Simple Pleasures


Chocolate Cake with Buttercream Frosting
While some would caution us (with good intentions) not to place too much emphasis on the way food makes us feel, it’s undeniable that food does affect our mood.

Whether it’s the smell of fresh-baked cookies, fresh from the oven, the feel of bread dough as we knead it into rolls or loafs or braids, or the snap of fresh green beans before they hit the colander for rinsing, the use of our other 4 senses when cooking and eating are indispensable when it comes to the total food experience.

There are the phrases “eat to live” and “live to eat.” The first one is for folks who look at food as a tool: fuel for daily tasks. It has to serve its purpose and nothing else. The second is for the rest of us who really enjoy our food. Sometimes that leads to over-indulging, but I think there’s a middle ground.

Part of that middle ground is found by examining the quality of what we eat in relation to the quantity of it.

Recently we attended a friends birthday dinner and it was asked of all who wanted a second slice of cake. It was very good cake, and the first serving was definitely on the conservative side.


While a part of me, the inner child if you will, wanted another, larger, frosting-overloaded piece of cake, another part of me (and, thankfully, the part that had control over my actions at the time) demurred. Why? Because one slice was enough.

Now, some would call this willpower. I am actually rather infamous for my lack thereof. Some would also call this self-deprivation. But I call it good sense. By appreciating the piece of cake I’d already had (following a delicious meal of lobster ravioli and a nice tall cocktail–see what I mean about the willpower?) I stopped myself from almost-certain indigestion and regret.

We’ve all been there, right? The oh-I-can’t-believe-I-ate-so-much moment after a large meal. The feeling of leaden limbs, the desire for a nap, the mushy-headed-ness of overdoing it. The hangover if it was a case of one-more-drink-won’t-hurt, last night.

What’s the secret, then, to avoiding overindulgence?

There isn’t one. Not really.

It’s just a matter of being aware of what we’re doing, eating and drinking. Of knowing how much really is enough. And enjoying it.

There’s some sort of major sporting even coming up this weekend, I’m told 😉 Many may be invited to parties. Those parties  may feature tables laden with heavy, fatty foods. Buckets of beer. You know the drill.

And I’m not going to preach small plates or counting calories, I’m just going to suggest that, if you want to avoid the calling-in-food-sick on Monday morning thing (when everyone knows that you really just partied too much), you think about each trip to the buffet or each scoop of 7-layer-dip you take. Notice the texture, flavor and enjoyment it gives and take a moment, a fraction of a second even, to appreciate it before going back to for another. And maybe realize it’s enough.

While I go set my DVR for the Puppy Bowl on Animal Planet.

But What Will People Say?!

Third Time Wife, Wedding Planning

This last “objection” was a doozie, and it all comes down to the social stigma attached to someone who’s had multiple marriages. It’s a lot to get past, the one that is more external than internal, and the one that has the greatest chance to repeatedly raise it’s head in public forums.

word art of a "broken" society

image via stock.xchng | photography by eliteds3

Some people? Are judgmental, narrow-minded busybodies who get off telling other people how to think and live.

I generally don’t like those people, but they happen to be the people that come up with “rules” like:

  • Brides can only wear white if it’s their first wedding.
  • A second marriage doesn’t deserve all the fanfare of the first.
  • Divorce is a “four letter word.”

And so on and so forth.

While I acknowledge that everyone has a right to their own opinions and beliefs, I disagree with their opinions/beliefs taking away (legally or societally) my right to choose what is best for me in my situation. Walk a while in my 4″ heels, please, before you pass judgement, okay?

For those of us who’ve had the unfortunate opportunity to learn to be more open-minded (because it is a learning process, and sometimes a painful one), we realize that a bride can wear whatever color she wants to regardless of the number of weddings she has or hasn’t had before. That divorce is a fact of life these days and, yes, sometimes even a necessary “evil.” And that any marriage, whether the first or the fourth, deserves any type of celebration the couple wants.

