Thursday, April 26, 2012

What we eat for lunch.

As promised, I wanted to do a seperate blog entry for lunch since the breakfast entry had to share airtime with news of the 100 Days of Real Food mini-pledge to not eat anything fat-free, low-fat or lite.

 A quick update on th mini-pledge: So far, it's been a success except for one tiny thing. One tiny thing I didn't feel bad about. I was making the most amazing dinner two nights ago of Asian lettuce wraps with Thai coconut rice, and the only coconut milk I had was "A Taste of Thai" brand "Lite" coconut milk. I didn't feel bad about using it because A) I'd had it in my cabinet for a long time and it needed used, and B) the ingredients of both the "Lite" and regular formulas are exactly the same: coconut milk and guar gum (used as a stabilizer for A Taste of Thai's purposes, but apparently also a soluble fiber that's side effects include reductions in cholestorol and increased calcium absorption. Hmm.) But, I've been very little if any processed food this week, and I started out the week feeling great. Now, nahtsamuch.

Which is a nice segue into this post about lunches. Here are a couple pics of my lunches:
This was last week. Italian wedding soup, salad and Twitter.

And this was today. Turkey orzo soup and salad. No Twitter feed today.

I'm a big soup person. I heart soups. When they're homemade. Not any of that crap from a can. I made a pot of it on the weekend and eat it for lunch all week. Soup is ridiculously easy to make. I like it because you can use up vegetables that have been in your fridge too long and might be getting ready to go bad. You can put ANY kind of meat in it. And you can add beans or go without. It's endlessly adaptable.

Jeremy and I have been fighting a head cold all week. So, I took a page out of Weston Price's book, and made something with some of that lovely turkey bone broth I just finished up after Easter and put in the freezer. Do you know why they always say to eat chicken soup when you're sick? It's because of the bone broth. It's a natural anti-inflamatory. That's why you're not really helping yourself get better, but perhaps making your symptoms and discomfort worse when you eat a can of chicken soup to help soothe a cold. All that sodium just dehydrates you, when you really should be increasing your fluid intake to help flush out the cold.

I knew I had some frozen shredded dark meat turkey left over from Christmas in the freezer that needed used. Also, I always have carrots, onions and celery on hand. And that velvetly smooth bone broth. I had ziti, angel hair and orzo to choose from in the pasta department, so Voila! Turkey orzo soup. In 45 minutes.

Turkey Orzo Soup (4 servings)

2 quarts broth (I used 1 1/2 quarts turkey bone broth and 1 pint vegetable broth)
2 cups shredded turkey
1 tb olive oil
2 carrots, peeled and diced
3 ribs of celery, diced
1/2 red onoin, diced
3/4 cup of orzo pasta
kosher salt and pepper to taste
a couple dashes of dried parsely (optional)

Heat olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add onions, carrots and celery, season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occassionally until softened and onion becomes translucent. Add broth and turkey (both my broth and turkey were frozen when I added them). Put the lid on the pot and increase the heat to medium high. Bring to a boil, add orzo. Reduce heat back to medium and replace lid. Stir occassionally until orzo is only slightly undercoked (it will continue cooking in the pot as it cools). Adjust seasoning and add parsely or whatever other spice you'd like.

Jeremy spends about half of his time in the office and half in the field. It's a little more of a challenge to pack his lunch when he's in the field because I have to think of something that doesn't need heated, won't go bad if left in a hot truck all day long, and that he'll actually eat.

We're both big fans of salad, especially now that I can get it out of the backyard or from the Monroe Market, so that's a popular lunch choice. My office has a fridge, and I keep a bottle of salad dressing here to use--but not this week. It's "Lite" balsamic viniagrette, so I couldn't have it on the mini-pledge. My store-bought salad dressing was one of my last holdouts on cutting out processed food. It's just too easy to keep at my office and use. But this week, I made a batch of vinegar and oil (which is what I eat at home) and I've kept it in my desk. I can't believe how much tastier it is. I never really noticed it until this week, I was thinking "wow, this salad is really good!" Once I finish the bottle that I have here, I'll probably not go back to store-bought salad dressing. A small victory for the mini pledge!

