Sunday, April 26, 2015

Quick Fixes

I'm a bit shocked to hear that so many Americans are broke apparently because they eat out too much. We rarely go out to eat any more because of restaurant prices (going up) and quality and quantity (definitely going down.) I also find it difficult to eat out because my diet restricts me from eating about 90% of what's on any menu, so I generally have fish. I like fish, but oy, you get tired of it fast when everyone else is eating steak smothered with onions and bleu cheese crumbles.

I know getting into the habit of home cooking takes some commitment, and coming up with quick/easy/appetizing dinners that don't require five thousand ingredients one must procure from a specialty store is a challenge. But home cooked meals are not only thrifty, they bring the family together. If you don't have much cooking experience you can find tons of free cooking classes and videos online. Here's a list of free cooking instructional videos from Texas A&M AgriLife Extension that features quick, healthy dinners.

I think the key to making meals at home more often is to prepare easy, quick dinners a couple nights a week. Just keep it simple, too. For those of you who are looking for ideas, here are

Ten Quick & Easy Things I Make for Dinner

1. Breakfast: We like breakfast any time, so I'll put together some combination of waffles, pancakes, turkey sausage, turkey bacon, grits, egg white omelets, scrambled Egg beaters, toast, english muffins, etc.

2. Calzone and a caesar salad: if you don't like this one I've linked to you can find a bunch of other, easy-to-make calzone recipes online. They sell bagged caesar salad kits in most market produce sections if you need help putting that together, but it's very fast and easy to make your own.

3. Chili dogs: We adore chili, so I make a big pot of it every other month and freeze it in smaller containers, which I then thaw, warm up and put on top of hot dogs or smoked sausage when we want it. Usually these are so filling I don't bother with anything else, but if you want veggies a tray of celery sticks with ranch or blue cheese dip goes well with them.

4. French onion soup and grilled roast beef and swiss sandwiches: This sounds fussy but it's not, as I use sliced deli roast beef or leftover pot roast for the sandwiches and make a very simple version of the soup. Horseradish mayo is a great spread to add to the sandwiches (sparingly for those who aren't fans of the heat.)

5. Grilled cheese and tomato soup: Yes, the childhood classic, and we're still fans. I like using different cheeses for the sandwiches, too. Sprinkle the soup with oyster crackers or cheddar-flavored gold fish crackers for the kids. If you don't care for grilled cheese try BLTs.

6. Homemade pizza and a romaine salad: if you don't make your own pizza, frozen is fine. I make a romaine salad very simply by chopping up romaine and drizzling it with a homemade Italian vinaigrette and a bit of parmesan cheese.

7. Meatball sub sandwiches: a baguette + leftover meatball pasta sauce + provolone cheese; toast under the broiler for a couple minutes. Like the chili dogs these are pretty filling, but if you want veggies try slicing up a cucumber and drizzle with your favorite dressing.

8. Pulled pork BBQ sandwiches with beans and garlic-chive fries: I use an extra-lean pork tenderloin baked in the oven to cut down on the fat plus a bottled BBQ sauce we like. The beans are from the deli (they make them better than I do), and the garlic-chive fries are actually not fried but baked in the oven.

9. Rotisserie chicken and deli sides: Get all of it from your market's deli; if you live in the South Publix has a nice combo meal deal that feeds four for about twelve bucks, which is usually the price of one meal at a restaurant.

10. Tuna salad sandwiches and soup: This is one of my guy's favorite meals; I usually make a light chicken noodle soup to go with the sandwiches.

Another way I use leftovers is to make just about every variation of hot open-faced sandwiches with leftover meat, a little gravy and toast. You can do this with chicken, beef, turkey, pork or ham. If you're not a skilled gravy maker you can buy a jar of almost any variety at the store.

Also, if you want a decadent, beautiful dessert that everyone will love and think you slaved over but that requires no cooking, try this raspberry cream trifle, which my daughter's friends went wild over (and if you don't like raspberries, substitute strawberries, peaches or whatever fruit suits your fancy.)

Do you have any quick fix ideas for dinner you want to share? Let me know in comments.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Timing, Everything

We had some friends over and ordered in Chinese, and this was the sunny little fortune that came out of my cookie:

After receiving this and a couple other unsolicited but really lovely positive messages lately, I've decided that the universe is cheerleading me. It happens every now and then, usually when I'm busy but feeling good and really in no need of pom poms.

