If you are like me when it comes to breakfast: the struggle is real. I can’t really bear the thought of getting up 15 whole minutes earlier for something as trivial as the most important meal of the day. So it usually ends up being a granola bar or some other such nonsense. But this month, during my meat/dairy-limiting endeavor to cut my carbon footprint, I think I stumbled upon something that could prove to be a long-term solution to my breakfast dilemma. Oatmeal to go! (And no, I’m not talking about these candy bars.)
While the convenience of instant oatmeal packets appealed to me, the excess sugar, preservatives, packaging, and cost did not. So I decided to make my own! My homebrewed oatmeal mix contains…
- Thin-rolled oats (i.e. ‘quick oats’)
- Dried fruits (craisens, currents, chopped dates, chopped prunes)
- Chopped raw nuts (almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts)
- Toasted salted sunflower seeds
- Ground flax seed (processed in a cheap coffee grinder – works great!)
- Sea Salt
…all shaken up in a big container. I’ll be honest: I’m moving soon and was cleaning out my pantry, this was how I got rid of stuff (my next batch probably won’t contain nearly as much variety…or WILL it?)
Before work in the morning, I…
- Put a generous half-cup scoop of the mix in a mason jar
- Pour in about an equal amount of water or milk substitute (I like almond, hazelnut, or hemp milk). Add extra liquid if you like thinner oatmeal.
- Pour in a small amount of the sweetener of your choice – I use real maple syrup!
- Screw on the lid and shake.
- Bring to work, remove lid, heat in microwave, stir
- Eat (Usually while reading my email. Yes, I’m that person that eats at my desk. Please don’t judge me.)
So my fellow breakfast-strugglers, give this a try, maybe it will work for you too?
Reposted from my science blog.
On August 3rd, 2015 President Obama released his Clean Power Plan for the nation, the biggest move the U.S. government has ever made to specifically reduce climate changing greenhouse gas emissions on a nationwide scale. The Plan aims to decrease carbon emissions from power plants 32% below 2005 levels by 2030.
Needless to say, the announcement was met with mixed responses. “President Obama understands that climate change is the great planetary crisis facing us and that we must move boldly to transform our energy system away from fossil fuels and toward energy efficiency and renewable energy,” cheered Democratic Presidential nominee Bernie Sanders. “President Obama’s Carbon Rule is irresponsible and overreaching. The rule runs over state governments, will throw countless people out of work, and increases everyone’s energy prices,” decried Republican Presidential nominee Jeb Bush. The rift formed quickly down all-too-familiar party lines as the same old feet beat out their steps to…
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Like many Americans, I shuffled off to my polling place last Tuesday morning and cast my vote, then shuffled off to work, proud to have done my civic duty. It was a long and rancorous campaign season, but the silver lining was the amount of public discourse that had taken place around important issues over the last few months. Elections have that effect on society – they get us talking and thinking. We realize that an election offers us an opportunity to concretely interject our voice into the workings of this country, and that such opportunities are rare. Or are they?
As citizens, we sell ourselves short when it comes to the power of day-to-day choices. We’ll spend a year prepping ourselves for a Presidential election, and exactly no time at all thinking about how what we ate for breakfast could change our country. The concept “Vote with your fork” has been around for awhile (check out this article by Michael Pollan), but I am frequently amazed at the ease with which people at all points on the political spectrum are able to mentally distance themselves from this idea. Politicians come and go, but money is the eternal legislator of our nation. And as food is such a frequent purchase, ultimately our choice of what fills our daily three squares – and where it’s sourced – constitutes one of the most important political decisions that we can make, especially with concern to the environment. In the United States alone, agricultural land constitutes nearly half of the total acreage – over 15 times the area dedicated to urban land. Agriculture is the single biggest impact that humankind has made upon the Earth; food – and the choices we make concerning it – is intimately tied to the present and future health of our global economy and environment.
So what are you voting for at dinner time? To quote the site “3 Votes a Day”:
“Buying local, sustainably grown fruit, vegetables, milk, meat and grains is a vote for independent businesses, small farms and diverse landscapes. Buying conventionally grown, processed foods is a vote for feedlots, homogenous fast food chains, and petroleum fueled industrial agriculture.”
