Monday, March 30, 2009

Hero

If you have traveled in Europe, you've probably eaten Hero jam. It turns up a lot at breakfast in those cute little individual serving containers. Founded in Switzerland, Hero jams are top of the line. They contain no artificial flavors, colors, or preservatives and are certified Kosher. They come in the standard array of strawberry, cherry, apricot, raspberry, and more, all natural. And they make a sugar free line, too.

I used to buy Hero once in a while as a special treat, but as US prices creep up, the price of Hero isn't really in the luxury category anymore. If you're in the mood to try a new brand of jam, you can't go wrong with Hero.

Five cupcakes!

Friday, March 27, 2009

Equal Exchange Fairly Traded Chocolates

Remember Equal Exchange, the company that is into fair trade and supports small local cooperatives of farmers around the world? I promised to check out their chocolate. The sacrifices I make for this blog...

I found quite a selection of their chocolate at a local store today. There were at least four or five variations on dark chocolate. I opted for a plain dark chocolate (the mini ones in the picture) and for milk chocolate with a hint of hazelnut.

The dark chocolate was simply excellent. A nice clear flavor, without being overpowering or bitter. Definitely one of the better dark chocolates I've ever eaten.

The milk chocolate surprised me. While it wasn't soft, it had a creamy texture that reminded me of a German chocolate that I like very much. The hazelnut flavor is mild. Altogether a delicious chocolate. Turns out the chocolates are "produced in Switzerland for Equal Exchange." I'm not surprised -- they taste like Swiss chocolates.

Five yummy cupcakes!

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Dog Candy

I'm always on the lookout for dog treats that aren't made in China. Wish they had to tell us if any of the ingredients came from China.

Fortunately, VitaLife dog treats are clearly labeled and my dogs can't get enough of their Turkey Medallions. Yes, that's one of them sticking her nose in the picture to sneak a treat.

The turkey Medallions have simple ingredients: turkey, natural evaporated cane juice , and salt. Basically turkey jerky. I cut them in half, because they require a good deal of chewing and my dogs have been known to snarf their food.

Even better, the www.VitaLifemadewithlove.com website says "made with high quality, product of U.S.A. turkey." Okay, so it's dog candy. But they can't eat chocolate, and they deserve a little candy, right? But be careful which VitaLife product you choose. Some are made in China.

Five cupcakes from the resident canines.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Nutella

I have to confess, I go weak in the knees at the thought of Nutella. A lot of people are avoiding peanut butter these days. Small wonder. When you're gazing at jars of peanut butter, think about trying Nutella. It's soft and creamy, like peanut butter and doesn't need to be refrigerated. Made primarily of hazelnuts, skim milk, and cocoa, it spreads like peanut butter -- but it tastes even better.

Turns out it's Kosher and gluten-free. And there are no peanuts in it. The people who make Nutella promote it as an alternative spread for breakfast breads. I've been known to spark up blah cookies by using it in between two cookies. But it's also great right out of the jar... Bad diva!
Crazy for Nutella? Head on over to http://www.nutellausa.com/giveaway.htm to enter their contest to win a free case!

Five cupcakes for sinfully delicious Nutella.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Roasting Chicken Part Two

So when I left you yesterday, we had a raw chicken on a vertical roaster. Please note that I'm talking about a normal size chicken in the four pound range. My personal preference is for Amish chickens that have been fed a vegetarian diet (where do they find all those vegetarians to feed to them?).

Depending on the height of your vertical roaster, you may need to place the oven rack on the lowest level. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Set the chicken on the vertical roaster and place on a baking pan. Sprinkle salt on the chicken and rub it around the skin with your hand. You can add all sorts of herbs and spices here -- pepper, garlic powder, cumin -- whatever you like. Just sprinkle it on and rub to spread it. But just plain salt is also great.

Tuck the wings behind the bird. No trussing necessary. The wings will loosen a bit as it roasts but that's okay. Slide the bird, baking pan and all into the oven. I usually turn the breast toward the back. Set the timer for one hour. After one hour, remove from the oven and let stand a few minutes before cutting. Eat!

