Monday, October 17, 2011

Oh Bread, Why You Make Me Moan So Good?! Part 1

 I owe my family a very large amount of gratitude for raising me the way they did.  Not only were they loving, understanding, and fostered creativity, but they all came from a long line of Bread Devotees, making Damn sure my sisters and I followed suit.

 The only thing I remember my family Ever being Conservative about were the resources in our kitchen.  If we wanted something in particular, we used what we had no matter how inconsistent the results.  My grandmother especially made this clear, "No use in wasting gas to get to the store only to pay what They think you should pay for it!"  We spent a lot of time in the Canned Food Warehouse, the Wonder and/or Hostess stores where they cut day-old items close to pennies.  It was fantastic!  Every once in a while when the moola was a bit more extensive, we'd get little extravagances here and there to supplement our cupboards for the odd baking hair up our butt.  Whatever we got, it would get used sparingly and Momma kept a sharp eye on the level of Vanilla in the bottle. 

 My grandmother made bread A Lot, which at the time was delicious to eat at home but I took for granted those sandwiches she made with that bread for my school lunch.  I wish I could go back and punch Little Me in the face!  I should have been waving that homemade bread around in the air, hailing all that is made of yeast and flour!  Not hiding my lunch in shame for fear of the Lunchables Kids shunning my uniqueness. 

I am not ashamed now.  I love bread so much.  And, in trying not to sound like a foodsnob by saying this, I just don't feel satisfied by the stuff available to buy at the commissary, commercial or bakery, anymore.  It's just not my bag.  I'm trying at every chance to keep us stocked in bread goods that have been kneaded by my own hand.  It takes some time getting used to, but it's worth it.

  So, when it comes to saving some money on the carbohydrates I love, I've been learning to use what I have to make the bread I want.  This includes tortillas and bready-desserts.  Just by stocking the ingredients to make it myself, I've been saving at least $20 on our grocery bill in bread products.  I decided that this was something I should share just in case anyone might decide to save themselves some $$ too.  And believe me, if you knuckle down on a day off from work or any other responsibilities you may going on, it can be fun and satisfying!  Plus, most of the recipes I've come to use (and will share, shortly) regularly don't require your full attention since they take several hours to develop on their own.  Other things can be achieved while you wait, and you'll definitely appreciate saving the money you would've spent on store-bought bread (you're paying for the slicing of the bread and the bag, People!) and pocketing it for other groceries or for a rainy day.

 I am warning you though, these are purely to satisfy your taste buds and your wallets...you may find yourself up at midnight slicing cheese to go with that umpteenth slice of bread!  Don't say I didn't warn you!!  



Country French Bread

(Oh hell yes . . . )

Sponge Starter (begin 2-16 hrs ahead)
1 cup lukewarm water
1/2 tsp active dry or instant yeast
1 1/4 cups bread flour
1/4 cup whole wheat flour

Dough
All of the sponge starter (above)
1 cup lukewarm water
3/4 tsp active dry or 1/2 tsp instant yeast
1 tablespoon sugar
3 3/4 to 4 cups bread flour
1 to 1 1/2 tsp salt

Making the Sponge
Stir all of the sponge ingredients together to make a thick, pudding-like mixture.  Cover bowl with plastic wrap and store in a dry, warm area for at least 2-4 hours.


Making the Dough
Stir down the sponge with a wooden spoon and add the water, yeast, sugar, most of the flour (adding a half cup or so at a time, retaining at least 1/2 cup for later), and salt.  Knead the dough, adding more flour of the amount required as needed, for about 10-12 minutes.


NOTE: Mix ingredients together using up to 80% of the flour needed.  The dough needs to be pliable, loose and a bit messy.  Let it rest for 10-12 minutes and you'll see that the texture smoother out. Continue kneading it and adding flour as you need it.  The flour needs time to absorb the water while resting so that you use as little flour as possible.  Less flour means the bread will have more holes and be fluffier once baked.


Lightly grease a glass or plastic bowl and a sheet of plastic wrap with olive oil. Place the dough in bowl and cover with the greased wrap.  Wet a couple of connected paper towels and drape over top of the plastic wrap.  Set aside in a dry, warm area for at least 1-2 hours or until doubled in size.


If you'd prefer, let the dough rise slowly in the fridge if you're heading out.  Once it has been in the fridge a while, allow it to come to room temperature; it will warm up and rise at the same time.

After it's first rise, deflate the dough very gently with your wooden spoon, pulling it away from the sides of the bowl so you aren't knocking the air out of it.  The holes are important to maintain! (THAT'S WHAT SHE SAID!)


Form the dough into a round ball.  Place two cookie sheets on top of one another, grease it lightly and dust with cornmeal.  Gently place the ball of dough on the cookie sheets, seam-side down.  cover it lightly with the same dampened paper towels and let it rise a second time until it's puffy and about 50% larger, anywhere from 45-90 minutes.  Slash or crosshatch the top of the dough with a sharp knife, and dust with a little flour.

Preheat the oven to 475 degrees.  Fill a deep baking dish with approx. 6 cups of water and place it on the bottom rack of your oven, placing the second rack in the middle position.  Once the water in the pan begins to steam, place the bread in the oven and reduce the heat to 425. Bake for about 25-30 minutes, it will be a light golden brown.  Yields 1 large round or 2 medium rounds.  10-12 servings.




Mmmmmmm....some sexy bread!

Crimson & Clover



Now I don't hardly know her, but I think I could love her, Crimson and Clover.  
Over and Over.
Well if she come walkin' over, now I think I could show her, Crimson and Clover.  
Over and Over.
My mind's such a sweet thing, I wanna do everything, what a beautiful feeling. 
Crimson and Clover.  
Over and Over...


Everything feels good and right.

  Some of the plans I thought I wanted have now made room for what is making me happiest. My husband, family and friends have been so supportive throughout the journey I've been on, and I am grateful to the core.  My plan to join the USAF is no longer...I tried for too long to convince myself that this was the right thing for me.  All I really wanted was money for college and for starting a family.  But the military is not for me, though I have the deepest respect for my husband, our family and friends who have been successful making that happen for themselves.

  I want to be a beam of support for my husband, who has established himself very well in the military.  I want to go to school, and I can make that happen now, I don't have to put it off.  I want to start a family and so does my husband...and so that will happen as it will.  I'm ready to accept what I know is right for me, no more waiting to know if the time is right.

 Why do we restrain ourselves in this way?  There isn't a right way to do anything, there are only successful examples to learn from.  So why do we inhibit our potential by proclaiming only certain criteria be met first?  As if there is a to-do list we are given upon birth.  There is only to-do what we impose on ourselves or allow ourselves to take on.  It's all self-initiated anyway, so why fight our gut instincts?  I don't have the answer...but I know I'm tired of living by anyone else's expectations and/or measurement of success.

  This doesn't mean that I've lost my drive to do well for myself, I've just redefined that drive with actions that fulfill my happiness and feed my soul.  Loving, learning, creating, working...it's everything I enjoy and I'm going to thrive on it now.

  I hope to develop my purpose with time, and hope you will too.


Sunday, October 16, 2011

Breakfast Shenanigans!

