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‘Food/Cooking’ Category

  1. American Fat

    August 22, 2013 by 25hoursadaymom

    My title is not to suggest that obesity is not a problem anywhere else, just that I’m an American and so I can see with my own eyes where this stereotype comes from.  The statistics on obesity in America are totally astounding. The rate of increase is astounding. If this were simply a matter of lots of folks who look bad in a bikini, that would be one thing, but there’s a whole shopping-cart-load of diseases that like to travel with obesity. It should alarm you for your own health, if not for the health of the nation as a whole.

     

    Why are we so fat and getting fatter? I understand this is a complex and multi-faceted problem, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth asking. Here are some causal suggestions:

    • Americans eat large amounts of food (i.e, excessive calories)
    • Americans eat a lot of “junk” food (i.e, fast food, cookies, soda, candy, donuts…)
    • Americans sit around on their butts watching America’s Got Talent
    • Americans are too busy to make healthful homemade meals, so…. (see Point #2)
    • Americans are just genetically big

    All of these correlates are interesting to me because, while one or more of these points can be said about almost all of us (at least some of the time), it doesn’t fully explain how Americans of every stripe – East Coast, West Coast, Republican, Democrat, Deep South or Uptight Northeast are trending fatter on the whole.

    Then, too, I become curious because I have heard so often someone saying they do not understand why they keep gaining – they exercise, they don’t eat such a lot of food and not as unhealthy as you might assume, yet fatter they get. Why? I’ve heard the lament often enough that I cannot imagine they are all lying or have no self-awareness. Clearly, something is going on.

    I personally don’t struggle much with weight. I am predisposed towards leanness. But I have had a hard time for the last few years with nearly constant digestive squirreliness. This makes my gut bloat or retain water or just plain look like a sack of potatoes (which, could be telling, actually). In extreme cases, I will be in gastric agony until I sleep it off. Eliminating dairy products a few years ago helped, but it didn’t turn me around completely. It was puzzling.

    I’ve long considered the possibility that gluten could be a part of the picture; I’ve even had the blood serum screening for Celiac done once or twice.  I didn’t really want to know this could be the problem, if I’m honest, because life without gluten seemed to me super-hard and no fun at all.

    Through a combination of curiosity about the fattening of America and my own concerns about my belly, I wound up downloading the book Wheat Belly and beginning to read it. Author William Davis makes a mighty good case for why wheat (of today) is not the Staff of Life that it once might have been. I decided abruptly to chuck the wheat in my diet and see if any of my problems resolved. I did not finish reading this book, however, when I stumbled onto two other more pertinent books.

    I discovered the two books Good Calories, Bad Calories and Why We Get Fat, both by Gary Taubes.  These two books were salve for my research-starved mind on this subject. Seriously. Every single American should at least read Why We Get Fat. People who like science and research should also read Good Calories, Bad Calories. Why We Get Fat really does explain why and, what is more, I believe Taubes is almost assuredly correct. I hate to spoil the surprise for anyone who wants to read it for themselves, but you could Google it and find out the gist anyway, so I’ll tell you. The two major principles he speaks to that I believe are correct are: 1) You have a genetic predisposition to be a given size; and 2) It’s the carbohydrates.

    Every muffin, every pizza, even my much-beloved homemade bread is working hard to make me fat. (Luckily, I won the gene lottery.) Every tablespoon of sugar in my coffee (okay, two), every beautiful angel-hair pasta with homemade meat sauce, every Hershey’s Perfect Chocolate Cake (seriously, the best recipe for chocolate cake ever created), and yes, Virginia, even every apple, orange and Ranier Cherry is a tank of carbs well-armed to squeeze me out of my favorite jeans. It has nothing to do with the butter I spread on the bread. It’s the bread.

    Never in a million years did I think I would find sense in restricting carbohydrates. I have watched friends try Atkins, lose a bunch of weight, then return to mashed potatoes and gain it all back, with company. But Taubes’ books make SO much sense, I cannot help myself. He’s right as rain.

    So, I started my little “diet plan” by taking out wheat or, essentially, going gluten-free. This was on July 4th (obviously, the *perfect* time to change your diet). I weathered the holiday sans buns for my hot dogs, refusing the Magic Bars, and not eating bagels. The first thing I can say with a fair amount of confidence is that either wheat specifically or gluten in general is what gets my intestines all out of whack. Dairy may also share some blame, but if there’s a major culprit, it’s gluten. Since going GF, my stomach has not bloated one bit. Before, I had strategic packages of Gas X everywhere, so I would never be found without it. They were in my purse, my car, my desk drawer, my nightstand and my backpack. I haven’t had any digestive potions since before July 4th; I haven’t needed them once.