I’d even go so far as to theorize that when we, as a society, expect or suggest that a second, etc. wedding should be down-played and not celebrated starts that marriage  under a dark cloud, and that’s never a good thing!


Ultimately, the only opinion that really counts is yours and his, but those negative opinions are still out there, and sometimes you do come face to keyboard with them. And your confidence in humanity plummets.

What it really comes down to is that people make mistakes and, hopefully, learn from them. While I’m not 100% sure that “if, at first, you don’t succeed, try, try again” is the best credo to follow in this situation, it’s not all wrong, either. You take something away from every relationship, good or not-so-good, and you apply that education to the next one. And we keep trying to find the one that fits because we all want the same thing: to be happy. We deserve it, if we’re lucky enough to find it.

After a failed marriage or two, though,we’re not able to be starry-eyed in love and think that marriage automatically means forever. We know how things can change, how they can go downhill and you just need to get out. So facing that prospect, once again, is terrifying. But they say, bravery is being afraid and doing it anyway, so we’re going to choose to be brave in the face of marriages crumbling (and the statistics stacked against us) and hope for the best possible scenario for the rest of our time together.

Did you ever come up against a social stigma you knew was unjust,
wedding-related or not? How did you handle it? 

To Brown or Not to Brown


This was a recent topic of discussion around our house this weekend and I wanted to get some outside opinions on the subject:

When cooking in the slow-cooker,
do you do any pre-cooking or just toss everything in and let it go?

My position is the toss and go side of things. Frankly, I think after 8 hours of cooking everything is nice and tender as is and any browning that could have been done is rendered unnoticeable.

Todd, on the other hand, will frequently saute the onions or brown the ground meat or roasts before loading up the slow-cooker. A lot of recipes call for this and he’s not the type to deviate from instructions.

I won’t deny that browning–the caramelization of sugars–enhances flavor and appearance in most dishes. But I also think that the biggest boon to using a slow-cooker is that it simplifies meal preparation and allows plenty of flavor to develop while cooking low and slow for several hours. Plus, if I have to dirty a frying pan in addition to the crock, that’s double the large dishes to fit in the dishwasher–the perfect slow-cooker meal involves the cooker, a cutting board and a knife. Maybe  a measuring cup, too.

So, where do you sit on the issue? Curious kitchens want to know!

Extreme Couponing…At What Cost?


If you watch any sort of cable reality shows, chances are you’ve heard of one of the newer ones: Extreme Couponing. I’d heard about it and rolled my eyes at the very thought–how on earth could clipping coupons be extreme, much less worthy of television coverage?

And then we saw it.

The other night, after finishing my DVR’d Housewives, the television returned to TLC in the midst of an episode of Extreme Couponing. And Todd and I watched transfixed. The stashes, the hours spent clipping and checking out. The sheer mass of products accumulated in only a year to 18 months!

We sat through 2 shows back to back just trying to make sense of it all. And this is the conclusion I’ve come to.

Beginning with the Best of Intentions

Many of the women profiled told as how they’d turned to couponing when their budgets felt the crunch of the current economy and, really, who can’t empathize with that?

If you haven’t been let go at some point in the past few years or kept your job at reduced hours, you’re one of the lucky ones. And if you did keep your job and hours intact, chances are those raises that got you through cost of living adjustments haven’t been showing up in a while. We’re all feeling the pinch.

So clipping coupons to stretch the budget makes perfect sense.

A Decision Made Out of Fear, Often Goes Too Far

And that’s the crux of what I saw over those two shows: the fear of not being able to feed one’s family takes root deep in the mind, and overcompensating is the result.

Within a very short time many of these women went from barely making ends meet to having stock-piles of non-perishables with values in the several-thousands to the tens of thousands, paying only a small fraction (between 1% and 5% if the example trips are any indication) of that value out of pocket.

So the practical side of me starts wondering: how often do these shopping trips happen? Every couple of weeks was the impression I got. How often do they really use the products they purchase? Hard to tell, but how fast does any household go through half a dozen bottles of shampoo or 100+ 2L bottles of soda? Not to mention the shelves of cereals and cupboards full of chips?