When Jeremy is in the field, he's likes plain 'ol PB&J; natural peanut butter and homemade jam sandwiches. I pack both of us a cup of yogurt and a stick of string cheese. I also pack myself a serving of fruit. I'm a 5-small meal-a-day-eater, and I like to have the yogurt about 10 am and have the cheese and fruit about 3 pm. I think he eats his lunch all at once. Right now, I'm eating the applesauce I canned last fall, but the fruit I eat just depends what's in season. This is the really long stretch between fresh apples through late fall and peaches and strawberries in early summer that I have to depend on my canned applesauce to get by. We are also both fans of almonds, pistachios, or walnuts as snacks, too. They seem to keep me from getting hungry longer, so I try to keep them in my desk, and I'll pack them in Jeremy's lunch.

If he's in his office, his lunch is pretty much the same as mine minus the apple sauce. I had been putting a protein bar or granola bar in his lunch in place of that. That was my other hold over on processed food. I know granola bars are easy to make, I just haven't tried my hand at it yet. I am out of bars now, and I don't plan to buy anymore. But with this cold, I haven't much felt like tackling that project yet, and luckily, he hasn't had much an appetite either, so he hasn't missed them.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

100 Days of Real Food Mini Pledge and weekday breakfasts

Okay, so that's a hopelessly long title, but indulge me a minute.

Have you ever heard of 100 Days of Real Food? I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE that blog. Lisa Leake is so inspiring. She and her husband were raising two small girls when she read In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan. That was her wake up call. She wasn't even a mom who only fed her kids McDonald's Happy Meals and let them drink all the pop they wanted either. I'd say she was pretty normal about the diet her family ate, but she started to think... just what was in that neon pink Go-Gurt?

So, her, her husband and her two little girls didn't eat any processed food for 100 days. Nada. Can you imagine how difficult that would be? And while she was doing it, she decided to write a blog to chonicle the project. And give the rest of us tips and tricks she used to achieve her goal.

And, she encourages all her readers to try it themselves for 100 days. Or if that seems too daunting, a week--"mini pledges." I've been wanting to do one of her mini pledges for a while, but, to be honest, I just didn't think I could do it.

But a few weeks ago, I read on her blog about this one that I'm doing now: no low-fat, lite or fat-free food for one week. This one sounded pretty easy, so I took the plunge. When companies make products that are lite, low-fat or fat-free, they almost always replace the fat with sodium, sugar, or God-knows-what-else. Just like Lisa, at one time, I thought Snack Wells and fat-free ice-cream were the keys to the universe. That's been a few years ago, and I've come a long way since then. For about the past year and half, I've tried to avoid artificial sweeteners, both non-calorie and high fructose corn syrup. Foods that are marketed and labeled as low-fat, lite or fat-free are processed. That's how they got that way. No matter how "good" you think you're being by having that big bowl of fat-free ice cream, it's definitely not better for you (or better tasting for that matter) than they small scoop you could have of homemade ice cream made from real cream, eggs and natural sugar.

All this mini pledging and such happened about the time that I really started taking a hard look at what Jeremy and I eat for breakfast and lunch. I feature a lot of what we eat for dinner on this blog, but rarely do I mention breakfast or lunch, except occassionally when I talk about a breakfast I made on the weekend at home. Like pretty much everyone, we eat 10 meals a week--two meals a day on weekdays either at work, on the way to work, or on the way out the door to work.

Since I started cooking and eating more sustainably, seasonally and locally, this has been the one hurdle I just haven't been able to overcome. Because I needed something that could be eaten away from home, sometimes quickly and prepared easily, packaged food was just too easy. A few months ago, I finally stopped buying cereal for breakfast. Jeremy doesn't like cereal, but I am perfectly happy with 1 cup of cheerios with milk and a hard boiled egg. Everyday. I like oatmeal, but cereal is way quicker. Since Jeremy's kinda picky about breakfast (give him homemade biscuits and gravy everyday and he's happy). He doesn't really like cereal. Doesn't like oatmeal. Really likes biscuits, eggs, bacon, fried potatoes and the works, but I don't have time to make that every day. I used to buy him Hot Pockets or Eggo waffles or something like that from the freezer aisle. Bad, bad, bad for you and it got really expensive.

So the past few months, I've been making something on Sunday night to eat for breakfast all week. Something like apple cinnamon or berry muffins, zucchini bread, scones, a fritata, or some filling for some breakfast burritos ready to put in a tortilla. Although I started doing this for him, thinking I could eat an english muffin or oatmeal, I've been eating a lot of these breakfasts, too. I've gotten pretty good at making these breakfasts with an eye on the calorie count. I've looked for recipes that call for less sugar, substituting applesauce for the oil and using a mix of my stone-ground local flour and buckwheat flour. Here are a couple of the examples of our breakfasts from last week and this week: breakfast casserole and oatmeal with blackberries, demurra sugar and whole milk. Last summer I canned three pints of whole blackberries as an experiment to see if that would be just as good as freezing them. It's turned out even better. They kept their shape and sweetness wonderfully. I'll definitely be canning more like that this summer.

