photo credit: http://www.publicdomainpictures.net/
Today I read an article detailing Nestle's 'horrific' discovery that children are actually helping harvest the cacao in Ivory Coast.  They pledged to help end the practice, and bewailed the fact that the practice still exists despite industry's discouragement of it.  They mentioned in passing that the recent political and economic turmoil (civil war) in Ivory Coast has made it necessary for everyone, including children, to work, and that farmers had to work "excessively long hours".  The FLA (Fair Labor Association)'s brainy solution is to end child labor by... ending poverty.

I'm sorry, Nestle and others are misguided. 

You cannot end poverty without the people improving their own situation- which can only be done by either consuming less than you earn, or earning more than you consume.  Where do the money and goods come from, without lots of individual effort? 

I grew up on a farm.  I wasn't happy with that fact until the year before I graduated, when I realized how much of a blessing that hard work had been.    I also saw my parents work harder than I had.  When it was hay-baling time, that hay had to be baled at exactly the right stage or it lost nutrition.  On top of that, we had to work around the weather.  If it rained, we had to either wait for the hay to dry out, or bale it quickly before the storm hit.  My dad worked 16-hour days during the summer to begin with, and that extended up to 24-30 hours straight during baling.  We older kids had to be out the door by 6 a.m. the whole summer to move sprinkler pipes: quarter-mile long systems made of forty-foot lengths of aluminum, each needing to be unhooked, carried forward 40 feet through tangles of knee-high alfalfa, hooked back together, and turned on.   I drove tractors, planted acres of grain, learned to shoot a rifle (at ground squirrels destroying our irrigating system), tossed heavy hay bales, bottle-fed calves in minus-30-degree weather, slogged through early-spring mud, lost boots and socks to mud holes in fields-- and learned to stop, think, notice, and appreciate better what was around me.  The summer of my junior year in high school, I saw that not only had the work helped shape my attitude and outlook, it also gave me a chance to work together with my family, strengthening ties and accomplishing mutual goals.

Too many times our good intentions, forced on others, lead to serious deterioration of a nation.  The extent to which our own nation has mandated child labor laws has resulted in a nation of young and middle-aged people with a serious entitlement mentality.  They don't understand that progress and prosperity have long, hard work at their core, and believe too often that someone else should provide for them.  Take the Occupy Wall Street group, for instance.  Or nearly any liberal/progressive.

I wish that my children had the opportunity  to spend long days harvesting cacao pods- or strawberries- or whatever else bureaucrats think is "too hard".   It's difficult for me, as a citydweller, to find enough work for them to keep their minds and bodies healthy.  They can't get official "jobs" until they're 14 or 16, by which time many of their lifetime habits have already been developed.  I've been surprised when my children think it's "too hard" learning to ride a bike, or to learn their math facts, or anything that has delayed gratification.   Hard work not only develops muscle and sinew but character and tenacity.

Justice William O. Douglas stated, “Those in power need checks and restraints lest they come to identify the common good from their own tastes and desires, and their continuation in office as essential to the preservation of the nation."

Nations go through challenging times,  it's required of everyone to work or to stay in spiraling poverty.

Work is not a bad thing.  People emerge stronger. 
More than 150 years ago, a French economist wrote about the same thing, declaring that only bad economists confine themeselves to the visible effect.  Here's an excerpt from Frederic Bastiat's "What Is Seen and What Is Not Seen".  It's brilliant.  You can read the entire excerpt at http://www.thefreemanonline.org/features/what-is-seen-and-what-is-not-seen-2/  or the whole essay at http://bastiat.org/en/twisatwins.html

This excerpt is from the first chapter of
Selected Essays on Political Economy, translated by Seymour Cain and edited by George B. de Huszar, published by the Foundation for Economic Education.

In the economic sphere an act, a habit, an institution, a law produces not only one effect, but a series of effects. Of these effects, the first alone is immediate; it appears simultaneously with its cause; it is seen. The other effects emerge only subsequently; they are not seen; we are fortunate if we foresee them.[1]

There is only one difference between a bad economist and a good one: the bad economist confines himself to the visible effect; the good economist takes into account both the effect that can be seen and those effects that must be foreseen.

Yet this difference is tremendous; for it almost always happens that when the immediate consequence is favorable, the later consequences are disastrous, and vice versa. Whence it follows that the bad economist pursues a small present good that will be followed by a great evil to come, while the good economist pursues a great good to come, at the risk of a small present evil.

The same thing, of course, is true of health and morals. Often, the sweeter the first fruit of a habit, the more bitter are its later fruits: for example, debauchery, sloth, prodigality. When a man is impressed by the effect that is seen and has not yet learned to discern the effects that are not seen, he indulges in deplorable habits, not only through natural inclination, but deliberately.

