Post # 113 Junk Food in a New Light

April 19, 2013 at 3:21 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Post # 113 Junk Food in a New Light

I recently read a blog post from another foodie that I thought I would share with you.  She was discussing organic and health food stores and how to tell the neophytes, those who have switched from buying prepackaged, mass produced junk food to buying organic junk foods.

In the health food store, there are fads just as in the “regular” supermarkets.  She says that by looking in people’s baskets, she can tell whether the person is new to buying organic, health foods and if they’ve made wise choices.  I was intrigued, wondering how my own shopping basket would stand up to the examination.

On my last trip to the health food store, I bought peppermint shaving lotion, peppermint shampoo, frozen blue berries, thick plain yogurt, free range chicken breasts, Dubliner cheddar cheese, fresh leeks, fresh tomatoes, six pounds of onions (for a specific recipe), fresh marjoram, sunflower seeds, fresh carrots and celery, turbinado sugar, xantham gum, gluten free flour (for a specific recipe) and a magazine.

So here are the five things she says show a newbie and why:

1.  Protein Powder – This is usually bought by those who think that if they go vegan or vegetarian, they will be losing out on protein.  Or else by body builders who are looking to bulk up.  The problem with protein powders is that when protein is extracted from its source, it becomes very fragile and is easily and quickly denatured, or compromised.  The body can’t absorb denatured protein very well, so it tends to sit in the gut and rot.  The body doesn’t absorb natural protein very well, but at least it tends to pass through quickly in most cases.  But with protein powders and substitutes, the fragile constitution of these mixes can cause illness as they linger in the body not doing anyone any good.

2.  Soy Milk – Soy milk is made from soy beans and is a modern invention, only showing up on the market during the seventies.  Soy milk, by itself, tastes nasty, by all accounts.  Massive quantities of sweeteners (read that calories) must be added to make it palatable.  The sugars can be hidden in other ingredients, some that aren’t even listed, so be careful.  Soy milk, untreated, tastes like soy beans and isn’t very good.  The real problem, according to this blogger, is that soy milk enzymes can lead to thyroid problems.  Haven’t checked that claim out yet, but it sounds real.

3.  Organic Canned Soup – Canned soup of any kind when it’s massed produced whether it says organic or not is basically water, salt, and MSG.  It may be MSG by another name (and the blogger provides a link to a list of other names for MSG), but it’s MSG all the same.  If you’re sensitive to the substance, steer clear.  I’ve always said, the best tasting soup in the world is the one I make.  Make it, freeze it, eat it later.

4.  Fish Oil – Whenever I hear the phrase, fish oil, I think of the old scammers of the 17- and 18- hundreds who were called Snake Oil Merchants.  Supposedly, fish oil capsules will help you cure a variety of ills.  However, fish oil is very high in Omega 3 fatty acids which are beneficial, but typically destroyed by heat in the processing stage, or else on the store shelf.  Your call, but it seems counterproductive.

5.  Gluten Free foods – Okay, that one was actually in my basket, but for a valid reason I can’t go into.  First, be it known, gluten free does not mean healthy.  It means that the product has no gluten in it.  Gluten is a protein found in wheat flour which is created by adding the flour to water and moving it about.  It gives wheat products their shape, stability, and some flavor.  Some people are sensitive to gluten to the point of being allergic.  However, many people who are sensitive to gluten can modify their diets with a doctor or nutritionist’s help to the point that over time, they can enjoy products with gluten in them to whatever degree they can.  Just be aware that gluten free is not synonymous with healthy.

As I said earlier, I haven’t checked each of the claims out myself, but I found it interesting, in and of itself.  I did okay in my shopping basket.  The link to the article is below if you’d like to read it.

Post # 112 Mid-Winter Hike

April 17, 2013 at 3:17 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Post # 112 Mid-Winter Hike

I enjoy hiking and backpacking.  What’s the difference, you ask?  Duration and preparation.  A hike is usually less than a day, while backpacking can be an affair of a couple of days to a lifetime career.  Both require different skills and levels of commitment.  I’ve had great times doing both.

