Saturday, August 30, 2008

Easiest lunch ever

Our refrigerator is woefully bare. We are completely out of sliced bread and milk, are down to two lonely slices of sandwich meat and half a container of dejected looking spinach.

I had plans to go to the grocery store, but that wasn't going to happen until the kiddo went down for his nap. While we were on our walk down to the park, it hit me. I could make beefburgers!

Growing up on a cattle farm meant we always had a good supply of meat in our freezer, including 5-10 pounds of ground beef in one-pound packages. It was always easy to grab one, thaw it out in the microwave and make something quick. That something quick was often beefburgers (you might know them better as sloppy joes).

The motley cast of characters:
- 1 lb ground beef
- ketchup
- yellow mustard
- minced onion
- garlic powder

And that's it.

Step one, brown your ground beef:

You'll probably want to drain it. The nice thing about this package was it was really lean, so most of the fat cooked off (and I didn't really feel like wrasseling hot grease into a tiny drinkable yogurt container - the nearest handy grease receptacle I could find.) Throw your minced onion in while it's cooking, too, so they get nice and soft. No set amount, just a good few shakes.

Next, squeeze in some ketchup. And by some I mean a lot.
You can always add more if you need. Stir it well.

Then, add some yellow mustard. Again, no set amount, just a good squeeze. You don't need as much mustard as you do ketchup.


Stir it well again. It should have a lovely orangeish hue at this point. Taste it and see if it needs more ketchup or mustard.

I decided this batch needed a bit more ketchup, mustard and minced onion, so I tossed some more in.
And mixed it well.

Then, place a few spoonfuls on a hamburger bun and you're ready to go.

You can top it with cheese and/or pickles, like I did. Or more ketchup if you're really daring (my dad does, he's a really live-on-the-edge kind of guy). And enjoy! They are kind of messy, so you'll probably need a fork or some chips to scoop up what falls out of the bun while you're eating. Or you can be really classy like I was today and just pick it up with your fingers.

I'm sure some of you are probably thinking "That's the most disgusting thing I've ever seen - ground beef, ketchup and mustard? Yick." And it is, kind of, but in a disgustingly tasty way. I just don't really think about what's actually in it while I'm eating. When you need quick and you don't have much else in the house, this does the trick.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Are you ready for some football?

Growing up in a small town, going to the local football games was just something you did on a Friday night. The team wasn't particularly good during my time in high school, but considering most of the fans/parents were people who had grown up in my hometown, they had a loyal backing.

I never really understood much about football until I finally asked my dad about the finer points of the game. I knew the obvious basics - when our team was on offense vs. defense, how many points a touchdown was vs. a field goal or a safety. But he explained about downs and rush vs. pass plays.

When I got to college, I attended almost every football game I could. My freshman year I had to because I was a member of the marching band. But even after I wasn't in the band, I went to the games. Ever since we were little, we were "encouraged" to cheer for our Alma Mater. (The hub calls it brainwashing, I call it being a loyal fan. :p) It didn't hurt that my parents had season tickets and them coming down for a game meant a free meal!

I learned a little more about the finer points of football through those years, but my knowledge really increased when I met the hub. It's hard not to glean information when your husband is a football fanatic (granted, he did spend a good 15 years playing in some sort of football league). From the end of August until the Superbowl, the TV is turned on to football on Thursdays, Saturdays, Sundays and Monday nights. And much of the time I will sit down and watch. Not all day, mind you, I have other things to do like laundry and soak in a 3-hour bath. And by soak in a 3-hour bath, I mean sit in the tub for 30 minutes before someone is yelling for something. Unless its naptime. Then I can get a good solid hour in.

The hub is especially happy because my office has a Fantasy Football league that I've participated in for the last 5 years. That means I actually *want* to watch NFL games - or at least the ones that have my players.

So I've learned why certain players wear certain numbers and the difference between the shotgun formation and the I formation (actually, I'm still kind of fuzzy on that one). At least he doesn't mind me asking all these annoying questions, usually during the middle of a game.

