$500 Challenge - October, November and December

Yes, I know I really fell down on reporting the final 3 months of the challenge.  Basically because October and November were boring additions to the stash :)  So, without further ado, I present the final 3 months of the challenge:


I use Tupperware containers to store most of my dry goods, and I want to gradually change them over to glass. Some things can go in the small glass canisters I bought in April and some can go in mason jars.  However, I get picky when it comes to baking staples like flour and sugar.  I want to be able to scoop out of the containers for these things - I remember one set of canisters my Mom had, where she could only fit a very small measuring cup in the flour canister.  Needless to say, those didn't last long!  Who wants that extra grief when it comes to baking??

So, when I spied these, I picked up the two largest sizes - one for flour, and one for sugar.

I may end up with more, but I want to wait until the kitchen is done, and see how much counter space I end up with.  And for now, flour and sugar are the main items I use a lot of!

2 glass canisters: $30.90 + $4.02 tax 
Total: $34.92
Balance: $43.11
Since beginning this challenge last January, one of the major hurdles has been cold food storage - both fridge and freezer.  I still have no good alternative to plastic bags for freezer storage, and in the last two months, have lost FOUR mason jars to breakage in the freezer.  No, they were not overfilled, but were old jars, and I think that the temperature fluctuations were too much for them.  I'm not too happy about losing the jars, never mind the contents!  So these came on sale at just the right time:
I bought one round set, and one rectangular set.   I already have some, but not enough, so these will come in handy.  Yes, I know they have plastic lids, but I've yet to come up with a way to store food long term without plastic, and at least this is a minimal and reusable amount.

2 glass food storage sets: $16.90 + $2.20 tax 
Total: $19.10
Balance: $24.01
With less than $25 left for the challenge, I was trying hard to come up with something to finish off the year in style.  I still needed to replace a few plastic cooking utensils, and I still need to source small pie plates, but I ended up with something completely different. 
And I blew the budget in the process :)
But when I found out a good quality pressure canner was on sale for almost half off, it was too good to pass up.  How does a pressure canner fit the challenge?

Well, I can use it to store things, like stock, in glass that would otherwise be in the freezer.  It allows me to reduce my use of plastics and frees up freezer space at the same time.  Soup, stew, sauces, juices - low-acid food of all sorts can now be safely stored at room temperature.  

And once again, it's my challenge and I get to change the rules :)

Pressure canner: $79.95 + $10.39 tax 
Total: $90.34
Balance: -$66.33  OOOPS!


All in all, I'm glad I did this.  Even though I went over budget, and I found it next to impossible to source items made in North America, it was an interesting process.  By spreading it out over a year, I had time to think about each purchase and determine what would be the best use of the money.  I think by setting aside a fixed amount, it allowed me to spend "guilt-free" :)

My favourite purchases are the cast iron cookware.  This is something I use all the time, and I'm loving it.  My second favourite is the pour-over coffee "maker" - again, something I use daily.  The most disappointing has to be the bakeware, simply because of the deception in the name and where it was made.  The other items, while functional, simply aren't all that exciting!
I still have plastic in the kitchen, so this isn't the end of the quest.  I need to get rid of the final few plastic cooking utensils, and I need to find and buy small pie plates (I like them for individually sized pot pies, which are kept in the freezer for a quick meals!).  Once the new kitchen is in, I need to figure out all my storage needs, so more containers for staples may be on the wish list as well.
Thus endth the $500 challenge.
Now, I wonder what's in store for 2012....


Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas!!

 From all of us here to you, may you have a safe and happy holiday!

Messin' with Texas, Day 5

My plane was scheduled to leave early in the afternoon of my last day, so Ms. PB and I had a lazy morning (poor Mr. PB had to work), spent mostly with the real reason for my trip:  the poodles!

Hershey is definitely the queen of all she surveys.  At the grand old age of 13, while she has some heath issues, she is still a feisty, happy, imperious old gal.   

Kyra is next in line.  A sweet-natured girl, but I do have to say - while she tolerates the presence of humans, she really only wants your  food.  Silly chowhound!  I think she and Katy would get along just fine...

Next comes the beautiful Boo.   A complete sweetheart, even if he is a mamma's boy! 

And last, but sooooo not least, is Hemi.  Regal, dignified.... oh, wait.  Right.

This is the real Hemi.  One big goofball of energy, wrapped in gorgeous silver fur!

After snuggling with the poodles for the last time, Ms. PB and I headed to pick up Mr. PB and have lunch at a near-by Hard Eight BBQ.

And wow, what a lunch!  This was BBQ - real BBQ.  Two huge grills, covered with meat.  Pork, chicken, beef - plus things like grilled shrimp, potatoes and corn-on-the-cob.  The smell alone was incredible, never mind the taste of the actual food!  You choose what you want off the grill, and then pay by the pound, plus extra for any sides you want - things like mac 'n' cheese, potato salad, etc.  The beans are free :)

Of course, I ate WAY too much, but it was soooo tasty.  We just do not have food like this around here!  After rolling back to the car and dropping Mr. PB back at work, we drove to the airport.  And past the airport.  And back past the airport.  Hey look kids, there's Big Ben and there's Parliment!  Okay, it wasn't quite that bad, but I still say there was NO sign for the gate we were looking for!  Even with the drive-bys, I still made it with time to spare, so I hunted down the closest coffee place, grabbed a huge latte, and sat and waited for my plane.

