Thursday, August 28, 2014

Hopefully It Tastes Good: Pickled Eggplant

Last night I canned pickled basil-garlic eggplant cubes from The Joy of Pickling book.  I have absolutely no idea what it's going to taste like since I've never had pickled eggplant, but I figured I would try it out.  I don't know how this recipe will taste since you need to wait a week before you eat them. 

It wasn't from a small-batch canning book, but it ended up being smaller rather than larger.  It only took two eggplant and made 5 half-pint jars.  It was supposed to make 6 jars, but that last one wasn't full enough and the others needed more, so I used that less-full jar to get the others filled to the top. 
Blanching the eggplant cubes in vinegar. 

The recipe was really quick, I was done in less than an hour.  It took me about 15 minutes to pull out the jars and lids, find all the rest of my canning equipment like the jar lifter and funnel, and set up my cooking equipment.  I made one substitution, the recipe called for white wine vinegar, which I didn't have because when I originally skimmed the recipe, I thought it said regular white vinegar.  The flavor will be a bit more plain, but that might be ok. 

I tried a new trick for canning this time.  Usually it's recommended to use a rack in your water bath to protect the jars from bouncing around as they boil, but I don't have a rack so I added a silicone potholder to the bottom of the pot.  I don't actually like the silicone potholders to lift things since they seem slippery and I don't feel like I have a good grip on stuff, so this was a good way to use it.  The only other way I use them is occasionally as trivets, but even then I'm not fond of them since they're not very thick and I'm afraid the hot dishes are still too close to the table/counter and will cause damage. 
Blanched eggplant cubes mixed with garlic and basil.

I'm glad I'm comfortable with canning now, I understand the process and I know what I'm doing.  I think my first time canning took a few hours because I had to read and re-read the instructions several times to ensure I wasn't going to make a mistake.  Now I'm a lot more confident and it flows really well.
Steamy canning process.
I especially like that it wasn't a big batch so I could put it in a few small jars and wouldn't end up having to open a huge jar of pickles and then take forever to eat it. 
Sonny D and Husband Jeff sharing a carrot from our garden.
While I was cooking this up after dinner, Sonny D and Husband Jeff were out around the neighborhood having fun.  Their route back home took them through the back yard and they picked  a carrot in our garden.  (the only one big enough to eat!)

One garden thing I need to remember for next year is to definitely put plants into tomato cages or tie them up to a trellis for support.  So many of our plants are drooped over on the ground and all our good food is going to waste while the animals eat them.  And the Asian beetles completely ravaged all my basil.  Last year we had an amazing bumper crop of basil, this year it looks like I will barely have enough left to make a decent batch of pesto after I harvested a bit for this recipe. 
The final product. 
My next pickling adventure is spicy pickled jalapeƱos. Those should be fun. 

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Monday, August 25, 2014

Menu Plan: Week of August 25

We went on a family vacation last weekend to New Orleans.  It was hot and awesome.  It was also Sonny D's week off between summer camp and the fall semester at his preschool.  Since we had been away for a few days, for Me & D night we went to Trader Joe's to buy groceries.  I had brought only 3 reusable bags and told myself I could only buy that much, but I still ended up with more stuff than bags.

Our weekend was really busy.  On Saturday we went our for brunch with our friends at Willalby's Cafe (excellent!), to a car show, and then to a four-year-old's birthday party.  I was so stuffed from our breakfast that I only had a little bit of their fabulous creamy buffalo chicken dip... ok, maybe a lot, it was so good!  Then on Sunday we hit the farmers' market, then Ride the Drive, and then Curdfest.  It felt like we were running all over but it all turned out great. 

I spent a lot of money at the farmers' market this week, I think around $33.  We bought morning snacks for Sonny D and I (spring roll, orange-carrot juice, and kettle corn), veggies for the week, and veggies to can.  I'm going to make pickled eggplant cubes and pickled jalapenos.  Luckily the weather this week is going to cool down so I won't feel guilty filling the house with loads of steam from the canning process.  

