Your Guide to Reading Between the Tines

Archive for February, 2009

Peanut Butter Giant Files for Bankruptcy

I’ve been avoiding updating you all on the peanut butter situation for two reasons.  One, I’m sure most of you know what’s going on already.  And two, it’s pretty doggone depressing.  I do so like it when this blog is a happy, salmonella-free place where everyone takes responsibility for their own actions.  Dredging up the latest muck from the headlines on peanut butter sort of takes the happy-go-lucky out of me.  Wherefore, you ask?

Well, if the 2100 items currently on the FDA’s recall list weren’t reason enough, don’t worry—I have more for you to chew on.

Remember when I wrote about how the Peanut Corporation of America was shipping products from its Georgia plant which had tested positive for salmonella after additional testing for salmonella came up negative?  Remember when I mentioned how suspicious that seemed to me, how convenient it was that, time after time, it tested positive, then tested negative and was shipped?

Well, it was suspicious.  It turns out that PCA was shipping it even before those second tests came back in.  Apparently they must have been reeeeeal confident it was a “mistake.”  Of course, knowingly shipping a contaminated product is less an example of unsinkable optimism and more an example of a criminal offense, but who am I to nitpick?

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The Unicyclist’s Standard Version Guacamole Recipe

If I were to become a hard-core locavore (not likely while my patoot is still parked here in ye arid desert), I suspect that I would bend the rules when it came to avocado.  Avocado and I have had a rocky relationship at times, due to my personal conviction that avocado belongs in the savory camp and not the sweet one, but I am still hopelessly devoted to this alligator-skinned fruit.  Never heard of a sweet avocado dish?  Besides avocado smoothies, custards, breads, and pies, there’s a simple breakfast in some parts of Latin America (such as Ecuador, where I spent about six months) that consists of avocado slices drizzled with honey, a slippery, sticky affair that doesn’t sit well with me.  And if you’ve ventured beyond the familiar, dark-green-to-black Hass avocados in the grocery store, you may have stumbled on a larger, bright-green variety that is naturally sweet, making for an odd sort of guacamole.  While it may just be that I’ve never had a really good avocado pie, I’ll confess: I think I can live without one.  After all, avocado fits so nicely in my salads, sandwiches, and guacamole benders.  Which, Gentle Readers, brings us to today’s recipe:

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Dark Days Challenge: Perfect Pinto Beans

One of the most essential skills for anyone interested in making a delicious, low-cost meal is knowing how to make a tasty pot of beans.  Since I’ve decided to focus on basics here for a while, that means I’m about to tell you everything I know about them thar legumes.  Pull up a chair, people.  Get comfy.  Grab some guacamole.

This week for the Dark Days of Winter Challenge, the Unicyclist and I decided on tacos.  We’d scored local pinto beans through our CSA as well as at the Guadalupe Farmers’ Market, and we do so love a good taco.  Typically, we build ours with soft corn tortillas, black or pinto beans, salsa, guacamole, and a hearty handful of lettuce or spring greens.  I’ll give you the Unicyclist’s guacamole recipe later this week (your knees will melt), but let’s stick with the beans for now, ¿qué no?

I learned how to make a good pot of beans from one Afra Llamas, a woman with whom I worked for several years.  She was newly a U.S. citizen, originally from Mexico, and, baby, could that woman cook.  Silky arroz con leche, salsa so fresh and delicious that people would smuggle it out of parties in disposable cups, and pinto beans cooked to perfection.  I’d fussed and bothered over making good beans for quite some time, adding and removing onion, peppers, garlic, cumin, and all sorts of other goodies in order to make something drool-worthy.  Finally, in a stroke of inspiration triggered by a morning potluck catered by Afra Llamas, I had the brilliant idea of just asking her.  It turns out that making perfect beans is less about ingredients than it is about technique.  Remember that, people.  Play with the ingredients if you want, but if you fuss with the technique, I make no promises.
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On Peanut Butter Apple Oats, Organics, and the Economy

My scalp cringes whenever I hear a middle-class person opining that organically or sustainably produced food is too expensive to be practical (right before said person biffs to Starbucks to drop $3-6 on a caffeinated beverage) or when I hear any garden-variety personfolk bloviating about how it’s cheaper to eat at a fast food joint than it is to eat at home.

