Saturday, August 27, 2011

Confections of a Closet Master Baker

I picked this book up at the library a week or so ago.   The author is Gesine Bullock-Prado.  Recognize part of the last name?   She's Sandra Bullock's sister.  It's a quick read about her decision to leave her sister's production company, move to Maine and open a bakery.  Her life as a "closet baker" was in Hollywood where she at first baked for friends and then started baking for colleagues, for gifts and for the person who hadn't had a strawberry-rhubarb pie since childhood.  She does a good job of bringing her characters (especially those who work in her bakery) to life.

The quote from the beginning of the book that I particularly liked was this:

"I didn't want more stuff.  I wanted to be more happy.  I wanted to be good.  I wanted to stop hating people and start understanding.  And the only way I knew how to feel like a good and kind person was through baking."

Another favorite part of this book was Chapter 15 called The Sacred Time 3pm.   For the author, growing up, 3pm was time that her mother and grandmother (both German) would stop for cake and coffee.  

When I traveled with my mom to Germany in 2003 for us to visit the villages where our great-great grandparents lived we made a conscious effort to stop for cake or ice cream.  Every day.  Sometimes more than once. 

"Before you have to go home and make dinner for your family but after you've given blood at the office, sneaking away in the late afternoon is one of life's great pleasures.....

...Occasionally I'll even pour myself a cup of coffee and join them.  I said to her, that what I had always wanted was to bring 3pm to America.  Where coffee and cake weren't inhaled but savored with a lovely setting and kind people."

Maybe instead of bringing sexy back, we should bring 3 pm back.   What do you think?

Friday, August 26, 2011

No, I don't need a letter opener: The battle against free swag

Swag - it hides in my kitchen cabinet

I don't want any more swag.

College is your first visit to the land of swag and you love it!   On the Quad you say yes to free pizza, t-shirts, highlighters, and stress balls.  Career fairs are the next level.  You talk to recruiters from companies you would never work for simply for a chance to spin the prize wheel and win a can coozie.    Today I was at a worker's comp seminar.   I know, you're jealous.   The minute I walked in I got my copy of the materials on a logoed jump drive.   I could then grab a water bottle and a pen holder...but I didn't.   

I don't need any more t-shirts.   I can only sip from one water bottle and one coffee mug at a time.   I'm not ambidextrous so I only need one pen.   In general?  I don't want any more crap and I feel bad giving it away or throwing it away.   My solution?  I don't take it.   I don't care that's free.  I don't want to carry it.  I don't want to store it. 

Chapstick.  If you need a logo giveaway, pick chapstick.   You can never have too much.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Recipe: Reuben Cubans

I don't have cable or satellite, so watching the Food Network is something that is limited to occasions where I'm staying in a hotel.    So I don't really know much about Rachel Ray, other than that she loves her EVOO.  I think I found this recipe in an issue of her magazine that I got from the library, but I don't know when and I couldn't find it on her website.   Anyway - it's all the good things about reubens and cubans combined into one sandwich.   The two reasons I don't eat reubens?  1) kraut  2) thousand island dressing.   And without those things you might as well say you're having a corned beef and swiss sandwich.

The original recipe calls for you to use your outdoor grill - I used my tiny George Foreman and all went well. 

3 tablespoons mayo (used Trader Joe's wasabi mayo)
3 tablespoons dijon mustard
3 tablespoons chopped dill pickle
1 1/2 tablespoons chopped pickled jalapenos (used Mandi's Jalapeno Relish - a find at the Cherry Creek farmer's market from the same Colorado folks who make delicious toffee)
8 slices rye bread (4 inches wide was the recommendation in the recipe)
1 1/4 pounds ground pork
salt and pepper
8 slices of swiss cheese (the recipe called for shredded, but slices were an easy find in the store)
8 thin slices canadian bacon

In a small bowl mix together the may, mustard, pickle and jalapeno.   Spread on all 8 slices of bread.  Shape the pork into 4 patties that are the size of your bread and season with salt/pepper.  