I promised a tip for thawing chicken faster. I haven't tried this with a rock hard frozen chicken. But this will hurry the process along if it has begun to thaw. Put two to three tablespoons of salt in a large bowl (a mixing bowl can work well here), add water, and dissolve. Place the semi-frozen chicken in the bowl, add enough water to cover the chicken and refrigerate. The salt helps the water thaw the chicken and it brines it at the same time. Do not use this process on any chicken that has already been brined or that has any solution added. Check the progress of the chicken after a couple of hours. When sufficiently thawed, pour out the water and rinse the chicken. Leave it in the refrigerator *uncovered* until ready to roast.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Roasting Chicken

Guest blogger and friend, Janet Koch, tells me a lot of people take great pride in their roasted chicken. I guess I'm one of those, but I consider it basic cooking -- it's sort of an easy no-brainer. Forget about all the great things you can add to chicken like lemon, olives, grapes, and garlic. Plain old roasted chicken with salt is still the best.

However, I do use a vertical poultry roaster. It looks something like this. They're relatively inexpensive, running between $5.00 and $16.00, depending on brand and where you buy it. I've had mine for ages. It came with a special tray that fit on the top for automatic basting. Totally unnecessary. It also came with skewers to hang mini kabobs from it. I don't think I ever used them. Basically, it just holds the chicken upright. The great thing is that the fat and juices drip down into a pan. And if you're a big lover of crispy chicken skin, when using a vertical roaster, the skin crisps up nicely all the way around.

Coming tomorrow, the basic roasting recipe and a tip for thawing whole chickens fast.

Five cupcakes for the vertical roaster!

Friday, March 20, 2009

For Ladies Only


I usually blog about foods and household items, but once in a while, I like to sneak in something that we've seen advertised over and over. Today's selection is Strap Perfect.

Just between us girls, I'll admit that I must be the kiss of death to racer-back bras. As soon as I find one I like, they discontinue it. So, I was interested in this little gadget that is supposed to keep bra straps from slipping.

The first thing that struck me on opening the box is how huge the packaging is in comparison to the contents. That doesn't impact the usefulness, of course, but honestly, the entire contents would have fit in a thin envelope. Inside are six of the funny little plastic gadgets that hold the bra straps, and a tiny package of Invisible Style Tape.

Slipping the Strap Perfect onto bra straps isn't as hard as I imagined it might be. It's done directly behind the neck. If you have limited mobility when reaching both hands behind your neck simultaneously, then that's something to consider. The Strap Perfect can be adjusted downward. It's actually quite easy to reach up behind your back, hook a finger in it and pull it down. But I did notice that it pulls the straps close to the neck, so there may be some tops, boatnecks, for instance, where it won't be practical because the straps will show.

I admit that I was hesitant about wearing a piece of plastic on my back all day long. For the most part, I honestly didn't even notice the plastic. I did find, however that my bra tended to ooch up in the back. I wore a Strap Perfect for about ten hours. I worked, I walked, I cooked. By the end of ten hours, though, I was mighty glad to get rid of it. Like most things, I imagine one would get used to it. I have to admit that it does accomplish its purpose -- there's no way bra straps will fall with a Strap Perfect on. Will I wear it again? Probably. Beats having bra straps fall over and over. On the other hand, I wish clothing manufacturers would catch on and make a better bra, so things like Strap Perfect wouldn't be necessary.

Three and a half cupcakes. It works, but I'm not sure I want to wear a big piece of plastic on my back every day.


Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Bring Home the Bacon


Who doesn't love bacon? Crispy, savory -- a real treat. But besides being loaded with fat, most bacon is preserved with nitrates, nitrites, phosphates or all three. Read the label, it will make you think twice about indulging. Applegate Farms to the rescue. They produce organic and natural cold cuts. Their Sunday Bacon is the real thing. All the flavor without all the preservatives. Need it down the road? No problem. It freezes beautifully and thaws quickly. And if you're watching your cholesterol, try their Turkey Bacon. It doesn't crisp up quite like pork bacon, but it smells and tastes delicious.

