Four Rough Minutes to Fitness

You know why those 20 minutes a day! exercise equipment infomercials are so successful? It’s not really the product they are pushing that creates those before and after results, it is the exercise routine.

You don’t need to buy any of that stuff or join any clubs to get in shape. Here is one of the most successful exercise routines on earth and it only takes 20 minutes two times a week. You can run down the street, get on a bike, or jump up and down… Anything that gets you sweating and raises your heart rate considerably.

But first a standard disqualifier: Ask your doctor if doing this exercise is likely to kill you. If he says yes or maybe, don’t do it.

So you have talked to a doctor and you are greenlighted to get fit and healthy. Your doctor has likely told you this exercise will decrease insulin resistance (making you less likely to develop type II diabetes), increase metabolism (bye bye pesky fat cells), and give you a stronger muscoskeletal system. Don’t be bitter about the check you had to cut for that doctor visit, in the long run, you’ll be seeing less of that guy because you’ll be healthier. Damn good investment.

Choose an activity such as power walking, running, jumping jacks, cycling, or if you can, riding a unicycle. Anything but sitting on the sofa, sorry. I’ve run across this exercise recipe in nursing books on diabetes and on fitness web sites.

FOUR ROUGH MINUTES

Let’s pretend we’re walking/running in place. You don’t even need a street to do that, no excuses that you don’t have what you need to do this. All you need is determination.

Stretch out for 3 minutes. (this is the most important step, it prevents injuries)

Exercise as hard as you can for 30 seconds. (run! run! run!)

Slow down for 90 seconds. (walk in place)

Repeat the high intensity exercise and recovery 7 more times.

You’re done.

Notice the “hard as you can” part adds up to a measley four minutes? Don’t worry about how many calories you’ve burned or what the scale says. You’re exercising. You will feel and look better and you did not spend a penny on any equipment.

Circus Kitchen

I hardly ever go back and read old posts. Never think about it. Except when I’m looking for a recipe I’ve put up here. I’ll use the search bar (upper right column) to find it. It’s much easier than pulling out my battered recipe scrapbook which has pages falling out all over the place. I know a lot of cooks have recipes memorized or they make things up as they go. I do that too, but I also post recipes of things I don’t make often and have to look up measurements. Or other people’s recipes.

A recipe page on here would be great, I can find them all in one click…

A little while later…

Okay, I’ve made the page and it is toward the top, in the right-hand column. Or you can go click the link The Circus Kitchen to get there.

Gifts that leave me speechless

Back when we were in school, I used to make almost all of my gifts. I’d paint, sew, cross stitch, bake, you name it, do whatever I had to do to ghetto a gift. Seems as if things were simpler then, people didn’t expect much and they ended up way pleased with whatever I had to give.

I wish I still had that creative spirit in me, handmade gifts are my favorite things to give and receive. Money complicates and uglifies gift giving. So I’m going to shut up about that.

Here’s something Kara’s boyfriend made for her birthday. Brilliant, isn’t it? He bought a pair of white canvas sneakers and drew her favorite Alice in Wonderland characters on them.

Click on photo to enlarge for detail

They are not identical, each is half of a continuous scene.

Spanky is working like a mad dog on her Christmas presents. See this necklace? She did not buy that chain, she made it, link by link with some little metal O’s.

It took her four hours to create this one. She knows it is easier to just go out and buy a chain, but this is a special pattern Spanky created especially for this person.

I don’t even know how to end this post because I’m overwhelmed by the thoughtfulness of these gifts. Oh, wait, Rassles is making a quilt out of her late grandfather’s old suits to give to her dad.

I have no more words. Just watery eyes.

Wood Fence Restoration

Since the weather has finally cooled down, I decided to tackle the big job of cleaning and staining my wooden fence. I could hire someone to do the job, but I wasn’t happy with the work the last guys did (or pretty much anyone elses’ fence around here). If it had been done correctly to begin with, it wouldn’t look so crappy after just four years.

The reason wood fences, barns, whatever turn grey after being weatherized is because of the mildew. So how do you remove it? Bleach, simple household bleach.

