Saturday, February 27, 2010

1000 Times Stronger Than the Haiti Quake

As you probably know by now a massive (8.8) earthquake happened just off the coast of Chile this morning. We all have seen how much damage earthquake in Haiti did and this quake is almost one thousand times stronger. Forecasters are saying that this will most likely trigger a Pacific wide tsunami event and the warning sirens are reportedly already going off in Hawaii. Beyond the damage already being reported from Chile this event could cause widespread damage over almost a third of the globe. Keep your fingers crossed. While the original quake was huge the continuing aftershocks are nearly of the class of the Haiti quake. I've been through a number of quakes including the last big California (World Series) quake and it is no fun at all. If you have a favorite deity you might drop it/him/her a quick prayer for everyone affected by this natural disaster.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Phones, Phones

I cleaned Madam's cell phone this morning because she had some sticky gunk on it from some glue. The phone was very clean...absolutely no trace of the gunk however the phone ceased to work. She was busy with other things so I went to AT&T to replace it. Long story short...we now have two new AT&T phones and a new family plan with shared minutes. My phone was with T-Mobile and hers was with AT&T and by bundling service into a family plan I am going to save 30 or so bucks a month. The only downside is that my Blackberry data was not transferable to the new Samsung phone so I get to manually add all my hundreds of contacts. If you are interested I got the Samsung Impression. Very slick little device.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Make Your Own Dog Biscuits

If you are fortunate enought to have a furry canine friend, Susan at the Wild Yeast blog has a new puppy in the house and shared a slightly modified recipe for making your own sourdough dog biscuits. The original is from Nancy Silverton at the Le Brea Bakery. As a bonus there are some pics of the new puppy. They look tasty enough to eat by themselves, dog or not.

Now I just have to convince Madam that we really, really need another dog which will be right after I convince her that we really, really need to have some chickens in the back yard which is right after I convince her that I really, really need a greenhouse.

Another Reason to Think Twice About Processed Foods

Thanks to Marion Nestle for pointing out this article in the New York Times.

If you needed another reason to think twice about buying and feed processed foods to your family then here is another. It seems that one of the major ingredients in the processed food business is bribery.  The New York Times (print edition) calls its report of the latest scandal, “Hidden Ingredient: The Sweetener.”  and they aren't talking about sugar or even high fructose corn syrup.

This is isn't some fly by night business either...we are talking the big boys...the ones responsible for most of the stuff on your grocery shelves. Big companies like Nabisco, Kraft, Frito-Lay,  and B&G(Ortega) and Safeway.

It turns out that, in this particular case, B&K Foods, a now bankrupt tomato processor, was paying bribes to the purchasing managers of these big companies to accept shipments and pay premium prices for processed tomatoes that were molded or otherwise not suitable for use in food. How about some salsa with those chips or maybe a little ketchup for those fries? Granted mold is not typically harmful in food but when I want mold I'll buy blue cheese and not a jar of salsa.

The thing is that if these guys were caught then the probably of it going on elsewhere is pretty darn high. It should also tell you that the big food companies, by not fully inspecting their raw materials, are fully demonstrating that they really don't care about the quality of their product just their profit. If they really cared about their customers then they would be inspecting all of the raw materials that go into the food they produce for wholesomeness. Remember last year how many products were recalled because of bad peanuts? Incoming quality testing by the producers would have prevented it from happening. Yes you should be able to trust your suppliers but verify.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

That Light? It's a Train

Two of several interesting bits posted by Kevin Drum this morning at Mother Jones.

Nearly 25% of all mortgages are underwater "First American CoreLogic, the research firm that monitors housing equity, reported Tuesday that 11.3 million homeowners — or 24% of all homes with mortgages — were underwater as of the end of 2009."


Lending Falls at Epic Pace "U.S. banks posted last year their sharpest decline in lending since 1942, suggesting that the industry's continued slide is making it harder for the economy to recover."

In case it is not clear...this is not a recipe for an economic recovery. It's more like a recipe for economic collapse. How much spending do you think those 11.3 milion folks who are upside down on the mortgage are going to do on anything but the necessities? How many new businesses are going to happen and how many existing businesses are going to expand when they can't borrow money? 

Synthetic Nitrogen Will Destroy Your Garden's Health

Organic garderners have known for a long, long time that they grow better gardens when they stick to proper organic practices and don't use synthetic fertilizers.  For the synthetic advocates one of the major arguments for using synthetic nitrogen has been that it increases soil carbon and hence sequesters more damaging CO2 in the soil and reduces green house gases in the atmosphere. New research out of the University of Illinois has now torn that argument to shreds and shows that using synthetic nitrogen has exactly the opposite effect.

The testing was done using the Morrow plots which have been cultivated since 1876 and carefully studied with respect to soil chemistry ever since so this is no slap-dash study. This is really not new to us organic types and as far back as 1947 Sir Albert Howard the great British agronomist who advocated organic practices stated unequivocally in his landmark book The Soil and Health  that:
The use of artificial manure, particularly [synthetic nitrogen] ... does untold harm. The presence of additional combined nitrogen in an easily assimilable form stimulates the growth of fungi and other organisms which, in the search for organic matter needed for energy and for building up microbial tissue, use up first the reserve of soil hummus and then the more resistant organic matter which cements soil particles.
or , in other words, synthetic nitrogen degrades the soil. While I and my fellow organic gardeners and farmers have known it from direct experience it is nice to see the scientific community come up with hard science to back us up.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Buttermilk Pancakes

In honor of National Pancake Day I thought it would be fun to offer a great pancake recipe. I know it is easy to reach for the box of mix but making them from scratch is cheaper and produces a much better pancake. They are simple to make and as long as you observe a few rules, almost foolproof. You'll need:

Dry ingredients
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
pinch of kosher salt
2 tblsp sugar
Mix all of the above in a medium sized bowl and set aside. Make sure you stir them well.

Wet Ingredients

2 eggs, separated
2 cups buttermilk
4 tablespoons melted butter
more butter for for greasing the pan

First things first. You need to decide how you are going to cook them. I use a cast iron griddle on top of the stove (gas) but for beginners it is probably easier(and safer) to use an electric griddle or frying pan. If using the electrics then you should set them for to 350 degrees F.  You should also preheat your oven to 200 degrees F so you can keep the first hotcakes warm while you cook the rest.

