Archives for February 2010

{Foodie Friday: Pineapple}

 

I was not planning on writing about pineapples today.  Here’s how this went down.

Me: Look! I bought a pineapple!

Eric: Ummm, okay.  Cool.

4 hours later…

Eric: So, what part of the pineapple is actually eaten?  Is it the root, or the stem, or the fruit, or what?  I mean, do you really know anything about pineapples?

Me: I’m pretty sure it’s the fruit, why?

Eric: Ummm…can you write about that tomorrow?  For your Foodie Friday blog post?

Holy Moly!  4,274 points for the hubby.  He’s reading my blog AND he knows what I normally write about on Fridays.  So, per his request, let me introduce you, dear readers, to the wonderful world of pineapple.

Etymology:

The English word pineapple first appeared in 1398.  The fruit that we now think of as a pineapple, was called a “pineapple” because it looked like a pine cone-which used to be called a pineapple.  And remember, that “apple” used to be used for anything that was a fruit.  This is like some crazy Jerry Springer confusion going on here…

In Spanish, pineapples are called piña “pine cone”-“Do you like piña coladas?  And getting caught in the rain?”

Random Facts:

A pineapple is not just “one” fruit-it is a multiple fruit.  Multiple, helically-arranged flowers along the axis each produce a fleshy fruit that becomes pressed against the fruits of adjacent flowers, forming what appears to be a single fleshy fruit.

For all you math nerds out there… the fruit of a pineapple are arranged in two interlocking helices, eight in one direction, thirteen in the other, each being a Fibonacci number.

The most common pollinator of the pineapple is the hummingbird.  Pollination is needed for seed to form, but  the seeds negatively affects the quality of the fruit. So in Hawaii, where pineapple is cultivated for business, importation of hummingbirds is prohibited.   So, apparently we have an abundance of ravenous hummingbirds flitting around?

Pineapples are members of the bromeliad family (which also makes it related to Spanish moss).  These plants do CAM photosynthesis.  Basically, they photosynthesize at night.  Cacti are like this, too.  NOTE: I THINK this is accurate.  It’s been awhile since I took botany.

Where is it Grown?

Although we think of pineapples coming from Hawaii, or even South America, the most pineapple is grown in Southeast Asia.  However, Costa Rica does export more than anyone else.  Where are all those pineapples going?

Prior to 2000, most of the U.S. pineapple came from a variety of places including Hawaii (the only state in the U.S. to grow pineapples commercially).  Now, most of it comes from Hawaii.  Because the Pineapple Research Institute in Hawaii (not kidding) created  genetically engineered, modified, low-acidic, sweeter (cause God knows we need  more sugar!), and otherwise non-natural lab pineapple, most of our pineapple now comes from there.  Yum.

Peak season for fresh pineapple is from March to July, but it is available year-round in most markets.

Can You Grow It At Home?

Yes!  And I’m thinking about trying it.  It will take a few years, but it will provide a nice pot of foliage in the meantime.  Basically, by cutting of the top, or crown, of the pineapple off, promoting root growth, potting it, and nurturing it in a temperate environment, it will result in a yummy fruit.  Check out this site for detailed steps.

Storage & Shelf-Life

At the grocery store, choose a mature pineapple that has healthy, firm, green leaves (not yellow or brown) and with a fruit skin that is golden brown (not too green). Test for ripeness by gently pulling on a leaf. If it pops out with ease, the fruit is overripe.

It can bruise easily, so be cautious with it.  It will start fermenting rather quickly, so it should be eaten within 2-3 days.  However, a cut pineapple that is covered in juice in an airtight container can be refrigerate and should be used within five to seven days. Let the fruit return to room temperature before eating to improve flavor.

Freshly-cut pineapple can be frozen in juice or syrup, but it will lose some flavor. Peel, core and cut into chunks. Place in airtight plastic bags or covered containers with their natural juice and freeze up to 6 months.

Canned pineapple more your thang? Leftover canned pineapple should be refrigerated in its juice in a covered container and consumed within a week.  NOTE: In ITS juice.  Not syrup.  Be sure that the pineapple is canned in its own juice with no sugar added.

Looking for COOLER way to cut your fresh pineapple?  Try cutting it like this and presenting it in a pineapple boat!

Ummm, Why Should I Care?

Pineapples definitely aren’t for everyone.  And, they definitely aren’t for some more than on an occasional basis. 

Some of the enzymes found in pineapple can be hazardous to someone suffering from certain protein deficiencies or disorders, such as Ehlers-Danlos syndrome. Raw pineapples also should not be consumed by those with hemophilia or by those with kidney or liver disease, as it may reduce the time taken to coagulate a consumer’s blood. I feel like one of those weird pharmaceutical commercials…

Some claim that pineapple helps for some intestinal disorders and others believe it serves as a pain reliever; others claim that it helps to induce childbirth when a baby is overdue. Watch out pregnant ladies!