Five cupcakes!

Improving the World with Tea

Equal Exchange is a company with a mission. It provides surprisingly wonderful products while supporting small farmer co-ops around the world. The idea was to provide a decent and stable living for family farms using organic methods. In turn, the farming co-ops support their communities, offering training programs and building classrooms. It's the concept of a global economy at its best.

I'm particularly partial to their Organic English Breakfast tea, which, in my opinion, surpasses some of the famous brands in taste and quality. They also offer a delicious green tea. Gee, I might *have* to sacrifice for the sake of thedivadishes and try their chocolate!

Five cupcakes for producing exceptional products and improving life for small farmers and their communities.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

G'Day Gourmet


In the days before we all worried about mercury poisoning, I ate a lot of tuna. Jeremy Piven and assorted reports that crop up now and then are worrisome, so it may be best not to eat tuna every day. For an interesting article on mercury, check out the FDA report at http://www.fda.gov/fdac/reprints/mercury.html.

But on the rare occasions when I do eat tuna, I like to splurge on G'Day Gourmet Tuna. It comes in a tiny can, just the right size for one person, but carries a hefty price tag because it comes from down under -- Australia to be specific. The G'Day Gourmet folks claim their wild caught tuna (can tuna be farmed?) is naturally low in mercury, and that they use sustainable harvesting methods. But the best part is the seasoning. If you like a little zest in your tuna, the lemon pepper is excellent. When I was growing up, we always added a little bit of lemon when we made tuna fish sandwiches, and it's simply a delicious combination. I've tried one or two of their other flavors and, for my taste, they wouldn't rate as many cupcakes, but the lemon pepper is outstanding. Available at Whole Foods and other natural food stores.

Five cupcakes!

Monday, March 16, 2009

But Do I Really Need It?

Guest blogger Lorna Barrett writes The New York Times Bestselling Booktown Mystery series. Her latest book, Bookmarked for Death, was just released. She also writes the Jeff Resnick series, under the name L.L. Bartlett.


It seems like every time I turn on the TV there's an infomercial on for the GT Xpress 101 -- it's a little counter top cooker thingy. The show is hosted by "TV Personality and food expert" Cathy Mitchell. (And there she is!)

(And just who the heck is Cathy Mitchell?)

Mind you, she's got a personality all right, and her cooking demonstration for this little - sandwich? - machine leaves my mouth watering. I'm not kidding you, I've seen this infomercial at least 20 times, and every time I'm not only mesmerized, I'm actually tempted to buy the darn thing. (I love it when they show the infomercial twice in a row on a Sunday morning. Heck, there's nothing else on the tube to watch.)

Cathy and her pal Joe Farago (I feel like we're all friends by this time) show you about 20 different things you can make. The thing comes with a cookbook with 101 recipes -- hence, the name, I guess. As an omelet lover, this thing really appeals to me. It heats up fast, it's easy to clean -- and you can toss in leftovers. Doesn't a Brussels sprouts and green bean omelet appeal to you, too?

I couldn't capture pictures of the food you can cook with the GT Xpress 101, but check out a slideshow at this link. Don't you want to just manga? And you can see part of the infomercial here.

We got an electric sandwich maker as a wedding gift nearly 18 years ago. I think we used it once. (I don't eat toasted cheese sandwiches, which is about all it's good for.) So the truth is, if I got one of these things, I'd probably use it twice. Once for the novelty -- and a second time just to prove it wasn't just a novelty. Forty bucks (for two of them--and why would I need two?) is just too much to pay for that. (Then again . . . garage sale season starts up again in April!)

In the meantime, I guess I'll just tune in to see Cathy and Joe several times a weekend -- until the next thing they go to sell comes around. Then I'll watch that infomercial dozens of times, too.

And what infomercial catches your attention?

