A Social Networking Rehab Story

My last few posts haven’t been my normal, one of “Hey, check out this cool food I make; it’s delicious!” or an explanation of a project I came up with. The reason I have deviated from my normal creative stuff is because I am taking a technology class in graduate school and some of the assignments involve blogging. So if you’re wondering… that’s why the deviation from the norm.

Social networking. UGH. Honestly, I am so tired of it. Tired of doing it, tired of everyone talking about it, tired of seeing it in every other article I read, tired of everyone living 99% of their life through social media. Do I use Facebook? Yes. Have I ever deleted it? From my phone—yes, multiple times. But it helps keep me connected to people I don’t get to see enough of in my daily life.

I’ve had an account on Facebook I believe since 2009. Again, that began as a project for a class. We were communicating in a group on Facebook. So I was on it years before most of the people I know. The more people I knew, the more time I spent on it. I began playing games that were only on Facebook. And then I was hooked. When it comes to games I can be, how shall we say… addicted? So I found a few games I liked and I was doing it constantly. This was before the phone apps. So I was constantly on my computer playing. Then I began adding hundreds of people I didn’t know, simply because the more people I friended, the more team members I could have in my games. My family in no uncertain terms, told me that I had a problem with the games. I had to quit cold turkey. So one day I deleted the hundreds of ‘friends’ that I really wasn’t friends with. Then I was down to maybe 60? Then I realized that there were still a bunch of friends on my list that I hadn’t seen or talked to in years. People I knew of in high school that wanted to friend me simply because they knew who I was from way back when. I ended up deleting them too. I figured if I haven’t made the effort to keep in touch with them since H.S. graduation, why would I care now? No disrespect to any of them, they’re all individuals with lives and families and stuff, but they just don’t intersect with mine. So I deleted them.

After deleting everyone who I wasn’t related to or actual friends with, my list was incredibly small. In a way I was jealous of everyone else who had 552 friends or 1,032 friends. Wow! They know a lot of people. No, not really. They just have a lot of names of people they don’t actually talk to. It took me a while, but I got over the idea that I felt I was lacking or missing something just because I didn’t have a massive amount of online friends.

So, how do I use Facebook today? I make funny or observational posts that I know the people in my life will see (and since many of them live with their phones constantly in their hands they see it instantly). I like organizations that I am a part of or that I believe in. The posts keep me updated on what’s happening in their lives and with the activity happening at the organizations. For example, your public library probably has a Facebook page. And on it they post notices of programs or special events, or titles of new books or movies they have available. These are things that will make a difference in my life. Also, my school. Universities have pages too. They post notices regularly about things like registration dates, closing dates and information when emergencies are happening. Here is one that came out recently, letting me know when I could start registering for the next semester.

iupui facebook post
This was great, because I couldn’t find that information anywhere online.

At LinkedIn I do have an account, but I use that one strictly for my professional life. I have connections with former college classmates, and people that I have worked with in the past. I think it’s a great tool for your career to be connected with people like that. You have the opportunity to reach out to them when you have questions, or to learn about opportunities. But like Facebook, I don’t just add anyone to my network on LinkedIn just because they ask. I want to know these people. At least that I’ve met them at a meeting or conference. I think it’s fake to claim you know people when you have never met them and never talked to them, and probably never will, simply to show the world you know a lot of people. It’s not worth it.

And you know what I’ve discovered when I eliminated a lot of people from my accounts? That I actually had time to do real things, with real people. Like I said, I still use them, but nowhere near the capacity that I used to. And I am really glad I made that choice. How are you using social media? Does it consume your entire world? Or are you confident enough to delete the app and actually live life instead of liking what everyone else is doing?

Connect and learn through games

Have you ever played an online game? Chances are if you’re reading this, you have; entertainment is a major benefit of having Internet access. What about play around in a virtual world? MUVEs (Multi-User Virtual Environment) are commonplace today and millions of people are playing and interacting within them. Some of the most popular ones over the years that you might have heard of are Second Life, Runescape, World of Warcraft (WoW), or Minecraft.

