Thursday, October 30, 2008

Money Crunchers

With everything that's been going on in our economy lately, I've actually tried to be more frugal in my everyday habits. Very difficult for a shopaholic like me, believe me! One store I really love once I got used to their quirky rules is Aldi's. Rule number one: they don't take credit cards or checks, just cash and debit cards. This got me the first time I went there because I rarely carry cash and didn't have a debit card, so I had about five dollars to spend. Even at Aldi's five dollars doesn't buy much. The second rule is that if you want a shopping cart you have to put a quarter in this wierd locking device that hangs off of the handle. If you return the cart to the rack, you get your quarter back. Once again, you must be prepared before shopping at this store. The third rule is bring your own bags or buy bags at the cash register. This is easy because I keep bags from Harris Teeter and Trader Joe's in my car. Speaking of Trader Joe's, the same company owns Aldi's and Trader Joe's, although they are nothing alike in their design. Aldi's is a very basic, no frills store. A lot of the merchandise is still in the packing boxes and you will recognize very few major brands. I find the quality of these unknown brands to be exceptional. The fruits and vegetables, although not widely varied, are always fresh and much less expensive than any other grocery store. If you're trying to stretch your grocery dollar, this is a great store to try.
Speaking of groceries, I have stumbled upon a great resource for stretching your monthly budget. Angel Food Ministries. I learned of this a couple of months ago from my former church in Raleigh and did some research online. This organization distributes restaurant quality food bundles at a reduced price through area churches. The purpose of their group is to assist families who need help with their food budgets; however, people from every income bracket are encouraged to participate as this enables them to negotiate a better discount from food suppliers. We bought the primary box, a fruit and veggie box, and a grill meat box, and shared with Nick's parents. Some of the items are fresh, some frozen, and some shelf staples. Everything that we have tried so far has been good. We will probably do this again. Go to their website at to check it out for yourself. I was able to place our order online and then we picked it up at the Church of Christ on Country Club Drive on Saturday morning.
One more plug for saving money: Ed McKay's Used Books. Okay, I've been a snob about books, I admit it. I have liked buying new books the first day they arrived at Sam's. But both Nick and I are idiots about books and my house is overrun with, I have stopped buying new books, okay, so Nick hasn't, but that's another post......I now try to buy all of my books at Ed McKay and.....drumroll, please.... I have even sold some to them!!!! If you are a rabid reader like I am this makes perfect sense. I love to read and in the absence of anything else, I have been known to read the back of a detergent bottle; however, I don't need to keep every book I read. This is where Ed McKay makes perfect sense: buy a book, read the book, take it back and trade it for a new book! You can get cash or trade in dollars. I take the trade ins. They give you half the price in credit of the price they charge for the books. Believe me, coming from someone whose book budget exceeds a typical shoe budget, this is a deal! You'll be happy to know that I did not receive any books in exchange for this endorsement!! ;-)
Happy bargain shopping!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Daring Bakers: Pizza Dough

This was not my first time making my own pizza dough. Pizza is one of my favorite things. I especially love non traditional toppings (which thanks to restaurants like California Pizza Kitchen are becoming more main stream). I found the dough recipe straight forward and simple to follow, but in the end, I didn’t like the flavor as well as others I have made. Since Trader Joe’s sells pizza dough for like 99 cents, I don’t see myself making the dough from scratch very often; however, I had fun with the toppings.

Mushroom Magic:
I sautéed mushrooms and garlic in a mixture of butter and olive oil. After I spooned a light covering of marinara sauce over the dough, I added the mushrooms, asparagus, and a generous amount of havarti cheese.

Hail Caesar!:
I love Caesar salad, so I brushed one pizza with olive oil and spread parmesan cheese over it before baking, once out of the oven, I topped it with romaine lettuce mixed with my homemade Caesar dressing. I love the contrast of the warm bread and cold greens.

I spread the dough with Trader Joe’s Pineapple Salsa, then added julienne ham and pepper jack cheese. This was my husband’s favorite.

I used a jarred pesto sauce, Trader Joe’s again, as my sauce, and then topped it with artichokes and Romano cheese.

