I love food!

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 a frugal way of living. My home is located in South Florida and I live with my husband in a family neighborhood. This is the sub tropics 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!
Jo

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

Heartbroken

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:


 http://www.bread.org/hunger/global/

http://www.redcross.org/portal/site/en/menuitem.d8aaecf214c576bf971e4cfe43181aa0/?vgnextoid=46f51a53f1c37110VgnVCM1000003481a10aRCRD

http://www.wfp.org/






  






Saturday, July 23, 2011

Cooking .....




My coupon post and a suggestion from my husband got me thinking. Saving money can be tough. Right now the economy bites, food prices are rising and gas is still higher. In our area homes are continuing to fall into foreclosure and there does not seem to be any relief in sight. Today's paper said unemployment in Lee County is at 11.6%.  Personally, our retirement took a huge hit and we were both forced to change jobs when the company we both worked for filed for bankruptcy. Two jobs later and I am making less than I did when I graduated college in 1997. Luckily, the hubby has a good paying job and most of what we own is ours.  That is what living at the epicenter of the housing crisis in Florida will do to you.

Saving money is tough even in good times. How is one to make it when the savings have been depleted and there is little extra to go around? The answer is obvious but not one most people want to hear. Change the way you live. It can be through small changes or through drastic measures.  It can be done. It does require work on your part and the good thing is that the works gives one a feeling of success and accomplishment.

There are some truly great ways to save money and the web is filled with sites and blogs to lead you on your way. What has worked for me is to change my priorities. Where 20 years ago clothing and being in style were high priorities now spending time with family is much higher on the list. Family can be much less expensive than shopping. I must admit I do shop but normally there are no full price purchases for anything except bras.    

One of the easiest ways to cut costs is through savings on the food your family consumes. Coupons and bargain shopping are a jumping off point into food savings. That was a previous blog entry. Today the topic is cooking from scratch.

Another way to save is to cook at home instead of buying prepared foods and eating out. It is fine to eat out. In fact my husband and I both enjoy a nice dinner in a restaurant. Our wallets, however, tell a decidedly different story.  Luckily, we BOTH cook. Yes, my husband cooks too. Ok, ok, I admit he is a chef and he doesn't mind cooking and not everyone is that lucky.

Cooking from scratch allows you to make healthy meals for your family and express your creativity. So you hate to even touch the stove and you are definitely not buying the health or creativity pitches?  It is true you can make healthier food or you can make completely unhealthy food. Just look at what Paula Dean does with refrigerator biscuits, butter and brown sugar. Not healthy but a lot cheaper than a premade dessert.... I am wandering from the point here.

If you are cooking from scratch you are not eating in a restaurant thus you can save money. If you are cooking from scratch you are not buying processed foods and can potentially cook healthier and really save money. Cooking from scratch does require more thought and pre-planning than popping a frozen pizza into the oven as you rush in the door from work. You will need to find recipes for foods your family will eat and spend a little more time on planning and shopping until you get your system figured out. Menu planning is a tool many people use to determine grocery purchases and it does eliminate the need to figure out what to cook every evening. After all, there is nothing worse than standing in front of the fridge or pantry staring blindly in and thinking,"What in the heck can I make with that?" Google menu planning and a plethora of sites pop up.

We don't menu plan. We use a fully stocked pantry ( that is another blog entry) and pull a protein from the freezer each morning to be used for dinner that evening. Today it is flank steak to be marinated and grilled for fajitas tonight. Meats are purchase only on sale and vegetables tend to be whatever is seasonal and low cost. Except for cabbage - we don't do much cabbage.  It can be really low cost and not hit our grocery cart. Meals tend to be protein, vegetable and starch. Maybe a side of bread or home canned peppers.

Recipes that I personally use are from the web, a conglomeration of cookbooks and experience. There are three cookbooks I use more than any others: The Settlement Cookbook (1954), Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook (1968), and Craig Claiborne's New York Times Cookbook (1990). The first two are really good for simple recipes. And simple is where you need to begin if you are not an experienced cook. If you don't want to buy cookbooks try checking them out at the library or looking up recipes online.