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Hold the Soy

Remember the fuss about trans fats? Well, it seems in the rush to switch to something without such a terrible reputation, a lot of companies turned to soy oil. Unfortunately soy comes with its own set of problems and might not be as good for us as we thought. I'm certainly no expert. But I do know that a lot of people are allergic to soy or can't eat it for other health reasons.

We all know that a true diva makes her own salad dressing. Right? But sometimes, it's convenient to have a bottle of commercial salad dressing on hand. And so I came to examine labels on salad dressings. It's almost impossible to find a salad dressing made without soy oil! Some of the vinaigrettes use olive oil, but honestly, a vinaigrette takes about three minutes to make, I'm certainly not going to spend $5 on a bottle of something that's little more than oil and vinegar.

So I was happy to find this Thousand Island Dressing by Smith & Wollensky. I rarely make Thousand Island dressing, but it brings back good memories of the days when it was all the rage. Smith & Wollensky doesn't use any soy in this dressing. Don't assume that about all of their products, though. It has a nice light flavor with a little tang. Happily, it doesn't contain any preservatives or added color.

Five stars. Tastes good and is soy free.

Memory Helper

I am no longer the multi-tasker I once was. Someone tested multi-taskers and found they didn't accomplish more than people who tackle things sequentially, so maybe it's not a big loss. When I'm writing, I tend to "get in the zone" and I'm going to claim that's the reason for my forgetfulness. But the fact remains that I tend to focus these days and that means I lose track of things I'm supposed to remember -- like medications and shots that need to be given on a schedule.

So I went in search of a watch with a timer on it. But I found this instead, which serves my purposes very well and for a lot less than a watch with a timer. About four inches by three inches, this nifty gadget works like an oven timer. I don't have to work backwards or figure out what time it will be when seven hours and twenty-three minutes have passed. I just press the buttons for seven hours and twenty-three minutes, hit start and it goes off to remind me when it's time. It comes with magnets on the back, so it can be tucked safely out of the way on a refrigerator or a filing cabinet, and it counts up to twenty-four hours, which makes it more useful than an average one hour kitchen timer. No more missing doses because I'm thinking about something else. It runs on one AAA battery and costs $9.99 at WalMart. Look for it in the kitchen section, with the other timers.

Five cupcakes! Inexpensive and does the job.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Black Currant Juice


I recently posted about the return of black currants to the United States. I was thrilled to find a large size bottle (56 ounces) of black currant juice at my local Kroger. The black currants are grown at Maple Lane Farms in Connecticut, which claims to be the largest grower of black currants in the US. The juice is delicious. It has the intense flavor that is so distinctively black currant. I'm looking forward to making popsicles out of it! It's available at most Whole Foods Stores in the Northeast. Check http://www.connecticutcurrant.com/pages/BlackCurrants.html
to find a store near you.

Five cupcakes!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Maple Syrup -- it’s not just for breakfast anymore

You remember the ads. They went something like this: “Their syrup runs off the side of this stack of pancakes. Our syrup is thick and rich…”

Riiight. Thick with corn syrup is what they meant. Real maple syrup is thin and runny. Real maple syrup isn’t about viscosity, it’s about flavor and the flavor of 100% maple syrup is a powerful force for good.

Maple Butter Spread

1/2 cup butter, softened
Pinch of salt
1/4 cup pure maple syrup

With a food processor or electric mixer, whip the butter and salt until light and fluffy. While still mixing, add the maple syrup slowly until the syrup is well incorporated. (Adding the syrup slowly prevents the mixture from separating.) You can refrigerate the spread in a covered container for up to 3 weeks.

Use on toast, sweet breads, muffins, the palm of your hand, etc.


Lemon-Basil Salad Dressing

1/3 cup vegetable oil or a blend of vegetable and olive oil
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup pure maple syrup
1 TB Dijon mustard
1-1/2 teas. minced fresh basil
1/8 teas. finely grated lemon zest (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste

Whisk all ingredients in a small bowl. Taste. Add more vinegar or maple syrup if desired. Refrigerate.

