Yes, I’m Still Cooking, but…

I don’t know about you but I’m just a little bit shocked when I see that my last post here was over 6 years ago! Wow. I don’t even know what to say…

Except that, a lot has happened in 6 years! My sister and I went to Australia in 2016 and spent a month getting to know a very small part of that beautiful and HUGE country. I have to say, that trip was a big milestone in my life. Things happened that launched one of my biggest, craziest adventures ever and that’s what I’m here to tell you about.

And, just so you are not too disappointed, I’ll end with a recipe. ;P

So, a little back story to fill you in…

On the southern part of Tasmania is the capitol city, Hobart. That’s where my sister and I found ourselves chatting in a grocery store with a stranger from Perth, Australia named Ray. He was headed to Antarctica for six months, we were headed around Tasmania, but the moment found us all heading for the peanut butter and honey aisle. We had dinner and became friends and Ray welcomed us into his exciting Antarctica expedition with long, detailed emails and even texts. An Antarctica trip has been a dream of mine and this was almost as good as going myself!

Long story short, we’re still good friends and send packages back and forth over the Pacific Ocean in spite of the ridiculous shipping costs!

One such package sparked the project that I began 2 1/2 years ago and finally finished this year! Now, I know this is terrible, but I’m going to send you to my art blog to hear the rest of the story, but before I do, here is the recipe I promised.

This recipe is part of the project. A recipe adapted from my grandmother’s handwritten cookbook just for this special purpose.

Now, before you get your mixing spoon and bowl out, would you mind taking a quick jaunt with me over to my art blog at Pen On Paper? Do come! I don’t think you will be disappointed!

Of Braces, Baby Booties, and Vanilla Beans

Well, yesterday was the big day. After 6 months of braces (I can’t believe it’s been that long!)  I got the baby tooth extracted and now have a bracket on that elusive adult tooth. The dentist said the tooth was in a good place to come down and so far it’s going quite well. I feel like I’m all wrapped up in a warm blanket of God’s Grace and Goodness – nice and cozy.

Tera brought me home some beautiful flowers which are sitting on the table in front of me…

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…Along with a bunch of cookbooks Grandma sent home for me to browse through and my latest knitting project.

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I knit my first “real” scarf in November and when I say knit, I mean knit, since I didn’t know how to purl or do any other stitch. A dear lady, who is also a cleaning client, graciously invited us girls over and taught me how to read a simple pattern, purl, and “yarn over” so my second project was a buttoned neck warmer. From there I challenged myself with this lace scarf from The Purl Bee, a lovely site with free patterns. I have finally re-knit the same amount that I had to take out from a bad mistake, so I’m pretty happy about that. Hopefully, I’ll make it to scarf length before another disaster like that!

I finished another project last week that I have to share with you all – Mary Jane Baby Booties! We’re expecting a little niece this month (extra special since it’s my birthday month too! :D) and I wanted to make her something warm and cozy for her first winter months.

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I had just finished trimming out a sheepskin parka I’ve had for years and had enough left over for a pair of booties and a hat.

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Aren’t they darling?

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I found the shoe pattern on Prudent Baby. They were so easy and only took a couple hours to hand sew. The hat I just made as I went since I couldn’t find a pattern. It’s hard to believe that these won’t be too small for a newborn. It was so much fun making tiny things! I have some sheepskin leftover – I think I’ll try something else. :D Addicted!

So, by now you’re probably wondering if this is still a cooking blog, right? It is, I assure you. In fact, guess what I’m making now…

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That’s right! My own homemade vanilla extract! I was inspired by Cenk over at Cafe Fernando and, while I don’t use near as many vanilla beans as he does, I had a few in the cabinet that were slowly drying out. What better way to use them up than to douse them with vodka?

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Here’s the beauty of making your own vanilla –

A 32 oz bottle of vodka costs 14 dollars.

10 Organic vanilla beans Grade 1 extraction (these beans are drier, therefore cheaper to get) for 8.99 from Amadeus Vanilla Beans (or a 1/4 lb for 17.99)

Total cost – 25 dollars. Compare that to buying Pure Vanilla from Penzeys (16oz for 40.99) or the store ( 4.95 for 4 oz.) and you save yourself approximately 56.98 for a 32 oz bottle of vanilla that will last most people a very long time. We go through about that much every year. My brother’s fabulous vanilla lattes are practically spiked with vanilla. :D

The other benefit to making your own vanilla is a bonus that comes with all things homemade – you know exactly what’s in it! Do you know how many “pure vanilla extracts” have corn syrup in them? Yeah, I don’t either, but I know McCormick’s does and a few other brands I picked up as I was looking in the grocery store. They sneak that heinous corn syrup into everything!

Well, that puts an end to my rambling post. Hope you all are having a phenomenal January!

What’s Up with Our Food??? Local, Organic, Non-GMO

I went to the local farmer’s market last weekend excited about more tomatoes and peaches from nearby farms. As I picked out tomatoes from a farmer I bought from last time I overheard another potential customer say, “These are from Tennessee, right?”