This explains man’s necessarily painful evolution. Ignorance surrounds him at his cradle; therefore, he regulates his acts according to their first consequences, the only ones that, in his infancy, he can see. It is only after a long time that he learns to take account of the others. Two very different masters teach him this lesson: experience and foresight. Experience teaches efficaciously but brutally. It instructs us in all the effects of an act by making us feel them, and we cannot fail to learn eventually, from having been burned ourselves, that fire burns. I should prefer, in so far as possible, to replace this rude teacher with one more gentle: foresight. For that reason I shall investigate the consequences of several economic phenomena, contrasting those that are seen with those that are not seen."

What's an example that you have seen of this principle?
Have you seen pallets lying around your town?  Have you wondered what to do with them?  This video has rapid-fire ideas; some I've seen, most I hadn't! 

Since it's so fast, though, my personal suggestion is to watch it straight through, then watch it again with your cursor on the 'pause' button.

(If you like the tune, it's "Popcorn" by Gershon Kingsley;  my  favorite version is  with the Swedish Chef from The Muppets.  But I digress...)
Do you know the difference between baking soda and baking powder?  

How long have they been around?

Baking soda, sodium bicarbonate is an alkaline powder; when it is mixed with acidic ingredients, the two react and form carbon dioxide bubbles.  The bubbles lift and lighten batter as it bakes; baking must be done right away, before the bubbles dissipate and you lose its leavening power.  Common acidic ingredients include vinegar, buttermilk, sour cream, lemon juice, cream of tartar, brown sugar, and honey.  Baking soda also helps foods brown better, since moderate alkalinity, along with heat,  is a catalyst for the Maillard Reaction (the reason, other than caramelization, that cooked foods turn brown).

Baking powder is a combination of alkaline, acid (cream of tartar), and starch.  You don't need to use acidic ingredients in recipes using just baking powder, since the balance is already there.  Most baking powders are made with two different alkaline powders- one that reacts right away (baking soda), and one that reacts only with heat.  This way you can save some of that leavening power for when the food is actually IN the oven.  The starch is there to help absorb moisture so the powders don't react in the can and to help the powder stay free-flowing.

To use baking soda instead of baking powder, use 1/3 the amount, and make sure there's something acidic in the batter.  For instance, if your recipe calls for 1 Tbsp (which is 3 tsp.) baking powder, you can use 1 tsp. baking soda, and use buttermilk- or sour milk-  instead of regular milk.  Or mix in 1 tsp. cream of tartar.  Or use brown sugar instead of white.  

This works in reverse, too: if your biscuit recipe calls for buttermilk and you only have plain milk, use it but switch that 1 tsp. baking soda for 1 Tbsp. baking powder (or whatever it calls for, keeping that 1:3 ratio).

As far as I can find, baking powder wasn't invented until the 1800's, but leavening powders have been around at least for centuries.  Some of the earlier ones include:

Baker's Ammonia (ammonium carbonate, "hartshorn"; NOT cleaning ammonia!- which is poisonous)- made from powdered reindeer horn.  (Seriously.)  This one actually has characteristics more of baking powder, substitutes 1:1 for it, and makes cookies especially crisp and light.

Potash or pearl ash (potassium carbonate, an alkaline salt)- made by adding water to  the ashes of 'vegetables' or weeds, steeping overnight, then evaporating all the water by boiling.  The fine 'ash' left is used as baking soda.  There's a fascinating article on the process in the 1802 "Domestic Encyclopedia"

Saleratus, or soda ash (sodium carbonate, an alkaline salt)- also known as washing soda... sometimes used also in the boiling water step of making bagels, as it helps them brown better (Maillard reaction!!!).  An interesting bit of chemistry with this one is that when you heat  sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) by itself above about 160 F, you end up with sodium carbonate (washing soda), with byproducts of carbon dioxide and water (which dissipate into the air).  2NaHCO3(sodium bicarbonate) → Na2CO3(sodium carbonate)+ H2O + CO2  (It works fastest at 400 F.)

Baking soda's first large-scale appearance was in 1846, when a factory was built to make this new product, created by doing the opposite of the formula above- dissolving sodium carbonate in water, then pumping in carbon dioxide.  (There's a more efficient method now.)

  Can you believe we've had this useful leavener less than 200 years, and baking powder less than 150?     Boy, are we spoiled in the kitchen nowadays...

Read more:
Being used to fresh, fragrant, flavorful whole wheat bread, hotdog buns from the store are something I tolerate but don't like.  (White, squishy, pasty stuff.  And if it ever gets wet... OK, I'll stop now.)

Making your own hot dog buns - or hamburger buns- is very simple.  You can make a bunch at once, cool and slice them, then put them in a bag in the freezer to use later.  They are delicious!

