October 24, 2011

Do You Know What I Love About Fall?


Pumpkin pie, pecan pie, apple pie...especially the most awesome pie in the whole world:

French Apple Pie!

My mouth is watering just thinking about it.  Thanks to my Mom for introducing us to this wonderous creation.  This fall I have found that it is especially delicious when made using fresh, local apples.  Specifically, Mutsu, Granny Smith, Red Delicious, or a combination of varieties.  I would love to taste a pie made completely with the super-tasty Arkansas Black apples, but I only have a few and they are so good fresh!

If you have "The Gift" like my Mom, you can make your own pie pastry.  For the rest of us, the pre-rolled Pillsbury pie crusts are pretty darn good!  Here is how you can make your own 8 little slices of heaven from Betty Crocker's recipe circa 1978:

French Apple Pie

Pastry for a 9" pie

Pie Filling:
3/4 c. Sugar
1/4 c. All-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. Ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp. Ground cinnamon
Dash of salt
6 c. thinly sliced tart apples (about 6 medium)

Crumb Topping:
1 c. All-purpose flour
1/2 c. Packed brown sugar
1/2 c. Firm margarine or butter

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
Line 9" pie plate with pastry.
Combine dry ingredients for pie filling in a large bowl; add apples and stir to coat.
Turn into pastry-lined pie plate.

Combine Crumb Topping ingredients with a pastry blender or fork until crumbly.
Spread evenly over apples.

Bake for 50 minutes, cover topping with foil for the last 10 minutes of baking.
Best served warm.

  • I am not a huge nutmeg fan, so I use about 3/4 tsp. of cinnamon and 1/4 tsp. nutmeg in the filling.
  • I put the apples in the pastry about a cup at a time and spread them out to evenly cover the pastry and to lay flat.  (Purely aesthetic and obsessive, re. Me).
  • I add salt and cinnamon to the topping as well.  About 1/8 tsp and 1/4 tsp., respectively.  Maybe a dash of nutmeg, too.
  • Any apple will do.  This pie is perfectly delightful when using Red Delicious (when the Produce Box provides you with 16 of them in one week!)  However, it does take on a completely different attitude when tart apples are used.  It's up to you.
  • A surprisingly tasty pie resulted from me forgetting to put the salt in the apple filling.  I sprinkled it on top of the (Red Delicious) apples and added some salt in the Crumb Topping for good measure.  There was a great contrast between the sweet, spicy apples and slightly salty topping that was really nice.

Enjoy!  And remember:

Who needs cake when you can have pie?!?

July 22, 2011

Tricks and Treats

First of all, the baby food sold in little pouches is too awesome for words (see Ella's or Plum Organics).  While Sweet P is definitely no longer a baby, I don't really care.  She has recently eaten broccoli and tonight she had spinach, peas and pears.  No bowls needed, just twist off the cap and give it to the toddler.  It's so fun that they don't appear to care what is in the pouch.  Verdict:  Yay!

Now pie, because eating vegetables means dessert.

Think about how you eat pie.  Go ahead.  First bite.  Second bite.  Good, now forget all of that.

How does a toddler eat pie?
However she darn well pleases!

Parenthood affords us the opportunity to see the world through new eyes. Watching Sweet P grow and learn sometimes brings to my attention how many constrictions we live by, without even realizing it.  So, start in the middle. Start in the back.  Do whatever you want!

July 16, 2011

Parenting Fail

I can't say that I understand a bully's motivation; causing a small child to cry is not a fun pastime in my opinion.  However, as a parent, there are days when it seems like it is an Olympic sport and you are about to win the Gold.  Refer to Screamy Mimi for cryings past.

As far as I can tell, Sweet P has the saddest sad face ever in the entire history of sadness.  Causing that face to appear is akin to having your heart ripped out, stomped on by a linebacker in rusty golf cleats and then run over by 73 dump trucks full of broken glass just before a dog comes and pees on it.

Here is a sad face:

Fresh from this morning due to cereal envy in conjunction with Daddy's absence and failure to save her from Mean Mommy.  Now keep in mind, this is not the full-on sad face.  She has this frowny, quivering lip pout that makes me want to do anything to make it go away.  Whole chocolate cake with sprinkles?  Every toy in the world? A unicorn?  Anything!!!

Instead, I have to be firm and follow through with the necessary parenting BS.  (That stands for Blue Shirt, if you didn't know.)  Below is a conversation Sweet P and I had recently at bedtime.

Me:  I've been working on the rail-

Sweet P:  No, no, Mommy! (*smack!)

Me:  (Puts Sweet P down in the crib)  No, you do not hit Mommy!

Sweet P:  (Spectacular sad face complete with pouty-lip super frown and giant teardrops)  Mooommeeeeeeeeeeee!

Me:  (Feeling like a dried-up dog turd)  You do not hit Mommy.  In fact, don't hit anybody.  That is not the way to express yourself.

Sweet P:  (Frown and tears continue) Mommy rock?

Me:  (Picks her back up and returns to the rocking chair)  You do not hit people.  No hit.

