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einkorn
Amy’s Einkorn Affair

Einkorn–a funny word you might be interested in if you have gluten sensitivities. Especially if you really, really want bread again, but even a whiff of wheat sends your gut into overdrive.

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Hello again, Dear Readers:

Spring is springing up everywhere, especially since much of the US is now on Daylight Savings Time. Arizona, Indiana and a few other states don’t observe it, and there is a movement in Texas to ditch it for good. Will they do it? Who knows? I kind of wish the entire US would dump it–it’s just hard on us all twice a year.

A slow-cooked week

Yesterday morning, I tossed some on-sale beef of indeterminate origin into the slow cooker, seasoned it with some Paula Deen House Seasoning, a little olive oil and turned it on. Lately, that’s just how we roll, but there’s a dinner already cooked when we get home. We just cook some rice, quinoa, and whatever else to go with it. Monday, I did the same with some pork stew meat–and it was pretty good. I just tossed the frozen meat in the slow cooker, seasoned it and added a bit of olive oil, turned it on and walked out. We had a ready-and-waiting dinner that night. But after I put the meat in the slow cooker yesterday, one of his car-guy friends, Big Dave, called, and we did an impromptu barbecue. So with the slow-cooked meat, BF’s lunch was already made for today, and dinner for me later.

Today’s email from Stephanie O’Dea discusses taking your slow cooker on travel with the fam. Can you blame her? Apparently a lot of people do this. Camping, hotels–and the food is ready to eat, all you need is a working outlet, just like your waffle maker. If BF and I ever start traveling, we’ll definitely pack a slow-cooker if we can.

Still writing

I’ve been busy writing, and boy, have I got an interesting subject for you. (Well, I think it is.) Unless, of course, you already know what “einkorn” is. Even if you do, I invite you to keep reading, because you might be interested to know what happened when I finally got around to using some and foisting it, I mean, offering it to BF and his friends for a taste-test.

Amy’s disclaimer

Let me point out (again) that I’m not a doctor, nurse, or medical professional. I do research and report on it. You must use your own judgement when trying something new, particularly if you have a medical condition. Don’t go full bore and eat, drink or use something that you’re not sure about because Amy (or another blogger who is actually trustworthy) says you should. You must do a little reading and decide for yourself. What I do know is that if you have a gluten allergy, einkorn may be something you can have. BUT–you’ll need to read more and try a little of it if you think it’s worth it. That’s why I provide links, so you can see where I got my info from.

If you have celiac disease. . .no. Celiac is an autoimmune disease, completely different from the gluten allergy, and you absolutely cannot have einkorn. These things I know from my research, not because I’m an expert.

Now for some updates.

Post-modern menus in the Casa de Rurale

BF indulges me, and I take the best care I can of him. He says he’s just “humoring” me on these natural things, like the tea tree oil for his feet. Rest assured that BF is fed well, whether he wants to believe it or not. He explained to me a few nights ago that the menu in his kitchen is divided into two time frames: “Pre-Amy” and “Post-Amy.” (My first question: “am I leaving?“) There are foods he was used to eating and making for himself before I showed up, (i.e., Hamburger Helper) and the new, ultra-modern things that are produced in his kitchen now that I’m there (like Pea & Pesto Soup, and anything with cannellini beans, or foods from the waffle maker or slow cooker.) Me? I’m still trying to eat clean and low-carb in an environment with Kool-Aid, cookies and vegetable oil, best I can.

More culture shock

Last week his daughter, son and partner came for another impromptu BBQ dinner. I was glad to see them, but I wasn’t ready! I was hurrying to clear off the table and for dinner while they were outside trying not to burn down the house. Despite the frozen chocolate cream pie they brought, and the potato salad BF bought at Walmart, I was able to eat rather clean by requesting BF not put that stuff he calls “barbecue sauce” on my pork ribs. They were only subjected to the barbecue rub I have made for many years, with sugar or gluten or anything. The rest were coated with a “sauce” from a bottle loaded with HFCS and other dreadful chemicals. He was kind enough to use a separate pair of tongs for mine, too.

Her son is 3, and as active and precocious as they come. At some point, she asked me if there was any Kool-Aid. No kidding–and BF has some of that chemical-infused sugar powder in his pantry, in addition to soft drinks in the fridge. She made a pitcher of it and started putting it in the wee one’s sippy cup. Horrified, I asked, “you’re giving that to you child?” She said, “Oh, yeah, it’s great!”

She has not read Tox-Sick. (My paperback copy arrived last weekend.)

He thinks I know all this stuff

BF managed to leave out a few important details when he requested “spaghetti and meat sauce” the other night, like browning a pound of ground beef before pouring a jar of <ugh> Ragu spaghetti sauce into the skillet and letting that warm while boiling the pastas. His pasta was some of the multiple boxes of spaghetti in his pantry; mine was a cup of Ronzoni gluten-free penne pasta, found at the Hammond Winn-Dixie. I was browning ground beef at 9:30 at night. He just assumed I knew all this. I didn’t.

Never, ever assume anything. And, of course, read your recipe all the way through before you start chopping something and discover that you don’t have enough butter, oil, or something else crucial to your recipe. (Did that Sunday.)

Einkorn

So, recently I wrote an article for my natural health Upwork client on Einkorn wheat. (I don’t know yet when it will be published, but will give you the link when it is.) If you’ve never heard of it, well, you’re not alone–I didn’t either until I read Wheat Belly. Einkorn is what humans started cultivating as “wheat” a long, long, time ago in the Fertile Crescent when formal agriculture started, and before hybridization. Wheat is hybridized, not GMO, so I was wrong on that. (Amazing what you find out when you do more research.)

I was also surprised to find out that einkorn is actually widely available in the US.

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Einkorn flour (picture from Jovial Foods website)

I actually bought a bag many months ago at Erma’s Nutrition Center in Nassau Bay, intending to make bread with it and share it with the GER, mostly as a taste-test. (Maybe the GER assumes I’m the better baker, I dunno.) Well, I never got that far, the bag stayed in my fridge and made the trip to BF’s place last year, and still bounced around his his fridge. (In that bottom drawer where I keep my alternate baking stuff.) After taking on the task of writing a 700-word article on the subject, I realized, “I think I still have a bag of this in the fridge.” So I went looking for it and recipes to make with it.

Why Einkorn?

This “original wheat,” while not entirely gluten free, is a lot lower in gluten and starch than our modern hybrid wheat. It’s also higher in protein. This means that if you have a gluten sensitivity when you eat modern wheat, there is the possibility that you can tolerate einkorn.

Dr. Davis explains his experiment in the book, buying einkorn berries, grinding them and making bread with them. Eating the bread he made, he experienced no ill effects after enjoying some. He did the same thing with our modern dwarf wheat flour, made his bread, had some, and experienced two days of gut trauma. So, yes, it can indeed be the modern wheat we have in this country making you or your loved ones ill. Einkorn may allow bread, pasta, cookies, cakes and other wheat-based baked goods on your menu again.

More einkorn resources

This article by The Kitchen Steward explains five ways that einkorn differs from modern wheat. And At Healthy Home Economist, she explains why her family is switching to einkorn, soon as they use up what they already have.

Here are some baking tips on working with einkorn from Jovial’s Website. You can order it online, and use their locator to find it in your area.

Their daughter was sick

Jovial Foods was started by Carla and Rodolfo Bertolucci, whose daughter suddenly became very ill. With a background in organic farming and a love of Italian cooking, they discovered that she was ill from a gluten sensitivity, and sought to find answers. Carla found einkorn, nearly extinct, and they have, so to speak, “brought it back to life” for a new generation. Together, they founded Jovial Foods, naming it for the joy they felt after finding a way to help their daughter and create delicious food that wouldn’t make her sick anymore. Jovial offers flour, pastas and baking tools for working with einkorn. Carla even wrote a cookbook on the subject (and if you order the book, they’ll send you a free bag of flour with it.) Now, more people can enjoy einkorn–and bread–again.

Some fine print first

Let me point out a few things about einkorn. First, good as it is, yes, it is more expensive. It’s grown and harvested in Italy, organic, and is not like the everyday flour you get in your local grocery. You can’t just use it cup-for-cup in your regular bread or pizza crust recipes, either. Jovial offers some tips on baking with einkorn.

If you’re already dealing with it. . . .

Second, as I’ve said before: if you have someone in your household who has these kinds of allergies, you’re already spending on alternative ingredients to be able to feed them. Incorporating healthier alternatives into the everyday meal plan helps the whole family, and may help the allergic one feel less “left out.” It’s not fun to be singled out because you’ve got this allergy that you can’t help, you know? And it’s not a bad thing if the rest of the family gets to try something tasty and healthy and learns to enjoy it.

Third: gluten sensitivity is not the same thing as celiac disease, although some of the treatments may be the same. Celiac is an autoimmune disease, and celiac sufferers can’t indulge in einkorn, sorry. (That’s from my research on the other article.) And gluten sensitive folks need to try just a little einkorn to make sure they can enjoy it safely and they don’t end up getting sick from it. Many GF folks can tolerate einkorn because of the lower gluten and starch content. And, as I discovered, modern bread has more starch added in to make it lighter and fluffier. No wonder people get sick from it. Jovial’s website also offers additional information on gluten free and specifically, on celiac disease.

What does it look like?

Well, when you open the bag, it looks like. . .flour:

einkorn

When you open the bag. . . .

It definitely doesn’t smell like your regular Martha White flour, (it smells good) and it feels bit heavier than your regular flour, too.

I finally used it!

OK, I *really* wanted to bake bread with it, but I didn’t have time this past weekend.  I’ll do that soon. But out of the blue, BF and I were invited to his friend’s place for dinner on Sunday. It was supposed to be a birthday dinner for someone, but that couple couldn’t make it. So. . .it was six of us: me, BF, his friend Big H, his girlfriend K, her 13-yo daughter M and Big H’s 13-yo nephew, also named H. BF worked during the day Sunday, and after I picked him up, we headed over to H’s homestead. He’s already got a lovely house, but he’s also building a barn, and a saw mill, and a few other things on the property.

It’s the kind of place that I envisioned for myself. . .in Texas. North of Houston. By myself, with Internet, and being that copywriter homesteading in the woods. Oh, well. . .me and BF are doing it with one bathroom and not enough closet space.

