Sunday, January 31, 2010

Health Check

Web MD, in collaboration with the American Cancer Society, has put together a cancer risk assessment, which can be found here:

http://www.webmd.com/cancer/health-check-cancer-risk/default.htm

It's a great resource, takes very little time, and can hopefully save some lives. 

Saturday, January 30, 2010

You Can Make Pop Tarts!!!!!

The other day I found this book in the library.  It looked interesting, and sounded like I might like it as the author talks about learning to make all the things we typically buy in the store, and how much better the homemade versions are.  Of course, doing things the hard way experimenting with food is right up my alley, so I checked it out. 

It wasn't until I got home that I discovered that she has a recipe for homemade Pop Tarts!!!!!!!!

Not that I've actually been pining for Pop Tarts or anything....or have even had any desire to have them past the age of 12....but this isn't the point.  It's just the idea of making my own Pop Tarts!  I am sooooo excited!

Stay tuned!!!!!

The Man Has Guts

Not that I think the President's detractors are likely to be impressed, as I think they would find a way to criticize Obama if he discovered a cure for cancer tomorrow, but for MY part, I think yesterday was a gutsy move and kudos to Obama for taking BOTH SIDES to task for their pettiness and their squabbling partisanship.

Obama talks to House Republicans in Baltimore in rare, televised debate in - washingtonpost.com

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Ha! Ha! Ha!

Today I received one of those survey things in the mail.  They want to know about my grocery shopping habits over the last 12 months........

So, do you think I should tell them?  "Why no, I didn't buy a single one of your products because they all contain ingredients that I can neither recognize nor pronounce....."

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

For those of you curious about sourdough, here's a how-to guide I just found

Craftzine.com blog : Flashback: Get a Rise Out of Sourdough

It Has Happened

I've been taking a bit of a break this month on the cooking front--well, all fronts thanks to the bronchitis episode--but I thought that I'd allow a few processed foods this month just to give myself a bit of a cooking vacation.  Yesterday I had a dentist appointment in the early afternoon, and I thought it would be a good day to try one of the Bear Creek soup mixes.

Until now, we've just experienced processed foods being disappointing or too salty--this time, however, we both thought it was just BAD.  In spite of cooking it according to directions, I had little blobs of flavor powder that just wouldn't dissolve, and the whole thing tasted like we were eating some sort of flavor powder.  I was stunned, as this was a soup I actually liked previous to our Year of No Processed foods.  I did not expect our tastes to change that completely. 

Yet another reason to continue eating unprocessed food, but the idea of just taking minutes to make something was pretty tempting........

Monday, January 25, 2010

The Pumpkin Chronicles

The story you are about to hear is true.  Only the names have been changed to protect the cranky.

It was a cold weekend in January--the kind that makes you want to curl up inside and turn the oven on.  Some people even put things IN the oven.  Our heroine, let's call her T---, decided this would be the perfect weekend to bake the rest of the pumpkins in storage.

Having learned the hard (an REALLY time-consuming) way that when a recipe says to cut & peel a fresh pumpkin that the author is completely delusional, T---- decided to employ the time-tested secret method revealed to her in hushed tones by one older and wiser....take one pumpkin


one plastic bag


combine,


then smack the daylights out of them on some firm surface

like the back patio.  This is also an amazing method for spraying pumpkin bits all over the patio if one uses a weaker plastic bag or repeats the process with the same bag once too often.

An hour later, after scraping all the strings and seeds out of all the pumpkin pieces and placed them in the oven to roast, our heroine thought this might be a good time to move the smaller hubbard squashes off the floor and into the shelving.....until she dropped one.  Then she decided that she might as well bake one or two of the "small" ones.  After all, as long as one is going to freeze a few bags of pumpkin puree, one might as well freeze a few more......

Problems might have been averted if our heroine had stopped at ONE small hubbard squash.  But compared to the two 35-pound monsters still in the garage, the 10-pound ones looked so small and harmless......

In another two hours, the freezers at....oh, let's call it "Chateau S-G".......were bursting with bags of pumpkin & squash puree.  One large loaf and 4 small loaves of pumpkin bread were baking.  Our intrepid heroine was inventing a creamy pumpkin pasta sauce (which was excellent, by the way).  And there was still a mixing bowl full of squash pulp to contend with. 

The only excuse T---- can offer for the next step was that she was really, really, REALLY tired and that perhaps 5 hours in the kitchen wrestling with squash had finally made her brain snap.  She found a recipe for.......pumpkin walnut fudge

The recipe called for corn syrup, but after an experiment dealing with the elimination of ANY corn syrup from her diet, T--- decided that she would substitute honey instead, having read in a book somewhere that this would work and having, like many avid readers, a foolish tendency to believe things she read in books. 

