I love life!

Hi, I am Jo and this is my blog about my life. Here you will find entries on cooking, gardening, food safety and the interesting things happening in my search for an inexpensive and healthy way of living. My home is located in North Florida and I am relearning how to take care of myself at almost 50. This is the deep South so my garden and season may be a bit different than yours. I look forward to seeing what you have to say as time passes. Read on and have a beautiful day!

Saturday, December 31, 2011

Happy New Year!!!!

May 2012 be a year of joy, contentment and love for all!  

Today's Bounty!!

Today was a nice quiet day for me spent mostly at home or close to home. I visited with my neighbor Jen  and her mom while she had her yard sale then came home to read. My afternoon was spent napping and clearing out beds in the garden. After 4 weeks of neglect the tomatoes had succumbed to a virus and insects were munching merrily on the tomatoes. Sadly, and with regret  I had to pull out all of my Amish Paste tomatoes which left only three Viva Italia plants. The rest of the garden was fair to middling and tomorrow I will be clearing out the other casualties as well as the weeds that have slowly crept into the beds.   

After the tomatoes were destroyed I walked around the yard and marveled at the sheer beauty of the plants and trees in our yard. I am a novice gardener at best and am consistently befuddled by what happens to my plants. They start out lush and beautiful then I turn my back and Mother Nature plays pranks. When I turn around again leaves are curled or bug bitten or plants are stunted or dead. Yet there are the successes, beans that are so prolific I have to can dilly beans so my husband does not have to eat them nightly for weeks. Cherries abundant enough to make cherry jam and freeze cherries for more jam later in the year and greens enough to keep us in salad for months. These successes balance out the annual failures in my garden and keep me trying again every season.  

Yes, I pulled most of my tomato plants. It is fine because I harvested enough green tomatoes to give a few away and to put up a few pints of green tomato chutney. It also opens space to put in more salad greens, some chard and anything else that strikes my fancy.

A little bit of Hope on a tree. Persian Lime blossoms.
My garden gives me hope. When I plant a seed I trust that eventually grow into a plant that will feed and nourish myself and my loved ones. May garden gives me patience. A plant does not simply produce right after planting. It takes time and effort- no instant gratification here. My garden gives me beauty. Working in the beds and in the yard puts me out in the paradise of South Florida. I can watch bees hop from plant to plant or see water droplets glistening like diamonds on emerald green leaves. 

Most of all my garden brings me peace. I can be overwhelmed by work and stretched to the limit. When I walk out that door and into the yard it all fades away. I don't even have to work in the garden I can simply stand and look around and the cares of the day dissolve into nothing.     

A snapshot of Peace and Beauty, Star Fruit buds (Carambola)
May 2012 be a year of hope, patience and beauty for you as well. With love from my garden to your home.
Have a Blessed and Happy New Year!!!   

Friday, December 23, 2011

Holidays and Stuff

Adorable "get well" bouquet from my godfather and his kids 2 weeks ago!

This last week has been long and exhausting. It was my first week back at work since surgery and my body was not as ready as my mind was. Most evenings I came home, crashed on the couch and Rob made dinner. I must say we ate very well!! Last night was completely different. My state vehicle died and instead of coming home early as planned , my afternoon was spent calling my supervisor, the state offices and roadside assistance. When I finally got home I was fried. It was another evening on the couch....go figure. Only Rob went to a hockey game with the boys. I was in bed by 9 pm.

Last week I made 23- 12 oz jars of mixed berry jam for holiday gifts for my coworkers and for Rob's coworkers. Then over the week end we purchased a case of pickling cukes from the local produce stand and I canned 12 pints of bread and butter pickles and have 10 lbs of dill pickles fermenting in a bucket.  The pickles were in a dish pan in the back room but the room was smelling strongly of pickle juice. Rob was kind enough to bring me a plastic 5 gallon bucket from work and now we have a loosely covered bucket in the kitchen. All of the recipes came from the Ball Blue Book. I had been using a family recipe fro the pickles but they were coming out rather soft. I figured I would try the recipe in the Blue Book as that has not led me wrong yet.
Jam in the pantry with the tomatilla salsa.

Pickle brine- pickles not visible :).

Christmas Eve will be spent with a house full of both friends and family. We are looking to have close to 20 people if you count the babies.  The menu is a little less eclectic than previous years and  a lot more people will be here for the fun. I can't wait to see everyone and enjoy all of the food and entertainment from the little ones.
We will be having a gluten free pear tart and this is a picture of the last one I made. Notice it did not make it to the photo without a piece missing.  Sadly, I have no one to blame but myself!

I'll try to post food picture and notes after the festivities!!!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Back to the Blog

I have been away from the blog for a couple of weeks as I had surgery and quite honestly, until today, I could have cared less about blogging or much else for that matter. My days have been spent sleeping on the couch, sleeping in the bedroom with fits and starts of activity mixed in.  The first week home was just a blur of discomfort and painkillers. For some reason the first few days out of the hospital I felt exceedingly happy but it is all a little fuzzy looking back and with anesthesia who knows.

Before I went to the hospital I had all of these amazing plans for my off time before I went back to work. I was going to can and preserve all kinds of garden stuff, make jam for coworkers gifts, organize Christmas and order everyone's Christmas gifts online. Not to mention wrap all of the awesome gifts I purchased.  Rob was going to have a good dinner every night and we could play scrabble in the evening. (Yes, I am a dork I like scrabble!). I am sure that you will be shocked to know how little of that actually occurred.

I managed to can 1 small batch of tomatilla salsa and slept most of the entire next day. I ordered exactly 1 gift online and it still is not here. I did however order myself some random stuff from Lehman's like a new mop and some killer dishcloths.  Jelly for coworkers, not yet and as for wrapping gifts you can't wrap what you don't have. Rob has had to cook more often than not and when I have cooked it has been enough to couch me for the rest of the evening. As for scrabble, well we reorganized the back room and I can not even find the game even if I could get my amazing hubby to play.

I have about a week until I have to return to my job and am still sleeping and resting a lot. Apparently, I can walk a lot but no real lifting for a while yet. I get a little stir crazy, work for a while then collapse. I am just looking forward to doing a little yoga and actually working in the garden instead of just gazing at it.

Now I am off too nap and a walk later.
Hugs to all!!


Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving!

This year we are having a quiet Thanksgiving. Kind of a strategic retreat for me.

I have been scrambling at work to get things wrapped up before I have to go in for surgery next week. I wanted this weekend  to be a time where I can do some gentle yoga, read, reflect and catch up on housework. Maybe, just maybe, I will put some dinners into the freezer for the time period when I will be limited in physical activity.
Rob is working all day today as his club is having a Thanksgiving Buffet and over 300 people have made reservations. We did see most of the family yesterday at Maddy's 2nd birthday party so I don't feel like I am missing out. My daughter in law Ali did a great job putting everything together. It was noisy, boisterous, with great food and all in all a completely amazing evening with family.  

Later I will be cooking a small dinner of corn chowder, a salad of greens from the garden, Italian beans (also from the garden), sweet potatoes and apples, herb rubbed pork with chutney and a pear tart to finish.
The menu may seem long but when you are making small amounts for two people it is not too bad. That and I love to cook.    

After dinner it will be nice to pull out the fire pit, have a bourbon and watch the flames while talking with my amazing husband. A gentle reprieve before another crazy week of work followed by a minimum of 2 weeks of forced inactivity.