During the einkorn research, I found a bread recipe as well as one for brownies on a blog called Live Simply. I saved both of them to use later, and I’ve uploaded them to the Recipes page as well. Again, as of this writing, not made the bread yet, but plan to at some point, and get more of the flour on my next trip to Whole Foods. (That comes under the category of “BF indulges me.”) Kristin Marr, the blog author actually has four recipes for einkorn on her website, if you’re interested; just do a search for “einkorn” and they’ll all show up.

Brownies, in a side-by-side taste test

So, with my article sent to the client, I left the library early with BF and spent most of the weekend doing lots and lots of chores. (They never end at the Casa de Rurale.) About a third of the chores actually were completed, and those will be done this week now that the laundry is mostly finished. I decided that I would use his friends as additional taste-testers, which they were happy to do when I said “brownies.” Big H told me not to talk about the “alternate” version until people had tried them, especially the kids. And BF didn’t mind too much, because I was going to make his favorites anyway.

I pointed out that I wasn’t looking for accolades, but opinions. Things like, “Wow, Amy, you’re a great baker!” That doesn’t tell me anything, right? Besides. . .I already know!

It was a day where I kept looking around saying to myself, “where’s my water?” This is what I’m looking for:

 

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My 24-ounce Venti cup,  which runneth over with water, lime juice (or sometimes lemon), ice and pink stuff. Nothing else.

I do get the irony of the red plastic cups that BF insists on using. No dishwasher (of course not, it’s Louisiana, almost no one has one) and he’s not about to wash dishes. But anyway. . . .

I started baking

Since the einkorn brownies were made in a skillet, I made the Duncan Hines version in a skillet too. And of course, didn’t tell anyone which was which. They were obviously different, but again, didn’t tell anyone until I got an opinion from each.

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The setup

This is pretty simple–just dump it into a mixing bowl and go for it:

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Using a big measuring cup for a mixing bowl helps with this kind of thing. BF is learning this trick from me.

Mix really well, 50 strokes the box says:

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Eggs,water, and industrial sludge, I mean, vegetable oil.

And it comes out like this:

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Brownie batter, from a box.

Grease your pan:

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Used the same industrial sludge to grease the skillet as I mixed into the bowl.

Now, the instructions don’t tell you how long to bake these if you’re using a cast-iron skillet, so I had to estimate.

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Standard boxed mix stuff

I went with 325F, and I think it took about 25 minutes. Naturally, I forgot to take a picture of this pan when it came out of the oven. I texted one to BF, so I guess that’s why I didn’t use the camera.

Did I mention I was coloring my hair while this was going on? Don’t worry–my haircolor is a plant-based organic, and even if any did get into the brownies, it’s fine. (No, none did. At any time.)

The Duncan Hines brownies came out as they normally do. Took them out of the oven, set them on the stove, and set about on the next recipe.

Naturally Sweetened Einkorn Skillet Brownie

This one is a little more complicated, and calls for more ingredients, as you might imagine. Because, why? They’re made from scratch!

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The setup

For all of you readers still working in IT, yes, I brought my laptop into the kitchen. I was very careful, and there were no accidents. But I really do need to clean that keyboard and use the little tiny attachments I have to vacuum all the dust out of it.

The recipe calls for 12 tablespoons of butter, melted and cooled. Guess who only had one stick of butter left? Yes–and thankfully, there was an option for one stick of butter and a quarter cup of coconut oil, also melted and cooled. So that’s what you see off to the left. And if you’re paying attention, you’ll see the label of a bottle of good Texas honey from HEB. When you buy it, they have little plastic bottles at the store–but I already had a glass jar to store it in, and just transferred the label over. That’s BF’s little bottle of cinnamon, but trust me, we have more–a lot more. I think I’m going to have to refill it so he doesn’t panic.

Two exceptions

In my local Winn-Dixie, I couldn’t get the brand of chocolate chips Kristin recommended, nor could I get instant espresso powder. So. . .I got what I could, and what was cheap and would do the job. Bought little packets of Folger’s Instant (I can’t find the big jar of the HEB instant) and some of the regular Winn-Dixie chocolate chips.  If I’d planned a trip to Whole Foods, I might have been able to get them, but that’s not in the cards yet, darnit.

Yes, Miss Sunie, you may tell everyone that I’m still missing my HEB. And tell Miss Carolyn and Miss Lei I said “Hi,” please–I was thinking about Miss Lei just this morning.

First, mix the wet ingredients

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I still separate egg yolks like this

Mix the butter (or in my case, butter and coconut oil) , and then the vanilla and espresso (coffee) powder:

Oil & butter

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It’s what you can get at Winn Dixie and Walmart here. It works.

I’m still using home-made vanilla extract, just like The Barefoot Contessa does:

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Need to get more vodka in there one of these days. And more vanilla beans, too.

If you don’t know this, grease the inside of that cup before you pour some rich, delicious Texas honey into it:

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Not raw, I don’t think, but it is real honey.

Once you get all those put together–carefully, so your butter and/or coconut oil doesn’t seize or freeze up–whisk it:

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Egg yolks, not whole eggs.

Get that stuff moving:

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Whip it! Whip it good! (you’re singing it, aren’t you?)

Now leave it alone.

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All mixed!

Next, the dry ingredients

Whisk together all the dry stuff and make sure there are no lumps:

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First, the flour

And cocoa powder, of course:

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Make sure it’s the unsweetened type, of course

Baking powder:

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Been a while since I’ve been to Trader Joe’s for a supply run.

 

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Just drop them in the bowl

And a little of BF’s cinnamon:

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Not a lot of cinnamon, just half a teaspoon

And whisk that all together.

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Whip it! Whip it good! (sorry, I couldn’t resist.)

Another quick kitchen tip

Something else I’ve been teaching BF to do is check the bottom of the bowl to make sure it’s all mixed. Sometimes when he’s baking from a box, he doesn’t check this. But, seriously, take a look:

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Clear bowls help you see if you’ve got it properly mixed.

If I hadn’t looked, it wouldn’t have come out right. Finally, I got it all done:

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Perfect!

Then I mixed the dry stuff into the wet stuff. I can’t take a picture of myself while mixing the wet into the dry–I only have two hands, and BF was at work.

Not so fast

At this point, you let it sit for ten minutes. It thickens up considerably from a fluid liquid to a thick, pasty liquid, no kidding. The oven was already preheated:

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Nothing wrong with checking, right?

So I just put a bit of coconut oil in the Lodge skillet:

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Coconut oil on this one

And once it thickens, you fold in the chocolate chips.

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I know, I know. . .we’re not in HEB anymore.

Since I wasn’t able to get the brand Kristin recommended, and the mini-chips cost twice as much, I bought the Winn-Dixie brand. They’re not bad, but I know the HEB brand would have been better. (Just an opinion.) So Kristin says to use a “heaping 1/2 cup” if you’re not using the mini-chips.

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Does that “heap” enough?

Fold them right into this now-thickened batter:

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More chocolate!

Mix and fold well:

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Make sure you make that pass on the bottom of your mixing bowl, too.

It looks like this:

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With chocolate chips spread throughout

And pour into the skillet:

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Here we go!

Yeah. . .pour it right in.

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Doesn’t exactly “pour,” does it?

I had to put down the camera and scrape it out with the spatula by hand. It’s that thick. No kidding.

So you bake it for about 25 minutes, testing it before you take it out of the oven. At this point, it was also time to take phase 2 of my hair color out, so that worked out well. It was great once I took it out of the oven:

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Success! Brownies!

Unfortunately, some of the pictures I took have. . .disappeared. I don’t know why, but I can’t find them. But I can tell you the rest of the story. Both pans were wrapped in foil and loaded in the back seat of the  White Knight and transported to Big H’s place about 20 minutes away.

Over the river and through the woods. . . .

For dinner, we had, among other things, this delicious chicken roasted outside on a rotisserie:

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Oh, it was very, very good. That’s actually two chickens on a huge spit.

And there was some grocery-store rolls coated with butter that were baked, (I passed) salad, and some jalapeno & cheese sausage going on, which I liked even better than this delicious chicken. We were told that it’s available at a slaugtherhouse up in Kentwood, where K lives. (Half hour away, maybe?) Yeah, I got two words for that sausage: ROAD TRIP!

How did they like the brownies?

Well, we talked about all kinds of stuff, and had a great time. More culture shock: K’s daughter loves Harry Potter, but her grandmother told her that it was “evil” or something, and that she shouldn’t watch it. Fortunately, K disagrees, and M is a huge fan.  Little H was telling me about his grandmother, a heavy smoker, and how she uses basil to help her breathe. From there I couldn’t stop telling him about pesto, and Pea & Pesto Soup. Both were smart kids, and it was great to talk to them.

When it came time for brownies, I explained that I was looking for opinions, not accolades, and that’s what I got.

The results of the taste test

BF, of course, knew immediately without being told which one was the Duncan Hines, and of course, he preferred it. He said that the einkorn brownie was “okay,” but a bit dry.

Both of the kids enjoyed both types of brownies, and Little H took a couple of them home. M said they tasted a little like red velvet cake. And, in the light in big H’s kitchen, I had to agree that they looked like red velvet, too.

K felt like the Duncan Hines was fudgier, but that the einkorn type was pretty good, too. Like me, K watches what she eats for health reasons, but she did tuck into one or two of those rolls she baked up.

Big H said that with a glass of milk, it would be a pretty passable brownie, especially if you couldn’t have the Duncan Hines (or other wheat-based brownie) anymore. He agreed with the assessment that there was a taste of red velvet cake involved, and that it wasn’t a bad thing at all.

We also some gave some to Big Dave last night, right next to a Duncan Hines brownie. He said it would be good with coconut oil. Well, it has some–but he enjoyed it as well, even if it was a bit drier. “It’s good, but it’s different,” he said.

And me, well, I like the einkorn brownies. I’ve tried Duncan Hines type once or twice. It’s a little too sweet, and of course, has the “fudgy” quality when you use one egg. Actually, I’d call it more “sticky” than “fudgy,” but that’s the high amount of sugar and other chemicals they add to make it taste good. The einkorn brownie has more of a strong, stark chocolate taste to it, and it’s more of a “cake-like” brownie than “fudgy.” Maybe if you served them warm, they’d be “fudgier.”

What’s next for einkorn in the HeatCageKitchen?

Last summer, before I was getting ready to move, I was chanting with Miss Alice at her place. I could not stop thinking about baking bread for BF. Weird, right? So that’s probably going to happen at some point, along with cooking up some more delicious food as I find the recipes.