This Week

Our friends Brian and Kristen had a baby last week and we haven't been able to meet there new little guy Will yet, so it would be nice to see if we can stop by sometime this week.  Monday or Thursday might be the only options since we've got just enough going on otherwise to keep us pretty busy.

I'm also going to try to cut Sonny D's hair this week.  I was thinking Wednesday night before his bath, but maybe I'll wait until after Saturday's big birthday party so my fresh, not-quite-professional haircut isn't caught on film for perpetuity.  I do a decent job cutting his hair, but sometimes I would prefer people didn't look too close since it could definitely be better. 
  • Monday - egg and cheese sandwiches on toast, purple beans from the farmers' market, salads, and maybe zucchini fritters if we have good zucchini out in the garden.  Haven't looked out there recently to even know how it's doing. 
  • Tuesday - Possibly Italian zucchini boats (stuffed with seasoned ground beef), Trader Joe's sweet potato tater tots, and salads.  I also was thinking about making chocolate zucchini bread but I've also got Zumba class so I might need to wait on the bread. 
  • Wednesday - stuffed buns (filled with bacon, white beans, caramelized onions, and cheese), Trader Joe's spanakopita (spinach pie), and trying delicata squash I found at the farmers' market.  Planning to do some canning because the high for the day is in the low 70s.  
  • Thursday - I declared that we were going to have a nacho night, so we'll load up tortilla chips with taco meat, black olives, avocado, salsa, cheese, beans, etc.  I'll do some more canning if I didn't get everything done on Wednesday. 
  • Friday - We're having a family dinner since Husband Jeff's brother Scott and wife Stacy and kids are in town. We were talking about going out to a restaurant but we might be grilling instead.
  • Saturday - If I can manage, I'm going to head to Zumba class in the morning.  Later in the day Husband Jeff's entire family is coming over to our house for Scott's 40th birthday party.  We're ordering shredded pork from That BBQ Joint and we're going to make or buy the rest of the food.  I think we're getting a cake from Coldstone Creamery but I'm worried about how we'll get it home without it melting everywhere since the nearest location is kind of far away from our house. 
  • Sunday - We'll head to the farmers' market like every Sunday.  I love it!  Maybe I'll buy more things to can/preserve.  Labor Day weekend is the Taste of Madison, which is my favorite "food holiday", so we'll head downtown for that.  I love being able to sample a variety of tasty things.  I'm sure we won't need any sort of dinner after all of the chowing we'll do there. 
  • Monday - Since it's a holiday weekend, I'm including Monday here.  The only thing I've planned is that we'll have a bag of Trader Joe's frozen rigatoni alla Siciliana. We'll probably have tons of leftovers from Saturday's birthday party, so we'll also be eating that. 

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Friday, August 22, 2014

Our Trip to New Orleans

On Wednesday we returned from our first real family vacation in New Orleans.  We stayed 4 nights. Here are some random thoughts about it. 

Loved our hotel location, we stayed at a Country Inn & Suites on the edge of the French Quarter.  I also loved that the hotel had a free breakfast buffet, we wandered downstairs every morning around 6:30 and everything was ready.  We were definitely spoiled by that. The only thing I didn't like was the hotel pillows, they were only about two-thirds the size of a standard pillow and too soft, so your head wasn't supported.  Husband Jeff's only complaint about the hotel was the coffee, it wasn't good at all. 

On Monday morning my standard weekday morning 5:45 a.m. wake-up alarm on my phone went off because I forgot to turn it off. Disappointing. 

Sonny D was great on the airplane, patient and ok with all of the rules.  We had a portable DVD player and he watched movies on that and played on the iPad. 

It's hard to convince a 3.5 year old to go to the bathroom before we leave the hotel or restaurant to walk around the city.  On one occasion we asked him to go potty but he wouldn't do it, then 20 minutes later as we're walking around he says he has to go potty.  Uggg.  That's stressful since you have no idea if that means he'll be ok until you find a decent bathroom or if he needs to go NOW.

Around Town
Husband Jeff and I loved the architecture, the ironworks, the balconies, the shotgun houses, gas lamps, and old buildings.  

