February Favs (and 1 Dishonorable Mention)

Everyday Adventures, Tuesday Revews-Day

Absolutely none of the products in this post were provided in exchange for a review.

While it’s true that I’m on a spending ban for the foreseeable future (because, let’s face it, I have more than enough in terms of both stuff and bills), it’s possible to have favorites that are not necessarily spending-related. I thought I’d share mine because I like reading/watching favorites round-ups on blogs and YouTube, and sharing mine seems like a good idea.

Tech & Tools

Meet Betty Spaghetti, my very red 2-in-1 from Dell. I actually got her in January (what spending ban?!) but it was only partially a splurge. It’s try that I have a rather nice laptop (17″, widescreen, lots of power and storage), it spends 99% of its life hooked up to a secondary monitor, keyboard, mouse, 2 external hard drives, a graphics tablet, and two printers. Making it mobile is a chore, it doesn’t fit standard laptop bags, and the reason it’s lasted 4 years or so, already, is because I don’t move it all that much. Ergo, it’s not exactly portable.


Still, I probably wouldn’t have ordered a new laptop had it not been for a YouTube video I saw where the YouTuber (BumbleBailey) was travelling but still able to edit videos and do other big computer things via remote login and her tablet.

Mind. Blown.

You mean I can sit in the living room with one screen and work on my laptop in the next room? Or, better yet, I could edit videos and use my design programs from an under-powered machine (no need for 64 bit system, massive memory, or non-integrated graphics card with this arrangement) from the back porch at work on my lunch break?! Madness! But also true. Once I realized what was possible, I had very few arguments left against purchasing a $300 laptop/tablet. And it’s served me quite well for the last month and a bit, so I’m feeling next to no buyer’s remorse.

And did I mention it’s red?

I bought a little wireless mouse to use with it and had a spare MicroSD card to expand the on-board memory. The only thing I really need, now, is a bluetooth stylus that will work with it so I can use the touchscreen as a drawing tablet and I’ll be set.


I still have quite the band-crush on Walk Off the Earth; if I had a bucket list, seeing them live in concert would be on it (they’ll be at Busch Gardens at the beginning of April but I don’t see that as feasible right now). You may know them from their 5 Peeps, 1 Guitar cover of Gotye’s Somebody That I Used to Know (though I think I saw Little Boxes, first, thanks to a Facebook post from a high school friend), but they’re original music is definitely worth listening to.

Many of their songs are on YouTube in one form or another, and their newest album Sing It All Away can be found on Amazon, iTunes, and pretty much everywhere else. I haven’t looked at that app in a while, but they’re probably on Spotify, too. Some of my favorites are Hold On, I’ll Be Waiting, and Sing It All Away (though even picking 3 favorites feels incredibly unfair to the rest of the album) and from their earlier album (REVO) I adore Red Hands. In fact, to see just how awesome this band is, not just at making music, but at making videos, check out the behind the scenes shoot of Red Hands to see how they relearned their own song in a completely disjointed (and backwards, in one place) way to be cut from a single shot into a cohesive video.


The KAL afghan is coming along and the weekly art journal process is flagging (but still happening–I need to catch up on 2 pages and 4 videos; February is always awful for progress), my favorite project was probably the one that went up on Imagine’s site last week: my upcycled tea advent to puppet theater set (The Play’s the Thing).


I think this project took 6 or 7 hours, all told, but I think it’s so adorable and a great use for a box that I just couldn’t get rid of. In fact, I think it’s just the right size for my (very neglected) Dals to play with. For them it’s next to life-size, lol.



Hands-down our favorite to-do this month was our picnic and open-air movie night (that I mentioned in the last menu post). It was just good, simple fun and hard to beat. You know we’re not exactly 100% kid friendly, but the kids running around and playing during the movie didn’t bother us. If anything, it was part of the charm (though I almost did have to ask a dad to sit down or walk away as he was standing smack dab in front of me as the movie started, but he was just dropping some things off, so all was well).