Which was basically what I did for the next 12 hours.  Argh!  The plane was slightly late taking off from Dallas, making the connection in Detroit REALLY tight.  Which ended up not being an issue, as the fight from Detroit to Buffalo was delayed.  By 3 3.5 4.5 hours!  Now, it was blamed on bad weather on the east coast, and I really don't expect anyone to risk life and limb by flying in a storm.  But - there was NO communication from the airline.  None.  Postponements, gate changes, further postponements, more gate changes, more postponements... nothing.  Thankfully, the people waiting all ended up looking out for each other, and sharing what information they had - but I still expect a professionally run company to be able to effectively communicate with their customers.  Big fat fail, Delta!

After a phone call to Dad, to tell him about the delay (which ended up costing a whopping $13!!!!!!!!!!!, but was money well spent, since the web site still had my flight arriving before it actually took off), there wasn't much to do but sit and wait.  And wait.  And wait.

However, all good things (!) come to an end, though, and I got home in the wee hours of the morning.  To this:

 "Where were you, and why do you smell of poodle?"
All in all, it was a fantastic trip - filled with good food, great times, and even better friends.  Who could ask for more?  Thanks a million, Mr. & Ms. PB, and all the poodles, for putting me up, feeding me, and driving me all over!

And that's how I messed with Texas :)

Messin' with Texas, Day 4

My fourth day in Texas saw us venturing into the countryside, to see some of the wildlife. 

What?  Zebras aren't indigenous to Texas?  Really?

Okay, fine, we were at a safari park, specifically the Fossil Rim Wildlife Center :)

The center has many different types of antelope-type animals, but I'm going to be cruel, and let you try to figure out which is which...

As different as they may be, every animal in the park had one thing in common: they know where their food comes from.  This was the most common view of the animals:

Dude, personal space!! 

Zebras:  the thugs of the animal world.

Antlers come in handy - for keeping the beasts out of the car!  Otherwise, this one would have been sitting in Mr. PB's lap, I think. 

Giraffes have the aerial surprise attack down pat:

Side note:  hand-feeding giraffes?  Coolest thing EVER. 

Look up, waaaay up... (only Canadians of a certain age will know where that quote comes from!)

The park is HUGE, and we were there for at least 3 hours.  If you ever go, there are a few things you have to know:

1. The animals WILL drool down the inside of your car door, so have some sort of wipe handy.  And the bigger the beast, the more copious the drool. 
2. If you point and laugh at your companion getting almost tongue-mauled by an overly-friendly beast, this is only a diversion for the beast's partner in crime, who will be waiting for you to turn around and realize it's totally in your face.  Right, Mr. PB? 
3. The beasts know that every car has a driver, and will preferentially go to the left side of the car.  So pick your driver carefully.  Right, Mr. PB?
4. They all have REALLY long tongues.  Freakish long.  And they know how to use them...

After driving through the park, and laughing so hard my stomach hurt, it was time for the drive home, stopping for a small ice cream treat.  Then, that evening, it was time for TexMex!  Some great food - including three different types of salsa (very good!), a cheesy nacho dip (wow!) and a Texas-sized chimichanga.  The best part?  A frozen margarita-sangria combo - also Texas sized!

After all that food and alcohol, it was time for home and bed :)

The End...

Messin' with Texas, Day 3

Day three once again saw us braving the Texas traffic, in order to get to the biggest hotel I have ever seen:  the Gaylord Texan.  Although, after parking in the designated area, and walking the 58.6 miles to get from the parking garage to the hotel, I think we might have been better off to just walk in the first place...

However, back to the hotel.  Or, as I like to call it, the small town masquerading as a hotel.  Seriously, this place is HUGE.  Things really are bigger in Texas!  The interior-facing rooms cluster around a 4.5 acre glass-enclosed atrium, a two-storey space that is filled with live plants, pathways, and even a "river". 

The hotel puts on an amazing Christmas display, with running miniature trains, real poinsettias planted in the flower beds, and a lot of decorations.

And yes, I did think that placing Frosty the Snowman in the desert, along with a covered wagon, was somewhat humorous :)

One of my favourite things was this display, especially the lights in the garland.

What, you can't see them?  Here's a close-up: 

You know you're in Texas when...

As we walked though the area, we started smelling something REALLY good.  It got better and better, and stronger and stronger, until we rounded a corner and saw this:

A life-sized gingerbread house.  Made out of real gingerbread and decorated with real candy!

But real attraction was the hotel rug - I think I'm going to put some in the house:

Okay, not really.  The REAL attraction was the amazing ice display the hotel puts on every year.  This year's theme was Shrek, and wow, was it incredible!  It takes a very large tent, cooled very well, 2 million pounds of ice and many Chinese artisans to construct this incredible display.