Which means . . . hell if I know.

This is what I would like know: Where are the pom poms when I truly need them? Like 2014, remember that rollercoaster ride, universe? Or when I got shin splints last month, and realized it only when I was still on foot two miles from home? Or the morning when I e-mailed the client a correction and gave the wrong page number (that was so professional)? Or every single time I open a menu and see something delicious I want but I can't have on my diet? Speaking of the diet, where was your support on Prom dress shopping day, when we stopped at that nifty French macaron mall cafe and I nearly died a thousand deaths in front of the display case with all those lovely little rounds looking at me and whispering seductively Diet? We do not diet in France, cherie. We spit on your diet.

I appreciate the good thoughts and positive energy -- honestly, I do -- and I'm sure deep inside somewhere I can fly. Today, however, I need to move my butt, finish the edit on the client's next installment, update the ledger, finish the laundry, and make sure I get in at least three miles with the walking. Oh, and figure out what to feed these people for dinner that is low-fat, has no cholesterol or sugar, and doesn't resemble or taste like tree bark and twigs.

Maybe you could drop a hint in the next cookie?

Friday, April 24, 2015

Completely Bananas

Here's a look at how Chiquita Bananas' fun Nana Serif font was created (with background music, for those of you at work):

Chiquita - Making of Banana font from Erik Post on Vimeo.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Just Write

Today I'm off to write something new and post it online before midnight. Everyone inclined to do the same is invited to join me.

My link: I'm bending the Just Write rules a little today by posting an old partial I've always wanted to finish. I did do a bit of rewriting and clean-up on it today, but it was already three full chapters, which is why there is so much of it. I'm still trying to decide if I want to continue on with it, but while I do, you can check out Ghost Writer.

For more details on Just Write Thursdays, click here to go to the original post.

Image credit: windujedi

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Journal Secrets

In today's all-digital, all-public-all-the-time age I think it's becoming more important than ever to keep some things hand-written and personal. Yes, this is yet another Why Aren't You Journaling? nag post. I know, it's not easy, and it generally requires you to write more than 140 characters, and it's a pain to upload to your Tumblr blog or Twitter thing or Facebook page. But with a little time and creativity you may discover it can be just as much fun as all the electronica.

This is a pic of the journal I'm using this month for my personal chronicles, and we'll take a couple peeks inside so I can show you what I put in it and how it helps keep me motivated and actively involved in learning, moving forward and feeling gratitude for my many blessings.

One reason I think more people don't journal is that they think they'll have nothing to say, or they dread all those blank pages, or they believe they'll end up whining and writing bad poetry the way they did in high school. Because a paper journal is probably now the last place you can bitch about anything without someone looking over your shoulder or using it to hatchet-job you online, it is tempting to make it a depository for all the negative, depressing things that happen. Now imagine that's all that survives you (personal journals are almost universally cherished once they get old enough), and someday your great-great granddaughter opens your old journal to find out what kind of person you were. Are they going to think you were the interesting person you are, or an endless complainer who never appreciated any of the good in life?

Personal struggles are standard journal fodder, but so are the little triumphs and accomplishments we manage, too. For this journal page I added a list from the magnetic notepad on my fridge, which I use to track my progress with walking each week. While history may not care how often I walked every day, it's important for me to know so I can stick to my goals, tally it up and feel a sense of accomplishment at the end of the week so that I'll be motivated to keep doing it. I like making and looking at lists that show what I'm doing, too, because they're a good barometer of how healthy I'm living. I'm now competing with myself to do a little more walking; I would love to work my way up to walking 50 miles every week (if that sounds like a lot, imagine Charles Dickens, who reportedly walked at least 20 miles a day.) When you get older motivating yourself to be active becomes more of a challenge, so setting goals and sticking to them helps boot me out the door every morning, too.

If exercise isn't an issue for you to journal about, pick something that is. For example, my friend Jill was trying to clean out her spare room, which was pretty cluttered with stuff, and making little progress. I suggested she start taking a picture of the room every time she worked on it and put the pic in her journal, along with a list of what she got out of the room and what she did with it. After a week of doing that she told me it did the trick, and she had the room cleaned out completely (this after months of being unable to make a dent in it.) She also tucked the receipts she got for donating some of the excess into her journal. Now next year come tax time she'll be able to detail exactly what she donated to Goodwill, and have the pictures to prove it, all by raiding her journal.

