Dip it. Dip it good.

As I always say, a spoonful of dip helps the veggies go down. Okay, I've never said that before but it is true. I've been buying a bunch of veggies and as soon as I get home, cutting them up into nice bite-size pieces, ready to go when I need a snack. If I have a dip made up, I probably eat 3 servings of vegetables a day just by snacking. Without dip, maybe a carrot or two day is all I can get down. I'm sorry, vegetables are just boring by themselves. So I just try to make healthy dips and consider it all good. Here are my favorites and they are both super easy.

  • Heaping 1/3 cup sour cream
  • Heaping 1/3 cup yogurt (I like to drain in first but again, that is because my homemade yogurt is thin, do what you want)
  • Scant 1/3 cup mayonaise (Some day I'm going to try making my own lacto-fermented mayo but for now, store bought it is)
  • 1-2 t dried parsley
  • 1/2-1 t. garlic powder
  • 1/2 -1 t. seasoned salt (I'm a Season-All gal myself but I suppose Lowry's would do)
  • 1/2 -1 t. onion powder
This is my standard base. The ranges for spices are quite large but I usually start with the lowest amount, decide it isn't nearly strong enough and just keep adding, sans measuring spoons, until it tastes right so I was kinda guessing up there. It's always a little different. I've also added fresh herbs when I have them or whatever other spices I think would be good - dill, chives, pepper, etc. If it isn't thick enough, add a bit more sour cream. If you want to use it is a salad dressing instead of a dip, thin it with a bit more yogurt or some milk.

Poor man's Hummus:
I call this poor man's hummus because it isn't actually hummus. I've started replacing the tahini with peanut butter and not only do I like it just as well if not better, it's a whole lot cheaper. If you want to be authentic and make real hummus just use tahini. I've been switching on and off all summer. Or try half and half.
  • 1 (16oz) can chickpeas/garbanzo beans drained (some people like to save the juice for thinning the hummus but I hate to save bean liquid because of unwanted side effects so I just use extra oil if necessary)
  • Juice of 2 lemons (or ~ 4 Tablespoon from a bottle if you are that type of person, and by that type of person, I mean me)
  • 2 Tablespoons natural peanut butter/Tahini
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, minced (if your food processor can handle it just throw it in there unminced but mine can't and I end up with globs of garlic)
  • 1/2 t kosher salt
  • Several cranks of pepper
  • ~1/4 cup olive oil
Combine everything except the oil in a food processor and mix until it's a thick paste. Slowly add olive oil until it is desired consistency. I like mine very thick but it's up to you. You can make it a little more exciting by adding some cayenne or cumin but I like to keep my options open. It's great not only as a dip but a sandwich spread. MckMama recommended trying it on toast with fresh basil, tomatoes and cucumbers and it quickly become a favorite lunch of mine.


Hey Mikey, he likes it! (Well, kinda)

Well, my summer has official come to a close. Last weekend Craig and I had a bit of a planning session to kick off the fall and his classes Monday so the crazy business of fall will begin again right about...now.

I think I did pretty well on my to do list. I didn't get my second set of jam canned, nor any tomatoes but apparently it was too hot for tomatoes this year. All the ladies at work were complaining about the weather ruining their gardens and even the tomatoes at the farmer's market were all cracked. They tasted good enough for a blt but not nice enough to can. Oh well.

I did get my homebinder started if you define started as "made a pretty cover and a list of the things I want to include" but not if you think that means I have to actually have put something in there. I'm started with the latter definition but am not perfectly content with the former.

And I didn't get anything knitted on the sweater because I made the decision to finish my square blanket first. I got three more squares done which means I'm down to one last square. That may not sound like a lot but I'm so sick of squares! I just can't start a new project until I finish this one though, I know I'll never go back if I don't.

At that leaves cleaning the entry. That is really only one little task but it simply must be done. I'll tackle it this weekend and if I'm not to lazy, I'll take a picture to show you exactly why I had to do it.

I also got some stuff done that wasn't on my list. I've perfected my water kefir routine so now it takes practically no time at all. I also added a few new healthy snack/treat recipes to my routine recipes which was an area I feel like I was lacking in before.

Until now, Craig hasn't really had a chance to try my newest creations but I'm happy to report that he approves of water kefir. He thinks it smells yucky (As do others - this is complete news to me but it's not surprising as it is well known that I have a poor sense of smell). Despite the smell he does think it tastes good and if offered the choice of water or water kefir with dinner, he takes kefir. I call that a sucess.

He is not, however, a fan of bean brownies.* Of course he didn't tell me this until after he had eaten two, approved them for public consumption and we had served them to the friends we had over for a game night. Apparently he decided on his third taste that he didn't like them. I wish he had decided that earlier but all's well that ends well because I get to eat all the leftovers!

On the bright side, he describes my hummus as "edible". That's pretty good for someone who doesn't like hummus. I think we are really making progress on healthy eating for husbands 101. Yah for me!

I'm thinking about replacing my summer to do list with a fall one but haven't decided for sure. Craig probably hopes not, but I think it will happen.