The casserole is super easy and delicious. It had some diced ham (frozen and leftover from the holidays), fresh spinach, crumbled goat cheese, and a sauteed onion in it with five eggs and a couple pinches of baking powder. You can put whatever you have on hand in it vegetable-wise. And you could leave the meat out of it if you wanted.

So back to the mini-pledge. No fat free coffee creamer in my coffee for breakfast this week. I've tried whole milk and heavy cream in my coffee this week. I like my regular half and half better, but I don't have any on had. If I'm out of half and half, I use the fat free vanilla I buy for Jeremy. But not this week.

I've had to make a few other minor adjustments, too, for lunch, but I'll write more about those on my next post, which will be about lunch.

Easy Breakfast Casserole (exactly as I made it in the picture)
Makes 6 servings
2 cups of diced ham
2-3 big handfuls of fresh spinach
1/2 large red onion, chopped
olive oil
5 large eggs
2 tsp of baking powder
1/4 cup of milk

Pre-heat oven to 350. Heat the olive oil in a skillet. Add the chopped onion, and saute until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the spinach to the skillet and maybe a tsp of water (optional, if needed). Put a lid on the skillet tight and let the spinach steam and wilt for about  a minute. Stir and replace the lid for another minute until spinach has wilted down. Beat 5 eggs in a large bowl. Add the milk and stir to completely combine. Add baking powder and stir well (it tends to clump up, so you might have to stir it quite a bit or break it up a bit with the wisk). Grease a 9x9 pan with butter, bacon grease or coconut oil (or use cooking spray). Add onions and spinach to egg mixture and ham. Pour into greased pan. Bake at 350 for 45 minutes until eggs are set and golden brown on top.

The variations on this dish are endless, and that is the beauty of it. Depending on what's in season, you could just use up some vegetables you have leftover from dinner. You could substitute the spinach with any kind of greens, such as kale or swiss chard. Also, other types of vegetables could be used such as zucchini, green peppers, corn, peas, hot peppers. I think a combination of smoked turkey, monterey jack cheese,  hot peppers, onions and a dash of chili powder would be interresting. You could make it a southwest casserole. Or kale, onions and diced boiled potatoes with goat cheese.

At the beginning of trying to come up with something healthy for breakfast Jeremy would like, I was kinda worried that I would run out of things to make and just have to rotate the same few meals all the time. This hasn't been the case at all. Mostly because you can always change up a muffin recipe based on what's in season, and the breakfast casserole is certainly adaptable. Also, sometimes I make a batch of waffles from scratch and just freeze them in a gallon zip-lock bag. You just toast them in the morning the same way you would an Eggo waffle. Jeremy hasn't complained yet, and now it seems like the sky's the limit once I really thought about it. I won't always have time to make something on Sunday night, so having waffles in the freezer, or toast with homemade jam is still an option. But this has been easy so far, and has actually benefited both of us--I thought a bowl of cereal was super fast, but actually grabbing a muffin on the way out the door is even faster and has gotten me to work early a few times.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Eating REALLY close to the ground.

I'm not sure if you're familiar with the expression "Eat close to the ground," but it means eating very sustainably--local, fresh, with a low carbon footprint, and most importantly to me, cheap.

It's what I was thinking about when I ate dinner last night, a good bit of which came from my backyard. I live in "town" on a little over a half acre. It's not like we live at Green Acres or anything. But it still blows my mind how much food I can produce relative to the size of our lot.

Last night, I made angel hair pasta with peas and mint pesto and meatballs. It was a variation of a recipe from Martha Stewart's Dinner at Home. On the side, I made a dandelion green salad with hot bacon dressing.

The mint pesto was made from mint I grow in my herb garden. The recipe used about three cups, which is great, because if you've ever grown mint, you know how enthusiastically it will spread. I am always looking for ways to use it in cooking since I just have so much of it. And, I was skeptical about mint pesto. Would it taste too minty? To desserty? Not at all, actually. It was great with the garlic, saltiness of the parmesean, and the olive oil. I think peas and mint are perfect companions. Mint cuts some of peas sweetness and peas mellow out some of the strong flavor of mint.

