Sunday, April 9, 2017

We tried Blue Apron, and the verdict is...

So many meal service choices out there these days! Scot and I joke about them, and he's often said, "Are we going to try Blue Bucket?" Just sounds funny -- we ran that joke for quite some time in the car one afternoon.

It just so happened that a friend and ex-neighbor who uses Blue Apron had some "first box free" offers to share. We'd considered trying a meal service, mainly to broaden our horizons and get out of a very carb-heavy rut. I was happy to be able to give it a try.

When the first box arrived, the unboxing left me feeling... it's hard to describe, perhaps just a little TOO first-world. Spoiled is perhaps the word. Removing the contents from the silver thermal bubble bag results in a small pile of groceries, compared to the size of the box. At the bottom are two large, reusable freezer packs.

Items are separately packaged and marked. Every item is separate. Lots of little thin plastic bags... like the one that contained one single scallion.

Small components, everything from vinegars to one-ounce bits of butter to small bags of shred cheese, etc. come in a little bag titled "nick nacks," separated for each recipe.

The produce was without exception, picture perfect. Items are well packed, with instructions and info.

This first box had three recipes that were light and incorporated no meat.

I admit that looking at solely the cost of the materials... I estimated at most $16-20 in actual groceries and considering the packaging waste, I was not a fan and didn't anticipate staying signed on. (Other reviews I read since came to similar cost estimates.)

It arrived on Thursday, and the cost plus the packaging drove my decision to cancel. Logged into the blueapron.com site, easily found how to cancel and carried that out... but received a confirmation stating that my membership would end after the next shipment; it was too late to cancel for my next delivery. Be aware of this with their "free box." If you don't cancel essentially the day you get the box... you'll be getting another one and paying for it.

I was able to work this out quickly with a very friendly customer service rep. Our next box contained three recipes that are light but meat based.

But then...

I entered the kitchen and set about fixing the Mixed Mushroom Bucattini with Collard Greens. This was on a Saturday afternoon, but it was refreshing to just walk in, follow directions, and end up with a great meal. And, one that had me eating a hearty green that I would never, frankly, have chosen myself. The thought of having a few of those types of no-thought-needed healthy meals in the fridge on weeknights... I could appreciate that.

The dish was DELISH, and I learned a thing or two along the way (using the water added to dried porchini mushrooms in a sauce; plus using some retained pasta cooking water to thin the sauce).

We're going to consider maybe doing a box or two a month, to give us some new recipes to try, and some breaks of the mind for healthier dinners than what we default to when left to our own devices.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

How to be a good citizen.

In talking with friends, the topic of what to do -- and how -- to participate in building the world they want comes up. 

Here's what has developed as my "plan." It's really been a growth of actions that started in my mid 20's. I've never been an activist type, honestly more content to share my opinions with my close knit group rather than put it out there in a meaningful way, so some of this was new to me, and took some learning and practice. Perhaps the results of that work might help someone else. Please add your favorite actions, tips, hints and tricks, too! 


  1. Support the causes you believe in, that align with your values. Give them money. ESPECIALLY if you've never donated before. Your $10 means a lot and makes a difference, especially if it's money you've never given before.

    Share the causes you believe in with others, to introduce others to them as well.

    Each month I'm donating to organizations that matter. Much more so than I used to. Donate what you can, even if it's just $5.

    Pick something new each month.

  2. Support the ACLU, sign up for their communications. Not only will they inform, but they can make communicating with your community easy. They organize a lot of helpful communication assistance tools. For instance, as HB2355 approached, they emailed out and provided an easy to complete form where you provided your information, and a personal message, and they sent it to the sheriff in your county for you, free or charge.
  3. Go to Countable.us and sign up for the newsletter, and download the app. They give summaries of legislation, news, and it pushes content about all level of legislative action, and most interesting to me state issues, including the actions of your representatives.

    It also simplifies communication with your representatives.
  4. Consume news from various sources. Be wary of sources that are one sided, or self-serving. Journalism matters -- you NEED to know FACTS on situations, most importantly when you do not like them, or it makes you uncomfortable.