* I update my bean brownie recipe as I just recently noticed I had inadvertantly left out the eggs when I posted it before. I'm really sorry if you tried to make it and it tasted gross but you didn't tell me cause you didn't want to hurt my feelings. You can try again and you might still think it tastes gross but lots of people like the original so obviously I'm not a total freak for liking them. I think it is all about expections. If you are expecting a ghiradelli brownie, you will be disappointed. If you are expecting a chocolately treat to get you through a craving for dessert without leaving you feeling sick from excessive amounts of sugar/white flour, you will like it.


Two Days, Two Town Halls

As I indicated yesterday, Texas Rep. Chet Edwards had a town hall meeting last night. I attended via the internet. You can read about the meeting here.

My observation was this: Edwards refuses to take much of a stand on anything. He makes statements that sound unequivocal, but are really meaningless. He says "I won't support a Canada-style health bill." Well, that's not what's being proposed (maybe it's the eventual goal, though). He also says "I won't vote for a bill with death panels." There aren't any of those in this bill (boards that regulate allowable treatments - maybe). So while it sounds like he's taking a stand against the more extreme Democratic ideas, he said nothing indicating he might actually vote against the bill.

Whenever questioners expressed opposition to government health care, he would lean on the Medicare crutch. "Oh, Medicare's popular. Who here wants to get rid of that?" He probably expected nobody would raise their hand, but people did, and he said he disagreed with those people. The fact is, though, that Medicare will go bankrupt in 10 years, and Medicare is consuming an ever-growing portion of the federal budget. He did not touch upon these problems.

As a final House vote approaches, people will have to keep the pressure on Edwards, and try to get some statement from him on his intentions. Edwards needs to take a stand on this.


Tele-Town Hall

My Congressman from my North Dakota days, Earl Pomeroy (I've been gone for 10 years, but he's still there), had a telephone town hall meeting on health care Monday night, and I got an e-mail about it, so I decided to listen in. I wanted to participate in this town hall craze that's been sweeping the nation.

Pomeroy is avoiding real town halls, but this was his 5th phone version. When I called in, I was asked for the secret password (health care), my name and hometown, and whether I support or oppose Obama's health care ideas. "Oppose," I replied. I was then given some bad jazz to listen to while waiting for the meeting to start.

Pomeroy said that the town halls happening around the country are a "full demonstration on American democracy" for the world to see, and that this issue is as complex and personally important as issues get. He said he's doing these meetings by phone so that he can reach more people and so citizens don't have to drive. He didn't say anything about avoiding getting yelled at.

Before taking questions, Pomeroy stated his general views on the subject. He said:
  • We need to "provide certainty that people can get health insurance."
  • We need to get rid of denials based on pre-existing conditions or ratings schemes.
  • The North Dakota primary-care centered model is a good one (not sure what he's referring to here).
  • He will not support a bill that covers illegal immigrants, funds abortions with tax dollars, or has death panels (the invocation of which he called absurb).
With that, he went to the callers. The way this meeting worked was, one could get in line to ask a question by pressing *1, then apparently calls were taken in that order (it didn't sound like any screening would be done).

Here were some highlights from the questions:
  • The first question was, "When will you guys forget about getting GOP support?" Pomeroy said it was not yet time for that, and he cited his ND colleague Sen. Conrad's participation in the Finance Committee's gang of six that is negotiating a bill. He cited Conrad a lot during this meeting, almost as if Conrad was a sponsor of the town hall ("this next call brought to you by Senator Conrad!).
  • Pomeroy said to the second caller that he supports the current employer-based system of insurance provision. I haven't heard a lot of people say that, but I guess it is the Democratic plan to tax employers that don't provide it. As I've stated, I think we need to move away from this model.
  • He mentioned several times that ND has one of the lowest Medicare reimbursement rates in the nation, meaning that ND doctors get paid less than docs from other states for seeing Medicare patients. He brings that up in this article. To some extent, that makes sense, because ND has a lower cost of living. I'm not sure, on the whole, how big of a problem this is, but Pomeroy says if the eventual bill bases payments to doctors on the Medicare system, he'll oppose it.
  • The illegal immigrant issue came up once or twice. A lot of people bring this up, but I think it's a minor issue, because anyone who goes to a hospital will get care, whether they are officially under the new system or not. This bill is not the place to address illegal immigration.
  • His solution for how to pay for this bill: tax "Cadillac" health plans, tax people who make over $1 million per year, find savings in the system, and "bend the cost curve."
  • He supports the idea of an insurance mandate, but he never said the word "mandate." The implication was obvious, though.
  • There were a lot of callers from Bismarck, which was strange, because Bismarck is not the largest city in the state. It is the capital, though, so maybe you have more political types there.
  • On the public option, he supports one if it's "fair and square," not if it has the aforementioned unbalanced payment rates, or if it has a stacked deck against private insurance.
After about an hour, I got bored and left the meeting. Since it was over the phone, I didn't even have to sneak out the back. I think it's hard to pin down how Pomeroy will end up voting, and I'm sure it depends on the final bill. But it also will depend on political considerations.

In other town hall news, Chet Edwards is having a town hall meeting here tonight. I could go, or just watch on the internet. We'll see how I feel. Either way, I'll file a report.


How bad is this magazine really?

