Archive for the ‘Homemaking’ Category

When labels mislead

February 10th, 2018

I have a deep, dark secret. It’s bound to have other dietitians ready to throw me out of the club.

I don’t read labels.


I generally buy food based on price and count on my general tendency towards minimally processed ingredients for ensuring that I don’t end up with too much sodium or added sugar in our diets (although, who am I kidding, we get plenty of added sugar in our diets – I know it’s there because I’m removing it from my sugar bins by the cup- and spoonful.)

Anyway, there is one item where I routinely read the label (or at least read it when I’m deciding between stuff – then I go on autopilot.)

I read the labels on cans of fruit.

We eat canned fruit almost every day. If we were to try to get our 3-4 servings of fruit per day from fresh fruit alone, it could get pretty expensive (or pretty unvaried during certain seasons); but by using a combination of canned, frozen, dried, and (seasonal) fresh fruit, I can feed my family a good amount of fruit without breaking the bank.

But since I feed my family canned fruit on a daily basis, I have nutritional criterion for what I buy. I want as little added sugar as possible. What’s more, I want as little added sweetener as possible.

So, when possible, I try to get fruit packed in water. If that’s not available, I’ll go with fruit packed in its own juice or in extra light syrup. If fruit is packed in some other kind of juice, I want the concentration of that juice to be the same as the concentration of straight juice (so no using half the water to reconstitute fruit juice – that’s the nutritional and flavor equivalent of heavy syrup.) I only buy fruit in heavy syrup as a treat (for instance, you can’t buy canned plums any other way – and I have fond memories of my mom’s home-canned plums so I pick some up a couple times a year.)

Then came Splenda – and fruit canners decided all their dreams had come true. Unlike other artificial sweeteners, Splenda is heat-stable AND replaces sugar molecule-for-molecule. This means that they can use Splenda to get the same results as sugar (sweetness and better fruit texture) without the extra calories/added sugar that consumers don’t want. Perfect. They started using Splenda in their canned fruits.

I am not a fan.

Not to say that I’m not a fan of Splenda in general. It is a wonderful substitute for those who need to reduce sugar and still want to make their own recipes (so, it’s a great choice for diabetics who want to be able to eat their favorite dessert without having to make the rest of the meal completely carb free).

But even in the absence of the calories from sugar, I don’t want my children to grow up thinking canned fruit should be as sweet as it would be if it were canned in heavy syrup. I want to train their taste buds to think that water-packed (or “own-juices-packed”) fruit is “the way canned fruit should taste.”

But then I started using Walmart grocery pickup, where reading labels isn’t as easy as scanning visually while you’re tossing a can into your cart.

At first, I bought the Great Value fruit labeled “No Added Sugar.” But that was packed in Splenda. No go.

I switched to fruit “With 100% Fruit Juice”. It contains an extra 3 grams of sugar per serving (that’s 3/4 teaspoon) than fruit canned in water would.

But last week, I saw that there was a new item available: Great Value canned fruit packed IN WATER.

“Hooray! At last!” I thought, as I added it to my favorites and ordered some cans.

My hooray turned to disappointment when I looked at the label before I opened the first can of peaches.

These were not peaches packed in water. These were peaches packed in Splenda. They’d just changed the name of the “No added sugar” variety.


Not gonna be a hero

October 23rd, 2017

Usually, I reserve my dishwasher for tableware – plates, bowls, glasses, mugs. I handwash those big, bulky cooking and serving things.

But I had a stomach bug this weekend that got me all behind on dishes – and my in-laws are visiting next weekend (so it’d be kinda nice to have a semi-clean house). So I ran a dishwasher full of the normal stuff this morning – and ran a dishwasher full of big glass bowls and metal pans this evening.

My dishwasher

Not gonna be a hero.

Dishwasher contents

Not this time.

Cookbook Review: Classic Rachael Ray 30-Minute Meals

January 11th, 2017

While I enjoy complicated techniques and fancy ingredients on the occasion, I generally have three priorities in cooking. I like my recipes cheap, quick, and tasty.

Which is why I’ve been selecting cookbooks from the “quick” section at my local library.

Rachael Ray features prominently in this section, and I chose Classic Rachael Ray 30-Minute Meals for my first foray into the world of Ray.

Rachael Ray book cover

The Recipes

With 500 or so recipes, this book doesn’t skimp like some do. The recipes are divided into 4 broad categories: Everyday, Parties, Date Nights, and Kid Chefs. Each recipe contains a side-bar “menu” that includes the entree and suggested sides (recipes for sides may or may not be included depending on their complexity: “Green salad and Crusty Bread” does not have a recipe.) Some recipes include a little blurb with recipe descriptions or personal stories, but not all recipes do.

