Wednesday, June 13, 2012

The hidden costs of the farm bill.

Ravings: If you aren't familiar with the farm bill and how it effects you, please do some research. It's a incredibly large piece of legislation that covers a variety of food and agriculture related issues and is only re-examined every 5 years. This infographic relates to the commodity spending portion of the bill.


Cravings: This is basically an update on the house buying because it seems my free time is consumed by this. We've had the inspection and everything looks great. We are making our formal loan application this week. Keep your fingers crossed.

Because I have been so consumed with this process, I have been completely unorganized about documenting my recipes and taking pictures of what we eat. I promise I will get back on track once this all settles down.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Still holding my breath

Ravings: A child in a school uniform with a backpack that’s half as big as they are never fails to put a smile on my face!

House update: It looks like we are buying a house. After some tense negotiations over the weekend, we came to an agreement on price and signed all the paperwork. Now it’s just a matter of getting home inspections and all the mortgage paperwork. Because Jason recently started his job, we have to wait until he has 4 weeks of paystubs, so we can’t formally apply until mid-June. We are pre-approved so getting financed shouldn’t be an issue, but I’m still holding my breath. The universe can be a bitch and we’ve already established that she doesn’t like me. I haven’t even started packing because I don’t want to jinx it. Which is funny because we have renters planning on moving in Aug 1st, so we kinda have to leave no matter what!

Maybe I’m just avoiding packing up an entire house!

Cravings: My sister and I tackled 10 quarts of strawberries this weekend, resulting in 24 pints of strawberry freezer jam. Ironically, both of our freezers are completely packed with beef that we just purchased, so she had to do some re-arranging to fit it all in. After the freezer jam jars were sealed and refrigerated, we took a trip to the store to buy some containers to put all the steaks, roasts, ground beef in and hopefully make enough room in her upright freezer. I will have to get a picture of that! I'm not ever sure if she's taken on that project yet. We decided it didn't make much sense for me to transport half of the jars to my freezer just to have to pack them up again in a few weeks (hopefully!). My awesome sister took some pictures of the process without getting either of us in the photo. This is one of the reasons I love her so much!

This is while we were still working on the last batch.

Strawberry Freezer Jam (ingredients shown are per batch. We did 3 batches at a time)

3/4 cup hulled and mashed strawberries
2 Tbsp Ball Real Fruit Instant Pectin
2/3 cup granulated sugar

Hull and then mash the strawberries using a potato masher. We did this in a shallow dish so it would be easier.

Hulled strawberries

turned into mashed strawberries
In a large bowl, mix together the pectin and the sugar.

Can you tell this isn't the first batch?
Stir in the strawberries until well mixed and then spoon into jars. Let them sit for about 1/2 hour, then wipe them down and put the lids on. Store in the freezer.

We actually had a lot of fun. And the kids "helped" for like a minute, and mostly they just tasted!

I also have a dinner recipe to share. This one was super easy and both Jason and CJ loved it. I thought that I had some fresh basil in the fridge, but I didn't so I just made up a pesto with fresh herbs that I did have. Jason killed my basil plant, so I now have to buy it and it doesn't last long.

Notice how the parsley leaf mimics the leaf on the plate? I totally didn't plan that!

Pesto Quinoa

1 pint grape tomatoes
1/4 sweet onion, chopped
1 stalk broccoli, chopped
1/2 cup corn
1 cup quinoa
1 1/2 cups water
1/4 cup walnuts
2 Tbsp fresh oregano
2 Tbsp fresh parsley
1 tsp sea salt
3 cloves garlic
3-4 Tbsp olive oil
1/4 cup pumpkin seeds, toasted

Spread tomatoes on a sheet pan and roast in 350-375 degree oven while chopping up the other veggies, about 15 minutes. Add the other veggies and roast for another 15-20 minutes. While that's roasting, bring quinoa and water to boil in a pot over med-high heat. Once boiling, cover and reduce to simmer for about 15 minutes or until water is absorbed. To make the pesto, put the walnuts, oregano, parsley, salt, garlic, and olive oil in a food processor and blend together. You may need to add more oil to make it a smooth consistency. Once everything is done, mix it all together in a bowl and add the toasted pumpkin seeds. Yum!!

Friday, June 1, 2012

Holding my breath.

