Monday, February 28, 2011

Have I dissapeared ???

Some of you are probably wondering if I have disappeared- the answer is no ! I am still here, and the reason for the absence is a happy one.

All of my life , I have wondered about my mother's family. I never knew my maternal grandparents, met them only once for a brief 15 minute visit , and was told very little about them. My dad's family was very close, large, and I was blessed to have an actual relationship with my great grandmother, great grand aunts and uncles, aunts, uncles and dozens of cousins. This made my lack of other side of the family very pronounced. Who was I ? Who were they ? I was told my grandfather was raised in an orphanage but knew his father and one brother and that my great grandfather did some gambling. My maternal grandmother had a mother that was murdered, and that was all. Later in life I was able to develop relationships with my maternal aunts and uncles, but before them was a total mystery. About 20 years ago I started trying to do research on the family, and kept coming up with dead ends.Lots of questions, and the living members of the family started dying off, and the questions haunted me. Meanwhile I knew my dad's family came from Canada,France and Ireland- I met many from the French Canadian ancestors , but the ones from Ireland died before my father was born. His grandfather came from Ireland as a young man, spoke, read and wrote Gaelic, and supposedly his wife's family drank up the profits of an entire town. Fascinating tales , but how true were they ?

For the last 2 yrs we have been watching the show "Who do you think you are" , and for Valentines Day Bob gifted me with a one month subscription to the international data base of  I was over the moon and set out to find out what I could , and document the people in the month. Seemed simple enough. Well it turns out I found out as much as I could about my mom's family ( a whole lot of tragedy there) , and discovered not only was my dad's family from Quebec, but I have about 20 ancestors who were amongst the founders of the colony, one who was amongst the original crew who discovered Canada and one who was the first to pilot up the St Laurence. If that was not interesting enough, their ancestors were from the French Aristocracy, and the stories of their lives are fascinating. So it has been about 3 weeks of finding link after link, story after story, and I have still not found the end. I also started on my husband's family, and it is equally as fascinating. There is so much information about our families that we have decided I can serve as the base for a homeschool curriculum for our son. Nick has started researching with me and we are using what we learn to springboard into lessons to cover all the subjects. All in all this makes for wonderfully, happy busy ! And it is so interesting that at the moment it is about the only thing happening .

So still here, still recovering and getting totally lost in history !

Friday, February 11, 2011

Sticky Chicken

Through the years, I have belonged to different email lists that discuss ides for homeschooling,weight loss, housework and freezer cooking. It's like opening up your mailbox and finding some tip that can make your life a thousand times easier - what's not to love ! The freezer cooking loop was at one time a treasure house of economical, good tasting meals that could be done in bulk or frozen for future use, and I was in love ! I tried many of the recipes with great success, but there was one that I hesitated to try- sticky chicken !  The name comes from the fact that it turns out like store bought rotisserie chicken, and the skin is sticky from the herbs.The biggest reason I would not make it was that it involved using chicken with a skin. Oh, the horror ! Chicken with skin is so high in fat, and fat is so bad for your weight and heart. Since learning the truth ( fat DOES NOT make you fat and if you eliminate animal fat from your diet you will do serious, long term harm to your health), I have included chicken with the skin on and bones in tack. Better to make bone broth with .

I came across the Sticky Chicken recipe the other day and decided that I wanted to try it. First you create a dry rub marinate of spices, coat the chicken with it and leave it on for at least 6 hours, and then roast it in a low oven for a slow pace ( 250 for 5 hrs). I did not have a whole bird, but had chicken legs. I noticed one problematic ingredient in the rub- cayenne pepper ! My son has "Canadian " tastebuds and often complains that things like katsup are too spicy. I am not a fan of spicy foods either, so I decided to test out the dry rub on the legs and see what needed to be altered to the rub

Sticky Chicken rub

4 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons paprika
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon white pepper
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
 2 onions, quartered

The results ? HIGHLY seasoned , yummy chicken ! I let the rub sit on the chicken for 6 hrs and then cooked them at 350 for 1 1/2 hrs. I believe the rub would work best with breasts, as the flavor is more mild. I used half the amount of Cayenne, but  next time I will leave it our all together- the paprika adds enough of a warming on it's own. The chicken did com out very moist and somewhat sticky. This one would be a definite "better for you homemade" recipe to replace those supermarket rotisserie birds or even Boston Market. Leftovers work well in any recipe calling for cooked chicken.

