Wednesday, December 30, 2009

One Day & One Cheat Left

The makings for the white chocolate martini are chilling in the fridge.  Technically, we may not actually have one tomorrow as we have been invited to no less than THREE New Year's Eve parties, and if I have a white chocolate martini before a party we won't actually make it TO the party.  But it's nice to know it's there....

Bizarrely, I have now lost interest in my chocolate stash.  Knowing I'll be able to have it seems to be enough.  Obviously, I respond to the "forbidden fruit" idea, which I sort of knew.  Idaho is quite close to Nevada & legalized gambling, but the only times I thought it was any fun were the times I did it while I was underage.  I like knowing I have chocolate in the house--and will be hiding some of it so Andy doesn't eat it all--but if I do have any on Friday, it will be a very small piece. 

Since we were staying with relatives over Christmas, we suspended our diet while we were there.  I would never expect anyone hosting us to live by our experiments, and for 4 days we ate "normally" and I thought I had gotten away with it--no stomach upset, no side effects.  Then we flew home.  Oh my.  There really is no going back........bummer.  Looks like next year's project will be:  finding a reasonable diet we can live with.  This time, with a little more chocolate......

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

This I Had To Share

In general, I'm a big fan of Amazon.com.  Not only do they have everything, it's been a great way to research food products from home.  So, today while trying to figure out a good gift (or gifts) to send as a hospitality "thank you" gift, I pulled up Amazon's website and typed in "gifts."  The first item that popped up:


something called "Jingle Jugs Animatronics Singing Dancing Boobs."  And this is what Amazon thinks I am most likely to be looking for as a gift.  Which makes sense, of course, as the last order I placed with them was for some Shirley Temple dvds for my nephews and niece.  I can see how they would obviously connect the two. 

Then again, I can guarantee that it's something they don't already have...............

Friday, December 25, 2009

The Christmas Letter

Holiday Greetings!

2009 has been quite a year here at Château Sutton-Goar. This year we:

  • decided to see if we would feel any difference if we eliminated all processed foods (unknown ingredients, food coloring, high fructose corn syrup) from our diet for one year.


  • are a bit disappointed to find out that it really does make a huge difference


  • have a new appreciation for the bravery of our friends who came over to our house for dinner anyway


  • had an astounding amount of bizarre-looking meals. If you add spinach to almost everything, it increases the nutritional value, but occasionally one feels like one is eating a pulverized Oscar the Grouch


  • are really glad the one year is almost up


  • learned to make homemade liqueurs—and in the future would use decaffeinated coffee for Kahlua unless one intends to have cocktails at 7:00 AM


  • threw a “zucchini cookoff” party and PEOPLE ACTUALLY CAME!


  • picked several pounds of cherries...which explains all the cherry jam everyone is getting for Christmas


  • took our injured kitty for walks on a leash—usually in the backyard where there were no witnesses


  • shoveled insane amounts of horse manure in the literal—not political—sense


  • decided to double the size of our garden—which made a lot more sense in March than in August


  • discovered that if we’re having enough fun, it’s hard to notice the difference in only one income

This year I:

  • spent so much time reading labels for our “Year of No Processed Foods” experiment that a few local grocery stores think I might be a member of staff


  • grew an insane amount of garlic, and was so pleased with the results that I planted even more for 2010


  • learned to make two things successfully in that dang crockpot


  • will have read 100 books (98 and counting at current writing)


  • have been doing a lot of food history research and was amazed to find that Velveeta was actually invented as a “healthy” alternative to cheddar cheese.


  • learned how to make non-mushy pickles—and celebrated by canning 50-some-odd jars of them.


  • used a pressure canner for the first time ever AND didn’t blow anything up. The fact that I was still canning pumpkin at midnight is an entirely different issue.


  • learned to make mustard, which is much better than anything we’ve encountered in stores.


  • experienced my first “real” surgery, which wasn’t nearly as bad as the 6-week recovery period

This year Andy:

  • finished restoring my grandmother’s piano, though learned that it might have been wiser to NOT mention that there would be piano moving involved when inviting buddies over for beer


  • ran his annual half-marathon....plus a second for good measure/insanity


  • made homemade crackers, which were excellent...though the thicker ones were a bit like garlic-flavored dog biscuits


  • learned that motorcycle camping in May is not always a great idea


  • learned that kayaking in April is an even worse idea


  • learned to make homemade pasta, though hasn’t found a solution to the “sticking together in some big fettuccine mess while drying” problem


  • figured out how to fix our furnace after a week of no heat & two separate repairmen did nothing and charged us anyway. (If they can’t fix anything, should they still be called “repairmen?”)


  • learned that the way to a woman’s heart is through homemade chocolate-peanut butter ice cream

This year I have learned:

  • just when you’ve thought you have set a new standard for crazy pet owners everywhere, you find yourself signing your cat up for water rehab therapy


  • cats can have nightmares....probably over the kitty water rehab therapy


  • if the compost doesn’t get hot enough to kill seeds, it’s a terrific way to seed your lawn, flowerbeds, and flower pots with cucumbers, tomatoes, and sugar peas


  • putting steaming horse manure on the lawn and garden won’t kill the plants, but might have had something to do with two neighbors moving away


  • finding a chocolate zucchini cake recipe can make one more accepting when one ends up with a second summer squash where pumpkins were supposed to be planted


  • those plastic knobs on the gas stove have a lower melting point than one might think


  • never underestimate how fast a determined cat can remove a leg cast. Theo’s current record is before even getting him home from the vet, which has made him a legend at WestVet


  • for some cats, kitty valium is not so much a sedative as kitty speed. Finding this out after giving it to a cat in a cast is really unfortunate


  • just because it stains your fingers, it doesn’t mean that blueberry juice can color frosting


  • after 6 months, one does stop fantasizing about Diet Pepsi, but one never stops thinking about chocolate


  • if one of the cats turns a live bird loose in your house and it settles into a flower arrangement four feet above the open front door, the odds of the bird figuring out that a) the flowers are fake and b) it could get out through a door just a few feet below it are next to zero—no matter how strong the cold wind is blowing through the house


  • if a doctor tells you initially that surgery recovery will take about a week, it’s best to ask questions. He meant in the “stop feeling like crap” sense, and I meant in the “can be out shoveling dirt in the garden” sense


  • doped up on enough pain killers, I can have all the milkshakes I want because I won’t actually feel my normal headaches from my milk allergy....or anything else for that matter


  • all natural” on a food label doesn’t mean what I thought it meant


  • don’t assume ANYTHING about your home’s construction—even if you bought the builder’s own home


  • there is such a thing as bacon-flavored lip balm. Why is anybody’s guess


  • life is always an adventure, though some days more than others.......


We wish everyone a merry holiday season and a healthy & happy 2010!
Toni and Andy

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Lessons From Oprah

Recently, a friend mentioned that she had learned a lot from an article in Oprah's magazine.  I thought it was a great article, and thought the holidays would be a great time to share some highlights from "What I Know for Sure" by Oprah Winfrey:

"Every birthday, you decide whether to mark it the end of your greatest days or the beginning of your finest hour."

 "Reading gives you the ability to reach higher ground"

"When you get the chance, go for it.  You can't accomplish anything worthwhile if you inhibit yourself."

"Live so that at the end of each day, you can say, 'I did my very best.'"

"What have you done today to make you feel proud?"