I mixed left over pork roast with some smoky sweet BBQ sauce. I spread a little BBQ sauce over the dough, and then topped it with the pork and a little sweet onion. I used havarti because that’s what I had, but I think I would have liked smoked Gouda or smoked cheddar better.

Overall this was a great challenge, got me thinking out of the circle, ;-). Can’t wait for the next one!

Pizza Madness

Sunday, October 26, 2008


Nick loves breakfast. I am trying to love breakfast as long as I am not expected to eat it before 9 am. Recently we have gotten into the routine of going out to breakfast on Nick’s day off, usually Fridays. You are likely to find us at Zorba’s. Don’t be alarmed when you walk in there for the first time because it looks kinda dumpy. Yes, the décor dates back to the early 80’s (sorry if it was updated since then!), and the fixtures look old, but I find the interior to be very clean. The bathrooms are nice, too, which always bumps up a restaurant’s rating for me. I almost always get two eggs, bacon, hash browns and toast. Nick likes the pancakes. He usually has them with eggs and gyro meat. The basic menu satisfies our morning cravings and the prices are a welcome sight in today’s economy.

This week we ventured away from our normal routine and tried the Pancake House at the Ambassador Motel. This motel and diner have been on 301 for a gazillion years, but I don’t think I had ever been until Friday. The restaurant is very clean and neat with a fresh Americana theme. We had similar meals to those at Zorba’s and the quality was comparable; however, these prices were $2.00 more per entrée. While I enjoyed the food and the atmosphere, I like the bottom line at Zorba’s more!

Stay tuned for more breakfast favorites as well try new places.

Little Italy

Why are pasta dishes in restaurants so expensive? I find pasta and sauces very simple to make at home and most are economical if you don’t use expensive cheeses. Today we ate at Little Italy for lunch. I got what I normally do, the steak and cheese sandwich, but Nick wanted pasta. He got a dish call “Ziti Chef”. The penne pasta (why not call it “Penne Chef”?) was served with a tomato cream sauce. The menu said it had sautéed onions, mushrooms, and bacon. The sauce tasted great, but Nick only found two mushrooms and very little bacon. This came with bread for $9.95. He added a side salad for an additional $1.95. I thought this was an outrageous price for an entree that probably cost less than $4.00 to make. The salad was odd, with iceberg and green leaf lettuce, thick curls of carrots, tomatoes, and big chunks of red onion. The ranch dressing was very watery. My sandwich was a better buy at $6.50, but didn’t come with fries or salad. Another thing that annoys me is the lack of sweetener on the table. The owner would probably contend that some patrons stuff the little packets in their pockets. Even so, when unsweetened beverages are ordered, the waiter should bring the sweetener. Nick had to ask twice before that was brought to our table.

I like the food and the atmosphere at this eatery, but I don’t suggest it often because I find the seating uncomfortable. This will continue to be a sandwich place for me, but I will reserve a $10 pasta entrée for a nicer evening out, not just everyday eating.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

The Worst Bathroom Ever!

To the Loo!

Nick’s goal is to venture out into the world and return home without ever having to use a public restroom. I, on the other hand, thanks to my miniscule bladder, have visited every bathroom from here to Miami. Public restroom facilities vary greatly. The bathroom at Nordstrom at Tyson’s Corner, Virginia wins top honors. First you enter a sitting room which could easily pass for a very elegant parlor. The comfortable furniture and soft lighting invites you to rest awhile, maybe reconsidering that sweater you saw on sale, or plan your strategy for your shopping day. As you enter the inner chamber, the usual metal stalls and stark lighting are absent. Each toilet is completely enclosed in its own closet with its own sink. This lovely loo sets the standard by which I measure all public bathrooms. Regrettably, I have never had the pleasure of visiting another one like the one at Nordstrom.

Let me take my soapbox for a moment. I wish I knew who designed the typical public bathroom because I would like to slap his face. And yes, I am sure a man designed it because no woman would have thought that we should take care of the most personal of business with partitions that don’t reach the floor and doors with cracks the size of a Buick. At least we have stalls; some men’s rooms have urinals that look like drainage ditches with no partitions at all. I am a very private person, okay, I’m a prude, but I see nothing wrong with a little modesty. I refuse to accept the belief that because I choose not to parade around naked in the gym I have hang ups. Who decides this standard of behavior, anyway?