Separating the eggs and keeping the fat and liquids separate until the final mixing makes for a lighter pancake so that is why this step is necessary (it is actually optional but I don't want to encourage you skipping it). Whisk the egg whites and the buttermilk in one small bowl and in another, whisk the egg yolks with the melted butter. Now you can whisk the two together so that all your liquid is in one bowl. Make sure you mix them thoroughly. You can, of course, just mix all of the wet stuff together in one bowl but making it two steps does lighten the hotcakes a bit. It is the difference between a very good pancake and a great pancake.

 Pour the liquid ingredients on top of the dry ingredients mixture. Using a whisk, mix it just enough to bring it together. Don't try to work all the lumps out since overworking the batter will make for tough pancakes. Over mixing develops the gluten in the flour which is a bad thing for pancakes and a good thing for bread. You want wait to mix the wet and dry ingredients when you are ready to make the pancakes and that means when your griddle is hot. The acid in the buttermilk and the baking soda start working together immediately to produce carbon dioxide(bubbles) and the longer you wait before actually cooking the more fluff you will lose.

Check your griddle for temperature by placing a few drops of water onto to the griddle. The water should dance across the surface when it is ready. When it is hot you can lightly butter it with a pat of the extra butter and then wipe off the excess with a paper towel. You shouldn't see any butter on the griddle. Remember that you put fat in the batter and that will help the pancakes not to stick. You just want a light film of butter on the griddle.

I use a 1/4 cup measure to ladle the batter on the griddle as I like a smaller pancake(just more of them) but you can use a 1/3 measure if you like a bigger flapjack. It is at this point that you might want to sprinkle on a few blueberries, raspberries, strawberries or sliced banana if you like fruit in yours but I like mine uncluttered. You'll know when to flip them when bubbles begin to set around the edges of the pancake and you peek at the underside and they are golden brown, gently flip the pancakes. Continue to cook the other side for about 2 minutes until it too, is golden brown. You can feel the pancake with your finger and know if it is set.

Serve immediately or hold on a towel-lined baking sheet covered with a towel in your warmed oven while you cook the rest. They'll hold without much loss for 20 to 30 minutes.

This recipe should serve 4.  Use real maple syrup or honey and not the fake syrup on the pancake aisle. Read the ingredients and you'll know why. Don't forget the softened butter. My British friends serve them with powdered sugar and fresh lemon juice. Whatever. They are also good with any kine of fruit jam or jelly.


Update: I meant to add that you can use the same recipe for buckwheat or wholewheat pancakes as well. Just use a cup of either buckwheat or wholewheat flour in place of one of the cups of all purpose flour. They won't be quite as light as regular pancakes but they are different and very tasty. I especially like buckwheat. If you do use buckwheat you are very close to making the traditional Russian pancake known as a blini which are served with sour cream and smoke fish for breakfast. 

Monday, February 22, 2010

Recovery Day

I managed to get 600 or so pounds of lime spread on the garden over the weekend ahead of the rain and I can sure feel it this morning. I was supposed to do it in the fall but the wet weather prohibited it but it is done finally. It was still to soft to use a spreader so I had to do it by hand. What a job.

I also placed my big seed orders this weekend. I save seeds from a lot of things like tomatoes, beans okra, squash and peppers but things like cucumbers, squash, potatoes, sweet potatoes don't do so well as they cross pollinate when you have more than one variety planted in a single garden. You can save the seed (for insurance) but for a reliable crop you need to get new seed. Sweet potato, seed potato and onion starts are also on the way. Just another couple of weeks and the spring planting will start. Peas, potato, cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, spinach, and onion plus a variety of lettuces. Can't wait. Now we just have to see if Mother Nature lets the ground dry enough to plow.

Opening Bid

The games afoot! The White House unveiled its health care reform proposal this morning, posting it online in advance of Thursday's bipartisan summit. Here's the 11-page blueprint (pdf) of what President Obama has in mind, and here's the shorter overview. It is going to very interesting to watch this play out. Right now the GOP is on the defensive over their hypocrisy on the stimulus and were even called out by the Governator over the weekend. The White House is calling this the 'opening bid' on what to do next on health care reform and as a starting point for the discussions on Thursday. What will the GOP do to try and spin the fact that they have no workable ideas on reforming health care but insist that the Dems start over after a year of work.
Make sure you have plenty of popcorn handy.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Never Learn

I haven't spent a lot of time working in the garden or yard this winter...mostly too wet. Today was a glorious day and  I decided to go out and get some yard chores done. I pruned all of the crepe myrtle back  and bagged up all the residue. I carried all the bags of sticks to the curb for Monday yard trash pickup day and then realized that I would soon be needing these sticks for my peas. Trudge them back from the street. To make a long story careful how fast you 'swing into action' after a winter of minimum activity. I'm hurt.

What's Wrong With This?

I am sweating my 2009 taxes because I didn't have taxes taken out of my unemployment 'income' and I read things like this.
The top 400 U.S. individual taxpayers got 1.59% of the nation’s household income in 2007, according to their tax returns, three times the slice they got in the 1990s, according to the  Internal Revenue Service. They paid 2.05% of all individual income taxes in that year.
In its annual update of the taxes paid by the 400 best-off taxpayers, who aren’t identified, the IRS also said that only 220 of the top 400 were in the top marginal tax bracket. The 400 best-off taxpayers paid an average tax rate of 16.6%, lower than in any year since the IRS began making the reports in 1992.
To make the top 400, a taxpayer had to have income of more than $138.8 million. As a group, the top 400 reported $137.9 billion in income, and paid $22.9 billion in federal income taxes.
I am unemployed and my effective tax rate is going to be higher than 16.6%.. Now I am all for the folks that have everything getting to enjoy the good life and if I was one of them I would spend money like no tomorrow. I would be a one man stimulus in a big way but there is something fundamentally wrong with a tax system when nearly half of the nation's richest are not even in the top tax bracket. This new deficit commission should maybe look into this?