Pineapple is a good source of manganese-91% of the amount needed daily is found in 1 cup of pineapple.  Manganese is used with other enzymes for antioxidant benefits.

As well, it contains a whole lot of Vitamin C (94 % in a 1 cup serving) and Vitamin B1 (8 % in a 1 cup serving). Vitamin B1 helps with blood circulation and overall metabolism, while Vitamin C is necessary for a healthy immune system.  Vitamin C also helps with free radicals in the “water” parts of our bodies.

It is somewhat high on the glycemic index, if you’re worried about blood sugar spikes, or just overall regulation of blood sugar.  As far as fruits in general, it is one of the highest.

It also has a pretty high acidity level.  This is not helpful to those with intestinal problems, GERDS, heartburn, stomach ulcers, or for those who always get those little white bumps on their tongue after eating something acidic. ME! 

Other Uses

The root and fruit are applied topically as an anti-inflammatory.

It is traditionally used as a way to get rid of worms in the Philippines. (Not like fish bait, like intestinal worms…)

In some cultures, the pineapple is associated with the notion of “welcome”. In the early days of colonial America, fresh pineapple became the sought-after symbol of prestige and social class. In fact, the pineapple, because of its rarity and expense, was such a status item that all a party hostess had to do was to display the fruit as part of a decorative centerpiece, and she would be awarded high praise of social awe and recognition.  I think I’m going to start taking pineapples as a hostess gift to parties…whaddya think?

In the Philippines, pineapple leaves are used to make a textile fiber called piña. (No, you can’t drink it.)

Pineapple contains an enzyme, which breaks down protein, so pineapple juice makes a wonderful marinade and tenderizer for meat.

Recipes

1 cup of pineapple has only about 76 calories.  That makes it a wonderful “pull-out-of-the-fridge-and-eat” snack.  Actually, pineapple should be eaten alone, in-between meals, so that the body can use all of the enzymes for itself, instead of for digesting food. 

But pineapple also tastes great with all kinds of other combinations of food.  I use it more as a “treat”, as I try to get my calories from healthier fruits.  I will put it on my pizza, toss it on top of chicken and spinach salads, and on top of baked hams.  If you’re a fan of salty and sweet combinations, pineapple is a great way to incorporate the “sweet” because it’s not cloying-it also has a tart taste.

Pineapple Zucchini Bread

Makeover Pineapple Zucchini Bread Recipe

Apple & Pineapple Chicken

I love those little aluminum foil baking packs. Makes for super-easy clean up.

Pineapple Salsa

This recipe has a pork factor, but Pineapple Salsa is yummy.  I actually made a fruit salsa (pineapple, apple, tomato, seasonings, etc.) with my first graders once, and they loved it.  The pineapple really adds a lot.

And, the ever traditional Pineapple Upside-Down Cake.

This also reminds me that I haven’t seen Pineapple Express, the movie.  Big fan of Seth Rogen…not a big fan of marijauna…worth two hours of my life, or not?

 

{I’m Stampin’ Up; I Want the World to Know}

 

Got to let it show.  A little Diana Ross, anyone?  Every time I hear this song (albeit with “Comin’ out instead of Stampin’ Up; come on, Diana Ross wasn’t a scrapbooker), I think of that Levi’s commercial with all the singing belly buttons.  Yep, that’s what I think about in my spare time…

But, nope, I’m not coming out…or showing my singing belly button.  I’m enjoying some wonderful new Stampin’ Up products.  I had a Stampin’ Up party this month.  Because I was the hostess (with the mostess), and because of their wonderful Sale-a-bration special, I scored some great FREE products.  Pyramid scheme (ouch, I said it!), or not, I feel that I got a pretty fantastic deal.

For the run-down:

Picture This (free hostess gift)

Good Neighbors (free Sale-a-bration)

Fox and Friends ($14.95)

Stampin’ Spots-Earth Elements (free hostess gift) 

Stampin’ Spots-Soft Subtles ($22.50)

Ink Pad (free hostess gift)

Stampin’ Write Marker ($2.95)

 

Sizzix Die (free hostess gift)

8 1/2” x11” Paper-Soft Subtles ($7.95)

Brads ($2.95)

 

Best of all?  A couple of orders came from people who have never scrapped before!  Yay, for sparking creativity. 

One downside?  Their so called “clear mount stamps.”  Yes, they go on a clear block.  No, they are not clear.  It’s a rubber stamp, with a clear window cling-y type sticker on top, that sticks (somewhat) to a clear mount block.  I was pretty disappointed, until I used it.  Their stamps and ink go on so well, that I didn’t have to worry about uneven coverage on the stamp.  And because they’ve switched over to the stamps coming perforated to punch out, instead of having to cut them out (used to HATE that), the mount on the clear block does allow for accurate placement.  I will buy them again, so I suppose it’s not that bad.

Too bad I’ve already thought of some more things that I want…party in March anyone?!

