Saturday, February 28, 2009

Things We Have Learned From The Cats

As many of you know, I've been spending a great deal of time with one of our cats lately as he (and I) recover from the ordeal of a broken leg. It turns out, I think we can learn a lot from our feline friends....

Even the worst haircut will eventually grow outWide lapels are always a bad idea--especially in areas with high windTake time for romance
Everyone looks a little chubby now and thenSome things are better done in the back yardNothing is impossibleTake time to enjoy the high lifeThere's always time for a tummy rubEveryone feels shy once in a whileDetermination is an amazing thing
There aren't many things that are worth losing sleep over

Friday, February 27, 2009

Day 58 - Things We Have Learned This Week

* It may be exciting to finally be able to cook in the crockpot, but the delightful sense of victory might be lessened a bit after 7 days in a row of mushy food

* Humans want anything they can't have. I can have chocolate cake but not Diet Pepsi--and guess which one I want.

* Almost anything makes a good reason to spend time with close friends. Tomorrow night's is to make homemade pasta

* Even if you've been doing it for 30 years, it is still possible to once in a while get one's arse kicked by one's hobby

* Your pets may remain ignorant of words such as "no," "down," or "come," but they learn "treat" pretty darn quickly

* Until this little experiment, I wouldn't have considered it possible to be completely delighted by being able to eat canned black beans

* We're getting a lot more offers to have dinner with friends lately. We don't know if this is out of pity or the fear of dining here

* It's really nice to only have 10 more months instead of 12.......

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Day 57 - The Crock Pot And I Have Come To an Understanding

Those of you who have been following the blog for some time will know that I regularly--and pretty consistently--get my arse kicked by the crock pot. Rice either turns to mush or is still crispy 5 hours later, and I have produced enough shoe leather to make even the heart of Imelda Marcos go pitter-pat. HOWEVER, I might finally be able to do some roasts.

Tonight we had roast beef, and if I put the roast in the crockpot with no liquid and turn it on LOW--never high--we can still eat the results. This is significant progress. To be fair, the last time I tried cooking beans in the thing, the beans were still amazingly crunchy even after an overnight soak AND 8 hours cooking in the crock pot, so it isn't an outright victory, nor have I tried roasting poultry, but I can successfully cook a pork or beef roast in the darn thing now.

I'm VERY excited, and I think I'm ready to learn to use the pressure canner!

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Day 56 - It's Wednesday And We Haven't Used Any Of Our "Cheats"

It's amazing how completely our lives have come to revolve around our 2 cheats a week. There's a lot of thought that goes in to using them....Is it too early in the week to use up a cheat? Will I need a cheat later this week? Is salad dressing worth using up a cheat? Are pretzels cheat-worthy? This is a very big issue at our house.

One thing I will definitely say for the "cheat rule:" it keeps us from snacking without thinking. It's really easy to grab a couple crackers or maybe a few pretzels and not really think about it, but this year even one pretzel is a "cheat," so if they are going to happen, it's a full serving (we've set a limit on serving size as well, as sitting down to devour 3 bags of pretzels in one sitting would not really count as one "cheat") It's interesting to realize how much I think we all tend to "graze" during the day--a little bit here, a little bit there--never really noticing how much we're consuming. We haven't outlawed grazing per se, but most of our snacks are now limited to fruits, vegetables, dried fruits (though only the ones we have done ourselves--I think they deep fry those "banana chip" things they sell in stores), and certain nuts. We're only 2 months in to this, but I haven't yet gotten desperate enough to sit down and eat an entire bag of baby carrots. Yet.....

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Day 55 - Have You Ever Wondered Why We Have Cheese?

When we embarked on this little culinary adventure, we automatically allowed cheese as "something we could make ourselves," but I finally had to double check just to make sure. I checked with a cheese making book, and it said to order cheese cultures from a cheese supply company, which doesn't exactly count. A little more research revealed that it was believed that cheese was discovered accidentally by carrying milk in a pouch of sheep or goat stomach--which was a common carrying method at one time--and might be again if Gucci decided to start selling them. The stomach pouch passed enzymes into the milk, and when whomever got to wherever he was going, instead of finding a pouch of milk, he probably discovered something looking pretty nasty--early cottage cheese I would guess--and I give him full marks for bravery for eating it anyway. We're not purists enough to invest in any ovine internal organs, but it was good to know. Cheese is back on the "allowable" list, though we haven't decided on cream cheese just yet. If that turns out to be legal, MAYBE I'll get a wild hair and make homemade bagels.....maybe

Monday, February 23, 2009

Day 54 - Sunny Days Bring Foolish Levels of Optimism

Yesterday Andy built garden plots that will double the size of our garden AND I'm actually flirting with the idea of planting 2 pumpkin plants again...

