Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Dinner: Wednesday Night.

This is actually part of my camping repertoire. It's super simple.

Beany Beef Burritos.

1 Tablespoon olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 1/2 cups cooked beef
1 can pinto beans
1 can black beans
1 package reduced sodium taco seasoning mix

Fry the onions until transluscent in the oil. Add the beef and beans and seasoning mix. Warm through. Place onto burritos, tortillas or wraps and add toppings.


chopped green onion
diced tomatoes
shredded cheddar cheese
chopped cilantro
sour cream

Like this:

I used a can of mixed beans for the Pinto and the Black as I'd used up the latter in a Barley soup I made last night. As well, that's a yellow tomato mixed in with the red. Cucumbers are sitting in for the cilantro and the green onions.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Prelude to the Extra Credit. (or How I Spent my Summer Vacation)

I have been thinking about having a decent vegetable garden for many years. I don't know the first thing about gardening except you have to weed it. For a long time we had a garden in a terrible and shady inherited spot near our garage. We got bitter lettuce and deformed carrots out of it until I decided it wasn't my responsibility and my husband could take care of it. Well, that didn't work out too well and the area became a grassy mound. It's the scruffy bit on the left, at the back.

This picture is from June of 2008. We didn't have a drought last year.

Our back yard faces south--so we have wonderful exposure. I really don't know why someone decided to put it there. I wanted to put the garden closer to the house (and hose) and in a better place for sun. But first, this sidewalk would have to come out.

(Picture taken in April, 2009. Yes, that's snow in the shadows.)

As you can see, no loss really. What you can't see is a) the gate doesn't work very well and my husband has given up on keeping it square year after year. It's an "emergency exit only."

Secondly, there's a great dip where we had our old drain pipe dug up and removed many summers ago. The fellows who did it carted away too much of our soil--we had to ask them to bring some back! They did, but after a few years, when all had settled, we could easily see it wasn't enough. So, there was a dangerous valley in the sidewalk right at the front and I would trip while walking on it. Often. So, I wasn't too interested in keeping this sidewalk: and it was a perfect place for a few raised beds. I decided we'd do three this year--and eventually work up to four.

We got the sidewalk out by mid-May and the forms built, then we promptly ran out of funds. We needed dirt. Lots of dirt and we just couldn't afford it.

We had another problem too.
Remember this?

This was all the stuff left over from last year's landscaping efforts. There's concrete rubble, and cedar bush and tree bits. There's also some really inexpensive brick we bought at a salvage place. We wanted to take it to the dump: (well, except for the brick, of course) but we couldn't figure out how to get it there. We needed a hitch (which we planned to get for the camper trailer anyway) and a cargo trailer which we really didn't want to pay for--even to rent. And my husband really didn't want to pay the dumping fees, either.

And then the Jeep had its accident.

We did come up with a solution for our lack of dirt and too much rubble problem, but not in time to plant anything like a garden.

So, this evening, I ran out to take pictures of where we are, now, and what will be available for planting next spring. We may get one more form built before the snow flies but now need a roof rack (which has been unavailable from Chrysler since July).

(Above: you can easily see where the old sidewalk had been. That's alfalfa growing in the partially assembled form.

Below: the view straight on. The dip was right under the hose reel and you can see where it carries out into the yard.)

I'm not holding my breath. The furnace came on for the first time today.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

A Food Tantrum....

I think it is programs like this which make me want to chain myself to something in protest.

I think it's the duplicity and dishonesty--the attempt to dupe the public which outrages me more than anything. There is something very, very sick with the US food system.

But it's not about people, is it? The food business doesn't care about people. And neither does its "watch dogs."

Monday, September 14, 2009

Decade 5: Musing

The Goals.

Yes, the goals of CT.

I wrote about them here. But, more accurately, I should say, I pretended to write about them. What I wanted out of CT had really nothing to do with changing my cooking: what I really wanted from CT was something to support my weight loss efforts. I was in trouble, though, with the very first assignment. Drooling over cook books with elaborate methods and exotic ingredients did not help me in the least. But, through reading fellow participant's blogs (Kerry, I actually haven't thanked you but yours is one which has helped this metamorphosis in my thinking) I have learned so much.

The education I have received about eating and cooking has been amazing...and I now have real honest to goodness goals for myself, my family, our budget and our food.

BUT, before I chew on all that, let's take a much smaller slice of the problem, first, ok?

I plan suppers around the following formula I learned from my grandmother. A "dinner" (whether prepared and consumed at noon as she and my grandfather did or after 5pm) should be made up of a hunk of meat, vegetables (translated, usually into "something green") and something starchy--usually potatoes. In my household, that starchy something has been expanded to include pasta, (though not much, because I always think it has to have a sauce and I'm just not into making a fourth thing), rice and potatoes. Yeah, I know. Not very exciting.