I am thankful for so many things..the love of my husband and all of my family, a circle of truly caring friends,
to be able to live in a place of profound beauty and to have no real needs that are not met. We live in a country of profound riches and have so much at our fingertips. We are protected by men and women at home and overseas who are willing to sacrifice for our well being and rights. The pilgrims suffered profoundly before being able to celebrate Thanksgiving.  Because of the actions of many who have gone before now we may simply celebrate.

May everyone have a blessed and beautiful Thanksgiving.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Science Experiments in the Kitchen

Barbados Cherry Jam Accented with Orange Liqueur 
Lately I have been in an experimental mode in the kitchen. By experimental I mean trying new recipes and methods of producing my own food. The garden is great but I really wanted to try my hand at making other items that we consume.

Yogurt was my starting point. I wanted to make a thick , rich yogurt without any additional fillers. In the past I had tried using plain Dannon yogurt as my starter paying close attention to temperature as the recipe suggested. It came out runny and somewhat sour. Not to my liking.  A few weeks ago while looking for seeds for Helda Beans I found a yogurt starter at Nichols Garden Nursery and decided to order.
Here is the address: https://www.nicholsgardennursery.com/store/cmspage.php?page_id=about

The amazing starter and final product!

I did not get a chance to make it until last Sunday. By using the directions on the package I made a thick, creamy, and mild yogurt. It is really good. It is not a thickened by gelatin fake yogurt with tons of sugar and a slimy fruit puree at the bottom. My homemade yogurt is amazing with agave nectar and blueberries. YUM!
I used 1 small packet of starter and 1 quart of milk made with non fat dried milk. Extra dried milk was added to the mix to make sure it would be nice and thick. And thick it is! Even better I still have 4 packets of dehydrated starter and can use the yogurt I just made as a starter as well. We can have yogurt indefinitely if I am willing to keep the starter growing. We shall see how that goes as sometimes follow through is not my strong suit!

Strawberry Jam
My other experiment was using Pomona's Pectin. I have always used Sure-Jell to set my jams and jellies. Anyone who has used Sure- Jell knows that it can be touchy stuff. There is no playing with quantities or amounts of sugar in the recipes or you jam just will not set.  Yes, I know you can make jam without pectin but it requires a great deal more time than I am willing to spend making jam.  In the past I have made my own pectin using citrus peels and green apples. This again it is touchy stuff and with a slight mis-calculation on sugar or fruit and you get what my husband describes as "strawberry slime." Lovely..... Sigh.

After doing a bit of research I found Pomona's Pectin online. Let me say...It is GREAT! The directions seemed a bit daunting at first but everything worked out well on the first batch. You use a calcium water to help set the pure citrus pectin . You have a bit more leeway with this than you do with the other brands and there is even a no sugar option. Should you have any problems you can call the 800 number on the package. Do not let the cost throw you. It only takes 2 tsp of pectin to make 4 pints of jam. Thus you are using much less per batch and making the cost lower than that of the other brands. I am not being paid by Pomona's I just really like their product. 

Hmmm....I bet strawberry jam would be good with yogurt . Sour cream is next. Happy experimenting!!!  

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Saving $$$ with a Garden

Last fall I started questioning if I was really saving money by having a garden. It seemed like I was always putting money into the beds and not getting as big of a return as I would have liked. To figure out if it is worth it I started logging just how much produce was coming from the garden and yard. Let me add here that many of the trees and plants we have in the yard have taken a while to produce appreciable amounts of fruits.

I started seeds the middle of September and have been continuously planting every week to ensure a steady supply of produce throughout the growing season. The sweet potatoes I dug in September were volunteers in the spring. I did not need the bed so they simply took over.

Since mid September I have harvested:
7.5 lbs sweet potatoes
9 lbs Barbados cherries
5 lbs limes ( my neighbor picks them as well)
2 large avocados
7 bunches arugula
1 bunch lettuce
2 bunches green onions
1 bunch Maruba Santoh (Chinese Greens)
1 ginormous radish
Countless Herbs- Basil, Zataar Oregano, Mint, Lemon Basil, Purple Basil, Cilantro.....

That is roughly 27 lbs of produce from the garden in a little over a month and a half. That is around $100.00 in groceries we do not have to purchase and that is estimating with Sweetbay prices not Whole Foods prices.
The best part is the garden is not really producing a lot yet.

We added 3 new beds this year. One was a gift and the other two cost $60.00. We also had to purchase soil and amendments as my composter, though great, can not keep up with the volume necessary for 3 new beds. I also purchased a rain barrel to help save on water usage. Total cost for everything (seeds and soil pots included) $195.00.  Another good month and we have paid off all expenses for production. I am not counting the $$$ spent on the landscaping as that is a separate issue. If I did another month of production will offset the cost.

The beautiful part of all of this is those cherries will become jam thus increasing their value and saving even more money. Tomatoes will become sauce and the herbs dried for cooking and teas. Fresh herbs will be chopped and mixed with oil then frozen to be enjoyed year round.  That means I am saving even more money than the $100 plus dollars on groceries.  

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Sometimes it Sucks being a Food Inspector

Most everyone who reads this knows I am a food inspector. My job is to assess food operations and cite them for violations based on the Federal Food Code and the applicable Florida Rules. I do not write the Food Code or Florida Rules. If you have an issue write your representative. I can not modify the rules just for you. Really, I can't. No exceptions.

Let me be clear- I like my job. I like my coworkers and and I like the people I interact with on a daily basis. I hold no ill will towards the people I inspect unless they blatantly disregard food safety after they have been told what needs to be done and fail to comply. I do not, contrary to belief, write violations to spite people. It is illegal. Nor do I write violations that can not be substantiated. Again that is illegal. We have systems in place to ensure I am consistent and doing my job properly.

Hear me now...I make mistakes. That is right I am human, I make mistakes. If I make a mistake I have to correct that mistake. Normally the mistakes I make are in trying to help someone or in missing something on an inspection. That means when the mistake is caught, once I realize it it must be corrected.  Usually, the mistake is in your favor and it has to be corrected when I realize it on a following visit. Then, believe it or not, you get mad. Yep, I am the bad guy. I should have caught it on a previous visit- my error. According to the law the firm is still responsible for being in compliance. So if I miss the violation it is kind of like you were speeding  and the police don't pull you as they were patrolling 2 streets over. You were still speeding and just did not get caught ....this time.

I will work to educate the facilities I am responsible for bringing into compliance. We can not explain everything all of the time and our job is not to train the staff of the facilities we inspect. I will give you information and point you to websites. I will not and can not explain all of the food code and why every violation is important. That is up to the management of the facility.If you are retailing, storing, shipping or manufacturing food it is your responsibility to research rules and regulations pertaining to your business. Which leads to the next point.

It is also not my job to hunt you down to make sure you are permitted. If I find you without a permit- you will be cited. End of story. If you wish to handle food ( food is considered consumables and that includes, ice, water vending, supplements, chips candy, mixers and almost everything in the grocery store) you must have a permit of some kind. A county business license is not a food permit. It is your job to be current on the permit and to post the permit in your facility and to meet all requirements to maintain that permit. So pay your fees and maintain your facility.

Lately, the trend is towards an informal economy. I am ok with that. Once you start advertising your products and that includes eggs and milk on Craig's List you are in the realm of what needs to be regulated.  You are then retailing to the general public and are on shaky ground. I can not speak to the cottage laws other than to say." Dear god, what was the state thinking?" We can't get compliance in a lot of the places we regulate and now there are foods people can make at home and sell at farmers markets and green markets. Really??? 