When exactly does gardening require an intervention......?

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Day 52 - God Bless Readers!!!!

For some unknown reason--or at least one I haven't yet figured out--most comments on my blog come through as "no reply," so I don't always get a chance to reply to all the helpful, funny, encouraging comments everyone is leaving for me, but the comments are wonderful and you can blame them for the lack of a post yesterday. I was at Costco getting these
Canned black beans are legal!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I've been scrolling back through old entries to find who tipped us off to this one--I'm thinking maybe it was Georgi? Anyway, we are THRILLED--thank you!!! (Who knew it was possible to get so excited over canned beans???)

While at Costco--because it takes a stronger person than me to not browse at Costco--I ran across these:
They are flour tortillas that you bake yourself, so they have no "banned" ingredients! This was almost as exciting as the black beans, because while I know corn tortillas are better for us, they're not as easy to work with. We celebrated by making Mexican food last night--it was so exciting!!!

We're having a "project" day. This is Andy's
(one of them), and this is mine:(one of them). I've been eying the primroses at Fred Meyer each time I go in there, and while I still think it's too cold for them outside, I assume they can survive as houseplants for a while--or at least die slowly enough that we can have a little spring in the house for a while.

Of course, Theo has his project too:We think he's enjoying not going to therapy, and he's getting more freedom all the time, but he's still not allowed outside without being on a leash. The bones are repaired but still a bit fragile & he's still rebuilding the muscles--some days more than others--and his recovery might take a full year, but at least we're through with the vet bills. I think we could get a large sign for the front of the house:

"We've done our part for the economy!
Just ask our veterinarian!"

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Day 50 - A REALLY Big "Cheat"

Have you ever had a really bad day? That was today. Sort of capping a bad few days actually--I have a massive bruise on my leg where I got acquainted with the foot of our new bed frame, a band-aid on my finger to cover a rather nasty cut I received from the lid of a pot--yes, you read that right. A piece was put on upside down, so it isn't quite as stupid as it sounds, and the tetanus shot I received on Tuesday still hurts. (What do they put in that shot and shy isn't more medical research looking into a less painful vaccine???) I've been working on tracking down everything for our taxes, and have the additional pleasure of realizing we'll take a tax hit on some mutual funds I sold early in the year to diversify our saving--and of course it's now worth half of what it was. They're all little stupid things, really, but today they seemed to all add up for a while.

So today I stopped for pizza, which I'd say had about 100 to 1 odds of being "legal," a diet coke (definitely illegal) AND salad with salad dressing (definitely illegal), which brings me to 4 cheats for the week. Yikes!

Have you noticed that we really don't seem to have any GOOD responses to stress? Know what my other options were? Go buy things I don't need (more yarn, fabric, or books are my big weaknesses--which those of you who have seen our house will agree with), go eat foods I shouldn't, or go drink something I shouldn't. How does any of that help stress? Know what would be really helpful? If my big desire when I'm stressed would be to do laundry. That would be helpful AND take away the potential stress of having to wander around naked.

Sigh.....so I made it 49 days before a big "slip up." Maybe that can be my only one?

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Day 49 - I Think I'm Getting The Hang of This Finally

I think I have this figured out finally. In order to not eat processed food, one must learn to plan ahead. If one is hungry at 5:45 and wants to have dinner at 6:00, one can't just pop a frozen pizza in the oven (Or one can't until I figure out how to make my own frozen pizza) or open a can of soup (Or one can't until I get over my fear of the pressure canner and make my own soups). Yesterday at noon I put a pork roast in the crock pot so it could cook on low and be ready for dinner. I think that might have solved my crockpot problems--whether it's me or this crockpot, nothing ever survives being cooked on high even if it's just for 4 hours EXACTLY like the book claims. It's 3:30 now and I just took some shrimp out of the freezer. In the morning, I'll set some beans to soak for dinner tomorrow night. Tomorrow for lunch we'll have leftover pork roast. As long as I spend much of my day thinking about food, we're fine.