"Making the decision to look after yourself is the ultimate in healthcare."

As long as we play the 'us and them' game, we don't evolve as people, as a nation, as a planet."

"If you feel incomplete, you alone must fill yourself with love in all your empty, shattered spaces."

"A healthy relationship brings joy--not just some of the time but most of the time."

"You are the only person alive who can see your big picture —and even you can't see it all."


Monday, December 21, 2009

Cough Drops

Okay, the cold is back and really hanging on, so there goes my theory about the no processed foods/no colds thing.  I did find some cough drops without artificial colors or flavors, but they seem to have no "active" ingredients either, so I broke down and bought some bizarrely pink lozenges that do have artificial--albeit really bad--flavoring, and of course they work really, really well.  I promise I really was trying to stick to the rules and have been gargling with saltwater like a maniac, but I'm getting a bit desperate. Maybe not desperate enough to try a mustard plaster or anything really horrible, but if this is still hanging around by Christmas, who knows???????

Saturday, December 19, 2009

What I Have Learned This Week

*  Mice apparently don't hibernate

*  Having a huge cup of coffee before trying to paint ceramics is probably not the best idea unless one is fond of polka dots

*  There really is no limit to the number of times I can watch A Muppet Christmas Carol.

Diet Pepsi tastes just as good as I remember

*  If any of your friends have children in college, it's handy to have a math whiz on speed-dial

*  Having one's alma mater make it into a bowl game will make even the least-interested alumna consider attending the game for at least 20 seconds.....right until she remembers it would involve sitting outside on December 30 in an area that has "winter"

*  One can NEVER have too many groups of great girlfriends

*  The "live-and-let-live" policy for bugs that I talked myself into this summer does not include fruit flies.

*  A week of temperatures right around zero will stop one from whining about ANY other winter weather one gets
 
*  She who feels smugness about getting over a cold quickly is headed for a relapse

Fudge!

Admittedly, I was pretty worried about making fudge.  How easy is it to just taste a little here & there? 

So I started to make it Thursday and discovered in my exuberance to be buying chocolate of any kind that I had purchased the WRONG chocolate chips.  I purchased milk chocolate instead of semi sweet, so I put it off until Friday.  Fortunately or unfortunately, my cold returned Thursday night.  I made it to the store & back before having to return to bed and sleeping most of the day, so no fudge yesterday either.

Determined, this morning I got up feeling a bit groggy but slightly better, and finally mixed up the fudge first thing--before I could get dizzy AND before my stomach could feel better enough to stop being nauseous at the very thought of chocolate.  And I am happy to report that the layered mint fudge is done, in the fridge, and I didn't have ANY!!!!  Okay, to be fair it didn't even sound good, but still.....I MADE FUDGE WITHOUT HAVING ANY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

12 days to go........

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

I Suppose It Had To Happen

             2 cats
          + birds that aren't bright enough to fly south for the winter
          + lots of people at Soup Night to impress with one's hunting prowess
        -----------------------------------------

            Theo's Live Bird Floorshow!!!!!



Personally, I think it might have been to get even for the cast/water therapy thing, but maybe he was just sharing.  Luckily, one of the guests is a actually a pretty decent bird hunter, since somebody


turned the bird loose under one of the tables.

And yes, our guests CAN move pretty quickly when properly motivated.....

Monday, December 14, 2009

17 Days To Go

I'd like to say that we've been discussing art, literature, philosophy--anything remotely thoughtful--over the last couple days, but most of our conversations right now are about food.  Forbidden Food.  What can we have January 1?  What are we most looking forward to?  What can we have January 2?  Etc. 

While we know that we can't really go back to a "normal" diet, there are some things I'd REALLY like to have access to once in a while:

* Worchestershire sauce
* salad dressing
* cream cheese
* coconut milk
* ANY soup stock that hasn't involved a whole bunch of chopping and simmering on my part
* the occasional ham sandwich
* chocolate chips
* soups from cans or bags (only occasionally, but I really miss Campbell's tomato soup)
* Grape Nuts
* sour cream
* olives
* almost anything that hasn't just taken at least 20 minutes to make



We haven't exactly decided what will happen on January 1--definitely not a food free-for-all unless we decide that January 2 will be "get your stomach pumped day," but we are going to celebrate by fixing something we haven't gotten to have all year, which leaves us with LOTS of options.  I'm currently leaning toward mulligatawny but the thought of chocolate chip cookie dough has crossed my mind.....

Saturday, December 12, 2009

We Cheated

OK, so we didn't set out to cheat.  Today we had arranged to meet a friend at one of our favorite restaurants and we had actually looked at their menu online to discuss what would be legal & what wouldn't, and I was excited to see that they made their own Caesar salad dressing (though mercifully not at the table, because as I aware of the egg & oil & anchovies, I don't like to be reminded of it) so I was looking forward to a legal salad. 

It turns out, they are not open for lunch on Saturday, and when it is snowing and 18 degrees is not the time to be standing around debating options, so we opted for a nearby Chinese restaurant because it was A) open, B) nearby, and C) likely to be heated. 

It turns out, the food was not even remotely legal but it was warm & I got to have some of that marvelous "Americanized" chow mien with the crunchy completely-processed noodles.  Unfortunately, it was our third cheat of the week, but I just can't feel much in the way of remorse.  That usually comes later--like at 1:00 AM.  But for right now, dang it was good stuff......

Recipe | P Allen Smith Garden Home

Recipe | P Allen Smith Garden Home

Friday, December 11, 2009

Know How Many Easy-To-Take Appetizers Involve Cream Cheese?

Most of them.

This month almost everything we've been invited to attend involves bringing food of some sort.  When taking food to a party, it's easiest to have things that can be served cool or at room temperature.  Crackers, cheese balls, dips--they all work really well and are, of course, illegal.  Even normal cheese in a block is a bit daunting--we have had several inadvertent "cheats" because initially I forgot that in reality, there's no way for cheese to be orange, and then I was foolish enough to believe that smoked gouda might be slightly off-white because of the smoking.  Nope--all food coloring.  And I have discovered at least one of the reasons that most of our dairy products contain some sort of stabilizer--yogurt separates.  Make a dip out of yogurt and IF you can cover up the tangy yogurt taste that, by now, we're frankly a little sick of, it might STILL separate by the time you get it to where you're going. 

So, this year every party is getting zucchini bread.  Every single party.  It's good zucchini bread, but since several parties involve the same people I've been waiting for a little muttering or rumbling about the zucchini overdose.  This is a big thing for me--usually I am very careful about taking healthy appetizers or food to parties, but this year all bets are off.  I sort of made a rule that I had to take legal food to parties.  I guess we could have said that I could take whatever and then not eat it, but that seemed like cheating.  And to be honest it's a bit of a relief to know that at least one thing isn't likely to cause stomach issues for the next few days.  One of our rules has been that we could--within reason--eat what was served at other people's homes, but usually these episodes have been evenly spaced out.  This month there are SO many parties, and it's been sort of an indigestion-marathon so far--and fasting seems likely for the next round of parties.  Interestingly, I caught a cold this week...which in all fairness could be attributed to the fact that it's been below freezing all week & not anticipated to get warmer in the immediate future, or to the rampant socializing, but it is hard not to wonder if it doesn't have something to do with the poorer diet this month as well....

That's it--maybe it's time to finally cook one of the 35-pound squashes and dig in.......