Ravings: Turns out I am not a stress writer. No excuses, but my explanation for being entirely absent the last 2 weeks is that I apparently do not focus under stress. The last two weeks have been a whirlwind of showing our house and looking at houses. We decided to put our house on the market as a rent to own and see what happened. I was shocked at the number of inquiries we received. Given that we were pretty certain we could rent our house out, we started looking at houses. After 2 weekends of marathon open houses and house tours, we walked into a beautiful home full of windows and light and utter possibility! Jason knew immediately that he wanted the house, but it takes me a lot more anxiety and thought to make decisions like this.
So after countless phone calls with mortgage brokers and many sleepless nights for me, we are making an offer. Jason is already planning where to put furniture, but I am still holding my breath. I won’t start making plans until the papers are signed. I just don’t trust the universe. I have been disappointed way too many times. I do love Jason positive outlook and probably would have backed out of this whole thing if it weren’t for him. It’s just been such a balancing act of finding the right renter at the right time to buy a house and get moved. It’s just been completely emotionally overwhelming for me. But at this moment in time it appears that the stars are aligning. I’ll keep you posted.

Cravings: While I haven’t actually taken hand to keyboard (my play on pen to paper), I have been keeping track of my recipes. We've been eating a lot of salad because Jason doesn't get home from his new job until 7:30, and after working 12 hours he's exhausted and not really wanting a big heavy meal. My sister and I will be making strawberry freezer jam, freezing broccoli, and doing something with peaches this weekend, so I’ll have some preservation recipes for you next week. This will be my first time making freezer jam!! Here are a few recipes from the past couple weeks.

 Pork Chops with Mango Salsa and Glazed Carrots

1 mango, diced
1 jalepeno, diced
1/4 red onion, diced
juice of 1/2 lemon
juice of 1/2 lime
1 Tbsp fresh parsley, chopped
salt and pepper to taste

2 pork chops
salt and pepper

4 carrots, peeled and sliced

2 Tbsp butter
1 Tbsp brown sugar

For the Salsa: Mix all ingredients together in a small bowl and set aside.

For the pork chops: Salt and pepper both sides of chop. Heat skillet on med-high with a small amount of olive oil. Cook chop until cooked through, about 6 minutes each side depending on thickness.

For the carrots, melt butter in saucepan, add carrots and brown sugar, cook on medium until desired tenderness. 

Chopped Salad with Roasted Red Pepper Soup

Chopped Salad is so easy. It's basically just a mix of chopped up veggies. Whatever you like or whatever you have on hand will work. I served it with a pre-made roasted red pepper soup from Trader Joes and a couple rolls (not homemade, in case you were wondering). For our salad, I used mixed greens, red and yellow peppers, shredded carrots, cucumber, tomatoes, and avocado. The dressing was a mix of Dry Ranch Mix, 1/4 cup of greek yogurt, and 1/4 cup of buttermilk. 

Pizza "Rice"

2 cups kamut (or an other rice like grain)
4 cups water or stock

2 red peppers, chopped
2 tomatoes, chopped
1 onion, chopped
1 Tbsp dried basil
1 Tbsp dried oregano

Slices of pepperoni
Sliced mozzarella cheese (Use the good stuff. It's worth it!)
Shredded parmesan cheese

In a saucepan, bring the kamut and water to a boil, cover, reduce heat and simmer until done. Kamut takes a long time and has a slightly chewy texture if you decide to use that. 

Mix veggies and herbs in a baking dish with some oil and broil about 15 minutes.

Once your grain and veggies are cooked, mix them together in the baking dish. Put on a layer of pepperoni, a layer of mozzarella cheese and sprinkle with the parmesan cheese. Bake in the oven that you turn down to 350 just until cheese is melted. Jason loved this by the way!

Monday, May 14, 2012

Just get through it

Ravings: Mother’s Day is just a rough day for me. It’s a day filled with conflicting emotions, pain, sadness, gratitude, and love. I would like to say that I’m glad it’s over, but it seems to be staying with me. It’s the roller coaster of emotions that are so impossible to plan for or deal with. Bad days I can face, even if I don’t always know they are coming. There’s just something about the ups and downs and the complete confrontation of the loss that creates a profound loneliness that is difficult to shake. It comes over me like a wave, drowning me in sadness, and then easing off a bit, allowing me to see the sunshine and feel the warmth on my face before pulling me under again. And the heaviness of it is still with me this morning.