Food & Bev

Most days I drink (deaf) coffee or tea in the morning and switch to water in the afternoon and evenings. Sometimes, though, I want something fizzy and flavored and there aren’t a lot of options that aren’t loaded with high fructose corn syrup and/or caffeine, so finding a middle ground isn’t always easy (and don’t get me started on the drink mixes with the artificial sweeteners in them, blech!).

La Croix sparkling waters have a bit of a cult following so I gave them a try, starting with Lemon and had an absolutely wretched experience with them. Did not want. But a coworker offered me an Orange a few months later and that one was better, so I decided to give the brand another try and branched out among the flavor options (Coconut is pretty cool, by the way). But this fav isn’t for La Croix, it’s for their competitor in the fizzy water aisle: Aquafina.


The grocery store was a little light on La Croix options one week, so I figured I’d give the other guys a chance. I’m not usually a fan of Pepsi products as I find them too sweet, on average, but when it comes to the flavored sparkling water, that appears to work in their favor. I’m working my way through packs of the Orange-Grapefruit as well as the Black Cherry-Dragonfruit and I’m going to go ahead and call myself a convert.

Ultimately, I think it comes down to a balance between the two components of flavor: taste and smell. La Croix smells right, but fall flat on the tongue whereas Aquafina has the follow-through. For what it’s worth, I’ve had the same issues with Daisani and Pellegrino flavored mineral waters, too, so I’m even more impressed with Aquafina.

Though, I will say, beware if you do what I do which is rinse out your travel mug from the morning’s coffee and fill it with the chilled fizzy water of choice. Should you, say, take the lid off to get the last sip at the bottom of the cup you might find a bit of trapped CO2 going up your nose if you don’t let it float away, first. I can’t imagine too much of that would be a stellar improvement on cognitive function…

Dishonorable Mention

I don’t usually feel the need to warn people against a product, but at the last possible moment (on the drive home from work on the 28th) I opened my first S’mores Soft-Baked Bar from Enjoy Life and, well, it wasn’t good.


I usually enjoy (sorry!) this brand’s products, which is why I picked up a likely sounding package of bars for afternoon snacks. In a perfect world I’d set aside time each weekend to make and bake for my snacks throughout the week but seriously? Life is far from perfect at the moment so store-bought it is! I was disappointed not only with the flavor (rather bland) but also with the texture. Gluten-free baked goods often have texture issues, it’s a product of their make-up and I grant a certain leeway to every new thing I try. But this was unfortunately mealy and gritty. It was also a bit on the bland side–I mean, something that’s supposed to be graham crackers, marshmallows, and chocolate I expect to be very sweet. Not so much in this version.

I did try another the following day, just in case it was a poor first impression, but it was just as unpleasant. The upside is that there are only 5 bars and they work in a pinch if my blood sugar is dropping and I need something to bump me back up, but yeah, I won’t be buying these again or trying their other flavors. Live and learn!

A Relaxed Thanksgiving, Todd Plays the Hero, and Cyber Monday Shopping

Everyday Adventures

A Relaxed Thanksgiving

Did you have a good Thanksgiving?

I’d been making one or two things a night all week and on Wednesday night set up the slow cooker with chicken leg quarters and vegetables so that, Thursday morning, we woke up to the heavenly scent of homemade chicken broth filling the downstairs. I’m only sad I didn’t think to do this before.

Since we didn’t have anything too pressing at the moment, I was able to kick back and watch the Macy’s parade and the National Dog Show while I polished the silver and did a few small tasks from the couch. (The one down side to a closed-plan house is that you can’t see the living room tv from the kitchen, especially when they’re a couple of rooms and a hallway away. Maybe we’ll install one of those little under-cabinet units when we redo the kitchen some time in the future then I’ll feel really fancy, hah!)