Enter, stage left, Bittman. Yes, again.

He has a whole page on cooking "Whole Grains without Measuring." And here the "starch" options are greatly expanded: brown rice, quinoa, barley (any type), oat groats, buckwheat groats, steel-cut oats, millet, cracked wheat, hominy, whole rye, farro, kamut, or wild rice or wheat berries.

Now, some of this I've never even heard of (farro? kamut? oat groats?), some I've heard of but don't quite know what it is and have never seen (wheat berries, hominy, millet, whole rye), and some I have (buckwheat, barley), right here at home, waiting for me to do something with it other than what I had had planned (whatever that may have been, though with the buckwheat it was most certainly Tabbouleh).

Then, of course, there's a whole page of the green coloured "side-bars" detailing "what to do" with them. I love it. I just love it! The versatility combined with the basics is like getting the little black dress and then going any direction you want with the proper accessories. It's wonderful.

And this, without knowing it, is exactly what I was looking for. In my original post I'd mentioned wanting something for those nights I "don't want to cook." Well, the key to that, I've learned, is to make lots of food when I make it, so that "left over" night is a built in non-cooking night for me. As well, I've decided to make a pot of soup every week: something for lunches, yes, but also something to serve when I don't feel like cooking. We needed more variety in our dinners--as well as simplicity. And, with Bittman, for now, anyway, I've found it.

So, for tonight's supper, I'm going to boil up some of the barley we have lying about with a bit of zucchini and broccoli mixed in with Olive Oil Drizzle. Supper itself is Crock Pot chicken stew: chicken breats with onions and carrots bathed in chicken broth, apple juice and a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar). I made the juices into a sauce with some flour and water and a great deal of reduction.

added later--

Here's the Barley:

I cannot believe how good that barely was. I chopped and steamed some broccoli while I sauteed some onion and zucchini in olive oil. The barley still had a lot of liquid, though it seemed done, so I put it into the frying pan and added the broccoli, now chopped into infinitesimal, non-noticeable little bits. (I don't like broccoli). I doused it quickly with a splash of olive oil to prevent it from sticking to the pan, then added a few squirts of lemon juice. Since I now had two of the three components for the "drizzle" on my barley, I went ahead and added some dried parsley. It still needed "something" so per Bittmen's green coloured side-bar alternative suggestions, I added a pinch of oregano. It was perfect. Even the kids liked it, though my daughter called it "spicey." I made 1/2 cup raw--about what I'd make for rice--and I barely had any left over. Too bad. I was looking forward to putting it in the frying pan tomorrow and frying an egg into it for breakfast!

Sunday, September 13, 2009

CT: In Sympathy with Omnivore's Everywhere.

Yes, I must be the last person in the Enlightened World to read Micheal Pollen's "The Omnivore's Dilemna."

While reading this book, I've been compulsively reading labels, of course. I challenge anyone not to read a label while reading this book! Here in Canada, though, I have never, ever seen anything with HFCS on it. I don't think our food is free of it, not at all. I just don't think it has to be on the label.

Last night I blasted through the chapters all about the corn in our meat supply while snacking on a sleeve of soda crackers. Of course, I'd read the label when I'd taken out the sleeve. Back upstairs, after I'd eaten them, I read about the whole system of processing corn into food additives. And then I read a little tid-bit about TBHQ. In my crackers, apparently. Yep, there it is on the ingredient list. Apparently it's akin to Butane.

I also found out last night that I was 19 when the chicken nugget was invented. Nineteen! I really hadn't realised how different my childhood had been from my daughter's. It sort of scares me. I'm going to go into a shop which sells Bison tomorrow and see what that's all about. But that's tomorrow. Tonight, I had to get dinner on the table and I didn't feel like feeding us corn-fed meat.

So, in the spirit of whole foods and eating from the pantry, I made a soup from Food Matters, by Mark Bittman. This, by the by, is the recipe book I've been waiting for. It will take me to the next level of learning to cook. Thus far, I have been a slave to recipes. In the past, I've been known not to make a particular dish if I didn't have the exact ingredient called for. And yes, I have run out and bought it when I "had to."

I now repent of my folly.

Bittman is great in that for every recipe he has, he gives the "basic" recipe. Then in either a header or otherwise, he presents add-ons and options. I really had no idea cooking could be this innovative and creative. For example, oatmeal gets both sweet and savoury options. Savoury Oatmeal? Cool.

So, tonight, I decided to make his Fast Mixed Vegetable Soup.
Here's the basic recipe:

3 Tablespoons olive oil, or more.
1 medium onion, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
1 celery stalk, chopped
2 garlic cloves, smashed and chopped. (I love that! Smashed and chopped. It's what I do!)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper.
6 cups vegetable stock (or water)
2 medium tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and chopped. (Canned tomatoes are fine...) or 1/4 cup tomato paste
4 to 6 cups quick cooking vegetables, like green beans, cauliflower, broccoli, asparagus, corn, cooked or canned beans, radishes, zucchini, or summer squash, or dark leafy greens like kale or collards, roughly chopped.
1/2 cup fresh parsley leaves.