For me, it seems to be the hardest day of the year. Other significant days have difficult moments, but Mother’s Day is permeated with loss. I have mitigated much of my grieving by not declaring this state as final. I allow myself the possibility of not knowing what will happen down the road. I’m not sure if this is healthy or unhealthy but it allows me to not be overtaking with grief. It offers some hope, and sometimes hope is enough. I use this hope to get me through the other days, but Mother’s Day strips me of that protection. It’s raw and painful and real. It’s a day that will never be about me.

Cravings: It’s a bit difficult to switch to food after that outpouring of emotions, but I do love food and maybe this will help me lift that fog. First up from last week is an Italian black bean burger with a side of watermelon. Then from yesterday is a slow roasted butt roast with roasted tomatoes and mashed potatoes. I cooked for my mother-in-law, which prevented me from staying in bed all day. And Sat morning I made some more dog treats and some granola nests with yogurt, nuts and berries.

Italian Black Bean Burgers

2 cups cooked black beans
1 Tbsp homemade Bam Seasoning
3/4 cup panko
Mozzarella cheese slices
2 eggs
1 container chopped tomatoes
1 Tbsp dried basil
1 Tbsp dried oregano
4 eggs

Combine all ingredients in a food processor until incorporated. Form into patties and fry like a regular burger, placing the cheese on top toward the end so that it can melt. These don't actually need to be cooked, just warmed through so it doesn't take very long. These would probably not hold up well on a grill, however. They aren't as held together as a regular burger. In the meantime, combine tomatoes, basil and oregano in a saucepan and bring to a simmer. Simmer, covered for about 10 mins, then lower the temperature so that it's barely simmering. Crack each egg on top of the tomato sauce, being careful not to break the yolk. Cover and allow to cook for another couple minutes. To serve, put a handful of arugula at the bottom of a large bowl or on a plate, top with a burger, then ladle some tomato sauce and an egg on top of the burger.

The watermelon slices aren't quite sweet yet, but they were refreshing and went very well with the spice and acidity of the Italian Black Bean Burgers.

Slow Roasted Rolled Butt Roast

1 rolled butt roast
1/4 cup Jason's spice mix

In a hot skillet, brown all sides of the butt roast. Rub spice mix all over outside of roast. Place on a sheet pan lined with aluminum foil or in a roasting pan. Roast at 250 for about 1 1/2 hours or until desired doneness.

Roasted Tomatoes

1 package grape tomatoes
1 Tbsp olive oil
salt and pepper

Spread tomatoes on a sheet pan. Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Roast at 250 for about 1 1/2-2 hours. Shake pan to keep them from sticking a couple times during the cooking process.

Mashed Potatoes

5-6 small to medium red-skinned potatoes
2 sweet potatoes, peeled
2 Tbsp butter
1/4 cup buttermilk
1/4 cup plain yogurt

Chop up potatoes and put in a pan of boiling water. Boil until soft, about 20 minutes. Drain, reserving about 1/2 -3/4 cup of the cooking liquid. Once drained, put the cooking liquid back in with the potatoes and mash with a potato masher. Add the butter, buttermilk and yogurt and stir to combine. Season with salt and pepper as desired.

Granola nests with yogurt, nuts and berries (adapted from Mommie Cooks, found on Pinterest)

4 Tbsp butter
1/4 cup honey
2 Tbsp brown sugar
1/2 Tbsp allspice
2 cups old fashioned oats
1/2 cup wheat germ
1/4 cup ground flax seeds
1/4 cup almond meal

In a small saucepan, combine butter, honey, brown sugar and allspice and melt together. In another bowl, mix the rest of the ingredients. Add the butter and honey mixture and mix well. Mush granola mixture into and up the sides of a muffin tin to form a nest. It's very sticky so it helps to spray your hands with non-stick spray. Bake at 325 for about 15 minutes and allow to cool. Fill with whatever ingredients sound yummy. We used plain yogurt, blackberries, raspberries and pecans and then drizzled with honey.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

More housing anger

Ravings: It's been a really stressful few weeks. My anger is about to boil over at any given moment of the day, so I haven't been able to write this blog in any meaningful manner. I have several posts in queue, but haven’t been able to polish them enough to post them. I am keeping track of the little we are cooking, and I promise to get caught up. I hastily typed up an angry letter to Governor Kasich today and thought I share it here.