How many times have you had a friend that you would  not eat the cookies they made because of the cat that climbed on the counters or a lack of sanitation in their home?? Now if that person wants to make cookies and sell them to the unsuspecting public they can if they follow the guidelines for Cottage Foods. Sheesh, it will matter when someone gets ill. If you want to trade you jam for your neighbors eggs I can't stop that nor would I want to.

So in this last week I have had an older man give me grief because he wanted to operate without a permit and I told him he could not. I had to tell a young girl she could not wholesale honey as she did not have a permit. I had to tell a facility they had to have hot water at their sinks and issue a poor and I know them personally. I had to make another woman wait for 3 visits and she got hot water in her restroom before I wrote her permit.
Here is the thing, it sucks and it is my job. All of these people are upset, all for different reasons and the common denominator is me. Yet not just me- the true common denominator is they all want to sell food. I am the person who makes sure they do it properly. I am the face of the laws that make them angry. If I did not believe in what I was doing it would be really tough. My job is necessary to keep people safe. I may not always agree with the laws I enforce but I am not allowed to pick and choose. So when I come in your facility  keep in mind I am not the laws I enforce. I am there to do my job and try to keep people safe.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Putting Food By- Canning Peppers

10 1/2 quarts of pickled peppers

Yesterday my mom and dad came over and mom and I spent a couple of hours canning peppers. My husband and I really like  hot peppers that have been pickled in a bread and butter pickling liquid. I use my grandparents pickle recipe and substitute peppers for cucumbers.  Yum!!!

We washed a case of peppers I got from a local produce stand and cut off the stem end and took out most of the seeds. Then I pulled out the the 15 year old Cuisinart and sliced them thin. I also peeled and sliced 4 large white onions  We had a dish pan full as well as a large enamel coated pot full of sliced peppers. I used roughly a total of a 1/2 cup pickling salt and mixed it into the sliced pepper and onion mixture.  These we let sit while we got all of the canning equipment together and made the brine.

To make the pickling liquid you will need :

1 Qt. Vinegar
5 Cups Sugar
2 tbsp. Mustard Seed
1 tbsp. Celery Seed
1 tsp. Turmeric
1 tbsp. Dried Ginger or about 1/2 inch Grated Fresh Ginger 

Combine all ingredients and bring to a simmer. 

Pack sliced peppers and onions into cleaned and sterilized jars. Remember to leave a 1 inch head space. Cover sliced peppers with pickling liquid and use a knife to release the air bubbles on the side of the jars. Top with sterilized canning flats and secure rings onto jars until they are hand tight. Process in a boiling water bath for 15 minutes. Remove from water and set out to cool. Do not move jars for 24 hours so they may seal tightly. Check your jars to make sure all of the lids have sealed. If they have not either reprocess or place in the fridge to be used immediately.  

A word of caution- If you decide to can  hot peppers, please, wear gloves throughout the process as the oils from the peppers can burn hours after the fact.       

These peppers are great on salads, sandwiches, pizza and they make a great crock pot Italian beef.


Friday, October 21, 2011

Voting With My Food Dollars

Currently, I am sitting outside listening to the birds play in the palm tree above me as a gentle fall breeze smelling of cut grass and cooler weather wafts gently around me. The garden is doing ok after the torrential rains that saturated our neighborhood and most of the area  this last week. Watering the raised beds will not be an issue as the ground is waterlogged in the low lying areas of our yard.  The plants need some sunshine to perk them up and dry things out a bit more.

Why you ask are there logos for the major grocery chains in our area prominently displayed at the top of the blog today? The answer is complex. It is all about where my food dollars go and why I spend them where I do. Let me preface this by saying my views have been slowly changing over the course of the last 2 years in my current job and with the changes that have been happening in my life in general.

We are not rich. We are comfortable and we are safe. Most of all we try to be frugal not only to save for the future but to cause less of an impact on the planet. We recycle not just paper and plastic but things as well. Old clothes become cleaning rags, almost all of our furniture is thrifted, or Craig's List find and, yes, we have been known to pull a great item from the curb a time or two. We re-purpose things with paint and elbow grease and do much of our own repairs. We are not alone in these activities. Countless other people do these things but just don't talk about it much.  

Anyone who knows me knows I use coupons. However, rarely are there coupons for organic or gluten free items. Many times when I shop I do not have coupons for anything or the coupon items are no less expensive than the store brand. (No double coupons here). Thus all purchases need to be thought through and a calculator is a must while shopping. So if I am going to all this effort to get the best buys on my food why am I spending my money in large corporate chain stores like Publix and Sweetbay? I know they are clean, I  inspect them but are they concerned with the environment? Do they have ethical practices? Do they care about me and the food I am purchasing or the bottom line? Am I just going there for convenience? The answers are no, not really, the bottom line and definitely for the convenience.

Today, I made arrangements to purchase a case of peppers to pickle and can to build our non existent supply back up. I am getting them from a small produce stand that has been around for years. I am paying a lot less than at a grocer and will do the work myself . He gets my business and I get a fresh product. He is very clear that he does not grow these thus I know they are conventionally grown. I am ok with that as I am keeping my voting dollars in the area.

I do not purchase eggs or milk locally as it is illegal for it to be sold in the State of Florida and it is my job to close them down if I find them. It is better for me not to know about that part of the economy.  It is there I am sure, but I am not part of it.

We do have a health food store locally. The prices are high and a couple of the staff a bit militant. Also I inspect them so I usually just go there when I really need something that I can't find online or am running out of gluten free items. The man who runs it is anti -vaccine and anti modern meds and much of his information is grossly outdated and highly misguided.

What does that leave me. Not much. The local ethnic place can be a bit sketchy and let's not even discuss food safety standards. So my dollars, for now, are going to Whole Food's. The store brands are no more expensive than Publix and the quality s very good. The politics of business is always questionable be it Publix or Whole Food's but at least I know my dollars are going to slightly more sustainable practices.  I am voting with my dollars by growing my own, buying locally when possible and if that is not available then it is Whole Food's. If Whole Food's is not an option there is the local health food store and lastly Target, Publix or Sweetbay.  

So how are you voting with your dollars? I would love to know.  

Check out www.foodday.org for National Food Day on October 24!

Sunday, October 16, 2011

The Garden is Done!!!!

The view from the patio. 
Rob has been working all day hauling stone to get the garden area finished this week end. His hard work has more than paid off and really dressed up my raised bed garden. I know it wasn't necessary to make it pleasing to the eye but this looks amazing. And it is less grass to water and mow. One more energy and time saver here on the home front.

Every year the garden expands a bit and every year Rob steps up to the plate and helps haul dirt and mulch, build new beds and generally do those things for me that I can't do without hurting myself or taking 8 times as long to accomplish. Doing all this without him would not be possible thus he is my hero for always helping me to make things better.
The view looking toward the house.

A little walk way off to the side. This is what got the whole project started!

Looking toward the patio.

So there it is! The "New and Improved" raised bed garden! Hope everyone has a great day!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Simply Food and the New Improved Garden!

After a lot of thought I decided I needed to get rid of my all over the place posting. And it has covered the gamut  of topics.

The one thing in my life that has been a constant, through thick and thin, is my love of food. All kinds of food, all cuisines, everything from how it is grown to cooking it and of course consuming it as well. Thus this blog is now dedicated to food. I can write about food safety, a subject I am passionate about and about my garden, a subject I am equally passionate about. As anyone who has been stuck next to me on the couch when the new seed catalogs arrive can testify..... you get to hear all about the amazing heirloom seeds and to see the beautiful pictures that go with the tantalizing descriptions of what could be in the garden next season.