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

'Tis The Season To Be Eating

Fa la la la la, la la la la

Scores of friends we must be meeting

Fa la la la la, la la la la

Don we now our loose apparel

Fa la la, la la la, la la la

While our health and waistlines we imperil

FA LA LA LA LA, LA LA LA LA.......

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Rules That Should Exist

*  Furnaces should only have problems in October when they're only sort of needed....not in December when they're really, really, REALLY needed

*  Food eaten at Christmas parties should not make you fat since you're really only eating to be sociable and it would hurt the host's feelings to abstain

*  All stores should be required to keep at least ONE replacement carafe in stock for every coffee maker they carry.  Depriving customers of a regular caffeine fix is really low on the customer service scale

*  Companies should just admit that unless they are involved in anything regarding retail, Christmas, or perhaps food that they really aren't going to do any business in December anyway and should stop interfering with their employee's holiday enjoyment

*  Cats should come with "snooze" and "mute" buttons.  "Rewind" might be interesting as well

* My Yahoo mail account would automatically realize that I do not have a penis and therefore don't want it enlarged, that I have never and will never buy a replica watch, and that it would take a special breed of stupid to buy drugs over the internet from an anonymous spammer and delete all such emails accordingly

Friday, December 4, 2009

Turns Out, The Answer Would Be "No"

We had frozen blueberries


and frozen cherries

so I thought "Great, I'll get pink and purple frosting."  Since I didn't want the frosting to actually taste like cherries or blueberries as it turns out that even I have some food weirdness limits (who knew?), I defrosted them and smashed some of the juice out

stirred the juice into the frosting--being careful to add a little more sugar to compensate for the extra liquid

and voila!

I think there's a sort of slight hint of purple in the one on the right.  Of course, you can see it better when you compare it with just the white frosting

See?  It looks like 3 paint samples of "beige," doesn't it.  On the cookies doesn't help much

but I think from this angle

you can see a bit of color.  And that my counters are dirty, but we're "overlooking" that part....

And, of course, all those decorator things--sprinkles, red hots, colored sugar--are completely off limits, so this is as good as these cookies are going to get.  Not great, but considering the last time I tried making sugar cookies, they morphed into one bizarre giant cookie in the oven, so progress is progress.

And to hedge our bets, these aren't going to any parties where alcohol isn't being served, so......

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Today's Question....

Can one color sugar cookie frosting with berry juice and would one want to?  And even if they end up completely bizarre looking, will people still want to eat the cookies at the Christmas party?


It has taken 11 months, but I have finally missed food coloring....

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Allergies

One of the problems with living the Year of No Processed Foods experiment is it often takes so much time JUST to live it that I don't have as much time as I had hoped to do research into topics that come up.  Like allergies.

Spending as much time as I do reading labels this year, I regularly see allergy warnings--usually the nuts, wheat, and gluten issues.  Sometimes it will actually say that the product doesn't contain any allergens, but was processed in a plant that processes other things that contain allergens.  And this seems to be necessary.

When I was in first grade, it was discovered that I am allergic to milk.  Know how they discovered it?  My mother took me to an allergist, he gave us a list of common food allergens, had her remove all of them and then introduce them in serious quantity one by one, and when I reacted we would have found the one I was allergic to.  We didn't question this, it worked like a charm, and I was only sorry that we started with the onion week and didn't get around to the strawberry week.  Even given the fact that my recollections of all this are colored by a six-year-old's reflections, while I remember that not being able to drink milk or have ice cream was a serious blow, there was never any real cause for concern.  Sure, it was a pretty big bother, and our experiments to try to find something to replace milk were often pretty disgusting, such as apple juice on Rice Krispies which is possibly more disgusting than it sounds, but we never had to check labels to search for trace elements of milk.  It wasn't--and still isn't--that serious, nor that dangerous.  Nobody has to make adjustments for me, I have it down to a science how much ice cream I can have without a reaction, and even having an all-night fling with Ben & Jerry's wouldn't send me to the hospital.  It's just something to work around, and for most of my life, my having a food allergy made me odd or unusual.  True food allergies, they say, are extremely rare.  NOW, however, it seems that my food allergy is odd or unusual for the simple reason that it doesn't try to kill me.

Looking up allergies, I found that they are classified as an exaggerated immune response to a substance that is typically harmless, but that the body mistakenly identifies as a threat.  OK, that makes perfect sense for hay fever and the like--you breathe something in, your body doesn't like it, so you sneeze your head off to get rid of it.  Fine.  I, however, get blistering headaches from too much milk, which I have to say is pretty pathetic if this is the best my immune system can come up with to protect me.  Ah!  Foreign invaders!  Code red!  Code red!--launch severe cranial pain!!!!!!  We are under attack!  Code red!  Code red!


But the ones that really surprise me--and the ones that are becoming so widespread--are the deadly allergies, which I believe are usually peanut or other nut allergies.  I won't even cook with peanut oil just in case one of my guests might be allergic.  And what is the point of such a severe allergy?  Why would so many people's bodies choose death over a peanut?  I mean, I've tried plenty of foods I hope to never encounter again, and if I had to choose between death and eating liver I might have to think about it, but it seems like having such a vicious immune system should be very, very rare....and yet it seems to be becoming more and more common.  So, my question--which needs more exploration--is why?  Could it actually be because of what we are eating, and if so, would we be willing to change our eating habits?

And in the 12th and final month of a food experiment, is it normal to get philosophical about peanuts, or have I finally cracked under the lack of cinnamon bears?

Monday, November 30, 2009

Something I Hadn't Thought About

We do not watch television.  Sometimes we watch a movie or a documentary--in fact I normally have the television on for about 30 minutes before going to sleep every night so I can knit & unwind and it helps me transition to sleep (I have always suspected that it has something to do with a study I read in college that says your brain has the exact same wave pattern when you're watching television as when you are sleeping).  Occasionally we get a wild hair, locate all the remotes, and figure out how to get the digital signal box to work with our bunny ears so we can watch something on the 4 PBS channels we now get.  Nor do we listen to the radio except for NPR or PRI.  Normally for me it's audio books--Andy does podcasts.

But every December, one of the radio stations plays all Christmas music, so we listen to the real broadcast radio in December....or until the "Dehlila" show comes on--then we sprint to the radio and shut it off.  Not that there's anything wrong with her, but if we're opting for something that sugary-sweet, we're going to be EATING it.

So what is my point?  We aren't exposed to much advertising.  My browser blocks pop-up ads, we stopped subscribing to the newspaper long ago because it's a pretty poor paper anyway, and since we never got a home phone, we don't get telephone solicitations.  We get lots of advertisements in the mail, but rather than letting it pile up in the house anywhere, we've started sorting mail AT OUR RECYCLING BIN, so we aren't bothered by them.  So, my question is:  Is it easier for us to live our little "alternative life" over here because we aren't exposed to advertising?

For a little experiment, today turn on your radio or television around 4:00 PM today.  Then, count how many food & restaurant commercials you hear or see.  Especially pizza.  [Even as I am writing this, there's an advertisement for some sort of breakfast sandwiches at Subway]  Advertising works.  I didn't realize how much it worked until being inundated with it so suddenly lately.   So, would this experiment have been harder if we actually had been exposed to more advertising???