Dear Governor Kasich,

I am writing to you because I do not know who else to turn to. I am angry beyond words and want things to change. I am an intelligent, educated, professional woman and I am at a loss for what to do. I purchased a home 12 years ago in a modest neighborhood for what I could afford, which was considerably less than what the bank was willing to loan me. I knew my own financial situation and didn’t want to extend myself beyond my means. I also wanted to be prepared for any “just in case” scenario. I have had setbacks, but have always been financially responsible, making sure that I paid my mortgage payment in full and on time every single month. In fact most months I pay a bit more than my monthly payment.

Since the housing crisis began my neighborhood has become a war zone. There is frequent fighting, yelling, screeching cars in the middle of the night, often resulting in the police being called to a neighbor’s home, waking us all up at all hours. Recently our neighbor’s house and car were set on fire late in the evening. Gang violence, random shootings, and most recently a woman being stabbed to death on her back porch less than two blocks from my home are becoming the norm. My husband and I desperately want out of this neighborhood, but we are stuck. The worst part of it is that we are in this situation through no fault of our own!

We both have established retirement accounts and a fairly good safety net in our savings, but even if we drained our savings we can’t leave our home responsibly. Even after 12 years of paying the mortgage, our home is currently worth about half of what we still owe. We don’t qualify for any assistance programs because we aren’t behind on our mortgage. To add insult to injury, we still have to pay the monthly mortgage insurance premiums, despite 12 years of faithful payment, because our house in now worth less than our car!

We have spoken with a realtor and there is no way that our available cash will allow us to sell our home at market value and be able to pay the difference of what we owe and all the closing costs. I have contacted my mortgage company, who was unable and/or unwilling to work with us. They would be willing to do a short sale, but only at the cost of ruining my credit. It seems a bit unfair that I should have to ruin my excellent credit rating in order to move my family to a safer neighborhood for a problem that I neither created nor contributed to.

Why aren’t there any programs to help the responsible home owner? Why are we being asked to shoulder the burden for the bad behavior and decision making of others? I have worked my entire life for the betterment of society, knowing that I would never strike it rich as a social worker, but hoping that my hard work and dedication to doing the right thing would allow me a safe and comfortable life.

I feel like our options are to continue to live where we are and put our physical and mental well being at risk or to become part of the problem by walking away from our mortgage. I want to be responsible, but I also want to feel safe. I shouldn’t have to choose.

I don't know how to make the whole thing indent yet. One more thing I need to work on!

Cravings: Because my husband is so amazing and I've been overwhelmed by all this stress, he made me dinner! I told you he has the ability, he just likes to deny it most of the time. He handles stress so much better than I do. He doesn't take time to worry. He just takes action. He balances my tendency toward anxiety and pulls me back to reality.

Unfortunately, he doesn't ever remember what he puts into things as he cooks. He just pulls things out of cupboards and adds until he thinks it tastes good. It generally does, but it makes it impossible to blog about or even recreate. But what a sweetie!

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Wish me luck!

Ravings: I meant to tell you about this before, but I’ve been slacking on the blog. I have a lot going on right now, but I’m making a renewed effort!

I’ve entered a recipe contest! Trader Joe’s is hosting a Quintessential Quinoa Recipe contest and I entered it! I’m not expecting to win, but it was kinda cool just to do it. Jason, of course, was only concerned with what I could win and when I told him that I win bragging rights, he lost interest. He’s funny that way. At this point, I have no doubt that he has completely erased all memory of me even telling him I entered. Gotta love him, right?

I do love quinoa and wasn’t sure what to enter, so I ended up submitting two recipes. I’m not sure they accepted both, but it didn’t specifically say you could only enter once. It says the winner will be announced in the May enewsletter, so everyone keep your fingers crossed until then.

Seriously, keep them crossed!

Cravings: Here are the two recipes I submitted. For the contest you have to use all Trader Joe’s products, which I do love, but if you don’t have an easily accessible Trader Joe’s, feel free to use what you have available.

Chocolate Cherry Quinoa Bars

1/2 cup Trader Joe's Cherry Cider
1/2 cup Trader Joe's Organic Quinoa
1 cup Trader Joe's Pitted Dates
1 Tbsp Trader Joe's Pure Bourbon Vanilla Extract
2 Tbsps Trader Joe's Unsweetened Cocoa Powder
1/2 cup Trader Joe's Just Almond Meal

In a small saucepan, bring cherry cider to boil and allow to reduce to about half. Grind quinoa spice grinder until it reaches a flour-like consistency. It's ok if it's not perfect. In a food processor, combine dates, vanilla and reduced cherry cider and process until it forms a thick paste. Transfer to a mixing bowl and mix in the quinoa, cocoa powder and almond meal. Mix until thoroughly combined. You might have to get your hands dirty here. Mush the mixture into a rectangle shape on a sheet pan (I used a small stone baking pan with sides) about 1/2 inch thick. Bake at 350 for about 15 minutes. Allow to cool a bit then cut into desired size bars.

