Too Good to Pass Up

Like most people, I’ve got relatives who retired to Florida. They rave about how its always “sunny and 75” and how they can drink margaritas on the beach in the middle of January. On the other hand, there’s a saying in Missouri, “If you don’t like the weather, wait 5 minutes and it’ll change.” A 75 degree weekend can give way to a 20 degree Monday (like last week). It can rain for weeks straight like in December of 2015 (pictures below) or a storm can roll through in 15 minutes giving way to sunny clear skies. Let’s just say, the weather is all over the place. Therefore, while sunbathing with their pina coladas, my relatives often wonder how I can stand the cold, clouds, and rain of a chaotic Missouri winter.

My answer is simple, without the dreary cloudy cold days, I wouldn’t appreciate the warm and sunny days. I know this sounds like a cop-out, but its true. When I’m in Florida I know it’ll be sunny and beautiful tomorrow, and the next day, and the next. So, why should I go to the beach now? It will still be there tomorrow after all. The consistent good weather brings no sense of urgency as I can always enjoy it at a more convenient time. Missouri just isn’t like that. If it’s sunny and warm, you better go out and enjoy it on the spot, because you never know what tomorrow will bring. Today was one of those rare days in February both sunny and relatively warm (45F) so I simply had to go out and enjoy it, regardless that it’s Wednesday and I have an exam on Friday. Carpe Diem.

This brings me to talking about my city. St. Louis is blessed with a multitude of free stuff-to-do. It has a park even larger than central park and designed by the same guy, an awesome free zoo, a number of free museums, and several smaller parks well worth visiting as well. It is also home to the Missouri Botanical Garden, but as it is private, the garden isn’t always free. For residents like me, the garden is free certain hours on Wednesday and Saturday and is always 50% off what they charge non-city-residents. I’m also lucky in that my family has a membership so I can go for free any time and bring a guest.

Anyway, I decided it was a beautiful day and walked the garden. Walking is, after all, one of the healthiest pastimes and certainly doesn’t break the bank. A neuro-science professor once told me that a walk in the woods for at least an hour a week was shown to reduce symptoms of psychological disorders like anxiety, depression, and schizophrenia – I’m not sure how much proof he had, but I like his thinking. So I took my “therapeutic” walk through The Garden and discovered that the witch hazel (pictured above) was blooming in the woodland garden with a floral honey-like scent. I’m a big fan of witch hazel as I use it’s extract to help get rid of acne, but never knew it bloomed. With such bright color and sweet scent in the dead of winter, it’ll definitely have a place in my garden when I get the chance to plant one.

All in all, I think its important to enjoy events, especially fleeting ones like a party or a sunny day because although as students we often see our “grown-up life” starting when we get into the workforce, the best times of our lives are right now and these times will form the memories and stories that we tell way down the road.

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For Starters (Chicken Recipes)

rotisserie-chickenMoney is a big obstacle in college. Rent is rent, and nothing much can be done to make it cheaper. Clothes are really easy to save on especially by shopping at places like goodwill, but that’s for another day. I think the place most people run into trouble is food, so for my first post I will share a few of my food-stretching recipes.

I budget about $100 a month for food and generally under-spend. My main rule is that a meal should cost under $1 per serving, so after 3 meals a day for 31 days it comes to just under $100. My under-spending comes from the fact that I rarely eat breakfast, choosing instead to make myself a large cafe au lait (coffee with milk). Also clubs at my school have a lovely habit of giving out pizza at lunch meetings.

My first trick is the never-ending chicken (aka the 10+ meals in 1 chicken). This is a set of recipes that works well with a rotisserie chicken that most grocery stores sell for about $6. To start, simply carve off the legs (quarters), wings, and breasts, and put the carcass in a pot. Eat the wings on the spot – fresh rotisserie chicken is irresistible anyway. If you’re only cooking for yourself, you can throw the wing bones in with the carcass.

Chicken & Dumpling Soup

Hearty chicken and dumpling soup made from scratch with black pepper to top.

Chicken Soup

INGREDIENTS
chicken carcass
water
spices (bay leaf, salt, pepper, cumin, rosemary) to taste

DIRECTIONS
Place the carcass in a big pot. I didn’t have a crock pot until this Christmas, so for the past few years I used the largest pot I could find. Sometimes this was a stock pot, sometimes it was a dutch oven, sometimes just a big saucepan – as long as it’s oven safe with a lid and will hold a chicken with a few inches to spare above the breastbone, you’re good. Take the drippings from the package the rotisserie chicken came in and throw them in the pot with the carcass. Then cover with water until the breastbone is covered. Add a bay leaf, salt, pepper, cumin, and whatever other spices you like. Cover and bake at 300F for about 6 hours. After the first 3 hours, stir the chicken so it falls apart a bit. Once the chicken falls apart and the broth is tasty, let it cool and pour the broth into large zip lock bags. The meat and bones should be left at the bottom of the pot. If you care, take out the bones, if not, leave them in but chew carefully. Add the meat into the bags, let the air out by slowly laying them sideways and zip. Then clear out a space in your freezer to lay them flat. They will freeze into flat blocks of chicken soup that are easily broken when hit with a hammer (or slammed on the counter) so you can make a smaller portion or reheat in a small pot. To make it better, throw some vegetables in when reheating or add wild rice or dumplings.

Makes about 1 gallon of soup, but I like to divide into 4 bags.
4-8 Servings.

Dumplings:
3/4c pancake mix
1/4c milk
mix until a thick foamy batter and drop 1 Tbsp sized spoonfuls into boiling/simmering chicken soup. Cover and cook for 5min.

Chicken Pot Pie

INGREDIENTS
2          chicken quarters
1can   cream of mushroom soup (cream of celery and chicken also work)
1pkg   frozen mixed vegetables (corn, peas, carrots, etc.)
1c        pancake mix
1/2c    milk
1          egg

DIRECTIONS
Preheat oven to 400F. Take the leg quarters, remove the bones, and shred the meat. Place the meat in a 9″ square cake pan or 9″round pie dish and cover with cream of mushroom soup and mixed vegetables. Stir until evenly mixed. In a separate container, combine the pancake mix, milk, and egg and stir until a homogeneous batter. Pour the batter into the casserole dish over the chicken and vegetables. Place in the oven and bake for 30min or until golden-brown.

4-9 Servings.

Chicken Sandwiches

INGREDIENTS
1 chicken breast (chilled)
2 slices bread
horseradish-mayo to taste

DIRECTIONS
Slice the chicken breast thinly and place on the bread topped with the horseradish sauce. I realize that horseradish isn’t as popular elsewhere as it is in Missouri, so a good substitute is just normal mayonnaise with a bit of seasoned-salt.

1 Servings.