Now that we’ve cleared that up, I can continue. Last week we were traveling on Skyline Drive in the Shenandoah National Park. We had packed lunch and ate at one of the picnic sites. Here’s a picture of the outhouse I had to use. As far as outhouses go, it wasn’t too bad, definitely better than risking a tick bite on the hiney! The worst part was seeing the brand new modern restrooms that were not yet open! Also during our vacation, I found the worst bathroom I have ever visited. This one was at the Shenandoah Heritage Market. The aqua green wooden partitions were very short, so short that the toilet seats were visible. So I guess the idea is someone might see your hiney, but at least your face is hidden. EWWWW!

My other pet peeve about bathrooms is the new toilet paper holders. These are seldom installed in a convenient spot. Many times I feel like a contortionist while trying to reach the paper, and then it usually comes off the roll in one or two sheet sections. How I miss the old fashioned toilet paper rollers! At one time or another we all must visit a public loo. I suggest not patronizing businesses that do not provide adequate facilities, but sometimes, when you have to go, you have to go!

Friday, October 24, 2008

Silly Question for Friday

What's the weirdest breakfast you've ever had?
Mine was in Germany where they serve hard rolls and thinly sliced salami. I didn't like that very much. But on that same trip I discovered Nutella. Nutella is a peanut butter type spread that is made with hazelnuts and chocolate and the lucky people in Europe eat this on bread for breakfast. I've loved it ever since.
Nick loves breakfast. We normally go to Zorbas. Today we are going to the Ambassador Pancake House on 301. I'll let you know later how it was.....have a happy FRIDAY!

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Jason's Deli

The time has come to review one of my favorite restaurants. I met my Sensible Shoes Sisters (minus one) here on Tuesday for a light lunch and heavy girl talk. I have trouble deviating from my absolute favorite: the California Club. This sandwich sports turkey, cheese, mayo, tomato and the things that make it my favorite, guacamole and sprouts. This concoction is piled high on a toasted croissant. I love the fact that I can get this with fruit instead of chips and the dip for the fruit is so sinfully yummy that I have to stop myself from licking the inside of the container. I always finish my meal with a generous helping of their frozen non dairy treat, chocolate, of course. Diane and Renae had one of their monster baked potatoes. I have never seen potatoes as large as the ones served at Jason's. They are covered in all sorts of gooey toppings including chili, broccoli and cheese, pulled pork, or just plain Jane style, with tons of butter, sour cream, bacon, and cheese. Many varieties of soups are available. My favorites are the French Onion and Cheesy Broccoli. In addition to the freshest, most varied salad bar in Fayetteville, their menu has enough sandwich choices to satisfy the pickiest patron. How about a New York Pastrami or Reuben? If heavy deli sandwiches aren't your bag, try one of their wraps or paninis. Every item in this eatery is made fresh as you order it and the quality of ingredients shows with every bite. Jason's Deli has been a favorite of mine even before coming to the Fayetteville market, I only wish the dining area was more spacious at lunch. We are the Sensible Shoes Sisters and we approve this restaurant!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

PF Chang and Pei Wei

These two restaurants may not meet everyone’s criteria for authentic Asian fare, but for someone like me who likes her ethnic dishes Americanized, they’re the bomb. The upscale décor and festive atmosphere of PF Chang’s makes it a perfect place for a celebration meal. Just make sure that you don’t mind sharing or eating off of everyone’s plate because those dishes are meant to be shared. For appetizers, try the lettuce wraps and deep fried green beans. The beans are dipped in tempura batter before frying and are served with a perfectly balanced slightly hot chile dip. You’ll enjoy the interaction of filling iceberg lettuce with a little or a lot of the savory minced chicken and noodles, you’ll want a lot! I didn’t have the courage to try the sauce our waiter mixed up at the table because I a m a wimp when it comes to heat, however, Nick enjoyed this with this lettuce wraps. The hot and sour soup at PF Chang is the best I have ever had. The broth is dark and rich with mushrooms, noodles and of course, tofu. It’s just hot enough to tickle your tongue, but not so hot that you’ll need extra iced tea. We all ordered from the lunch menu. I had almond and cashew chicken with brown rice, which was savory with lots of crispy steamed veggies. My friend Beth loves the citrus grilled salmon. The regular servings are very large, so be prepared to share; however, I found the lunch portions to be plenty, especially with the soup. PF Chang is at Crabtree Mall and Streets of South Point, (across the street from the main mall) so expect it to be crowded at usual meal times. In additions to PF Chang, I enjoy their casual dining cousin, Pei Wei. Pei Wei has a limited menu and you place your order at a counter, but these differences do not affect the quality of food. The beef teriyaki lo main bowl remains my favorite entrée. The sweetly seasoned beef sits atop a generous serving of lo mein and vegetables. The recipe for the hot and sour soup and the lettuce wraps is the same as PF Chang. Crab Rangoon and spring rolls complete the appetizer choices. Whether you dine in or take out, Pei Wei will more than satisfy your craving for Asian dishes.

