Sunday, September 29, 2013

Homemade Bacon Potato Chips

I don't know if these are healthier for you than standard potato chips, but there are definitely fewer chemicals, and some nutritionists even believe that bacon grease is healthier for you than standard vegetable oil. Regardless, these are delicious and I'm okay with shaving a few years off my life in order to enjoy them.

They are simple enough to make: first, save up your bacon grease. If you're like me and tend to make brunches every Sunday, then just empty your pan into a jar (which you should be doing anyway because grease and oil is horrible for your sink!). The only thing to keep in mind is that the jar should always be left open. Putting a lid on it will cause the bacon grease to rot. Keeping it nice and aerated will make it last at least a couple months. You'll need roughly half a standard jar's worth of bacon grease (so maybe two or three pounds of bacon's worth).

Next, clean and peel the potatoes. Cut them into extraordinarily thin slices (as thin as you can make them -- the thinner they are, the more crisp they will be. And, likewise, the thicker they are, the more likely they'll be chewy. Still yummy, but a completely different eating experience) and soak them in a bowl of salt water for roughly an hour.

And then, you cook! Empty the half-jar of grease, turn up the heart to roughly 7 and wait until all of the grease has changed back into it's beautiful hot bacony goodness. Place a dozen or so (depending on how big your pan is) slices into the pan and let them cook. They'll need roughly 3 or 4 minutes on each side, or until the edges are crisp and the center is tan.

A metal strainer is perfect for cooking with large amount of oil, but a slotted spoon can work in a pinch. I recommend scooping out the next batch of potato slices and letting them dry a little bit before putting them in the grease, as water + hot grease = spiddle. Which = potentially burning yourself.

Anything with the words "bacon" and "potato chips" is bound to be delicious...and horrifically bad for you. But, hey, you only live once!

Friday, September 27, 2013

Photo Friday: The Auburn Thaw

(not to be confused to the Urban thaw)

I need to take a quick breather from editing my road trip photos. Life has been tossing me every which way as of late (but in a good way). And while I'm loving the adventures that this new path in my life has been carving out for me, it's making it very difficult to sit and go through hundreds of photos, and then edit 10-15 of them. Granted, when it comes to editing, I usually just fix levels (I swear I don't saturate the colors -- the landscape really is that vivid. And the tragedy is that, even then, the pictures do not do what we saw from the road justice), but it still takes a good portion of time.

So here are photos I actually already ciphered through and edited. They just fell through the cracks of my incredibly-cluttered desktop (as my laptop's desktop is my "To Do" pile, essentially).

These are actually from last April, when we thought we'd never see the end of winter. I was driving through Auburn, NH, after a pretty abysmal dentist appointment (an appointment where I learned why you never go to chain dentistries, but that's for another time). I was still on my "Solo Road Trips to Learn About Southern/Central NH" kick, and found myself gravitating toward Auburn more and more. The way the lake looked that cold morning is one of the reasons. And while we ended up not moving to the Auburn area, we lucked out and found a town that had many of Auburn's natural amenities (views of the hills and mountains, lakes, streams, etc) but a few of the major essentials. Like, say, a Dunkin' Donuts. And another Dunkin' Donuts. Because, like a proper Bostonian, it's not enough just to have a Dunkie's in driving distance; I need two Dunkin Donuts located on the same main drag, but two miles apart from each other.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

How to Organize a Kitchen

(or should I say: how I organized my kitchen.)

I'm still in shock that the house is finally settled. Some of the rooms were easy to set up -- put a dining room table in a dining room and call it set -- while others took a bit more time. One of the more intricate rooms was the kitchen.

You don't realize how daunting of a task organizing a kitchen will be until you actually set out to do it. When I first moved to New Hampshire, we were in such a rush to get everything settled that we basically put anything anywhere. We also didn't have a proper set of drawers in the kitchen (you have to love apartment kitchens), so we had to improvise. This resulted in a scattered mess that we put up with, but was never really fond of.

So, after agonizing where everything should go, I finally have a nice, organized kitchen. And I'm sharing it with you guys in case any of my readers are moving/reorganizing their kitchen soon.