I did most of my hiking in Virginia while I lived there.  I loved hiking in any of the seasons, although summer could be a challenge due to humidity and bugs.  Winter could be a challenge if the snow was deep and roads were closed.  One hike I went on with a group was spectacular because it was at Shenandoah National Park, but with the recent ice storm, the roads were closed so we could hike at will.

One friend that I went hiking with said she always learned something from me as we hiked.  I was constantly pointing out what was good to eat and what to stay away from.  She said going on a hike with me was more like a trip to the grocery store.  I studied books for the area, read survivalist guides, took classes, and finally learned what could sustain life and what couldn’t.  Like Ewall Gibbons in the seventies, I was “stalking the wild asparagus.”  Which I found several times and it’s delicious!

On one survivalist weekend class, I was eating a handful of berries and the instructor told me to always be certain of what I was eating.  I told him I was, and if I died during the weekend, he could use me as a good example.  We were constantly bickering like that.

In Virginia, they always had what I called the mid-winter thaw.  Right after the first of the year, temps would climb into the 50s and 60s for about two and half weeks.  It almost made you think that winter was over (except we still had February which I called the bitch month because you never knew what that bitch was going to throw at you.)  During the mid-winter thaw, I was always itching to get out on the trail just to get out of the house and clear the stale air out of my lungs.   It’s always a little dicey being that far from people alone, so I would try to get people to go with me, but I was seldom successful.  I have one friend I could usually convince by promising a good view that he’d enjoy.

So this one mid-winter thaw, I took him to a place that he hadn’t been to at that time.  Since then, it’s become one of his favorite hikes and he’s done it several times a year in all kinds of weather.  I parked in a pull out designed for the trail and we got our things ready.  I had a day pack on with a couple of surprises in it.  He had a belt pack with a couple of energy bars and water.  We set off, talking and joking, confidant in the fact that we had the whole mountain to ourselves.  I was wearing a light pair of cross trainers and the cold air from the woods entered the mesh uppers chilling my feet more than a little.  There was more snow on the mountain than I anticipated and we had to be careful in several places due to ice.

We started on one local trail which went about a mile and a half to connect with the Appalachian Trail, my sentimental favorite trail of all times.  I was telling my friend all about the trail and where we were going and he was getting more excited.  I was also pointing out what was good to eat, even at that time of year.  In no time, we connected with the larger trail and started our hike upwards, through several switchbacks.

After about an hour and half, we arrived at our destination, an overlook, a cliff really.  He was properly impressed.  He stood looking for several moments then looked back at me.

“Dude, you did it again!  This is amazing.”

We were looking over the Shenandoah valley and far in the distance you could see the Shenandoah river, south fork.  In the winter, when the trees had no leaves, and the sun shone on the water, it was like a glittering ribbon.

We sat on the cold rocks and talked about a few things, then he had to pee.  I directed him to a side trail.  While he was gone, I took several things out of my pack.  I took a small camping stove out and set it up quickly.  I had water boiling quickly, and by the time my friend returned, I had home made chocolate chip cookies, home made hot chocolate, and cheese and crackers with some fruit set out on a rock with two small plates for us.

Laughing he said, “Only you would come up with this.”

“Not really.  Sometimes I bring wine, but I thought since it was cold you’d prefer this.”

“This hot chocolate is the best I’ve ever tasted.  What brand it is?”

“Mine.  I made it.”  I took the plastic zip lock bag out of my pack and threw it at him.  “Keep it.  It’s easy to make.”

So now, I’m telling you how to make it.  Cuz it really is easy.  Take 1/2 cup of cocoa and 1 cup of sugar and mix well until there are no cocoa lumps.  The easiest way I’ve found to do this is to put them in a zip lock bag, close it, and mash them together by hand.  The sugar grains will break up the cocoa.  Add 1 cup of powdered milk, and a half teaspoon of salt and mix thoroughly.  Add one or two teaspoons of vanilla and continue mixing for several minutes.  The vanilla will be absorbed by the dry ingredients and distributed throughout the mix.  Keep it in an airtight container (a zip lock bag works well) and store in the fridge.  When it’s time to make a cup of hot cocoa, add two heaping spoonfuls to a cup of hot to boiling water.  Stir until blended and drink.  Add marshmallows or whipped cream if desired.  Not sure how long it keeps since I usually drink it all before anything spoils.  Adjust the amount of cocoa mix to water to your own tastes.


