Keep Your Grill Clean

What is this?   A package on my doorstep addressed to me?     What can it be?    I don’t remember ordering anything!

I was excited to cut the box open for a peek inside.   A Grill Brush…..Mr. Rizzi at Mr. Grill has asked me to try it out and evaluate it.    The brush we have been using is showing a lot of wear, and it’s time to think about getting another one.   So I am happy to try out a new and different one.

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My plans for the weekend included cooking some steaks and vegetables on the grill, so the timing is perfect.

This brush, called Mr. Grill is 18-inches long, so it can reach way to the back of the grill, keeping your hands away from the greasy grill surface.  The “working part” of the brush is brass bristles that are very durable and shaped in a  “T”  that gets along the sides of the grates as well as the surface.

Shaped to clean the sides of the grates as well as the surface.

Shaped to clean the sides of the grates as well as the surface.

If you use it when you finish cooking and while the grill surface is still hot, it will get off all the crusty cooked on debris, and your grill grates will look like new.  I was impressed at how efficiently and quickly the job was done.

For best results, use while the grill is still hot.

For best results, use while the grill is still hot.

Keeps you grill looking like new.

Keeps your grill looking like new.

The handle end of the brush has a hanging rawhide strap for hanging on the grill, so it’s always right where you need it.  This grill brush comes with a promise that it won’t scratch or mark your grill, and includes a 1-year guarantee.   This item may be purchased on Amazon.

Full Disclosure:   I have not received any reimbursement for trying out this product.   I have simply used this grill brush and given my opinion as to how well it works.

 

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Dance As if No-one is Looking!

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With the number of times I mentioned my upcoming ballroom dance competition throughout the summer, now that it’s over I thought some of you might be interested in the outcome.

In our dance studio, we are frequently told to “dance as if no one is looking”.  I tried to keep that in mind each time I walked onto the dance floor and it must have worked because this was one of my best performances to date.  I entered 32 heats (number of times danced), and finished in first place 28 times and the other 4 entries I came in 2nd place.   The results were beyond my wildest expectations.  Needless to say I am over-the-moon happy with how I did.

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I was away for four days, and when I got home I was so tired I could have slept for another four days, but that was not to be, so gradually I’m regaining my much needed sleep and energy that I poured into the dancing.  There are so many emotions that go through you at a time like that, it is hard to describe exactly what it was like, but I was certainly exhausted when it was over.

Just a little background information for you:   in American-style ballroom there are two categories of dance,   Smooth and Rhythm.  Smooth dances consist of waltz, foxtrot, tango, and Viennese waltz.   When dancing smooth,  long “ball gowns” are the required attire for women with closed toe shoes.  One whole day is devoted to smooth dances.  The rhythm category includes swing, rumba, cha-cha, mambo, Paso Doblé, samba, bolero, and hustle.   These dances require the woman to wear a short costume that has a lot of movement along with open-toe shoes.  The judges really want to see all that hip action, don’t you know!!  Another whole day and evening is devoted to rhythm dances.

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In addition to the costumes, extreme hair styling takes place as well.  At our dance studio we are fortunate to have someone who is very talented at hair styling for competition and is available to “do” our hair for us.   I wouldn’t want you to think I go around with my hair looking like this all the time.  All though there are times when I have a “bad hair day”, it’s never quite  like this.  On both days that I danced I needed to be in the ballroom by 7:30am with gown and makeup on ready to have my hair done.  My first dances were around 8:30am.

The photos that I have included here show me dancing with my instructor in the smooth dances.  I hope you enjoy seeing them.  I am still waiting for my photos from the rhythm section of the competition.  When they arrive I will post a few to give you another view of what I wore and what that was like.

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In the Summertime

I have a cute new short haircut for the summer in preparation for the upcoming dance competition.  I bought some bright pink lipstick and nail polish to go with my rhythm dress–the hot pink one with all the fringes on it.   Ooh LaLa!

My vacation is on hold until after the competition, then we are going SOUTH– in a good way.  I hope you are on a vacation or going on one,  sitting on a dock by a bay, or climbing every mountain.  Have lots of laughs,  super casual Fridays, and extra lazy Sundays.

If you’re still at home ( like me), and if you’re in the kitchen ( also, like me), I wish for you fizzy beverages with lots of ice, and super delicious Summer Flavors.

Here is a collection of some of my favorite summer-inspired recipes.

 

 

 

 

What Dance Teachers Say

 

Ballroom dance lessons are a unique and wonderful experience.  They involve growth as a person as you develop a new skill.  They keep you “on you toes” both literally and figuratively.  Dancing is a super form of exercise and it requires you to be mentally sharp.  It is also a “close contact” sport.

