Saturday, January 30, 2010

Wherein there was sledding:

Yes, even ANNA sledded, and here is the photographic proof:
(I will note that that is a coat that I bought her about 6 years ago, and it still fits. Good Grief.)
Anna went down once, and was satisfied with the experience. Julia stayed out for an hour, and went down over and over. BTW, this is the hill/street in front of our house, and a fine sledding hill it is.
Sandy enjoyed herself immensely, and barked, growled and bit at the sled.
The supervisor
Tonight Adam made the four of us a 17-inch pepperoni/ham deep dish pizza. Need I say more?

Eight inches, and then some ice

Snow pictures. I do not venture very far from the porch. Can you see the snow fort Julia is building on the left? She and Sandy stayed outside for hours.
Our neighbors' house. We look down on it from our patio, and I always like the way it looks. It's especially homey with the smoke coming from the chimney. We have no fire this weekend b/c we have no dry or old wood. We're piling it up for next winter, though.
"The holly bears a berry, as red as any blood ...."
Ice trapped in iron
Ghostly visitors

Friday, January 29, 2010

Remembering Walking

Right now, snowing is falling steady and straight, outside. In only a few hours, we have almost 4 inches. And since I think it will continue overnight, it's hard to say how much we'll get -- perhaps close to a foot.

So I thought I'd share a couple of photos I took this past week. The weather was heavenly, and Julia and I went for several walks with Sandy. Doesn't she look happy?
I have a favorite tree that we pass on our walks. The trunk is massive and intruding into the sidewalk. The bark is craggy and rough, like the skin of an old Indian. Grey and aged, it draws me to look and touch. I'm fond of trees.
Tomorrow, I imagine I'll have pictures of snow. And Adam is making some brioche dough for sticky buns tomorrow. "The most totally luscious dough of all time," he says. I'm looking forward to it.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Thoughts on Home

This year I'm home. I wake in the morning when I've rolled over enough, and I go to bed at night with the owls, if I like. I'm home for three meals a day. I'm spending more time with my kids, cooking more, taking walks in my neighborhood, playing with my dogs, and kissing my husband at odd times of the day.

And my stress is way down, in spite of the fact that we have only part-time employment, and it's temporary at that.

I've pondered a bit on my departure from the school classroom, because I do dearly love teaching. I feel a pang in the heart when I think of not teaching American literature next year. I've taught American lit every year that I've taught school. How will I live without my yearly study of Dickinson? And will I keep sharp as a literary analyst, without the daily rigor of teaching?

And when I ask those questions, I know I'm drifting away from home.

Over the years, people let go of many things. They let go of dreams, and feel sad when they do. But dreams can't all become reality. I never became a concert pianist; I couldn't make myself keep practicing 3 hours a day, sadly, after college. I never became a famous singer, and each time I lapse from singing in a group, my range drops.

I also never: became a Miss America, became a great ice skater, or a model, or a college professor, a missionary or ...

sniff ...

a published writer. Sigh.

But I am a wife, a mother, a daughter, a sister, a homemaker.

When I was in the classroom every day, I had to "make" my home in a few, spare minutes each day. I snapped at my children, scowled at my husband, gave the house a "lick and a promise" (as my mother says), and barely -- only barely -- got the minimal amount of housework done each week. The house, our home, sat empty most of our waking hours.

Home wasn't a place to enjoy. It was a place to barely catch my breath before I had to go back and do it all again tomorrow morning.

This year, I'm at home. I like my home, and I love being here with my family. Life is slower, and having less money ensures that it will remain slower.

Sometimes we choose the right thing because we know it's right. Sometimes we choose it because God leaves us no other options. Unfortunately, I'm usually in that second category. But I'm thankful God put me home this year. Because when this brief life of rat-chasing-tail is over, and I'm on a New Earth eternally, I don't think I'll be waking up at 5:45 every morning and dashing to a job for 8 or 9 hours. I'll have eternity to do all I want to do, and go where I want to go, and there will be no unnecessary dashing.

Why be in a panic when you have eternity, and God to take care of you?

I'm becoming convinced that the peaceful people in this world live as if they already have eternity, and are not in a dead race against time. Being at home this year has helped me toward that attitude.

Here's a lovely article on this stay-at-home topic, written by one of my favorite online people, Lanier Ivester. And here's Lanier's lovely blog.

Love this roast beef!!