Post # 111 A Crock of Slow Cooking

April 15, 2013 at 12:55 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Post # 111 A Crock of Slow Cooking

It seems like forever ago that I promised to talk about crock pots and slow cooking.  First, let me define terms.  Slow cooking is a method of cooking using various processes.  A slow cooker is an electronic device that allows unattended cooking of soups, stews, sauces, “boiled” dinners, etc.  A crock pot is a trademarked device made by Rival to allow slow cooking which has become a generic term for the whole process.  Developed in the early 70s, it seemed like overnight everyone in the country had one.


The concept was simple.  You put the food in, turned it on either high or low, put the lid on, and left it alone for hours.  In my case, sometimes for days.  Originally, the unit was designed as one piece, but shortly, the ceramic bowl became removable for easier serving and cleaning.  It was simple, almost fool proof, reliable, and consistent.  What it made, it made well.  But it didn’t make everything; it had a specific wedge of use in the culinary universe; and it wasn’t versatile.

Now, nearly fifty years after it’s explosion on the market, the crock pot has morphed into a computerized turbo cooker.  It’s become more versatile.  It’s become more complex.

My mom received one as a Christmas gift from friends a couple of years after the Rival crock pot first appeared.  Immediately, we threw a roast, some onions, some potatoes, a couple of carrots and celery spears with a half cup of water into it, turned the puppy on, and walked away.  Within an hour, the aroma of stew wafted through the house, making our mouths water.  I made fresh biscuits timed to be done when the stew was finished.  It was amazing!  Even today, I still make a basic stew of beef, onion, and potato in the crock pot because it tastes so good.

With crock pots today, you can set the temp, the time, and alerts to tell you when to add ingredients.  You can use them to warm things up, keep them warm or hot, to serve on a buffet line.  They can be round, oval, rectangular in shape.  They can make stew, or bake a cake.  Of course, the original crock pot said it could bake a cake, but if my memory serves me correctly, you needed a coffee can to bake the cake in.

During the course of my culinary training (ie, reading cookbooks), at one point I concentrated on Italian cooking, and one part of that was perfecting spaghetti sauce.  My roommates loved it because they loved spaghetti.  I wasn’t using fresh ingredients at the time.  I would put one small can of tomato paste, one medium can of tomato puree, and two medium cans of tomato sauce into the crock pot.  I’d add two medium cans of water, a pound of hamburger, and seasonings.  It was the seasonings I’d play around with.  Then I’d turn the crock pot on and let it cook for two days.  By the time I was ready to serve it, it had mellowed into an amazing sauce that could be used for practically anything.  It wasn’t harsh; it wasn’t sweet; it wasn’t salty.  It’s hard to describe, but all the flavor elements were there.

Then I learned that if you wanted the flavors of the herbs and spices to be more pronounced, you added them at the end of the cooking cycle.  I battled that one long and hard.  I wanted the flavors to be infused into the food thoroughly, but I also wanted them to be noticeable and recognizable.  I compromised by putting them in at the beginning, and adding a small amount of the same herbs and spices at the end.  Sometimes it worked, but other times it didn’t.  Oregano does not need to be increased.  Neither does salt.  Garlic and onion can be added in large quantities at any time because the crock pot does them an enormous favor.

Since those days, I’ve refined my palate a bit, and my technique.  I use fresher ingredients.  I don’t cook things longer than a few hours.  I add the flavors I like when I think it’s most effective.  I use more wine and more stock rather than water.  I also sear the meat before adding to the crock pot to add color and flavor to the broth or sauce that it’s cooking in.