The Weber Grill Restaurant

This summer we went to Indianapolis for the SBC. While we were there we ate at the Weber Grill Restaurant. Nick was so excited because we had seen the restaurant set-up on the Food Network. They actually have these huge charcoal grills inside the open kitchen. I took Nick’s picture with the bronze statue of Mr. Weber. I felt silly until another patron came in and starting snapping pictures. I overheard him telling his companions about Weber grills (he’s had three) and how much he had been looking forward to visiting the restaurant. I just smiled at Nick knowing that we were not alone in our admiration. The atmosphere is really fun, lots of grill and backyard paraphernalia. The kitchen is open and uses charcoal as well as gas grills. A special ventilation system carries the smoke out of the restaurant. The kitchen fascinated Nick and he was thrilled to be able to get a close up look at the grills and to talk to one of the chefs. Steaks, hamburgers, and pork are cooked over charcoal while chicken roasts over gas. Choosing an entrée was overwhelming, I finally decided on the steak salad. I really wanted beef, but I need a smaller portion because I knew I had to try the French onion soup. I’m so glad I did. The rich beefy broth was filled with sweet caramelized onions and topped with lots of gooey cheese. Being a connoisseur of French onion soup, I rate this as one of the best I’ve had. My other favorite was at Epcot in the Parisian café. The perfectly cooked steak, medium rare, topped assorted crisp, fresh greens with blue cheese and crunchy croutons. The warm charcoal flavor of the beef was a perfect contrast to the cold salad. I loved, loved, loved the pretzel rolls with cheesy butter. I have had pretzel rolls in only one other restaurant, Ryan’s in Winston Salem (no, not the feeding trough, another Ryan’s) and I have craved them ever since. I even wrapped the last one left up in a napkin and ate it as a snack before bed. This was a fabulous experience. If you’re ever near a Weber Grill Restaurant, don’t miss out on this great food and fun relaxed atmosphere.


These ugly step children of clogs are one of my favorite shoes. Most folks either have a pair or would like to try a pair. I got my lavender pair to wear to the pool. Nick got his to wear in the yard, but he wears them everywhere because they are so comfortable. He insisted on brown (yawn), but rumor has it that Santa may be bringing him a spiffier pair. Even though these shoes appear indestructible to me, the Crocs company offers a recycling program that speaks volumes for their social consciousness. If you turn your crocs into an authorized location, the shoes are broken down and remade into new crocs that are distributed to the needy and shoeless in Africa. Follow this link to watch their promotional video: They also sell recycled crocs and a portion of those proceeds are donated as well. These fun shoes are manufactured by a responsible company who takes their stewardship seriously. I can’t wait to buy another pair.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Muffin Tin Makeover

I was baking some muffins (from TJ's) the other day and I couldn't find my muffin tin???? Anyway, I remembered that growing up we didn't have such a thing and still managed to make cupcakes, etc. How? With cupcake papers and canning jar rings. That's what I did. So, thanks momma for making me self sufficient!

Mrs. Rowe's in Staunton VA

Definitely good eats as Alton would say!

Trader Joe's in Short Pump

They were selling mums that we named after me, almost: PELEE, and the English spelling of my name is PEELLE.

Happy 50th to Stick and Lois!