Please Tell Me It Is Not True

I'm having a real hard time not kidding Madam(the Texan) over this. I like Texans. I married one. Why do they continue to challenge my trust. I give money to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower project at UT. I still communicate with all of Madam's cousins and siblings. It's going to get ugly when I switch to ridicule.

Nearly a third of Texans believe humans and dinosaurs roamed the earth at the same time, and more than half disagree with the theory that humans developed from earlier species of animals, according to the University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll.

So Much for Real News

Well now that Tiger Woods has made his apology public there appears to be no room for any 'real' news. Health care reform, deficit, GOP insanity, insurance company abuse, global warming, whatever is all so yesterday. Frankly, I don't really care if Tiger apologized or not and to be truthful it was none of our business but something between he and his wife. That being said, being ultra wealthy/famous in this country/world does give you special privileges and a distance from consequences that does not exist for us proles. That's just the way it is and it will never change.

On another subject....the guy who flew his plane into the building in Austin was a terrorist by definition. Just because he is white and an American or even if he was insane doesn't make it any different. From what I have read of his 'manifesto' there is probably a lot he and I would have agreed on but taking out even your legitimate frustrations with the world does not justify violence and especially when it means taking other lives.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Mickey D's and the Olympics

We've been watching the Olympics every night and one thing struck me last night. McDonald's is a corporate sponsor which I guess is a good thing but they only thing you see them advertise is McNuggets. Mickey D's is a burger chain and the only thing that they think is appropriate from their menu to advertise during the Olympics are the chicken nuggets? That has to be saying something about their other offerings.  Just saying.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Better Than Bush

Inspite of what you are hearing from the insane right and insane GOP, President Obama is doing a better job against international terrorism that Bush/Cheney ever did. Somehow Shrub got the reputation of being tough on terrorism but the actual results left a lot to be desired.
Over the weekend, Vice President Biden made much needed statement on the effectiveness of the the Obama administration's counter-terrorism efforts: "There has never been as much emphasis and resources brought against al-Qaeda. The success rate exceeds anything that occurred in the [Bush/Cheney] administration."
In the Washington Post today, David Ignatius considers looks at the accuracy of the claim.
The Karachi raid [that led to the capture of Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar] is part of a broad offensive that has sometimes been overlooked in the partisan squabbles over whether the Obama administration should be giving Miranda warnings to terrorist suspects. "The real action has been pounding the hell out of al-Qaeda and its allies around the world," the official argued.
The numbers show a sharp upsurge in operations against al-Qaeda and its allies in Pakistan since Barack Obama took office.... All told, according to U.S. officials, since the beginning of 2009, the drone attacks have killed "several hundred" named militants from al-Qaeda and its allies, more than in all previous years combined. The drones have also shattered the leadership of the Pakistani Taliban, which has been waging a terror campaign across that country. [...]
[S]urely the country can agree, looking at the evidence, that Obama has been no slouch in pursuing what he said in his inaugural address was a "war against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred."
While it is true that President Obama hasn't gone Rambo on the Taliban and personally dropped into the mountains of Afganistan loaded for bear he has done more against international terrorism than his predecessor. The GOP continue to obsess over the handling of the 'skivvy bomber' and whether he should have been Mirandized and scream that Obama is weak on terror, the opposite is actually true. Obama is being tough on terrorism.
I guess we can take some comfort in the fact that the current GOP obstructionism doesn't reach into the area of national security. While they can filibuster everything that the country needs they have no way to filibuster the anti terrorism campaign being run by the President.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Rethinking Saturated Fat

It's not time to go and fix yourself a lard sandwich but it looks as if there is more to saturated fat than 'meats the thigh'. Here's the latest on saturated fat:
For the current study, researchers led by Dr. Ronald M. Krauss, of the Children's Hospital Oakland Research Center in California, pooled data from 21 studies that included a total of nearly 348,000 adults.
Participants, who were generally healthy to start, were surveyed about their diet habits and then followed for anywhere from five to 23 years. Over that time, 11,000 developed heart disease or suffered a stroke. Overall, Krauss and his colleagues found, there was no difference in the risks of heart disease and stroke between people with the lowest and highest intakes of saturated fat.
If you read the article you will note that not focusing on a single nutrient is the key to a responsible diet. Regardless of this study, other studies have shown that saturated fat increases LDL or the 'bad' cholesterol and that doesn't change. I don't think there is any argument that diets that are well rounded with a focus on fruit and vegetables with less animal fat are just better for you. Humans are omnivores and have been for millions of years but if you think about it there was a good chance that meat in the diet was probably a somewhat rare treat and most of their diet was plant based. It is much easier to 'catch' a berry bush than a woolly mammoth after all. While animal fat might not be the poison it has been made out to be it is still something that should be a smaller part of your diet. While nutrition and a healthy diet are probably the most important considerations we should also consider the environmental impacts of a population raising and consuming large amounts of animal meat. Meat is the least efficient way to convert sunlight into food there is and that alone should tell us that it shouldn't play a large part of our daily food intake. It's just not an efficient use of our natural resources and we won't even talk about the waste generated by raising large quantities of pigs, cows, and chickens to satisfy our protein needs.

Real Shrimp Etoufee

Since today is Mardi Gras I thought I might share my recipe for Shrimp Etoufee. This isn't a quick and dirty recipe and is the traditional method for making a proper etoufee. The 'mother' mixture lays the foundation for almost anything from shrimp, chicken, crawfish, whatever is at hand, even cut up pieces of fish. Like many Creole recipes this one starts with a roux and adds the trinity of onions, green bell peppers, and celery to make the foundation sauce. It's from here that you veer off and make it shrimp or whatever. To make this recipe really authentic you need to make your own shrimp stock. You can fake it with clam juice but it just isn't the same. Making your own shrimp stock also lets you use the shrimp heads and shells to extract all the flavor that they have and you are not wasting anything. Remember that the people who created most of this type of cooking were, in most cases, subsistence cooks and couldn't afford to waste anything that might bring nutrition or flavor to the party.

Making the shrimp stock is a snap.