Housewives of old must have been masters of organization. In the Little House on The Prairie books, which I'm greatly identifying with lately, there was a wash day, a baking day, etc. etc. etc. I can see that. There have been days when it feels like I didn't ever leave the kitchen. Baking bread can be an all-day affair and it turns out that if you forget and leave bread dough rising, there isn't a finite rising threshhold--or at least it isn't exceeded before the dough drops onto the counter. I am now amazed that the saying is "greatest thing since sliced bread." It really should be, "greatest things since bread you didn't have to bake yourself!"

Toni's Economic Stimulus Plan

Tuesday President Obama signed the economic stimulus plan, and before the ink was even dry, Republican politicians were doing press interviews saying how it wasn't going to work, that it was just going to increase our debt, and that it didn't create enough jobs. WHERE WERE THEIR COMPLAINTS ABOUT THE REBATE CHECK STIMULUS PLAN??? I'm not trying to blame one political party or the other, but I thought the level of hypocrisy reached a high point yesterday. What new jobs were created by sending everyone $600? As most people used it to pay existing bills, it didn't even stimulate the economy. And yet, the particular Senator I heard complaining about this stimulus package voted for Bush's. It seems that even during an economic crisis, it's partisan politics as usual instead of uniting for the good of the country.

And, to state that something will not work directly implies one knows what WOULD work, and I think at this point it is safe to say that even the economists who have spent their lives studying this do not really know what will improve our economy. I don't know if Obama's plan will work either, but I am pleased to see him trying something.

Still, I think we have to admit that it is the American people ourselves who are most to blame for the current economic crisis. As Charles Dickens so aptly said:

Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen six, result happiness.
Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pound ought and six, result misery.

We have been buying on credit, living in debt, and spending beyond our means for 2 decades, and the bubble has finally burst. Americans are going to have to start living realistically and we're all going to have to be responsible for the economy--its problems and its recovery. And since everyone else is getting to throw around opinions (though usually just about what won't work), here's my 25 cents on how to improve the economy:

1. It seems that the average American will start seeing an extra $13 in their weekly paychecks as a result of the economic stimulus package, which should amount to an extra $50 or so a month. Take that money and patronize your favorite restaurant or stores. Talking about bad economic times is a self-fullfilling prophesy. If you tell eveyone the economy is bad, they stop spending and the economy becomes bad. Jobs are not going to be created until demand is increased. Your favorite places cannot stay in business without your help. This is what the tax cut is for, so let's channel it in the right direction.

2. Stop shopping at Walmart. If something seems too good to be true, it probably is. Why are Walmarts prices so much lower than anyone else's? Because they made sure they didn't have workers who qualified for benefits and sell cheap crap that cannot be manufactured anywhere except in a third-world country.

3. Do business with companies that deserve your business. I spent 5 years in charitable fundraising, and there are companies that one could always count on for donations, help, or contributions and ones that didn't give a dime to anyone. These companies have given a lot to their communities over the years, and I think it would be great to show them that their generosity through the years has been noticed an appreciated. Call your favorite local charity and ask for a list of their supporters.

4. Stop doing business with any corporations with overcompensated CEOs and/or a board of cronies. Are any of us not positively outraged about the bonuses paid to the executives of banking firms in the last year? I believe in getting paid well for doing a good job, but Boise has seen several overpaid under-supervised executives drive our local corporations into the ground (Morrison-Knudsen, Albertsons), then making off with "golden parachutes" worth millions. If that's the way Corporate America is going to play, let's stop playing with them.

5. Buy fewer things, but buy quality items. When I was in college I sold Cutco knives. They were incredibly expensive knives, but they are unconditionally guaranteed. 15 years later, they are still sharp and if I break one, they will replace it automatically--no questions asked. I will never need to replace them, and they are made by actual human beings at a plant in Olean, New York, who receive a decent, livable wage.