I saw Carla Bertolucci’s einkorn cookbook in the Clear Lake Barnes & Noble a couple of years ago, but didn’t buy it. I read through it and liked it, and put it on the mental list of books I want in my collection. Now that I know I can get a free bag of flour if I order it from Jovial, well, that’s a plan! Sometime. . . .when I make some more money. I need more bookshelves first. Along with one of those baking tools and the linen thingy they have, too. I know that I can get the einkorn flour in Mandeville, Baton Rouge or New Orleans, so it’s just a matter of when I get to one of the stores when I need to. Much as a I prefer grain free, I do like the healthier option available, much like the delicious things in the Babycakes books. They’re not everyday items, but occasional healthy treats that are good to make and have for company or just for the week.

Until next time. . . .

I hope that I’ve offered up some suggestions for anyone looking at gluten-free, or who knows someone dealing with a gluten allergy. Einkorn can be a part of a delicious, healthy, organic eating plan that includes everything you might want, but you have to do a little work for it. If and when I bake bread for us, I’ll report on it, of course.

Again, I urge you to do more reading if you (or someone you know) have a medical condition and aren’t sure if einkorn is would be a good thing. Start with Wheat Belly, and go from there. The information is out there, Pinterest has loads of recipes, and Jovial Foods has plenty of info available on their website, too.

Enjoy!

 

Tox-Sick
Tox-Sick: Suzanne Somers’ illness book

Are you Tox-Sick?

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Hello, again, Dear Readers:

The holidays are all over now, thank heavens. Have you considered getting “healthy” for the new year? We all do that, don’t we? Before you get too involved in your new diet/gym membership/exercise plan/other expensive resolution, I have a book for you to read, if you haven’t yet. It’s an eye-opener, and will make you think twice before you have a cheat again. I’m not kidding.

Enter The Resolutionists!

When I was at Boeing, there was a small fitness room for employees. Not a whole lot, just some treadmills, spinner bikes, free weights and a few other weird torture machines I wouldn’t go near. There was one TV, and whomever got there first got to watch what they wanted. We had basic cable available, and boy, did people get upset with me when I was watching The Food Network!

This time of year, people are all about “eating healthy” after the rich, heavy foods of the holidays. Nothing wrong with that, as long as you understand what constitutes “healthy.” Bread, pasta, pizza, potatoes, rice, and all the rest of the starchy stuff, along with sugar you didn’t know you were eating are going to derail any “diet” you start. Ever seen Advo-Care? Last time I saw those direct-marketing things, they were all loaded with sugar. Reading labels, as I’ve long mentioned, is key to whatever is in that stuff you’re eating.

Sugar is still sugar

Look at it this way: if you’re going to a party, or something bigger like a wedding, and you eat cake, candy, etc., you KNOW you’re getting sugar, right? If you’re diabetic, you know to avoid it, or if you’re otherwise watching your intake, then you have that cake/ice cream/candy/dessert knowing exactly what it is. But finding out it’s in tomato paste, or some other non-confection you’ve bought is more than annoying, especially if it’s labeled “healthy,” “natural,” or “organic.” Yes, there is “organic sugar,” even if it’s coconut or monk fruit sugar, so it has to be taken into consideration when you’re talking grams of sugar.

But what if you’re doing all the “healthy” things, exercising, drinking more water, getting enough sleep and still not losing weight? You wouldn’t be the only one. Or you start feeling ill and don’t get better despite antibiotics or other prescriptions your doctor gave you? Is it “all in your head?” What’s going on?

We’re all Tox-Sick, that’s what.

Seriously.

Tox-Sick

Photo credit: SelfHelpDaily.com

Before I go on, I want to issue my standard disclaimer on all things I write about that are health-related:

I am not a doctor, nurse, scientist or other medical professional. I am a patient who reads and pays attention.

Ms. Somers has a number of best-selling books on health and wellness under her belt. Like Ms. Somers, I’m primarily interested in keeping myself healthy and well, and not spending the rest of my life on the pharmaceutical drug train. While drugs have their place, there is too much emphasis on “better living through chemistry,” that is, a pill for literally everything. It’s one thing when I get sick with a throat bug. But I want no part of toxic, dangerous and expensive prescriptions that I would be told to take the rest of my life when there are actual treatments for debilitating illnesses. Many chronic conditions have organic causes, but are simply managed with drugs that are not a “cure.” I’ve seen way too many people go down that road, and it’s not for me. That’s why I’m a pain in the backside about these things, and I avoid the SAD, or “standard American diet.”

That includes the boxed stuffing mix or macaroni cheese mess I’ve made for BF–at his request. He doesn’t see that, or the sodas he drinks all day long, as a reason he suffers with chronic heartburn. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

We all need to know this

I don’t know what made me think about reading Tox-Sick, but I’m SO glad I finally did. I got it as an e-book from the library and downloaded it onto my tablet. (Sshhh. . .nevermind *which* library; the free Kindle app makes it easy.)  Transfixed from pretty much the first page. Environmental toxins are causing all manner of health issues, destroying the intestinal system (“gut”) and modern medicine hasn’t kept up.

Aisles are filled with of over-the-counter medications in drugstores, grocery stores and places like Walgreen’s, Walmart and Target. Other stomach problems? Other kinds of meds can help. But the standard allopathic methods only mask the symptoms–they don’t deal with what’s causing the ailment in the first place.

What’s in this book

Tox-Sick doesn’t discuss medical conditions that have established protocols and treatments. It’s more about the kinds of illnesses that we suddenly see a lot more of, such as peanut allergies in children. I never met anyone who had a peanut allergy when I was a kid–but that was sometime ago. I was talking to a lady on Facebook yesterday about something else, and she mentioned that she was born with a heart defect. That’s not the kind of conditions Ms. Somers discusses in this book.

The Doctor Joke

There’s an old joke that used to go around:

Patient: Doctor, it hurts when I do this!

Doctor: Well, don’t do that.

It’s sort of like that. But it’s really not funny.

Do you know someone who takes a lot of sick time? Someone who never really feels “right” but teams of doctors can’t find anything “wrong?” Or is it you? Have you been given the nebulous term “chronic fatigue?” Have you been called a “hypochondriac?”

You may be Tox-sick.

No, you’re not crazy.

I know, Charlie Sheen claimed the same thing.

You’ve heard the comment about people who drink a lot as “pickling their liver.” Actor Larry Hagman was a serious alcoholic who received a liver transplant later in life. Your liver is quite important, as any doctor will tell you. In fact, on his daily radio show, Dr. Hotze frequently mentions that when you take a pharmaceutical drug, even OTC (over the counter), your liver has to detoxify it. That’s true of something as simple as aspirin or as heavy-duty as a cancer drug. It’s also true of any other substances you may ingest, such as fluoride from tap water or from your dentist. Even if you’re not a drinker, don’t smoke the occasional you-know-what or ingest dreadful things you shouldn’t, your liver, GI tract and brain is under assault from everything from various environmental toxins, chlorine and fluoride in the tap water to inhaled allergens like mold.

Your liver can only do so much. Until it can’t.

And then you’re sick and nobody can tell you why. Your blood tests “are all normal.” Your PCP sends you to any number of specialists, who run various tests and you start hearing that “there’s nothing wrong with you.” Some may even imply you should see a psychiatrist, because it’s “all in your head.” It is if it’s a headache, of course, but if one of them gives you a psych referral, just toss it. Talking about why you don’t feel well is NOT going to solve the problem. Neither is an antidepressant.

You’re Tox-sick. You just don’t know it yet.

Suzanne Somers delves into the topic of illnesses caused by environmental toxin overload and the problems it caused her husband, stepdaughter and two of her granddaughters. They are not “mysteries,” they are illnesses with a specific cause and treatment. She knows where to find these doctors who do the kind of cutting-edge medicine who successfully treat these conditions.  Her investigation into environmental illnesses led her to find an entire arena of issues that can be cured, but usually aren’t.

How many times has this happened to you?

You go to the doctor and spend five minutes with him or her and leave with a prescription. Headaches? Here’s a pill. Rash that won’t go away? Here’s a cream. Weight gain? A (dangerous) diet pill. Mood swings? Go to a psychiatrist, get prescribed a dangerous antidepressant, stay on it forever.

Your symptoms have become the diagnosis. “We can’t find anything wrong with you, so maybe you need a psychiatrist.” Because they don’t know where to look. And then it’s just a straight path to the drug train station, starting with the first antidepressant or statin drug.

It happens every day in America.

That’s no way to live

I’ll repeat what Ms. Somers says in a few of her books: pharmaceutical drugs have their place, for things like infections and curable diseases. But a drug you stay on forever, “managing” your condition? Not so much. But medicine hasn’t kept up, and it’s highly likely your doctor hasn’t, either.

Toxins not only make you sick, they can weaken your system.

Make Friends With Your Gut

BF chews Tums a lot, especially at night. He also takes an OTC generic form of Zantac, called Ranitidine, every night with a glass of milk. No kidding. He does not see the irony, nor does he understand that he’s feeding the yeast buggies in his gut while tamping down the acid they bring up through his alimentary tract into his esophageal area. But he’s not the only one. I’m told his brother, sister and father all have “acid reflux.” And they drink soft drinks all day long. His father drinks diet sodas because he’s diabetic. (EEEWWW!!!) It’s a shame, because there’s an easy fix, and the benefits go beyond ending the acid assault on your throat. But BF refuses to give up his Cokes, and drinks whole milk because it’s “healthy.”

BTW, any kind of sugar, including lactose, or milk sugar, feeds the yeast overgrowth in your gut. Same with wheat and other grains, that’s why I gave up wheat all those years ago. And the junk food BF eats sometimes throws gasoline on them. He does not believe me.

What nobody tells you is that taking acid-killing drugs also causes malabsorption of nutrients from food—they block stomach acid. The yeast cells come up through the stomach and up to the throat, bringing the acid with it and burning your throat. Dr. Davis is the only doctor I’ve ever been to as a patient that didn’t look at me like I’d lost my bloody mind when I mentioned yeast overgrowth.

It doesn’t work that way.

Now, think about this: if, while “aging,” our bodies produce less of our regular hormones and other things, why would acid production go UP? Parts wear out as you age; they don’t go bonkers except in unusual cases. You go to nearly any doctor in America and tell them you have heartburn, and they will insist that you have “excess acid,” then give you a pill to take. Seriously? At no time, unless you insist, will they take a blood test for yeast overgrowth, (or go to a doctor who will) but it’s a frequent cause. You just know you’re taking a little pill and it goes away for a while.