    I have my list. Check out a February 2017 piece by Forbes that talks about what good journalism is, how it's measured, and who practices it. Pick a few from the list and make them your standards.

    10 Journalism Brands Where You Find Real Facts Rather Than Alternative Facts - Forbes
    http://www.forbes.com/sites/berlinschoolofcreativeleadership/2017/02/01/10-journalism-brands-where-you-will-find-real-facts-rather-than-alternative-facts/#32da36cce9b

  5. Get involved. Get out there and show up. Whether it's volunteering at an organization you believe in, getting more involved in your community, or gathering with others in peaceful demonstration. SHOWING UP says something. It's invigorating to find yourself amongst your people, and it fuels others as well.

    Civic connection more broadly helps people weather difficulties in their lives. You are part of something larger than yourself. And those connections -- often amongst people of different backgrounds and situations -- can help you understand the world better.
  6. Don't be a knee-jerk reactionary. Understanding complex issues ALWAYS takes more than two seconds glancing at a sensationalist headline. Get used to that.

    And pay very close attention to stories from any source. Be critical of what is written. Look not only at what is written, but what is left out? When the headlines scream that the feds are slashing funding for a program, if it doesn't detail how that org gets its funding, and just how much they are talking about -- go find out. You HAVE TO in order to understand the real issue.

  7. Learn. Many of us didn't pay attention in civics/government class, or if we did we forgot it over the years.


Monday, February 20, 2017

Solo's big adventure.

Scot had an errand to run to Seattle, delivering Petwerks products to Rabbit Meadows, and not enough time to do it. Pick me, me, me I volunteered! This was the perfect opportunity for Solo and I to get away for a bit of adventure.

This adventure provided a few firsts for Solo! He's an accomplished traveler, and a very agreeable travel buddy at that. He's chill for hours in the car. For this trip, the cargo area of the Jeep was packed for the drive up, so I wasn't able to use a crate for safety as usual on a long trip. Last weekend, I'd picked up a "seatbelt" at Mud Bay (a great PNW pet supply chain), and it works perfectly when attached to his harness. Jackson had been the first to try it out, as he buzzed around southern Portland parts and others with me last weekend as I finished up the Snowflakes and Stitches Shop Hop.

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The main benefit of this device is to keep him in the seat, and in the carin case of an accident. Heaven forbid that should ever happen. It provides a number of more common benefits, too; it gives him just enough length to get some air time at the window, without any danger of leaping; it also makes for stress free hops in and out of the car, because his seatbelt keeps him tethered to his seat. He's not a dog to cause problems in either situation.

But... you never know. And it's those things that worry me.

This is a trip I've done many, many times over the years. Whether diving, visiting friends, or delivering items, I've run this route at every time of the day and week--and sometimes even in the same day. Ugh. Thankfully, we were doing a leisurely overnight trip this time.

Solo enjoyed walks at every rest area between Salem and Seattle--the first one is always a let down as he clearly is saying, "This is the WORST dog park, ever. Totally not worth the long drive." Our plan was to walk-on the ferry from Edmonds to Kingston. We missed the ferry by about 3 minutes! It was a blessing, though, as the weather was amazing, and we spent a short time walking around the beautiful waterfront, soaking up some sun.

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Solo takes to new adventures gladly, as long as Mom is near. When he gets worried, he looks to me, and I assure him that he's got this! The ferry experience was filled with new sights, sounds and smells, but also with lots of people fawning all over him. I'm pretty sure overall, he was a big fan.

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His ears are his mood barometer. Ears up, he's relaxed and alert. Ears pulled back a bit and he's pensive, a little worried. We stood on the ferry deck, just after walking on, talking to a worker who was lavishing attention on him. His head turned from side to side on quizical concentration as he watched cars drive under him onto the ferry. He was amazed. And confused. The look on his face as he turned to me as the engines started, and again as the ferry began to shake and move softened as I smiled at him, told him he was a good boy, and that everything was fine. His look always changes to, "Ok, if you say so," and then he went back to watching the world go by.

