Near Miscellany A daily adventure

16Oct/130

Scrooge & Food Stamps

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NM: Ebenezer, we're here to talk about the needy today. What should be done?

Ebenezer: Are there no prisons?

NM: Plenty of prisons.

Ebenezer: And Welfare programs, are those still in operation?

NM: Regardless of the philosophies of the populace or the humiliations visited on the needy, yes. After all, it is a wonderful means of control for those who hold it.

Ebenezer: Oh, from what you said at first I was afraid that something had happened to stop them in their useful course. I'm very glad to hear it.

NM: I don't think you quite understand us, sir. A few of us are endeavoring to buy the poor some meat and drink, and means of warmth.

Ebenezer: Why?

NM: Because where want is feared bad decisions may follow but abundance rejoices. Now what can I put you down for?

Ebenezer: Huh! Nothing!

NM: You wish to be anonymous?

Ebenezer: [firmly, but calmly] I wish to be left alone. Since you ask me what I wish sir, that is my answer. I help to support the establishments I have named; those who are badly off must go there.

"I wish to be left alone..."

Apologies to Charles Dickens but “Being left alone” in regards to the needy is, to my mind, how Welfare came into existence. It seemed like a good idea at the time to simply allow the government to tax some money from everyone 'fairly' (I'm speaking idealistically here), force Scrooges to give to the cause. Then no one would have to deal with poor people.

I've been hearing much lately about how horrible food stamp beneficiaries are; they are thieves, they're cheaters. They should be ashamed of themselves every time they pull out their card to use it. These are voices on radio, some on Facebook, once right behind me in a checkout line in the supermarket. They're voices that I usually agree with, like, and respect...and I think they're going off-target.

Obstacles to national wealth...and individual wealth

I believe Government should stop trying to adjust the free market. The U.S.A. has the ability to become energy independent and quite wealthy from coast to coast. More freedom and less regulation would result in higher employment (more individual buying power), more competitive salaries (higher!), and more competitive pricing (lower!). Drilling for our own domestic oil would bring prices of nearly everything down. Like many who believe this is the right direction to go, I feel like I'm one voice shouting into a hurricane.

The food stamp system is a government-run version of what the private sector should be doing. It is a symptom of the failure to 'run' the free market better than the free market can be set free to run itself. Furthermore, I think it may be a symptom of a nation's hardened heart and godless core.

The recent events in Louisiana, with benefits recipients taking advantage of the system 'glitch' and cleaning the place out is clearly wrong. It's also indicative of people who had no backup plan and didn't expect kindness from anyone other than the great and mighty government who promised to take care of them. In other places the cards didn't work at all and I've heard little but scorn for people who were frightened by that.

People do not despise a thief if he steals to satisfy his hunger when he is starving. Proverbs 6:30 NIV

And it turns out that the fear and low expectations that these food stamp beneficiaries have are, perhaps, right on the money.

Who should be accountable?

Is it going to change the system one bit for people to pour out scorn on the hapless mother at the supermarket who is humiliated when she has to give back the food that was going to feed her family?

How far should you go with your anger and frustration? How do you know who is gaming the system and who is using it because they've just been backed into a corner with no other options? Will you be able to pick out the person who knows how to squeeze an extra amount out of the system and misuses it vs. the person who just lost a job, a spouse, or their health?

How long before the strident denunciations of the recipients turns into hands raised against them because there is a government-issued card in their hand?

“It is a sin to despise one's neighbor, but blessed is the one who is kind to the needy.” Proverbs 14:21

The antidote to the nation's welfare woes isn't in telling the needy to stop taking what the government is offering. It's in getting the weight of the lawmakers in DC off of the jugular vein of the nation. There are lots of great ideas on how to do this if we could take a break from complaining long enough and hold our highly-paid representatives in Washington DC accountable instead.

Political action, however, doesn't address the heart of the nation. If we're bitter, godless, hopeless, and grasping there will continue to be gaps that the government continues to rush in to fill. Perhaps your neighbor isn't your enemy, even if benefits are being taken by that family.