Dance instructors and coaches have a unique challenge of giving information in a way that is clear and that you can relate to and remember.   The desire to get the point across can bring out the emotions and creativity of the teacher along with the information.  Sometimes what they say is priceless.

For your amusement, I have included below, some actual quotes from my teacher.  He can be very funny, unintentionally so.  That is just one of the reasons I have continued to dance with him for almost 10 years.  There are some days when it seems like I do more laughing than dancing, but that’s okay.  Laughter is a good tension breaker, and that’s what we need sometimes.

“Always keep your feet under you, and you must decide what leg your head is on”.

“Always keep in a straight line,  let me draw you a straight line, now let me see you walk in a straight line.  Hmmm, okay, now let’s dance in a straight line.”     I don’t drink and dance, honestly.

“Stretch, stretch, stretch.   Yes, that’s good.    Does it hurt?   If it hurts, you’re doing it right.   Keep stretching!!”

“I need to come inside you, then outside you..”

“Feel me, use my body,  wait for me, don’t finish before me”  Then he says,  “You seem distracted.  What are you thinking about.”

“Left, LEFT!  More LEFT!  Stretch your head left.  HEAD LEFT!  Stay to my right side.  Give me your right side.  HEAD left!   More left!   GO!! LEFT!!”

“Your other left”    At times like this, I’m not sure which is my right or my left.

“Where’s your boobs?  I don’t see them.  I need to see your boobs at all times.  You understand why this is important, don’t you?”

“I want you right THERE…. between my legs!”

“I want you to do an arm kick right there!”

“Use your front leg, then your hind leg”

“As you start turning, screw yourself into the floor.”

” You pulled out!   I told you NOT to pull out!”

“If you’re going to fall, do it gracefully.  You must be graceful and feminine at all times, and RELAX.”

“Don’t dance where your feet are, dance where your head is.”

My teacher is awesome, such a talented and graceful dancer, and so much fun to work with.  The operative word here is work!!

Just three more weeks until the competition.  YIKES!

 

 

 

Thoughts on July 4th.

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The skies are cloudy today with thunderstorms threatening–not a nice day for outdoor cookouts and picnics, parades, and neighborhood gatherings.  Hopefully the weekend will give us some nicer weather.

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But let’s not forget what today is all about.  The anniversary of the birth of this country, the Declaration of Independence, freedom to be who we are and who we want to be.  The weather shouldn’t have even the smallest impact on all those reasons to celebrate, so celebrate we will.  Whether it’s just you with one special person, or with a whole host of family and friends, I hope you have a bang-up, knock-em-down, light-up-the-sky kind of day and weekend.

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As for me, I see some shopping in my near future,  maybe a nice seafood dinner at the shore, and if the sun makes an appearance, some grilling on the back deck–cooking up something new to share with you.

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Have a wonderful weekend, folks!

A Fork in the Road

When I began this blog two and a half years ago, I had no real sense of how it would unfold, but after reading other bloggers I follow, I decided to post five days a week.  Having reached 550 posts and 30,450 hits in that time I proved to myself I could do it, and in that time I also garnered 349 followers–thank you one and all.

I have every intention of continuing to write, but have decided its time to cut back a little.  As many of you who blog know, each draft takes about 2 – 3 hours with the actual cooking, photography, writing, editing and indexing.  Much of this takes place on the weekend when I do all those tasks plus set up a queue of drafts to be published in the week ahead.  This doesn’t leave me much time for anything else.

I’ve enjoyed all of this immensely, and one 0f the best parts is hearing from so many of you through your comments.

In August, I will be entering another dance competition.  So I have only two months to get myself in good condition with exercise and training.  I’ll be spending more time at the dance studio and need to stay focused.  I also have some other projects I want to spend some time on.

You will certainly continue to get posts from me, but with less regularity and I may broaden the scope of the blog to include some other things that I do and that interest me.

Thanks for sticking with me and I’ll be “talking” with you soon.

Black Iron Skillets

Cast iron skillets in several sizes.

Cast iron skillets in several sizes.

You simply cannot cook like a chef without a seasoned, broken-in black iron skillet.  One that has been around a while is best.  In fact you need one “that’s as old as dirt”.   Iron skillets absorb heat gradually and spread it consistently so foods cook uniformly and get a nice sear when you want them to.

My grandmother used to say she “raised seven children out of her black iron skillets”.  While that may not be true literally, she certainly cooked a lot of meals using her skillets from meats (fried chicken), to side dishes (home fries) to desserts (pineapple upside down cake).  I think she cooked just about everything except soup in them.

These were my grandmother's skillets, now mine.