I tagged quite a few recipes in the “everyday” section as interesting (most of the party recipes were a bit too fancy for me, see above) – and I tried three recipes altogether.

Our family loves curry, so I was eager to try Ray’s “Curry in a Hurry”, which used golden raisins and mango chutney for sweetness (rather than the coconut milk we often use in our curries). I tried it with green curry paste and added extra vegetables (green peppers and sweet potatoes if I remember correctly.) We found that it was INCREDIBLY mild and quite sweet. I suppose we shouldn’t have been terribly surprised – green curry paste is much milder than red curry paste, so we’ve often felt the need to add more green curry to recipes (especially those written for the generic American). Also, both sweet potatoes and bell peppers tend to be sweet vegetables, so… Even so, while the idea was interesting, the reality wasn’t even compelling enough for me to try modifying it for future use.

The second recipe we tried was “Mamma’s Broccolini and Ricotta Pasta”, which was very easy to put together, but lacked something in oomph. Perhaps it was because I used frozen brocccoli instead of broccolini (does broccolini have a stronger flavor?), but we ended up loading this with Parmesan cheese (not in the recipe at all) to give it a bit more flavor – and still found it pretty bland. Sad day.

The third recipe we tried was much more successful. “Chili for ‘Veg-Heads'” is a vegetarian chili recipe with three different types of beans (black, red kidney, and refried beans) as well as peppers and onions. I love me a vegetarian chili, but Daniel likes to have meat in his meals, so I added a pound of ground beef but otherwise made this as written. Daniel conceded that it was good enough to use as a base for developing our own recipe (hooray! I’ve tried a half dozen or so chili recipes over the course of our marriage, none of which merited such high praise – the most common complaint Daniel has had is that my veggie-loaded chilies are too sweet.) As written, the chili is VERY mild (do I sense a theme?) – so most of our modifications have involved adding heat by mixing up the pepper types and/or quantities. I’ve included our favorite rendition below.

Overall thoughts

From the recipes we tried, it appears that Ray really does deliver on the 30 minute promise. Even with cutting up vegetables, I was able to complete the recipes we tried in half an hour. So that’s good. As far as my other two priorities: cheap and tasty? Eh. Many of the recipes call for unusual ingredients, which are generally more expensive (both because they’re harder to find and because you’re more likely to have ingredients left over that you can’t figure out how to use.) As far as taste goes, the three recipes we tried all ended up on the bland side. Then again, we tend to like highly seasoned dishes – so your results may vary.

As far as health goes, I was not tremendously impressed with the suggested menus, which were starch-heavy and vegetable-poor. Skip one of her starches and add an extra vegetable side (or two) if you want a balanced meal. Also, Ray apparently has no idea what constitutes “healthy”, so just ignore anything she says about health (thankfully, she mostly avoids discussing it.)

How is this book for browsing? As mentioned above, some recipes have little blurbs, others don’t – which means you often have to read through a recipe in order to get a sense of what it’s like. You may or may not enjoy that. There are full-page photographs every 5-6 pages (or so, I didn’t actually count), and smaller photos more frequently than that – but a fair number of the photos are of Ray rather than the food, which I find HIGHLY disappointing.

Overall, I am not impressed with Rachael Ray (based solely on this cookbook – I don’t have any other knowledge of her or experience with her.) She fails at two of my primary criteria for recipes (cheap and tasty) – and provided a sub-par recipe reading experience. Again, your results may vary.

Sample Recipe: Chili for Veg-Heads
Liberally adapted by Rebekah Garcia :-)

  • 1 lb ground beef or pork
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 medium bell pepper, seeded and chopped
  • 3 jalapeno peppers, seeded and chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced (or 4 tsp pre-potted minced garlic)
  • 1 tsp beef base
  • 1/2 tsp liquid smoke
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 quart diced tomatoes
  • 2 cups black beans (drain and rinse if using canned)
  • 2 cups kidney beans (drain and rinse if using canned)
  • 1.5 Tbsp ground cumin
  • 1.5 Tbsp chili powder
  • 0.5 Tbsp Frank’s Red Hot Sauce
  • 2 cups refried beans
  1. Brown ground beef or pork. Add onions, peppers, and garlic and saute until onions are translucent.
  2. Add rest of ingredients and heat through. Serve with your choice of chili toppings.

Washing before I wash

June 6th, 2016

Dad teased that my grandma washed her dishes before she washed them – immersing them in soapy water and wiping them down before carefully placing them in the dishwasher for a cycle.