With the older books you can make unbelievable brownies and killer cookies with just a few ingredients. These books were printed in an era before t.v. chefs and copious lists of exotic ingredients thus they work well with a basic pantry. The women who used these books did not always have the ability to run in to Publix and pick up a dozen eggs or a roasted chicken. They had to be able to substitute items and cook with what they had in the garden or preserved in the pantry.  Basic recipes could be adapted to what ever was at hand at any given time.  Simple recipes are also a great stepping stone to more exotic cuisines and fancier meals. Once you master a simple recipe the harder ones don't seem as daunting.

Good food does not have to take hours in a kitchen and 22 ingredients-three of which you can't pronounce and one you can only get at an ethnic market two towns away. Good food can be a salad of fresh greens with cut fresh tomatoes,  a seasoned grilled chicken breast sliced and placed on top of the greens and drizzled with homemade oil and vinegar dressing with bread and butter as an accompaniment.   I did NOT say homemade aged balsamic vinegar and fresh herb with extra virgin olive oil dressing.  I said oil and  vinegar as in salad oil and red wine vinegar. Much less expensive!  

Do not think you automatically have to start cooking everything from scratch. Start with a meal or two a week  then as you become more confident add another meal. Once you have perfected a series of meals that your family will eat you can then build your pantry around those items. After all it is no use buying and storing foods that may be shelf stable if your family will not eat them.

Feeding a family of 4 at McDonald's costs about $20.00 (Value Meals) and it is not healthy. This link http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4IGtDPG4UfI shows you just how unhealthy McDonald's can be for a person. For the same $20.00 you spent on fast food you can get a whole chicken ($4.00 - .99 per lb at Publix this week ), a 10 lb bag of potatoes (around $3.00) for oven fries, fruit or vegetable on sale -squash (.99 per lb). If you have to have soda the cheapest possible is store brand at .99 per litre.  So for roughly $10.00 you have a healthy meal.

If you are saying ..."What a roast chicken? Are you nuts? I have no time."  You can throw that same chicken into the crock pot in the morning. Set it on low and throw the oven fries together when  you get home. While the fries are cooking you can saute the squash.  Still too much? Buy one bag of frozen veg and substitute the 10 lb of potatoes for one bag of store brand fries. Roughly, the same cost. The scenario is now to put the chicken in the crock pot with seasonings in the morning. Throw the fries in the oven as soon as you get home, and microwave the frozen vegetables with a little butter. Voila! A meal on the table in minimal time that is healthier than fast food and costs less.

It takes planning and practice but with a little work you can save money and put a healthy delicious meal on the table for your family. Even better you are saving money in the process.

Happy Cooking!!!!  



  
 

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Wants and Needs

While writing an e-mail to my brother in Afghanistan I mentioned two things that inadvertently tied in together.
The drought here in Florida and a NY Times article he linked on Facebook titled, "Why would any soldier miss war."

I read the article earlier while drinking coffee in my air conditioned home on my lap top while being, oh, so comfortable in my robe. There are a lot of good takeaways in the NY Time piece. What I got from it is this- We as Americans bear very little costs of the war other than financial. People are dying and many of them are innocent.  The author, Sebastian Junger writes that soldiers compartmentalize war to remain healthy and he knowingly writes about our country,

   "We avoid any direct look at the reality of war. And both sides of the political spectrum indulge in this; liberals tend to be scandalized that war can be tremendously alluring to young men, and conservatives rarely acknowledge that war kills far more innocent people than guilty ones. Soldiers understand both of these things but don’t know how to talk about them when met with blank stares from friends and family back home."


He also writes "If society were willing to acknowledge the very real horrors of war — even a just war, as I believe some are — then men like Brendan would not have to struggle with the gap between their world view and ours." We do not want to see the horrors of war so we compartmentalize it and file it away. Maybe never to be looked at or reexamined. The soldiers need us to step up and acknowledge  what is happening and has happened.  They make sacrifices in the name of our country yet we make no sacrifices for them. Junger suggests a monument to the innocent killed in the wars. Is that enough? We make few sacrifices now. The leadership in Washington is not making any personal sacrifices that I can see. 


