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!

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.