Sunday, November 29, 2009

"Julie & Julia," Again

Today we went to see the movie Julie & Julia at the dollar theater--which incidentally is now a $3 theater, or $4 theater if you want junk food & beverage....which you know I wanted but I think the carpet might have been closer to being legal on our diet than any of the movie theater food, so $3 in our world.  Andy had not seen the movie yet, and enjoyed it so much he is downstairs in the kitchen making THE pizza crust (Julia Child's cornmeal pizza crust--sooooo recommended)

It's hard NOT to be inspired by Julia Child.  She had what I can only describe as "infectious happiness."  She seems to have approached everything--life, love, food--with a full heart and no reservations.  Is it any wonder the world loved her?

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Thanksgiving--The Aftermath

I guess it was too much to hope for to have no ill effects after Thanksgiving dinner, but I did hope for it all the same.  My optimism runneth over.....as does indigestion.   I think the roll, turkey, and the green salad with no dressing was all fine, and while we know that my stuffing didn't contain any processed ingredients, stuffing is still incredibly rich, so that might have been a bit of a shock to our mostly low-fat diets, but I think the real culprits might have been the other salads which all sported copious amounts of mayonnaise.  I don't actually care for mayo in general, and I haven't checked to see what's actually in the commercial variety (note for next trip to grocery store), but I'm guessing it's quite far on the "illegal" scale.

So....yesterday I made a broccoli soup for dinner, today for lunch I had a very large bowl of steamed peas and a few nuts for lunch, and tonight for dinner we had spaghetti squash (first baked, then sautéed with garlic, onion, one chicken Italian sausage, then sprinkled with about half a teaspoon of fresh Parmesan & salt to serve), so we're feeling "cleansed."  The good news is, my stomach has stopped hurting.  The bad news is, December--known around here as the Party Marathon Month--hasn't even started yet.  We might have to re-think our former exemption of eating whatever is served at someone else's house....or just stick as close as possible to the relish trays.

Hey, maybe this means we won't have to worry about holiday weight gain......

Friday, November 27, 2009

Black Friday

Yesterday we spent Thanksgiving with a large group of friends, and one of the traditions of this particular group is to go around the table (and as there are usually around 30 people, so this is a major part of the day) and each person says what they are thankful for.  Considering so much of what is being said and done lately, I took special note of things that WEREN'T mentioned:

*  No one gave thanks for having a large television, or an expensive car

*  No one gave thanks for the hours and hours they had spent in front of television sets in the last year

*  No one gave thanks for television commentators spreading messages of hate and advocating violence

*  No one gave thanks for the internet

*  No one gave thanks for all the time spent gossiping about others

*  No one gave thanks for giving abusive or hurtful relationships "just one more chance"

*  No one gave thanks for having said, "Not now, maybe later"

While in college, I received the best advice I have ever been given:

 Live with the end in mind.

At the end of our lives, or even at the end of the year, have we done what we will be proud to look back on? 

I think Black Friday would be the perfect time to reevaluate our lives.  Will buying all those gifts matter 5 years from now?  10?  Will anyone even have anything they buy today in 10 years. or remember them?

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Thanksgiving Eve

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving Day in America, which is supposed to symbolize the time when the Pilgrims and their Native American neighbors who had taken pity on the ill-prepared new arrivals and helped them figure out how not to starve, got together and feasted for three days.  Now, of course, with the aid of refrigeration and microwave, we can stretch the feast out even longer--usually until the very sight of turkey and stuffing makes everyone shudder.  Of course, no one ever minds having pumpkin pie for several days in a row.  Amazing how that works out......

Some things I've wondered about Thanksgiving:

*  The traditional Thanksgiving day is spent with women cooking a big feast, everyone eating, then men retiring into the living room to watch football for the rest of the day while the women do all the dishes.  WHO THOUGHT THAT PROGRAM UP????? 

*  Is it the fact that the main character might be eaten that stopped Rankin-Bass from making Thanksgiving cartoons in the 1970s?

*  If retailers had been able to come up with something catchy to sell for Thanksgiving, would we still have Black Friday?

*  How often do we have to say that "holiday calories don't count" before my thighs believe it?

*  Does it strike anyone else as odd that our tradition is to eat a whole lot and then WATCH other people play a game?


*  If Benjamin Franklin had been successful in his campaign to make the wild turkey the national bird instead of the eagle, would we still eat them on Thanksgiving and would it be illegal to do so?

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Gearing Up For Thanksgiving

This year we are joining a large group of friends for Thanksgiving, and I have volunteered to bring stuffing.  Besides being the only traditional "Thanksgiving" food that I'm truly confident of, it's probably the only one we can make "legally."  Since we're going to someone else's house, the actual meal will fall under our "when in Rome...." exception, which is basically that we can eat what is served at someone else's home, provided we don't abuse it--such as having a soda or something.  However, I do feel obligated to make sure that what I take is legal, so I have been making bread in the bread machine

to use as my stale bread, and it's now sitting out getting "stale"


And incidentally, 3 pounds of bread is a LOT of bread.

To be honest, I usually make the bread to use for stuffing as it's such a HUGE percentage of the end product.  Not that I have ever made the bread by hand--let's not get stupid here.  But some sort of bread with an actual flavor adds a lot to the stuffing.  This year I'm using a polenta-whole wheat bread--and for bread machine bread it's really quite good. 

I was hoping to be able to buy some commercial chicken stock, but even the "organic" variety has something called "autolyzed yeast extract," which violates our "unknown ingredients" rule.  Even without that, it would have been a bit sketchy anyway, because the ingredients list includes "natural" flavors, which we have learned just means the additive occurs in NATURE.  It doesn't mean it naturally occurs in CHICKEN.  We learned that the hard way with cheese.  In America, many cheeses are orange....which is sort of odd as milk is white and butter is at best yellow, so the orange color doesn't come naturally.  BUT, cheese can claim to be "all natural" even when it is an improbable shade of orange because it is colored with annatto, which is derived from a tropical plant which does exist in nature, though it has nothing whatever to do with cheese.  So, after having many unintended "cheats," we have caught on and UNLESS IT LISTS EVERY SINGLE DARN THING THAT WAS ADDED, we write it off as "illegal."

At the rate we're going, we're going to be down to just celery by the 31st........

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Along the Food Lines.....

I thought this was worth sharing:

Ten Foods That Thankfully Flopped

He's Home!!!!!!

Andy arrived home safe & sound late Friday night, and I am slowly adjusting back to non-survivalist cooking.  Aside from the leftover Indian food we had for breakfast, that is.  By Wednesday night the casserole was thankfully gone, so Thursday a friend and I went out to lunch at one of the few "legal" places around--a Mongolian Barbecue place.  I would guess some of the sauces are off limits, but I picked the simple ones, so I think I did okay.  Since we ate lunch late, I just skipped dinner entirely--which isn't really good for me, but I figured as healthy as we've been eating this year, my body could probably cut me a little slack one night.  I think the real low point might have been Friday, when I had popcorn for lunch (the real popped stuff, not microwave, and sprinkled with herbs).  I did graze on pomegranates and other fruit all week, and a few nuts whenever I got to feeling a bit light-headed, so not quite as unhealthy as it probably sounds but probably more pathetic than it actually sounds.  I was 35 when Andy & I moved in together & got married, so I did live alone for quite some time, and I swear I didn't really do such pathetic bachelorette-cooking at that time, but I really needed a break from cooking this week.