How can you vote for the former? Attend farmer’s markets, buy a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) meat or produce subscription, support your local food co-op; if these aren’t options for you, try to choose neighborhood grocers (Tim and Tom’s Speedy Market!) over SUPERVALU owned chains (many names – Cub, Jewel-Osco, Shop n’ Save – same owner), look for seasonal, USA-grown produce in the supermarket. Go to local restaurants rather than chains. Read food labels, and take a pass on things with a billion ingredients, especially if they are heavy in corn and soy derivatives (subsidized with tax-payer funds) or palm oil (Level 10 Rainforest Destruction ability). Learn where your meat comes from, and how it was raised – and if you can’t determine these things (or if the truth makes you nauseous) don’t buy it. Eat More Kale.
Go to Google. Research your home. Find out what it has to offer. Support it. Vote with your dollars. Once every four years we get the option of choosing between two people (dudes) for President, but we vote with our forks and wallets every day.
The Power is Yours! Chews wisely.
This shall be the Summer of Canning, says me. And so it was written, and so it shall be.
I love this time of year. With the Summer Solstice just over a week out, the daylight lingers until around almost 10pm here on the 45th Parallel. Not being much of a morning person myself, I love the feeling of extra time that it brings. What’s the hurry? It may be 9pm, but the sun hasn’t even set! And if the mighty Sol isn’t in a hurry, well, I sure as hell ain’t either.
Of course, there’s another side to this swinging pendulum of temperate zone seasons. We all know that in 6 months we’ll be huddled in fetal balls on our couches under 8 blankets, sipping hot cacao with the lights on at 5pm, because it’s DARK. Well. I’m going to be prepared this year. I plan on canning the hell out of all this freakin’ sunshine we’ve got now, all summer long. So when the pendulum inevitably swings and the darkness comes, I’ll just pop open a can of rhubarb barbecue sauce, strawberry jam, pickled asparagus, or peach butter and soak in the Vitamin D (well ok, maybe more like Vitamin C or E, but I’m pretty sure there’s summer in there somewhere).
Below is a recipe for Sunshine Rhubarb Concentrate, from the Ball Complete Guide to Home Preservation, a book my mom got me for Christmas. It’s similar to a recipe from my friend Susan that I posted last year, but with a dash of sunshine for good measure. I also threw in the recipe for what I fondly refer to as “RhubarBBQ Sauce,” because I know that after reading the previous paragraph you saw those words and your brain went “Um, wut.”
Remember that these things can be frozen or refrigerated for a bit if you aren’t ready to can. But if you too would like to crack open one of these jars of liquid sunlight on December 21st, just to spite Old Man Winter (or toast the Apocalypse, whichevs), then the Ball preserving website is a good place to start. Be brave! No sense in letting all this fresh sunlight go to waste.
Happy eating, today and tomorrow,
Sunshine Rhubarb Concentrate:
12 cups sliced (1 inch pieces) rhubarb
4 cups water
Grated zest and juice of one lemon and one orange
1.5 cups granulated sugar
In large stainless steel saucepan, combine rhubarb, lemon and orange zests, and water. Bring to boil over medium-high heat, stirring constantly. Reduce heat, cover, and boil gently until rhubarb is soft, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in lemon and orange juices.
Transfer to dampened jelly bag or a strainer lined with several layers of cheesecloth (a fine strainer works fine as well, I found) set over a deep bowl. Let drip, undisturbed, for at least two hours.
In a clean pot, combine juice and sugar. Heat to 190F over medium-high heat, stirring to dissolve sugar. Do not boil. Remove from heat and skim off foam.
If you are prepared to can, follow proper canning procedure laid out on the Ball site. Here are the specific deets for this recipe:
Predicted amount per batch: 4 pint jars
Headspace: ¼ inch
Processing time: 10 minutes in a rolling boil (for elevation under 1000ft, and for pint jars or smaller…quart jars and higher elevations need more time)
That’s it! It says you should get 4 pint jars out of it, but I tripled the recipe and only got half of what I expected. Maybe that was because it took longer to boil the triple batch and I lost more water, I’m not sure. But depending on how concentrated yours ends up, you’ll want to reconstitute with anywhere from a 1:1 ratio of soda water to juice (Ball’s recipe) to a 3:1 ratio (the recipe I posted above already) to make the rhubarb soda. Just do it to taste. Great with ice cream and booze added too.
RhubarBBQ Sauce (“Victorian Barbeque Sauce”):
*An important note if you plan to can: Do NOT alter this recipe! Especially do not increase the amount of “low acid” ingredients (raisins, onions). This will increase the pH of the sauce and make it potentially unsafe to can. All Ball recipes have been scientifically tested for safety to can, so don’t mess with them. See
8 cups chopped rhubarb
3.5 cups lightly packed brown sugar
1.5 cups chopped raisins
.5 cup chopped onions
.5 cup white vinegar
1 tsp ground allspice
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp salt
In large stainless steel saucepan, combine all ingredients. Bring to boil over high heat, stirring frequently. Reduce heat and boil gently, stirring frequently, until mixture thickens to consistency of a thin commercial BBQ sauce, about 30 minutes.