Football season officially started in our house last night with the opening game of my Alma Mater. We tromped the opponent, thankfully (nevermind the fact it was a DI-AA team). I just hope my team can continue the good streak. I'm not as optimistic as my dad, who believes our team can beat everyone, but I at least hope we can beat our in-state rival plus a few others. It's always nice to have bragging rights, especially on the side of the state we live on.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Worst Restaurant Experience Ever

[I apologize to my LJ friends who also read along in my blog who have already read this story]

My office does a Fantasy Football league every year, and every year we have our draft at the same local brewpub - Third Base Sports Bar and Brewery. (I would link, but I don't want to help them out any more than I already have. I wouldn't even mention the name, but it's hard to complain about a place and spread the word without naming them).

We've been to the place numerous times and have always had a decent experience WRT food and service. The hub goes there once a week for Friday lunches with a group of coworkers, and has done so for nearly the 10 years he's been at his company. Some days are better than others, natch, but for the most part it's been a nice place to eat.

So last night I texted him when the draft was wrapping up to see if he wanted me to bring some food home for supper. He said sure and gave me his order.

I wrote it down and gave it to our [somewhat absent] waitress around 6:50 pm.

Around 7:20, the hub texted and asked why it was taking so long. Around 7:50 (it's now been an hour since I put the order in) I asked to pay so I could just get up and leave thinking "oh, it can't be much longer now."

At around 8:10 a table in the same area (who had ordered after I had) were getting ready to leave. In fact, there were three tables who all ordered after I did that received their food at least 10-15 minutes before me. At that time I had to stand up and move around a bit because I was getting very uncomfortable. Remember, I'm 34 weeks pregnant and the hub and I have a tendency to grow rather large babes.

By 8:20 the hub and I had texted back and forth at least 20 times (thank goodness we recently switched to unlimited texting!) mostly about how long it was taking and how freaky the closing ceremonies to the Olympics were (in my defense, the sound was off on the TV in the brewpub, so I was watching this weird light show in mute).

I was getting very worked up at this point and finally around 8:30, the waitress came walking out with my order. I got up and met her halfway to the door, grabbed the bag and didn't even say anything to her. At that point, it had been an hour and 40 minutes from the time I placed the order until the time I actually received the order. A To Go order, nontheless. That is Ridiculous.

I was extremely upset because 1) I was hugely uncomfortable, 2) I needed to eat and 3) I wanted to get home - by that time I'd been there for 4 hours (the draft started at 4:30). I was so worked up that I flung the exterior door open to get out and ended up hitting some poor little girl who had just walked up to enter the restaurant. She was crying and the parents were shooting me dirty looks like "who are you evil lady who just injured our poor delicate flower." I felt so bad about that I ended up crying hysterically to the hub when I called him to say I was finally on my way home.

I was still so upset about it when I got home that I didn't even want to eat the stupid food I'd ordered. I don't even know if I want it tonight. I couldn't get to sleep until after midnight and then when I woke up around 3:30 for my obligatory middle-of-the-night pregnant bathroom break I couldn't get back to sleep for about another hour because I was still thinking about it.

At this point, there's not much we can do. I have the receipt because I already paid (and even gave the stupid waitress a tip - not a great one, but still) but because I'd already paid, I couldn't tell them I wasn't going to pay anymore. Two of the tables that had gotten their food asked what I was waiting for and they were all incredulous that it'd taken that long. The hub knows the brewmaster fairly well, so he's going to complain to him, but there's not really anything the brewmaster can do either. The place is owned by a group that has 5-6 other bars in different cities in the state (including three others in my city), but they're really only interested in whether or not the place makes money.

I worked as a waitress for more than 6 years in a few different types of restaurants. I know sometimes things are beyond the servers' control, but I also know that if my customers had to wait longer than expected, I was keeping them informed of the situation and would at least offer some sort of compensation. An hour and 40 minute wait is beyond all reasonable expectation for a To Go order and my waitress only talked to me when I flagged her down. The other tables had issues with waiting, too, but they all also got their food before I did.