I mixed one part water with three parts bleach and used a lawn and garden sprayer like this:

pumpsprayer

It’s so quick and effortless, it’s almost like a magic trick. The grey disappears right before your very eyes and without scrubbing. Just spray it on and it works. After about ten minutes, rinse the bleach off with the hose. Here are two fence sections, one before spraying, the other after.

photo-2

The bleach solution also removes some of the stain from the previous job. It’s like starting from scratch with a brand new fence.

Of course I had to wonder, why haven’t pranksters figured this out and run around with bleach sprayers to people’s fences?

photo
kitty wuz here

Of course it couldn’t be that easy, really. Could it?

Within minutes of me starting this job last week, it began to rain. Pouring down bucket loads of rain. Oh well, fine, I thought, it’ll keep the grass alive (if it is not raining, you need to hose the grass down for a while before and after spraying.)

So I got out there the next day to finish, and again, it started to rain. Flash flood rain.

And the next day. And the next, and the next. Is that seven days? Because I have been bleaching this freaking fence for a week, an hour or two at a time in the friggin’ rain.

And now it’s done.

photo-1

I’ll let it dry for a week or so and then apply the sealer/stain. I plan to spray it, but I know that damn wind is going to fight me the entire time. I don’t look forward to it, but I know one thing for sure. It will be done correctly.

Strawberry Cake with Never Fail Icing

It is birthday season. Blane Sr. last week and Blane Jr. this week. I made this strawberry wonder for my son after he asked me to surprise him with a special cake.

I started with three layers of white box cake mix. Between the layers I put a layer of strawberry preserves and some fresh sliced strawberries.

strawberry layer

The icing is the magical part. It is a meringue type icing, not something you can buy in a tub or box but something you have to actually crank up the stove to make. It is worth the entire seven minutes of your time. That is one of the popular names for it, Seven Minute Icing. But it takes a little longer than that to make. It is also known as Never Fail Icing, but I’ve had it fail on me before. Those failures have much to do with the humidity. If it is rainy outside, it won’t sugar properly and will be sticky.

So, besides sunshine, here is what you need for the icing:

2 egg whites

1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar

1 cup of sugar (granulated, not powdered)

3 tablespoons of water

1 teaspoon of vanilla

You’ll need to make it in a double boiler. Don’t panic if you don’t have one, I ghetto mine with a bowl and a stock pot. Just make sure the boiling water in the lower pot does not touch the bowl.

Put the egg whites, cream of tartar, sugar and water in a bowl and mix for one minute before putting the bowl or upper pot over the boiling water. (hold off on the vanilla for now)

mix

See below, my aluminum bowl fits perfectly over my stock pot with the boiling water.

double boiler

While the water in the lower pot boils on med heat, use an electric mixer to whip the mixture until stiff peaks form (yes you are doing this over the stove, don’t burn the cord for your mixer).

sugars

Like this in the above photo. This takes about seven minutes. Then you take it off the pot of boiling water and add the vanilla. Whip some more until the sides begin to sugar, about a couple more minutes and not over the stove.

Now you need to work fast and you had better have that cake ready because the icing needs to go on now!

sides first

Ice the sides first, then the top.

deco cake

I added some special toys on top while the icing was still wet. What will happen over the next half hour is the outside of the icing will become crunchy and yummy and…

That cake did not last 12 hours in this house.

While the strawberries on the outside are really pretty, I do not recommend you put them on the icing as they cause the icing to run due to the moisture in the berries. (now I know)

Another variation is the banana cake. Blane’s grandmother gave me this recipe years ago, so it is a family favorite.  Bake a yellow cake instead of the white, and for the layers between, make a small box of Jello brand instant pudding (small box and only use 1 1/3 cup of milk in the directions). Spread a layer of pudding then a layer of sliced banana between each layer. Frost with the Never Fail Icing and call yourself The Boss.

yum

Don’t Smother Me Bro

The only traditions our family had for New Year’s were to eat some black-eyed peas and cabbage. One is for good luck and the other for money, but I always wanted both so I just knew to eat a bite of each and I was good for a year, no need to memorize what goes with what.