The turkey didn’t have to go in until 2:30 for our 6pm dinner (thanks to the speedy nature of our tabletop roaster oven which, once again, served us in good stead) and then it was short work putting together the casseroles to wait for their time in the oven. The only thing I was still working on when my family arrived was the pumpkin brownie trifle for dessert.

We usually watch a movie after dinner, allowing everyone time to digest before digging into dessert, but this time we landed on a marathon of Who’s Line is it Anyway? and laughed our butts off between that and Molly the French Bulldog’s antics.

I think it was one of our better holidays, and definitely our best turkey to date!

Todd: Not Just My Hero Anymore

Ah, neighbors. Unless you live on serious acreage you’ve got them and you just have to learn to live with them, or at least near them. We’ve gotten used to the neighbors on our west side, the personal care home, bringing an ambulance, firetruck, and police cruiser or five to the end of our block on a regular basis as well as the frequent caterwauling of one of the residents–I don’t know her story, but I do know she seems to shout everything, to anyone or no one at all, while wandering their back yard or between the small cottage she shares with her father and the main house.

On the other side, to the east of us, are two sets of duplexes that officially belong to the cross-street, and are more or less separated by trees and a partial fence. There are young kids in these duplexes and, thanks to the thin (read as: un-insulated) exterior walls, it frequently sounds like they’re right under my office windows when they’re outside playing. Aside from the occasional check to make sure they’re not flailing makeshift weapons around our cars, I just think of the day when we’ll get our privacy fence up on both sides and the noise barrier that’ll bring.

All of that to say, I didn’t think too much of it when I heard crying outside on Sunday afternoon. I figured it was the lady next door and briefly peeked out the kitchen window to confirm. Only I didn’t see her, and the noise wasn’t so loud in the kitchen as it was in my office. That was kind of odd.

My next thought, as I stood in the back doorway, was that one of the kids on the other side of the yard was crying out his or her displeasure at being disciplined. Not pleasant, but also something you kinda feel awkward intruding upon, if that’s the case. Or is that just me?

But then I heard the very definite cry of “Help me, please!”

Turned out that one of the boys next door had been climbing in the tangle of trees that divide our properties and had gotten his knee wedged between two of the trunks and was undeniably stuck. I couldn’t easily get to him but got his parents from inside (the kids had been called in and none of them mentioned their sibling was stuck in a tree!) and then went back to our house to get Todd (and his saw). He had to saw through a good bit of one of the trees (they’re not super thick, thankfully, but pretty sturdy) before they could pry the two apart enough for the boy to remove his knee.

If Todd hadn’t been home I think we would have had to call the fire department.

It’s Shopping Time!

I’ve decided that I’m going to do my level best to make the presents to my family this year (both due to budget and the simple desire to), even though I’ve decided this a bit late in the game (it helps that we’re a small group for Christmas or any other holiday). Still, I’d be a poor excuse for a maker if I didn’t let you guys know what’s available from my own shops this holiday, just in case they fit someone on your Christmas list!

First, there’s the CyberWeek sale over at The Crafty Branch

CyberWeek Sale

Our first four Creative Mischief kit releases are all available: Portable Plein Air, both Holiday card kits (which work great for scrapbook layouts, gift tags, and more if you miss the card-sending window), and our new Bound & Determined bookbinding kit. Kits range from $40-$50 plus shipping, but you’ll get 10% off through this Sunday and free shipping if you order 2 or more kits (which saves you about $9 each, at current rates).

For the girl who’s got everything, may I suggest a Character Cocktail? What’s a Character Cocktail you ask? Only a custom-designed, personality-based cocktail presented as a ready-to-frame piece of original art.


This close to the holidays I’d suggest getting a gift certificate for that hard to shop-for girl or guy on your list (we have pretty ones available for you to place in a stocking, just note that you want the gift certificate in the PayPal checkout), since they usually take 2-3 weeks to create.