Perhaps there are more answers than simply bitter rhetoric. Perhaps helping the needy is a job that we can't leave up to the government any longer.

Maybe if we fill the need, we can kill the need.

18Jun/130

Red Beans & Rice

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Yes, I have been gone a long time but I figured it was time to add a new blog post.
Made this up for our church's 'rice and beans week' fund raising drive and it was a hit. Everyone wanted seconds, even the kids. Unfortunately, no picture today.

2 C. water
1 C. brown rice
1 can kidney beans, drained and rinsed
3-4 stalks celery, chopped
1 leek, washed well and chopped
1 tomato, mostly skinned and then diced
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
3-4 sprigs fresh parsley, diced
¼ tsp. Salt (optional)
1 chicken bouillon cube
several good pinches ginger
a good sprinkle of black pepper
a little olive oil for sauteeing

Saute garlic, celery, and leeks in olive oil over med-high heat just until they start to cook.

Add rice and tomatoes and continue to saute, stirring often until the rice begins to take on a light golden color.

Add beans and stir in. Add water, seasonings, and parsley.

Bring to a boil and stir with a fork (to separate the grains) before covering and turning to low heat for 43-48 minutes.

Fluff with fork when done and re-cover off heat for a few mins before serving.

Filed under: Food No Comments
10Jul/12Off

Summer Sweetener: Watermelon Juice

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The Family Project Watermelon

Almost two weeks ago I bought a huge watermelon in order to make some fruit salad for a family gathering and only used not-quite a third of it for that. After finding room for it in the back of the fridge I finally hauled the watermelon out about a week later. It's been hot out and we love watermelon so we're finally getting toward the bottom of this thing.

Today I was making a mango-berry smoothie, just throwing together some fruit I had on hand that needed to be used up quickly and when I got to the point of adding some rice milk and reaching for the juice (we often add grape or cranberry juice to smoothies) I thought about the juice in the bottom of the watermelon. Why throw it out? It was fragrant and sweet, right?

After giving the fruit in the blender then the watermelon a careful sniff (yes, I combine food like Remy from the Pixar movie Ratatouille) I shrugged and threw in almost a cupful of the watermelon juice and hit the button.

The proof of how good this was is in the fact that I do have a picture of the watermelon but I couldn't get one of the smoothies. They disappeared too fast!

I was curious about how much sugar was in watermelon juice and compared it to sugar syrup and to the juice we normally use:

Watermelon juice: 14.76 g/Cup

Sugar syrup: 36.8 g/Cup

Old Orchard Cranberry Juice Blend (reconstituted): 29 g/Cup

Don't throw out the watermelon juice! It freezes really well, too.

I use watermelon and strawberries to make popsicles because, hey, kids like red ones, right?

;)

14Jun/12Off

Black-Eyed Pea Fritters (Akara)

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I recently saw someone make black-eyed pea fritters on Iron Chef and they looked REALLY good so I did a bit of web surfing. This is the recipe I started with: http://www.holycowvegan.net/2009/03/vegan-soul-kitchen-black-eyed-pea.html (thank you, Vegan Soul Kitchen) there is also an interesting page on cooking these in the traditional African way here: http://congocookbook.com/snack_recipes/akara.html. As usual I added a few things, adjusted a few things, and learned some things along the way. :)

Black-Eyed Pea Fritters (Akara)
Ingredients for fritters:

1 can (15 oz) black-eyed peas, drained*

1/2 medium onion, diced

1/2 cup natural peanut butter (or raw peanuts)

½ tsp. Thyme (dried/ground) or 1 tsp. Fresh thyme, minced

1/4 tsp cayenne pepper (or to taste)

1 tbsp apple cider vinegar

1/4 cup + 2 tbsp water

Salt to taste

1/2 red bell pepper, finely chopped (I grilled this a bit and took the skin off or you could roast it...either is optional, though the recipe didn't require either)

1 egg

2 tbsp (approx) flour

1 tbsp cornmeal

Oil for frying (coconut, canola, peanut, or regular old vegetable oil. NOT olive oil, it's not great for deep-frying)

Wash peas thoroughly, rubbing them briskly between your palms in the water(which will remove most of the skins) before rinsing and draining.