For a creamy option to this recipe, add 1/2 to 3/4 cup sour cream with other ingredients.



Maple-Mustard Glaze for Grilling

1/4 cup maple syrup
3 TB Dijon mustard
2 teas. soy sauce
1 TB lemon juice
1 clove of garlic, minced
1/2 teas. freshly ground black pepper

Combine ingredients in small saucepan. Boil for one minute. Remove from heat. Divide in two equal portions. Brush one portion on meat. Refrigerate meat for 30-60 minutes. Grill, periodically turning and basting meat with the remaining sauce.

This amount of glaze is adequate for a 2-1/2 to 3 pound broiler-fryer chicken. We also use this glaze on pork, steaks, and turkey. My husband says it would taste good on a hubcap.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Maple Syrup, Backyard Style

Special thanks to Janet Koch for sharing her maple syrup making experience with us. Her maple syrup recipes will be up tomorrow!

Janet Koch, hopeful novelist, is also a budding website designer and
book trailer producer. Visit Janet at http://www.janetkoch.com or contact her at janet@janetkoch.com for her Deepwater Design services.

Every year we rediscover that spring isn’t all about blue skies, bouncing lambs, and greening grass. Roughly 95.69% of spring here in northern lower Michigan is dirty snow, sloggy skiing, and lots and lots of mud. Luckily my husband and I have discovered something that makes the whole shoulder season tolerable: the magic of making maple syrup.

Is It Time Yet?

In late February we start watching the weather forecast. Sap runs when the temperatures are above freezing during the day and below freezing at night. When we see a forecast of highs in the 30s, we dance a little jig and start cleaning the buckets.

Next we gather the tools; an old brace drill of my grandfather’s, a rubber mallet, a stack of buckets, a pile of lids, and a handful of spiles. Then we tromp through the woods, looking for the small blue dots we painted on 11 particular maple trees the previous fall.

We drill, pound in a spile (a special kind of spout), hang the bucket, attach the lid, and move on to the next tree.

Then we wait. Drip by drip, sap accumulates in the buckets. On cool days the ping-ping-ping noises ping every 30 seconds. On sunny 40 degree days, the pings come so fast it’s almost a steady stream of clear sap running out of the tree.

We make a daily sap run, emptying the tree buckets into buckets we carry through the woods. The hauling buckets are carried out of the woods, down the driveway, into the garage, and are dumped into garbage cans purchased solely for the purpose of holding maple sap. This is a Happy Thing To Do; the sap froths a bit as you pour and every gallon of sap gets us a gallon closer to maple syrup.

Backyard Maple Syrup Making

As soon as we’ve collected 50 or 60 gallons of sap, we plan for a couple days of boiling. The concrete blocks stored behind the garage are brought out and our homemade cooker is cobbled together. Just before dawn the next morning we start the fire. When the fire is hot we lay down the stainless steel pan fabricated for us by a friend. pour in the first few gallons of sap, and wait for the boiling to start.

Wah-hoo! Maple syrup is only 14 hours away!

The rest of the day goes like this: add more wood, add more sap, add more wood, add more sap. The sap’s color starts to turn that lovely amber color and every once in awhile you catch that heady scent of maple.

Early in the evening we stop adding sap. At our elevation, maple syrup becomes maple syrup when the boiling point of sap reaches 219 degrees. You reach this point by boiling off - evaporating - most of the water in the sap. We boil approximately 60 gallons of sap to get 1 gallon of syrup. Yup, 60 to 1. Now you know why maple syrup is so expensive.

When the sap starts to slide off the stirring ladle in sheets, it’s time to get busy. Most of the day we’ve been standing around, chatting with neighbors and friends that drop by, splitting the occasional hunk of wood, adding sap, toasting the odd hot dog, drinking an adult beverage or two. No more.

We transfer the almost-syrup from the big pan to a 6 quart stockpot and bring it inside to finish cooking. The transfer can be a hairy operation. The first year I almost dropped my end of the pan. All I want to say about that incident is it's a good thing I have a strong heart.