Admit it...

Breakfast food is the Superman of our daily meals and it must be your favorite, just as it is mine. Almost anything can be included in your breakfast and no one would judge you...unless you were say, throwing away the left-overs!  How many evenings have you solved your Dinner-fixing rut with "Breakfast for Dinner y'all!"...seriously, no matter how anyone (like my husband) may deny their love of breakfast food, deep down they are just Lying to Themselves because we all know, Breakfast is magnificent!  Need a little nudging proof?  Fine, but first, you need to get a glass stomach so you can see where you're going with your head up your ass!  

My buddy Shanna won the chance to decide the theme for this blog-diggity and I couldn't agree more with her choice...here are some alternative breakfast options...Welcome to Breakfast Shenanigans y'all!


Chile Relleno Quiche


1 cup Cheddar Cheese, grated
1 cup Monterey Jack, grated
5 eggs
1 2/3 cups Half 'n' Half
1/4 cup Salsa
1/3 cup All-Purpose Flour
4 oz. can Green Chiles, drained

~ Preheat oven to 375
~ Mix grated cheeses and spread evenly over greased deep "10 baking dish.
~ In a separate medium bowl, beat eggs, adding flour slowly. Mix in Half'n'Half until well blended.
~ Pour eggs mixture over cheeses, spoon chiles and salsa over the top.
~ Bake for 40-45 mins, cool for a couple minutes and enjoy ;)




My Quality Control Crew says "YUM!"
and "More Mama?"



Berry Buttermilk Pancakes



1 cup Buttermilk
1 cup All-Purpose Flour
1 tbsp Sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1 egg
2 tbsp oil (I use Canola)

~ Preheat a greased skillet to medium heat while you mix your batter so its good and hot when you're ready
~ Sift dry ingredients together in a medium bowl
~Add beaten egg, buttermilk, and oil and beat until Just Mixed. Do NOT Overbeat
~ Drop batter by 1/4 cup for each pancake onto hot skillet/griddle
~ Cook until top is full of tiny bubbles and the underside is golden brown. 
~ Recipe can easily be doubled for the truly ambitious hungry bellies!

For the Berry Syrup:
1 cup blueberries or blackberries
1 cup Maple or preferred syrup
1/2 tsp cornstarch
1/2 tsp vanilla

~ Over medium-low heat, stir all ingredients in a small saucepan until aroma is strong, about 5 minutes
~ Pour this purple velvet all over your cakes, and if you have some left over, you're more than welcome to use as a delicious and inexpensive (yet oh-so-sticky) flavored lube ;)




Cheesy Potato Patties



1 tbsp olive oil
1 cup left-over mashed potatoes
1 egg
1/2 cup flour
1 small chopped onion (or green onion)
1-2 cloves minced garlic
1/2 tsp cayenne
1/2 cup shredded cheese
Optional: ground beef or turkey, bacon

~ Heat oil in griddle on medium-high heat.
~ Mix all ingredients well, drop by spoonfuls onto griddle, pressing to 1" thick patties.
~ Turn once, cooking patties for about 2-3 minutes on each side or until browned.
~ Serve hot, but for Jeebus-sakes, don't burn your tongue scarfing the goodness ;)


Monday, August 15, 2011

The Torta Bauce -- Warning -- EXPLICIT Food Lyrics


Warning: You might have thought you knew what comfort food was before you opened this, but you would be wrong.  Dead Effing Wrong.  And if you were to follow this recipe (you'd make your kitchen your Bitch), you'd realize this and immediately go insane with denial, consummate love, and wonder just like I did.  Don't say I didn't properly inform you!  Oh and, send your thanks in the form of monies (so's I can continue to make this all day, everyday) and/or pictures of your own adventures in making this (I would request samples, but they wouldn't make it here fast enough).  Make sure to include facial pleasure expressions while chewing, muchas gracias.  *wink*

Something my sister Hollie introduced me to a little while ago is Foodgawker.  I totally bow to her in thanks for this discovery, but I also say, "Youdammit!" for creating an addict out of me.  I know I was innocent once...nevermore.  Want to experience True Pornography?  Go to this site and Try not to get a Mind/Stomach Boner over how delicious every single food portrait is, or how amazing it is that this thing called The Internet allows you to then immediately access the instructions in which to make that tempting dream a reality, in your mouth and all down the front of your shirt as it should be.

  I peruse this site for hours, drooling and licking my lips at the blatant NomNom eroticism, and obsessing over what my pantry and fridge contain that would allow me to "scratch the itch."  It's safe to say that I have a problem...  Not that I overeat, but that I fantasize about eating and creating food, eating in my imagination and never getting full...okay so, maybe that sounds a bit weird but I wouldn't judge You for it and I certainly feel I can control this...*twitch*


  Also I must add, my husband and I watch waaaaaaay too much 'Man v. Food' on the Travel Channel.  Adam Richman makes food adventures all the more appealing with his humor and warm personality.  And the premise is such a pure guilty pleasure; consume huge portions of a multitude of decadent deliciousness with large groups of cheering fans in the endless depths of the overindulgent American restaurant.  I normally loathe our country for it's plump greedy paws, and yet, I Adore This Show.  Call it what you will -- Hypocrisy -- but it's just damn enjoyable.  I need this not, but I can't resist it!  It doesn't help that I watch this show or scan the food porn when I'm hungry, but it also doesn't make a difference in how full I feel even while watching it and eating...I just Stay hungry.  Given this, we watch it only a few times (a day) a week.

  So there I was last night, sprawled across the couch with my left hand perched atop my belly and the right scrolling through the pages upon filthy pages of food porn.  When what do I see?  A featured photo that strikes me as so familiar and realize how it resembles a featured dish on 'Man v. Food.'

  The show traveled to Butte, Montana for an episode that featured a state staple; the Pasty.  I remember watching this episode and wishing I were there to experience this scrumptiously unique mixture of meat, potato, cheese and PASTRY, most of the time smothered in chili or gravy.  The Pasty was developed in order to provide one big hearty meal in the convenient containment of a pastry shell so that mess could be avoided and utensils would not be necessary, making lunch portable for the hard laborers of the community.  As the generations continued, the Pasty became heralded as a state specialty and a family favorite.  Many versions were constructed over the years and yet the originals have still held true to their delectable simplicity.  I've been desiring the Pasty since I first saw this episode and wish very much to one day experience the Real Thing in Butte, Montana.

  One of the featured photos on Foodgawker led me to this Layered Pastry recipe.  This recipe seemed to replicate the idea of the Pasty; it's filling and construction especially.  Today, among my many kitchen-y projects in preparation for the coming work week, I decided that this would be our dinner. You could say I had a, "GET DIS IN MUH BELL-AY!" state-of-mind, which is loud and confrontational until said Bell-ay is satisfied.  How exciting that I don't have to wait to visit Montana in order to experience this (for Now)! I only have to be patient enough to prepare and construct it properly (and that's Hard enough after waiting even this long).