Quinoa Croquette

1 cup Trader Joe's Organic Tricolor Quinoa
1 1/2 cups water
1/4 cup finely chopped red onion from Trader Joe's
1 Tbsp Trader Joe's Traditional Olive Tapenade
1/2 cup Trader Joe's Organic Tricolor Quinoa
1 Tbsp Trader Joe's 21 Seasoning Salute
1/4 cup Trader Joe's parmesan cheese
2 Trader Joe's eggs
1 cup Trader Joe's Japanese Style Panko Breadcrumbs

Cook the 1 cup of quinoa in the water by bringing to a boil, cover, turn heat down to a simmer and cook for 15 minutes. Remove from heat, leaving it covered for another 5 minutes. Fluff with fork.

While that's cooking saute the onions until soft and translucent. Set aside to cool.

Grind the 1/2 cup of quinoa in a spice grinder until a flour-like consistency. Then add everything except the panko to a large mixing bowl. Mix and form into small patties. Coat with the panko and pan fry in a tiny bit of oil until crispy and warmed through.

Serve with Greek Inspired Salad.

Are your fingers still crossed???

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Customer Service

Ravings: Groupon, and the sites that followed it, came on like a storm and have taken over internet bargain shopping. If you are unfamiliar then I am completely amazed that you navigated your way to this blog! As a consumer, I love Groupon type sites. But I am also aware that they aren’t revenue generating for businesses. I think the idea is that is supposed to be a marketing tool, hopefully creating some interest in your business/service and creating a new repeat customer. As a business, you control the number of whatever service/product you offer for sale at the discounted price, and you are immediately aware of how many are sold. I would hope you would then keep track of how many are used, and in the case of a service like a salon of who used them. Salons that I frequent keep track of lots of identifying/demographic information for marketing purposes. I would also think that you would want to know if the Groupon created any repeat customers.

But maybe these business owners aren’t thinking this far ahead, because I have recently had a horrible experience. I have had other Groupons that expired before I could get an appointment and the business was more than happy to extend the date in an effort to make sure I was a happy customer. Apparently Bella Mia West Salon isn’t too concerned about my satisfaction as a potential customer. A few months ago my amazing husband bought be a message Groupon just because he loves me and knows that when I’m relaxed he ends up happier. I haven’t had a ton of free time to go get a message, but knew that the expiration date was coming up in a few weeks so I decided to just make the time. I called and told the man on the phone that I had a Groupon and was calling to schedule the message. He firsts asks me which Groupon, which indicates that have several going at the moment and after telling him, he gruffly states “We have no available Saturday appointments before the expiration date.” So I say, that’s ok, I can come in the evening. He then says the only available appointment this week is Friday at 10am. I remind him that I can’t come during the day. So then he tells me they have next Friday at 11am. I can see where this is going and say “I have a 9-5 job. I can’t come during the day.” So he proceeds to tell me that they have no other available appointments left before the Groupon expires. I hesitate a moment, waiting for him to say that they will extend the date and ask when I can be available after that. But nothing. He just breathes into the phone. So I say “Will you honor the Groupon past the expiration date since you have no openings.” He proceeds to tell me that they will only honor the purchase price, which Groupon requires. I remind him that they have no openings and he responds that I should have called sooner. Things take a downward spiral from there. But he basically told me it’s not his problem that I can’t get an appointment when it’s convenient for me and he doesn’t care if I’m upset about that.

Clearly he also doesn’t care that I will never patronize that establishment and that I will make sure everyone I know is aware of my experience. I can’t imagine how poorly they treat actual customers if they treat potential customers this badly!

On the up side, Groupon was awesome and refunded my money, no questions asked. This is why Groupon has done so well! They have wonderful customer service.

Cravings: I am so not caught up on organizing my recipes, and I believe I entered some sort of time warp this past week because I can't even recall what I cooked! It's on my to do list. I promise!