Yeast Isn’t Just In Bread

I’ve written many times about the Yeast Free Diet, and why you should consider it. (The Green Willow Tree has two articles one yeast overgrowth here , and sells OTC detoxing yeast killers as well.) An important part of starting your detox is getting your alimentary system in good working order. Much of what’s called “leaky gut” and “acid reflux” is an overgrowth of Candida albicans in the intestines and the damage it causes.

If you’ve ever taken antibiotics—and let’s face it, who hasn’t?—you may very well be suffering from yeast overgrowth. Probiotics, along with yeast-free eating and either a prescription for anti-fungals or an OTC preparation, can correct the balance and make everything work like it should. Probiotics are also important to re-build the good intestinal flora to keep everything in balance, and get you on your way to no longer being Tox-sick.

It starts in your stomach

Ms. Somers also discusses HCL, which I’ve taken before. Didn’t do much for me, but at some point in the future, I may try it again. I did offer it to a neighbor before, who was suffering with heartburn, and it seemed to help, but she stopped it. But as Ms. Somers points out, since she took radiation therapy for breast cancer, she will have to take HCL for the rest of her life. Oh, you didn’t know about that? Yes–radiation knocks out your stomach acid production, so you’ll have to supplement with HCL so you can properly digest food. They don’t tell you that when you’re doing radiation, and she found out the hard way.

Low-fat is NOT where it’s at

Are you still doing low-fat diets? Stop. Immediately. Low-fat diets are like filling your tank a quarter of the way and expecting your car to take you from New York to Los Angeles on it. Fats, REAL fats, are what humans need to continue to run the system. Whether it’s olive oil, butter, coconut oil, whole milk cheeses, nuts, meats or things like avocados, you need fat to STAY ALIVE.

Fake fats, along with sugar, hydrogenated anything and other fillers, just do nothing. You might “lose weight,” but without nutrients to rebuild your cells that your body is made of, you’ll also lose bone, hair, and even energy. Eventually the body starts “holding on” to whatever nutrition it gets–that’s why crash diets help you lose weight for a while, but then the trend reverses and the weight comes back. (That’s from Suzanne’s first diet/health/cookbook.)

Years of low-fat and fake foods have made us fatter than before, and decimated the gut.

Fat is what keeps you alive. Sugar can kill you.

NOTE: this is not a license to eat everything in sight, but fat also provides satiety. You can’t over-eat fat.

I say this as someone who might have accidentally eaten a few of BF’s cookies the other night. But I wasn’t feeling great either, and of course, after some “comfort food,” I felt worse later. DUH. And then there are the rare occasions where the Bell rings a little too loud and I find myself crunching on delicious tacos with a couple of packets of Diablo sauce. (This week.) I got through 5 years of Tulane at night while working a 40-hour week with the help of Taco Bell and PJ’s Coffee. Since then, these are rarities, including my favorite Starbucks, even when I had a full-time job. But to their credit, Taco Bell now has the Power Bowl Combo that are devoid of taco shells.

We all have times when it’s fast food or starve. There is an entire population of this country that doesn’t know how to eat anything but fast food. And there are healthier options at many places now. But fast food not something that should be in your regular diet.

A real-life example

The other night, BF was heading into town for a few things, and I asked him to bring back unsalted butter. When he returned, he brought me Country Crock instead. (I have a less polite name for it.) I asked, “why did you buy this instead of butter?” BF: “it’s the same thing.” Amy: “Do you need a chemistry lesson?”

This is what’s in a pound of Land O’Lakes Unsalted Butter:

This is what’s in butter. That’s it. Real butter was *always* gluten free.

And this is what’s in the Shedd’s Spread Country Crock Original he brought home:

It’s NOT the same thing!

To be honest, Land O’Lakes also makes “spreads and margarines.”

There’s a lot more ingredients in the margarine than in the butter. Still, to their credit, Country Crock is made with fewer ingredients and nothing hydrogenated. Margarine has improved since the last time I bought it, back in the 1990’s, I think. But I still want butter.

I really did buy Diet Parkay Margarine back in the day, because I didn’t know any better. They call it “Light Parkay” now, and it’s made with milk now, so it says. But. . .it’s still not real butter.

Another real-life example

After reading about fluoride in water and toothpaste, I immediately returned two tubes of Crest toothpaste and replaced it with Tom’s of Maine Fluoride-Free toothpaste. BF wanted to know why, so I explained it to him–fluoride is TOXIC. If you don’t believe me, check the side of nearly any toothpaste sold in the US. There is a black-box warning telling you to call your local poison control center if you or a member of your family swallows it. Did you know that?

Fluoride is a neurotoxin. Exposure should be minimal. (Thanks, Dr. Hotze.)

BF doesn’t like the taste of Tom’s, so he’s back using the Crest, under protest from me. But I make sure I point out that he’s putting extra toxins in his system that he doesn’t need. Again, he doesn’t believe me.

This is why you’re Tox-Sick.

Becoming Tox-sick is not just one specific thing–it’s a lot of compounded factors that over time suddenly manifest in things like cancer, heart disease and other serious conditions. Just eating the wrong foods damages the gut, weakens the liver, damages the heart, so the rest of the system takes a hit. Chemical out-gassing in your home’s carpet and new furniture can sicken you and your children. Eventually, the brain is affected as well, and you’re sick, but nobody can tell you why. Your symptoms become the diagnosis, and you’re told you have the nebulous “chronic fatigue syndrome.”

You’re Tox-Sick.

In the case of Alan Hamel, aka,”Mr. Suzanne Somers,” it was a matter of standing water in the unfinished basement of a rented house that caused mold contamination that severely sickened him. Nobody knew it was there, and once discovered, they moved out of it very quickly. Months of detoxification treatments helped Mr. Hamel feel well again, and he’s still healing from the damage. Her granddaughters were both in a school building that made them ill; one was bitten by a tick and developed Lyme Disease. Their journey back to health was hard on everyone.

Ms. Somers explains that she’s since heard from quite a number of people who were forced to move out of their dream home because of various environmental toxins, including black mold. Like the others, they didn’t see the black mold, so they didn’t know it was there. You may have mold living in the HVAC air vents, and the first time you turn on the heater when it gets cold, you’ve been hit with mold spores. Cleaning those vents is important!

Please read this book now and defend yourself

I say that because I know that this time of year, people are cleaning up their diets for a while and exercising and drinking more water and doing whatever is the new “healthy” this year. What happens if you don’t lose that weight? You could be Tox-sick, overlooking a health problem you don’t even know you have, and maybe your regular doctor won’t test you for. It’s like that with thyroid patients–they do the standard TSH and say, “your thyroid is just fine!” Been there, done that.

The Herxheimer Reaction

A few times in the last few years that I’ve lost weight, I’ve noticed that I get “hot.” The first time it happened, I called Dr. Davis and asked about it. The nurse at the time called back and said that because I was losing weight, excess estrogen that was stored in the fat cells was suddenly being released, and causing sort of a “synthetic hot flash.” I’ve lost about 20 pounds since I’ve been here in Louisiana, and yes, I tend to take my jacket off or change shirts because it’s a “hot shirt.” Sometimes I get hot at night. But I’m losing weight now, although not as fast as I was on the HCG Diet, so I’m getting the “hot” feelings.

Why do I mention this, and why should you care if you’re male?

Toxins are also stored in fat cells, and if you start detoxing and/or losing weight, the same thing can happen. Lose the fat cells, lose the toxins (and the excess estrogen, male or female.)  It might not be a “synthetic hot flash,” though–you might find yourself with nausea, headaches, or some other symptom that makes you wonder what kind of bug you’ve picked up. If you’re doing the yeast-free diet or some other kind of detox or cleansing, it’s likely your body clearing toxins and stuff out of your system. This is known as the Herxheimer Reaction, or die-off. Oh, yes, I’ve had it–one day thought I wasn’t going to make it back to my desk at work before I could choke down the Alka-Seltzer!

Read. This. Book. NOW.

Reading Tox-sick will not turn you into a hypochondriac. Rather, it will arm you with the knowledge that you need to find out why you’re not getting better, why your doctor can’t figure out what’s wrong with you, or why your child or grandchild isn’t “right.” You will learn how to clean toxins from your system, and defend yourself from the toxins we can no longer avoid. Conversations with top doctors like Dr. Sherry Rogers, Dr. Stephen Sinatra and the late Dr. Nicholas Gonzales will help you on your path to true health, and do more than just “lose weight.” Get rid of the toxins and the weight may go away on its own. But don’t go back to eating junk food, either.

Don’t you want to be healthier this year?

I hate to see anyone suffer needlessly, especially when help is available. Detoxing is not just about drinking water for three days, eating lots of kale and fasting. Tox-sick is about clearing out the bugs, toxins and other stuff that’s keeping you ill and in Part 2, defending yourself daily against environmental onslaughts that are everywhere.

What am I doing now to keep from getting Tox-Sick?

Whatever I can, really–I already avoid processed food, with rare forays into the “bad stuff,” like the cookies the other night. Butter, not margarine. Switching toothpastes, too. Sticking with what I’ve been doing for years, best I can. I’m also going to re-read this book before the e-loan ends again and taking notes to go forward.

We’re not at the point where we can put in a reverse osmosis filter (“you want a WHAT?”) eat completely organic or even get grass fed beef here. But I plan to do more gardening than I did in Houston, and hopefully grow some of our own produce organically. I hope to eventually get back on all vitamins and supplements I was taking before I moved out of Houston so that I can continuously defend my system from toxins and the occasional bugs that go around.

Of course, I’m also butting heads a little with BF who thinks it’s all “hocus pocus.” We’ll get there in the end.

I’ve only scratched the surface

Honestly, there is so much more than I discussed here. Please read this book for yourself, your family, your friends, and, yes, even your pets. Cats and dogs can get Tox-sick from mold and toxins too, although that’s not covered in this book. And if someone you know is suffering from a “mystery illness,” give them a copy of Tox-sick, or at least, tell them about it.

To your health and wellness in 2017!

 

 

 

Slow Cooking: Christmas Edition

Slow Cooking–great all year long!

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Hello again, Dear Readers:

Well, I’m back again with more slow cooking. Recently, I was introduced (online) to a lady who is a pro at the slow cooking thing. She’s written books and has blogged about it for many years. And I just found her. She’s going to help us with our holiday dinners!

But first, a lesson in irony.

Recently, I had an errand in Hammond, and of course, made a quick stop in the closest  Starbucks there. Take a look and tell me if you see the irony here:

Seriously?