All the characters were there.  Shrek and Donkey:

Puss-in-Boots (my favourite!):
The Three Blind Mice:
And Gingy!:

The photos can't convey the amazing attention to detail, but it was incredible.

There was even a slide made of ice!   And yes, I may have gone down it more than once...

After hiking back to the car, we went to see another amazingly large Texan attraction: Bass Pro Shops*. 

A one storey-aquarium, filled with sport fish, miles of displays of everything you could want for outdoor activities, and the site where I proved, once and for all, I can miss the broadside of a barn with a gun :)

After the humiliation of having Mr. PB ask me, ever so nicely, if I knew what I was doing with the gun in my hand**, we went to one of the best restaurants around:  The Bavarian Grill

A fantastic meal of bread (I'll fight you for the pretzel roll!), goulash and great beer - such great beer!

All incredibly tasty.  And filling.  Very filling.  And if you hear rumours of me being serenaded with a cowbell version of  "Happy Birthday", with a resounding Canadian "EH!" at the end, well, they are just rumours.  It's not like there is a video of it or anything...

After the rolling our way back to the PB lair, we spent the evening in that great American pastime:  watching football on TV, whilst laying around digesting our amazing lunch :)

And thus ended day three...

*Apparently, there is one in Toronto.  So, I didn't have to go all the way to Texas to see one, but then again, I don't think I'd ever have gone into one on my own :)

**Hey, give me a break!  It was my first time ever holding a gun, never mind target shooting***.  And yes, his advice helped greatly, and I got much better.  I only missed the barn by a city mile, instead of a country mile, after that ;)! 

*** Playing Duck Hunter doesn't count. 

Presto Pressure Canner for $79.95. But wait, that's not all!

Okay, cheesy TV sales pitch aside, this is a quick post just to let you know the Presto Pressure Canner (canner, not cooker) is on sale at Amazon.ca for an incredible $50 off!

And we'll throw in free shipping, if you call within the next 30 minutes... :)

I don't know how long it will be on sale, but if, like me, you've been thinking of getting one, now's the time!

Hat tip to Canadian Doomer, who also has some advice about buying a better regulator for the canner. 

Small print - I do not get anything for this post, I am not an Amazon affiliate and have no links to Presto.  It's just an amazing deal, and I thought I'd share :)

Messin' with Texas, Day 2

After surviving my first day in Texas, we fortified ourselves with some amazing home-made sausage biscuits, and once again braved the Texas traffic to go the historic Stockyards in Fort Worth.

There were immediate indications that I was no longer in Canada, Toto:

The Stockyards celebrate Texas history, especially that surrounding the Chisholm trail and the associated cattle and cowboys.  

The Cowtown Coliseum is still used to hold rodeos and other events.  Unfortunately, none were scheduled during my visit ;)

I did have a chance to practise my bull riding...

... but after he turned and glared at me simply for taking his photo, I decided not to :)

One neat attraction is the Texas Trail of Fame, and I was impressed at the number of names I actually recognized!  And yes, I do know who Audie Murphey is! 


There are a number of shops and restaurants (fantastic pulled pork sandwich for lunch, along with the fried okra I stole from Ms. PB's plate.  I know - fried okra!  But it was really good!!).   And of course, most of the shops were decorated for Christmas, in a very Texan way :)

Other attractions included a small petting zoo, a cattle pen maze, and the Fort Worth Jail, into which we immediately forced Mr. PB. 

Also on site is Billy Bob's, the world's largest honky-tonk.  No, I'm sorry, I have no idea what makes a bar a honky-tonk, rather than just a bar.  I think that's insider information that they do not divulge to foreigners like me. 

It is large enough to have real bull riding inside, but once again, unfortunately, none were available for me to ride...

A number of famous entertainers have graced the stage over the years, and they are immortalized with handprints in the Wall of Fame.  (Please note, I'm not a big country music fan, so this might be a bit more interesting to those of you who are.  Also, you would have recognized  more of the names on the handprints.  I struck out after Styx, Cheap Trick, Huey Lewis and Johnny Cash.)

But there was a small photo of a guy I recognized - yes, indeed, that is Buddy Holly!

However. the real stars of the Stockyards weren't to be found in any honky-tonk.  There were in the cattle pen, resting up for their big moment.

Yes, real, live Texas Longhorns!!

And when they say everything is bigger in Texas, they mean those horns!  Yikes!!


Twice a day, the Longhorns are taken for a casual stroll cattle-drive down the main street of the Stockyards. 

And it's a good thing these cattle are good-natured, for they get really close.

I don't think the bride is a normal part of the cattle drive, but I may be wrong ;)

After a long day immersed in some Texas history, we wrangled back through the highway system to the Poodlebug lair, where upon Ms. PB made a delicious, authentic southern meal for me:  fried chicken!!!  Yes, I am sorry to say, real fried chicken is not really a Canadian thing, and as KFC doesn't count, I hadn't had the pleasure before this trip.

A cast iron chicken fryer is now on my Christmas wish list, and one of the local chickens I bought is destined for a bath in hot oil!

And thus ended day two...


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