Predicted amount: 4 pint jars
Headspace: ½ inch
Processing time: 15 minutes in full rolling boil
There is something deeply satisfying about plunging a beat up old spade through perfectly manicured non-native turf grass, ripping through the roots, flipping that piece of earth, and starting over again on the other side with something edible. The summer days may be fewer here in Minnesota than other parts of the country, but they are longer too. Make no mistake – there is a lot of room for growing inside of a June day where twilight drags on until 10pm.
The notion for Victory Gardens in the United States was born of the pressures wrought on the food system by World War II. Americans were encouraged to plant gardens to aide the war effort, and over 20 million of them did so, driven by the assurance that their peppers and tomatoes were helping to bring down the Axis of Evil itself. Eleanor Roosevelt even had a swath of the White House lawn torn up and replaced with produce, despite the Department of Agriculture’s concerns that the movement it inspired would damage the industrial food system. They needn’t have worried though. After the war, the White House Victory Garden disappeared, as did many of the citizens’ gardens that, according to Wikipedia, once produced 40% of the vegetables consumed in the States. The garden, it seemed, was simply another weapon; to be used only in times of violence, and in times of peace put quietly away.
The idea of the Victory Garden is beginning to enjoy a renaissance though. In 2009, First Lady Michelle Obama had a garden planted in the White House yard for the first time since the Roosevelt days, as part of her youth-oriented campaign for healthier eating and living. Americans are beginning to understand that the enemy isn’t always as clearly identifiable as an insane despot with a tiny mustache, and a war isn’t always something that happens far away. Sometimes the enemy is Convenience and the battlefront is a Drive-Thru; and it’s taken a lot of healthcare bills and landscapes raped by monoculture for this understanding to come to the home front.
In Minneapolis, Minnesota you can find the last true vegetable Victory Garden from the WWII days – The Dowling Community Garden. The land there is special. Its soil is made up of the composted roots of ancestor plants that bore fruit in a time when people knew that growing one’s own food was critical to survival. It’s time that we regained a bit of that perspective. For Twin Cities locals, The Dowling Community Garden is having a plant sale on May 19th with over 200 plant varieties to choose from. And you can often find seedlings at the many farmers’ markets around Minneapolis–St. Paul.
What shape will your Victory Garden take? A raised bed in the backyard? A container garden on a sunny urban deck? Or – like me during the years I spent in my old, ill-lit apartment here – a tiny tray of herbs growing on the window sill? Fresh herbs, whenever I wanted them. Victory herbs.
If you’ve never lived south of the Minnesota/Iowa border, or if you’re the kind of person that isn’t willing to eat something that you found on the ground, then you’ve probably never tasted a hickory nut. Sad for you.
Hickory trees are everywhere in Missouri, and nearly every year (with the exception of odd-weathered bad crop seasons) they litter the yard of my childhood home with fat green and brown nuts, giving the particularly hickory-dense areas the appearance of a putting range. If golf balls were green and brown.
Hickory nuts have smooth, segmented husks that turn brown and fall off when the nut is ripe. Inside is a small, white-shelled nut that is an absolute bitch to crack. I seriously don’t know how squirrels do it. I have on two separate occasions watched friends break hand-held tools attempting to pry open one of these nuts. Amateurs. They just didn’t know the way of the hickory. You have to crack it vertically along its seam, and if you do it right, and the nut is at the right stage of ripeness and properly dried, you can split it cleanly in two, revealing a beautiful heart-shaped nut inside.
Of course, this rarely happens, and at least 10% of the time the little bugger actually ends up exploding all over the place. But that is also the way of the hickory.
The meat of the hickory nut is sweet and rich, and more delicate than the harsher flavors of the black walnut (another local tree). They are delicious. And also fairly impossible to shell by machine. In addition to their adamantium-like shells, the nut kernel has a convoluted shape that one must pick out of the shell with a nut pick. And of course, if you aren’t careful, hazardous little pieces of shell can get in with the meat, and OH BOY do those hurt the molars. For these reasons, though delicious, hickory nuts have never been commercially produced (to my knowledge). They are instead the rare delicacy of the intrepid Fall forager.
