Saturday, January 31, 2009

Day 31 - The End of the First Month

We're one month into our little experiment, and so far we've learned

* Strangely, being allowed small bits of chocolate cake on a regular basis in no way makes up for the lack of Diet Pepsi

* No matter how much we both miss diet soda, we've each only had it as a "cheat" once. Our cheats are usually reserved for white chocolate martinis

* Many people are concerned about their health, but not generally concerned enough to change their diet.

* When planning for this year, we didn't think about dining at other people's houses. We're still debating whether to just assume these are a "cheat" or exempt them from our strange little experiment.

* Once you read the ingredients list on lowfat cottage cheese, you wouldn't want to eat it anyway

* We only get one body, and yet we really haven't paid very close attention to what we were putting into our bodies until now. Sure, I've always tried to eat "healthy," but never stopped to think about the nutritional value of food so altered from its natural state that it can be put into shelf-stable containers.

* Sometimes I read food labels in the stores out of sheer morbid curiosity. Like for Velveeta.

* Does it strike anyone else as a bit crazy that in the most powerful nation in the world, most of us couldn't actually feed ourselves for more than a couple months at most?

* Foods in their natural state are actually a lot cheaper, but things made from them aren't. The ice cream most likely to not contain chemicals or additives will be the most expensive.

* Haagen-Dazs makes a chocolate peanut butter ice cream with NO artificial or unidentifiable ingredients--bless them!

* People were probably a whole lot healthier before anyone found ways to produce cheap sugar.

* With all the problems with salmonella found in food coming from Mexico and the recent peanut problems here in the US, I feel a sense of relief that we have grown so much of our own food in the last year, and buy our food from companies with VERY strict quality standards, like Costco. Food choices shouldn't be about getting the most food for the least amount of money. They should be about health and safety.

* Having a small chest freezer in the garage has made this experiment MUCH easier, and was probably the best $200 I've ever spent

* If you don't open any of your canning efforts until January, it's hard to curb your enthusiasm for the upcoming garden. Sure, it's all been fabulous, but if we had tried some of the salsas in September I might still remember how much work 8 tomato plants were, and would not now be considering 10-12 of the things.

* Do not can pizza sauce in half-pint jars if your favorite part of the pizza is actually the sauce. Full pints would have been much better.

* If your friends find out you have jars and jars of blueberry-honey-nutmeg jam, you may find yourself receiving FAR more invitations to come over for brunch.

* All recipes started out as somebody's experiment, though few of theirs seem to be green.

* A few cooking magazines cater to budget-conscious cooking without hurting their image. The rest have to call it "Southern Style Cooking"

* We have some really strange eating habits in America. Th other day I was in line at the grocery store behind a woman buying all sorts of "diet" packaged food--slim fast shakes, weight watcher cookies and brownies, lean cuisine pizza--and not a single fruit or vegetable.

* They may look small, but sugar pumpkins produce an amazing amount of pumpkin puree. Be prepared for a week of pumpkin or to freeze some.

* Everyone is talking about the "healthcare" problem in America, but no one is talking about the "health" problem in America, even though 66% of Americans are overweight.

* Butternut squash doesn't last as long as pumpkin. I'm not sure how long they actually last in storage, but it's something shorter than 4 months

* I still have no idea what to do with the pumpkin pickles.

* Dinner guests don't actually need to be aware of our little experiment, though it's best to stick to actual recipes for guests. Green food is a tough sell.

* Starting the second month is much less frightening than starting the first month was

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Day 28 - Swedish Meatball-ish Casserole

I have decided that I can cook from a recipe once in a while, but last night wasn't one of them.

Earlier in the day, I had taken out a small package of hamburger from the freezer. At the beginning of the month, I stocked up on several types of allowable meats--salmon, shrimp, pork chops, roasts (beef and pork), steaks, chicken breasts, ground beef, hot & mild Italian sausages, one ham (which took the most time as so many are injected with all sorts of unrecognizable things), and a small amount of Basque chorizo sausage. (Obviously, this would not be possible if we didn't have a chest freezer in the garage.) It looked a bit like we had joined the Adkins diet craze, and it did really skew the grocery tally for this month, but if one isn't going to eat processed foods, one is going to have to cook, and one can't cook without ingredients on hand.

