Tuesday, July 26, 2011

R & R?


We're both exhausted.  We slept 11.5 hours last night, feel like crap, and don't really want to do anything even though there's so much we have to do still.  We got on the road Wednesday, arrived in Atlanta Thursday, and it's been pretty much non-stop ever since. We were supposed to go to Benning today to handle some necessary paperwork, but we woke up after 1300, so the day was pretty much shot. We've only just finished coffee and breakfast.  Looks like that'll have to get delegated to Friday, because Wednesday and Thursday are already booked.

We were supposed to have a cookout so people we didn't have time to visit could come say hi and hang out, but I'm thinking that may have been overly ambitious. :-(  We're just wiped out, and still have a ton to do.  

We did get to see Mrs. Terri, Katie, B's sister and her kids, and my dad and sisters, so far.  I don't know how well adding pictures works with this mobile application I've got, but there's a picture of the absolutely wonderful housewarming presents I've received. The Borax tin is full of clothes pins, and the towels are flour sack.  Not in the picture (cause it's on my bedside table cause I've been reading in it every night) is a book called The Housewife's Handbook.  There's a vintage apron, too!  Mrs. Terri is psychic. I just know it. I don't think she could've found anything more perfect!  The butterfly in the needlework hoop and the bowl were gifts from B's sister. They were both done by their dad before he passed away. The bowl is hand lathed, and it's so beautiful. 

We also got to see Ms. Shirley and a bunch of people at her Sunday dinner. That was fun :-D.

We are going to need R&R from this R&R, though.  Whew....

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Watermelon Popsicles a la Magic Bullet

While I was at the commissary last week, there was a little old lady in the produce section.  She told me I'd be sorry if I didn't get a melon.  "They're that sweet!"  I haven't had watermelon since I was at Ms. Terri's for lunch earlier this summer, and that was the only watermelon I've had in years.  I couldn't resist.  It's been sitting in our fridge for several days, and I kept asking B if he wanted some.  B kept saying he wasn't in the mood, and apparently watermelon is a mood food for him.  I didn't want it to get over ripe and waste, so I sliced it up the other day.  
 It's so pretty!  And ohmygoodness sweet!  Best melon I've had in AGES!  That lady was right, and if I see her again when I go shopping next time, I'm gonna have to give her a kiss!  But, I can't eat it all by myself before it starts to get super grainy.  I've chopped it, and put some in the freezer.
I also used the handy dandy Magic Bullet (Thanks for the promo, Katie.  You're right, it is just about a do-it-all kitchen tool!)  It came with a juicer sieve, and so I plopped in my watermelon, and poured up some popsicles.  They probably should've had a bit a sugar added to be truly popsicle-ey, but I didn't want to load them up with sugar.  I haven't had one yet, but If they taste like the melon, they're gonna be AWESOME!

The popsicle forms were 2 for $3 at the dollar general, and I'm hoping they'll see a good bit of use.  If nothing else, when fruit starts to get a little past ripe, I can make a popsicle or two to help with our sweet teeth.  Ice cream and sodas have got to stop.

"Difficult" foods Gyoza Dumplings or Potstickers

You know... those foods that look like they might be difficult.  They really aren't always that difficult.

Anyone here ever had gyoza, or potsticker dumplings as they're sometimes called?  Those little half-moon shaped steamed dumplings with veggies and meat in them that they serve at Japanese restaurants?

They look like they might be difficult, huh?  They're not.  And they're CHEAP!