Now, on to the next challenge:  "legal" cooking for our Christmas party.  Soup night has been reasonably easy--since the soups are homemade I have control over that, and it's usually pretty easy to pick out the things that people bring that wouldn't be legal, but this will be my first attempt at a full-fledged party without "cheats."  For the birthday soirées, we used up cheats.  But, since all our friends know about our experiment by now, I thought we'd include them in a sort of play-along version.  Without telling them ahead of time, of course......:)

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

I Have Been Good!!!!

Lazy, but good.

Monday I fixed a totally-legal casserole so I could have easy leftovers and not be tempted, but 7 meals straight of the same thing will get to anybody I think, so tonight's plan was to move on to peanut butter & banana, to be followed by peanut butter and apple tomorrow

which might have worked out well if I could get the darn jar open.  Obviously, I could make my own peanut butter, but would blow the whole "as little involvement as possible" diet I seem to have adopted while Andy is gone. 

Luckily, it's a new fruit season, and two of my favorites are on--red globe grapes and

pomegranates are here!  Andy isn't a big fan as he doesn't really like any foods that are really difficult to eat, so there may or may not be some still around by the time he gets home.  But, I CAN promise him peanut butter!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Questions For The Universe

*  Why can the smoke detectors only decide they need batteries at 3:00 AM?

*  How many sweaters can I own before it becomes "obsessive?"

*  Do I do anything as fast as I seem to think I can?

*  What do cats without owners do for entertainment and why don't my cats do it?

*  How many film adaptations of Dickens's "A Christmas Carol" are there?

*  How is it possible that I found THREE matching shoes when cleaning out my closet--not just two?  Do they breed or were there two pairs and the laundry's Sock Black Hole has decided to up the ante?  

*  How many people do I have to talk to before NOT shaving one's legs becomes fashionable in America?

*  If they completely rewrite the story when converting a book to a movie, why do filmmakers even bother keeping the original title?

*  Would one find more items in a grocery store WITHOUT any unknown ingredients, or without any KNOWN ingredients?

Monday, November 16, 2009

Five Days Without a Witness.....

So......10 1/2 months into our "no processed foods" experiment, I'm fantasizing about the strangest stuff, AND I'm without a witness for 5 whole days.

Uh oh............

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Sunday Night

Tonight I'm making pizza, using the Julia Child cornmeal pizza crust recipe as usual.  I haven't yet just baked a crust and eaten it plain, but I'm not going to rule that out--it really is THAT good.  Of course, what else could one expect from Julia Child?  And.....brace yourself for a great shock.....there is no butter involved!  Who would have dreamed it was possible?  

For the sauce I have some home-canned tomatoes simmering on the stove with some spices, dehydrated bell peppers and tomatoes, and an insane amount of garlic.  Think of the craziest amount of garlic you would ever put in something and add two cloves.  I don't think anyone will want to sit next to Andy on the plane in the morning.  If garlic really does have any health properties, Andy and I will live to be 100 at this rate.


....and might end up with lots of elbow room on airplanes...........

Saturday, November 14, 2009

47 Days Left!

Yep!  Only 47 more days until we can totally & completely make ourselves ill.

Actually, we're going to have a bit of a preview next week.  Andy will be on a business trip for 5 days, and this will be the longest either of us have had to negotiate "bad" food since this experiment began.  Even my week in McCall allowed me to be pretty healthy--while not strictly "legal"--because I stayed in a condo with a kitchen.  So, And is packing antacids and raisins, and he's hoping there's a grocery store nearby. 

Eating in restaurants this year has mostly become an exercise in bravery.  There are two good, locally-owned restaurants in this area that we feel pretty confident about and which haven't caused any sort of stomach upset, but all the rest--most obviously the chains--have become a waste of calories & a cheat.  Knowing one is likely to end up in some serious pain probably doesn't do much for any restaurant, but there is a processed-food TASTE.  I know part of it is the processed food "mouth feel"--which actually I missed for several months, but there's a muted taste to the food as well.  I suppose to make food acceptable to the widest audience possible it's best to aim for an average, middle-of-the-road sort of flavor, but so far it's made the few cheats we've used on food pretty disappointing.  I've even lost interest in pizza--partly because we have discovered Julia Childs's cornmeal pizza crust recipe, partly because it's not quite as good as I remember it being....and partly because I've developed a bit of a Pavlovian response to food that makes me sick for the next 24 hours.  Amazing how that works.

I am STILL holding out hope that cinnamon bears and chocolate will be as good as I remember.....

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Wednesday

(Tuesday:  head out to a nearby farm to help a friend vaccinate her horses and haul back a load of horse manure for the garden)

Manage to sleep until 7:00 AM, in spite of the best efforts of two cats.  Jumping out of bed with eagerness is not possible when a large load of horse poop is waiting.

7:30:  suck down coffee while wondering if it wouldn't be best to not be fully awake

8:30: notice it's supposed to rain later.  Not sure what that will do to a truckload of horse manure, but bet it won't be pleasant.

8:31:  Sigh heavily, get dressed, grab the shovel and wheelbarrow.

8:35:  Feel very "empowered" to be doing the physical labor while my husband works to support us

8:40:  Secretly hope that the neighbors who keep letting their dogs out to poop on everyone else's lawn without cleaning up after them let their dogs out TODAY, thinking that having a nice smelly dog might be adequate repayment

8:45:  Wonder why, if everyone is so "into" organic gardening, we are the only ones who ever seem to shovel manure?

8:50:  Reflect that some of our friends swear that horse manure really doesn't stink

8:55:  Reflect that these friends obviously haven't spent much time with an entire load of the stuff

9:00:  Start to tire, but remember that Andy unloaded the previous loads of manure and compost by himself.  Decide to continue

9:05:  Arms starting to hurt

9:10:  Chastise oneself for not going to the gym more often and arms being a bit out of shape

9:15:  Reflect that there probably isn't an exercise to prepare one's arms for shoveling except more shoveling

9:20:  Notice it's looking a bit more like rain.  Need to work faster

9:25:  Decide friends who think horse manure doesn't stink are out of their cotton-pickin' minds

9:30:  Arms really hurting now

9:35:  Seriously regret asking the fellow loading the manure to pack it down so it wouldn't blow out.

9:40:  Start to wonder how much would look like a "good effort" before leaving the rest for Andy

9:45:  Remember that one is a "liberated woman" and "man's equal" and decide to keep shoveling--at least until it rains

9:50:  Where the hell is the promised rain?

10:00:  Decide the beds closest to the truck could really use more manure

10:05:  Decide the lawn closest to the truck also didn't get it's fair share of manure

10:10:  Discover a technique of "flinging" manure that spreads it pretty evenly across the lawn

10:15:  Discover the "flinging" technique, if done from the wrong spot, flings manure onto the hot tub.   Bless the hot tub cover and make mental note to sweep the patio around the hot tub before using it

10:20:  Arms have just about lost all feeling now.

10:25:  Decide that the women's movement probably never had shoveling manure in mind anyway.

10:30:  Where is that damn rain?

10:35:  Decide that there's a reason people buy their food instead of growing it.

10:40:  Wonder if the "organic" movement would truly accept horse manure as organic, or would one have to check what the horses have actually eaten to produce the manure to label it as "organic?"

10:41:  Can't believe one can have philosophical horse poop thoughts

10:45:  Decide that friends who don't think horse poop stinks are completely deranged and should not be trusted

10:50:  Where the *#&$% is the rain??????????

