The Backyard

The Backyard

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Caught In the Act - Trying to Break the Buying Habit

The last three books I read and nearly all the blogs I peruse talk about going greener -- reducing the carbon footprint, reducing electric useage, buying less and keeping it local'; going "back" to simpler times, cooking like grandma and grandpa. And what do I do? I made butternut squash soup and thought about (and read about) how nice it would be to have one of those fancy-dancy puree gadgets that puree right in the pot. So I went and bought one of those useless China made products that affluent Americans love - at WALMART nonetheless! Something must have attacked my brain -- maybe a case of insomnia? Or maybe its the start of Alzheimers. I don't know -- but when I got home and started getting it out of the box and ooing and ahhing over it, I realized what I just did. Rick did too -- and we both started laughing and poking fun at me. "I'm gonna get rid of ALL my electric appliances in the kitchen....I'm going to go off the grid...I'm going to cook just like Mem Wiest did -- all by hand..." HA!!! And bears stopped shitting in the woods a long time ago too. And to pour salt in the wound, I realized I have under my own nose, stuffed way in the back of the cupboard, two of the most perfect utensils to do the job -- an antique hand mixer and a Foley food mill! Not to mention both are worth about $10 more than the $19.99 price tag on the electric model from Walmart. So tonight's stop on the way home from work will be at Walmart, but this time to return the useless gadget. I'm getting closer to not buying anymore junk, really, I am. This may have been the icing on the reality-of-simple cake.

The Cookbook Already Paid for Itself

I'm a sucker for books -- all kind of books -- cookbooks included. My "cookbook" drawer in the kitchen doesn't shut anymore, and with the latest editions, the vegetarian cookbooks now found a new home directly on the counter. New recipes are always risky, especially when I cook thinking maybe, just maybe, Rick will like it (he's just a meat-eater at heart). So when I tried this new recipe, I waited until I was sure he liked it until I broke the news -- its vegan. So VEGAN PLANET paid for itself with a recipe that Rick just loved. Here's the recipe, and buy the cookbook! It's worth it. There's something in it for everyone.
Skillet Cornbread with Smoked Chiles
This recipe can be baked in a glass or metal baking pan, but if you have a cast-iron skillet (what I used), this is a great way to use it.
1-1/4 cups yellow cornmeal
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour (I used organic spelt)
2-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup soy milk
3 tablespoons pure maple syrup
1 cup fresh, canned, or frozen corn
1/4 cup corn oil (I used safflower)
2 tablespoons finely chopped canned chipotle chiles in adobo sauce (a must - the flavor is incredible)
  • Preheat over to 400 degrees
  • In a large bowl, combine the cornmeal, flour, baking powder and salt and set aside
  • In a medium size bowl, combine the soy milk, maple syrup, corn kernels, oil and chiles and set aside.
  • Heat a well-oiled coast iron skillet over medium heat until hot. While the skillet is heating, add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and mix well with with a few quick strokes. Transfer the batter to the hot skillet and bake on the center oven rack until golden brown and toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 25 to 30 minutes (it only took mine 20 minutes). Serve hot or warm.
Makes 1 loaf.

To Eat or Not to Eat - A Diabetic's Perspective

Coping with diabetes must be unbearable at times. I hadn't realized just how difficult it is until yesterday when my mother broke down in tears (I've never seen her break down from this before -- it was heart-wrenching) and its been eating at my brain since and the even harder part is I can't do a whole lot about it -- doctor's advise is critical. For clarification, there's a distinct difference between Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes which you often hear and read about. Type 2 is often brought on by the individual themselves through lack of physical activity and obesity (but not in every case) and accounts for 95% of all diabetics. It can often be cured with diet/exercise. Type 1 diabetes occurs when the body's own immune system destroys the insulin-producing cells of the pancreas. It is not curable and injections of insulin are needed to survive. Insulin's main role is to help move certain nutrients -- especially glucose -- into the cells of the body's tissues. Cells use sugars and other nutrients from meals as a source of energy to function. Here's the tricky part for a Diabetic -- everything that goes into your mouth must be monitored. You have to watch everything you eat (good carbs vs bad carbs - low glycemic vs high glycemic, etc), and you have to check your blood sugar constantly -- more so when your system is disrupted from surgery, stress, and any number of other reasons that cause of stress to the body. Normal sugar levels are between 80 and 150. You and I are lucky and never worry about it. We eat what we want, when we want, never thinking twice about how this might be affecting our sugar levels. We go about our daily routines and even throw in a run or bike ride every now and then with nary a worry. A diabetic thinks about it constantly, day in and day out. Food and drink affects their sugar level. Walking or any kind of exercise affects their sugar levels. Sleeping affects it. Its a daily routine of checking blood sugar numerous times a day and trying to figure out what's ok to eat and what's not and oh, that's right, I went for a walk so I better check my sugar level. Granted, most diabetics adjust to the routine and live with it quite well - as my mother did for many years. But open-heart surgery somehow whacked out her system and she's been dealing with extreme lows (as low as 29) and extreme highs (485). Both are extremely dangerous and can put a person into a coma. Mom knows to inject more/less insulin to control, but its SO frustrating for her now after 40 years of not dealing with the extreme ups and downs she's experiencing right now. She was eyeing up the fresh, locally grown near-organic (they aren't certified) Jonagold apple on her table, but the poor thing was afraid to eat it after just reading a blood sugar level of 485. Eating just took on a whole new meaning. To eat or not to eat. To eat what, and to not eat that. God bless diabetics.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Book Review - In Defense of Food, An Eater's Manifesto by Michael Pollan