A few months ago we received a notice that our frequent flier miles were about to expire. Obviously we haven't been traveling frequently enough because the only thing we could afford to get with them was a couple of magazine subscriptions. We picked Smithsonian and Self. Smithsonian has turned out to be a interesting magazine, Self - not so much. Poor Craig has to listen to me rant and rave for 30 minute each month over how wrong they are about what is and is not healthy (Example: I can't believe they picked Sour Patch as the Healthy Food Awards top candy. It's pure sugar, couldn't they have at least picked something with nuts or chocolate for protein/antioxidants?!). Then I get so frustrated I toss it in the recycling bin mostly unread. This month was no exception.

The worst article was titled "How bad is it really?" and seeks to classify one's secret indulgences into "not so bad", "kinda bad" and "really bad" confessions. "For dinner last night, I had an Oreo, then another and another." was categorized as not so bad, as long as it is a rare event. I guess I can see that, I have been known on a really hormonal day to forgo dinner in exchange for brownies and ice cream and will not judge a fellow female for doing the same. But the next one, "I had a one night stand." was only kinda bad because, "the occasional fling can be fun - and hot!" while "I tan, but only on vacation" and "I'm not a regular smoker, but I do sometimes bum a butt on a night out." were categorized as really bad. I'm not going to say that tanning and smoking are healthy, but in what universe is tanning a couple days out of a year less healthy than having sex with a random stranger?!

The next time I get the urge to rebel and break a healthy habit, I don't think I'll be turning to Self for help picking which one is worth the splurge. They can take their Sour Patch candy and hook-ups, I'll keep my peanut M&Ms.


Foreign Affairs Friday: Australia and China

Australia and China have had an up-and-down relationship lately. Here are some recent happenings:
  • An Australian mining company pulled out of a big iron ore deal with a Chinese (state owned) company. Shortly thereafter, some Chinese-born employees of the Aussie company were arrested in China for supposedly spying.
  • Another Chinese company (tied to the state) signed a big deal to buy lots of natural gas from Australia.
  • Much to China's chagrin, Australia allowed a leader of China's Uighur minority (which participated in recent riots) to visit the country.
China is important to Australia because it is a big purchaser of Australian natural resources (mainly metals). China is Australia's second-largest export market (behind Japan), so it is crucial to Australia's economic growth. At the same time, China is becoming more powerful, and could come to dominate the Asia-Pacific region and become a threat to Australia. Because of uncertainty about how friendly China will be in the future, Australia, like other countries, is wary of China's strategy of buying up resources at the source, rather than purchasing them via the marketplace. Similar concern was raised in the US in 2005 when a Chinese firm tried to buy Unocal, a US oil company. The fact that the Chinese government owns or directs its major companies fuels suspicion that these deals are about more than just meeting resource needs, and instead serve to give China leverage over other countries.

In managing China's rise, Australia will have to consider US actions. It wouldn't want to see a cold-war situation between the US and China, because that would force Australia to take sides. Australia would take the US side if necessary, but this might hurt it economically. Australia will also have to consider how much to cooperate with the US in places like Afghanistan. The operation there gives the Aussie military a chance to learn, gain experience, and earn favor with the US, but it could also use up resources that would instead go to homeland defense. Australia's recent defense white paper stresses that Australia wants to be able to fend for itself in case of an attack.

As we can see from this, the US isn't the only nation that has to recalculate its interests due to happenings in China. We also see that, while we share the same broad interests as our Western allies, each of these allies has its own unique interests to consider.


Literary Feast

I mentioned earlier that I've been on a bit of a reading binge lately and it's true. I just can't seem to get books into my hands fast enough right now. Most of the books I pick up because they have been recommended by friends, other bloggers, my mom, etc. I have much more confidence in someone I know to recommend something good than a review or a spot on a bestseller list. Since I enjoy reviews so much, I thought I would pass along my thoughts on my most recent reads.

I'm sure I'm not the first person to do this (or maybe I am and I'm just a little more odd than I thought) but I tend to classify the books I read according to the type of brain "meal" they would be, so that is what I am going to do.

Dinners: "Healthy" books; most non-fiction falls into this category, as do classic literature or even those books that I think are well-written and force me to pause and think.

Who Made the Moon: a father explores how science and faith agree. Sigmund Brouwer - I was expecting a steak dinner but this turned out to be more like a happy meal, completely devoid of any nutrition and tastes like cardboard going down. The author was illogical and couldn't seem to figure out who his audience was. When he did decide, his point was still, "I think I'm right but it's true I may not be, but I'm less likely to send your children to hell so you should think my way." I'm just proud of myself for finishing it.

The end of education: redefining the value of school. Neill Postman - Well written, his argument made sense and even when I didn't agree with his all of his conclusions, I still gained something from reading it as it definitely got me thinking... mostly how I don't ever want my children to go to school, but that wasn't his intention. I liked it so much that I picked up another of his books...

Amusing ourselves to death. Neill Postman - Good and probable more relevant today than when it was written. Sadly, I think it might be too late for me. At the end of the 3rd chapter, I put it down to check my Facebook account. (I did pick it up again later, though).

Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the rise of raunch. Ariel Levy - This is the only one of the listed books that I hadn't read in the last few weeks but I meant to talk about it several months ago when I finished it but didn't ever get around to it. I still remember it well which is already a plus in its favor. It's not a long book, but it took me a while to get through because I could only read a chapter at a time because it was a little depressing. From 13-year-olds with "bootylicious" written on the back of their pants to 21-year-olds who will expose their body to millions of men in pursuit of a trucker hat, women in the country don't seem to have a good grasp of what it means to be empowered. But the extreme examples, while shocking, only illustrate a deeper problem. Levy is written from a completely different worldview than me and her thoughts on why this is happening (I can't for the live of me figure out how she blames 14-year-olds having sex on the fact that "Bush hates gays") and what to do about it don't really match up with mine, but it's good information and I think it does a great job illustrating how the feminist movement has let us down, even though that isn't necessarily the goal of the book.

Snacks: Most non-fiction goes here provided it is at least fairly well written. You wouldn't want to completely survive off of snacks but they can provide some intellectual nutritional value as well as fun during the course of a day.

Julia Grey Series (Silent in the grave, Silent in the sanctuary and Silent on the moor). Deanne Raybourn. Despite what the covers may imply, this is a series of three victorian mysteries with a bit of romance and not harlequin romance novels. It took me a while to get into the first one bu I did eventually and by the end of the first, which was a bit more scandalous than I anticipated, I was hooked and read all three in a row. The plots may not always be plausible and the endings wrap things up just a little too nicely but the characters suck you in. Plus, the author has a blog and I love it when authors are real people who like to interact with their readers, especially when they treat their characters like real people. It makes me feel less weird about doing so myself. I'm already excited about her other books coming out in the next year or two. (Rachel, I have a feeling you would enjoy these.)

Diary of a Provincial Lady. E.M. Cummings - Funny but odd. I'm not sure why but it reminds me a bit of an Amelia Bedelia book, except for grown-ups. Full of dry British humor (which I happen to love), it is like reading a blog written in 1931. And while our lives may be different in many many ways, in terms of "diaries"it is still more relatable than Bridget Jones'.

The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency. Alexander McCall Smith. The people that like this series seem to really like it. I picked it up a few years ago but didn't really get it and eventually the library reclaimed it. I tried again and this time I thought it was okay. I'll probably read more and keep trying to enjoy them as much as others seem too.

Book Candy - Absolutely no nutritional value but a treat nonetheless and won't kill your brain as long as you eat real food too.

Twilight Series. Stephenie Meyer. - Oh yes I did. I started and finished this whole silly 2000+ page series in under 48 hrs. I won't say it is well written, it's not. I won't say it illustrates true love and Edward is the ideal boyfriend/husband, it doesn't and he isn't. But it's so fun that Stephanie Meyer completely succeeded at sucking me into her strange world of vampires and werewolves. And really, who doesn't want to read about a clumsy 17-year-old soon to be pro-life girl and her perfect 100+ year-old, abstinence-promoting, "vegetarian" vampire boyfriend as they struggle with real issues such as the value of life, souls, vampire ethics, physical displays of affection, and loving someone enough to let them go. Okay really, I wouldn't let my 13-year-old read this and there are valid complaints that it paints an unrealistic portrait of love to the point where adolescent girls may not understand the difference between a healthy, protective relationship and an abusive one but by the end, I think both Bella and Edward have really demonstrated all four types of love, although they obviously aren't perfect. Plus, it just makes you feel all warm and fuzzy inside (but no, that doesn't mean I'm team Jacob). Don't worry Craig, I still love you, even if you can't dazzle me with your perfect angular facial features, messy but model-like hair, and cold but rock hard body that sparkles in the sunlight.


Goodbye little fishy

Goodbye my little fishy. You were a nice fish. I picked you out of all the others at that wedding because you were the prettiest which is shallow, I agree, but in the end you had a nice personality too, for a fish. You liked your castle. You liked to eat. That is why we named you hungry Howie. You only lasted a year but I hope it was a nice year. That is quite a bit longer than we thought you would considering Zeeba liked to watch you swim, a lot. Eventually she gave up trying to catch you and just enjoyed your entertaining spirit. We all did. I promise I will get around to flushing you tonight, I just didn't have the time peace of mind to do so last night. Goodbye my little fishy.


I will praise You in this storm

Hello, hello, I feel like I haven't written in forever. I've written stuff, but not really about me. These past few weeks I've just been being. Not doing anything crazy, no travels or fun plans, just being. I was actually dreaded these weeks because I had nothing much going on and I was anxiously waiting for some things this upcoming week to happen so of course I knew the time would just drag on. Silly me, God had plans for these weeks.

I've been on a bit of reading kick and have spent most nights reading, not even turning on the tv or internet and only keeping up with emails/blog stuff during my lunch breaks. It's been great, except when Craig calls and I realize it is almost 9 and I still haven't eaten dinner. Not very healthy for my body, but it allowed my mind to be calm and quite and willing to listen.

I've also had some great fellowship time lately. I was in a women's bible study/book club over the summer and we finished up last week. Even though I know I'll see the girls every week at church and homegroup, it makes me sad that it is over because it was such a great time every week to talk and encourage one another. After we said goodbye, I just sat and thought about how great my God is that he always knows the friends you will need and puts them in your life at just the right times. We all have our own personalities and problems we are struggling with, but when we come together, we have the same spirit in us and God's truth's always seem to pour out. It's amazing.