10:55:  Arms have lost all feeling, 90% of the manure is unloaded, and the remaining amount is too far in the bed to reach.  Decide it's time to "share" the experience with my taller spouse.

11:00:  Sprint to the house and take a 30-minute shower to make sure no trace of the horse poop has survived.  Loofah until 3 pounds of skin have been shed.

11:35:  Wonder if it's too early for pajamas.........

Monday, November 9, 2009

A Salt By Any Other Name....

I have long been in the habit of buying roasted sunflower kernels from the bulk bins--usually mixing salted and unsalted--to sprinkle on salads or whatever, and we've been doing it this year as well.  Sunflower kernels and salt--that's legal, right?

Turns out, it isn't.  This week the label was changed slightly to:

   sunflower kernels and salt (salt, tricalcium phosphate, yellow prussiate of soda)

Now I vaguely remember from chemistry that there are a whole bunch of things that can be labeled as "salt," but I rather assumed that the food industry had largely agreed that salt is sodium chloride, or perhaps calcium chloride in a bit of a stretch.  Time for a bit of research.

It turns out that tricalcium phosphate is an anticaking agent used in spices, and yellow prussiate of soda is an anticaking agent used in road & food grade salt.  So we've probably been consuming yellow prussiate of soda all year, and I'd guess we've had a fair bit of tricalcium phosphate as well.

Okay.  By all the terms of this experiment of ours, both of those things would be "illegal" because we didn't know what they were.  I think I probably sort of knew about the anticaking agent--or something--being added to table salt because when you can, recipes specifically ask for pickling salt because it is the purest, although we've had salt for so long one just really sort of thinks of it as just an ingredient--not something that might have ingredients.  Now that we know, things are a bit different, so we'll be switching to pickling salt for the rest of the year to keep us "legal." 

That will teach me to take anything for granted in this experiment.....

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Toast

So 10+ months into this, and it has become my considered opinion that if it involves homemade bread, toast really is a meal in itself.....even if it IS for 5 meals in a row........

Friday, November 6, 2009

What Happens to Health Insurance Premiums? - ABC News

What Happens to Health Insurance Premiums? - ABC News


Hm......I wonder why the insurance industry is spending so much to defeat health care reform.....

Bake Us This Day Our Daily Bread

At the risk of being labeled a food heathen, I didn't think the Julia Child bread really had much flavor--and I swear I'm not just sore that it took almost the whole day.  Well, maybe a little....

Julia does, however, explain a lot about making bread so I decided to take my new knowledge and apply it to my favorite bread recipe--Sourdough Honey Oatmeal.

I have been working on this recipe for about 10 years, and I had arrived at a really great flavor but I was still having trouble with the texture.  Time to bring in....JULIA.

As normal, I mixed a cup of starter

from the dreadful-looking sponge that lives in my fridge.  Sourdough is just a live yeast culture, and by mixing a cup of the starter with warm water & flour and setting it in a warm place to ferment overnight


otherwise known as a food dehydrator in our house, a new sponge is created and ready for use the next day.  To replenish the starter, you put one or two cups of the new sponge into the old one & it can last indefinitely.  Of course, it only works if you NEVER put anything but flour and water into it. 


In the recipe, there's a preliminary rise when the dough is still pretty thin, and until now I had been putting the oatmeal in during this stage, but I think gluten strands should be forming here, so I decided to add 2 cups of whole wheat bread flour.  Bread flour has a higher protein content, which makes is a high gluten flour....which helps it form gluten strands.  (Thank you, Julia).  The original recipe called for oatmeal and white flour, but I had been experimenting to see how much whole wheat flour I could substitute, so I think I was probably causing gluten problems.  It's hard to say exactly because sourdough is often used with rye flour to compensate for its lack of gluten (according to my research--not me), so the long fermentation does help build gluten strands.  Anyway....

I formed the dough into loaves ala Julia, and even flung some water into the oven when I first added the loaves.  Not that I expected it to do much for bread in bread pans....I just like the flinging water part.

Roughly an hour later......

they came out looking great, smelling fabulous, and.......

had a nice, chewy texture AND all the great flavor of the original.  WHOO HOO!!!!  A cooking experiment that worked the first time.  Someone call Ripley!!!!

"High spending but lagging quality"

This is an interesting article that came out today:

http://news.yahoo.com/s/afp/healthusdisease

According to this article, the US spends TWICE as much as other countries such as the United Kingdom, France, and Germany....you know, those countries with that "dangerous" socialized medicine.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Real Porn For Women

Today's mail just arrived, and it seems that our postal carrier has figured out TRUE porn for women:


catalogs for pajamas, wine & chocolate, and yarn.

And they say men don't understand women......

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Needing To Get My Act Together

Toni, last night:

Feeling on-top of everything, decides to mix up some nonfat yogurt and dehydrated dates for a breakfast dish she discovered a few months ago.  Mixes thoroughly, and puts it in the fridge.

Toni, this morning before coffee:

Totally forgetting everything, she opens the refrigerator and sees a Rubbermade bowl with white stuff.  Takes it out, asking, "What on earth is this muck?"

Lesson number 1 learned today:  My night & morning selves don't communicate at all, and forcing them to leave notes for each other might not be a bad idea.

Lesson number 2 learned today:  food tastes better if you haven't just referred to it as "muck."

Monday, November 2, 2009

We've Got Garlic!

Next year's garlic crop has been planted!

Last year I ordered the planting stock (as garlic that you can actually plant seems to be called) very late so my order was basically "whatever you have left that would be easy to grow."  That translated into Polish White and Susanville varieties.  It turns out both are "softneck" garlic types, which didn't make sense to me until I was planting this year's "sampler pack."  This


is a "hardneck" garlic--which means it has a big stick-thing in the middle of the head & cloves growing around it.  As it also turns out, only hardneck garlic grows "scapes," which I'll show you pictures of when they actually grow.  Other bloggers were talking about all the things they were doing with their scapes last year (my favorite being Rachel's idea for garlic pesto--doesn't that just sound wonderful?), and I kept checking my garlic and wondering what the heck I was doing wrong.  (With gardening, always go with the most likely problem)  IT TURNS OUT IT WASN'T ME!!!!  Truly, this made my day.

Our sampler pack contained 8 types of garlic, but since there was exactly one CLOVE--not one HEAD--of elephant garlic, and some of the hardneck garlic heads had a whopping 4 cloves, so it's less garlic than it sounds.  Garlic likes nitrogen in the soil, so I left some space in-between the rows to plant peas early this spring.  (Peas are a legume, so they add nitrogen back into the soil).

I recently read that garlic will adapt to the environment & planting conditions, so I decided to plant a little Susanville from this year as well.....but of course that first meant figuring out which ones were Susanville.  The pack came with a head of Polish White

which is purple and not actually white, so I'm not sure about the naming, but at least I could go to our supply of garlic and look for ones that didn't look like this.  The problem has been that both types are slightly purple, so I think they look pretty much the same, but I found two

that I thought looked different, so we have two "mystery garlic" rows.

This year I did make a careful map of where I planted the cloves & how many, so I'm hoping I can tell the difference this year.  I'm pretty confident on the elephant garlic, but not so positive of the rest.......Now if I can just not lose my map before next summer......

Friday, October 30, 2009

Doin' It The Hard Way...

Which could actually be a subtitle for my blog, don't you think?