I smiled at Dad’s teasing, wondering at Grandma’s methodical refusal to take advantage of the wonderful convenience she had in her kitchen.

A dishwasher! That washes dishes at the press of a button! Just put the dirty dishes in and, a couple hours later, take the clean dishes out!

We didn’t have a dishwasher, you see. My dad proclaimed he had seven – with no need for another.

I never in a million years imagined that I would become my grandmother.

Yet I have.

After nearly every meal, I walk into the kitchen and fill a dishpan with hot soapy water.

Plastic containers, knives, and lightly soiled mixing bowls and pans get washed first – and rinsed in hot water in another dishpan before I set them in the freestanding drying rack to dry.

Then I place the plates and cups and bowls and utensils from the meal in the dishpan of soapy water. I lift them out one by one, inspecting them for food debris, which I wipe off with a dishcloth before placing the dish in the dishwasher.

Finally, I wash the heavily soiled “big stuff”, soiling my dishwater in the process. But by then it doesn’t matter. I’ll dump the dishwater down the drain or throw it on some plants or use it to soak a pot with persistent cooked-on gunk. No need for clean water for those purposes.

Why did my grandmother wash her dishes before she washed them?

I don’t know.

But I do know why I do.

Because the idea of a dishwasher that turns dirty dishes to clean in the touch of a button is a myth. It might be true for the first few cycles, but eventually, you’ll end up with food particles spread throughout your load of dishes and dried on by the “autodry” function. You’ll have to disassemble the bottom arm and clean out all the detritus that has collected from improper rinsing. It’ll stink.

The alternative most people take is to rinse their dishes prior to placing them in the dishwasher, scraping off the food gunk with a fork or knife and rinsing the rest off under running water.

But, as environmental folks are wont to remind us, the process of rinsing can often use more water than our super-efficient dishwashers do.

So what’s a semi-crunchy-but-still-wants-clean-dishes mama to do?

She washes her dishes before she washes them, using every ounce of water to its greatest advantage.

Playing Kitchen Detective

April 11th, 2016

“Man, this dough is dry,” I thought to myself as I added yet another tablespoon of water to the bread dough I was kneading.

I mentally reviewed the adjustments I’d made to the recipe.

I’d doubled the recipe. No problem there.

I’d used 2 cups of milk instead of 1 cup milk and 1 cup water (got to use up that just-about-to-turn milk!) That could increase liquid needs just a little since milk has a small amount of solids in it. But I’d already added, what? A quarter cup of water?

And the dough was still dry – tons of flour still just sitting on the bottom of my bowl!

I’d used all whole-wheat flour instead of 2/3 whole wheat, 1/3 bread – and had added a tablespoon of gluten per recipe to compensate. That might increase water needs a little…but by now I’d added at least a half cup of water!

The only answer I could come up with is that I shouldn’t have measured out all the flour per recipe before kneading. I must have just never noticed that I never ended up needing the full flour allotment, since I usually mixed everything together with just half the flour and then added in a half cup extra flour at a time as I kneaded.

And then my ten minutes of kneading were up and I wet a dishcloth to cover the dough.

That’s when I saw the oil, still in the measuring cup where I’d carefully measured it out.

Half a cup of oil, substituting for four tablespoons of melted butter times two.

No wonder I needed an extra half cup of liquid.

I used the oil for a salad I was making for the evening meal – and let the bread raise and cook as usual.

It turned out fine.

Even so, I’m writing this down as a note to self: When a recipe isn’t quite turning out as you’d expected, check to make sure you included all the ingredients.

Don’t try too hard

June 10th, 2015

Imagine having your boss greet you in the morning with: “Don’t try too hard to get things done today.”

What would you think of your boss? What would you think of your place of employment?

If you heard that someone else’s boss greeted them with that, what would you think of their boss? What would you think of their place of employment?

I think of city road maintenance crews. I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s how their bosses greet them every morning. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a road maintenance crew try too hard to get things done. And everyone knows (right?) that government agencies have to use up their full budget by the end of the year in order to get a full budget for the next – so it’s in a government boss’s interest to waste money.

Certainly, I never heard that from my bosses when I worked in the private sector.

But, honestly, I’ve never heard that from my public sector bosses either.


Bosses are interested in getting value out of their employees. They want their employees to work hard and get things done.

Sure, some bosses are better at motivating their employees to work hard and to accomplish things – but no employer would go so far as to tell their employees not to try too hard to get things done.

Except my boss right now.

My husband is not interested in getting as much hard work out of me as possible. That isn’t his goal for our home.

