Friday, February 27, 2009

Seeing Isn't Always Believing

"Really, Dennis, I think you need to stop eating that new bird seed from China."

My Dad used to tell us kids, "Don't believe anything you hear and only half of what you see." Methinks he would be revising those proportions in this era of Photoshop and all the magical digital manipulations that abound. Both hilarious and alarming examples of creative imagination coupled with technology can be found at the Worth1000 web site, especially if you check in at the Gallery section. The above picture came from one of the nine Chimaera galleries. Some of the pictures absolutely BEG to be given captions. It's just too much to resist. So I didn't.

While the above link will show you lots of eye candy and let you laugh -- or gasp, as the case may be -- this next place I want to lay on you caters more to what makes your tummy laugh and wiggle with glee. Heh! You just knew I wouldn't stray that far from a food topic, didn't you. Well, this is an important one because it allows me to get bulk quantities of some of the stuff I fix -- like the dried chopped onions used in the dry onion soup mix I told you about the other day.

I'm talking about The Great American Spice Company. If you haven't been there, I urge you to check them out.

I like these people for a number of reasons. Right off the top, their web site is super-easy to navigate and sensibly laid out. Then there is the sheer magnitude of the selection, which you will see listed in the sidebar to the left. There's got to be a kajillion different items represented by those categories. As near as I can tell, the quality of the items they offer is tops and, for sure, the prices are very competitive. I like the way they give you good descriptions and usage suggestions for different items when you click on the More Info button. They even break down the cost to the "per ounce" ratio. They get right on the horse when it comes to delivering your order, too. And that's where I got my first glimpse of just how cool their customer service is.

See, I opted for Standard Shipping. I'd rather wait an extra few days so I can spend carefully budgeted money on the goodies instead of the postage and handling. But, shazaam! I made the order on the Thursday before President's Day. Figured, what with a weekend and a holiday in the middle, it would be a long wait for that package. Wrong. The box was sitting at the post office on Tuesday! Great American opted to upgrade my shipping to Priority, which cost them another $10, I might point out. I was amazed, especially since my order was less than $50.

Of course I immediately sent an email to thank them for such generosity. When you find folks who deal you good, you want to treasure them. And, I'll be darned -- there was a prompt personal response. Yuppers. Personal. Not form letter. Here it is:

Thank you and You are welcome. We don't do much advertising so we try to offer you a great experience and great Customer Service. So far it has work better than any advertising, so please let you family and friends know and we will offer them the same quality of product and same great Customer Service. Also if you are looking for a spice and you don't find what you are looking for on the website, then email or call me and I will try my best to find it. We have the Largest selection of Spices because of customer request, they asked for it and we found it
Thanks again,

Barry L Tippmann
The Great American Spice Co.

Count this as one of my "word of mouth" exhibitions -- for the cause. 'Cause I love these people. And you always want to share folks you love with other folks you love, right, my loveable Coffee Mates? Right!

Now I need to find a proper illustration for my impending tale of shock and awe in relation to the mighty African Bird. You'll see. Don't know about "believe."

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Why I Sometimes Scream At My Computer

Although I love where I live, I pay for that pleasure by enduring the sluggish, frustrating, erratic dial-up connection that is my only choice for this little backwoods hamlet/village/wide-spot-inna-road. My very nice ISP has given me a free Accelerator that usually does a remarkable job of speeding up things but the operative word here is "usually." When it ain't workin', folks, dial-up truly sucks.

I've made jokes about the dial-up connection being hamster-powered. That's so I can laugh on the outside while crying on the inside, don'cha know. I was thinking the Accelerator was like letting the hamsters drink lots of that Red Bull energy drink so they'd run faster and longer in their little spinning wheels. So why the all too plentiful bouts of sluggishness? It was a puzzle, a mystery, a conundrum. Until I found Elliot on his lunch break.

That's Elliot in the above photo. And that's what the hamsters have been eating between cans of energy drink. Glug, glug Red Bull. Zoom-zoom connection. Munch, munch cookie. Plod, plod connection. Coincidence? I think not. (In the interests of accuracy, I need to point out "zoom-zoom," as applied to dial-up, is a grossly misleading description but it makes me feel better.)