I'll still write about the pantry as that is food storage and saving money on food. I will try to limit the social commentary unless of course I can tie it into food. I may have to do some twisting to make that happen but we shall see.

To begin the new and improved blog here are picture of this years garden....currently under construction. (The  new heading is from last seasons garden).

View from the porch. Lots of rocks...Rob has been working hard!
View From the shed. Not quite done but looking good.

More looking out from the shed. Lots of tomatoes and basil.
The garden has been an evolution. In 2004 I decided to put in a raised bed after reading countless posts on "The Garden Web". It couldn't be that hard now could it??? I had no clue what I was doing and built the first bed on my own and shortly thereafter my husband went behind me and "fixed" it. I had a great crop of peppers and I was hooked. A couple of years later I added a second bed and two years ago a third. This year I added 3 more beds and we are now adding stone and paver walkways around all of the beds. Less to mow and easy to maintain.

The rocks still to be moved.
When all the of the rocks have been moved I will add the finished garden pictures. Hopefully, more will be blooming and growing in my garden. 
Enjoy !!!!

Sunday, October 2, 2011

The Listeria Outbreak- What it means to you.

Listeria Monocytogenes or simply "Listeria" is a gram positive bacteria found it water and soil and is carried by some animals. It can be found in fruits and vegetables, soft cheeses and deli meats ( hot dogs etc.) It can cause diarrhea, vomiting, meningitis and even death. There is an even longer list but it gets really depressing. It mainly affects young children, pregnant women, the elderly and those with compromised immune functions.
Please note I am not a scientist, I am a food safety inspector, so this post will be mainly in simple terms.

O.k. so why a post about the outbreak in Jensen's Farms Cantaloupe? I was at a news website that I love to read with my morning coffee and found a bunch of what a blogger named Orac calls "flaming stupid" or "burning stupid." People were blaming the FDA, the CDC and anyone they could think of that was not themselves.

Here are a few things I do know.
1) Listeria is in water and soil. What are fruits and vegetables grown in???? Soil and they are watered with you guessed it "water".
2) It can take upwards of 2 months for listeria to show up in a person.
3) Once someone is symptomatic it can be confused with other illnesses like a particularly virulent strain of staph.
4) This makes the process of identifying the source even tougher as you are so far removed from the consumption of the affected product.
5) Listeria loves cool damp places like, say, your refrigerator.

Why were the melons a prime candidate? Soil and water. See #1 Cantaloupe have a porous surface with ridges making it hard to wash. Water can enter into the melon through the stem in of the melon after it has been picked. If the melon is cut whatever bacteria on the exterior of the melon, the skin, is introduced into the interior of the melon. Peeling does not remove the Listeria contamination. It potentially introduces more of the Listeria into the fruit. If you have melons that you don't know where they are from do not attempt to wash them or peel them. Throw them out!!! Most Jensen melons are out of circulation by now but if in doubt...throw it out!

The worst case of "burning stupid" I have seen throughout this recall was a local news team showing people how to wash a listeria contaminated melon. Listeria can be waterborne. It does no real good and could give people a false sense of security. Throw it out!!! Washing melon however is normally a great practice under normal circumstances. It will remove soil and other potential contaminants like salmonella or e-coli. An affected melon with Listeria- a Jensen's Farm Melon- not a good idea at any time. Throw it out!!! More on washing veggies later.

Now for everyone screaming about it taking so long to identify work backwards. It is now October, it was identified and a recall in place the middle of last month ( roughly). Prior to that the cases had to be identified in each person through countless doctors, hospitals tests and labs.  Those cases had to then be submitted to the CDC. So now we are into early September. Subtract 60 days and we are looking at early July. That is pretty close for some rough math.

How do you know your melon does not have listeria? You don't.

Seriously, there are no guarantees on any fruits and vegetables. However, I can say that the FDA and your local inspectors will be sampling melons and sending them for testing now that they have been identified as a food with the potential to be contaminated. Also I am positive there has been an FDA team at Jensen's Farm since it was identified as a source of the outbreak. They will go into the fields and any packinghouses the product went through to try to determine the source of the contamination. Let me caution you,  it may have simply been the dirt. Or it could be living in a cool damp place the melon are stored or pass through. Even carried by an employee, not very likely but still an option.    

Every day in every state throughout the nation there are food inspectors of some kind pulling samples of foods that have been determined to be leading causes of food illness. Ground beef for e-coli, fresh juice for salmonella or molds, soft white and blue veined cheeses for listeria, tomatoes and cilantro for salmonella and e-coli....imports for contaminants.....the list is seemingly never ending. These items are then tested and these tests have led to countless recalls that most Americans never hear about because the product is pulled before anyone gets sick. So for the people spouting "flaming stupid" blaming the FDA and the government get a grip. They save your hiney more than you will ever know!

For the people posting the "burning stupid" about it being caused by, "big factory farms" get a grip. It is found in soil and water. Organic does not guarantee safety! It is a guarantee of a lack of harmful chemicals. I am not saying I am for big farms I am saying Organic produce has similar risks.

You can protect yourself and your family by washing your produce. Wash all produce! Even organic. Use the sprayer on your sink and your hands or even a vegetable brush. Wet the vegetables and scrub with your fingers or the brush to remove both visible and invisible contaminates. Soap or veggie sprays are not necessary.

Remember to wash your hands prior to washing the vegetables and keep all of the items you will be using to prepare your vegetables clean and sanitary as well. Counter tops, knives, cutting boards etc.- keep it all clean! It may not fully eliminate all pathogens but it will definitely help keep you from getting a heavy dose and becoming ill.

Simply, try to be smart about how you handle all of the foods that will be going into your body and the bodies of those you love. Oh and ignore the "burning stupid" people are spouting.


Sunday, September 25, 2011

Fruits of the Garden!!!

Today the barbadoes cherry tree was awash in red and after a brief rainfall I went out and picked all that I could reach. Now I have a couple of pounds of fresh cherries.

Soon to be cherry jam! YUM!

Limes are a gift from the gods great for marinades, a slice in a beer or a base for a margarita.

Avocado's to be ripened and made into a buttery chunky guacamole laced with the aforementioned limes and some cilantro. Heavenly.

Between that and the 20 or so small plants I transplanted into larger pots we are set for a while.

Have a lovely day!

Friday, September 23, 2011

Simply say "NO"

I know I have not been blogging a lot this month. Things have been hectic between traveling for vacation, traveling for work, and the bare basics that need to be done here at home I have been feeling a bit stretched.
O.k. a lot stretched. There is always something that needs to be done...groceries, dishes, dinner, laundry. Not to mention work and family.

So today I am home on the couch - again. The usual sinus infection and asthma. I really have to learn to step back and take better care of myself.  I can take care of everyone around me but have not learned to say 'no" before I get so run down I can barely function. I am doing better now. Really...I don't go to work sick at all anymore. Before I took this job I would go to work sick all the time and most likely made a lot of other people sick.  Now I am not allowed in food service areas when I am sick- Yippee!! I can actually stay home. Resting, however, is really hard for me unless I am running a high fever.

That now finds me on the couch, a diet soda at my side watching old re-runs of  "In the Heat of the Night." A chicken is cooking in the crock pot so at least we will have a good dinner tonight. I can sleep easily this afternoon without worrying about much.

Now I need to remember that the word "no" is an option and I can use it to make life easier. I can tell my coworkers to contact our boss sometimes and let them make their own mistakes instead of spending my time doing some of their work for them. I could have been home early yesterday but I did not use "no" even though  I was exhausted with a screaming headache. Instead I helped someone else finish their work.