These environments are 100% online, but they can benefit you in the real world. Yes, they are fun. If they weren’t fun, no one would go there; so they have to be. You have the potential to meet new people. Sure, in the beginning you won’t know anyone and you might be shy and slow to interact, but like in real life, the longer you’re there the more comfortable you get. You make friends. Many people connect with their online friends, offline. In fact, one son had a period where every day after school it was straight to the PlayStation and get on Call of Duty (the one that has the option for zombie missions), He actually forged a friendship with a guy who is now considered one of his best friends. They even went to the same school, but it was the game that introduced them to each other. You can also have people you already know join games or worlds with you for another dimension of “hanging out.”

But something I bet you didn’t think of was that you actually learn valuable real life skills from playing in online environments. Most of you probably won’t believe me. The idea of spending so much time online leads most people to believe that it’s harmful or that you’re escaping from reality. Well, there is always the possibility. But I don’t think that’s the case for most individuals. I have seen positive change in my son in the years that he’s been playing online games.

He’s a better problem solver, he’s more diplomatic, and he never gives up. He’s been playing games like Call of Duty, World of Warcraft and currently Minecraft for the last five years (estimate). He was inquisitive, but shy. He loved puzzles and games where he had to solve and accomplish things. Online games were perfect for him. He didn’t have to go far, he could play when he had the time, at any time of the day, and there was always someone available to play with. And most recently, he was motivated enough because of the desire to play that he designed, built and paid for his own super-fast computer. And guess, what? In order to get the money to pay for it, he went out and got a job. 17 years old, working four days a week while still in high school, to earn the money to pay for the computer. I’d say that games did some good in his life. After paying off the computer parts, he still enjoys the job and keeps doing it. He also learned about building the machine himself. He is only one of a few people I personally know capable of doing that.

He always had skills to solve puzzles, but by playing games he really has improved. He thinks faster and sees solutions to problems others don’t. And not just online problems, but those in everyday life. Because he has had to deal with other personalities online and oftentimes team up to accomplish goals and missions, he has had to learn to get along with others, be fair, be diplomatic and to weigh the costs of individual wants versus the need to accomplish the collective goal. He isn’t isolated, because games have taught him that while it’s okay to go it alone sometimes, you’re always going to have to work with others to overcome difficult or extremely complicated goals. And playing online has taught him not to give up. He knows that there is always a solution. It may not be an easy one, one you like, or one that you even want to admit exists. But every goal is attainable if you learn and work at it. And he finds a way, whether it’s online or in real life.

If this doesn’t have you convinced, here’s a book for you to read:

WoW Factor : An Insider’s Look at the Real Skills Developed in the Virtual World of Warcraft by Kirk Wankel (check your local library for a copy or ask that they order one)

Wankel reviews what skills are needed to play and thrive in WOW, and how those skills carry over into the real business world. It’s an interesting read.

If you’re not willing to read an entire book, how about you take a few minutes to watch this TED Talk:


So if you don’t think virtual worlds are any fun or useful, think again. You just might learn something or make a new connection.

Connect with Books

Well, it had to happen at some point, right? I just had to talk about books. I didn’t know when, but I knew it was going to work its way into a post. I have been a reader all my life. I remember before I started kindergarten, my siblings would go off to school and I’m be home with Mom and in the mornings I’d get to watch the educational shows like Sesame Street and The Electric Company (Morgan Freeman and Rita Moreno did some of their early work on that show! Loved it!). I learned so much from these shows, because believe it or not, there was no such thing as preschool when I was little. So anyway, I began learning how to read from these shows and I never stopped.

I used to only read fiction. It was exciting, there were always new people and situations that I’d never encounter in real life. It was an escape from reality, it was a virtual adventure (long before virtual reality technology was invented) and it was even informative. I learned so much about people and how they behave and why; I still do. I learned about far off places from the stories. I moved into genre fiction as I grew older. In my teens it was occult and horror. During the summers, my best friend and I would walk or ride our bikes to the library and check out as many paperbacks that we could. Then we would read all the books we checked out, then swap them and read each others books and talk about all the things that were scary, creepy or funny. We were a book club even before we knew what a book club was.