    As I continued to read on, I moved away from just gluten to a more expanded view of restricting carbs on the whole. Essentially, I’m eating mostly in the Paleo dietary style.  Now I see other benefits. I am not hungry. I don’t crave sweet things. I don’t feel like I’m missing out on stuff I want.  I’ve lost my addiction to carbs, I believe. And my belly is almost as flat as an army bedsheet.

    That's me right now with no bloat.

     

    I am doing a lot of investigation on this topic and do plan to research some of the studies that Taubes cites in his books. I want to see them for myself. See if I come to the same conclusions. Anecdotally, the Paleo dietary theory does appear to work for me as expected. I plan to write much more about this topic. Comments on this matter are welcome as I explore.

     

    -Danielle

     

    P.S. I have no financial affiliation with, or paid endorsement of, any of the linked sites or materials. 


  2. Trashed

    June 10, 2013 by 25hoursadaymom

     

    This isn’t really a new way of thinking for me, but from time to time, it really flares up and bothers me more than it was just recently.  We waste WAY too much stuff, people. Cups and bottles and paper and styrafoam containers for macaroni and cheese and bread bags and twisties and post-its and plastic, plastic, plastic, plastic, plastic. It nauseates me.

    What I really love is a closed-loop system that is synergistic and in harmony.  Recently, I became a chicken owner. I could not be happier with my six “girls” – Henrietta, Eva, Red, Maple, Florence and Juliette. The chickens are cool all by themselves, but what I really love about the chickens is that they fit so beautifully into the system of my household.  I grow a garden. For the garden, I make compost. To dispose of food bits, I make compost. The chickens also now eat food bits. They eat garden waste. They poop in the straw that will one day also be compost, which will go in the garden and grow the tomatoes and lettuce. The tomatoes and lettuce will one day partially feed the chickens and make compost.  The chickens lay eggs, which adds calcium to my compost, calcium to my garden, nourishing my plants. Which feeds my family and feeds my chickens.

     

     

    It’s really lovely. If you’ve been thinking of getting chickens, you should. They will eat kitchen scraps, keeping that trash out of the landfills. They will produce eggs, which you can eat, give away and/or sell. They will cut down on the insect population around your yard. Get chickens if there is any way in heck you possibly can.  Their bedding is compostable and can help your garden grow. (If you don’t have a garden, you should do that, too.)

    Let’s just talk about landfills a moment, shall we? Some people think of a landfill as a giant compost heap, in which their half-a-ham sandwich, leftover spaghetti noodles and fuzzy oranges just compost away, while the endless fields of plastic crap sits there (for all eternity). This is not what happens. Very little of what is in a landfill decomposes, even if it is organic matter that would compost just fine on the pile at your house. For one thing, food in the landfill is usually encased in plastic bags, which retards decomposition. Additionally, so much new, non-biodegradable material is chucked on the landfill each and every day that last week’s trash is totally buried. There is little oxygen available, which is necessary for decomposition. There are few microorganisms to break things down. This is why you turn or stir a compost pile at home to make it decompose – you need to redistribute microorganisms and add oxygen.

    This alone should be at least a mild deterrent to sending food to the dump when it could be eaten by your chickens and/or composted at home. Is it? Do you care?

    Beyond composting food waste, please give some serious thought to everything else you’re throwing away on a regular basis. Plastic? Plastic never, ever, ever biodegrades. It never becomes soil. It can only get smaller and smaller until it’s a microplastic. I’m thinking of putting this on a bumper-sticker: PLASTIC NEVER, EVER, EVER, EVER BIODEGRADES. Each and every piece of plastic you have ever used is still in existence. I can’t remember now where I read this, but someone out there said she imagines what it would be like if, when she died, all the garbage she had generated in her life came with her to meet her Maker. Would the Creator of All be pleased with her trail of trash? I find that a powerful image, no matter what you might think happens when you die.

    Even recycling plastic is only a poor solution. Plastic can only be “downcycled” – turned into a lower-quality plastic that will itself not be recyclable, unlike glass or metal, which can be returned again and again into it’s original state. It also requires energy and waste to recycle plastics into other plastics.  Avoiding it at the outset is a far better plan. Not to say that is easily done.