Seriously. . .

This was, of course, in the ladies room after a tanker full of coffee (free refills with your Starbucks card!) If you’re not seeing it, allow me to explain: the sign is an instruction on how to wash your hands. In it, you are told to dry off your hands with a paper towel, then use said paper towel to turn off the water when you’re done.

In the sticker on the hot-air hand dryer, you are told about the energy efficiency of using the hand dryer. It eliminates the paper towel, but gives you nothing to turn off the faucet (or open the door to leave) with to protect your freshly-washed hands from someone else’s hand germs.

Does no one think about this?

Louisiana is the only state I’ve ever been in that posts hand-washing instructions in the bathrooms, nearly everywhere. I never saw those in 18 years in Texas. Draw your own conclusions.

Sewing!

I took out one of my sewing machines this week, mostly to test it out. With a few fat quarters from Walmart, I made this item:

The State flag of Texas

That’s right. A Texas flag.

Funny how you don’t notice them until you don’t see them anymore. (The sign underneath is a WWIIposter that says “Sew for Victory.”)  There will be more of them, if for no other reason, to use up the stars. But BF has been told that when the day comes that he puts up an American Flag on the property, as many neighbors have, there *will* be a Texas flag flying next to it. And if the Texit business happens, I do hope they take Louisiana with it so we can have more great barbecue!

Cleaning up

For the record, Whole Foods isn’t kidding about encouraging you to “shop local” and all that. Not a bad idea, of course. This big guy’s grin greeted me as I checked out of the Mandeville store this past weekend:

Who's that?

Who’s that?

William Terry, the founder of Bayou Soap, is on board with natural soaps and creates them right in New Orleans.  (You can read more about them here, and their Facebook page is here.) I couldn’t resist looking at the many bars—lovely soaps, and they all smell wonderful:

Lavender--good for evening showers to help you sleep.

Lavender–good for evening showers to help you sleep.

Don't these look yummy?

Don’t these look yummy?

I have no idea what

I have no idea what “African Black Soap” is, but maybe one day I’ll give it a try. Long as it doesn’t paint me.

Mango soap? Mango!!

Mango soap? Mango!!

Yes, these are pricey, but handcrafted artisan items usually are. (You can also order them online.) Mr. Terry doesn’t have the manufacturing muscle of Proctor & Gamble, and he uses natural ingredients without harsh chemicals. (I used to buy some very nice soaps from a lady at the farmer’s market in Nassau Bay on occasion, too.) Plus, they’re very big bars. My thinking is to cut them into one or two smaller bars to make them easier to handle and last a while. I’ll get some one day soon. I do like to shop local when I can, and patronize local businesses.

While others have seen Jesus’ face in a grilled cheese sandwich, and the Virgin Mary in a mobile home door screen, I see BF’s cute face in this bar of soap:

Can you see his face in this bar of soap?

It’s BF!!

I can’t possibly use that to wash my hands now. . . .

Christmas is SUNDAY.

How did this happen? I mean, wasn’t it Turkey Day just a week or two ago? Carols have been playing nearly everywhere I go. . .that stuff has been out in Walmart for weeks. . .yesterday I told BF I wanted an Easy-Bake Oven for Christmas, ha, ha. Being the smart aleck he is, he might just get me one–but where do you get the refill packages for it? I’ve never seen them, but I guess because I don’t have to.

‘Twas the Night Before Christmas, and all through the house

The A/C was running, for we live in the South.

Yep. We’re waiting to see how Mother Nature treats us this year. It was quite warm last year, and I was in shorts Christmas Day. Nothing says “Merry Christmas” like icy cold watermelon chunks. That could be the case this year, even though we’ve been shivering cold for quite some time–and so have my friends in Houston, too.

Let’s get serious with our slow cookers, shall we?

Longtime readers know about my affinity for slow cooking, and my more recent affinity for the waffle maker. Last weekend I used my Cuisinart Griddler not for waffling, but for making BF some pancakes. I used the flat griddle plate to make them right on the counter top. (I still haven’t replaced the drip tray, but we weren’t making bacon or anything that required it.) He got the biggest kick out of it–“you and your gadgets!” he said. Look at it this way: I didn’t have to turn on the stove for a little bit of cooking.

Yesterday was a 2 pound pork loin roast slow cooked with some olive oil and Italian seasoning. BF ate that right up with some baked sweet potato fries.

That’s the thing about the slow cooker–you really do just set it and forget it. It takes some advance planning, but so does cooking a standard meal. The other day I put two turkey thighs in BF’s 4 quart slow-cooker, and dinner was done when we got home. Added some Waffled Hash Browns, which took about 15 minutes to create, and we had. . .meat and potatoes, ready to have in less than 30 minutes.

Then I got ahead of the game by slow cooking.

I also started cooking the next day’s meal that night, before we sat down to the turkey and hash browns. There is a back-story to this.

Recently I was introduced, on Facebook, to a lady named Stephanie O’Dea, who is the author of a number of books and a blog called A Year of Slow Cooking.  I write a food blog, and would cook every day in the slow cooker if I could. . .how did I miss this?

Apparently Mrs. O’Dea decided she would be slow cooking every day for a year, and blogged about it. She’s since written several books on the subject, and has more slow cookers than we do at Casa de Rurale. So I eagerly signed up for her emails, and read them. This lady goes all out, OK? The other day, she sent one about making tamales in the slow cooker. I’ll try that one day, too, when we’re in the mood for Mexican food. But the one that caught my eye was the Crock Pot 16-Bean Soup Recipe.

Say what?

Mrs. O’Dea admits to being somewhat lackadaisical towards many things. . .OK, she’s lazy.

I have walked by the bags of soup mix in the grocery store a hundred million times. I’ve even picked one up, read the print on the bag, and taken it for a ride in the shopping cart. 

But then I chicken out and put it back on the shelf with it’s friends.

It just seemed like a lot of work.

I, um, actually don’t really enjoy work. 

I’d really like a house full of forest creatures like in Snow White or in Enchanted to come do it all for me so I can spin around in circles singing. 

So far the closest I’ve gotten to that dream is a six-year-old wearing a two-sizes-too-small rooster Halloween costume running around with a feather duster…

But it’s a nice dream, nonetheless.

We all think like this from time to time, right? Well, after reading this email, I had some time before I had to pick up BF, so I stopped at HEB. . .I mean, Walmart. . .on the way home and picked up a few ingredients I needed.

Unfortunately, this is Louisiana, so we only get 15 beans, not 16 beans in our soup packages. (I miss my HEB.) I take what I can get, check out, and head home to the Casa.

And I started cooking tomorrow’s dinner!

When I picked up BF later that evening, I told him, “I am on it.” He gave me that cute look of quizzical confusion that he often does, and I explained myself.  I saw this email, and I acted on it! The turkey thighs were ready when we got home, but the soup would cook all night, and he could have some to take to work the next day. Thumbs up on this one. . .but no pictures this time.

slow cooking

Really–just let it go.

I did as she instructs, tossed out that chemical “flavoring packet,” (no need to tell me twice) and altered it slightly. No tomatoes, BF has a problem with them sometimes. Beef stock and water from the pantry, and an inexpensive one-pound packet of cubed ham from the meat case. Boiled the beans and let them sit for an hour, and then started loading up the 6-quart slow cooker.

This soup smells wonderful while it cooks. The soup was slow-cooking all night, and we really enjoyed it the next day. BF became “all beaned out,” so I froze the rest for another day.

This soup is highly recommended. Slow cooking it makes it really easy. Check out the recipe and the “customizations” for making it yours. Yum.

Slow cooking a full holiday meal?

Absolutely–Mrs. O’Dea has you covered! Check out this Christmas Ham in the Slow Cooker with honey and ginger. Ham not your style? Heck, she’s got a myriad of slow cooker recipes for the holidays parked right here on this page.

Slow cooking apples

Slow cooking apples

Need an extra slow cooker? Borrow one a day or two before if you’re afraid of going out to the mall this holiday season like I was in Houston. If you haven’t planned anything yet, well, better get a move on! Both links have recipes suitable for holiday gatherings, but you have to plan ahead.

Please note that despite the fancy fixtures that come attached to modern slow cookers, they are not essential. Last time, I told you about the web-enabled model with the smartphone app from CrockPot. I don’t have one of those, nor the one where you can brown and bake before the slow cooking. Mine are 13-year-old Crock Pots bought in 2003 or 2004 at Big Lots in Texas before I moved out of the GER’s house. I also have a “little dipper” I bought to get the cooking smells out of the kitchen. BF’s is a Hamilton Beach 4 quart, just like my Crock Pot. I refer to them as “dumb terminal models,” because you control them from the little knob on the front after you plug them in. (Eight years in IT, I know stuff like this.)  I know, I know, there are slow cooking marvels with all kinds of bells & whistles and apps and all that. You do not NEED it. If you spend that much on a slow cooker, that’s less you can spend on food. Your choice.

Wrangling the whole thing together.

The best advice I’ve ever heard for planning any kind of special occasion was from The Barefoot Contessa in Foolproof. Write it all down, figure out how long everything will take to make, create a schedule and work backwards. In other words, if your turkey will take 4 hours, and dinner is at 5:00 pm, you put it in the oven about 1:00 pm, making sure your oven is at the temperature you need (usually 350F.) Potatoes will take an hour, so those go into the oven about 4:00 pm–and at 350F, you can easily bake them at the same time on a different rack. I mean, why not?

And you can always drop the potatoes in your CrockPot, right? Slow cooking can indeed help with Christmas dinner as well as parties and other celebrations.

What’s on the HeatCageKitchen menu for Christmas?

Well, nothing yet, but there likely is going to be some slow cooking going on. Especially if I don’t make much.

BF mentioned the other night that he wanted to have ham for Christmas. I wouldn’t mind if it was *this* ham, but he says he wants it “baked.” How is this not baked if it’s slow cooking at 300F or 350F for several hours?

If he wants something with Coke and sugar all over it, or requires the use of any kind of “enclosed packet,”  I’m roasting a Lemon Chicken for myself. And I’m not doing *everything* I did for Turkey Day, although I wouldn’t mind making those Perfect Mashed Potatoes again. But we haven’t heard from the kids, nor anyone else, so it might just be the two of us with the critters.

But whatever we do, there’s a good chance a slow cooker’s going to be involved. And there’s a good chance that something will be waffled.

Remember too that there are recipes posted on this page. Most are favorites that I’ve tried many times, and that may be just what you’re looking for, including some slow cooking, too.