I’m not at home so I can be hyperproductive, so our home can be immaculate, so I can finish a to-do list a mile long. I’m not at home so my husband can arrive home to a harried, exhausted wife who is frustrated with not meeting her expectations of the ideal housewife. I’m not at home to be frustrated at our daughter for keeping me from completing my to-do list.

I’m not a homemaker so I can “get things done.”

Does that mean my husband was encouraging me to lie in bed all day long, to not rinse and wash the diapers, to not make him dinner, to not tidy the house? No. He was not encouraging me to idleness.

No, he was encouraging me to have perspective.

Because trying too hard to get things done makes me worse, not better, at my job.

It makes me impatient and unresponsive as a mother. It makes me frustrated and unhelpful as a wife. It makes our home a place of chaotic frenzy instead of peaceful rest.

Right now, I am called to fulfill a role (or several roles), not merely to complete tasks.

Which means I need to listen to my boss when he tells me not to try too hard to get things done. I need to stop and consider what is really important.

Thanks a lot, Red Cross

February 12th, 2015

The American Red Cross is a wonderful, helpful organization.

And it drives me nuts.

I donated blood with them once in college – and they’ve been calling my cell phone ever since, asking for more donations.

I’ve told them a couple times that, not long after my last donation, I was told by a doctor that I had hypovolemia (low blood volume) and that this makes blood donation unwise. Would they please note this on my file and stop calling? The assure me that they will – and call again next month. Anymore, I just ignore the calls when I see their number on my phone.

But recently they did one more thing to raise my ire.

They gave my husband a gift.

Daniel donates blood regularly through the Red Cross donation center at his workplace, and when he got to a certain number of units, they thanked him with a gift of a red potholder and oven mitt.

So, a couple days ago, I’d just finished reseasoning my cast iron skillet on the stove and I set it on top of a small stack of potholders on the counter.

I peeled the parsnips and cut up the squash and ham for a Farmer Boy-inspired meal, and I set the skillet back on the burner to fry the ham.

A couple minutes later, I turned aside from the sink to see red smoke puffing out around the bottom of my cast-iron skillet.

You see, unbeknownst to me, the synthetic fabric of the Red Cross potholder on the top of the stack had melted to the bottom of my skillet – and when I’d placed the skillet on top of the burner I’d placed the potholder there too.

Thankfully, the batting was flame resistant and I didn’t have a fire on my hands, just a mess of melted plastic and an acrid smoke filling my kitchen.

Thanks a lot Red Cross :-)

In which I am no longer employed

January 9th, 2015

Today marks a last for me – and tomorrow a first.

Today is my last day of employment. Today, I remain a WIC dietitian.

Tomorrow is my first day of…

Well, what exactly is tomorrow my first day of? What exactly am I as of tomorrow?

Calling today my last day of employment might lead one to think that tomorrow is my first day of unemployment. But that wouldn’t be true. You see, the technical definition of unemployment is that one is not working for pay but IS actively seeking work for pay. That’s not me.

Maybe I’m joining the ranks of the underemployed-as one who is highly skilled but working a low wage job that does not use her skills. I doubt that. For one, unless you count my monthly “allowance” (Daniel and I both have one), I will have no wage whatsoever. Secondly, I disagree with the idea that what I’ll be doing is low-skill or won’t make use of my education or expertise.

Maybe if I told you what I’d be doing, we’d be able to come up with a better label for my employment status.

But what exactly will I be doing as of tomorrow?

I’ll be at home, taking care of my daughter. I’ll be feeding her, changing her, bathing her, rocking her to sleep, and making sure she gets that all-important tummy time. But I don’t intend to be a stay-at-home mommy.

I’ll be doing laundry, doing dishes, making dinner, and scrubbing the toilet. But I don’t intend to be a housewife.

Let’s call it being a stay-at-home wife. My goal is to care for our daughter and care for our home in such a way that Daniel is able to be happier, more productive, and better loved.

Yes, I’m leaving paid employment to be at home with our daughter – but ultimately, I’m leaving paid employment so I can be a better helper to my husband.

I’ll be taking a pay cut, sure – but I have a feeling this job will require every bit of skill and education I possess.

I’m not going to be unemployed or underemployed – I’m going to be a happily unpaid full-time helpmate.

Employment statisticians can make if that what they will.

I dream of swine

September 24th, 2014

Some people dream of farm-fresh eggs, delivered daily by their own backyard chickens.

I admit that a really fresh egg is delicious – but my local supermarket sells eggs with 660 mg Omega 3 fatty acids per egg for $2.49 per dozen. That’s 3.14 cents per 100 mg Omega 3s.