It all goes back to wants and needs. Here is the example that may be easier to understand. We live in SW Florida. Golf capital of the world. We have had drought conditions and though it is rainy season we will need a tropical event to fill the aquifers. Even though we have low aquifers and it is rainy season people are watering lawns.  Golf courses are in full swing. Everything is lush and green year round- even during the dry season. Or should I say especially during the dry season. 
Does everyone know the aquifers are low and we are negatively impacting the environment? Sure. But why look at ways to fix it or cut back on consumption more than may be comfortable when we can just keep watering til the aquifer dries up. Compartmentalized thinking. Same thing different negative outcome. After all why should someone have a brown lawn and a full aquifer of drinking water?


We all have things we want but what we want is not a necessity. Does everyone want a green lawn. Sure. Is a green lawn necessary for our survival. No.
We may want a new car but that does not make it necessary should we already own a car that is a few years old but still runs. The sign of maturity is ignoring what you want and focusing on only what is necessary. Are name brands great? Sure. Do I need them to be a whole happy person? No. So about the war. Does anyone want to make personal sacrifices? No. Do we really need to make changes to aid our soldiers in coming back into society? Yes. 


We don't have to like war and we can do many things to keep the soldiers in the war from being forgotten and compartmentalized.  Talk about it- a lot- to everyone. If you don't like the war and don't want to support a soldier- fine. Get off your butt and go protest then. But do something. I am writing about it to spread the word. The full article link is below.
   
http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/17/opinion/sunday/17junger.html
      


Thursday, July 14, 2011

Extreme Couponing

Since starting the blog a plethora of ideas have been popping into my head.  Then I think...Really? Does anyone want to read about that (insert H.A.C.C.P. for food safety or when to prune your fig tree in SW Florida here)? Then I come crashing down to earth and realize I could write about them but it might be better to write about a topic closer to everyone's hearts and/or checkbooks. Thus today's topic of coupons!

Yes, coupons. The t.v. is covered with Extreme Couponing shows and people are rolling in cart after cart of free groceries. It looks awesome! Makes you want to run out and clip every coupon you see. In fact I did and then I realized we don't use most of the products that had coupons available. Additionally, you need a coupon stockpile to be an effective coupon officianado. Where in the blazes am I going to find space for a food stockpile and a coupon stockpile? There is a boat in the garage - no room for a food stockpile let alone stacks of newspaper inserts.  And where am I going to get all of these inserts? I work 40 hours a a week. Staying up and going dumpster diving for coupons is not going to happen. And do I really want to spend hours cutting them out- NOPE! I would like to fit in some yoga classes and other projects like curtains for the kids house or a new doll for Maddy.      

 I wanted to title this "Why Coupons Suck." but I do use them and that would be false advertising. But they do suck. They suck you in to purchasing items that you really do not need or would not normally buy because it is perceived as a good deal. Have you looked at the carts on theses t.v. shows? Ramen noodles. Sorry, ate a lot of those in college, not going to happen again. Candy, yes, candy. Only going to happen over the holidays here in this house. Name brand highly processed foods. We don't eat a lot of highly processed foods..except for ice cream. Lots of ice cream and the husband eats cold cereal. Laundry detergent- allergic to most of it thus make my own HE soap at pennies per use.

How do I save money with coupons? I only use them to purchase items we will eat. If we don't eat it it may be a great deal but it is not going in the cart. Maybe I won't save as much money but why waste my time on items we hate or will not use. It will then sit on the shelf to taunt me for having purchased it and I don't need guilt on top of wasted time.  

Target has some great coupon deals online and one can combine them with insert coupons to save 25 to 30%  with minimal effort. Again only on items that are used on a regular basis. If you print Target coupons and the item does not have a matching coupon in the following Sunday insert wait a week or two and it will show up. When that happens and the item is on sale you can get bargains. If it is a clearance item then the bargain is greater.