And then there was the woman who has cases of kitty treats even though she didn’t own a cat.

Shopping By Coupon Limits Your Options

This is a big reason why we don’t bother clipping and using coupons: we don’t buy the sort of things that have coupons available.

How often do you see coupons for a 5lb bag of potatoes? But one coupon extremist schools us on her money-saving strategy of skipping the large box of potato flakes by buying the individual packets and getting more bang for your couponing buck. Let’s ignore the fact that mashed potatoes are one of the simplest foods to prepare and that a raw potato gives you far more options than a box of preservative-laden flakes, by going for the single-use packets over the larger box you’re opting to create more paper waste.

Not that I advocate buying in bulk just because it’s there, but if it’s something you use regularly, why not also do your part for the environment?

Looking Beyond Your Own Home

Yes, these shoppers are ensuring their families against famine and being budget-friendly to boot. But what else is going on, here?

There’s a coupon for detergent so one coupon extremist helping her daughter-in-law start her own stock-pile clears shelves of the product from her local store. Granted, the daughter-in-law has a new baby and there’s a lot of laundry involved with a small child, but what about the other non-extreme shoppers who come after this shopper and find empty shelves? What about only taking what you need, instead of what you can just because it’s there?

Most of these deals, by the way, are achieved by taking advantage of stores who offer double-coupon discounts either as a rule or on certain days of the week. Correct me if I’m wrong, but in the case of double-coupon promotions, it’s the store that finances the doubled coupon, not the manufacturer. So the shopper who saves $990 on her groceries just cost the store approximately $445. Considering the value of at least one of these shoppers stashes was over $10,000, I’m beginning to wonder how many minimum-wage cashiers or stock clerks have been laid off due to the actions of the couponerati?

Where Does it End?

Going back to my theory of this being a fear-response, the adrenaline rush these shoppers experience when they get their final total (after several hours spent in the store) is highlighted. The fear of a single total being off (many trips have to be broken down into several transactions in order to take full advantage of the various offers and coupons being applied) heightens the exhilaration when they succeed at gaming the store out of so much for so little.

We all know the thrill of getting a good deal every now and then but I think the extreme couponers are actually addicted to this feeling–very much like a gambling addict!

And these stacks of stocks, squirreled away in basements and closets and finished attics give the shoppers a feeling of security. They are proud of their cache. It is a sight to behold. But I also wonder if, having tasted the victory over the shopping budget as these women have, will it be enough? When will they have enough cereal and extra-strength pain killer stashed away so that they can relax? Or will it continue to the point we see these same shoppers featured on another shock-reality series: Hoarders.

It’s Not All Negative

Don’t get me wrong–I think everyone should have a hobby that gives them a sense of fulfillment. And I’m not anti-coupon across the board; we use the occasional one on the rare occasion a promotion fits our plans (not the other way around).

One woman is reported to give away some of her coupon-gotten-gains to her local food pantry–that’s excellent and I applaud her for sharing her windfalls with those who could really use it. Another family hunts and gets much of their meat that way (which, if you’re going to hunt, having it be for sustenance is a great reason) and does grow a few items and even preserves tomatoes (as salsa) and pickles–another great use of resources.

But that level of sustainability was rare to see.

Many of the women spent 35-40 hours a week clipping coupons, organizing coupons, reading store sales paper and searching online for the hot deals of the week. If I had that amount of time available I like to think I’d skip the couponing, garden a number of my vegetables, and make even more food from scratch, spending my money on basic ingredients which can be bought, safely, in bulk and turned into healthy, nutritious food without all those extra chemicals and preservatives that are in so many of today’s coupon-frequent-fliers.

But that’s me.

There’s no doubt that the Extreme Couponers are organized and, hey, using their math skills in a very practical way. But the show, in general, highlighted a level of obsession rooted in fear which leads to greed and potential obsessive hoarding in the future that I cannot condone.

All things in moderation, folks, even coupons.