Remember, this is just how I organized my kitchen. Everyone will have a different scheme that works for them. But I noticed there are few articles out there about how to organize kitchens, so this might help those who are Googling up a storm.

Let's start with the drawers and work our way around. This is the very first drawer, by the patio door and next to the stove. Ideally, this would've been a place for heating pads and oven mitts, but it's not quite wide enough. So, instead, it's more of an oven helper: things we use frequently with the oven (steamers, pizza cutters, biscuit cutters, egg circles).

The one to the right of the oven holds our measuring cups and spoons, as we've somehow amassed five different sets of measuring cups over the years.

The one next to that (as well as to the left of the sink) holds our sometimes-used oven and cooking utensils. Basters and spatulas and pie cutters.

This one is a little bit of a catch-all. For our kitchen items that get used, but for very specific occasions (like our pineapple and apple slicers and my chopsticks).

I have to admit: I forgot I had this drawer when I was first organizing everything. I went from practically no drawers (insert underpants joke here) to more than I knew what to do with. So this one became a continuation of the one next to it, with items that are used for very specific occasions (like my sushi plates or stirfry boxes). I also ended up putting a wrapped up cell phone charger in here, as the island has electrical outlets and we always seem to use our phones to the point of exhaustion.

Now onto the island. I figured the best place for the utensils would be in the island, across from the sink, and right by the fridge. It was all about intuition -- although my intuition was completely thrown off, as I had spent the last two years using a cabinet for my utensils.

The one after that was for our lesser-used utensils -- meat tenderizer, handheld cheese shredder, corn-on-the-cob holders. You never realize how many kitchen items you have until you have to pack and unpack them all.

The one next to that one holds our bags, aluminum foil, etc. It's across from the stove, but in the middle of the island. Perfect for if I need aluminum while baking or if I'm making a sandwich on the island and need a sandwich bag.

At the end of the island is where we put our oven mitts and heat pads. If you can't have them next to the oven, then across works as well.

It seems a little silly to have a medicine cabinet in your kitchen, but I've found I'm more likely to take a daily vitamin if the bottle is right there in the kitchen. Make some coffee, clear a few dishes ... and take a Flinestone's tablet, because we are never too old for Flinestone's.

The top of the stove is used for delicate items and cookbooks.
Here's a way to better protect the glass items you treasure: keep the cups you get for free at theatres and sports events. They're usually the size of a bucket and and provide that extra bit of cushion for your glass. Here, a cup I got at a Celtic's game protects a Guinness glass that I might've *cough* pilfered from the oldest bar in Belfast.

If you are right-handed, the cabinet on the righthand side of the oven is perfect for all your spices. If you are left-handed, switch it to the left side.

In an ideal situation, there would be a large cabinet on both sides of the sink. One side would hold dishes; the other, cups. But I made the best of my kitchen's layout and put my cups on the first big cabinet, which happened to be to the right of the sink.

The corner cabinet, once a place for our utensils at the apartment, is now where we store our tubberware and disposable party items.

Double cabinets are definitely needed for dishes, if only so you don't have to stack your dishes too high, or stack multiple sizes together. The bottom black dishes are our nice "casual" china that we got for our wedding. The rest is a collection of random plates throughout the years, including a few plates that I *cough* pilfered from the dining hall.

I might've had a problem back in the day.

We don't really drink, so a wine rack, while pretty, is useless for us. However, we do have an excess of water bottles. The result? A water bottle rack! Through this little project, I learned that we have not one, not two, not three, not four, but five Baja Fresh "Infinite Refills" cup. Not bad for a company that left New England 4 years ago.

Hey, remember this little project? After finding absolutely no proper place to hang it, I decided to do what most restaurant do and lean it against the outside of my little "restaurant".

And now onto the counters. Let's start on the opposite side by the fridge and work our way back. If possible, I really recommend creating a second "cutting station" in the corner opposite of your oven. It gives everyone in the kitchen a little bit of space, especially as one is preparing the food and the other is cooking it.