I was really glad we got unlimited passes for bus/streetcars. Nice to hop on and off and not worry about having the right money. Plus it was a much better deal, a single ride is $1.25 and the unlimited pass is $3 per day.  So if you want to ride more than two times in a day, the pass is a better deal. We ended up riding the streetcars all over the place, sometimes just for entertainment. I was surprised how many locals rode the streetcars (figured it was only tourists on there) and so many of them used cash rather than having a pass. 

I use Google Maps to create maps of things to see and restaurants to eat at, but I think I'll switch back to Bing for travel maps.  Google Maps doesn't easily produce a helpful printed map, everything looks the same with no distinction between them.  And the "My Saved Places" is not an option in the Google Maps app for the iPhone, so I had to use mobile website version, which occasionally had trouble loading.

It was really hot and humid.  It was common to see men with sweat rags while out walking around the city. We borrowed a washcloth from the hotel to use as a sweat rag and bought folding fans at the flea market to cool ourselves.

I've decided that we need to get a small backpack to carry all the random things we want while out wandering around - maps, camera, phone, snacks, bottle of water, fans, wet wipes, hand sanitizer, and a sweater for going in the air-conditioned buildings.

We all loved the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas, it was pretty spendy ($23 for adults) but it was so cool! We even had an opportunity to pet some stingrays, Sonny D and I were too scared but Jeff did it.

We got to do everything we wanted for activities, things to do, things to see, and even things to eat. Husband Jeff loved the open container laws, you can walk around with an alcoholic beverage in your hand, so he did that most evenings after dinner.

Before any trip I head to Target and buy things like beef jerky, goldfish crackers, granola bars, etc. to snack on for our journey because I don't like having to figure out things like that while we're on the road.  Plus I'm cheap, I hate being forced to pay exorbitant prices for a piddly amount of junky food like candy bars because you have no other options.  This time I packed too many snacks. I should have known better because this is a city that is focused on eating so we were rarely hungry between meals.  But it was nice to have healthier things to eat to get us to the next meal, kid snack times, etc. And definitely helpful for the plane ride down because the drinks service was delayed due to slightly turbulent weather.  

We had to stop at Cafe Du Monde for cafe au laits and beignets.  Sonny D requested (and got) his own decaf coffee and drank most of it.  He also ate his completely powdered-sugar-covered beignet without making a mess. 

One day we went to Central Grocery for lunch, the home of the muffaletta sandwich.  I'm glad we did it.  The sandwich is huge, we each ate only one quarter of it. 

We also had po-boy sandwiches, crawfish etouffee, local redfish, snowballs (like a snow cone but much better), barbeque shrimp (no BBQ sauce or grilling involved, and the heads are still attached), gumbo, and many other things. 

Mosquitoes. One evening I was sitting by the pool while Sonny D and Husband Jeff splashed around and I was completely bitten up by mosquitoes.  We also tried eating outside in a neighborhood but I was getting so bit up that we had to move inside. 

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Tuesday, August 19, 2014

You Put Your Scraps In It

Last weekend I went to Goodwill and bought the most perfect container!  It is a container to sit on our kitchen counter and hold fruit and veggie scraps that will eventually be dumped into our compost bin out in our back yard.  The previous container was a large plastic pitcher and it usually took two hands to open it, which was no good when you were holding a handful of eggshells or something gross that you didn't want to set down on the counter.  So I was on the lookout for a container that you could easily open with one hand and spied this awesome Rubbermaid canister thing.  I have no idea what it was originally, so I'm guessing it's a canister, like what you might put your flour or sugar into.   
New compost container!
This new container sits next to the coffee maker and has been a total dream, easily opening by pressing down the plunger and pulling up, all with one hand.  And it's nice and wide, which is great to hold all the rinds when you're cutting up a melon or pineapple.  Or if you're just lazy like me and rarely empty it. 

Oh, and another feature I really appreciate is that it's not clear.  Previously we had an awesome and big canister container that you could open with one hand, but it had a clear body, so once things got gross in there (as raw food scraps are wont to do), you could see that yuckiness through the sides.  Ugg.  With this container, all that messy-gross is "behind closed doors". 