{Who Knew Sirens, Crowds, and Bums Could Be So Refreshing?}

After a loooong week, the last thing we wanted to do was drive 2 hours to Cincinnati, just to turn around a few hours later to drive back home.  But it was Eric’s sister’s 21st birthday, and we most definitely didn’t want to miss those bawdy shenanigans. 

So I whistled for a cab and when it came near, the license plate said “fresh” and had dice in the mirror. If anything I could say that this cab was rare…Umm…no.

Jumped in the cab, here I am for the first time. Look to the right and I see the Hollywood sign. This is all so crazy…oh, umm…no.

Hopped in the  Volvo and, like Edward, made it down in record time.  No, seriously. 

I’m all for a life of simplicity, but it was so refreshing and energizing to be back in the city.  It’s been way too long since we spent any time downtown. I was so excited I even shot off a few shaky (gotta love those potholes) pics before embarking on the evening.

(Our dinner destination)

(Eric found a flower salesman in the bathroom…he’s so sweet.  All I got in the ladie’s room was a towel.)

(The birthday girl and her boytoy.)

(The birthday girl with her favorite big brother.)

(Our super-talented football star friend, Dannel.)

(My yummy ice water drink.  Nothing like getting *that* look from the bartender.)

(I think this had something to do with that movie Cool Runnings…)

(He’s a regular Casanova.)

(The birthday girl found her long-lost teddy bear.)

(While visually appealing, and amusing to watch, this communal drink just screamed “friends that drink together get herpes together”.)

(He didn’t drink too much…we were warning him of the dangers of high fructose corn syrup.)

{Foodie Friday: Agave Nectar…Buyer Beware}

Pronounced-ah-GAH-vay-

 

Agave nectar is extracted from the Agave plant (one tequila, two tequila, three tequila, FLOOR!), which grows mainly in Mexico, and also the Southwestern U.S.  It is used as a substitute for many sweeteners, like white sugar, maple syrup, and honey.  It is very popular with vegans, because it does not come from animal sources, and has even made its way into the Raw foodist movement.  Many claim that a simple substitution of Agave nectar for other types of sweeteners results in overall healthier baked goods, foods, and drinks. 

 

It sounded good…so I tried it.  And, it tasted good.  So, I did some more research.  Because honestly, if something tastes that good, and has such good claims, it’s probably too good to be true.

First, let me share the claims that led me to try it in the first place.

1. It’s natural and organic.

2. It’s very low on the Glycemic Index.

3. It’s low calorie.

4. It’s used by Raw foodists.

5. It’s natural and safe for consumption.

Now, let me share why these are all completely bogus claims.

1. Agave nectar is natural and organic. 

 The main component of agave is starch, such as what is found in corn or rice. Agave starch is converted into refined fructose, and then sold as the sweetener Agave nectar.  It is made through an enzymatic and chemical conversion that refines, clarifies, heats, chemically alters, centrifuges, and filters the non-sweet starch into a highly refined sweetener, fructose. Listen closely… Fructose is not what is found in fruit. Commonly, fructose is compared with its opposite and truly organic sweetener, known as ‘levulose’. There are some chemical similarities between fructose (man-made) and levulose (organic), and so the synthetically refined sugar fructose was labeled in a way to make one believe it comes from fruit. Levulose is not fructose even though people will claim it is.  It is a highly processed form of sugar.  Depending on the processing, Agave nectar can contain between 55 to 90% fructose, the rest is glucose.  This processing heats the nectar to turn it into more of a syrup.  So, now you have:

Processed
High-fructose
Syrup

High-Fructose Agave Syrup.  Same as High-Fructose Corn Syrup, which is now widely accepted as being horrible junk.  Actually, Agave syrup is more concentrated than the high fructose corn syrup used in sodas.

Also, there is the strong possibility that manufacturers are adding things like high fructose corn syrup into the mix in order to cut costs. The Food and Drug Administration says that the manufacturers of Agave nectar may not be labeling their product correctly, either. The FDA says that unless a container of Agave syrup (even the FDA calls is syrup!) is labeled as “hydrolyzed inulin syrup,” the contents cannot be considered unadulterated and genuine.  You KNOW it’s bad when even the FDA is making a statement about false claims and mispackaged products…

And this is essentially a “dead” food, not organic.  If it were organic, that is all of its enzymes and “healthy parts” still intact, it would ferment into tequila, albeit not for about 4 years (so don’t go starting a tequila business)…

2. Agave syrup has a low Glycemic Index. 

Because fructose is not converted to blood glucose, refined fructose doesn’t raise or “crash” human blood glucose levels — hence the claim that it is safe for diabetics. Supposedly, refined fructose has a low Glycemic Index, and won’t affect your blood sugar negatively. But the food labels are deceptive. Refined fructose is not really safe for diabetics. High fructose from agave or corn will kill a diabetic or hypoglycemic much faster than refined white sugar.  By eating high fructose syrups, you are clogging the veins, creating inflammation, and increasing body fat, while stressing your heart. This is in part because refined fructose is foreign to the body, and is not recognized by it.

