Saturday, February 17, 2018

update #5: the war on back pain

I really wish I could stop writing updates, because that would mean I no longer have back pain. But I do, so I will continue writing updates...

I went for my second round of cortisone shots last month, and they really didn't offer any more pain relief. I went for my follow-up appointment and it was decided that they will wait six weeks and then see how I feel. I go back March 3, I believe, and I'm not optimistic at this point. Chances are I'll go for one more round, though, just so I can be sure I tried my best. Also, I've met my insurance deductible (I'm in an HSA plan for the first time and the deductible is high), which means it won't cost me much to do that third round.

My next option, if these shots don't help, is something called Percutaneous Disc Decompression. If you click on the link you can see what it is. Basically, they insert a probe into the bulging disc and shoot radio waves into it, which dissolves the center of the disc. What is then supposed to happen is the disc goes back into place since there isn't as much disc material there. It's outpatient and takes 20 to 30 minutes. I'm open to doing it, but there's something else I want to try first:  chiropractic.

A local chiropractor, who specializes in upper cervical, gave a talk at work recently and offered a great deal on a consultation with full x-rays, followed by a report of findings and treatment plan at the second visit. I signed up since it was such a great price. I figured, "why not?" I've had chiropractic treatment off and on for many years, mostly when I was younger, and it always helped me. And he takes my insurance, which has really good coverage on this type of treatment.

I was a bit skeptical of upper cervical treatment, which deals with correcting a misalignment of the small bones in the neck, because it claims to be able to treat a large variety of issues that I just don't associate with chiropractic work. But I'm not a chiropractor, so I really can't say it doesn't help with other problems.

I went for the initial consultation and x-rays last week and it went well. He looked at the MRI I had done in September, asked about my back pain history, as well as tons of other stuff (he's quite thorough), did a physical exam of my back, and then took a bunch of x-rays in different positions.  He took two x-rays of my bent to each side. That will show him whether my vertebrae are moving properly. He took others:  several on each side, upper back, and lower back.

The physical exam was a little scary, mainly because he pretty much named the alphabet while calling out my problems areas. There were at least six different areas where he felt either my bulging discs (I have two) or felt something out of place or just not quite right.  He asked me if I ever get tingling in my hands or fingers (I don't), because a particular vertebrae was out of alignment. Even though I don't get those symptoms now, I could in the future. He asked if I get frequent headaches (I do). Again, a vertebrae that ties into the nerves that go up to the eye and head.

When I was done he said he would look at the x-rays, the MRI again, and my history, and then determine if he can help me or not. He was upfront that he may not be able to help me depending on what the x-rays and MRI reveal, which put me at ease a bit more; I was worried that he would just put me on a generic treatment plan that doesn't help me but makes him money. (*sigh* I never used to think like this...)

My follow-up was a few days ago, and I wasn't surprised at the findings. Basically, my back is pretty fucked up. There are several vertebrae in my neck that show little to no movement, and quite a few areas in the lower back that show no movement at all. When I lean to the right, it looks at though I have some movement of the vertebrae, but when I lean to the left, it still looks like I'm leaning to the right. Some of that is due to my scoliosis, but some of it isn't based on the location. So yeah, I think that explains why my lower back is such a mess.

The doctor prescribed a treatment plan:  I'll start off with several adjustments per week in the neck and lower back; then it will be a combination of adjustments and PT-type exercises; and then finally a combinations of adjustments and exercises that concentrate on strengthening the core and back muscles. Then he will re-examine and take x-rays to see if there has been improvement.

I've gone for two adjustments so far and don't feel any different; however, I know from experience that it won't happen right away. It takes a couple weeks to start feeling better.

Although I'm skeptical of some of the supposed benefits of upper cervical adjustments, I'm going to give it a chance. Chiropractic helped me quite a bit over the years, and I'm hopeful it can help me again. It's been at least six years since I've gone, and the doctor I used to see was kind of old fashioned, so maybe this young doctor has some tricks up his sleeve that will have me feeling more like myself. At the very least I'll be able to say I tried just about everything before opting for the procedure I mentioned above.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

antique store finds: kitchen goods

When I was younger, I went through a phase where I wanted to buy stuff at antique stores. I don't know why, really, since I hated having to clean the stuff; I own cats, which basically destroy everything; and I just didn't really have any meaningful decor theme in my house back then. Then I went through a phase where I wouldn't touch anything in an antique store, which was good because I didn't even up stuff I had to dust or put away because the cats would break it. Now that I own a house that was built in 1735, I'm rediscovering antique stores. 

What's different now? I'm buying things that I actually like and I can use. Awhile back I bought a sifter, a couple serving dishes, some cast irons pans, and some Pyrex and Corning Ware; it's all useful stuff and I actually do use it. (Here are a few of the items.)

Bob and I went to Sturbridge, MA, for our 22nd wedding anniversary this past weekend. We stayed at the Oliver Wight House, which is an historic inn built in 1789 that has 10 rooms. We went to the Mid-Winter Mischief program at Old Sturbridge Village, which was fun. It was an indoor/outdoor immersive experience--kind of like a moving play with some education and food mixed in. We then visited a few antique stores we like, such as Ye Country Mercantile and Sturbridge Antique Shops. We bought a few things for the house that we will actually use! Then it was dinner at Fins and Tales in Southbridge. I had a small Cesar salad (they make their own dressing) and the baked brie. The brie was divine! Very sinful. It was baked in a puff pastry and served with pineapple chutney, sliced apples, a strawberry and crostini. Bob had the grilled tenderloin tips with a couple stuffed shrimp and mashed potatoes (he didn't eat his asparagus!), with vanilla creme brulee for dessert. 

Bob bought a candle chandelier at Ye Country Mercantile (below), which he will electrify and install in the dining room. The light we have now is nice, but the sockets are loose, which makes some of the bulbs go on and off. Plus the antique one will fit right in with the house. (Although, it will be hanging over a dining room table we bought new in the early 2000s, so it will be out of place until we can afford to get something more in keeping with the age of the house. We'll just say our decor will be "eclectic" for awhile...)  

This picture below is from their Facebook page and is the cover of their magazine, American Country Magazine. If you look at the chandelier hanging, that's what Bob bought, although it didn't have the light sockets. When he's done with it, it will look like this. I'm very excited! He also bought two small lanterns that have been electrified, and we'll use those on our bedroom night stands. (I forgot to take a picture.)

I bought some kitchen items:  a big turned wooden bowl and four old wooden spoons (picture below). I have a love for a good wooden spoon, which goes back to using my mom's when I was growing up. I've had some since then, but they were the cheapo ones that were kind of flimsy and may or may not have actually been wood. I do have two that I like, but I really wanted some antique spoons. And yes, I do plan to use them!  The wooden bowl is pretty big and it's turned. Turning is the method used to make the bowl. Basically, it's similar to how a pottery wheel works, but you're using wood and sharp tools.  I don't know how old the bowl is, but it looks to be probably 1800s. I also bought four wooden spoons. Do I need four of them? No. But I liked them and they are of various sizes. Two of them have deeper bowls with either a longer or shorter handle, one had a shallow, wide bowl and the handle has a lip on, which means you can hang it on the rim of your cooking pot, and the fourth one has a shallow bowl with a longer handle. Three of the spoons I bought at Ye Country Mercantile. The bowl and the other spoon came from Sturbridge Antique Shops.  I'm not sure what I'll do with the bowl yet. I think I'll use it as a centerpiece on my dining room table for awhile until I decide I want to use it. 

These candles (below) are from Ye Country Mercantile. The owner, who is a really nice guy, makes these candles himself. They're 16 oz. and about the size of a medium jar candle from Yankee Candle, but they're much stronger. According to the owner, he uses wax that has the strongest scent-throw you can get. Let me tell you, these are SO STRONG! They're so strong that when I burn one, I put it in the other room. I can actually smell it throughout the whole house, upstairs and down. Seriously. They cost $18.00 in the store. If you want to buy them online, he charges $19.00. I truly feel this is a better candle than Yankee for the price. When I first saw them I thought, "Hell no! I'm not spending $18.00 on a candle (that isn't Yankee)!" But OMG it was so worth it! I don't know how to describe the scents I bought. Olde Fashioned Spoon Bread smells like cinnamon buns baking in the oven--this one is VERY strong! Olde Cabin Kitchen is similar, but lighter in scent. O'Tannenbaum basically smells like a fresh-cut Christmas tree. Oh, and he also sells the candle scents in the form of room spray. I have to say, too, that I love the way they have the store laid out. Everything is very neat and you can actually get to the items. I hate when I go into an antique store and stuff is piled everywhere. I like that there are several rooms that are set up like actual rooms (dining, living, bed, etc.) so you can get an idea of how the piece might fit in with your house. That's something I need a lot of help with, as I don't have an eye for that stuff.

This item below I got a few weeks ago at a local shop that just opened up a few months ago, Turnpike Antiques & Vintage.  It's a meat cleaver. It's been in the shop every time I've stopped in, and every time I stop to look at it, pick it up, think about it, then put it back. Finally I decided to buy it. It was only $28.00, so I figured, "Ah, what the hell." I have to take it to be sharpened because, yes, I plan to use it. You can't tell from this picture, but it's quite heavy and it's large. I believe it could easily split a roaster chicken in half in one whack. Bob looked a little scared when he saw me admiring it. Must have been the look in my eye...

At some point I'd like to get a dining room table from either the 1700s or 1800s, but it's going to be awhile before that happens. I eventually would like to get more antique pieces and decorate in the primitive or early colonial style, but it will take awhile (and money!) to find exactly what I'm looking for. I don't want to just run out and buy things without any real thought as to where they will go, how I will use them or how they'll fit into the house in general.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

savory corn muffins revisited

I posted wayyyyy back in 2015 about a savory corn muffin recipe I made from a Cooks Illustrated magazine. They came out great, but I was disappointed that I couldn't really taste the cheese. I had said then that next time I made them I would use sharp cheddar.

Well, I made them again. This time I used a mix of sharp and mild cheddar and I added bacon.  I had to use up some cooked bacon and the cornmeal I had in the fridge, as well as some leftover cheddar cheese, and figured this was a good way to do it. Plus I bought scallions for something else and had a lot left over.

The results this time?  I still can't taste the cheese! I don't know if it's me, or the cheese, or maybe cornmeal just overpowers cheese in general. I have no idea. They were still yummy, but when I use that much cheese--it calls for 1.5 cups--I expect that I'll taste it. Won't stop us from eating them, though! (I actually made these on Wednesday night and we finished them up last night.)

If you want to make them, just click the link at the beginning of this post and the recipe is there. If you want to add bacon, just chop up five strips of cooked bacon and toss it in with the scallions and cheese at the end. Note, though, that the recipe has several steps, so you might want to do this on the weekend if your weeknights are busy.

Friday, January 19, 2018

Protes Protein Chips: Zesty Nacho

I wanted to like these. I really did. But I don't.

I like trying new protein foods and most of the time I like what I buy, but sometimes I get a dud and it makes me really regret that I spent $x.xx. That's what happened this time.

I've long loved Doritos and I was hoping maybe these would be a good substitute. Yes, I totally realize they're protein chips and they won't taste just like a Dorito-- that's the reality of most protein products--but at it's at least somewhat likely they'll be a little cheesy tasting (no pun intended).

I can only describe these as vaguely spicy cardboard. I've never eaten cardboard, but I can imagine that if I did and I added some spicy seasoning to it, it would taste like these chips. It seems like the manufacturer watered down cardboard, rolled it out flat, cut it into triangle, added some nondescript seasoning and them left them out to dry.  My guess is it has something to do with the type of protein they use, which is pea protein; I'm not a fan of peas.

The stats are decent:  120 calories, 4g fat, 7g carbs, and 15g protein.

Final answer:  I love the crunch and the thickness, but that's about all I can say. I wouldn't buy these again.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

homemade goodies, family and lots of snow

Emily enjoying the Christmas tree. Or plotting. Not sure which.

(I give up on trying to format this post to get things in the right spot. It is what it is. LOL)

I've been so bad about blogging lately. Something I said I'd do in the new year is to get better at posting more often. I guess it's better late than never!  The last couple weeks have been pretty busy, both at work and home. Mainly because of the holidays. Lots of cleaning, shopping, preparing, etc., as well as a new project at work, time off among team members and so on.

Last weekend we had our annual family Christmas get-together.  It was a bit smaller this year without my father and brother, plus some people couldn't make it, but it was a good time as usual. We had so much food left over! We had ham, lasagna, crock pot bourbon meatballs, potatoes, pasta salad, carrots, etc. We really didn't need that much food, but that's how it always plays out at the holidays, right?

The family room tree. 

Here are a few things I made last weekend for the get-together (sorry, forgot to take pictures):

  • Homemade onion dip:  I've made this before and I love it. People still tend to favor the salty store-bought dip, but that's OK. 
  • Shortbread:  I made this for the first time and it was so delicious! Crispy, light and so, so buttery.
  • Rum Balls:  Another first for me. The recipe was super easy and made a lot, so this was a win for me. BUT....they are very potent. The recipe uses a combination of rum and bourbon, along with vanilla wafers, honey and pecans. They're supposed to mellow out in the fridge, but they really didn't mellow all that much over the course of a week. Very yummy, though.
  • Chocolate Pie:  I've made this several times and it's always a winner. Very, very rich and chocolaty. And my pie crust came out perfect:  very crispy and flaky. Instead of hand-mixing the ingredients I used the food processor. It's so much easier and I think it comes out better since there's really no risk of overworking the dough.

Above is the family room Christmas tree. This is where we put the bigger tree since it's a bigger room. I also reserve this tree for all the modern lights and ornaments. Below is the living room tree. This is always the smaller one, and this is where we use the old-fashioned C9 lights, as well as the ornaments that have a more traditional look. We always get two because we use the family room the most, but we like having a tree that can be seen from the street. Since we normally go cut them down, the cost isn't much at all. This year, however, we had to buy from a lot since the timing just didn't work out right. As you can see, they look nearly perfect. I prefer a tree that looks more natural--fat with uneven limbs--but they're still really nice. This year I skipped using tree skirts. Mainly because I get tired of constantly fixing them--the cats love to lay on them or play under the tree, so they tend to make a mess of the them.

Living room tree. 
We had a white Christmas this year, which was really nice. There wasn't all that much snow, but it was just the right amount. Last weekend, however, we got about a foot and it was officially a blizzard. Oh, and the temperatures were BELOW ZERO! We had the wood stove and fireplace going the whole time since our house is old and drafty. We burned a ton of wood! (And today? The snow is all gone because it was 60 F and pouring rain all day yesterday, and now the yard is flooded.)

And now that it's all over, it's time to clean the leftovers out of the fridge. I really don't think I could look at another piece of ham. let alone eat one. Lasagna went into the freezer, along with the leftover kielbasa. The rest of it is getting tossed; there are only so many leftover potatoes two people can eat. Actually one person, because I haven't had any of them.

All the decorations are down; however, I can't claim they've been put away in the attic. They're sitting either in the hutch, ready to be brought upstairs, or they're upstairs and waiting to be put into boxes. I really want to go through all the boxes and toss whatever is broken or doesn't work, and maybe donate anything I don't want anymore. I know, I say that every single year and I've done it maybe once. Maybe this is the year?

I'll be posting an update about my back pain very soon. It's an ongoing battle, but I think there could be light at the end of the tunnel finally.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year, everyone!

I was going to write a nice post, reflecting on the past year, but I just don't feel like it. Maybe that should be a New Year's resolution:  get better at blogging more often. Or at least putting more effort into some things. Actually, I'm serious when I say I want to get better at blogging more often. I also want to resume cooking one recipe a week from my cookbooks. I started it last year, but life got in the way.

Anyway, tonight I'm busy making rum balls for my upcoming family Christmas get-together. These things are literally 90 proof! The recipe says they need to mellow out in the fridge for a few days. I agree, as they are quite strong at the moment.

I'm also burning a real bayberry candle. The folklore goes that if you burn a bayberry candle on either Christmas Eve or New Year's Eve (or both), it will bring you good luck, health and prosperity in the new year. Hopefully that's true, as 2018 really needs to be better than 2017. It was a mixed bag, but definitely more bad than good. This year brought lots of loss, both expected and unexpected; sickness, although nothing grave; fulfillment of a longtime goal (tummy tuck); and new little ones (kittens, not kids!) in the house.

Here's to hoping that 2018 holds more of the good things!

Friday, December 22, 2017

update #4: the war on back pain (and some fun mixed in)

Yes, another update!  I had my cortisone shots last Thursday, finally.

I was busy this past weekend attending the Christmas by Candlelight program at Old Sturbridge Village in Massachusetts, so I didn't get a chance to post. Plus, I wanted to wait a few days before posting so I can figure out if they're working or not. And, of course, I've been busy getting ready for Christmas. So hectic!

Here are some pictures from Christmas by Candlelight. Most pictures are a bit dark, but that's because they're mostly lit by candlelight. 😉

I love how this room looks, but I'm sure the cats would destroy it! Actually, if I wanted to be historically accurate at Christmastime, there wouldn't be any Christmas decorations in my house. Well, not like the ones above, anyway, which are representative of the 19th century. At the time my house was built, 1735 (18th century), they didn't decorate like above. If you want to read about it, go here.  

This is the Village green. Not quite dark yet, but it's pretty. It was so nice to be there when there was snow on the ground. It made it feel a lot more like Christmas in New England.

These trees are so pretty and look like they would be a real space-saver! And I want that flooring! Actually, we do have that flooring underneath all the cheap carpeting the sellers installed, which is on top of 1920s hardwood, which is on top pf wide-plank flooring like above. Someday we will tear away the layers to reveal the original flooring.

We put white pine garland on our front door this year. It was inspired by this house in the village. It looks so nice and is more historically accurate.

This is my favorite part of the event:  mulled cider made in the hearth. So delicious!! So much sugar, though! I have to sip slowly, even though the cup is small. I bought the spices to make the cider, and I have the Sturbridge Village recipe, so I'm going to try it when the family comes down in January for our annual Christmas get-together. It will be sad to not have my dad and my brother there, but they will be there in spirit. And since my house is so old, they may literally be there in spirit!

Anyway, on to the cortisone shots...

So far I would say they're working somewhat. I'm not feeling total relief; however, I'm not waking up during the night or in the morning with pain, which is really nice.  And that's probably the most important thing to me at the moment. (There's nothing like starting off your day at 3 am already in pain, and then tossing and turning for a few hours until it's time to get up.) I still have pain when I sit or stand too long, but I'm guessing that will improve with time as the annular tear heals.

I'm sure some people want to know if the shots hurt.  Cortisone shots burn, and everyone has a different pain tolerance. Mine is somewhere around low to medium. I'd say the shots were a little uncomfortable, but it was over quickly. The whole procedure took about five minutes. I had two shots, both of which were to the left of my spine, in the lumbar area. Here's how it went:
  • I waited in the exam room for the doctor to come and get me. I didn't need to change out of my clothes or anything.  While I was waiting, I heard a man yelling. Not continuously. At first I thought he was yelling. Maybe he had a broken bone and was having it set or something. Then I heard some shorter yells. I then figured maybe he was sneezing or coughing, since some people sound as though they're yelling when they do that. But then I realized that, yes, he was actually yelling. In pain. I then started to get even more nervous and was freaking out a bit, wondering if the yelling was coming from the room I was going into. Yup, turns out it was.
  • Doctor opened the door to call me into the procedure room and...he was wearing a big blue lead apron, goggles and gloves (they use flouroscopy--live xray--to help guide the needle). And he's bald. All I could think of was a villain in an action movie. I asked him if the yelling was coming from the room I was going into and he said yes. Wonderful.
  • I laid face-down on the table with my arms hanging down towards the floor. I didn't move a muscle, since I knew the needle would be close to, if not in, my spine. I definitely had it in the back of my mind that if the needle went somewhere it shouldn't, I could be paralyzed. Maybe that's irrational, but I worried about in nonetheless. 
  • The doctor applied iodine and then gave me four shots of Novocaine in the area where the catheters would be inserted to administer the cortisone. It stung, but that's normal. Next he inserted two catheters:  one next to each affected disc.  Insertion of the catheters wasn't painful. Maybe a little uncomfortable, but not pain. I thought the shots would go directly into a disc or the spine, but I guess they go in from the side. I just wanted to get it over with so I didn't ask.
  • Then he administered the cortisone. He told me I'd feel some pressure and maybe a burning sensation. Umm...yes. It wasn't truly pain, but it was definitely discomfort. I felt the lower shot more and I felt the cortisone rushing through the muscles in my left butt cheek and down the back of my upper thigh. It didn't last long, but I was glad it was over. The second shot above it wasn't as uncomfortable.
  • And then it was over! He removed the catheters, put some bandages on and that was it. I got up and went back to the exam room to get my post-procedure instructions, which were to wait until the following day to shower, no strenuous activity for 48 hours, and schedule a follow-up in two weeks.
I go back for a follow-up with the doctor next week. I have the option of having the shots again, although I don't know the time frame for that. Also, my HSA account is wiped out at the moment due to having to pay for my MRI, my husband's MRI, both our physical therapy sessions, and other medical expenses. It's my first year in the plan so I didn't have much built up when all this came about. I'm thinking if I need another round of shots I will wait a few months.

I wish I could say the shots worked and I feel fabulous. But at least I do have some relief. The fact that I don't have pain in bed is enough for me right now.

Stay tuned!

Friday, December 1, 2017

update #3: the war on back pain

This is a good representation of how I'm feeling about my back pain lately. I really just want to be done with it already; it's frustrating, and physically and mentally exhausting.

It's been about a month since I last updated you on my war on back pain. Where am I now? Well, I'm not there yet, but I'm feeling a bit better than I was a few months ago.

I just completed 12 sessions of physical therapy (PT). I'd say on a scale of 1 to 10 (1 being always in pain and 10 being I'm feeling no pain), I'm feeling somewhere around 5 most of the time. I was hoping PT would help me more, but it hasn't. I saw a bit of an improvement a few weeks ago, in that I wasn't waking up in pain in the middle of the night, but then I plateaued and now I seem to be regressing back to waking up in pain.

The next step is to get a spinal injection of cortisone, which I will be having on December 14. I went to see that doctor this week. I was nervous, because I'd read many not-so-good reviews about him online. Most of them said he's arrogant, has a bad bedside manner, minimizes people's pain, and is a know-it-all. In the end I decided that it would be great to have an obviously nice, caring doctor, but ultimately what matters is whether he's good at what he does, and if he has good aim with that needle. Turned out I was worried for nothing. He was a nice guy. He chatted and laughed with me. He explained the procedure and what I can expect without me having to ask a million questions. He said they'll use the MRI scans to determine where exactly the injection needs to go, and they'll use live fluoroscopy to help him guide the needle. I may or may not have a temporary increase in pain for a few hours up to two days; it happens to some people and not others. This injection should decrease the inflammation and help alleviate the pain over the longer term. I'm hoping I'll only need one injection, but the doctor said it's pretty common to need a second injection. Afterwards, I may be sent back to PT for a little while longer.

So, that's where I'm at. I'm still using my back brace when I sit for long periods, such as taking longer car rides, sitting in seminars, and at my desk; I have a standing desk at work, which I love; I use a knee pillow at night since I'm a side sleeper; and I try to stay active.

Speaking of being active, my workout routine has suffered quite a bit the last month. My trainer was on medical leave starting at the beginning of October, then I went on my business trip, then I started PT. Also, my workouts were very limited due to not being able to do anything that's considered high impact, like jump squats and burpees, and no lifting weights over my head. Around Halloween time, I developed neck and shoulder blade pain, which may have been from the PT, and it gave me headaches; I was miserable for most of my relaxing "staycation" because of it. That lingered for three weeks until I finally took the advice of a few people and got my very first massage, which was fabulous BTW. That seemed to help a lot. And now my back is hurting again, so I'm taking it easy with my workouts.

Eventually I'll feel normal again. I have to, right??

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

homemade french onion soup

This weekend I made French onion soup for the first time ever. It was time-consuming, but I'm so glad I did!

I've been wanting to make onion soup for quite a long time; I love it. Obviously the best part is the cheesy crouton on top, but I definitely love the whole package. I can make a meal of it. Not only because I love it, but because it completely fills me up (I am weight loss surgery patient, after all!). But I don't order it very often. Mainly because I'm always completely torn about whether I want an actual meal, like a burger or something, or I want the delicious onion soup. On the one hand, ONION SOUP! On the other hand, a complete meal with leftovers to take home. The meal almost always wins. I think, too, that I just can't get away from who I am: someone who craves food variety, and has a real FOMO (fear of missing out). What if I get the soup and I really miss having the burger? What if I get the burger and it isn't good? What if they stop making burgers or onion soup? And now that my stomach is so small, I can't have a meal AND the soup. And I hate wasting food. And sometimes I don't like leftovers. *sigh* The struggle is real...

I found this recipe online and decided to give it a try: How to Make French Onion Soup. It didn't seem overly complicated, most of the cooking time is hands-off, it didn't have any non-typical onion soup ingredients, and I have pretty good luck with recipes from The Kitchn

I had to buy a few ingredients to make this, but it wasn't anything I won't use again: crusty bread for the croutons (got some off the day-old bread clearance rack--it's gonna get toasted and dunked anyway!); gruyere cheese, which I got on sale in the deli; brandy; and wine (I got the little four-pack so I don't waste a bottle--I'm not a wine drinker). 

I set about slicing all the onions (lots of crying was done...). They went in the pot with the melted butter and olive oil and cooked for about 15 minutes. The you add the sugar, salt and pepper and cook for about an hour.

This is about three pounds of yellow onions. Close enough!

This is what it cooks down to. For whatever reason, I can never seem to get my onions to the "dark walnut" stage of color when caramelizing. I don't know if it's the recipe, me, my stove, or what. They still tasted great, though. To this you add the flour, cook for a minute, and then add the broth and wine and simmer for at least an hour.

This is after adding the broth and wine and then simmering for a little more than an hour.

I finished it off with about 1/4 cup of brandy. Then I sliced up the bread and toasted it in the toaster oven. After popping it on top of the soup, and then topping with a couple slices of Gruyere cheese, I put the bowls on a cookie sheet and broiled until the cheese browned. This is the only thing I did differently from the recipe. The recipe says to bake the bowls of soup in the oven for a half hour and then broil to brown the cheese, but my bowls don't specifically say "oven safe" on the bottom and I didn't want to chance them breaking. Still came out just fine, though.

The results? Divine!! I typically judge French onion soup by two factors: the cheesiness and crunchiness of the crouton, and the saltiness of the soup itself. Obviously, I can control the crouton very easily, so no problem there. It was kind of crunchy-chewy, with lots of melted cheese. I was worried that the soup would be very salty, as onion soup usually is, but it wasn't salty at all. As a matter of fact, I think I could have easily doubled the salt without an issue. Since I followed the recipe and used what was called for, I just added more salt and pepper at the end.

I would totally make this again, but I think I would add at least another pound of onions. It just didn't have enough onions for me, as I typically prefer onion soup to be a bit on the chunky side. Although this was pretty time-consuming to make, it was mostly hands-off cooking time.

(And yes, one bowl completely filled me up.)

Thursday, November 23, 2017

cinnamon baked oatmeal

So, I made this while I was on vacation a couple weeks ago:  Cinnamon Sugar Baked Oatmeal. Just click on the name to go to the recipe.

This oatmeal was so yummy and the recipe was so easy! What I liked about it was that it came out more like an oatmeal bar. I'm thinking I could add raisins and pass them off as actual oatmeal bars. Yup, I think I need to try that!

I also liked that it calls for only one banana, as opposed to the three bananas in this recipe I made awhile back for peanut butter brownie oatmeal.  There are times when I forget I'm saving the bananas for a reason and then I end up eating them. So, I'm left with one overripe banana. What does one do with just one overripe, mushy banana? Make this recipe, of course. :)

If sugar is an issue for you, just omit the cinnamon sugar topping. Or you could use an artificial sweetener that scoops like sugar. I kept the real sugar, but was careful to test the waters before eating a bigger piece. The oatmeal itself has only one banana and 1/4 cup of brown sugar, so it has a bit less sugar that the peanut butter brownie oatmeal recipe, which uses three bananas. You could even sub in a different milk, like nut milk that's unsweetened, for even less sugar. I used whole milk this time around, but next time I might use my Fairlife milk, which is half the sugar of regular milk.

So, what baked oatmeal recipe should I make next? I'm thinking something with blueberries, since I have a bunch of fresh blueberries in the freezer. I've also got some unsweetened coconut in the fridge. I have cocoa powder galore. Maybe another batch using the cocoa and coconut. I'm sure if I scour the cabinets and freezer enough I'll find lots more that I can whip into a batch of baked oatmeal!