So I'm doing what all consumers do and sharing my story of my horrible experience at Third Base Sports Bar & Brewery. If it warns even one potential customer away, that's better than nothing.

Friday, August 22, 2008

"Green" product rave

When I find a Green product I like, I'll try and remember to share it with you all. Maybe you'll end up loving it too.

In May, a LiveJournal Friend of mine set up a Mother's Day Swap with people from her Friend's list. The lovely and always entertaining Betsy had my name and she did a fabulous job sending me a fun care package full of goodies. In signing up for the swap, we had to list some ideas of items for the other person to get us, and one of mine was Green products. Betsy did an awesome job supplying me with a fat ton o' stuff from Burt's Bees.

I finally used up the last of my old shampoo and conditioner and had a chance to try out what she'd sent.

The shampoo is Burt's Bees Color Keeper Green Tea & Fennel Seed:

It's sodium laurel sulfate, paraben- and phathalate- (phalate? something like that. All I know is it's not good for you) free and smells lovely. It lathers different than regular shampoos becuse of the lack of additives, but I love the way it makes my hair feel. And it also makes it so shiny! I didn't know if I would like the Green Tea and Fennel combo, but it's surprisingly good. The green tea is a nice clean scent while the fennel adds just a bit of spice.

She also gave me this conditioner:
Burt's Bees Very Volumizing Pomegranate & Soy

I need all the help I can get in the volume department. I was not blessed with thick luxurious hair. No, it's rather limp and fine and boring. But this conditioner is like manna for hair. The pomegranate smells super yummy and the soy makes my hair feel so soft and silky. Even though I am in desperate need for a haircut and my ends are fried, this makes them feel like I was in the salon less than a week ago.

The best thing is I hardly have to use more than a quarter-sized amount of either the shampoo or conditioner, so these bottles will last me a long time.

I have some other products Betsy sent in my gift box I haven't had a chance to try out yet, but I'm sure they're just as good as these.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Corn sweet corn

The hub and I finally froze our sweet corn for the winter. I had all these great intentions of taking pictures and showing you the process step-by-step, but I totally pulled the pregnancy card yesterday and spent most of the afternoon lying down on the couch because this little heathen inside of me decided it wanted to test the elastic boundaries of my abdomen and internal organs. This kid is going to be a spitfire, I can just tell.

Anywho, this is the same corn recipe mom made when we were growing up. I don't know where she got it from - if it's her mother's or my paternal mother's, but we always had 5-6 pints in the deep freeze. Mom would pull one out for a Sunday lunch and we'd have yummy sweet corn with our roast in the middle of winter. Yum!

Sweet Corn For Freezing
30 large ears of corn
3 T sugar
2 T salt
1 lb (4 sticks) butter
1 pt half and half

Cut off kernels from cobs. (We always back-scraped after cutting to get all the yummy mush and chaff off the cob as well). In large roasting pan, mix corn, sugar, salt, butter and half and half. Bake at 350 for 90 minutes. You may want to check it about halfway through and stir it to make sure the edges aren't getting too brown.

Once it's cooked, let cool slightly (I think we waited about 30 mins last night) before putting into pint containers for freezing. It fills anywhere from 6-8 containers, depending on the size. We always label them with the year, too, and try to eat them within 2 years. Usually they're gone long before that, though.

This is more of a creamed corn recipe due to the addition of the sugar, butter and half and half, but it's not too sweet. The hubloves it because not only is it good by itself, it makes great scalloped corn, which is a fixture at all his family holiday meals.

The hub somehow managed to find room in our ridiculously full deep freeze (well, that's what happens when you decide to by an entire hog, honey) and now we have 6 pints of corn just waiting for the winter months!

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Yum!

Tonight we had one of my favorite summer meals:

- locally processed bratwurst made from a locally grown hog
- locally grown sweet corn purchased from the farmer's market this morning
- locally grown ginormous muskmelon also purchased from the farmer's market this morning
- bread and butter (storebought. I haven't quite figured out the whole making my own bread thing yet, although our Grandma B was a whiz at it - that was one of the best things about their house; she always had homemade bread with homemade strawberry jam or homemade cookies/cakes to snack on. It's no wonder I was a chubby kid!)