  Prepping the pastry itself, my thoughts turned to the savory stuffing I would be layering with the crepes.  Suddenly I was struck with the need for spice.  While spice would still blend so beautifully with what the recipe already calls for, my imagination got the best of me.  Glancing at the pinto beans I already had boiling in chicken stock on the stove, I realized what I wanted; Mexican Savory filling.  Not only would I be cooking and shredding chicken, but I would sizzle it in the pan with some Chorizo!  The potatoes wouldn't be alone, they'd be lovingly folded with beans, pickled jalapenos, onions, and garlic.  I could just taste the melted cheese layered with the velvet crepes....I was convinced, and I would not be sorry for the experimentation!  This just might be considered a Torta of sorts!

  Understandably, you might be concerned (based on the Layered Pastry recipe directions) about just how much goes into that there deliciousness and/or how much time it takes.  Weeeel, considering this was my first time attempting such a thing, and my alterations to it, it took a total of 2 hrs.  Don't let this overwhelm you. These felt like two of the most enjoyable hours I've ever spent cooking.  And the sense of anticipation and accomplishment far overshadowed it's daunting potential.  Dare I say you'll actually develop a sense of having Pwn'd your kitchen and the limitless universe of food?  Hmmm?  If that isn't tempting enough then go back to ordering that shitty pizza...

  Shall the brave and ambitious continue?  Yes they Shall!

  I have deemed this culinary adventure:

Torta Bauce

The Outer Pastry 
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp sugar
1 egg beaten with a bit of water
1/2 cup butter

- Use your hands to blend the flour, salt, bp, sugar and butter in a large bowl until it resembles cornmeal.  Stir in the egg/water and add only enough water to knead dough into a smooth, pliable ball.  Leave well formed dough ball in bowl and refrigerate for 30 mins.

- At 30 mins, roll out to 1/4" and carefully spread it over a med-large baking dish.  I used a 10" round ceramic deep dish but feel free to use a 9x13" rectangular dish.  This is quite the Big Bertha, so just make sure your dish is deep enough and plenty sturdy.




The Filling
1 tbsp olive oil
5 boneless, skinless chicken tenders or 2 breasts thawed
2 small links chorizo
3 med/small red potatoes, peeled and cut into smaller cubes
1 cup cooked pinto beans
1 small onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic
1/4 cup pickled or fresh jalapenos
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1 tbsp Spices De Vida(L)  (family patented spices, inquire to purchase:)
2 tbsps tomato cooking base
2 tbsps cilantro cooking base
1 cup shredded cheese (cheddar/jack)
1 tbsp milk

Over med-high heat, drizzle oil in large skillet. Add chicken and chorizo, season with spices. Once cooked, allow to cool for 10 mins before chopping/shredding. 






While chicken/chorizo is cooking, boil potatoes for 12 mins or until very tender.  Mash and add to skillet. 

Rinse and drain beans (I boiled mine from a dry state ahead of time in chicken stock, much better if you have the time!), add to skillet. 


Pulse garlic, onion and jalapenos in processor and add to skillet. Stir in tomato and cilantro bases, blend all ingredients gently yet thoroughly.  
                                                                         

The Crepes
1 cup flour
1/4 tsp salt
1 egg slightly beaten (reserve 1 tbsp for outer eggwash)
As much water as needed. 
 - Combine flour, salt and egg.  Run your tap water to a very thin stream and hold your bowl and its contents underneath it to receive as much water as is needed, stirring constantly to a thick batter you can easily pour.
 - Over medium-low heat, spread thin a few tbsps worth of batter in a small skillet and flip after several seconds to evenly cook both sides of crepe. DO NOT leave crepes unattended, they will Burn quickly! Seriously, you'll have them all cooked in a couple of minutes so have some patience, dammit.
 - Transfer to a plate to cool. Yields 5-7 crepes.




The Construction
 With your outer pastry spread into and hanging over edges of your baking dish, spoon about a half cup of the filling into the center of the pastry, no wider circumference than an appetizer dish.









Sprinkle 1/4 cup of shredded cheese over filling and cover with a crepe layer. Repeat these layers until you've exhausted the crepes, filling and cheese.






Bring the outer edges of the pastry together over the center of your layers.  Pinch and press the dough together gently without stretching/ripping your tender shell.  Place hand over center and Carefully turn entire torta out into your hand. Place it round-side-up back in the dish as pictured below so that the seams are pressed to the bottom of the dish.







Whisk the leftover tbsp of egg with the tbsp of milk. With a soft pastry brush (I use silicone), paint the top and all sides you can.  Drip the remaining egg wash around the edge of the pastry so it can run down to bottom of the dish.





I created this contradiction while I waited...it contains liquor too!
Sorry Coke, you have have curves in all the right places, but Pepsi has the substance I adore!

Bake at 375 for 25-35 mins until the pastry is a beautiful buttery golden tone. Allow to cool and slice off your slab, taking care not to scarf it and choke...because this is a Real possibility people!
Doesn't just the sight of this give you the warm and fuzzies?

More scrumptious than I ever thought possible...It defies all logic...
  I honestly hope this brings joy to your mouth and tummy and creates a little niche in your brain for comfort food and the many ways you can bring it about.  I give thanks to the host of Torview Toronto Blog for sharing their recipe.  Go enjoy some savory pastry and remind your tastebuds of just how much you love them...oh and, that Mind/Stomach Boner?  Yea, I'm pretty confident you'll carry that torch for the Torta Bauce for a long time to come. *grin*  You're Welcome!

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Pornographic Pasta (oh yes, it's That Good)

Back in the saddle again! Who wants to eat?!

Okay, so my goal all along here has been to pass along some helpful little doodads, be they experiments in the kitchen or just some random household advice.  I'd gotten out of the cooking habit for a bit but now I'd say there's a renewed sense of vitality I'm seeking from my food.  That said, I am being extra diligent about what our meals are comprised of.  This isn't to say I'm going all vegan or gluten-free, but I am including more nutritious ingredients such as ground flax, oats, ground nuts, unsweetened coconut flakes, avocado, etc. You get the picture.

  Thankfully, I have family members who are not only Wonderful cooks, yet are also as passionate if not more so, than I, when it comes to exploring the Tastiest and most Nourishing recipes. I give full credit to my sister (in law, though dropping that part feels more natural in referring to my husband's pretty awesome siblings and parents), Hollie for experimenting with the following decadence.   If she hadn't taken the near-pornographic photos she did of this amazingness she discovered and then made happen, I am certain I wouldn't have ever thought to create such a thing, especially involving pasta, which is practically a food group all on its glorious own.  So to Hollie, thank you for discovering the possibilities and sharing so passionately with us.  We bow unto thee!