Grill pork patties uncovered (on a real grill - on the GF the cover was fine) until the edges are no longer pink, about 3 minutes.  Flip, top with one slice of the cheese and cook 3 more minutes.  Put the burger cheese side down on 4 of the bread slices. 

Meanwhile (or right after depending on how much grill space you have) grill the canadian bacon until lightly charred, 1-2 minutes each side.   

Put 2 slices of the canadian bacon on top of each burger, then add another slice of swiss cheese and the top piece of bread (with the mayo side down).  Lightly oil / spray the grill, put the assembled sandwiches back on and cook until the bottom slices are toasted and the cheese is melted and gooey, about 3 minutes, then flip until the other side is toasted.  Again, on the GF grill everything was toasting at once so it didn't take long.   The original recipe recommends brushing the top of the bread with olive oil, but I omitted that step.

In the true style of Rachel Ray:  Yum-o!

Monday, August 22, 2011

The Chey Dog as an Investment

Today I was reading on a post called "The 10 Best Things I Ever Bought".   On the author's list at #4 is his dog, Major.    He got his dog in 2003, the same year I adopted Chey (although Chey is 9 years old since she wasn't a puppy...AND according to some horrible chart that was in an email, she is now "geriatric.")  I knew when I got her that I would have her through many of my upcoming life experiences (relocation, buying a house, etc).  I don't know how much I've spent on Chey over her life.   She's been very healthy.   But I've spent quite a bit in boarding costs over the years especially when I was traveling.   Friends with dogs and my sister as a roommate have cut down my expenses in this category in the past two years.   She ranks right up there with the money I spend on travel for life experiences.      

Recipe: Peach Cobbler Bread

It's Palisade Peach season here in Colorado!  I bought peaches a week ago at the farmer's market and they were gone within 2 days.    I haven't really cooked with peaches before.   I just eat them and go.  I like breakfast breads, so this recipe seemed like a good place to start.   The original recipe is here on   I read through the user reviews and made some changes for my first peach project.

1/3 cup butter/margarine softened
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1/3 cup, minus 2 tablespoons, water
2 tablespoons oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
1 1/2 cups fresh peaches, peeled and diced  (next time I may up this to 2 cups)
1 2/3 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
dash nutmeg
1/2 cup chopped pecans

Topping:  2 tablespoons chopped pecans and 2 tablespoons brown sugar

In a large bowl cream butter and sugar.  Add eggs one at a time beating well after each addition.  Beat in water, oil, and extracts.  Stir in peaches.  Combine flour, baking soda, salt, baking powder and spices; gradually add to the creamed mixture  Stir in pecans.  Pour into a greased 9x5x3 loaf pan.  Combine topping ingredients and sprinkle over batter.  Bake at 350 for 50-55 minutes or until a toothpick inserted the center comes out clean.  Cool before removing from pan.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Recipe: Salted Caramel Brownies

The people at Cooking Light know what they're doing.   No doubt.  I just got the September issue in the mail and the cover screams "Favorites Made Healthy!"   One of those favorites?  Brownies.

I followed the recipe verbatim.   They are deliciously sweet and salty all in one.    The only downside?  I bought the smallest possible can of evaporated milk (the only ingredient I didn't have on hand) and I still have most of it left.   Not sure what to do with it. 

Take one.  Take two.   Sit down with a cup of coffee and enjoy.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Dealing for Dining in Denver: The Living DealaGroupoPerkaPepperLoChick Savings Plan

Biker Jim's Gourmet Dogs
$20 for $10 through
Westword Voice Daily Deals

I like food.   This comes as no surprise to people who know me...or even people who only know me through this blog.  My approach to trying new restaurants in 2011 is the Living DealaGroupoPerkaPepperLoChick Savings Plan.   All of these coupon sites have discounted offers to local businesses.   My attitude? Buy a coupon when I have extra cash and then go out and enjoy it when I don't.  Yesterday I took my co-worker for a gelato ($10 for $5) I paid for three months ago and tonight my sister and I went out for Mexican ($30 for $15 plus a free sopapilla!).   It's win win as far as I'm concerned.   In case you thought there were only one or two sites to get these offers, think again.  Below is the list of sites I get info from for offers here in Denver.     