1. Put 2 tablespoons of the oil into a large, deep pot over medium heat. When it's hot, add the onion, carrot, celery and garlic. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and cook, stirring until the onion softens, about 5 minutes.

Can I just say that one carrot, one celery stalk and one onion is a lot of food? It always astonishes me.

2. Add stock, tomato, remaining vegetables; bring to a boil, then lower the heat so the mixture bubbles enthusiastically.

(This is my broth. I make batches of it from spent roasted chicken carcasses and vegetable peelings scraps. I started doing this a year ago as part of our efforts to live more frugally. I'm about due to make some more--and I've got everything I need already in the freezer plus what I peeled tonight.)

3. Cook, stirring every now and then, until all the vegetables are very tender, 10 to 15 minutes. Taste and adjust the seasoning, add the remaining tablespoon of olive oil (oops, didn't see that!) and serve.

Then, in the book almost the entire page details various add-ins, from herb and spice substitutions (I used Cumin because I couldn't find the parsley) to adding root veggies and tapanade (whatever that is).

I confess I didn't go as hog wild as I had planned--I forgot to put in the broccoli I thought would be wise to use up tonight and I didn't get any farther with the root veggies other than registering we have butternut squash, sweet potato and beets on hand. Nope, I grabbed some frozen corn and this--ever preoccupied with making a meal with Whole and Complete Amino Acid Chains.

I was also a bit distracted by making what turned out to be my baking powder biscuit hockey pucks. They always turn out like hockey pucks.

I'm giving up, I think, and I'll try making Bittman's Easy Whole Grain Flatbread or something.

An Extraordinary Week

Photo from a local newspaper.*

There are really no other words for it.

Last Wednesday or Thursday the members of my husband's Union voted to reject their company's contract offer. It took everyone by surprise. It was against the recommendation of the Union brass, in fact. Voter turn out was low: nonetheless, a radical bunch of yahoos forced themselves and their fellow workers to the picket lines on Labour Day Monday. Between the time the strike notice was served and the strike (and turn around lock out) began, the company begged individuals to work over-time. So, my husband put in 12 hour days a few days before the strike.

The first few days of the strike were cold. The Union distributed toques. The local McD's got upset at the Union guys about something: so the strikers boycotted McD's. There was a bit of unpleasantness: but there was more support and encouragement than my husband ever dreamed there could be. There was a gas station nearby--folks bought the strikers coffee cards so they could get something warm to drink. People dropped off doughnuts. Delivery drivers waited patiently as the strikers enforced their legally defended delay time of five minutes. Some even got out of line when they reached the front and drove around to the back again to demonstrate their reluctance to cross the picket line.

But the company did not make another offer. They hired temporary workers to replace the strikers. The company even went so far as to say they would close down the warehouse if the strike went on "too long." No one doubted it. My husband was one of very few who circulated a petition for a re-vote. He took some flak for it from the yahoos--the ones who didn't ask, "Hey, where's the new offer from the company?"

We discovered that my husband could work 60 hours on the picket line (at $8.00/hour, less than half his usual wage). So, that is what he did. He would get up at 5:30 in the morning, come home at 3:30 (or later), talk to me about everything for about an hour or so, look for a job after dinner on-line, and collapse.

On Friday, he came home and told me the company had asked for a re-vote. The company! The last time a company did that here, it backfired: the Union members got their back up and voted to stay on strike. Both of us were desperately worried. It was supposed to happen early this week. The Union wisely decided to hold its own re-vote on Saturday. That way there could be a meeting first (at a vote called by the Labour Board there is no meeting), misunderstandings cleared up, the yahoos could make their final blustering arguments, and cooler heads could help keep things on a rational and prudent course.

And that is what happened. The first vote had less than 1/2 the membership participate. At the second vote, more than three quarters were there.

At the first vote, 71% of the warehouse employees who voted, voted to strike. At the second, 71% voted to accept the contract.

Today, my husband actually said he's glad it happened. He said the yahoos have probably learned something, and everyone is never going to take a vote for granted again. He said he'll be attending more union meetings from now on.

Stranger than strange, my ultra-conservative guy has become a union man.

*He kept himself well out of the line of sight of the media.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Excercise and Depression.

We all know that excercise lifts ones mood, no?

I was feeling fantastic--almost giddy--when we left for vacation the last week of July. But it has been a long and slow decline into grim lethargy and growing hopelessness.

I was browsing 3FatChicks today and came across this article. Maybe all I need to do is get back on that stationary bicycle for 20 minutes. If I can find the energy.


