Lessons Learned

There have been a few of those this week, mostly having to do with cooking day. Yesterday, I spent all day making 15 recipes of two meals each. This is the third big cooking day I’ve done. As always, it was very tiring, but much went better than before, mainly due to my having learned these lessons:

mattersmost_300x300-300x300Clean up as you go as much as possible. My first big cooking day ended with me exhausted… and my kitchen trashed. This time, the cleanup was much easier, and I realized it was because I put away everything after each recipe, including dishes I knew I wouldn’t need again going into the dishwasher.

Related to the above, reuse mixing bowls, pans, measuring cups/spoons, etc. as much as possible. In some cases I had no choice, as I only have one large skillet, but cleaning off the other things and reusing them helped tons.

Double check the grocery order. Meijer shorted us an item, though it was on my order. I didn’t notice until I needed it for a recipe, so DH had to run out and get it. Last time, I sent a printout of the order with DH when he went to pick it up, but didn’t this time. So I will definitely arm him with a printout next time, and also check the supplies before I begin to prep or cook.

Buy produce and cheeses already chopped/minced/etc. if possible. This was a major time-saver for Friday night prep, and for the amounts of cheeses, ginger, and garlic I needed, wasn’t significantly more expensive than buying whole and chopping on my own.

Slap-chop is better for chopping onions. That’s what I normally do. I tried using the food processor this time, but while it was faster, it didn’t do as well, leaving lots of big chunks.

Sometimes, you really do get what you pay for. This is especially true of freezer bags, and this was the main lesson learned yesterday. It was a good thing the kitchen cleanup was relatively easy, because I also had to clean out the refrigerator… for the third time this week (one time which DH did). I kept having mystery water leaking all down the bottom few shelves, and I finally figured out what it was: leaking freezer bags from meals I was making last week from last time’s cooking day. So this time, I used brand name bags for anything liquid.

What I’ve been reading: I read the short stories from Smith’s Monthly #17, by Dean Wesley Smith, and started the novel. As always, really enjoying it!

ROW80Logo175ROW80 Update: Another lesson learned here: sometimes, something we think is going to be difficult really isn’t once we sit down and just do it. Yes, I finally got my book descriptions off and out to the publisher. Waiting to hear back from them on how they are, but I think they came out pretty good. Now it’s time to jump into the next project while Time’s Dilemma is with the editors, so I plan to go over what I have on the next Saturn Society novel (it’s about half written), and figure out how to finish it.

What about you–any lessons learned to share, whether about cooking, writing, or anything? Have you read any good books lately, or cooked anything interesting? How are you doing on whatever goals you may have, whether writing-related or not? Please share in the comments–I’d love to hear from you!

Jennette Marie Powell writes stories about ordinary people in ordinary places, who do extraordinary things and learn that those ordinary places are anything but. In her Saturn Society novels, unwilling time travelers do what they must to make things right... and change more than they expect. You can find her books at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, Kobo, iTunes, and more.

Trying New and Old Things

Isis in computer room

Isis relaxing in the doorway of the computer room

This has been a week of catching up, on several fronts. I’ll hit the writing further down, but it’s also been a recovery of energy for me. Last weekend was such a busy one, it really took it out of me, energy-wise, so this week has been a lot of rest until yesterday. Fortunately, my energy levels had improved again by then, because my husband and I hosted a birthday dinner for one of my best friends from college and her partner.

This may not seem like a big deal to many people, but when you’re one of those not gifted with the hostess gene (I’m convinced there’s such a thing), it’s not trivial. Add fatigue to that, and a spouse who normally helps but is hindered by having the use of only one arm… well, let’s say I’m glad I know these friends well enough that I don’t worry that my house wasn’t spotless for them.

Which was great because that left my energy free for food preparation. My college friend went vegan about three years ago, so that involved a bit more planning as far as the menu went. Being vegan is something I can’t imagine doing–just getting enough protein is something many find difficult, but my friend is healthier and more active that she’s ever been in the 25+ years I’ve known her, so that doubles my interest in being supportive of her choice. Meanwhile, her partner, whose birthday was a week before my friend’s, was really looking forward to a good steak.

So while my husband was literally single-handedly grilling steaks, I was grilling Cilantro-Lime Tofu on the George Foreman grill. That’s definitely new to me, as neither me nor my husband like tofu, so we’ve never cooked it. I’d found the recipe a few days earlier and it sounded really good (even to me), so I figured I’d give it a try. My friend scarfed it, so it must’ve been good. 🙂 I tried a bite, and indeed, it wasn’t bad at all. However, the rest of us enjoyed our steaks.

The other somewhat-new thing I fixed was roasted squash. My daughter introduced us to this a few weeks ago, last time she was home. She went to a farm market and bought a butternut squash, and an acorn squash, and fixed the former that night. Yum!  We still had the acorn squash, so I did the same with it. There wasn’t much of it, but what there was, was good.

For dessert, my husband had requested apple pie. He loves Mehaffie’s Pies, which are an old Dayton standard, but they don’t list ingredients on their website, and when I researched, I found that most store-bought pies and pie crusts contain lard, whey, or both. So to ensure our pie was vegan, I went back to another old standard–my grandma’s pie crust (aka Classic Crisco pie crust), and made it myself. It was a bit of work, but well worth it–the pie disappeared quickly!

