Laying in of Provisions

Oakley is at day care today. With him safely in the company of his friends and teachers, I’m able to run errands without guilt. Even though he doesn’t mind hanging out in his crate, I don’t like leaving him in there any longer than necessary, and I still feel a little twinge of guilt when I leave, stuffed Kong or no. 

Depending on other engagements and errands, I have two routes that I follow to get to my four preferred stores. Ok, there are five. Meijer’s is a Michigan-based chain that’s on the way to Oakley’s day care center. It has pretty good food and other retail merchandise including clothes, rather like Wally World, but as far as I can tell, they treat their employees better.

I did the two southernmost stores today. First I went to Caputo’s, a local family-owned chain with incredible if non-organic produce displayed as it would be in Italian markets, imported foods from all over Asia and Europe, and a fantastic bakery. I bought nuts, canned diced tomatoes, and some ingredients for ratatoullie. They also have bagged nonperishables for donation to a local anti-hunger organization. At $10 each, they aren’t that much. When I swing by in the late afternoons, the cart where the go to await transport to the food pantry is pretty full, thankfully.

My next stop: nirvana. Well, close to it. I went to Whole Foods. Great Mystery have mercy,  I love shopping there, high prices and all. I just don’t buy the stuff I consider priced out of line. I picked up organic avocados, almond milk, and ground turkey and grassfed burger. I enjoyed a cup of tea from the cafe, and indulged in a few splurges, like flowers and some multi-seed crackers. And hung out in the health and beauty section, enjoying the scents of the soap and lotions.

On days when I am pulled northward, I stop at Trader Joe’s and Woodman’s. At TJ’s I usually get fish, frozen chicken breast, nut butters, frozen fruit, and ground turkey. (No, I am not kinky for ground turkey. Oakley does best on it, and since I make his food myself, I want to be sure that it’s not filled with those ubiquitous “natural” seasonings.) I also get goat cheese from them.

Woodman’s is an employee-owned chain based in WIsconsin. They have fantastic prices on organic produce and nonperishable items. I usually get produce, cheese (mostly goat these days), and canned stuff that Hubby likes.

Yes, it does take time and gas. But if it keeps me from shopping at Wally World, it it a wise investment, indeed.    

  

 

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Confessions

Bless me, my friends. I do occasionally buy frozen entrees and salad dressing.

Done gasping? Let me continue. 

I get dressing from Annie’s. It’s organic, mostly, and doesn’t have a ton of preservatives or other chemicals that make it taste like Love Canal. There are just days when mixing together the oil, vinegar, mustard, salt and pepper is too intimidating, kitchen gadgets or no.

I get Amy’s Organics entrees. Clearly labeled, reasonable at Target of all places, and Meijer’s, too, if you live in Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois. 

For veg burgers, which I have tried at home, I get Sunshine Burgers. They’re based on sunflower seed protein. I usually make a salad with them, or a wrap with a no-grain or gluten free tortilla. 

I must confess as well…I love shopping at Whole Foods. Yes, I know a lot of their items can be had much cheaper at other places. But there’s something seductive about the aroma of incense and soap wafting from the Lifestyle section. There’s something about sales associates who actually seem happy to see you and walk with you to the desired aisle. And samples. I shopped at Fresh Fields, their precursor in my area, so there’s a little nostalgia involved. I’m always a little surprised when I don’t see my associates from an environmental group I volunteered for strolling the aisles. I get some of our protein food from them, such as ground turkey. It’s grown really hard to find ground turkey that hasn’t been subjected to the addition of those unnamed “natural flavorings.” The bison and grassfed beef are competitively priced, surprisingly. I usually get those from my organic produce lady, but there are times I get caught. I get some extra and freeze.

On the dog front, no, I don’t make Oakley treats, except for his bedtime snack of pumpkin and goat keifer sorbet (mix, scoop into single serving containers, freeze) or hensickles (frozen chicken broth in single serving containers). I get some from a local company called Pawdukes. I make kale chips for him. Yes, he eats kale. Go figure. 

While homecooked is best, it’s comforting to know there are backups out there.

 

The Great Tripe Debacle

In his later years, Orion started having digestive problems. He couldn’t tolerate yogurt and wouldn’t eat food sprinkled with probiotic/enzyme powder, so after some research I decided to give him tripe as part of his meals. 

He loved it. It was a natural extension of his one bad habit: cleaning up the yard, shall we say. The canned wasn’t as odorous as I had thought it would be.