These were my grandmother’s skillets, now mine.

The versatility of a black iron skillet cannot be overstated.  Besides the variety of foods you can cook in it, what you cook will taste fantastic, and be good for you (true fact) because of the trace amounts of iron you’ll take into your system.

If lovingly cared for an iron skillet can last for years and years, feeding one generation of family after another.  That’s what I love about my skillets the most;  knowing they are the same ones my grandmother fed my dad, and aunts and uncles from. Now I’m feeding my family from them.

That said, a black iron skillet must first be seasoned, as a new one will stick, burn your cornbread, and give your pork chops and odd taste, causing you to be known as a well-meaning but unskilled cook.   Here’s the scoop on how to season a new skillet…..

Once you have purchased your skillet and you get it home, wash it in warm water, dry it thoroughly and rub a thin coat of vegetable oil over the entire inside surface.  Heat your oven to 325*F., put a sheet of foil on an oven rack and  put the skillet on the foil, upside down, so only the top edges touch the foil.  Let it bake for about an hour;  at the end of that time turn the oven off, but leave the skillet in the oven to cool.   When you remove the skillet from the oven it will have a shiny glaze.

Now when you are ready to cook, it will be ready to get the job done.

Never, never put your skillet in the dishwasher.  Iron skillets prefer to be wiped clean, not washed clean.  Soap or detergent will remove the seasoning, and you will need to reseason all over again.  To prevent any rust spots, pour a little vegetable oil on a paper towel and lightly go over the interior surface to create that shiny glaze.

If you have a vintage iron skillet or are looking for one, turn the skillet over and check the back for manufacturer’s marks.

Be sure to check the back of the skillet for identifying logos.

Be sure to check the back of the skillet for identifying logos.

The oldest manufacturer of black iron skillets (and most collectible) are from the Griswold Manufacturing Co. of Erie, PA.  The height of their manufacturing took place from the early 1900’s to about 1940.  Thereafter sales declined as newer cooking utensils came on the market that were more attractive to housewives.  GMC. was then bought out by the Wagner manufacturing company of Ohio.

Two of my three pans are from the Griswold Mfg. Co.  The third one is unmarked, so I do not know its origins.  The smallest of my pans shows the cross logo with the name Griswold inside the cross.  This is just one of several logos they used through their years of manufacturing.

Note cross logo with the name Griswold inside the cross.

Note cross logo with the name Griswold inside the cross.

For further information and history related to cast iron skillets go to Griswoldcookware.com.

If you are looking for a cast iron skillet that has some “history” behind it, look at antique shops or home garage/yard sales.  Antique dealers are now displaying the ones they have for sale in their stalls at antique malls.  I saw some when I was in North Carolina that were priced in the 40.00 – 65.00 dollar range.  New cast iron skillets are also selling well.  One manufacturer that I know of is the Lodge Co. which manufacturers all types of cast iron cookware from skillets to specialized pans for cornbread and scones.  Look for them in kitchenware departments of major department stores, Cabela’s Sporting Goods stores,  the gift shop at Crackerbarrel Restaurants or on line.

 

 

Huskies Rock!!

How about those Huskies, people??  Husky fever, Husky mania.   It’s crazy around here!  Men’s and women’s teams, both champions in the same year.  The last time this happened was in 2004, and now again.  Excitement is running high as you can well imagine, and I wanted to share some of mine with all of you.

I am an alumna of the Univ. of  Ct. and I join in with all other alumni and fans to congratulate these super teams on their achievements.  Way to Go!  Bring on the parties, parades and celebrations.

In the Know about Cookie Butter

For decades, peanut butter was the only spread in town.  Then in 1983, Nutella came to the U.S., and America went nuts over the chocolate-hazelnut combo.  But now another spread has taken over:  cookie butter.  Also called speculoos spread (it’s made from finely ground Belgian speculoos spice cookies),  it looks like peanut butter but tastes like gingerbread–and I for one can’t seem to get enough of it.

Trader Joe’s has both a smooth and crunchy version and it was the grocery chain’s top-selling product last year, and some stores in big cities like San Francisco and Dallas had to limit the number of purchases per customer.  I thought it might interest you to learn how all this madness developed over the years.

Trader Joe's Crunchy Cookie Butter

Trader Joe’s Crunchy Cookie Butter

THE RISE OF COOKIE BUTTER

1986   DELTA Air Lines  started passing out packets of speculoos cookies called Biscoff (made by the Belgium company Lotus) to U.S. passengers, sparking a national obsession.

1990   After trying Biscoff in the air, Delta customers demanded the cookies on the ground, so Lotus partnered with the airline’s food provider to offer them through a mail-order catalog.

