OH, Sugar, Sugar!

OH, Sugar, Sugar!

It didn’t start with us, our parents, or even their parents. An audiobook I heard this week said it might have started with the ancient Egyptians, if not before. “It”, in this case, being the love-affair our taste buds have been having under our very noses with sugar.

The book is called The Case Against Sugar, by Gary Taubes, and it sounded like he’d done a lot of research for his writing. There were plenty of facts and figures, and the author made some very good points about one of the most common food addictions of the current times. He wrote: “Sugar does induce the same responses in the region of the brain known as the reward center as do nicotine, cocaine, heroin, and alcohol”.  So we eat sweet stuff to make ourselves feel good, and then we get addicted; I’ll admit to that readily enough. But then I heard:  “The more we use these substances, the less dopamine we produce naturally in the brain.” That didn’t sound so good.

Now just think for a moment about our typical terms of endearment:  Sugar, Sweetie, Honey, Sweetheart . . . never once have I heard someone lovingly refer to their significant other as Brussel Sprout, or Cauliflower, have you? And if you did, wouldn’t you wonder, just a little? We’re raised to view desserts as a reward. . . no pie if you don’t eat your supper, right? So is it any wonder if we dive into the chocolate marshmallow ice cream after a rough day at work? I don’t think so!

Last year my family doctor took a look at the lab results from my previous visit and made a dubious remark about the nearly borderline glucose level in the chart.

“I’m watching it” I assured him.

“Watching it . . . what’s that mean, exactly?  You’re watching the sugar spoon so it doesn’t overflow on its way from the bowl to your coffee cup?” he chuckled.

“I don’t put sugar in my coffee.” I told him. “And I fix my oatmeal with a pinch of salt and a smidgen of butter. And I make my own yogurt with fresh milk, instead of buying the sweetened stuff at the store. And I rarely ever have more than one Pepsi a week.”

All true statements, but I don’t think he bought it, which only served to bring out my righteous indignation all the more. Poor guy, he’d probably heard every version in the book, and then some.

But it’s just as well he retired before I listened to this book. All that talk about sugar and the potential side effects that overindulging can have on us got me all stressed out. And you know what they say about “stressed” being “desserts” spelled backward? Good thing I had that big bag of Halloween candy to fall back on.

Bindi the Very Good Dog doesn’t get to sample the chocolate, but she LOVES Angel Food cake!

Strawberry Pie Recipe

Strawberry Pie Recipe

This week I heard something that caught me by surprise:  a strawberry isn’t truly a berry.  What?! This sounded like one of those urban myths you read about, so I did a tiny bit of research. True enough, the botanical definition of a berry is “a simple fruit having seeds and pulp produced from a single ovary.” Conversely, our friend the strawberry is termed an “aggregate accessory fruit”, as is the dewberry, the raspberry and the blackberry. Weird, huh?

But berry or not, the unmistakably lush flavor of a sun-ripened, locally grown, freshly picked strawberry ranks fairly high on my list of Favorite Things in Springtime. And years ago, while living in Springfield, Missouri, the following recipe for Strawberry Pie was given to me by my neighbor, a dear, kind lady from Galesburg, Illinois named Jeanne Wallace.  If you’ve ever had a better strawberry pie than this one, I’d sure like to know about it, because Jeanne’s version (like all of her recipes that I ever tasted) is really top notch!

Here’s the recipe, in my own words:

1 prebaked pie shell (I prefer homemade, but suit yourself)

4 cups strawberries, washed & decapitated (you know, cut off the green stuff at the top)

3/4 cup sugar

1 Tablespoon cornstarch

1 1/2 cups cold water

1 small box strawberry gelatin

Stir sugar and cornstarch together in a medium saucepan. Slowly add cold water, stirring to dissolve the cornstarch. Begin cooking over medium heat, stirring constantly, and when it gets hot, add the gelatin. Cook and stir until thick and clear. Cool syrup, then pour over the strawberries you’ve placed in the baked pie shell. Chill a few hours to set. Serve with whipped cream if you like.

As you can see in the photos below, I placed some of the berries upside down in the pie shell first.  This looks nifty, but it didn’t seem full enough, so I quartered more strawberries and sprinkled them over the top of the arrangement before adding the glaze. Another option is to halve or quarter all the berries, and just pile them in, which tastes just as good. And don’t worry if the glaze seems thinner than you expect when cooked or even cooled; a few hours in the refrigerator will set the gelatin nicely.