Meanwhile, life has been good. Slowly recovering, and finding less and less need for my cane to walk. Every now and then my knee completely gives out, so I have not completely abandoned it's use. Noticing several old scars continue to fade, which is very strange. I have needed to use my glasses less and less, and it seems that my cycles have returned, without PMS problems. Nick continues to make a lot of intellectual strides. The other day he chatted with me about his idea for a grocery shopping company that he could start, and he has a sudden desire to do a lot of things completely independent. That is something I worried would never occur ! The "backlash" with this is he seems to be in the midst of another growth spurt, and has an appetite that could terrify most wallets. It is as if his body has woken up with the inclusion of things like whole eggs, butter, cream, liver, animal fats.It is so odd to see this child who was at one time distant, mentally absent and eating only plain pasta emerge from his very silent, internalized world emerge and talk about his dreams, goals, opinions and so much more. The future looks very bright  indeed.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Superbowl !

Congratulations to the Packers, whom I felt would win before the Playoffs. Strange thing to feel, as I am not a real football fan. Congratulations to both teams for making it a really exciting game to watch- and to indulge in lots of snacks by . It seems that Superbowl is a day of food, friends and great commercials  , with football in the middle. I decided to make some football related snacks for the day so that it could be an easy day all around.

The most fun was some cupcakes that I made. Nick is really into decorated cupcakes, but neither him or I are skilled at great cake decorating ( And Bob is not even compelled to do anything but eat them). However, lack of skill should not stop anyone from having fun, so we assembled was decorating stuff we had, teamed it with what limited skills we possessed and came up with these. The recipe was a really great one for the cakes to start with !

JavaCupcake’s White Velvet Vanilla Bean Cupcakes

  1 cup  milk
 ¼ cup sour cream
 ½ teaspoon pure vanilla
  1 vanilla bean
12 tbsp (1 ½ sticks) unsalted butter at room temperature
1½ cups sugar
3 eggs
3 cups sifted cake flour
1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
¼ cup milk

1. Preheat oven to 375F and line cupcake pans with liners.
2. Prep vanilla bean by scoring the bean down one side and scraping the inside of the bean out. In a small sauce pan, add 1 cup milk, sour cream, vanilla, vanilla bean and inside scrapings.  Cook on medium high heat until the milk starts to steam and bubbles begin to form around the outer edge of the milk, whisking occasionally.  Remove from heat immediately and let cool for 5-10 minutes.  You want warm but not scalding hot milk.  Remove the vanilla bean shell before adding to the batter.
3. In a large bowl, combine cake flour, baking powder and salt and mix together to blend.  Set aside.
4. In the bowl of an electric mixer with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy.
5. Add the eggs and mix on high just until they start to whip up like frosting.  You want them to be light, but not too whipped.
6. In thirds, slowly add the flour mixture.  In between each addition, slowly add half the milk/vanilla mixture.  Begin and end with the flour. Make sure to scrape the sides of the bowl and thoroughly incorporate (without over mixing) the batter with each addition.
7. By hand, fold in remaining ¼ cup milk.
8. Fill each cupcake liner using an ice cream scoop with batter, about 2/3 full.
9. Bake 15-18 minutes.  After 10 minutes of baking, rotate pan 180 degrees to ensure even baking.
10. Let the cupcakes cool in the pan for 5-10 minutes before removing to a wire wrack to cool completely.