Also, it may not be as low on the glycemic scale as some claim, depending on how it’s processed.

3. Agave nectar is low calorie. 

Actually, it contains 16 calories/teaspoon, about the same as white sugar.  This claim can be traced to a kernel of truth, but it is still a somewhat unethical claim.  Because Agave nectar tastes so sweet, many recommend using 1:.75 ratio.  That is, if the recipe calls for a cup of sugar, use ¾ cup of Agave nectar.  Because there is less sugar overall, there are less calories in the recipe.  Hmmm…

4. It’s used by Raw foodists. 

 Again, this claim was based on a kernel of truth, which started because of a lie.  So, 2 lies make a truth?  This product was marketed to Raw foodists, with a promise that it was not processed beyond 118 degrees.  VERY, not true.  So Agave nectar is no longer used by Raw foodists, but because they did support it for a short period of time, claims of their support are still being spewed.

5. It’s safe for consumption.

While high fructose Agave syrup won’t spike your blood sugar levels, the extremely high levels of fructose in it will cause mineral depletion, liver inflammation, hardening of the arteries, insulin resistance leading to diabetes, cardio-vascular disease, obesity, and may be toxic for use during pregnancy.  There are some concerns about the use of Agave nectar by pregnant women, because some agave species contain natural steroids that could lead to miscarriage. In addition, these steroids act as contraceptives, causing unattributed sterility in women. 

These stimulants have adverse effects on non-pregnant people as well. They are known to contribute to internal hemorrhaging by destroying red blood cells, and they may gravely, negatively harm people taking statin and high blood pressure drugs. Once eaten, refined fructose appears as triglycerides in the blood stream, or as stored body fat. Elevated triglyceride levels, caused by consumption of refined fructose, are building blocks for hardening human arteries. Metabolic studies have proven the relationship between refined fructose and obesity.

Refined fructose is processed in the body through the liver, rather than digested in the intestine. Refined fructose robs the body of many micronutrients while trying to “make it through” the body. While naturally occurring fruit sugars contain levulose (digested in the intestine. ) which are bound to other sugars, high fructose corn syrup contains “free” (unbound), chemically-refined fructose. Research indicates that free refined fructose interferes with the heart’s use of key minerals like magnesium, copper and chromium.

I’ve included two interesting quotes that I wrote down, sorry, I forgot to get the name of one, and can’t read the other…research FAIL.

“If fructose were natural, I would be able to go out to corn field and get a bucket of sweetener. I can go to a beehive and get honey that I can eat without processing it. I can go to an apple tree and pick an apple and eat it. I cannot go out into a cornfield, squeeze corn, and get fructose syrup, and I cannot go into an agave field, and get the product sold on retail shelves, as agave nectar.

“There is something ethically worse about a company pretending to sell something all natural to people seeking health, than a mainstream company not pretending that their food is healthier (sic: unless you’re Taco Bell, what is up with that?!). For example, nobody selling fast and junk foods is advocating it is health food. When you are in a natural health food store, you expect to pay extra money for something that is good for you.”

The moral of the story.  Trust no one.  No, really.  Don’t even trust this.  Research for yourself.  And then share it with me.  Since when did eating become such a hard task?!

{Yes, But Why Is The Rum Gone?}

All work and no play…well, you know, makes for a very dull boy (or girl!).  I think this has been Eric’s life motto for the past few weeks.  Or maybe it’s just my perception.  I’m pretty sure that work and play, to him, are like peanut butter and jelly, or macaroni and cheese-they just go together. Or maybe it’s just that he knows after a hard day at work, he can down a bottle glass of wine without question.  I actually had a Johnny Depp moment the other day: “Why is the rum gone?!”  Except with wine…

No, really. He likes work so much that he asked me to make cupcakes for a meeting.  What were they celebrating?  Nothing, really.  He just wanted to kick it up a notch.  His only request…that they be “cute and professional.”  I made these:

However, having evenings be “Eric-free” has left me with a lot of free time.  I totally heart being married, but having a few extra hours to be alone is kinda nice.  A nice cup of hot tea and a good book…a nice long playlist to dance around listen to while knocking out some craft projects…catching up on chic flicks…trying new recipes…and, of course, going shopping.  Which is exactly what I’ve been up to these past few weeks (all of it…not just the shopping).

I’m pretty excited about whipping up some black bean brownies, which I took to work and got the seal of approval on.  Eric likes them.  Coworkers like them.  Students like them. Score!  Although I was called a tree-hugging-hippie.  Thankyouverymuch.  I also tried a cinnamon chicken recipe which was quite tasty. 

I’ve also started to create items for a Fall craft fair…yeah.  You can never start too soon.  And I designed a set of personal stationery for both myself and the hubby.  Mine is useful, his is mostly for decorative purposes.