    Please consider doing something to reduce your own trash. Thankfully, you will not be a total pioneer. There are lots of blogs and websites where you can get great ideas when you are stumped about how to replace a trash problem with a non-trash solution.  For me and my house? We are stepping it up. I am on a campaign to see how very little we can throw away.  Will you join me?

     

    -Danielle

     

     


  3. A Rebuke of “Extreme Cheapskates”

    January 21, 2013 by 25hoursadaymom

    I’m pretty well-established as a frugal person. I am almost as sad that Amy Dacyczyn retired from writing The Tightwad Gazette as I am that JK Rowling has no intention of taking us through anymore wizarding adventures. So, upon hearing that there was now a show called Extreme Cheapskates airing on TLC*, my interest was piqued. What odd things are today’s tightwads doing to save a dime that I hadn’t yet discovered?  I watched one forgettable episode last year and then watched it again last night.

    When I watched the first episode, I thought they were just having a little fun by featuring a couple of really odd cheapskates. There was the dumpster-diving man who found a “perfectly good” wilted rose to give his wife for their 25-year wedding anniversary. He also picked up a box of animal crackers and a “squeezie” doll – a rubber toy you squeeze to release stress. These were at the dollar store if I recall correctly.  They also featured Jeff Yeager, a cheapskate I already know of, as he wrote The Ultimate Cheapskate and a sequel of a similar name. I have read those books and enjoyed them; found them filled with interesting ideas and good, sound strategies for spending less. Yet on the TV show, they cartoonify him by watching him purchase a goat head to make for dinner for something like seven bucks in change he fished out around a pay phone.  I do believe that Jeff Yeager may indeed make goat head for dinner; I heard or read somewhere that he says his food choices “tend toward the offal.” (Or is it ‘awful’?) However, even if he does eat goat heads at times, it annoys me that this is what they feature on the show.

    Last night I watched the show again and realized hey are, indeed, trying to feature the most extreme (hence the name, I guess) ways a person or family could possibly save money. Not necessarily the best way to save money. Not the best way to achieve value by spending little or no money. Just the MOST extreme ways. Such a disappointment from the useful, informative TV show it could be.

    The show last night featured a large family (5 kids at home, 10 altogether) that goes out looking for usable road kill. They come upon a nice, fresh bunny, which they supposedly make into a fried rabbit dinner. They also foraged a “salad” of weeds and leaves.  They invited their neighbors to share in their bounty.  Frugal Mama cuts up the bunny pelt and the feet to make four “lucky” rabbit’s feet for the boys and some little fur purses for the girls. They don’t really show anyone eating this strange meal, but there’s another questionable matter involved: How could one road-kill rabbit possibly feed even one family, let alone guests? Additionally, the little purses were actually pretty impressive, but the larger purse she gave to the neighbor mother could not possibly have come from the rabbit. It was pretty close to the size of a regular purse. It looked like cow hide, but they didn’t explain that.  Something is very fishy with the whole deal.

    It is possible that the family does actually go look for road kill to eat and make gifts, plus forage for weed salad. I’ve heard of stranger things (such as this guy, who has lived a scavenging lifestyle for going on 13 years now – he takes and uses no money whatsoever). Still, I find myself very annoyed that TLC is using this show for nothing but gawking, aren’t-they-too-ridiculous “entertainment.” They could feature people making a delicious dinner to share with their neighbors, showing us how to delightfully entertain and care for others while spending little. Home-baked bread is inexpensive and delicious. So is homemade soup. If you garden, you can make a “free” salad (at least seasonally) that could be made up of lettuce, cucumbers, apples, berries, carrots, and tomatoes – you know, food people have heard of eating. In the summer, I forage blackberries on our property and make an inexpensive and tasty blackberry cobbler. I have shared this with guests before. They don’t run from the room on the verge of vomiting from my low-cost food, like was displayed on the TV show last night.

    If you’re thinking of embracing frugality, don’t look to the show Extreme Cheapskates for inspiration (although there were a few worthwhile tips sprinkled in there).  Most everything there is weirdness, which frugal living definitely does not have to be. On the other hand, if you’re brain-dead from a busy day and just want to laugh at people for their oddities, it couldn’t hurt to watch the show. It’s cheaper than taking a sleeping pill.

     

    -Danielle

     

    *The episode I watched last night may have aired on Discovery Health Channel, although I believe the  show is owned by The Learning Channel. What this has to do with Health or Learning, in any case, is anyone’s guess.


  4. Dinner Will Be Late

    November 4, 2012 by 25hoursadaymom

    A few months ago, I mentioned Exhibit A – a person in my life who thinks the children should not do work in the home. Unsurprisingly, there are other philosophical differences between myself and Exhibit A, a fact that was recently brought to my attention when E.A. harassed me…err…I mean, mentioned to me that I should have dinner ready for Miss Magnificent at 5:30, presumably moments after she gets home from soccer practice.  Well, now, for starters, this is logistically impossible. I am her ride home from soccer practice, which means that it would be rather difficult to stir-fry chicken while I’m on Marriottsville Road. Besides that, I’m at college two nights a week at that time.  If those two reasons are not enough, I also have two other children and one other parent who are leaving for soccer just as Miss Magnificent is arriving home.

    One rarity that I have gone to great lengths to preserve in my family is a family dinner.  Yep, that’s right. Five people sitting at a table in the actual Dining Room, eating off of ceramic plates and not drinking Coke. Also talking, laughing and being nourished, body and soul. We eat family dinners together the great majority of  the time – a practice I fiercely protect. But, let’s face it – this is hard to do with modern schedules.  I can appreciate the fact that there are some family structures where it is literally impossible more often than not.  However, for many, it’s more a matter of not considering it important and therefore, willingly relinquishing the quaint family meal.

    Since I do consider it important, though hard, this means dinner will be late.  Some nights, by most people’s standards, we eat absurdly late. 8:00. Nine, even. On the weekends, when our evenings are unencumbered by sports and activities, I still have not the slightest desire to get dinner going before perhaps 7:00.  I don’t like having to get busy cooking early, only to have this dead spot of inactivity between dinner and bed-time routines. Besides all that, if I eat so early, I just get the munchies by 9:00 and ruin my diet.

    So – that’s how I do it.  I honestly have no idea how families can eat at 5:00 or 5:30 if they do have kids in any activities or how this works with work obligations. I guess this is why so many eat fast food or non-meal foods, and why the notion of the family meal seems so antiquated nowadays.

    My friend, E.A. never did relinquish her view that I am simply wrong and dinner “must” be served well before 6:00.  I’m not really a fighter (well, I just passive-agressively prove her wrong on my blog), so I didn’t go far to convince her that my way is perfectly fine, but…it is. I’ve heard that most Europeans think Americans eat dinner absurdly early, so maybe I’m just having a flare-up of my European ancestry. I will not let my precious family dinners die out without a good, hard fight, so I’m doing it come hell or by crockpot, even if that means the kids can have Nutrigrain bars at 5:00 to tide them over until the pork chops can be ready.

     

    -Danielle


  5. How to Can Tomatoes Without a Pressure Canner

    August 24, 2012 by 25hoursadaymom

    Perhaps you’ve gone all self-sufficient and put in a garden. Since growing tomatoes is fairly idiot-proof, perhaps you now have tomatoes out the wazoo. You reflect back to your grandmother’s basement and recall shelves filled with home-canned tomatoes in Mason jars. Being a member of the iPod and www. generation, however, you haven’t a bloomin’ clue how one achieves shelves filled with home-canned tomatoes. Grandma also may have had a pressure-canner and you’re pretty sure you’d be out of your game operating one of those, if you even had one to begin with. (This isn’t true of course; you can easily learn to use a pressure canner, but I’m going to let you off the hook for tomatoes, because it isn’t necessary.) Home-canning tomatoes is easy, albeit time-consuming. If you want to preserve all your beautiful tomatoes, but you don’t want to mess with the pressure canner, here’s how to do it:

    1. Pick a bunch of your tomatoes. They do not have to be totally flawless, but don’t use any that are actually rotting. If they have cracks at the top or a little place where a bug sampled, no biggie; you can just cut that part off.

    2. Prepare the area where you want to can. You will need: Quart-sized Mason Jars, Lids that fit those jars, a wide-mouth funnel, at least one large stockpot, another pot for boiling the jars, slotted spoon, non-slotted spoon, tongs for lifting the lids, potholders, towels, knives, salt, pepper and several free hours. An apron is handy, too.

    3. Clean and/or sterilize jars and lids; clean the tomatoes and line them up near your stove.

    4. Bring one or two stockpots of water to a boil. This is to split the skin of the tomatoes. I use a clean sink to put the tomatoes in as they split.