This will be known formally as:

Hollie's Creamy Avocado Pasta
(her Gawk-worthy personal picture)

1 box of your choice pasta, cooked (i.e. Shells, penne, bow tie, celletani)
2 bulging ripe avocados
1 fragrant-as-hell lemon, zested and juiced
4 heaping tbsps olive oil
4 fat garlic cloves
Salt & pepper to taste
1/2 cup freshly chopped basil OR 1 tbsp dried basil
1/2 cup finely grated Real Parmesan (no cheap can shit, buy a block of Sargento's for Eff-sake)

- Boil plenty of water and add your pasta. Drain it and slop it back into the pot, cover it and get your filler ready.  You should know how to cook pasta, if not, read the box.
- Toss the garlic, lemon juice and zest, salt and pepper, and olive oil in food processor. Pulse a few times.
- Spoon in the avocado, pulse for a chunky feel or cream it, it's delicious either way.
- Add this mix to the piping hot pasta, stir until well distributed. Smother that deliciousness with the Parmesan and basil, sprinkle with more salt and pepper if needed.
- Try not to hog it all and share, or save it for many splendid meals ;)


If you paid attention to the amount of detail that goes into this, you'll realize just how damn simple this is, which makes it all the more satisfying!  I found this tasty, low-carb penne that packs one helluva fiber/protein, low-sodium punch, called Dreamfields.  I used the Penne Rigate because that was the only version available at our commissary.

It doesn't look or taste nasty like whole grain pasta (thank Jeebus), and yet it's just as good for you. This means that eating this pasta, cooked as directed, will supply you plenty of Good Fats, proteins, carbs, amongst all the vitamins you'll get.

I can't stress enough how yummy this pasta recipe is.  I love the zesty flavor of the lemon and avocado combo, and the garlic seems to open up this savory presence and spice.   I love me some good pasta but in recent history, I have not consumed as much as I used to because it fell into my "can't have it" category.  And I'm not huge on plain tomato sauces so that left all the creamy bases I love...but they are what contributed to the weight loss necessity in the first place.   Being given an option like this almost made me cry... Don't judge....because it feels as though healthy doesn't mean sacrifice anymore, so long as you open your mind to the potential of alternative ingredients.  Give me some options to enjoy truly Delicious food and I'm a happier girl.  This is my favorite pasta dish by far now, or at least until my or Hollie's imagination happens upon a new yet similar, savory splendor.

Do I have to convince you any further?  Get that ass in that kitchen and make it, now!

Friday, July 8, 2011

Takes My Breath Away

  I hesitate to write something so personal in such a public way for fear of judgment, the disappointment of others, and everything else that may similarly be inspired.  But then I admonish myself for allowing hesitancy to reside in my conscious thought, and berate myself for feeling as though I am wrong in my feelings.  And then it just becomes a useless cycle that ultimately fulfills the lingering self-doubt....sigh, can't a girl catch a break?

  My problem is this...I have been preparing to join the military for most of the past year and a quarter, when I wasn't preparing to move overseas or recovering from a bad accident or working full-time.  I am close to meeting that goal (with still several months of waiting for anything to open-up), and I am nearing the age cut-off....and everyday I spend moving toward and waiting for that goal, my deepest desire to become a mother gets stronger.  I have to be honest with myself and accept that doing one will post-pone the other indefinitely, and one will prevent the other from happening at all...what do I do?

  One might suggest that I simply wait until I am in the USAF, back here in Guam with my husband and settled into my military career, and then get down to bid-ness.  And I would agree, save for the fact that I have been  waiting for the 'right time' to become a mother, for a Long Time and waiting for all of those things to happen means there's no telling if it will be possible.  It is clear that joining would provide more income, more security, a college education, etc.  I don't want to Not choose this just because my husband has already established his own military career because I know I would feel better about myself if I am able to contribute financially.

.  I am 26-years-old with, hopefully, a long life ahead of me, so logically I shouldn't be worried about my biological clock quite yet.  After all, my mother didn't give birth to me, her eldest child, until she was two weeks away from turning 31.  She went on to have my sisters, both healthy pregnancies yet carried risk due to her age.  Some wise advice she gave me was to wait until I was ready to handle all of the responsibility being a mother entails for the rest of my life and theirs, yet become one while I still had the energy to keep up with them as best as possible.  I took that to heart.  She did very well keeping up with us, but to throw in the small business she and my father ran together, well it was a handful and I don't blame her for feeling like she never had enough energy to do everything she wanted and needed to as our mother.  She still enjoyed us and loved us well despite the stress, so it seems there is hope in case I have (somehow) have no choice but to wait until I'm at least the age she was...but do I want to?  No.

  The best way I can describe this feeling is not with romance novel words like Yearning or Burning, but with a simple, concise...Pull...yes, that is what I feel.  A pull, and a strong one.

  Honestly, I couldn't tell you if this is my sixth sense, gut, or biological clock sounding off...I just know that I feel it and it is strong enough to turn my focus away from what I've been working toward and hone in on the role I've been wanting.  A few women I deeply respect, who have already become mothers, have been so encouraging of my goal to join, and for that I appreciative beyond words and baking them their favorite cookies.  I know they love being Mommies (even when it's REALLY tough) and they would never choose different, so I look up to them.  I see what they have, that unconditional love with their babies (from 0 to annoying teen) and I admire it, knowing that is what I want in my life...and then I see how far I am from it and the blow is hard enough to take my breath away.

  Waiting to feel mature enough for this potential role means I've spent a lot of time in contemplation over the Why of my need to be a mother.  Never agreeing with how a lot of people seem to behave as if their children are merely accessories or that having children is 'just what you do' (especially) once you get Married! (and we have been for four years now) has led me to some rough introspection...I never know if I'm going to agree with my instincts but it's worth a shot...so why do I want to be a Mother?  I narrowed it down to this:  I have a beautiful, consummate kind of love for/with my husband because he is many things to me; lover, companion, best friend, fellow geek.  And I love him for Who he is, the sides only I get to interact with, his family sides, and the sides he shows to the rest of the world.  And then there's the warmth and love I feel for our families because they know us better than anyone, and our concepts of love began with them.  I have a deep affection, love and respect for the animal children in our family for their love of life and the love they unconditionally show us...they are magic.

  With all of this love, I feel indebted to the Universe...very thankful indeed.  But if I could experience something else just as remarkable, if not more so in my lifetime...it would be the love of a child.  I want to experience maternal love and pass on every bit of the love that made them so that they may find that for themselves.  I feel as though I won't truly have lived, nor have enjoyed everything I could have until I become a mother, however that is meant to be.  Every worry that goes along with bringing about Life feels as though it has lined up accordingly, allowing me to see the big picture...and the big picture is just, Lovely.

  I am old enough to define many aspects of who I am, to know what I want and why I want it...and I am glad I waited and took my time.  I've gotten to experience a deeper bonding with the man I love, travel as most people might not have, and listened to stories and perspectives I carry with me and always will.

  *sigh*

  I don't know what to do...listening to my head for so long has made my heart weary in what it wants so dearly... rules, responsibility, and hard work have always led my logic...now, all I want to do is curl up with a child I'm meant to love forever.

Friday, July 1, 2011

The Yummy, and the Ain't Shitty for You

  One of the big things I miss about living stateside is Costco.  I worked there and for a while I was on the front-end, loading and unloading the mountainous, Jenga-like stacks of food and wares of the wild-eyed, egocentric mothers and their shitty, demanding kids.  In the rush of these efforts, dodging the swinging fists of toddlers and babies in their basket seats (Never put your produce there, folks), I seldom had the ease of mind to focus on the contents of each customer cart, but some things would catch my eye and I would keep them in mind for later.  Thankfully, the Costco Gods smiled upon me, and for most of the time I was employed, I very happily worked as a Bakery Assistant.  Overall, I had a blast working there, and met a lot of good people I consider great friends.  It didn't hurt that shopping there was blissful, but really only in the first couple opening hours on an odd Tuesday morning.  