Adam bought a round roast recently on sale, and we decided tonight was the night to have some delicious beef. Here's the recipe from ATK, as we used it:

You must begin the day before, with a thawed 3-4 lb. roast. An eye of round is perhaps best, but any cut from the round will do. Salt the roast well. They used about a tablespoon per pound of beef, but Adam felt that would be too salty. He used a teaspoon per pound, and I must say, it was perfect and needed no additional salt at the table. Wrap the salted roast in plastic wrap and place in the frig for 18-24 hours. Remove from frig. Pat dry with paper towels. Rub lightly with oil (I used olive) and pepper generously. Heat about 2 T of oil (I used lard) in a heavy skillet. You should sear the meat at least 3 minutes on each side, until it is very nicely dark. This is about the only "coloring" your roast will get, so make it good!
The lady on ATK recommended placing a colander over the skillet to reduce splattering oil from the sizzling meat. This is a great tip! And unfortunately, you do nothing with the nice, crusty fond on the bottom of the skillet, unless you want to make a gravy ....

Place the roast on a cooling rack, placed in a baking sheet. Do not cover. Cook in a 225 degree oven for at least 1 hour, 15 minutes, or until the roast's internal temperature is 115 degrees. Then turn off the oven, and allow the roast to sit in the oven for 30-50 minutes longer, until its internal temperature rises to 130 degrees. (We were impatient, and it was only about 125, and was a bit pinker than I prefer.)

It is lovely.
And yessiree, it tasted great too. Seriously, this is like that great roast beef you get sliced for you by a nice man in a white coat in a fancy dining room, at the end of the $25 buffet. You can see here the line where the salt penetrated the beef. This is highly recommended with mashed potatoes and fresh green beans.
And guess what Adam found at the local grocery today? A lamb roast for over half-off! I'll have to let you know what we do with that.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

A bit more detail on French Onion Soup

My dear friend Carolyn asked for more detail on Adam's French Onion Soup that we all enjoyed last week. I'm glad I asked him, becuase I clearly had several cooking points completely awry! So, here's the "skinny," as they say:

The recipe called for 4 lbs of onions. Adam used 3 lbs.
Slice them roughly and place in a heavy covered pot. We use our cast iron chicken fryer. Honestly, I think I use cast iron for almost everything I cook, and I use that chicken fryer ALL THE TIME. Thanks, Mother, for a very useful wedding present (20 years later!).
Cook onions for 1 hr. in a 400 degree oven. Remove and stir well.
Cook another hour. Then remove and put on the stovetop. Cook over medium heat, to remove moisture and build up fond. When all moisture is gone, add 1/4 cup water and cook till dry, stirring. When the moisture is gone again, add 1/4 cup water again, and cook till dry, stirring. Then, when the onions (greatly reduced) are dry, this time add 1/2 cup wine, and cook till dry. (This gets rid of the raw wine taste that is unpleasant.) You should have built up a beautiful, dark fond on the bottom of the pan by this time. This is your deep flavor. Be sure not to burn these onions as you cook them down each time.
Add 3 cups of beef broth and heat through.
You know the rest. Place some soup in an oven-proof single-serving dish. Put one or two thick slices of crusty bread on top. Adam actually toasts his baguette slices in the oven ahead of time, to ensure they are dry and rather hard. Grate mozzarella cheese on top generously -- or if you have a favorite white cheese, try that. We like mozzarella.

Bon appetit!! (As Julia would say)

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

A Sidney Lanier Poem


My soul is like the oar that momently
Dies in a desperate stress beneath the wave,
Then glitters out again and sweeps the sea:
Each second I'm new-born from some new grave.

-Sidney Lanier

I've loved Sidney Lanier's poems for years. He was a Civil War Era, Southern poet. You don't hear of many of those, do you? I bought an anthology of his poetry several years ago on Ebay. Much of it has the flowery, stylized manner of the poetry of that time, but some are elegant, simple, clear. I feel this brief picture of self-realization is beautiful.

A Cooking Day

I finally went to the grocery yesterday; the larder was very bare. And this morning, as I lay in bed, I realized I still had no granola and no bread in the house. So it was a cooking day.

Granola first, bread second. And yes, it was lovely to be able to cook granola at 350 in the top oven, and have my bread rise in a slightly warmed lower oven. I questioned the necessity of 2 ovens at first. Necessary? No. Helpful? Yes.

After lunch and finishing school for the day, I remembered I'd promised to fix another apple pandowdy, which I did. And we ate about half of it right away.