I usually warmed Orion’s food to enhance the aroma, except for the tripe. One day, I’d neglected to scoop out the dinner portion in enough time for it to come to room temperature at its own speed, so without thinking, it went into the microwave without further thought. Set it for a minute and turned my back.

At :45, I swear that I saw the paint in the kitchen peel as I gasped for breath. I pulled the dish out. Orion did his dinner dance, so I just put it down for him and opened all the windows in the house. 

A couple of hours and a pack of pachouli incense later, the house was livable again. I went to work on my and Hubby’s dinner, something with lots of onions to mask anything not hidden by the pachouli.

Orion exercised discretion with the whole matter, and would have even without the extra banana that I slipped him to buy his silence.

 

 

It’s Time for Day Care! It’s Time for Fun! Time for Day Care for Everyone!

Wednesdays start with me singing that. 

For two years now, Oakley has gone to day boarding, or day care, on Wednesday. At first, it was a way to help him catch up on his socialization and wear him out playing with other dogs. 

Now that he’s older and grown into a gentle companion, it’s just to wear him out. A day of running, playing games like bounce and chase, and snuggling the day care teachers will do that to a guy. He usually falls asleep before I hit the main road.

Is it an extravagance? Some might think so. It’s an investment. Oakley gets to play dog games for the better part of the day under the supervision of a staff that’s better trained than that at many day care centers for humans. When Hubby and I go to the Ren Faire, we know he’s in a secure place getting plenty of love and having lots of fun. 

On my side of the ledger, I get a free day to run errands, network, and experiment in the kitchen without help (cough). 

And the tail wagging greeting I get at the end of the day can’t be beat.

 

Tea: The Concise History

Ok, you caught me. I’m a royal watcher. 

I have an extra browser window open to BBC’s website to watch events unfolding in London. The Duchess of Cambridge was trundled off to the hospital at about midnight my time (now about 10:45 as I tap the keys). My guess is that she’s at the stage of labor where Prince William needs to stay close enough to hold her hand but far enough away to prevent her from doing any damage. 

So while we wait, let us contemplate that most British of institutions, tea. Not the green stuff, not herbal infusions, but real deal black tea.  Steeped for five minutes and served with a splash of milk. Or cold infused. But it has to be real tea. 

Tea was discovered many years ago in China when leaves fell into a wise person’s cup as he meditated. He found the resulting infusion delicious, and the beverage’s popularity spread through Asia. 

Dutch traders brought tea from Indonesia in the mid-1600’s, not too long before coffee arrived through Austria courtesy of the Turks. Tea made its way up to what we now know as the UK and took hold as the beverage of choice. It was perceived as a more wholesome alternative to coffee thanks to men who went to coffee houses which were fronts for brothels. They returned home without the energy or desire to perform their husbandly duties and blamed it on the coffee. The wives accepted the explanation without question, at least verbally, and banned coffee from their homes.

Tea the late afternoon ritual was started by another duchess in the 1800’s. At the time, dinner wasn’t served until eight or nine at night. She needed a little something about 4:30, 5:ish and requested a pot of tea and a little bread and butter. The cookies, cakes, and finger sandwiches were added over time.

Today, tea is the most widely drunk beverage in the world. Not surprising. Its effects are more subtle than coffee’s thanks to the lower caffeine content. Coffee’s roasting process also causes the formation of alkyd compounds that can impact moods the way caffeine can. Tea offers more comfort. The catch phrase “A cup of tea will fix anything” rings true, at least for one hypersensitive food blogger I can name.

So while the world waits, we raise our mugs, our fine china cups, and our pots to you, Your Grace and Your Highness. Blessings to the three of you as the journey begins. 

 

Uhh….Not So Much….

So last week I did something I hadn’t done before: I ate at a hip-and-trendy celebrity-owned restaurant.

Usually, I don’t eat at places like that. While I am relatively demanding and don’t mind paying for quality, I do arrive with high expectations. I have been delighted with many not-so-hip-and-trendy places, such as a couple of very memorable dinners in a 500-year-old inn in Montreal’s old town that didn’t get the press a couple of other places had in the guidebooks.

I went with a friend who returns to teaching in too-few weeks. We did a walking tour of the Loop’s landmarks, and we went to the Merchandise Mart to look at some of the displays. Then we went to the celebrity-owned Mexican restaurant that was the  the end point of our quest a few blocks north of the train station.

For me, the wheels came off when we stepped inside the small, dark, crowded dining area. The intense purple walls and dramatic Mexican artwork shrank it further. And loud. Very loud. Every other word being “WHAT?” “SORRY, COULDN’T HEAR YOU!” loud.