I decided to make bread this week.  Not just any bread--I've made bread for years, though not on a really regular basis.  Julia Child's bread. 

I had borrowed the library's copy of this

and after trying her cornmeal pizza crust, I had to order a copy for us before I could return it.  Crazy to spend $50 on a cookbook for just one recipe, you say?  You didn't try the pizza crust.  Amazing stuff.  I think we've had pizza once a week ever since.  However, I decided that since there are more than just 2 pages and one recipe in this book, maybe I should try a second recipe.  So I picked the whole wheat bread.

It is actually a 2-day process, because in a 4-cup measuring cup

(which she is VERY specific about), you mix up water, yeast, and sugar and set it in a warm place overnight.  Andy was a bit disgruntled to learn that I will turn the heat up for a yeast sponge but not for him, but the sponge doesn't get handmade sweaters, so I think it all evens out. 

Why does it specifically have to be a 4-cup measuring cup, you might ask?  No idea.  Yesterday, I ended up with this

so it isn't a matter of it overflowing, but I think the whole point is to make it easier to pour the liquid through the hole in a food processor lid.  Julia is kind enough to provide instructions for mixing it up in a food processor, though I'm guessing it's a pretty good way to kill off a food processor or two. I got it all combined without killing ours (barely),  then it was time for the first rising.  Julia says the French don't grease the bowl that the dough will rise in. 

That's fine, but then the French need to come up with a good way to get the darn dough back OUT of the bowl once it has risen.  Rise number two got a little spritz of olive oil

I'm not saying the French are wrong on this one, but how far do I really want to trust people who think snails are a delicacy?  (Not that I haven't had escargot, but every time I've had it, it was just a butter & garlic delivery device, and while I can appreciate THAT part, couldn't it be something a bit less slimy?) 

The next step was to form the dough into a sort of cushion, pinching the ends together to seal

which was actually a lot tougher than it sounds.  I had to do a lot of pinching before it would finally stick together and I still ended up with a bit of a hole.  THEN

it was time for a THIRD rising, tucked between two "lightly floured" towels.  I've never floured a towel before, so I'm not quite clear on how much is "lightly floured" and how much is "heavily floured," so I just aimed for "slightly-less-flour-than-is-on-my-shirt-by-now." 

The really exciting step was when I slid it onto the hot baking stone and--per Julia's instructions--threw 1/2 cup of water into the bottom of the electric oven.  I get the whole steam idea, but I did struggle to get past the whole "water + electric heating element = bad idea" prejudice I seem to have acquired.  Of course, Julia was right and there were no explosions, fires, or other disasters, and I believe the oven still works--though it's going to be a few days before I go near it again.

Another two hours later......

The crust is a little bit darker than it should be, but since the baking directions are completely vague & "when it feels light" doesn't really cut it when there are options like turn down to 400, then to 375 for large loaves but without the "when" detail, I was just pleased that it even resembled bread.

Earlier this year I was scoffing at the idea of paying $5.00 a loaf for "artisan" breads at the Farmer's Market, but now I have an entirely new appreciation of their price. 

I would have charged $1000.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

On The Good Side.....

....it's now cold enough to plant garlic. 

On the bad side, it actually went streaking right past "cold enough" to 32 degrees.  Brrrrrrrr!

And You Thought It Was Confusing BEFORE.....

The other day I added quinoa to some black bean quisedillas I was making.  I had heard that it was supposed to be a really healthy grain, and I thought I'd sneak a little in.  (First rule of cooking in Toni's world:  If it's got a little liquid and a reasonably strong flavor, it's a great place to add something healthy)

The quiesedillas turned out pretty well, and just to verify what I thought I knew about quinoa--basically that it was good for you and that it had quite a bit of protein for a grain--so I did a little Google search.

The problem with the internet is that Google can't really distinguish between the website of places that do research, or fact-check, or have some connection to reality and those run by some guy named Bubba sitting at his computer in the basement of his mother's house wearing his tin-foil hat to protect his brain from alien brain scans.  I always try to pick domain names that look like they belong to something credible.  So, when I searched on "quinoa nutrition facts," I turned up a plausible sounding website called NutritionData.com.  Okay, that seemed reasonable enough, so I clicked on the link.

I don't doubt their research, or their accuracy--I just don't really know what the heck they are talking about.  Amino acid score?  Weren't we having enough trouble just figuring out calories?  Not that someone, somewhere might not need this information, but this is not info for the normal consumer.  Most of us are really American Bandstand-type nutritionists.  ("Thanks Dick.  It's got a good crunch, I can still dance after eating it.....I'd give it a 6")  Too much information is just confusing.

A little more digging around, and I found my answer:  YES, it is good for you--it has protein.  And it can be used as a substitute for white rice or couscous....or snuck into anything else that your spouse doesn't see you making.

I think I'd give it a 7......

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Just What Did He Think He Was Buying?

So for my birthday my sister gave me a subscription to Mother Earth News, which is a magazine devoted to growing your own food, living off the land, etc. We are loving it—and learning a lot about why some things haven’t worked as well as we had hoped.  This issue has articles on planting fall cover crops (done on one bed--I still need to do the others), planting garlic (YAY!), cooking with applesauce (YUM!) and growing veggies in the winter (you know I'm going to).


October/November issue just arrived, and as I was flipping through the pages, the following letter heading caught my eye: Hates Our “Wacko Spew.” Okay, who wouldn’t be intrigued? A subscriber—SUBSCRIBER--wrote the following in a letter:


“I tend to ‘throw up’ in my mouth just a little more each and every time I read your wacko ‘save the Earth’ spew.” 

He goes on to assert that there is "no such thing as man-made global warming," and asks, "Did a bunch of liberal hippies overtake your headquarters?"

Okay, first of all--thanks for the icky visual.  I don't think we really needed that.  Secondly, IF HE HATES THE MAGAZINE, WHY DOES HE CONTINUE TO READ IT--AND SUBSCRIBE?  Third, it's called "Mother Earth News."  Don't you think that might mean it would be about being environmentally friendly???  Wouldn't you love to know what he thought the magazine would be about--updates from the mother ship/planet???????  I mean, I could understand if it was called "Mother Earth--That Crazy B*tch" or something.  Then it might not be quite so obvious. But Mother Earth--don't you just get an image of Mama Cass in a mu-mu singing about California dreaming?

Meanwhile, little "Wacko" that I am, I'm off to stir our "wacko" compost bin, plant our "wacko" garlic, and spread a little "wacko" mulch. Then later I'll sit down with a cup of hot coffee and read the rest of my "wacko" magazine....

Monday, October 26, 2009

Martha

Last year you might remember I decided to do a "month of Martha," where I pretended to be Martha Stewart except without the staff & the money.  The idea behind my experiments is generally to learn something, but mostly what I learned that month is that it stinks to be Martha without the staff and the money.  I still have a few aspirations, so I get Martha's email newsletters for organizational tips, crafting tips, and seasonal tips, though I have to admit I still don't know if I really like Martha Stewart. 

On the one hand, I can truly admire the woman's business sense.  She started out as a caterer, and has now built an empire.  That's impressive. 

The thing that makes it difficult (besides her insistence on the "perfect" way to do everything) is that Martha and I do not live in the same universe.  Four years ago when I was planning our wedding, I actually borrowed a Martha wedding DVD from the library.  In it, Martha explained how to make a great centerpiece out of a $5000 wheel of cheese. 