Sweet P:  No hit.

Me:  That's right, no hit.

Sweet P:  No hit.

The sad face has subsided by now and only a few tears remain.  I can see her thinking and she perks up,

Sweet P:  Daddy hit.

Me:  Nooooooooo, Daddy doesn't hit.

Sweet P:  Mommy hit.

Me:  ............................

Awesome.  Really glad we had this conversation.

So, how long do we have before day care sends Social Services?

July 06, 2011

Recipe: Creamy Pasta Primavera

I made a variation of one of my favorite invented recipes that I think came out really well.  It was tri-color rotini pasta with julienned carrots and zucchini in a creamy sauce with shredded Parmesan cheese, lemon zest and fresh parsley. Sounds decadent, but guess what makes it creamy?  Hummus!

I came up with adding the hummus to pasta sauce partly to create a lighter version of the garlicky cream sauce I love so much and partly to punch up the protein when Sweet P had less teeth.  The vegetables were easy, thanks to my awesome new julienne peeler from Pampered Chef.  That is, it was easy once I figured out how to use it without julienning my hand.  It was supposed to be a vegetarian dish, after all.

I imagine this would be good with just about any vegetables and any shape pasta you like.  Add some chicken or shrimp and dinner is done!

Initially, I had hoped the vegetables would get twisted into the rotini and therefore consumed along with the pasta.  Unfortunately, the toddler is always smarter than me.  I think some of the veggies may have accidentally been ingested, but she still won't eat the green noodles.  Next I think I'll try the cut spaghetti I found at the store so everything will be essentially the same shape.

Update!  It took me so long to get the original picture off of the camera that I have tried the recipe with the cut spaghetti.  For those with picky eaters, the majority of the zucchini just disappeared into the pasta.  You would never believe that there was a whole giant zucchini in the bowl.  It's not as pretty because I didn't have any herbs on hand beside rosemary (which was already on the chicken), but Sweet P loved it!

I did my best on the amounts, but I am of the "that looks about right" school of measuring.  If all else fails, taste it.  Faincy chefs say they never serve anything without tasting it first.  Simple, yet effective.

Ingredients:8 oz pasta
1 tbsp. olive oil
3 medium carrots, julienned
3 cloves of garlic, minced (more or less depending on your preference)
1 large or 2 medium zucchini, julienned
1/2 cup hummus
1 tbsp. lemon juice
1 tsp. lemon zest
pasta water or chicken or vegetable broth
1/3 cup Parmesan cheese
1/3 cup fresh parsley, chopped (or whatever herb you have available)

Cook pasta as directed on package.  While the pasta is cooking, saute the carrots with salt and pepper in olive oil over medium heat in a large skillet for 3 to 4 minutes.  Add the garlic and cook for a minute or two more before adding the zucchini and a bit more salt and pepper.  Cook for a few minutes more, until carrots are softened.

Reduce heat and add the hummus, lemon juice and lemon zest.  Begin adding pasta water or broth and mix until a sauce has formed.  (this would be a good place to taste and add more salt, pepper or lemon juice.)  Stir in the Parmesan cheese and parsley, reserving some for garnish.  Stir in the cooked pasta, adding more water or broth if it is too dry.

Put in a serving dish and garnish with remaining Parmesan cheese and parsley.

July 01, 2011

Beauty and the Yeast

Oh, hello there.

What? What's this I'm eating?

It's just a grilled cheese sandwich I made with some bread I baked the other day.

From scratch.

You know, I'm a baker

I bake bread

With flour and yeast.

And the kneading and rising and punching down.....

.....okay, I think I'm done.

Thanks for letting me toot my own horn there for a minute. I felt like I deserved at least a little bit of bragging after finally triumphing in what I estimate to be roughly an eleven year battle with certain fields of baking in general and yeast dough in particular. I can bake just about any type of cookie or cake with no problems worse than some occasional overflow or pan-sticking issues. Pies are iffy, but yeast breads have always been my nemesis, with the exception of a few sourdough successes, but those don't really count.

This eleven years ago previously mentioned is the first time I can remember trying to bake bread from scratch. It was to be rosemary olive oil bread and it was going to be fantastic!

What I ended up with were some very fragrant doorstops.  I think I either created some small, matter-sucking black holes or I really screwed with the law of conservation of mass because those bad boys weighed way more coming out of the oven than they did going in.

There were some other less memorable but still ill-fated attempts at bread-making over the years culminating more recently in an attempt to make focaccia, because who can mess that up, right?  Apparently I can.  I'll refer to it as the focaccia/Frisbee incident and leave it at that.  (These also involved rosemary.  Coincidence?)

The fact that I could not do something so seemingly simple and basic as baking aq stupid loaf of bread was incredibly annoying to me.  I use yeast at work to ferment things all the time.  I am the boss and the larger life form, I make the rules.  (Not really, just go with it.)  The yeasts were not going to beat me!  Especially not some run-of-the-mill, ho-hum, yer momma yeast that I bought in bulk at Sam's Club!!!