I just had a chance to put this into action. A co-worker called and asked me a question I would have had to look up on my work computer. My work laptop is not even on right now so it would have taken a minimum of  15 minutes and I would have had to get up and try to find the answer for him. I simply told him I was sick and asked him to call our boss. My coworker is a great guy so he told me to feel better and had no problems with my "no".  Too bad I can't do that more often.

Maybe some of us believe that if we say no we are 'less than" or we don't measure up. Or maybe we have been been taught that saying "no" is a weakness. Society and the big ad companies tell us every day that we can do anything and be anything if we buy the right products or take the right medicines. Thus we are told we can be all things, to all people, at all times. With the right drug or the right time saving device we can do more and be more than we were ever intended to do or be.   Even if the ads don't say it specifically  they go out of thier way show  people boating, biking, running, gardening, and generally being happy in beautifully landscaped exteriors and impeccably decorated interiors.

All of this is coming at us fast and furious. With all this pressure how then is someone to maintain any degree of balance in their lives? I guess sating "no" when necessary is a start.

I am off to the doctor and am saying "yes" to myself.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

A New Kitchen... Almost

My apologies for not posting sooner. I was out of town for work for all of the last week. I did not think the State would approve of me blogging on their time with their computer so I simply waited til I got home.

As I type my amazing hubby is installing the garbage disposal and new sink (new to us) in our "new" kitchen.
He has been working very hard this week to finish up the project that we had begun a little over a year ago. Why so long you ask? Well, we decided that when we did the kitchen it would be best to do it in bits and pieces as we could afford it in both money and time.
Phase one: Cabinets still in place

Unused dead space.

Unused dead space

The countertops we got for free off of Craig's list a couple of years ago. Large sheets of granite that had been pulled out of someones home because they did not like them.  Go figure, thousands of dollars of free granite. Rob had to figure out how to cut it and fit it but it is lovely! The cabinets we purchased pre-made and Rob installed them. One set of our old cabinets were salvageable and we painted them white. The other cabinets were too far gone to be salvaged. They had actually rotted out at the bottom from water damage somewhere down the line.  The sink is a cast iron Kohler with a Moen sprayer faucet and that came from Craig's List for $150.00.
Added Cabinets in dead space.

Cabinets over sink removed. Old lighting still in place and cabinets still "pink".

We tried out different configurations through an online software program and decided that with our skills it would be best to simply stay with the current layout. We did eliminate 1 bank of cabinets over the sink area and we added counter space and cabinets on the end of the kitchen in an area that had been dead space.
Lighting was purchased on clearance and we used the good ole military discount at Lowe's (when we remembered to take it along) on other items along the way. Thus far we have spent  just over $1,000.00.

We have not purchased new appliances but have been looking online and at Lowe's today to get some ideas. Our old appliances were a gift from my parents when they replaced theirs a few years ago. We were glad to get them as ours were in bad shape.  I would like something a little more energy efficient thus would like to get a new fridge ASAP. Rob would like a new stove and microwave first.  Either way they are a great expense and we can be patient and wait until we can afford them. Maybe even buy them one at a time - as long as they are the same color I do not care about the brand....o.k. I do want the Maytag energy efficient fridge :).

Next week or later this week  I'll post pictures of the completed kitchen. There is just too much crap all over right now. It would not do justice to all of Robs hard work.

Until then have a lovely week!!!

Saturday, September 10, 2011

What matters most?

How often do we sit down and take stock of where we are in life and what really matters to us? Not superficial items like our new car or getting my hair done. I am talking about what really matters most to us in our lives. Maybe the car is it yet I think for most of us there is so much more to spend our time and effort on in an attempt to find happiness in life.

Every once in while I can't sleep and I stumble out of bed into the kitchen for a glass of water then into the living room where I flinch turning on the light while collapsing heavily onto the couch. Wide awake at 3 am, my head is swimming with the stresses of the day or week. Unable to get back to sleep I will pull out my journal and start listing exactly why I am unable to rest easily. Then if that fails to relax me I will start listing everything that I am grateful to have in my life. I always start with Rob. My amazing husband. From there my pen just flows across the paper and before I know it I have a list several pages long of what I am grateful to have surrounding me. Amazingly, after my gratitude list I can usually sleep a rich, deep, slumber. I wake up rested and ready to go.

If gratitude can do that why then does it take a bout of insomnia to make me grateful for the joys in my life?
As we move through our day to day interactions it is easy to become disconnected with what we believe in or appreciate in our lives. At times I get so tangled up in the job I do or in helping my coworkers that not only do I forget to stop and eat. I also forget that they are not the most important focus of my life. I work to help provide for my family and for the service it provides to the community at large. Since I work for the state we know that I am not working for large amounts of money.

We are so distracted in our lives. We have t.v., XM radio, computers and cell phones. We have advertising campaigns telling us what we want and need. We have people all around us buying bigger and better everything. State of the art is not an option it is a requirement.
Now with all of this swimming around in our heads we have the addition of a government that just can't get it together. Either party.  Wars in two countries. A recession. High unemployment. On top of everything else  we have the 9-11 anniversary tomorrow. Another level of sadness to pull us away from our center. How can you have a calm quiet place inside with all of this chaos surrounding you? How can you even know what to be grateful for?

Simply- stop. My 3 am list is able to be written because at 3 am the world is silent. I am alone and there is nobody to distract me and little to do that won't wake up my slumbering husband. At 3 am I can find that quiet, gentle, forgiving side of myself  that can't exist between work, trips to the store and cooking dinner. At 3 am I can find that soft place to land that is even hard to get to in yoga and meditation sometimes because in the middle of the night my world has come to a standstill. In yoga class I can still get caught up in thinking about what to make for dinner or the laundry that needs done.

I found this place on vacation this year sitting on our rented cabin porch and looking at a shimmering spider web. It was sunny and the air was abuzz with the sound of insects and I was at peace. I found it again hiking with my husband on the trails near our cabin. No outside noises, no cell phones- nothing to interrupt our time together under the canopy of green as we moved along the narrow trails. We could talk and laugh easily without the pressures of our day to day lives.

We can access the calm place and really think about what is important. For me it is not about the home I live in or the car I drive. It is about the love of the people around me and the support and security they provide. It is also about what I can do for them as well.  I have a deep sense of gratitude for all the richness of my life.
So here is a little from my last list.

I am grateful for:
My amazing husband
My Family- sons, daughters in law grandbabies, parents and brothers and my entire extended clan.
My health
The security of our home and food on the table
The time I had with my grandparents and aunts who are no longer with us
The ability to learn
The beauty that surrounds me
And so on....

My list calms me and helps me to focus on what really needs to happen and what can fall by the wayside.My gratitude list highlights my priorities.  If something in my life interferes with my priorities then I need to really look at that interference and evaluate it's necessity in my life.

So here is to hoping you have your gratitude list and are able to find that elusive calm quiet place in your world.


Monday, September 5, 2011

Settling In after Vacation

Having just come back from vacation there is so much that seems to need to be done around the house. I couldn't get the garden in before we left due to weather and there is always more to be finished as well.

Vacation was absolutely beautiful! We stayed at Cumberland Falls State Park in Kentucky after my hubby finished the Ironman in Louisville. Yes- I said Ironman- 2 mile swim, 112 mile bike ride and 26.2 mile run. In that order. It scared the living beejesus out of me but he finished and lived to tell about it. Hopefully, I will not be such a freakin' mess if he does another one. I was  really ready for a vacation after that and so was Rob.