There were the Harlequin years, and the mysteries, the science fiction years. And you get the idea. I would read any fiction there was. Then one year when I was taking my kids to the library for a summer reading program, the lady at the desk asked if I wanted to join the adult reading program. The program required that I read at least one book from each section of general fiction, Western, Sci-Fi, nonfiction and Biography. I figured that if I was asking my kids to do it, I could to. And that summer I found that nonfiction and biography really could be interesting and eager reading. All because someone made a suggestion.

So I am going to make a suggestion to you. Ask someone if they have read any good books lately. Then try one. Look in magazines, like Entertainment Weekly or the Sunday newspaper. Find something you’ve never read before and give it a try. You just might like it. And if you really love books and stories, find other people to talk with about books and book clubs. It’s a great way to discover new books and authors and to connect with people. You could be standing next to a complete stranger, yet if you’ve read the same book, to have something to talk about.

I’m going to get you started. I read a book by a brand new author simply because I read the title in a magazine listing and was intrigued. Chinese Cooking for Diamond Thieves by Dave Lowry. I was hooked at the title alone. I’m not going to tell you the story, you can read the book jacket or read the blurb on Amazon.com yourself. I like to give my reviews based on whether or not I enjoyed it and what I think you’d enjoy about it. So Lowry is a first time published author, and his writing is fresh and inventive. There are no predictive moments in this book. People (like in real life) in unusual situations (again, like in real life). The dialog is witty and works. Once I got into the story, I didn’t want to stop because I kept wanting to know what was going to happen next. It was a change from the paranormal or romance genre that are flooding the market and it was a wonderful change of pace. Look it up and give it a try. And now I’ll even go one step further.

A co-worker and I developed a concept for our library called Book-A-Minute (BAM!). Instead of book reviews that just tell you the contents or story lines for seven to eight boring minutes, we decided to do it in a minute. We filmed a few reviews, edited them down for time and previewed them for the Director. After we got the go ahead to move forward, we made a handful together, then recruited other staff members to join in. We post them on our YouTube channel. Here is the video we uploaded for Chinese Cooking for Diamond Thieves:

 

 

If you’d like to watch more, subscribe to our YouTube channel and see others and get notified when new videos are posted.

And if you REALLY love books, talk to people! Ask your friends and family, ask co-workers, ask the local librarian. Connect with people and hear what they’re saying. You might discover some amazing stuff!

Create A Unique Tradition

A tradition is a custom that’s handed down through the years to the next generation. Like getting to open one present on Christmas Eve before bed, or a special recipe stuffing on Thanksgiving, or having cake and ice cream on someone’s birthday. We have a lot more of them than we think. What starts out as just something that began out of necessity or as a routine can turn into a tradition. For example, today, turkeys are not the most tasty or economical choice for us to have as a centerpiece to a holiday meal. But it’s a tradition now, so that’s what we do. Back when this tradition unknowingly got started, wild turkeys were large and mature in the late fall, we didn’t rely on them for eggs or milk, and they yielded enough meat to feed a large number of people. Sounds like a good reason to have turkey for dinner, right? So you see, turkey for a big holiday dinner started out as a good answer for a large celebration dinner. And now it’s a huge industry and we raise turkeys just for the demands of the holidays.

History lesson aside and getting back to the idea of traditions, they are simply something you do repeatedly that people will associate with a specific event. They happen out of necessity, by coincidence, or you can choose to begin new tradition. Creating a new tradition is hard. People get used to things being a certain way. Getting people to do something new is like swimming against the current. It’s really hard, but it can be done!

At my house, we have not only changed some traditions associated with the existing holidays, but I have created a new holiday. Yes, you can do that too! It’s your life, think outside the box and live it the way you want! My new holiday is called “Family Fun Day.” It’s called that because it’s the one day a year we have set aside for being together as a family and we have fun (or at least try to). It began as a whole day event. It was exhausting. And honestly, we couldn’t stand 12 hours of non-stop togetherness. The kids were arguing, there was dissention in the ranks, and I was in desperate need of a nap halfway through the day. So I have scaled it down to a window of about 4 – 5 hours.