Enjoy!

Decapitating the berries strawberry pie 1 strawberry pie 3strawberry pie 4

Here’s to Your Health!

Here’s to Your Health!

 

Recently I mentioned homemade yogurt and how much I am enjoying making that from local-sourced raw milk.  One popular add-in for yogurt is granola, and thanks to my friend Karen N., I can now make that myself, too!  Top off that combination with some apple butter, or a handful of blueberries, and you’ve got a great way to start the day that is as healthy as it is pleasing to your palate.

Here’s the recipe I used this evening:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

5 cups old-fashioned rolled oats

2 cups chopped nuts (I used 2/3 cup each of pecans, almonds & cashews)

1 tsp. salt

2 Tbsp. cinnamon

a dash each of ground nutmeg and ground cloves

1/2 cup packed brown sugar

       Place all these dry ingredients in a large bowl and stir well to mix and break up the brown sugar.

       Then combine these in a measuring cup:

1/2 cup vegetable oil

2 Tbsp. honey

1-2 Tbsp. maple syrup

1 tsp. vanilla

     Drizzle these mixed liquids over the dry stuff, then stir & turn to coat.  Pour the granola onto a large cookie sheet with sides, and pack it down with a spoon or spatula.  Bake 10 minutes, remove the sheet, and use a pancake turner to flip the mix over in sections; pack it down again and return to the oven for another 10-12 minutes.  Remove from oven and let cool just a few minutes before removing from the pan.  Store in an airtight container.

This recipe is not exactly like the one from Karen, but I think it’s close.  The neat thing about granola is that you can adjust the taste to suit your own liking.  Don’t like cinnamon?  Leave it out, or decrease the amount.  You can even add dried fruits after it’s baked, such as raisins or chopped dates.  The possibilities are endless.  But you’ll know what’s in there, and it’ll be fresh and really, really good, with very little effort.

Wishing you good health and much happiness in the New Year.  Enjoy!

Size Matters

Size Matters

Yes, at least to some of us, Size Matters.  But hold on there, it’s not what you think . . . what I’m writing about here tonight is packaging, or rather, what’s inside that packaging.  Specifically, what’s not inside that packaging any more.

As you shop for your household staples, have you noticed the gradual reduction in the sizes of the packages on offer?  Coffee used to come in one pound bags, or three-pound cans.  Now the bags are twelve ounces, and the cans have crept their way down to something ridiculous like two pounds, one-point-nine ounces. Who thinks of these measurements?

It may not show very well in the photo, but the Charmin roll on the right is about half an inch shorter than the one on the left.  And both of them slide back and forth with lots of wiggle room on the spindle, which I guarantee you did not happen three years ago.  The packaging gurus have tried to fool me with “Mega Rolls”, but those don’t fit in the handy storage cylinders in my powder rooms.  Why make a Mega Roll, but then shave width from the sides?

Other items I’ve noticed are bacon (often twelve ounces now, rather than a pound), sugar (went from the standard five-pound sacks to four), and even cake mixes.  For decades we’ve come to rely on an eighteen ounce cake mix.  Now some of those are sixteen-and-a-quarter or even fifteen ounces.  Did they think we wouldn’t notice?

Mother recently shared with me a “Three Ounce Cake Mix Upsizer” recipe:  1 1/2 cups flour, 1 cup sugar, 2 teaspoons baking powder, and 1/4 teaspoon baking soda.  Sift these together and store in a sealed container. Add 4-6 tablespoons of this mix to the newfangled skimpy cake mixes to bring them up to par.

My point here is, we shouldn’t have to do that.  Some things just don’t need to change.  Call me an old curmudgeon if you will, but is nothing sacred any more?  Because I would bet money the Oreo cookies they’re selling these days are not as big around as they were when I was a kid.  And Double-Stufs?  Hah.

Ok, it’s your turn.  Leave us a comment with your pet peeve from the grocery aisles.  Not that we can do anything about it, but maybe it’ll help to commiserate!

Hush Puppies!

Hush Puppies!

It’s not yet Summertime, but the fish are biting, anyway!  Warmer temperatures and sunshine perk up those little lake (and river) swimmers, and if you’ve got the line and the pole and the hook and the worm and the sinker and the bobber and the net and . . . well, maybe we’d better stop right there.  It’s amazing what we can spend on a hobby that used to be so simple, isn’t it?