Luckily it was quiet at our cabin compared to the day to day noise surrounding us at home and the choas of the Ironman. An added bonus was that cell phone service was intermittent at best thus we had minimal interruptions during our semi-secluded week in the woods. The falls were stunningly beautiful with rainbows glimmering gently in the mist. We spent a good deal of time hiking near the falls. Each day we would pack a lunch and head out to spend the day on the trails.  At times it seemed like we had the entire park to ourselves as we walked through the woods hearing only the sounds of the wildlife with no human interruption. Lovely!

So after a week of relaxation and bliss we came home to reality. The first reality was we needing groceries followed closely by laundry. Though I have to admit Rob did laundry one day while I napped. After all those tri clothes would have stunk by the time we got home. Today has become a day of cleaning and organizing.

I did get the seeds planted in pots for tomatoes, peppers, eggplant and a wide variety of herbs. This year I am using a seed starting medium made from coconut fiber. It was discussed in depth on on Garden Web so I ordered 200 of the pellets to get me started. I figured they would last forever and at roughly two plantings a year I could burn through them pretty quickly. I ordered the incorrect size on the pellets and now have to use 2 of them to fill the pots I have on hand. Oh, well if I do it again I will order larger pellets. Until then I'll just use 2 per pot. I realize I can use the soil in my beds to start seeds, however, the issue in FL is that there are lots of harmful pathogens in the soil.  You have to bake it to get rid of all of them. I need to do a lot of little starts thus baking is not an option for me.

The freezer also got defrosted yesterday. Not fun but in this heat it sure did not take long. It also helped me to figure out what we really had in there. I had a stock pot going before the defrost excitement and added to it from the freezer. We ended up with 3 qts of stock and a fully cleaned out freezer. A little more organized but the pantry is still a wreck.

Today will be laundry, putting in lettuce and beans then babysitting one of the grands. Life is good. Tomorrow is back to work- sigh.

Hope everyone enjoys their labor day!!!!    


Friday, September 2, 2011


I am on vacation with my husband in KY. WE should be back in Florida tomorrow and I should be able to post once we get settled. Thanks for your patience while I have been out.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Hey, Big Grocery Chain or Big Restaurant Chain or Whoever this applies to - Listen Up!

Ok, big food chain outlet, I know you have boat loads of  buying power and are raking in huge profits. Don't try to tell me about your little profit margins and how hard it is to make a buck. Keep it to yourself. I also do not want to hear about the bad economy and how it affects the amount and quality of items on you have on your shelf or serve to your consumer.  And when I come in to inspect or even just for dinner do not tell me you do NOT know how your facility got into rough shape.

You have no idea? Let me clue you in...the list is pretty straightforward.
1) You do not pay part time employees over minimum wage thus the quality of  help suffers in many instances.
How hard do you think someone is going to work for slightly over $7.00 an hour? Answer: Not very hard!
2) Part time employees do not last very long thus the turnover is high and most of your employees are part time as you do not have to pay them benefits. See #1.
3) Training is minimal. M-I-N-I-M-A-L. That is a whole other blog post. (Most facilities have training programs and some are extensive. It is all in the implementation.)
4) Managers are focused on bonus numbers , i.e. results. Examples: of items a bonus can be based on include Lower waste (shrink), lower labor cost and  increased departmental or facility sales and /or iincreased profits overall. Year over year, month over month, etc. Sometimes making #3 null and void due to #5 .
5) Food safety is not cost effective (until someone gets really sick). It takes extra time, increases waste and can result in lower sales thus it is is not bonused in many facilities. See item #4.
6) Building maintenance costs money. See profits on item #4.

There it is in a nutshell!!!
Consumers are at the hands of whomever is providing their food. What can you do?

You can take matters into your own hands and research the food safety ratings for restaurants and grocery stores in your state. My state has most major grocers ratings online as well as all permitted restaurants. You can look up the ratings and then determine if you wish to shop or dine at that location. Be warned a negative score can be the result of a hot water tank going out or a simple one time event. If there is a history of inspections that are below par then there is definite cause for concern. That shows a lack of awareness for safety on the part of the facility management. Then vote with your wallet and go elsewhere.

You can look for alternative food suppliers in your community. Farmers, CSA's and Green Markets to name a few. Talk to the suppliers and if possible visit the farm. Be aware these have their own cautions and that is also another post (in the near future).    

Sunday, August 21, 2011

What Not To Do or Say During a Food Safety Inspection...or... Don't be Stupid 101

Working as a food safety inspector I have learned that roughly 98% of the population think they know all about food safety, however, even those that are Certified Food Managers have gaps in their education. It is a lot of information to know and consistently apply on a daily basis. Contrary to popular belief the inspectors are not, "Out to get you." I love nothing more than to write a "good" in a facility. We have a set of guidelines we use that we are required to check during every inspection. If you do not meet the minimum requirement then there is a deficiency that needs to be corrected. By the way if you are trying to endear yourself to me "Larry the Cable Guy" Health Inspector jokes are not the way to accomplish that goal.  First off I am a female, secondly this is not a fictionalized inspection in a made up hick town.

Most facilities have deficiencies. If you are processing food, human error will bite you every time. Employees forget to date items in the walk in or reach in cooler, foods are not covered in the walk in, someone turns off the running water over whatever is thawing in the sink....the list is endless. Working to educate your employees may be an unforgiving task but if you don't those same employees will do something amazingly stupid when we are there for our inspection.  Examples of awesome stupidity I have personally witnessed in major grocery stores include:

1) An employee wearing his apron into restroom, using the facilities then walking into the processing area in that same apron.
2) An employee smoking outside then walking to the processing area and resuming work without washing his hands.
3) A district trainer eating noodles over the platter of noodles is bad enough. To make it worse she used her fingers.
4) An employee wrapping cut watermelon without wearing plastic gloves.
5) A store manager was coughing  and stated to me she was very ill with flu like symptoms. She then walked directly into a processing area with me. Forcing me to inform her she could not be there as she could contaminate the foods being packaged. Note: She is in charge and I had to tell her it was unacceptable to be present in the facility. This falls into the truly ginormously stupid category.

The things people do and say never cease to amaze me. Do managers honestly think lying to us will make it better? We are lied to on a daily basis and the lies are the same almost everywhere. They are just told by a different person at a different facility each day. Here are some examples of lies we hear.

1) "We have a Certified Food Manager. We just don't have his / her certificate posted."
2) "Our hot water just went out." ( It is not even installed.)
3) "Rodents, we don't have rodents." ( Droppings all over facility.) The variant of this is , "Roaches, we don't have roaches." ( Roaches crawling everywhere .)
4) "That should not be happening because I have told them in the past not to do it that way." As the employee looks on incredulous.
5) "I called to get that repaired this morning." To which I now say, " Really, do you have a work order number?"
6) "We have never had this problem before." I do have access to previous reports and yes, it has been a problem before.  
7) " I know the Commissioner/ Important people/ Mayor / God." Really, I am so glad to hear it because maybe they can help you get this place cleaned up.
8) My favorite! Though not a lie. " You can't shut me down."  Ummm, actually, yes I can if you are an immanent health hazard.  

The other great thing is that even though managers are trying to cover everyones a**es, line employees will tell it to you like it is. You want to know what is going on? Ask the deli clerk or the talkative produce employee and you will get answers like this.