First, THERE IS SUCH A THING AS A FIVE THOUSAND DOLLAR WHEEL OF CHEESE.  Now I'm sure that it was fabulous cheese, but I was stunned nevertheless.  Then Martha used it as a decoration. 

In my universe, if $5000 is involved with cheese in any way, it's because I have decided to buy some cows for the back yard and milk them myself.  Not that I'm saying buying a $5000 wheel of cheese is wrong--I'm just not in that sort of world.  I mean, if I found an extra $5000 laying around cheese just isn't going to be my first thought.  Of course in my world, if I found an extra $5000 I'd have to call the bank and ask whose money they had mistakenly deposited in our account.  But I digress. 

In our universe, money is a real consideration.  In doing some research for this year, I've located several books from different decades--some cookbooks, some household management--and so far I've noticed that having to survive on a budget and admitting that one needed to live within that budget seems to have been pretty common during much of our history.  I think we're getting better, but during the 1990s especially it seemed like admitting that one couldn't afford something was to be some sort of failure.  I know I certainly went out with friends for more than one or two meals which I seriously couldn't afford (well, without surviving on cup-a-soup for the next month) because EVERYBODY could afford such things.  Of course, now it turns out that EVERYBODY was racking up debt. It turns out, we were just pretending that money & budgets didn't matter. 

When I first lost my job & decided to not look for a new one immediately, I decided I had to get serious about budgets & meal planning and discovered that even as careful as I thought I was about money, I had no idea what I was doing.  I'd buy groceries that we ended up not using, I didn't always think about ways to use leftovers or overlapping ingredients, and I was buying more than we needed for the week.  I checked out articles online that promised a week's worth of inexpensive dinners, and the menus for one week would have blown our food budget for the entire month.  Or the money saving articles were all centered around us living in the mountains, building our home from old soda cans and tires that we collected along the roadside, somehow locating free solar panels, and living somewhere that there wasn't a ban on wood-burning stoves in the winter.  So my question is, what about the rest of us?

I am certainly getting better by now, and I have learned a lot about meal planning and shopping, but what about people who DON'T want to put themselves through some sort of cooking boot camp?  I'm spending a lot of time at the library lately looking for cookbooks that feature healthy and reasonably inexpensive foods WITHOUT a bunch of processed foods, and so far I'm not finding much.  There are budget-conscious cookbooks, but so far all the ones I've seen are spectacularly unhealthy and the healthy cookbooks all call for ingredients we can't have (besides the fact that I'm no longer convinced that the "low-cal," low-fat," or "lite" foods are a good idea) or the meals are pretty spendy.   So far, I don't think this is a category that exists.  Why is that?

And have I just found next year's project.......? 

Friday, October 23, 2009

New Lesson Learned Today

Just because it was 2 full cups of zucchini when you put it IN the freezer, don't think it's going to be 2 full cups of zucchini when you take it OUT of the freezer.  More like 3/4 of a cup.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Just Over Two Months Left!!!!

I thought that I was getting better at being able to plan meals and stay organized, but it turns out that it was really only because of the garden out the back door.  Now it's back to being a bit of a struggle to keep on top of what I have decided is our highly-overrated need to eat regularly.  Yesterday I sat down with my calendar, a menu planner, and several cookbooks to see if I could figure out meal plans for the next two months, and was instantly reminded why I haven't been using cookbooks this year:

We can't use many of the ingredients.

Believe it or not, the "healthy" cookbooks are the worst.  The healthy "alternative" ingredients--even tofu--are completely off limits this year.  Not that I've exactly been losing sleep over not getting tofu or anything--let's not be silly here--but I did think I might be able to use those cookbooks. 

I thought it might help to keep a spreadsheet of all my canning efforts this year, and I think it will in general, but it's not much help with meal planning.  I mean, I KNOW we have pickles and salsa.  I don't need to look that up.  What would help is a list of things to DO with the pickles and salsa--and preferably not together. 

Thank heavens we both like soup, so if I make soup once a week from now until the end of the year, that will give us a few meals each week (leftovers are a HUGE part of our lives this year), and between the bread machine and myself, I think I could make bread once a week for two months, which means we can have peanut butter and jelly sandwiches regularly (and I can assure you that this year I have already eaten more of the darn things this year than I have the rest of my adult life combined), and we try to rotate in salmon, shrimp, and steak to provide some variety in protein, but I am counting the days until I can have a normal deli sandwich--you know, the sliced ham, turkey, or roast beef (all of which have injections or ingredients that make them off limits this year) ones that you pay an outrageous amount for at the deli counter.  Of course, we've learned to be bread & mustard snobs this year, so I don't want to go OUT for a sandwich--I just want the capacity to make my own.

I think I've gotten used to not drinking diet soda, and now that I have Julia Childs's pizza crust recipe, commercial pizza is dull and uninteresting, but I'll be glad to have olives back in our lives.  We're still going to avoid high fructose corn syrup as much as possible, though I might cave once in a while just to be able to use Worcestershire sauce or spicy Italian sausage occasionally.  And Grape Nuts for breakfast!  I fantasize about such things now........:)

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Never A Dull Moment....

So Andy and I are learning Italian together in preparation for a future trip to Italy when he turns 50, so today he sent me the following for Italian practice:

"Pinguini mangiato le mie mutande"

which (we think) means "Penguins ate my underwear."

So you can see we're learning the most useful phrases first.....

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Things I've Learned This Week

*  "Quick" lunches were a lot easier when it was warm enough to have yogurt smoothies on a regular basis.

*  Not everyone bakes a "stringy" spaghetti squash, which is probably good news if you don't have a pot of spaghetti sauce waiting for it.

*  Every time I think humans have reached an all-time-low, there's a "Reality TV" show just waiting to prove me wrong.

*  Asking people what his or her favorite books are is a great way to find some new authors. 

*  The idea of going out to get a truckload of manure for the garden was a much more sellable idea BEFORE we knew it would probably be fresh and steaming.

*  Petunias are a very determined flower.  I have petunias coming up now that I didn't even plant.  That's my kind of flower!

*  If you feel the need to make sweeping statements on Facebook about "all" of any group, I'm probably going to feel the need to "de-friend" you.  

*  It's hard not to feel a bit unloved when you don't even get "occupant" letters in the mail.  Not to mention a bit shocked.

*  It would be hard to say which I am most able to overestimate--the speed at which I can knit, or the speed at which I can read books.  Currently, I think I have enough on both my lists for the next 85 years......

*  For creatures that spend 15-20 hours a day napping, it's amazing how little sleep the cats seem to think I need. 

*  Just because it's a fall-flowering plant, apparently one shouldn't actually think their mum plant is going to have flowers in the fall. 

*  I don't know if it makes the neighbors feel better to see us out putting stuff on our lawn so it won't always look terrible, or if they wonder why our lawn looks like crap when we keep putting so much stuff on it.

*  I will never actually enjoy yardwork, but being outsmarted by the weeds every year does actually make it a bit of a "thrill-of-the-challenge" sort of thing.

*  I found some onion seeds which are supposed to be planted in the fall to produce some great onions the following season.  If I could remember where I put the seed packet, that would be even more exciting.

The New Additions

Shortly after moving, we had to put our oldest cat down, so we have adopted 2 new kittens to keep Theo company: Mostly Theo is not thr...