In a large soup pot(6 quart) put all the heads and tails from about 3 pounds of shrimp(21-25 count are best) it should be about a pound or quart of shells and heads and add:

4 quarts water
1 small yellow onion-coarsely chopped
2 stalks coarsely chopped celery
2 coarsely chopped carrots
3 smashed garlic cloves
1 bay leaf
1 tsp whole black peppercorns
1 tsp dried thyme
2 tsp kosher salt

Bring to a boil and then reduce the heat and simmmer this on low for about an hour, skimming occasionally any foam that forms on the top. Strain through a colander and cool. This will make more than you need for the etoufee but it freezes well and will keep frozen for a couple of months no problem. You'll need a quart of shrimp stock for the etoufee. If you just can't take the time to make the shrimp stock yourself you can substitute a mixture of half clam juice and half water but it leaves a little to be desired.
The recipe calls for creole seasoning which you can buy but it is also very simple to make. This recipe makes a lot but it is good for seasoning other things besides etoufee and is great on chicken or beef and makes a good grill seasoning as well. If it is too spicy for you then halve the amount of cayenne. This is pretty much exactly the same blend that Emmeril LaGasse calls his 'Essence' and Paul Prudhomme calls his 'Cajun Magic'.

Creole Seasoning

Mix together well:
2 1/2 tbsp paprika
2 tbsp kosher salt
2 tbsp garlic powder
1 tbsp black pepper
1 tbsp onion powder
1 tbsp cayenne pepper
1 tbsp dried oregano
1 tbsp dried thyme

For the Shrimp Etouffee you'll need a large dutch oven (preferably cast iron but enamel is ok) and:

6 tablespoons unsalted butter(you can use vegetable oil, lard(truly authentic) or bacon crippings if you prefer)
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
4 cups chopped onions
2 cups chopped green bell peppers
2 cups chopped celery
2 tablespoons minced garlic
1 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes or tomato sauce
2 bay leaves
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 tablespoons Creole seasoning ( see recipe above)
1 quart shrimp stock
3 pounds medium shrimp (21 to 25 count per pound), peeled and deveined
1/4 cup chopped parsley leaves

Steamed white rice, for serving
1/2 cup thinly sliced green onion tops, for garnish. Make sure there is a bottle of Tabasco sauce handy for those you like it really spicy.

Making the roux

Melt the butter or oil in the Dutch oven set over medium heat. Add the flour and stir continuously over medium heat until its the color of peanut butter which could take as much as ten minutes. Pay attention here and don't let the roux get too dark or burn. It goes from peanut butter color to burned in a heartbeat. If it burns or smells burnt then start over.

Add the trinity:

Add the onions, bell peppers, celery, and garlic to the roux, and cook, stirring often, for 10 more minutes or until the vegetable are soft and beginning to brown slightly. Add the tomatoes, bay leaves, salt, cayenne, and 1 tablespoon of Creole seasoning. Bring it back to the simmer, about 2 to 3 minutes, and then add in the shrimp stock. It helps if you use a wire whisk here. Bring the mixture to a boil, and reduce the heat to a simmer. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 45 minutes.

Add the shrimp

Season the peeled and deveined shrimp with the other tablespoon of Creole seasoning and stir them in. Cook the shrimp for 5  minutes more, they should be just barely cooked through. Add the chopped parsley and give it one more stir. Remove it from the heat and serve immediately over steamed white rice and garnished with sliced green onion tops. Make sure you have a bottle of Tabasco sauce handy for those you like it really spicy. This dish is spicy as it should be but it might be too much so for small children. You'll just have to back off on the cayenne if you are going to be serving children. I have also found out that this is a little too spicy for most Brits so know your diners.

This recipe makes about 10 - 12 servings.

As I said in the beginning. This can be Chicken Etoufee, Crawfish Etoufee or anything else. If making a Chicken Etoufee then you use chicken stock instead of the shrimp stock and use shredded roasted chicken. If you are doing a crawfish version then you make a crawfish stock like you did the shrimp stock. There are no rules really other than getting a proper foundation built with a roux and the trinity. You can make this completely vegetarian by using whatever veges you want instead of a meat. Corn, cooked beans, okra, carrots, dandelion greens, spinach, kale, whatever and even using water instead of a stock is completely legit. In the swamps of Louisiana you will even find it made with nutria(a rodent found in the swamps), alligator, oppossum, raccoon, and Goddess knows what else. As long as you have the roux and trinity you are gold.

Mardi Gras

If you are celebrating then have a great Mardi Gras or 'Fat Tuesday'. Also known as Shrove Tuesday it is the day before Ash Wednesday and the beginning of the Lenten season. It's as good of an excuse for a party as any other and traditionally a day when you party heartily in preparation for the sacrifices of Lent. In the U.S. New Orleans has become the epicenter of the celebration but it originated in Mobile when it was the center of French activity. So anyway, Let the good times roll if you are so inclined.

'Laissez les bons temps rouler'

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Snowy Saturday

Snowbound in Atlanta. We have just over 3 inches on the ground(and yes that means snowbound in Atlanta) and the roads are covered for now. There are no snowplows or salt trucks so we just have to wait for it to melt. More snow predicted for tomorrow afternoon but we'll see.
One of the things about a fresh snowfall is what it reveals in the morning about the goings on around your yard overnight. I went out to feed the birds(and squirrels) this morning and there were deer tracks, raccoon and possum tracks everywhere in the back yard.  The last 6 whole wheat muffins that were declared stale and dry by Madam were consumed by someone last night. You don't really realize what a hive of activity even an mostly urban back yard is in the dark of night. Granted my yard is a purposely made wildlife habitat with water, cover and food but I imagine other yards have the same kind of things go on. Of course, being a gardener also gives you a little insight into the fact that creatures are busy at night.
Madam and I watched the Olympic opening ceremonies last night( I actually crashed before the end but madam caught it all). Nice and some of the graphics displayed on the floor mixed with some of the 3d stuff was really impressive. I especially liked the bit with the whales. I was also glad to see the native peoples highlighted as well.
I should also note that NBC should apologize repeatedly for showing the graphic footage of the accident that took the life of the Georgian luge athlete. It was completely unnecessary and in terrible taste. Showing the accident on global TV made it that much more tragic. I can't imagine being the parents of the boy or even a teammate or friend and seeing his death flashed repeatedly on the TV. What were they thinking?
Minimonk called from the firehouse this morning and said the roads were pretty bad early this morning and there was plenty of evidence of idiots trying to drive. Her little Mini goes well in the snow and ice and she didn't have any trouble as long as she kept the speed down. The ice covered roads didn't stop a lot of people from whizzing past her though as if they were on dry pavement. There is one thing you don't want to do in Atlanta after a snow unless you absolutely have to and that is drive. Even though there are a lot of transplants from snowier parts down here they all seem to have forgotten everything they know about driving on snow and ice and the natives are completely clueless.
So its going to be a lazy snow day here. I'm in phase 1(feeding the starter) of a batch of sourdough bread and Madam is watching old movies (its Oscar month on TCM) and so far this morning its been "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" and right now I think its "Mutiny on the Bounty" and yes she is still piled up in bed. She did get breakfast in bed from yours truly though so I guess there is no reason to get up. She'll be up soon enough and want to play Scrabble again and there is probably some Olympics in store as well.