Finally, for the foodie, gamer, or comic book lover on your list, What to Feed Your Raiding Party is a perfect gift.


Whether you’ve got a cousin who’s moving into their own place and will have to fend for themselves for the first time or your dear Aunt Agnes collects unique cookbooks, this book works either way! We’ll even gift wrap it and tag it at no extra charge. And don’t worry if they’re not a gamer–not only do the recipes stand up just fine on their own, the comics that open each of the five chapter are parodies of popular movies, so anyone can enjoy them!

So, dear readers, what’s your holiday plan: make, buy, or buy handmade?

On the Plate October 5-11 + 5 Meal Planning Tips


We interrupt the Halloween merriment to get a handle on menu planning. After all, how can you get decorations up and costumes made if you’re floundering with the “what’s for dinner” question every night?!

A varied menu makes the week go by!

A varied menu makes the week go by!

Monday: Herbed chicken breast, savory mashed sweet potatoes, green beans
So, the sweet potatoes were supposed to the Garlic-Herb Roasted Sweet Potatoes with Parmesan from Cooking Classy. Instead, I was scrambling to finish the outdoor decorating before I lost the light (hah! didn’t exactly happen that way, but it got done), so I didn’t start dinner until almost 8pm. Not wanting to wait on roasting the sweet potatoes, I popped them into the microwave on the magical “potato” setting (seriously, best thing about our new microwave) and whipped them up with the herbs and Parmesan that the original recipe called for. Just as tasty in half the time.

Tuesday: Dinner out @ Northside Pies in Tallahassee, FL
I’ll do a proper write-up of Northside Pies one of these days, but our monthly meet-up there with friends was fun as always. Even though their menu doesn’t mention it, they do carry a gluten-free pizza crust in the 10″ size, though their salads aren’t bad at all if you’d rather not. I opted for the Figure 4, this week, and a Black Julep (copycat recipe to come on that one, it was so good!) cocktail. Since the fresh garlic was very large and in charge, along with the figs (both High-FODMAP ingredients), I only ate half while there and was fine. (It was only after I scarfed the other half after getting home that there were issues. Oh, well, it was worth it!)

Figure 4 on gluten-free crust and a Black Julep at Northside Pies

Figure 4 on gluten-free crust and a Black Julep at Northside Pies

Wednesday: Bang Bang Shrimp, coconut rice, and garlic spinach
If you have ever been to Bonefish Grill and tasted their signature shrimp dish, yes, this is virtually the same thing and so worth the effort, even the deep frying, on a weekday night. I used the copycat recipe from Fake Ginger and substituted gf flour and breadcrumbs where applicable. Point one: No recipe ever seems to allow enough breading material–I had to triple it, in the end, to do a pound of medium shrimp (enough for four servings). Point two: though it seems odd to do a back-and-forth breading like this, it actually worked really well, so I’m glad I harnessed my natural inclination to switch to a more traditional 3-step breading.

Thursday: Pepperoni Pizza Pasta and a green salad
Based on A Night Owl’s One Pot Pizza Rigatoni, this seemed like a quick and easy option, even if mine was more of a two-pot, slightly more involved version. First, I don’t trust gluten free pastas in a toss it all together and cook situation–there’s just way too high a chance for error. Second, I was going for a more budget-friendly meal so used the ground beef we already had in the freezer and a quick sauce made in the pan (rather than purchasing a $9 jar of Rao’s Sensitive Formula Marinara). I also didn’t put it under the broiler to finish, just put the lid on after combining the sauce and pasta and topping it with the mozzarella and reserved (turkey) pepperoni. Still excellent!

