Archive for March, 2010

One More Reason to Avoid Fast Food

The only fast food that I eat is Baja Fresh, and that isn’t very often. I would say that I have lunch at Baja Fresh once every 3 months. I love Mexican food and admit to being taken in by their claim to not have freezers and making their food fresh. My aversion to fast food developed after I read Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser several years ago. This book also helped to trigger my transition to a vegetarian lifestyle. I recommend it to anyone interested not just in what they’re eating at these restaurants but also what the effect of this industry has on people and communities.

I’ve heard the claim many times that “he or she just had some chicken nuggets. They aren’t that bad for you. It’s chicken anyway.” I looked up the nutrition facts of McDonald’s chicken nuggets. A 6 piece serving has 280 C, 17g fat, 40g cholesterol, 14g protein and 600 mg of sodium. That’s significant portion of your daily allowances for fat, cholesterol and sodium. A lot of this unhealthy stuff comes from the oil that they’re fried in. Remember that fast food items are fried at their packaging plant and then fried again prior to serving. On the surface, chicken nuggets don’t look all that bad, but did you ever think about what part of the chicken they’re made of? I guess they’re kind of like hot dogs. You would rather not know what part of the pig is in one. I’m here to enlighten you.

My walking partner, Jen, recommended that I watch Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution. It’s a new series airing on Friday nights on ABC featuring Jamie Oliver attempting to improve the health of Huntingdon, WV. Huntingdon was ranked the unhealthiest town in American in 2008 by the Centers for Disease and Prevention. In the second episdode, he shows elementary-aged kids what part of the chicken is used for chicken nuggets. Watch this video (fast forward to 4:30 for this segment). It might make you rethink buying those chicken nuggets.

I’m realistic. It’s impossible to avoid this type of food altogether, especially for children. It isn’t just the elementary school shown in this show serving chicken nuggets. Schools and daycares across our country are serving them. I’m just suggesting that if this is the type of lunch your child is eating, don’t take them to McDonald’s for dinner. If you want to serve him or her chicken nuggets for dinner, then buy better quality ones and make them at home. Try and limit the junk that goes into their bodies. You’re the only that can.

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What Else Can I Grow?

Despite the rain and gray skies, I had a glimpse of summer today. That vision came in the form of little round blue pieces of fruit. If you guessed blueberries – you are right! My solar energist friend, Val, has lovely blueberry, raspberry, and blackberry bushes planted in her yard. Late last summer, I was visiting, and we were sitting on her deck enjoying the lovely warm weather. Her husband walked up the deck stairs and poured a handful of raspberries onto a plate. They were the most beautiful raspberries I have ever seen. I promise you that I am not over-exaggerating. They were a wonderful dark pink color and plump with juice. I have never seen a raspberry look that fresh. They were grown from their very own plant just at the bottom of the deck steps. Most importantly, they were fresh and pesticide free. I had spent the summer enjoying home-grown vegetables and herbs. I had never considered growing fruit.

After hearing how her husband was expanding their personal orchard this summer, I became inspired to do the same. Imagine my surprise when I went to Costco today and saw blueberry bushes for sale. It must be fate, and who is going to argue with fate? I bought two. They are currently waiting patiently in my car to be taken to their new home and planted. The planting will have to wait until the rain ends. In the meantime, I need to start shopping for some raspberry bushes. Then I need to figure out how to protect my future fruit from the birds.

The Sun Can Give You More Than a Suntan

I was considering titling this entry as “Green With Envy.” I spent Saturday afternoon with some friends, and my one friend shared with us that her and her husband had decided to go solar. They were taking advantage of the 2010 federal tax credits and getting solar panels installed on their roof. Jealousy roared its evil head immediately. Steve and I have been talking about going solar since we bought our house. We haven’t pursued anything because our roof is now 18 years old. We had decided to wait on the solar until after we got a new roof. My envy is for multiple reasons. Our energy bill would be cut in half using solar energy and more than that come summertime with the a/c running. Solar energy is a fantastic way to go green. Many solar-powered homes consistently produce more energy than needed. That extra energy goes back to the power company to help offset other people’s energy consumption. Finally, Peco, my energy company, has recently announced that any contributed energy by consumers will garner a credit to their account. Not only are you saving money, you’re making money!

I asked a few more questions to my friend, specifically, how much they were actually paying to get this new energy system installed. I won’t talk specific numbers, but I was stunned. That federal tax credit had reduced the cost much more than I had anticipated. Steve and I discussed it on many occasions this weekend and finally came to the conclusion that it is probably cheaper to have the solar panels removed and then reinstalled to have the new roof put on then to lose out on the tax credit opportunity. Or we can just get the new roof early. I’m just waiting to get the name of the company that my friend is using, and then I will get my own estimate. I am beyond excited. Stay tuned.