In a blender (or food processor if you have one...I don't) combine the beans, onion, peanuts, thyme, cayenne, vinegar, water, salt, red pepper, and egg: puree until you have a smooth mixture.

Transfer to a bowl, cover and refrigerate for an hour.

Remove the batter and add the flour and cornmeal and beat with a wooden spoon for 2 minutes. (The original recipe didn't use the egg or flour but I added them because I was pretty sure they'd try to fall apart on me). Batter should be thick enough to cling to a spoon without being too thick and doughy.

In a large saucepan, heat about two inches of oil to about 350 degrees F. Spoon the batter into the oil, taking care not to overcrowd the pan. (see technique below**) Fry, turning gently, until the fritters are golden-brown, about 2 minutes.

Transfer the fritters to a paper-towel-lined plate to drain. If you're not eating them immediately, keep them warm in an oven warmed to 200 degrees.

These are great reheated for a few minutes in a 350-degree F oven or toaster oven as well.

* or 1 cup black-eyed peas, soaked overnight, the rinsed and drained

**I used two biggish spoons. With one, scoop up enough batter to about 1/3 to ½ cover the spoon and dip the batter and spoon into the oil as you push the batter gently off with the other spoon. This will help the fritter to start forming before it floats free. If you hurry it too much it won't form right and will just kinda go to pieces all through the oil.

20Jan/12Off

Ham & Cheese Crepes: Just part of breakfast in the Zone

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Ham & cheese crepe, grapefruit & banana, and an eggA few years ago my boss handed me a copy of A Week in the Zone by Dr. Barry Sears; it seemed most people in the company were trying The Zone. I'd been raised on good Germanic and Irish-style stick-to-your-ribs cooking and had become somewhat luxuriant in shape and size. I had tried the low-fat diet but, though I was extremely careful and exercised as well, nothing really changed.

The Zone, however, helped me drop twenty pounds and I was perfectly happy eating that way. I also kept exercising though my main aim there was to get more energy for my day. Unfortunately, I lost that job and fell off  the Zone wagon, then became pregnant with my second baby. Somehow, in the last six years I've never managed to get back to eating this way. But, guess who's back? :)

Sorry for the slightly blurry photo, I was in a hurry to eat before it got cold. ;)

Here's The Idea

A Week in the Zone lays out three different methods for following The Zone, I go by the Zone block method which means that I know about how many 'blocks' of carbohydrates, protein, and 'good' fat I should aim to have for meals and snacks. Snacks are mandatory, which is pretty popular with me. The whole idea is to treat food no differently than medication, eating well at regular intervals in order to keep blood sugar from spiking or dropping. Avoiding these highs and lows can help stave off cravings, moodiness, and exhaustion. (Though if you have young children nothing really helps tiredness but to wait for a couple of years before you can get to sleep more again...sorry.)

Breakfast!

According to my gender and general body type, I'm aiming for four blocks each of carbohydrate, protein, and fat in a meal. What makes up a 'block' is explained in the book or you can read an explanation here. So I already had a one-block (in general) energy bar (the Chocolate Coconut Almond Mojo bars are amazing). They're generous on the fat blocks because they're mostly made with nuts so this left me needing a three-block breakfast, at least for carbs and protein. Later I added what's pictured above.

  • Ham & Cheese Crepe made from cornmeal crepes I had leftover yesterday (figure two blocks of protein and probably one block of carbs)
  • Grapefruit & 1/3 of a banana one of my favorite combinations of fruit which I dusted with flaxseed to add 'good fat' (figure two blocks of carbohydrate and a block of fat)
  • one fried egg added to round out protein (one block)

This isn't the perfectionist on the Zone but it gets me back to the Zone. Hungry? Not anymore!

NOTE: There are a lot of products on the market that are branded as The Zone (energy bars and meal replacements) that I believe have nothing whatever to do with Dr. Barry Sears. Buyer beware. The REAL Zone is about being educated about food and living healthy, it's not about meal replacement 'diet plans' or short-term fixes!