Why did I even do this to begin with? When you have a lot of kids, Christmas is something that causes you do go gray early and may even send you into bankruptcy. Especially when they are school aged. Kids see all their friends getting toys and presents and they are heartbroken if they don’t get them too. And as a parent, you want your kids to be happy. So you do whatever it takes. We struggled to supply a modest amount of gifts under our tree each year, but it was costly and stressful. We began to dread the thought of the holiday because it meant spending money we just didn’t have. And holidays shouldn’t be about what you get or how much you spend. They should be about celebrating a specific event, or person, or just being together.

Once the youngest child found out there was no Santa Claus (I’m sorry if I’ve dashed anyone’s beliefs) I suggested to my husband that we stop doing gifts in December when we’re broke and maybe doing something special in the spring, maybe AFTER we’d gotten our tax return? He thought it was a good idea but said it felt strange just to make up your own holiday. He would be on board if I could convince the kids. I said to them we would not be cancelling Christmas, we would still celebrate, go to Grandma’s house have a big family dinner and have fun. They might still get gifts from relatives, but we were not going to do gifts at Christmas just because everyone else says we have to. Instead, we would have a new holiday at a time of year when there are no holidays. We would do gifts and games and food and fun on that special day that would be all ours. Thankfully, they were on board right away. They said they didn’t mind not getting presents on Christmas. Although, I think they were bothered by it in the beginning but convinced themselves it would be cooler to get presents when none of their friends would. And so it began. Every spring we have an annual Williams’ Family Fun Day (FFD for short).

FFD has a theme every year. This way it never gets tedious. Some years we vote on a theme, and some years I just pick it and go with it. I spend about 5 months seriously researching, planning, shopping and preparing for FFD. I enjoy it; it’s like a challenge to me. It’s also no longer about the gifts. Because you don’t remember the things people give you, you remember the people and the things you did together. Yes, I still give them gifts, but on a much smaller scale. They get the things they need throughout the year, and they’ve come to realize now the difference between needs and wants. I have to get creative to think of something to gift them because when asked what they want, they can’t come up with anything.

Each annual event is themed and has several components to support it:

  • Decorations— I create homemade decorations or sometimes buy them if I find something really specific for the theme.
  • Party supplies— I always purchase at least one item to use for the party that I can use for future events. I have built up a nice collection of stuff to host parties. One year it was square black serving trays and bowls, one year it was drink dispensers, another year it was a tri-crock slow-cooker. So each year I’m actually investing a small amount that carries over into other parties. I have been able to reuse them all numerous times and they have all paid for themselves. And I didn’t break the bank trying to buy everything all for one party!
  • Food— Food is a big component of any party, and kids and teens can be very picky. The first thing I look for are things that match the theme. You can’t always do that, so then I try to put fun twists on them or give them creative names to go with our theme. I also try to throw in something they’ve never had before for them to try.
  • Presentations— each child is to present a PowerPoint presentation on a topic of their choosing related to our theme. It can be whatever they want. They have to give the presentation on the big screen in front of the whole family. I did this for several reasons: to make them create something as a part of the day, to learn something new, to teach us all what they learned, to get them to learn how to use the program, and to help get over the fear most of us have of public speaking.
  • Activities— we need stuff to do, so the games or crafts or activities are fun and creative. Sometimes they are physical activities, sometimes we all have to sit around the table and work with our hands or do a mental activity. A token of some kind is given for participating in or for winning a game. I don’t worry about whether an activity is too childish for them, because they are allowed to act like little kids again on this day and no one will judge them. And we all occasionally need to be reminded to think and act like kids!
  • A Movie— We used to watch a lot of movies together as a family. Things change and we don’t do that very much now, but this gives us the opportunity to still be together. We can sit for an hour and a half, relax without the need for talking and I get to put my feet up or start the food cooking without missing anything. Of course, the movie is always tied into the theme. I pick a move we don’t own and hopefully no one has seen. It also helps to build our movie collection.
  • Gifts— They aren’t as extravagant as they were the first few years. They still get something as a token of my love and because everyone deserves something of their own, be it a baseball glove or a pretty necklace. Oh! And they all get mom’s “gag” gift of their very own broom and dustpan, or other cleaning supplies so they can help keep their rooms clean and stay up with their chores (they were constantly breaking them and then claimed they couldn’t clean or do their chores because they didn’t have a way to clean the floor).

