A tightly focused photo of a small piece of fudge sitting on a plane of fudge in a Pyrex baking dish. It is rich, brown chocolate.

Easy Vegan, Allergy-friendly Chocolate Fudge

I haven’t done fudge in years because it’s a sugar bomb, but it occurred to me that my eldest, who is dairy/soy/egg/peanut/wheat allergic, might never have had actual fudge in 24 years and that’s just wrong.  Fudge is one of the simplest things to make, and with the advent of canned sweetened condensed coconut milk, it’s now possible to make this traditionally dairy-laden dessert completely vegan, without compromise.

Continue reading

Cheap Cooking Basics: Chicken Dinner

Super short instructions here. Long explanation below.

You’re going to chop up a bunch of veggies and put them in a pan and put a raw, seasoned chicken on top, breast-side up. That goes in the oven with a bunch of oiled potatoes on the top rack above it, and baked for 45-60 minutes depending on the size of the bird. It takes us about 5 minutes to get this meal in the oven, maybe 10 if we chop celery. The leftovers are going to get used in a variety of tasty meals.

If you don’t know how to cook, you should keep reading. This may seem overwhelming (or too basic) but this is written with an assumption that you don’t really have a lot of experience or background in the kitchen.

Continue reading

Turkey Day Menu 2017: GF and allergy friendly

Courtesy of my sister, who is willing to adapt menus for other allergy issues. Comment here if your needs are different. 

First off, we have multiple allergies and food issues. In short:

Me; Militantly gluten free and no strawberries or sulfites due to allergies. Also allergic to crustaceans (lobster, crab, possibly shrimp?), peanuts, hazelnuts, lima beans, oats, banana, and weird issues around standard commercial dairy and eggs, but I do fine with certain local products on eggs and dairy. I also randomly have issues with tomatoes, garlic, onions, some veggies,  peppers, but there are meds I can take that help reduce inflammation to tolerate those. Some forms of garlic are better than others. I avoid most soy, refined sugar and mold-type cheeses due to inflammation issues.

My eldest: Allergic to soy, egg, dairy, peanuts and wheat.

My middle: No citric acid or citrates, reacts to wheat in weird ways, same for natamycin

Hubby has texture/taste issues (goes beyond dislike, not an allergy) with visible egg, set gelatin, and most cheese (except pizza.)

Youngest is Intensely picky.

A turkey dinner is actually one of the easiest meals to adapt.

So, within those parameters, here is our menu, according to Sis, with bullet commentary by me.

Continue reading

On accepting help

We get a lot of messages in our culture about bootstraps and “making it on our own” and “being independent”.

“I never accepted handouts from anyone!”

I don’t see that as necessarily laudable. Here’s the thing. While striving to do the best you can is a good idea, the fact of the matter is that no one, not anyone, anywhere, gets to where they need or want to be without at least some support along the way. Whether it is simply being allowed in the door, or getting a job, or having enough resources to get an education or even accepting a tax credit…

I’ve been poor and I know a lot of poor families. And one of the biggest lessons of the co-op has been how much people want to help. Our produce co-op started with 30 families ordering. Our last big donation effort helped 30 families, something like six of them at the last minute. Every single week we send out multiple gifted produce boxes. I don’t want to call them charity, because while they are definitely given to people in need, they are not given in a way that isolates and separates people in need.

With our holiday boxes, often the very people getting a box will also be making something to put in them. Someone like me with more money than energy might buy a bunch of pumpkin for someone with more energy than money to make into pies for people who have neither the time nor the infrastructure to do so. One dinner was entirely cooked because the family was in a hotel.

It’s May, why am I talking about this now?

I’ve been thinking about privilege a lot, about helping and charity. I’ve also been playing a hell of a lot of Skyrim. For those who don’t know, Skyrim is a single-player video game where you basically go into a fantasy world and have adventures and work your way up from a prisoner in chains to someone who can pretty much slay anything that walks, flies or breathes, and a whole lot of things that don’t. Dragons? No problem. Like many such games, the concept of “leveling up” is there, you do things, you get experience. You do more things, you get more experience. You get enough skill points and boom, you are healthier or have more stamina or more magic to use.

Skyrim is also a game that allows people to change the game world, quite literally, with things called mods. Mods can do as little as adding an apple to a counter in an inn, to changing the entire experience of the game. Because I have old eyes and an atypical monitor-to-eye distance, I modded my game to make certain hard to see resources glow so that I notice them more easily. I also loaded a funny hideout that is basically like a medieval TARDIS. It has doors to all the possible “regular” houses available to the player within the game. And a trap door to the outside. It is huge, and it means you can basically walk across the continent by going into your basement and turning a corner.