Friday: Fish Taco Nachos
Nacho night! I’s been thinking of doing fish tacos at some point, but the fiddliness of it all just made me not want to, but fish taco nachos–why not?! I seasoned some rice flour with cumin, coriander, paprika, cayenne, salt, and black pepper and dredged the tuna steaks in it before searing in garlic olive oil, crumbling the tuna steaks once they’d cooled enough to handle. Then I built the pan of nachos with my sweet potato refried bean substitute, shredded fiesta cheese blend, and green onions; topping with shredded cabbage and an avocado crema once they were out of the oven. We like to just take the whole pan to the coffee table and munch while catching up with our shows on Hulu.

Saturday: Waffles, Eggs & Bacon
I kept putting off trying the whipped egg white waffles I’ve seen in several places, but that’s also what the Pamela’s mix called for so I gave it a shot. Dude… such amazing gluten-free waffles we’ve never made or tasted elsewhere. The egg whites were so worth it! I don’t see us going back to the old way any time soon!

Sunday: Pot Roast, Potatoes and Carrots
One-pot slow-cooker perfection for a Sunday supper. And, no, I don’t fool with the canned soup or dry soup mixes, I just add salt, pepper, garlic oil, Worcestershire sauce and a little parsley and it’s good to go. We have a few pieces of the roast leftover after making up the lunches and I’d be lying if I said debris fries weren’t a distinct possibility.

# # #

Two weeks ago, when I posted my last On the Plate, several readers remarked about needing to meal plan more often or otherwise not being able to make the time to do it. So here’s my process for putting together a week’s menu, in the hopes that it’ll help those of you still on the fence or wondering where to start.

  1. Inspiration sources. I “save for later” anything I find possibly interesting while going through my blog feeds in Feedly. This way, when I sit down to menu plan, I can click on the sidebar link and scroll through easily. If something sounds good, I decide what day it’ll be best on and plug it into my Google Drive document. Pinterest is another good inspiration source, naturally, so if I know I’ve pinned something over the last couple of weeks, I go check there to refresh my memory. And, then, there’s always grabbing a cookbook off the shelf at random and thumbing through until something catches my eye (or going straight to the post-it notes if I’ve already flagged things in the book). Checking your store’s sale paper online is also a good way to dream up dinner ideas.
  2. Inventory. “Shopping” the pantry and freezer to see what we have on hand not only reduces the chances of over-buying but also tells me if something needs to be used up before it goes bad. We stock up on meats every couple of months at Sam’s club, so looking to see what we have left usually grants a certain amount of direction.
  3. Routine. We don’t tend to follow a prescribed schedule on what to eat on what days, but if that helps you, use it! Meatless Mondays, Taco Tuesdays, etc. can make things a lot easier and it helps set expectations among the family. Our routine is more along the lines of knowing that we’ll cycle through the main proteins of any given week (pork chops, chicken breasts or thighs, beef, fish or shrimp) plus a breakfast for dinner night and maybe a meatless meal. So if I’m planning and I have a few spots to fill, I run through the list and see what’s “missing.”
  4. Favorites. We don’t eat the same thing each week, but we do have certain favorites that we fall back on to fill menu gaps. For me, it’s most often Sushi bowls, for Todd it’s Jambalaya or a Shrimp and Orzo dish we both loved from our Menu Mailer days.
  5. Balance. Don’t plan multiple ingredient or technique-heavy items in the same meal. Just don’t do that to yourself! Take, for instance, Bang Bang Shrimp. That requires a sauce, breading, and deep frying. No way was I going to, say, make handmade spring rolls on top of that! Instead, I made coconut rice (1 can of coconut milk, 1 can of water, 1 1/2 cups white rice) in the rice cooker and put some frozen spinach in a pot on the stove with some water and garlic oil to simmer until done. Keep in mind what preparation each item needs, and swap out something if you’ve got two heavy hitters in one meal.

I hope these tips helped you get a handle on weekly meal planning. If you’re still feeling a bit overwhelmed at the process but want more organization to your dinners, there are services out there to help! Three we’ve used in the past (yes, even a former chef doesn’t always want to think about what to make every night) are Menu Mailer ($21/quarter and up), eMeals ($39/quarter), and Paleo Plan ($9.99/month). Menu Mailer and eMeals also offer shopping lists as part of the weekly planning service, I don’t think Paleo Plan does, but it’s been a while since I’ve used any of them.

