise class, as I got the phone call at 2:00pm, and they freed up the floorspace in my kitchen by 2:30. Finally, something that went as promised!
But I still didn’t have the gift card, nor was my credit card credited with the nearly sixty dollars for the installation parts and service. Yet another phone call to find out why. The very nice lady was very helpful. First, she got somebody from the local store on the line so I could give her the credit card number to credit. The person from the local store took my email address to email me the receipt and would mail me the paper copy. Once we finished with the local store, she processed the emailing of the gift card.
I received the gift card within a few hours. Yay. Wish I’d have had that to go purchase the installation kit last Friday, but whatever…we’ll have another reason to spend money there. But the credit to my credit card? Two days later, I’m wondering who I gave my credit card number to, as I had no credit on my account, no emailed receipt, and no paper receipt. Finally, five days after I gave my credit card number to them, the refund appeared on my card (a total of 12 days after it was delivered!). An additional four days later, the paper receipt managed to crawl the three miles from the store to my mailbox (never got it by email).
I can’t believe the level of effort it takes to purchase a dishwasher and get it installed.
As I detailed in my previous post, my beloved little dishwasher burst into flames and was beyond repair. It was time to buy a new one.
Dishwashers have changed in 13 years. They’ve got new-fangled ways of drying dishes (“condensation drying”), new finishes like stainless steel and a shiny version of battleship gray, fancy touchscreen displays, and displays that are hidden when the dishwasher is closed to give a nice clean look (marred only by the large logo badge on the bottom).
So perhaps the newest feature that is abundantly available on all of them are “tall tubs,” meaning that the taller tubs allow for more room on the top rack to place tall mugs and even plates. It does seem quite seductive to be able to put serving bowls and plates on the top rack, though I really never needed to do that with my old machine.
But have you noticed that almost every retailer displays the dishwashers on a 6” platform? Sure, it makes it easier to peer into them to see all those fancy feature. One of the problems with the tall tubs is that when the door is open, the lower rack is much, much closer to the floor. Elevating the dishwasher makes it seem to be the same height as the old dishwasher, hiding the fact that you’ll now be doing hamstring stretches and toe touches for every plate and utensil you put into the bottom rack. Continue reading
Sometimes there are sagas so incredulous, you just can’t make this stuff up. The saga of my dishwasher is one of them.
It starts with how the dishwasher died.
I loved my little Maytag dishwasher. What a workhorse! When we got it 13 years ago, it was a fully featured, water saving marvel. It had a countdown timer, a pot scrubber option, fully adjustable racks, and a delay start. It was much less noisy than its predecessor, a nondescript machine that failed shortly after we moved into the house. While the shiny, new Maytag was quieter, it still was noisy enough that I used the delay start feature. If I was wide awake at 2am, the gentle sounds of the dishwasher could lull me back to sleep (despite the fact that my bedroom is on the floor above and on the other end of the house). Continue reading
Sometimes there’s a serendipitous weekend where things don’t go as you planned, but it was an terrific weekend anyway. I had hoped that it would be a lovely weekend outside. Alas, it was fairly cool outside. [Note to Mother Nature: it’s May. In this part of the world, most of us would like to wear shorts now!] Not a great weekend to work outdoors in the garden, nor ride bikes, or even run. Nope, this was an inside weekend.
I had been wanting to try some new recipes. Since the weather wasn’t a distraction, I decided this weekend would be a great weekend to try making either some chicken sausage or some sort of ravioli.
You know that children’s book, “If You Give A Moose A Muffin?” The one where they give a moose a muffin, and he needs jam, and a knife, and he gets all distracted and messes up the whole house before finally eating the muffin? Wait ‘til you hear how I got from chicken sausage to ravioli… Continue reading
Mmmm…it’s definitely fall! Well, at least many of the days recently, it’s fall here in NC. It seems to vacillate between hot and humid and cool and crisp, if it’s not cool and rainy (like today). The apple crop is at the Farmer’s Market and is in my wonderful Produce Box. I absolutely adore a crisp Gala apple! The others are nice, but I love eating a small, Gala apple for a snack (several times a day, if I can!).
In my recent Produce Box, we had some of the most gorgeous apples. But their flesh is softer than I care to eat for a snack, and these things were monsterously large! The Produce Box newsletter had a number of recipes and suggestions to cook apples. Poking around the Internet, I ran across applesauce. Applesauce! Perfect! But, isn’t that an all day ordeal that takes all day, bushels of apples, and makes 632 quarts? Nope. It’s sooooo easy. And to make a delicious dessert for 2-3, it couldn’t be easier!
I dislike paying full price for an item. I love getting a bargain. I love using my (expensive) little smart phone (and its accompanying expensive little service plan) to help me get an even bigger bargain.
Amazon has two apps that help save a lot of money. The first is Amazon Mobile (the icon on the left) and the other is Amazon Price Check (the icon on the right). The Amazon Mobile app lets shop, check prices, check out, and more, where the Price Check app simply checks prices and shows the product details (including reviews). Continue reading
It’s all over Pinterest…that you can draw on ceramics with a Sharpie and bake at 350°F for 30 minutes and it’s permanent. I’ve used a number of special glass paints available at the local craft store, but wouldn’t it be awesome if Sharpies work? Somehow, I really doubted that it would be that easy, otherwise, why would those specialized products like Pebeo Vitrea and Porcelaine exist? But I just had to try this. And I’ve tried it twice now, mostly because my first pass had a spelling error (never start these projects late at night!).
I had a leftover tile from a previous ceramic painting experiment. It’s a cheap tile (around $1) from the local home improvement store. I rounded up a number of brands and colors of permanent markers. It’s actually embarrassing how many different kinds and colors I have, but I kept it to the ones that were in my kitchen.