I do think cabbage is the money one since lettuce is slang for dollar bills.

So I went to the grocery for the ingredients. There is no tasso (smoked pork chunks) here, but I did see some smoked hog jowls. I have never eaten that before, but what the hey, I’m a Cajun and it looked ghetto enough to go in my smothered cabbage.

Does that sound scary? Smothered cabbage?

It always did to me, especially when I was little. How about smothered chicken? I could just hear the poor chickie squaking as my mom shoved the lid down on that pot.

Anyway, I’ve been gone from Louisiana so long I second guessed myself on how to smother cabbage. I think my mom used to boil down the cabbage first, then smother it. But I don’t know, it seems like that would boil out the vitamins.

So I checked the trusty internet and found this recipe on cooks.com:

pam”s smothered cabbage

Okay, I know you won’t hit that link so I’ll just show you an excerpt. This is a real recipe.

Saute onion, garlic and bell pepper in butter. Remove all stuffing from pillow and replace with sauteed seasonings. Set aside. Wash heads of cabbage using warm water and a mild shampoo. Dry thoroughly using a blow dryer and diffuser. Place cabbage heads on a soft surface. Cover the cabbage heads with the pillow and press firmly until cabbage is completely smothered.
(You will know they are smothered when they stop screaming). Remove pillow…

Noooooooo.

Anyway. Here’s how I do mine.

2 heads cabbage
some bacon, tasso, or hog jowls
salt and pepper
onion and bell pepper
garlic
can of chicken broth

Cut cabbage into two inch cubess. Put in a gigantic pot of boiling water or steamer and cook until wilted. While that’s cooking, fry bacon and drain off almost all the fat. Throw your onions, peppers, and garlic in there and saute. Add can of chicken broth, then toss in the steamed cabbage a little at a time because it can’t all fit in the pot at once. It cooks down a lot. As it shrinks, add more cabbage. Keep the lid on tight while it cooks on medium low flame. Stir often.

img_0451

That’s my steamed cabbage being added (upper right) and the smothered cabbage (left). This is how much one head cooks down. The whole deal takes about a couple of hours to cook.

And that’s it for the holiday cooking season. I’m exhausted and damn glad it’s all over. I feel like a new person already.

Finally, The Masterpiece

Five years in the making, I’ve come to a critical point with the angel mosaic. This is not a kit, btw, it’s made from scratch with pieces of old tiles I had on hand, a wet saw, tile nipper, and tons of patience.

I’ve finally glued all the tiles in place over the mesh and am ready to grout it in. The reason I glued them on a mesh instead of directly onto a piece of plywood backing is I intended to hang it on a shower wall but changed my mind. So the extra step here is separating the mesh (I used a strong tulle) from the template I drew on a poster.

First I painted a half inch piece of plywood with primer so the liquid from adhesive and grout wouldn’t warp the wood. Then I applied about a quarter inch of adhesive to the plywood and sunk the mesh with tiles onto that surface.

I hammered the pieces into the glue with a board so all the tile surfaces would be flush.

angel-hammer

And let that dry for a day.

Now it is time for the grout. I used premixed unsanded type and worked it into the empty spaces with a two sided grout sponge which is a dense sponge on one side and a scratchy surface on the other.

angel-grout

This part goes fast. Once the entire surface of the mosaic is covered and grout is in every space, I splashed about a cup of water on it and used the scratch pad to loosen the grout on the tops of the tile. This part also helps make sure there are no air pockets in the grout spaces. 

angel-scratchy

And now my favorite part of all. It reminds me of those old movies when someone has plastic surgery and their face is all bandaged up and it is time to unwrap them. The moment of truth.

I took a sponge (a new white one, dyes in sponges can color the grout) and make only two passes over each area.

swipe-angel

Unfortunately, the moment of truth for me was a cold and hard one. I screwed up by choosing white grout.

angel-all-done

And that is where I am with this thing right now. I do believe I can fix it with a grout dye, I’m just worried that it won’t be uniform in color. Also some of the tiles are porous stone and may take up the dye. 