The Ones You Should Know
Living Social
The Ones You Might Know
Denver Perks
Westword Voice Daily Deals
Open Table Spotlight
Denver Steals & Deals
YoLo Deals
Travel Zoo Denver
Crowd Savings
Urban Dealight
Zowzee Denver
Deal Karma
Deal Chicken

Deal Pepper

Red Square Euro Bistro
$50 for $25 through Open Table Spotlight

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Plight of the Pay Phone

I was reading a post over on Frugal Dad titled "15 Things Our Grandparents Lived Without (and We Probably Could, Too)".   Item #3 was cell phones.   I remember getting my first cell phone in college.   It wasn't quite the bag phone that my grandma had (see?  She had a cell phone too), but it had it's own zipper case.   I got a droid phone at the beginning of the year. Now it's hard to imagine life without a smart phone. 

Except when I was in Tanzania earlier this year.   There it was great to be disconnected to TV, news, phones, facebook, and the world at large.   Yet another justification for vacation. of the many comments on that blog post was about the disappearance of pay phones.   Living without a cell phone was easier when everyone had a home phone and public phones were readily available.   Drive by a gas station and you may see the familiar phone box / stand is empty.  I work in a large hotel with over 1000 rooms and 600 employees.  We have exactly two pay phones.  Someone who doesn't have a cell phone who needs to make a phone call will have a hard time contacting their friends, family or even the EMT's unless they stay home - or grab their friend's phone.  (Maybe some people CAN live without cell phones - as long as people they know have them....hmmm).  

Someone walking around downtown Denver looking for a pay phone might find it a bit of a challenge.  They are better off asking a complete stranger to make a call for them or to borrow their phone.  Even in developing nations cell phones have become big (and micro) business because they reach places that never had phone lines. 

Quick college story about life before cell phones:  I used to give tours of my dorm building (LAR for you U of I folks).   A few ladies who graduated in 1957 came by to see their old home.   There used to be one phone on each floor and someone would buzz your room if the call was for you.   They would leave a bobby pin on top of the buzzer in their room.   If they came home and saw the pin on the floor they would know that someone called for them while they were away.  It was the pre-answering machine.

There are some other things on that list that I do live without:  #2 Tanning Beds, #6 Electronic Book Readers, #7 Digital Cable, #9 Plasma TV, #11 Xbox/Playstation/Wii, and #14 Student Loans.

#10 Satellite Radio?  It was a life saver on my New Mexico road trip earlier this year, but I don't use it daily.   My ipod fills that gap (and it wasn't on this list). 

On the flip side, although I like maps, I also appreciate the GPS (#1) on my phone.   And don't go trying to take away my microwave (#3)!

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Recipe: Carrot Cake Pancakes

Breakfast is big business.   I don't like getting out of bed, but I do like to go out for breakfast.   I got this recipe courtesy of Whole Foods and decided I would try to make a gourmet pancake of my own.  And since it was my personal gourmet pancake, I did not put in any raisins. 

What You Need

1 1/4 cups pancake mix (mine was Jiffy)
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3/4 cups plus 2 tablespoons of low-fat/skim milk
1 tablespoon of vegetable oil (original recipe calls for 3 T oil, but only 1 T is for the cake batter, the remainder is for the griddle - mine is non-stick, so this wasn't necessary)
1/4 cup canned crushed pineapple, drained well
3/4 cup shredded carrots
1/4 cup toasted chopped pecans
pure maple syrup

What You Do 

In a large bowl whisk together mix and cinnamon.  Add milk and oil (1T) and whisk until combined.  Stir in pineapple, carrots and pecans until well combined.  Use 1/4 cup measuring cup to portion your pancakes.  Cook on skillet over medium heat until golden brown on the bottom (use your normal pancake technique of seeing it bubble first), then flip.   Batter will make 8-9 pancakes.   I served these with maple syrup, but the crushed pineapple is another option. 