Friday, February 12, 2010

A Little Snow

Snowing it Atlanta. It started about 2pm and we have about 2.5 inches after 2 and a half hours. Very pretty. Madam and I played a game of Scrabble while I baked a batch of buttermilk baps to go with the Italian Wedding Soup I am making for dinner. It's actually not really 'Italian Wedding Soup' but a mistranslation of the Italian for 'married soup' (minestra maritata') which refers more to the wedding of the meat and greens than to weddings per se. Anyhow, it was a special request from Madam and since it is Valentine weekend I am obliging.
It will be nice on a snowy Friday evening.
Everyone have a great weekend.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Better For You Whole Wheat Muffins

I mentioned whole wheat muffins yesterday precipitated by Mark Bittman's recipe in the New York Times. I dug out my old recipe for same and it's a little different but basically the same. Mine uses apple sauce and cinnamon and I have made them with banana and pumpkin as well. Mark suggests using other soft fruits and vegetables such as sweet potato, zucchini or other squash.  I made muffins yesterday with apple sauce and they were just as good as I remembered. Not as light and fluffy as a muffin made with A/P flour and lots of sugar but good and much better for you and especially if you need to keep some control over your blood sugar. These aren't guilt free as they have butter and sugar but definitely a step in the right direction. Here is my recipe which makes 12 regular muffins.

Whole Wheat Apple Cinnamon Muffins

Preheat your oven to 375 F and grease two 6-cup muffin tins or one 12 cup(Duh!) You can use the little paper cupcake paper thingys if you want. I just use canola cooking spray.

2 1/2 cups whole wheat flour, ( whole wheat pastry flour makes a lighter muffin if you can find it and I prefer it or King Arthur White Whole Wheat works well too.)
3/4 to 1 cup light brown sugar( you can use regular granulated sugar if you want and I only use 3/4 cup for my apple version. If you use something less sweet like sweet potato or pumpkin then go the whole cup.)
1/2 cup (1 stick) melted unsalted butter ( if you only have salted butter or margarine then omit the salt)
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda(this is for the buttermilk)
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt(1/4 tsp table salt)
1 cup apple sauce (or mashed banana, or canned pumpkin)
1 beaten large egg
1/2 cup buttermilk

In a large bowl, mix the dry ingredients (flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and salt(if using). In another bowl, mix the melted butter, apple sauce(or whatever), egg and buttermilk. Add the wet into the dry mixture and stir until just combined. Don't over mix and don't worry if there are a few lumps, its better to under mix than to over mix and get the gluten in the flour all excited. You'll have tough muffins if you mix it too much.
Divide the batter into each of the 12 cups and bake for about 25 to 30 minutes. I test mine at 25 minutes with a wooden toothpick or bamboo skewer and they are usually done. These muffins are really best when they are warm from the oven but they will keep for a few days and 15 seconds in the microwave will help them the next day. I should add that if you want to add a half cup of raisins or nuts to the batter no problem but not any more than a half cup.
This is a pretty flexible recipe when it comes to the fruit and spice so play around. Maybe use pumpkin pie spice if you are using the pumpkin or just a half tsp of nutmeg. Vanilla plays well with bananas. I imagine grated carrot would work and I might pair it with ginger. As long as you keep the flour, fat, egg, buttermilk, soda and baking powder constant you should be ok.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Snow = No Global Warming =NOT

If I see one more idiot say that the record snowfall being experienced by the East coast is proof that global climate change isn't happening I think I will scream. So far FAUX News, various and sundry GOP goof balls and other people who should know better have uttered the same wacky conclusion.

People, people, people, go back to sixth grade climate science class and reread the chapter on precipitation and the water cycle. Read the section twice that talks about increasing atmospheric heat and its effects on evaporation and eventually precipitation(rain, snow, sleet for FAUX news people and republicans). Scientists have been predicting for years an increase in snowfall due to increased evaporation. This record snowfall, if anything, confirms the fact that our atmosphere is warming.

Cold Snap Calls for Muffns

The bottom fell out last night with regards to temperature. It was pretty nice yesterday with  a high in the forties but it fell to 24 overnight and this morning there are snow flurries but overall just partly cloudy. Today is 'old folks day' at Kroger so its shopping day(5% is 5% what can I say). Madam is out for lunch with the girls and then we'll do the shopping. In the meantime I am going to make a batch of whole wheat muffins. I was triggered by Bittman's Minimalist column in the NYT today where he reproduces a recipe he learned from Grandma Starlight in the old Haight-Ashbury days of San Fran. I have the same recipe(from the same source but indirectly via Tassajara) but haven't made it for years. It's a really good and a truly completely whole wheat muffin that isn't cloyingly sweet and uses fruit or squash to supplement the sweetness and retain some moistness. I make a batch and see if it as good as I remember and if it is I will post my version a bit later. I've made them with apple sauce, banana, and canned pumpkin and they are all good but my favorite was apple and that is what I will make today. I think I got away from making these when I discovered '6 week bran muffins' which I love. It's the recipe that uses bran and buttermilk and you can keep the batter for the muffins in the fridge for up to six weeks and just take out enough to make a couple of muffins when you want a  nice hot muffin. If anyone is interested, let me know, and I'll post that one too.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Sow's Ear, Silk Purse