Halloween Haul with Oriental Trading Company (video)

Just for Fun

It’s my favorite time of year: Halloween!!!

We go all out for Halloween, so when Oriental Trading Company’s blogger outreach program invited me to have a mini shopping spree and blog about how I used their Halloween products to decorate for this year, of course I said yes! So this week and next I’ll be posting room by room decorating pictures, along with some simple crafts, starting with this haul/unboxing video!

(Direct Link for the feed readers: Halloween Haul with Oriental Trading Company)

So big thanks to the folks over at Oriental Trading (and, yes, I see now that I misspelled Trading in the title card–doh!) for the opportunity to have fun with some of their products, again. If you want to check out their Halloween shop, head over here: http://www.orientaltrading.com/holidays/halloween-a1-550760.fltr

Make sure you come back on Wednesday to see our outdoor decor, Friday for the big staircase reveal (trust me, you want to see this!), Next week we’ll show you our photo booth set-up for our upcoming Halloween party on Tuesday, and how we’re sprucing up the living and dining rooms on Thursday. We’ll also be doing a new Halloween House Tour once we’ve got everything set-up. If you want to check out last year’s, click here: Gingerbread Diaries 1.6: Halloween House Tour.

Also, they have a contest going on now through October 17, 2015!


Visit www.spooktaculargiveaway.com today and enter to win our weekly prize — $250 in Halloween products of your choice from Oriental Trading. Plus, we’re giving away a $25 Oriental Trading gift card every day! Contest ends October 17, 2015.


Signal Boost: What to Feed Your Raiding Party is Having a Sale!

Everyday Adventures, News, Nibbles, Sips

True, this is not what I usually post about, but I wanted to get the word out to as many folks as possible (apologies if you follow me on various social media channels as I’ll be boosting this all weekend).

For the first time since it’s release in June, 2012, What to Feed Your Raiding Party (my comic book cookbook that challenges gamers to cook their way out of the fast food dungeon) is available at pre-release prices!

Of course, if you only read Scraps Of Life, you may not know much about my book. Here’s a video that a fan shot of me at last year’s Ancient City Con–it’ll give you the full scoop!

I generally don’t discount my products or services (I try to price fairly from the beginning) BUT I had to cancel a convention appearance for this weekend (with quite a bit of regret–I hate letting con staff and fans down!), leaving me with inventory that otherwise would be sold this weekend. I’m sure you see my dilemma.

But you totally get to reap the benefits of life getting the way of my plans:

  • $5 off the cover price of the book
  • Free shipping (another $5 value)
  • 1 in 8 books will be upgraded to an Artist Edition as an additional thank you!
  • Gift wrap (with it’s cute D20 tag) is still available!

And, if you know for sure that you’d like an Artist Edition (which comes with a sketch on the dedication page), go ahead and order it (for only $5 additional instead of the usual $10–that’s like getting the Artist Edition for free under normal circumstances) and if your book is the one that wins the upgrade, I’ll refund the $5 AE fee, so you’re not out anything!

This sale will run from noon on Friday, October 3 (i.e., right now!) until 6pm on Sunday, October 5 (all times EDT), but don’t wait–go ahead and place your order with the handy little button below! They make great gifts for the gamers in your life, cookbook collectors, friends and family away at college or in their first apartment and, yes, as much as we may be loathe to admit it, the holidays are right around the corner!

(Oh, hey, if you’re reading this via RSS feed, you might not see that there’s a shopping cart link in the post–make sure you click through to see it!)

And if this still isn’t the right time for you to order, would you at least mind sharing this link via twitter, facebook, or whatever your preferred social network is?


and now back to our regularly scheduled creativity…