Now the wonderful thing about recipes on the internet is that other people who have attempted the recipes can write reviews--suggesting changes, telling whether or not the recipe actually worked, and other useful information.  Which of course only helps if one bothers to check the reviews before plunging straight in. 

One scorched pan & one destroyed candy thermometer later....

and our heroine had a pan of nutty pumpkin-caramel goo, which is NEVER going to solidify into anything that could remotely resemble fudge, and is so flamingly sugary that more than a small taste would probably send one straight into a diabetic coma. Just like most of the 28 reiews said it would.  

Once our heroine has spent some time in the hot tub while chanting "those who publish recipes online are not all sadists,"  she will be calm enough to deal with the remaining bowl of pumpkin puree without killing someone......

Friday, January 22, 2010

Making Mustard

In trying to research more mustard recipes & tips, I've noticed a surprising lack of resources on the internet and/or the library.  There seems to have been a book on mustard published sometime in the 1980s, but I can't even find a used copy, and the book I recently borrowed from the library is seriously limited.  SO, since so many readers have expressed interest in trying to make mustard, I'm going to share my favorite recipe for you to try.

In fairness to the author, the recipe is from The Complete Book of Small-Batch Preserving, and though I have already said so many, many, MANY times, I cannot recommend this book highly enough.  The must have recipes I've discovered in it so far are:

* Traditional Garlic Dill Pickles
* Favorite Dill Pickles
* Spiced Blueberry Honey Jam
* Cinnamon Rum Syrup (a knock-out on pumpkin waffles)
* Blueberry syrup
* Your Basic Multi-Use Tomato Sauce
* Old -Style Whole Seed Mustard
and the marvelous


1/4 cup mustard seeds (the regular yellow seeds, not brown or black)
1/2 cup chopped sun-dried tomatoes (not oil packed)
      (I used tomatoes I dehydrated from last year's garden)
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
2 tbsp dry mustard
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp granulated sugar

Cover mustard seeds with warm water and refrigerate overnight. Drain and rinse seeds. Place mustard seeds, tomatoes,vinegar, dry mustard, oil, salt, and sugar in a food processor. Process until almost smooth and thickened. Store in a tightly sealed container in the refrigerator for up to 1 month or freeze for longer storage.

Makes about 1 cup.

Of course, we usually go through the whole batch in about 3 weeks, so I have no idea how it does in the freezer, but this is amazing stuff.  

You HAVE to try it........

Thursday, January 21, 2010

I Love Spell Check

In general, I have always been a huge fan of automatic spell check, but I admit, it isn't without flaws.  When I worked for the American Diabetes Association, the spell check program always wanted to address my emails to the helpdesk as being to the "helpless," and if that word actually meant "those who are not helpful at ALL," I would have agreed with it. 

Yesterday I was scrolling back through earlier posts looking for some information, and I noticed that my spell check had changed "voila!" to "viola."  For those of you who were wondering why I was celebrating achievements by yelling about a large violin-type instrument.....Yeah, I wasn't.  But, just in case I was setting a new trend.......

Violin!

I don't know......it just doesn't have the same impact.....

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Monday, January 18, 2010

Things I've Learned This Week

*  If you knit while waiting in a long line, people will initially find you a bit odd.  Then, after about 5 minutes, they'll wish they had brought knitting, too.

*  It would be hard to explain how exciting ham is right now.

*  Exercise might really help clear up the last congestion from bronchitis.  Or it could be that sitting in the hot tub afterwards.......

*  The cats were happier when I was napping as much as they do. 

*  If you make up something really good for lunch--say, chicken mushroom crepes--it would be smart to make enough so that there are enough leftovers for TWO, not just one....

*  We had to cancel the January soup night because of illness, and it feels REALLY strange to have gone more than a month without hosting a party.

*  There was a reason I started watching movies instead of reading right before falling asleep.  There has never been any movie engrossing enough to keep me up until 3:00 AM.  But I am so close to being done with this book........

*  Some processed foods are just WAY too salty for us now--and this coming from a woman who can eat an entire jar of dill pickles in one sitting.

*  Getting Grape Nuts for breakfast makes me really happy.  (Who would have ever dreamed that there could be a diet that Grape Nuts weren't healthy enough for?)

*  If one listens to any ABBA song, it will be running through one's head the rest of the day.  There's no escape.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Making Dijon Mustard

Dijon mustard was off limits all year last year, and in one of my "great timing" moments, now that it is "technically" legal, I decided to make some. 


