Monthly Archives: January 2010

Menu Plan Monday

We’re headed to Las Vegas next weekend to pick up Ruby, who has been visiting her grandparents. We normally meet Kevin’s mom about 100 miles closer to Vegas at a gas station in a town that basically is only a gas station and a surprisingly good restaurant (when we dropped her off, we stopped there and I had green chile tacos that were amazing. I’m going to try making them this week!) But Kevin’s dad’s birthday is this week, so we’re going all the way and spending the night.

Which means that next weekend I’ll have access to grass-fed meat and cage-free chicken. And gluten-free flours.

So, we’re doing a pantry week this week for the most part and saving our money for next week.

Here’s what’s on the dinner menu:

  • Those green chile tacos. I will definitely post a recipe.
  • Roast chicken with spinach rice
  • Chicken enchilada bake
  • Au Gratin potatoes and salad
  • Tuna burgers and baked fries
  • Corn pasta with sauce and salad
  • Bubble and squeak (with tonight’s left over mashed potatoes and canned chicken.)

More menu plan Monday here.

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Seasonal Cooking: Vegetarian Apple Onion Gravy

(I’m having a giveaway!)

So, if you’ve read my earlier post, you know that there is no way I’m eating what’s simmering away in my slow cooker right now.

(I’m hoping that when Kevin wakes up, he works an overnight shift, and I tell him what I’ve learned, no one will be eating them.)

Adrienne already wouldn’t be eating it, as she’s my semi-vegetarian who feels about pork the way I feel about mayonaise…revultion. I always have some alternative form of protein for her on pork days. Usually baked beans. I’ll be eating them with her tonight.

We’ll also have mashed potatoes. Since I have 80 pounds of apples in my laundry room, I thought I’d see if I couldn’t come up with some sort of apple gravy. Sounds good right?

Mmmhmm. Yum.

I’ve gone ahead and made it up early. Not only does that give me good light for pictures, it lets the gravy mature and the flavors combine. Also, I wasn’t sure how it was going to turn out, so I wanted time to do something different if it was a wash.

It wasn’t.

Vegetarian Apple Onion Gravy

  • 1/2 white onion, chopped fine
  • 1 T crushed garlic
  • 2 T olive oil
  • 1 pounds (I used three large) apples, peeled, cored, seeded, and chopped
  • 1/2 cup apple juice, plus more as needed
  • juice of one lemon
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • salt, pepper, crushed red pepper, to taste

Start by browning the onion and garlic in the oil over medium high heat. I cooked them about as long as it took me to peel, core, seed, and chop three large onions. About 10 minutes, since I used a knife to peel.

Turn the heat down to medium and add the apples, juices, sugar, and spices. I thought the crushed red pepper would stop this tasting like apple sauce, and I was right. It did add a bite at the end, which we love.

Let all that simmer for a while, until the apples are nice and soft. They’ll start breaking down some. About fifteen minutes on medium.

I put it all into a bowl and used my immersion blender to make it smooth. You could use a regular blender or a food processor. I think you’d get something smoother if you do, so it’s up to your taste. I wanted texture. At first I ended up with spicy, oniony applesauce. Way too thick to be gravy, so I added another 1/4 cup of apple juice and it loosened things up.

The result was a thick gravy that’s spicy, savory, and yummy. It does bring applesauce to mind, because smooth apples will do that. But it is definitely gravy. When I re-heat it for dinner, my plan is to add a little more juice. I’ll add a final picture later.

Updated:

The finished gravy was both beautiful and delicious. After spending the day sitting around, the gravy could no longer be called anything but applesauce. So I added another 1/2 cup or so of juice and blended it into submission. It became smooth and silky. It still had a tiny hint of apple pulp, so maybe the real blender or food possessor or a food mill if you want perfectly smooth gravy.

It topped mashed potatoes perfectly. Everyone loved it. Here’s the final vegetarian meal. Baked beans (recipe later in the week), mashed potatoes with apple onion gravy, and maple walnut Brussels sprouts.

More recipes here. And here. And here. And here.

And here. And here. And here. And here. And here. And here.

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Being Aware

While I was at home last night watching Food, Inc. on Netflix.com, Kevin was at our local grocery store.