Mine happens to be in the corner by the fridge, where my toaster, mini "drink station", and fruit stand resides. Note that I have all the "practical" stuff (coupons, receipts, etc) on the side of my fridge. Keeping such things to the sides really makes the kitchen look neater.

I got rid of my plastic drying rack mat and replaced it with a microfiber one. Not only is it a lot cleaner-looking, but, since the microfiber can be anywhere (as opposed to right next to the sink), I moved the drying rack a few inches away from the sink. Nothing is more frustrating than washing a dirty bowl and getting dirty, soapy water on clean items that have been drying in the drying rack. A bit of distance from the sink helps minimize that occurrence.

Again, all about whether or not you are left- or right-handed. It's useful to have all my utensils on the righthand side, since both my husband and I are right handed. And, if you remember from from one of my very first posts, vases make great utensil holders. Especially vases from your wedding.

And, on the opposite end, I have a second cutting station. We got a second set of knives as an engagement present, and having a second station by the oven is perfect for solo cooking, or cooking that requires lots of cutting.

And now, we finally make our way to the lower cabinets. I put the rest of our cutting boards, as well as cake and brownie pans, rolling pin, etc, to the left of the oven.

Have an electric stove? Good news! That drawer under your oven is not used for broiling, so you can use it as storage! And, as I have learned, the storage area doesn't get any hotter than the cabinets next to it when the oven is on. Perfect place for trays and cupcake tins.

To the right of the stove are our mixing bowls, plastic pitchers, and grilling utensils. The little plastic shelf really gives me a necessary extra bit of space. I got them on whim last year around Christmas (if only because I needed a Walmart box for my sister-in-law's present, in order to trick her as to what the actual gift was) and they have been incredibly useful.

...Like in places like under my sink. The fake-granite contact paper also helps take the edge of a usually dank and decrepit cabinet, but, more on that later.
Lazy Susans are perfect for all the baking essentials -- baking soda, cocoa powder, etc -- as well as the non-perishable cooking essentials for very specific meals, like Asian food.

The cabinet next to the fridge is where we placed our various appliances, ones that, unlike the toaster, aren't used that often, but often enough that we don't want to store it away in the basement.

Those that didn't fit in the cabinets by the fridge went into the cabinets in the island, along with our oversized cutting boards and wok (because what is proper Asian food without a wok to cook it in?)

Just outside that cabinet is where I hung a dual-towel rod. I had never seen one of these before, but I stumbled across it in Marshall's and was too amused not to purchase it. And, so far, it's been a great investment. It's nice to have one set of towels used for wiping your hands while cooking (located by the oven) and a set for actually washing your hands. Nothing spells fun that washing your hands and drying them off on a towel that was just used to wipe away oil and grease.

We placed all our pots and pans in the cabinet across from the oven. At some point, we'll be installing a pan rack above the island, but that's not for another 5+ years, when we finally get the gumption (and money) to redo our kitchen.

Organizing a kitchen doesn't have to a headache. It's all about being intuitive and figuring out what works best for you. And don't be afraid to take things out and move them around. Remember: this is your kitchen. Organize it the way you want it.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Photo Friday: (The Last of) Wyoming

So, here we go: the last Wyoming post. Hopefully (and by "hopefully" I mean, "By this time next year, God willing and the creek don't rise,") I'll be revisiting Wyoming, only this time I'll be spending more time up north by Yellowstone and Old Faithful. I truly am in love with this state and, when civilization gets me down, I imagine a vacation house in Middle of No Where, Wyoming. Ah, the things I would do if I win the lottery (or get stupidly lucky in the writing world).

Up next: Utah. Which, like its capital city, surprised me tremendously. But, as I've been saying a lot lately: more on that later.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

27 Things I Learned by 27

Today marks my 27th birthday. It's been a lovely fall day, the type where you wake up with blankets wrapped around you, but spend the rest of the day taking in the warm sun and enjoying the gentle breeze. My birthday day has been quite relaxing: no unpacking, no major household projects. stuff. I went on a run through my old stomping grounds, which includes an area in Massachusetts that is nothing short of cow country. I then ventured off to a new "relax and recharge" yoga class, where the yoga teacher noted to the class (after logging my sign-in into the computer) that it was my birthday, and added "Abby's birthday" to the various things we should be grateful for today. I enjoyed my usual Dunkies iced coffee and I finally got to check out the antiques shop by my house. I've been decorating for fall and just enjoying the day. Much needed, after how hectic this summer was.

