Saturday, January 31, 2015

Of movies, books, and art

I had fun last night watching a terrific one hour documentary on the iconic London Department store, Selfridge's. What an amazing man Harry Gordon Selfridge was! (1858-1947). He was an American, which I did not know, self-made from dire poverty and a single family home (dad deserted, mom brought him up.) He or Marshall Field invented the phrase "The Customer is always right" but nonetheless Selfridge used it so incessantly in his advertising and in training his clerks and so it is often attributed to Selfridge.

He focused heavily on customer service, was the first to use advertising and promotion so well. He was the first to use mass electricity (he kept the window display lights on after closing). Selfridge was the first to bring makeup from the dim recesses of the back of the store to the front, pairing it with perfumes to create a department store template used by every department store today. He dispensed with class distinction within the store. He invented browsing. He was the first to use and make acceptable the concept of publicity stunts. He created a safe place for Edwardian women to be in public without a chaperone. And to go to the bathroom while they were out. All that and more. It is a great little documentary and I loved all the vintage still photos from the Edwardian era and the early movies too. It is called Secrets of Selfridge's and it's on Netflix and Youtube

While I was watching I crafted. A colleague had given me some vintage Christmas wrapping paper from the 1940s and '50s. I decided to do a little painting and a collage. The painted papers were drying and I turned to the collage and here is the result. I am not being disingenuous when I say that I'm not good at it. I can write and take photos but making something with my hands is a desire is never well executed. I yearn to make pretty things but my compositions are usually clumsy and unpretty. Still, I had fun.

Final product

Final product scanned and digitally added-to
The reason I think that the above is just OK is because there's no theme, no statement, no cohesive thought. Aside from the fact that I love paper and digital art of clocks with no faces, there isn't a unifying interest. Just some pretty things glued on a paper.

These next two are collages I made that have a theme, so they make sense.

It references Revelation 20:1-3,

Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding in his hand the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain. 2And he seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years, 3and threw him into the pit, and shut it and sealed it over him, so that he might not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years were ended. After that he must be released for a little while.

Interestingly, I made this collage before I was saved or knew the bible.

Or this one,

That one I did make after salvation. It references the fact that the lost look for God but cannot see Him despite creation being in front of their face. (Romans 1:21-22; Ephesians 4:18) For the saved person, we can see Him but he is so holy that often we can't even look, (Exodus 34:30, 2 Cor 3:7-8) we must look away and bow in humility. Third, I long for the day when we can look Him full in the face and understand Him more, with our glorified mind.

The problem is, I have lots of stuff to make collages and art, but not the thought. It has all leaked away. Maybe if I pray about it, my mojo will come back.

Meanwhile here is some real art to look at. I enjoy art. The art I have is mostly good, of quality if not extremely valuable. I have two Fratelli Brothers Alinari with sticker on the back indicating its origins, Via Condotti Rome. A Fred Thompson hand coloured turn of the last century photo. As this website reports, a Thompson recently sold for $3500, though the one I have is much more common and is worth perhaps $50-100.
Who in the world is "Fred Thompson"? Fred Thompson was a photographer from Portland ME who, like his contemporary Wallace Nutting , sold hand-colored photos during the early 20th century. As a matter of fact, Thompson even visited Nutting's Southbury CT home around 1905 and collaborated with the much better- known Wallace Nutting.
Here is a bit more on Fred Thompson from an article titled Rare items not necessarily valuable:
Answer: Fred Thompson was the signature used by Frederick H. Thompson (1844-1909) and his son, Frederick M. Thompson (circa 1876-1923). The older Fred founded the Thompson Art Co. in Portland, Maine, about 1908. His son joined the company shortly before his father died. The Thompsons knew Nutting, and they produced hand-colored photographs similar to Nutting's. The most popular Thompson photos are of Maine outdoor scenes.
So what I have is not at the Monet level. I have a signed lithograph of a limited edition from American painter Edward Ripley (b. 1929). I believe its title is "A Farmhouse" at least that is what a copy on another website said. It's not worth a huge amount, but the Tate Gallery in London holds another of Ripley's landscapes. So apparently I'm not the only one who likes looking at his work. Currently it hangs by my couch, where I look at it when I lay down.

I've got some other stuff, and one is really intriguing. I've mentioned it before, it is an oil painting from an Italian in the late 1950s early 1960s of Naples Bay. My landlord gave it to me. He said he'd gotten to know the painter who was part of a family that ran a trattoria by the Bay when my landlord was in the Army. When he was re-deployed the painter gave it to my former landlord as a memento. I really wish I knew the artist. If my landlord told me the name I have forgotten.

I've also got some Winslow Homer watercolor reprints. I love Homer. One is of a storm at Nassau, palm trees bent over rooftops from the strong wind. One is a small but bright print of the Adirondack series. A third is a seascape of surf and rocks.