Thursday night due to retreats, graduations and new babies coming into the world, our home group was small, just five of us. So nobody bothered to put together any "real plans" except to gather and worship. Well, nobody except God. We ate cookies (cookie make everything better, don't you think?) sang some worships songs and old hymns and talked about the scriptures we had been reading lately which turned into some odd theological discussion but it was just perfect. It felt like how I imagine the original church would have been like, except with air conditioning. Because I knew everyone there, I knew when we sang those songs that we all needed the truth in those lines and it was a powerful sense of community but at the same time, I knew that those words were also for meant just for me, as one person in a relationship with the one true God and it was very private. I can't explain it any more than to say - if you don't have a small group of Christians you regular spend time with that you worship with and pray with and know you can depend on, find some! Pray for them, search a community group out in your church, start a group yourself, do what it takes. God uses those people in my life all the time.

It struck me when I was leaving that time that the things I had shared things that week were the same things I had been telling myself for a few months now. But sometimes you sing songs or quote scripture or even just mediate on statements with yourself and you know it but you don't really feel it or believe it. But this time, when I was sharing it, I had faith, I knew it was true. And to be honest, I wasn't sure if I would ever get to that point.

For several reasons that I won't get into here, these past few months have been tough on me and there were weeks when I knew I was just going through the motions of living life. And I didn't want to live like that and I was angry, I just wanted everything to go back to the way it was and be peaceful (not that everything was perfect 6 months ago, it never is, but of course I had forgotten all but the best parts :-) Then I relented, obviously God was trying to teach me something so I tried to be good and just let him so we could get this whole potter shapping clay thing over with. But I didn't like it, it was uncomfortable, even painful, and I didn't feel like myself and I just wanted to get it over with. And I told Him that, that was all I had at the moment, obedience. You want me here God, I'll be here, but that is all I can do. I can't praise you here, I can't see the good here, but I'm here.

And slowly it has been getting better. This week I said things like "I know He has a purpose" and "I wouldn't give my trials back if I had to give back what He has taught me" and it struck me that I believed that now It wasn't just words. He has been drawing me to him and shaping me and I didn't even realize it until this past week, but parts of me that were broken so badly that I didn't think they could be mended, are now being mended. Not back to the way they were, God is still working on me and it will probably be a two steps forward, one step back process but it's happening and it will continue. And they will always be a scar there, the circumstances and relationships of that hurt are now a part of who I am and that will always be the case, but I wouldn't want it any other way. I feel like me again, but a better me, a me that looks more like Him.

The circumstances were not good. But God is. And now I can praise him for that time, for those struggles, for what I lost because before He took it away, He gave it to me, even for just a little while, it was gift from Him, just as the trials were. And the funny thing is, my circumstances haven't changed, I'm still waiting on Him, hoping in His promises for the future, but I do have His peace now and that makes all the difference. It really does surpasses all understanding.

This post may not make sense to you and that's fine, I wrote it more for me than to be read but I still want to post it because if you feel like I did before, like you're barely holding on and it isn't getting any better, like the storm just keeps coming and doesn't show signs of stopping, hold on. The rainbow is coming. He promises. And someday, even if it isn't today because today you are still just working at being present, before you can even think about praising, someday you will be able to sing this, as I am right now.

Here are the lyrics if you don't want to watch.

Praise You In This Storm
I was sure by now
That You would have reached down
And wiped our tears away
Stepped in and saved the day
But once again, I say "Amen", and it's still raining

As the thunder rolls
I barely hear Your whisper through the rain
"I'm with you"
And as Your mercy falls
I raise my hands and praise the God who gives
And takes away

I'll praise You in this storm
And I will lift my hands
For You are who You are
No matter where I am
Every tear I've cried
You hold in Your hand
You never left my side
And though my heart is torn
I will praise You in this storm

I remember when
I stumbled in the wind
You heard my cry
You raised me up again
My strength is almost gone
How can I carry on
If I can't find You

As the thunder rolls
I barely hear You whisper through the rain
"I'm with you"
And as Your mercy falls
I raise my hands and praise the God who gives
And takes away

I lift my eyes unto the hills
Where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord
The Maker of Heaven and Earth


Motivations of the "Mobs"