1)" Oh, we haven't had hot water at that sink for at least a month." Deli Clerk
2) " We are supposed to clean those racks every few days but we have not done them for over a week." Meat Cutter
3) " Rats. Yeah, we got em. They have been all over for a while now." Stock Clerk.
4) " We don't use that sink as a hand sink. We use it to wash coffee pots." Convenience Store Clerk
5) " What is sanitizer ?" Deli Clerk
6) " We just heat it up on the steam table." Deli Clerk
7) " Glad you are here. It is 'bout time someone did somethin 'bout them roaches." Convenience Store Clerk
8) " Nah,we don't thaw it under water we just sit the box of frozen chicken on the counter and pull from it all day." Deli Clerk
9) " That cooler has felt warm for about a week - at least." Meat Clerk
10) " Shoot, you want me to do all this extra stuff. Ain't gonna happen." Convenience Store Clerk

Another time I'll write a couple posts about what you can do for food safety in your own home. A couple tips to tide you over.
1) Wash your hands.
2) Wash you produce.
3) Cook poultry to 165 degrees.
4) Cook ground Meats to 155 degrees.
6) Don't buy dented cans even if they are less expensive.

These examples are the extremes of what I see every day. Please, remember most places have few violations and honestly try to provide safe and wholesome food. If you want to know about food safety in your area check you state website to find out which governing body regulates food in your state. They are all different.
Happy Shopping!  



Saturday, August 13, 2011

The Pantry - Finally!

We have a well stocked pantry. Actually, two of them. We do not have a stockpile. Simply put "stockpile" has a negative connotation to many people. When one thinks of "stockpile" I tend to think of a garage full of food and that is simply not who we are or what we have in our home. We have a healthy supply of items we use on a regular basis. Simple semantics I know.

I have actually been called a food hoarder. Mainly by people who have never been in my home. Sharon Astyk is a writer who focuses on climate change, peak oil and energy conservation. She addresses food hoarding in her book Independance Days: A Guide to Sustainable Food Storage and Preservation. I am paraphrasing here so bear with me. Food hoarding is when food is a scarce resource and you purchase large amounts of it to stockpile and sell for personal gain.  Buying food in times of plenty ( at a lower cost) and storing it, even stockpiling it, in your home as a hedge against future hard times is not hoarding. It is a prudent use of your time and money. Let's not even address true hoarding as that is an illness and does not apply to most of the population. Her book is enlightening and she takes food preservation and storage even further than I have even considered. I have a couple months supply- she has 6 mos to a year. The book is witty, well written and has helped me  to modify what and how much I keep in the house.

A pantry is a great asset to your home when it is well stocked. Our pantry has items we eat and use on a regular basis. Most of the items are bought at the lowest price we can find and stored in either a small closet pantry or in a converted armoir - both in the kitchen. We store extra toilet paper, towels, cat food, toiletries and cleaning supplies in the garage. As an estimate we have at least a couple of months supply of food in our house at any given time. The downside is that we like fresh produce and don't care for frozen. Additionally, we both dislike canned vegetables with the exception of canned tomatoes and beans. A garden offsets some of the produce we consume annually.

Our pantry holds dry cereal ( bought on sale with coupons), assorted flours ( wheat, rice, potato, tapioca, corn, masa etc.) , sugars ( brown, white, powdered), sweeeteners ( honey, maple syrup, crystalized honey, agave nectar), rolled oats, dried milk ( regular and buttermilk), egg replacer ( We don't eat many eggs and it is great for baking), rice (white, brown, arborio and basmati), assorted other grains (millett, barley, quinoa),
assorted dried pasta, canned milk, condiments ( mustard, ketchup, steak sauce- all purchased with coupons), homemade jam and lime marmalade ( no one eats the maramalade..lol), home canned peppers, snacks (rice cakes, chips, nuts- coupons again) onions, canned tomato products, assorted oils and vinegars, leavening agents and a lot of oriental items like rice paper wraps. We have a large assortment of herbs and spices either purchased on sale, in ethnic stores or dried from the garden. Our freezer has a variety of meats and fish purchased on sale.

With all of this and fresh produce we can fix a meal at almost any time. It does require some planning as to what to purchase when. I purchase items when my levels get below a predetermined amount. Usually when there are two of the item left on the shelf or less than a weeks worth of other items.

But how does it save money you ask? The main way we save is through cooking our own meals. Yes- you will need to cook. A pantry full of prepared foods is a full pantry yet you most likely are not eating as healthy and will not save enough money.  Doing your own cooking and some of your baking can really drop the amount you spend. You are buying items on sale not just when you need them thus if there is an amazing buy on canned tomatoes purchase enough for several months and store in your pantry thus also increasing your savings. Don't just buy something when you are running out. Buy pantry items before they run out when they are on sale or if you have coupons for them.

It is possible for us to save even more money by purchasing larger amounts of foods. Splitting bags of grains with another person or coming up with more storage space are just a couple of options.  Normally, the larger amount of an item that you buy the lower the price. However, if you do not like rolled oats a 50 lb bag will haunt you no matter what the savings might have been.  I tend to buy a 3 to 6 month supply of most items we use a lot of like cornmeal, rice or rolled oats.

Once you have your pantry together you will need to maintain the products. Normally,  the purchases are brought home and they are repackaged into smaller amounts. A 10 lb bag of rice is first put in the freezer (to kill grain insects) for several days then taken out and repackaged into 1/2 gallon glass jars or quart jars. Flours that will go rancid quickly in the heat are stored in the freezer. We are in the subtropics and rancid flours and grains can happen fairly quickly.

Meats are repackaged into amounts we can consume at one meal, dated and frozen. A couple of times a year I will can peppers or make jam and these items go into the pantry as well. The peppers are from the garden or purchased in large amounts from a local grower. The jams are made from cherries from our tree, strawberries from a local U-pick or if all else fails from bags of frozen berries purchased at Sams Club.

Almost everything is purchased at the lowest cost I can find for that item in my area then stored in the pantry until needed. It works for us because it is convenient, saves money and help us to eat healthier. So maybe it is a stockpile....but I am going to be old fashioned and call it a pantry. Happy Savings Everyone!  


Saturday, August 6, 2011

Maggie and Stella

Today I was honored to pick up my grand daughter Maddy from daycare and spend the afternoon playing with "Monkey" and "Ducky." We had snacks and juice and played "Itsy Bitsy Spider". Then we had dinner and played with Papa when he came home from work. Almost nothing was accomplished during the afternoon and early evening while Madelyn graced us with her beautiful presence. Not that we expected it to. Papa Rob is now in the garage working on the mower and I am trying to catch up on blogging. That "Pantry" entry is still hanging out there waiting to be completed. And so it waits.

So while bathing Maddy I remembered baths given to me by my grandmothers Maggie and Stella. My mothers mom "Margaret" - "Maggie" and my dad's mom "Stella." Two amazing women who did all they could to help make their families lives better and I am sure bathed a lot of grandchildren through the years. Stella had a shower in her bathroom with large pink roses on the walls and small rose soaps that we didn't use but that smelled amazing. Maggie had a slightly more utilitarian bathroom but she also had the same large rose wallpaper as well as a drawer of makeup left from my Aunt Lisa.  In her bathtub one could fine Caress soap or Ivory shampoo. I wonder if  Maddy will remember the smell of  lavender soap and the feel of air dried towels against her skin?

Maggie and Stella both were avid gardeners and I recall spending hours watching them a.k.a. "helping" them garden and preserve what they grew. Stella had a large garden at my uncle's farm and Maggie had an equally large plot at my aunt's house.  Both of them made the worlds best pickles. Maggie made sweet baby pickles and Stella made mouthwatering bread and butter pickles with slices of onions and lots of mustard seeds. Yum.