Sadly, no stores in SW Florida double coupons. So what is a girl to do? Screw coupons. Yes- I said it. Screw coupons. Focus on fresh, wholesome foods and minimally processed items. It is hard to find coupons for those anyway.  Your best bets are produce, grains, dried or canned beans, meats when they are on sale and dairy. Produce can come from Kroger, Sweetbay, Harris Teeter or even your local farm stand or farmers market. Grains can be rolled oats, rice, millet, barley and even flours for breads and biscuits. Home made cornbread is fast and easy-after you have made it a couple of times. Canned beans make  a quick and flavorful white bean chili or black bean soup. Meats are the ones you like ON SALE and ONLY purchased on sale. You know your budget yet what we do is purchase a lot of tougher cuts of beef or the less desirable chicken thighs and throw them in the crockpot.  Google crock pot recipes and you will be good to go! We make crock pot Italian Beef and Southern Pork BBQ.  Yum!

Lastly, one can save at the store by shopping circular sales and looking at the price per ounce or price per unit on the shelf tag. Many times store brands are ounce for ounce half as much as name brands for the same item. Use the calculator on your phone if the math is not obvious. If you are uncertain if your family will like it purchase one of whatever it is and try it without telling them it is store brand. Most of the time there is little distinguishable difference. So if you can get the store brand on sale you may just have a bargain as good as a coupon deal. Without the hassle of clipping coupons.        

If you come across a truly great deal on say meat- buy a little more than normal and build a supply in your freezer or pantry. You don't need a great deal of space and you can actually shop less once the pantry is stocked.

In a nutshell.  Buy only what you will eat.  If you use coupons use them on sale items. Buy minimally processed foods and cook them yourself. Don't be brand loyal and watch price per unit. Build a pantry and I forgot to mention eat before shopping and use a list  
Remember coupons can suck you into more than you wanted under the guise of a good deal.
Happy Shopping!!!!  

Sunday, July 10, 2011

The Lowly Tomato

Before I write about the lowly tomato I want to express my appreciation to Ilene over at "The Rock Whisperer" (see the Blogroll) for being a good friend when I needed one and now mentioning my blog on her blog. I would not be doing this if I had not started following her blog.  And another word of thanks needs to go to my old high school buddy and still another great friend Shelly for supporting my blog. Many thanks to both of you!! On to the tomato.....

It is tomato season in most of the country!!! I love tomatoes, my husband loves tomatoes.Red, full of juice, juice, tart and tangy-perfect for salads or plain with a bit of sea salt and cracked black pepper. So simple and yet so full of amazing flavor. Thus I try to grow some every year.  I say try as I live in SW Florida and tomatoes do not exactly thrive in our soil conditions. Our soil is a veritable hothouse of pathogens that can easily destroy a tomato plant. Everything from the dreaded tomatoes mosaic virus to several different kinds of blight.

My first year gardening, blissfully unaware I planted tomato and pepper seeds and watched eagerly as the plants grew larger and larger. Soon they were large, vibrant green and I was dreaming of salsa and canning my first crop of red deliciousness. Then the dark hand of fate stepped in and cruelly introduced me to blossom end rot and a whole slew of evil insects. I staunchly stuck to organic techniques and forbid the use of the dreaded pesticides and fungicides. Topped with my lack of knowledge on soil conditions, nematodes and fertilization my poor little plants were doomed.    

I have garnered a bit more knowledge and this year had a respectable crop of Amish Paste tomatoes and Thai Egg tomatoes. Both are heirloom and can handle tricky weather and soil. That and fertilizer, mulch and proper planting times have helped my crops tremendously.  I have had very little luck with the tomatoes bred for Florida. Many gardeners on Garden Web (a great resource no matter where you live) have had much better luck.

Now is the time for me to have seeds started for my next crop. In fact it is a little past time and I need to get on the stick. Luckily, I have a few volunteers in a pot on the patio so there are 2 tomato plants already.
Eventually, I will get them started and ready to go into the soil in September. Then I will be having tomatoes while the snow flies and the frost hardens the North. In fact I live about 30 minutes away from where most of the tomatoes are grown for the nation for winter sales.

