149,311 Goodbye Golden Car

We got our Saturn 10 days before September 11, 2001. Saturn was a revolutionary company at the time.

Their slogan was:

A Different Kind of Car Company. A Different Kind of Car.

And it was.

It was the no-haggle car company. You paid the same price as anybody else who purchased a Saturn. It was supposed to be the American answer to the Japanese competition. They built them differently. The plant was all new.

The doors and side-body panels were made of polymer instead of steel. This made the car lighter in weight which gave it better gas mileage. But even better was that the entire outside of the car was like one giant bumper. So your car didn’t suffer the normal dings and dents in parking lots. And rust was never an issue for the panels.

My 2002 coupe had a cool little side-door that opened backwards— a “third door,” they called it. It made life about 1000 times easier when my daughter was a baby. It was super easy to get the car seat in and out. The leather seats made it easier to clean up vomit. No need to cave and purchase a mom-car. We were even able to fit a large TV in the car one time because of the cavernous space created if both the regular car door and mini car door were opened at the same time.

We almost drove it all the way to Chicago in the days after September 11. We were supposed to fly on the 14th for my cousin’s wedding. But flights were cancelled. Rescheduled. Cancelled.  Along with all the sorrow of the disaster and the joy that I looked forward to at my cousin’s wedding, I was worried about driving my brand new car the more than 700 miles to Chicago. We scored train tickets. The car would go on to last for many many miles.

It was the most reliable car I’d owned.

But recent years were not as kind.

Perhaps because my Saturn was lower to the ground and less visible than all the SUVs around here or because so many drivers are distracted these days, other drivers kept crashing into me. Rather, into my Saturn. Stop lights. Parking lots. Somehow, drivers managed to hit me in ways and at times that I could not avoid.

Then the basic repairs started coming. Nothing that wouldn’t be expected from a car pushing 150,000 miles. But it adds up.

It was time.

Thanks for carrying our family so far!

Good bye.


Cooking Brown Rice: Rule of Thumb Method

Years ago a friend showed me how to cook rice measuring the water using only her hand. Today, I use the same basic method but instead measure with my thumb or finger. I felt a little weird plopping my whole hand in the pot.

This actually works great. I love that I don’t have to get out a measuring cup. It scales it up or down. It’s very easy. I’ve thought about purchasing a rice cooker, but we’re short on space and this works with the multitasking pots we already have.

Brown Rice Method:

Put rice in a pot. The pot should be a good size for the amount of rice — use a larger pot for a lot of rice and a smaller pot for a little. The uncooked rice should have room to cook and expand, but be deep enough in the bottom so that it comes at least 1/3 of the way up the side of the pot.

Rinse the rice if you do that. I find that brown rice doesn’t need as much rinsing as white, but I know some people don’t even rinse white.

Keeping the tip of your thumb at the top of the rice, pour water into the pot so that the water comes up to the first knuckle on your thumb. On me, this is about 1 inch.

Bring water to a boil on medium heat. Then cover with a tightly fitting lid. Turn heat to low and simmer for 30 minutes. DO NOT remove the lid. (Treat it like it will release a cloud of poisonous fumes if you do.) Clear glass lids can help resist the temptation to remove the lid and take a peek.

Turn off the heat and allow the pot to sit for 15-25 minutes. Leave that lid on the entire time! Once a minimum of 15 minutes is up, you can remove the lid and fluff with a spoon or fork before serving.

Cooking Brown Rice, A Recap:

1.) Put rice in a pot that has a tightly fitting lid. Use a big pot for a lot of rice, small pot for a little rice. Uncooked rice should come at least 1/3 up the side of the pot, but leave enough space at the top for rice to expand. Rinse rice if you do that.

2.) Fill pot of uncooked rice with water so that water line sits about 1 inch above the uncooked rice. On me, this is to the first knuckle on my thumb.

3.) Using medium heat, bring rice to a boil.

4.) Once it’s boiling, pop that tightly fitting lid on the pot and resist the urge to remove it while the rice cooks.

5.) Turn the heat down to low. And simmer for 30 minutes.

6.) Turn off the heat. LEAVE that LID ON! Let the pot sit for a full 15-25 minutes.

7.) Fluff with a spoon or fork and enjoy!

White Rice Variation:

Generally speaking, white rice doesn’t need as much water or to cook for as long as brown. I measure water for white rice to the first knuckle of my index finger. This is about 3/4 of an inch.

Bring to a boil, put the lid on, and simmer on low for 20 minutes. Turn off heat and let sit for 15 minutes. Done and yum!

Note that this method is not for quick-cooking rice.