From them I unknowingly inherited a love of both home canning and gardening.  I remember steam billowing out of the conservo on grandmas stove and grandma (Stella) telling grandpa (Leonard) to wipe the rims with a damp towel before topping with the canning flats. There were days of the house smelling like cooked chicken as countless poults were sacrificed, cooked, then canned to be enjoyed on a cold winter day. Beef was done the same until someone found a place where it could be cooked and canned in metal cans for the family instead of spending hours canning in a hot humid kitchen. It all made the best chicken and noodles or beef and noodles you could ever taste! So much family working together- aunts and uncles in and out of the house while it was all going on. As a child I found it all mesmerizing. I loved sitting at the octagonal table in the dining area watching it all not realizing the necessity as well as the amount of effort it took to get it all done.

Maggie's kitchen was smaller and her work space was the kitchen table. She would soak her small cucumbers in salt water rinsing them and changing the salt water every few days. She used a round white enamel dish pan that hung year round in the laundry room by the back porch. After several soakings over a matter of days they were cooked in a sweet and savory liquid then magically canned when no little fingers were around to get in the way. The pickles were enjoyed over holidays and at family gatherings.. if Grandpa Leo did not get them first.

Today when I can jelly or pickles I am usually alone as my family is scattered. My husbands boys are near as are the grandkids. I wonder sometimes who will carry on some of the traditions and foods that we grew up with or if anyone will even bother? I do know when that when I am up to my elbows in dirt planting my little garden or have steam billowing into my kitchen while pickles are being canned that Stella and Maggie are near and nodding in approval. And sometimes I even talk to them telling them how much they are missed and how much they taught the little girl that followed them around watching all they did to keep everyone fed.                            

Friday, July 29, 2011

Talking to the World

I am home sick today- my asthma is really acting up. The day I spent in Immokalee earlier this week pushed me over the edge into the need to stay home category. Since I can't sleep and can't really go anywhere logging into blogger on the laptop while reclined on the couch seemed the perfect solution.  T.V. doesn't have much to offer until around 11 a.m. when the old "In the Heat of the Night" re-runs are on. Yep- the show is 20 years old but the acting is better than many of the new shows.  O.k. so I have seen most of them yet when I am sick there is nothing better than a Heat re-run while curled in a soft blanket on the couch.

Since I had a lot of extra time this morning I pulled up the stats for readership of the blog. I must say, I may not have many people logged in as followers but people are reading the blog. I am  amazed that readers have logged on from Latvia, Romania, Britain, Canada and The United Arab Emirates. I do know who the UAE reader is- the rest are up in the air. So my little blog has gone global.

I started this for one reason and find that I write little that actually applies to why I began blogging. It has been a great creative outlet and a way to express where I am at any given moment.  I find I may sit down to write about one topic but a news piece or a comment from someone will totally change the direction I am going. That is how what was supposed to be a post on using a pantry to save money became, "Wants and Needs" and the second attempt on the pantry post  became "Heartbroken".

When I stray from the topic I am not trying to preach to anyone I just want to raise awareness. There are so many issues that get swept aside or don't get t.v. times as they are not sexy or dangerous. If I can give them a little more air time and promote conversation then awareness has gone up a notch.

Issues change from country to country and day to day for everyone. Some issues are universal. Love, peace, security, hunger, war....the list is endless. We may not all be from the same places or share the same beliefs yet we always need to respect the ideas of others and keep the lines of communication open. When we stop talking there is no awareness of another persons views and our personal concept of the world then becomes skewed.

Look at the debt ceiling talks in Washington or the conflicts in the Middle East. All are caused by the belief that one specific worldview is the only way to live and all others are not worthy of consideration.
Each side holds fast to the idea that theirs is the only way to resolve the situation. If my husband and I tried to run our household like the politicians run the world we would be divorced. We must talk and we must compromise to survive as a whole, loving family unit. Is it any wonder there are wars and the debt ceiling issue. As Dr. Phil says, "Do you want to be right or do you want to be happy?"  Apparently, the leaders want to be right  as no one seems to be very happy.    

My little blog has morphed into something more than planned. Hopefully, it can be a tool to promote respectful conversation as well as an outlet for whatever happens to be on my mind for the day.
Thank you to all who have been reading and if there is a topic you are passionate about e-mail me or post a comment. Then we can talk to the world about what is important to you.    

Thursday, July 28, 2011


There have been absolutely heart wrenching stories of hunger and famine due to the drought in Southern Somalia. I have been reading online about the terrible famine in the Horn of Africa. The stories of families walking hundreds of miles for food and  the photos of small children who look like darkened skeletons simply make my heart ache. The conflict in Somalia has been raging for over 20 years and there appears to be no end in sight. Top the never ending conflict with a large scale drought and it becomes a full blown humanitarian crisis.

Currently, Al Shabab, an Islamic group controls much of the famine ravaged area. This group took control of much of the Southern portion of Somalia and has been limiting the amount of aid allowed into the drought stricken areas. Additionally, Somalia, Sudan, Ethiopia and Kenya all are experiencing extreme drought conditions in areas of their countries as well. It is estimated on the International Food Policy Research Institute website that roughly 30% of children in Somalia are malnourished. Ethiopia, and Kenya are staggering under the onslaught of thousands of displaced refugees from Somalia due to the infighting and drought on top of attempting to deal with their own drought compromised areas. 

Sudan has an equally devastating hunger issue. Due to not only climate conditions but also political instability and a lack of infrastructure 15 to 30 percent of the Sudanese people are not eating enough food according to the World Food Programme Website.   An average Sudanese citizen also spends roughly 60% of their income on food. Imagine 60% of your income just to feed your family.     

I am very aware there is hunger in the United States. We have children in poverty stricken areas that are lucky to have one meal a day during the school year and have very little to eat during the summer. What is wrong with this picture?  I have a full pantry in my home. We may not eat filet mignon but we eat very well. We live in air conditioned homes. Our families are not just 2 car families but many times 3 and 4 car families- if the kids have cars. We are a very wealthy nation. We are a nation that is blessed to have plenty. Many of us have endured large financial losses yet we still have homes and families. Many others have not been so lucky.

Today, while driving home from work I passed a very wealthy area with expensive shops and cute little restaurants. Yesterday, I worked in Immokalee where parts of the area make you feel like you are in a third world country.  The two are less than 45 minutes apart. In Immokalee there are migrant camps, dirt roads and children in worn clothing.  All around me are gated communities with guarded entrances and country clubs. The difference in income levels is  absolutely staggering. 

I am not suggesting socialism. I am suggesting respect for other human beings and compassion for the pain  and suffering of others. Anyone who knows me knows I am not a go to church person  but I think Luke 12:48 says it best:
"...For to whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required: and to whom men have committed much of him they will ask the more."  American King James Version.
We as a country have been given so much and it is our duty to give back to those who are less fortunate. 

Hunger is hunger whether it is in an inner city housing complex in Chicago, a small house in Appalachia or in war torn Darfur.  Famine is hunger at the extreme end of the scale. We have the power to help alleviate the pain of those less fortunate. We can donate food or money to a local food bank. If you don't have money or extra food maybe you have some extra time.  You can donate to the Red Cross or Red Crescent, The World Food Programme or countless other aid programs. 

It is rare that a child in the United states dies of hunger. Every day around the world roughly 16,000 children die from hunger related causes. (The Global Hunger Website). My heart is breaking. Can you imagine how the mothers must feel. I can. They are heartbroken and we have the power to help stop hunger.    

Here are some links that may help: