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The Skill That Goes Into a Skillet

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Right now, it is trendy to reach back for older technologies. There are, likely, a number of reasons for this. First, nostalgia is ever-present in our culture. When I was a young chap in the early 1980s, the decades of the 1950s and 60s were all the rage. We watched "Happy Days" and "Laverne and Shirley." My junior high even referred to our dances as "sock hops." Secondly, I believe there is a growing dis-ease within our society over the constant updates on technology. I am sure that I am not the only one who has vented out loud over some new improved version of an app, program, or website that is less functional, convenient, and/or easy to use. People are beginning to wonder, "Is there really that much value in the latest gadget?" Maybe some of that old technology is perfectly fine, does the job at least as well (if not better), and doesn't try to steal your private information in the bargain.

Cooking is one of the subject areas where some people are embracing older technology. I now grind my own coffee beans. And I use a hand grinder. It takes almost exactly as long as it takes for my water to boil to grind beans for my French press, I use no electricity, and my grind is exactly the way I want it. I think my coffee is now better than what I get at my local coffee shop. I also use cast iron skillets. And that is the subject of today's blog post.

I am aware that there are new technologies emerging in the realm of non-stick pans. I've heard that these new "blue diamond" pans are supposed to be toxin-free, non-stick, and virtually indestructible. I've also heard that they chip and/or scratch easily, and lose their non-stick surface quickly. Well let me introduce you to my little friend, "the cast iron skillet." The cast iron skillet is, truly, nearly indestructible. It used to be common for skillets to be passed down from generation to generation. They can lose their non-stick surface, but re-seasoning them is easy to do. I suppose, if you really tried hard, you could scratch one, but not with any kitchen utensil I know about. So, why have we switched to these new tech pans?

Well, cast iron does require a bit of thought and effort. But in return, you get a device that will not wear out and will not add toxins to your food or your home. In order to use cast irons, there are a few things you need to do:

  1. You need to season your pan (which I will cover).
  2. You need to learn how to care for your pan (covered in an upcoming post).
  3. You need to learn how to cook with your pan (covered in an upcoming post).

Seasoning Your Pan

Seasoning a pan is not difficult, but it will take some time. I would set aside an afternoon. You can get plenty of other things done at the same time, but you will want to be around to monitor the process. 

How do you know if your pan needs seasoning? The simple answer is that it looks dirty. If you are using your pan correctly (which will be covered in an upcoming post) and food is consistently sticking to your pan, or if it will not wash up easily after use, then it probably needs seasoning. If you can see rust, or discoloring, or the surface is uneven, you probably need to season. Rust is the enemy. You really want to get that off. If it does not scrape or wash off, here is an odd trick that really works; cut a potato in half, sprinkle the rust with baking soda and use the cut potato to rub the rust off. 

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A dirty skillet that needs re-seasoned.

But if you have no experience with a cast iron skillet, you may not know what to look for. So, this is what a well-seasoned cast iron skillet looks like. The surface of the pan should look like a black mirror. It will not be reflective enough for you to actually see yourself in it, but it does reflect light. The surface will be smooth and even. When you wipe it with a paper towel, the paper towel should show little or no residue.

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A well-seasoned pan

Step 1: Wash the pan

One thing seasoning does is use a lot of heat to clean your pan, but let's do our best to give the process a head start. You can start by using a metal spatula and water, as hot as you can take it, to melt and scrape any food or rust off of your pan. If you have food or gunk that is really baked on, put a bit of water in the pan and simmer it for about a minute to loosen it up. To get the pan really clean, I recommend steel wool without any soap embedded in it (like SOS pads have). You don't have to be religious about not using soap on your pan, especially if you are about to season it. But those steel wool pads are handy to have around after your seasoning, so why not buy a box? And if you are going to use soap, I recommend avoiding soaps with perfumes or chemicals.

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Plain steel wool - no soap

Once the pan is clean, heat up your oven to around 375 degrees. Make sure the pan is bone dry. You can even heat it up on the stove, on a low temperature, to make sure you drive off all the moisture. Using a paper towel, wipe the surface of the pan with oil. If you have done a good job cleaning it, the paper towel should come off clean. If it is not perfect, like I said, the process will clean it. Put your pan into the oven face down and let it bake for an hour. After an hour, turn off the oven and let it cool down naturally. Remove it from the oven (carefully - it might still be hot) and wipe it with oil again. Is the paper towel coming off showing nothing but the oil (no black gunk)? Congratulations, you're done! If it is still blackened by wiping the surface of the pan with oil, clean it, and bake it again. Repeat this process until the pan wipes without leaving residue.

I hear some of you remarking, "You say 'oil,' but you don't say what kind." That is a tricky subject and one that people feel pretty strongly about. Here are some guidelines. Any oil (except olive oil) that is liquid at room temperature is in danger of adding PUFAs (polyunsaturated fatty acids) to your diet. Some people think PUFAs are liquid death; others think that in a proper ratio with saturated fats they are fine. Traditionally, skillets were seasoned with lard, tallow or other animal fats. These work well, but if you are not using your skillet regularly (multiple times a week), they can go rancid. Some oils add flavor to the pan, which can transfer to your food (avocado, sesame, coconut, flax). Some people dislike that, and some people are looking for that. Finally, some people need their pan not to smoke at a very high temperature. They are planning to use their pan to do things like sear steaks before cooking them. In that case they need to use oils with very high smoking points (avocado, safflower, refined olive oil). If you've been following this blog you know that we render our own fat, so it will be no surprise that we use tallow. We cook with our skillet almost every day, so there is no real concern with the fat going rancid.

Can you mess up the process? You bet. I managed to make cardinal error number one seasoning the pan for this post. I did not make sure the pan was bone dry before wiping it down with oil and putting it in the oven. When you do that the oil clumps up, and your pan looks like it is wearing a camouflage pattern.

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Terrific - I messed it up

The fix is elbow grease. I got to spend a whole lot of time with steel wool in my hand and hot water. I even used salt instead of soap. It took a good 20 minutes of work, but in the end I got the pan seasoned correctly.

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A well-seasoned pan

Seasoning a skillet is one of those processes that anyone can do without understanding what is going on. It's like getting water scale out of the bottom of a teapot. You can know that an acid will likely break up that alkali residue, or you can do what your grandma did and pour some vinegar into the teapot and let it sit before cleaning it. But for those who are curious, here is the layman's science behind seasoning. The iron in the skillet is porous, and the high heat opens those pores wide enough to let the fat seep into the pan. This forms a layer that both protects the metal and creates a non-stick cooking surface. Thus, the effects of flavored oils, high heat oils, and the risk of oils that can easily go rancid. The oil you use to season the pan is still there after the process, even after you wipe it away.

The nice thing about seasoning is that it is not like coating a pan with a non-stick teflon. That is something that can only be done once, and only done in a factory. Seasoning can be done, redone, and done by you in your own home.

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Our Best Antique Mall and Freebie Finds of the Year


Our Best Antique Mall and Freebie Finds of the Year

Chairs side by side

In this post I'll walk you through some of our most resourceful, DIY sleuth-shopping and decorating moments of the past year. Ready?

Who doesn't love "free"? The above chairs were a curb pickup find from our neighbors down the street. The seats were a bit spongy from being left out in the rain, and the paint had mostly peeled off, but we freshened them up with a bit of spray paint in a new color from Rust-o-leum called 'ink blue.' This is not a sponsored post. I just thought I'd mention the color right off the bat instead of waiting for you to ask. The new spray paint colors make it really hard for me to pass the paint aisle without dreaming up new projects right there in the store and taking a few cans home with me.

Paint

Also I just learned from posting the above pic, (taken to illustrate to Anthony which kind and color to get from the store when I ran out) that Rust-o-leum is spelled Rust-oleum. The more you know.

Here's how the full set looks on the porch. The table in the middle is actually a thrift store find, not part of the curb pickup score. That shows you that in a common material like wicker, you can fake a set from separate pieces easily.

Chairs_front porch

So there you have it: An entire suite of porch furniture in a trendy color for the price of a few cans of paint. I'd like to have gone further with this and cut out both the paint toxicity and the cost with a DIY natural substance, if anything would do the trick. Feel free to post recommendations below.

Another find came from Facebook, the source of a set of three of these Midcentury gliders. The whole set was 100 percent free; all we had to do was pick them up, curbside.

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You can while away the hours rocking in this thing, sipping mint juleps...

They don't make 'em like this anymore. The frames are sturdy steel. The glide is smooth and steady. Each of the wooden slats is held on with a washer-and-bolt combo that will make restoring these beauties easy. I'm thinking of spray-painting the frames (unless you give me a good eco alternative) and sealing the wood against further wear. But I don't think I'll stain the wood; the patina is pleasing as-is. What's your vote on the frame color? I'm thinking:

  1. Blue ink, like the chairs above
  2. Aqua, like the mesh table top in the paint can pic above
  3. Dark turquoise, like the planter below (I think it's called 'Lake')
  4. Bright yellow, because why not
  5. Some other color you could convince me to try

Weigh in by posting your vote below.

Another Facebook deal was a pair of birdhouses for $10 (US). They're handmade and a bit whimsical, and while no birds have taken up residence in them yet, they're a nice part of the scene in the garden. 

Birdhouse

Completing the front porch mission is this cute wicker planter, which came from a booth at Treasure Aisles Antique Mall here in the St. Louis area. It wasn't free, and I can't remember the exact price, but it was less than $30 (US). I think part of the reason it was a good deal was because of the original paint color, pretty much puke pink.

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You know what's next: the refresh. Here it is after I applied that aforementioned dark turquoise, with native Missouri primrose planted in the pots. This sits between our front door and the blue wicker chairs above.

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Moving inside the house now, I want to share a pic of this cutie-pie serving dish I picked up at South County Antique Mall. It's a very collectible 1963 vintage piece from the Sears Harmony House 'Honey Hen' set. Such a nice thing to have on the table for Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving tureen

When it comes to tales about fishing for finds, there's always the story of the one that got away. Here are two pieces I passed on but sort of wish I hadn't.

First, this basket stand is amazing, but I wasn't sure what I'd do with it in exchange for the real estate it would take up. Of course our friends and followers have suggested a dozen great uses ever since, such as yoga mat holder and blanket cozy.

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Finally, this stunning, rubby ducky-yellow flip clock is not really my decor style, but I totally wish it was. It's so rad!

Yellow clock

What are your great finds of the year? Post pics or links below!

This post was not sponsored, and we did not receive anything in exchange for the product and business references here.

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Kick Up Your Heels on the Fourth of July - Literally!

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Installing my new FeetUp. Easier than IKEA furniture, and more sturdy!

Exciting news: That FeetUp Trainer I mentioned in this post about why you might struggle with headstands is now a whopping 33 percent off! Yeah, that knocks fifty bucks off this cute little yoga inversion prop.

As you can see in the photo above, I took advantage of the sale and snared one for myself. It's a great deal, so I wanted to share it with you, too. PLEASE NOTE: WE DON'T RECEIVE ANYTHING IN EXCHANGE FOR THIS POST OR FOR THE SALE OF THESE PROPS IF YOU GO AND BUY ONE.

Not that I didn't try. Before this great sale popped up, I had contacted FeetUp hoping to get some sponsorship for a post about their prop. They were cool and receptive, complimenting me on the inversion post and offering a $10 off coupon code for blog readers.

They wouldn't do more, however, like provide a free FeetUp in order to review it or any other compensation in exchange for coverage on the blog, because we haven't met the threshold they established for sponsorships, which is 10,000 followers on Instagram. Our Insta follower count is just shy of 500.

Oh, well. I get it. I mean, we're small potatoes in the world of sponsored content–we haven't made anything on this lifestyle blog and continue to put time, money, and resources into it really as a labor of love. I was totally cool with the $10 off coupon code for blog readers and a likewise small discount on the FeetUp for me, so I could order one to test out. I was just about to fill out the sponsorship form that FeetUp sent me...

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It came in a really big box, which the cat loves, but is surprisingly lightweight.

But then I saw this super sale pop up, and I realized FeetUp's own sale was a way better deal (like five times better) than the one FeetUp was willing to give me in exchange for coverage on the blog. So. I. Politely. Declined.

I asked them how long the sale would last so that I could schedule this post around it, and I didn't get an answer. The sale used to be valid on Amazon, which is where I purchased mine, but today as I write this, that's no longer the case. It is, however, still for sale on FeetUp's own website, and they're offering free shipping, so act fast! As this will post tomorrow (Sunday), I'm just hoping it doesn't end tonight. The site doesn't say anything but that it will end "soon."

While I'm both impressed that FeetUp was so responsive at first and feeling somewhat less in love after they weren't so helpful with the follow-through, I'm still super excited about my new FeetUp trainer.

It was unbelievably easy to put together (like IKEA flat-pack furniture, but with way better assembly instructions), is made from good quality materials (wood, metal, a lovely vegan faux leather), and feels very sturdy. I'm both naturally curvy and, especially after 25 years of yoga, pretty muscular, and I felt completely supported by it on my first couple of inversion tests.

FeetUp

I want to practice with it for awhile before giving a full review. I'll post that later on, with some pics of my awkward glorious inversions (!). But I wanted to let y'all know about the super sale in the meantime. Only the white/light wood version qualifies for the sale, but you get a nifty pose sequence poster along with it. It's a great deal.

Sure, a hundo is a lot to spend on a yoga prop, and maybe you could get something like it for cheaper. But it's important if I'm going to turn myself completely upside-down on something that that thing be made of quality materials and feel like it can support me without issues. I practice yoga daily, so for me, it's a good investment in a prop that will get a lot of use. Just yesterday, I inverted for a few minutes after a long bout of desk jocky-ing, and I felt renewed by it.

If you take advantage of the sale and get your own FeetUp, tell me about your impressions in an email, and I'll include them in my review, either with or without your name attached, just let me know. You're welcome (but not required) to send pics, too!

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What If No One in Your Family Had Ever Gone to College?

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All images courtesy of College Bound.

I'm the only person in my immediate family to obtain a college degree--neither of my parents has a degree, and none of my three siblings chose the four-year degree route in their careers.

HOWEVER, my mother attended university for a time, with an eye toward earning a bachelor's in Education. A year away from graduating, she chose to marry my father and commit herself to stay-at-home motherhood instead of finishing. You could make that choice back in the early 70s, even on enlisted military pay.

But that college experience stayed with my mother, and I sensed early on that she regretted not snagging the BA. She talked about life at the university often, and she instilled in me the desire to go to college myself. To earn that degree.

Not everyone has the privilege of a mother's influence toward college. While some families take a university education as a given, for many, it's a foreign concept, and especially with the astronomical cost of tuition these days, it can seem as remote as a distant planet.

It's that distance that the organization College Bound works to bridge.

"Just one adult with a college degree can change the cycle of poverty in a family forever," say the folks at CB. They function as coaches, guides, and tutors in the effort to help students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds achieve bachelor's degrees and fulfilling careers.

I know a lot about the organization because my husband, a former-game-industry-brand-manager-turned-grant-manager, works there. And because he does, they found out about me and my work as a visiting professor of game design at Webster University. They invited me to speak to students on a panel for Career Night. Here I am, talking with my hands, as usual.

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The students asked fantastic questions, and we had a lively discussion that got real, if you know what I mean. There were two CB alums on the panel with me, and they were a study in contrasts. One chose to become an accountant, and while he doesn't "love" his job, he loves being able to live comfortably and even travel. His counterpoint was a young woman who took a job teaching at a school in a disadvantaged neighborhood where some of her students struggle with simply getting enough to eat. She loves what she does.