Need to Get My Netflix by Friday

I heard on the radio today that the postal service is ready to seek congressional approval to stop Saturday mail service. I have mixed feelings about this decision. As a US citizen, I am happy to see a federal organization willing to make drastic changes to fix its current debt and growing debt problems. According to CNN (my favorite source for National news), as of 9/30/09, the Postal Service was $10 billion in debt. They have projected that cutting Saturday service will save $90 billion in the next 10 years, but at what or whose expense?

My environmental side rejoices at the thought of less fuel consumption and less exhaust fumes polluting our air. No Saturday service will mean less activity in postal sorting facilities resulting in lower utility usage. Workers won’t be expending gas to drive to work on Saturdays. But that’s the catch…my humanistic side can’t stand to hear that 30,000 people will lose their jobs and that is in addition to the tens of thousands of people who have already been laid off. My father worked for the post office, and I know that most postal workers see their jobs as lifelong. They aren’t aspiring to jump ship in 5 years to something bigger and better. They plan to work there until they retire, so I feel sad for those people who are suddenly left without a job and need to change their whole life plan to survive.

Let’s talk a little bit more about mail service. My environmental side is going to surface again. How much of your mail is of real value to you? For me, I would say 20%. 80% of my mail is junk mail. Grocery store flyers from stores that I never shop at. Coupon deals from businesses that I will never call. Mailing address labels from charity organizations that don’t even have my married name printed on them (and I’ve been married for 3 years). Catalogs from stores that I never shop at. Political propaganda. Constant reminders from the US government to return my census form.

I’m sitting here thinking about the mail that I do care about. Some of my bills are mailed to me others are electronic. I do get bank statements in the mail every month. I also get 2 magazines monthly. Party invitations. Thank you cards. Birthday cards. Christmas cards. I can’t forget Netflix. Every week, I have a big stack of mail and 80% of it goes into the recycling bag. I have to wonder how much junk mail really funds the postal service.

There was another interesting article on CNN about the elimination of Saturday mail service. It said that once people realize they can live with 5 day a week mail service, as the postal service incurs more debt it won’t be so difficult to go to 4 days a week, then 3, then 2, then 1. Eventually, the postal service may no longer be needed. That means an enormous reduction in wasted paper, resulting in saving how many trees a year, but it also means the end of 600,000 jobs and an organization that used to be a good revenue maker for the US government. I admit that I’m conflicted on how I feel about the future of the postal service.  Should it stay or should it go?

The Postal Service can’t go anywhere for one significant reason.  How would the federal government figure out how to execute the census in 10 years?  (that’s sarcasm in case you couldn’t tell)

Overdosing on Vitamin D

Vitamin D is the only vitamin that we get through exposure to UV rays, sunlight. It is necessary to keep our bones strong. Without Vitamin D, our bones will get weak and brittle. You can absorb Vitamin D though fortified foods, particularly milk, but that’s not necessary on a sunny day. While it’s important to protect your skin with sunscreen, you only need a ½ hour of sun exposure without sunscreen twice a week to get your needed Vitamin D intake. Try drinking your morning cup of coffee out on the deck. Buy an Adirondack chair, plop it in your yard, and close your eyes for a ½ hour. Throw your Frisbee for your dog. Read a book outside. These are all easy ways to get some Vitamin D the natural way.

We had a glorious 4 days of Spring weather. Fortunately, all 4 days were on my days off. I took advantage of every single one of them. Thursday, I went to the zoo. Friday, I did my weekly walk with my friend at Valley Forge park. Saturday was a walk with Steve and lots of time in the yard playing with Rusty. I knew that it was back to work on Monday, so Sunday was a run, a walk with the family and then a second walk with a friend. Sunshine, sunshine, sunshine! I actually closed the day Sunday with a slight sunburn and totally exhausted. Why is it that fresh air and sunshine tires you out so much?

I woke up to an overcast sky and rain this morning. The rain still can’t dampen my spirits. My daffodils are blooming. My hyacinths are poking up through the soil. And the new weeping cherry tree that we planted in November that survived 3 ft of snow, torrential rain, 50 mph wind gusts, and hungry deer has blooms on it. The rain will just help everything to grow more.

The one thing that we didn’t do this weekend was yard work. All of my neighbors were out working on their yards. They picked up the broken branches, cleaned out flower beds, fertilized their lawns, some even trimmed the grass over the sidewalks. Not us. We were lazy in that department. We still have some more time before we need to get started on that work. We used the beautiful weather to do whatever we wanted. Soon enough, it will be time to share our weekends with lawn care.

While we still have some cool days ahead, Spring is here. Turn off the tv and get outside. Start stocking up on that Vitamin D.