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And there on the walkway off the ferry to meet us were Nancy and Nugget!

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So handsome in all the photos I've seen of him online, he's even more so in the flesh. At first meeting, he has a gravitas that Solo did not inherit, but after spending a little time with him that afternoon, I saw a lot of similarities in behavior, including the trouble-making behaviors of eliciting jealousy and grandstanding. So funny to see that. He, and the rest of Nancy's amazing crew, were a wonderful mix of personalities. After initial greetings, I had to laugh as quite unexpectedly, Nugget FLUNG himself up into my arms, and looked down at all the others with a little growl that said, "Haha! Lookit me! I have the special!"

Solo does this all. the. time. "Look at me! I'm being a dick, flaunting that I have whatever it is you all want!" So that's where he gets it!

I loved taking a spot on the couch and rotating through all of them until finally they settled, and it was Drift who laid his head in my lap and hung out with me for a nice long scritch session.

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Dinner was an amazing Italian (savory) crepe at J'aime Les Crepes (which I reviewed in 2008). Then a ride back over. Dogs are allowed up on the upper deck, which has basic seating under wind protection. With the sun down it was chilly but we were fine out of the wind. The stairs to the second level are steep, but Solo charged right up them. We were the only people up top, which gave us an uncomplicated descent, which he was much more concerned about. He would only go down in the narrow space between my legs and the railing, and he would stay right even with me. The steps gave ME a bit of vertigo, I can only imagine what that looked like from his perspective. What a brave little guy.

We found some basic lodging nearby. I hadn't made plans, thinking maybe I'd do something fancy downtown, but it was getting late, and I had plans to be up and our early, so there was no point in wasting money on anything fancy. La Quinta has a great pet policy, so we snatched up a room in Lynnewood.

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Up the next morning, I Yelp'd for best country fried steak around me, and found Stricker's Cafe almost right next door. Ordered a carry out of their country fried steak (gravy on the side), which came with three eggs and hashbrowns. As I always get eggs over hard, it was easy to share those with Solo. What's a trip without some treats, huh?

When in the Seattle area, I also check in with Solo's breeder, Mark and his partner Léo when possible. Lately my luck has been good, and I've been buzzing through on days when they are having puppy parties or other meetings that make a visit not only easy, but maybe even helpful. I enjoy watching budding corgi enthusiasts play with puppies and ask questions, and never fail to learn something new myself. As they impress upon people that when you buy one of their dogs, you get their "lifetime" commitment for product support, I can be a testament to that!

Solo usually interacts a bit with the other dogs, then heads for higher ground upon the ottoman, or on the back of the chair, either way usually at my shoulder. I want him to be confident and independent, but have to admit it melts my heart when he's a Mama's Boy! And if there are a lot of puppies around, he just can't handle it. LOL.

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Again, another dose of lovely corgi chaos, where I marvel at the variety in these wonderful creatures. And, usually fall in love with one or two more. (This time it was Luna. Lovely, sweet Luna. She tugged at my heart for some reason. *sigh*)

None of my pics from there are any good; it's so hard to get a shot of all that fast moving activity.

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A little time away is always good. While some would dread the drive up and back so quickly, the road is something I usually welcome. Some time to think, some beautiful things to see in my beloved Oregon and surrounding areas. Boredom is impossible with a never ending stream of podcasts, and along the way there's always opportunity for little adventures, whether it's stopping to check out a new park, or try something tasty.

Now, back to the real world!

Friday, November 4, 2016

Crock pot apple butter: easy and FABULOUS.


My brother-in-law gave us about 12 lbs of Fuji apples. Having canned applesauce off of our own little harvest from our dwarf tree, what would we do with them? I've always loved apple butter; a simple sweet and deeply flavorful spiced treat on buttered toasts or biscuits. Having never made it, the plethora of easy crock pot apple butter recipes called to me.