So, I had purchased a 5.76 pound package of ground beef for $17.24 ($2.99/pound) at Costco. I divided it up into 8-0z. packages, which we are treating as 2-4 servings (no sense getting fat or blowing up our cholesterol levels this year). I cooked the meat with half of an onion and a few cloves of garlic, then cooked 1/2 a cup of barley in some salt water, added a little flour and nutmeg to the meat, then added a little water to make a sauce of sorts, then stirred in the barley to cook until most of the liquid had evaporated (and by the way, when it says on the barley package to mix 6 parts water to one part barley, they are out of their minds. Maybe try 4 to 1). I seasoned it with salt, pepper, and a little more nutmeg, and voila!OK, it tasted better than it looks here. So, budget-wise:
ground beef - $1.50
half an onion - 75 cents?
barley - 50 cents (might be on the high side, but I did buy it at Albertsons, which is about double anywhere else)
flour, spices, salt, pepper - $1

That gives us 4 servings at 94 cents a serving. Hey, we have a "dollar menu!"

Another Fun Memory

This is from my birthday last year--a group of friends went with us to our favorite restaurant--Taj Mahal in Boise. If you haven't yet been there, the butter chicken is fabulous.

Andy is already working on big plans for my 40th birthday, but that won't be for another couple years, so we'll have to wait and see what he has planned.....

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Day 27 - Have You Ever Thought Very Much About Tortillas?

So, we buy flour tortillas and keep them in the freezer to use for tacos or Mexican lasagna or fajitas. Do they have any flavor of their own? Not really. Do they really have any nutritional value? No. Do they have calories? You betcha. What do they actually contain? I have no idea--we buy the whole wheat ones thinking they must be healthier, and the list of ingredients is 13 lines long--10 of which might be written in a foreign language for all I know. That's a lot of unknown substances for something we're eating as only because it holds other food. Now it's possible that the regular ones contain only flour, water, and lard--which would technically qualify, but that grosses me out. So, in order to have fajitas last night, Andy made "tortillas" out of the sponge from the five minute bread book. In all honesty, they were really more like pitas than anything else as yeast tends to rise--except when maybe you want it to--but they still worked. I don't know if that still makes what we had "fajitas"--especially since there was no sour cream or guacamole--but maybe he invented a Mexican gyro?

One doesn't quibble about technicalities on this experiment. If it's edible and allowed, it works.

A Fun Little Memory

Monday, January 26, 2009

Day 26 - We're Going Out For Pizza Wednesday!!!

We'll be having nasty, greasy, artery-clogging pizza on Wednesday, so that means we need to each have an available "cheat" by then. Otherwise, I'd be drinking a Diet Pepsi right now. I made ugly green sandwiches again, well, sort of again, because they are along the same lines as the previous ugly green sandwich, but I can't remember exactly what I did before. This one is good, and still looks like someone put Oscar the Grouch in a food processor, but it's different. And it would be better with a Diet Pepsi. MUCH better.

Almost a month into the experiment, we're finding it's best to not use up the second and final "cheat" of the week too soon, as it's fun to have an end-of-the-week white chocolate martini on Friday or Saturday night. So, if Wednesday is the first "cheat," there will still be martinis on Saturday. If it's the last "cheat," no martini.

This is what occupies the mind in the 4th week of our experiment.

Back Into High Social Gear

Every December, I have about 10 Christmas parties to go to, lunches, brunches, a few holiday birthdays, and just general holiday cheer, and by December 31, I'm exhausted. (I don't even remember the last time I agreed to go to a New Year's Eve party.) So every year for about 2-3 weeks in January, I don't see anyone. No one is invited over, I don't go anywhere--it's just Recovery Time.

Last week this year's Recovery Time ended with a bang--a friend came over for dinner on Thursday--and we had each saved up a "cheat" so we could serve white chocolate martinis, Saturday night we went to the Boise Philharmonic for their "The Passion of Joan of Arc" concert, and last night some friends had us over for dinner--which quite sportingly was made without processed foods :). Today I have some invitations to answer, a few to return, and we're back into high gear.

Choosing to take a year off after losing my job at the end of September has definitely meant we have less money, but in many ways we have never been happier. In October we had several celebratory dinner parties and in November we visited several friends in New York
and New Jerseywhere we attempted a Baked Alaska. We were gone for 8 days, and had I still been working, I wouldn't have felt like I could take that much time off, and we would have missed a wonderful time. And what would we have done with the money I made in that time frame? Probably spent it on processed foods because we were both busy and didn't have time to cook. :)

So, what have we actually had to give up?
* Eating out except on special occasions.
* Netflix. We now exclusively use the library, which we were already using anyway and that our tax dollars already support
* Buying food we "might" use that just ends up going to waste in the refrigerator
* buying lettuce in bags, which doesn't keep as long anyway
* it will probably take us an extra year or two to save up every time we want to buy a piece of furniture

What have we gained?
* Eating out less has already improved our health. We'll see what no processed foods does
* The library has lots of groups and activities that we pay more attention to now
* We're eating better and learning more because we're cooking more
* Time to spend together, to spend with friends, and to read or pursue hobbies
* The ability to entertain more often
* A slower, more relaxed life.