Mint Pesto

3 cups losely packed mint leaves
1/2 cup olive oil, plus more if needed
1/2 cup slivered almonds
1/2 cup shredded parmesean cheese
6 cloves garlic, minced

Put the nuts, garlic and cheese in a food processor and pulse until ground. Add the mint leaves and some of the oil. Pulse again until the mixture comes together. Add more oil until pesto reaches desired consistency. Makes about 2/3 to 1 cup.

I think the pesto would be great in ravioli or on a sandwich. It's definitely something I'm going to keep in mind as my mint plants become more unruly thtroughout the summer.

The meatballs are my standby meatball recipe, made with ground venison. Now, there are deer who come to my backyard, so these meatballs count as coming from the backyard, even though they aren't made from deer in my backyard. I wouldn't mind if these meatballs were from those deer. I'm not excited to see them since it means I'll most likely lose something I've put a lot of work into growing.

The dandelion greens are from the backyard, picked Saturday before the Hubs mowed. I've never eaten them before, and was curious to try them, especially since they seem to be an overabundance in my yard. They were bitter, but the bacon dressing help smooth out the bitterness a little bit. I loosely followed a recipe in The Beekman 1802 Heirloom Cookbook. I haven't used this cookbook much, but it's arranged by season (major points from me) and is centered around things you would find at the farmers' market. I did a quick internet search after dinner, and found out that dandelion greens are better when they are from plants that haven't flowered yet. Yikes. That's probably why they were so bitter, which makes sense.

Now, I realize it's not much from the backyard in the mint and dandelion greens, but it did strike me as I was eating--hey, this is pretty local, considering I wasn't even trying. The mint plants are spear mint and were given to me a few years ago. People who grow mint will gladly give you some starts if you ask (and maybe even unsolicited) because it spreads so aggressively. So, the mint cost me zero dollars, and well, the dandelion greens did, too. The Hubs shot the deer, and it was basically free, save for his hunting stamps and ammo. It was all local except for the pasta, peas, oil, parmesean cheese and almonds (in the pesto). The hot bacon dressing had some red wine vinegar in it, too, that wasn't local.

I am harvesting arugula, lettuces, radishes and beet greens from my cold frames now. I'm not getting a huge amount, but I've been mixing what I pick in with the lettuce mixes I've ordered from the Monroe Farm Market. The arugula is a nice touch to mix in for salads. And I am a huge fan of the beet greens. I hate to pick any more, because that means fewer beets. I think I might grow more just for the tops. Lettuces, radishes and greens are some of the easiest vegetables I've ever grown. I find them to be very low maintenance. I basically planted the seeds and in a couple weeks begin harvesting. We did just have a dry spell, so I did water them a couple times, but generally, they don't need any extra water because spring is usually wetter and cooler. The radishes I grow are cherry bell variety, and I ordered the seeds from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. The beets are "cylindra," also from Baker Creek. It's an elongated variety that is good for small plots since you can plant them closer to each other than regular beets. I have thinned them out to be about 2 inches apart, but don't waste those thinnings. Put them in a salad!

My feelings toward beet greens.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

A post not about what to put in your body, but on it.

Now, I realize, by the title of this blog, I should be talking about eating and growing things. But this is a subject near and dear to my heart, and I think not that unrelated.

The main reason behind sheer enjoyment of food, that I eat the way I do is for health. And, it would all be for naught if I wasn't wary of what chemicals I was being exposed to otherwise. I am meticulous about what is in my food, so it goes that naturally, I'm curious about what's getting into my body through my daily beauty routine.

For the past couple years, I have become more and more interrested in what is in the stuff I put on my body every single day like lotions, make-up, body wash, deordorant, etc. Is it harming me? Down the road will I have some terrible form of cancer that I could trace back to years of use of my favorite Island Coconut scented lotion?

Well, the answer is "maybe." It seems like the link between various chemicals in beauty products and long-term damage is in its very early stages, but there's some evidence to suggest this is the case, nonetheless. I don't know about you, but I'm erring on the side of caution.

A few years ago, I stumbled on the Environmental Working Group's Skin Deep database. Ever read the back of your shampoo bottle as you soap up in the shower? I do. Is that weird? I recognized "coral flower extract" as something probably not onerous, but it was only one of 19 ingredients listed in my shampoo. The rest I could barely pronounce, let alone tell you what they were. Have you ever wondered exactly what is "tetrasodium EDTA"?

Some of these ingredients that I cannot identify are phthalates. Phthalates are what makes plastic pliable and make liquids a gel, and as you can imagine, are in all kinds of products from food containers, shower curtains, hair spray, lotion, etc. Exposure to them has also been linked to respiratory illnesses, endocrine disruption and even breast cancer. Do an internet search for "phthalates and illness" and see how many scary articles come up.