Well it's past noon. I better get a move on. Vacuuming awaits. Then books!

And maybe a nap.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

It's a blizzard there, it's warm here

I lived for 46 years in New England. I've had my share of blizzards, including the historic Blizzard of '78, which closed not only schools, but all of RI for 5 days.
Not only did the 1978 blizzard drop up to 4 inches of snow per hour for more than a full day, but it also struck during the afternoon after a clear morning. Many were stuck out in the snow in their cars, with 3,000 cars and 500 trucks stranded along Massachusetts’ Route 128. The storm most affected Boston (with more than 27 inches of snow) and the state of Rhode Island. Source and photo source

Blizzard of '78, RI

Today's blizzard, Gray Maine turnpike exit. I lived a mile from here and worked 1/4 mile from here.

Today, right now. It is 52 degrees and sunny. Blue skies. The landlord's grandchildren are romping on the lawn with the baby lamb the other tenant owns. They are feeding the lamb a bottle and playing ball. Life is good.

Comer, GA, Looking north
Even a bit of green grass

Looking south

Monday, January 19, 2015

Frugal cooking lessons

I have the day off due to the Martin Luther King holiday. Yay! It is below freezing now but later it is supposed to get up to 64 degrees, AND be sunny all day. Can't beat Georgia weather!

My neighbor who pastures her sheep in the field immediately adjacent to the side yard, said a momma sheep died, and had a baby lamb to take care of. She put a diaper on him and brought him inside the house. Bottle feeding every two hours ensued. Yesterday I heard her bring the lamb outside, its tiny baby bleat was so cute. When it warms up some later today I'll go outside looking for the little lamb. If he is amenable, lol, I'll take some pictures.

Yesterday I did my weekly cooking. It won't last me all week, it usually lasts till Thursdays, maybe Friday lunch if I stretch it. But the Sunday extravaganza comprises the bulk of dinners and lunches for the work-week. Where the prepared dishes fall short, sandwiches, fruit, or cereal fills in. I don't like to come home from 8 solid hours having run around on my feet to stand around in a kitchen. So I make several main dishes, side dishes, and desserts ahead. It also helps when I'm hungry, I'll eat what's made instead of eating something less healthy.

So this week I made:

--Carrot-pumpkin-ginger soup
--Spinach-cheese quiche

--roasted potatoes,
--roasted peppers/onions,
--roasted broccoli

--Pumpkin-chocolate chip muffins
--Banana-oatmeal chewy bars

I cut up three oranges that had been put on sale, for a citrus salad, and I also have mango, bananas, and a cantaloupe ripening for later in the week.

Why these dishes? To be frugal, you don't go to the store with a list of ingredients in order to cook certain dishes you want to make. You go to the store and see what's on sale, and THEN prepare your menu. Frozen carrots and frozen broccoli were on sale. At my local store the owners often gather overripe bananas, bag them, and sell 6-8 of them for 99 cents. And at the Dollar store, 30 oz cans of pumpkin were on sale for $1.50. I bought it all.

Not my soup but it looks like this
The frozen veggies and the pumpkin were fortuitous. I'd been to the grocery store last week and became a bit dispirited because the fresh veggies have gotten SO HIGH in price. The selection has been reduced, too. I really miss Bountiful Baskets. But enough of that, I'll drive myself crazy pining for a long-lost golden time of a plethora of fresh fruits and veggies via the now defunct food co-op.

In monthly budgeting, and I budget monthly because I get paid monthly, rent or mortgage should comprise no more than 25 to 30 percent of the net income. I live in a small place by choice, utilities are lower in a smaller place and it is easier to furnish and to maintain. My rent is very low but it's still 32% of my monthly net. It's one of the reasons I'm mindful of the grocery bill, make no stops in between the weekly shopping, and I am vigilant about using gas and heat and lights. If I can save on utilities I can overcome the 2% overage in rent. I don't like to skimp on food. Fresh, healthy food is important. I don't like to buy processed food or junk food, so again, committing to buy to fresh is important.

Monthly groceries should be about 12% of monthly net. I do spend about that much. So when veggies got so high I looked for an alternative. Doing without fruit and vegetables is not an option.

I've never been a fan of frozen vegetables, but for the first time I looked into their nutritive qualities. Apparently in some cases they can be more nutritious than fresh. Vegetables picked at the peak of freshness are then flash frozen, thus retaining nutrients. Fresh are picked prior to peak freshness in hope that continued ripening as it is transported to end destination. Here is a website explaining it:
While the first step of freezing vegetables—blanching them in hot water or steam to kill bacteria and arrest the action of food-degrading enzymes—causes some water-soluble nutrients like vitamin C and the B vitamins to break down or leach out, the subsequent flash-freeze locks the vegetables in a relatively nutrient-rich state.

