Tag Archives: Healthy

The Two Biggest Problems You’ll Need to Solve – Ever

 

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Did you take the challenge?  Where is your money going?  Remember the goal at this point isn’t to get ammunition for beating yourself up, it’s just to know how you’re currently putting your dollars to work.  Are you cool with it?  Do you wish you had more money for  (What?)?

On the flip side – do you wish you had more time for (what? – friends?  Hobbies?)?

If you haven’t taken this challenge yet, what’s holding you back?  The first step to financial happiness is knowledge.  Knowledge is POWER! When you have power, you can gain control.  When you gain control, you can put things in balance -tweak a thing here, tweak a thing there until, at least for the moment, things are how you like them.

The two biggest problems you’ll ever need to solve are being in control of your time and being in control of your money.  Thankfully, the entire universe is in the same boat.  To get things started, a great tool for tracking your money is Mint.com, it’s free and owned by Intuit – the company behind TurboTax and Quicken.  Use it all the time.

Time tracking is a little trickier, but there are countless apps out there to limit your FB time wasting, etc.  I use a simple timer on my phone, but there are lots of sophisticated ones out there.  What do you use?  Leave a comment and let me know!

Friday Fun: Great Board Games for your Family

Here’s a big secret:  I own probably 100 board and card games.  I love ’em.  Sometimes I need to rent some friends to play with me (so if you know of a “friend rental service….”), but I love ’em.  Here in the midwest, winters are long and can get dull.  Here are some ideas for games to pull out of the closet for a nice family game night:

Dominion:  I believe serious gamers call this a “Deck Building” game.  You use the cards in your hand to buy other cards that are either money, victory points or action cards.  It is a very simple game, suitable for kids around eight and up, to learn; but it does require critical thinking skills and a good bit of strategy.  It may be my favorite game in the world because it sets up quickly and plays quickly as well.  Games can go long, but 30-45 minutes is typical.  This game gets a five pizza score from me.

Zombie Dice:  This is a fabulous, fabulous game.  The pieces consist of 13 dice and a can small enough to fit in your purse or pocket. It can easily be played while waiting for an appointment.  The object is to get Brains, Brains! (duh) and avoid the shotgun blast.  Players roll 3 dice at a time until they have three shotgun blasts or choose to stop.   The first to 13 brains wins.  Things to love about this game:  it takes no time to set up, can be taught in under two minutes and is a complete blast to play. Another 5 Pizza Score for me.

Bananagrams: This is an easy word game suitable for up to 8 players.  Players simply draw tiles to create words in a similar fashion to Scrabble, but each tile scores one point making it much more straightforward and easier for younger players.  Again the game is very compact (packaged in a bag only a little bigger than a banana) making it great for travel.  It is a very fast- paced game so it makes a great another great time passer while at appointments, etc and to toss in the camper.  Since word games aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, I’ll cut it back to a 4.5 pizza score.

Kismet:  This is a dice game similar to Yahtzee, but happens to be the one I grew up with.  I remember many, many hours of Kismet with my grandmother while I was growing up.  Dice games like this are a great way to teach younger kids basic math and reasoning skills.  The youngest kids can be taught to count, add and multiply with this game.  5 pizza boxes for pure entertainment and educational value.

Clue The Classic Edition:  This is an oldie and a goodie.  In fact, while not my favorite, it is my kids’ favorite game and anything that brings them together without a big, black screen is great in my book.  Fun, easy to learn, requires a good deal of critical thinking to play means it gets another 5 pizza box score from me.

For those of you wishing to branch out, Battlestar Galactica is a fantastic game for older kids and adults.  Each player assumes a role from the TV series (good or bad) and the forces of good collaborate to defeat the forces of evil.  This game probably appeals more to Sci-Fi nerds (which I am not, but I love a challenge and this game is!) and is suitable for older kids (10-12+) and adults.  I’ll score it at Four Pizza Boxes.  I could make it 3 because it’s spendy, but it’s totally worth it.

King of Tokyo may be the greatest game you’ve never, ever heard of.  The object of the game is to destroy your opponent in the manner of Godzilla!  Players roll dice, do damage, earn energy to buy cards that enhance their skills and hopefully, sometimes, heal themselves.  It is Tokyo vs. Not Tokyo in classic fashion for kids 8+.  Remember I said that I love Dominion.  This game may be a close second and closing fast.  Why?  I have boys.  Boys love monsters, robots and battles.  This game has all of those things plus is taught in under five minutes and plays in well under an hour.  5 pizza boxes for King of Tokyo as well.

Do you agree?  Disagree?  What games would you put on this list?  What’s your favorite?

 

Don’t Let Your Sweetie Read this Blog Post

Some of you have guessed what I’m up to today, and some haven’t quite yet.  Maybe you don’t care?  After noticing that we were out of bread this morning, I opted to make some and show you how it’s done.  Making bread is the greatest cooking skill you can learn.  It meets all my criteria:

1.  It looks hard but it isn’t.

2.  People are impressed by it.  “Wow!  This is homemade?”  I sort of love that.

3.  My family loves it.

What do you need to have to make bread?  Not much, really.  In most cases, a bread machine is a completely worthless appliance (which I remind myself of every time I think about getting one).  You need a mixer, a spoon, cookie sheets or bread pans and an oven.  Nothing fancy at all.  However, I do have a Kitchen Aid Stand Mixer and it makes things much easier than the days when I did it with a hand mixer.