All these great features in a single compost container?  That rocks my world.  And it only cost $3 at Goodwill?  Even more fabulous!

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Monday, August 18, 2014

Menu Plan: Week of August 18

I was glad this last week was nice and quiet after the somewhat-busy week prior.  Nothing too hectic before, but quiet is always good.

I noticed later that we ate primarily vegetarian dinners last week, we only had fish one night.  And we kept up our new tradition of eating in the dining room at Sonny D's request.  And I snuck some veggies in on Sonny D by making cheesy garden tots, which was shredded zucchini mixed with shredded cheese, an egg, and spices and then baked in a mini muffin pan.  I think he ate 6 that night! 
Cheesy garden tots

Sonny D and Husband Jeff were out walking to a construction site a few blocks away.  Sonny D doesn't like to walk and would prefer you carry him or ride on your shoulders.  Jeff was trying to convince him to walk on his own. 
Jeff: "It's not too far."
Sonny D: "It's not three far either."

This Week

Sonny D doesn't have preschool this week since it's the week between "summer camp" and "fall semester".  Those are somewhat sarcastic quotes there, seems silly to refer to it by those traditional school terms when it's only a touch more advanced than a standard daycare.  He'll get to spend time with his grandparents instead, so that's nice.

We've been pretty good about eating foods from the freezer, but we still have a ways to go before I'll be satisfied.  I found a second bag of cooked brown rice.... after already using up one.  So there are still a lot of things we need to eat. 
  • Monday - dinner out
  • Tuesday - dinner out
  • Wednesday - pasta with red sauce or maybe pancakes (from the freezer!) 
  • Thursday -  Finishing off the two partial packages of brats and sausages that I discovered in the freezer plus whatever bag of frozen veggies we can find. 
  • Friday - Persian turkey kofta kebabs, rice (maybe with frozen peas mixed in), and yet another bag of frozen veggies. 
  • Saturday - I think we have breakfast plans with friends, but I'm not sure, probably should check on that.  In the afternoon we are going to a four-year-old's birthday party, which will probably be loaded with lots of excellent food so we probably won't need dinner that night. 
  • Sunday - In the morning our standard visit to the nearby farmer's market, hopefully to get delicious spring rolls!  Then midday is the always fun Ride The Drive event where they close down some streets and people ride their bikes all over.  This time it will be on the east side in a new location, so it'll be neat to experience the beautiful quietness of a car-free space.  Then in the afternoon there is a thing in the ballpark near our house called Curdfest, it'll have a bouncy house, petting zoo, music, other entertainment like games, and of course fresh and fried cheese curds. 

Wanna Chat?

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Saturday, August 16, 2014

Warby Parker Glasses Update

After asking friends and blog readers to chime in with their votes for the best Warby Parker frames, it came down to the Linwood and Wilkie frames as the two top vote-getters.

Here's a refresher of the options. 
Click for a larger image.
I like both of the frames but I've also got some more frames that I like so I'm going to request another box with more frame options.  I'll show those once I get them and maybe we'll do another vote if I need help. 

Wanna Chat?

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Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Help Me Pick Out Cute Glasses (That Don't Cost An Arm And A Leg!)

Last Monday I read about Warby Parker on the Yes And Yes blog post, How to be a Grown Ass Woman: Health + Personal Care in reference to cheap glasses.  I think I'm behind on this since Warby Parker has been around for a while but I had never heard of them.  Warby Parker sells discounted trendy prescription eyeglasses (frames AND thin polycarbonate lenses with anti-scratch and anti-reflective coating) for $95. They also offer prescription and non-prescription sunglasses for $95. Here's my experience figuring everything out.  If you want, you can skip to the bottom to see the pictures of the frames and tell me which one(s) you like best.  Thanks!

Research (Google Search!)

I've been thinking about getting new glasses for a while and have saved some 50% off JC Penney ads from the Sunday paper to remind me to go check out what they've got.  I was there about six months ago and found only one pair I even cared about but didn't totally love.