I was born during the era of the women's movement and the Equal Rights Amendment campaign, so I FIRMLY believe in a woman's right to pursue a career and do everything men do, and believe me, if I was doing this because there were no other options open to me, I wouldn't be at all happy to be cooking or anything else, but I don't think we can gain things without giving up other things. I don't really believe that women working has contributed to divorce rates--I think that overlooks too many other factors--but I do wonder if Americans were more apt to socialize when both spouses weren't working, or do we have television to thank for the tendency of most people to go home and spend the evening with the TV instead of friends. Were we healthier when one person was actually in charge of food and nutrition and had the time to cook, or would 64% of Americans be overweight by now regardless. I think it's too dangerous to wonder if people were happier, because we tend to rewrite history and ignore the problems, but were we more connected? I once had some friends from India who were living here in the US for a few years, and they though America must be one of the loneliest places in the world to live because we had big houses with few people in them and rarely saw others except during work. I have always found that interesting.

So, I am off to continue coordinating our social schedule. I'm booking March and April now......:)

January - 3 Years Ago

Three years ago this month, Andy asked me to marry him.
Maybe by our tenth wedding anniversary, the obsessed ex wife will quit reading my blog.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Day 23 - We Have Vegetable Stock!

Today I finally got 14 cups of vegetable stock made, so at least I'll be ready for the next Soup Night. It's easy to forget how much salt is in canned broth until one makes a stock with no salt whatsoever. I've never made vegetable stock before, so we'll see how we like it. This was the starting blockso I'm guessing it will be pretty darn good. And might repel vampires.

Hm, wonder if it would work on obsessed ex wives.........?

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Day 21 - Do You Ever Fantasize About Pizza?

As FABULOUS as the pork roast is, and in spite of the fact that we will be having the leftovers for dinner tonight, I have been fantasizing all afternoon about pizza. Not the healthy, allowable pizza we can actually make, but the thick crust, canned sauce, artery-clogging processed-meat-laden kind that's covered in processed cheese food or whatever most restaurants use. I realize it would probably completely shock my system by now, but good heavens, I'd love some right now!

To be fair, I have found allowable Italian sausage, but as unhealthy as it is, I love pepperoni AND sausage pizza. Besides my serious doubts that pepperoni in any form would make it through our rules (not even probably number 1: no unrecognizable ingredients), I just don't think I'm prepared to seriously explore what goes into pepperoni in the first place. Sort of a "better off not knowing" sort of thing. So, it will be leftovers tonight.

I'm trying to use a variety of foods, and especially proteins, so for lunch I made a casserole consisting of eggs, potatoes, spinach, onions, celery, and garlic. It was a bit bland, but it had possibilities as a "I'm trying to find a tolerable way to eat eggs" sort of food. I have never liked eggs--probably exacerbated by growing up on a cattle ranch where hot breakfasts were assumed to be best for us--and for years fed my breakfast eggs to the dog. I'm not sure what that did for the dog's overall health, but my cholesterol is off the lower end of the charts so it might have done wonders for me. Still, I think they're probably good for us in moderation--like all things.

Hm, think that covers greasy pizza as well.........?

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Day 20 - To Celebrate We Brought Out the Heavy Artillery

There were so many things to celebrate today:

* The first black man becoming President of the United States (and I use the term "black" instead of "African-American" because I can be called "white"--really pasty white actually, but that's another story. I cannot be called a Nordic-American or mutt-American, so I don't think that's a fair or equal label)

* The end of George Junior's "we're going to do what we want and to hell with the people who didn't vote for us and the rest of the world" attitude

* We elected a president who didn't use scare tactics to win ("evil-doers," "axis of evil"). We elected a president who is willing to admit the problems and still provide a message of hope

* There were people watching the inauguration who would have experienced the Jim Crow laws and the bigotry in America's past and who lived to see today.

* We have a president who doesn't owe either political party a damn thing.

* Having a president who inspires the world can only be a good thing

* President Obama is organizing a bipartisan cabinet, possibly the first since Lincoln?

* The youngest voters participated, cared, and VOTED in this election. Hurrah for them!!!

And to celebrate, Andy fixed one of our favorite recipes--a pork sirloin roast cooked with a mushroom, fennel, and garlic coating (which I am linking to because you simply HAVE to try this). YUM! And even better, there are leftovers!!!!

And in big news: Thursday night we have our first Year-Without-Processed-Foods dinner guest! Granted, he doesn't actually know about our little experiment, but how much information do we really need to include on invitations.....?