Here's what you need:

  • 1/4 lb ground meat.  Typically these are made with pork, but I've used chicken and it tastes just fine.  
  • 2 green onions - chopped
  • 4-6 leaves of cabbage (the dark green outer leaves preferrably).  People rip these off all the time, and just leave them laying in the cabbage bin.  These leaves have the most nutritional value, and cook up best for this particular recipe. 
  • 2-ish cloves of garlic - minced
  • 2 Tbsp soy sauce or Tamari
  • about 1/4 tsp each ground ginger, salt and pepper (though I usually skip the salt since the Tamari or soy generally adds plenty of salt
  • 1 tsp or so of sugar (sounds weird, but it works I promise)
  • I also like to add several healthy shakes of good hot pepper.  Scotch Bonnet is a particular favorite. Anything with solid fire in it, just not a whole lot of it. 
  • Sesame oil (or other vegetable oil, but sesame oil tastes *perfect* with this.  Any oil you cook with lends its own flavor, and sesame tastes way better than plain vegetable oil.  Olive oil just doesn't taste right at all.)
  • Gyoza wrappers (wonton wrappers will also work).  These are usually available at your local Asian market.  They also make an appearance in the health nut section of Kroger and very rarely Walmart.  DO NOT BE FOOLED!!!  These "no animal byproduct" health conscious substitutes are GARBAGE!  They disintegrate when you cook them, and where they don't disintegrate, they turn into a plasticy type of glass that can cut leather.  

If you're feeling really industrious, just make your own.  They're about $2-$3 dollars for a package of 200 wrappers at the Asian market.  So, they're not expensive.   But if you have to drive three hours to find some, then you may as well have just thrown the gas money away, because all they are is flour and water.  Ding!  That's it.  Totally complicated.

  • 2c All Purpose Flour - Sifted
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • several cups of boiling water
  • a damp cloth
  • patience!!!!!

Above, you'll see everything I needed for actually prepping the gyoza, aside from the filling ingredients.  If you look at my rolling pin, you'll see that there are two thick rubber bands around each end.  This lets me be completely inattentive while rolling the gyoza out.  The rubber bands are the same thickness I wanted my pastry.  They keep my dough even and prevent me from rolling them too thin.  This is very useful!  Of course, it only works if whatever you're trying to roll out is no wider than your rolling pin, but gyoza wrappers are only 3-4 inches in diameter. The handy dandy little dumpling press there was a really cheap investment.  It came in a set of four different sizes for $6.  They're perfect for perogi, gyoza, pies, and all sorts of other little filled goodies.  They speed the process up remarkably.  I have stuffed and folded dumplings by hand, and believe me, these little cheap plastic hoojies make a difference!

Sift two cups of all-purpose flour into a bowl.  Mix in your salt.

 Slowly stir in boiling water by half cups until your dough forms a ball.  The original recipe called for 1c water.  I used nearly 2c down here in central Texas.  You might need more or less, so play with it.

 Cover the bowl with a wet cloth, and let it rest for 1 hour.  While you're waiting, skip down to the filling.
 Now the truly tedious part begins.  It's not hard, but it's time consuming.  Flour your work surface.  You'll see I have a biscuit cutter in the picture.  If you want pretty round wrappers, that could help.  But my biscuit cutter turned out to be a little too small, so I didn't use it.  Turn your dough out and knead flour into it until it's smooth.  About 5 minutes is really plenty.  You just want it elastic and workable.
 Roll your dough into a log (this makes it easier to divide)
 And divide it into 40 slices, as equal as you can.  Use a really sharp knife, or just pull it into wads.  Whatever works.  Then roll these out into about 3 inch circles.  Use LOTS of flour!  You want the surface to be dry and powdery, not sticky.
This is not what gyoza wrappers from the store look like.  They would be laughed at in Japan, but I'm not in Japan.  I am not entering Dim Sum contests for beautiful dumplings, and my husband ate all of them, so let them be ugly.  Taste is more important ;-)  And just a note, don't do like I did and stack them all in one stack.  The weight of the ones above end up squishing the bottom ones together too much, and I couldn't peel them apart.  Also, the amount of dough this makes is enough for two batches of the filling.  So, either double the filling, or half the dough if you want it to come out somewhat even. 