I thought Warby Parker sounded neat but wasn't sure what to really think of it since this was the first time I remember hearing about it.  I did some more research and found that they sound like a great company.  They own the manufacturing plant that makes the glasses and so they can sell you glasses for much cheaper.  Most glasses are really expensive because they're all made by one big company, Luxottica, and they can charge as much as they want since it's essentially a monopoly.  And any other companies left over charge the same amount, because they can.  Warby Parker is also nice because for each pair of glasses you buy, they help people in developing countries get new glasses as well.  It's particularly cool because they let those people select their own glasses, so they can get something really stylish, rather than old donated ones. 

I was impressed by Warby Parker and figured it was probably a pretty decent way to get glasses since my vision insurance only covers glasses or contacts every other year, not both.  I wear contacts every single day, so that's was I always get with the allotment.  But I could really use some new glasses.  I did some calling around and found that I've had my current 2 pairs of glasses (purchased on the cheap at Sears 4 years ago!), I figured it was time to get some new ones.  Plus my prescription had changed enough to warrant something new.  With my vision insurance I can buy things out-of-network and get reimbursed.  It's confusing, but it looks like I could be eligible for getting back $30 on the price of the lenses. 

I've got a stronger prescription, officially referred to in the eye care biz as "Coke-bottles", so I'll have to spring an extra $30 for the thinner high-index lenses, but that is still a TOTAL steal.  And my vision plan reimbursement of $30 is great since that at least covers the cost of the thinner lenses. 

Picking Out Some Options

My Tiny Noggin

I searched through the frames that work well for narrow or medium face widths and that interested me. They have very few for narrow faces but a lot for medium faces.  They have a nice filter so you can search by material, color, shape, and width. 

Available For Try-On

I then narrowed it down even further based on the ones that were available for home try-on. There's no way I 'm going to buy glasses that I can't try on first. Of course they have a great 30-day, no-questions-asked return policy so you could easily buy them and return them if you don't want them, but I'm so picky that there's no way that I could deal with the hassle of all of that.

So after looking through the options and narrowing it down to the ones available for home try-on, I had a short list of 6 possible frames that I liked best.  Since you can only get 5 sample pairs to try on at home, I removed the most generic choice in an attempt to stretch my style to something a little newer and fashionable/trendy (In the last few years I've been trying to branch out to new/different/interesting choices).

They have a virtual try-on, either using one of their models or you can upload your own picture. I loved being able to upload my own photo since it was a little closer to seeing what they might look like on you.  I also loved that they showed most of the glasses on a model with a rotatable view since they might look great by themselves, but appear totally different on a person's face. 

Requesting The Contenders

I entered my details to create an account and gave them my credit card number as a deposit for the glasses they'll send to my house. I really liked that in addition to the style, I could also pick the color of the frames, so they won't be all heavy black or weird green or whatever. You get 5 days to try on the sample frames they send.  If you don't like any that you selected, you can send them back and get another set of five frames . 

I received a cute shipping notice on Friday and was excited that I would be getting them on Monday, but there was an awesome surprise in Saturday's post, the Warby Parker home try-on box!
Tell me which one you like best! (click for a larger image)
Click on the image to see it larger and please email me to let me know which one(s) are your favorite! I've got a couple I'm leaning towards but I've also found a second set of four frames I really like and might get a second try-on box sent to me after I ship these back. 

How To Order

Once you've figured out which one you want, you go online and order them with your prescription information from your eye doctor.  The only thing is when it comes to ordering glasses, you need your pupillary distance, which is a measurement of the distance between your eyeballs so you get the 'sweet spot' of the lenses right in the middle.  For some reason most eye doctors in the US don't measure it during your eye exam (in Canada it's mandatory).  It's only needed when you order glasses and the optical department usually measures that at the time when you select your glasses. You can go to most optical departments to have it measured or Warby Parker has a neat app to measure your pupillary distance. How handy is that?!

Wanna Chat?

I turned off the 'leave a comment' feature, so if you want to share what you're thinking about this or anything else, drop me an email at jhk1013 (at) It's so much more cozy than a comment, plus we can have a real conversation!