We have a family tradition of having a big Sunday dinner. Kevin always has Sunday off work, so it’s often the first day in several that we’ve got to spend more than a few awake moments together as a family. He wanted ribs tonight, and I was excited to make them because A. they were on sale and B. I wanted to show you guys how I make them in my crock pot and how juicy and delicious they are.

So he bought the ribs on his way to work last night. (It was less than 10 degrees last night, so they were fine in the car in a hot/cold insulated bag until he came home.) Ribs, brussels sprouts, and mashed potatoes. Yum yum. Right?

I really wanted to share the rub I use. (How cute are my measuring cups that they turn out heart-shaped brown sugar?)

Except I watched Food, Inc. last night.

So it was early in the morning, and my brain was still on autopilot. I got the ribs into the slowcooker before I thought about taking a look at what I was making.

 I looked at the package in a way that I’m not really used to. The package said that the pig the ribs came from was raised without hormones (pigs aren’t raised with hormones, apparently, as the label also said the US Government doesn’t allow it. So hormone-free pork is a little bit of advertising voodo. Like advertising potatoes as being vegetarian) and processed with minimal processing. So far, so good, right? They came from Missouri, which is well outside the West Coast local thing, but he’d already bought them. And Missouri isn’t nearly as far as they could have come from. I made a mental note to talk to Kevin about expanding the West Coast rule to meats.

So I was curious. I Googled Premium Standard Farms.

Premium Standard Farms is a subsidiary of Smithfield. It’s a giant producer of meat. The big giant producer of meat depicted in Food, Inc. The kind that controls everything from the birth of baby pigs right to their slaughter. I had visions of cows with holes in their sides, and pigs eating each others tails off because they’re packed in so tight their whole lives.

I’m reminded of something my clients talk about. They might relapse, but using isn’t the same ever again once they start treatment because they have a belly full of booze and a head full of 12 steps. Even if I eat meat that comes from a mass producer again, it won’t ever be the same blissful mindless eating that I’ve enjoyed in the past. It won’t be that eyes-closed, moan-in-the-back-of-your-throat good grubbin’ experience ever again.

Premium Standard’s website features an idyllic set of farm pictures with sweet little pink piggies looking all happy.

But this article lists some pretty valid reasons for boycotting this company. Now, granted, that article was written in 1996. But time doesn’t erase environmental issues that have already happened. I would hope that they’ve changed, and that they take better care now. But I don’t know.

Just recently, like in the last week, Premium Standard Farms achieved an ISO 14001 certificate for all it’s Missouri farms. ISO 14001 is a set of environmental standards. I spent a good hour trying to figure out exactly what that meant, but even in plain English, it’s very vague. I can only hope it means that they’ve cleaned up their act, at least somewhat.

And while the package sticker said no hormones, it didn’t say no antibiotics. I am assuming that a company that doesn’t use them would announce that if they’re going to bother with saying ‘no hormones.’ I don’t see how they could have 4.5 million hogs to slaughter each year without using antibiotics.

So, I guess the moral of this story is pay attention. Read labels. Then hit Google. Find out where your food comes from.

And please, do it before you buy.

That way you won’t end up like me, with a crock pot filled with ribs that you wish you hadn’t bought.

Tomorrow I’m going to my grocery store. I’m writing down the names of the meat producers offered there. And I’m Googling them, so that I can make informed, ethical, healthful choices about what I feed my family.

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Mama Controls The Food Dollars

This is what is just on the other side of our back fence and across the narrow alley.

Grass fed cows.

A big old ranch worth of grass-fed cows.

So watching Food, Inc. shouldn’t leave me with a panicky hyperventilating “what in the hell do I do now” feeling, should it? I mean there are cows in my backyard. Cows that I know for sure are grass-fed because I can see them eating the grass.

But guess what. I don’t know how to buy them! I have no way of contacting the rancher or whoever owns these cows. I don’t believe there is a slaughter-house in my town. Used to have a butcher, but he closed up about the time we moved here.

Best I know, the cows are shipped to Idaho, slaughtered and packaged, then shipped back and sold in our store. The meat packages that don’t come from a big conglomerate are marked Idaho.

But how do I know these are the cows from my backyard? The packages don’t say grass-fed. Wouldn’t they mark that? Charge me double for it? Maybe they finish the cows on grass and raise them on corn.

I almost don’t even want to know if they do that thing like they did in the movie, where somehow they get a big hole into a live cow right into its stomach so that someone can stick their hand in and check for bacteria.