Neither of these assertions is necessarily true.  Can they be?  Certainly.  However, that depends largely on what organics you are buying and what types of dishes you are preparing at home, including how many prepared ingredients you are using.  For whole foods vegetarians, especially whole foods vegans, they’re often false.  I don’t even need to address the “hidden costs” of factory farmed produce, dairy, and meat (through environmental damage, taxpayer-funded subsidies, etc.) to prove that.  Case in point?  How about breakfast?

The Unicyclist has been on breakfast duty for the last couple months, something which has allowed him to develop our favorite everyday oatmeal: Peanut Butter Apple Oats.  Today, out of curiosity, I dug up receipts, a food scale, a calculator, and I crunched the numbers to find out how much this tasty, filling dish was costing us. Are you ready?

3 oz. conventional rolled oats from the bulk section at Whole Foods (for .79/lb) = .15

4 oz organic apple bought in a five-pound bag at Whole Foods for 4.99 = .42

1 c Trader Joe’s organic rice milk, at 2.69 for 8 servings = .34

1 T Trader Joe’s organic peanut butter at 2.99/jar = .11

1 T farmer’s market apple butter at 5.00/jar = .17

Add a cup of water (for those of you keeping score to make this in your kitchen, that’s 1 heaping cup rolled oats and 2 cups liquid, plus a diced apple), combine well, cook until creamy and piping hot, and you have breakfast for two people and one Hippo for the grand total of $1.19, or less than sixty cents.  If we’d gotten the organic oats (at about $1.60 in the bulk section, which we skipped because they were out last time we were at the store), we’d have doubled the cost of our oats, which would have upped our total bill to…$1.34.  Again, we’re feeding two people and a 10-pound dog on that. Go ahead and compare that to a fast food breakfast value menu.  I dare ya.

If you’re on a tight budget, embrace the bulk bins.  No, seriously.  Cozy right on up to them.  Snuggle a little if no grocery store employees are watching.  Then stuff a bag with its contents and cart it to the register because dry beans and grains are some of the most affordable items you can pick up, even when they’re organic.


A Locavore Talks: Interview with Mangochild, Pt. III

You’ve heard the backstory.  You’ve seen the freezer.  Today, our interview with Mangochild finishes up with a look at the best and worst parts of being a locavore, along with what the future holds.  Enjoy!

Have you had any unexpected and positive side effects from living as a locavore?

One positive consequence is that I am becoming more outgoing. I am generally a quiet person with all but my parents, but this has pushed me into a community of sorts and given me a reason to really speak up for my views in an expressive way (without pushing it on anyone, just explaining my choice) while connecting with others (see above) to build resources. It’s also immunized me to my fear of bugs! Almost my whole life, I was terrified of pretty much all bugs and just hid inside when they would come around. I shrieked at the tiniest fly and would drive the family mad. But somehow, through my modest gardening ventures this past summer, that all disappeared. While I don’t love them, I am okay with their presence, see their effects on the world (good and bad), learn how to be proactive against the negative effects, and just generally am more focused on the joy of my garden than the bugs. What else? I feel like I am more aware and conscious of my choices. I really believe that we all make the choices as we can in the moment, given our needs and resources, as well as the pressures and strains we are experiencing at the time. What I can do now might be either less or more than I will be able to do in 5 years. What I can do might be out of reach for another, maybe because of cost or time. That’s okay.  We should each do what’s right for us, as long as it is an informed and conscious decision. I might choose to drink milk, others believe that it is not the right choice for them for ethical reasons.  Others eat meat even though I don’t. That’s okay. But back to the answer, being local has made me understand better why I choose what I do/don’t. I can’t think of making a decision blindly. Information and reason is so important to me, and being local has built that up so much.

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A Locavore Talks! Interview with Mangochild, Pt. Deux

Welcome back!  Sorry I’ve been so busy, but I do have a new installment in the interview with the fabulous Mangochild!  Pull up a chair and sit a spell.  If you missed the first installment, check it out as well!  Below, you can see one of the photos from Living in a Local Zone that compelled me to goggle, then drop Mangochild a line and pry her about her willingness to do an e-mail interview.

Can you see my intrigue?  Let’s get back to the interview, shall we?