6. Accept that some things can't be had immediately. Want a nice television? How about saving up for it instead of buying it with debt? My parents furnished their home one stick of furniture at a time. We saved up for two years to buy a bedroom set, and I'm enjoying it a lot more knowing it is fully paid for. In two more years, we're hoping to find a china hutch. Interestingly enough, we're enjoying picking out furniture piece by piece. and we can look forward to each new thing.

7. Have some long-term financial goals. Admittedly, right now is not exactly a great time to start a savings program as many people are just getting by, but by 2005, Americans had gone from a 9% savings rate during President Reagan's term to a negative .5 savings rate. We not only stopped saving for a rainy day, we had sold off our umbrellas. Conventional wisdom has always suggested having 6 month's living expenses set aside in savings, and nothing has ever changed about that. We just didn't do it.

8. Remember, the news isn't about facts or accuracy--it's about ratings. No one sells a paper or gets a viewer by saying that a 3% stock market drop isn't a "plunge" or that economic cycles are to be expected. Try turning off the news. You might sleep better.

There. It isn't 1000 pages, but I think it might work. And everyone needs a little soapbox time once in a while......:)

Monday, February 16, 2009

Day 47 - A Few Random Things We've Learned

* Virtually all food available at chain restaurants is processed and off limits. And usually fattening
* While I may personally find xanthum gum as a food additive an interesting topic of conversation, that doesn't mean anyone else does.
* Valentine's Day is sort of pointless if one is in a romantic relationship, and depressing if one is not, which makes one wonder who this holiday is actually for
* The longer the list of ingredients, the more likely the food is going to make the "banned" list
* Borscht is fantastic. Apparently one should not judge beets by those pickled things they serve at schools
* One can never have too many friends, but one does need to learn to be creative with scheduling
* After 47 days of this experiment, it's hard to decide if having to bake our own bread is a problem or a perk
* The last day of kitty physical therapy is a good excuse for a chocolate martini
* Nothing makes one completely delusional about vegetable gardens like February
* Not all cats are independent
* One really doesn't need much to be happy, but chocolate cake might be on the list
* Sourdough starters are probably best if one grows up with them. Having a food substance living in the fridge that needs to be fed regularly is a little too weird for some people
* Your husband is a true sport if he can be presented with strangely green cooking experiments for several days in a row without complaint.
* If given enough bags of pureed pumpkin in the freezer, there are very few food items I won't try to add pumpkin to.
* If your pet has any sort of surgery, you can just about take the initial cost estimate and double it.
* One is really never too old to enjoy Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoons
* Soup Night really is one of the best ideas ever. I wish I could find the magazine article that gave me the idea in the first place. I believe in giving credit where credit is due. Besides, I want to exchange soup recipes
* Recruiting one's friends to one's hobby isn't "enabling" until you take them on their first yarn shopping spree....
* The Neilsen Ratings people might be more on top of things than we thought. They sent us the initial questionnaire, but they might have found out about our one set of rabbit ear antennae before sending us anything else...
* While I have certainly been enjoying the 1/2 piece of chocolate cake every now and then, I would trade every last one of them in for an extra Diet Pepsi
* I have never in my life been so enthusiastic about Sunday mornings as I am now that they mean I have 2 whole "cheats" to use again.....

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Day 45 - Happy Valentine's Day

And of course, here at Chateau Sutton-Goar, there were no chocolates of any kind as my desire for chocolates falls somewhat short of the search to find "allowable" ones. There's a shop here in town that has made its own candies for years and years and they would probably have had "legal" chocolates, but I'm thinking that might be something we want to learn later--say, October. With so many banned substances this year, if we did discover some fabulous allowable chocolates there, would we have enough willpower to stay out of the place??? On Day 45, I ponder such things.

We have been remarkably good on the food front the last two days. Last night I made a casserole using ground beef, pureed pumpkin, rice, and green peppers, which we had again for lunch today and will most likely see for lunch tomorrow. Possibly Monday as well...did I mention leftovers are our friends? Tonight Andy is fixing steak with curried salt, which is always quite fabulous. I have to admit, this experiment is easier when one is being a carnivore rather than a vegetarian. Canned beans haven't been allowable so far, and I haven't yet made anything with beans that made me think about them 12 hours in advance.