It wasn't planned this way, but it turned out that every single person on the panel was the first one in our families to get a bachelor's degree. Fortunately, two of them had College Bound.

The students apparently thought I was a riot, or so says my husband, Anthony, who was the only guy in the room wearing a tie.

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If you're local and looking to get involved with College Bound, check out their Trivia Night fundraiser on August 25. Of course, you can support them even if you don't live in the Lou. 

So what's your education story? Did you go to college? Skip it and climb to wild success by other means? And who helped you along the way? Tell me in the comments below. Stories are my religion.

And have a Happy 4th of July!

 

 


The 1944 Movie 'Laura' Reveals Just How Broken Publishing Is - and Maybe the Whole Economy

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Sometimes I like a good film noir classic, as in the 1944 movie "Laura," named one of the 10 best mystery films of all time by the American Film Institute. This one was just right for a Saturday night movie binge because it features a young Vincent Price as a pretty boy gigolo, if you can imagine that, and a victim who's made a life for herself as a successful advertising exec, a rare career woman for her time.

 What I didn't expect in this strange but clever whodunit is that one of the main characters and ongoing suspects is an eccentric writer, a dandy who pens columns while sitting at his bathtub desk. From his posh penthouse apartment in New York, he brags about making fifty cents a word on his writing.

 Hold up, I thought. Fifty cents a word? In 1944? 

 Those of you who've never tried to make a living with your words probably don't know this, but fifty cents a word is considered a good rate today. Yeah, in 2016. I'm part of several online freelancer forums, and there I regularly see rates of $150-300 for a 700-word article, which works out to about 20-40 cents per word. The top echelon magazines reportedly pay their freelancers $1-$2 dollars per word, and there are a rare handful of freelance writers making bank, but the vast majority of words that get written in America today sell for far less. Disturbingly, there are plenty of publishers who expect writers to work for "exposure," or for mere cents per word. 

 Here's what writers today should be making per word, if we take 50 cents in 1944 and adjust it for inflation: $6.82.

 That would be almost $5K for a 700-word piece, which is a far cry from reality. And you wonder why so much of what's out there is written in listicle format and laden with gifs! Even if the 50-cents-per word bit were a dramatic embellishment, and let's say the actual writer pay at the time was half that, at 25 cents per word, or a quarter, at 12 cents per word, which is about what I make today on stories for my local paper, we're still looking at serious stagnation, or even devolution. Depending on whom you ask, the publishing industry is either experiencing a glorious renaissance or is in its death throes. If it's the former, writers on the whole aren't experiencing the golden part of this age, and if it's the latter, then I suppose things will only get worse from here on out. 

 In my overly long, SEO-designed headline above, I promised I'd mention how this relates to the overall brokenness of the economy. This writer wage stagnation/devolution is another example of how we've been shafted in the last generation as productivity has actually gone up but salaries haven't kept pace, pay for CEOs and others at the top soared while most other pay stagnated, and benefits such as pensions and employer-paid health care became a thing of the past. I'm no economist, though, so let me refer you to these nine sobering wage stagnation charts put out by the Economic Policy Institute.

 Sure, EPI is considered by some to skew liberal and/or is tainted by its labor backing. But you know what? It's hard to argue with the data. For example, since 1979, middle-class wages rose only 6% and low-wage workers' salaries actually fell by 5% while those with the highest salaries saw a 41% increase. Here's another: In the 1960s, CEOs typically earned 20 times what a typical worker earned, but today they rake in 296 times what a typical worker makes.

 So writers in this analysis are low-wage workers whose salaries have fallen over time. Our economy is one big film noir movie, but the villain is greed and the policies that support and enable greed. Spoiler alert: The mystery of who killed Laura, the advertising exec, is far more fitting and poignant than anyone in 1944 could have imagined. Yep. You guessed it. The writer did it.*

* Or at least, he thought he did (plot twist!).