Not pretty, but tasty. I made a simple butter cream frosting ( butter, powdered sugar and vanilla) but these would be better with a cream cheese frosting or a French Cream. Sadly the cupcakes were the only thing I remembered to take pictures of ! The rest of the food consisted of BBQ Wings ( I want to find a bbq sauce recipe from scratch with a good flavor), meatballs, italian sausage bites and wings. I think I found the BEST wing recipe yet- real ingredients and a fantastic flavor

Rubbed Wings

2 Tablespoons melted butter
3 cloves garlic pressed
 2 teaspoons paprika
1 teaspoon garlic powder
Sea salt
10 chicken wings/drumsticks

Put all of it in a large plastic bag and shake to coat
375 for 1 hour

It was declared a day free from veggies ( an extremely rare thing in this house) , and the rare inclusion of chips and dips. I made the dips, to avoid a lot of questionable things. Guacamole ( which turned out only so so)  and an onion dip that is to die for ! No need for those envelopes of onion soup mix, thanks to Alton Brown !

Onion Dip From Scratch(Alton Brown)

  2        tablespoons  olive oil
  1 1/2           cups  diced onions
     1/4      teaspoon  kosher salt
  1 1/2           cups  sour cream
     3/4           cup  mayonnaise
     1/4      teaspoon  garlic powder
     1/4      teaspoon  freshly-ground white pepper
     1/2      teaspoon  kosher salt

In a saute pan over medium heat add oil, heat and add onions and salt.  Cook the onions until they are caramelized, about 20 minutes.  Remove from heat and set aside to cool.
Mix the rest of the ingredients, and then add the cooled onions.  Refrigerate and stir again before serving.
This recipe yields 1 batch.

One really funny thing happened during the game. I have had an intolerance to beer and wine for a long time ( gives me instant heartburn), but with the dietary changes I have found I am suddenly able to enjoy an occasional glass of wine. We decided  to try beer for the game - it has been well over 20 years since I had a beer because of the heartburn it gives me. Bob decided the thing to buy , because of the minimal footprint in the fridge ( a 4 can pack) would be Guinness Draught. It's a very robust beer , and one thing Guinness is famous for is the great foam head it gets when you pour. We decided to split the first can between the three of us, letting me see if I could tolerate it and allowing Nick ( who will be 19 this March) to have his first ever taste of beer.  Turns out it still bothers my stomach , but Nick has either an allergy or a serious intolerance to beer. One sip brought on a total digestive clean out and enough gas to power a small village. ( He has decided beer is the stupidest thing on the planet as a result- kind of a comfort in that). As the can emptied we noticed the sound of something rolling around in the can, and became concerned. We opened the can with an old fashioned opener and found this

Something that looked like a ping pong ball. Turns out, after dashing off a letter to Guinness and an inquiry on Facebook, I learned that this is something that is in every can of Guinness. It is not a ping pong ball, but a device that insures a foamy head in every glass of Guinness.  Kind of ingenious  when you think about it . Lie and learn something new each day !

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Spinach bites and new thoughts on skinny

I was reminded yesterday of a whole new reason not to"idolize" the concept of thin bodies. I believe it can help serve as a wake up call to others that are questing to find themselves looking fashionably thin as well. I am the oldest of 5, and for a lot of reasons we do not get together as much as a group as we once did. Happily, we can still keep fingers on the pulse of others through things like Facebook. Through status updates and pictures, you are at least in the know about each others lives. One of my sisters posted some pictures of a casual sort of gathering that took place, and two of the family members were looking incredibly thin, and not well. My son was looking over my shoulder and saw the photos, and exclaimed "good ! They are skinny now !". These people were never obese. One is thin from a serious substance abuse problem and the other is that way because of cancer in the lungs, kidneys and brain. I explained they were thin because they are not well, and that thin can mean not well at all.

Now try to imagine how to break down our societies obsession with thin and separate it with the evidence of disease wasting away a body, and frame it in terms an autistic child, whom only sees all things in the literal sense, can understand. Try to rationalize how thin can be healthy on any level ! Kind of makes you think, doesn't it ? If you see someone who is overweight, you may think things like they are lazy or stupid, but when you see someone Heroin Chic thin, you instantly think unwell- so why is there such a strong desire to make oneself look like they are on the path to unwellness ??