So, what do you do? These chemicals are everywhere. Well, unless you are living in a BPA-free plastic bubble, you can't help but to come in contact with them in your daily life. But I do my best to try and avoid them.

The Skin Deep website is a God-send. I've completely reworked my medicine cabinet based on it's data. I've found that most of the products that are safe are more expensive than conventional products. And harder to find. But switching over did force me to streamline my beauty routine, and I think paying a little extra is completely worth the peace of mind.

The website ranks all kinds of health and beauty products, from toothpaste to sunscreen to hair color. The products are ranked 0-9, with 0 being the best for you. The website does have it's shortcomings, the major one being that many of the products have incomplete data on the website. Without the complete list of ingredients, it is difficult to assign a particular product an accurate ranking. And, the health and beauty products industry gets off easy by being allowed to list ingredients such as "Fragrance" or "Natural fragrance." It's anyone's guess what exactly "Fragrance" is made up of, and because the formulas are considered proprietary trade secrets, companies don't have to disclose what they are. The Skin Deep website notes if ingredient information for a particular product is incomplete, and it makes a policy of assigning ingredients like "fragrance" a high score, if it is unknown what is in it.

There are few rules of thumb that, combined with using the website, should steer you clear of coming into daily contact with these chemicals through your beauty routine.

1. Whenever possible, opt for fragrance free products. Fragrance doesn't add anything useful to the product, and is even probably harmful, since we can't be sure what's in it. Also, most of the "Fragrance" that's used in products isn't of high quality, and it won't last long once you put it on. If you like wearing fragrance, opt for essential oils. They will last longer anyway.

2. Avoid products with "sodium laureth sulfate" or "sodium lauryl sulfate". This is a chemical that helps products foam or is used as an emulsification agent. It's also a known irritant, but rest assured, the cosmetics industry says it's safe at doses in consumer cosmetics projects. Oh, yeah, it's also a known carcinogen in animal studies...

3. Just like with food, look for products with fewer ingredients, or with ingredients that are easily recognizable to non-chemists. This is a no brainer.

I mentioned that it's really hard to find some of these products, and many of the safe products listed on the Skin Deep site are brands I've never heard of. I used to do all my shopping for beauty products mostly at the grocery store or drug store, where I could use coupons. But now, I buy a lot of these products online. has a lot of these products, and that's where I buy a lot of what I use.

Some brands are known to be safer, or "greener", but you still have to look at the labels. I like branks like Kiss My Face, JASON, Dr. Bronner's and Yes to Carrots, which you can generally find at any drugstore these days. They are more than conventional products, but they still aren't too bad. Some specialty brands can be much more expensive, and aren't found anywhere around here, but I order them online. If it's a good product, I don't mind paying a little extra.

Here's a list of what I use now:
Shampoo/Conditioner - de lux COLORSAVE shampoo and conditioner for color-treated hair. Yeah, that hair dye kinda runs counter to this whole natural ingredients post, but if I have to pick and choose, I'll have my hair colored by a stylist a handful of times a year and use these products the rest of the time... Skin Deep assigned both a 4, which is yellow, meaning, not great, but not bad, either. I buy it at

Body Wash - Korres Jasmine Body Wash. I love the Korres brand. It's a brand that is geared toward natural ingredients--but I'm not saying that all their products are natural and safe. You still have to read the ingredients. My particular scent isn't on Skin Deep, but their bodywash ranges from a rating of 1 to 5. Not terrible, but I would hope mine falls closer to the 1 end. I've also used their Wild Rose facial moisturizer and foundation, and I think both are 5s on Skin Deep. And, sometimes in the shower, I just use soap. We have been using plain old Ivory original soap for a long time, and it's ranked a 3. I find Korres products at and Sephora.

Deodorant - I've been buying whatever I can get for cheap with a coupon. I always try to get it fragrance free, but I can't always. Right now, I'm using Dove Invisible Solid Powder scent, and it's still only a 4 on Skin Deep. A few years back, there was some debate about whether deodorant was causing cancer, but it has since been laid to rest. Here's a link from the Mayo Clinic that addresses the popular myth (and incidently addresses types of plastic containers you should not use in the microwave). Personally, I'm not worried that something in basic fragrance-free deodorant is harmful, but some of the products on the market could be cause for concern.