So, it's a good thing that we had a light supper:
I never could fix my mind on anything for supper. Do you have days like that? Anna had mentioned the idea of salad, and I had a lovely head of lettuce. I thought I had sweet potatoes too, but when I reached for them, I found ONE sweet potato, and my thumb pressed into a mushy, rotted spot. Nix the sweet potatoes.

Meat? I began to thaw out some ground beef for some variety of Salisbury steak. I even passed the idea of a quiche by my husband, who quoted Normal Mailer as perhaps the author of the famous line, "Real men don't eat quiche."

Nix the quiche.

But then Adam recommend just a large chef's salad. [Aside: Real men don't eat quiche but they DO eat salad for supper? Must ruminate on this conundrum.] It's amazing how many yummy additions one has for salad, when one begins digging in the vegetable drawer.

And we'll undoubtedly finish off the pandowdy this evening.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Looks are Deceiving

Here is the promised photo. There's a lot of ooey, gooey yumminess going on there.
However, this is the point as which photography is deceptive. The bananas? Not ripe enough, and they tasted disgusting. I can eat a slightly-green banana with the best of them, but for some reason the sugary toppings did NOT co-habitate well with such a banana.

On top of that (no pun intended...) the caramel/butterscotch topping instantly turned to a hard crust when it hit the cold ice cream. It was interesting to chew, but I don't like a banana split to challenge me back.

So, sometimes it's better to look at the droolingly beautiful photo of the food, and not get to know it from the other end of the spoon!

Saturday, January 23, 2010

When your family has eaten all the chocolate sauce...

It all started when we had to stop at Bi-Lo for mozzarella cheese. Kind of hard to make pizza without it, and if you recall, we ate LOTS of it on top of our soup last night. So ...

In Bi-Lo, just before the check-out, we passed some Pet ice cream on sale. Mmmm. The transcendental concept of a banana split leapt into my brain.

"We'll need bananas," Adam noted. We bought 4 bananas, situated conveniently nearby. How do these grocers know?

But when we got home, and I had started the pizza dough, I realized the horrible truth: my family had eaten ALL of our fakey, store-bought chocolate sauce!!

What to do?

Why, make my mother's delicious home-made chocolate sauce, of course :) Honestly, I'm GLAD they ate all that other junk!! If you've never made your own chocolate sauce, please begin now.

1/2 cup cocoa
3/4 cup sugar
2/3 cup evaporated milk
1/3 cup light corn syrup
1/3 cup butter
1 tsp. vanilla

The whole recipe cooks in a single sauce pan, and it will keep in the frig indefinitely. You know, that means forever, or until you can tell it's starting to grow.

Combine the cocoa and sugar in the sauce pan and mix to get rid of big lumps. Pour in the milk and syrup and blend. Cook over MEDIUM heat, stirring with a whisk gently until it is boiling.
Boiling does not mean just a little glub-glub. It should keep boiling even when you stir it, and should begin to look foamy. And it will smell so good that you'll thank your stars that it's HOT b/c that's the only thing keeping you from pouring it in your mouth.

Keep it boiling, and stirring, on this heat for 1 minute. Remove. Put the butter in; it will melt quickly, and then stir in the vanilla.

Put it in a sealed container, in the frig, until you need it, in, uh, about 2 minutes. BTW, that's just an old mason jar with a used lid. You don't need to "seal" it. Any jar will do.
I'll try to remember to post a picture of the banana split later, but knowing me, it will be gone and I'll be licking the bowl, before I remember to take a shot!

Julia liked her own licking.
And Adam is in the kitchen now making some home-made butterscotch. He is literally scotching butter, isn't that fun?

Friday, January 22, 2010

Redefining Obama

After the Massachusetts Senate election, even a brain-dead politician should be able to see that the wind had long changed. Obama is no fool -- although I don't think he's as deft a politician as Bill Clinton. Still, after my initial pleasure at the results from Massachusetts, my next thought was to wonder how Obama would begin to redefine himself.

He needs to do something fast. I was shocked today to see that his popularity ranking has fallen to -18 on the Rasmussen Daily Tracking Poll. Minus eighteen! He's scraping bottom!

But how much can Obama alter himself? He's got his finger in the political windstorm. And here's a question for you: should a politician who has avowed an undying commitment to his agenda EVER abandon it, when the fickle populace changes its mind? If he does, will it reveal his spinelessness and cowardice, his obsequious favor-seeking?

Or does it just mean that he is sensitive to those he's been elected to serve?

Because, be honest -- when Obama ran for office, he TOLD AMERICA that he was going to do all this stuff, didn't he? Health reform, stimulus, climate legislation, environmental stuff, green jobs, etc. It's not like these things are a SURPRISE.