Once that is sorted out, I’ll jigsaw the wood, following the edges of the mosaic.

I’ll make a frame out of metal strips to make it look like a ribbon framing.

The saga continues…

Why Debone?

People who have not had a turkey this way ask “why debone?”

Besides it being a new twist (I’m a writer, I’m big on twists) on an old tradition, it’s great if you have a small oven and a big turkey. It also cooks faster, doesn’t tend to dry out, and the seasonings are more uniform throughout. When it’s time to carve it up, well, there is no carving. You just slice right through it like butter and everyone gets to eat it while it’s still hot.

deboned-turkey

Here’s a photo of the deboned turkey I roasted for Thanksgiving.

I didn’t stuff it since I don’t like my stuffing all sogged up with turkey drippings. After deboning, I rubbed it it with Cajun seasoning (Tony’s is good), some minced garlic, and about a stick of melted butter, then let it marinate for a few hours. It only took three hours in a 325 degree oven to cook. Considering this was a 26 pound turkey (bone in weight), I’ve lessened my carbon footprint along the way.

Here’s a good tutorial on Youtube if you want to know how to debone a turkey or a chicken. If you like to cook, you might want to consider trying it this way. Just make sure you have a sharp knife.

After a lovely dinner with my family and some friends, we all watched Wall-E. It’s a CG animated film, but I don’t think it was made for little kids. It’s about a robot that lives alone on Earth 800 years into the future, when humans have destroyed the planet with garbage and God knows what else. The humans have all gone to live in outer space on a luxury cruise liner where everything is so automated they have all gotten obese and can’t even walk because they’ve lost bone density (that’s what happens if you don’t exercise).

Anyway, poor Wall-E is on Earth cleaning up all the trash and trying to get the Earth inhabitable again for the humans to return. It’s an excellent movie and is out on DVD now.

A couple of our guests mentioned that they saw people were already lined up at Best Buy for their after Thanksgiving Day Sale. This was a full 16 hours before the store opened.

So we all took a ride out to the Best Buy near our house and sure enough, people were really lined up. Some of them had tents. Here’s a photo.

bbcamp

I rolled down the window and asked a guy in line what he was buying. He said a plasma tv for $599. A woman farther back in line said she was buying a laptop computer for $399.
Everyone seemed to be in a wonderful mood, I guess it was sort of like a party out there for them, something different to do.

Blane couldn’t wrap his mind around it. “Why don’t they just go work somewhere for a few hours to make up the difference and buy it at regular price?”

Although I’ve never camped out at a store for deal like that, I have punched a time clock. I can see not wanting to do my regular job, rather hanging with other bargain hunters for the night instead. Also, these people might not have the opportunity to put in extra hours at work. I can understand that.

At about three this morning Scrappy had a panic attack. That means one of two things. Garbage man or big storm. Looked out the window and it was like a monsoon rain.

I feel for the people in that line right now. I hope there was someone in that store to let them inside the first set of double doors to wait out the storm.

Leaf Creature Costume

We’re having a lot of fun with the leaf creature costume I made last weekend. If you haven’t seen the video, that link is :::here:::.

It was very simple to make. I bought four silk leaf garlands ($5 each) in the home deco section of a discount store, a black Lycra long sleeve shirt ($8) and pant ($10). You can find those in the exercise section, it is made of the same fabric they make swim suits and biker shorts.

I cut off the leaves with wire cutters and used the hot glue gun to attach the leaves.

Just one little dot of glue is all you need and do this while the costume is on the hanger, not on you. Be careful with that stuff, I practically burnt my thumbprint off. 

 

You don’t want it too dense. Leave some black space so it will blend in with shrubs.

I used an old rubber mask that’s been hanging around here for the head, glued leaves on that.

And here is the leaf creature costume worn by Blane. He’s pretending to be a topiary.

 

Can you see him now? We went knock on the neighbor’s door to try to scare him but he wasn’t home.

How about now? Where is he?

No, leaf creature, no! Leave my Obama sign alone!

I think leaf creature has been hanging out with Spiderman.