I got walloped …

with a cold. I honestly can’t remember the last time I was sick. It’s been at least 2 years, maybe more. I pride myself on my strong immunity. I credit sleep, vitamins, healthy diet, and exercise with warding off all kinds illnesses. The average adult gets 2-4 colds every year. That makes me way below average. Now my streak is over, and I’m suffering. I’ve got head congestion, chills, and body aches. I ache so much that it actually hurt to eat my PB&J sandwich for breakfast this morning.

I still went to work. I’m one of those people who I hate. You know what I’m talking about. That person that is dog-sick but still hurls their germ infested body into the office, only to breathe those germs onto anyone who comes near them. I can’t stand those people, so I guess that means that I can’t stand myself today. My rationale was that this was my last day of work for the week and Gavin’s home with my mother today. The less I breathe on him, the less of a chance he’ll get sick, and I don’t want him to get this cold.

I know that it’s a cold and nothing that some antibiotics would clear up in a couple of days because Steve got it first. He’s been so sick that he stayed home from work yesterday and actually went to the doctor. The doctor told him that he has all the classic symptoms of a cold, and there is nothing you can do but wait it out. Poor Steve. He’s been miserable for several days, which is why I feel even guiltier at my irrational anger at him for passing his germs on to me.

I’m hoping that today is my worst day, and I will only start improving. In the meantime, I’ll keep my hot tea and neti pot close by.

Breaking Bread

Several months ago, Steve made homemade soft pretzels. They are so delicious. Everyone who has tried one agrees with me. He made the dough, let it rise, shaped it into pretzels and baked them. That got me thinking. If he can make homemade pretzels, why can’t we make homemade bread? The next day, I made my first attempt.

I followed a recipe to make wheat bread. The recipe claims that it makes 2 loaves of bread, so I followed the instructions and divided the risen dough and made 2 loaves. It did make 2 loaves, but they were very short loaves, not at all usable for sandwich bread. Over the last couple of months, I have tried different recipes and different permutations of the same recipe. Recently, I didn’t have time to make any bread, so we just picked up a loaf from the grocery store. Steve asked why my bread doesn’t come out as soft as the store-bought kind.

He was right. My bread is chewier, so I did a little research and had an aha! moment. My recipe calls for all-purpose flour and wheat flour. I’ve been substituting bread flour for the all-purpose flour for a long time, assuming that by using bread flour, I will actually produce bread that is more “bread-like”. Google has taught me that bread flour has a higher gluten level than all-purpose flour and the end result is a chewier texture. That’s why bread flour isn’t used to make cakes and other baked goods. This weekend, I used all-purpose flour and the result was soft wheat bread. I did use a good quality all-purpose flour (King Arthur), which I would recommend for all baking.

Below is the recipe. Don’t be intimidated. It is actually very easy and the resulting product is fresh bread without preservatives. Homemade bread also has a much longer shelf-life than store-bought bread. Translation – it takes a good 3 weeks before the mold starts.

Wheat Bread

3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tbsp yeast
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
1/3 cup shortening or butter
1 ¼ tsp salt
1 ¾ cup warm (120 degree) water
2 cups wheat flour

1. Using a mixer, stir together 2 cups of the all-purpose flour and yeast.
2. Combine brown sugar, shortening, and salt in the warm water. Add to flour and yeast mixture and mix on high-speed for 30 seconds constantly scraping down sides of bowl. Mix on medium speed for 3 minutes.
3. Add 2 cups wheat flour and stir into mixture.
4. Add additional just under 1 cup of all-purpose flour. Your mixer may not be able to integrate this last cup of flour into the mixture. You can incorporate it into the dough during the kneading process.
5. Knead dough until smooth and elastic (approximately 8 minutes). I knead by hand. My mixer just can’t handle kneading dough. If yours can, you may need to shorten the kneading time.
6. Make into a dough ball and put into a greased bowl, cover, and let rise in a warm place (top of the fridge works for me) for an 1 ½ hours.
7. Punch dough down. Take ¾ of the dough. Roll out into a rectangle. Roll up like a log and pinch ends and seam closed. Put into a greased loaf pan and cover. Do the same for the smaller dough portion.
8. Let loaves rise for 45 minutes, then bake at 375 degrees uncovered for ~25 minutes (or until golden brown and hollow-sounding when you tap the top).
9. Remove from pans and cool on a wire rack, then store in an air tight container.
(To give credit where credit is due, this recipe originates from the Better Homes and Gardens cookbook.)

You may be asking, “What do I do with the smaller loaf?” I use it to make croutons. We eat salads most nights, and homemade croutons are a great addition. Cube the smaller loaf. Toss with oil and any seasoning combination that sounds appealing (I use garlic powder, onion powder, salt, and parmesan cheese). Spread cubes on a cookie sheet and bake at 400 degrees for about 10-15 minutes. You can also cube it and feed it to the ducks. 🙂