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!

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.