Thursday, February 26, 2009

Chocolate Musings

Many people like chocolate. It is sold in many shapes and in many places. It can be dark brown, medium brown, or white. It seems to be used mostly for desserts and snacks. Sales of chocolate products have increased greatly in the last hundred years.

I regret to report that chocolate seems to have been ignored in the President’s stimulus plans for the United States. It also is un-American in that it grows in an unprocessed state on plants in other countries. There are no Hershey Bar trees even in Pennsylvania. American companies like Hershey, Mars and Ghirardelli are likely to get their cocoa beans from somewhere else. Some chocolate farms provide a living for their farmers; some don’t. So chocolate has politics.

Today it became obvious to me that my sweet tooth is not as strong as that of many people. Maybe that’s why I am still alive. I love chocolate, but not extremely sweet chocolate. My interest in broadening my taste for chocolate took me to the library, where I checked out a not-very-new book called Taste of Home’s Chocolate Lover’s Cookbook, dated 2003. After reading it and enjoying the photographs, I concluded that this book is aimed at big time sugar consumers. For example, I couldn’t imagine eating Nutty Chocolate Marshmallow Puffs,Four-Chip Fudge, S’mores Crumb Bars, or Really Rocky Road Brownies. I was surprised to learn that there are many ways to make brownies. Brownies can contain coconut, peanut butter, apricots, cherries, caramel and polka dots.

My favorite chocolate recipes are not very elaborate. They do not mainline sugar into my veins, although they are somewhat sweetened. I like dark chocolate bars with 70 percent cacao. Give me my old fashioned brownies from the 1940s, without the frosting, or a good chocolate chiffon pie from my 1953 Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook. I will yield to a newer cookbook for a delicious, sweet and easy-to-make French Silk Pie. It is in the Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook of 1989. Chocolate contains multitudes.

Here is the sentiment of Taste of Home’s book, which looks like a really good book to read if not actually use. At the beginning, it says, “Well, are you hungry yet? Do you feel a chocolate craving coming on? Then go ahead and get going.” If chocolate is that addictive, Mr. Obama should have addressed it in his stimulus program. It obviously is a stimulant. An alternative is to just go to the store and buy some.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

A Walk in the Snow

Blue sky and forty degrees today. That meant go out into the snow. The Ice Age Trail is beautiful in winter, beautiful in summer, and slushily beautiful when weather is above freezing in February. I am fortunate to have a segment of the trail on county highway PD near my home.

I was prepared for several scenarios. I took snowshoes, two pairs of boots, and one pair of walking shoes. Also one jacket that proved to be too warm. One look at the parking lot and the trail suggested that I leave the snowshoes in the car. Not enough snow. Too much snow to go without boots.

Trudging up and down hills in slush is work. It also is invigorating. Right away I saw a beautiful springer spaniel walking a man. Then, when farther uphill, I looked over the panorama of city development that is very near the trail, but far away enough to not interfere with the rural character. A small woods provided some variety. Since I didn’t want to slide downhill at the far end of the woods, I turned around and reversed my direction. I walked until the winter coat seemed superfluous. As I said, walking in slush is work.

The high grasses on the fields manifest a great number of colors; some are golden, some are more brown or more gray. It’s winter beauty that often goes unseen. Who cares about grass, especially when it is three feet tall? Apparently I do. The snow is heavy and white, with gray slush. In some places the ground is evident. That’s winter in all its variety and wonderfulness.

You don’t know what the Ice Age Trail is? Go to your favorite search engine and type Ice Age Trail and Wisconsin. Or try this: The trail is part of a national trail system, with many segments in Wisconsin.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Peanuts Recall

I am thinking about peanuts. It appears that the current recall is growing day by day, to include products made with peanuts, peanut butter, and peanut paste coming from the Peanut Corporation of America. The Food and Drug Administration has issued a very long list of affected products. The number of hits in a Yahoo search is very long. Just type in Peanuts Recall.

Recalls due to food borne “bugs” like salmonella and e coli are happening often enough to cause me and others to take notice. We remember the nationwide spinach and hamburger recalls that made the news not long ago. I have read in the news sources that conventional food production by big business isn’t being inspected very often by the FDA because the FDA is underfunded and understaffed. I read that the companies that make the food products are funding the FDA at levels at least as high as or higher than the government funds it. That’s called the fox guarding the henhouse.

Where are this country’s priorities? There are now many ways to make people sick as long as people continue to eat. Once upon a time people could trust the country’s food supply and the agency that oversees it.

I know that some peanutty foods are not contaminated. I can go to the store and buy some peanut butter that is ok if I choose. Not so the nursing home residents and others in institutions. They deserve food that they can trust.

It’s not just peanuts, spinach and hamburger. I read a book some time ago, called Death by Supermarket: the Fattening, Dumbing Down, and Poisoning of America, by Nancy Deville. Part I is called How Factory Food Changed the Way We Lived…and Die. It was published in 2007. Mostly it is about factory, or manufactured, foods that are responsible for the high rate of American obesity, but it also points out causes of food contamination. In the context of factory farming of animals, she says, “According to CDC, each year food-borne diseases cause approximately 76 million illnesses, 325,000 hospitalizations, and 5000 deaths in the United States” (p. 140).