Reviewing all that were out there, I made some adjustments, and... oh man. This is so easy and delicious. So. Good. Most recipes had waaaaaay too much sugar. (One said 4 cups of sugar for 5.5 lbs of apples. WTF!?) I made one batch, and I'm making another. YUMMMMM.

Amy's Crock Pot Apple Butter

6 lbs apples (I used Fuji; use a sweet, crisp variety or a mix of apple varieties)
1 cup sugar (if you use tart apples, you may need to use more)
3 Tbsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground clove
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp salt

1. Use an apple cutter to core and cut apples.
2. Run apples through the food processor using a shredding disk. (Yes, with skin on!)
3. Stir sugar, spices and salt together in a small bowl.
4. Put shredded apples into crock pot.
5. Toss the sugar/spice/salt mixture together with the shredded apples in the crock pot.
6. Set crock pot to high, cook for four hours, stirring now and then.
7. Puree the hot apple mixture, and return it to the crock pot. (I used a traditional blender; you could use a stick blender if you have a good one, or use the food processor again.)
8. Cook uncovered until thickened. (Lower temp to medium or low if your "high" setting looks like it might scorch the edge of the reducing apple butter.

You can jar and water bath process this for ten minutes if you want to preserve for longer; otherwise you can keep this in the fridge for a few weeks. Not that it'll last that long...

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Lazy Oregon Sundays.

Sunday is the day to play with dogs, watch cooking shows, and do a little cooking ourselves.

Alton Brown's wing method -- steam, chill, roast and toss -- has hung around as a craving for a while. Today is the day! Apply the same technique to chicken legs, and you get more finger licking hot wing flavor with less of the gross parts of wings (bones, and... things). Mmmm can't wait!!

http://www.foodnetwork.ca/shows/alton-webisodes/video/shortform/on-the-wings-of-chickens/video.html?v=583777347675

A number of weeks ago, we bought new living room furniture; the ends of the sofa and the chair are recliners. The dogs seem certain that they are really chairs with electric fold out dog beds. They love to lie across the recliner footrest. Spoiled babies.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Plums, beautifully complex plums!

I'd never really had a plum before a few years ago, when I took some from a stranger. Literally. Scot and I were out in the side yard doing some landscaping, when a man pulled up to the sidewalk in his pickup. He said, "Hey. You like plums?" and swung a plastic grocery sack of fruit out his open window.

Scot and I looked at each other like, "Whuuuuuaaa?" We walked up to the pickup, and started talking to the guy. Turns out, he used to live in our house in the 70's! He used to mow lawns in the neighborhood for extra money. Even after moving away he continued to do this, and one older lady that lives down the side street remained a customer. She likes plums, and he had brought some along that day. She wasn't home, however, and he didn't want to leave them in case she didn't return soon.

I took those plums and made my first batch of plum jam. Turns out, I LOVE PLUMS. The next year, we found ourselves at Camp Adair during mid-summer, and picked plums from a grove of trees there. Soon after, we put in our little dwarf orchard in the side yard, including two plum trees. Yesterday we picked six pounds off the small tree.

The fruit are the most beautiful color. The taste is an amazing sweet, juicy flesh with a sharp snap to the tart skin. Nature's Sweet Tart! So good!

These were halved, pitted, and tossed into the crock pot. They are well underway to making Slow Cooker Plum Butter. OMGCAN'TWAITTOEATIT.


Monday, July 11, 2016

Oregon Summer

Raspberries. My favorite color and flavor of summer. Some individually frozen, like a stoppage of time, to thaw in the clench of winter for a teasing taste. Others preserved as jelly, which glitters like a jewel when opened and spread. One batch is a pleasingly tart almost-no-sugar recipe. Another is a half sugar recipe that is sweet as candy. 
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Also made this pork carnitas recipe this weekend. The house smelled so delicious. The result is flavorful, with a perfect texture. The spices were much more mellow than anticipated. This just means the pork can be used in a myriad of ways. Tacos with fixin's. Add some bbq sauce for bbq pork on a bun. Enchiladas with green chili. My favorite recipe for this now. Craaaazzy Good Carnitas.
But I wasn't done. Peach cake made with amazing fresh peaches. One of my favorite recipes from Americas Test Kitchen. Thankfully, I took this to a party and had plenty of help polishing it off.  
I cook as a form of therapy. 
 
