Excalibur Dehydrator

Fall is a great time to gather the harvest, but what do you do when you have too much to use? You can freeze or can it, but an easier way to preserve it for future use is to dehydrate it! I bought my Excalibur Dehydrator years ago and though I don’t use it a lot, it sure comes in handy. And there are some items that taste a whole lot better than what you can buy in the store.

Recently, I used the dehydrator to preserve my tomato crop. There was no fast way to use up 20 tomatoes at one time, since they all seem to ripen simultaneously. I brought them in from outside, washed and sliced them into 1/4-inch slices, carried them downstairs to the dehydrator (picture 1). I placed them on the drying racks, giving them a little space between, set the temperature at about 130 degrees, and set the timer for 9.5 hours (picture 2). There were a few that weren’t completely dried when I checked, so I removed the done ones and set the dehydrator for another 30 minutes to finish them.

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What did I get? (picture 3) Nicely dried tomato slices that I will eat au natural or add to dishes, like sun-dried tomato pasta with butter, pepper, chopped flat leaf parsley, and freshly grated parmesan or Asiago. It’s a great side dish. You can add your favorite seasonings to the fresh tomato slices prior to dehydrating them, if you want a snack with a little kick.

How much does a dehydrator cost? How big is it? I got mine from Excalibur. It’s the five-tray basic model with a timer and currently costs $249.00. It’s 8-1/2″H x 17″W x 19″D and doesn’t take up too much room. You can buy larger sizes, too. I keep it in my basement on a cart, so it’s already ready to go. The unit comes with a small cookbook, so you can get the right info on dehydrating all kinds of foods. You can even make fruit leather!

excalibur dehydrator

What are my favorite dehydrated foods to make? Bananas and pineapple. Bananas starting to go bad? Slice them into 1/4-inch slices and they will come out in somewhat chewy rounds that taste soooo much better than store bought. The same is said for pineapple. When my store sells freshly cut core sections, I take it home, slice it up, and dehydrate for a very tasty snack. I like kale chips, too. Lots of little amounts leftover vegetables can be dehydrated and then tossed into soups or stews. It’s a great way to preserve foods that might normally go to waste.

I store my dehydrated foods in tightly sealed glass jars. The foods will last for ages and ages. No preservatives are needed, so the foods are the perfect snack for those who like to eat healthy.

September 21, 2014 at 2:02 pm Leave a comment

Alone time

I was reading Oprah’s magazine this morning, while the little man was golfing, and her end feature, “What I Know for Sure” was about her enjoying alone time. Rings very true with me as I am a big fan of it as well. Why? There is something almost meditative about it. It’s calming. It’s restorative. It lets my mind wander. I find all of those things relaxing and rejuvenating.

One of my favorite times is when my house is clean, the laundry is done, and I’m home alone. I sit in my comfy chair and listen to the quiet and smile. The only noise is generally the refrigerator running (hmmm, why does it always seem to be running? Perhaps not a good thing.), but other than that, quiet. No TV, no music, no anything. I close my eyes and just sit and relish the moment. The little man, on the other hand, does not like quiet. When he’s home, the TV is almost always on. I tried to get him to watch TV in the basement, but he doesn’t like it down there, so I hear golf, auto racing, Bruce Willis movies, etc. My other half is a man who doesn’t care to be alone with his thoughts. And he’s not alone.

I read a study last month about how people are so used to being engaged, that we are no longer comfortable being alone with our thoughts. We watch TV, listen to the radio in the car, are constantly on our phones, or are wearing ear buds to let music fill our brains. Perhaps we are afraid of our thoughts or maybe there’s not much to think about, but the study mentioned that creativity is going by the wayside as a result.

What do I do when I’m alone? “Whatever I feel like I wanna do. Gosh!” to quote Napoleon Dynamite. Some days, it’s just cleaning. I might start a project or look at catalogs or read. It’s not that I’m just sitting doing nothing, which I do, but it’s the fact that if there’s noise, I’m making it. My mom gets it. She also appreciates alone time. I think it’s heredity. As a child, I do recall spending a lot of time alone, partly due to shyness, but mostly, because I was very good at entertaining myself. I could make something from nothing and spend hours playing with my creation.

A story my kids often tease me about is my joy from playing with a rock. I’m not talking about something you could hold in your hand, but a rock that stood about 2 feet tall and resided at the corner of our house. It had lots of indentations in it and I treated it like a kitchen. I would make food and serving utensils from berries, leaves, grass, twigs, whatever I could find. I would hang around it for hours just playing house. I wish I had taken a photo of it, but we moved from that house when I was eight and I didn’t have a camera. I wonder if it’s still there?

Do kids today still get chances to use their imagination? Are they so wired to technology or organized activities that they never have alone time? Do they even like being alone? Many adults, including the little man (I was gone for two weeks recently and I think he had an anxiety attack that put him in the hospital for observation on the day I left). If you don’t like being alone, stretch yourself by trying it. Sit in a quiet spot and listen to your thoughts. If you do have a thing for alone time, then, you know exactly what I’m talking about. It’s an “ahhhh” moment.

September 14, 2014 at 12:57 pm Leave a comment

Home Shows

I love interior design, architecture, and even looking at nicely done landscaping, so home shows are right up my alley. Going to them gives me a chance to see innovative ideas, color combinations, and often what’s new in design. My area has a show going on right now and I’m heading over to see the houses this week.

The best one I ever went to was in Cincinnati about 10 years ago and featured about 15 houses. After a while, it is hard to keep track of what you see when there are that many, but still fun. I didn’t have a smart phone back then, so I couldn’t snap photos of what I liked, but I will have it with me this time. What do I dislike about featured homes? Poor or incomplete decorating. Hello? Isn’t that part of the event? I think so.

Something I find interesting about the shows is the price of the homes. The last one I went to in Cincy about eight years ago featured ‘empty nester’ homes in the $550-800K range. Really? My current house isn’t anywhere near that. Granted, I live in an area where housing is reasonable, but still. I don’t plan on spending that much on a house when I retire. Though prices in the U.S. vary by region, as of June 2014, the median prices were:

  • Northeast – $256,700
  • Midwest – $165,900
  • South – $184,800
  • West – $297,500

Funny, but none of those prices are close to those empty nester homes from eight years ago. The market was inflated at that time, but by that much?

I imagine that most of the people who go to home shows want to see how the other half lives and not with the intent of buying. Most likely, if you can afford to purchase a show house, you can build one that is exactly what you want, down to the fixtures. I have rarely seen one that 100% fits the bill for me, but I have come away with ideas that I have used in my house. And, the bottom line? It’s fun to look. If I could just find a job where someone would pay me to look at houses…

August 10, 2014 at 2:11 pm Leave a comment

REI

I was shopping yesterday at a nice outdoor mall that has a Whole Foods, Eddie Bauer, Gap, Pier One, and a handful of other stores on the ‘front side.’ On the back side, there’s a Carter’s Outlet, TJ Maxx, Homegoods, Nordstrom Rack, and a great bookstore called Joseph-Beth. One of the reasons I went, and there are often many, is that I wanted to check out the REI store. There is something about walking in the door to that place that makes me want to hike, camp, rappel, and even jog. Well, perhaps not jog. If you have never been to this amazing store and you like to do anything outdoors, you need to check it out. Yesterday, I even bought some Peter Rabbit Organics fruit and veggie pouches for my organic-eating grandson. It’s also one of my favorite places for stocking stuffers at the holidays.

What do I covet at REI? They carry Smart Wool socks, Goal Zero portable solar devices for when your smart phone needs a charge, carry-on luggage that will fit in the overhead on a plane, cute casual shoes, and more. I could basically back up a truck and fill it with kayaks, freeze-ried ice cream, cute clothing, etc. In fact, I could probably fill a semi. I don’t do a lot of outdoor stuff, but when you see allllll the accoutrement for any activity, it just sucks you in and you want one of everything. It makes you WANT to camp, so you can use the Camp Kitchen, Gourmet Kitchen set, and the portable Sink.

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I love just poking around the store. I could spend 20 minutes just looking at all the colorful carabiners. I may never rappel, but I know I can find some uses for them. If you can’t get to the store, they are online and if you’re looking for some deals, try their Online Outlet!

July 27, 2014 at 2:33 pm Leave a comment

Kuhn Rikon Garlic Press

Kuhn RikonYears and years ago, I bought a plastic garlic press that had two sizes of disks that you could swap out. It worked pretty well, though it meant scraping the garlic off the disk every time I finished using it. Always left a hint of garlic on my fingers, which I’d often forget to expunge by rubbing my fingers on a stainless steel knife, spoon, or fork. Well, the day finally came when the little man was using the plastic device and it cracked as he was pressing some garlic for me. It was rather sad. I happened to mention this to my darling daughter and what arrived at my door? A NEW garlic press! And it’s a doozy.