My family now looks forward to the DAY instead of the gifts. It’s become a tradition. One that is uniquely ours. I hear them talking to their friends about our “Day.” They brag about it, tell them all the cool things they get to do and all the crazy food they get to eat. Sometimes my mom will come and be with us, or one of the kid’s best friends will come and participate too. It’s a heck of a lot of work, but to me it’s worth every minute and every penny I spend making it happen.

In separate posts I’ll talk specifically about the themes I’ve already done and feel free to try some of my party ideas for yourself:

  • In the mummy’s tomb – Ancient Egypt
  • Vroom! – Cars
  • Electronics
  • In the Jungle
  • Lights, Camera, Action! –  Movies
  • Argh! – Pirates
  • Candy

Chicken Tonight?

Chicken, especially boneless and skinless chicken breast, is very healthy to eat. But it sometimes its too expensive for me to buy as much as my family wants to eat. When I can get it at a great price, I will buy as much as my wallet and my freezer will allow. Right now in my area, beef prices are super high, but chicken and pork prices are low. At times like these, it’s more economical to buy fresh chicken and re-package it myself than to buy the already frozen bags. And since it’s fresh, I can divide it up, custom cut it or even pre-cook it before it goes into the freezer.

OPTIONS FOR FREEZING UNCOOKED CHICKEN

  • Leave large packages of uncooked chicken intact for future large meals (no re-packing, no extra work)
  • Divide whole uncooked pieces into smaller sets- 1 or 2 pieces per quart zipper bag and freeze. Thaw and cook as needed
  • Season whole uncooked pieces with dry rubs or wet marinades, freeze 1 or 2 per quart zipper bag. Thaw and cook as needed
  • Cut large breasts into smaller strips. Lay uncooked strips on a parchment or wax paper lined tray and freeze strips until hard. Pull off paper and store in large zipper bag in freezer. Pull out a few pieces at a time as needed, leaving rest in freezer. Thaw and cook.

PRE-COOK CHICKEN BEFORE FREEZING

You can poach the chicken in a pot of water on the stop top, or like me, use a slow-cooker (crockpot). The slow-cooker method is very low maintenance and I can be doing other things while it is cooking. season chicken with salt, pepper and a little garlic powder, then layer breasts in slow-cooker. If doing more than one layer, change the direction of the pieces with each layer. Add water. I add enough water to just reach the top layer of chicken. Cover and cook. The more layers of chicken you have, the longer it will take to fully cook them all. Example: I had large pieces, 3 layers deep and I set it to HIGH and let it cook about 3 hours. After 3 hours, I used tongs to pull out the center pieces to make sure they were cooked. They had a little pink to them, so I moved the pieces around and let it cook another 30 minutes or so.

Once the chicken is cooked, let it sit with the slow-cooker turned off and the lid angled to vent. It needs to come down in temperature so you don’t burn yourself. Besides, you can’t freeze hot food. You have to let it cool a bit. Once the chicken is cooled enough to handle (but still warm), cut into large chunks. I cut a breast in half length-wise, then chop into pieces about an inch or two each. Cut up all your chicken and place in large bowl.

cooked chicken

Get your bags or containers ready to fill and grab your kitchen scale. For individual servings I place 4 oz. in sandwich baggies. For family meals, I weigh out 1 pound (16 oz.) and put in a quart baggie. I will freeze until needed. This pre-cooked chicken can be used for a variety of things:

  • BBQ Chicken Ranch Pizza (recipe coming soon)
  • Chicken Enchilada Lasagna
  • Chicken sandwiches (BBQ, ranch, buffalo, etc…)
  • Chicken wraps (tortillas, cheese, lettuce, etc…)
  • Chicken tacos
  • Chicken soup (add broth and noodles or rice)
  • Buffalo Chicken Dip
  • Chicken Alfredo
  • Ramen Peanut Chicken (recipe coming soon)

bagging chicken

Having chicken ready to pull out of the freezer makes weeknight dinners easy after being at work all day. It makes it easy to change dinner plans because the protein cook time is eliminated. It’s great for kids to make their own healthy after school snacks or dinners when mom or dad have to work late. Anywhere a recipe calls for cooked chunk or shredded chicken, you’ll already have it made. You’ll save a lot of time and best of all, you’ll save money!