  This is how I happened upon one of my very favorite snacks, Mrs. May's Crunch Snacks. A pretty cool co-worker had purchased a large bag of these treats and took them up to the break room for her mid-shift snack.  I could smell their fruity flavor from across the table and she generously offered me a handful once she realized I was staring a little too longingly in her direction.  I'm sure the pooling puddle of saliva added to my inconspicuous state.  I was grateful enough for the offer since I was so hungry (forgot my effing lunch) but I was pluckily surprised!  They were so crunchy, sweet, roasty, and filling!  It amazed me that these square-cut treats made of fruit and nuts were so satisfying.  Many a handful of trail mix, not a far cry from this product, hath left me unsatisfied and munching waaay too much than I should be.  Not to mention, most commercial trail mixes provide too little actual nutrients, too much refined sugar (chocolate pieces, dehydrated and coated fruit) and they're packed with a crapload of sodium.  And I'm not sorry that because of this, I would choose a bag of Peanut M&Ms over a trail mix any day!  That might be because I come from a family where M&Ms MUST contain a peanut to even be considered worthy! No Plain Ms need apply! 

  I just can't say a bad thing about these because they're So Freaking Good and good for you.  Well, maybe the only bad thing would be that if you're hungry enough, you could scarf too many.  And unfortunately, the only cost-effective way to buy Enough of them to last, is to buy a pack at Costco, because they're a fairly frequent provider.  Of course, there Used to be a Costco here (which could have provided a transferable position for me) in Guam, but because the local population (aside from military) could not sustain enough revenue, it closed a while back and is now the island-wide Department of Revenue/Motor Vehicles.  Go figure.  The only place I have located them here is the Mobil station down the road (Yay!) and they carry several flavors regularly, but the amount is very small and the price (because Guam is SO EFFING EXPENSIVE) is $6+ on a good day (FML).

  Now, in the way of problems, this is stupid.  It does not rank with anything even mildly serious, but when you relocate somewhere so far away from what you know and love...well, finding those little things you love provide comfort and allow you some sense of normalcy and the chance to adjust to life-as-you're-getting-to-know-it.

  Having provided all of this seemingly insignificant information, this is why it is significant... As much as I LOVE me some Mrs. May's, I obviously cannot afford to buy as much of this healthy treat as I would like, let alone a bag just every now and then.  So I compromised and decided to make my own.  Well, at least something like it...

  In doing this, I also could not afford to just run out and buy all of these desired ingredients at once.  I put my Big Girl Panties on and added 1-2 ingredients to my bi-monthly grocery trip.  I already had a few of these on-hand, thankfully, so it only took about a month (PSH, Only...) to collect everything I needed/wanted in my experiment.  I knew I wanted the result to be crunchy, maybe a bit chewy, with some sweet and a little savory/salty flavor (I said a Little, because savory items can lend the illusion of a salty flavor).  The result needed to be satisfying as a snack-y treat without the accessibility of becoming over-consumed (it's texture and taste had to be complex enough that it makes your mouth work to enjoy it but not overwhelm it, i.e. Potato Chips, Caramels).  Plus, it had to be versatile...what kind of a damn Gemini am I, if I can't make food that's just as versatile as my personality?!

  So here we go...

Chocolate, I Can See Your Berry Nuts

preheat the oven to 350 

2 cups dry roasted peanuts 
1/2 cup sunflower seeds
1/2 cup ground pistachios
1/2 cup shelled, whole pistachios
1/2 cup sliced almonds
1 cup dried pomegranate 
1/2 dark chocolate chips
1/2 cup unsweetened flake coconut
2 cups frozen blackberries
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tbsp corn starch
2 tbsp sweetened condensed milk 
1 tbsp agave nectar

  • Line a 9x13" baking pan with parchment, set aside.
  • In a large sauce pan, combine the blackberries, vanilla, corn starch, sweetened condensed milk, and agave over medium-low heat. Mix well and remove from heat after 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  • Pulse coconut in processor or coarsely chop.  Combine this with all nuts and spread on a cookie sheet. 
  • Roast the pan of nuts and coconut in the oven for 5-10 mins, keeping a close eye on them...don't want them too roasted.
  • Remove from the oven and allow to cool for a few minutes before combining with dark chocolate chips, pomegranate, and blackberry syrup in a large bowl. 
  • Mix it well, the chocolate should have melted a bit.  Spoon into the four corners of your parchment-lined dish and spread it firmly and evenly.
  • Put it in the freezer for about an hour.  Lift the bars out by the parchment and use a large knife to cut into the smaller sizes you want.  I cut mine into 1" squares to maximize use and even out portion size.
  • Pluck your snack pieces from the paper and toss 'em in freezer bag.  They'll stay formed, crunchy, chewy, and fresh in the freezer.
  I described some ingredients in bold because I don't  want these items to be underestimated  Buy the frozen fruit to save your money and get the same nutrients and flavor.  It doesn't matter what kind of berry you use, but there definitely needs to be some berries here.  Do not, I REPEAT, Do Not get the Fat Free Sweetened Condensed Milk!  I used to buy this thinking I was all fat-conscious....sigh...if you buy this fat-free version, you'll be substituting Way more sugar, so what's the point?  I bought the Craisins brand of dried pomegranate to save some moola, and I don't feel like I lost out at all, they're just as yummy.  I keep a bag of ground pistachios in my freezer to add as a savory filler in quite a few dishes, saving myself calories and adding protein/good fats without employing the crunch of a whole pistachio.  In this case, we want all the crunch we can get, so that's why I had to make the distinction.  And lastly, I splurged on a $5, 16 oz. bag of Bob's Red Mill Unsweetened Flake Coconut for added fiber, flavor, and no sugar added, in place of the too-sweet Baker's coconut.  I encourage you to experiment with the frozen and dried fruit, the kind of nuts you use (so long as some of them are ground-up for binding) and the accompaniments like the coconut and chocolate.  If you experiment, please let me know what delicious combinations you end-up with!

  The beauty of this savory sweet confection (because it really does taste and feel like a treat to me) is that it fulfilled that versatility I was looking for.  Not only have I cut these into a snacking size for the random handful I'll grab on the go, but they will accompany my ice cream and popcorn.  Because they contain such a large amount of protein and fiber, they are the perfect answer to my before/after workout energy boost, and they'll be the pleasantly small, nutritious snack that will tide me over 'til an actual meal is needed.  Pretty excited to keep these on hand for when I need a little chocolate fix...which is often enough...what can I say, my husband  prefers me Sane... o.0  

  I don't think I've created anything that will indefinitely replace my love of Mrs. May's, but I am happy to have created a more reasonably priced, just-as-tasty replacement for the time being...one day in the future, I will be grateful to enjoy both nutritious confections...one in the pantry, one in the freezer!  (And I'll have a deeper appreciation for places like Costco too, despite the crowds of crazy peeps.)







    Monday, June 20, 2011

    "Relax Mikey, it's just a Giant Banana!"