Here's something you may not know about me: I save every single card, note or letter my family and friends give or send to me in the mail by adding them to my journals. Here's a lovely card I received from a wonderful reader of mine that left me a little teary-eyed -- and yes, I do keep everything my colleagues and readers write to me, too. I even have a special journal just for editor correspondence. Occasionally, when I feel strongly about an issue, I write to very famous and powerful people, and sometimes they write back as well; among the more famous letters I've stored in my journals is one from then-President Bill Clinton about health care for the elderly, and a note from the CEO of Waste Management about the fair treatment of working-class people.

You may not think your correspondence is worthy of saving in a journal. I'm sure Jane Austen's friends might have thought that. Women of her time were mostly regarded and treated like room decorations, and I doubt anyone thought the little stories she scribbled would go on to become some of the most beloved classics in romantic literature. Or Emily Dickinson's few friends. Sure, she was a crazy lady who dressed in white and never left the house . . . and after her death would become one of the most admired and respected poets of all time. Almost all of what we know about Vincent Van Gogh's state of mind comes from the 874 letters that survived him. Even if you and all the people you correspond with never become famous, you still have value to history. You know how they say "In a hundred years, what will it matter?" Maybe in a couple hundred years all the electronica will be erased by some disaster, and your humble little journal may contain the only record to survive and show your time as it really was, ala Pepys.

Future fame as a dead celeb or posthumous contributor to history is definitely a glamorous reason to journal, but perhaps not as important as what has personal meaning for you. You all know one of the great joys in my life is quilting. I talk about it occasionally online, but where I really explore it and work on it and think about it is in my personal journals. I keep a quilt diary to record everything I make, but I also use my daily journals to play with design ideas, work out problems, figure out failures, celebrate milestones and pretty much quilt-dream whenever I like. This is something that makes me happy, allows me to channel my energy into artistic creation, and keeps me connected to some of the happiest aspects in my creative life.

This is a pic of some lovely quilted blocks and a huge, generous collection of fabrics that a dear friend sent to me. The colors and patterns are just amazing, and right now in my journal I' working out what to do with all of it. I'm sketching and planning and arranging little swatches on the pages, and having so much fun. Now that said, I don't think any of my quilts will be historically important; I'm not that skilled. I leave the history-making stuff to my more talented sisters. What will be important is what quilting taught me, how it made my life more colorful and fun and content. Those passages in my journals may inspire someone else someday to give it a try. I hope they do, and in passing along that gift I hope it enriches their life as much as it has mine.

Bottom line, whatever secrets (or non-secrets) you choose to put in your journal, the chronicle of your life is something only you can create. A journal is in every way a book of your life, and who better to write it than you?

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Club D

The final edited edition of Club Denizen is now posted to the online freebies library; to go to it click on the cover art. For those who have been following it for the last couple of months, not much has changed; I cleaned up what typos I could spot and added some bits for clarification here and there. I am tempted to make it into a novel, or perhaps a series, so I'll think more on that and see what the work schedule allows in the future.

Thanks to everyone who did follow along; writing this one was a lot of fun.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Friend to the Mobiles

According to this post, Google is going to make things a little easier for mobile users:

Have you ever tapped on a Google Search result on your mobile phone, only to find yourself looking at a page where the text was too small, the links were tiny, and you had to scroll sideways to see all the content? This usually happens when the website has not been optimized to be viewed on a mobile phone. This can be a frustrating experience for our mobile searchers. Starting today, to make it easier for people to find the information that they’re looking for, we’re adding a “mobile-friendly” label to our mobile search results.

This change will be rolling out globally over the next few weeks. A page is eligible for the “mobile-friendly” label if it meets the following criteria as detected by Googlebot: Avoids software that is not common on mobile devices, like Flash; Uses text that is readable without zooming; Sizes content to the screen so users don't have to scroll horizontally or zoom; Places links far enough apart so that the correct one can be easily tapped.

With more people using their mobile phones to surf the internet accessibility is apparently becoming an issue, and if you use your site or blog to promote your books you may want to see how yours will be flagged. According to Gerard over at The Presurfer, where I originally found the info and the link to the test: "This change will affect mobile searches in all languages worldwide and will have a significant impact in Google Search results. Users will find it easier to get relevant, high quality search results optimized for their devices."

To find out if your site will be flagged as mobile-friendly, go here to test the URL. And in case you're wondering about PBW: