Friday, December 26, 2008

$100 Chili Pow(d)er

"What are you doing up?"

CrafterKat caught me tearing open the remaining grocery bags at 3 a.m. I had just found the Winco receipt and flashed it at her. "I didn't buy the red beans for chili. I'm pretty sure the bag fell out of the cart before I reached the cashier."

"It's okay. I have some other errands. We'll go in the morning before the storm really hits."

The snow continued to fall Friday night; Saturday we woke at 7:00 a.m. and ventured out to get some final items. Fred's had a bag of red beans, Lowe's had the Styrofoam faucet covers but no Christmas lights, and K-Mart had...well, all the things we forgot at the other stores.

"Wait... I need to make Santa cookies... I don't think we have enough flour." I bought one of five bags of K-Mart flour.

"Wait," said CrafterKat, "I want to make s'mores." I picked up The Bag of Marshmallows. And a box of graham crackers.

We made it home by lunch and settled down for a long snowfall. I made $100 chili.

$100 Chili


2-3 cups dry red beans
2-5 slices of bacon, diced
1 onion, diced
1 lb. ground beef
1 can tomatoes, diced
1/4 to 1/2 t. of cayenne pepper (how spicy do you want it?)
1/2 to 1 t. of chili powder (you choose the spicy level!)
Salt and pepper to taste

Optional: A new $100 pot and pan set

Prep: Rinse the dry beans in a colander and set to soak in a large pot with about two inches of water. Let the beans soak for 2 to 3 hours. Drain the water from the beans, then add fresh water. This gets rid of some of the starch from the beans.

Put the beans (with fresh water) on to boil. Then reduce heat to low.

In a pan, brown the diced bacon (I used four slices--yummy!). Use a slotted spoon and scoop out the bacon; add it to the bean pot.

With the remaining bacon grease, brown the diced onion. Use a slotted spoon to scoop out the onion bits; add it to the bean pot.

Brown the hamburger in the last of the bacon grease, drain it, and add to the bean pot.

Add the can of tomatoes, the cayenne pepper, chili powder and salt and pepper. Cook the chili for 1 to 2 hours or until you are too hungry to wait any longer!

Saturday and Sunday we kept tabs on how deep the snow was getting. Four inches, six inches... It was soon over a foot on our back deck.

I called my mother Sunday afternoon to fill her in. Yes, we are still alive. Yes, I made chili. No, I don't think I'll go in to work tomorrow. Yes, we have plenty of groceries. No, I don't think we'll have garbage service. Yes--

And then the power went out.
After a half hour, the power did not return. PGE reported that there were several thousand customers without power and they had no idea of when service would resume.

We bundled up and hopped in the old Mazda and drove 5-10 mph down to the Shari's restaurant for a warm meal. When we returned, the power was still out. A call to PGE told us that "power has been restored at 5:44 p.m."

Since this was obviously not the case we called around and found a hotel along the river that was open and, more importantly, still had power. "And if the power goes out," the manager said, "we've got lots of blankets, flashlights and glow sticks. I'll be here all night with our staff--we'll probably have a party in the lobby."

CrafterKat began packing suitcases while I reserved the room. As we maneuvered through the icy roads, we passed a downed power line a block from our home. An hour later we had parked in the hotel's snow-filled lot and found our room. Thirty minutes later, CrafterKat and Critter were soaking in the hot tub.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Chili Weekend

We've had snow off and on (mostly on) for a week now. Monday was especially chilly when we woke--our heating system was on the fritz. CrafterKat had been up since 5:30 and the house seemed to get colder by minute. She woke me at 7:00--the house was 59 degrees.

The pilot light seemed to be working but the clear water condensate tube that ran from the heating unit along the wall and to the outside was clogged up--it had frozen solid outside the house. CrafterKat got an extension cord and her little heat gun--a mini hairdryer used for embossing--and warmed up the tube until the water started flowing again. The house finally got up to temperature around 10:00 a.m.

When I woke on Friday there was a note from CrafterKat asking me to head to the grocery store. "We're expecting near blizzard conditions," she wrote. Time to make grocery lists, figure out advanced food cravings, and stock up.

The snow had turned to slush by the time Critter and I hit the road at lunch time. Winco was packed--Critter and I methodically went through the list, loading the grocery cart with crackers, cheese, soups, cereal, bulk red beans for chili, bacon, chicken, yogurt... The cart was so full we could barely push it to the checkout line.

CrafterKat got home a few hours later. I spent the afternoon cooking the last of our Craft Party cookies. "Let's go get some dinner before we're snowed in," CrafterKat suggested. We took a bag of cookies to her brother's house on our way. Instead of pizza (our original plan) we joined them for dinner at Busters and caught up on the news. The Golden Poet shared her cookie baking stories--green Grinch cookies!--and The Renaissance Man shared his adventure cleaning out the dryer vent. The boys shared various tales of how bored they were; Critter agreed.

After dinner we dropped Critter back at the house and went out again for some final shopping, dodging snow flakes right and left. I explained to CrafterKat that I intended to make my Mom's chili for lunch on Saturday, pulled pork sandwiches in the slow cooker for Monday when her parents arrived for Christmas, and lasagna somewhere in between. CrafterKat frowned slightly. "You're not planning on making chili in one of my good pots are you?"

We have only two large pots. Large and EXTRA HUMONGOUS LARGE, purchased at one of those fancy cooking stores at the outlet mall. "Fine. Let's go to Linens and Things after we go to [store redacted in case my mother is reading this]. They're going out of business so we can probably find something there for cheap."

CrafterKat stayed in the car while I scouted the store. I found one pot with a strainer, took a pic of it with my cell phone, and sent it to her. She texted back: I come in. We poked around some more and decided upon a pot and pan set, marked down to $100.

"You know," I chuckled, "this will be like the Evil PXE's bread maker. He had a $100 bread maker which they never used. Six months later he was handing out $30 loaves of bread because he had used it so few times."

CrafterKat chuckled. "One hundred dollar chili!"

We made one final stop at Trader Joe's and called it a night. The snow was starting to fall pretty steadily by now and we were happy to be home.

At 3:00 a.m. I woke up with a start. I did not recall paying for the bag of red chili beans; they'd fallen out of the cart before I reached the cashier.

Saturday, December 20, 2008


With the snow and uncertain road conditions, Critter has been out of school for a full week. It's now Christmas Break, there's more snow and ice is expected in the coming days. She hasn't seen her school friends for several long days. To say that she is bored is quite an understatement.

She's been playing telephone tag with a girlfriend up the street and after the third phone call I asked, "What's up?"

Straight-faced, she answered, "The air, the paint, the plaster, the wood, whatever comes after the wood."

The Land of Last Minute

I LOVE the holidays. All of the decorations, the lights, the shopping, the baking, the music, the crowds (yes, even the crowds). This is really MY time of year. I could live in it.

This year, I’ve been working so hard, I haven’t had much time for shopping or crafting. And this last week, the weather played roulette with the roads, making small windows of opportunity for shopping, which usually occurred while I was at work.

Today, it is supposed to snow all day (2-4 inches of accumulation), and turn to freezing rain tonight. Yikes. So if there is any shopping to be done, we have to go this morning. There is already some snow on the ground – we’ll be taking the Mazda which is already chained up for this weather, but which is missing the ability to defrost. (Give it a break; it is over 20 years old…)

And what is on the Last Minute List?

  • Dried red beans for chili
  • Stocking stuffers
  • Something for my grandmother for Christmas
  • Something for me for Christmas (and yes, I usually get my own gifts and wrap them…)
  • And I wouldn’t mind a really great movie to watch, since we’re going to be inside most of the weekend. But I can’t think of what that would be.

When we get home, I have to clean up our guest rooms. We used one room for the “kids” craft center at our annual craft party. And we’ve been using the other room as Wrapping Central. With my folks and grandma coming up on Monday (weather permitting), I need to make a place for them to stay.

Nothing like waiting until the last minute to do everything. Sheesh.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Recipe for Disaster?

CrafterKat and I enjoy shopping at Trader Joes but we do not have a store close to our home. If we are traveling close to the store for another errand, we inevitably stop in and get munchies. I love the ginger cookies; CrafterKat likes some of the chocolate things. And we always seem to get a bag of pot stickers or other frozen quick dinner item.

This fall, as we drove to Home Depot, we passed the old CompUSA store. It no longer looked desolate. It looked Trader Joesie. The store hadn't opened yet--just a coming soon banner--but we immediately called CrafterKat's parents (who are lucky enough to have a store a mile from their home) to tell them the news. For the next several weeks, whenever we were in the area, we drove by hoping it would be open.

Braving the snow today, on another "get this before the blizzard gets us" errand, we drove by and saw the lights on. CrafterKat and I were like kids on Christmas morning, browsing the shelves looking for munchies. We took our small horde to the cashier, grins on our faces.

The cashier looked over our pile. "BBQ sauce. Water. Bag of prunes. Chocolate.... I give up. What are you making?"

I pulled out my wallet and smiled. "BBQ for pulled pork sandwiches tomorrow. Water bottle for the ride home. Prunes for... Regularity?"

Saturday, December 06, 2008

And then there were eight...

Tomorrow is our annual Craft Party and I've been baking cookies for most of the day. I have to say, this is probably the cutest cookie I've ever made. I have only eight and intend on giving them to the handful of kids I know are coming.

The cookie dough recipe comes from one of my favorite cookie books (I really have only two) and is intended as an alternative to gingerbread dough. Teachers use this not-so-spicy recipe after reading The Gingerbread Man to their students. But I used it to make other little guys...

Butterscotch Bears

1/2 c. butter or margarine, softened
1/2 c. brown sugar, packed
3.4 oz pkg. regular butterscotch pudding mix
1 egg
1 1/2 c. flour
1/2 t. baking soda
1 1/2 t. ground ginger
1/2 t. cinnamon
Handful of mini chocolate chips for decorating

Sift together the flour, soda, ginger and cinnamon and set aside. In a mixing bowl cream butter, brown sugar and dry pudding mix. Add egg and beat well. Add the flour and spices to the creamed mixture. Chill the dough for about an hour.

To make butterscotch bears, roll dough into the following sizes:

8 balls, 2 inches in diameter, for the body
8 balls, 1 inch in diameter, for the head
32 balls, 1/2 inch in diameter, for the arms and legs
16 balls, 3/8 inch in diameter, for the ears
8 balls, 1/4 inch in diameter, for the bear snout

Squish two ears to each head and flatten to about 1/2 inch. Add the ball for the body and flatten. Add arms and legs to the sides, and the snout to the face.

Warning: If the bear looks more like a pig at this point, don't panic.

Bake the cookies at 350 degrees for about 10 minutes. The bears will be slightly doughy when they come out. Quickly add the mini chocolate chips for eyes, nose, and buttons. Leave the bears on the baking sheet for a few more minutes to harden.

Makes 8 Butterscotch Bears

I would have made a double-batch of these--they are adorable--but I would have wanted Critter Help for it. She's on the tech crew for the high school production of Our Town, though, and was gone all day today for tech rehearsal. And when she came home, she wasn't quite dressed for baking. Tonight is Winter Formal.