The waiter, though, was pleasant. He walked us through the menu after the usual “would you like some chips and guacamole” routine. (At those prices for chips and guac, the  celebrity owner had better bring his yoga-toned tush out to the table and mix it up himself for us.) 

My friend chose tacos; I chose some tostadas. She was happy. Me? I liked the salad with the pumpkin seed vinaigrette, but the tostadas, not so much. Perhaps it’s a lack of sophistication about Mexican cuisine on my part, but it came across as very bland and too cute. Three tiny corn tortillas topped with refried black beans, chicken, avocado slices and crumbled cojita. It wasn’t bad, but just really bland.

I realize that authentic Mexican cuisine is not about adding enough chili to make flames shoot from the diner’s bodily orifices. I also realize that I have a higher than average tolerance for heat because of the seasoning adjustments Dad made due to his salt-free diet. But this was just really bland. And the presentation was too cute for me. I tried spiking it with the bottle of hot sauce on the table, but that didn’t work very well.

But the salad was fantastic. The company and conversation couldn’t be beat. The iced tea was very refreshing.  

I can say that I ate there.

And I never have to do it again. 

 

Keeping the Ren Faire Feeling

Celtic music on? Check.

Incense ready to be burned? Check.

“Tudors” marathon later? Possible.

While Oakley went to sleepover camp at Ms. Judi’s, Hubby and I went to the Bristol Renaissance Faire for its opening last weekend. Illinois and Wisconsin melt into a time warp that guides visitors back to the days of Queen Elizabeth I, allowing them a glimpse of life in that era. 

Naturally, that includes music, street and stage performances, and….food. 

Some of it is authentic, such as the turkey legs and pasties; some not so much like the deep-fried mac and cheese bits. 

First things first. We arrived too late for breakfast and a little too early for lunch, so we opted to get our bearings with a walk. Perfect timing lead us to two of our favorite acts from last year, Adam Crack the fire whip artist (http://www.winrichwhips.com/) and Moonie the Magnificent (http://www.philipearl.com/home.htm).  

Having laughed off a lot of calories, we had lunch at a Mediterranean-themed vendor and enjoyed their felafel very much. Crispy, seasoned just right, perfect drizzle of tahini (sesame butter) sauce–perfect. Lest you think it was a stretch, this was the period where Briton ruled the waves in no uncertain terms, both with their Navy and with merchant and mercenary crews, so the odds were that some sailors may have sampled some Middle Eastern delicacies. We ate beneath a tree, watching pirates and Vikings go about their stock and trade with a few Romans sprinkled in for good measure.

After a walk to the perfumery to purchase some incense, the time to enjoy some traditional Celtic with a twist of punk arrived. Tartanic (http://tartanic.net/) took the stage and played a mind- and worth-an-eardrum-blowing set. The last song of the set, “Amazing Grace,” added an unexpectedly poignant layer with the story of a call to the front man/booking agent from the father of one of the Granite Mountain Hotshots asking if they could please play their version at the memorial service for the firefighters. 

Breathe, recenter. Walk some more. Time for ice cream? Hubby wanted some; I figured that I would take the indulgent risk. In this case, risk comes in a strawberry-vanilla combo. 

And then came the swordfighting, and the joust to the death, and shadows suddenly growing across the grass. 

We’d had a good day, and plan on returning for at least one more day this season. It’s only a 90 minute drive. And in the meantime, there are recipes to be researched.

The Answer is Socca

Spent time experimenting this weekend. 

Found an almond flour pizza crust that’s very passible. Only problem: for the love of what if any deity you believe in, use parchment paper to line the pan. The author was not kidding when she said to use parchment paper. It’s that sticky and I am still trying to soak off the remains. But it was really yummy and could stand alone as a flatbread. Here’s the link: http://blog.stuffimakemyhusband.com/2011/02/almond-flour-pizza.html.

The other experiment: socca, one of France’s many gifts to the world. One cup of water, one cup of chickpea flour, two tablespoons of olive oil, dash of salt, and a teaspoon of chopped or crumbled rosemary. Let the batter rest for at least 15 minutes. You could either bake it in a 450 oven (heat a cake pan with a generous amount of olive oil in the bottom, then when it’s hot pour in the batter and bake until done) or cook it like pancakes. So far, I’ve used it for tacos and a base for pizza. It worked a lot better than the flaxseed fiasco.

I’m thinking…hmm…mince some kalamata olives or sun-dried tomatoes in the batter? Cumin next time I do tacos? Leave out the rosemary and add some sweetener for pancakes? 

The wheels are turning.