Daily Prompt: No, Thank You. Dangerous Ice Cream.

The Daily Post’s Daily Prompt is No, Thank You.

It asks: If you could permanently ban a word from general usage, which one would it be? Why?

There are lots of words I wouldn’t mind hearing, or seeing, less often.

Some people use the same expression over and over. At one point, when I was a kid I said “super” to everything I liked. Now I tend to say “cool” or “awesome” — twice the variety!

Books sometimes repeat the same phrase or words over and over.  

Spoken or in print, I cringe at too much swearing. Though it works well for some characters and stories. But in many cases if every other word is a swear then the words lose some of their power for when you might really need a good swear word. Like if you’e having an unusually sucky day or slam your finger in your car door.

If I’m super mad, I feel better with a good swear word or two. Sometimes three. It doesn’t happen often. I think it would lose some of it’s therapeutic benefit if I swore all the time.

Let’s say I had a friend named Polly and every day she says, “Where’s the fu***** ice cream?” If she says it again today then I would assume things are good with her. 

But if Polly almost never swears until just now when she comes in where I’m about to dig-in to two scoops of rocky road and says, “Where’s the fu***** ice cream?” Then I’m going to have a pretty good idea that either Polly had one spectacularly sucky day or that there’s something very wrong with the ice cream and we must dispose of it immediately before it injures someone.

I don’t like too much repetition of any word or words — particularly swear or cuss words. But I wouldn’t ban any of them. It would sensor expression. It’s akin to book burning.  

Even the worst of swears might save someone from a batch of dangerous ice cream.

Summer Remnants, Recipes

One thing that makes this time of year extra yummy is harvest — there are still lots of yummy fruits and veggies to be had from gardens and farmers’ markets. I’ve been seeing a lot of farmers’-market specials, many adding bulk discounts as they have lots of ripe produce and want to move it while it’s still sooo good. It’s great to stock up if you have room in your freezer or for canning. Or just make lots of yummy stuff to eat soon!

One recipe that can help:

Cowboy Caviar

Contrary to the name it doesn’t require cows, boys, fish eggs or eggs of any kind. This is basically a bean salad with corn, tomatoes, peppers, and herbs. It can be eaten like a salsa with corn chips. It can be a topping on a salad. It can be heated and spooned over rice, added raw or heated to burritos, tacos, or nachos.  

It’s fairly healthy with protein, fiber, and fresh veg. It goes quickly around here so I usually double the recipe.

Cowboy Caviar ingredients:

1 can (15 ounce) black beans, drained (or equivalent)

1 can (15 ounce) black-eyed peas, drained (or equivalent) I like the seasoned kind.

1 can (14.5 ounce) diced tomatoes, lightly drained (good using diced tomatoes with chilies) or about 1-1/2 cups of fresh, diced tomatoes. That’s what I’m talking about. 

1 can (15 ounces) corn, drained or 2 cups fresh-cut or frozen corn

1/2 red (or green) bell pepper diced (or similar amount of other sweet peppers) 

1/2 small onion, diced

2 or 3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped (or 2 teaspoons garlic powder)

About a cup or half a bunch of chopped cilantro (leave out if you don’t like cilantro)

About a 1/2 cup or 1/4 of a bunch of fresh chopped parsley

1 or 2 fresh chopped jalapeño peppers (to taste) 

Salt and pepper (to taste, it doesn’t need much salt, just a couple of pinches)

2 tablespoons raw apple cider vinegar

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 cup Italian salad dressing (Paul Newman’s Lite Italian works nicely)

Mix it all in a large bowl adding the vinegar, olive oil, and Italian dressing last. We like to let it sit out of the fridge for an hour to let the flavors mix. Enjoy!  

Store covered in the fridge for up to 2 weeks. The vinegar in the apple cider vinegar and salad dressing helps to preserve it longer than if it were just fresh-diced ingredients.

I Need a Hair Cut and a New Header

I really need a hair cut. The prolonged lack thereof means that my hair, down and unbraided, skims the waistband on my pants. This is longer than it’s been in a long time.

If I go someplace for a hair cut, even the Hair Cuttery, it takes time and money. Just think of all the time & money I’ve saved.

We went to Hair Cuttery last weekend and had my daughter’s hair cut. It looks totally adorable on her. It also makes her look like a teenager. She’ll actually be a teen soon and that is scary.

Long hair can be a signature look, but it gets in the way and gets tangled.

I’m not the dreadlocks type, so my hair stays braided most of the time. Part of me wants to keep it long so I can pull off a couple of Princess Leia cinna-buns for the opening of the new Star Wars movie in December. But will I wait that long?

I could really use a new look.