Commentators and politicians are clearly taken aback by the level of emotion being displayed at these health care town hall meetings. Various explanations for this outpouring of interest abound, and some have been quite ridiculous, including claims that these people were sent here at the request of big business or that they are merely expressing racism. However, I think it is quite easy to understand why people are ticked off. I will tell you why in bullet point format:
  • More so than almost any other legislation, this health care bill would impact virtually everybody, and in a big way. People get fired up about illegal immigrants or taxes, but even those issues don't have the potential impact of this one.
  • People are tired of the way Washington operates. One-thousand-plus page bills are written, "debated," and voted on in a span of days, and people have almost no ability to learn about and then speak up about these issues in such a short time span. This is an especially acute problem after the bailouts were rushed through Congress earlier this year. Remember, if the Democrats had their way, this bill would already have been passed and signed.
  • People are sick of politician-speak. President Obama says, "If you like your health plan, you can keep it." But people have every reason to suspect that this will be true for no more than a year or two, as the "public option" swallows everyone up as employers respond to incentives to drop health coverage for employees. In response to a question about government funding for abortions in its plan, Senator Arlen Specter said, "You can get a plan that doesn't pay for abortions, and someone else can get one that does." That's a ridiculous answer, because it clearly means that the government plan will pay for abortions. I also hear people like Rep. Chet Edwards in Texas say, "I will not support a Canada-style, single-payer plan." Sure, that sounds good, but it doesn't address whether or not he'll vote for the plan currently working its way through the House. People are tired of this obfuscation.
  • People don't trust legislation to work like it is supposed to. The TARP bill wasn't intended to provide bailouts for auto makers, but it did. The stimulus bill wasn't supposed to pay for ridiculous pork projects, but it did. The Bush Medicare drug bill was supposed to cost X, but it cost much more. Health care reform will undoubtedly have similar unannounced consequences (I'm not sure if they will be unintended).
  • People are sick of elitist politicians. Voters know Congress won't subject itself to whatever plan it passes, just like Congress doesn't use Social Security or commercial airlines.
For these reasons, I fully support citizens who yell at and boo their Congressmen. While the politicians may publicly dismiss these people, privately they know that the anger expressed at these meetings could also manifest itself next Election Day.


UHF: Bean Brownies

Riddle me this, what is even weirder that putting spinach in your smoothies? Beans in your brownies! I first saw this recipe a couple months ago but it was too out there, even for a undercover hippie like me. But I've never been able to find a homemade brownie recipe I really liked so when I recently made a big batch of black beans to freeze, I figured I would give it a try. What's the worst that could happen? And to my surprise, I liked them. You should try it, you might like it too!

1.5 cups black beans (or 1 15oz can, drained)
3 eggs
3 Tablespoons oil/melted butter
1/4 c cocoa powder
pinch salt
2 tsp vanilla
3/4 c sweetener (I've used both white sugar and honey with good results)
1/2 tsp baking powder (optional, will be more cake-like with it, more fudge like without)

Dump in a blender and blend till smooth - don't leave any bean chunks. Pour into a greased 9x9 pan and bake at 350 for ~30 minutes or until top changes from glossy to matte. Do this secretly if you want to serve to husband/kids, do out in the open if you want to enjoy the whole pan yourself:-)

When warm, they are more brownie/cake like. Refrigerate the leftovers though and they become this combination brownie/fudge - delish! I made my first batch with an unrefined coconut oil so they tasted like a Mounds bar. The second batch I used melted butter (you could also use vegetable oil, except don't, that stuff is not good) and tried adding baking soda. It was good too. I've seen versions of this with honey and agave nectar replacing the sugar and even a vegan version that used applesauce and a banana to sweeten. I'm going to keep trying to see exactly how healthy I can make this.


Summer Update

I'm doing pretty well on my summer to-do list, which is good as I've only got a few weeks left. The one thing I'm behind on is my knitting and crocheting. I just couldn't do any for the first part of the summer as the eczema on my hand was too bad. But it cleared up a bit while I was on vacation and I was able to get all my washcloths done. I did three different patterns, figuring I would make more of whichever I liked most, or move on to other patterns if I didn't like any of them.
From left to right, these are the patterns I followed, ( L, M, R. I am pretty excited about the middle one, it has these cool little scrubby rows). The pattern included front post crocheting in it which I had never done and didn't quite have a handle on at first so the bottom is weird but it's only dishcloths so I'll try to let it go (okay, I'm trying to let it go at least). The other two are pretty standard. I'm hoping the rights one's airiness really will help prevent the dreaded kitchen cloth stink but only time will tell.

I also finally got my living room walls redecorated. I was tired of the old canvas I had painted, so I got two more and some fabric (it took me a month because I went weekly using a Hobby Lobby 40% off coupon each time, but I saved ~$23 that way). Once I had everything, it was super easy and I like the color it added. I didn't take a before photo because my camera battery was dead and I didn't want to wait, but here is the after.
Plus, it perfectly matches my brand new slipcover. It's red and super cheerful. I was so tired of those silly stripes so I love it but I'm a little worried about Craig's reaction. He isn't a big fan of slipcovers. I hope he likes it!

My summer is coming to a close pretty soon (in a scheduling type of way, not a temperature type of way, I still have months of heat left to deal with) and I'm glad. I'm tired of being so productive. I'm ready to start spending my weekends just lounging around with Craig.


Another Austen Anecdote

Oh my goodness, this cracked me up.