I did spend one snow day shopping.  And, boy, am I glad that I did.  Under $100, and a trunk of stuff later, I had enough projects to keep me busy for…oh, 1.3 hours. ::sigh:: It sucks being so overproductive.

I scored this birdcage for, wait for it…$14.99.  What?! 

I have no problem jumping on the decorating trend bandwagon as long as it’s not commitment intensive (wallpaper, anyone?), or super-expensive.  Compared to these super-cute, but uber-expensive Pottery Barn inspirations, I think my $15 TJ Maxx find is a steal. I just added some moss, and voila!

Three-Gable Birdhouse

Birdcage, Small

I also found this perfect fern pillow for $9.99.  Fantastic-ness. 

And, it should be noted, we did have a throw pillow on our “To Buy” list, so this fit into our budget and fit perfectly into what we wanted.

I also found a little throw in the pillow section for $3.  Now, it has a tag that says Compare to $60.  I don’t know who in their right mind would pay $60 for it, but I’ll surely pay $3 for Ralph Lauren.  Plus, one of my March goals (Spoiler Alert!) is to make a pillow sham.

Making my way through housewares led me to this wonderful vase for $12.99.  For the past month we’ve had a bunch of floral stems that we picked up at Pottery Barn Outlet propped up in the corner, with price tags and tissue paper still on them.  Classy.  So a vase was also on our “To Buy” list. 

I also picked up three more items at $.50 each, that are in need of a little more TLC, which can’t happen until Spring comes and I can spraypaint outside.  They are fantastic and make me chuckle.  More to come…

Then I went to the mall.  But have no fear, I made it out for under $50.  Considering that I got 7 tops and a pair of earrings, I would say that’s pretty great.  It’s clear that I’m ready for Spring.

So how do you (all 24 of you daily readers out there!) spend your time when your significant other is away?

{Beans in My Brownies…Yum!}

Okay, okay.  Yes, I was disgusted by this idea when I heard about it a couple of years ago, too.  Just like I was when I heard about carrots in cakes, and zucchinis in cookies, and other instances of vegetables and “health foods” finding their way into my desserts.  Desserts are supposed to be decadent, sugary, chocolaty goodness.  And, actually, these brownies are just that–black beans and all. 

The black beans take the place of the flour, and agave nectar takes the place of all that sugar.  What?! You haven’t heard of agave nectar.  Me neither, until recently.  I actually picked up a bottle at…get this…Wal-Mart.  Yep, the good ole Wally World, in Lima, carries a surprisingly wide range of “natural” sweeteners.  I was interested in trying this so-called miracle sweetener, so I bought a bottle.  Then I researched it.  Bad idea.  Always do it the other way–research THEN buy.  Oh well.  I’m not entirely convinced about this whole agave nectar trend (note: follow-up post to come…), but I thought it was at least worth trying.

I found the original recipe at Cookbooks 101—just the pictures of these foods makes me want to try every recipe she has listed (obviously, you should check out the pictures there, instead of here.  I’m still working on photographing food…in dim light…with a new camera).  I tweaked it a bit—mostly because I ran out of certain ingredients, and a little because I actually wanted my husband to eat them.  Warning…it is a bit labor intensive, simply because it involves 3 bowls of ingredients, and I have almost zero counter-space, so maybe I was just cranky.

Ingredients

2 cups cooked black beans (canned is fine)
3 ounces unsweetened, organic, dark chocolate
¾ cup unsalted butter
1 tablespoon vanilla extract (almond would be fine, too)
¼ teaspoon sea salt
4 large eggs
1 cup agave nectar (honey or maple syrup would work well, too)
a sprinkle of coffee grounds (expresso powder, or even cocoa powder may be good…)
Optional: chopped nuts, confectioners sugar

I used a little less chocolate, as I had a few candy bars Eric picked up equaling 3 oz.  I also used a tad less butter because I had just got done cooking dinner and I needed ¼ cups for that-I didn’t want to open another stick.  I also used ½ cup less agave nectar, because the bottle only equaled 1 cup.  Oh, well.  The original recipe called for ½ cup of chopped walnuts, but I’m not a big nut person.  I used about half that, thinking that maybe they were crucial for holding all of the other ingredients together.  This doesn’t seem to be the case, so more or less could be used.  I’m also not a big fan of coffee, but I thought coffee would be a nice, strong flavor to cover any “beany flavor” that might linger, so I pulled an Emeril and just sprinkled some in.  I used Eric’s favorite grounds, as opposed to instant—I really don’t know if you’re supposed to use non-instant grounds…As a final thought, I sprinkled some confectioners sugar on top to entice Eric, but this definitely wasn’t necessary for sweetness.