The ingredients are simple and readily available.  Flour, most recipes call for All Purpose, which is fine.  I use bread flour because it makes me feel smart.  Whole wheat bread calls for whole wheat flour.  Yeast, liquid (water or milk), butter or shortening, and this whole wheat recipe called for brown sugar.

Get yourself a cookbook like this one:

Comprehensive, clear easy-to-follow recipes, well illustrated.  I challenge you to find an omission of a basic dish from this bad boy.  I like the ring-bound, tabbed version because it lays flat on a counter and the tabs make it easy to find the section of the book your desired recipe is in.  I commonly give this book as a wedding gift.

See?  That’s your recipe right there.  Don’t steal it.  Buy the book.    As you can see, it’s 7 ingredients long.  Simple.

Now I’m going to digress for a minute and explain some things.  First, remember yeast is alive.  It’s dormant, but alive.  It is heat-activated, but too much heat will kill it and your bread will become a rock. Second, I believe a common bread making mistake is overdoing the flour.  Be careful.  The amount of flour is listed as a range for a reason.  It depends on humidity among other things.  Your dough should be sticky or again, your bread will be a rock.  Or a brick, if you prefer.

Let’s begin.  I always begin by getting every single ingredient positioned at my fingertips before I start anything!  I’ve learned this the hard way.  Nothing is less fun as a baker than getting 2/3 of the way through a recipe and realizing you’re out of salt or something similar.  Remember cooking is chemistry and every ingredient matters.  Especially in baking.  Salt is another leavening agent as well as a flavoring agent.  So are baking soda and powder.  They cannot be omitted but it is possible to substitute in some cases.

Most recipes have you mix the flour and yeast and set it aside.  When I measure flour, I stir it up with a knife first and lightly fill the cup.  Then tap the top of the measuring cup with the flat side of a butter knife and scrape it off so it’s level.  Be precise and you’ll thank me later.

Next we turn our focus to the liquids.  Pay attention to the recipe when it tells you how hot the liquid should be when you add it to the dry ingredients mixture.  Any hotter and your yeast will die.  Not hot enough, it doesn’t wake up and make your bread rise.  I’d suggest a candy thermometer.  I don’t own one so I use a meat thermometer.  Don’t judge.

 

 

Stir your liquids a little bit to help the butter melt, but understand that your butter isn’t melting all the way in the pan.  Temperature is what you care about here.

Like I said, don’t judge the meat thermometer.  Make sure your thermometer isn’t touching the bottom of the pan.  You’ll get a false reading.  Once you’ve had a little practice, you’ll be able to guesstimate with your finger.  But get some practice first.

Now it’s time for the mixer.  Did I mention how much I love my mixer?  Add the liquid all at once, mix on low for 30 seconds and high for three minutes.

Isn’t it pretty?  Notice I use a paddle here but you can use the dough hook the entire time.  My baker friend says it makes no difference.

This is a dough hook:

Here is the point at which I divert from the directions.  I have a stand mixer and I will add the flour in increments  to the mixer bowl with the dough hook rather than stirring by hand.  It’s just easier.  If you use a hand mixer, I don’t recommend this approach.  Work it in with a spoon about a half cup at a time.  When you’re ready to start hand kneading it will look like this:

It’s hard to tell from the photo, but it’s still pretty sticky.  It will stick to your fingers more than you’d like, maybe.  I like getting messy 😉

Throw some flour on your clean countertop. Not a lot.  Quarter cup maybe?  Remember, too much flour = BAD.

 

 

Now it’s time for some therapy kneading the bread.  As you knead, work in the flour a little at a time.  Sprinkle a little flour on your dough sponge if you need to.

But take it easy!  Your dough will still be sticky when it’s been kneaded enough.  It will feel moist, but not stick to your hands.  Once it stops sticking to your fingers, stop adding flour.  Knead it for about six to eight minutes total.  It’s fun.  Trust me.  I kind of use the kneading process to get the flour off the countertop.  As you can see in this picture.

Then drop your sponge in a large bowl that has been sprayed with cooking spray or lightly oiled.  Cover it with a warm towel and let it rise until it doubles.  Some folks recommend a flat sided vessel so you can easily tell when it’s doubled.  This is a great idea, but I don’t own one large enough.  I should save an ice cream bucket!  Other folks like to rise it inside the oven to keep it warmer.  Put a bowl of water in the oven with it if you choose this option.  It keeps your dough moist.  (I preheat the oven for a few minutes and then shut it off and let it cool most of the way back down because my kitchen tends to be cool).  The oven should be barely warm.  Think warm summer day, not sauna.

Once your dough sponge doubles in size,  punch it down and follow your recipe’s directions for resting and shaping the loaves.  Put them into loaf pans and allow to double again.

When they’re double, pop them in the oven.    Bake them as directed until you tap the top and they sound hollow.  Enjoy the way your house smells while the bread bakes.  Yummy!

Finished bread looks like this:

Cool it on a wire rack hidden from your children or it will disappear in under ten minutes.

Now, don’t tell your sweetie/roommate/spouse know that you’ve had this little lesson or homemade bread will become a need in your house.  Unless you want it to.  Then have them learn too!  Remember, it looks hard.  It’s not.  I did it!