IndiePowerPackWhat I read this week: I started The Indie Author Power Pack, by David Gaughran, Joanna Penn, Johnny B. Truant, and Sean Platt. I’m about halfway through the first book, Write, Publish, Repeat, by Truant and Platt, and have already picked up a ton of good ideas to put to use once I ramp up production and get more books out. I believe this is a limited edition, and is currently $.99. If you’re an author–regardless of publishing path–there is a lot of useful stuff in here. Highly recommended.

I’m also reading a novel, but am not far enough in to discuss, so leaving that for next week.

ROW80Logo175ROW80 Update: My goal last week was to go through my WIP to see what I have, where the new scenes fit in, and what’s still needed. That’s done, and a big relief to see I only need three more new scenes, unless something pops in and surprises me–which would not be a surprise. I also finished the scene I was working on, which only needed a few paragraphs. So this week, I want to get back on track with producing new words, and finish a new scene or 3000 words.

What about you–what new things have you tried lately? Any old favorites you’ve dug out after a long time? Read any good books lately? How are you doing on whatever goals you might have, writing, ROW80, or otherwise? Please share–I’d love to hear from you!

Jennette Marie Powell writes stories about ordinary people in ordinary places, who do extraordinary things and learn that those ordinary places are anything but. In her Saturn Society novels, unwilling time travelers do what they must to make things right... and change more than they expect. You can find her books at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, Kobo, iTunes, and more.

My Town Monday: Now You’re Cookin’

One thing Dayton is known for is its history of innovation. And what most people think of relating to this, are inventions over a hundred years old, such as Jame’s Ritty’s cash register, the Wright Brothers’ airplane, and Charles Kettering’s automobile starter.

Lee Smithson and his Water Broiler

That spirit of innovation continues today, much of it in commercial and military research facilities, such as the Air Force Research Laboratory. But one recent innovation I’d never heard of was one I found to be quite helpful in everyday life, and I learned about it on the Dickens of a Christmas tour of the St. Anne’s Hill Historic District, last month.

The final stop on the tour was the beautiful, dramatic Bossler Mansion, where homeowner Lee Smithson gave us an overview of the home’s history. He also told us about what he’s been up to in the twenty-five years he’s lived there.

Mr. Smithson is an accomplished chemist, retired from Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. More recently, he owned – and worked – his own catering business, during which time he also created a simple yet elegant piece of cookware just about anyone could use: the Drannan Water Broiler.

No more of this yuck!

He compared the water broiler to the one you get with any new oven. Sure, you can use them, but what about cleaning them?  (That got most people’s attention – UGH.) And how well do those free broilers do the job? Adequately, but overall, those things are about worth what we pay for them, especially when we add in the hassle of washing them – none I’ve ever had fit in a dishwasher, and even with no-stick spray, they are a major PITA to clean!

The primary feature of the Drannan Water Broiler is that it’s made of high quality, stainless steel. The cooking surface is a grille, rather than the slotted metal found in the cheap broilers, and it’s stainless steel, too. I have a stainless steel cookie sheet from years ago, so I knew how nice this would be to bake with – no matter how burnt the cookies are, they never stick to that baking sheet, and metal spatulas don’t hurt it. The other difference in the water broiler was that it’s round. Mr. Smithson’s reasoning was that most, if not all, things cooked on it (i.e., roasts) don’t need those four corners. It’s slightly smaller than the freebie broilers, but plenty big enough for a roast – and that enables it to fit in the dishwasher.

The water broiler comes with another of Mr. Smithson’s inventions, the “Forkula.” It’s like a gripper-spatula, only with tines. It’s also made of stainless steel, and can be used on any grill, as well as with the Water Broiler.

My daughter was sold on it quickly, and talked me into buying one for my husband for Christmas (he’s the one who does most of the cooking, and the daughter does most of the cleaning). They had gift shop tables set up in the mansion, so we bought it there. I could tell DH was skeptical when he opened it, but he gave it a try last week – twice.

The Forkula

We tried chicken breasts and pork chops, both of which we’d normally do on the grill. Both dishes turned out great: properly-cooked, and surprisingly juicy. Putting the water in the broiler pan keeps the food moist, basting it while it cooks. DD wasn’t home the night we cooked the pork, so I cleaned. The fatty drippings wiped right off, the broiler went into the dishwasher with no problem, and came out clean and shiny! The Forkula tongs worked great too. We haven’t tried a roast yet, but I have no doubt it will be yummy when we do!

The Drannan Water Broiler with the Forkula is $65 plus shipping, but IMO it’s worth it. The construction is of very high quality, and I expect this to last many years, if not a lifetime. Mr. Smithson guarantees his products 100%, plus postage both ways. I wouldn’t be surprised if no one had ever taken him up on that offer. The Water Broiler and Forkula can be ordered together or individually on the Drannan Company website. (Just as an FYI, I was not asked for this blog post, and I don’t know Mr. Smithson other than briefly meeting him on the home tour.)

Does the Water Broiler sound like something you’d consider trying – or have you already, and what did you think? Have you recently discovered anything new to help in the kitchen? Please share!

Photos via waterbroiler.com