Moisturizer - I LOVE Aveeno Active Naturals Daily Moisturizer. I didn't use it until I began looking for a moisturizer that met Skin Deep's muster. It's a 2, by the way. It's nice and thick and fragrance free. I have tried Dr. Bronner's Magic Organic Lotion, which I still use from time on my hands, but Aveeno is better and cheaper. You can find Aveeno at your local drug store.

Make-up - I use almost exclusively Bare Essenctuals bareMinerals mineral make up for foundation, blush, and eyeshadow. All the products I use range from 2 to 4 on the Skin Deep site. I also use the Foundation Primer, too, which is a 2. I don't know if it's because I'm getting older, but I do seem less prone to break outs since I started using it, too. Occassionally, I use Boots No. 7 Stay Perfect Eyeshadow. It's a cream shadow and it literally stays on all day long. Skin Deep gives it a 4. I use Boots No. 7 Stay perfect liquid eyeliner, and black isn't in the Skin Deep database, but other colors are ranked a 2. Boots is a British company, and I think that Europe has tighter regulations on what types of chemicals can be used in (both foods and) beauty products, which is nice. Boots is sold at Target and CVS, too. I am a big mascara person, and I haven't found any brand that I like as well as Bare Essenctuals Buxom. Believe me, I've tried, since it runs me over $25 a tube. It. Is. The. Best. (disclaimer--I haven't tried Dior Show, and I've heard it's even better). But this mascara is a 5 on the database. I'm hoping that I'm not absorbing as much of those chemicals through my eyelashes... I buy all my make up at either Sephora or

Make up remover/face wash - the best eye make-up remover I've ever tried is good ol' Vaseline. I used to use Almay, but I'd still wake up in the mornings with raccoon eyes, no matter how much I scrubbed. Vaseline is crazy cheap, gets every bit of eye make up off, and even makes the skin around your eyes softer!!! Score. And, if you get the original it's a 0 on the database, but if you get the "baby" formula, it's a 3. I'm sure it's because of the fragrance. So, mine, shown above, is probably the same case, although it's not in the database. At night, I wash my face with Boscia Make Up Break Up, and oil based cleanser. It's not in the database, but all of Boscia's products are under 4. Boscia, like Korres, is a company known for natural, safe ingredients. Boscia seems to be a little safer, however, since none of it's products are over 4. However, Boscia is expensive. But a little of this face wash goes a long way. And I'm a recent convert to oil cleansers. It seems counterintuitive, since I'm someone who previously had occassional break outs and a shiny t-zone, I was skeptical. But it works. Something about oil attracting other oil, so it pulls it off your skin or something? In the shower I use either Johnson & Johnson Purpose, which is a 4, or Kiss My Face Start Up Exfoliating Face Wash, which is a 1. I buy both of those at and the Boscia at Sephora.

Facial Moisturizer - I haven't found one I'm totally in love with yet. Right now, I use Ole Henriksen Truth Serum, which is a 1. It's okay. Kinda slimy, even after you put it on. I bought it at Sephora. I used to use Korres Wild Rose 24-hour Moisturizer, which was a 5. I think it did a better job. I've also tried the Korres Quercetin and Oak Antiageing Night Cream, but I didn't like it, and it was exceptionally expensive. And it's a 6. I've used Boots No. 7 Rebalancing Gel, but it's also a 6.

Other - Nail polish is generally a no-no if you don't want some seriously nasty chemicals in your proximity, but I still use it from time to time. Butter London brand has a line called "3 Free" that is supposedly free of some of the nastiest chemicals, but it's still ranked a 6, and it stays on approximately 4 hours. Seriously, this stuff will not last more than a day without chipping. I have some, and it's not worth the big price tag, either. Sunscreen is also tricky because some of the very chemicals that make it effective are harmful. As far as safety goes, your best bet is the opaque zinc stuff that was popular about the time I was 8 years old. Right now, I have Kiss My Face, both a body and a face formula. The face formula is only a 3, but the body isn't in the data base.  

Also, you can bet if it's safe enough to eat, it's safe to put on your body. There are a number of foods that can double as beauty products. Everyone has heard of putting oatmeal on a rash, or just to improve your complexion. I've heard avocado is also great for your face, but I've never tried it. I did recently read that olive oil is great as an eye make-up remover. I do know people who use it as a body moisturizer. In high school a girl I knew used it for sun tan oil, and she had the most envious tan, but I wouldn't recommend that. I can attest to coconut oil as a moisturizer. I bought it to replace canola oil in cooking because it can withstand high heat. I actually also ordered it from It looks a lot like Crisco. It is great for smearing on the inside of bread loaf pans and cake pans to keep them from sticking, and the label also says it can be used as a moisturizer. So the last time I put it in loaf pans, I didn't wash my hands, but I just rubbed it in. Very nice for dry skin, and smells amazing without added "fragrance." Maybe it's my new Island Coconut-scented moisturizer...