    If you know who I am quoting, consider yourself on the team of Awesomeness.

    Last weekend at the Dededo Flea Market (more like a Farmers Market really), I asked one of the produce stand workers (a voluptuous, sun-kissed islander) what the large cluster of tiny bananas were called.  She gave a warm smile, with no hint of snarkiness at my non-native naivete (which I feel thankful to her for), and replied that they are cooking bananas.  At my still quizzical expression, she continued by describing a few ways in which they are used; banana donuts, mashed ''potatoes," fried banana chips, and in place of anything in a baked good which calls for oil or butter.  This sounded fantastic because for one, there are plenty more of these than the bananas we are used to in the States, for sale here and two, because THEY'RE GROWN HERE.



      The native-grown produce is remarkable for many reasons but I'll stick to a few simple reasons for now.  If it grows here, I'm more than happy to try it because, what if it tastes better than anything my imagination can muster?   What if I can use it in many different ways and that saves me from throwing my money away on something else I didn't really need.  And obviously, if it grows here, it didn't have to travel here for me to buy and seriously, if anything perishable has to travel here, it's going to cost so much more than the average American mind can fathom.  Did you know that most of what you eat has to travel an average of 1500 miles, just to make to your grocery store?  Buying locally grown produce whenever you can is always a better option, and it also gives back to your community growers, etc.  So in that way, I try not to rely on fossil fuels to get my food.  I'm saving money and I'm giving back to the person to grew it.  I'm expanding my knowledge base for versatile cooking, and I'm nourishing my body.   Feel like I'm Winning at Everything Edible!

      In addition to the big cluster of little bananas, I bought a large bushel of Scallions, a pound of Plum Tomatoes,  5 heads of Garlic, 5 huge Avocados (which translated to 4 lbs of Guacamole), 3 sweet Yellow Onions, a pound of Serrano/Boonie peppers, and 5 lbs of Korean Fuji Apples...all grown on this island...and I paid only $15 for all of it....the same amounts of everything shown here would have cost me (and Yes, I did the math) over $30 at our base Commissary.  And the Commissaries are Cheap!!  Just remember how far those Mainland produce items would've had to travel to get to the Commissary here and how much fuel that would have taken, just for these items....Essentially, I would have been paying the store for getting them here, but instead, the Market Stands I bought these from will be using the money I paid them for their delicious products to feed their family, pay for their own gas, or to help cultivate more items to grow and sell.  I would rather be helping the family than paying for the travel costs of my produce.


      Bringing my goods home gave me a sense of triumph, and at the same time lured a shadow of self-doubt...how would I be able to make use of Everything I bought?  What the Eff can I do with all of this??  It felt a bit daunting to take on such a culinary adventure in my own kitchen, where my comfort zone lies with taco meat, cookies, and grilled cheese?  Not to downplay my comfort zone, but I really couldn't see how I could incorporate the black sheep of my farm stand purchases...the large cluster of tiny bananas.  I felt like I was walking into a room full of strangers who wanted nothing to do with me.

      The only option was to eat the damn things and make them appetizing outside of their natural form.  Thank Jeebus for the Internetz!  Finding a few recipes and fine tuning them to my texture-sensitive palate was a bit tricky at times, but it was worth it!  I iz nawt a Chef, but experimenting like this brought on some pretty sweet accomplished acceptance with what was in front of me.  In many ways, I feel like I conquered the Enigma of the Banana without allowing any little bit to go to waste, even when I couldn't use all of it in one recipe.  This is where some prior knowledge came in handy...

      Something I learned from my mother and grandmother was to always freeze the overripe or under ripe bananas you won't immediately be using.  It doesn't matter if you toss 'em in with their peels still on their backs, or if you puree them, they Must go in the freezer once the peel starts to show liver spots and that ugly clown yellow.  They always saved those 'Nanas for Banana Bread, but since I acquired so many cooking bananas last week (too many to comfortably squeeze in my freezer at once, and they're not the ones I'd use for Banana Bread) I decided to use them at different points in their ripening.  The greener they are means they'll taste better in a savory dish like the Banana Grits, but the more mature they grow, the sweeter their final dish destination must be.  Of course, for the Dog Biscuits, if your pups are anything like ours, they don't care, they just want some 'NANAS!

    Put on your Big Girl/Boy Panties and branch out of your niche with me...I don't think you'll regret it  :)

    Banana "Grits"
    1/2 cup coconut milk
    3 large or 6 small bananas, peeled and sliced
    4 cloves garlic, minced
    1 medium vadalia or yellow onion, chopped
    1/2 cup masa harina flour
    1 tsp salt
    1 tsp black ground pepper
    1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
    - Heat the coconut milk in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat until bubbly.
    - Add bananas, garlic, and onion, and mash together in saucepan until it resembles chunky mashed potatoes.
    - Fold in the masa until just combined, and stir in the salt, pepper, and pepper flakes. 
    - Serve breakfast, lunch or dinner. Goes very well as a side to fajitas, steak, beans, etc.  I serve mine with grilled skirt steak and refried beans, or with corned beef hash and eggs. Yum!!


    Bonelos Aga (Banana Donuts)
    10-12 ripe small bananas or 4 regular sized ripe bananas
    1 cup flour
    4-5 tbsp sugar

    - Peel and thoroughly mash bananas. 
    - Add flour and sugar and blend until smooth. 
    - Drop tablespoon fulls into hot canola oil or bacon fat. 
    - Drain on paper towels and roll in a bowl of sugar.




     Peanut Butter Banana Dog Biscuits
    1/2 cup mashed banana
    1/3 cup creamy peanut butter
    1 egg
    1/4 cup milk
    3/4 cup rolled oats
    2 cups whole wheat flour + extra all-purpose for rolling
    1 tbsp baking powder

    - Cream together banana, peanut butter in large plastic bowl.
    - Stir in egg, baking powder, and rolled oats, blending well.
    - Alternate adding flour and milk to mix until dough comes together and barely sticks to the bowl.
    - Turn out onto floured counter and roll out to 1/4" thickness.
    - Dip a small cookie cutter in flour before cutting out each treat, and place on a lightly greased cookie sheet.
    - Bake at 375 for 9 -11 mins.  Bottoms should be crispy, immediately transfer to a cooling rack.  



      You should end up with about 100 biscuits if you use a small cookie cutter like I did, but if you use something a bit larger, you should still end up with at least 60!


       
        


       Since this recipe calls for plenty of whole wheat flour and oats, you'll be providing your pup with some much needed fiber content.  The peanut butter provides good protein and the banana offers a healthy does of potassium.  I don't recommend feeding these in place of a full meal, but using them as a training tool will prove helpful.  They can be stored in a jar or a Ziploc baggie for portability.




      And now for the Ultimate in Banana Goodness...

    Barbara's Banana Nut Bread  (not to be taken or eaten lightly...)

    3 mashed, very ripe bananas
    2 cups all-purpose flour
    1 tsp salt
    1 tbsp baking powder
    3/4 cup packed brown sugar
    2 tbsps molasses
    2 eggs, beaten
    1/2 cup oil 
    1/2 cup water
    1 cup walnuts, chopped

    - Beat all ingredients for three minutes on med-high by mixer.
    - Pour into well greased loaf pan.
    - Bake at 350 for 45 -60 mins until the toothpick comes out clean.
    - Cut yourself a slice while it's hot, and spread with butter or cream cheese. YUM!