So could my blog. I want a new Header and overall feel. I like the current one with nice colors and art [update with name], but I’m ready for something fresh and clean.

EnchantedSpark just redid their look. Plus WordPress, Hot Off the Press published “What a difference a header makes!” just a couple of days ago. The comments for that linked to an older DailyPost on creating a custom header.

I have no excuse! I’m a graphic designer for cryin’ out loud. I do art stuff. I grow pretty tomatoes. I should be able to nail this.

The race is on! Which will happen first — haircut or new look for my blog?

Daily Prompt: Green-Eyed Monster Time

The Daily Post’s Daily Prompt for August 22 is, Green-Eyed Monster

It asks: Tell us about the last time you were really, truly jealous of someone. Did you act on it? Did it hurt your relationship? 

I’m sure I’ve been plenty jealous of a person recently enough, but I can’t think of anybody very specific. At this point of my life, I find that I’m more jealous of situations and circumstances than of specific people.

For example, I’m pretty jealous of people who have lots of free time. I’m jealous of people who travel cool places. I’m jealous of people with larger homes and places to grown things. I’m jealous of people who are good at keeping their homes clean and organized. Sometimes my daughter has a hard time focusing, and takes forever to get homework done. I mean a long time. So I’m pretty jealous of people who don’t have to deal with this very often. I’m jealous of people who are more organized than I am.

In a way it all comes down to time. I’m jealous of people with more time and who use their time better than I do. I wish I used my time more effectively.  I can often look back and think, “Wow, I could have done that so much better if only I did xyz back then.” It’s like I can see it clearly when I look back, but when I look forward my organizational skills can get kind of mushy. So do I act on my jealousy? Maybe. I am acting by striving to use my time better. I’m striving for efficiency. I’m striving for a better here and now. That’s good for all of us.

Daily Prompt: Red Pill, Blue Pill

The Daily Post’s Daily Prompt for August 21 is: Red Pill, Blue Pill

It asks: If you could get all the nutrition you needed in a day with a pill — no worrying about what to eat, no food preparation — would you do it?

If I had to make this choice permanently, I would never give up food. But if I could choose this as an option for certain times of the year or even just certain times of the day then I totally would.

I’ve come close enough to giving up food on the days that I drink meal replacement shakes. Some days are so busy. I still want good nutrition. I feel a lot better when I get something healthy in me. I drink meal replacement shakes and sometimes eat protein bars for breakfast or lunch. That happened a lot this summer and last. So a pill would be helpful when I’m short on time.

But drinking meal replacement shakes has made me realize that there comes a time when I just miss chewing. It doesn’t even have to be a steak or a gourmet meal — just chewing something. It could be a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Chewing is part of the satisfaction of eating. And when I do eat a really good meal, oh my god, that can be heavenly! It feels like holding my breath, and finally getting to breathe again. The flavors are elevated over and above what I’d experience if I’d been eating regular food all the time.

I can only imagine meal replacement pills would be similar. I definitely don’t drink meal replacement shakes to relish their flavor or texture. Some of them are just not pleasant. A simple pill and a glass of water would bypass that and be quicker too. But I’d never want to do it all the time.

What I Cooked with Our Balcony Garden Harvest

Stuffed Gypsy Peppers.

With quinoa, caramelized onions & garlic, garbanzo beans (chickpeas), corn, diced tomatoes, southwest seasoned grilled chicken, salt & pepper, and the bunch of herbs in the photo from the other day (spicy oregano, flat & curly parsley, Thai basil, and maybe a sprig of mint).  Topped with a blend of mozzarella and parm and roasted in our convection toaster oven until the peppers looked a little roasted and the cheese was melty and lightly browned. For the two of us who like spicy, I topped them with sliced semi-ripe jalapeño peppers.*

It turned out really yummy! We all liked it and ate all the leftovers before they could become leftovers.

I have Julia Child to partly thank for the yum factor. We saw her kitchen at the Smithsonian the other day. When we got home I was inspired to stream the movie Julie and Julia. I’d never seen it. It was a cute movie. Julia is amazing. Then I looked up Julia Child on YouTube and watched some of her old PBS show The French Chef. One of the sections was on French Onion Soup.

I’ve never been a huge fan of onions — probably due to the fact that I think I’m partly allergic to them. Too many (cooked or raw) and I feel like I’m coming down with the flu — achy, tired, sore throat, etc. But even when I most disliked onions, earlier in my life, I still kind of liked French Onion Soup and blooming onions too. So as my daughter loves onions (how is she even related to me?) I decided to put onions in our stuffed Gypsy Peppers.