On another note, for Valentine's Day this year, we decided to make each other gifts--new flannel pajamas for Andy and a wooden box for knitting needles for me. That sounds so much like the set up of an O. Henry story that I feel obliged to explain that I did not sell my knitting needles to pay for the material. Neither did either of us get the gifts finished today. However, it is a 3-day weekend, and the glue on my box is drying now and there's been a lot of progress on the pajamas, so there's hope.

Today's thought for the day: If you can't marry someone with the same hobby, at least marry someone with the same foolish level of optimism!

Friday, February 13, 2009

Day 44 - Another Snag

So, if you've used up all your "cheats" for the week on Wednesday and on Thursday some really good friends want to take you out to lunch and the restaurant is a sports pub chain that probably can't even boast of unprocessed lettuce, what do you do?

We're social creatures, so we went and the only "legal" thing we had was the water. The restaurant specializes in "boneless wings," which we assume to be chicken nuggets, smothered in your choice of 15 sauces, which we assume had scads of chemicals and high fructose corn syrup. It was interesting, and we did have a fabulous time, but our friends are the sort of people who would make a meal of soda crackers & water fun.

We need a new policy to allow for going out with friends. If they come to our house, all is good, or if we choose the restaurant. But if we are going to more than two dinner parties during the week, that blows our "two cheats a week" rule. Maybe we use up our cheats as available, but we don't have to turn down the third party?

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Day 42 - Diet Pepsi Lust

It's Wednesday and I just had my second and last "cheat" of the week--a caffeine-free diet Pepsi on ice--and it was FABULOUS!! Seriously, I was so happy while drinking it, I made those people in the commercials look downright depressed.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Day 41 - Pickled Pumpkin

You know what the best way of figuring out what to do with strange pickled foods is? Have a party and open them during the party!

Last night was February's Soup Night, and we finally opened the pickled pumpkin I canned last fall. Everyone tried it, and I think everyone liked it, though aside from just eating it straight from the jar, I don't think anyone else has any idea what to do with it either. Maybe it's just an appetizer? With vinegar, sugar, and spices, it's an interesting flavor and very chutney-ish.....which would be great if we had a lot of ideas on what to do with chutney. As it is, look for both of them to surface as appetizers at future Soup Nights, and if that doesn't work, maybe I'll host a cooking contest this summer. We'll call it "What Hath Toni's Canning Wrought?" and the winner will be awarded a jar of green tomato jam. Or should that be the loseer......?

Monday, February 9, 2009

Day 40 - Organizing the Pantry

We decided to do a year without processed foods last spring, so we had time to plan for it and plant a garden, and late in the summer I cannned like a maniac.

Well, it's February now, and while I remember the salsas and tomatoes, I no longer remembered exactly what I had canned. So, I finally dug out one can of each itemand moved them from what we have dubbed the "dwarf closet," which is a half-door affair accessed via the downstairs bathroom, and moved them into the regular pantry. A good move all around, I think, as it tends to give people a start when one emerges from the bathroom with food.

While doing so, I remembered I had actually purchased corn syrup last year when helping a friend with her Appalachian Trail hike, and I wasn't surprised to find that it contained high fructose corn syrup. I actually thought that was what "corn syrup" might be. What does surprise me is everything else in it. All along I had pictured this stuff as the mysterious "high fructose corn syrup" that permeates most of our food. Guess not.

Since this project started, I have been amazed by how little I had previously thought about the foods I ate. We are issued one body at birth, and unless you are Shirley MacLaine, it's the only one you're going to get and it needs to last 80-90 years. Sure, a knee or hip can be replaced, but the thing in its entirety is the only one we're going to be given, and if it fails, the consequences are quite dire indeed. So, with such high stakes, why hadn't I previously thought more about what I was eating? Sure, by almost any definition I have always been a "healthy" eater--eating fruits and vegetables, lean meats, no fried foods--all that sort of thing. But when "lite" foods began appearing, I started buying many of them without really considering that the ingredient list had jumped from 5 items to 39 polysyllabic ones. I've always considered myself health conscious, but the idea of getting foods with fewer calories was enough to keep me from asking questions. Which, I assume, was exactly the point of the advertisement and "fewer calories" banners printed on the boxes/bags/whatever.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Day 38 - One Perk, One Drawback

Last night we discovered an unexpected perk to our little experiment. Because all convenience foods are off limits, we have to plan meals in advance and I tend to plan meals that will result in extra servings as leftovers are this year's "convenience foods." Last night I had planned to make the mushroom & fennel dusted pork roast, which made it possible to have some friends stay for dinner. The impromptu dinner party was great fun AND to make it even better, Andy found a legal chocolate martini!