However, going back to my new age, I think the only way to sum up how turning 27 feels for me is by paraphrasing Jessica Simpson's reality show "Newlyweds".

(stay with me here).

In one episode, Jessica bemoans turning 27 because, "27 is almost 28, which is almost 29, which is almost 30." Which sounds absolutely absurd, but it's true. I felt something change in turning 27, more so than I ever did at 25 or 26. It's like every pretense I could've had -- any chance that I could pretend like I'm still college-aged -- is taken away. And now I'm an adult. Doing adult things.

A lot has happened since I was "college-aged". I've gotten married and bought a house (two things I thought I'd never do). I've traveled, moved, wrote, got rejected, wrote some more. I've realized that the career I thought was tailor-made for me wasn't right for me after all and I had the chutzpah to leave it, even though I had no clue what the future held. This might be the delusion talking, but I feel like, with every year, I grow a little more sure of myself and find a little more insight into life. Below are the 27 things that I learned from experience in my 27 years on this planet. And may the future years bring only more important lessons.

1. Forget imagining what the future holds. Even immediate future. Things will never happen exactly as you expected them to. Sometimes they're better; sometimes they're worse. And sometimes they're just different. Don't worry about it. Things always have a funny way of working themselves out.

2. The older you get, the more you'll find people who are perfectly content with mediocrity. And the older you get, the easier it becomes to potentially slip into that safe, unchallenging life, because mediocrity is predictable and predictability means no risks. It's easy to say "no regrets!" when you're 16, but it takes work and risk and a touch of fear to make your life something worth telling your grandchildren about.

3. Don't for a second think you'll never be scared to follow your dreams. Because there'll come a time when you have to sacrifice more than you planned on, as well as a time when you'll have to stick your neck out for the 1,000th time even when the previous 999 times resulted in failure. That's scary. And it only gets scarier with age. But it's either that or the mediocre life. You choose.

4. The world owes you absolutely nothing, so fight for what you can get, and be damn thankful for what you already have.

5. Most people aren't out to harm you. They're just out to better themselves and don't care if they harm you in the process.

6. Avoid anyone who has to publicly prove or state their personality traits. If someone is actually "nice" (or "too nice"), they don't need to tell you that. If someone is actually intelligent, they won't try to prove it at every turn. The same for people who are "cool" or "unique" or "fun to be around". Twenty-seven years of human interactions has shown me that people who have to state it tend to be the opposite of it.

7. By the same token, people who complain about drama nonstop actually feed off of it. People who perpetually talk about "haters" look exactly as delusional as the couple from "Kitchen Nightmares". Gordon Ramsey walked away from that couple, as you should from those type of people.

8. There is a direct relationship between the amount of energy you put into gossip -- celebrity or local -- and the level of satisfaction you have with your everyday life. There's no other way around it.

9. Help and care for those around you. It's the only sustainable type of happiness out there.

10. At the end of the day, nothing feels better than something you accomplished on your own. And anything worth doing is worth doing right. Invest your time and resources. Don't half-ass it.

11. Create. It doesn't matter if it's a poem, or a woodworking project, or a scrapbook, or a stack of blueberry pancakes. It will make you happier than any television show could ever hope to.

12. You might study relentlessly for a career in a certain industry. You might fight tooth and nail to start up your own company. You might finally get to where you think you want to be, only to realize that the dream was temporary. And that's okay: some dreams aren't meant to be forever. And it doesn't mean that the dream is dead: it simply means the dream has been satiated and you have moved on. Going after a series of dreams – and being unafraid to leave the ones that stopped being dreams long ago – is almost an admirable way to live a life. Beats many of the alternatives.