But while that’s cool and useful for getting one places quicker than would otherwise be possible… the relevant part is that this hideout has within it a cavern. And in that cavern are a bunch of traps which can actually kill you at early levels… and about 100,000 gold. In game terms, that’s ten levels worth of college education. There’s also a pile of ingots, which can be used to make things, and the act of making things helps one level. I can get out of the initial starting condition of the game and immediately teleport to the front door of my hideout, walk into it, and the next time I see sky I’m level ten and my archery has gone from 20 to 70. This is huge in terms of boosting my ability to kill things… and killing things is part of how one gathers the resources to make things, and making things is part of how one makes money. Oh, and lest I forget, the hideout is filled with staff who basically only exist to train me. Private tutors.

It is almost exactly like having a rich but judgmental parent who pays for your college and gets you a car and then invests in your startup while introducing you to influential people. Playing without it, one may see one’s first dragon at level 3 or 4. One may get one’s ass kicked numerous times and survive only because the guards are better shots. Playing with it, dragons never have to be difficult unless you actually mod them to be more difficult, and you don’t fight your first dragon until you decide to, maybe around level 40 or so.

It’s a dandy model for privilege, the difference between having to beg, borrow and steal and join the thieves guild, and simply walking through the game at your own pace for the adventure of it. And that’s in a world that even without the mod, is LITERALLY designed around your character.

So what does that have to do with charity?

Like my character, I’ve played it both ways. Welfare, Medicaid, Section 8, WIC, basically the works, struggling to get by as a poor working mom, and then this year when for the first time we didn’t qualify for a child tax credit. Not EIC, the other one. Because we made too much money. (I wish it felt like it was that much money, apparently as your income goes up, so do the expenses, but scary big expensive things aren’t life destroying anymore, so that is an improvement.) So when I hear about someone struggling, I KNOW. I do. Either I’ve been right where they are, or I had enough family and community that it wasn’t quite that bad… and regardless, I want to make it not so bad for them.

I know I’m not alone in that. I give what I give to help others… but I also do it because it makes me happy to help. I get a real, tangible benefit from putting people in touch with what they need. Struggling with chronic pain, there’s a whole lot I want to be doing that I can’t, but by god if I know who can help and can put them in touch with someone who needs help, that makes me happy. It makes me feel useful. And I especially love doing that within the context of our local community.

We have a natural drive to want to fix things. I know I’m not the only one because hey, co-op… 30 boxes and all I did was make a Costco run… Someone says they couldn’t afford groceries when they got to the check out stand and I ACHE to have been there behind them because I could have helped. I can’t carry my own damn groceries to the car, but my god, if I could ease that burden for a young family…

On a non-monetary scale, I feel much the same about teenagers I hear about who have been alienated (thrown out) from their homes of origin because of who they are. I hear about a transgender teen being kicked out and I want to scoop them up and tell them that it is going to be okay. Gay kid kicked out for being gay? Honey, there is NOTHING wrong with you. NO THING. It isn’t your fault. Teenager kicked out for getting pregnant? If I could add a “bubble” of a new bedroom to my house for kids to stay in when they needed a place to land that accepted them for who they were, my house would be very oddly shaped indeed.

Being able to put someone in touch with resources, or get them quality food that isn’t just society’s leftovers, or just say to them, “You are not the problem. Society is fucked up, but YOU are not what is messing it up and don’t you believe anyone who ever tells you otherwise.” Those things are the things that feed my soul. They’re what remind me why I’m still here.

Most people aren’t “The Dragonborn.” Most people don’t have a rich uncle or wealthy parents footing the bill for whatever they decide they want to be. Most people fumble through until they find their way, bumble around bumping into things until things either go too wrong to fix or fall into place in a way that meets current needs and then they find a new normal.

Hell, the first three or four runthroughs I did on Skyrim? Things got so buggy and screwed up due to innate flaws in the game that I just quit the game and started a new one. The one I’m still playing? I installed user-made patches that basically FIX THE UNIVERSE so that it doesn’t crash. I *rewrote the world* in order to succeed and succeed quickly without inconvenient programming errors bogging me down.

It doesn’t work that way in life. We have to patch it on the fly. In Skyrim, sometimes it’s not player error, it’s that the underlying game is so buggy. Sometimes it’s that the computer just isn’t compatible. In life, that’s true too. I view racism and bias as an operating system failure. The deep inequities in American culture? Hardware flaws.

And as long as society pretends they aren’t there, they’re never gonna get fixed. We can’t shut down the game and rewrite the code and start over, so we have to figure out how to make our changes while everything is still moving. We have to figure out how to “wake up” the people who are operating under erroneous programming. How to fix the system that so often fails everyone in the guise of “helping”.