Homemade Hotdog Buns

Start with any bread dough, this time I used buttermilk-honey whole wheat.  Pinch off about 2 oz. dough, a little bigger than a golf ball but a little smaller than a racquetball.   Roll one under your hand on the countertop until it’s the length of a hotdog. Place about 1” apart on a greased baking sheet.  Let rise until nearly double, brush with a little beaten egg if you want deeper color and some and then bake about 15 minutes at 375 until bottoms are golden brown.  See slideshow below.    Two pounds of dough will make 16 buns; my 2-loaf recipe will make about 24 buns.    You can fit 16-20 buns on one 12x18 baking sheet.  You could  fit more, but they'll be so squished they'll only rise UP, and not spread like you need.

Faster rising & baking:

Turn your oven into a proofing box!  Move the rack inside to the next notch higher.  Turn oven to 375, let it heat for ONLY 1-2 minutes.  Turn off the heat, pour a half cup of water on the oven floor (DON’T pour it on the element!) and put your shaped dough in.  Let rise in the warm, steamy oven for 20 minutes.  Turn the oven back on to 375 – leave the tray in this time- and set the timer for 20 minutes.  The oven preheating will accelerate the buns’ rising and increase ‘oven spring’, as long as you had steam in there so the buns’ crust doesn’t set too soon.  You’re baking them here, too.    The tops won’t brown on their own this way, with most the heat coming from the lower element, so when you have 2 minutes left  (from the 20), turn the oven off, turn the broiler to high, and let the buns stay there, under the broiler, for that last 1 ½- 2 minutes.  They’ll brown.  Unevenly.  But they'll brown.

Pull out and brush the tops with butter or oil.
In the last few years, we've all heard that it's more inexpensive to eat high-calorie, nutrient-sparse foods.    Are we then doomed to a life of either nasty nutrition or perpetual poverty because of our ballooning food budget?

No way!   The whole premise turns out to not really be true.

But then, those of you who cook your own food probably took the earlier studies with a grain of salt.

Fresh and whole foods are cheaper especially if eating from scratch... whole grains and legumes are especially inexpensive per serving (you know, that stuff that stores long-term really well!).

The original studies, we now learn, were comparing price per calorie in healthy vs. unhealthy foods.

Now, if you're comparing a fresh apple to a side order of fries, it looks something like this:

1 medium apple, about 5 ounces (141g) = about 80 calories    at $1.50/lb,  this costs $ .47  (if you buy them when they're on sale for $1/lb, then it's $ .31)

1 medium order of McDonald's fries, about 5 ounces (147 g) = 453 calories, in my city it costs $1.49

Both weigh approximately the same.  You'll feel about as full with each one; they both fill the same amount of space in your stomach.  According to the old numbers, though, the fries are much cheaper because   $1.49 divided by 453 calories gets you 3 calories per penny.  The apple, at $ .47 for 80 calories, comes out at 1.7 calories per penny. 

This would matter in a country where every calorie is precious.  Our problem here, though is the reverse.  Most of us eat too many calories, and being full with fewer calories is a helpful thing.

The price difference gets worse, too.  Here in Utah, sales tax on food is 3%.  Sales tax on food from a restaurant, however, is 8%.  That means you're paying one to two cents to the government when you buy the apple, and twelve cents when buying those French fries.  (Maybe that's where the money came from to fund that first study saying fast food was cheaper?!)

So is healthy food always cheaper than fast food?  No, not always.  Often.  It depends on what you buy.  (like Dave Ramsey says, eat "beans and rice; rice and beans" for those trying to live very frugally.) 

But your grocery budget already told you that.

Click on the link below to read the article that sparked this blog entry:


A little while ago I went to a local specialty store, Against The Grain, which is specifically for those who can't have wheat or gluten, to pick up some Expandex.  While there, I saw some individually wrapped, big mound-looking macaroons.  They were 2 ounces apiece, about 3" across,  and cost $1.29.   The ONLY ingredients on the list were coconut, egg whites, and honey.  It sounded healthy and yummy, so I bought one to figure out how to make them.  They are not the light, crunchy, meringue-type macaroons, but instead a dense, more lightly sweet confection. 

The coconut provides a high amount of fiber (75% of the carbs in coconut are fiber!- coconut fiber has been shown to control blood sugar especially well), as well as some healthy fats (medium-chain fatty acids, including lauric acid).  Read an article here, or a website on coconut research here.

The egg white helps bind it, and contributes protein.

The honey, of course, sweetens it, as well as helping moisten and bind.

Here's what I ended up with after a couple experiments:

Three-Ingredient Macaroons

2 egg whites
1/2 c. honey
3 cups unsweetened, fine-flake coconut

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Line a baking sheet with parchment, or grease it.  Beat the egg whites until just foamy, then whisk in the honey.  Stir in the coconut until well mixed.  If it won't hold its shape yet, let it sit for 15-30 minutes to let the moisture absorb into the coconut. 

