Hold the Pink Slime, Please.

First, a bit of background:

You’ve probably heard about pink slime. You’ve probably decided for yourself (and family, if you feed one) whether you care or not.  I don’t judge your decision either way, but I can say I feel deeply uneasy about it and prefer to eat meat that has not been processed in that way. I basically don’t want to eat anything that has been washed in ammonia…nor do I want to eat something that was raised in conditions that may necessitate its being washed ammonia to make it safe for consumption.

I don’t eat very much meat these days anyway. Since I want to eat non-GMO, one of the ways my family affords that is by eating lower–hence, cheaper–on the food chain. We’re not vegetarian, but our protein is more likely to come from plants or dairy products (we do eat a lot of chicken eggs; whether that’s a meat or a dairy product is a sort of murky line). Point being, since I don’t eat much meat, I don’t always remember all of the icky reasons I feel I need to be careful. Like the pink slime / ammonia issue.

Now, the story:

Yesterday, while I was drinking my coffee and commencing with my digital check-in with the world (email, FB, etc), I came upon this article a friend posted about Jamie Oliver getting McDonald’s to change its ways. I’d seen the video demo before, but I’d forgotten about it. So I read/watched, felt angry at the industry, betrayed by our governmental agencies that allow practices like this, and overall good about the ability of people to make changes they feel need to be changed. After all, Jamie Oliver is just a guy trying to be the change he wants to see…and he did it! That’s awesome and inspiring.

Fast forward to me at the grocery store for some milk, and I was shopping hungry (we all do it sometimes!) and was lured by prepared foods such as corn dogs, mini tacos, potstickers, egg rolls, pot pies…  Oh, so tasty, and so easy.  Ooh, and frozen pizza. That looked really good, too.  But every time I almost opened a freezer door to grab some prepackaged tastiness, I thought about what might have been done to the meat products in them. And I just couldn’t do it.

I made a potato chowder instead. It was delicious, I knew what was in it, it was way healthier, and it was easy and filling.  I didn’t take any pics before we ate all of it…oops!

Potatoes waiting to become soup

Tender little summer potatoes, yum!

I make potato chowder a lot. Everybody in my family likes it. Since I make it very often, I don’t really have a recipe for it. Pretty much the only constant is that I boil potatoes and add tasty things to them. This time around, I happened to have some kind of rubbery green beans that weren’t good for eating raw anymore, so I added them. I also added a fair bit of green onion (scallion) since it’s fresh and cheap at the farmer’s market right now. For the main flavor, I used a healthy splash of milk and some pepper jack and cheddar along with some dried rosemary. (Have you tried rosemary and cheddar together? Delicious!)

Note: if you are new to to cooking soup with cheese and/or milk, it’s important you keep the heat quite low once you add the dairy products, or you’ll wind up with an inedible rubber that used to be cheese, or the milk will do funny, stringy-looking things, or other bad things. Add as a last ingredient and use only enough heat to keep warm after that!  (Yes, I learned it the hard way. Believe me when I say that rubbery stuff is inedible!)

I’m glad I cooked something from scratch and didn’t give in to my junk food monster. I miss frozen mini-tacos, though. I tried to make my own once, and it did NOT work out. Maybe I’ll have to try again… Suggestions? Recipes?

A Little Bit Granola

It’s a beautiful spring day here in the Twin Cities metro area. Outside in my backyard, apple blossom petals fall down in gentle breezes. Black-capped chickadees, gold finches, cardinals, and even a red-winged blackbird have been at my feeder today, and the recent rains have left my birdbath full of fresh, clean water for them to dip into.

The iris on the side of my house–the south side, with good sun and the warmth of the house warming the flowers–are in full bloom, and the iris along my sidewalk which get less sunlight are a few days behind.

Since it’s gorgeous outside, I’m inside, working on homework and cooking. Oh, and of course, it’s laundry day.  I’ve got a nice view, though, and it’s my own fault for reading the other day instead of working…

I’ve been doing a lot of reading about food again lately, and just enough research to be chagrined at where my food is coming from…again.  So, I’m on another kick, to know where my food is coming from and what it’s really made of, to know what those difficult to pronounce ingredients on the food labels really are, to buy foods from companies I approve of instead of not really looking into it…etc. Luckily, I’m coming to the bandwagon after a lot of other people already have, and it’s often a ten-second Internet search for me to find out what I want to know — after I know that I want to know it, which is part of the catch. I don’t know what I don’t know.

Today I made granola at home for the first time. After some time hitting the blogs looking for some good recipes, I hit the kitchen and started chopping some onions. 😉 I figured as long as I was going to be in the kitchen, I’d make dinner as well, so I made a pot of chicken chili to simmer away while I was stirring up some seeds and grain for later.

Here are the recipes I most closely considered while deciding how I wanted to approach my granola:

Willow Bird Baking

Chickens in the Road

& Whole Living.

I haven’t locked in to any one recipe yet, and I plan on posting it when I find what works for me. I’ll say, though, that I overcooked the first batch. I thought that was funny and mildly ironic since there are so many warnings about not burning the granola when it’s in the oven, “toasting.” I read the warnings and thought, “Why would I burn it?”