Right into the living cow’s stomach. Who comes up with this shit? I mean, someone had to be sitting around some table somewhere and said…hey let’s try this bacteria-checking technique…right?

No. I want to know. I do. I want to know that my beef didn’t come from a cow with an open hole to its stomach.

I’m not stupid. I knew that commercial meat doesn’t come from happy places. No matter what the commercial’s say about California cows. But ammonia for a meat filler to keep e coli at bay? Really?

This is just more. More than I realized. More than I let myself think about.

And now I’m stuck out in the middle of nowhere with a cattle ranch in my backyard, but no access to meat that I know for sure doesn’t come from these places.

And how about vegetables that I know aren’t grown by heartless corporations that beat small farmers into submission with their ex-military/police goons in big black cars (I swear, this is in the movie!) A farmer can’t collect their own seed. Seed from the product they grew? That’s insane, right?

Here are the organic produce choices available to me this week: green onions and pineapple.

Help.

I just went and looked at the cases of apples I bought last week. They were grown in Utah (close enough to actually be local to me, about 150 miles) by Mountainland Apples.  They aren’t organic. But they also seem to not be grown by some monstrous company. So that’s good. Until I can get to a Farmer’s Market, I’ll at least have Mountainland apples, peaches, and cherries.

The one part about this movie that really, really was an eye opener was then they were talking to this pretty typical low-income family. The mother kept saying, “if I only have a couple of dollars, I can buy my kids a couple of hamburgers, but not much at the grocery store.”

They filmed this family in the grocery store. The dad thought $1.29 a pound for broccoli was too much. The daughters didn’t even bother asking for pears because “you only get two or three in a pound.” A pound cost $.99. The mom said that the crap was cheaper. Chips, candy…and she said soda is real cheap. Then the camera panned to soda on sale for four for five bucks.

The crap isn’t necessarily cheaper.

And if we stop buying it, we’ll have more money to pay a fair price for food that’s grown with integrity.

That was the message I got from this movie. (Other than feeling like I was run over by a pig-truck of shocking news about the corporate food industry.)

We vote with our dollars. Even families that are trying to shop on $75, or even $60 a week. That’s $250 to $300 dollars every month. Or $3000 to $3600 a year. A good chunk of money.

Obviously these corporations aren’t running their businesses this way for the hell of it. It’s all about the dollars, isn’t it? And who controls the dollars?

Mama controls the food dollars.

And there isn’t a Mama alive that wants to trade places with the woman in the movie whose son died from eating a hamburger tainted with e coli.

I wonder if that gives those corporate head honchos hyperventilation moments.

I think it should.

(Food, Inc. is available for immediate viewing on Netflix, if you subscribe. No need to wait for a DVD in the mail.)

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One Small Change: January Round-up and February Plan

My one small change for January was to shop in season and local to the Western US.

I did well, I think. I’ve also managed to store some in-season produce (potatoes and apples and oranges.) I grated and froze carrots before they went bad. I plan to make carrot marmalade out of them!

Why is shopping in season important? What is the point of a small change like this?

My grocery store has cherries and pineapple from Mexico and plums from Chile for sale right now.

Those plums? They have to travel thousands of miles to get to my store. The cherries and pineapple came at least 1000 miles, and that’s conservative. That’s a lot of resources so that I can eat summer fruit in the dead of a mountain winter, isn’t it?

Thinking about the seasons, and what foods grow near me at this time of year has been a great exercise in mindfulness. I only focused on produce. But during this month I really thought about what it takes for food to get to my table.

I thought about the tricky ways that advertisers make me think that not only do I deserve cherries in winter, but that I deserve them. Who wants to be that manipulated?

Buying in season is less expensive, too. I was able to buy potatoes for 10 cents a pound and apples for 45 cents a pound.

Cherries cost $8 a pound in January.

In July they’ll cost less than $2 a pound. I think I’ll buy a case and learn how to can pie filling.

The next step, I believe, is to go beyond produce. I’m going to try to buy all food that’s produced in the Western US.

So what about February? I’ve put a lot of thought into this.

My change for February is to make and use natural cleaners.

I already know how to make my own laundry soap. It’s just a matter of doing it.

Baking soda and vinegar does as much to clean as 4o9. Right? I’ll have to convince Kevin of that.