For reference, I could purchase salmon at $7.99 per pound (Going on memory for the cheapest I’ve seen it) and get 100 mg Omega 3s for 8.2 cents. If I went with the cheaper canned salmon, I could get 100 mg for 7.5 cents. Canned tuna could give me 100 mg for 5.5 cents, but I’d have to moderate intake to ensure that I don’t ingest too much mercury. So the eggs are definitely cheaper (and far easier to get my husband to eat regularly).

Now, I could go to Walmart and get a fish oil supplement with 100 mg Omega 3s for 1 cent each – but I’d also have to pop a pill, deal with fishy burps, and weigh the risks and benefits of unknown mercury exposure.

If I wanted fresh eggs that gave me the same amount of Omega 3s, I’d have to dig through the scientific literature to develop a balanced feed, purchase flax seed (which isn’t cheap either) to feed my chickens, and take care of the chickens. It may be that my finished eggs would be comparable in price to the store-bought Omega 3 eggs – but I suspect not, and it would take a fair bit of work even to figure out if it’d be economically feasible.

On the other hand, I cringe every time I am forced to dump spoiled milk, a bad batch of yogurt, or moldy buttermilk down the drain. I hate waste – and that’s good protein I’m dumping down the drain. Likewise, when I drain the chicken stock off an otherwise vegetable and bean soup before dumping the rest in the trash. That’s good organic matter I can’t compost because it contains animal products.

And then I get to the store where I take my chances with sausage and bacon, never knowing if the brand that’s on sale or lowest price will taste right in my recipes – wishing I could just buy ground pork and season it myself, but unable to do so unless I’m willing to pay exorbitant prices.

It makes me hanker for a pig.

Apart from poultry (which require a fairly large amount of labor in processing for the amount of protein you get from them), pigs are the most efficient converters of energy. They are omnivores, which means they could actually translate my kitchen waste into edible protein. As far as day to day maintenance goes, they’re fairly low maintenance (not so for a nanny goat or a cow!) And, they’re delicious.

Yes, I dream of swine. Well, probably not multiple swine (they *do* smell, you know.) But a single pig a year, grown fat on kitchen waste and field corn, slaughtered for a fresh supply of sausage, bacon, hams, pork chops, and lard. Ah, I dream of swine.

I’ve lost my Homemaking Mojo

May 15th, 2014

Usually when Daniel asks me if he has any more underwear, I tell him that yes, they’re in the basket in such and such a place-I’m just behind with folding.

But when he asked several weeks back, I had to report that he had none. None. I’d fallen behind such that he had no clean underwear. Now, thanks to our packratrish tendencies (actually, my tendency to think that any clothing can be reused or repurposed), we were still able to find something he could wear, albeit not the most comfortable fit. (TMI? So sorry.)

I’ve lost my Homemaking Mojo, you see.

I had such a wonderful laundry system set up. Every morning, I threw in the load of laundry prescribed for the day (Sheets on Monday, Darks on Tuesday, Underwear and other things washed on Hot on Wednesday, etc.). Every lunchtime I switched the laundry from washer to dryer or hung it to dry. And after work, I folded and put away (some of the time.) It worked so well, I was never behind except on folding (which isn’t quite as desperate as being behind on washing and drying, you have to admit.)

But I got behind and tried to catch on a Saturday and that blew my Homemaking Mojo clear away. I spent the entire day handling a mountain of laundry, resulting in extreme laundry exhaustion – which means I didn’t do laundry again for a week and ended up with another mountain. And then my husband didn’t have underwear.

So now every ten days or so I freak out, realizing that my husband will soon run out of underwear, and I quick throw in a load of underwear – leaving the rest of the laundry to pile into a higher and higher and higher mess as our closets gradually empty.

There’s an easy fix, you know. All I need to do is throw in a load of laundry every morning and switch it every noon.

The problem is that laundry isn’t the only area in which I’ve lost my Homemaking Mojo. In a frenzy of preparation for guests, I spent a day doing dishes and cooking. And I’ve barely cooked or done dishes since. In a cleaning frenzy (for guests again), I spent myself on housework and can’t even be bothered to move my cereal bowl from the sofa-side table to the sink these days. In a fit of organizing (trying to get my craft room up and running-which it now is!), I wore myself out and am now letting all my organizational systems decay.

The house seems insurmountable. It’s not just the laundry I need to pick back up. It’s the dishes, the cooking, the cleaning, the garden, the grocery shopping. Even just picking up those wonderful one-thing-at-a-time systems I had going seems overwhelming, because it’s reestablishing a half dozen patterns I’ve let slide.

But really, Rebekah, you don’t have to pick them all up at once to make progress.

Just take one step at a time.

Transfer the load of laundry from washer to dryer at lunch today.

You’ll find your mojo one small step at a time.

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