 Above you see everything you'll need for gyoza filling.  If you bought your wrappers, your recipe would start here.  Less is more in Asian cooking.  The flavors of the foods are more important than masking the ingredients with spices. The cabbage leaves are finely chopped or shredded.  I use kitchen scissors for both the green onions and the cabbage.  I find it is safer for me than using knives... I cut myself.  A  lot.  And using a grater for just a few cabbage leaves is a pain in the butt.  I guess I could use the blender, but I was worried about turning them into mush.  You don't want them demolished, just in small pieces.  Some people even let the shredded cabbage rest overnight, then press it between towels to remove more moisture so their gyoza won't fall apart.  I don't do that, and while occasionally they fall apart, they still taste good.

Anyway, throw all this in a bowl, and mush mush mush mush mush.  Use your hands!  Don't be prissy and use a food processor.  You'll destroy the integrity of the veggies.  Squish it between your fingers (take your rings off ladies.  Dried ground meat is not fun to scrub out of settings or engraving).  Roll it into balls and throw it back in the bowl.  Get everything completely covered in mushed up animal bits, because that's what's going to hold the filling together into a nice little lump and keep it from oozing out of your dumplings as they cook.  If you're making your wrappers, you should have killed an hour by now, so go check on your dough.  If not, go scrub your nails and wait a little longer :-P
If your wrappers are made, or you bought them from the store, keep going.

 My dumpling press!  I LOVE it.  Folding these little boogers by hand takes a long time.  This is about a teaspoon of filling in a 3 inch wrapper.  Don't use much more than a teaspoon.  Not a small eating spoon, an actual measuring teaspoon.  The little cereal spoon is too big.
 Moisten the edges of the wrappers, and squish them together.  If you skip the water, your dumplings won't stay shut.  I usually keep a small bowl of water on the counter and just dip my fingers in it and rub a thin layer of water around half the circle.
 Drizzle just a little sesame oil in a skillet and heat it up on high.  You want it good and hot.

 Put your dumplings in the skillet in a single layer.  Don't overlap them, because they'll stick together.  Let them cook on the high heat until the bottoms are browned, then turn them down quick.

Pour *just* enough water into the skillet to cover the bottom, then clamp a lid on it.  Let them steam at low med/low heat until all the water is evaporated.  This is tricky, actually.  You want them to cook fast enough that the dumplings don't start to fall apart, but not so hot that you burn them.  The good thing is meat cooks pretty quick, and you're really just steaming the dumplings.  You don't need to worry too much about them being raw, unless you just steam them WAY too hot.

Lastly, if you want it, dipping sauce.  It's a little rice vinegar, a little soy or tamari, a little sesame oil, and some hot hot pepper.  You can use hot pepper oil, too, but if you stir it good the flakes work fine.  I mix it really well and drizzle it over my dumplings instead of dipping it.  You want equal parts - ish of the soy and vinegar, and just a little thin layer of oil, then a healthy sprinkling of pepper.  I know that's not exact, but it's really a matter of taste.

Leftover Makeovers a deux

So the oatmeal thingies that I made were pretty darn good right out of the oven.  Not so great after a couple days.  The peanut butter just doesn't work out well.  They turn kinda gross, honestly.  The oil seeps out and they're just too ... slimy (?) for my taste.  I don't like the way they feel.

I may try this again next time I have leftover oatmeal, and the addition of a little flour might be enough to soak up that excess oil, or maybe reduce the amount of peanut butter I use in them.

I just wanted to let y'all know the extended outcome of these.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Taking in Strays

We've adopted a soldier.  Or maybe he adopted us.  Either way, he's awful adorable.  He's not even old enough to buy beer, yet, but he's old enough to go to war.  Isn't that screwed up?  He's one of the 11Bs that was with B over in Afghanistan, and he's so ridiculously comical.  I was laughing so hard at him last night that I was literally crying from it.  I referred to him in an earlier post as Pup.  When he first came over to be introduced to me the day he came home, he was saying how much nicer the apartment is than barracks, and how he'd be our dog, sleep in the back yard, and bark when strangers came too close.  So he's my Puppy.  He says he's waiting for his chew toy.  Don't think I won't give him one if I can find out when his birthday is!  lol!