I couldn't even fit in any dessert, I was so full after that. The only thing that was missing was a nice, cold beer. Unfortunately, I still have about 6-7 weeks before I can enjoy one again.

It's another perfect night out - in the 60s with no humidity. We have all the windows open and the cicadas are singing their nightsong. The hub and the kiddo are watching the Olympics (with color commentary from the kiddo: "That lady running! She go faster! There's two motorcycles! They all girls running!")

I bought 4 dozen ears of yummy sweet corn from the farmer's market this morning with the intentions of freezing sweet corn tomorrow. I'll be sure to document and share when I do.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Do you hear what I hear

It's a gorgeous day out today - it seems more like May than August. I'm sitting here, listening to the Olympics playing on TV in the next room. The windows are open in our sunroom and in the background I can hear the high-pitched buzz of the cicadas in the trees.

Even though we lived out in the country, we also lived on a main highway, so it was very rarely perfectly quiet at the farm. The sounds also changed with the season.

Winter was fairly quiet, just the general lowing of the cattle and passing vehicles. Occasionally we would hear a coyote or an owl in the distance. And perhaps the dogs barking at a raccoon.

Spring was a little more noisy. The warm weather brought the birds back (though we almost have more birds in the city than we did out in the country, mostly due to the generosity of our next door neighbor with the peanuts and the bird feed. We even have a pair of mourning doves that have taken up roost on the top of our garage) and you would hear the distant hum of the machinery as the farmers worked the fields.

Summer was a little louder yet. More vehicles passed by on the highway and the cicadas came out in full force, along with the bats, toads and lightning bugs. Okay, so I know you can't technically hear lightning bugs, but they were always fun to catch. So I'll say mosquitoes and flies. Summer definitely brought out the mosquitoes and flies, especially when you have cement lots full of cattle and their manure.

Fall was perhaps the noisiest season of all. You would hear the wind blow through the leaves on the ground and the empty branches in the trees. There was the hum and roar of the tractors, combines and trucks as the farmers did the harvesting. We also had a grain dryer on the farm, so we would have that constant buzz in the background. Fall was also the time dad and the guys did the weaning of all the calves born in the spring and summer, so we would have to put up with a week of bellering and bawling of the calves wondering what this strange place was and why they no longer had warm milk from their mamas.

Granted, the city we live in now is fairly small, so it's not as noisy as other places, but I still miss the quiet of being in the country. I appreciate it even more when we're out at the ILs in BFE were there is practically no traffic and you can really enjoy the wonder of nature around you.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Here she is, Miss County Fair Queen

Did you know I'm royalty?

Yep.

I was crowned the 1997 County Fair Queen.

See:
Nevermind the horrid photo. It was something like 95 degrees that day, with 90% humidity and the crowning was held in a tent. That was after riding for an hour in the fair parade, which meant sitting on top of a convertable in a long, non-breathable prom dress in the scorching sun. I had also decided I was going to get my hair cut in a sassy, shaggy Meg Ryan do earlier that summer. Only my hair decidedly does not do sassy and shaggy. It does do limp and boring quite splendidly, though.

There was stiff competition that year. I think there were 12 other contestants besides myself. We gave up one Saturday in June for the interview process (held in the basement of a local bank). There were group interviews, individual interviews and two changes of outfit (including the lovely prom dress pictured, which my mother made). I must have made a good impression (or was the best bullsh*tter) because I was chosen the lucky Queen.

I received a 3' high trophy, crown, sash, free headshot from the newspaper, assorted gift certificates and maybe even a small scholarship (hey, it was 11 years ago, I can't remember that far. I'm lucky if I remember what I ate for lunch yesterday anymore).

My official duties included greeting my loyal subjects (wandering around the fair saying hi to fairgoers), posing for royal portraits (with prize-winning livestock) and rewarding patrons with monetary gifts (drawing the winning number for the nightly $100 giveway at the Grandstand show). Oh, and participating in the pie-eating contest. I also rode in the parades for one or two small-town celebrations later that summer and worked at the Fairboard dinner that winter.

