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Monday, December 30, 2013

Cheesy Spaetzle

As I mentioned last week, I've pretty much never met a carb I didn't like.  However, this year I've tried to change the proportion of carb to protein that I eat.  One way I'm doing that is to cut out most servings of bread or pasta except for what I make myself.  That way, my carb consumption is limited by my own laziness (or workload), and I can make sure we are eating carbs made with organic flour and pastured eggs.

One easy dish that I like is cheesy spaetzle, a take on macaroni and cheese.  It starts with your own homemade spaetzle -- see a link the the butternut squash variety here -- and then just adds your favorite cheese.  The freshly made spaetzle allows the cheese to melt and blend readily, so you really don't have to make a sauce or bake the macaroni and cheese dish in the oven.  All in all, it turns out to be about as time-efficient as most homemade macaroni and cheese recipes.

Cheesy Spaetzle
One recipe spaetzle (made with 3 cups flour and 3 eggs)
8 oz shredded cheddar

Make spaetzle according to directions above and place in bowl with a pat of butter (about 2T).  When entire batch is made, place in a saute pan with shredded cheese over low heat, and mix gently until cheese is melted.

The Analysis
Fast:  Spaetzle is not particularly fast, but the entire recipe above cooks in about 45-60 minutes, making this an ideal weekend meal or side dish.

Cheap:  Certainly more expensive than boxed macaroni and cheese, but also much tastier and healthier.

Good:  This is a recipe that emphasizes quality over cost or speed.  I use organic flour, pastured eggs, and cheese made from milk with no added hormones, so I know that my body at least has a fighting chance to process those carbs naturally.  A nice dance lesson or yoga class after dinner doesn't hurt either!
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Monday, December 23, 2013

Merry Christmas, or Why the Candy Doesn't Work the First Time

I love sugar.  I know that it's more correct these days for those of us writing in the sustainable, "clean food" space to turn up our noses at processed sugars, but I can't help it.  I love the stuff.  Attempts to control the craving limits my intake, but they never truly eliminate the desire.

I get the craving honestly.  Papa FC&G also has what Mr. FC&G calls a "power pancreas," and we both will go to incredible lengths to find the finest examples of dessert.  And every year at Christmas while I was growing up, this turned into the desire to make homemade fudge.

Now, I'm not talking about marshmallow-based fudge or any of the so-called "foolproof" recipes, I mean real, boil the sugar and pray it sets up fudge.  And every year we'd blow it.  The pancreas may be willing, but the ability falls short.

Each year, even though the house was full of cookies, it seemed like the days off of school and work would spur either Papa FC&G or I to say, "let's make fudge!"  Mama FC&G would try to pitch in, but while she has much greater cooking skills, she's a salty snack person and does not have the intrinsic love of sugar.  Nonetheless, the three of us would gather in the kitchen and try to get cooked fudge to set up.

"Is that a soft ball?" we'd ask.  It was a valid question, since none of us had ever succeeded in getting fudge to the actual soft ball stage.  We'd drop blob after blob of fudge into a cup of cold water, occasionally making the water colder, occasionally trying to nudge the blob with a spoon to get it to ball up.  But it just never happened.  Somehow, even a candy thermometer didn't help.

Eventually, we'd declare it "close enough" (never a great idea in candy-making) and pour it into the fudge dish.  The dish was a square glass plate with Ulysses S. Grant embossed at the bottom, and poor old U.S. Grant was routinely buttered and made to sit through the insult of having hot fudge poured on his face.

Of course, the fudge didn't set.  Oh, we left it on the counter, we put it in the fridge, we left it sit overnight, but to no avail.  So finally, the justifications started.

"We could eat that with a spoon."
"Yep, it will taste just fine."
And finally Papa FC&G would deliver the coup:  "That's ice cream topping!"

And so, every year, we'd give up on cutting the fudge and go at it with a spoon.  It tasted just fine, thank you very much.

I thought about this yesterday when making maple sugar candy.  It took me two tries to turn maple syrup into solid candy, which shouldn't have been hard.  But I'm missing the gene that makes me able to turn liquid sugar into solid, and I struggled for an hour until it set up.

I still wound up eating some of it with a spoon.  But at least I didn't pour it all over a long-suffering U.S. President before I did so.  And I looked forward with pleasure to seeing my family this Christmas.

Merry Christmas to all my readers, and may your holidays be extra-sweet, whether you can hit the soft ball stage or not!
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Tuesday, December 17, 2013

What Gardeners Do in the Winter

As a gardener, once you get that dirt under your fingernails, it's hard to get it back out.  So those of us who spend the entire summer barefoot and smelling slightly of tomato plants find the winter quite a challenge.

Late this fall, I discovered a volunteer tomato bravely starting out life in the garden.  It certainly had no chance in life just sitting in the soon-to-freeze ground, so I transplanted it to a container and put it in the sunroom.

Later, it got too cold in the sunroom, even under grow lights, for such a tender plant, so I moved it into the kitchen where it could sit atop the dishwasher and enjoy the heat, humidity, and companionship available.  It also got to enjoy a grow light I have hanging in the kitchen.

