Tuesday, August 11, 2009

I'm really still here!

So I know that I haven't posted anything in pretty much forever. I have been living up the summer and have hardly had any time for blogging. However, most of you who read this also keep up with me on Facebook, so it's not like I've been all that far away.

Summer school ended before July 4, and that's when my summer break started. Jer and Jill and their girls drove in on July 11 and we had a fun couple of days. I got my wisdom teeth pulled July 13 and everything went really well. In fact, on the 14th, I helped judge a Harry Potter costume contest at the Hogsmeade Festival event at the South Jordan Megaplex, then saw the midnight showing! In spite of what anyone says, I think they did a pretty good job with the movie. I don't envy the screenwriters the task they were handed with that one!

On the 15th, I got to help take my parents and Jer and his family to the airport. They went to Hawaii on Jer's many miles that he racks up on his numerous business trips. I came home and took a nap, and realized that my mouth was really starting to hurt. The rest of my teeth had realized that there was a lot more room to stretch out, so they started settling into the new space. I stayed on ibuprofen for nearly a week while that sorted itself out, and I read and watched a lot of TV, mostly the first two seasons of Dexter, and played a lot of Sims 3. I did manage to stay fairly active during this time, meeting friends for Spoon Me frozen yogurt and keeping my mom's very active raspberries picked. I continued experimenting with the Indian food and made matar paneer, a tomato-mint sauce with peas.

By the time Jer and Jill came back two weeks later, on the 28, I was ready for some fun! Wii Sports resort came out just before they arrived, so Al and I picked one up and we had some good times with it on my parents' big screen. Wakeboarding and swordfighting were favorites. Al and I really enjoy frisbee golf, even though we're not all that good at it.

Ash and her boys arrived the next day and the craziness ensued! We played video games, went to movies, celebrated Madi's 8th birthday and attended her baptism. My friend Dave, who you all either know personally or remember as my best man, came to catch up and he took mom for a ride on his Harley! We also shopped and did lunch up at the Gateway in Salt Lake and the kids played in the Olympic Plaza fountain.

I was thrilled to have Molly acknowledge my existence. At Christmas, I got a hug the night before they left. Then in April, she tolerated me by letting me hold her yet pointedly ignored me. It was so fun to have her say my name, snuggle with me, and even call me on the phone to sing the Elmo's World theme song! I couldn't get enough of her.

We hosted a s'more party last Thursday night and I had the brilliant and well-received idea to have the traditional fare, but also coconut and strawberry marshmallows, as well as Mounds, Almond Joys, and Reese's Peanut Butter Cups. Delicious! Al has taken to calling it "S'moremet."

Jer and Jill left last Saturday, so it's down to just Ash and the boys. Kyle is a speedster on his bike and likes to call people "dude," which I find amusing. Kody likes to be in charge and we recently learned that he has no problem sticking up for the underdog. I think he might end up in law enforcement.

Al and I celebrated our 5th anniversary on Sunday. We are headed to Vegas with my mom, Jeff, Ashley, Ashley, and the boys at the end of the week, so our actual anniversary wasn't that big of a deal. We went to MaCool's for brunch with Al's mom, who we hadn't seen in an unacceptably long time. Al needs new dress shoes, so we went over to DSW where I discovered their clearance event going on (you know I have to blog about this!). 30% off already clearance prices. I spent $60 on three pairs and saved $170. I was the only one who ended up with shoes.

Al didn't feel too badly about that because he's started collecting golf stuff. He's been out three times and is really enjoying it, so he's investing in his own gear. He found a great set of used irons for $260 the day before the anniversary. We spent the rest of the day with my parents, sister, and nephews. We watched Knowing. I'm telling you right now, don't waste your time. Or watch the first 3/4 and make up your own ending.

I have enjoyed summer movie season. I ended up seeing Harry Potter three times. I mostly liked Transformers, but was annoyed at Megan Fox as well as the huge leaps they took from the actual Transformer mythology. I really liked GI Joe. The Proposal was funny, but predictable...your typical romantic comedy.

Today, Al and I are heading up to Brigham City to celebrate my grandparents' 70th wedding anniversary. I think that's just amazing. Congratulations to them!

We'll be doing some shopping at the Park City Outlet Mall tomorrow, and I'm sure we have something going on Thursday. Who knows? Then Friday-Tuesday is Vegas and I go back to school on Wednesday. So much for summer...

That's the Cliff's Notes version. I'm leaving a lot out, but this post has gone on long enough for now. If you'd like to see pictures, please visit my Facebook "Familypalooza" album. I'll be adding more photos as the fun continues!

http://www.facebook.com/home.php#/album.php?aid=99809&id=750332531

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Culinary Adventures--An American White Girl Makes Indian Food

It all started with paneer. This is a yummy cottage-cheese-type product that is a staple in Indian food. It's very firm and maintains its shape instead of melting. I've thoroughly enjoyed it every time I've ordered a dish that contained it.

It seemed easy enough to make, and as it turns out, it was. I took a gallon of skim milk and heated it on medium until it boiled. It has to boil, not just simmer. I stirred occasionally and did other things while I was waiting patiently for it to boil--and it takes a long time, I'm guessing 40 minutes or so; I should have paid more attention. Once boiling, I added 8 TBSP of lemon juice, which curdles the milk. I took it off the heat, stirred it well and let it sit for about 5-10 minutes to finish curdling. Then I poured it into a strainer lined with cheesecloth, covered the top with the cheesecloth, and pushed on it with the back of my wooden spoon to squish out the remaining whey (liquid). After a minute or two, I could get in there comfortably with my hands. To really get it drained, I put it on a cookie sheet, filled the pot with water for weight, and put the pot on top of the cheese for about 20 minutes. (I put a clean dish towel between the cheese and the pot, just in case.) I ended up with some mighty nice, fat-free paneer. A gallon of milk got me about a pound of cheese. Not bad...cheese for about $2.50-$3.00 per pound.

Once I knew I could make the paneer happen, I started looking up recipes. I love saag paneer, so that was one of the recipes I searched. I needed something that was fairly simple and didn't call for a bunch of weird ingredients that I'd have to find and order online. The one I finally settled on was from the Food Network page: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/tyler-florence/saag-paneer-recipe/index.html.

I appreciated that it gave the recipe for ghee, a clarified butter product. I have seen it at the natural food store I frequent, but it's rather expensive. But given the high fat content, I decided to substitute plain old butter for the ghee, a common switcheroo that I came across quite often in my recipe research. I also used about half of what the recipe called for--just enough to get my paneer cooked and the veggies sauteed. My paneer didn't actually brown, though. I think it might be because it was non-fat or because I used butter instead of ghee, or maybe a little of both. It was still fabulous, though.

The Food Network site also gave a recipe for curry, which I might use in the future. This time, I used a hot curry powder I'd gotten at the New World Market and already had on hand. In the end, it wasn't quite as hot as I'd prefer, but it was a nice slow burn that still let you taste the food.

I made a little adjustment to the recipe by throwing in a couple of handfuls of sliced almonds. It gave a little texture and tasted awesome. I've had this before in restaurants with dates in there as well, so maybe that will be a next time thing. (And by dates I mean the fruit, not the boys I went to Indian restaurants with.)

A couple of other next-time things: The fat-free paneer was good, but it had a squeaky texture to it. I'll probably use 2% milk next time to get some creamy-ness back in. I'll also use more spinach and yogurt to give it a more sauce-like texture. If I'm feeling really ambitious, I'll blend the spinach and veggies as well. They do that at the Bombay Grill and it's pretty good!

Now for the side dishes!

At the natural food store, I found brown basmati rice. I'd never cooked it before, so I used their ratio and time setting: 2 parts water to 1 part rice, wash rice, put in boiling water, simmer covered for 40-50 minutes. When the rice was done cooking, there was still water left over and it was sticky, not fluffy, even after I uncovered it and tried to simmer off the remaining moisture. I'll need to decrease the water next time...maybe 1.5 parts water to 1 part rice, watch it carefully and add water if necessary. I'd made some white basmati in our rice cooker, though, and the brown rice was still quite good, so it wasn't a big deal.