    5. Once the water is boiling, use a slotted spoon to lower 3-5 tomatoes into each boiling pot of water. Within a minute or two, the skin of the tomato will split. Remove the split tomato to the sink or a large bin. They should look like this:

     

    6. Once all the tomato skins have been split, I empty my stockpots, clean them and begin chopping the tomatoes. I peel off the skin and cut away the core and any bad spots. I fill the now-clean stockpot with my chopped tomatoes. Occasionally, I sweep the juice and pulp off the cutting board and throw that into the pot as well. (I usually use a couple of large bowls in addition to the stockpot, because I am processing a lot at once.) I have heard that you can skip this step and just puree the tomatoes, but I aim for chopped tomatoes, not crushed.

    7. I bring my full stockpot of tomatoes to a boil on the stove. Simultaneously, I bring some water to boil in a skillet and boil 3 jars and their lids. The lids, jars and tomatoes all need to be boiling hot in order to kill bacteria and create the vacuum seal. This is what we’re doing instead of pressure-canning all the jars, so make sure you get everything very hot! My set-up at this point looks like this:

    8. Once everything is hot and boiling, I use a pot-holder to quickly remove a jar, set it on the counter next to my tomato pot, fit it with the wide-mouthed funnel, and add the tomatoes with a large spoon. This is messy as heck and I’ve never figured out how to do this without dripping and splashing juice all over kingdom come. I keep towels on the counter and the floor, but just know that even an OCD neat-freak cannot figure out how to do this without making a colossal mess, so you may not be able to, either.

    9. Fill the jar to within an inch of the top. Put in a half teaspoon of salt and pepper, if that’s your thing, then quickly use tongs to retrieve a lid from the boiling skillet. Use a towel to screw down the lid without burning yourself; move the jar to another counter.

    10. As the counter fills with tomato jars, you should hear the “PLINK!” as the lids vacuum seal from their own heat. You can also observe the lid; there is a small “button” in the center of the lid. Once the lid seals, this “button” sucks inward. If it still has give to it, it is not sealed.  My jars usually seal within probably five minutes of placing the lid on them.

    Now – here is my General Disclaimer: I learned to can tomatoes this way from my mother-in-law, who has canned tomatoes for 60-some years. Rarely, the seal fails and the tomatoes rot. I have read in recent years that the Ball-Mason company no longer considers this a valid method of canning, because you cannot be certain the temperature was high enough for long enough to kill bacteria. So, if you are sub-mental and cannot tell that a brown jar of tomatoes has gone south and should not be eaten, perhaps this is not a good method for you. If you contract Botulism, don’t come cryin’ to me.

    When I have canned tomatoes, I leave them on the counter overnight. In the morning, I take off the outer rings and attempt to pry off the lid with my fingers. If it is vacuum-sealed, this will not work. If the lid comes off, obviously, it failed to seal. I also usually leave the jars on my counter for a week or so, because if any did not seal, it will be apparent within a few days and I’d rather discover that on the kitchen counter than after it’s in my pantry. This has happened to me, so it is possible that they will not seal using this method. You must make sure the jars, lids and tomatoes have all boiled very hot for at least a few minutes. Common sense also dictates that you observe them for a little while to be sure they do not look like they are going bad.

    At the end of this process, you will also have a sink full of skins, cores and other refuse. Compost! If you compost, this is a perfect addition. Then next year, your garden will be nourished by this year’s garden. Isn’t that poetic?

    So, the question I’ve been asked before: Is this worth it? I mean, come on! I can go to Costco today and by dozens of canned tomatoes without batting an eye! Why do this?

    1. These tomatoes are organically raised in my very own backyard. No fuel was burned shipping them all over the country (or countries) to get them to me. They have not been sprayed with pesticides, fungicides or ripening sprays.

    2. Some of my jars have been reused for 40 years, as they were my mother-in-law’s. This is the most environmentally-friendly way to preserve food. It is superior to recycling the Costco can, and definitely superior to throwing a can in a landfill.

    3. My children witness the connection between the food they eat and where it comes from.

    4. This is my MAIN reason: It is the epitome of self-sufficiency. Raising food yourself, preserving it yourself and then using it to cook your own meals is very fulfilling. It is comforting to know you’re not a sitting duck who would be lost without your Costco card and American Express.

    I’m well aware that this is not everyone’s cup of tea. Sometimes I do wonder why I bother. But in the end, I simply cannot bear to watch a bounty of tomatoes sitting to rot, knowing I have the tools and ability to preserve them for later. I will use them in my Chili recipe and my Sloppy Joe recipe throughout the winter.  Each time I pull a jar out in January, it makes me smile that I have that there, a loving little symbol of ingenuity.

    -Danielle