And if you’re not hosting. . . .

Are you going to someone’s house for Christmas lunch/dinner? Bring something tasty and delicious, whether you’re slow cooking or not. A Year of Slow Cooking is a great place to start, as is Pinterest.

And if it’s looking like you’re going to be home alone on Christmas, as I was for many years, enjoy it. Enjoy the peace and solitude, watch whatever TV shows you want, (I highly recommend British TV, especially a comedy if you can find some, turn on the CC,), enjoy the best meal you can cook up,  and don’t feel “alone.” Slow cooking something delicious will free you up to watch your favorite holiday DVDs, listen to your favorite music, and spend time with yourself. There are folks who will be working on Christmas and would be happy to be home. Many are first responders (fire, police, medical personnel, etc.) so please don’t make their job harder.

It’s OK to be alone on Christmas.

If you’re really not happy about the holidays (there are more than one) remember that Christmas comes but once a year. . .and in a week or so, it will all be over. No more carols blaring from the PA system everywhere you go. No more drunks wishing you a “Cherry Mistmas.” No more red and green everything. Come January 2nd, the trees will be heading to the recycling bin, the lights will come down, and people will start packing stuff up to put away for another year. Some might not finish until March, but you get the idea.

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukah and Happy New Year!

I’m probably not going to publish a post again until after Christmas, so I will wish all of you Happy Holidays, whatever holiday you want to celebrate. (Hey–if there’s food involved, there’s a good chance I’ll be celebrating it, no matter what religion it’s from.)  Whatever it is you like to cook, make it tasty, healthy, and make enough for everybody, OK?

There’s a good chance I’ll be in the back doing some sewing while I’m doing some slow cooking.

Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

Are you ready to Swerve?

Hi, again, Dear Readers–let’s Swerve!

I’m sorry to be late again, *life* has happened, and there are dogs involved. We’re getting that sorted out, and I’m always looking for new things to bring you.

As I alluded to in a recent post, there is something available for folks who miss SomerSweet, and anyone who’s looking for a sweet alternative to sugar that isn’t toxic or make you feel ill after eating it. An alternative sweetener that allows you to sweeten foods naturally without wondering what will happen in an hour. And one that’s somewhat accessible without ordering it from somewhere else. I found it: and it’s called Swerve.

I still miss my HEB.

Now, y’all keep hearing me say this. I really do, and here’s one of the main reasons:

Notice the drink holder spots?

That’s right, I’m really ticked off about this. HEB, Kroger, Randall’s, and other stores in Houston (and around the country)  have cup holders for your coffee. Many stores, like Kroger, Randall’s and Target, have Starbucks locations in the store. (The Walmart on I-45 has a McDonald’s in the front of the store as well.) I mean, coffee is a thing now, right? People shop with their coffee, especially during the cold winter months, so why not?

See? They all have them!

When I went to Winn-Dixie a couple of days before Thanksgiving, I stopped in at the PJ’s in front of the store for a coffee. Once I grabbed my basket, I realized–no place for coffee! I had to be very careful balancing a coffee in one hand, or balancing it in the “seat” part of the basket. It’s 2016—child seating areas have been in grocery store baskets since I was a kid—so why don’t they have coffee cup holders in the rest of the US?

Neighbor E graciously took these pictures for me last Saturday, and included a pic of of our friends there, Miss Lei:

Hi, Miss Lei!!!

She made a different version of the hatch apple cake, and E got me the recipe for you:

Note: this isn’t the dump cake version. You don’t use the whole jar, either.

And check out the display that’s right in front of the bakery, inside the store.

NOW do you see why I miss my HEB? (And many thanks to Neighbor E for the great pictures, too!) Well, I’m getting there. And, BF makes it easier. He’s been to our HEB, so he understands why.

Turkey thighs found!

I did find more turkey thighs at the Rouse’s on Veterans Memorial Boulevard, and I bought both packs—they were under $2! Next trip to NOLA, I’ll go look again. The newest Trader Joe’s is across the street; I just went there for a couple of bottles of water for the trip home (and I know they’re 17 cents each.)  But it’s nice, just like the one in Baton Rouge, and the one in The Woodlands. If you haven’t been to a Trader Joe’s, and there’s one in your area, might be worth a visit. I very nearly brought home a packet of their Pork and Beef Tamales. They actually are a product of Mexico. They’re real tamales, and very tasty too.

Anyway. . . .

Do *you* have a coffee while you shop?

I did notice that my Whole Foods in Mandeville has coffee cup holders in their baskets—the little “urban” baskets, as I call the smaller ones with two compartments, have them in the handle like HEB does. The bigger baskets, the ones with the child seats in them, have these plastic holders, which also hold things like flowers:

This will hold coffee or a bunch of flowers.

I know, I know. . .these are “first world problems.” But DARNIT! When there’s a PJ’s right in front of the store, why can’t Winn-Dixie shoppers have holders for coffee too?

What’s this foolishness?

Speaking of Whole Foods, I saw this little gem last time:

Not Beef? Not interested!

No kidding, “Not Beef.” OK, riddle me this, Batman—if you’re truly a vegan and/or vegetarian, and you do not partake of a product that comes from “anything with a face,” why are you in need of a product that tastes of simulated beef? Is this to go with your “plant-based burger meat?” Not a joke, and it’s $3 a box!

Yuck.

No, OK? And that recipe for “Not Beef Noodle Soup” starring cut bits of tofu? Yeah. . .not happening in the Casa. Even if I weren’t allergic to soy, I wouldn’t try it. What’s the point? Besides, BF would run me up the street for bringing tofu into his house.

I know, I know–Whole Foods is giving customers what they want, or what they think they want. This is America, the land of invention, so. . .spend your money where you like, but I still think it’s silly.

Resistance is futile

Oh, and, despite my refusal to do so, I now have a Winn Dixie Customer Reward Card, similar to the ones I have for Kroger, Randall’s, Vitamin Shoppe, Petsmart, Petco, IKEA, and a myriad of other stores in Houston and elsewhere.  I added the app to my phone, too. Lucky me, they have “fuel points” that we can use to save a few rubles when we fill up The White Knight. So I hope to be able to use the points soon. I spoke to Winn-Dixie today to resolve an issue with duplicate cards.

While I on the phone with the nice lady, I expressed my discontent with having no place to put my coffee cup while shopping. (The PJ’s is right there, for heaven’s sake!) She didn’t know why that was, but she promised to pass along the suggestion to management. So maybe during the next upgrade of baskets, Winn-Dixie will get with the 21st Century and have a place for customers to put their coffee cups while shopping there.

Enough of that—this is the post you’ve been waiting for.

Let’s do the Swerve!

If you’re one of those folks who is missing SomerSweet, isn’t happy with stevia, or would like to move away from the Splenda, Equal or other chemical sweeteners you’ve become accustomed to using, Swerve might be what you’re looking for.

 

As I mention in my last post, I found Swerve in the Mandeville Whole Foods on my first trip. Swerve is erythritol, a natural sweetener that doesn’t have any nasty side effects like chemical sweeteners, and no, um, gastro issues. This is great news for diabetics and anyone who wants to cut down or eliminate sugar from their diet. You can have some sweet stuff and not be tempted by something you know you shouldn’t be eating. It’s especially useful this time of year, when you know how all the well-laid plans go pear-shaped when someone shows up with anything called “Black Forest,” “Chocolate Cherry,” “Peppermint,” or the thing that makes me knock a big guy out of the way, something with chocolate and raspberry in the same place. (BF knows to move if I spot that combo, but I haven’t been in the company of the esteemed Shaquille O’Neal; I’m sure he’d move out of the way just as fast.)

The ingredient list.

Here’s a closeup:

How does it compare to the now-defunct SomerSweet?

Very similar, but not exactly the same.

Here’s a peek in the bag:

Swerve!!

The day I bought it, I paid $7.99 for this bag:

My receipt. Thankfully, BF doesn’t look too closely sometimes.

No, it’s not cheap–but it’s useful if you’re looking for healthy ingredients.

Not everybody cares.

Please note that in my own experience with healthier foods, not everyone cares that it’s sugar free, gluten free, carb free, or yeast free. This was especially true at Thanksgiving, when my favorite Cranberry Ginger Relish wasn’t well received, and the vegan cornbread made for BF’s Dad wasn’t well received. I’m not doing that again, I’ll make all that stuff for myself. BF “kind of” liked the vegan cornbread, but the “regular” cornbread wasn’t all eaten, either—about half went to Hound Training.

Another example: A few years ago, I brought former Neighbor R a pan of yeast-free brownies at her request (she’d given me a big favor.) She thought that little pan was “too much,” and she gave half to another neighbor. That other neighbor, I was told later, brought them to her booth at a flea market, where “everybody loved them!” No kidding—that neighbor didn’t know they were more expensive, sugar free and all that, because she was accustomed to making brownies from a box. I’ve said this before: alternative ingredients are pricier than the usual white-flour/white-sugar stuff. So unless you know someone who would appreciate yeast free brownies, gluten-free cornbread, or other non-standard healthier recipes, it’s probably better to keep them to yourself, or at least in your family’s kitchen.

It’s all good.

Granular Erythritol is available in a number of places, including Amazon and Dr. Hotze’s in-house vitamin store (called Sweet-N-Natural.) This 2-pound can is $50; SomerSweet was considerably less expensive. But if you don’t have the inclination to pop for that much Sweet-N-Natural, Swerve is a great option to try erythritol. A 12-ounce bag was $7.99 at Whole Foods, and you may find it on sale occasionally for less.

So what do you do with it? Use it like sugar. Between the Swerve website and their Facebook page, you’ll find lots of ideas for using Swerve to satisfy your sweet tooth. They don’t yet have a downloadable PDF file of recipes; you just go there, or to their Facebook page, and pick out what you’d like. I’ve seen some tasty desserts on their site, but I haven’t tried them yet. This one, for Pecan Pie Biscotti, looks pretty tasty.  (Access all their recipes here.)

I had a chat with the very nice Natalia at Swerve, and she says that although they’ve been around since 2001, they’ve only stepped up their marketing since 2012. Swerve is available nationwide as well as in Canada, and is also available at places like Amazon, iHerb and Vitacost if your local market doesn’t carry it. (They currently don’t have an e-commerce function on their own website.) You can also use their handy online store locator to find it in your neck of the woods. I  had no idea that it was available in Clear Lake, but it is!

Swerve comes in 12 ounce packages, in granular and powdered.