Scenes from Virginia

Friday, October 10, 2008

October Travel Log

Journey to Massanutten

Saturday October 4, 2008
We left Fayetteville around 10:30 heading to Lynchburg, Virginia. This is the first leg of our journey to rest and relaxation at Massanutten Resort in the Shenandoah Valley. Our first stop is at Blue Ridge Community Church to attend a party for Stick and Lois Thomas for their Fiftieth Wedding Anniversary. I was very impressed by the food. The party was catered by the cook/hostess at the church. I expected the usual reception fare from Sam’s or the deli at Kroger. I was delighted to find coconut battered chicken nuggets, a layered Mexican dip that I make myself, a baked cheese dip (in a ciabatta crust that I will be making soon), BBQ, as well as assorted pastries and cookies (trumpet cookies that melt in your mouth). The cake was not only beautiful but tasted wonderful and I think I am going to ask for this recipe. After spending a couple of hours visiting with old friends we set out for our nights lodging in Raphine, Virginia. No, I had not heard of Raphine until I attempted finding a hotel room amid several college football towns. The best I could do was the Days Inn. I would not recommend it. Fortunately the hotel was not a dump, just in bad need of renovations. The paid help was scarce as was the appeal of the continental breakfast which we skipped. The best part of the room was the free WiFi which I used to find a place to eat dinner, the Fairfield Diner. This place gave me a laugh because it was located on Soapy Lane (unknown to Google maps) beside a Laundromat and a carwash. This is a very small place and we got there about an hour before they shut down for the night. I wasn’t very hungry so I ordered the grilled ham, tomato and three cheese sandwich. Nick ordered a bacon, egg, and cheese burger. My sandwich tasted okay, but I don’t think I like tomatoes on my grilled sandwiches. Nick liked his burger, except that the meat was burned on the outside. The place was cute and had some good sounding items on the menu, but I wasn’t willing to fork out that much on a dark horse. I doubt that I will ever pass this way again, but if I did, I would probably drive on down to Staunton to Cracker Barrel or some other chain restaurant.

Sunday, October 5, 2008
When we left Raphine Sunday morning, we pulled off of interstate 81 at the Staunton exit for Cracker Barrel. That’s when we saw the sign for Mrs. Rowe’s. We had no idea that this little restaurant had been featured in Southern Living. The lobby was crowded, but we had comfortable rocking chairs with college emblems while we waited for about ten minutes. The restaurant décor is very homey with heart of pine paneling and solid wooden tables and chairs. The prices were a little higher than we normally pay for breakfast, but the food was really good and the portions generous. I had bacon, eggs, hash brown casserole and toast. Nick had tenderloin and gravy over biscuits. I would definitely recommend this restaurant to anyone who is traveling in this area. My only disappointment is that we couldn’t have one of Mrs. Rowe’s famous pies for breakfast! After our late breakfast, we drove around Staunton for a while. This is such a scenic area with a lot of historical houses including the birthplace of Woodrow Wilson and his library. We then continued north to Harrisonburg to kill some time because we couldn’t check into our condo until 4pm. Harrisonburg is the home to James Madison University and has some collegy areas as well as the usual retail strip. I have finally seen a mall that is more pathetic than Cross Creek. ;-). Finally we made our way on to Massanutten. Our condo is really nice; we could even smell the fresh paint. Everything seems to be clean and in working order. What a relief! Nick is thrilled because we have a gas burning fireplace. We have it on while we watch the Amazing Race! Even though it was warm today, the night time temperatures are a lot lower here in the mountains. Tonight we had dinner at Hank’s Smokehouse Grillery. The interior of the building is rustic and the interior, a friendly, casual, woody atmosphere. The first thing we noticed was the delicious smoky aroma. While we were waiting for our food we tasted all the varieties of sauce and all of them passed my test for sweetness. I decided to have an entrée salad with fried chicken tenders. The salad was fresh and the blue cheese dressing good; however, I only got two strips of chicken for $8.95. Nick had a barbeque combo of chopped pork and beef brisket. Of course, the pork barbeque is not the type we are used to at home, and Nick knew this, however, the meat contained an overwhelming amount of smoke flavor. The best tasting pork barbeque has a subtle hint of smoke that doesn’t hide its natural flavor. The tender beef brisket had a nice flavor. The sauces were good with just the right touch of spiciness and sweet. Given the remoteness of this area, Hank’s Smokehouse Grillery is a good choice for a good meal at a reasonable price.