Project 365 - July 21-31

July 21 - Mini cupcakes for Relay for Life
July 22 - Sunset from All-City Stadium
July 23 - Some of the relay team in the wee hours
July 24 - Finally visited one of the rec dept pools near my house
July 25 - Hot - it's a theme
July 26 - Sunset at City Park
July 27 - Fun with history (and food) at Blake Street Vault - 1st new restaurant of the week

July 28 - picture to come - probably of some home improvements...
July 29 - Garlic Knots followed by delicious pizza, great customer service and good looking waiters at Armando's Ristorante and Pizza - 2nd new restaurant of the week
July 30 - All early mornings should start with donuts 
July 31 - Tried out Five Guys for burgers and fries.  It's a chain, but it was my first time there, so it was new to me.  Cheers for the cajun fries.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Recipe: Peanut Butter Cereal Treats

We have too much peanut butter.   And by too much, I mean more than one jar.   I'm pretty certain that I never intended to have more than one in the house at a time.   The only reason I ever buy any is to cook.  And now, thanks to courtesy coupons from King Soopers (based, I'm sure on my Sooper card usage), I am getting another free container sometime in the next month or so.   Fortunately this recipe helped finish off the open jar. I pulled open a couple different cookbooks looking for something that used peanut butter and wouldn't require much, if any, work on my part.    This recipe has a prep time of 6 minutes.  Done and done.

From the book: America's Favorite Bake Sale

4 cups of crispy rice cereal (also helping clean out the pantry)
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup peanut butter

That's it.   Couldn't be easier. 

Spray your 8 or 9 inch square baking pan with cooking spray.   Pour cereal into a large bowl.
In a medium saucepan combine corn syrup and sugar.  Stir occasionally, heat on medium, until it reaches a boil.  Boil 1 minute then remove from heat and stir in peanut butter until smooth.   Pour over cereal and stir until well coated.  Press the mix into your pan and cool for 15 minutes.

My sister reminded me that nothing goes better with peanut butter than chocolate, so I poured chocolate chips on half the pan and then (because it was a silicone pan) put the whole thing in the microwave for a minute or so until the chocolate was melted enough to spread.    Put the pan in the fridge to cool for 15 minutes, flip it out and slice. 

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Recipe: Cashew Curry Chicken

The fridge was sad and pathetic this past week with nothing that resembled dinner or anything that could become dinner.  I was gone most nights this week, but my sister was scavenging for lunch and dinner options.  This recipe came from Sunflower Market.  My cashews of choice are Trader Joe's Chili Lime.  As I've mentioned before, there aren't any TJ stores here in Colorado, but periodically I travel somewhere where I can restock.  These cashews added a little extra kick since I didn't use especially spicy curry powder.

1 cup light coconut milk
1-2 tablespoons curry powder (2 tablespoons here)
sea salt to taste
1/2 large onion, chopped
1 medium garlic clove, chopped
1/3 cup water
1 pound skinless boneless chicken diced into cubes
1 cup green beans (1" or so)
1 cup broccoli (I used frozen beans and broccoli)
1/3 cup cashews (if I didn't have flavored cashews I would have toasted them per the recipe)

Bring half the milk to a simmer in a large skillet over medium-high heat.   Whisk in the curry powder and salt, working out any clumps.  Stir in onion and garlic and cook for one minute.  Stir in the remaining coconut milk plus water, and then the chicken.   Cook down the liquid for 10 minutes on low before adding the beans and broccoli.  Cover and simmer for 5-10 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked through and the veggies lose their raw edge.  Remove the skillet from heat and stir in the cashews.    Serve with rice, pasta, or straight up.

I Heart Denver

Denver's Blue Bear
Inspired by the I Heart My City feature on the Intelligent Travel page of National Geographic, I decided to create my own list for Denver.   For your enjoyment, I present:  I Heart Denver.

Denver is My City

The first place I take a visitor from out of town is Red Rocks.