“Yep.” responded the farmer.

“Really?” I said. I’m sure I looked totally crestfallen.

“No more of my own. Weather’s been terrible for tomatoes.” said farmer, shaking his head.

Yeah, I knew that. Out of the many tomato plants we planted this spring I think we got half a dozen tomatoes – total.

I bought the Tennessee tomatoes and wandered among the other stalls. Some of the booths were obviously NOT local, others were hard to tell. Many of them had signs up: Peaches – Colorado, Strawberries – California, Corn – Missouri, Watermelon, Cantaloupe, Peppers – Texas.

I sighed. What’s the point of a local farmer’s market when everything is from out of state anyway?

Next stop – the grocery store.

Heading to the all organic section first, I get what I can from there.

I check the labels to see where the zucchini is from. I don’t know why I do it, I really don’t. It just makes me irritated. But I do.  I check the tomatoes, and the peppers too – Mexico. Most of the organic produce I can get travels over 1, 000 miles from Mexico to my local grocery store.

By the way, what are the organic standards in Mexico? It may relieve you to learn that organic Mexico farms must “meet all the requirements of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Organic Program. It must be produced without the use of toxic synthetic pesticides, artificial fertilizers, sewage sludge, genetically modified organisms, or irradiation.” See this article Questions about Mexico organics? for more info.

That’s good to know (if you trust the USDA) since the US imported 3.2 million metric tons of vegetables and 1.8 million metric tons of fruit from Mexico in 2007 alone. You can bet there’s more coming over the border now.

The apples frequently come from New Zealand.

Really? New Zealand? Not that I have anything against New Zealand…

If I lived in New Zealand I would buy lots of these apples – so I could look like this lady, of course! :D

…but why on earth do we Oklahomans get apples from 7, 523.4 miles away when we can get them in our own state, not to mention our own country?

Then I read articles about Quarantine inspectors stopping a shipment of apples from being air freighted to Australia. Apple growers there argue that “the disease risks of importing NZ apples are too great.”

I’m sure the risks are nil from NZ to the US, we’re just lucky like that.

Or not…

Really, where our produce comes from is just part of the problem. The fact that our food is being infiltrated with GMOs without our consent or knowledge has become the bigger issue. If rats fed a lifetime of GM corn grow horrifying tumors and 70% of females die early, we humans certainly won’t be immune to Monsanto’s GMOs. If you haven’t already, I strongly encourage you to watch The World According to Monsanto. It’s an incredible documentary showing Monsanto’s mission and what it is accomplishing across the globe. Russia has already banned GMOs, Europe isn’t far behind, and we should follow suit.

But for now, we’ll safely shop at the first nationally certified organic grocer in the US, Whole Foods, right? Surely we can trust them  with our health.

Not so fast there. As this video will show, Whole Foods doesn’t seem to have such a problem with GMOs as we would like to think.

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EDIT –  Youtube “flagged this video as inappropriate” so you can no longer view it above. However, here’s another link for you. Obviously, someone doesn’t want us watching it. That’s a good clue that we should.

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So what’s a person to do?

Personally, I’ve been struggling with this question for a long time. For weeks I did my usual grocery shopping routine and came home discouraged and feeling helplessly out of control. I was so frustrated with the whole food world.

Finally, I decided that stressing over it would probably give me cancer just as quickly as eating GMO contaminated, pesticide, and herbicide ridden food. I had to make a plan, do what I could, and let the rest go.

Here’s my simple approach to purchasing food-

  • Grow your own garden. This is ideal, of course, as some of us don’t have that option – or struggle with gardening a lot like my Mom, sister and I did this year. Guess what? I picked my very first vine ripened tomato of the year today – the last day of September. It was awful. But I digress… :)
  • Buy everything you can from local farmers you trust. This is the very best option. Not only are you buying close to home and your food will be the freshest, but your farmers care about what they sell you and will tell you what they use and don’t use.
  • Go “as close to home” organic whenever possible. Second best is organic from other countries.
  • Avoid buying GMOs! This is getting increasingly difficult as it’s hard to tell what contains GMOs and what doesn’t. However, you can rule out any soy, corn, or wheat that is not organic. Most of these crops grown in the US are genetically modified or contaminated with GMOs. There are growing lists of products that contain GMOs online. Check out the Non-GMO Shopping Guide for more information. Hopefully, Proposition 37 will pass and make it easier for consumers like us to know what we’re buying.
  • Be thankful for what we have! I just hopped over to a blog I follow, In Pursuit of More (Living with Just a Little Less), and read a lovely post about food, farmer’s markets and being grateful. Sometimes, when we’re feeling discouraged we just need another perspective to see that we are truly blessed.

If mega food companies feel our protests against their food practices in their wallet, they will change or die. And that’s what we want. By not supporting what we don’t want we are speaking out. We can make a difference. It’s the “worthless pennies” that make a dollar, so too, small steps in the right direction can create great change.

What is your strategy for avoiding harmful additives in your food?

Does it make a difference in how you shop?

Do you have any helpful tips to share?