Thought For the Day

What is causing the most excitement, the first black president of the Unites States or the official end of Bush Junior's presidency?

Monday, January 19, 2009

Day 19 - Living On The Edge

So last night we got really crazy and had cookies & cream martinis (sort of a cross between chocolate martinis & white chocolate martinis), which leaves us only one cheat each the rest of the week. It's a bit scary to do that early on, but we were feeling wild.

Last night I fixed a chicken/vegetable/rice dish using every fresh vegetable we had, Balti spice from Penzeys, and jasmine rice because I just didn't think ahead enough to bother with brown rice. It turned out really well, and we had the leftovers tonight. I will say, we're certainly eating healthier than we ever have--even if we did split a piece of chocolate cake with our afternoon coffee. Unless it's a fruit or vegetable, there's nothing we can just grab and eat without thinking, which saves us both from lots of extra calories.

We continue to enjoy the sourdough oatmeal bread each morning for breakfast--Andy topping it with the homemade spiced blueberry jam (nutmeg, honey, and blueberries--it's excellent), though I prefer mine with just butter--margarine being totally off limits. We've gotten pretty good with the breadmaker (thank heavens we have it--this would be a really long year otherwise), but regular homemade bread is still far better.

AND.....Andy made fresh pasta which we had with the pasta sauce I canned this fall, and it was really quite good. We now know that if the noodles aren't dried so that none of them overlap each other we sort of have to get an "average" of al dente, but we're off to a promising start! Our first pasta was just made with white flour as that was what we have, but when I finally locate semolina flour, we'll try that as well. I'm not a fan of the Adkins diet at all, but I will say that when carbohydrates are no longer as easy to come by, one does eat them more sparingly. Which is best for us anyway.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Day 18 - Sweet Sunday!

Sunday is already my favorite day in our experiments, because our week starts over on Sunday, and I have two "cheats" ahead of me. What will it be? Diet soda? White chocolate martini? Pretzels? The possibilities make me positively giddy!

Thursday night I dug out my sourdough starter from the fridge and set two "sponges" out to ferment overnight. Sourdough is a very interesting cooking experiment. It's thought to have developed in Egypt purely by accident--some airborne yeast settling into some flour--and is assumed to be the first leavened bread. It was quite popular among prospectors during the Alaskan gold rush--prospectors were often referred to as "sourdoughs." It lives in the fridge and I feed it regularly. It does not require walks, but it has to be somewhere warm to become active.

Friday morning I returned a cup of starter from each "sponge" back to the "mother sponge," and we enjoyed sourdough pancakes for breakfast (with REAL maple syrup and REAL butter for Andy--I eat mine plain), then I made sourdough honey oatmeal bread--a recipe I've been perfecting and tweaking for about 8 years now. It's such good bread that Friday night I just had two pieces of plain bread for dinner. Store-bought bread has preservatives added, so unless we make bread, we don't get bread, so fresh homemade bread is a great treat.

I've started keeping a spreadsheet of what I'm buying from the stores, and I'm keeping a list of meals (of course, I didn't think of these ideas on January 1). Since we're having to cook more, keeping track of things I've bought will help for menu planning--as well as keeping the grocery bill in check. It would be really, really easy to start fixing chicken, potatoes, and a steamed vegetable at every meal, so I'm trying to keep branching out--though maybe not as far as last week's toxic soup.

On the menu today: We'll be trying out the pasta maker Andy bought me for Christmas!

One thing we definitely need: soup stock. I bought a pressure canner, but while Theo needs supervision I don't want to try canning anything, so I think I'll just make a double batch of vegetable stock this week and freeze it in small containers. Soup made from water just isn't the same, and the "allowable" organic stocks are really expensive, so We'll be resorting to homemade. That might be Tuesday's project.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Day 16 - Updates

* Today started with sourdough pancakes and now we have homemade sourdough oatmeal bread. Life is good!

* Theo is doing much better than the therapist expected and I am hopefully going to be able to photograph the kitty water aerobics on Monday

* It is possible to miss nonstick cooking spray

* Even when you're pretty sure you'll be getting a refund, doing taxes is still depressing.

* If a cat has been wearing a cast on his leg for 6 weeks and you suddenly remove it, the next few weeks will be a constant struggle to keep him from reinjuring the leg.

* After the high-gear socializing of December, a few quiet weeks in January can be very relaxing.

* While diet soda probably isn't truly addictive, on day 16 it certainly feels like it is.

* Sitters for injured pets may well be a career opportunity, but not for anyone in this house.

* Not all experiments with cooking pumpkin are going to be edible.