Congress to Citizens: "Let Them Eat Cake"

When was the last time we had a good old-fashioned tarring and feathering here in America? I think it's about time to reintroduce this time-honored tradition on the steps of the Capitol. Here's why:
  • "Congress plans to spend $550 million to buy eight jets, a substantial upgrade to the fleet used by federal officials at a time when lawmakers have criticized the use of corporate jets by companies receiving taxpayer funds." This item was placed in a defense spending bill; the Pentagon asked for four planes, but Congress wants more. And apparently these planes are not your run-of-the-mill private jets, either; they are top of the line. Congresspeolple could fly commercial, but they prefer not to. And remember the manufactured outrage when those auto execs came to DC on private jets? Oh, the hypocrisy.
  • On a related note, Congress apparently needs these planes because "[t]axpayer-funded travel for Congress is booming. Legislators and aides reported spending about $13 million on overseas trips last year, a Journal analysis has shown, a nearly 10-fold jump since 1995." Click that link to read about one egregious Congressional jaunt. They claim these trips help them understand the issues, but I think similar understanding could be gained from watching the Discovery Channel, at much less cost to taxpayers.
In the grand scheme of federal spending, the amount of money being wasted here is not much. But as the chasm between an increasingly self-indulgent, corrupt Congress and the people they are supposed to serve gets larger every day. Fortunately for them, though, some in their ranks have enough sense to know when they've crossed the line. Several representatives are speaking out against the new jets. I guess that's the key, knowing how corrupt is too corrupt to get away with. That can be a fine line to walk, though.


Foreign Affairs Friday: North Korean Troublemaking

It is well known that North Korean leader Kim Jong-il oppresses the heck out of his people, counterfeits our money, kidnaps foreign citizens, and pursues nuclear weapons. Those transgressions are bad enough, but now he's exporting nuclear material. That Syrian nuclear facility that Israel bombed two years ago was built with North Korean assistance. Now Burma is apparently in the market for North Korea's #1 export. I'm not really sure what they're afraid of that they think they need nukes; at least North Korea has a bunch of American troops across the border to worry about.

Burma would seem like a tempting target for a few precision bunker busters to destroy its nascent nuclear program, but the fact that China is next door would make that problematic. That's the same complication China presents with North Korea. In addition to proximity, China also provides much-needed material support to these countries. The last thing China wants is for these two countries to collapse and send a bunch of refugees its way.

I think Bill Clinton could have solved this North Korean problem during his visit this week. While asking him to shoot Kim Jong-il might have been excessively blunt and risky, he could have loaded a few bombs in his private jet and let them go as he departed North Korea with the two reporters. He probably would have known exactly where the dear leader was at that moment. It would have been great.


Cream of Whatever Soup

In my quest to make more and more items of our food from scratch, I kept stumbling across recipes with "Cream of - " soup and would feel compelled to pass them by. Which is sad because a lot of those casseroles, or hot dishes as Craig would say, are quite tasty. Maybe not very colorful or creative, but delicious nevertheless.

But I stumbled upon this recipe substitution a while back and have loved bringing the creamy, comforting casserole into our lives again without letting the bpa, msg or ridiculously high levels of sodium back in with it.

"2 cans of cream of whatever soup"

4 Tablespoons butter (or 2 each of butter and olive oil)
~1/4 cup Mushrooms/Celery (if applicable)
1/4 c flour (whole wheat works great here)
1 tsp. salt or more to taste

Melt butter/oil in small pan. Add flour and salt to make a roux (For cream of mushroom/cream of celery, add about 1/4 cup mushrooms/celery now), whisking until bubbly then about a minute longer. Slowly add 2 cups liquid and continue stirring until thickened. For cream of mushroom/celery, use 2 cups of milk. For cream of chicken, use 1 cup of milk plus 1 cup of chicken broth. I use my homemade stock which is pretty concentrated (I use it diluted 1:1 in water for most other recipes calling for broth). If you use the stuff from a can, you might want to add a bit of chicken base/buillion to bump up the chicken flavor. I've found this to be slightly thinner than the real canned version but it still works great in casseroles. If you want it to be really thick, just reduce the liquid but a tad.


Austen Anecdotes

1. How is it that I haven't heard of this until now!?! 4 hours of Emma, could I be more excited!

Of course, I can't seem to find reliable non-uk release date information and am always a bit wary that they will botch it up and make another "Mansfield Park" but I'm ignoring that part of my brain right now.

2. I just finished this book. I thought it was
delightful - which is code for I stayed up way to late reading til the end but I just couldn't not finish it. I'm even willing to go to the neighboring city to pick up her other book .It's not an Austen continuation/other viewpoint novel or whatever those are called, but if you like Jane Austen's writing, I'd guess you will probably like Indiscretion too.

3. I watched Becoming Jane at work last week. It was my second time seeing it and I dislike it more than I remember. But the cover looks so nice, sad day :-(


UHF: Water Kefir

I talked about kefir a bit when I first got my grains but wanted to wait until I was proficient before passing on my know-how. The first batch was icky and I thought it was going to be a big fat fail on the whole kefir thing but I got a few tips and every batch since then has been great.

Rember, kefir grains aren't really a grain but a mother structure of a symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast used to ferment liquid. The more common milk kefir grains are used to ferment milk (if someone is just talking about kefir without specifying, they probably mean milk). Water kefir can be used to ferment water and juice which is what I will be talking about.

There are two methods, the one step and the two step. With the one step method you directly ferment your final product, juice or sugar water with flavor/fruit. With the two step, you ferment sugar water into your kefir base then add your flavorings/fruit/juice to make different types of "soda". I like the two step because it leaves my options open and I don't have to worry about anything adversely effecting the grains. Because kefir is a living thing, there are things that help it grow and survive and other's that hurt or kill it. I'll go over them in a second.