I’m not sure how to make dish soap. We wash dishes by hand, so it has to be liquid. I’ll be researching that this weekend.

Head over to Hip Mountain Mama’s website and join the One Small Change party.

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Photo Hunt: 198 Spotted

Ruby in her flower spotted swimsuit and bug spotted floaty.

She has one inflated in her bedroom all year. She wears it like a ballerina’s tutu.

She is visiting her grandparents until next weekend.

I miss her.

More Photo Hunt here.

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Perceived Obsolescence

Every since watching The Story of Stuff the other night, I’ve had the concept of perceived obsolescence on the brain.

I keep seeing examples of it everywhere I look. I keep finding examples of it right in my own home.

Perceived obsolescence, along with planned obsolescence, is what keeps industry running.

We know what planned obsolescence is, right? Products designed to require regular replacement.

But perceived obsolescence?

Another word for ‘fashion’ that does a pretty good job of pointing out just how silly the human race can be.

When you turn in your cell phone every two years for a ‘free upgrade’, and the new phone makes you feel like your old phone was just a step up from those brick-sized things the very rich used in the 80s even though it still works like a charm, that’s perceived obsolescence.

When you can’t be seen in a pair of jeans with lots of wear left in them because the legs are too wide, too tight, or too flared? That’s perceived obsolescence.

In my own house, there is lots of talk about getting a flat screen TV. Our regular old TV, the kind with a picture tube, seems huge. Clunky. As out dated as a re-run of the Brady Bunch. (To be perfectly fair, we are currently using a TV that Adrienne’s dad gave her for Christmas a few years ago in the living room because our picture-tube TV bit the dust. Adrienne can’t get TV service in her bedroom, so her TV hadn’t been used in over a year. There is no reason why we couldn’t pick up a TV on Craig’s List or at a yard sale–a cast off from someone else’s perceived obsolescence. We will just have to fight off the feeling that we really need a new, fancy-pants flat screen.)

I think that going a step further, it’s easy to see that not only do Americans (I don’t know about other countries, but I’d assume that other rich countries have people with the same issues) suffer from up-date-itis, we also suffer from can’t-do-without-it-itis.

What, you might ask, is can’t-do-without-it-itis?

It’s what makes people think that they must have a dishwasher. Or that they can not live without Starbucks on the way to work. Or that their children will grow up to be degenerates if they don’t play five different sports a year.

That isn’t to say that there isn’t a place for dishwashers, Starbucks, or after school sports. (Or that there is. I’ve been washing dishes by hand my whole adult life, and have so far survived my string of malfunctioning appliances. I’ve also lived for three years 250 miles from the nearest Starbucks and still manage to get through my day. My kids participate in one extracurricular each. It works out fine for us. I have to admit that I donated my flared jeans to the thrift store, though.)

Think about it. Even those of us who consider ourselves environmentally conscious, could probably find at least one or two instances of regular consumption in our lives that are driven by the same social pressures that cause perceived obsolescence.

We probably can’t control the media. It’s all around us. More than we are even aware of. Until I started paying attention, I had no conscious idea that I was getting direct messages about weight loss 20 or 30 times a day. We live in a multi-media world, and just like anything that is done and done and done, it’s become invisible.

Except it’s not really invisible. What makes us think that flared jeans are out, or that picture-tube TVs need to be replaced?

What would happen if we kept wearing the same style jeans until they wore out. Or didn’t buy a new TV/phone/computer every three years? It would certainly put a cog in the industry machine, wouldn’t it?

But the fish might breathe a little easier. Our great-grandchildren, too.

We can’t control what they try to sell us. But we can certainly stop letting them slip in unnoticed.

Here is my confession: I have found myself unable to honestly consider the use of reusable feminine products. Especially washable pads. It just seems too weird to me. I feel like I have to have the disposable stuff. I also can not imagine asking my teenage daughter to use these products.

I wonder what kind of environmental atrocities are committed so that once a month I can use bleached cotton disposable pads instead of going through the tiny trouble of washing some flannel ones. And so that I don’t have to face talking to my daughter about it, too.

I blame not using washable ‘family cloths’ instead of toilet paper on Kevin. How convenient for me.

How about you? What perceived obsolescence has caused you to toss a perfectly good item? How has the can’t-do-without-it bug bitten you?

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