When I crave sweets I always go in search of the Denver Cupcake Truck (you can follow them on Facebook).

To escape commuter traffic, I head out via RTD light rail.

If I want to ride my bike I go on the Cherry Creek Trail.

For complete quiet, I can hide away in Cherry Creek State Park. It's surrounded on all sides by the city, but when you're out in the middle, you can't tell.

If you come to Denver, get your picture taken with the Blue Bear at the Convention Center.

If you have to order one thing off the menu from Biker Jim's Gourmet Dogs it has to be the Tahini Grilled Cauliflower (and a gourmet dog, of course).

Sweet Action is my one-stop shop for great ice cream (blackberry marscapone chile or lemon ginger cookie anyone?).

When I'm feeling cash-strapped I go to the Denver Art Museum on the first Saturday of the month (Free day!).

Photo ops in my city include the pianos on 16th street mall and the giant broom and dustpan at the Denver Art Museum.

The best vantage point of the city is the sundeck on the top of floor of the Museum of Nature and Science.

The most random thing about Denver is the sheer number of charity walks, runs, and rides that are available every weekend almost all year round.

In my city, an active day outdoors involves your choice of: bike, running shoe and/or dog.

My city's best museum is The Cell - they just have one exhibit which is called Anyone, Anytime, Anywhere. It's about terrorism.

To find out what's going on at night and on the weekends, read Westword.

You can tell a lot about my city from the number of bike paths.

In spring you should eat as many places as possible during Denver Restaurant Week (and then enjoy some spring skiing to work it off).

In the summer you should graze through all the farmer's markets, go to Film on the Rocks and City Park Jazz.

In the winter you should join the masses for the annual Parade of Lights.

A hidden gem in my city is Old South Pearl Street.

For a great breakfast joint try Snooze (but go on a weekday or be prepared to wait)

If you like beer, don't miss the Great American Beer Festival in September…it's already sold out, so you should plan ahead for 2012.

Just outside of Denver you can visit Garden of the Gods, Estes Park and Mount Evans.

The best way to see my city is by walking the different neighborhoods.

If my city were a pet it would be a very enthusiastic and active golden retriever.

What do you think?

Monday, August 8, 2011

Recipe: Peanut Butter Dreams

When my maternal grandma passed away, my mom and aunt brought me some of her dessert cookbooks and her candy molds because it was a hobby that we both shared.  Over the weekend, I pulled a book off the shelf that I had never opened...the vintage looking Mable Hoffman's Chocolate Cookery.  The copyright of this book?  1978.   In the first few pages of the book there is a very 70's looking photo of Mable herself.   This prompted a laugh and my sister to make the following post on Facebook...before we even tried these bars:

Some people use the eagle or the wolf as their spirit guide; not Jenni.  Today, she has placed her trust, direction and life (and thus mine) into the solid, wizened hands of one Ms. Mable Hoffman, who skyrocketed to fame with "Crockery Cookery" and "Chocolate Cookery". Ms. Mable will live on in our heart and stomach, provided we survive her recipe for "Peanut Butter Dream Bars". Bring it, Mable. And if it is good, bring it on again!

I think these turned out fine considering it was my first experience working with Mable.  The recipe is described in her book as "An exquisite blend of chocolate and coconut over a peanut butter crust." 

1/2 cup peanut butter
1/4 cup butter/margarine (room temp)
1/2 cup brown sugar, lightly packed
1 cup flour

2 eggs
1 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup flaked or shredded coconut
6 oz (1 cup) semi-sweet chocolate chips

Preheat over to 350.  In a medium bowl blend peanut butter, butter, and brown sugar.  Stir in flour.  Turn out into an ungreased 13x9 pan (I lined mine with wax paper).  Flatten dough with hand to cover bottom of pan.  Bake 10 minutes (I opted for 8, it is Colorado after all).  While baking, prepare topping.

Topping:  In a medium bowl beat eggs well.  Add brown sugar and vanilla.  Beat until blended.  Mix in flour, powder and salt.  Stir in coconut and chocolate.  Spread on baked crust.  Return to oven; bake for 25 minutes (20 here) or until golden brown.  Cool slightly in pan before cutting.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Recipe: Down Home Pulled Pork

"Down home, where they know you by name and treat you like family.  Down home, where a man's good word and handshake are all you need.  Folks know if they're falling on hard times they can fall back on those of us raised up down home." -Alabama-

Full Disclosure:  I have never lived anyplace where I used the phrase "down home."  I hear it in country music and sometimes read it in books.   The original recipe - one of those tear off cards that I have no idea where it came from - calls it down home, so here we go.  Down home Denver style?  Not sure about that.

5lb boneless pork loin (honestly, mine was closer to 4)
rolls / buns
1/4 cup butter/margarine
2 cups chopped onion
2 cups ketchup
2 cups BBQ sauce
1 12oz can beer or 1 1/2 cups water
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons chili powder (I used chipotle chili powder)
2 tablespoons cinnamon
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon prepared mustard
2 tablespoons white vinegar

Put the full pork loin in the crock pot on low heat for 2-3 hours. (time passes) Pull the pork loin out and cut into smaller pieces, you may be able to pull some of it at this time.  Put it back into the crock pot for another hour.  Pull the pieces out and pull the pork using two forks.  If you still have some pieces that can't be pulled apart yet, don't worry, you'll let it cook in the sauce for a few hours and it will all work out.   

Put the butter and chopped onion in a skillet and cook on medium heat until onions are soft, about 5 minutes.   You now have the option to just put all the sauce ingredients in the crock pot and stir it up there, or mix all the sauce ingredients in a second bowl and then pour it over the pork.   Once you've sauced your pork, let it cook over low heat for as long as you'd like (at least 2-3 hours).   It becomes even more delicious if you let it go all day or overnight and will pretty much fall apart on its own. 

This is great for a party or to make with the full intention of freezing leftovers or taking them in your lunch.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Project 365 - July 11-20

July 11 - a small nativity from Bethlehem
July 12 - BBQ gyro from Renzio's
July 13 - Seminar at Invesco Field
July 14 - Sometimes all you want is pizza
July 15 - They saw dogs can learn 165 words...I think she just knows "cookie"
July 16 - Delicious breakfast at Syrup including
beignets (above) and amazing corned beef hash (below)

July 17 - Tin Star is the place in Evergreen for BBQ and donuts
together in perfect harmony (above)
I wish I thought of these magnets (below)

July 18 - Rockies Game
July 19 - Imagine that, more rain
July 20 - The accounting office made leis for our office

Denver Restaurants: Red Square Euro Bistro

Taking advantage of one of the Open Table Spotlight offers earlier this year, my sister and I went to Red Square Euro Bistro in June.  Yes, I'm behind.   The offer was $50 for $25 and going on a weeknight before the theater was good timing.    The atmosphere and service are good and the food was very tasty.   You've got to have at least one shot of their infused vodkas.  I had fig and my sister had dill.   Cheers!

Infused Vodka
Pelemeni  (meat filled dumplings)
Grilled Pork Chop Loin
Black Forest Crepe

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Recipe: Panaeng Beef in Red Curry Peanut Sauce

Prior to traveling to Thailand in 2009, my knowledge of Thai food was limited to pad thai and things involving spicy peanut sauce.  After spending a month there, I lost seven pounds, even though I was eating constantly and loving it all.  The culprits?  Lots of fresh fruits and veggies.   The heat and humidity probably didn't hurt either.   When I came back I discovered the H-mart, the big Asian grocery store here in Denver where I could find many of the specialty ingredients for Thai cooking - and at a much better price than King Soopers.   For Christmas I asked for a cookbook of easy Thai recipes.  I received the book Quick & Easy Thai  by Nancie McDermott.   The nice thing is that substitutions are offered for ingredients you might not be able to find (ie using brown sugar in lieu of palm sugar). 