So here we are.  December 17.  Snow outside on the ground, temps below freezing, and I have a tomato plant that desperately wants a garden.  It has the beginnings of little buds on it and everything.  And I still can't bear to throw it out, even though it is behaving as if I live in the temperate zone rather than the frozen north.

Chances are about 50/50 that I will succumb to my desire to garden and wind up dragging a large container into my foyer after Christmas to see if I can let this tomato plant continue to grow.  I am sorely tempted by the idea of getting a cheap pole lamp and a few extra grow bulbs, just to give it a fighting chance.  At the rate this is going, my little tomato plant really wants to bear fruit in February.  I just might let it.

And that is what gardeners do in the winter.
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Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The Purse as Bug Out Bag

I was joking with Mr. FC&G the other night that, should the zombie apocalypse come, many more women will survive than men.  My reasoning is that we will more than overcome any differential in strength with the fact that we carry bug out bags -- that is, purses -- on a daily basis.

At no time is this idea more relevant than during winter, when even a quick car trip could mean having to haul yourself out of a snow drift or walk unexpectedly when a battery dies.  Properly stocking your bag, while it might not be a hedge against zombies, could at least mean you are more comfortable in any one of several emergencies.

Now, many of the ladies out there probably have me beat as far as organization, but I thought it might be amusing to take a look at what I carry on a daily basis to deal with emergencies:

The Basics
  • bag
  • wallet
  • cell phone
I have a lovely new leather bucket-style bag that will hold a lot of stuff, but that means I can pack it pretty heavy.  Luckily, I also have a great wallet organizer that has room for all of my general wallet stuff, plus enough room for my cell phone.  If I'm making a quick trip into the Post Office to drop something off, I can leave my bag for a moment and just dash in with this satellite.

Foul Weather Gear

  • black wrap
  • gloves
  • fleece ear band
  • extra hankies
No substitute for actually wearing a proper coat and boots of course, but if I got stuck with a stalled car, I would be able to add a layer of warmth if I was walking to a gas station or sitting and waiting for a tow.  This kind of thing actually comes in pretty handy in the summer, too, when overzealous AC sometimes sends me digging for my basic black wrap.

The First Aid Kit

  • OTC medications, like pain relievers, allergy pills, etc.
  • any current Rx medications
  • bandaids
  • feminine hygiene
There's nothing I hate worse than being stuck in a car or an airport and not being able to deal with a headache or other bit of discomfort.  Since you don't always have the time or the ability to run to a convenience store, having the basics on hand is nice.

The Tool Kit

  • small knife
  • screwdriver with interchangeable "bits"
This is my work in progress, but I'm starting to carry a few basics that I could use in an emergency to pry, cut, or otherwise do minor repairs on things.  Although I carry a full tool kit in my car, you would be surprised how many times you wind up needing to open a box or something similar and not having anything readily on hand to cut open a seal.  Of course, I never carry the knife on a plane or any place prohibited.

Sustenance

  • protein bars
  • packet of instant coffee

One of my headache triggers is hunger, and one of my headache cures is caffeine, so I've taken to carrying a couple of emergency basics with me.  This came in very handy on a long flight back from San Diego this summer, when I found that I had no time to eat breakfast and nothing of any interest was available for purchase on the plane.  A couple of protein bars got me home.

Business Gear

  • business cards
  • writing supplies

Obvious, of course, but if you don't think ahead, it is easy to become the woman showing up for a meeting with a huge bag but no pen.  Embarrassing.

Again, I'm sure that many people have me beat with their prep.  However, I've been reading a lot about stocking a "bug out bag," and many of the plans focus on constructing a bag that may not be convenient to carry on a day to day basis.  But that's when emergencies strike.  At least, with a well stocked purse, I'll be able to handle a few situations -- and you never know when I can distract the zombies with a protein bar.

What are your favorite essentials to keep in your bag?
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Wednesday, December 4, 2013

How Much Does a Garden Grow: November


It should come as no surprise that I had no real harvest to speak of in November; everything is either inside or in the sunroom, adjusting to the new environment and not producing much, or it is dead or dormant outside.  But November seems a good time to check in on the herb harvest.

When I tally herbs for this project, I tally only the herbs that I've dried and stored, thus replacing jars of organic herbs I would buy at the grocery.  This year, I dried the equivalent of two jars of sage and one of thyme.  The average price for organic herbs is $3.39 a jar, so I saved myself $10.17.

This is a bit inaccurate, however, because of all of the bounty that doesn't show up in the spreadsheet.  I still have plenty of dried oregano, basil, and marjoram in the pantry from last year, so I've made no purchases there.  And, of course, we had fresh basil (which does show up in the spreadsheet) and fresh dill (which does not) all summer.  My sage plants will be healthy until a really deep freeze, so if I want more sage, it is right outside my door.

Overall, this is my best recommendation to gardeners with only a small strip of land:  plant herbs.  Sage will come up year after year to save you purchasing jars at the grocery, and basil is something you can hardly find fresh for retail purchase.  If I ever have just a small strip to garden, I'll put in a couple of tomato plants, a basil plant, and a sage bush, and I'll still be saving money.

Tally through November:
3664.0 ounces harvested
229.0 pounds harvested
Total retail value:  $773.84
Total saved:  $469.96

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