Enjoy your peanut butter.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Main Dish Hall of Fame Entree

Our family voted me off the island for this dish, which they unanimously proclaimed the worst main dish they ever ate. This was when we had all five children in residence, before they grew up and never tried it again. My husband voted with them. It’s a vegetarian dish that I like. Maybe I’m the only one in the world.

This dish is a legend for unpalatability, in the opinion of my family. It’s worth immortalizing in this blog because of its bad reputation. It’s right up there with powdered milk as something worth drinking. Remember the Alka-Seltzer commercial that said, “Try it, you’ll like it. So I tried it. Thought I was gonna die.”

As I said, I actually like this. Here it is.

Oats, Tomatoes and Cheese

2 cups rolled oats
1 cup grated cheese (I use cheddar)
1 16-oz. can tomatoes
1 egg
1 cup milk
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon marjoram

Save some cheese for the top. Mix all other ingredients in a greased casserole. Sprinkle with cheese and bake for 1 hour at 325 degrees.

Serves 3 or 4.

From Benjamin, Alice, and Corrigan, Harriett, Cooking with Conscience: a Book for People Concerned About World Hunger. Noroton, Connecticut, Vineyard Books, 1975.

Monday, February 2, 2009


This is a shameless reminiscence.

We had three grandparents. The fourth, our maternal grandfather, died before we were born. Grandparents are valuable parts of family life. They have extra clout with Santa Claus, and they offer special relationships to their grandchildren.

Grandpa Allen drove streetcars in Chicago. He saved streetcar pins that we called buttons and gave them to us. He took us for rides in his Reo car. He told me that if he drove slowly enough, the red light at the corner would change to green. I remember him sitting in a chair asleep while being our baby sitter. He had a Swedish accent that made it hard to say my name correctly. After he retired, he got sick and died after about a year. I was eight years old.

The real star of the grandparents was Grandma Allen. She was all love, no matter what we did. Santa Claus brought gifts to her house for us even when he also came to our house. Her chocolate pudding and pinwheel cookies were the best. When we stayed overnight with her, she took us to her church and let us sit in the balcony instead of downstairs. She taught me to crochet three times, and I made a long crochet chain but that’s as far as it went. She had a cocker spaniel named Blondie, who drank coffee with her every morning, using her water dish.

Our family moved in with Grandma Allen in Oak Park after Grandpa died, and we stayed with her for several months until we moved into the duplex in Lincolnwood. After we moved to Sturgeon Bay, we moved her and Aunt Lina, her sister, to Sturgeon Bay. She was thrilled to live long enough to see her first great-grandchild, our first daughter. Grandma was a real saint. She said that dying was going to Glory.

The grandmother on the maternal side was Sweetie Pie. Apparently she preferred to be called something other than Grandma. She was pretty glamorous for her day, with various shades of red hair and stylish dresses. She gave us silver dollars when we visited her. I remember seeing her try to catch a mouse in her apartment in Rochester, MN, and catching it. Later she moved to Chicago to be near us. She worked in music stores. She then lived in Milwaukee for a while, while I was a student at UWM. Later still when she was old we moved her to Sturgeon Bay to be closer to us again.

Holidays with both grandmothers were interesting. Sweetie Pie enjoyed alcohol with my parents, while Grandma Allen was a teetotaler. Those who wanted a drink would sneak one while Grandma Allen wasn’t looking. The two grandmothers were never friends.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Knucklehead -- a Very Funny Book

Knucklehead: Tall Tales & Mostly True Stories About Growing Up Scieszka, by Jon Scieszka. Viking, 2008.

Kids and adults will love this. Knucklehead is a very funny kids’ book about Jon Scieszka growing up with his five brothers. Anyone who has read his many books will expect them to be funny. After starting, you won’t put this one down until you finish it.

He delivers a lot of short, illustrated chapters about the Catholic school, Halloween dress-up, his parents and other things. Several times he talks about his mother leaving every year or two and returning with a new baby brother. There are the games that involve balls and piled up kids, like Slaughter Ball. The babysitter gets tied up with Dad’s ties and put into the closet. The Dick and Jane books of elementary school get a bad rating for being outside reality. Dr. Seuss books score high. He says, “So I guess I didn’t really learn to read by reading about those weirdos Dick and Jane. I learned to read because I wanted to find out more about real things like dogs in cars and cats in hats.” (chapter 11). The book promises an adventure story on its cover, which looks like an issue of an adventure comic book.

Scieszka has written a lot of funny books, including Math Curse, The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs, the Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales, and the Time Warp Trio series. Knucklehead received a starred review in School Library Journal and is a Junior Literary Guild selection. The Library of Congress and the Children’s Book Council have named Scieszka the first National Ambassador for Children’s Literature. He founded Guys Read, a non-profit literary organization.