Things are changing. I actually have a lot of hope because a lot of things that were swept under the rug for most of my life are now BEING TALKED ABOUT. We are having a conversation about the operating system. About the hardware. About the code. And it can’t get fixed unless we look at it.

Meanwhile, back in our little corner of the world, if you get stuck and need a hand, and someone like me offers you one… know that it’s because a) we’ve been there, b) we know the operating system is buggy and c) it’s a small thing we can do to help fix the code. Reduce a little of your stress. Might not be your rich uncle, but at least you can feed your kids something good and know that it’s because we care.

I was having a bad day a while back, and a friend knew about it, and she also knew that I absolute love her homemade ketchup… and she sent a jar of it home with my produce box from the co-op. That jar of ketchup? Unasked for? A gift? I joked that it was the “ketchup of love” (and now we know why tomatoes are ‘love apples’)… but in truth every time I got it out of the fridge and used it I smiled and knew someone wanted my day to be a little better, a little brighter, and that actually made it all better. WEEKS of joy, from ketchup. And that friend is now thinking about starting a ketchup business. As well she should.

It’s not charity. Making sure that families feel supported and plugging the holes in the safety net benefits EVERYONE. I have local family and people who live with me and near me who help me out on nearly a daily basis, when I need it. And they know I’d do everything I can for them, too. The more people who feel that sense of security, the better off we are. The less violent the world is. The less broken the code. Sometimes life is so hard that you don’t know how you are going to take the next breath or get through the next hour. Knowing there’s someone near who’s got your back? It makes the breath that much easier to take. If someone puts out a hand to catch you, it’s okay to take it, and steady yourself with their help.

Baby food purees are a racket. Jenrose’s guide to babies and eating.

This comes up all the time, so I’m putting it here so I don’t have to keep typing it. The questions are, “When should we start solids?” and “What should we use as first foods?” and “Why not wait longer than 6 months to start (or conversely, why wait past 4 months to start solids?)

There’s quite a bit of research (and a lot of parental experience with grabby babies) that says there is a “sweet spot” around six months for starting experimenting with solids. Babies started later than six months or earlier than four statistically speaking tend to have more allergies and reactions. Too early and the gut is still quite permeable and immune reactions can be triggered, too much later and they don’t get the small exposures that teach the immune system to ignore food as not-a-problem. Theoretically.

But this is not going to be a line by line cited official paper, this is how I feed my kids, and an approach to eating for babies that I think makes a lot of sense. I’ve been parenting for 21 years,  have three children of vastly varying dietary foibles, allergies, sensitivities and pickiness, age 3, almost 10 and 21 1/2 at this writing, and have a zillion food issues so tend to read constantly on the subject. This is drawn from many sources, so if the wording appears familiar, it’s because I burned it into my brain at some point and don’t remember where I got it. I’m not looking up a darned thing for this right now, it’s mostly “what I tell people when they ask about it online”.Continue reading

How not to lose food in a power outage

The power goes out! What do you do?

1: DO NOT OPEN THE REFRIGERATOR OR FREEZER. Not for anything until you have some ice.

2. Why did the power go out? If it’s due to cold temps outside… not to worry! Take all your freezer food and put it outside. Get organized, put it in a cooler or tote inside, and then put it outside all at once so you are not leaving your door open and letting your precious heat out any more than necessary. It will be fine out there until the temps hit 33 degrees, at which point you will either have power or you will find another solution.  While you’re putting your food outside, get some snow, pack it tight in plastic containers, baggies, anything watertight. Put the snow in the fridge. You can now get food out of the fridge until the snow melts…at which point you need to put more snow in.

3. If the power outage is NOT due to cold weather, you have a couple hours before things become urgent. Talk to the power company. The freezer and fridge should be fine for a few hours as long as it is not super duper hot–they are well insulated, just LEAVE THEM CLOSED. If the estimate is “you’ll be repaired in an hour”, just wait it out. If the estimate is, “We don’t know, it could be days”… you need to take prompt action. If you have substantial freezer stores, buy or rent a generator if you can in the long run, but in the short run, you need ICE. Buy ice or even dry ice as soon as you possibly can. A chest freezer well packed can stay safe for up to two days without added cold stores, but can stay cold indefinitely if you keep tossing dry ice into it every day or so. A fridge is good for about 4 hours with no power and no ice if you do not open it.

It is almost always going to be cheaper to keep the food cold than to buy all new food. Even if you end up spending $100-150 on a “multi day cooler” and packing that full of your fridge goods and some ice, it will still be cheaper than replacing every single thing in there. If you have the storage space and are prone to power outages, consider getting a large “igloo” cooler.