Immokalee, FL grows much of the produce the rest of the country eats in the winter. Well, if that is the case then it should be easy to grow produce in S. Florida , you say? Nope! The growers use a host of pesticides, herbicides and chemical fertilizers to grow the tomatoes you eat. Not to mention they use migrant labor composed of mainly illegals, working 12 to 20 hours a day in poor conditions. I have seen this first hand in the packing houses. Workers there labor 12 hours a day in season with no A.C. in 80 to 90 degree weather, 2 -15 minute breaks and 1- 30 minute break. Did I mention water is no allowed on the packing line due to the possibility of contamination of the product? That in itself is ironic as the buildings are open to the exterior with lizards and critters carrying salmonella and all kinds of diseases able to run in and out at will.

Did I mention these tomatoes that they are slaving over don't really taste like anything?? They are bred for color and keeping qualities like a thick non bruise-able skin.

What can you do that is cost effective so you may have fresh luscious tomatoes to eat?
1) Grow your own. This can be a small container on a patio or a shared plot with a friend with more space. Cherry tomatoes pack a lot of flavor in a little plant.
2) Eat them only in season.
3) Preserve them yourself in season. This year I made freezer tomato sauce and dried some and preserved them in olive oil. Again of you don't have equipment to preserve them  maybe you can share with a friend.
4) Buy from local sources that you know and then either eat only in season or preserve them. This can be organic or not. At least if it is local a large amount of fossil fuels have not been expended on the shipping of the item.
5) Buy organic at a grocery store out of season - this is the most expensive option and I would not suggest preserving them as it is definitely cost prohibitive.
6) Buy canned tomatoes for cooking out of season.
7) Eat the crappy, mushy no taste store bought out of season tomato.  

Below is a link to a book review for "Tomatoland" and brief overview of the tomato on the NPR website. *****Notice the female on the sorting line is scratching her head in the accompanying photo . Another reason to wash your produce!
Also notice the tomatoes are green. They pick them green, gas them and the tomatoes ripen in the shipping process. These are not sun ripened on the vine. Just because the vine is attached also does not mean they were ripened on the vine. They just picked them that way as it is a great sales ploy.  


http://www.npr.org/2011/07/09/137623954/the-troubled-history-of-the-supermarket-tomato

If you don't want to read the article you can listen to it as they recorded in during the initial broadcast of the story.

Enjoy your tomatoes and relish the flavor whenever your season my be!




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Saturday, July 9, 2011

Changing Perspectives

The United States is engaged in conflicts in both Afghanistan and Iraq. This is not a discussion of right and wrong this is just a short post on having friends and family serving in the combat zone.

After high school I joined the Marine Corps and did my time in the United States. I joined knowing we were not at war and that if we did engage in war that as a female my chances to go into a combat arena were slim at best. (I was a Reagan Era Marine). My younger brother joined the Army and spent roughly 13 years in Special Forces. He got out after he was involved in the initial incursion into Afghanistan and I was grateful to know he was finally safe. From that point my only contact with the war has been when PBS shows the photos of the soldiers who have been killed serving in the Middle East or stories on the news.

Recently, we have had several soldiers from the area where we live killed in combat. Their pictures have been in the papers and on the news so it is closer to home.  So here is the deal - It is so easy for us to forget people are dying every day on foreign soil. Politically, I honestly don't care which political party started the war. Someone needs to put on the big boy pants and take a long hard look at the number of people dying, say we are responsible and figure out how to bring it to it's conclusion.  As in end it.

Why do I care enough to write now? My brother left yesterday to fly helicopters on a government contract. Right about now he is in the Middle East and heading to Afghanistan. He had a choice in his deployment- our soldiers do not. Many of them serve as a way out of poverty and high unemployment, some from a sense of duty tho their country and many because college is simply not an option. They are not  the ones making the decisions on where to go and who to fight. People in suits in D.C. who are not in the war theater are determining the fate of the American Marines, Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen. We can sit in our comfortable homes, not making any sacrifices while they are sacrificing the comforts of home for at best a cot in a sandy tent, family time for the loneliness of a desolate foreign country and our very little thought about peace of mind for incoming bullets and i.e.d.'s.

I debated if this post should go up as the blog is just starting up and alienating people is not my goal. I decided to post because people need to remember. Politically, we do not have to agree on who to blame or why. As a country we are divided on so many levels. From time to time everyone needs to stop and think about something from a different perspective. Mine has definitely changed from the time when the conflicts began.