I posted yesterday about my 'Hoover soup' style tomato and leek soup. In its original form, leeks and tomatoes with a dollop of sour cream was fabulous. I ran the hand blender through it and it thickened and had a nice texture. I did wind up adding a bit of sugar and a couple of tablespoons of balsamic vinegar just to broaden and define its flavor.
Tonight was night two for the soup and instead of the elemental and rustic soup of the night before I decided I would make it a bit more elegant. Tonight it was served(unchanged) with chunks of fresh avocado marinated in fresh lemon juice. It totally transformed the soup into an elegant dish. The contrast of the velvety soup and the creamy chunks of avocado was very nice. I still have two servings left and we'll have to decide if we are returning to the simple or figuring out some other way to make a silk purse out of a sow's ear.
That's the thing about cooking. A bit of fresh creamy avocado can turn a simple tomato soup into an elegant main course. Adding just a bit of cheese to simple grits and garnishing with a roasted red pepper coulis can make the simplest dish something elegant and memorable.
I remember very clearly have an appetizer at Elizabeth's on 37th in Savannah of nothing but a grilled square of yellow grits resting in a bed of roasted red pepper coulis and garnished with sprinkles of good blue cheese. Brilliant use of traditional flavors with a 'twist'. Madam Terry would be pleased to know that that dish alone was enough for the to run out to buy her cookbook.

Monday, February 08, 2010

Last Harvest and Hoover Soup

It's now officially the end of the 2009 gardening season. I waded (literally) out into the garden this afternoon and harvested the last few leeks. The garden is now devoid of food. Madam admonished me this morning to use more canned tomatoes or we are not going to have storage space for the 2010 crop. Tomato soup with leeks is the menu for tonight so I will be able to kill two quarts of crushed tomatoes and a pint of tomato sauce and that will leave on 40-50 quarts more to use before June.

This is going to be an elemental soup on the order of the Depression Era soup known as 'Hoover Soup'. Hoover soup was a common offering on the soup lines of the depression and while recipes varied (usually with what was available) it almost always was just canned tomatoes, potatoes and onions. Sometimes a  cabbage would find its way in but mostly it was the basic three and definitely no meat or even broth. Even though it simple 'Hoover Soup' is surprisingly good in its own minimalist way. This leek and tomato soup is going to be of the same order...just leeks and tomatoes, salt and pepper and a little fresh thyme. A little dollop of balsamic vinegar might find its way in but I won't know until I taste it.

My Dad used to tell of his days in the children's home and the big pots of 'Hoover Soup'. My Dad and his brother spent a few years in the 'home' during the depression when his widowed mother could no longer care for the children. The home was on a small farm and the children grew vegetables and raised chickens for eggs and meat and evidently were pretty much self sufficient though obviously not living too high on the hog. My Dad even told of the boys walking the railroad tracks that passed near the school gathering up the coal that would fall off the coal trains coming out of West Virginia and down to Norfolk so that they could heat the school and dormitories. Tough times but my Dad actually considered his time in the 'home' pretty positively. He and his brother managed to eat and get an education and being relieved of the burden of the two boys allowed his mother and sister to survive what was a very, very tough time for the folks of Appalachia. He and his brother weren't the only non-orphans in those days in what was ostensibly an orphanage. Even after he was grown and successful he always considered keeping a vegetable garden a necessity and that probably accounts, to some extent, for my same desire to garden and be somewhat self sufficient.

Circling the Drain

If you haven't read Paul Krugman's column to then you should hop on over and do so. It covers the state of our decline and the reasons and while it is a little depressing it spells out clearly the outlook for our country if the GOP continues to keep its strangle hold on the U.S. Senate. The Republicans have clearly lost all interest in working in the best interests of the nation or even in participating in a dialogue about how to address the myriad ills that are afflicting us. What is truly disheartening is that the Democrats are letting them get away with it and the GOP is not paying any political price to destroy the nation. It's quite scary:
And with the national G.O.P. having abdicated any responsibility for making things work, it’s only natural that individual senators should feel free to take the nation hostage until they get their pet projects funded.

The truth is that given the state of American politics, the way the Senate works is no longer consistent with a functioning government. Senators themselves should recognize this fact and push through changes in those rules, including eliminating or at least limiting the filibuster. This is something they could and should do, by majority vote, on the first day of the next Senate session.

Don’t hold your breath. As it is, Democrats don’t even seem able to score political points by highlighting their opponents’ obstructionism.

It should be a simple message (and it should have been the central message in Massachusetts): a vote for a Republican, no matter what you think of him as a person, is a vote for paralysis. But by now, we know how the Obama administration deals with those who would destroy it: it goes straight for the capillaries. Sure enough, Robert Gibbs, the White House press secretary, accused Mr. Shelby of “silliness.” Yep, that will really resonate with voters.
Now the White House is talking up a confab with the GOP on health care reform for the end of February.The GOP has already made it abundantly clear that they are not going to support anything on the Obama agenda, nothing, nada, nil. The current HCR bills before Congress both have all kinds of GOP driven goodies like tax cuts, no public option, deficit reduction and they still don't support it. What else can the Dems give away? The Republicans don't want any bill period and all they care about is Obama failing regardless if that means taking the rest of the country down with him. The GOP is counting on their noise machine and the ignorance of a majority of voters make their poisonous program one without political consequences.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Weekend Stuff

Finally cleared off and we are getting some sun today. The forecast is for rain to return by Tuesday. We really have had enough rain for a while. I need to get the garden dried out enough to till or I will be late with peas, potatoes, cabbage and broccoli. Just have to be patient.

For some reason I got it in my head to make salt rising bread this weekend. It's a long and unpredictable process  but I finally got two loaves baked late last night that turned out OK. There is just something about the smell and taste that I love and the only way to get it nowadays is to bake it yourself. You used to (many years ago) find a few bakeries that would still make it but I haven't seen it for years. Really brings back some memories as my grandmother would occasionally bake it. It's very a distinctive, almost cheeselike aroma, that puts some people off but it makes great toast. I was beginning to despair when my loaves hadn't doubled in 4 hours but after 6 they were ready and I managed to fill the house with the odor of baking salt rising bread. If you can imagine the smell of an old gym bag full of sweaty clothes you might get the idea. It tastes nothing like it smells gratefully.