Meanwhile, here at the ranch I thought about the affects of diet on not only our physical bodies but emotional ones as well. There have been a few articles out in recent weeks about the connection between a lack of fat and fatty acids and things like depression and violence. I believe substance abuse is one result of this imbalance as people choose to self medicate. Serious alcohol consumption ( one substance of choice) can lead to several debilitating diseases over time. It just gives me that much more reason to feed my family a nourishing diet, do all that I can to respect and nurture them and make our home a refuge and place of restoration. It is my contribution to the war on drugs. Meals are relatively easy to make balanced, but snacks become tricky. Children snack throughout the day- it is a natural fact. If they are allowed to have unlimited quantities of nourishing foods, they learn to listen to their natural appetites. Statistically it has been shown that children who are restricted to quantities of snacks are more likely to become overweight because they are disconnected with their natural hunger sensations and lean to view food as something other than nutrition.Best thing a parent can do is provide snack items with real nutrition . This is one that I made for snacks this week. Store them in a covered container in the refrigerator for a week. Makes a good party appetizer as well.

 Spinach Ricotta Bites

  2 Tbsp  butter
  1  small  yellow onion -- chopped
  1 garlic clove -- minced
  2 large  eggs -- beaten
  1 cup  Ricotta cheese (full fat)
  1/2 cup  Mozzarella cheese -- shredded
  1/2 cup  Parmesan cheese -- grated
  1 pkg  frozen chopped spinach -- (10 Oz) defrosted and drained WELL
  1/4 tsp  Celtic Sea Salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Melt the butter in a sauté pan over medium heat and cook the onions for 4 minutes until tender.
Add the garlic and cook an additional minute then set aside to cool.
Whisk eggs in a bowl and stir in cheeses.
Once combined, stir in spinach, salt and cooled onion and garlic mixture.
Pour the mixture into lightly greased mini muffin cups.
Bake for 20-25 minutes or until the filling is set and golden on top.
Cool and Serve.

Today I am going to start working on some nourishing Super Bowl Snacks. Meatballs, chicken wings, ribs, dips and some cupcakes using a real vanilla bean- how decadent ! I have used one to make vanilla sugar long ago but never to bake with. Should be interesting ! As to the game I think The Packers will win, but I am most interested in watching the commercials ! So many creative ones ar shown for the first time during these games !
Do you watch the Superbowl , and do you have any must have snacks ???

Friday, February 4, 2011

Make your own Greek Yogurt- or cream cheese if you prefer

For about 2 months now I have been soaking all of our grain and nut products in a mild lactic acid solution before cooking. Reason for this is that it removes the phytic acid, which inhibits your digestive tract from fully absorbing the nutrients in grains and reduces the carb count. It is simple to do- 12-24 hrs before planing to cook said item I place it, water and either a small amount of cider vinegar or whey in a container and let it sit at room temperature, covered. I prefer using whey , as it seems to give the grains a better taste than cider vinegar does. Problem for most people is that they scratch their heads when thinking about where to get whey. It can be sold in powdered form, but it does not have the same impact on grains I believe- plus the process of dehydrating the product involves heat and that removes nutrients.  It is better to make your own, and you get Greek yogurt/cream cheese in the process as well.

It is simple to do- all you need is some plain yogurt, a bowl, a colander and either cheesecloth or paper towels.
I use a full fat variety with active cultures . This will work with fat free plain Dannon as well. I keep forgetting to buy cheese cloth, and I have a suspicious lack of linen dishtowels, so paper towels are the go to item. For small batches, a coffee filter will also work.
Place the colander in a large bowl, place the paper towels in the colander to line it, and then dump the yogurt on the paper towels and let sit at room temperature for 4 to 6 hours. This can be done overnight in the refrigerator ( and if it is the middle of summer in the south this might be preferable), but for the most part unnecessary.  The thing that makes yogurt such a healthy food in the first place is bacteria that has been activated by inoculation and incubation at a specific warm temperature range.