He's crude, and crass, and completely inappropriate in a way that is extremely comical and endearing.  But at the same time, he's polite, considerate, helpful, and sweet.  We've been bullying him into dinner whenever he's over around the time I start to cook (though there really isn't much bullying involved truthfully.  He's a young male.  That means he's chronically hungry :-P).  He said "I feel like such a s***bag right now.  I'm eating all your food, taking up floor space, and just being a general nuisance."  B and I both argued that he wasn't, because we like having him around.  He's fun. There's also not much in the way of a kitchen in single soldier's quarters.  They have one, but it's not very user friendly, and besides there aren't that many 19-20 year old guys that know much about cooking.  There are some, but it's not a norm.  So, he decided to chip in on groceries, and come eat with us regularly.  I guess eventually, maybe, we might boot him out for some quiet time to ourselves, but he's really a considerate kid.  We usually call him to tell him to bring his butt home for dinner, or let him know we're cooking and see if he wants to come over.  Heck, he washes his dishes off, helps put up leftovers, and takes out the trash.  No one asked him to, he just volunteered.  B said he's going to have to step up his game, because he can't have his boys coming over and making him look bad lol.

Pup's folks are all out in Arizona, too.  So he doesn't really have anyone around here to make sure he eats right, and I think he's lonely.

He also reminds me a lot of my youngest brother, only with a little more piss and vinegar added in.

I also think he's good for B to have around.  B gets restless, and he starts to let the perceived pile of things we have to do weigh on him.  He mulls them around and around in his head until they seem overwhelming and he has no idea where to start.  Pup's a great distraction.  We spend entirely too much time laughing to worry about much, and the distraction lets B reorganize his head some without actually having to think about reorganizing.

He's a good kid.  I think I'll keep him.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Leftover Makeovers

I've done my best, since we've been in our apartment, to cook most of our meals.  Cooking isn't exact, though, and there are nearly always *some* leftovers.  Sad little remnants that don't amount to much lingering forlornly in the bottom of the fridge.

When I cooked asparagus and bacon bits, I saved the drippings and the bits of cracklings from where I'd crumbled off the lean meat.  The drippings, of course, will not go to waste.  That's good stuff!  I have a grease jar next to the stove where that all goes, so I can get to it to swipe into a skillet to fry eggs, or brown chicken, or whatever happens to sound yummy with a bit of bacon flavor.  

We had some grits leftover from breakfast one morning.

We had a cup or two of leftover mashed potatoes lingering from the 4th. 

There was about 1/2 c beaten egg left over from the schnitzel I made last night.

And there were a couple cups of cooked plain oatmeal and the accompanying chopped fruit sitting around from a hurried breakfast one morning when B was running late and didn't have time to eat all of his breakfast. I had cooked enough for both of us, but ended up eating his hastily abandoned half-bowl and wound up with way more oats than mouths to eat it.  

The leftover potatoes and bacon cracklings became potato cakes.  One cup got flour and a bit of egg added to it, bacon cracklings, and cheese.  The other cup was used up this morning, and received the last of the cracklings, a chopped green onion, and the leftover beaten egg.   You basically just throw everything together, mix well, and cook like you would a pancake or hoe cake.  It was something my Gramma used to do with leftover potatoes, and it always seemed to be a treat to me since we didn't get them often.  

The leftover oatmeal became breakfast bites.  
There was about 2c oatmeal (plain cooked whole old fashioned oats)
and about 1/2 c chopped strawberries and blueberries (mixed together) leftover.
So I added 2c peanut butter
2 eggs
2/3 c sugar
1/2 c raisins
And an assortment of ginger, cinnamon, and cloves.  I didn't measure the spices.  I just mixed them in till I liked the taste when I got some on my finger :-P.