Speaking of smelling up the house... I made a caramelized onion and sardine pizza last night which was not a big hit with Madam. Not something I would eat all the time but I enjoyed the change. Madam was mostly put off by the little silver bodies on it I think. She likes anchovies on pizza and I thought she would be ok. I didn't count on the visual aspect.

She is busy doing textile conservation today. An lady from one of the town's founding families is moving into a retirement home and donated a pile of historic dresses and other things. One came with a little note that said it was made from cotton grown right down the road on the Hembree farm, hand picked for seed(not ginned) and hand carded  and woven. The cloth was originally in a mattress tick but was later 'repurposed' into a skirt and jacket. Pretty cool. There are also nightgowns, aprons and dresses made from flour sacks that reminds you how resourceful our ancestors were. When you hold these things that are still here after a hundred or so years and then think about how wasteful and 'throwaway' we are today its kind of embarrassing .

Off to putter around and see what kind of trouble I can get into today. I promised Madam something 'non-pugent' and normal for dinner so she gets risotto for dinner tonight.

Friday, February 05, 2010

Cheap Eats - Sauerkraut

This cold and rainy(lots and lots) weather made me hungry for something hearty and warm last night so I made sauerkraut, boiled potatoes and knockwurst. A lot of people think sauerkraut is only for Reubens or hot dogs but I love it as a vegetable side when I feel that urge for German. I actually think my recipe for sauerkraut is more from Alsace than Germany proper but whatever, it's a wonderful way to prepare kraut and even if you are not a big fan of sauerkraut you might like it prepared this way.

There are only two of us so I use the small 1 pound bag of Boar's Head Sauerkraut but this recipe doubles with no problem.

Alsatian Style Sauerkraut

1 half of a small onion cut in half and sliced as thin as possible which should give you about a half cup
1 small apple peeled, cored and shredded on the large shred of a box grater
1 pound bag of fresh sauerkraut rinsed under cold water and drained, like I said above I like the Boar's Head but there are other good ones
1/2 cup white wine
1/2 cup low sodium chicken broth or water
2 TBSP light brown sugar
2 TBSP unsalted butter
6- 8 dried juniper berries (optional)
1  bay leaf

In a large saucepan over medium heat (with lid) wilt the onion in the butter until just tender. Add everything else and bring to a simmer. Reduce heat but maintain the simmer and cover and cook for about 45 minutes to an hour stirring every 15 minutes or so. After about 45 minutes I usually bury 4 Knockwurst or Bratwurst (again Boar's Head unless you have a good German butcher handy)  in the kraut and heat these through, about 15 minutes. I usually serve with simple boiled potatoes. I like the hint of woodsy whatever that the juniper berries bring and they are traditional but if you don't have them don't worry it will still be good. If you want to use them you can usually find them in the spice section of the grocery but I have never found another recipe that calls for them. I do think you use them in making gin though.

Like I said I fix this for the two of us and we usually have a little sauerkraut leftover but if you use a 2 pound bag of sauerkraut it will serve four with no problem. There are virtually no calories in kraut by itself and the butter, wine and brown sugar don't add much so feel free to have a big pile. You always get a lot of kraut in a serving. I used to go to an Alsatian restaurant in Lyon, France and have the sampler platter and I never even to managed to eat half the kraut which was surely at least a pound and a half if not more.

If you would like to make your own sauerkraut like my grandmother and mother then let me know and I will pass along the method. It's nothing but shredded cabbage and salt and a little lacto-fermentation. It is an anaerobic process so it does take some knowledge and method but it is not hard.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Nothing Much

Blah! Cold, raining and with flash flood warnings (expecting 1.5 - 2 inches of rain). No progress on getting the garden ready for spring but I do have plenty of little sprouts in the basement. Another nearly half million jobs down the tubes last week and the market is not liking it. Dems continue to wander aimlessly in the desert and the GOP gets wackier by the day. If you work for AIG or Goldman Sucks then life is good.
As you can tell things are not making my mood any better. I hope your week is going better.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

About That Pork, Beef or Turkey for Dinner

Thanks to Cookie Jill for pointing us to this article on Alternet about the use of several drugs in food animals in the U.S. that is banned in 160 countries.
As much as twenty percent of Paylean, given to pigs for their last 28 days, Optaflexx, given to cattle their last 28 to 42 days and Tomax, given to turkeys their last 7 to 14 days, remains in consumer meat says author and well known veterinarian Michael W. Fox.

Though banned in Europe, Taiwan and China--more than 1,700 people were "poisoned" from eating Paylean-fed pigs since 1998 says the Sichuan Pork Trade Chamber of Commerce-- ractopamine is used in 45 percent of US pigs and 30 percent of ration-fed cattle says Elanco Animal Health which manufactures all three products.
You have to ask: "How does a drug marked, "Not for use in humans. Individuals with cardiovascular disease should exercise special caution to avoid exposure. Use protective clothing, impervious gloves, protective eye wear, and a NIOSH-approved dust mask" become "safe" in human food? With no washout period?"

While the meat consumption in my house has been drastically reduced, it is not gone completely. I do however try and buy locally produced and grass fed beef when I can and naturally raised chickens. Naturally raised local pork is a lot harder to come by however.
This is just one more reason to hesitate before buying beef, pork or turkey. Chicken, of course, has its own issues. The thing is that with a lot of us on restricted budgets and looking for bargains in the grocery it is really hard to pass up some of the low priced products being offered. For example, last week Kroger was offering Tyson split chicken breasts for an unbelievable 99 cents a pound. When you are trying to feed a family cheaply that is hard to ignore. The only thing to do is restrict meat in the diet and when you just have it try and find "non industrial" meat. Of course, there is always the vegan route.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Rodent Conflict

Here is the official report from Georgia on Groundhog Day.

Gen. Beauregard Lee(Marmota monax), also known as a woodchuck or whistle-pig, or in some areas as a land-beaver, gave his annual Groundhog Day prognostication Tuesday morning from his home at the Yellow River Game Ranch. The prediction was delayed when Gen. Lee got away from his handlers and hid, then climbed a fence behind his mock-mansion home. General Lee did not see his shadowas it was overcast this morning in Atlanta meaning we will have an early spring. I should note that this 180 degrees out of phase with  Pennsylvania's Punxsutawney Phil, who did see his shadow.