So, how did I finally succeed?  The same way the cave man showed his superiority over the apes:


Specifically, my Kitchen Aid + the dough hook.  I've always felt that my problem was overkneading.  This method takes that responsibility out of my hands.

I started simply with the basic white bread recipe in the little book that comes with the Kitchen Aid.  It came out fantastic!  After even this small measure of success I will admit to having delusions of great grandeur involving never buying bread from the grocery again and my house always smelling deliciously of yeast and fresh bread.  People will come to visit and I'll come out of the kitchen in a flour-spattered apron with a smudge on my nose and say, "Oh, hi.  I was just baking some baguettes..."


What?  Right.  Well, let's see if I can at least repeat the magic one more time before I swear off of commercial bread forever.

Yes, that big bite was me.  I think I was still chewing when I started giddily snapping pictures, as if the loaves were going to disappear before I could prove to anyone that I had actually baked good bread.

P.S.  All of the vegetables on the plate with my grilled cheese were purchased at the Raleigh Farmers Market, as was the butter on the bread in the second picture.

Buy Local NC!

June 17, 2011

Art, Vanity and Getting what you pay for

You know how you always see the caricature artists at the fair or Disneyland or other places people are having fun and you think, "it might be kind of fun to have one of those done of me," but you don't do it because you don't really want to wait in line/pay for it/see how they draw you?  Well, I had an opportunity to have one done for free recently.  Anyway, I love the cake and my hair looks pretty good...

The only cure for vanity is laughter, and the only fault that is laughable is vanity. ~Henri Bergson

May 14, 2011

Playing with Food

Over Easter weekend I made a trip to the Farmers Market and got some early strawberries.  Some of them had really fun shapes and if you have been reading my blog for a while you know I have a thing for funny-shaped produce, natural or contrived.

So, what do you see?

Here's what I see:
(I didn't have anything good to make an eye, so I just added one in MS Paint.)

May 13, 2011

The Importance of Being Earnest

Updated:  No major changes, just fixing some weird things that happened when Blogger was down.  I also lost my two comments.  :(

I was going to make my next post about the awesome pasta dish I made for dinner Tuesday night, but then something interesting happened at the grocery store.  Specifically, the parking lot of the grocery store.  The recipe will come soon.

I was walking along pushing my cart, within yards of Nemo, when suddenly the car I was behind lurched into reverse.  I usually come up with some silly expletive like "fart" or "poop" or the infamous "uh-oh, UH-OH!"  Sometimes all I can manage is sort of a whimper, but this time was a straight up "oh, s***!"  and then a dorky looking run with the cart to get out of the way. In flip flops.  Fortunately, he saw me and stopped.  I wasn't angry, I know that accidents happen.  I may even be guilty of committing a few myself.  (If "a few" means thousands.  It's all perception).  Anyway, I continued on to my car and began transferring my groceries to my trunk.  I was still alive and unharmed.  No big.

Then, something amazing happened.  He stopped and apologized!  Sincerely apologized.


Think about it.  Remember the last time you did something embarrassing, especially if it did or could have affected another person adversely.  Did you really want to stop and apologize?  Did you want to risk the wrath of one of those people that appears normal on the outside but hides an angry, scathingly bitter soul inside, just waiting for some unsuspecting person to unleash it upon?

Sometimes there's no opportunity to apologize, like when you almost crash into someone while driving.  But what if you're right there?  Do you make it a point to apologize?  I'd like to think that I do and/or would, but, honestly, I could do better.  The problem is fear.  I hate to have people angry at me.  Even making a complete stranger mad at me can potentially reduce me to tears.  At the same time, I know that sometimes a simple apology and admission of fault can go a long way.

It's hard.  Very, very hard to look someone in the face and admit your guilt, but I will try.

I will try to be strong and offer apologies when I do wrong.  As a wife, I know the power of a heartfelt apology.  As a mother, I am charged to teach Sweet P how to apologize...and mean it.  As a human, I owe my fellow (wo)man the benefit of the doubt that it was truly an accident and graciously accept an honest apology.  It may also mean forgiving the lack of an apology; there are reasons for that, too.

So, thank you, man who almost ran me over at Lowe's Foods.  You are brave and kind.  I forgave you in the parking lot and I am inspired by you in my heart.  Ideally, I would not make mistakes, but that is about as likely as Dozer (my dog) not chasing bunnies and making a fool of himself anymore.  Until then, I will hike up my big girl panties and say those two very powerful words.

I'm sorry.