Obama didn't change; America did. Maybe they liked the talk of these things, but didn't like the action. But America screamed loud and clear in the Massachusetts election -- "We don't want this ANYMORE!" ( I distinctly heard more than just Yankee accents hollerin')

I'll note one piece of his promised agenda that has NOT occurred. Do you recall Obama telling us, about a year ago, that he was going to whip this economy back into shape in a matter of months? That he was going to get it going again? Well, it didn't happen. Throwing $$$ at it didn't work. And it's gone on long enough that now it's all about one thing: jobs.

Here's a link to an article I just read about a debate in Charleston, WV recently, between a coal company CEO and an environmentalist attorney. Clearly, the CEO represents the people of WV -- supporting a business and a way of life that's put bread on their table for many years. The environmentalist (Rbt. Kennedy) is closely tied to the Obama environmentalist agenda.

But I'd already heard this story from my brother, who owns a surveying company in the state. Everybody there knows that, as soon as Obama came into office, regulations were drawn up and applied to the coal industry, permits were held, business didn't progress, and a year later, lots of people are out of work.

This isn't just some Republican mantra: "Gov't regulation hurts employment." This is real life! When businesses can't do their work b/c the gov't shuts them down deliberately, they end up firing their workers. And having some attorney (or, in Ohio's case, the President himself) come to you and smile and say, "I'm fightin' for your jobs!" doesn't fool anyone.

Obama has given us one, ONE, new job idea: green jobs. Nobody's buying that one either. Just try telling a 52 year old man who's been working coal all his life that he's suddenly going to get a new job as an environmentalist making solar panels, and listen to him laugh.

I think this is why, fundamentally, Obama will fail in redefining himself -- he will not be able to jettison his failed agenda fully, because he will not be able to admit that he has been very, very wrong.

Scott Brown's election this past week may produce enough warmth to begin a thaw in the frozen labor market, but I doubt it. Real change will need to come next November.

(This is becoming a habit.)

I feel like I need to tell y'all what we're having for supper at night. But I promise I'll ONLY do it if it's interesting. This morning, I pulled a big chunk of meat (1.3 lbs. of sirloin, to be exact) from the freezer.

"Whatcha gonna do with that?" Adam asked me.
"I dunno. Stir fry?" replied the inventive wife.
He promptly volunteered to be in charge of dinner.

Fine by me :) Yippee! He decided on French Onion Soup and roast beef sandwiches. And, you guessed it, ATK has a great soup recipe.

First, Adam cooked down 3 lbs. of yellow onions in a heavy iron pot, in a 400 oven, covered. He cooked them once (until greatly reduced), stirred them, and added 1/4 cup water.
Back in the oven they go, to reduce again, same procedure. And then a 3rd time. But at the end of the 3rd cooking, he deglazed the pan with 1/2 cup white wine instead. Onions are done.

He also cooked 2 baguettes. To the onions, he added 3 cups of beef broth (made with beef bouillon). Now I must add here that we made French Onion Soup often, many years ago. But this is by FAR the best-tasting, smoothest, silkiest, mildest version I've tasted. All that cooking down produces a delectable taste. ( I used to dislike the wine in it, but this time I couldn't taste the wine.)
He cooked the beef first on a skillet to brown it, then uncovered and dry, in a 225 oven until it was 115 degree inside (about 12 minutes). After turning off the oven, it remained in there another 15 minutes.
Part of the baguette he used to make the soup, with mozzarella on top. We dipped the beef sandwiches into the broth in the soup. Mmmmmm.
This was warm comfort food on a wet, cold day.

And, because random homeschooling photos are always fun, here's Julia's rendition of the Parthenon, made with tin foil and old candy wrappers:

A helpful hint:

From Adam:

If you're thawing a piece of meat for later cooking, place it (in its wrapping) in a cast iron skillet/pot. It will thaw faster that way -- the iron seems to draw the coldness out of the meat. The larger the skillet, the more effective this is. We try to avoid using the microwave for thawing meat.

(BTW -- Anna and I are eating the chicken alfredo for lunch, and it is tastier today than it was yesterday!)