Once the pot is safely cooking on the cooktop we attach a digital thermometer and keep an eagle eye on the contents. Boiling almost-syrup can foam up in half a heartbeat and make an incredible mess on the cooktop. If you want proof, I have pictures.

At 219 degrees we filter the syrup through cheesecloth and pour it into canning jars I’d sterilized earlier. Some syrup is inevitably spilled but don’t worry, none of it is wasted. We quickly learned to wipe it up with a piece of bread. Warm maple syrup on bread? Yum!

We spend the next hour cleaning and then head up to bed, exhausted yet fulfilled. We just made maple syrup and that’s a Very Cool Thing.

So that’s how we make maple syrup. Friends and neighbors often ask the same questions. How long does the sap flow? Depends on the weather. How much sap do you get from your trees? Depends on the weather. When do you boil the sap? Depends on the weather. How much syrup do you get in a year? Depends on the weather.

In some ways this is frustrating, in other ways it’s a life lesson about patience and the pointlessness of getting frustrated about something over which you have no control. I’ve come to feel that every ounce of syrup we put into jars is a small miracle. Aunt Jemima eat your heart out.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Storing Strawberries

Strawberries mean that summer can't be too far away. I indulged for the first time this week and they were already sweet and delicious. But they just don't last long. How many times have you wanted to have fresh strawberries for a special weekend meal, but you knew they would be withered by then? Here's the secret to storing strawberries. It takes a few extra steps (but they're really easy) and, best of all, it works. Need proof? I bought these strawberries last Thursday -- a week ago.


All you need are an ordinary plastic food container and paper towels. A deep rectangular container works best, but I've used all kinds. The only difference is how many strawberries will fit inside.


Line the plastic container with a paper towel. *DO NOT WASH THE STRAWBERRIES!* Place the strawberries in the container in a single row so that they don't touch. Fold the paper towel over the first row and make another row. Cover those strawberries with another paper towel and
add another row. Continue until the container is full.

It's really a matter of creative folding so you don't use a ton of paper towels. Put the top on the container, stash in the refrigerator, and they'll last for days.

The trick here is to be sure the strawberries don't touch each other, and that there's a paper towel in between them. You can stack row upon row, just be sure there's a paper towel separating them.

And that's it. Couldn't be easier.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Newman's Own Royal Tea

I am a tea drinker. Some people can't function without a cup of coffee in the morning. I need my tea. But I've become selective. Not just any tea will do. One of my friends must have her Lady Grey tea. Bergamot? Not for me. I'm a Breakfast tea drinker. English Breakfast and Irish Breakfast are my preferences.

So when I saw Newman's Own Organics, The Second Generation Royal Tea, I'll admit that I was skeptical. It says it's fit for a king. But 100 organic tea bags for under $5.00? Even worse, the description of the ingredients only says "organic black tea." But I was willing to give it a try since the Newman's Own products tend to be pretty good.

It tastes a lot like my favorite English Breakfast tea which is a blend of assam and darjeeling. Maybe a wee bit more darjeeling in the Newman's Own. Overall, it's excellent. Lovely taste, no bitterness, no weird flavorings, just the right strength without being overpowering. Hmm, maybe it is fit for king.

Five cupcakes!

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

When the Barking Won't Stop

Kaye has published several short stories, some of which have won awards, and is toiling on several mystery series. She lives in Taylor, TX, near Austin, with her husband and a terrorist cat named Agamemnon. Visit her at KayeGeorge.com.

I'm a quiet writer. I don't like music of any kind playing, no ambient fountain noises for me. After I get going, a train could roll through the house and I wouldn't notice, but, to get into it, I need blessed silence.

Not barking dogs.

I've always been able to train our own dogs not to bark excessively, but that has never been a priority for our neighbors. When buying a new house I would even cruise the streets at odd hours to see if there were any neighborhood barking dogs. When there weren't, and we bought the house, they usually moved in soon.