Directions:

Preheat oven to 325.
Line a 11×18 rimmed pan with parchment paper, and spray with canola oil.  I used stoneware, without the paper or spray, and it didn’t stick.  NOTE: I would like to try this again with a smaller pan, as the brownies were a bit thin.

Bowl 1: *(use a bigger bowl, as more ingredients will be added later…mistake #1 for me…)
Melt butter and chocolate in microwave.  Melt on 30 second intervals, stirring in between, until melted.

Bowl 2/Food Processor/Blender:
Pulse black beans, vanilla extract, nuts, and a few spoonfuls of the melted chocolate until smooth.

Back to Bowl 1:
Add remaining nuts, coffee, and salt into the remaining melted chocolate. Stir well.

Bowl 3:
Use an electric mixer to beat the eggs until light and creamy, about 1 minute. Add the agave nectar and beat well.

Back to Bowl 1:
Add the bean mixture from Bowl 2/Food Processor/Blender to the chocolate mixture in Bowl 1.  Stir well.  Add all but ½ cup of the egg mixture from Bowl 3.  Stir well.

Pour the combined mixture into the pan. 

Use an electric mixer to beat the remaining ½ cup of egg mixture until light and fluffy. 

Drizzle the egg mixture on top of the brownie batter in the pan.  Use a toothpick to pull the mixture through the batter.

The original recipe also says to cook for 30-40 minutes.  Being used to boxes mixes, I usually take things out a few minutes ahead of time.  I took these out right at 30 minutes, but I definitely think closer to the 40 minute mark would have been better.  The edges had a nice crisp texture, but the middle was still quite soft and mushy.  NOTE: The final texture of the brownies are supposed to be a bit mushier than normal brownies.  I would compare the texture to a thicker chocolate mousse, maybe? Definitely a fudgier brownie…Definitely a fork brownie and not a finger brownie.

Refrigerating will help to solidify them a bit more.

And the verdict was…Yum!  I served them to Eric, who knew something was up with them because I wouldn’t let him in the kitchen while I was baking them.  He ate them like a champ.  He did mention that they should have been cooked a bit longer, but said he would eat them again.  He finished about 4 brownies before I asked him if he wanted to know what was in them.  He said “no” because he actually liked them and wanted to eat them again! Score!

Anybody else have a good recipe for vegetable desserts or bean desserts?

{We’ve Been Out-Scrabbled}

This weekend, Eric and I played in a local Scrabble tournament to raise money for the Lima Literacy Council.  Even though the rules were all screwy, and we didn’t know anyone on our team (even though we were playing on the team sponsored by my employer), we still managed to have a good time.  Yes, I said team.  As in groups of 4-6 people play together to get as many points as possible.  All of the tiles were turned up, and the announcer gave the first word and placement at the start of each round.  This had its good and bad points.  Good, because it really does help those who have a lower vocabulary, promotes team-building, and provides for a less-competitive atmosphere. Bad because, well, we are competitive, and have enough vocabulary words in our arsenal to feel confident playing by the official rules.  We actually took our copy of the official dictionary, cheat sheets, and common high scoring words to study in-between rounds (we’re competitive!), but no one wanted to study with us… 

And, because this was technically a fund-raiser, bonus points could be bought.  The winning group had $500 in donation money, so we started 500 points behind.  The first round went…not so well.  The group spent too much time being polite-“I think this would be a good word.  Do you agree?”-instead of just getting words down.  We came in a solid second place. ::sigh::

We did meet a few fun people, though.  One guy we played with mentioned he and his wife took Scrabble on their honeymoon.  He asked if Eric and I were that dedicated to Scrabble.  Oh, the laughs. 

Team Guy: My wife and I love Scrabble.  We even took it on our honeymoon.  That’s dedication, right?

Me: OMG! So did we!

Eric: Actually, I proposed to her through Scrabble.  I spelled out “love words” with “Will You Marry Me?” throughout the board. 

Me: (Interjecting) It was sooo cute!  Actually, he used scrapbooking paper that looked like a Scrabble board and paper.  He had “Yes” and “No” on the board that lifted up.  Under “No” he wrote, “Sorry, try again.  Love, Eric.” Under “Yes” he had the ring wrapped in tissue paper.

Team Guy: (horrified look) My wife is going to be so upset!  We’ve been out-Scrabbled!

I’m hoping for a Game Night sometime soon.

Eric and I can’t really play Scrabble against each other anymore.  He beat me one time-methanol on a triple word-and now he’s so competitive to do it again, that it’s not even fun anymore.  (I still contend that I only lost because it was 2am on New Year’s Eve and I was super-tired.) Scrabble is a game that as your competitor gets better, so do you.  As they put longer, higher scoring words down, you have more to work with yourself.  So the better Eric gets, the better I get.  Which peeves him off to no end…

Another high note of the tournament was that our tutors won their division. I work on a college campus, and help to organize, train, and manage the peer tutors, so I was uber-excited that they took first place for the 3rd year in a row! Whoo Whoo!