I baked some in mini muffin cups, and some in regular sized muffin cups.  The mini muffins turned out the best.  The larger muffins didn't retain their consistency as well, because the peanut butter was so oily.  I think next time, I'll either reduce the amount of peanut butter, or maybe add some flour, salt, and soda to give them more of a bread-like consistency.  

They are not dessert sweet.  They're more like a quick-grab breakfast or a snack.  B said they're the bomb.  I don't know about that, but they're pretty tasty.  They need some tweaking, but as a leftover makeover, they turned out pretty good.  The amount ended up making 24 mini muffins, and 6 regular muffins.  I think for future reference, I'll stick to mini muffins, cookies, or maybe try bars.  The good thing about muffins, though, is if you use plain paper cups (not waxed or foil), the cups absorb some of the oil that cooks out of the peanut butter.  I also cooled them on paper towels to absorb even more of the oil.  (I don't have all my stuff here, yet, so my t-shirt towels are not available.  It does irk me a little bit that I feel like I'm tossing pennies in the trash can every time I throw away a paper towel, though.)  I took pictures of these, but unfortunately, I'm still working on a very limited internet connection, and the estimated time for me to download the picture from my email is 3 hours.  Maybe I'll edit this post later with pics lol.

I also had some grapes, blueberries, and cherries that were not going to last much longer, so I chopped them up, put a few teaspoons of sugar over them, and simmered them into a compote (Thanks Sam for the idea a la your Blueberry Pancakes!  Terri's kids are awesomesauce.  They're as full of great ideas as their mom.)  That makes a really yummy addition to plain oatmeal that is a bit healthier than adding in butter, sugar, syrups, etc.  I also had some milk I'd frozen into cubes, and I added the fruit compote and milk ice cubes to the blender and made something of a milk shake (though not as satisfyingly sweet as I wanted.  My sweet tooth was not assuaged.)  

The leftover grits ended up just getting more cheese thrown in and reheated on the stove for a small pre-bedtime snack.  I've been having trouble with my sugar dropping in the mornings, so I figured I should try to pay better attention and either not eat so early, or have a snack before bed.  The grits worked well for that.  

But now it's lunch time, and I'm feeling peckish.  There's still some leftover fruit in there... I'm thinking smoothies :-)

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Fourth of July

One of B's buddies came home on the 4th.  He came over to the apartment and hung out nearly all day.  Poor kid was exhausted, and wound up passing out on the floor for four or five hours.  We just let him sleep.  He woke up just in time for the fireworks display at 2130.  B, me, Pup, and two of our neighbors (Sarge and Ash) sat up on the roof to watch the show.  It was good :-)  Everything about it was good.  We had good folks over.  I had good food cooking on the stove.  Pup had some good songs playing on his cell phone.  And we had a good view of the entire show right from the roof of our great little place.

I made fried chicken, mashed potatoes, and sauteed asparagus.  B likes asparagus!  I'm still in shock!!  It's green!  He eats nearly nothing green.  *insert fanfare*  There is hope!!  LOL

I know I've been rather remiss in my posts this past few weeks.  Honestly, there just hasn't been time.  Once I got the go word, I was gone like a shot from a cannon.  Once we got here, there was plenty to do immediately.  Now, even though things have slowed down, there's still work to be done, and the internet connection I can snag from the housing office a block away is kind of weak.  I'm going to walk down there some time and try to play catch up on all the things I've been slacking on around the interwebs, but that'll be for a day that I don't have much to do around the apartment.  