Uh huh.

I found that I need to use more sweetener next time; the quarter cup suggested wasn’t enough to get the oats and seeds to stick together. I put in about one-half cup of ground flax seeds, and those worked out just fine. I added about one-third cup of chia seeds as well, and they were sticking together nicely when I stirred it all up but then fell off to the bottom of the pan during cooking. Oh well…  It was too many chia seeds anyway. They have a strong flavor.

I toasted the first batch at 300 degrees and stirred every 10 minutes, like one recipe said to do, and that’s the batch that got too dark. In fairness, I used dark baking sheets, and I should have known to compensate by turning the temp down.

The next batch I toasted at 225 and stirred at 20 minutes, then in 15 minutes, then in 10 minutes, and then I pulled it out. That batch is much nicer, though it’s not quite right yet: the nuts and oats aren’t quite finished. I want the oats crisper and the nuts to have a more developed toasted flavor.

Also, I used honey because that’s what I had in the house, but I am definitely using maple syrup from now on. I found the same thing when I made candied nuts–honey just doesn’t have the depth of flavor that maple syrup does, even if it is a nice sweetener for some foods. The stronger flavor of maple suits nicely when baking, whereas I find honey’s flavor just gets smothered (even after I added a bit more than the 1/4 C. they called for and I used a stronger flavored honey than clover – maybe it was buckwheat? – it was a dark brown honey).

Oh! And I’ll definitely be using a touch of salt next time. I used salted butter and thought that might be enough, but with unsalted nuts to boot, it needs more of a boost there as well.

Still, it tastes pretty good, especially for an overcooked first attempt without strictly following a recipe. 😀 My daughter, a nut for granola, said “it’s good” and kept gulping it down. Good enough this time! Hopefully by the next time I need to make a batch I’ll have found a good source for local (or at least regional) maple syrup.

Sorry no photos this time – I misplaced the camera. Pics next time, including some finished pics of a home-made skirt and a pair of legwarmers I made recently.

Have a great Memorial Day Weekend! Please let me know in the comments what you’ve found when you made granola!

 

 

 

An Abrupt Shift to Spring

I got some bad news last week.

I had driven up the North Shore of Lake Superior on Sunday, and back down on Monday. I got some pics, including this one at a rest stop:

Split Rock River rest area / pull off on Lake Superior.

Split Rock River rest area / pull off on Lake Superior.

I drove down to the Twin Cities metro area for class, and I was incredibly excited. I had secured a brief gig line editing for someone and writing/designing a web site for a small business – two separate, paying, jobs!

After class I got the news: my grandfather had succumbed to cancer after a five-year fight.

I was no longer excited.

————————————————-

I don’t want to focus on my grandpa’s story, though. It’s too new for me to write about here. I know that five years is a long time to prepare oneself, but it was still a shock to receive the actual news.

Last week was a whole lot of phone calls, texts, and trying to coordinate people, schedules, etc. Wednesday night was the wake and visitation, and the funeral was Thursday. My grandfather was Catholic and active in his parish, so in a way it’s pretty cool that his funeral mass was during Holy Week. Personally, I didn’t receive much comfort or closure from the religious proceedings, but I did really appreciate the church basement luncheon after the interment.

I made sure to spend a bit of time thanking the church ladies for their work making so much food for us.  Nothing was store-bought. Everything was made by those ladies, including a rainbow-colored panoply of Jell-O salads and two different kinds of potato salad (total aside: my understanding is that this type of food is distinctly Midwestern, as is the church basement luncheon. It may not be haute cuisine, but it was comforting at a time when we sought comfort, and was a labor of love).

As important as the rituals of burial and the comforts of community and family, I was glad to go home and approach grief in my own way.

Turns out it’s spring cleaning.

I spent Friday cleaning, cleaning, and cleaning. It was one of the first days up here I could open all of the windows for the first time in months, and I got outside and chipped away at the ice build-up, I wiped things down, I gave away a set of china I don’t use anymore which freed space for my fabric stash, and so on.

Outside, I found a powerful reminder of spring and renewal: grass shoots in the cold mud.

The first grass shoots of spring - at least in my yard.

The first grass shoots of spring – at least in my yard.

I also found the iris has decided to come up, as well as a lovely little Box Elder Bug sunning itself.

Early Iris Shoots

Green!

Box Elder Bug & Iris

Grandpa was a tidy person, and I know he would have appreciated my effort to make my home a better place for me, my children, and my guests. Cleaning felt very appropriate, and I knew I wasn’t going to be able to concentrate on any real homework. My focus was pretty shallow.  I stayed home from a party that night and stayed home from school the next morning. Boyfriend treated me to breakfast out at an Ecuadoran restaurant in town and then it was home for more cleaning, then off to an early Easter celebration. By the end of all of that, I was too exhausted to be sad anymore. I know it was also due to the cathartic nature of a good house-cleaning spree.

With some more time, my creative spirit will return. I hope it’s soon.

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