This is Scary

Update: The full poll is now available on Kos here. Still some weirdness to be  reveled in the results and it is now confirmed that my fellow Southerners are indeed crazier, on the whole, than the rest of the country.

A new Daily Kos/Research 2000 poll, conducted among 2,000 self-identified Republican respondents nationwide, gives an interesting peek into the psyche of the minority party's base. The full report is not out but Kos has  leaked some on Twitter thanks to Eric Kleefeld over at TPM. I can do nothing but shake my head at this. Can these people really be serious or are they just making shit up? I really am beginning to think it is just a game of 'mindfuck' being played by the right to daze and confuse us. (my comments are bolded)

• 39% of Republicans want President Obama to be impeached. It would be interesting to see what they think he should be impeached for.
• 63% think Obama is a socialist. Do you think they even know what a socialist is?
• Only 42% believe Obama was born in the United States.
• 21% think ACORN stole the 2008 election -- that is, that Obama didn't actually win it, and isn't legitimately the president, with 55% saying they are "not sure."
• 53% think Sarah Palin is more qualified than Obama to be president. This one scares me the most I think.
• 23% want to secede from the United States. Have they really thought this through and what they would have to give up if they left? I'll also bet they are the first to complain about not enough security from terrorism.
• 73% think gay people should not be allowed to teach in public schools.
• 31% want contraception to be outlawed. I guess they think its not crowded enough here.

Careful With that Bag o' Salad

Consumer Reports found that 39 percent of samples exceeded this level for total coliform, and 23 percent for Enterococcus. The tests did not find E. coli O157:H7, Listeria monocytogenes or Salmonella--sometimes deadly pathogens which can be found in greens, although it was not expected given the small sample size. According to Consumers Union, the goal was to investigate other markers of poor sanitation that should be used in the food safety management of produce.

This is from  the March 2010 issue of Consumer Reports and is available free online.

They are convenient and a good buy when you don't eat enough greens to justify whole heads of lettuce or bunches of spinach but they do have a risk. None of these greens found contaminated would have made you sick but it does show that they are not properly cleaned and protected from environmental contamination. The article goes on to recommend how you can reduce your risk when using these packaged greens.

  • Buy packages far from their use-by date.
  • Wash the greens even if the packages say "prewashed" or "triplewashed." Rinsing won't remove all bacteria but may remove residual soil.
  • Prevent cross contamination of greens by keeping them away from raw meat and poultry. 
If you are going to use them then be smart about it. I buy the clam shells of spinach(when on sale) but I cook them and even then I wash them and spin them dry. I wash anything I buy from the store even if it says it is pre-washed.  At Whole Foods the 'spring mix' is often loose so that you can bag it yourself but know that I have seen them just opening the bagged variety and dumping it on the pile of loose greens so buying it 'loose' is not avoiding the danger.

Monday, February 01, 2010

Imbolc and Groundhog Day and Candlemas

Tomorrow is a big day. Not only is it Groundhog Day here in the U.S. but it carries the weight of many belief structures around the world. First of all it is the day halfway between the Winter's Solstice and the Spring Equinox so beginning tomorrow we are on the downhill slide to spring. It is an important day for Pagans who consider it Imbolc or day of Brigid. Brigid is the Celtic goddess of healing, poetry and smith-craft and the Christians later co-opted the day to St. Brigid. The festival is also known as Là Fhèill Brìghde, in Scotland and as Lá Fhéile Bríde in Ireland.

Christians also consider it Candlemas or the day of the Purification of the Virgin. It is 40 days past Christmas and the Torah declares that a woman in unclean for 7 days after giving birth to a man child and must remain "in the blood of her purification" for thirty and three days thereafter. So the 40 days is when Mary could complete her purification and the baby Jesus could be presented to the temple.

All in all a big day for a lot of people and especially groundhogs. Here's hoping that no shadows are seen and that spring comes early.

Five Years of Bad Road

I mentioned in the previous post about the resistance you can expect to see from the GOP on any effort at addressing jobs by the Obama administration. Couple this with deficit pressure from the GOP and conservative Dems and even a 100 billion dollar bill looks like only a remote possibility. The thing is, that most economists don't believe the jobs picture is even addressable in realistic terms. Leading economists see no way out of the jobless mess left to us by the previous administration.
The economy’s 5.7 percent growth last quarter — the fastest pace since 2003 — was a step toward shrinking the nation’s 10 percent unemployment rate.
There’s just one problem: Growth would have to equal 5 percent for all of 2010 just to lower the average jobless rate for the year by 1 percentage point.
And economists don’t think that’s possible.
Most analysts say economic activity will slow to 2.5 percent or 3 percent growth for the current quarter as the benefits fade from government stimulus efforts and from companies drawing down less of their stockpiles.
That’s why the Federal Reserve and outside economists think it will take until around the middle of the decade to lower the double-digit jobless rate to a more normal 5 or 6 percent.
If you are currently unemployed or soon will be then set your sights on 2015 or so before you get too excited about a new career. Please note that this a 'glass half full' prediction.

Don't Hold Your Breath for GOP Support of a Jobs Bill

The Pres wants a jobs bill:
President Obama wants Congress to quickly approve a jobs bill in the range of $100 billion, a top White House official said Sunday, reflecting the growing political anxiety among Democrats about stubbornly high unemployment in an election year.
....Democrats hope to win Republican support for the measure by including tax cuts for small businesses, a GOP favorite. The tax credit is designed to encourage businesses to hire workers....Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said on "Late Edition" that as long as the legislation creates jobs, "we're willing to take a look at it."
It's sure nice of the GOP to consider taking a look a jobs bill. I would recommend however, if you are a betting man or woman, that you consider putting all your money on no Republican voting for a jobs bill. It's politics as usual for them and they want the jobless rate to be 10% or higher and the economy in shambles as that is their ticket to regaining power. It doesn't matter how much pain the average American in suffering...the only thing is regaining power at all costs.