A couple of days ago, I spent the day with my sister doing some shopping with her.  It had been a very long day for me, starting at 5:30 a.m.  By four in the afternoon, I was anticipating the pizza that Partner/Spouse and I had talked about ordering for dinner.  She got a phone call from her husband wondering if everyone wanted to gather at their house that evening for griller burgers, etc.  Partner/Spouse was hesitant so I jumped in and accepted.  Suddenly, grilled, cheesy burgers sounded perfect.  While we were eating, I was talking with a friend and we were remembering some of the old college days and parties held in that back yard.

“Do you remember that crock pot dish you used to make?” I asked.  “The one with the chicken and corn tortillas, and stuff?”

“Yes,” he replied enthusiastically.  “I still make that one!”

“I’ve made it a few times for pot lucks at work and stuff, and I get compliments like crazy for it.  People love it!”

We were laughing about it and he said, “You know where I got that from, don’t you?”  At my negative head shake, he said, “It came right out of that tiny little cookbook that came with the crock pot!”

The recipe as I make it is right here:

Layer corn tortillas, cooked shredded chicken, salsa, drained black beans, and cheddar cheese in your crock pot similar to a lasagna to one inch from the top.  It helps to spray Pam on the sides and bottom of the crock pot, but it’s not necessary.  Put the lid on, and turn on high for two hours.  Set to low and continue cooking for another two hours.  Serve hot.

Share any crock pot stories you have here and enjoy!

Post # 110 Comfort Foods – part 1

April 12, 2013 at 5:00 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Post # 110 Comfort Foods – part 1

Everyone’s heard the phrase, and everyone knows what it means without an explanation.  Food is very comforting.  It can be so comforting that at times it becomes the problem rather than the cure.  I’m not going into that just now.  Most times, when people talk about comfort foods, they refer back to foods they loved when they were kids.  Everyone’s mom had a “best recipe” of some kind.  As adults, we seem to be continually in a search for recreating those recipes.  As seen below:

meat loaf

I have several comfort foods.  Baked mac and cheese is high on the list, as is peanut butter and jelly.  Peanut butter and jelly has be made in a certain way, though.  The bread has to be firm and not squishy, and must be white.  The peanut butter has to be smooth and creamy and room temperature.  The jelly must be grape and cold, straight from the fridge.  The peanut butter must not overpower the jelly, and the jelly must not overpower the peanut butter.  It’s a crap shoot every time I make one.  Another big comfort food is grilled cheese sandwiches.  Crispy on the outside, hot and gooey and melting on the inside.  Paired with dill pickle, there isn’t much better.  Today is National Grilled Cheese Sandwich Day, by the way.

My total favorite comfort food, though, is meat loaf.  It’s basically all the ingredients of a hamburger mushed together and baked in a loaf pan.  Wonderful stuff.  My mom always made a basic meatloaf:  two pounds of hamburger, two eggs, one cup of bread crumbs, half a cup of water, and one envelope of onion soup mix.  Mix, shape, and bake and put ketchup on top in the last fifteen minutes of baking.  Later in life, she got a little more adventurous and played around with the recipe a little, but never strayed too far away from what she knew.

When I moved out on my own, and started cooking for just my tastes, I started experimenting with the recipe.  I started adding, detracting, mixing things up.  Some things turned out good, and other not so good.  I remember one that turned out so salty it was inedible.  Another was so runny that it never made a loaf at all.

What I ended up with was a meat and vegetable loaf that suits my tastes and convenience.  I use one pound of high quality ground beef, and one pound of quality ground pork.  I grate one large carrot and one medium potato into the meat.  I add a quarter cup of sunflower seeds, and half a cup of uncooked rice.  I mix it all together with one envelope of onion soup mix, a half cup of herb stuffing, two eggs, and a cup of either water, broth, or wine.  Whatever I have handy.  Place in a loaf pan, top with ketchup, and sprinkle sesame seeds over the top.  Bake at 375 for an hour to an hour and a half, until it’s done.  I usually have it with mashed potatoes or salad.  Whatever is left over is sliced up for sandwiches.