Monday, October 6, 2008
This first order of the day is to shop for groceries. Not only are most of the restaurants back in Harrisonburg, it’s a good five miles down the mountain, so we decided to take advantage of our full kitchen and prepare our own meals. We drove a few miles to the Food Lion in Elkton. Food Lion is one of my least favorite grocery stores, but we were able to find some nice looking pork chops, rib-eyes, and wings, as well as plenty of accompaniments. We even found something we love: cream filled French horns, which Harris Teeter never has….good thing, that’s just what I need is yet another vice. The clerk was nice enough to scan her MVP card so that we could get the weekly discounted prices. The rest of the day was spent napping and reading, you guessed it, by the gas logs. WiFi is $10 a day, so I decide I can live without the internet for a few days. So my mac daddy computer just became a very expensive word processor and Mahjong Titans game station.
She'll be coming around the mountain when she comes.....

Tuesday, October 7, 2008
Today went traveled over about forty miles on Skyline Drive through the Shenandoah Valley. I’ve got some great pictures to post later. We packed our own picnic lunch and really loved this lazy tour of spectacular mountains and foliage. After this strenuous day of getting in and out of the CRV at the overlooks, we spent a considerable amount of time in a hot tub the size of a party barge. Wish we had one of these at home!
Wednesday, October 8, 2008
Today’s weather is the coolest we’ve had; I am actually wearing a corduroy shirt and jeans. We went into Harrisonburg to the Shenandoah Valley Farmer’s Market. This sounded really cool and I had flashbacks to the Bird in the Hand Farmer’s Market in Lancaster County, PA. What a disappointment! This is more like a flea market than a farmer’s market. I didn’t buy a thing, but I did find a store up on Market St that had Crocs on sale. Momma is getting a pair whether she likes it or not! The rest of the day is spent lounging and soaking in the incredible hot tub! I am so glad this place has a washer and dryer. We’re packed and ready to head out after breakfast in the morning.
Heading South

Thursday, October 9, 2008
Tim and Becky Arneson have traveled early in the morning from Fayetteville and we’re having breakfast this morning at the Thunderbird Diner. This is a small place and is laid out just like the diners I see on Guy Fieri’s Diners, Drive-ins and Dives. The coffee is really good and I had sausage gravy over biscuits with hash browns. Nick had a western omelet which he really enjoyed. The kids had pancakes and French toast. Becky had a breakfast burrito that smelled wonderful. I thought for a resort area that the prices were reasonable, in fact, this would have been a great place for lunch if we had not been eating in the condo. We’ve said our goodbyes and we are heading back to Fayetteville via Richmond. We arrive in Short Pump around twelve thirty. According to Nick, this area used to be country, but in recent years has grown up into sizeable suburban sprawl. Nick’s BFF, Brad Ivey, lived in Richmond while Nick lived in Lynchburg. They visited back and forth quite a bit. I found this area online when I was looking for a hotel for Saturday night, long story, not Williamsburg, but Massanutten, by the way, great choice, Becky! Richmond has always reminded me of Raleigh, and now, I am even more convinced that they are twins, separated at birth. They have a new mall that makes me salivate. I’ll be expounding on this mall in a later post. We only visited a couple of stores because we needed a travel break not a day long shopping spree! Down the street was a brand new Trader Joe’s. It opened two weeks ago, and I was disappointed that it seems a little bland. Maybe the plans are to spiff it up later, I missed the usual colorful murals. Fortunately, the contents of the store are the same as the others I have shopped. Finally, we hit I-95 south, homeward bound.
Home again, home again, bunkety, bunk!

Friday, October 10, 2008

After watching the season premiere of CSI (way too sad), I was able to sleep for 8 ½ hours straight! The last five nights without my trusty recliner took a toll on my usual sunny disposition. What a great week, just what we needed! I have lots of things to write about and can’t wait to get them posted. Please be patient with me, it will take me at least a week to my house in order after vacation, and I’m game for all those subbing opportunities at VCA. Minnie and Jilly are back from the kennel, and Hunter is excited that we are all back in our little cozy nest on Delaware Drive. Can’t wait to see all of ya’ll!!!