Its been a long time since I picked up a book that I couldn't put down until I flipped the last page. Michael Pollan succeeded -- I consumed his latest book, In Defense of Food, An Eater's Manifesto in less than a week. I was skeptical at first with the author because I couldn't finish his previous book, Omnivore's Dilemma (too technical and confusing at spots). Obviously, THIS book held my interest and embedded even more food thoughts in my brain. Many of his concepts are not unlike the Eat Local Challenge (in which he references in the back of the book). In a nutshell, the book is about how most "food" in the grocery store isn't really food but the over processing of food substances into product the food industry, nutritionists, and marketeers sell us as "food." An easy summation of the book is his compelling practical ways to separate and defend, real food from the cascade of food like products that now surround and confound us:

  • Don't eat anything your great grandmother wouldn't recognize as food. (squeezable yogurt?)
  • Avoid food products containing ingredients that are a) unfamiliar, b) unpronounceable, c) more than five in number, or that include d) high-fructose corn syrup. (have you read the ingredients in a loaf of bread lately?)
  • Avoid food products that make health claims (low-fat isn't all its cracked up to be)
  • Shop the peripheries of the supermarket and stay out of the middle (where the processed stuff is).
  • Get out of the supermarket whenever possible (shop farmer's markets)
  • East mostly plants, especially leaves (packed with nutrients)
  • You are what what you eat eats too (he's OK with meat... but make sure its grass-fed)
  • If you have space, buy a freezer (when you find that grass fed beef, stock your freezer)
  • Eat well-grown food from healthy soils (organic!!!)
  • Eat wild foods when you can (more nutritious)
  • Be the kind of person who takes supplements (healthy people usually take supplements, but you don't need the supplements if you eat a diverse plant diet)
  • Eat more like the French or the Italians or the Japanese or the Indians. (get your culture back -- eat what your grandma ate)
  • Regard nontraditional foods with skepticism (soy protein isolate?)
  • Have a glass of wine with dinner (full of antioxidants - very healthy)
  • Pay more, eat less (the LOCAL organic beef and veges ARE worth it).
  • Eat meals (quit the snacking!)
  • Do all your eating at a table (not the car while rushing somewhere)
  • Don't get your fuel from the same place your car does
  • Try not to eat alone
  • Consult your gut (when you feel full, stop eating!)
  • Eat slowly (slowfood usa)
  • Cook, and if you can, PLANT A GARDEN! (of course, my favorite)


My latest read (book review above), talked about a flexitarian lifestyle. I guess I haven't been on the planet the last 5 years when this style came into mainstream -- I never heard of it until now. For those of you that also have been floating around in space, a flexitarian is a part-time vegetarian. It's an individual that likes the vegetarian concept, but isn't ready for 100% all plants and no meat. Its a lifestyle that gives you "flexibility" in eating. Much to my surprise (and now I know why), even Dr. Ornish in his latest book, the Spectrum, talks about the importance of including Salmon and fish in your diet and now allows fish in his eating style. Health experts and environmentalists claim this is not a bad way to go -- its reduces carbon emissions by cutting back on meat consumption, it reduces health issues associated with excess meat eating (red meat), and it makes you think about your meat sources -- mainly grass fed and organic are the best way to go (if you are concerned about the environment and the way animals are raised). And because grass fed and organic meat is expensive, you eat less of it - thus, the flexitarian is born. Interesting.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Christmas Turkey - What Should I Do?