May 02, 2011

Chicks, Books and Famous People

My opinion of famous people has gotten a boost!  I organized a small group of ladies to accompany me to WRAL FM's Lipstick Luncheon on March 19th.  My main interest in going was to hear the keynote speaker, Celia Rivenbark, who does have her own website but does not have a page on Wikipedia.  What?  She is an NC Girl from Duplin County and, besides her weekly syndicated column, has authored six high-larious books.  At least the two I've read were funny and, judging from the titles, the rest should be great, too.
  • Bless Your Heart, Tramp and Other Southern Endearments (owned and have read it)
  • We're Just Like You, Only Prettier
  • Stop Dressing Your Six-Year-Old Like a Skank (have read it, but lost to an unknown borrower)
  • Belle Weather:  Mostly Sunny with a Chance of Scattered Hissy Fits
  • You Can't Drink All Day if You Don't Start in the Mornin' (owned but have not yet read it)
  • You Don't Sweat Much for a Fat Girl (forthcoming)
After her speech, Celia set up in the hall to sign her books.  She was extremely nice and actually stopped to allow her fans to compose themselves into a flattering picture with her, unlike other famous people I have "met," and I got a decent inscription.

Although I am sad to learn that those measly six point five-ish years spent in the Cold North have rendered me unable to truly be Southern, it was a great day and we all had fun.

April 23, 2011

Nemo and Bambi's Dad (Updated)

Update:  I got into a fight with my netbook in the middle of composing this post.  The netbook may have won, but it fights dirty with tactics such as publishing posts prematurely and then shutting everything down to run updates.

I killed a deer...probably.

I was driving to work one morning in early April when it happened.  My commute is not like most; instead of four-lane highways, I travel back roads.  Rather than fast food restaurants and shopping malls, I see farms and livestock...and deer.

Since I don't remember too much leading up to the hit, I was probably zoned out a bit in that "I drive this route twice a day" way.  I saw movement out of the corner of my eye and hit the brakes.  I'm so glad I did because this deer was BIG.  Of course, in my mind, he kept seeming bigger and bigger as I related to story, but he was still big.  I knocked his legs out from under him a bit, he fell over onto my hood and then kept running.  Fortunately I had completely stopped by this time because several more deer followed.  No one was behind me, so I just sat there for a moment thinking how glad I was that I had been able to hit the brakes.  If I hadn't, I'm pretty sure I would have had a giant deer through my windshield.

I vaguely recalled seeing pieces flying when I hit him, but I couldn't see any damage from inside the car so I naively thought that perhaps it wasn't so bad.  I started driving again, no issues there.  Then I pulled into a church parking lot a few hundred yards away to check for damage.  The door won't open.  Yep, there's damage.  So I get out on the passenger side and walk around to find:

So, a busted grill and my Nissan emblem popped off.

Close-up of the grill and hood (and fur, ew!).

Broken headlight.

And the bumper that got smashed into the fender that got crammed into the door...

Anyway, I was able to drive the remaining two miles or so to work and then had it towed to a body shop in Knightdale.  I probably could have driven it, but it was 26 miles and I didn't want to press my luck.  State Farm was great and got me hooked up with a great body shop that arranged the tow for me and reserved a car for me which we picked up later that same day.

My little Versa is called Nemo because he has a lucky wiper on the passenger side.  To keep with the theme, I named my "new" car Bruce.

Bruce is a Dodge Charger, which I always thought were kind of cool.  It was fun to have a powerful car for a little bit.  The novelty began to wear off when after a week I still couldn't park the damn thing and I had to drop another $60 on a second tank of gas.

After two weeks and one day one got my Nemo back.  I can once again practically park sideways in a parking space again and still be cool.  I love my car, and the fuzzy doggie paw print steering wheel cover, too!

April 22, 2011

My Latest Food Obsession: The Monte Cristo Sandwich

On my recent trip to Anaheim and Disneyland, I ate some delicious things.  Being in California, I also ate some very fresh and healthy things.  One meal in particular stands out: the famous Monte Cristo sandwich from Cafe Orleans at Disneyland.  While it was definitely not healthy, it was at least wisely paired with fresh fruit as a side; french fries would have been overkill on the fried food front.  As it was, I focused on the meat and cheese containing parts while Mom "I'm just going to have a salad" took care of the corners for me.

The almighty reference, wikipedia, proclaims the version I had to be the traditional version, but with an addition.  That means the sandwich is completely dipped in fluffy, funnel cake-like batter, deep-fried, dusted with powdered sugar and served with a berry puree.  The addition was a common one in some areas of turkey to go with the traditional ham and Swiss.  The turkey was probably unnecessary since it was so mild it was essentially unnoticable when compared with all of the other flavors.

I had heard of the Monte Cristo sandwich, but I didn't really know what it was. Furthermore, I realized that I couldn't remember ever having noticed one on a menu around Wake County.  Though, I must admit that I don't usually pay too much attention to the sandwich sections of menus, especially if there is a Reuben listed near the beginning of the list.  I'm a sucker for pretty much anything involving sauerkraut as long as it is not of the Bavarian variety.  See shredded brussels sprouts for my opinion of caraway seeds.

In doing internet research around the Triangle in search of the elusive Monte Cristo, I have learned one thing: beware of imitations.  Yes, I know regional variation allows for the sandwich to just be fried on the outside.  It is even acceptable for the whole thing to just be thrown between a couple slices of French toast.  While both of those do sound tasty and might have pleased me previously, I have had the Cadillac and can now never turn back to tamer versions.

I have been ruined forever for anything but the original.  I have considered the improbability of powdered sugar on a ham and cheese sandwich and found the contrast delicious.  I have delighted in the crisp, fluffy batter encasing soft, fresh bread and its salty, smoky contents.  I have dunked in the berry puree until there was but a sad smear of it left in the cup.

Monte Cristo Sandwich - I will have you again, even if I must resort to cooking you myself!

March 17, 2011

Lost in Translation

As we are trying to teach Sweet P certain rules about how things work in our house as far as meal times and personal grooming, I realized that she isn't necessarily understanding what we are saying to her.  Some rules I realize are rather confusing upon analysis.  For example:

Rule: No cookies if you don't eat your dinner.
Analysis: If you eat food, you get more food.

Rule: You don't get crackers every time you ask for them, especially since you ask for them all the time.
Analysis:  Don't ask for crackers and you just might get some.  Also known as the Law of Random Crackering

Other rules I have translated based on her reaction to them.

Rule: It's time to go inside.
Translation: You don't get to do anything fun again for the rest of your life.

Rule: Big girls don't need bottles or pacifiers.
Translation: I'm taking away everything that you love.

Rule: No crackers before dinner.
Translation: I don't care if you're hungry, I'm just going to let you starve to death.

Rule: Go to sleep.
Translation: I don't love you anymore.

Rule: You have to sit in your booster seat and wear a bib to eat.
Translation: Ilike to torture you.

Rule: Let's wash your hands and face.
Translation: I like to torture you.

Rule: It's trim to trim your nails.
Translation: I like to torture you.

March 06, 2011

Book Review: Listen

First of all, I apologize for the hiatus.  I was battling the Mutant Death Crud for about a week and then just never found the time to write.  I also read a lot, and one novel has moved me to share.  If you have a nook, perhaps you downloaded the Free Friday book a few weeks ago?  If not, it is currently at $9.

Listen by Rene Gutteridge

In Listen, Rene addresses the power of the spoken word.  In this case, words not intended to be heard by the subject.  The story takes place in a small town full of seemingly normal people.  Then a website appears with transcripts of private conversations, turmoil ensues.  Turmoil that crosses generations and eventually ends in death.

I started reading the book and found it very entertaining with the aura of mystery surrounding the identity of the website creator.  I just finished it Sunday morning and I was surprised at how incredibly moved I felt at the end.  I am reminded of the pain I was put through by my classmates between 6th and 12th grade.  At first I was a brain, then later a freak as I tried to figure out who I was in the sea of conformity or social death that is high school.  In my struggle to identify myself as me, the only fact I had to work with was that I knew I wasn't everyone else.

As it was the 90's, I got caught up in the "grunge" or "alternative" scene.  I wore baggy pants and flannel shirts from thrift stores the hung awkwardly on my painfully thin frame.  I finally grew tired of it and stopped dressing like an old, color-blind man, but not until after I had been identified as "the biggest pothead in the school."  Which was intriguing because I had never done drugs.  I'm pretty sure it was also said I was anorexic, which was also not true.  I was only blessed with an extremely good metabolism, which has now, sadly, gone the way of the old-man pants.  At times I was also apparently a slut, but isn't that what most gossips will eventually resort to when the target is a female?

The struggles of Jenna, one of the main character's teenage daughter, make my heart ache for what Sweet P will have to endure throughout her life.  Paradoxically, Doug was the taunter rather than the tanted in school.  I can only hope that between the two of us and our different experiences we will have the strength and knowledge to get her through it relatively unscathed.

To be honest, I am guilty of many conversations that I would be mortified to have exposed.  It won't be easy, but I hope to learn to consider what I say, even if the subject isn't present.


"...as much as I hated it at first, I actually think it has done some good.  I hear it in the break room.  People are starting to talk about the power of words.  People are listening more than they're talking...Life and death are in the power of the tongue, if you give the tongue all of the power, I guess."

February 15, 2011

Too Pretty to Eat...Almost

Doug and I were introduced to the joys of bacon from happy pigs last New Year's Eve when some friends brought over some from Rainbow Meadow Farms.  It has since been referred to as the "Amazing Bacon".  It is so thick and fresh that it doesn't even curl up when you cook it.  I bake it in the oven and it comes out, flat, crisp and, well, amazing.  Unfortunately there are no pictures of the bacon, I was too busy eating it.

I went by the Rainbow Meadow Farms stand on my latest trip to the State Farmers Market to hopefully score some Amazing Bacon and to consider buying an Amazing Chicken while I was at it.  While I am all in favor of eating critters that live a happy life in open pastures, I am not quite ready for an $18 chicken.  This is in large part due to my lack of expertise with cooking whole birds.  I'll get there.

The very nice (and chatty) lady running the booth was going to run my debit card for the $7.something for the bacon even though she only liked to do it for over $10 when she offered me some fresh eggs to go with it.  Having not even thought about eggs, I happily agreed.  She then pulled out the most beautiful eggs I have ever seen.  They are Araucana eggs, and although I had a hard time capturing it on film, they are a delicate greenish-blue.