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Restaurant Redo: Pies and Pints's Grape Pie

So, I wound up with a ton of leftover grapes from fruit trays bought for a reception for a community group I belong to. I immediately thought of the grape pie at Pies and Pints, the local pizza and beer place (obviously).

It's grapes, gorgonzola, rosemary, olive oil and garlic on a thin crust. It sounds kinda weird and kinda simple, but it's heavenly. Pretty much all their food is heavenly, actually. Do something crazy and order something on the menu besides pizza. The wings will haunt you for days after and the Rosemary and Garlic Flatbread. It comes with warm goat cheese to spread on it, and I like to eat that just plain by the spoonful... Just kidding. Kinda.

Anywho. Back to the grape pie. I've mentioned here before how much I enjoy making pizza after I overcame my fear of baking with yeast.

So, I made some pizza dough. I use Tyler Florence's recipe from Eat This Book. And I freeze half of it since half of it is just right for two people. I parbaked it for about 10 minutes because I don't have a proper pizza pan and use a cookie sheet. When you put a bunch of toppings on pizza and don't have a pizza stone, the middle never gets done before the outside gets too done. At least, that's been my experience.

Then, I spread it with olive oil and grapes sliced in half. Next the gorgonzola and chopped up rosemary. And I put some roasted garlic on it. I should have used more. You can never have enough roasted garlic.

It was pretty good, but not the original. I think they must roast the grapes a little bit before. They are more dried out and raisn-y. Or could be that Pies and Pints just has real pizza ovens and uses real pizza pans and stuff. But mine was pretty good for a whim.

Oh, I'll be going back to Pies and Pints. I still couldn't even begin to replicate those wings.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Pink Slime is a giant band-aid.

If you haven't heard of "pink slime" by now, you must be living under a rock.

Photo credit: Associated Press

But in case you just missed it, pink slime, which is otherwise known as lean finely textured beef, is just that. Pretty much. It's trimmings leftover from beef that is processed into other various cuts and consumer products. The trimmings are heated so that any fat leftover renders out and then it is treated with amonia gas to kill any nasty little bugs like e. Coli and salmonella. It's used as a filler in ground beef products or pressed into blocks and flash frozen. It's most widely used by schools in the School Lunch Program, mostly because of it's low cost.

After reading Mark Bittman's editorial piece for the NY Times, it dawned on me that pink slime is just a giant band-aid. That is essentially the point he is making. I encourage you to read it.

The pink slime scandal began when the public realized this product was being served to school children all the time. Outrage spread quickly via social media, and in the context of the burgeoning school food revolution. First, we learned that one of the makers of pink slime, Beef Products, Inc., had shuttered three of its four plants temporarily, at a cost of an estimated 650 jobs, when demand for its product fell off after the public outcry. Yesterday, it was reported that another maker, AFA Foods, has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy because of the negative media coverage surrounding its primary product.

However, Bittman's editoral points out that the number of e. Coli and salmonella-related illnesses have declined drastically since pink slime first made its debut 10 years ago. And, without pink slime, and additional 1.5 million cattle will need to be slaughtered annually to meet the demand for meat in pink slime's absence. Not to mention that it was a low cost way to put protein on the lunch trays of millions of school children in school districts that are woefully underfunded already.

If that's the case, then remind me again why pink slime was such a bad idea?

Before it starts to sound like I'm defending pink slime with the likes of Rick Perry and Terry Branstad, why not take a step back and look, like Bittman's editorial urges us to do, at why we even wound up using pink slime in the first place. How did it ever became normal and acceptable to take the leftover bits of meat and connective tissue, grind it up real fine and spray it with a toxic gas, and then feed it to humans?

People like Bittman and Michael Pollan have been saying it for years (and I've said it before here). We as a society need to eat less meat. I know a lot of people who feel the way that I do, but then there's always someone who thinks that the crunch granola tree huggers will have to pry their porterhouse steak out of their cold dead hands...

Hold up, there, Chet Ripley. Nobody said anything about giving up meat altogether.

I'm not a vegetarian. I like meat. I love pork almost as much as I love steak. But there are too many good reasons to eat less of it to ignore. For me.