But the big one was competing at the State Fair for the title of State Fair Queen.

There was a lot of pressure because just two years before me, the Fair Queen from our county had been crowned State Fair Queen. I wanted to bring home that title again.

There was a lot more competition at the state level. Instead of 12 contestants, there were 100. The interviews were more difficult and, considering I had yet to develop my fabulous sense of fashion, my choices for the various outfits were somewhat questionable.

It was a good time, though:

I got to ride in the fair parade, have free entry to the fair and do some fun things. I didn't win. I didn't even place. I was probably somewhere in the middle as far as contestants go. I remember doing just average during the interviews - sometimes when I get nervous, my brain overrides my mouth and I end up sounding like a blathering idiot. I'm pretty sure that happened, more than once. And my homemade prom dress looked silly and shabby compared to some of the other contestants.

But it was a good experience. Plus, while both my sisters also ran for Fair Queen, I was the only one who one (ha!). I can reminisce about my time as royalty when the hub, kiddo and I go to the State Fair this Friday.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Going green

There's a lot of emphasis lately on being a better "environmental steward" and reducing human impact on nature.

Sometimes this is referred to as being "granola" or "crunchy."

In some ways, we've been green for a while. My mom has been recycling since I was in elementary school and our state has a refund for recycling aluminum and plastic beverage containers. All our grandparents grew up with a "waste not, want not" mentality (we were only allowed half a stick of gum or one glass of 7up at my paternal grandparent's house) which trickled down through their children and on down to us.

Being the youngest, I often wore hand-me-downs from my sisters when I was little (until I grew bigger/taller than them. Finally! New clothes!) Even now we're reusing the same bed I slept on and same dresser I used when I was younger for the kiddo in his big boy room. We have a hand-me-down dining room set and the hub and I are using the bed frame he built right after he graduated college (it's far from pretty but it does the job). We grow our own tomatoes (not enough room for a proper garden unfortunately).

I'm far from being hardcore granola (can't cloth diaper because of daycare, breastfeeding did not go as planned for the kiddo when he was born) but I would like to decrease the amount of chemicals we use in our household. So I've started trying out some "greener" cleaning alternatives.

I've switched to Seventh Generation's lavender and mint dishwashing soap.
I like it a lot, actually.

We've tried out quite a few different Method products. Currently we have their Squeaky Green 3-in-1 kid's shampoo, their Natural moisturizing body wash, flushable bathroom cleaner wipes, and best in glass cleaner. I don't use them as often as I should (except for the body wash, I use that pretty much every day) because I'm not very good at cleaning my house in a consistent manner. But I've been happy with them when I do use them!

This weekend I did break down and finally mop my floors. I sweep them at least once a week, usually more, and shake out the rugs from the kitchen because they're constantly covered in crumbs and dog hair. I tried using just vinegar and hot water to mop with, which I'd read is better for my wood floors anyway. Aside from the fact the smell made me want to break out some PAAS kits and color Easter eggs, I think it worked really well. It got all the crusty, dried on food spots from under the kiddos booster seat, anyway.

It's a slow process - we still use an unGodly amount of paper towels when we could be using microfiber or other washable cloths - but my goal is to decrease the amount of chemicals we use and increase reuse or recycling every month until the end of the year. What would that be considered, not quite granola, but more like instant oatmeal as opposed to frosted flakes?

So do you have any favorite green cleaning tips or hints? Favorite products? Just want to make fun of me (I'm looking at you, Kris). Leave me a comment. I'm always interested in trying out something new.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Oh what a beautiful morning

I am not generally a morning person.

I remember fondly the Saturday mornings of my college days, sleeping in until 11 or noon. Waking up and meandering down to the kitchen of the sorority house to eat leftovers and cereal, hearing about various drunken college antics of the night before.