* New Year's Resolutions require equal parts of optimism & delusion

* Only other pet owners will understand the lengths people will go to for their pets. The rest of the world will regard you as completely insane.

* Don't ever underestimate the number of foods that contain high fructose corn syrup.

* One injured kitty and one jealous kitty = 2 pet owners greatly in need of a drink.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Day 15

Today for lunch I made the world's worst soup. Not just bad soup--the worst ever. I can't even begin to describe it--nor to explain how a bunch of cooked vegetables can mutate into such a toxic substance, and frankly, even if I could remember what I put it in I wouldn't repeat it here for fear of lawsuits and/or reprisals.

Thank heavens there was chocolate cake......

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Day 14 - A Craving

So far, I think we're doing well. Sure, I have dreams about Diet Pepsi, but less often. The excitement of trying the "fruits" of my canning efforts certainly helps--not to mention the fact that I'm saving up my last cheat for this week to perhaps get a soda on Saturday.....

We're still doing a lot of cooking--especially as there are few other options. It does certainly help to have a freezer full of options. After a LONG search at the store, I found an allowable Italian sausage, so last night Andy decided to make pizza. It was a chance to open a can of my pizza sauce, so I was all for it.

Did you know that even small to medium-sized pizzas use more than a cup of sauce? I didn't. We're not exactly sure what the pizza sauce tasted like as I'd only dug out a half-pint jar. We'll try again later with two jars, and if we like it I'll be canning pint jars full this summer.

Andy is still learning to cook, so his experiments are far weirder than mine. The pizza was pretty decent, although personally I'd have skipped putting pepperoncinis on it. I think we've now adopted a "cooking pickled things in general is bad" rule, but his experiments have led him to a really tremendous pizza crust, so it evens out. It wasn't our best meal, but at least it wasn't cheating.

Today I was in the mood for chocolate, which doesn't happen very often. I do generally keep a few sweets hidden around the house--Andy doesn't like the temptation and I can scrounge them out on the rare occasions I am in the mood for sweets. We had no allowable chocolate however, so I was reduced to the drastic measure of baking a cake!

With Theo looking on
(unaware that his next hydrotherapy session is tomorrow), I made the "Perfectly Chocolate" chocolate cake on the back of the cocoa tin (which incidentally, only contains cocoa). It might indeed be perfectly chocolate, but it came out looking very strange:

It looked even stranger while it was cooking, but it's hard to take a picture of something in an oven. It did at least rise--the last chocolate cake I attempted didn't, and we had to pass it off as "brownies." I don't know what it is about me and baking desserts, but they almost always come out wrong--or at least "interesting." There was the 2-layer cake without baking powder, the sugar cookies that became one giant cookie in the oven, an angel food cake that had to be converted into bizarre cookies because I got the liquids wrong, a scorched banana cream pie, fudge that was so hard it had to be chiseled out of the pan, and a cheesecake that I somehow dumped water on while it was baking (I've wisely blocked out most of the details). But through all my botched dessert efforts, I have learned one thing:

Frosting covers a multitude of blunders.

Honeymoon Part 3

One cannot visit the Yacatan without seeing the Mayan ruins, so we drove over to Chichen Itza to stay at the Mayaland Hotel & Bungalows for what turned in to two nights. We had been advised to drive over the night before so we could see the ruins bright and early the next morning before the heat & tourist busses arrived, which was wonderful advice. The hotel is right beside the ruins, and in fact, this observatory:could be seen from the bar's patio, where they had the most fabulous pina coladas I've ever had. (Could be the atmosphere as well, but darn, they were good!)
When you arrive, you must notify the front desk and have them come and get you, as cars are strictly verboten. I have no idea how much land the hotel actually takes up, but it is simply lovely.

The first night we stayed in one of the rooms in the main building, where we had a great jungle view:and we first got to use the sarongs a friend had given us for an engagement gift:(Note: If you are going to vacation in humid places, these are wonderful to have!) Andy and I each have one, but he refused to be photographed "in a skirt." There were directions for wearing it in a diaper fashion, but we didn't discuss that one....

We hired a Mayan gentleman to take us on a tour of the ruins that morningwhich made it a bit more personal as he was obviously proud of his heritage. And who can blame him? They might have been a bit on the violent side, but you can't fault their architecture:

We had originally planned to only stay one night, but it was so wonderful and so amazing that when a bungalow became available for the next night, we leapt at it:We shared a large patio with the people next door:
whom we never saw
and just down a little footpath:we had a lovely pool all to ourselves:

Well, except for an iguana or twoI never saw them in the pool--I don't suppose they cared much for the chlorine, but they enjoyed sunning by the pool while I swam. Which was all for the best, really. My spirit of adventure falls somewhere short of swimming with large lizards........