For some reason, alcoholic drinks don't have to list ingredients, so we've been left to researching liqueurs and beverages on the internet. Andy did some searching on Kahlua, and found only one questionable ingredient, "cane spirits." A little more research discovered that "cane spirits" would be "rum" in most of the world, which is acceptable. So last night we had chocolate martinis with 1/2 vodka and 1/2 Kahlua. YAY!!!!!! A "legal" chocolate martini will make entertaining SO much easier!

Today on the other hand, I was out running errands just before noon and in other circumstances, I would have called Andy and said I would pick up something for lunch. Today I couldn't think of a single thing I could pick up that would be allowable. So I came home and dug out a jar of the Indonesian Satay Sauce that I canned this summer and which we hadn't yet figured out what to do with, and made a chicken/rice/vegetable stir fry using the sauce.It wasn't bad, really, though I don't think this is the sauce's intended use or anything. Still, we're now thrilled when my experiments don't turn out green.

Tonight Andy is trying a baked brown rice something or other with roasted red peppers. We're assuming the odds of it being green aren't all that high, either, but you never know around here.......

Since It's February And the Month of Romance....

I thought it was an appropriate time to share some photos I've just recently relocated from the wedding. Since we've been married 2 1/2 years now, I'm a little behind on this, but better late than never!!!!
This is one of my favorite shots because you can see all the cakes. The one on the tiers was made by a lovely lady who is a member of Andy's kayaking group, and it was one of the most amazing cakes I've ever tasted. The groom's cake was made by one of my good friends who was also a bridesmaid, but unfortunately it was all gone before I had a chance to try it. Still, I'm sure it was fabulous, and it was wonderful to have so many people be part of our special day.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Day 37 - The World of Mustards

So it turns out that I was wrong. I had assumed that a mustard I bought at a local farmer's market would be "legal" this year because it was from a local company. I don't know why I thought that would actually matter, but it turns out that Mom's Mustards (which has really fabulous mustards which I highly recommend to anyone NOT doing foolish food experiments) uses something called "calcium disodium edta" to preserve freshness. When one sells food to the general public, there are a lot of rules one must follow, and I'm assuming that is why the calcium whatzits is in there, but all the same, one of our rules is no ingredients we can't identify. So, I had a new quest to find allowable mustard.

It turns out that almost all commercial mustards (with the possible exception of the golden mustards used mainly for hotdogs, which I didn't actually check) contain something called "xanthum gum." I'm providing the link to Wikipedia on this one because I have read the entry several times and am only partially convinced that it is written in English, but what it seems to do is allow sauces to become more "liquid" when you shake them. It also seems to help if one is trying to drill mud or pour concrete under water so it's quite useful stuff, but it is definitely not allowed in our experiment.

After about 30 minutes at Fred Meyer (I think the staff started to think I was shoplifting or had a mustard fetish), I found 4 allowable mustards:
I was quite pleased the Kroger/Fred Meyer's garlic mustard made the cut, as it's really good stuff. The tabasco mustard is strictly for Andy--I like to remain on speaking terms with my stomach lining. Unfortunately, no Grey Poupon made the list. That was disappointing indeed, as we are big mustard fans and when we moved in together, combining two refrigerators produced a supply of 10 different mustards.

The good news? We can make mustard--including Dijon mustard! Now I just need to track down mustard seeds....maybe I'll wait until we're down to 2 jars....

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Day 36 - NOW It's a Long Week

Last night Andy fixed really interesting salads--Braeburn apples, Granny Smith apples, lettuce, crumbled blue cheese, lemon juice, olive oil, and honey. It also asked for bacon, and without thinking about it, Andy added turkey bacon. Now I can't actually say what is in turkey bacon because I had wrapped it all up in plastic wrap to freeze, but one of the first things you learn about this experiment is that if it doesn't look like food, it probably isn't. Bacon actually looks like exactly what it is--strips of muscle between rather large strips of fat. Nowhere on a turkey does the meat come in pulverized strips, so I'm pretty positive we used our last cheat of the week last night. RATS!