The main reason for me is health. Diets with lots of meat are pretty much proven to bring with them a myriad of health problems, the scariest being cancer. Then, there's the cost. A guaranteed way to save money on food is to cut meat.

And, if those two aren't enough, there are the concerns about the safety of our meat. The very heart of the pink slime debate. It's been well documented that the FDA is ill-equiped to deal with the safety of our food supply.

I think that those reasons would resonate with anyone. But there's also both the animal welfare issue of meat-eating. I don't mean that it's wrong to kill an animal for food and we should all be vegans. Like I said, I like meat. I just like it to come from a place that didn't place a higher priority on their bottom line than an animal's well-being. And, there are is the environmental issue of raising lots of animals for food. Their waste poses countless threats to the surrounding environment and beyond. Ever heard of the Gulf of Mexico "Dead Zone?" The Gulf of Mexico is one of the largest fisheries in the United States.

A friend once asked me how I didn't miss eating meat, after I was talking about how great the vegetarian fajitas were at one of the Mexican restaurants we both like. That question really caught me off guard and I didn't know how to answer more than to just say "I don't know. I just don't."

I cook at home a lot. Now that the weather is nice, we'll be grilling at least one day a week whether it be steaks, fish or pork chops. And I usually cook a big breakfast on the weekend with bacon and eggs or sausage and biscuits. But I always try to have one meatless meal per week. When I eat out, I almost never order meat. Making soup is a great way to cut back on meat because using a little bit of bacon or some leftover ham goes a long way toward flavoring a whole pot of soup with just a slice or two of bacon or just a handful of leftover chopped ham. Food that is very high in fiber is also very filling, too. You won't miss the meat if you use beans in tacos or on nachos or in salads. It helps that I really like vegetables. And I can make a meal out of some fried green tomatoes and an ear of corn. Or some pasta with pesto and some fresh grape tomatoes.

When I do eat meat now, I enjoy it more than I used to. The taste and the texture. I'll never forget the first time I grilled a grass-fed steak. If that's not enough to make you stop eating regular steaks and never look back, I don't know what is. It tasted like a steak soaked in steak juice and rubbed down with steak-flavored seasoning and topped with steak gravy with a side of steak. Because its not economically feasible or practical for that matter to have grass-fed steaks every weekend, I don't. The size of my steaks are a lot smaller than they used to be. It's completely crazy to eat a 16 ounce steak. I don't even go as high as half that anymore. Just try eating a smaller steak next time you order or grill it. Fill up on the side dishes, especially if they're vegetables. See how easy it was to cut down on meat? I have hamburgers a handful of times per year. They always taste amazing to me, and I appreciate how enjoyable they are to eat.

I started out with a few little things, and now I don't even notice if I don't eat meat at a meal or all day long, for that matter. If we all stopped expecting to have meat on our plates at every meal, it would go a long way toward addressing how we ended up serving pink slime to school children to begin with. I'm not saying its the solution, but it never hurts to use less. In fact, I'll bet both your waistline and bottom line will both benefit.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Sundays are for a roast.

Last Sunday, I made a roast. I felt like such a good little housewife.

And it was delicious.

Last fall, we bought a beef "package" from a farm. We couldn't justify the expense or the amount of meat we would be getting if we bought a half a cow, or even a quarter for that matter. So, luckily, the farm had some packages made up that were perfect for us. We spent around $115 and got plenty of beef for two people to last a year. Especially, since we eat a lot of deer meat. We had a package of the steaks a while back, but other than that, I hadn't used any of it. Shame on me!

I found a recipe that used stout and stock as a braising liquid. Dang, it was good. Not one to waste anything, a few weeks ago, I had some pork bones that I threw in the crockpot and made some bone broth out of. Pork bone broth seems a little odd to me. Maybe it's not, but I just don't know that I've ever heard of it. Anyway, you couldn't tell that it was pork broth in place of beef broth in this roast.

We also had some brussle sprouts that were marked down on Manager's Special. And I made kale that I had in the fridge for almost too long. I thought I might have really been pushing my luck with the Hubs and having both kale and brussle sprouts for dinner, but he actually like them both. Especially the sprouts. Bacon grease is the secret, here, kids. I browned them in the skillet in some bacon grease and some diced bacon, then I added a splash of white wine and put the lid on tight for about 10 minutes to soften them up. I didn't want them mushy, and they were the perfect consistency--with a little bit of the golden brown bacony crust.

I knew the veggies were a success when we were grocery shopping friday, and the Hubs pointed out that kale was on sale... A man after my own heart!