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Chicken Alfredo

This dish did NOT turn out as I wanted, but since I'd already taken all the pictures, I figured I might as well share the failure with you :)

Begin with chicken breasts. I used 3 because that's now many were in the package. How dumb is that? Trim off the fat and undesirables.
Doesn't that look better?
I like to cut them into strips before I brown them. They cook faster and more evenly, and have more browning on the outside.
Brown them in olive oil (3 T maybe?), with some rosemary and garlic cloves. Remove the chicken to a plate, remove rosemary and garlic, and strain the olive oil through a sieve, into a small bowl.
Next, you make a nice white sauce. My white sauce this evening REFUSED to behave. I whipped it with a whisk as punishment (*sigh*). It just did NOT thicken as I wanted -- it thickened some, but not to a consistency that would sit nicely atop pasta. Oh well. I should have added a tad of corn starch, but I was bummed out and distracted, and had already started my roux over once. Well, you get the picture.

[White sauce: 3 T melted butter with 3 T flour added; bubble over med. high heat, then 3-4 cups warm milk, stir till thickened, and finally add about 3/4 cup of grated parmesan. You might want to practice your white sauce technique a few times on smaller proportions, if you've never done it before. It's a very useful skill.]

Anyway, put the chicken pieces into the alfredo when it is fully thickened and very hot. Never allow a white sauce to boil, as the milk will separate and it will be ruined.
Here are some fun garnishes to use on this dish. They really add depth of yumminess to the final flavor: the strained olive oil, more grated parmesan, & green onions.
Voila! See that white runny sauce? Ideally, more of it should be sitting on the pasta. Still, the taste of this dish is excellent; my daughter requested it again, and asked me tonight if I would make twice as much so she could have lots for leftovers.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

And Thank You, Mr. Brown.

A few personal thoughts on the Massachusetts election of Scott Brown:

1. This was NOT a vote for the Republican Party.
2. This was an ideological vote. The public are following what's happening in Washington, and they're understanding its implications for their lives.
3. This is a vote AGAINST Obama.
4. Ditching Obamacare might help House & Senate Democrats, but the only thing that will really improve the national political attitude is a change in employment.
5. Obama has given no ideas of how to improve employment, except "green jobs," which doesn't fool anyone. Maybe that's part of his problem with Americans now -- the old "fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me." Americans think Obama is trying to get one over on them AGAIN.
6. Will House & Senate Democrats throw Obama and his healthcare under the bus? Maybe -- iff they love him more than their jobs, they'll continue to embrace his agenda. Do politicians have loving hearts like that? I think not.
7. The wave of political unrest and vigor sweeping the nation has a distinctly independent, non-party flavor.
8. Independent voters used to favor the Democratic Party and oppose the Republicans; Reps. have had a strong, unique, edgy party agenda & Democrats have generally had a broad, insipid agenda. (Even on abortion, a loaded issue, Democrats will say senseless, watery things like, "I'm personally opposed to it, you know, and don't like it, but I believe in a woman's right to choose it.") Obama has changed the Democratic party platform and given it teeth. Almost immediately, independent voters are rejecting him.

Should Democrats watch out? Yes. But so should Republicans. These voters out there are angry, and they're watching what Washington does. They want a government that responds to their desires, and they WILL have it. Washington had better deliver.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Arroz con Pollo

I made this for supper because I had chicken thighs. This is another America's Test Kitchen recipe. Now, I'll warn you: I didn't make this recipe before, because it honestly didn't LOOK that good to me. It looks like a mess. But, the chicken thighs were beckoning...

In a large bowl, blend 6 large garlic cloves, crushed as small as possible
2 tsp salt
1 T dried oregano
1 T vinegar (I always use apple cider vinegar)
1 tsp pepper
Wash and trim your chicken thighs. (About 6 thighs should work nicely.) Like I noted in a previous post, kitchen scissors are GREAT for this job. Then put the thighs in the bowl and mush them around, coating them with the paste/marinade.
The thighs should sit in this marinade for at least 15 minutes. Meanwhile, dice up a medium sized onion and 1/2 a pepper (or more). The recipe called for green, but I only had red, so red it was. And you know what? It tasted great and looked pretty. Saute these two in a LARGE, oven-proof pot, in 1 T olive oil. Saute gently, and when they are turning soft and opaque, add the chicken thighs -- push the veggies to the edges so the thighs have contact with the pan bottom. Cook on medium heat for about 5 minutes, until the meat under the skin just begins to turn opaque.
Flip the thighs over and allow to cook the same on the other side. It should be smelling yummy about now! Next, add about 2 cups of chicken broth (I used boiling water with chicken bouillon cubes instead) and 3 cups of rice. That seems like an awful lot to me. The recipe also calls for adding a generous supply of cilantro (which I love, but didn't have), green olives, and capers, at this point. I did none of that. More salt might be desirable at this point.
Stir, cover, and put in a 350 oven for 10 minutes. Remove, and stir well, so that the chicken and rice will cook evenly. If the rice is looking uncooked and there isn't much liquid left for it to absorb, add 1/4 cup hot water. I know it's an insane amount of rice, but honestly, it turns out about right.
Cook for 10 more minutes in the oven. When you remove it, take the chicken out of the pot, remove the skin, and remove the meat from the bones (using 2 spoons for this job is a nice trick). Put the meat back into the pot on top of the rice. The rice is ambrosial -- it smells SO good with all those yummy flavors.
Like I said, it's not the prettiest gal on the block, but the flavor was so good that afterward, I didn't brush my teeth. It's 8:00 and I STILL haven't brushed them, I'm embarrassed to say, because the aftertaste of both chicken and rice is so good. Oh, and they also squirted some lemon on it at the end, but I forgot all about that.