One Quart Kefir Base:

  • Plastic*/Glass container - I use a one quart mason jar
  • Lid - You want the kefir to breath during fermentation but you don't want bugs or dust getting in there. I cut up an old tea towel into ~8" squares and use those in what I like to call my "bible character technique", (I think you'll see why later) but you can also use cheese cloth or coffee filters along with a rubber band.
  • Plastic* Strainer/Grain bag - You can either keep your grains in a little pouch so they are easy to transfer from batch to batch. Another option is to strain your grains. I have tried both and thought the pouch would be easier but I actually like straining as I can know they are doing okay. I tend to be a grain-hypochondriac so I like to see them bopping around in there. *Don't use metal utensils as that can supposedly hurt your grains. Some people have gotten away with a metal strainer if it is necessary but try to limit contact with metal as it hurts the grains.
  • About a quart of water - You want a non-chlorinated water (It's in the water to kill stuff and but you don't want it killing your kefir!) but minerals also help your kefir prosper so don't use filtered water or distilled water. Your best bets are either to buy spring water or use tap water but boil it first to get rid of the chlorine. Since one costs money and the other doesn't, I bet you can guess which I do :-) You can also add a small piece of eggshell to increase the mineral content of the water. I add it to the water while it's boiling if I remember.
  • Sugar - 1/4 to 1/2 of sugar. I started with using 1/2 cup but am now down to 1/4. Don't use less than 1/4 because the kefir needs to eat the sugar and you don't want them starving. As for type of sugar, you can use really anything but honey (it's antibiotic properties are not helpful in this particular instance). Rapadura is good for growing your kefir but it's pretty strong and I personally don't like the overpowering flavor but others don't seem to mind. I use your basic white sugar. After fermentation only about 20% remains so that ends up being less than a tablespoon of sugar in a quart.
  • 2 Tablespoons of water kefir grains. I bought mine from cultures from health. They sent me more than 2 Tablespoons and I'm pretty sure mine are growing now so pretty soon I'll have some to pass on if your interested, let me know and I'll put you on my list.
What to do:
Mix the sugar and water in the jar. If you don't think the sugar is dissolving, you can start with a bit of hot water, dissolve the sugar, then let it cool. Just be sure to wait until the water is room temperature before adding your grains.

Add your grains and cover. Let sit for 24-72 hours on the counter. The speed of fermentation will depend on your room temperature but I would suggest starting with short times and working your way up to the stronger ferments. If your grains are loose you should be able to see them raise and lower every once in a while and if you gently bump the jar, a few bubbles will rise to the surface.If you ferment for a longer time, the water might start getting slightly opaque and if you taste the water, it should be getting less and less sweet. Those are all signs it is working.
Here's mine about 48 hours later, slightly opaqua and with a few floaters. It's ready to go! After 24-72 hours, strain the grains, rinse with water and repeat for your next batch, saving the water kefir. It won't be very tasty until you flavor it but it shouldn't taste bad, only slightly fermented. If you get ahead of yourself and need a break, you can keep the grains in sugar water in the fridge for a few day.

Flavoring the Kefir:

Lemonade - Add juice from one or two lemons (or limes for limeade). (You can also soak the lemon in water the whole time but I find that leaves a bitter taste)

Berry /Lemonade - Microwave a couple tablespoon of frozen berries (any type) then smush with a fork, add to water and proceed with lemonade recipe. This is first one I made and really enjoyed. The stawberry flavor completely coveres up the fermentation.

Grape soda - Add about a 1/4 of grape juice to 3/4 water kefir. Yummy! (Supposedly apple juice works too)

Ginger-ale - Grate 1/4-1/2 inch of ginger into a quart of kefir water. This has a much stronger flavor than store ginger-ale but I really like it.

Cream soda/Root beer - Add a teaspoon or so of rootbeer extract or vanilla to a quart of kefir water. I've never tried this (it is next on my list) but I've heard reports it is good.

Finishing the Kefir:

Once you flavor the kefir, you can let it sit, tightly covered, on the counter for another 12-24 hrs to build up carbonation before moving it to the fridge unless it is a juice and I want to lower the sugar content more, I normally don't wait that long before drinking it. Serve cold and enjoy!

I store mine in these cool glass bottles but if I leave it out, I have to make sure to vent it occassionally. I don't want any explosions.

P.S. - Since this is a fermented product, technically it is slightly alcoholic just as any home fermented product will be (kimchi, sour dough, overripe bananas). I have no way of measure for myself but what I read seems to indicate that at 48hrs the alcohol level tends to be vary (depending on starting sugar level) from 0.2-1%, In comparison, non-alcoholic beer is anything less than 0.5%. Since I typically only add 1/4 c of sugar and 24-36 hrs fermentation, I didn't worry about giving some to my little brother while he was here (I just called it homemade soda, what he doesn't know won't hurt him) and I know of others who drink it while pregnant, but I wouldn't go around serving it to unsuspecting Baptists or Muslims without their knowledge.

P.S.S. If you want to read more about water kefir, here are some resources.