It started with this book from the library:

 which is a great book if you want to learn to make and use Dijon mustard. If you want any OTHER type of mustard it is totally useless, but it seems to be the only mustard book currently in publication, so beggars can't be choosers. 

It did answer a lot of questions for me, like the fact that mustard made without any ingredients that go bad won't go bad.  Add eggs & it will need to be refrigerated and will eventually go bad, but if it's just oil, water, vinegar--anything in that line--it can last indefinitely.  I had wondered, because you see mustard sitting out on tables in restaurants all the time, and since there weren't mass outbreaks of food poisoning, it seemed like it must be okay, but I'd always kept it in the refrigerator anyway.  I still have lots of questions about mustards, but to get back to the point: 

Mustard which has onions or garlic in it would go bad, because the onions or garlic would rot.  This recipe gets past that by simmering the onions and garlic in white wine

(which is a nice way to stink up the house) then it steeps for a while as it cools.  Then all the solids are strained out before adding the mustard powder, oil, honey, and salt, which is then cooked on the stove until thick:

(which is another nice way to stink up the house), then the entire batch is put into a jar and refrigerated for a few weeks to "mellow." 

I hope this turns out well.  Besides having no preservatives or unknown ingredients, it's about 1/4 the price of a bottle of Dijon mustard.  Isn't that crazy?

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Like A Kid In A Candy Store

Yesterday I went grocery shopping.  Oh my!!!!  It was rather exciting to walk in and know that NOTHING was forbidden.  Not that we aren't better off NOT eating processed foods, but there seems to be a difference between knowing I can't buy something and knowing I'm not going to buy it.  I browsed every aisle....though that was mostly because they have remodeled my neighborhood supermarket and the aisles are INSANELY long and even if I don't need something at one end of the aisle, by the end of it there's something I want. 

I flirted briefly with the idea of buying some Ben & Jerry's ice cream, but I guess perhaps I've developed more simple tastes this year.  They have flavors like chocolate with chocolate pieces, or ones with 15 different things in them, and I seem to have grown accustomed to "chocolate" or "vanilla," or on a really wild day, chocolate with peanut butter stripes.  37 ingredients was a bit overwhelming, so no ice cream. 

There were a lot of things that were no longer tempting, but forbidden foods that I did come home with:

*  a Black Forest ham
*  a boneless pork roast
*  salad dressing
*  hoisin sauce
*  chocolate chips
*  cream cheese
*  black olives
*  Grape Nuts cereal

It was sooooooo exciting!  I've used the chocolate chips (and since I only really like the cookie dough and not really the cookies), they'll be frozen so Andy can occasionally have one with his afternoon coffee, and we used salad dressing yesterday (yay!), but I know enough not to make it a free-for-all.  I don't think any of my "forbidden foods" contain high fructose corn syrup, so that made me feel better. 

It was a bit of a shock how much more expensive processed foods are.  Even the small number of items I bought increased our bill by around 40%.  Holy cow! 

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Aha! I am NOT Behind--I'm Multi-Cultural!

Tomorrow is January 13, or St. Knut's Day in Sweden, which is the day Christmas trees are traditionally taken down, the candies & really stale cookies the tree was decorated with are eaten, and the Christmas season officially ends.  I'm not actually Swedish, but I'm a free-thinker--especially when I'm still putting away Christmas decorations three weeks after Christmas is over.........

A Wish For A Less Hateful Decade

I just received YET ANOTHER one of those hate-emails that are so persistent on the internet--this time it was about Muslims taking over the US.  Yesterday's was about how much better things USED to be in this country--presumably blaming liberals/Democrats, though it didn't come right out and say so.  These emails are basically all the same--the recipient is intended to be among the "us" who are threatened by "them."  They make bold, sweeping statements that might have one instance of truth, which is then blown into a sweeping assumption by someone who is either completely ignorant or is actually smart enough to know that if they present an ignorant person with someone to hate and blame, that person will neither question the assumption nor challenge it.  They wish to hate someone and voila!  Now they have a target. 

Yesterday the world lost Miep Giese, the courageous woman who hid Anne Frank and her family from Hitler's Gestapo for two years.  At a time when anti-semitism was widespread--including here in the US, Miep was smart enough and caring enough to look beyond what was being said about a group and see the individuals.  She risked her own life to save people of a different faith.  How tragic that the day after her death, one of my "friends" sent me an email about the dangers presented by members of one religious faith.  Have we learned nothing from our own past?  Couldn't this new decade be the one where we start seeing past the labels and seeing the people underneath? 

Sunday, January 10, 2010

The Heck With Robitussin!

Tonight I'm having a white chocolate martini. 