Speaking of which, I haven't told you about it, yet!  It's really a great little apartment.  I say little.  It's really not that little.  I think it's bigger than the last house I lived in.  It's three floors, for one thing.  Two of the floors are dedicated living area, and then there's a basement utility area for the water heater, laundry, and breaker box.  The main floor has three entrances.  One directly into the kitchen, one into a small foyer that has a half bath and a good sized closet, and one that goes out to the back yard.  There's a living area, dining nook, and a nice little kitchen with a PANTRY!!!!  *grins* Ms. Terri, you know I squealed when I saw that!  It's not a big pantry, rather narrow, but deeper than it is wide.  It's got several levels of shelves, and it's right by the fridge and across from the stove, so it's in a really convenient location in the kitchen.  I've got cabinets and drawers a plenty for all my kitchen goodies since none of the dedicated kitchen area has to go to dry storage.  The stove is a gas stove, which is awesome to me, because I learned to cook on a gas stove, and have been using a gas stove for the past year.  I've always been more comfortable cooking on gas than electric.  That's also good because the only bill we'll have any fiscal responsibility for is the electric.  If we go over our ration, we have to pay the difference.  So I can cook up a storm and not worry about running up the bill (as long as I remember to turn the thermostat up before I start storming).  

The basement is primarily unused empty space.  Sock some shelves up down there, and the whole thing could be a pantry of sorts.  It's something like 500 sq ft down there, give or take some, with only the hot water heater and washer/dryer taking up floor space.  There's plenty of lighting down there, dim at the moment but replace the bulbs with something else, and it'd be plenty of room for all kinds of possibilities. 

The upstairs has two bedrooms and a spare room, each with their own closets.  There' s a linen closet in the landing, and a full bath.  The foyer, bathrooms, and kitchen are all tiled with that practically indestructible stuff they use in government housing.  The rest of the house is honest to gods hardwood floors.  They squeak happily when we walk through the house.  I like it.  

The door from the kitchen opens up into an enclosed patio area.  It's not covered, but walled on all sides with four foot walls.  Along the wall that faces the street, there's a privet hedge.  The backyard is privacy fenced with a gate.  All the apartments have back gates, so it's super easy to go visit your neighbors.  There's a little storage shed out there, too.  I tell ya, if I ever fill all the nooks and crannies in this place, I'll have more stuff than I'll ever have any need for.  There's a 12x12 patio area in the back yard and a shade tree.  

It turns out the Great Place is a great place so far.  B still has things that he takes issue with, but that's to be expected.  This is his work place, and everyone has something about their job that they complain about.  It'd be weird if he didn't.  But, I think his misgivings about the place were twined up with his complaints about his job.  So far, I'm honestly tickled to death.  I didn't raise my expectations too high, because I've seen family housing on multiple installations, so I figured I had a good idea of what to expect.  This apartment exceeds that.  The people we've talked to, community wise, seem to be really nice.  We hadn't even gotten started hauling anything over from the hotel, and one of our neighbors came over to introduce himself, tell us when trash day is, and give us a standing invitation to come hang out any time.  He says they spend most evenings out in the yard with the neighbors on the other side of us.  

I think it's going to be good here.  I think we can make it great here.  Grow where you're planted, right?  Or, to quote Terminator "There is no fate but what we make."

Operation Clean Laundry

Mission Objective:  get all that damned moon dust out of my soldier's clothes.


  • No laundry facilities currently available. 
  • No means of transportation.
  • A total lack of motivation or desire to go to a laundromat due to expenditure, inconvenience, and just plain distaste. 

  • A bucket
  • 550 cord
  • Laundry soap

Status:  Success

All his clothes are clean, except uniforms he won't be needing until they decide if he's got to turn them in and some civvies that he won't be immediately needing.

We found a guy who sells refurbished used appliances, and got a washer and dryer both for $235.  That's over 50% off what we would pay for a pair of new machines, assuming the new machines were  display models with no box and no warranty and so qualified for a display discount.  I think I did pretty good.

I don't plan to use the dryer other than in winter.  For one, the clothes I put out on a line today dried *fast*.  Central Texas is apparently a huge laundry dryer... hot dry winds, hot direct sun, and almost no clouds to speak of.  Within an hour, the t-shirts were dry enough to start blowing away, which is why they ended up spread out on the grass.