Use 1/4 cup packed (1.7 oz prebaked weight) for 1 1/2 oz macaroons, or a scant 1/3 c. scoop for 2 oz (2.2 oz. prebaked weight), bake  17-18 minutes, until just turning brown on the tops.  Let cookies cool on the baking sheet for 5-10 minutes before you take them off; otherwise they'll fall apart.

This makes 12 (1 1/2 ounce) macaroons, or 9-10 (2 ounce) ones.
Have you ever looked at the gourmet syrups on the store shelf?  Have they sounded delicious, but cost more than you're willing- or able- to spend?

Start with one jar-- any size-- of jam, jelly, or preserves.  Scoop into a bowl, then fill the now-empty jar about halfway full with water; use a little less if the jam was runny, a little more if it's very thick.  Add about 1 Tbsp. lemon or lime juice for each 1-2 cups you now have, to perk up the flavor (optional but good).  Whisk together until evenly mixed.  Serve warm.

18 ounces of jam will yield 26-28 ounces of syrup.

You can use any kind, homemade or storebought, including the ones made with no added sugar.  It's a handy way to use up jam or jelly when you've made/bought way more than y

We've tried blackberry, rhubarb, apricot, elderberry, black currant, blueberry, cherry... 
next maybe I'll pull out a jar of lemon-honey marmalade.  That should be fantastic with blueberry pancakes!

My vivacious 86-year-old grandmother bottles pineapple on a regular basis- has since before I was born- since she lives near a plentiful source.   She is one of those people who knows how to make anything  out of anything  and waste precious little to none of it.    As she ate some of my fresh pineapple salad earlier this week, she related how she'd been teaching my cousin to bottle fruit.  I was intrigued with what she told me about using the peel and cores.  Growing up, we kids used to always chew up the cores, which are admittedly tough and less flavorful, but we could only handle a few before the acids started hurting our mouths.  See the slideshow above to learn what she does with them.

Once you've cut the pineapple  into wedges, free of cores and peels, it's ready to cut into whatever size you want.  You can then bottle it, freeze it, or use it right away.  Like all cut fruit, it has a relatively short refrigerator life.
A local store (Winco) has fresh pineapples for $. 99 apiece.  What a treat!  They always remind me of watching my grandmother and aunts bottle jar after jar of pineapple in a hot kitchen.  The smell carried clear outside the house, and we grandchildren would sit, watching and chewing on pineapple cores until our tongues hurt.  There was also the time the caramel smell of baked pineapple wafted out of my great-grandmother's attached apartment... after shopping, she'd set her pineapples on top of the the cooktop, and somehow it got turned on.

Anyway, I made this salad for a family get-together yesterday; my grandparents were in town.  The tartness of the strawberries is tamed by the super-sweet pineapple, as well as the honey in the dressing, and the lime accents the bright flavors.  Banana tames the intensity just enough.

Pineapple-Strawberry-Banana Salad with Lime-poppyseed dressing

2 Tbsp. honey
1 Tbsp. poppy seeds
8 drops lime essential oil, or 1 Tbsp. finely shredded lime zest
1 Tbsp. lime or lemon juice (I used one lime ice cube)

    Whisk together and set aside.

1fresh pineapple, cut into bite-sized pieces
1 lb. strawberries, sliced
2-4 bananas

    Put in a large bowl, pour dressing over; stir and fold gently to coat.  Other fruits to use, either in addition to the bananas or instead of them, could include apples, pears, or mango. 
Have you ever needed the juice of half a lemon, or just a couple teaspoons of it, only to 1) not have a lemon, or 2) not want to mess with it?

I have.  Lots. 

Besides that, sometimes lemons are cheap, and sometimes they're pricey, so I stock up only when they're cheap.  To take advantage of good prices and a free hour in the day, I make frozen lemon juice.  Or lime juice.  Or grapefruit.  Whatever.  I usually do this when I have 3-12 of whichever fruit I'm using.
If you want to use or save the zest, start by washing and drying the fruit.  Take the zest off with a microplane, a zester, or a vegetable peeler, and set it aside on a plate.  To see one way of storing it for later, see Homemade Orange Flavoring.  

Juice the fruit, then pour the juice into ice cube trays.  My trays take 1 cup to fill the whole thing, which means each of the 14 spots holds just under  1 Tbsp.   Yours may be different.   After they're frozen, pop them out and store in a ziptop bag.  Be sure to label it.

One medium lemon contains 2-3 tablespoons of juice, so 2-3 cubes will be the right amount.  One lime has about 1 1/2 - 2 Tbsp. of juice, so 2 cubes is about right for a whole one. 

When I want some warm lemon water, I heat a cupful of water, then drop a lemon juice cube into it and stir to melt. 

These are also good to toss into a pan sauce, especially for chicken or fish.

And if you add one to a fruit smoothie, it perks up the flavor.

You'll find a ton of ways to use these!  -what are your favorites?