I can know tell you that Robitussin DM tastes WAAAAAY better than Robitussin CF, but the prescription drugs were much better--sort of a nondescript sweetness.  Believe me, I'm an expert on these things now.  I am sick to death of artificial "cherry" flavoring and will be cuddling up to my cute little vaporizer tonight and hoping that the alcohol has about the same effect....or at least helps me sleep until the midnight coughing session wakes me up anyway.  At least I'll go to bed happier!

Odds & Ends

Okay, so the bronchitis hasn't gone away, but now I'm taking cough medicine again and pretending it doesn't exist.  If it's not gone by tomorrow, I'll try bribery.

*  We have been "cheating" pretty thoroughly this week, though on my part it has primarily consisted of processed chicken noodle soup.  I'm sure I've gotten tons & tons of salt, but when I am sick there is really nothing like chicken noodle soup....and anything I want to do less than MAKE chicken noodle soup from scratch. 

*  I'm already at 7 books for the year, and not a single one has been an audio book.  Of course, I could have just skipped the whole "being sick" thing and gone straight for the audio books, but at least some good has come of it. 

*  Theo has now brought me TWO get-well mice.  They aren't helping, but at least they were dead. 

*  The mini Snickers bars are all gone.  Ahem

*  Yesterday I requested 3 or 4 seed catalogs for this summer's garden.  Let the overrunning of optimism begin!

Saturday, January 9, 2010

YAY!!!! I'm Feeling Better!!!!

This morning I got up and swept the kitchen floor!  Granted, this might be a side-effect of the drugs, but it was sort of thrilling as it really, really, REALLY needed it.  I was a bit surprised when that left me tired and worn out--which would make sense to anyone else after being sick for 3 weeks, but I was really hoping for full-steam today.  I need to take down our Christmas decorations, but I may not get it all done today, even with resting.  BUT at least I'm not coughing! 

What I've been wondering these three weeks is, why are there hypochondriacs?  Who in their right mind wishes to be ill?  And since they actually WANT to be sick, I vote they get all the colds & flu & bronchitis and leave the rest of us out of it.  They want it--they should have it.  Leave the rest of us alone.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

What I Have Learned From Being Sick

* If a doctor ever gives you a drug that is actually labeled as "will definitely, positively, no doubt about it cause drowsiness," look out.

*  Cats really are trying to colonize and will be thrilled when they have converted you to their lifestyle of regular napping

*  Sometimes your spouse coming home with a vaporizer for you really can be more romantic than roses

*  A state of grogginess is an invitation for the most annoying songs ever to get lodged in your head.  I've been singing the theme songs for "3....2....1...Contact!" and the Roadrunner cartoons on and off all week.

*  After the third week of illness, even an optimist might start to feel pretty sorry for herself

*  The man who invented Kleenex was a genius.

*  If a friend calls you when you're in a bit of a drugged stupor, you should probably explain the drugs up front, rather than letting them think you've been drinking at 9:00AM

*  I will be really, really, REALLY happy when this is finally all gone

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

She Lives!!!!!!!

And she is drugged!!!!

It seems that they really can't do much for viral bronchitis--it just has to run its course, which should be around 10-14 days.  So what the doctor has been able to do for me is to give me an inhaler to let me get up & down stairs without wheezing and coughing (and which is the current front-runner in the "things that taste bad" category) and to give me a cough medicine that has certainly reduced my coughing...and my hours of coherence.  I'd like to know what is in the stuff, as one little teaspoon and I'm out for most of the next 12 hours.  I guess if they can't make it go away, the next best thing probably is to sleep through an illness, but I am beginning to feel a bit like Rip Van Winkle.  Without the beard, thankfully, but now that you mention it, I think I'll go read up on the side effects..........

Sunday, January 3, 2010

If It Had To Happen, At Least We Timed It Well

If we're both going to be sick, at least it's after the first of the year so we can have chicken noodle soup without having to make it ourselves.

That's right--we're both sick now.  Andy has a cold and I--being the overachiever--have moved on to bronchitis.  So nobody wants to cook right now and thankfully...we don't have to. 

It has given me a chance to do some reading, and I'm up to 3 books in 3 days, but this is the first full day of the funky drugs the doctor gave me, and I'm a bit concerned about my ability to read for the next 6 days.  One little teaspoon of the stuff (which actually tastes pretty good) and I'm out like a light for 4-5 hours.  So.....there probably won't be much blogging this week (and if there is it may not be all that coherent), but hopefully we'll both be well again soon. 

Not exactly how I planned to celebrate having completed our year......

Saturday, January 2, 2010

WE'RE ORDERING PIZZA!!!!!!!!!!!