      Mmmmm, I wish I could say I've covered every Banana Base, but I'm actually pretty glad that I haven't because that leaves so much more to be explored.  I'm keepin' my big girl panties on, 'cause I love where they're takin' me!



    Make Your Own Laundry Soap That Does Not Suck


      Recently, I found a few websites that offered DIY projects and advice articles that were based around being eco-friendly, good for you, and decidedly inexpensive.  The resourceful domestic within me jumped for joy at this, since I was looking for effective ways to save our income and pinch them pennies wherever I could.  And obviously, I wanted to do this while reducing our carbon foot print by consuming less, yet nourishing us with substance.

      One of the User-Friendly How-To's described how easy it was to make your own laundry soap...environment-friendly, inexpensive, paraben/sulfate-free laundry soap.  I really hope there are others out there who feel as giddy about this as I have!  The ingredients were listed as easy enough to find since there are only four, including the water.  And the secondary beauty of this DIY is that it is a flexible recipe -- you can customize the scent and the use the soap you like, not necessarily the soap I decided to use or that is recommended, within reason.  This is only because you shouldn't just run out and buy a bar of Irish Spring, Dial, or Dove.

      Of course, living out here on an isolated-by-ocean little island the size of my hometown, Yuba City, I had to order two of my ingredients on Amazon and pay for shipping...this sounds like it defeats the purpose of this project saving me money, but hold on, I'll get to that...  I ordered the Arm & Hammer Super Washing Soda and the Castile Soap I wanted, and waited (rather impatiently) for my goods.  Some of my friends (whom I shared my intentions with) realized that places like their local Wal-Mart carried the Washing Soda (this one is a tad elusive).  And to that my Anti-Establishment side snarled in deep hatred (I have purposely avoided shopping anywhere related to Wal-Mart for a very long time), BUT, if I had a local Wal-Mart, I know I would have been spending my $3 on it in their store, pretty much right away.  I was That dedicated.  Plus, I looked everywhere I could on this little island (even called around) and no one carried it.  Hence, the shipping prices.

      The soap that was recommended in most recipes was Fels-Naptha, but because the article author encouraged readers to research other possible soaps (and because that too, contains a few things I feel would defeat the purpose of avoiding certain chemicals), I steered towards the gentle, all-natural Castile bars.  With their non-overwhelming, non-perfumed clean scent, I was pleasantly surprised with the milky-white hunks of soap.  They look like bars of white chocolate and boy is it tempting to bite into them.  Now, you may choose something similar like the classic pink Zote, or a bar of Dr. Bronner's.  I've even read that Ivory soap may turn out some softener-like detergent, which could eliminate the need to buy those big bottles of Snuggle.  You can even add a few drops of a favorite scent of essential oil to the batch!

      Before I get into the (very simple) process of making the detergent, I should give you some cold hard facts....something I've realized a little too late for my own liking, is the amount of and the specifics of  the dangerous chemicals found in our commercial laundry aisle.  I know I've earned myself a big fat DUH! there, but it really is quite frightening that we spend so much on such toxicity.  This applies to our lotions, perfumes, body washes, etc. too, but considering that our clothes are on our bodies almost all the time just allows for these harmful chemicals to be in contact with our super-absorbent skin so much longer.  Most of these chemicals remain in our system for a very long time and have traceable long-term effects that can cause diabolical cancers, infertility, etc.  Those heavily-perfumed dryer sheets we've come to rely on to remove static-cling actually contain carcinogens that literally keep us coming back for more, and those carcinogens, just like the ones in the cigarettes we long to hate, stay in our systems the same way too.  And since our use of these products is ongoing, our bodies can't ever really rid themselves of these harmful agents.  Call me paranoid, but the amount of cancer diagnoses in recent decades is staggering and a lot of people (educated in these chemicals or not) can't help seeing the flashing neon arrows pointing right in this direction.  I can't even stomach what these chemicals do to our environment once they've processed through our washing machines and gone down our drains.  Even if you can't buy this side of the argument, who wants to spend So much money on almost every grocery trip on a bottle or box or something that takes pennies to produce.  Like so many other things, you're really just shelling out the $$$ for the packaging...and you know what you end up doing with that.  So...last but not least, those very same chemicals (detergent and softener) actually wear down your clothing faster than they're intended to naturally from just Wearing them on your body.  No wonder my favorite t-shirts end up so limp and thin within a year!

      I decided to make my own laundry for every reason that will benefit the long run, and frankly, I knew I would feel proud of my own product and hard work.  This process doesn't even qualify as work, I guarantee you.  For the whopping price of $16 for the ingredients, and having saved a few large plastic bottles, I'd say i made a very good investment.  Pay attention to how much of each ingredient you use for just one batch of laundry soap, because then you'll realize just ow far that $16 will go...

    You will need:
    Washing Soda
    Borax powder (or not if you're allergic)
    Bar soap (Castile is gentlest) Dr. Bronner's, Zote, Kirk's, Ivory
    Cheese Grater
    Large pot and whisk
    5-Gallon bucket
    (3) 2-liter plastic bottles  or (5) 1.5 liter bottles
    Large funnel
    A few drops of your favorite Essential Oil (Tea Tree, Orange, etc.) for a personalized scent if desired.

     1. Using a cheese grater, grate 1/3 bar of soap.

     2.  Heat 6 cups of water in a large pot, over med-high heat.  Dissolve grated soap into heated water, stirring frequently.

     3.  Remove from heat, add 1/2 cup of Washing Soda, and 1/2 cup Borax.  Stir until combined.

    4.  Fill bucket with 26 cups of hot water.  Add mixture to bucket slowly, add a few (not more than 4-5) drops of the essential oils if you want, stir and set aside.  Let it gel in the bucket for a day or so (a couple days for those who live in humid areas).

    5.  Once it has a thicker consistency, position your clean bottles in the sink with the funnel inserted and pour slowly.  Cap 'em up and you're good to go.  The soap will continue to gel itself in the bottles.

      My soap turned out just the way I'd hoped!  No perfumes, no dyes, body/eco-friendly, inexpensive and plenty of it!

    Oh and by the way, you only add 1/2 cup of your very own detergent to each load of laundry...see! I told ya it would last!!  And since we're not a very stain-y house, there's really no need to pre-treat, but if you have to, scrub the stains with this same stuff, that's what the Borax is for :)




      The total amount from just one batch, makes 6.75 liters!  Remember how much of each ingredient I used?  Off the top of my head, I'm thinking that I'll get 8 more batches out of the soap I have left, and I'll still have plenty of washing soda and borax left.  So 8 x 6.75 = 54 liters of Laundry Soap!!!  For about $16...damn!


      I certainly hope everyone has as much fun as I have doing this, and comes away with excellent soap to show for their effort as well as a much-deserved sense of accomplishment.  Doing this for yourself is doing something vicariously for the ones you love and the precious world we live in, and we deserve to take a little pride in our work and enjoy the moments in which we live...our great great great grandparents would be so proud, and our children's children's children will be very grateful!