2007   On a Belgian TV competition contestant Els Scheppers turned speculoos into a spread.  She and Lotus worked together to market her recipe as Biscoff Spread.

Biscoff Cookie Butter

Biscoff Spread

2011   Biscoff Spread hit stores in the U.S.  The same year Trader Joe’s debuted its version,  Speculoos Cookie Butter.

2012   Both Lotus and Trader Joe’s introduced crunchy versions of the spread.  Trader Joe’s also released cookie butter-filled chocolate bars and its own speculoos cookies.   Häagen-Dazs came out with speculoos-inspired ice cream.

2013   Williams-Sonoma now offers cookie spreads in three new flavors:   cookies and cream,  graham cracker and vanilla wafer.  Meanwhile, Lucky Scent has now started selling Le Speculoos fragrance, suggesting that the trend has reached critical dimensions.   On a personal note, I don’t think that I would like going around smelling like a cookie.  I’d rather eat one than smell like one.  But, I guess, if you’re really into your diet, it’s one way of having your cookie.  😀

WAYS TO TRY IT

  • As a dip for fruit, celery and pretzels.   I love it spread on apple wedges.
  • On pancakes and waffles
  • Swirled into oatmeal
  • In a smoothie
  • As a sandwich-cookie filling
  • Melted and drizzled over ice cream
  • Or…. eat it straight from the jar.  The best way!

MAKE YOUR OWN!

Roughly crush 12 gingersnaps, 6 whole graham crackers and 5 shortbread cookies, then pulse in a food processor until finely ground.  Add 3 Tablespoons cold water and pulse until combined then let sit 10 minutes.  Ad 1/4 cup sugar, 1/2 teaspoon vanilla, and a pinch of cinnamon.  With the processor running, slowly drizzle in 1/2 cup coconut milk and blend until smooth.   Refrigerate in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.

Two of the ways that I have used Biscoff Cookie Butter is in this recipe and this one.

Soft Oatmeal Cookies with Biscoff Glaze

Soft Oatmeal Cookies with Biscoff Glaze

Biscoff Swirl Brownies

Biscoff Swirl Brownies

SOURCE:   Majorly adapted from Food Network Magazine, with my own personal additions.

Christmas, A Time for Giving

By now many of you know that one of very favorite things to do is read.  I’ve been an avid reader all my life.  But I find that the kinds of books that I read change somewhat with the seasons.  In summer, for instance, I like a good “beach read”.  You know the kind of book I mean:  light, entertaining, and not requiring too much thought.  But as the weather becomes cooler and turns down right cold, I can really get into some serious reading,  something with some weight to it.  Like putting on my winter coat, or snuggling under a heavy blanket.

I’m a hugely sentimental person, but even more so at this time of year.  I feel so incredibly lucky to have so many wonderful people in my life, but come December and Christmas I think a lot about how fortunate we are to have all that we have when so many others may not have even the basic needs that we take for granted;  food, shelter, clothing.

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The book that I have just finished reading brought all this vividly to mind.  The title of the book is An Invisible Thread by Laura Schroff and Alex Tresniowski, and it tells the story of an 11 year old boy who is a panhandler in New York City and a busy sales executive, who met just by chance.  That unlikely meeting had a profound effect on each of them.  The boy is Maurice, who asked her, Laura, for some spare change because he was hungry.  She walked right on by without stopping,  but halfway down the block, she did stop, turned and went back to him, and said, “I won’t give you change, but I will take you to get something to eat.”  That was the beginning of their relationship that continued for many years.

An ancient Chinese Proverb says “An invisible thread connects those who are destined to meet, regardless of time, place, and circumstance.  The thread my stretch or tangle. But it will never break.”  The two people in this book were destined to meet and in doing so, each of their lives was changed.  They continued to meet on a regular basis, having dinner together on most occasions.  Food, cooking and meals are prominent features throughout the book and in these instances Laura teaches Maurice  many things he never had the opportunity to learn because of his chaotic and dysfunctional living conditions.  Getting to know his situation makes her reflect on her own growing up years, often chaotic because of an abusive alcoholic father.

The stories of these two people are often heartbreaking, yet illustrate so well the power each of us has to elevate someone else’s life and how our own life is enriched in the process.

A portion of the royalties from this book is being donated to NoKidHungry, a campaign that aims to end childhood hunger in America, by ensuring all children get the healthy food they need, every day. This campaign has my wholehearted support, so in honor of so many wonderful people in my life and in thanks for all you, my wonderful readers, I will be making a donation to this campaign for Christmas this year.

I urge you all to read this book, and about the NoKid Hungry organization and the work they are doing.  You will never forget it.