I need your help -- please post a comment! My previous post, Talking Turkey, described the varied types of turkey you can buy and I hope I described the good vs the bad purchases. My husband fully understands all of the varied types of birds, but this morning he broke my heart when he said "I don't care Jill." It started with a discussion on retirement and saving $$ so we can be done work by 2011 and it led into a discussion on the high costs of buying organic (and no Jill, you can't retire if you keeping spending those prices for organic!) and of course the holiday bird we buy each year to feed our families. He simply can't understand and will not pay the price of free range or organic. I'm to the point I don't even want to have Christmas dinner - I don't want a turkey in the house if its coming from a factory farm -- which are exactly where the cheaper birds come from that Rick wants buy - not to mention the chemicals pumped in them. And I don't even eat it! And that's the other point Rick made -- "you don't eat the turkey Jill so what does it matter?" It matters to the animals, and that's my problem - its SO sad to know how they are raised and slaughtered - it just rips my heart out and yes, as I'm typing this there are tears in my eyes. I guess I'm one of those Overzealous environmentalists and need to just suck it up and let Rick be Rick and let my family eat the bird. What do you think?

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Talking Turkey

This is a meat story written by part-time vegetarian. I have the good fortune of being surrounded by meat lovers and can't deny my loved ones their food preference. While I annoy them to death with my opinions on this food thing and the environment, they certainly aren't going to stop eating meat for me (I must add they eat mostly local so they do NOT support industrial farming of meat). So I have to accommodate them at Christmas. Yes, I stuff my hand up a dead bird's cold ass and think to myself how much I love my family while I do it. I don't eat the turkey. Last year I did, but this year I'm not. Why? Because last year we had a free range organic bird that cost me $54.00, but that won't be the case this year. Has anyone priced an organic free-range turkey lately? At Natural Acres in Millersburg, $5.69 a pound is the going rate. My dad said, "Did you tell them to "stuff it?" After a little more research on prices of organic birds, I discovered Natural Acres may be ripping people off, although the prices aren't a whole lot lower -- $3.99 is what I'd pay if I would drive about a 100 mile round trip to Eberly poultry to pick it up (same supplier to Natural Acres). Why so much? Why organic or another route folks are going "Heritage?" Read on. Here's a short lesson on turkeys:
  • Free-Range Organic - the birds run free in a field and eat organic feed. No antibiotics or other chemicals injected or pumped in their food. Totally natural and humane.

  • Free-range natural - the birds run free and eat "natural" feed (grains). No antibiotics or injections -- its not certified organic, thus they can't label them "organic." 2nd best choice.

  • "Natural" turkey - you'll see this on the package in the big chain stores on the cheap turkeys. Don't believe them unless they specifically say they use no antiobiotics or injections. The birds were likely factory farmed, raised in a crowded cage and not permitted to move much their entire lives.

  • The .89 lb turkeys - Butterball and all others. Factory farmed birds likely raised in a crowded cage and injected with antiobiotics to prevent illnesses from crammed quarters. They are fed a chemically-laced commercial feed grown on industrial farms. Butterball even takes it a step further and injects their birds with extra Butter and "flavorings", thus, Butterball. Avoid these birds at all costs - there's a reason they are cheap that could cost us the environment some day. Is that a price to pay?
  • Heritage Turkeys - just like heirloom fruits and vegetables, heritage turkeys are original breeds of turkeys not commonly raised. Thus, they are expensive and usually have to be ordered in the summer - BUT apparently they are very tasty, much more than the normal turkey. Many of the heritage breeds are rare and hard to find.

New York Magazine has a much more in-depth description of the turkey market. Its a good education. Some folks opt to raise their own turkeys which I couldn't do because I couldn't kill it. Its actually the cheapest way to go at a cost of $2.00 a chick, but you have to factor in feed costs and if you need to build a pen for it, etc. Crunchy Chicken has an interesting story on her bird this year -- she opted for a Heritage Turkey ordered in July that set her back $95.00. My dear hubby loves his Butterball, but I believe I can talk him into a Free-range natural bird for $1.89 lb from Koch's Turkey Farm. They are about 30 miles from here (local!) in Tamaqua Pennsylvania, and I while not certified organic or heritage, they are the next best thing - locally raised and they use local feed and grain. And what are YOU having for Thanksgiving and/or Christmas this year?