But now--no worries! I have the Super Bark Free! I found it paging through the Sky Mall catalog on a flight last year. It's not cheap, and there was no guarantee it would work, but I had become desperate. The adorable little rat terrier who lives behind us (what were they THINKING when they bred those?) is a nervous, tenacious little fellow. When he gets going, he doesn't like to quit. Sometimes for two or three hours. He's very determined. But so am I.

I ordered the contraption, installed the batteries, and tested it in the house. This is NOT suggested. Don't do it. To test, you set it so it sends out an audible signal, but it hurts like the dickens, and may damage your speakers.

I soon had an opportunity. A squirrel or somesuch had dared to enter little rat's yard and he started to express himself. I ran to put the machine in the back yard (the range is 50 feet), set it, aimed it at him, and turned it on. Yip yip yip yip. Silence. Yip yip. Silence. Yip. Then silence for hours!

Meanwhile, he had set off the pit bull next door. His bark is not so annoying, but he can go on, too. So I aimed it over there. He ran around to the other side of his house.

As soon as all was quiet, I turned it off. After all, I do want to know when the burglars are coming. I probably used it three times on the little dog and he doesn't bark much these days. I probably don't even need it anymore until a neighbor gets a new dog and fails to train it, or until we move and I start over. It really is a good training device.

I LOVE this product!!

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Let There Be Light


Solar lights might be the best thing since sliced bread. I'm for almost anything that will reduce my electric bill. But I'm sorry to say that I've already owned and tossed out two sets of solar lights. They weren't the most expensive, and one group was certainly first generation, so maybe I shouldn't have expected too much from them. But they weren't cheap, either. They worked great for at least one year, but then they died. And replacement batteries didn't bring them back to life.


But every time I see solar lights in a store, I find myself gazing at them again. Tempted to try one more time, wondering which ones will hold up and which ones would be a waste of money. And so it was that I happened to see this little light. The lamp part is tiny, just over an inch or so in diameter. It's on a little post that comes with a stake cleverly inserted into the bottom upside down, so you can use it or not as you like. It comes in an assortment of colors -- black, silver, copper, and bronze. For no particular reason, I bought a copper colored one to try out.


It says it needs eight hours of sunlight to charge and that one full charge will light for eight hours. I stuck it in a flower pot when I got home and even though there were only about three hours of daylight left, the little light came on anyway.

These photographs were taken after it snowed, but they show that it casts a light, maybe 16 inches in diameter. They won't light up the night, but they would make cute little markers or be good accents.

And why was I so tempted to buy this little light? $4 at WalMart. Maybe it won't last, but it won't hurt so much to toss it if it doesn't.

Number of cupcakes to be decided -- let's see how long it lasts first!

Monday, March 2, 2009

Shh, Not in Polite Company


In the last couple of months, two women have stopped me in a store as I whipped through the paper goods aisle and tossed a package of toilet paper into my cart. Both of them were of a age that suggested this wasn't their first trip to buy toilet paper. One literally grabbed my cart and said, "Wait, you did that so fast. I want to see which brand you bought." Then she told me she'd been standing there studying them and was just clueless.

Now, toilet paper is a very personal choice and it surprised me a little bit that I wound up talking to perfect strangers about my pick. But then I remembered that we went through a phase of trying different brands. They're always changing, sometimes for the better, sometimes not. If you read this blog with any regularity, you know I love dogs. So it was hard for me to overcome the assumption that it wasn't the package with the cute puppy that I wanted. But was it the angel or the bear? Frankly, I hope to never meet a bear face to face outside of a zoo, but that's how I remember which package I need. It's the bear. Knowing that speeds up my shopping trips. I don't have any brilliant suggestions (and am open to them if you have any) on whether to buy regular, large, super rolls, double rolls, or giganda rolls. Check the per unit pricing to make that decision. Beyond knowing that it's the bear, there is one more decision-- soft or strong? In our household, we prefer strong. Still soft, but thicker. There you have it -- I buy the strong bear.

One more thing. Don't assume that your big box store has the best prices. Kroger has had paper goods on sale for quite a while now at better prices than my local box store.

 
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