I had to finish the day with naan--basically a yeasted flat bread, or dinner rolls flattened and cooked on a grill. I found a simple recipe here: http://allrecipes.com/Recipe/Naan/Detail.aspx

I didn't trust the cleanliness of our grill, plus it's a gas grill and it might have been gross tasting. I couldn't find our little hot dog oven-top grill, so I pulled out our pancake griddle. I was able to cook six at a time and got through it all pretty fast. So I didn't have pretty grill marks on the bread, but it didn't really matter. I did hand-flatten and shape them, so they were a bit thicker than they should be. Had I bothered to clean off the counter and make another mess, I could have rolled them out to be really flat and more authentic, but I was lazy and in a hurry.

As a cooling-factor--something I think is important with spicy food--I made another batch of my herbed yogurt and cheese spread from my "Book of Yogurt" by Sonia Uvezian. It's basically low fat cream cheese, feta, and yogurt with fresh mint, dill, chives, and garlic. I substitute yogurt cheese for the cream cheese and eyeball quantities, and it turns out really well. It was excellent on the naan, provided a nice little cool break from the curry, and also allowed me to take credit for a little fusion cuisine!

So in all, this adventure was a success! It required quite a bit of pre-planning, since I made the paneer ahead of time and yeast bread always needs wait-time, but I'd do it again. We have a lot of leftover naan (I purposefully doubled the recipe) and I think it will make good snacks and sandwiches (some more fusion cuisine).

The next project: homemade frozen yogurt. Stay tuned.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Culinary Adventures--Yogurt and Yogurt Cheese

You may have already read this on my Facebook notes. So here it is again...this time with links!

I read in Yoga Journal last month about how to make yogurt. It seemed pretty easy, so I figured I might as well give it a try. All-natural, pectin-free, made-fresh yogurt seemed like a worthwhile endeavor.

I used the recipe from Yoga Journal, which involves heating up 4 cups of milk to 185, then keeping it there for 30 minutes. Let it cool to 110-112, then add 1/2 cup plain yogurt. Put it in small-ish (8oz or so) containers that seal tightly. Place them in an oven that has been warmed and has a pan of boiling water at the bottom. Let sit for several hours: 6-8 for whole or low-fat milk, 10 for skim.

I was delighted when it actually worked. It was easy and yummy and made by me! After a couple of batches, I knew this was something I could keep up, since I love yogurt. But I wanted more than just my usual fruit, sweetener, and flax seed concoction. I also wanted a more consistent preparation method so I could know for sure that when I experimented, it would be my changes and not some temperature fluke that had results, good or bad. I consulted my online guru-for-everything: amazon.com.

I looked up yogurt makers and found several. After sorting through customer reviews, I settled on the one made by Donvier. It's moderately priced (pretty much in the middle at $50), has an automatic shut-off, makes about 6 cups of yogurt per batch, and replacement/extra cups and lids are reasonably priced. On Amazon, I got a little bit of a deal if I bought it along with the Donvier Yogurt Cheese maker. The yogurt cheese maker was regularly priced at $18, so it wasn't a huge investment and after peeking at customer reviews, I knew that yogurt cheese was the next step in this adventure, so I splurged.

I found a book called The Book of Yogurt by Sonia Uvezian. Customer reviews were very good. I also needed something to help me along my path to yogurt cheese usage, so I also picked up Not Just Cheesecake: A Yogurt Cheese Cookbook by Shelly Melvin, also highly reviewed.
I have not been disappointed. I've started using Uvezian's yogurt preparation method. I bring 6 cups of milk to 185 degrees, turn off the heat, let it cool to 110-112, add 3 TBSP yogurt and incubate for 10 hours in the yogurt maker. Then I transfer the cups of yogurt into the fridge.

To make yogurt cheese, I put three cups of yogurt into the yogurt cheese maker, which is basically an airtight square container with a strainer inside. It drains the whey (liquid) from the yogurt and leaves you with something resembling the consistency of sour cream and mimicking the taste of cream cheese--just tangier. From the yogurt you put in, you'll get about half that amount in yogurt cheese. I throw away the whey, but apparently, it's good in soups and can also be fed to infants who cannot digest milk. Who knew? I may try the whey in soup thing a bit later, but I'm not quite up to that yet.

I've tried a couple of recipes from Uvezian's book. One of my favorites so far is a dip/spread. Yogurt cheese (in place of reduced-fat cream cheese), yogurt, feta, fresh dill, mint, chives, and garlic. Totally fresh and close to non-fat. I served it with rye and pumpernickle and also used it on a tofu burger. I'll be trying a recipe from the soup section soon.

From the Not Just Cheesecake book, I've made...cheesecake. The first attempt I made exactly according to recipe. It was actually really good--tangy and spongy, not exactly cheesecake, but nothing to frown at. My complaints were that it had an eggy taste and I wasn't a big fan of no crust. For take two I used a premade graham crust and instead of using two eggs, I used 4 egg whites. This was not good. The absence of the fat in the yolks made the cake dry. It also wasn't very tangy. I think this might be because of the sweetness of the crust, but it also might have to do with the eggs. For my third attempt, I will keep the crust and try Egg Beaters instead of eggs.

Also with yogurt cheese, I substituted it for cream cheese when preparing the Harry and David Pepper Relish that Al and I both love. I also used it instead of sour cream when making onion dip. Both had great results. Al is using it as a garnish on his burgers and I've sweetened it with agave or honey and used it on English muffins.

Yogurt Maker:
http://www.amazon.com/Cuisipro-Donvier-Electronic-Yogurt-Maker/dp/B0000DE4TY/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=home-garden&qid=1244822014&sr=8-1

Extra Yogurt-Maker Supplies:
http://www.amazon.com/Cuisipro-Donvier-Yogurt-Maker-Jars/dp/B0000DDXD2/ref=pd_sim_k_1

Yogurt Cheese Maker:
http://www.amazon.com/Cuisipro-Donvier-Yogurt-Cheese-Maker/dp/B000064841/ref=pd_sim_k_2

The Book of Yogurt:
http://www.amazon.com/Book-Yogurt-Sonia-Uvezian/dp/0880016515/ref=pd_sim_k_2

Not Just Cheesecake: A Yogurt Cheese Cookbook:
http://www.amazon.com/Not-Just-Cheesecake-Yogurt-Cookbook/dp/0937404454/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1244822175&sr=1-1

Monday, May 11, 2009

See What My Kids Can Do!

Our school's literary magazine Dominion is online! We got it posted on Friday. This is my first year doing this, but I pretty much just delegated and stressed a lot. My students did a fabulous job! I hope you'll take a look!

http://www.davis.k12.ut.us/nhs/magazine/NHS_Lit_Mag_Finished_Online.pdf

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Happy Mother's Day, Moms!

To Mom and Mom-in-Law!

We hope you both have a great day! We love you and appreciate everything you've done to help us become who we are today. You both managed to raise more than one decent human being, which is no small task these days.

Love,
Ang and Al

Sunday, May 3, 2009

People With Too Much Time on Their Hands

This one was introduced to me by Kenzie:

video

And this is a music video by the band OK Go. Kind of makes me want to play Rock Band!

video

Friday, May 1, 2009

Three Reasons to Eat Less Meat--Part 3

Today won’t be about a lot of facts and figures. While the information I’ve given in the last two posts are undeniable, research proves that this is not the case for vegetarian/less-meat/carnivorous diets. For every benefit of vegetarianism, there is a drawback, and vice-versa. There is really no cut-and-dry, simple answer. What good health ultimately boils down to is lifestyle.

The myth is that vegetarians are healthier because they ingest less fat, more grains, healthy protein, etc. But plenty of vegetarian foods can be very high in fat content: French fries, chocolate cake, cheese quesadillas. It is very easy for vegetarians to eat unhealthily. Likewise, meat-based diets can be very low in fat. Vegetarians might have difficulty getting certain vitamins, but meat eaters can face their own set of vitamin deficiencies as well. The herbivore-omnivore arguments go back and forth and around in circles.

Studies and research have shown that overall, vegetarians tend to live longer and be more healthy than meat-eaters. I don’t think it’s so much the diet as it is the knowledge and thoughtfulness that vegetarians tend to put into their daily health and nutrition decisions. The majority of the vegetarians I know are very well-educated on nutrition, sources of vitamins, their daily needs, etc. They are also very mindful of exercise. I think this is a simple side-effect of analyzing every single thing you put in your mouth.

Omnivores don’t have to do this thinking. They generally don’t have to look for alternative sources of vitamins or minerals. My observations have shown me that health-conscious omnivores are usually concerned first with calories, then with fat. Vegetarians are concerned first with the absence of meat, then with nutritional value.

I know I’m generalizing here, but that’s beside the point. The real point is that the more mindful you are about your food, the healthier you will be. Healthful living is all about mindset, which affects diet, which affects lifestyle, which affects health.

Eating vegetarian twice a week will help you to get into that mindset. You will analyze your food and become more mindful about what is in the food you eat. You will research vegetarian recipes and educate yourself on the basics of nutrition. I think that this change in diet, then in mindset, will lead to a healthier lifestyle.

For my non-Mormon friends, you can move on to my links. For my LDS readers, there is one more thing I’d like to present. The following is from Doctrine and Covenants 89:12-15. You should recognize section 89 as the Word of Wisdom.

12 Yea, flesh also of beasts and of the fowls of the air, I, the Lord, have ordained for the use of man with thanksgiving; nevertheless they are to be used sparingly;
13 And it is pleasing unto me that they should not be used, only in times of winter, or of cold, or famine.
14 All grain is ordained for the use of man and of beasts, to be the staff of life, not only for man but for the beasts of the field, and thf fowls of heaven, and alll wild animals that run or creep on the earth;
15 And these hath God made for the use of man only in times of famine and excess hunger.

Now, I know it’s my fault for not being a more thorough reader of the D&C, but I find it interesting that for 18 years, I went to Sunday School and seminary, and we debated whether or not caffeine was included in the “strong drinks” category, but this simple direction to eat meat as a last resort was never mentioned.

I’ve done my research on Joseph Smith, and I’ll be the first to tell you that he was both smart and practical. So if this came from him, I’d take it as good advice for the same reasons that the biosphere scientists chose a vegetarian diet over a meat-based one. But those faithful members of the church will say that this direction came from God, who knows all and sees all. Either way, this teaching should be practiced church-wide. Why is it, then, that this very simple, very direct instruction is being ignored by the general population of the LDS faith?

The popular rationalization is that meat was scarce way back then. Yes, meat was not readily available. People farmed and raised grain to feed themselves and their work animals. Raising enough meat animals for a small family would have exhausted resources and workers—and we know the LDS standing on family size, so raising a bunch of meat wasn’t all that practical. That same impracticality still exists today. Check out my part one of this “Eat Less Meat” diatribe. So while, yes, we can eat more meat today, it doesn’t necessarily mean that we should eat more meat.

The Word of Wisdom clearly states that meat should be eaten as a last resort. That fact cannot be rationalized or argued. Why the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints doesn’t advertise, teach, or encourage this is beyond me. But I think it is some of the best advice out there.

Let’s take a walk down a tangent and do a fun math problem. We’ve already established that the average American consumes 273 pounds of meat each year. For each pound of meat, 7 pounds of grain is required. In 2005, church records indicated membership to be 5.5 million Mormons in the U.S. Let’s round that up conservatively to 6 million in order to account for new converts over the past four years and children under eight. Activity estimates are anywhere between 50%-80% being active members, so let’s again be conservative and say that there are 3 million active members in the United States. If each of those people became 2-day vegetarians, they would consume 76.5 pounds less meat per year each. Multiplied by 3 million, that’s 229.5 million pounds of meat not needed. How much good could the LDS charitable organizations do with the 1 billion, 606.5 million pounds of grain that wasn’t used for meat agriculture?

That’s what can happen if a lot of people do a little. All it takes to save 1.6 billion pounds of grain is for half of American Mormons to eat vegetarian twice each week.

Hopefully, by now, you’re thinking that this might actually be worth a try. I’m sure you’re wondering, like I was when I made this decision, “How do I do this?” One thing about vegetarian activists: they like to share. There are so many great resources out there. The best one is:

http://www.goveg.org/

They have recipes, advice, all sorts of information, links, whatever. One of the coolest resources is the free get started kit!

Another comprehensive site is:
http://www.ehow.com/how_4860859_eat-less-meat-become-vegetarian.html

I think I’m finished ranting about conservationism now. I’ll look into posting a fun video or something tomorrow in order to lighten the mood a bit! Thanks for reading!