So forget the who and why and think about the men and women serving overseas and their families at home. If you know someone with a family member reach out to them. If they have very little funds ( and low ranking soldiers families have very little) offer help through prepaid phone cards or gift cards to grocery stores. You can offer to babysit for a weary wife on her own or ask about sending care packages. The U.S.O. works hard to give soldiers in combat a taste of home and they are always accepting donations. If finances hold you back from any of the above then simply tell them you appreciate their service. If you see a soldier in an airport thank them for serving.

 Simple acts reach a long way.                

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Food Safety and Handwashing.... Really?

Food Safety is my day job and most people do not ever really stop to think about it's implications on day to day life. And why should you? After all grocery stores sell you wholesome food, in a brightly lit clean environment with a tantalizing array of brightly colored displays and delectable aromas wafting through the stores.  Everything is neat and clean and sanitary. If it was not they would not be able to sell it. Right?

This is the first entry regarding food safety I am posting and chances are it truly won't be the last. Food Safety covers a broad array of concepts, practices and laws that range from great for public health safety to simply bizarre.  Everyday, I inspect facilities that retail, prepare, manufacture and wholesale food. My job is to try to regulate an industry that has been lobbying hard in almost every state for the absolute minimum standards for the food you put on your table at every meal.

What I have learned is that most places try to do the best to make sure things are done as required. I have witnessed many facilities attempting to comply but the upper level management tends to tie the employees hands- mainly in cost cutting measures.  A great example of this would be a grocery chain that bonuses store management and department heads to keep labor at a set percentage of sales. Managers then implement labor saving measures such as; employees having less time to close at the end of an evening or scheduling one less person to prep foods or cut meat. Thus they are cutting staff while expecting the volume of store sales to not only stay even but normally there is a projected increase month to month and year over year.  Do you think an $8.00 an hour store deli clerk or meat cutter is going to clean the equipment and facilities properly if they now have an hour less to accomplish the task? Maybe they will take the time to properly clean the areas of the store you do not see but I doubt it.

I am not trying to freak anyone out. There are stories out there that would curl your hair! Raising awareness of food and our food system is my goal. No matter where you live there are ways to protect yourself from food borne illness and get a better quality of food for your table.    

Each time I write about Food Safety I will try to address a different topic that can help you make good food choices.

Today's topic is hand washing. That is right HAND WASHING. Does it look like I am yelling - I am!  How does hand washing affect food safety? It is the absolute best way to prevent illness associated with food.
Your hands are a major carrier of pathogens. You touch door knobs, grocery carts, yourself and each other. Ok, that does not sound right but you get the picture. Everyone should wash their hands- and frequently. Very frequently. Specifically:
After using the restroom
After handling trash or refuse
After smoking
After working outside
Especially after handling money
After coughing or sneezing
After eating or drinking
After handling unclean dishes and utensils
After handling raw meats and/or poultry
Before cooking
Before doing dishes
Before eating    
Before handling ready to eat food products
Before handling utensils and dinnerware
and others I may not have thought to address but could be listed as and any time hands become contaminated.
and if you work in food processing prior to donning single use gloves and when changing single use gloves.

Why is this so serious? E-coli is carried in the fecal matter if you do not wash your hands or do not wash you hands PROPERLY after using the restroom you will transfer that pathogen to all you touch. Do you want your child or grandchild to become infected if you are a carrier and unaware? Salmonella is present in most raw eggs and raw poultry. Heating salmonella kills it BUT it can stay on your hands if you do not wash properly. (We will discuss food contact surface sanitation later). When you are sick with a cold or flu a virus can be easily transmitted through coughing or sneezing, even simply touching your face can transfer a virus. If you are in the deli and an employee does not wash their hands prior to handling foods that do not need additional cooking- do not accept the food.

How do you wash your hands properly? Water at roughly 100 to 110 degrees- roughly 10 degrees warmer than body temperature. Soap. Liquid soap is best. A sanitary towel to dry with. Again paper towels are best but in the home a towel designated for only hands changed daily will suffice.
1)  Turn on water and run hands under water to get wet.
2) Add soap and work up a lather, working soap between fingers and on tops of hands.
3) Wash hands and arms up to elbows if exposed and  if processing food, to wrists otherwise.
4) Continue washing for at least 20 seconds. The age old sing "Happy Birthday" twice works here. If you sing out loud you may get funny looks but it is fun in public places.
5) Rinse hands thoroughly.
6) Dry hands and use paper towel to turn off faucet (if available). If there is an air dryer you have no choice but to turn off the water then dry your hands.