Anyone want a step-by-step crepe recipe for my next post? I'll be working on photos and instructions. :) Watch this space!

3Dec/11Off

Flaxseed in Place of Egg: Borrowing a Vegan Idea

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I ran out of eggs today. (Okay, you vegans, I can hear you snickering!) The good thing is, I recently read about something that can be substituted for eggs and I was interested to try it. Faced with no transportation at the moment, grocery day one day too far in the future, and three hungry kids, I decided to do over one of my mom's inexpensive pantry-staple dinners, Tuna Patties. Look! Another free recipe!
Flaxseed as an addition to cookies gave them more of a chewy texture and more nutritional value but using them as a binder was a whole different step. I threw a couple spoonfuls of flaxseed meal into a bowl and added a bit of water. Then I added a little more, let it sit, stared at it, and mixed in a little more. The flax did indeed thicken up to a consistency similar to egg.

Thickened Flaxseed Meal

Tuna Patties (feeds three kids and an adult)

2 cans chunk light Tuna (oil or water) drained
2 tbsp. flaxseed meal and enough water to bring it to the consistency of eggs. You may want to add a little at a time, stirring and giving it a moment or two between each addition.
10 or so whole wheat saltine crackers, crumbled
a big pinch of dill weed
a smaller pinch of ground ginger
a splash of lemon juice
a good few shakes of Mrs. Dash (or salt and pepper)

1. Heat oven to 375 (if you're making oven fries they should already be in the oven, they take a bit longer than the patties)
2. Grease a square baking dish liberally with coconut oil or butter
3. For tuna dough into patties, dipping each side in more saltine crumbs if desired. Place in prepared baking dish.
4. Bake about 10 mins on one side, turn gently, bake about 10 mins more.

Serve with sweet peas and oven fries or macaroni n' cheese. You can also skillet-fry the patties, it's quick and very easy. I prefer it because it gives a crispier skin to the patties.

Oven Fries: If you've never made oven fries it's simple. Cut a quantity (I used four) potatoes into french fries, coat with olive oil and seasoned salt, turn into a baking dish, and bake at 375°F. for about half an hour, turning occasionally.

My son wanted me to take a picture of his plate. My kitchen after dark is a terrible place for pictures but here ya go!

"Take a picture of MY plate, Mom!"

Okay, it's not a sexy meal but it's tasty, it's really cheap, and it's likely that between the flaxseed or egg (milk would probably work, too) you've got everything on hand to make this.

Enjoy!

;)
Glyph Out

14Nov/11Off

How Glitch Finds His Way Home

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Glitch's DeskRight, so, I haven’t done a post in forever. But, I was talking to Glyph about this little quirk of mine, and I figured it was high time. And what better time than when approaching the midway point of this month’s epic writing challenge?

This year, I’ve done the unthinkable and attempted to complete NaNoWriMo. 50,000 words of novel in 30 days. Each year thousands of writers pour their hearts into this challenge, and produce everything from the awful to the awesome. I approached it with some trepidation; I know I’d be busy with other stuff this month, and I wondered if I could pull it off. It didn’t really help that, by the start of it, I had only a main character, the first three scenes, and a basic premise. Because I didn’t have everything explicitly mapped out, I figured I was doomed to failure. I believe this might be one reason I haven’t actually attempted writing a novel in so long: I got the feeling that if I wasn’t The Next Tolkien, I shouldn’t bother writing.

However! I dove in head first, against my usual inhibitions, and in the days that have followed, I discovered something about my writing and planning style. To assist with the understanding, I have drawn up a pretty simple analogy.

Imagine you’re out in the dark. You need to get home, but you can’t see your way. All you can see is the light sparkling in the house’s windows in the distance. You know at least which direction you have to head. You also have a lantern that lets you see the next few steps in front of you. Using the lantern, and keeping your eyes on the house way off in the distance, you can begin to make your way home one step at a time. It might still be dangerous! After all, you have no idea if there are twists and turns in the path ahead, or if something wild will come out and drag you further off track for a bit. But you can see where your foot is falling next, you can see enough to know what’s coming to get you, and you know that if you just persevere, you can get home eventually.

