Monday, March 26, 2012

Cookie Rabbits

      This weekend we were busy making and decorating sugar cookies for kids. There may be one or two left to share. Denis mixed up black icing to reflect, what? Lent? Black crosses, bunnies outlined in dark. Blackened hearts.

Sadly, there were also a few rabbit injuries in the Toad Hall kitchen.
One of them was heard to say:
“My butt HURTS.”

The second one replied:
They required immediate attention.

      Here’s a recipe for a glazed icing that hardens to a lovely shiny surface. Many of you knew how to do this, but no one told me until recently. I love how it works.

Cookie Icing

1 c. powdered sugar
2 t. milk
2 tsp light corn syrup (this is the secret ingredient, a must)
½ t almond extract
Stir together the sugar and milk until smooth. Beat in corn syrup and extract until icing is smooth and glossy. If too think add small equal amounts of milk and syrup. Divide into separate bowls and add food coloring to each to desired intensity. Dip cookies or paint with a brush. Allow the cookies to set out for a few hours before storing them in layers separated by wax paper.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Cast-iron versus nonstick

There are now more reasons, my friends, to cast out your nonstick cookware and begin using my favorite kitchen colleague: cast-iron! I know. Giving up expensive wedding gifts and throwing away the Cuisinart nonstick set purchased with blood money won’t be easy. But after the following information, in good conscience you may not even be able to give it away. So fair warning, you can stop here. Sorry, sorry, sorry. On the bright side cast-iron is such a fabulous way to cook. And it may support more healthy living than we imagined.
      Baked squash ready for the oven in my large 12 inch cast-iron skillet

A few years ago I was surprised to learn that pet birds die when exposed to the fumes produced by heating nonstick cookware. Did you know that? Birds are easily poisoned by PFOA and PFOS – the compound that is vaporized when the cookware is heated. The poor canary in the coal mine only this time it’s in the kitchen? Lucky thing humans aren’t quite that sensitive. I occasionally wondered about the surface that wore off into the food we ate and if it was good or bad for us. No matter how careful I was someone was always throwing away a groady old pan and buying me a new frying pan for Christmas.

Apparently, the compounds which go into making plastics are hard to get out of the system once they’re in, and the medical community is finding more concrete data about the effect on humans.

JAMA published an article  (this link is slow to load) in January reporting research on PFOA and PFOS and a related compound PFHxS  (I have no idea and am only parroting) – they are used to make nonstick surfaces in cookware and fabric, like in the trade names Teflon and Scotchguard)  Following a group of Faroese children from birth to age 7, researchers at Harvard Public School of Health found that the more exposure children had to these compounds “the less robust their response to vaccines.” ( I know. Some of you don’t believe in vaccines, but this is about immunity not vaccines.) Children with an “inadequate response to vaccinations was particularly common;” they were not showing sufficient levels of protective antibodies. Philippe Grandjean of Harvard and his colleagues who led the study called the results shocking. (They noted that the blood levels of the pollutant in the participants were, on average, lower than those found in American children.)

The findings are leading them to raise questions about whether the immune deficiencies point to more vulnerability to allergies, asthma, and autoimmune disease. Science News Magazine reports that Toxicologist Margie Peden-Adams of U of Nevada calls the study impressive and “Those of us in the field will be excited to see it.” (My emphasis. Exciting? Understandable irony when your passion is poison.)
     Simmering mixed lentils with dried apricots and cranberries using Dutch oven on stove top.

I’m not saying that cooking with cast iron is the answer to all our ills. Maybe you or your child’s margins are adequate to handle more pollutants from the environment, no problem, I can’t say. Personally, we’ve seen more allergy, ear infections, strep, and other immune issues in our family than we’d want. It can’t hurt to gradually move from using nonstick pans and aluminum to glass, stainless steel, enamelware and cast-iron. Maybe it’s a little piece of the puzzle? If there is a connection between PFOAs and immune deficiency, it’s easy to project that the manufacturing industry will vigorously protest and deny any links to ill health.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Whale who?

     Although no one needed a joke to smile for the camera when we were sitting on the front steps at the LaRoses and I asked if someone could tell us a joke to make us laugh. Both twins volunteered. They are into knock-knock jokes. I’d forgotten how funny they are. (Anita filming, Sember on my right.) But it was also their delivery. Flawless. While eating fish crackers the whole time. Elisha on the “Whale” joke and Kaiden on the “Owl.”  I miss all of them. Wish we didn’t live so far apart.  [....later. I just figured out the main reason this was funny.  Elisha completely faked the accent. You wouldn't know that, would you?]