Overall, we plan to play next year, although we may be a bit more selective about choosing our team.  And doing some major fundraising!

On a quick Valentine’s Day note…this was definitely one of the better Valentine’s Days we’ve had together. 

First year-DISASTER.  Eric thought that since we couldn’t really afford to get each other big gifts, that if he just didn’t mention it and pretended it wasn’t Valentine’s Day, that I would forget.  NOT LIKELY!  That had me upset (but not angry-I totally understood), so I tried to cook us a nice meal so that we could spend some time together.  As I was walking to the couch with two plates, I tripped over the rug, sending both plates of food into the wall and down the back of the couch.  ::cue tears::

Year 2-I don’t really remember this.  I think we both agreed not to put any emphasis on it after last year’s fiasco.

Year 3-This was few months before our wedding, and we were living two hours apart from each other.  Vday fell on a Thursday, and I was sad that I would be alone.  (Obviously this living situation was getting to me.)  Eric drove to see me on Thursday afternoon, surprising me by picking me up from work, and driving me to work on Friday morning. This was the best gift EVER!  I hate driving to work in the morning.  We were going to grab a nice dinner somewhere, but obviously everything was packed.  I’m pretty sure we ended up driving around for an hour looking for somewhere  to eat, before settling on a pizza at his parent’s house watching Survivor.  Totally us-totally fun.

Year 4-Lots of heart shaped pancakes.  Lots of Snuggles.  A long afternoon nap.  A foot massage.  The Daytona 500.  Home-cooked meal.  Brownies for dessert.  In bed at a decent time.  We did exchange gifts-I got a sewing machine a week or so ago, and Eric got his coffee Klean Kanteen a few days ago because he woke me up crying complaining that he couldn’t find his travel mug. 

Overall, we had a nice weekend…and we didn’t even have to leave Lima.

{Foodie Friday: Cinnamon}

No, No.  Not Cinnabon.  Sorry for those who landed here looking for info on perhaps one of the greatest desserts ever invented (even if it is the equivalent of one whole day’s worth of food for some!, and one of the unhealthiest foods I can think of right now).  This is about cinnaMON.  Still good stuff, though.  Besides cinnamon rolls, what is the reason for devoting an entire blog post to cinnamon?  Well, go to google, type in “health benefits” and the first suggestion they have for you is “health benefits of cinnamon”.  Like I said, good stuff.

Random Fact(s)

It’s one of the oldest known spices.

In ancient Egypt, it was so highly treasured that it was considered more precious than gold. It became one of the most relied upon spices in Medieval Europe. Due to its demand, cinnamon became one of the first commodities traded regularly between the Near East and Europe.

To prepare it, the bark of the cinnamon tree is dried and rolled into cinnamon sticks, also called quills. Cinnamon can also be dried and ground into a powder.

There are 4 types of cinnamon, but two are widely known: Ceylon and Cassia.  Of those two, only one is commonly found in grocery stores.  Ceylon is slightly sweeter and is more difficult to find.

Where Is It Grown?

Cinnamon is a tree that grows in India, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Brazil, Vietnam, Egypt, Madagascar, the Caribbean, China, and Vietnam. In 2006, Sri Lanka produced 90% of the world’s cinnamon, followed by China, India, and Vietnam.

Can You Grow It At Home?

Not so much.  It’s a tree, so I don’t anticipate that fitting in anyone’s garden.  It is also very fragile to frost and can’t sustain a hard freeze.  It also involves rolling bark and other not-so-fun-sounding steps.  Conclusion: Better to buy this one at the grocery.

Storage & Shelf-Life

Cinnamon should be kept in a tightly sealed glass container in a cool, dark and dry place. Ground cinnamon will keep for about six months, while cinnamon sticks will stay fresh for about one year stored this way. Alternatively, you can extend their shelf life by storing them in the refrigerator. To check to see if it is still fresh, smell the cinnamon. If it does not smell sweet, it is no longer fresh and should be discarded.

Ummm, Why Should I Care?

  • In traditional Chinese medicine, it is used for colds, flatulence, nausea, diarrhea, and painful menstrual periods. It’s also believed to improve energy, vitality, and circulation and be particularly useful for people who tend to feel hot in their upper body but have cold feet (Me! Yes, I’m a big fan of TCM).  Basically, it improves circulation, including anti-inflammatory effects and anti-clotting effects.
  • It is believed to improve the digestion of fruit, milk and other dairy products.
  • Recent studies have found that cinnamon may have a beneficial effect on blood sugar. In one of the first studies published, sixty people with Type 2 diabetes took 1, 3, or 6 grams of cinnamon in pill form daily, an amount roughly equivalent to one quarter of a teaspoon to 1 teaspoon of cinnamon.  After 40 days, all 3 amounts of cinnamon reduced fasting blood glucose by 18 to 29%, triglycerides by 23 to 30%, LDL cholesterol by 7 to 27%, and total cholesterol by 12 to 26%. Seasoning a high carb food with cinnamon can help lessen its impact on your blood sugar levels. Cinnamon slows the rate at which the stomach empties after meals, reducing the rise in blood sugar after eating.
  • May have antifungal effects-prevents yeast infections, thrush, and stomach ulcers.  (Feed it to the cows?!)
  • Cinnamon is actually a good source of manganese, iron, calcium, and fiber.
  • People with arthritis swear by taking a tablespoon of honey and cinnamon each morning.
  • Cinnamon can help reduce toothache pain, and help with bad breath! Simply mix cinnamon with honey to form a paste, and rub it onto the tooth.  Any extra paste can be stored in a small container at room temperature.
  • Headaches and migraines can be reduced by eating, or smelling, cinnamon.
  • For common colds, with coughs, boiling cinnamon sticks, or adding a tsp. of cinnamon to hot water can help stifle the cough.