The house is the ending of your story. It’s where you want it to end up when all’s said and done. It’s the resolution to your tale’s biggest conflict. Whenever you get stuck, you can ask yourself, ‘how can I get this closer to the ending?’ The lantern is an informal plan for the next few scenes (you can write it down; so far this year, I haven’t). As you write what comes up in your head, you’re doing the equivalent of taking a few more steps forward. And as you step forward, more about the story gets revealed to your imagination. I found this happening the very first day. I started hauling on the first couple scenes, and by the time I was done, I had more scenes unfolding in my mind.

Maybe this’ll work out for you, maybe not. Everyone has their own way of writing, whether it involves outlines, pure whimsy, far too much caffeine, or getting out in the middle of nowhere. This is just a little anecdote of my experience, and who knows? It just might work for you!

</Glitch>

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10Nov/11Off

Tips on Surviving NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month)

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A friend who is also writing NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) got in touch on Tuesday with the news 'I have a bad case of the Week Twos'. Week Two is about the time that, whether your novel has been going well up to that point or not, the whole enterprise can look impossible.

You may have fired off the first few chapters of your novel with reckless abandon but now characters are pulling the story in directions you don't want to go (she said that it was turning into a tween romance version of 1984 and she just didn't want to write that book), the plot is swiss-cheesed with holes, and you're probably mired down in a scene where your characters insist on having a long rambling conversation.

It's like a zombie apocalypse only without the excitement.

So now that the rapturous initial spill of words and ideas is churning around into the harder work of building the story and, like superglue, maybe hardening into shapes you don't want. What can you do to rescue your novel-writing mojo?

1. Don't Marry Your Words! Realize that this is your Rough Draft, ideas dancing naked on the page then trying on strange outfits. Everything is subject to the editing process later and even to sweeping revisions but you don't worry about that now. Your brain has to process the ideas somehow and when you're writing so quickly you've got to just let them flow. Hopefully you have a bare framework to arrange the ideas on. I didn't do nearly as much preplanning as I should have for this book but I did manage enough that I have another goal to choose and head for when I need it. I never ever forget, though, that I am not married to the words I'm writing now. I've heard that what you end up with at the end of NaNoWriMo is nothing more than a 50,000 word complex outline. From my experience last year, this is true.

2. Remember That Authors Can Time-Travel. The characters in your book may be bound to a timeline (unless you're writing a freaky time-travel story) but you, the author, are not. You've got the gods-eye view of your timeline and if you are writing a part that does absolutely nothing for your inspiration, if your characters are static and bored don't keep writing at that point in the timeline! Pick up your pen, figure what might happen hours, days, or weeks down the timeline and put your pen down there to begin writing again. This fast-forward can get you out of that quicksand scene that should probably have already ended.

3. Explore the Web. No, not the internet, the web of connections between your characters. Novels are long enough to not only have a plot but also to carry subplots. While you don't want to clutter your story with too many subplots, you might find that if you're stuck for what to write next you can look in on a different character and find out what they're doing and in what way their story intersects or will intersect with the one you're already writing. This year, when I've finished one character's scene and think 'what do I do next?' I figure out which character I haven't written about for a few scenes and go to see what they're doing. To begin with the connections were only that they lived in the same area and knew the same people or were related. Now those connections are helping to weave the plot together...and I always have something to write next.

4. Introduce the Odd Man Out. It's easy to keep creating characters we're comfortable with. When you're stuck, though, sometimes it is due to the fact that all the characters get along and are nodding politely at each other. It may be time to break the mold and bring in a character who is strange, argumentative, not the sharpest knife in the drawer, handicapped, confused, or belligerent. Allowing this character into the mix can stir things up right away, force the other characters to react and that can break that static plot up and get it moving again.