Even after I graduated college and moved to where we live now, it was a rare weekend morning the hub and I were up before 10. Obviously we got up on time (mostly) during the week to be ready for work, but on the weekends all bets were off.

Inexplicably, this pregnancy has rendered me unable to sleep past 6 am. Now that I resemble a small whale, it's discomfort (and having to pee every few hours) that keeps me from sleeping any later. But even before I was massively huge, I would often wake up before the alarm went off around 6 and have limited success with going back to sleep.

I actually really like mornings. The coolness of the air before the sun has hit full strength, the melodic chirping of the early morning birds, the dewiness of the grass. It really is beautiful. It's just so darn early.

Because I was already up, I decided to meander down to the local downtown farmer's market this morning.

This was the first farmer's market they'd been able to have since the first weekend of June due to the devastating flooding that occurred in our city, and major parts of the Midwest, this summer, and I was really looking forward to going.

I like farmer's markets, but I get so overwhelmed with everything (produce! flowers! handmade crafts! wine!) along with the crowds that I browse quickly and leave once I've made my purchases. I was also pressed for time today because the hub needed our fuel-efficient diesel Jeep (more fuel-efficient than his massive truck, anyway) to drive down to a softball tournament, so I had to be back by the time he needed to leave.

I had two things in mind when I went to the market: sweet corn and muskmelon.

Because of the flooding, it's been an off year for crops. An extremely wet spring led to late planting. Then, with all the flooding in May and June, a good number of acres were flooded out and either had to be replanted or switched to a different crop. Normally, the sweet corn would be ready in mid-July, but we're just now starting to see the roadside stands of sweet corn and other produce.

I saw the stand I wanted to by from right away when I entered the farmer's market, but I figured I'd wait until I was ready to leave so I wasn't lugging around two heavy bags while I did my power browsing.

I saw some gorgeous jewelry, cute handmade crafts, delicious home-baked goods, and I even purchased a small bottle of all-natural bug repellent. I finally made my way back to the chosen stand and got my melon and corn.

See:
Muskmelon. Yum! This is what we call a Muscatine melon because it's grown in the sandy soil of Muscatine Island. They're traditionally larger and sweeter than the muskmelon in stores. This melon is about the size of a slightly oblong soccer ball (and this was a medium one!). I wasn't a huge fan of muskmelon growing up, but now, I love it (as does the kiddo, you should see him pack it away!) This baby was a mere $3.

and corn:
Okay, so the corn isn't as exciting because it's, well, corn, and everyone knows what corn looks like. A lot of stands at the market were selling a hybrid called "honey & cream." It's a super sweet hybrid where some kernels are yellow and some are white (as opposed to being all yellow with other hybrids). This wasn't marked as such, but they few ears they had shucked had the mottled coloring, so I'm assuming it's the same, or a similar sweet hybrid. It was $5 for a baker's dozen.

Dad and his brothers would occasionally plant a few acres of sweet corn every couple years, but generally they kept their acres in field corn and soybeans. There were plenty of farmers and stands around my hometown where you could pick your own, though, so we were never lacking for sweet corn in the summer.

Aside: did you know you never boil sweet corn in salted water? It makes the kernels tough. Boil them in plain or sugared water instead.

Anywho, growing up, we'd have our big ol bag of a few dozen ears of corn, pick out the ones we were going to cook for supper that night and sit on our back steps to shuck, listening to the buzz of cicadias. I was a stickler for getting out as much of the silk as possible because I hated the feeling of it getting stuck in my teeth. When we were done, we'd walk 50 yards out to the feedlot and give the cattle the husks. I'm not really sure if we were always supposed to do this, but we did anyway. And then we'd have fresh sweet corn for supper. Yum!

Note: the hub's favorite way to butter sweet corn is to butter a slice of bread and then run the still-warm sweet corn over the bread. Bonus, he gets to eat the bread afterwards. I usually just take either a knife or fork, load it with butter and then run that over the ear. Either way works, you just want to make sure you get the ear nice and buttery.

Once a summer mom would buy 5-6 dozen ears and we'd freeze corn for the winter. I'll have to share about that some other time.