To be continued........

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

LONG overdue - Honeymoon Part Two

OK, so we have been married a year and a half and our honeymoon was over two years ago now (and yet the crazy exwife is STILL obsessed enough to read my blog....geez, catch a clue & get a life!), but I had never yet posted the rest of the pictures, so here is part two from our honeymoon in Cancun.

Some friends (our realtor & his wife, actually--see part one) gave us their time share to use, which was lovely and right on the water:
But Cancun itself is loud, touristy, and mostly for 21 year olds who think a good time is killing off bunches of brain cells. We did a little gratuitous touristy stuff,
then rented a car and headed for Chichen Itza, where we will pick up in Part Three. (sorry, kitty-watching duty calls.....)

A Soup Night "Whoops"

So for the monthly open house known as Soup Night, I always make two soups--usually one vegetarian and one not but occasionally they are both vegetarian. Yesterday I made a turkey mushroom soup (one of my favorites) and a curried carrot with apple soup. Until I can make up my own stock, we have found an allowable chicken stock at Costco (where else?). That worked fine for the turkey mushroom soup, but I RAN OUT before the carrot soup was finished & wasn't going to have time for a Costco run before the party.

OK, for anyone who hasn't invented stupid rules for a year of their life, one would just use one of those little cubes and a hot cup of water. If one has invented stupid rules, those little cubes are off limits. Without the stupid rules, one could also use the 3 cans of fat free chicken broth in the pantry.

Then it hit me--it's only Andy and I who can't eat these things. Nothing says our guests can't. So, in went the forbidden broth and while everyone swears the carrot soup was wonderful, we don't get to try it until we have a free "cheat."

Thank heavens for a freezer and a sense of humor!

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Day 11

I'm not sure why this has become an "experimental cooking" project for me. After all, we have cookbooks and recipes. In fact, we have an insane number of cookbooks and recipes, this
being only part of them. Perhaps it's the attempt to follow a budget, or the lack of time to sift through recipes, or maybe it's just a desire to learn more about cooking. My experiments frighten Theo but I plunge boldly on.

Now, if you're wondering why all our food is green lately, I can explain in three words: Costco fresh spinach. Whether it is true or a little brainwashing from Popeye cartoons, I believe spinach is extremely good for us, and have no scruples about adding it to darn near everything. Tonight's fare:
Pork chops in ugly green sauce. I seared the pork chops in a pan while in a food processor I mixed garlic, onions, raw almonds, spinach, some dried vegetables, salt, a little Tuscan seasoning, whole wheat flour, and water, then I added the ugly sauce to the pan and let the pork chops finish cooking in the sauce. While that was happening, I scrubbed a baking potato, chopped it up, and microwaved it for a few minutes. Then drizzling just a tiny bit of olive oil, I added Penzey's Old World Seasoning, sea salt, and some chopped onion
and broiled it until browned and crispy.

OK, they were canned green beans, but as the cans contain only green beans, salt, and water, they are fair game on occasion. The pork by itself would have been a bit bland, but the sauce was wonderful and the potatoes excellent (and if you haven't tried roasted onions yet you're in for a real treat), so thankfully it didn't taste like it looked.

And this week's surprise:Seasoned rice vinegar. Wouldn't you think that would be allowable?
High fructose corn syrup strikes again!

First rule of life in The Year of No Processed Foods: ALWAYS READ THE LABELS NO MATTER HOW SAFE YOU THINK THE FOOD IS!!!

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Day 10 - The End of The First Full Week

Yesterday after lunch we both used up our second "cheat" of the week and we each had a diet soda. Aside from water, I don't think there's a naturally occurring item in diet soda and it felt remarkably sinful. And tasted wonderful--there really is nothing quite as sweet as forbidden, uh, chemicals.

This far into our experiment, it has become obvious that we ate processed foods for their convenience. Soup? Open a can. Sandwich? Buy the bread and the sliced turkey injected with a strange jelly-like substance. Pasta? Buy the pasta and often the sauce. So, unless I want to spend an entire year in our kitchen--a perfectly lovely room and everything but not where I want to spend every day--I was going to need some allowable convenience foods, otherwise known as leftovers.

Since the cooking & entertaining marathon known as "Christmas," I had pretty steadfastly refused to do any grocery shopping, but this week I was finally driven to go to the store. I was really good--I did a Costco run for some produce and a variety of meats (my apologies to the vegetarians of the world), then our local grocery chain. We have a mid-size chest freezer in the garage, which currently looks like we're ready for a siege of some sort.