*Missing Exercise Can Be Depressing*

By Miranda Hitti

June 7, 2005 -- Skipping exercise for a week or two may cramp your
mood, says a study that turned regular exercisers into couch potatoes.

"We were able to measure negative results from withdrawal of exercise
in just two weeks," says researcher Ali Berlin, MS, in a news release.
Berlin works at the military's Uniformed Services University of the
Health Sciences. She presented her findings in Nashville, Tenn., at the
American College of Sports Medicine's annual meeting.

*Stick to It*

The take-home message: Once you start exercising, keep it up. That
doesn't mean becoming a slave to the Stairmaster or a fanatic about any
particular workout. Adjustments may be necessary from time to time.

For example, "if someone is a regular jogger or bicyclist and find they
cannot do the activity for a short time, they need to do something else
like walking until they can resume their preferred activity," says

*Forced to Take a Break*

Berlin's study included 40 regular exercisers. "We were not looking at
elite athletes; the study participants were people who are regularly
active at a moderate level," says Berlin.

First, the participants took mood and fitness tests. Next, half were
forbidden from exercising for two weeks. The others were told to follow
their normal fitness routine.

The tests were repeated one and two weeks later. The results showed
that the forced exercise "vacation" didn't recharge anyone's batteries.
Instead, it left the former exercisers feeling worse than before.

It's one of those strange-but-true health facts: The more active you
are, the more energy you have. That is, as long as you're not ill or
engaging in ridiculous amounts of exercise that push the body too hard.

The CDC recommends that adults get at least 30 minutes of
moderate-intensity physical activity five or more days per week.

*No Exercise, Crummy Mood*

"After one week we began to see changes," says Berlin. After two weeks,
those changes had deepened. Two weeks of slothfulness had pushed the
former exercisers into a grim state.

By then, they were significantly more tense, tired, and less vigorous.
The more out of shape they became, the more their mood and energy level
worsened. "What this tells us is that any interruption in a regular
fitness routine can have a negative [impact]," says Berlin.

So what's a person to do when the weather is miserable or time seems
scarcer than usual? Get creative. Tweak your routine, choosing other
activities to stay physically and mentally fit, Berlin suggests.

Health care workers may also want to keep an eye out for depression
symptoms in exercisers who get sidelined by injury or illness, she


SOURCES: American College of Sports Medicine 52nd Annual Meeting,
Nashville, Tenn., June 1-4, 2005. News release, American College of
Sports Medicine. CDC: "Physical Activity for Everyone:

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Inspired for Dinner

I think it was min/min who first mentioned Mark Bittman. I was led to his blog, and then within 24 hours, heard him interviewed on CBC. Then I requested his book Food Matters from the library, and last night, I read it.

I had two peaches on my counter which I had purchased and placed in a paper bag to ripen. They did. Too much so. I wound up throwing out the one I'd bitten into: but hung on to the rest. Tonight, Bitten inspired me to base a dinner around my mealy peaches. (Well, that and I wanted something simple, meatless and easy on my daughter's upset stomach.)


With this brilliant method for cooking them.

I made whole wheat pancakes from my Jane Brody cookbook and fried up a few slices of bacon. (At 45 calories, all fat, from one slice, I "allow" it on the diet: but I cut all the "slices" in half and call it two: as if I am two and don't know the law of conservation of matter.)

And so the peaches were a wonderful topping for the pancakes.

Sorry, I didn't get a proper picture.
I was too hungry.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Timely Broadcast: Mark Bittmen on CBC

Today's (Tuesday, Sept 1) broadcast on Q: It is the first item.

I like his approach. Foods aren't "good" or "bad" but exist on a spectrum from "harmful," to "benign," to "beneficial."

And the zowie for me: The important choice is not between local and non-local, organic and not. The choice that matters is between plant and non-plant: to choose less meat, less processed and more plants. Period.

Have a 1/2 hour?
Have a listen.

Bittman on Q

I did the googling for you: 101 Salads

Menus done.

I discovered I really enjoyed using my Monthly Menu Plan last month all done up nicely on the computer. It was easy to read and navigate, so a lot of it actually got cooked! Only 7 out of 24 dinners did not get made and 6 of them involved using the oven. Given the atypical warm temperatures we've had these past few weeks, using the oven was completely out of the question!

I just finished preparing my menus and my shopping list for September. I incorporated two "old" recipes recently re-discovered in the newly revamped and re-organized Recipe Binder. Now, I am just waiting for the hubby to get home from work so I can do the Big Shop.

We got our attic insulated today to R-40. We need a turbine to help circulate the air up there, so they have to come back to install it. Nonetheless, I am looking forward to a snug and cozy winter (and hopefully, cooler summers! It's almost too hot to sleep up there right now.)
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