Frozen foods can be refrozen as long as they still have some ice crystals and are below 40 degrees.

So what if your freezer does defrost and the food is “safe” but not icy?

Keep it cold, cook it as quickly as you can, and freeze the cooked food.

Also, ASK FOR HELP. If you are having issues keeping your food cold and can’t drive to get supplies, if the roads are passable for a skilled driver, ask your friends if there is someone who can help you save your food.

Here’s what the g’ummint says about it:

http://www.foodsafety.gov/blog/poweroutage.html

 

 

Feel-better Chai Pudding

An experiment worth repeating….

In a jar:
1/4 cup chia seed
1/8 cup coconut sugar
1/8 cup cocoa powder
1/8 cup maple syrup
1 teaspoon “power tea” (Power Tea is a mixture of organic spices including: Ceylon Cinnamon, Cloves, Ginger, Turmeric, Black Pepper and Cayenne Pepper., very chai-ish, LOTS of anti-inflammatory action.)
1 tablespoon elderberry syrup
1 cup almond milk or coconut water or raw milk or coconut milk or whatever.  I used a blend of almond milk and coconut water.

I actually tripled this recipe though had to short the milk a tiny bit to fit in a quart jar.
Stir well and let sit in the fridge for a couple hours.

It makes a spicy chocolate pudding that unlike refined-sugar-based desserts, actually leaves one feeling better. I’ve been fighting off the flu for a couple days, and I feel almost 100% after a bowl of this.

The cocoa, spices and elderberry all have good evidence for being medicinal. Also very tasty.

Chicken for meal trains

So I’m taking part in a couple meal trains, and my default meal for such things is a roast chicken with potatoes and veggies.

My recipe for roast chicken is pretty simple…preheat oven to 450, rub spices and salt on bird, put in oven, clean potatoes, rub oil on potatoes, stick in oven above chicken, 60 minutes after the chicken went in everything should be perfect.  Add a salad and voila.

This is super flexible for easy meals. If someone lives close by, I can cook the birds myself and take them over the minute they come out of the oven–they will “rest” in the car on the way over and be perfectly timed to be carved when they get there.

If they live farther away, or need food dropped off well in advance of the meal, it is still simple. I rub the birds and clean the taters and oil them up and put everything in a foil roaster pan… The instructions for the family will be simply “Preheat to 450. Put pan in oven. Set timer for 60 minutes. Take chicken out and allow it to rest for 10 minutes before serving.”

This results in a bird with crisp skin, juicy white meat, crunchy wing tips (my fave) and tender leg and thigh meat. I use antibiotic free chicken from Trader Joe’s, at about $7-8 per bird, organic red potatoes, and whatever greens happen to be convenient. I might toss in some fruit if I’m long on it. Simple, allergy friendly, fast, and less work than going out to fast food.

The secret is the oven temperature… setting the oven even 25 degrees lower results in less crispy skin, longer cooking time, drier white meat.

Salt is VITAL to a crisp skin–it helps dry the skin out.

With cheap chicken like this, it’s not so vital to use every bit of it the way I would with an organic free range roaster, but we often throw the carcass in a pot, boil it, separate the meat, then add leftover veggies, potatoes and spices for a delicious chicken soup.

Homemade Marshmallows, updated for 2012

People think marshmallows are complex, difficult things to make. “Jet puffed!” implies some magical thing that “marshmallows” sugar and gelatin into fluffy goodness.

Not so. Marshmallows are candy, and they require a strong mixer, but your average stand mixer will do the job just fine.  The only way you could “jet” marshmallows would be to use the engine as a mixer, I suppose. Really, like meringue or whipped cream, marshmallows depend on the incorporation of air into a matrix, in this case sugar and gelatin, beaten at high speed for about 11 minutes. Science is important with candy, and temperature is critical.

Work fast, work smart, and be prepared for things to be very, very sticky. Continue reading

Cocoa water and cherry juice for coughs

Basic recipe (the TL:DR version!)

2 heaping tablespoons cocoa
Honey to taste (preferably raw!)
1 cup tart cherry juice (must be pure cherry, should be tart, use black cherry juice if you can’t find tart)
Water, seltzer or almond/rice/coconut milk to taste. NOT dairy milk (and I don’t ever recommend soy for anyone but that’s another post.)

Mix cocoa and honey into a paste.
Add a tiny bit of hot water and stir
Add a little more and stir.
Once it is thin enough to mix well, add the rest of whatever liquids you want. They can be hot liquids if you prefer. The cherry juice is not just for flavor, it helps pain.
Drink up to half right away. Sip the rest as needed.

For more discussion, look behind the cut.

Continue reading