    Here are my sources for the recipe, and a couple places that will explain those harmful chemicals I spoke of.

    Offbeat Home
    Carcinogenic chemicals
    laundry ingredients that will make you go, "OMG!"

    UPDATE: 1 JULY 2011
    I am happy with the Non-scent of my laundry :)  Yes, they smell clean, but clean doesn't necessarily have to smell like a perfume, it merely has to Not smell like armpits and assholes.  Also, I've noticed that in this very humid climate I live in (Guam), the soap did not truly Gel.  But this is okay because it seems that the soap simply rises to the top of the water to float, and all it takes to re-incorporate it is a good shake before I measure my half-cup per load of laundry.  So, in case you've realized this result as well and are worried, don't be, the cleansing agents are still very capable, just not as aesthetic.  Happy Laundering!

    Friday, June 17, 2011

    Ginger Binger!

    When a rich dessert like good ol' Cheesecake calls for a crumb crust, what ingredient comes to mind? Or what about the traditional yet decadent S'more?

    Really??!! Graham Crackers??.....Sigh.....Yes, you were right....but how did this Cardboard even come to be considered an edible pantry staple? And why on Mother Earth, was its weak ass paired with the lusciousness of the aforementioned desserts?

    Not totally sure, but I assume it's because of how cheap it is to produce, which then allows the brand *ahem* (Nabisco) to spend most of its budget on advertising and market availability. Appealing to the busy American family seems the ticket! Parents in a hurry and the kiddos need a snack? Break 'em off some honey (flavored) crackers and they'll suffice 'til dinner (McDonald's).

    Here's something to consider...the average box of name brand Graham Crackers costs $3.99 depending on if you have a coupon for it or if it's something a specific store has on special (almost always). And this is why you would be purchasing $3-4 worth of Cardboard - Nabisco Brand Honey Maid Graham Crackers <- here you'll find the ingredients and the nutrition facts. Or plentitude and lack thereof, respectively. So are you willing to shell out that much money for something that may just sit and grow more, uhm, board-like, or may even be consumed so quickly it can't really be enjoyed (and honestly, you can't ever Enjoy a Graham Cracker!). What if I told you there was something similar in nature because of its versatility, yet is so extraordinarily tasty and cheap that it deserves a spot in your pantry right now... For half the price of those crackers, you could buy yourself an eco-friendly bag of offbrand Ginger Snap Cookies! Not only do they offer some zest in any way you eat them, but their ingredients are going to be far fewer in number (which is Always something to keep in mind when you're shopping intelligently), but the sugar content is less likely to be refined because the good Ginger Snap recipes call for Molasses, which lends a darkly sweet that your tummy and taste buds will appreciate. Something even better to consider is making them yourself! These are among the simplest cookies to make from scratch because you most likely have every ingredient on hand, the instructions are very clear and Short, which of course means they are not time-consuming! Making them yourself means spending a fraction of the cost of that bag on several dozen more you can store in the freezer for later and it serves a variety of meals.




    These weren't really my cup 'o tea as a child, because my grandmother made them pretty damn spicy. She was raised to make her own bread, can her own fruits and veggies, and use "her own Damn hands" to fix, make or build something without the convenience of machines or the constant presence of a man. So it's easy to guess what her pantry may have looked like; stocked to the brim with only the necessities, no frivolities. Thankfully, frivolities only included things like sugary cereals and manufactured meat and didn't include her Ginger Snaps or Cinnamon Braid Bread. When she moved in with my mom, dad and I, I was still in diapers and she became a force to be reckoned with, especially in the kitchen. She insisted that if I wanted cookies, she'd be damned if they were purchased (much to the chagrin of my father, who thoroughly enjoyed his Keeblers) and if I didn't learn my way around the kitchen by her side. Eventually, I got up the nerve to tell her why I didn't eat too many of the Snaps and so she backed-off on the spice overload and presented me with a new love of them in a milder form. Over time, I paid attention to the many (at the time, strange) ways she used those cookies; crumbs for breading pork chops, crumbs for cheesecake crust, ice cream topping, stuffing, sweet potato casserole, etc.

    I didn't realize how good I had it then, but I sure do now! And boy am I grateful for the discipline and experience in that kitchen. It may have contributed to my content identity as a plucky curmudgeon and opinionated feminist, but I know it made me appreciate the things I am capable of producing with my own two hands and a bit of patience.

    Now, remember how I mentioned that you'd probably have the ingredients on hand? Well, It's true. Because if you've Ever tried to make an Autumn themed dessert like Pumpkin Pie, you have the Ginger, Cloves, Nutmeg, and (of course) Cinnamon right in your cupboard. And do you know just how good these spices are for you? They're more than a little good. Ginger has pain-reducing and anti-inflammatory capabilities, and it also aids in smooth digestion. No wonder we've been told to drink Ginger Ale for a grumbly tumbly! Cinnamon not only possesses the power of reducing your LDL cholesterol, but it also improves cognitive function and memory among so many other benefits. And I'll mention now that you can always add fiber to your recipe by substituting some good ol' whole wheat flour, and apple sauce in place of butter if you like.

    My point in all of this is to get you thinking outside the box when you try to balance your household needs and the money I know you're trying to hold onto if at all possible. Why not invest in the sacks of flour, the sticks of butter, the jars of preserves, and the spices to make your own treats? The overall time it will save (because you'll be storing most it to make it last) and the cost of the ingredients end up saving you mucho moola because you'll end up needing those very same things to make Other things and so on. Plus, if you have children to consider in this, won't they be more than jazzed to help Make COOKIES?! Teaching them the basics of measuring and composition means you're actually teaching them *gasp* CHEMISTRY. But for JEEBUS-sakes, don't tell Them that....just let them enjoy quality time with you and the end result of a treat...it may just develop their character and help them appreciate how special our relationship with our food really is. And don't lie, you birthed these people to be your lifelong Minions, so put them to work, dammit!

    Barbara's Ginger Snaps
    1 cup all-purpose flour
    1 cup whole wheat flour
    2 tsps baking soda
    2 tsps ground cinnamon
    2 tsps ground ginger
    1 tsp ground cloves
    pinch of salt
    1 cup packed light brown sugar
    1/4 cup molasses
    3/4 cup canola oil
    1 large egg
    raw sugar for rolling

    - Preheat oven to 375 and line baking sheets with parchment.
    - Mix all dry ingredients (not the sugars) in a medium bowl
    - Mix all wet ingredients and brown sugar in a separate large bowl.
    - Blend dry mix into wet mix until just combined, cover and chill in fridge for 20 mins.
    - Spoon out heaping teaspoon fulls and roll in sugar, place 2 inches apart on baking sheet.
    - Bake for 9-10 mins because you'll want 'em crispy!
    - Take 'em out and Leave 'em on the pan for several minutes to firm up then transfer to a wire rack to cool COMPLETELY! No Cheating!
    - Freeze what you are not going to immediately eat/use in a ziploc. Crumble 'em up for crusts, breading, stuffing, etc. They go well with sharp flavored cheeses and fruit as a snack too!