One of the Costco items was a package of 3 round eye (or eye of round, depending on your butcher) roasts which I had no idea what to do with, but they are on the small side & looked about right for two people and enough leftovers for convenience but not so much that we'd start dreaming of roast beef. Other generations of women called their mothers for cooking advice. My generation goes straight to Google, and I found pages and pages and pages of information. A recipe for high-temperature roasting looked promising, so I printed off the recipe and headed to the kitchen.

Problem number 1: The recipe called for a 3-pound roast and I had 3 roasts that combined weighed just a little over 5 1/4 pounds.

Problem #2: We have a kitchen scale that weighs up to BUT NOT OVER 1 pound.

All I could say for certain was that my roast weighed more than a pound but considerably less than 5 pounds. Since the roast was cooked for 7 minutes per pound, I took a wild guess and went for 12 minutes. Then the recipe said to turn the oven off and let the roast cook for 2.5 hours without opening the oven door. Fine by me--the less involvement required the better. I went to pick up Theo.

I got back home just a little before the time expired, and when we checked the roast and it was 110 degrees--not the 145 we were aiming for. Have you spotted problem #3 yet?

Problem #3: Had it hit the correct temperature already and was cooling down, or had it not reached it yet?????? The picture showed a very rare piece of meat, which didn't help at all. We opted for the less-likely-to-cause-food-poisoning route and turned the oven on and waited until it reached the right temperature.

What the recipe actually said: This recipe takes a very tough piece of meat and makes it so tender and delicious.....The easiest roast you'll ever cook.

What we got: Lukewarm dry roast beef with no flavor whatsoever. Complete with enough leftovers for several more meals. Lucky us. I can now understand why they opted to call them "convenience" foods. "Foods that won't kick your arse in the kitchen" was just a little too close to the truth.........

Friday, January 9, 2009

Kitty Water Aerobics Are Working!

Okay, I was doubtful. Not so much that water is very therapeutic and that the buoyancy of water makes it great for injuries, but I just didn't see how they were going to convince a cat to walk on a treadmill in a water tank, but he did it. Not only that, but he walked on his injured leg AND they usually don't get dogs to walk on the first try. What a little champ!

Even better, Theo has regained some motion in his ankle already and he is really good about trying to use his leg, so therapy is going to work. I'll admit, I was not exactly prepared for how well the therapy might work. Wednesday he spent almost the entire day curled up in our bedroom. Today he keeps receiving "kitty timeouts" in our bedroom for attempts to jump, run, pounce, and pretty much everything else he's not allowed to do yet. While he's building up the bone and the muscle, they said it's still pretty fragile, but Theo wasn't in the room for that conversation. I came home with all sorts of instructions on how to get him to be active and start using the leg. What they didn't cover was how to slow him down. Thankfully, he's back in therapy on Monday and I'm hoping his strength comes back before mine gives out......

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Day 7 - A Little Nausea Does Solve The Whole Processed Foods Problem

OK, for the record, I am a total and complete wimp when it comes to blood, injuries, hospitals, doctors--anything in the "something isn't working correctly" category. I once had to flee a large luncheon (climbing over several older men in the process) because the speaker was discussing eye diseases and even brought slides to show. I stop people from describing their surgeries in detail because I will either throw up or pass out, and both are a real conversation stopper.

So, taking care of a cat who looks like this:
and trying to help him break down the scar tissue enough to be able to move his ankle out of this positionis keeping me pretty thoroughly nauseous--the upside of which is that I don't care what we fix for meals as I might not be able to get them down anyway. Not that we've been eating only questionable food so far--we've actually had steak twice and I've fixed pollo en feo mole verde (which translates loosely as "chicken in ugly green sauce"), but a few meals have been more of a graze than a meal--nuts, cabbage, carrot sticks, and cheese or homemade bread. Remarkably good for us and everything, but not likely to show up in Food and Wine magazine anytime in the near future.

Tomorrow Theo will spend the day in physical therapy, which is a bit of a relief. Today he has rotated between sleeping, licking his leg, doing our little hallway walks as assigned (which probably isn't helping anything as he hops on 3 legs the entire time, but they said to do it so we're doing it) and crying/growling/hissing when he moves his leg too much. As they didn't send home sedatives for either of us, I'm all for having someone else look after him for a day. I think he whines more out of frustration than actual pain, but it's really dreadful either way--especially as I can't make it better.

After today, it was time to use up one of my "cheats:"

Butterscotch mudslide

4 oz Kahlua
4 oz Irish cream
4 oz butterscotch liqueur
Ice (enough to make drink slightly thick)

  1. Blend all together. Enjoy.
Theo could have probably used one as well, but he's been on a lot of drugs lately and it seems best not to encourage the habit.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Theo's Cast Came Off Today!!!