I've been cooking a lot lately. 
 
 
 

Friday, March 4, 2016

Oh, San Diego.

After just a few days relaxing in Ocean Beach, one can see the allure. The area we've called home this week is SO Southern California -- laid back, easygoing, ocean loving. Certainly other areas of So Cal have different vibes, but our travels have taken us to places full of diversity and welcoming warmth. From both people, and the sun. Good god, the rays here are of a much higher power than those in the PNW. (We've been in the Gaslight district downtown, La Jolla, Escondido, and mostly Ocean Beach.)

Many different shapes, ages, ethnicities (well, at least compared to Salem, OR) and types of people doing their own thing, and not giving a damn about what you're doing. I haven't seen a hipster douchebag in days.

And everyone has a dog. Everyone. We thought Oregon was the dog state. Nope. Not even close. We wondered if it was a municipal requirement that everyone have a dog!

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Spring is on my mind: Sunday cardmaking.

With a few 60+ and sunny degree days behind us already, spring is here. Cherry trees are in full bloom (again, quite early this year), and the world is beginning to look lush and verdant again.

This certainly fueled my decisions today as I created a whole patch of sunflowers for a few cards. Making more elements at one time, and doing cards in sets is the key to actually getting some done! 

No real fancy techniques to speak of. Just pulled out some odd elements (such as wood veneer samples that served as a "table top" for the jar when cut into strips) and played with my usual favorites: Lawn Fawn stamps and Copic markers. 



Products used:
Lawn Fawn Products:
- Stamps and Lawn Cut Dies: summertime charm |  our friendship grows | scripty thanks
- Cards: walnut notecards
Copic markers (assorted Sketch and Classic)


Sunday, January 17, 2016

Fluffy Cardigan Corgi Grooming

My beautiful Solo (formally Indium's Element of Surprise) has a thick undercoat that gets wooly quickly, with a soft and shiny topcoat that gleams in the sun. He's such a handsome dog. We anticipated that grooming would be a handful.

But honestly, with the right tools, it hasn't been bad at all. He enjoys being groomed, and cooperates fairly well. It took me a while to get the right tools, but with them, it's a breeze.

The key is a greyhound comb. Isabel has groomed our dogs ever since we moved to Salem. While no one's a show dog, there's a deeply satisfying magic to taking three dirty dogs to the groomer, coming home and doing a super clean on the house, and then picking them up and upon return, living like civilized people. For at least a few days.

She helped me chose the right tools. When she first showed me a greyhound comb, I thought she was joking. "That'll never go through his fur!" I explained.

"It should," she said, with just the right amount of gentle shaming. I had been brushing him with a slicker style brush. She told me it doesn't get deep enough, and just glides over the wooly stuff underneath, resulting in... well, a really wooly undercoat.

This scary looking thing is a Greyhound comb.
His baby fine fur on his head behind the ears can start to tangle after just a few days. I added Show Shine Argan Oil Gel to the toolkit. Put a few drops on any tangle and it's out in seconds. Afterwards I spread a little bit in my hands and just run my hands over his coat (laughing, as I do the same with another argan oil product on my own hair in the morning).

Start with a slicker to get things going in the right direction. Next go over with the greyhound comb. Treat treat treat along the way.

Then, of course, I just must groom Jackson in a similar fashion. Problem is, the boy has almost no  coat at all, so it's really just a play of passing the tools over his back a few times with lavish praise and compliments, a few treats, and then we're done and everyone is happy.

One of my goals for 2016 was to do better with battling the never ending challenge of dog hair. So far , doing better.