Making Snow Art

This one’s real simple. All you need is a few squirt bottles filled with water, food coloring, and a lot of snow outside! Take your squirt bottles. They can be any kind of bottle with a small squirt top. You can buy them in packs or you can use old mustard bottles (they have the right sized opening). Fill with water and add food coloring. Give it a shake to blend all the coloring.

colored water

Make as many colors as you have bottles. Take them outside and begin! The more you squeeze, the more colored water comes out and makes the colored lines thicker and darker in the snow.

name in the snow

snow writing

happy snow

snow flower

Whether you’re young or old, this is fun, inexpensive and a great way to spend some time on a snow day! And the food coloring is safe. It won’t hurt your dogs if they decide to eat it and it won’t hurt the grass or plants underneath. If your bottle runs dry, go back inside and refill!

When life gives you snow… make SNOW CONES!

If you live somewhere that gets snow, you have to find interesting ways to get through the long snowy winters. After a long morning shoveling and snow-blowing, you need to have something fun to do and maybe a treat! Why have the same old hot chocolates like everyone else? When life gives you snow–make snow cones! Watch the video here –> Snow Cones, or keep reading.

Every summer places like Wal-Mart and Target will have snow cone machines and the bottles of syrup as a seasonal item. I wait until the end of summer when they’re on clearance. They’ll clearance the syrup bottles down from $3 a bottle to $.50 each just to get rid of them. They come in different flavors and colors, and they even have sugar-free versions for those of you counting calories or carbs.

Yes, I have a small snow come maker that shaves ice. But I save that for summer. We just had a major snow storm, and it dumped on us. So taking a clean patch, I scooped away the top layer and dug into the clean fluffy stuff underneath.

fresh clean snow

Now time for the syrup. Scoop into the paper cones. Don’t have store bought cones? Use a small cup or roll up some wax paper into a cone and fill it (just watch out for drips). Cover with syrup and enjoy!

snowcone syrup

Caramel Corn with Peanuts

  • As a kid, Cracker Jack® was the best treat. Sweet, chewy, crunchy, popcorn, and peanuts. It was delicious! The problem with the boxes you got from the store, the popcorn was sometimes stale and there were never enough peanuts. Well, if you loved it as a kid, have I got a recipe for you! I found a version on Allrecipes.com, but I adjusted it a bit to suit my tastes. And you should always take the liberty of adjusting recipes to suit you. What you’ll need to make this treat yourself:

Caramel Corn with Peanuts

  • 12 cups popped corn
  • 1 cup dry-roasted peanuts
  • 1 1/4 cup brown sugar (light or dark)
  • 1/4 cup light corn syrup with real vanilla
  • 10 Tbsp. unsalted butter (do not substitute!)
  • 1 tsp. sea salt (regular salt will work too)

caramel corn ingredients

Pre-heat oven to 250 F. You’ll need a large roasting pan. I used a foil pan–the caramel didn’t stick and it rinsed easy so I could re-use it. Spread popcorn over bottom of pan. Sprinkle evenly with peanuts. In a saucepan on stove, put in butter, syrup, sugar and salt. Heat, stirring constantly until butter is melted and sugar is fully dissolved. DO NOT walk away from this while the heat is on. It will bubble and burn very quickly! Keep stirring until you have a nice creamy caramel. If you use dark brown sugar, it will be a darker brown color. Also, the longer you cook it, the darker it will get.

When ready, lightly pour caramel sauce around pan covering as much popcorn as you can. Quickly begin stirring or flipping the popcorn and peanuts to coat. A metal spatula worked best for me. The caramel wanted to stick to my plastic utensils when I tried to stir. Make sure you scrape the bottom to incorporate any that might have dripped down. Spread popcorn out in pan and put into oven. It will take about 45 minutes to an hour to fully cook, but you have to take it out every 15 minutes to stir it. Put it back in for another 15, and so on. Mine were perfect after 45 minutes. If you want yours really crispy, leave in for a full hour.