Andy's first cheat of the week was a diet soda on Monday. He was having a frustrating day and thought it would help. He said it was good, but maybe not worth a "cheat." (For cheat read "white chocolate martini" or "sloppy greasy pizza") My first one was lunch with my parents after I picked them up from the airport. I had them leave the mayonaise off my sandwich and the dressing off my salad, but there isn't a bun in a chain restaurant that doesn't have preservatives of some sort. If Andy thinks HIS "cheat" wasn't worth it--I gave up my martini for a tasteless, processed BUN. How depressing!

Thankfully (sort of), we've had enough pumpkin/rice/bean thing leftovers for 3 more meals this week--though I admit I wasn't sorry to see the last of it tonight. We had hot cereal for breakfast and for lunch I cut up a potato, a little ham (the only "legal" one I could find), onions, green pepper, and some garlic and stir fried it--adding a tiny bit of very sharp cheddar cheese at the end. We have found that most of what I'm cooking is so low fat that it isn't very filling, so I sometimes add small amounts of strong cheese to foods. THAT has been an interesting part of our experiment--who would have ever thought an American would need to add fat to her diet??????

To really explore how much fat is in the American diet, there's a website called Fast Food Facts that lists the calorie content of many of the fast food items available in almost every city in America. Want to see something scary? Look up Burger King's Double Whopper with cheese. Yikes!

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Day 35 - Some Recipe Favorites

One thing that is helping us get through the year is that some of the things we're eating are better than the "processed" alternatives. For instance, for two mornings in a row, we've had sourdough pancakes for breakfast. Who would miss cold cereal if one can have pancakes? Granted, most of our meals have been from "Toni's Wild Food Experiments" (sure to be a best-selling cookbook soon), but we do have some HIGHLY recommended favorites:

Rib-Eye Steaks with Curried Salt. We've tried this with sirloin steaks, tenderloins--I think it works on anything. Recently I used the same idea for a beef roast. We've also alternated some of the spice flavors, though nothing so good as the curry version. And if one eats the recommended serving of beef (the size of a deck of playing cards--not half the plate), steak is not an overly expensive food choice.

Mushroom and Fennel-Dusted Pork Tenderloin. We've started doing this with pretty much any available pork roast, and even people who don't generally like the taste of fennel have enjoyed this one. AND, it's from Cooking Light, so it's healthy.

Hazelnut-Coated Salmon Steaks. This one is a little trickier, because the only reason we'll be able to have this one is that I made homemade apple butter and we have some specialty mustards I bought at a street market. We've only been able to find salmon fillets, not steaks, but it's fabulous just the same.

And a freebie that we currently CAN'T have: Mulligatawny. We LOVE soups and eat a lot of them, but this is by far one of the best. I'm hoping to find a way around the canned coconut milk problem, but I'll feel better if SOMEONE is getting to have this soup.

And the ugliest chicken recipe you will ever find, which originally came from a long out-of-print Better Homes & Garden Mexican cookbook:

Pollo en Feo Mole Verde, aka "Ugly Chicken"

Makes 4 servings

1/3 cup all purpose flour
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
2 1/2 to 3 lbs of Chicken breasts and/or thighs (cut breasts into 2 " strips if large)
2 tbsp cooking oil
1 12oz can of tomatillos, drained and rinsed
1 4oz can of green chili peppers, rinsed, seeded, and cut up
1/4 cup chicken broth
1 small onion, cut up
1/4 cup chopped walnuts
1/4 cup blanched almonds
Several sprigs cilantro
1/4 tsp salt
dash pepper

In a paper or plastic bag combine flour, paprika, the 1 tsp salt, and the 1/4 tsp pepper. Add 2 or 3 pieces of chicken at a time; shake to coat. In a large skillet brown chicken pieces in hot oil about 15 minutes. Reduce heat; cover tightly. Cook 35-40 minutes more or till chicken is tender, uncovering chicken the last 10 minutes. For mole verde, in blender container combine tomatillos, green chili peppers, chicken broth, onion, walnuts, almonds, cilantro, the 1/4 tsp salt, and the dash pepper. Cover and blend until smooth. Heat sauce in a saucepan; Serve over chicken.