Until watching Julia Child again on YouTube, I have to admit I never properly caramelized onions. Oh, I could brown the heck out of them, but I completely missed the part about actually cooking them before browning them. It makes quite a difference.

I took the “busy mom hack” approach to cooking my onions and zapped them in the microwave until cooked. Then I put them in the frying pan on low heat with some butter and olive oil. They got beautifully caramelized! It added so much flavor to the quinoa and the overall filling for the gypsy peppers.

We had more filling than gypsy peppers, so we just served extra on the plate next to the stuffed pepper — kind of made it look like it was spilling out of the pepper onto the plate. Topped with a sliced cherry tomato and sprig of Thai basil for a garnish. I think it adds a bit of 1970s je ne sais quoi.

They gypsy peppers themselves were to die for! Letting then ripen may have meant fewer total gypsy peppers for our harvest, but the sweetness and flavor were amazing. So sweet! Beautiful color! They are really ideal for stuffing as I didn’t pre-cook them at all. The skin was perfect just filled with our stuffing mix and then cooked in our convection toaster oven.

I only hope that our remaining gypsy peppers get this good. And I hope I can duplicate this again.

*I’ll try to add actual measurements at some point. I didn’t use a recipe. But it was about a can of garbanzos (drained), 2 cups of cooked quinoa, 1/2 a medium-large sweet onion (diced and caramelized), several cloves of garlic, and 1 large diced tomato. Herbs, salt, and pepper to taste. I used all of the herbs seen in the photo here.

Balcony Garden Harvest

Balcony garden harvest with herbs, gypsy peppers, jalapeño, and several types of tomatoes. This is part of what’s for dinner. Glad to have picked our gypsy peppers before they got nibbled by critters!

Check out what we cooked, Stuffed Gypsy Peppers.

Zote Flakes and Other Finds

Zote laundry soap comes in both bars and flakes. Until a little over a year ago I wondered what kind of freak uses laundry bar soap.

And until a few months ago I’d never seen Zote flakes in person anywhere. That changed at a local Shoppers Food grocery store.

I didn’t buy it at first (I still had two bars at home), but I did take some photos. Yes, I am that lady — the one taking pictures of a box of soap flakes right there in aisle 12. Who’s the flake now?

Flakes are good … for folks looking to use real soap who are short on time. Like me! It’s basically pre-grated Zote bar soap. Instead of little grated curls of soap, Zote flakes are flat. But both bars and flakes have the same true-soap ingredients. 

There are a few down sides to Zote flakes.  

I can’t see rubbing the flakes on a stain to spot treat it – too hard. You’ll have to do that another way . 

While bars are super economical, flakes cost more. The picture on the box shows that a single box of Zote Flakes = 2 bars of Zote. See the little pictogram in the lower right on the back of the box, below? 

Flakes are  $2.79 at Shoppers Food and I can find Zote bars for $0.97 at Walmart. (They’re a dollar at Shoppers.) That means bars cost about 30% less than their flakier counterpart. Maybe closer to the price of Fels Naptha? Plus you can get a little arm workout when you grate Zote bars. Yay, exercise!

Upon even further comparison, how exactly can Zote Flakes claim that 1 box = 2 bars when each bar is 14.1 ounces and the entire box of flakes is only 17.6 ounces? The math seems wonky. Shouldn’t it be 2 x 14.1 = 28.2 ounces? 

Yes and no. 

The Zote Flakes are hard and dry. Like really really well cured soap. Zote bars are fairly soft. Think the consistency of warm malleable candle wax versus completely cooled hard chips of wax. 

Zote flakes probably have very little moisture compared to bars. I guess this might mean that two grated bars, if left to dry cure, maybe for months, could possibly end up weighing about as much as a box of Zote Flakes. 

The real test, though, would be to compare the cleaning power of each. I need to try that. 

And, just how well do Zote Flakes dissolve in water? I’ll have to test that too. As it is, I’ve been using a finer grater when grating laundry bar soap to speed dissolvabiliy. 

It’s good to try one box of flakes, though, right? It is a big win for a lot of people to avoid grating bars of soap. (Words I never thought I would type.)

Until I do some tests, please enjoy some photos of other laundry products I found near Zote flakes.

Lots of laundry products! But many of these are detergents rather than true soaps. And many of them aren’t in English so I’m not sure what they are or what they have in them, but it was fun to see some new items.

There are:

Humming birds …

Suazel … Suazul? Zuul? Should I be on the lookout for the Key Master (from Ghostbusters)?

A kinder gentler Gozer? 

Whoa! Yeah. Let’s just take a look at this adorable Foca laundry seal instead.

Much better.  I’ll just finish up with that.

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