What makes Swerve special?

The cup-for-cup measure is a distinct difference between Swerve and other similar products. Swerve is the only product of its kind that comes in not only granular, like you would put in your coffee, but also powdered for confectionery creations (i.e., truffles.) No one else has a “confectioner’s sugar” version. It’s also gluten-free and non GMO (two big sell factors for me.) Erythritol doesn’t promote tooth decay the way sugar does, and of course, it TASTES LIKE SUGAR! No metallic aftertaste like stevia—I’m sorry, but stevia kind of tastes funny to me. So, I’m liking Swerve a lot.

Unlike xylitol, erythritol is also safe for the dogs who might get under your feet and nibble a bit of crumbs you didn’t know you dropped. Xylitol is very toxic for animals, so if you have some or might use it, do keep an eye out around the critters. Last thing you want is an emergency vet bill for a poisoned animal.

So what does Swerve taste like?

It tastes like sugar! No, really, it tastes like sugar. No aftertaste at all.

I tried Swerve myself recently when I made some coconut oil chocolate to nibble on. With It worked perfectly, and there was no difference between the one I made with SomerSweet and the one I made with Swerve. They were equally tasty, and melted all over my hands as coconut oil is wont to do.

This much coconut oil

Some cocoa powder:

Two tablespoons of cocoa powder, then mix well with a fork:

Chocolate first

Now add Swerve, just stir it in:

See? Works like sugar. Just stir it right in.

I think I added two of those tablespoons, just like SomerSweet. And because the coconut oil was unflavored, a little almond extract does wonders:

Chocolate. . .er,”candy.”

Please note that almond extract is VERY potent, and you only need a tiny drop for this.

Freeze until hard, and carefully break it into chunks to eat like candy. Well, it pretty much is, isn’t it?

I’m thinking it might be time for another crack at the YeastFreeBrownies, sweetening them with Swerve. I haven’t made them in a while. Maybe BF might even like them, just a little.

So, now you have an alternative, and if you’re like me, a replacement for the beloved SomerSweet. (Or if you’re looking to permanently ditch the toxic chemical ones.) I’ll use the rest of the SomerSweet over time, and will pick up my sugarless cooking and baking with Swerve. BF will probably not like me buying many bags of it at a time, but you know I hate to run out of anything.

Be sweet and enjoy!

 

The Thanksgiving Post: Apples and Spaghetti Squash

Hello, again, Dear Readers:

I hope you’re feeling better by now. The election, and all the associated nastiness, is over for a while. Now it’s time for transition, and hopefully, getting back to whatever passes for “normal.” It was a nail-biter, and for some reason, I couldn’t stop eating BF’s ice cream. (I didn’t eat all of it, just a little.) We stayed up until 3:00 am or so watching the results, and back-checking CBS News on our phones against what was showing up on Facebook in our feeds. Bizarre–I’ve never done that before, but we finally hit the sack once it was all over. Good thing we didn’t have anything planned for the next day, and he was off work. No more sugar-laden ice cream, and the weight is going back down again, thank heavens.

Time for some comfort food, OK? Keep reading, there’s a recipe for you shortly.

We’ve been doing some renovation type of cleaning in the Casa, which includes having one of his, um, ex-girlfriends finally come get her stuff out of his house. She’s got some of it, but some still resides for a few more days. (What are we, Public Storage?) His daughter took the things she wanted and I helped her clear out stuff she didn’t want. All that’s left is his friend from the Navy. Well, with moving stuff around and out, painting the back room for my soon-to-be studio office, and clearing car parts out of the house, we’ve set up a little breakfast area by the kitchen:

One whole-milk sugar-free hazelnut cappuccino for Amy!

One whole-milk sugar-free hazelnut cappuccino!

This is my IKEA Tarno patio set that we just put there and put a tablecloth over, and BF decided to add my tiny lamp (Lampan, also from IKEA.) I repaired the miniblinds which had been damaged by a passed-on pooch, and cleaned the window really well. Know what? It’s kind of nice to have breakfast right there, or dinner. When we get things better situated, we’ll put my regular dinette there, and I’ll repair more of the miniblinds, now that I know how. (Looked it up on eHow and learned on the fly.) The blinds are closed so you don’t see that the Casa “beautification project” has not yet carried over to the patio out front.

After my trip to New Orleans on Sunday, where I bought some lovely pork chops, chicken sausage  and chicken thighs for us, BF decided Monday to get. . .one of those “kits” to make tacos for lunch on Tuesday. I kid you not. At least he had the sense to get the crunchy taco kit, which has corn tortillas. No word about “gluten free,” but there was no wheat or its derivatives in any of the ingredients that I saw, so I was glad about that and reluctantly took part. (It does say that it was partly produced with GMO ingredients; my guess is the corn, which I rarely eat.) He asked me to brown the ground beef to get started, and of course, twenty minutes later, we had tacos–because he went into the living room to watch more TV. GRRR. . .but I got the job done.

Dinner was Mustard Pork Chops in the Crock Pot, which I may post soon. It was pretty good, and worthy of doing again. Because he really wanted. . .tacos. . .the chicken shifted to lunch on Wednesday, where I made him, for the first time, Nigella Lawson’s Pollo alla Cacciatora, or “The Hunter’s Stew,” which, in Nigella’s case, is “lazy hunter’s stew.” (It only takes 30 minutes.) Although it’s long been a comfort food favorite for me, this was his first taste of it. Thumbs up–he likes it, and I can make it again for him. (Thanks.) The next day for dinner at work, he took some with a cup of rice, since he thought it “needed” some. No problem, I cooked up a small batch of white rice for him and added it to the container. Along with a slice of made-from-scratch pound cake from his friend’s birthday, he was all set for work.

Now, if you’re interested in making this “hunter’s stew,” I want to point something out that’s not immediately obvious: although the printed recipe calls for a half-cup of pancetta cubes–which is perfectly acceptable, albeit expensive and hard to find here–you can also slice up 3 or 4 slices of bacon in place of it. That’s the way I’ve always made it since I saw the original show.  The show may be on YouTube; you’d just have to look for it.

It really is a nice comfort food. Even if it does come from across the pond. You’re welcome.

I’ve been in the larger Winn-Dixie in Hammond, and indeed they do have more organic produce. Surprise–they even have fresh sushi. I still hate sushi, but–they have it! I did some recon in the morning, and then did some shopping later in the day, mostly meat, eggs, butter, cheese, etc. I almost–ALMOST–thought I was in Kroger. And I kept saying “I live down in La Marque. . .” which, of course, is in Texas. Well, it’s probably because I felt like I was in Kroger. I sure do miss my HEB, though–the pork loin roasts I used to get on sale for $3 in HEB are something like $12 here. What’s up with that? I did find a nine-pound pork loin that was about 3 feet long, but we don’t have any place to store that monster. Another time.

Rouse’s has purchased a rival grocery store chain, so there will soon be a Rouse’s in Hammond for me to visit, right near that Winn-Dixie. That’ll be good, too.

A quick look at the calendar tells me that Thanksgiving is coming. It’s next week! I really have lost my sense of date and time. For the first time in I don’t know how many years, I won’t be cooking turkey. That’s OK, I cook turkey all year long (I just wish I could get turkey thighs here; maybe Albertson’s has them.) I asked BF the other night what our plans were for Thanksgiving; he said his brother usually does a big spread, and we would attend. (Just have to figure out what I’m going to wear.) Well, if I’m allowed, I’ll bring some of that fantastic Cranberry-Ginger Relish and maybe one or two other small things, but I warned BF that I would likely eat before I went. Longtime readers know that things like sweet potato pie, sweet potatoes with other abominable things added to it and all things bread, pie and gravy are not coming my way. I’ll be happy to have some turkey–maybe a little mashed potatoes, too–but no gravy, please! Gravy, to me, kills the taste of everything under it. So this will be interesting, and maybe I’ll pull the Nordic Track out in the morning before we go.

Think I should just stay home and watch Britcoms?

So, what do you do when you’re hosting such an occasion and have health concerns to consider? (Besides panic, that is.) Or, surprise, his new girlfriend is a vegetarian, and he’s going vegan soon too? Knowing this in advance helps, of course, but sometimes you don’t, so having some extra vegetable dishes helps (just don’t use chicken stock!) I’ve written about these kinds of things before, and you can also get some help on Martha Stewart’s website, under “All Things Thanksgiving.” Sur la Table has also published its annual Thanksgiving Guide, and it’s available online or as a free download to print. BF and I caught a bit of the Rachael Ray Show the other day, and someone named Clinton Kelly was making dishes you could make in advance: Turkey Meatballs, a Roasted Vegetable Soup (which looked pretty good, actually), which you could make in advance and freeze, then serve from the Crock Pot and some popover kinds of things with smoked salmon.  The Quinoa Pie with Butternut Squash is really good, too. Of course, if you’re looking for something specific, please check out the worlds’s biggest idea database, Pinterest.

One thing I can’t emphasize enough is getting started on your Thanksgiving planning early. Get that turkey NOW, if you haven’t already. Get your brine mix, or make it, NOW, because the turkey has to thaw first, AND you have to make the brine ahead of time. Buy your ingredients early, especially the unusual stuff, like puff pastry or something else that everyone will be looking for like fresh or dried sage. Doing potluck? Ask and assign people a specific dish–dressing, veg, cornbread, whatever–so you avoid the problem of everyone stopping at the grocery and picking up a cake or cupcakes at the last minute. All dessert and little turkey does *not* make happy dinner guests, you know? A broad variety of different vegetable dishes, and maybe including maybe a pilaf or risotto (using vegetable stock) can keep everyone happy and well-fed while including the vegetarians and not calling them out for it.

Brining a turkey? Here’s one from Ree Drummond, The Pioneer Woman (warning: it has brown sugar) and one from Martha Stewart’s website. If you want to brine a turkey–and I highly recommend it–get going. Now. Juniper berries might be hard to find soon.

It’s also a great time to dust off the slow cookers and the waffle makers if you’re not using them regularly. Make sure all your appliances work before the big day, too. And isn’t there something you can slow-cook or waffle ahead of time? (Cranberry Ginger Relish can be made a few days in advance, thank heavens.)

Yes, it’s time to get your thinking cap on. Quick. Whether you’re hosting or just attending, it’s time to take inventory so your Thanksgiving will go well and everyone, including yourself, will enjoy themselves. (Here’s some advice I wrote about last year that may help.)