It truly is the worst looking sauce you will ever come across, and if you serve it separately, only your bravest dinner guests will try it, but it is wonderful & very easy.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Day 34 - I MADE SOMETHING EDIBLE IN THE CROCK POT!!!!!!!!!!

The vaguely Mexican beans, rice & pumpkin thing I had in the crock pot yesterday turned out to be REALLY good--and not just "good for the crock pot," which is a whole category by itself. Nope, this was actually good. Which is fortunate, since after a day of adding this & that to it, we ended up with an entire pot of the stuff. If I can recreate it at a future point in time, THEN it will really be a success. And a complete surprise, of course....

Monday, February 2, 2009

Day 33 - Martha, Watch My Speed!!!!

Some days, I'm really not in the mood to cook, which makes me wonder how things worked when women really did stay home and tend house. Did they just cook badly when they weren't in the mood? Was that when TV dinners became popular? Did they feel comfortable enough calling their husbands and saying. "You're taking me out tonight?" I'm trying to picture my grandmother who cooked for several farmhands and whomever else might "happen" to drop by at mealtimes (she was an excellent cook), walking into the kitchen and saying, "Nope, I just don't feel like doing this." (Those who knew her will find that idea especially humorous--I'm not sure if she was ever evn willing to tolerate canned soup...)

Today we lucked out--I was in the mood to cook, so we have a vaguely Mexican beans & rice thing in the crockpot which will hopefully be dinner (I'm flirting with disaster here--brown rice AND the crockpot. With just one or the other, the results are "iffy." Combining the two....there could be minor explosions), I fixed fresh whole wheat muffins for lunch, and getting a REALLY wild hair,I decided to learn to make pretzels.

The truth is, I miss pretzels--the kind that come in a bag and have zero nutritional value & all of that. Yep, I miss them. So, this was the next best thing.

I got off to a bit of a rough start because the recipe called for fresh yeast measured in ounces. I cook with the yeast in a jar, which I don't think is the same thing, and as the whole jar is only 4 ounces, I don't think it's a one-to-one conversion. After looking in 3 different cookbooks I decided to heck with it and just used my best judgement...which is a fast way to get into trouble while cooking.

Problem number two arose when the recipe omitted a step. The recipe said to mix some of the yeast, some water, and flour into a very wet "sponge" and to set it aside to ferment for 2 hours. Fine and dandy. Then the recipe said to mix some yeast with some milk. Fine and dandy. What it never got around to was when those two were actually combined. I know with things like cakes it can matter in what order one adds things--which gets me into trouble about every time. Still, pretzels seemed pretty harmless, so I just added everything together and started adding flour.

I have long assumed that the idea of boiling dough before baking it was discovered purely by accident, and that the etymology of "bagel" somewhere down the line is "whoops!" I don't actually know what they do to the pretzels in a bag, but this recipe said to poach the pretzels for 1 minutewhich I interpreted as 30 seconds on each side, but that was just a guess. Then you take the pasty, slimy pretzels out of the water and let them drain on a towel(which they will likely stick to, by the way--a fact also not mentioned by this recipe). Then you coat them with a mixture of egg yolk and milk, sprinkle with coarse salt, and voila!

I don't know how close I came to what the recipe actually intended, but they are pretty darn good.

Think I can pass them off as breakfast rolls???????

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Another Fun Memory...

This was taken at the Great Gatsby Party to benefit the Idaho Botanical Gardens. Before we went to the event, we stopped by the hospital to visit a friend who was recovering from heart surgery. We were quite a hit at the hospital, though it took a lot of explaining. I think people were really expecting us to be a singing telegram or something to that effect. Next time we'll have a song prepared. :)

Day 32 - The Canned Pizza Sauce Is Good!!!!

Andy made pizza today for lunch, and this time we opened two of the jars of pizza sauce I canned over the summer. It was wonderful, so of course I'm planning on adding more tomato plants to this year's garden...and by September 30 I'll be kicking myself for doing so. For now, 15 tomato plants sounds totally, utterly reasonable.....

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...