5. Flash Brainstorm. I am very fortunate to have nano buddies who know things that I don't. I'm thankful that Glitch is usually just an IM ping away and he's studied all kinds of interesting things that I need for my novel. He also happens to be the world's nicest guy so when I realize that I need to figure out some more details about the tech in my novel very quickly, he's willing to discuss how things like radio frequencies and encryption keys work. Likewise the NaNoWriMo site has a forum full of people who have learned things that you have not. I saw on the home page where Chris Baty was looking for anyone who could help him with what a painter's life is like. Don't go it alone if unknown facts are tripping you up, throw the question out there, brainstorm quickly with a friend, toss those still-gasping facts into your novel and keep going.

...and if all else fails Glitch recommends throwing in an explosion. It's a little dramatic, I admit, but if you're really desperate you could explode something, kill a character, toss an moose through the dining room window. Desperate times call for desperate measures, right? In any case, soldier on Wrimos!

1Nov/11Off

NaNoWriMo 2011 Has Begun!

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Would you believe that some crazy novel writers began their efforts in 'literary abandon' last night at midnight? Some even met up to do it. My tactic was a bit different and I hit the hay early to try and get rid of a persistent headache and to be up bright and early to write.

I don't know about bright but I was up earlier than usual and I did manage to get 1,091 words done (my goal today is 2,000) by 7:10 am when I had to get up and get the family sorted out for school and work.

Once again I am using the Secret Weapon for focusing on my writing: Write or Die (the online version)

Focusing with timed writing I can generally whip 500 words out in 15 minutes which really helps when I need to just get the words down for the day and move on!

Good Luck and happy writing fellow Wrimos!

;)
Glyph out

22Oct/11Off

Recipe Discoveries

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A few of the great recipes that I've found, tried, and loved recently!

Honey Vanilla Coffee Creamer - Store-bought flavored creamers have a lot of sugar as well as a lot of ingredients that we weren't sure we need to consume. This recipe is just one of several (two blog posts worth!) unbelievably wonderful-sounding flavors. Healthy Low-Sugar Tip: Reduce honey to one tablespoon rather than the 1/4 C. listed and add a packet of powdered stevia extract with the honey, whisking both in to the hot milk and cream.

Healthy Chocolate Cake With a Secret - Okay, when I read the secret ingredient for this dark, moist, springy chocolate cake I was skeptical. Tried it and I became a true believer! I've now got a great chocolate cake recipe that my diabetic husband can eat and the rest of us all want, too. I have to admit, I didn't have everything to try the icing recipe so I just melted some Hershey's Special Dark chocolate and a few chocolate chips in the microwave, stirred them around, and tried drizzling the melted chocolate on. It worked much better if I spread it on like icing. Ooooh, yeah, did it ever work!

Great Grain-Free Granola - Great with almond milk, coconut milk, or regular cow-squeezed milk.

Taco Popcorn (I can't remember now where I got the recipe and I've changed it up a bit anyway)

  • Enough popped popcorn to fill two 9x13 baking pans (leaving enough room to stir the popcorn around)
  • 1/3 C. butter, melted
  • 1 envelope Old El Paso 40% less sodium Taco seasoning

Heat oven to 250°F. with rack set in the center of the oven.

Line baking pans with wax paper.

Melt butter in the microwave and whisk in about 1/4 of the taco powder into the butter (just add the powder until the butter is obviously taco-flavored but still good and liquidy).

Drizzle and drip butter over popcorn, stirring gently with a rubber spatula. Sprinkle remaining taco powder over popcorn, stir to coat, and pour popcorn into baking pans.

If there is still too much taco seasoning powder that isn't sticking to the popcorn as you stir and toast it, melt a little more butter and drizzle it over, stirring by scooping it up from the bottom of the pan to help it along.

Bake 35-45 mins, stirring about every 10 minutes. Beware! It looks like a lot but is very easy to eat it all in one day.

And here's a recipe that I haven't tried yet but it's on my list! Sugar-Free Marshmallows Recipe & Sugar-Free Rice Krispie Treats. These look awesome, I just need to buy a few things for it and we'll be testing again.

;) Glyph Out