Yes, this is cooking in the real world, trying to bake chicken while your husband is swapping out ovens in the house. Haha! So, I cook with half a brain and forget this and that. But I don't think I'll be forgetting this recipe any time soon. And I have leftovers for a couple of lunches too.

$59 for THAT???

Adam went shopping (which is in itself a miracle).
He found that lovely double oven. (Do we NEED a double oven? NO. But we've got one now!)
Here is the old (non-working) microwave, which was on the top.
Here is the old stove. Oh my word. All we know is that it's probably original to the house, about 1947. THAT, folks, is what I've been baking in.
Opening the hole in the wall to accommodate the unit.
There she blows! Already cooking chicken and rice (arroz con pollo) for supper tonight. Recipe coming right up!
And yes, he really did pay only $59 for it. He bought it at a Habitat ReStore. The unit had not been tested yet to see if it worked, so they sold it to him cheaper (but would have allowed him to return it, if it didn't work). What a deal. He is thrilled, and so am I. Now, if we can just find a new stovetop, which is ALSO circa 1947.

Product Post #5

It's been a while since I've done a product post. These kitchen scissors are just about the BEST buy I've made in my kitchen in the past year.
I must confess, I bought them, along with several other items in a set, at a local junk store, for about 50¢. But after watching the ATK DVDS, I realized I wasn't using them to their full capacity. I'd already begun trimming stew meat with them (wow -- is that FASTER!). Today I trimmed the excess skin and fat off of chicken thighs. They are safer, faster, neater -- all around better. I'd highly recomment getting a pair.

I failed to mention ...

That "Food, Inc." is available to those of you who have Netflix. It is one of their Play-in-now options, so you don't even have to wait for it to come in the mail.

About a year ago, Adam and I watched another "food" documentary (of sorts) called "Super-size Me." I'd say that it is definitely less scientific; one guy decides to see what happens when he eats NOTHING but McDonald's food for a month (I think it's a month; was it 6 months? Surely, SURELY, it was only a month!) Anyway, it's appalling to watch, and a bit shocking to see the health effects on this young man, in such a short time.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

FOOD, INC. - the movie

As its name indicates, this movie/documentary describes the American food industry and its effect on YOU.

Yes, you.

Perhaps one of the most interesting concepts I gleaned from this movie is the power of the average American. As one commenter in the movie noted, every time you run a product across the scanner at the grocery store, your voice, your choice, is heard LOUD AND CLEAR. You're casting a vote for what kind of food you want the industry to make for you.

But most Americans are blissfully clueless about that huge monster out there. Perhaps they should have named this movie "Monsters, Inc." -- except that name was already taken. One man calls it a whole world that is being deliberately hidden from us.

How we eat has changed radically in the past 50 years. The delusion that we still eat "grandma's cookin'" may hover over the Thanksgiving table, but the reality of it is LONG gone. Do you realize that much of what you eat comes from one product: corn? The animals whose meat you eat, are all fed on corn. 30% of our landbase is presently planted in (you guessed it) CORN.
Michael Pollan calls our grocery stores "an illusion of diversity." There are only a few companies, only a few food items - "clever rearrangements of corn." When he tried to trace his food to its source, he kept ending up at one place, a cornfield in Iowa.

(My apologies to the Iowa corn growers.) But the fact is, cows were not designed to eat corn; they are designed to eat grass. Many of the additives found in our food are made from: CORN.