After baking, spread a long piece of parchment paper (wax paper would work too) on your counter and pour popcorn onto it. Working quickly, spread the mixture in a single layer to cool and dry. If you leave it in piles, it will be stuck together. By spreading it, you’ll have individual pieces and small clusters just ready for snacking. It only takes 10-15 minutes to cool. Once cool, its ready to eat! You’ll get 12 cups worth out of the batch. Store in bags or canisters. But I doubt you’ll have it long enough to worry about containers!

I use a little more popcorn than most of the recipes that I found. You can decrease the popcorn to 11 or even 10 cups. This will give each piece more caramel coating. You can also increase or eliminate the peanuts. Heck, you can even get creative and add drizzle with melted chocolate or add spices into your caramel, maybe cinnamon or nutmeg? Whatever you like! Whatever you decide to do, ENJOY!

Homemade Breakfast Sausage

Sunday morning, fresh coffee, fresh hot sausage and eggs for breakfast. Sounds wonderful, right? With a little planning, you can make it yourself. And I mean REALLY make it yourself. No preservatives, no high package prices. I’ve already talked in my blog about making Italian sausage, but  now it’s time for breakfast sausage. My family can never get enough of this. They’d eat it everyday if I made it possible. When I was buying pre-packaged sausage, the price was crazy, so we’d only get small portions and everyone was left with wanting more, plus they left a lot of grease in the pan and shrank down a lot when they cooked. With homemade sausage, you’re controlling the fat content, so the portions will be more meaty, less greasy, and retain their size.

As I discussed in my other sausage post, you can make sausage out of any meat. My preference is pork. Recently pork loin roast went on a great sale of $1.99 a pound and they were sold as large loins about 5 pounds each. This is a nice quality lean meat, almost no fat. So in order to make this into sausage you absolutely have to add fat. I added about 1/2 pound of chopped frozen raw bacon. My loin roast was boneless, so cutting it into small cubes was a breeze.

Meat is easier to cut when its very cold, so keep your meat refrigerated until right when you want to cut it. The colder the better, But frozen will be too hard for you get your knife through. To better handle the meat, I wear a normal knit winter glove covered in a disposable vinyl glove (the kind you see people wear who prepare food at restaurants or delis). Cut up all your meat and mix the bacon pieces in as you cut. Return the cut meat to the fridge for a while. Let it get good and cold again. While it’s getting cold you can make your spice blend. Also chill plain water, the colder the better. Chill a cup of water, you’ll only use probably 3/4 of a cup. Once the meat is cold again, use a grinder to grind the meat into a fine grind. My grinder attachment for my Kitchen-Aid came with two plates, a larger hole plate for coarse grind and a smaller hole plate for fine grind. I prefer the find grind for my sausage because it makes it easier to shape and keep its form. Once all the meat has been ground, its time to add the spices. I’ve looked at many recipes and tested repeatedly. This is my personal blend. You can run with it if you like, or you can adjust to fit your own tastes.

Carol’s Homemade Breakfast Sausage

  • Approximately 5 pounds ground pork (including fat)
  • 3/4 – 1 cup ice cold water
  • 5 tsp. sea salt
  • 3 tsp. ground black pepper
  • 4 tsp. ground sage
  • 1 1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg
  • 1 1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes
  • 3 tsp. dried thyme
  • 1 tsp. cayenne pepper
  • 3 Tbsp. packed brown sugar

In a large mixing bowl, pour spices over meat, Add 3/4 cup water and mix well, getting spices well incorporated. If the meat feels a little dry, you can add the remaining water. It’s better to add too little water than too much. Don’t skip the liquid. Even if it seems like you don’t need it, the meat will absorb the liquid and help keep it moist while it cooks. If you skip the liquid because you think you don’t need it, when its time to cook your sausage it will be hard and dry and the taste won’t be as good. After blending, let the meat sit in the fridge for at least an hour. Overnight is okay too. To check your flavor, take a small amount and form it into a patty. Fry it up and try it. If you need to make any flavor adjustments, do it now and let the meat sit for an hour and try again.