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

My 42-year Old Coat

Depletion and Abundance instilled in my brain how affluent Americans are wasteful, wasteful, wasteful - how the chinese get a kick out of the garbage they make and stupid Americans buy it. All we need to do is look at how most of grandparents lived (and survived) after the depression and we can clearly see how wasteful we are today. They certainly weren't buying strands upon strands of christmas lights to waste electricity. It really made me think twice about almost everything I now purchase. I ask 1) do I really need it? (Don't I have one somewhere?) 2) is it something useful or just another dust catcher that serves no purpose, and 3) is it a consumable to sustain life -- I guess that fits the needs category. Nearly every day now that its cold, I grab the same old coat I've been grabbing for the past 20 years to go outside and do yardwork. It really IS 42 years old! It was Rick's hunting coat when he first started to hunt at the age of 12. I hadn't realized that that coat is a sign of genes buried deep inside me that need uncovered -- genes of living more frugally. They are there, but need brought to the surface. I noticed those frugal genes in my soap bottle in the kitchen too -- its 25 years old! It was one of the first plastic bottles of liquid soap on the market and at the time I thought it was simply a cool looking bottle and I've been refilling ever since with dish detergent. And the boxes stacked in the closet with "post-retirement t-shirts and sweatshirts" on them are saying something too. So with a little nurturing, those genes from grandma and grandpa will surface. It'll make Rick happy (less money spent -- more saved for retirement!). Of course, I'm not doing much to help the economy -- maybe that's why the economic is faltering -- others just like you and me are realizing we are wasteful and learning to be more frugal! I think the days of spend, spend, spend are long gone.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Local Vegan Finds

Well, its not totally local, but within 100 miles and the Locavores claim a 100 mile radius is acceptable as "local," while the Eat Local Challenge gives you 150 miles. There's an organic tofu plant near Allentown, PA called Fresh Tofu, Inc. -- 78 miles from my home. I haven't contacted them to find out how to get their tofu, but I certainly intend to. They list a distributor also in Allentown, but it doesn't appear the distributor sells to the general public. So I have some homework, but worthwhile homework. I officially decided to work on the Ornish lifestyle once again. I really like his philosophies and many of the top environmentalists agree with his diet also (mainly 'cause its vegetarian). The part of adapting Ornish locally will take some work in areas such as whole grains. I'm a huge organic supporter, and its really, really hard to find organic whole grains within 150 miles. Hopefully, in two weeks I'll find some more local sources of organic food in Pennsylvania. I signed up for the Pennsylvania Certified Organic (PCO) Annual meeting and bunches of organic folks bring and show their wares at the meeting. I'll certainly share a report on the day. It's December 4 - yup, a workday -- but my boss is letting me go as work related because my work funds organic farms and the PA Dept of Ag will be there talking about the funding program we have for farmers.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Found: The Healthiest Diet (Yes, Its My Opinion)

Just a couple hours after posting my frustration and confusion on what is the healthiest of diets, I pick up my latest read and low and behold I have my answer. Read about it here. Its vegetarian, it can be adapted locally (or at least buy USA products from a local store), and its accepted by insurance companies because it can reverse certain diseases, thus saving millions and millions in insurance costs and hospitalizations. Its Dr. Dean Ornish's proven plan for reversing heart disease.

Trying to Makes Heads or Tails of a Healthy Diet

A post just went on my Healthy Exercise blog on trying to figure out what is the most healthy, good-for-the-environment diet. I'm simply SO confused with all the reading I've been doing lately. Its making me not want to eat at all! Here's the post -- help me figure it out! I think my main goal is local... but from there it gets tricky (i.e., local tofu? tempeh? Lentils? Beans?)

Monday, November 10, 2008

Book Review - Depletion and Abundance

From the New Society Book Publishers on what the book is about:

Depletion and Abundance explains how we are living beyond our means with or without a peak oil/climate change crisis and that, either way, we must learn to place our families and local communities at the center of our thinking once again. The author presents strategies to create stronger homes, better health and a richer family life and to live comfortably with an uncertain energy supply prepare children for a hotter, lower energy, less secure world survive and thrive in an economy in crisis, and maintain a kitchen garden to supply basic food needs. Most importantly, readers will discover that depletion can lead to abundance, and the anxiety of these uncertain times can be turned into a gift of hope and action. An unusual family perspective on he topic, this book will appeal to all those interested in securing a future for their children and grandchildren.