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Scrapple me to death

It’s done. I’m feeling proud and superior. From one pig’s head and a few neck bones, I pulled six cups of meat which I then minced. I strained the broth to remove large pieces of congealed, um, offal? It was repulsive. It included a couple of tusk-like teeth that fell out of the jaw – the rest I hammered out. (I have ideas for the teeth. Like drilling holes in them, stringing them on leather and sending them to a friend who has a javelina phobia. Donald, this will help you if you wear them next to your skin, especially when you teach “domains of learning.” It’s called desensitization therapy.) 
I set the broth on the porch to cool overnight. This morning the fat was congealed enough to peel a layer off the surface. The broth is so full of collagen from the bones it sits up like industrial strength Jell-O.  It measured a little more than seven cups and since the recipe is roughly equal parts meat to oatmeal – I cooked up seven cups of thick-cut organic oatmeal. When it was well-done, I added the minced meat, salt and quite a bit of pepper and put it in the refrigerator. My mom insists it needs a lot of pepper. I waited barely long enough for it to set and then cut it into half inch slices, browned it in a hot cast iron skillet. I squished the slices down a little – I think that when I freeze it, it will slice easier and not be so mushy in the pan. When it was all crisped up, it went on a plate to be served with maple syrup. 
An inexpensive, nutritious dish with a balance of protein, carbs, fiber, fat, B vitamins and minerals. Hey?

It was better than I remembered. Denis and Anita were eager to try it, but I could see the tentative first bite of will I have to make a run to the trash can with my hand over my mouth? or, or, or,  and then their eyes lit up. They groaned, and ate every little scrap. ha. Denis suggested I see about getting eight or ten of these, because surely there is no competition for making use of a pig’s head. I was a little horrified. No. I’m sorry. No. I’ll teach him if he wants do that many.

One pig’s head, washed (Chicken backs and necks may be substituted for pork)
         Place head in a large pot. Cover with water and bring to a boil. Simmer for two hours or until meat is tender and skin slips off the bones. Cool. Remove head from pot reserving the cooking liquid.
         Separate meat from skin, cartilage, and bones. Discard brains and tongue. Dice meat into small pieces and save in a large mixing bowl. Be sure to include some of the fat. Measure amount of scraps and make an equal amount of oatmeal using the left over liquid. Bring it to a boil in a large pan and for each cup of liquid add 1/3 cup of oatmeal. Simmer until oatmeal has thickened. Add meat scraps and fat to the oatmeal. Mix well and season with salt and lots of pepper. Spoon mixture into bread pans and refrigerate until set. Unmold from pan, cut into ½ inch slices and brown in frying pan until crisp.
         Serve for breakfast with maple syrup. May be frozen until needed.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Brains are in there somewhere


     There’s a recipe from the olden days back when folks sewed their own clothes, rubbed sticks together to make fire and slept on buffalo pelts. Actually, my mom used to make scrapple when I was a girl and we had a gas stove. I think even then rural Americans were moving away from using every shred of a butchered animal from brains to tail. We only ate hearts and livers – never the other gag-me organs. I try to convince myself this is a shameful waste.

     Last fall when we ordered some pork I asked for the head, because I wanted to make this recipe. It was in the freezer until today when I brought it out for the first step in the process, which is simply boiling it until everything falls apart, pinching the meat from every little orifice, and cooling the broth so you can skim off the fat. It's a very ugly business; you have to be strong.

     Note: Denis saw a piece of skin with boar bristles still attached and was determined to cut it off.

     Saturday I’ll finish it up and give you the recipe because you never know when you’ll be so lucky as to get your hands on a pig’s head.  In spite of how grossed out you are, when the apocalypse comes you'll thank me.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Going south

Slept unscathed in a tornado alley last night. (Southern Illinois) At 4 am the sirens sounded and we learned there were tornados in the area. You know how I love weather and consider it an important topic of conversation. I was almost as hysterically happy as local meteorologists. To go from snow flying in Minnesota to mid-Missouri where insects began ing our windshield to Marion, Il where we could hear bird song and peepers in the pond out back. Head-jerking.
I am headed to our daughter and family in Chattanooga. Anita is helping drive because Denis couldn’t come. Okay. Honestly? She’s driving, I’m playing the dashboard.

Denis had to cancel lectures for this coming weekend at CCS and the Paidiea conference as he fell – I don’t want to say hopelessly, though it  can feel that way – behind. Cancelling engagements is not good news for them or us. But last week his dad was in the hospital in Mpls and his mom is also having serious health problems. Denis made five trips up and back, and expects to make more. They don’t have any assistance or plans to get it, so navigating these shores is difficult. This would not surprise those of you who’ve helped parents through this stage of life. Crises happen and they don’t check your calendar first. (That sounded trite.)

We hope some lessons are not lost on us. We are taking notes and saying to one another: WRITE THIS DOWN: Children! Before I become a dangerous driver, cut my license in half and hide my keys. Do not listen to my howls.  … and many other such-like things.

We thought one of us should still make the trip to Chattanooga since some little people hadn’t seen us in a long time and were hoping white-haired grandma and no-haired grandpa were coming. It’s hard to go without Denis; he feels very sad not to see them. But Anita is a wonderful traveling friend. We’re highly entertained by lots of things, like Kentucky dams and bar-b-q and country western radio. Just heard someone sing he wanted  “faster horses, younger wimen, older whiskey and more money.”  What a family man!