The sad tale of my basil plant
Over Memorial Day weekend we were in New Mexico and hit up Trader Joe's.  They had basil plants on sale for $2.99 and I thought "what a great idea!  I can use it for fresh basil all summer."  Fresh basil is usually between $.50-1.00 a bunch at the H-mart and much more expensive at your standard grocery store.   The sad fact?  I was unable to keep the basil plant happy and finally it gave up the ghost.  Too much sun, not enough.  Too wet, too dry.  It went from four stalks down to one last sad limp looking stem.  And then one day it was gone.   This was one of the last recipes that benefited from the short life of this basil plant. 

1 cup unsweetened coconut milk
1/2 cup water
1/2-3/4 pound stir fry beef (pre-cut at the store)
2 tablespoons panaeng curry paste or red curry paste
2 tablespoons fish sauce
2 tablespoons palm sugar or brown sugar
3 tablespoons ground or finely chopped peanuts or peanut butter (or a little of both)
3 wild lime leaves torn or cut in quarters (optional)
a handful of Thai or Italian basil leaves, plus a few sprigs for garnish (optional)

In a medium saucepan, stir together 1/2 cup of the coconut milk and the water and bring to a very gentle boil over medium heat.  Spring in the beef, stirring to keep the pieces from sticking together, and simmer five minutes, until meat is tender.  With a slotted spoon, scoop the meat out into a bowl and set aside, leaving milk in pan to return to a gentle boil.  Stir in the curry paste and cook, pressing an stirring to dissolve the paste, 3 to 4 minutes, until the sauce is fragrant and smooth.  Return the beef and any juices to the pan, add the remaining 1/2 cup coconut milk, and bring back to a gentle boil.  In an attempt to get some more vegetables in my diet, I added green beans at this time.  Add the fish sauce, sugar, peanuts and lime leaves.  Stir well and simmer 3 to 4 minutes, until sauced is smooth.  Stir in the basil leaves and remove from heat.   Serve over rice or noodles (or just eat it right out of the bowl). 

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

The truth about almost free fun

There is free fun.  There is almost free fun.  Then there is fun that involves a $100 bar tab, a round trip ticket and/or a new outfit.  In reading some articles this week about saving money, free fun definitely shows its face.  Cutting your spending and eliminating fun seems like a sure way for your lofty saving goals to die a quick death.

I was thinking about camping.  This Friday night we are taking the youth camping.  Camping is one of those things that seems, on the outside, like a cheap activity.  It can be.  It can also add up.  Like many other activities there are supplies that you need to acquire.  Buy them all at once and it's pricey.  Slowly accumulate over time or borrow and you won't feel nearly the pain.   Groceries, drinks, coolers, ice, tent, sleeping bag, sleeping pad, firewood, cooking utensils, the three hour drive to 'get away from it all', canoe rental, lanterns, batteries,campsite name it and you can spend it.  All the sudden you think, "I should have gotten a hotel, gone on a day hike and gone out to dinner.  I'd be better rested and have spent the same."  This Friday's camping should actually fall in the almost free category.  Not too far away, on private land, hot dogs, s'mores and breakfast.

Actual free fun in Denver over the past few months:
City Park Jazz on Sunday nights (free if I pack a picnic and don't visit the Cupcake Truck)
Civic Center "Ride In" Movies...this weekend it's Ferris Bueller's Day Off
Walking the dog
Movies and books from the library
Free day at the Denver Art Museum and The Cell
4th of July Fireworks
Riding my bike (just need to go more often)

Almost free fun (subject to your interpretation):
Rockies Games
Dining via Groupon or Living Social (and the multiple copycat sites)
4 mile historic park
Zumba (my gym membership is now $45/year)
Farmers Market
New Mexico road trip using free hotel nights
Community pool

I need to find more ways to slide some of my travel from "budget busters anonymous" to "screaming deal" without limiting myself to Tulsa.  Or Pueblo.  Or Arvada.

It's a worthy challenge.  Visit "Where the Hell is Matt?"  He got a sponsor to fund his quest to travel the world doing a silly dance.


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