On the other hand, fruits and vegetables destined to be shipped to the fresh-produce aisles around the country typically are picked before they are ripe, which gives them less time to develop a full spectrum of vitamins and minerals. Outward signs of ripening may still occur, but these vegetables will never have the same nutritive value as if they had been allowed to fully ripen on the vine. In addition, during the long haul from farm to fork, fresh fruits and vegetables are exposed to lots of heat and light, which degrade some nutrients, especially delicate vitamins like C and the B vitamin thiamin.

Bottom line: When vegetables are in-season, buy them fresh and ripe. “Off-season,” frozen vegetables will give you a high concentration of nutrients. Choose packages marked with a USDA “U.S. Fancy” shield, which designates produce of the best size, shape and color; vegetables of this standard also tend to be more nutrient-rich than the lower grades “U.S. No. 1” or “U.S. No. 2.” Eat them soon after purchase: over many months, nutrients in frozen vegetables do inevitably degrade. Finally, steam or microwave rather than boil your produce to minimize the loss of water-soluble vitamins.
Not my pumpkin muffins but they look like this

Hmmm. So when frozen vegetables went on sale I thought I'd try. I bought frozen carrots and broccoli. I decided to roast the broccoli, that was one way to get roasted veggies, which I love, and at the same time, cook out all the moisture.

The carrots became the soup. I sauteed onions and then dumped the frozen carrots right in the pot and cooked till they were soft and most of the moisture was gone. I knew I was going to puree them so any flaws in the carrots would be obliterated in the blender.

I learned that canned veggies lose a lot of their nutrients- except for two: pumpkin and tomatoes. With pumpkin, the canning process actually adds more beta carotene so the vegetable becomes more healthy. When I saw the 30 oz can of pumpkin on sale for $1.50, I immediately thought of several recipes- soup and two-ingredient muffins.

Two ingredient muffins (or cake) involves canned pumpkin and any boxed cake mix. Lots of people like spice cake mix with the pumpkin but I usually get yellow cake. Why? It's always on sale at the Dollar Store for $1.

So for $1.75 I can get 18 muffins. That's nine cents per muffin. I usually add a half a bag of chocolate chips so that brings the price per item to 13 cents per muffin. Still a lot better than 50 cents per muffin, or more if buying it out at a restaurant or drive thru. It goes without saying that eating out while on a budget is a no-no. It's wasted money.

If you have children, cooking all in a bunch saves time, prepares meals and snacks ahead which reduces spur-of-the-moment unwise purchases, and it also uses the oven more frugally.

If I look at my electricity bill I notice that weekend electrical use is assessed at a higher rate than weekdays. That's why the Electric Company always advises doing laundry or other high-electric use activities on the weekdays. I'm not going to cook at night after work, so since I choose the weekend I bunch up my cooking and stuff the oven to concentrate its use. At one point I had three pans of roasting veggies, a quiche, and the muffins in there.

My kitchen. Cute, isn't it!
It also concentrates my time. I only spent two hours doing it all at once. I went to church, came home and ate, watched a TV show, napped, and then at 5:00 I started cooking. By 7:00 I was done and eating a piece of quiche and side of roasted veggies for supper. While I was cooking I listened to music and a sermon. I didn't feel like a drudge nor put upon, it was relaxing. Cleanup happens all at once too, so I ate my supper at a clean kitchen table.

The key is to commit to it, forgo choosing recipes ahead of time, trusting yourself to creatively come up with dishes that use the items on sale, and be diligent to do it all at once.

Bon appetit!

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Mushroom watering can

EPrata photos

Don't fall asleep too late or you'll be up all night

I had a good week, it was enjoyable at work. I was a bit tired when I got home though. I ended up napping for two hours, from 5:30-7:30. Of course that means I'm a tree full of owls now. (It's 12:30 AM on Friday night)

I have a sink full of dishes but I find it helps dampen the cringing guilt of not doing them if I simply DON'T LOOK.

I plan to sleep late on Saturday and then have a slow and relaxing day. Meals this upcoming week will be:

--Cream of Carrot soup
--Spinach-feta quiche
--Roasted potatoes
--Roasted peppers and onions
--Roasted broccoli
--Chewy banana bars

In between there'll be cantaloupe, citrus salad, a mango smoothie, etc. But my main meals and side dishes and dessert is listed above. I bought frozen broccoli and plan to roast that. I am going to try eating some frozen veggies because they are less expensive than fresh, yet are flash frozen at the peak of ripeness, retaining more nutrients. I don't like the sogginess of defrosted frozen veggies, but I think the roasting will remove the moisture and still give the broccoli piece that nice golden color and crunch. The cream of carrot soup likewise will be another experiment with frozen veggies.

I bake with bananas a lot because the local grocery store often packages overripe bananas into a bag and sells a bunch for 99 cents. This is handy.