It’s stainless steel and even my other half won’t be able to break it. I really like the fact that you can flip the handle over and get the garlic residue off without digging it out. It makes the chore of pressing very easy, too. No straining, which is probably what broke the old one. It’s a thing of beauty!

Did you know that fresh garlic doesn’t give you nasty garlic breath? It’s true! The taste is superior to jarred, granulated, or powdered. Plus, it has health benefits. And, I’ve heard it will keep werewolves at bay, in case that’s an issue for you.

July 12, 2014 at 6:36 pm Leave a comment

Graham Crackers

I like how Word Press asks what’s on my mind, because tonight, it’s graham crackers. I’ve been on that kick lately. Usually, it’s a winter comfort snack for me, but since I didn’t have many over the winter and I recalled that recently, I’ve been eating some now.

How do I eat them? My mom taught us to dip them in milk, wait a few seconds and then eat off the part that’s slightly soggy. Then, re-dip and repeat the process until the cracker is gone. And believe me, you’ll want to go for another dunk and realize the whole cracker will have found its way down your throat already. At which point, you’ll get up and head for the box.

I usually start with a third of a cup of milk…I use a coffee mug, and about 6 cracker halves. Notice that I said start, because I rationally think that will do the trick and satisfy my craving. At least I’m burning a few calories as I walk back to the pantry. This isn’t an amateur dunking event. You do need to pay attention to the length of time the cracker is in the milk; not long enough and it’s not saturated and still crunchy, too long and you will only be holding the dry portion of the cracker in your hand. And I NEVER drink the remains of the milk. Overly soggy bits of crackers in my milk is not appetizing.

I used to babysit for a family where the mom would suggest a breakfast idea for the kids, which was smashing up a bunch of graham crackers and topping them with milk. It’s the equivalent of leaving the cracker in the milk for a few seconds too long. Gross. I would make it for the kids, but not partake.

Everyone knows about some of the other reasons one might eat a graham cracker. My mom also treated us to graham crackers coated with a thin layer of butter. Yum! It’s that sweet and slightly saltiness that tastes great. Who hasn’t had a S’more? This Pinterest page has tons of ideas.

One of my favorite comfort snacks, which I haven’t made in ages is Praline Crackers. When my daughter was a teenager there were times when we’d look at each other and know exactly what the other was thinking…and it was to make some of these.

9 whole graham crackers
1/2 stick butter
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup chopped pecans, optional

Heat the oven to 325 degrees. In a small saucepan, heat the butter and brown sugar and stir until it starts to boil. Place the crackers on a cookie sheet next to each other in three rows of three (you can line it with foil). Pour the cooked mixture over the crackers and top with pecans. Bake for 8-10 minutes. Serve warm. Mmmmmm…great with a class of milk, but no dipping.

Here’s another idea that involves a cracker, but not graham. My father taught us to use saltine crackers as dippers for eating vanilla ice cream. Sounds gross? Try it.

June 28, 2014 at 6:09 pm Leave a comment

Envisioning

Are there days when you wish you could be somewhere else? Perhaps it’s a place you’ve been or surely a place you would like to visit. I just read the other day that even when you can’t go anywhere, thinking about it can be almost as positive for you as going in person.

I was sitting in the backyard today reading a book and when I closed my eyes and listened to the birds chirping, I was picturing myself sitting on a fallen log in the deep green of the north woods (and I wasn’t swatting mosquitoes), sitting on a bench overlooking Green Bay in Door County, WI (eating an ice cream cone from Wilson’s), gazing over the Tuscan countryside (with a good glass of red wine), and even rocking gently in a boat floating in the harbor in Copenhagen (waiting for the sun to come up, so I could have a pastry). It made me smile, even though I was no where by my own backyard.

And I’m not saying my backyard is bad. I did finally buy some nice patio furniture, so I am enjoying more than just looking out the window at the backyard, like previous years. It’s purely heaven to lie on the sofa looking up at the blue sky as a gentle breeze cools me. I truly can’t ask for more than that, but it is nice to toss in the thoughts of being anywhere. Try it!

June 15, 2014 at 7:31 pm Leave a comment

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