The whey is that liquid that collects or forms on the yogurt when it has sat for a few days. Most people toss it, but it is a valuable food stuff. The whey will slowly begin to drip, and you need do nothing other than allow it time to work. After about 4 hours of ignoring it , you will be rewarded with :

a sufficient quantity of whey for your weekly cooking , and:
yogurt cheese, or Greek yogurt ! Nonfat Greek style yogurt is preferable to many people, but if you make this out of full fat yogurt, it is sublime ! You can use it as you would cream cheese, but this is not my favorite way. I mix it with a little sweetener, add fruit and it tastes like you are eating thick whipped cream and fruit. Active bacterial cultures, healthful fat, nourishing ingredients and a decadent taste- what is not to love !

A word about the final volume- you will wind up with half the amount of yogurt you began with, so if you are planing on using this in a recipe, plan accordingly. You will also wind up with roughly the same amount of whey. Both should be stored in your refrigerator for about 2 weeks. If the yogurt develops a mold or a pinkish color, toss- or if it smells bad. If the whey becomes cloudy, toss it.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

A Food Manifesto for the Future -

This guy makes a lot of sense !

A Food Manifesto for the Future -

Real Food

So where do we go from here ?
That does indeed seem to be the big question. I am convinced that the current model of "healthy" eating is the quickest route to overall poor health and serious disease. I am also convinced that 99 percent of what fills our supermarket shelves is more lab experiment than food and does nothing to nourish any living being. When you come to these conclusions, what do you do ?

You learn to cook. Not how to open and combine various cans and packages to create something to feed, but legitimately cook from scratch using real ingredients. No egg beaters, egg white only, vegetable oils, fat free or low fat anything. Legitimate food involving things like real eggs, butter, whole milk, actual vegetables and flours. Meats that still look like the animal they have come from, with the skin and bone still in tact.

It is beginning to become a lost art. There are cookbooks, websites with recipes, cooking networks, but very little real food  is being produced in these. If it involves a can of anything or a carton of something labeled as "stock", its not real food. Many of the skills that go into creating real food are quickly being lost. Take for example making a gelatine salad. If you were in a kitchen without Jello and  or Knox gelatine, would you know how to make it ? ( It involves a calves foot). If making a cake, do you know how without the aid of a box mix ? Can you make a cheese sauce from milk, butter, flour and cheese to top pasta or a vegetable ? Many do not, and modern cookbooks ignore such basic information.

My intention is to get back to basics in all things. To create real, nourishing foods to feed my family. Since we have abandoned the scale in favor of real food , we have all seen and felt great improvements in our health, but I can do better. There are still a few processed food products in our home , and I am going to part company with these. To aid me in the process , I obtained a copy of the Boston Cooking School Cookbook by Fannie Farmer Merrit from 1916- created back in a day when processed food did not exist. I plan on learning or reclaiming a lot of old skills and sharing them in the process.

Real food for real people- that's how it was meant to be.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Groundhog could notee his shadow through the drifts

All day yesterday, the forecast was for "snowmageddon". Something that the weather people have loved to predict here every time a gray cloud  comes within 40 miles of Lake Michigan  this year. Perhaps they long for heavy dramatic role, perhaps they feel the pressure to compete with so much bad news of late. Who knows- but after a while you begin to feel the need to scream at them and demand "just the facts , please". Yesterday afternoon brought a few flakes, a lot of cold air, and heavy grey skies. Then about 3 pm, it all turned to a shower of white. By 11:30 pm, this was the view out my window

in the morning, things looked like this

and this

Later the plows started to come through and the great unburying took place. Some seemed to get a late start and may be buried in the snow till May

Meanwhile, the children jumped for joy at a snow day today , and another one tomorrow. Sub Zero temperatures are moving in , which will turn the snow to ice. Some side streets will not be cleared for days. This matters little to kids, who take these storms as an opportunity to build snowmen

I am noticing that kids seem to have forgotten the process of rolling balls to form snowmen anymore. It's just push the snow together and decorate it. The result is the above Jabba the Snow Hutt !

Meanwhile  inside, I spent the day making bread, bone broth and just enjoying the company of my hubby, who's buisness was closed for the day.