Why did I take the time to write this out? Everyday I see people not washing hands or not doing it properly in restrooms and in food service establishments.  I know that is not you but you buy food and the food employees need to was their hands.  If you are cooking at home washing your hands is the best way to keep you family safe.  Oh, hand sanitizer is good but DOES NOT replace hand washing. Use it only if hand washing is not an option. It does not remove dirt and contaminates.

So that is it...Hand washing is your first line of defense against food illness. Any questions?    

Monday, July 4, 2011

Happy Fourth of July!!!

Happy Fourth of July Everyone!



The Fourth tends to be a day of picnics, fireworks and hanging out with family and friends. Independence Day is a day to celebrate the signing of the Declaration of Independence which was only one step on the road to self governance for our nation.   Here is a link to a transcript of the full document to refresh your memory of the tyranny we fought against.  http://archives.gov/exhibits/charters/declaration_transcript.html

The War for Independence or Revolutionary War began in 1775 and lasted until 1783. What we are celebrating today is not winning our freedom but the the declaration that we were and continue to be a free nation. It took 8 years of battle on American soil and the intervention of France for us to become a sovereign country. The Declaration of Independence was the document that shouted to the world that we were done with being oppressed by King George III and were not going to take it anymore and we deserved to be free.  It took 7 more years of battle for that statement to become a reality.

So today let us think about what that document represents. Let us think about the men and women through the years who have stood up for not only our freedom from oppression but also for freedom from oppression in other parts of the world.

The history lesson and short speech are now over. It is time to make the brownies and prepare the items for our cook out tonight.

4th of July Menu

Caesar Salad
Oven Fried Potato Wedges (Potato Salad does not get eaten here)
Marinated Chicken Kabobs with Mushroom ,Onion and Bell Pepper
Marinated Beef Kabobs with Mushroom, Onion and Bell Pepper
Buttermilk Cornbread
Homemade Chocolate Brownies with Cream Cheese Icing

I'll post photos and recipes at a later time as I need to get cooking before the kids descend upon us.
Have a great 4th of July!

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Back from Training in Atlanta and A Dress for Maddy

Most of this last week was spent training with the U.S.D.A. in Atlanta and I got home Friday afternoon.
Sadly, the computer connection in Atlanta was not strong enough to even check my personal e-mail and blogging on a state computer is frowned upon. Thus my Kindle was used to check e-mail and the blogging put aside until now.

Future posts will include a short blurb on labeling requirements for the food you are purchasing in the store or I may even set up another blog in the future as Food Safety could be a blog in itself. We shall see how it works out.

Hubby was busy training for an Iron Man Triathlon yesterday morning and that left me with time on my hands.  Since it was raining garden work was out and housework was not in the cards, a trip to Jo-Ann Fabrics was the perfect solution. If you go be sure to use your coupons from the Sunday paper and sign up to be on the mailing list for even better deals.

There was enough fabric on hand to make a toddler dress for Maddy but nothing suitable for trim and no bias tape. Bias tape was necessary for her sundress ties as well as for another project in the works.


Enough chatter! Here is the dress.

The sunny yellow ribbon really brightens the dress.


Another view. Tradtional Ric-Rac at the bottom hem. 

How was it made? 
I found a pattern for a pillow case dress at "Think Liz" at http://thinkliz.com/free-sewing-patterns/. It was too big for a toddler so I shortened and narrowed the width of the dress. Everything else was done exactly as listed on the pillowcase dress. Considering that all I have made as an adult is curtains I believe it came out quite well. 

It was about $3.00 for the bias tape and Ric Rac. The ribbon was $4.00 but I only used a third of the roll and the fabric was left from another project. The elastic came from old clothes here at home thus it was free. So for about $4.50 and and hour of sewing time Maddy has a new dress.