But I digress. The overarching point of the movie is that the food industry is corrupt. They have arranged it so that their people serve routinely on the regulatory agencies that are supposed to govern the industry and to keep it serving the eaters of the nation. These folks have conflicting interests. The laws that are passed are NOT designed to protect the consumers; they are passed to protect the companies, claims the movie.

And why do these multi-national, multi-billion dollar companies need protection -- legal and legislative protection? The assertion is that the way they make our food is so dangerous for us, that they need protection from legal action by the eaters who are harmed by their food.


"Well! And when did this all begin?" you ask. Why did our food industry change? Was it over population? Urbanization? War? No, my friend, it was McDonald's. (So claims the movie)

As McDonald's particularly grew to a massive company, it put more claim on the industry. McDonald's alone is the largest user of meat in the country (yes, beef, pork and chicken -- all three). They are the biggest user of potatoes. And they want an absolutely consistent taste, across the board, so that the Big Mac you eat in Richmond will be exactly like the one you eat in Sacramento. And they have the buying power to dictate to the meat industry how that meat must taste -- i.e., what goes into the cow. That was the beginning of the industrialized, factory-processed food we know today.

Thus, one speaker notes about Tyson (another of the biggies): "It's all a science. They've got it all figured out."

So far so good. What's wrong with that? Well, as long as the companies involved maintain as a primary interest the production of healthy food, it would be good. But these are companies, and they are interested in the bottom line. As one company fellow put it, "In a way, we're not producing chickens. We're producing food.... Raising a lot of chickens, on very little land, at an affordable price. What's wrong with that?"

What's wrong with that is what most of the movie is about -- abuse of the animal/crop, abuse of the land, and finally abuse of the consumer.

They showed chickens in a chicken house, large-breasted birds designed to produce white meat, but their bones and organs were so small that they couldn't sustain their own weight, and they couldn't walk. These birds, produced by growers who are industry slaves to the big corporations, are raised in dark tunnel houses. They never see the light of day. They live in their own feces. And their meat is designed for volume, not quality.

"But wait!" you say. "We do want quality. I like yummy chicken." But, friend, that is not the quality I'm talking about. I'm not talking about how it tastes to you, because, frankly, our taste buds have been trained by this industry to LOVE AND ADORE three flavors: salt, sugar, and fat. The quality I'm referring to is chicken that is GOOD for your health.

It won't have additives.
It won't have hormones.
It won't have antibiotics.
It won't be treated with bleach or ammonia.
And because it DOES matter how we humans treat the animals in our care, they will be given sunlight, grass, food designed for them, and a quick, humane death when the time comes.

Perhaps this is enough to get your interest and convince you to see this movie. The point here is that our food is being engineered. And the attitude of the industry toward American eaters is no better than their attitudes toward the animals they abuse.

Be careful what you eat. Read labels. Eat food that are normally in season at that time. Eat fresh foods. Even though a double cheeseburger is 99¢ and a bag of broccoli is $2, buy and eat the broccoli. The closer your food is to your grandmother's (or maybe by this time, your great-grandmother's), the better off you'll be. Remember that salt, sugar and even fat are rarely found in nature, and we should consume them accordingly.

And ask yourself, when you peruse your pantry shelves, "How much of this is processed food? How often do I cook something purely from scratch?"

Early in the movie, one speaker examines tomatoes in the grocery. They look fine, but they are tasteless, useless plate-filler. He calls it "a notional tomato -- the idea of a tomato." I call it an edible food-like substance.

Make sure what you put in your mouth doesn't just look something like food. Eat real food.

A little more salt, anyone?

Tomato Sauce. I've been contemplating tomato sauce.

I use a lot of tomato sauce, paste and whole tomatoes. And since I don't have my own, freshly-canned tomatoes right now, I'm at the mercy of the food manufacturers. Now that I'm a label-reader, I find long, scary words on the backs of these cans. On tomato products, I usually see "calcium chloride."

Calcium chloride is a common salt. It's made from limestone. It can be used to treat roads, or to amend soil, or in the plastics industry to make things more firm. A useful chemical.

But I don't necessarily want lots of it in my body, ya know?

And I found an interesting thing upon reading tomato labels. The expensive brands, like Del Monte and Hunt's, always have calcium chloride. At WalMart, ALL the Hunt's tomato products had this additive. I'm broken-hearted that Del Monte's Basil & Oregano diced tomatoes have it, because I LOVE using this product to make pizza sauce. And, BTW, all the Great Value (WalMart brand) tomato products use calcium chloride too.

I began to wonder, "Are there ANY brands out there that don't add calcium chloride to tomato sauces?"