Here’s another tip: READ your recipes and understand them before you shop and get started. Case in point: last night I decided to make something new for me and BF. Seems he’s never had eggs with tomatoes in his life, despite his claim of “I’ve been all around the world!” So, I found this recipe for Skillet Eggs and Tomato Sauce in one of the Everyday Food cookbooks last night, and asked him if he’d like to try it. He said he would try it, with a bit of reluctance in his voice. (Next question I asked: “Do we have any anchovies?” Oh, the look on his face was priceless.) In the book, this recipe makes two servings, not the four that’s on the website. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize that the book called for a HALF can, 28 ounces, of tomatoes. Skimming over the ingredients, I just figured I could use two cans of tomatoes, 14.5 ounces. That’s pretty much the same, all right? WRONG–it was, indeed, way too much tomato, and that was his first comment. (I ate them, though.) I noticed the difference when I put the book away–and then made a note of it. He said he’d like to have it again, with half as much tomatoes. Done. (And maybe an anchovy, too, but don’t tell BF–I hide that kind of stuff in a drawer of the fridge.)

The point: please READ carefully and understand before you do something dumb like I do sometimes. Especially for Thanksgiving. OK? Don’t forget the hot mess I made when I invited The GER over a few years ago. It can happen to you. READ. Please.

Now, would I leave you without help for Thanksgiving? Of course not.

Remember last time, when NM handed me a bunch of apples to take home? Well. . .I did put them in the Crock Pot, and darnit, they were pretty tasty! I made them at the same time as the pork chops, but not because I had pork chops. BF wasn’t wild about them cooked, he’d rather have fresh. But, it’s fall, and it feels like fall, so I wanted to try something different.

I actually made two batches, in two different slow cookers, to see what would happen with two different sweeteners–SomerSweet and Agave Syrup. I think this would make a great lower-carb/gluten-free alternative to the traditional apple pie. Either for everyone, or just for guests like me who would rather keep the calorie count down.

If you’re planning to have an apple dessert, or more than one, for Thanksgiving, this is an easy one to toss in and forget for a while. I actually made it a second time with bigger, fresh red apples so I could take pictures and show you how it’s made.

When I cruised through Pinterest to find apples in the Crock Pot, I didn’t find much in the way of healthy versions–mostly, they were loaded with sugar. GRRRR. . .but of course, we have alternatives in our world, don’t we?

The setup

The setup

Yes, that’s the same sherry vinegar I have around to make Cranberry Ginger Relish, but since I don’t use it often, and it only takes a small amount, I decided to try it in this apple dish. You could use red wine vinegar, or just leave it out if you wanted. But I found that the sherry vinegar added a nice depth of flavor that’s not often in apple dishes.

I started out by washing all the apples, of course:

I love apples. Turns out so does BF.

I love apples. Turns out so does BF.

The first time I made this, I used just cinnamon. I decided to use apple pie spice for this incarnation, because I’m glad I did. I made some using this recipe, but because not everything is unpacked, I couldn’t find any allspice. So, it was back to Winn-Dixie for more after I picked up BF from work Sunday afternoon. He wanted some hot chocolate because the weather had turned cold. While he was prowling around looking for that, I went to the spices. Hmmm. . .should I get the stuff called “natural,” which is a rather nebulous word on food products, or get the brand I frequently bought in Houston?

It's "natural," whatever that means." No, it's not organic, I checked.

It’s “natural,” whatever that means.” No, it’s not organic, I checked.

 

That's more my style. I bought that brand in Texas, many times.

That’s more my style. I bought that brand in Texas, many times.

I picked up that bottle that was $1.64 and put it in the little hand basket. Then BF returned to the spice aisle and was of the impression that I’m not getting what I wanted. He then said to me, “Look! Here’s all the ‘allspice’ you could ever want, right here!”

He called this "allspice."

He called this “allspice.”

Oh, he was so funny, gesticulating towards all those spice blends. Giggling, I took the little bottle out of the hand basket and showed it to him:

This is Allspice. But you knew that already, right?

This is Allspice. But you knew that already, right?

BF was in the Navy, you know. Fortunately, he was *not* on KP in the galley (kitchen), or he would have been keel-hauled for making that mistake. He only had to put up with me laughing at him all the way home.

This apple pie spice mix recipe from Life Made Sweeter is quick and easy, and I made a double batch to make sure I had enough:

The setup

The setup

 

Just blend them up!

Just blend them up!

 

Bottled, but I couldn't find my label maker in time.

Bottled, but I couldn’t find my label maker in time.

And use it like you would the store-bought stuff. No sugar or other additives to worry about. (Of course, yesterday, I found another carefully packed box marked “Amy Pantry,” which had not one, but two bottles of allspice. GRRR.)

Back to it–I started by putting a bit of olive oil in the bottom of the crocks:

img_3506

img_3505

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now, I’ll bet you’re wondering if there’s a deliberate reason for a black and white crock. Well, yes, and I used it–the black one was mine, a replacement during a Karma of Spare Parts incident, last year, I think, when I sent the 4-quart crashing to the floor on a Sunday. They no longer had white, so black it was. The white crock belongs to BF. The difference came in handy: the black one had apples cooked with Agave Syrup, and the white one had apples cooking in SomerSweet.

Neat, huh? (Worked for me!)

Then started cutting the apples and adding them to the crock, and rolling them around in the oil:

img_3508

Yes, I was drinking coffee whilst I made this. It was early, and cold that morning.

Then I added in the apple pie spice mix to both crocks:

img_3509

Added about a tablespoon of vanilla extract:

This is cooked, so the vodka-based vanilla is fine; it will cook the alcohol out.

This is cooked, so the vodka-based vanilla is fine; it will cook the alcohol out.

Then added in a tablespoon of the sherry vinegar to each one:

I used up what was left in the nearly-empty bottle.

I used up what was left in the nearly-empty bottle.

And then I added the respective sweeteners:

Agave in the black one

Agave in the black one on the left

 

SomerSweet (erythrytol) in the right one

SomerSweet (erythrytol) in the white one on the right.

Mix it all up again to coat the apples with the rest of it:

img_3520

Agave pot

 

img_3519

SomerSweet pot

And cooked it on low for about 4 hours.  What happened? Well. . .it was interesting, and BF gave me his honest opinion (I only had to needle him a little bit.)

Hmmm. . .looks like Miss Food Blogger forgot to take a picture of the results. Oh, well. I had three things going on at once. . .and we just ate them!

While BF would prefer eating apples raw, he said that the apples cooked with SomerSweet were a little less sweet, and still somewhat crisp, although they weren’t hard like a fresh apple. The agave syrup crock apples were softer and sweeter than the others, and that’s the one he preferred.

If I had cooked them longer they would have probably been a lot softer, and maybe even soft enough for applesauce. But peeling all them apples? No thanks. It was just something to use them up the first time.

Agave syrup works for a lot of different things, including a replacement for honey, with less of an insulin spike than honey would give. (Remember: I’m not a doctor, I just read about these things.)  SomerSweet’s primary ingredient, erythrytol, is a sugar alcohol that’s also quite sweet and works like regular sugar, also without the insulin spike.

For you and your guests who don’t want pie or other heavily-sugared dessert, baking apples in your Crock Pot may be a good alternative to have around, and in the Crock Pot, couldn’t be easier. But why wait for Thanksgiving? Apples are in season now, and available all year around–make some this week or this weekend, and see how you like it. Tweak it to make it yours, and offer it with pride on Thanksgiving Day. It’s one of those things you can set and forget.  You may be asked to make it again next year, or even before then–and what would be wrong with that?

Now for another side dish that’s also low-carb. Spaghetti Squash. Have you tried it? I have. They’re hard as a rock and can be somewhat dangerous to cut, especially the larger ones. Easiest method I knew of, until now, was to cut it in half, scrape out all the seeds and strings, coat the inside with a touch of olive oil, and roast at 350F cut side down for an hour.  I used to use the toaster oven to roast even the larger ones, but now I don’t have a toaster oven. What to do? Well. . . .

I also follow a blog called Half Baked Harvest. I found a recipe there a while back, and I may have posted it here, but I can’t find it now. HOWEVER–a few weeks ago, this recipe for Crockpot Spaghetti Squash with Lasagne Bolognese showed up and got my attention. I haven’t made the Bolognese sauce yet, but I might one day.

But cooking a spaghetti squash in the Crock Pot? Why haven’t I tried this before?

Tieghan makes up her sauce, adds it into the Crock Pot, then puts the whole, untouched spaghetti squash right on top the sauce. No kidding. So I pulled out the big one and put the (little) squash in it, because the ovals were needed for the apples.

I just pulled off the sticker, washed it off, dropped it in, turned it to low and left it alone for a good 8 or 9 hours.

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You put the food in, put the lid on, plug it in, turn it on, and leave it alone:

Really--just let it go.

Really–just let it cook itself.

I did this early on Monday, and about suppertime, this is what came out:

It's cooked, it really is.

It’s cooked, it really is.

And out comes a perfectly cooked spaghetti squash:

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Either use a good potholder or wait til it cools, then cut it in half to remove the seeds. Once you’ve got the “guts” out of it, scrape out the “spaghetti” with a fork into your serving bowl:

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Photo credit: BF, because I can’t do this and snap the picture.

Add some butter, salt and fresh herbs:

I only had rosemary handy.

I only had rosemary handy.

Mix it up well, and if needed, re-heat in the microwave or on top the stove, or leave in the oven to keep it warm:

Yum.

Yum.

And you’ve got delicious and perfectly cooked spaghetti squash for your vegetarian guests. (You could also use olive oil if you don’t want to use butter.) But don’t be surprised if the non-veg folks dig into it–spaghetti squash is delicious when cooked well and seasoned right. (If only I could get BF to try a bite of it; he hates squash across the board.)

So, did I give you some new ideas for a great Thanksgiving meal? Alternatives for your guests, maybe? Or just something different and deliciousi for dinner this weekend? (November also has 29 *other* dinners to prepare besides Thanksgiving, you know.) I hope this helps, and I hope everyone has a tasty and happy Thanksgiving next week.

Now, if you’re thinking to yourself, “Amy, there you go again, banging on about SomerSweet again. You have the last three cans of it in existence!” Well, here you go. I hope to finish the post on a new replacement for SomerSweet for you, but I want to reach out to the company and find out more from them. I will tell you that I found it in Whole Foods in Mandeville, it’s called Swerve, and the company is located in New Orleans!

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More to come on this, hopefully soon.

Happy Thanksgiving!