When you’re happy with your sausage, it’s time to divide it up. Some can be portioned off into one pound amounts and frozen for times when you want to make biscuits and gravy or other dishes. You can form the rest into patties. I use to make all mine by hand, but they were never uniform. They’d be lop-sided or too thick in the middle. I invested in a hamburger press for about $25. Absolutely worth it! It’s solid metal, made by Weston, and adjustable so I can make patties any thickness I want. It’s also a great investment to buy “patty papers” to keep your meat from sticking to the press. They also work great for freezing as they keep the meat separate and easy to handle when frozen.

So this batch, I decided to make all patties. I got out my kitchen scale (another great investment – cost $10 at Aldi and I use it all the time!) and measured the meat into 2 ounce balls. Each ball was pressed between two squares of patty paper. You can cut your own squares of parchment paper if you like. The patties were stacked on a tray and placed into the freezer. This batch I got 47 patties @ 2 oz. each. and it cost me roughly $12. That’s about $0.25 per patty. Most store packages give you 8 – 1 ounce patties in a box and charge you anywhere from $1.50 to $3.50 a box.

Once frozen I place in gallon zipper bags labeled and dated. Because of the paper, I can take out one or ten, without hassle. Peel off the paper and fry from frozen. Or, if you like (I have done this too) fry the patties while meat is fresh. If you manage to have any left when you’ve cooked it all (my family ate them as fast as I could cook them), the cooked patties can be frozen and microwaved later for a quick on the go breakfast or for kids who you’d rather operate a microwave than a frying pan and hot stove. Just be sure to label the freezer bags as to whether the patties are raw or cooked. ENJOY!

Oooh, yeah. Right there!

You know how some people go through periods of having a favorite gadget? OMG, this new remote controls everything. Hey! This blender makes the best smoothies. These robotic vacuum sweepers get the floors so clean, they’re awesome! Well, I love gadgets just as much as the next gal, but I prefer simple things.

Example: Years ago my husband surprised me by buying me a push button for our toilet. Don’t. Laugh. I got so excited I nearly cried. You see, in my house growing up we had a push button flush instead of the standard turn handle flush. When I moved out it was really hard for me to adjust. Then my mom sold the house and I lost access to the push button toilet forever! So my husband bought me a button mechanism and installed it. All was right with the world again.

Or when I asked my husband to get out his tools and propane torch and turn a $1 icing spatula into an offset spatula. For those of you who are bakers, you’ll fully understand my excitement at having an offset spatula that only cost $1! It’s amazing!

But anyway, my current favorite item is my $1 shower back scrubber. Oh yeah, I said it–Back Scrubber. Of course it does the standard “wash your back in the shower,” but it also gets in between your toes on those mornings when you’re too tired (lazy) to bend over.

It also makes a great back scratcher. I actually have wooden back scratchers all over the place, put sometimes they just don’t do the trick. When dry, the back scrubber gently scratches without those gouges the sharp stuff leaves behind. Oh, what relief! And how about those dry itchy legs in the winter, ladies? Ever scratch your legs in the middle of the night and wake up looking like you walked through a mob of angry cats? If you’re too lazy to get out of bed in the middle of the night and put lotion on (like I occasionally am) keep an extra back scrubber near the bed. Not only will it be gentle on your skin, but it will help exfoliate the dry skin and… (wait for it) — AAAAND the long handle means you don’t have to change positions to reach that scratch! Aaaahhhh 🙂

But wait! Oh, this one is even better. It’s a lotion applicator! In the winter I work so hard to keep my skin from getting dry. But there is always a section in the middle of your back that you can’t reach. And that is the spot that itches! Now I put lotion on the back flat part of the brush, then use the long handle to reach around and spread it across the skin I can’t reach. It’s really unbelievable to be able to reach that spot yourself. It works for baby oil too. So if you’re an oil person, pour a stream across the top of your shoulders, then use the back of the brush to spread it to that spot you could never reach before! Suddenly I feel like I am unstoppable. I have done the impossible! There is nothing going to stand in my way today!