Bluegill and Crappie are two of my favorite fish.  I like ’em filleted, dipped in a mixture of egg & milk, rolled in a blend of flour and cornmeal with some salt & pepper and fried to a golden brown.  Catfish are pretty good too, and right now several of my cousins are snagging Spoonbill.  These guys really know how to fry the fish, too, let me tell you!  It’s a skill passed down through the family, and a mighty fine tradition.

Some folks like Hush Puppies (or is it Hushpuppies, all one word?) with their fish dinner.  I made an online search for hushpuppy recipes, and there are a lot of variations out there.  Which to choose?  My only trial with making this simple fare was during my junior high days, when a friend and I decided to mix up a batch in her mama’s kitchen.  The result was not quite hockey-puck tough, but they were fairly tasteless, and not at all what we’d had in mind.  When you add in the thundercloud expression on Mrs. L’s face upon seeing the mess we’d strewn across the counter and stovetop, it probably is little wonder that I’ve been in no hurry to repeat the experiment.

Anyway, I copied down the ingredients listed in three separate recipes, mixed up what seemed like a reasonable combination of the trio, then tweaked it a little more, half-way through.  Here’s what I’ve settled on for now:

preheat cooking oil (2-3″ deep) in a deep pot to 365 degrees.

In a medium mixing bowl, place:

1 cup self-rising flour

1 cup yellow cornmeal

1 tsp. baking powder

2 tsp. sugar

1/2 tsp. salt

2 shakes from the garlic powder can

Stir together the dry ingredients, then add:

1 small onion (or half, depending on your taste) chopped fine.

Then mix together:

1 egg, well beaten

1 cup buttermilk  (I used fresh milk, with a splash of white vinegar added)

Pour this into the dry mixture and stir just until moistened.

Drop (carefully!) by teaspoon into the hot oil.  You can use a second spoon to scrape the batter/dough off the first one, but I just used my finger.  Fry for about 3 minutes, turning occasionally with a heat-proof slotted spoon.  (Some of mine kept popping back over after I turned ’em).  Remove  from grease before they get too dark, drain on paper towels.  Best eaten fresh.

Next time, I’m thinking about adding a little fresh ground pepper to the mix.  What about you?  Got a recipe to share?

 

Eat Your Vegetables . . .

Eat Your Vegetables . . .

Didn’t we all hear that enough times while growing up to burn it into our memories forever?  Well, most of us, anyway.  Not my niece A., surely, since she became a  vegetarian at a very tender age.  After watching Disney’s The Little Mermaid she stopped eating fish, and then a few years later the movie Babe put the skids to hotdogs ever appearing on her plate again.  But I digress.

Recently, that very niece and her mom (my beloved sister) told me about Kale Chips.

“What?”

“Kale Chips” they said.  “They’re great!”

“OK . . . tell me about those.”

And so they did.  And I made a mental note, thinking maybe I’d try these.  This weekend, I finally did.  And believe it or not, I like ’em!  Traditionally, I’m more of a popcorn or pretzel or cookie kind of snacker, but these are better than edible, they’re actually good.  Crispy, yet slightly chewy, with a pleasant flavor.  And from what I read about Kale, it’s even good for us, so you can eat these chips and get one of your daily vegetable servings out of the way at the same time.

Here’s the recipe I used:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Pour about 1 Tablespoon olive oil in a medium bowl.  Add a little salt, pepper, garlic powder.

Wash 3-4 curly kale leaves and blot them dry on a paper towel.

Place kale leaf upside down on a cutting board.  Cut out the center rib, or at least most of it. Cut or break up the leaf into chip-sized pieces.  Place pieces in the bowl.  Repeat with other leaves.

Use a rubber scraper or wooden spoon to gently stir and turn the kale pieces in the bowl to coat them with the seasoned oil.  Place them in a single layer on a baking sheet.  Bake 8 minutes, turn off the heat and leave the oven door slightly ajar with the pan in place for 2 minutes more.  Remove from oven and let cool slightly before eating.

That’s it!  Yesterday I added just a hint of curry powder to the oil, and that was tasty.  Today I substituted a smidgen of nutmeg for the curry powder, and added a packet of leftover parmesan cheese from a carry-out pizza order.  Another method says to place the kale on the baking sheet, mist with the oil from a spray bottle, then sprinkle on the seasonings.  I don’t have an oil mister, but the bowl method was really simple and fast.

Now let’s hear your variations!