And my review after reading it:
  • The author has 4 very young children, one with down syndrome - she relates many parts of the book to her siutation with her family. She dedicates an entire section (6 "Parts" with about 3-4 chapters in each "Part) to population, family values, and kids. Never having children, these parts were not attention-getting for me, but parents will be intrigued by some of her ideas if you are raising your kids green.
  • Ever hear of homesteading? That pretty much sums up what the author focuses on the entire book. Things like living off the grid, growing and preserving everything yourself. It goes beyond buying local and gets you to think about making it on your own all by yourself. Supplying your own water without electricity, cook with solar stoves, out door ovens, composting toilets, etc. Even thinking about the house you live in - is it "smart" to stay there. For me, it was a bit overboard -- almost, dare I say, radical. I understand the point she was making - that someday this may be how it will be - but it seemed far-fetched to me. I can't imagine our government would let this happen.
  • WHAT I GOT OUT OF IT: We live way, way beyond our needs and are extremely wasteful. The chinese really do get a kick out of making useless products for dumb Americans to buy. It got me thinking about saving some energy (why do we need 2 lights on in this room?), growing a huge garden next year and preserving as much of my own food as possible, letting my hair grow one length so I don't have to spend $$ getting it "trimmed" every 5-6 weeks, stop buying clothes! - what a huge waste. I have enough clothing and shoes to last me a lifetime - especially since I'm done working in two years. Stop driving everywhere and so much... ride bike more! I joke with Rick about the carts we are getting for our bikes to go to the grocery store when we retire (we stop on our way home now -- no extra trips if we can help it). And lastly, and likely most importantly, the value of family. I need to spend more time with them AND my dear husband.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Another Way to Reduce Your Carbon Footprint

Did you know if you cut your catalog intake (stopping mail order catalogs) by 100%, we'll avert the same CO2 produced by powering 51 family homes for an entire year? Holy crap - that's huge! Prior to reading this, I had already starting calling the 800 numbers on the catalogs and stopping every catalog I get in the mail because my dear hubby commented one day about how much we'd help reduce a bunch of things by stopping the mail order garbage -- the post man delivering it, me reading them and impulse buying, the company printing it, the waste of trees being cut to print them, the printing process and so on and so on. So every day when I get yet another 4 or 5 in the mail, I spend 10 minutes calling the 800 numbers and asking for my name to be removed from their mail list. Can't say I'm doing much to help the economy by no longer mail ordering, but we're all in for a change anyway, aren't we. I've since found a website with other places you can contact to stop junk mail. Check them out! Since we're all eating and buying local, living a much more simple and frugal life, there's no need for the mail order junk anymore now is there!

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

A Lesser Known Election Success

While we celebrate (or not) the new president-elect and other candidates, there was a referendum on the ballot in California that's going to set the precedent for the rest of the nation, in my opinion. Californians just passed a law requiring larger living quarters for confined animals raised for meat production. To me, this was a HUGE success and win for animals. One of the reasons I try not to eat meat is because of how the animals are raised in confinement. (I'll eat organic, free-range meat). What a step forward. Thank you Califnornians!

Saturday, November 1, 2008

When Its OK to Run Up the Electric Meter

Rick and I have been trying to cut back on electricity in preparation for the higher electric bills in February. Its amazing how much energy you use unneccessarily when you pay attention to what you're doing. But habits can be broken, and that's what we're doing. But the past few days made me realize there's one area that energy consumption can't be denied, lessened, or in any way, shape, or form, eliminated. The Health Care industry -- or more specifically, hospitals. My mother had emergency open heart surgery on Friday and it occurred to me while we waited (and waited, and waited) how vital energy is, and how far we've really come in saving lives. We talk about eating local and consuming goods like our grandparents, yet our grandparents would have likely died after a heart attack 60 years ago without the technology of today. This is thought provoking...modern medicine, research, technological advances, medical instruments, sterilization, plastic -- all critical in safe, infection-free hospital care. I'm guessing the bottom line is avoid the hospital! Exercise and eat right and stay out of there so there's no need to rely on plastic tubes running from every orifice of your body, huh? My mother is insulin dependent for 40 years -- the syringes are plastic. What did they do 60 years ago? Very thought provoking.