Yes, there are! And guess what? It's the cheap brands!
The Happy Harvest (25¢) sauce I buy at Aldi, and the Clover Valley (55¢) sauce I found at Dollar General! So, I'm paying less (a LOT less) for something I want.

Some of you may be rolling your eyes. "Who cares about a little bit of salt in the sauce?" Well, honestly, I do. And I care about a food industry that puts additives into my food, not so that it will be better for me, but so that it will sell better for them. And I do believe that the seemingly small, insignificant food choices that I make for my family, multiplied hundreds of times in all the items I purchase, will impact our health.

This slow food/real food trend is becoming rather big. Here's a fun video of an interview on Jon Stewart's "The Daily Show, "with food expert Michael Pollan. It's worth the watch. (I don't agree with all that Pollan says, of course, but his advice about eating real food is right on the money!)

Friday, January 15, 2010

Experimental Cooking in the Real World

AKA: "The Bread Crumb Fiasco"

America's Test Kitchen had another recipe I wanted to try -- "Crispy Pork Chops." Pork is rather a boring meat on its own, but this recipe looked fabulous on the DVD. So today, I bought 6 lovely pork medallions at Aldi, trying (a little) to plan ahead for supper.

(Do any of you find that you plan ahead for a meal just enough to get you started, but not enough to make it a success? Ah well.)

I brined the pork chops (1 qt water with 1/4 cup salt) for 30 minutes in the frig. Easy enough, until I realized that they'd already been treated before packaging, and basically I had rebrined them. Mistake UNO.
Next step: Bread Crumbs. I needed about 5 slices of white bread. Now, I do not keep store-brought bread in the house, and I did NOT want to sacrifice 5 slices of my delectable homemade bread. Thankfully, however, I discovered homemade bread crumbs in the freezer that Hubby had made previously - yippee! If you're making yours fresh, use one slice of bread for each chop you're cooking. Chop in a food processor until they are coarse crumbs. Add: 3 pressed cloves of garlic, 1 minced shallot, 1/4 tsp salt, 1/4 tsp pepper, 2 T oil. Mix in a bowl with your hands.

BTW, here's a pic of my garlic peeler, a gadget well worth having, if you're a garlic lover. I've had this for about 10 years, maybe more? It works well, cleans easily, and looks as new as when I bought it. SO much better than fumbling with a knife and a clove, battling the paper skins.

Please look closely at the crumbs in the bowl. Note that they are ALREADY TOASTED. DUH. Of course Adam toasted them. Oh well, I didn't notice, and proceeded to toast them AGAIN. For 15 minutes, "until they really will look too done," the lady said. Oh yeah, they did. Can you say BLACKENED? Mistake DOS.
[Forgot to turn this picture. It makes me dizzy to look at it.]
Now, here's the messy process. You dip the rinsed, well-dried pork chops in plain flour. The next pan has this in it: 3 egg whites, 3 T dijon mustard, 6 T flour. Now, by this time, after burning the crumbs, I was beginning to crumble myself. I had no dijon. Plan ahead? What's that mean? I looked through my mustard collection:
honey mustard
yellow mustard
about 6 specialty mustards of varying hotness and horseradishness
BUT NO dijon. The closest I had was a Grey Poupon course pepper mustard, so it had to do.

And at this point, a good recipe will begin to compensate for your ineptitude, right?

Note the dark crumbs -- nothing like they're supposed to look. In there are also 2 T parmesan and some powdered thyme, because who has fresh thyme this time of year? And there should be a T fresh parsley, but I had none of that either, and by this time, I cared NOT.
I closed my eyes and proceeded with the messy dredging, etc. The chops cook in a 450 degree oven for about 20 minutes, or until they are 150 degrees internally. (Yes, we have a meat thermometer. Hubby went through a cooking thermometer craze at one point.) Cook on a wire rack, in a baking pan.

And here's the plate. Sweet potatoes b/c they go GREAT with pork and I love them. And that other mass on the plate? Some more of those apples from the pandowdy recipe. I wanted a fruit with the pork too, and this was perfect. I tell you, that pandowdy recipe is a keeper, and now I've found another use for it. It's delicious and QUICK (especially without the crust).
Will I make the pork again? Yes. Adam said the crust was the best he'd ever tasted on a pork chop -- really crispy and crunchy, and it stayed ON the meat. Next time, though, I won't double-brine the meat, nor will I double-toast the crumbs. Just goes to show you, we make our worst mistakes by giving ourselves more work :) Right?