13. Life throws you curveballs. Accept it, and understand that accepting it will not make the curveballs any easier.

14. The adult world is an incredibility isolating place, but it teaches you to value good company. It also gives you an out when you need to ditch bad company as well.

15. Your body is filled to the brim with the potential. But that potential doesn't last forever. Or even a long time. Make use of it.

16. Eat like you give a damn. Your metabolism has been in a tailspin since your teenaged years. And food manufacturers really don't care if their food will make you balloon up. Eat right and exercise, if only to keep up your energy levels (because that drop in metabolism also means a drop in energy).

17. Strive for constant self-improvement. But don't for a second think it stems from not liking yourself. In fact, I'd be willing to argue that the biggest success stories come from people who loved themselves and, through that love, strove to better their abilities and station in life.

18. There is nothing more frustrating than stepping out of your comfort zone and learning something completely new. Especially when you're used to immediately picking something up. Sometimes you need to make an ass out of yourself in order to expand your horizons. In fact, you almost always will have to make an ass out of yourself before you can expand your horizons.

19. Sometimes people just aren't going to like you. But that doesn't give you an all-access pass to be wretched to them. Don't give people an actual reason to hate you.

20. Assertion is key. Some people are more than happy to abuse your good nature. There is no fairy godmother who will make things right (usually). Stand up for yourself.

21. Work smart. There are no gold stars in the real world. Be efficient.

22. There are some very unhappy people in this world. Don't let them make you unhappy as well.

23. A town is a town. A city is a city. They are nothing more than various lots of land arbitrarily drawn out and governed. They have streets, buildings, stores. And jobs of many varieties. Like thousands upon thousands of other places. Of all the things that can "keep" you in a town, the town itself is not one of them. The possibilities are endless once you realize this.

25. Those who can, do. Those who can't, sit back and criticize. It's a lot easier to tell someone what they are doing wrong than actually do something themselves.

26. There is no clear-cut formula for "finding yourself". Some swear that the only way you'll find yourself is if you backpack through Europe your first year out from college (and everyone else is just screwed). Everyone has their own way of figuring out who they are. But I will say this: it doesn't magically happen after a three-week stint in Europe. It doesn't magically happen after a year-long stint in Asia. It comes gradually, through various contexts and experiences. Through interactions of all shapes and sizes.

27. Lastly, the definition of "you" that you spend so much time learning will change. You'll realize aspects of yourself out of no where. Some will be pleasant surprises. Some will be grim realizations. Sometimes you'll feel like you have no control over what defines "you". Take it in stride. As Yogi Berra said: don't take life too seriously. You'll never make it out alive.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

House Update: The Housewarming Party

Almost exactly two weeks after we officially moved in, we had our housewarming party. It was hard work, to say the least. To give you an idea as to exactly how down to the wire we were: merely hours before the party, my husband and I were installing doors and putting up window treatments. It was definitely exhausting, but worth it, especially when our guests noted how put-together our house was.

My husband went out yesterday morning to get more items for our party, and returned with this beautiful flowers. I don't know what it is about surprising a woman with flowers, but I'm such a sucker for it. He could honestly mow down a field of puppies, but return home with a bouquet of daisies, and all is forgiven.

I got to finally use all the glassware and crystal sets and we had a nice little feast for our guests. From a proper fruit salad (meaning no watermelon or honeydew to fill it out) to Dirt Pudding (Oreos, Pudding, and Whipped Cream) to my husband's signature fried rice... something a little classier in our living room...

To a table full of barbecue items (hot dogs, hamburgers, ginger ale-boiled bratwursts), which later became a table for s'mores as the sun set and the wood for our fire pit finally dried out.

I decorated the table with a trio of frosted mason jars with electric tea candles. A project that could've been a Pinterest Fail (as the Pin I saw called for regular tea candles and elmer's glue), but, knowing it was going to be a fail, I went down an alternative route, but more on that later.

Again, more on the house later. And hopefully a few DIY tutorials -- and of course more pictures from the road trip, as I ever so slowly but surely cipher through the photos.
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