I'll admit to having entirely too much fun snapping pictures of these little beauties.  After a lifetime of sorted-by-size plain old white eggs, I found it incredibly and ridiculously charming that these were all different shapes and sizes.  I fried a bunch of them up (in a bit of Amazing Bacon fat of course) to have with the Amazing Bacon on Sunday and got a surprise.  I felt silly because I was a little sad to break such pretty eggs, but it was fun to crack the two biggest ones to find double yolks.  These eggs were even pretty on the inside, with a rich, golden yolk.  The only thing that could have made Sunday breakfast better would have been fresh-baked bread, but I have absolutely no luck in the kitchen with yeast.  In the lab, on the other hand, I put those yeasties to work!

Now, prepare for Eggs as Art!

February 13, 2011

Fancy Salad

Grandad (Papa) and Grammy (Yea-Yea) came out this weekend to visit their Sweet P.  We made our way down to the State Farmers Market on Saturday and I was inspired by all of the beautiful and delicious things I found there.  More on that in another post.  And, yes, I know that most or all of the produce I bought was not grown locally.  I'm okay with that for now.  Slowly, slowly I will consider the buy local thing for produce.  I'm not quite ready to only eat within the growing season, forsaking all else.

For dinner Saturday night I made a salad similar to one I've seen made on one the the approximately 9.5 million cooking shows I've watched.  First, the most beautiful, green and healthy-looking Boston lettuce I've ever seen, $5.00 for two giant heads.

Then toasted pecans and dried cherries because I didn't have any dried cranberries.  Finally, I broiled some rounds of goat cheese to put on top.  I think I overbroiled them just a tad, but they sure were pretty. I know it looks like a scallop in the photo, but it was goat cheese.  Add balsamic vinagrette and enjoy (with the sparkling wine we never drank at New Year's).  Yum!

February 09, 2011

Shades of Gray, Episode 1: High-fructose Corn Syrup

Okay, folks.  I have done my best to be a neutral informer, with a few opinions thrown in for interest.  Comments should be open, no login needed.  Talk to me!

A recent blog post by a friend addressed the pickle of the abundance of high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) in food and how expensive a trip to the grocery store can be if you want to avoid it.  Please read the post and my comment to gain some background for this post.

I took her challenge to look in my pantry to see where I found HFCS and I actually found much less than I expected.  Where I did find it was in products that we don't need, like packaged cookies and the few soft drinks we have.  This includes my ginger ale, which I don't intend to give up.  I know you can use tonic water as a mixer, but I prefer my Canada Dry.  Gin, vodka, rum, whiskey...you really can't go wrong.

From my position atop the fence of science I wanted to give some background on the topic and share my thoughts on the subject.  I don't propose to know anything about government subsidies or tariffs or anything like that.  I do know about science and food, so that is what I will focus on.

The basic health concern is that HFCS makes us fat, as in fatter than eating regular sugar would.  The reasoning is that there is more fructose - which does not trigger an insulin response and feelings of satiety - than glucose which does.  This is not exactly comparing apples to apples, but I'll do my best.

First of all, what is sucrose?
Sucrose, or table sugar, is a disaccharide with one glucose molecule and one fructose molecule.  For future reference, that's 50% glucose and 50% fructose.  It is made by crystallizing the juice squeezed from sugar cane or sugar beets (1).

What is high fructose corn syrup?
HFCS is made by treating corn starch with several enzymes.  First of all, you need to know that corn starch is made up of long, branched chains of glucose molecules.  To make HFCS, it is treated with:
  1. alpha-amylase - breaks the long, branched chains of glucose down into shorter, unbranched chains of glucose molecules
  2. glucoamylase - breaks the shorter chains of glucose into individual glucose molecules
  3. xylose isomerase - converts some of the glucose into fructose
Stopping after Step 2 produces corn syrup, as in Karo Syrup, with no fructose (check the label, I have some store brand corn syrup that does contain HFCS).  After all three steps, the final product is about 42% fructose and 50-52% glucose with small amounts of some other sugars.    Then, in a separate process, some of the 42% fructose solution is enriched to about 90% fructose and 10% glucose.  The 90% fructose solution is blended back into the 42% solution to create a solution of 55% fructose and 42% glucose.  So, there are three products:
  1. HFCS 42 - used in foods and baked goods
  2. HFCS 55 - mostly used in soft drinks
  3. HFCS 90 - used in some (unspecified) specialty applications, but mostly used for making HFCS 55
High fructose corn syrup was first created in 1957, but it could not be produced on a large scale until the late 1960's.  Then, from 1975 to 1985, it was rapidly introduced into the food processing industry, especially soft drinks (1).

Why is HFCS so widely used?
There are several reasons, but a major reason is the fact that it is cheaper than sucrose.  Corn subsidies, tariffs and trade quotas artificially raise the price of refined sugar in the United States and a few other places.  Additionally, it is easier to transport and blend into products because it is a liquid (1).

Functionality in foods
I went looking for reasons why HFCS as an ingredient may be preferable to sugar and found this (2).  My opinion is that, except for perhaps the extension of shelf stability (meaning anti-staling in this case), pourability of frozen concentrates and firmness retention in frozen fruits, sugar serves most of the same purposes, though it will take more labor and energy to incorporate it into the product because it will have to be dissolved with heat and mixing.  This means a higher production cost which means a higher price on the grocery store shelf.

So, who is to blame?
I would say greed and primal instincts.  We can hardly be surprised that the Corn Refiners Association is defending their product.  They do need to sell it, after all.  However, instead of telling us that HFCS is good for us, I would prefer to see them create some data that at least shows that it's not worse for us than sucrose.  Many studies have been done, but, as with most scientific research, for every study that says one thing there is a bigger and better study that says something completely different.

Food manufacturers also need to sell their products, and they sell us want we want.  We choose the products in taste tests that determine the formulations used in food products, and we likely choose the ones with with the sweetest taste (i.e. higher levels of HFCS).  All living things have the need for sustenance, and we all like sweet things and fat.  This is a survival instinct and has been true since the dawn of time.  I bet if there was a pecan pie available the cave kids would have been trying to sneak a slice before they finished their hunk of woolly mammoth.

And now...DATA!
You knew it was coming.

In 2002, consumers around the world spent almost 3 times as much money on soft drinks as we did on fruit, $193 billion (USD) on soft drinks and $69 billion on fruit (3).  That was more than 327 billion liters!  I couldn't find anything more recent on spending, but I did find this table showing that we Southerners consistently spend the most on soft drinks (4).  Maybe this has something to do with that old joke about Mountain Dew in the baby bottle.  It is cheaper than formula.

I did some research at the local grocery store to attempt to put the spending in perspective.  I chose the 2 liter soft drink as the vessel for comparison.  The store brand 2 liter soft drink is $1.29 and name brands are $1.59 to $1.79, we'll say $1.50 for an average.  According to the label, a 2 liter bottle contains eight eight ounce servings, that's about $0.19 per serving.  For the same $1.50 you could buy:
  • 1.5 apples ($1 per serving)
  • 1.5 pears ($1 per serving)
  • 1.5 oranges ($1 per serving)
  • 1/2 lb. strawberries ($0.75 per serving)
  • 1.5 grapefruits ($0.50 per serving)
  • 1/3 lb. grapes ($0.50 per serving)
  • 1/2 a cantaloupe ($0.37 per serving)
  • 8 medium bananas ($0.19 per serving)
The only fruit that is comparable in cost per serving is the banana.  So, excluding the banana, you can get 2 to 5 servings (that's 8 ounces!) of soda for the same price as one serving of fruit.  By my wonky calculations, that changes the implications of the previous spending statistic quite a bit.  As in we actually consumed a lot more than three times the amount of soda compared to fruit.

In Conclusion
By the numbers, most of the HFCS we encounter outside of soft drinks actually has less fructose than regular white sugar (42% fructose compared to 50% in table sugar).  What is in soft drinks is only a little more fructose than glucose (55% fructose).

I believe it's not the amount of HFCS we eat, it's the amount of sugar in any form that we eat that is the problem (5).  If you've ever read books that take place in the late 19th and early 20th century (such as my favorite - The Little House on the Prairie series), you know that white sugar and candy were very special treats.  It was brought out for company and occasionally found in a Christmas stocking.  I'm not saying that we need to be that spartan with the sugar.  I have as much of a sweet tooth as anyone else and I am happy to have a drawer full of chocolate and candy I can dig into at any time.  I just have to remember that is was my choice to buy it in the first place, and my choice to eat it.

As a final point, the actual amount of soda consumed at one sitting by the average consumer is far more than eight ounces. I've seen people drink 5 glasses at one meal, each one probably 12 to 16 ounces. I've never seen anyone eat 10 apples at once.

  1. The Ultimate Resource - wikipedia.org
  2. Corn Refiners Association - sweetsurprise.com
  3. Market Research - researchwikis.com/Soft_Drink_Market
  4. US Regional soft drink consumption - beveragemarketing.com
  5. Health - mayoclinic.com

February 06, 2011

Recipe of the Week

I have something a little different for this weekend's recipe: a recipe for an ingredient!

The first time I visited Denmark in the spring of 2007, I was taken to a gourmet food shop in Copenhagen where I found a small packet of herb salt and a Weck jar.  Perfect for a souvenirs in my opinion - small, relatively inexpensive and practical.  The Weck jar is now the happy home of my brown sugar (and my brown sugar bear).  I put the salt in my sea salt grinder when I got home and starting grinding it on everything.

It's awesome on scrambled eggs.  I found that out when all I could manage for breakfast every day for about three weeks near the end of the first trimester was one egg scrambled in butter with the herb salt.  I don't really remember what was in it besides rosemary, but I recreate my own now with my favorite herbs.  Try it with your own favorite combination, but I highly recommend the rosemary.  It adds a tasty kick to vegetables, rice, eggs, you name it.

Herbed Sea Salt
*amounts are approximate

1 cup coarse sea salt
2 tbsp. dried rosemary leaves
1 tbsp. dried thyme leaves
1 tbsp. dried basil leaves

Mix all ingredients together and store in an airtight container in a cool, dry place.  Grind over everything!

January 31, 2011

Exploring the Gray Areas

I have ideas for several posts about topics I've seen in the news over and over again in the last few years.  I believe our media does us a great disservice when they feed us biased, panic-inducing stories about the next big killer compound.  We accept what we are told as fact when there is actually a lot of gray in between the two sides.  I think Zero Tolerance is just an excuse to have Zero Common Sense, so I hope to be able to shine just a little bit of light in those gray areas and learn something myself while I'm at it.  Many of the topics are food related and are of particular interest to me after a lifelong love of food and cooking, a college education in Food Science, and as a mother in charge of (most of*) my daughter's diet.  I do not present myself as any kind of expert, only someone interested in looking at both sides of the story, trying to make some sense of it and sharing what I find.

It seems that the more health concious we get, the more horror stories there are about our food.  Over the years, as we changed from farmers to businessmen living packed together in bulging metropolises, the practice of preparing the yearly smoked pig, canning vegetables from the garden and making fruit preserves to get through the winter became obsolete.  Factories popped up to create foods that could live on a shelf long enough for the city folks to eat and food preservation on a mass scale was born.

Food production on this scale is rarely pretty; there are many things I wish I could unlearn from my college classes, but they are burned into my brain for good.  The joke around Schaub Hall was that roommates of food scientists watched carefully what the food science student would eat, if they wouldn't eat something, the roommate avoided it as well and never asked why.  The truth is that the creepy things done to food are done purely to get the most food to the most people at the lowest cost.  That doesn't mean that they are the best things you can choose to do to a poor, innocent potato, it only means that it won't be rotten or make you sick - at least not from food-borne illness.

As we come full circle and move back towards the ways of growing our own vegetables, buying locally, etc., etc., we have work to do as consumers.  Know what is done to your food but, more importantly know why.  When you see a news story about that new killer compound, ask why.  Why is it in my food?  Why is it supposed to be bad for me?  What are the alternatives?  Then you can choose whether you want to avoid it or not, if you are lucky enough to have the money to make those choices.

Remember that it is your choice to eat something or to not eat it, some people are just trying to get by.  Don't judge that lady at the store for buying those pre-made, frozen hamburger patties.  Maybe that's the only way she can afford actual meat protein for herself, husband, 4 children, Grandpa and crazy Aunt Petunia on two meager incomes.  Or, maybe she just likes the way they taste.  In 25 years we'll all be eating dehydrated food pellets anyway.**

*She eats lunch and two snacks at day care five days a week.  I don't like all of the food they serve there, but it's not too bad.
**I really hope not :p - but my husband, who I made read this post first hopes that we do end up eating food pellets, or at least some soylent green.

January 29, 2011

Shredded Brussels Sprouts

I like Brussels sprouts.  I like them steamed.  I like them roasted.  I really like steamed sprouts cut in half and broiled with some butter and parmesan cheese on top.  However, unless they are doused with butter and cheese, I pretty much only want one serving.  I made the recipe below recently, had seconds and seriously considered thirds.

The lemon juice neutralizes what I call the fart taste.  Or, as my more mature friend Kate says, the sulfur taste.  Anyway, the lemon juice brightens the flavor without making it sour or even lemony.  I loathe caraway seeds with the very fiber of my being, so I chose the poppy seeds.  They made the dish visually interesting and every once in a while you would actually chomp down on one which was kind of nice, but they certainly could be left out with no damage to the dish.  If you choose to use the caraway seeds, that is your choice.  I promise not to judge you....much.

Shredded Brussels Sprouts

1 pound fresh Brussels sprouts
3 Tbsp. butter
2 tsp. lemon juice
1 tsp. poppy seeds or caraway seeds
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper

Rinse sprouts, trim stems and remove any leaves with spots.
Thinly slice the sprouts.
Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium-low heat.
Cook the sprouts just until wilted but still crisp-tender (about 3-5 minutes).
Add the lemon juice, seeds, salt and pepper.
Toss and serve.

Notes: I cut each one into 4 or 5 slices which worked fine, but it might be better a little thinner.  Also, the picture looks like they fell apart more than mine did, maybe the stem should be trimmed a bit so the outer leaves will fall off during cooking.

Adapted from Redbook October 2009 issue

January 26, 2011

Blog Resurrection

Hey, what's this?!?

[blows off a huge puff of dust and dog hair]

Oh, wow!  It's my blog!!!

Yes, I'm finally back after nearly a year.  I finally managed to find a web address that was available and I'll try to learn to do some other faincy computer-y things.  Why the changes you ask?  Because I have other things I would like to write about in addition to the joys of parenthood and it doesn't seem quite right under the Little Bug Strahler title.  Additionally, I don't want to lose all the hard work I put into the previous posts.  There's some good stuff in there, if I don't say so myself.

Look for new stuff soon!