I had thought all week that the Martin Luther King long weekend was next weekend. Imagine my joy when I discovered it's this weekend. I'll love Monday.

Another thing I love is Georgia. After a week of truly freezing temps, lows in the low teens and wind chills in the single digits, today after a black ice start it was almost 60 degrees and sunny, No-jacket weather at recess. Love it!

Gas is down to $1.88. My tank was 2/3 empty and it only cost me $20 to fill it up. Woot! I may be able to drive for recreation again.

A friend gave me an Amazon gift certificate for Christmas. Today I used part of it. I ordered Talbott Teas. A different friend had given me this new-to-me tea at Christmas, a sampler package. It is smooth and great tasting tea. I learned that Shane Talbott used to run a spa, and wanting to give his customers a refreshing and relaxing experience, he created a line of teas. The tea bar at his spa became very popular. In 2012 he appeared on Shark Tank, wanting to leave the spa behind and concentrate on tea. He won and his teas are going global. As they should, they're really good teas.

I also bought a box of thank you notes and two pairs of socks. I think I was absent the day the passed out the shopping gene to women, but trust me, I'm thrilled with the purchases. Wild with excitement.

Another friend gave me a subscription to a tea magazine. I am very much looking forward to its arrival.

Well I'm starting to get tired now so I think I'll turn in. Have a good weekend everyone.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Brr it's cold outside

We have had some severely cold weather this week. It's unpleasant. Severely cold weather for Georgia is single digits, whether wind chill or actual. Our low temp Thursday was 13 degrees and a wind chill of 9F. The rest of the time it's been below normal temps, with dark skies and/or rain.

Ice. EPrata photo

Brrr. A cold rain.

Still, there are bright spots. There are trees with leaves on them. I heard a Carolina wren yesterday, just beautiful with its rolling trill. The sun, when it is out, brightens blue skies to a startlingly clear degree. And the cold doesn't last. Tomorrow it will be 50 degrees again, and the same all week, albeit with rain. However on Friday it is supposed to be 58 with bright sun. So there you go.

OK< that was my pity party.

For lunches this week I made pea soup, salmon-quinoa patties, cut up a bunch of fruit, chilled hibiscus tea (it's really refreshing!) and for the first time, homemade granola/cereal.

It's so yummy!

My friend at school had given me a large tub of homemade granola. I love granola. I enjoy the crunchy texture and its versatility. It's good on fruit salad, in salads, and as a cereal. I asked her for the recipe and it is from "100 Days of Real Food." It's a food website dedicated to showing the good effects of not eating processed food, something I am totally on board with.

The recipe couldn't be easier to make. It is a bit expensive though, at least compared to a Dollar General huge box of corn flakes. But as my friend says 'healthy food costs money.' The recipe is here.

Cooking it not one of my strong points. I usually leave out an ingredient, leave the kitchen and get involved with something else and burn it, or just go fast to get done. I've tried several times to master pancakes but I can't seem to do it. I know, I know, pancakes are easy! Not for me.

I found a good recipe, gathered all the ingredients, and focused. I mixed and sifted and sizzled the griddle. I poured, and they were paper thin and rubber. What did I do? or not do? Forget the baking powder. Oy. I think I have to give up and switch to French Toast for my weekend brunches.

My omelet came out pretty good though. The photo doesn't do it justice. It has slightly crunchy edges and a soft middle. It's filled with spinach and Feta cheese. It is one egg plus milk. I think I'm successful with omelets and frittatas because they are better left alone.

Monday we went back to school after the long Christmas break. No kids Monday, but in they flooded Tuesday through Friday. They'd grown like weeds and burbled about their vacation and gifts and Santa. They were so cute! I really missed them.

I watched a great documentary over vacation, Muscle Shoals." It's the story of Rick Hall and his famous recording studio he founded in an out of the way place, northeastern Alabama. I also have clued in to a great TV series. It's from the Brits, who really know how to do TV. It's called "New Tricks". After a mishap on a SWAT raid, a 50-ish female police superintendent is removed from the fast promotion track and put in a new initiative, the Unsolved, Open case files and given a desk in the basement. She is given retired policemen to work with who retired before computers and who used to solve cases the old fashioned way, three old dogs. Hence the title, "New Tricks".

It's an interesting show, with a good handling of the unfolding of the cases i.e. in a way I can understand and keep up, lol,  humor, and no grisly stuff. It is case driven (procedural) and character driven, with funny dialog and quick wit. I like it because all the people in it are old(er), like me. Best of all, it's been on for ten years, so I have a few episodes to get through before my inevitable plummet into despair that I'll never find another good show. (Their seasons lasted only 7 episodes though).

I'm going to have a mug of pea soup and a garlic breadstick for lunch and then retire to the couch to finish my book. Have a good Sunday everyone.