I tried to talk to Elliot about the virtues of healthier food but he's not listening to me. Apparently, cookies are in their union contract. And nap breaks. And free psychiatric care when people like me traumatize them with dire tales of excess calories and clogged arteries.

It could have been worse. Elliot could have been selfish about it and refused to share his cookies with me. Not only did he let me have some, he promised to try to find the recipe. Right after his nap. I'll try not to disturb him with my screaming.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Hugs & Wham Bams

Look! See? I didn't go to hell in that handbasket, I don't care what they told you.

I know. I've been AWOL a turribly long time and I really do apologize. It was just one of those times when, for no discernible reason, sitting down and yapping about what's been happening here seemed -- I dunno -- totally without socially redeeming value. Or something like that. In any case, here I am, with hugs and coffee, trying to get back in your good graces.

Not that I haven't been busy. Seems like there's always something going on to keep me from playing in traffic. Like, fer instance, I have renewed my sporadic interest in crochet this past few weeks. Mom was great at it and so was my sister. Fortunately, youngest dotter Patti learned from them because I never did enough of either crochet or knitting to even have bragging rights. In fact, I had to have Patti give me some tips when I started up again because, come to find out, there were a couple of basic things I've been doing wrong all this time. It worked out well. I learned something new and she got to feel good because she taught me instead of the other way around. Which tickles me plumb fuschia, that's what.

The occasion is the advent of a couple of brand new great-grandbabies. Yeppers. Patti's oldest son is about to become a daddy and her stepdaughter is about to become a mommy and I'm about to welcome great-grandbabies number five and six, by golly. Which led me to think I could crochet a couple of baby afghans for the kidlets. Of course they might be in kindergarten before I finish the project but, hey, my heart's in the right place.

Adventures in the kitchen are always in progress no matter what else is happening. Which is why I just stumbled onto what is apparently a long-time traditional recipe I never knew about before. Like most recipes, there are seemingly infinite variations but the most basic has been reduced to a three-ingredient wham-bam-cook-and-eat. Have y'all tried Cranberry Chicken? Have y'all done it this way? Lay your chicken in a baking dish. Boneless, skinless breasts or thighs work just fine. Mix together one 16 ounce can of whole berry cranberry sauce, one envelope onion soup mix and one cup of (take your pick) Russian, Catalina or French dressing. Pour the mixture over the chicken and bake at 350 degrees fairyheight for 1 hour. Serve with rice.

Okay, I can't tell you how that tastes because I didn't do it that way. The thing is, whenever a recipe calls for a package of this or a can of that, lately I've gone Googling to see if it's something I can make from scratch for cheap -- and with better control over what's actually in it. Or not in it, like assorted chemicals that will keep it from spoiling until about 2917. Found a couple of recipes that worked out really well.

ONION SOUP MIX: Mix together: 1 1/2 cups dried minced onion, 2/3 cup bouillon powder or granules (I used chicken but you can use beef or vegetable), 2/3 cup onion powder, and 1/2 teaspoon sugar. (I did not add the sugar.) Store in airtight container. Four to five tablespoons equals one packet of onion soup mix.

CLEAR FRENCH DRESSING: Blend together: 1 cup olive oil, 4 tablespoons red wine vinegar (I used balsamic vinegar) 4 tablespoons lemon juice, 2 teaspoons sugar, 1 teaspoon each salt, dry mustard and paprika. Dash of cayenne. (Again, I did not add the sugar. As far as I'm concerned, the cranberry sauce had more than enough sugar already. And if I'd made my own from scratch, it would have had less.)

So I mixed the whole cranberry sauce with the dressing and 5 tablespoons of the onion soup mix, poured it over my chicken breasts and baked it. It smelled like heaven as it baked. How did it taste? Oh. My. God. This is one of those dishes that is too good to be legal. (Peering cautiously out the window to see if the Food Police have surrounded the place yet.)

I had it with rice but one cook mentioned layering Stove Top stuffing in the bottom of the baking dish, then adding the chicken and sauce. That sounds like a dandy variation. Another thing to keep in mind is that the sauce would work wonderfully well with turkey or pork. Something I'm going to experiment with is using it with meatloaf, mixed right in with the hamburger.

But don't take my word for the fabulous meal this makes. Wham-bam one up your own self. You'll see.