Hickory nuts are not about practicality. They are not about efficiency. They are not about mass quantity. They are the complete and utter opposite of Fast Food. They are about foraging around your yard on your hands and knees, and periodically throwing the nuts like tiny tennis balls for your dog. They are about sitting around a bowl for hours with family and friends, talking and laughing and swearing as you make your slow progress through a bucket, only to realize by the end that you’ve eaten most of your hard-earned harvest. They are about home. There is no rushing the hickory nut; there is no way of conforming it to our fast-paced world of convenience and global trade and neatly pre-packed nourishment. It is what it is. And it is perfect.
For this “Depths of Fall” pie, inspired by this recipe from Une Gamine dans la Cuisine, I substituted hickory nuts – harvested from my parents’ yard in St. Paul, MO and shelled with the help of some awesome friends in St. Paul, MN – for walnuts, and local apples for pears, and a few other tweaks. The butternut squash may sound strange, but it actually worked really well. The whole thing tasted like a richer, spicier, nuttier version of an apple pie. It tasted like Fall. I dug it. Be brave and give it a try sometime🙂.
What I’m pretty sure I put in it:
– About 2 cups butternut squash cut into 1-inch cubes (I halved the squashed, basted it with olive oil, and pre-cooked it in the oven to soften it a bit first).
– 2 peeled and thinly-sliced Connell Red apples
– ½ cup chopped dried fruit (I used currents, and maybe some craisens)
– ¼ teaspoon (t) pure almond extract
– ½ cup packed brown sugar
– 1 t cinnamon
– ½ t nutmeg
– ¼ or ½ t freshly-ground allspice
– 2 tablespoons orange juice
– 1/3 – 1/2 cup MO hickory nut pieces, lightly toasted in pure MN maple syrup on the stove (you can sub chopped walnuts) [Side note: I just found this site with another method of cracking hickory nuts. Haven’t try it, but may be worth a shot.]
– 2 tablespoons plain breadcrumbs (I used Panko flakes and a dash of flour for thickener)
Pat the cooked, cubed squash dry with a towel or paper towel if it is too wet, and toss it (still warm, to melt the sugar) in a large mixing bowl. Combine the other ingredients and mix around evenly. Pour into pie pan lined with your favorite crust recipe, and add a pretty top crust (make sure to slit it if it’s not a lattice). Bake at 400 F for 55-60 minutes (on 2nd to bottom rack position of oven, says the original recipe) until golden brown and bubbly. Enjoy🙂.
There’s a lot of things that you can say about Minnesota’s winters. And I’ll refrain from most of them, because they aren’t family friendly and my mother reads this blog. But if there’s one nice thing that can be said about our impending Season of Doom, it’s that we sure do get a lot of perfect soup weather.
There’s nothing quite like a kettle or a crockpot full of homemade soup bubbling away in your kitchen on a chilly day, filling the air with warm steam and happy aromas. What’s more, it’s easy to make, pretty hard to screw up even if you forgo a recipe, and you usually end up with enough to eat for a week! Which as we all know, is also the only downside to making soup. Because after about three days of eating it for every meal you start to be like, “Really, soup? You’re still here?”
Well get ready to have your socks blown off by this extremely not-new idea: Soup Exchange. Lunch time will never be the same again.
The Premise: Five friends. Five soups. One for each day of the workweek.
The Reason: Same soup everyday = boring. Different soup everyday = awesome!
The Execution: Make a giant pot of soup. Collect 5 pint jars (or one for every person participating, including yourself). Meet at Soup Rendez-vous Location (in our case, we met at my friend Lorissa’s house for pizza and homemade pie and ice cream – bonus!) Fill your jars with soup, one of each kind.
In this case, profiting entails having a different homemade tasty soup lunch for work every day; all you have to do is grab the jar out of the fridge in the morning. I keep a bowl and spoon on the bookshelf by my desk and heat it up in the office microwave – easy peasy! So why not give it a try? Grab a few friends or family members and use it as an excuse to hang out on a Sunday evening, like we do. Make it a thing you do in your neighborhood, or apartment complex. Organize a Soup Exchange with your co-workers, and have everyone swap jars at work. It doesn’t even have to be soup, any manner of tasty lunch food will do. We are even considering doing a Hotdish Exchange sometime😉. Because why blow money on crappy take-out during your lunch break every day, when you could be enjoying the delicious creations of you and your friends, made with love and smiles? (I always make my soup with love and smiles. And sea salt.)
Soup Exchange. So simple. So brilliant. So very, very Minnesotan. Uffda.