The secret of comfort food is that it’s based in memory, and everyone’s memory is different.  Therefore, every comfort food is right.  It doesn’t matter if what I’ve said is what you think is right or wrong.  It’s what is mine.

My final comfort food for this post is macaroni and cheeseburger.  I take a pound of good quality hamburger and brown it into medium sized chunks.  I season it well with salt, onion powder, and garlic powder.  I drain it completely (usually reserving the fats and juices for the dogs’ food bowls) and put it aside.  While the hamburger is cooking, I start a box mix of mac and cheese deluxe.  I always use the deluxe version cuz I like the goopy sauce rather than the powdery stuff.  As soon as the mac and cheese is cooked and combined, I add the hamburger and mix thoroughly.  Then I eat it.  Sometimes, all of it.  Once in a while, I add cooked broccoli or other veggies, but mostly not.

So that’s comfort foods for me for now.  Let me know what your favorites are!

Post # 109 Mom’s Snake

April 10, 2013 at 12:30 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Post # 109 Mom’s Snake

My mom hated only four kinds if snakes: big ones, little ones, dead ones, and live ones.  My little brother, on the other hand, loved all of those.  They had a deep, long-running animosity regarding that subject.  Mom always ran victorious.

Until one day in late spring.  My brother and I had just arrived home from school.  He was slightly behind me when we walked into the house.  I stopped dead in my tracks.  When you walked into the house, you were in our living room and directly across from the door was a long couch which was kind of ratty, but my dad loved it because it fit his long frame.  My mom was huddled in one corner of that couch absolutely dithering.

She fixed an evil glare over my shoulder at my brother and said, “You little s#& of a b*^@h, did you bring a snake into this house?”

He immediately started crying; it was his first line of defense.  “Yes.  It got away from me and I’ve been looking for it.”

I instantly realized that the bedroom cleaning he’d been doing for the past week had an ulterior motive.  I looked down the hallway that led to the laundry room and saw clothes flung everywhere, including hanging from an overhead lamp.  Apparently, she had been taking a load of laundry to the laundry room and the snake had been slithering toward her.  She screamed, threw the clothes, ran for the living room, and stayed on the couch waiting for the snake to come get her.  I helped her to her bed, then called my dad at work.

“You better bring home some hamburgers or something for dinner.” I said.


“I guess your youngest son brought a snake into the house, and mom found it.  I’ve already put her to bed.”

There was ominous silence for a few moments, then Dad said, “I’ll be right home.”

I started picking things up and straightening while my brother looked around the floor his “pet”.  I watched him for a couple of moments then said, “I can’t believe you did that.  You know how Mom feels about snakes.”

“I just wanted to raise one.” he said still sniffing.

“What kind was it?  Nothing dangerous, I hope.”

“No, just a shovel-nosed.  I’ve been looking for it for over a week.”

I shook my head.  The snake didn’t bother me, but given the situation.

Dad got home shortly after with several bags of cheeseburgers and fries.  He glared at my brother but went directly to my mom.  I set out plates and utensils, waiting for the family to sit down.  We gathered and started to dig in, but my dad said, “Uh-uh.”

He pointed at my brother.  “You’re not eating until you find that snake and I see you put it outside.”

“But I’m hungry!” my brother said, astounded.

“I don’t care.  Do it.”  Dad was still a marine at this time and had a commanding voice.  My brother got up from the table and began searching again.

After dinner was over, I cleaned everything up and did my homework.  I felt sorry for my brother so I started helping him look.

“What are you doing?” my dad asked quietly.

“Helping look for the snake.”

“No, you’re not.” he said.

“Oh.  I guess I’m reading a book, then.”

My brother continued looking, and at about 2 a.m. he found it.  He woke my dad and they went to an empty lot nearby and released it.  As they walked back into the house, Dad pointed at the cold leftover cheeseburgers and fries.

“Now eat.”

My brother had to eat three cheeseburgers and an order of fries.  But he never brought another wild animal into the house again.

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