On purpose this time--he wasn't pulling another Houdini. The bones have healed, but there's a lot of scar tissue around the joint so right now he can't bend his ankle. You realize what that means, of course..........

Kitty Water Aerobics

His first session is on Thursday. They have promised to allow me to film this. I don't know, could our lives get any weirder?

Monday, January 5, 2009

Day 5 - I Have Just Created The World's Ugliest Sandwich

This is what I served for lunch today:
Yep, it was that color of green. Don't worry--I won't be opening a restaurant anytime in the near future.

It STARTED as an attempt to make a sandwich spread using some of the tomatoes I dried last summer. I rehydrated them and put them in the food processor with a few cloves of garlic. Now, when it's going to be cooked one can get away with using more garlic than is strictly called for. When it isn't going to be cooked "a few cloves" of garlic can clear one's sinuses for at least a week. So, I decided to add a few things to the garlic mixture to sort of even it out. Olives, spinach, carrots (which was a bad idea as they never really got thoroughly shredded and were just odd crunchy bites), onions, parsley....I think there were a few other items, but you get the idea. It was still overpowering, so I thawed out some turkey left over from Christmas dinner, and rather than try to guess whether or not the spread would overpower the turkey in the sandwich after all was said & done, I threw the turkey into the food processor as well. The turkey gave the already atrocious looking goop a new and relatively unappetizing texture, but it did mellow the garlic. And once it was spread on homemade bread and a little extra sharp cheddar was added, it was surprisingly good.

I doubt I'll ever be able to recreate this at any future date, but really, how many times in your life would you want to be presented with a sandwich that looked like that?

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Two "Cheats" A Week

As last night was the end of the first week of the Year of No Processed Foods--albeit a short week--we celebrated with premixed pina coladas. As we've already had hot cereal 3 out of 4 mornings this year already, our "cheats" might actually be more like bribery. Not that hot cereal isn't good for us--it's 10 different grains roughly ground--but it always unnerves me when I see what happens to it if the bowls aren't rinsed out immediately. The spackle-like substance it turns into always makes me wonder about my insides. Does it do that in there? Am I spackling my small intestine?

Today's lunch is another experiment--garbanzo beans cooked in pumpkin puree, canned tomatoes, and allowable chicken stock with brown rice and diced green chiles. Obviously, I am totally making it up as I go, but when you start your day eating spackle, the culinary bar is set very, very low.......

I Just Had To Share This One

I get a lot of people visiting this blog looking for ways to cope with hostile or malicious ex wives--as well as some strange, unrelated searches that my blog happens to stumble into (i.e., Canadian Female Impersonators), but I had a hit today from the following search words:

is it appropriate to buy the wife and ex wife the same gift?

I can't believe there is someone foolish enough to even ask that question. So, short answer: NO. Long answer: as someone dealing with an ex wife who is still SO obsessed about her ex husband that she not only follows my blog two YEARS after Andy & I got married and more than 5 YEARS after their divorce, she's crazy enough to send printouts from my blog to our attorney to document how crazy and obsessed she is, I cannot imagine a single instance when it would be even vaguely appropriate to give your ex wife a gift, much less the same one you are giving your current wife. As our crazy ex would do well to finally realize, when marriages end, they are over. Finished. The other person may indeed care NOTHING about you after divorce. In fact, that's highly likely. Even if children are involved, caring about the child does not translate into caring about the ex.

No wonder so many second marriages fail. Buying them the same gift, indeed. That would be the fast track to divorce.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Thursday, January 1, 2009

The Year of No Processed Foods - Day One

Forget December 21st--today is the longest day of the year. Today we are 365 days away from packaged and processed foods. I shall dream of Diet Pepsi tonight.

For breakfast we had toast (with real butter) and coffee. Lunch had to be a bit creative as I have been on a bit of a kitchen strike since the 3 Christmas soirees we hosted--which includes no trips to the grocery store. Andy had made rye bread in the bread machine overnight, so I split a chicken breast, cooked it with some onion, then broke out some of my green tomato chutney and a tiny bit of extra sharp cheddar cheese, and piled everything on toasted rye bread. For a desperation scrounge, it was a really good sandwich if I do say so myself. Which worked out well as I did not have a back-up plan as I usually try to do when I'm experimenting wildly. I briefly flirted with the idea of trying to incorporate some pumpkin puree in there somewhere, but thought better of it. We'll save that sort of thing when it's been a month or two without soda or pretzels and we're starting to have hallucinations.....

Fall! Finally!

Even without extremely hot summers, I've always loved fall.  A little coolness in the air, leaves starting to turn, sweaters coming out-...