Okay, while I know that this is a really bad idea and we'll probably both pay for it later, for the first time in a year someone is actually going to bring food to our door!

SCORE!

Friday, January 1, 2010

New Year's Resolutions

I am a HUGE fan of new year's resolutions.  Not the traditional "lose weight," "exercise more" type--nothing hard to measure so vague.  But I always make a list of things to be done during the year.  Besides the "Year of No Processed Foods" experiment, there have been years devoted to trying a new recipe every week, being a tourist in my home area, exploring musical composers, etc.  Things that are new, interesting, and can be accomplished. 

As it is January 1, it's time for this year's list:

1.  Read 100 books
     Okay, sort of a repeat of last year, but reading used to be one of my favorite things to do, and somewhere along the way, it had ceased to be that important.  Last year was good for me--I read lots of interesting things, much more "mind popcorn" mystery books, and just anything that struck my fancy.  It was great fun, and I intend to read (or listen to) 100 this year.

2.  Read Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking
     Ever since I heard of the Julie & Julia Project, I have been curious about Julia Child's book.  While I am an adventurous person, I make beef gelatin for no one, so cooking my way through the book is out of the question.  But I think I will learn a lot by simply reading it--and trying a few recipes that don't completely repulse me.

3.  Finish 100 knitting/sewing projects
     This is more for the knitting blog, but it's a resolution.  I have such a long list of things I want to make--maybe this will give me a jump start on them.

4.  Be able to swim a mile before I turn 40 in September. 
     Note to self:  look up how many laps that will be.  (January 1 is not the date for details)

5.  Do 10 lessons in my serger workbook
     I bought my serger 3 years ago, and bought a workbook with it that very nicely explains how to do all sorts of different things.  I have used the serger quite a bit, but still have yet to do a single lesson, and I'm thinking it would be nice to move past my current 2-stitch repertoire.


6.  Try 5 new bread recipes

7.  Shake this dang cold!

Happy New Year!!!!!

We Made It!!!!!!!

While we were invited to THREE different parties last night, Andy and I ended up toasting the new year with Nyquil.  We long ago had to decide medicines were "exempt" as we don't really know what ANY of the ingredients in them are, but I did make a stab at getting only medications without artificial coloring.  Not that it worked--except for a box of "Cold Ease" which had no artificial colors or flavors, and didn't do anything anyway.  So far I think the worst offender is Robitussen.  They've added coloring AND flavoring and their cough medication is still completely vile.  I can't imagine what it tasted like before they added flavoring, but it must have been rancid.  Or their tasters are just plain crazy.

Andy did use up his last official "cheat" with a white chocolate martini, but I ended up using mine on Campbell's chicken noodle soup.  So anticlimactic.  It reminds me of the line from T.S. Eliot's "The Hollow Men:"

     This is the way the world ends
     This is the way the world ends
     This is the way the world ends
     Not with a bang but a whimper

This is the way the Year of No Processed Foods Ends--not with a bang but canned soup. 

So what is next?

Well, we can't go back.  Sadly, we are now certain that we are better off without processed foods, so it would make no sense to recondition our bodies to allow processed foods again.  But I would like to allow certain "forbidden" foods once in a while.  And maybe a soda once a month or so, as I still have not lost my taste for diet Pepsi.  But I think one of the things we have decided is that our "fake" foods (lite, nonfat, etc.) really aren't better for us.  The real foods in very small amounts provide more flavor & are probably healthier.  We have learned to appreciate unadulterated tastes--roasted onion, grilled pineapple--and have become genuinely spoiled by having homemade bread & homemade mustard regularly.  We wouldn't go back to the commercial varieties of those even if we could.  We will be glad to have chocolate candy back (Andy having just enjoyed the first piece of the year) but realize that so much sugar all at once is a pretty big shock to the system.  We will continue to expand the garden--I'm thinking of starting cold frames this month, but I might have to wait until some snow melts--and the insane canning adventures will continue (in fact, if this cold refuses to go away, I might can mustard this weekend as I can think of nothing that clears out the sinuses like cooking mustard).  Aside from a few locally-owned restaurants, we'll continue to not eat out as the food is expensive, not very good, and makes us sick for 24 hours. 

As to what my project for this year will be--I still have a long list of food topics I want to research.  This year's experiment actually raised many more questions than it answered.  I've tracked down several old cookbooks, books on food history, and old home economics texts, so I have a lot of reading still to do.  And--finding a way to make this diet a livable way of life is going to take some time.  So, this is actually a two-year project it seems. 

Now I'm off to track down those M & Ms............:)

The Look

Anyone who thinks cats can't learn things hasn't lived with one. It took Theo maybe a month into his diet to figure out that I can...