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Dark Days Challenge Week 13: As Local As It Gets

I wish I had some tantalizing pictures and wonderful recipes for this week’s Dark Days Challenge, but the truth is that it’s been a bit busy this week.  As a result, we wound up keeping it as local as it gets: we ate a lot of leftovers.  Black bean enchiladas from last week, black bean soup from the extra beans I made, several salads from our leftover CSA greens, an omelette to use up leftover greens…you get the idea.  Tasty, filling, but not very exciting.  Perhaps next week?

In the meantime, stay tuned for a continuation of out interview with Mangochild, as well as some more garden photos.


Meeting the Readers: Mangochild, Part 1

Mango picture used under GNU license, courtesy of Fir0002

One of the most interesting things for me about the foray into Bloggalandia is the people.  See, there’s all this space in the great, wide world, and the internet just sort of tessers you right over it a la Wrinkle in Time.  In a click, you can be in someone else’s lap, living room, what have you.

I’ve been enjoying your living rooms.  I’ll steer clear of your laps, however.

Don’t take it personally.  I’m sure they’re lovely.

But I digress.  What I meant to say is that, regardless of my position relative to your living rooms OR your laps, I have greatly enjoyed the ability to find common ground with people whom I never would have met otherwise.  Mangochild, frequent poster here and author of her own site, Living in a Local Zone, is one such person.  I was amazed when I took a gander at her blog some time ago and saw the extent to which she had committed to eating locally throughout the entire winter.  She puts squirrels to shame, both for her superior industriousness and for the beautifully varied diet she has socked away in her home.  I wanted to know more.  What kind of person is able to do this?  Does she have a “real” job, or has she opted out of the formal economy to embrace this lifestyle?  How did she know what to store, or how much of it?  Does she ever get sick of potatoes ’round about this time of year?  How feasible is it for other people to do some or all of what she’s doing?

So I cornered the poor gal.  And I asked her if she’d like to talk about some of this over here at Simple Spoonful for some of the curious folks who may be just starting to scratch at this idea of local eating, or preparing all their own food, or both.  If you’ve read many of her friendly and thoughtful comments on this site, I doubt you’ll be surprised to hear she was gracious enough to consent to an e-mail interview.  Over the next few days, I will be posting her responses.  Check it out…she’s new to a lot of these concepts, but she has made incredible strides toward food independence over the last year.  It’s good stuff.  But enough of me.  Let’s let Mangochild talk, shall we?

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Dark Days Challenge: Enchilada Sauce Recipe

Several weeks ago, the Unicyclist and I splurged at the Guadalupe Farmer’s Market.  We decided it was time to decorate our place while stockpiling some good food.  That’s how we wound up with a massive jar of mesquite honey and a cheerful ristra of red peppers, one of those beautiful strings of chiles you often see adorning kitchens or doorways in the Southwest.  Both of them are on display in our kitchen, but the honey has definitely been getting more use than the peppers.  You see, I’ve been something of a pepper collector the last couple years.

The Unicyclist and I both like food with bite.  That’s the first problem.  The second problem is that we live in some pretty good chile country.  The third problem is that I have frequented both Native Seed SEARCH and the Santa Cruz Chili and Spice Company in the Tucson area a couple times when entertaining out-of-town guests.  Both places have fantastic assortments of chiles, and it’s nigh to impossible to turn any of them down once you give them a whiff.  As a result, I have nearly a dozen unique kinds of chiles commiserating in my cabinets.  There’s morita negro, chiltepín, chile japonés, pasilla Oaxaca, pasilla negra, guajillo, and Santa Cruz hot.  In addition, we have cayenne, paprika, whole mystery ristra chiles, and fresh serranos.  As you might guess, my cupboards smell amazing.

All of which is great.  However, it also means that I’m not giving said enormous ristra as much attention as I ought.  To compound the problem, we’ve received a hearty helping of dried chiles in our CSA share the last two weeks running.  As the chiles piled up on the counter, it became clear that it was time to take action.  It was time to figure out a chile-intensive dish that could help cull some of my burgeoning chile population; thin the herd, as it were.

It was time to make enchilada sauce.

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Glimpse of the Garden

It’s February, which means it’s time to take stock of my garden and plan what I need to get into the ground ASAP.  I did some planting in October and November, and I put a few herbs in the ground at the turn of the new year.  Together with the hearty plants that survived the desert summer (and chronic neglect as family called me out of state several times), the garden is currently doing a-ok.  Here’s a glimpse at what’s going on here in Arizona.

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