NOTE: Cinnamon should not be taken in large doses-it can be toxic! Also don’t take it if you’re taking Cumadin, diabetes medication, and cholesterol medication.  This doesn’t mean don’t eat a cinnamon roll or enjoy a sprinkle of cinnamon in tea, it means don’t take it in medicinal doses.

NOTE: Pregnant women should not take large doses of cinnamon, either.  Only have small amounts of cinnamon 1-2 per week, as it effects the uterus.

Other Uses

  • When added to food, it inhibits bacterial growth and food spoilage, making it a natural food preservative. In a study, published in the August 2003 issue of the International Journal of Food Microbiology, the addition of just a few drops of cinnamon essential oil to 100 ml (approximately 3 ounces) of carrot broth, which was then refrigerated, inhibited the growth of the foodborne pathogenic Bacillus cereus for at least 60 days. When the broth was refrigerated without the addition of cinnamon oil, the pathogenic B. cereus flourished despite the cold temperature. In addition, researchers noted that the addition of cinnamon not only acted as an effective preservative but improved the flavor of the broth.
  • One study found that smelling cinnamon boosts cognitive function and memory. Specifically, cinnamon improved participants’ scores on tasks related to attentional processes, virtual recognition memory, working memory, and visual-motor speed while working on a computer-based program. Participants were exposed to four odorant conditions: no odor, peppermint odor, jasmine, and cinnamon, with cinnamon emerging the clear winner in producing positive effects on brain function. Encouraged by the results of these studies, researchers will be evaluating cinnamon’s potential for enhancing cognition in the elderly, individuals with test-anxiety, and possibly even patients with diseases that lead to cognitive decline.
  • Cinnamon can be made into essential oils for aromatherapy.

Recipes

Just add a sprinkle to everyday food to reap the health benefits.  I enjoy a nice snack of apple wedges with cinnamon quite frequently-it’s just enough flavor to feel like dessert with the added benefit of being healthy! Mix with honey to liven up whole-wheat toast or pancakes, or sprinkle in coffee and tea instead of adding sugar.

10 Minute Energizing Oatmeal

Warm and Nutty Cinnamon Quinoa Recipe

Greek Cinnamon Stewed Chicken

Warm and Nutty Cinnamon Quinoa

{Flameless Candles Really Fire Me Up}

Flameless Pillar Candle, 4", Ivory

Oh, pun totally intended.  But flameless candles?!  Brilliant!  I’ve always been a huge fan of candles-every shape, every size, and especially every scent.  Burning pumpkin pie and apple spice candles in the Fall made the impending onset of Winter bearable.  But I say “was”.  As in, not anymore.  We don’t burn candles in our house anymore for a few reasons:

1. Candles can emit pollutants such as acetone, benzene, lead, soot and particulate matter.

2. Candles can aggravate asthma, cause allergy-like symptoms, and irritate the respiratory tract.

3. My husband set a faux plant on fire with a candle while I was sleeping. (To his credit, I placed the candle there for decorative purposes, assuming one would move it before lighting it.)

But we like the ambience of candles.  So when I started seeing flameless candles on the market, I was excited, but skeptical.  Then, I found some at Pottery Barn and it was love at first sight.  Not only were these flameless, but they were coated in real wax (for a very real feel and look), AND they are set to work on a timer.  That last part is what made me fall head over heels. 

I wanted to use my flameless candles in a lantern, with decorative accents around it, which doesn’t exactly work if I had to keep taking the candle out to turn it on and off.  So simply pop in a C battery, and turn it on for the first time at the time you wish for the candle to turn on every day.  Five hours later, the candle automatically goes off.  The next day, at the same time, it will begin to flicker again.  Brilliant!

 Bristol Lantern, Small

Pros

1. No flame.  I don’t have to worry about anything being burned down, and we can put them anywhere in the house.

2. Emits no scents, chemicals or soot.  This is not true for all flameless candles.  Some are coated in a scent.

3. Timer feature. Did I mention how great this was?  They are on when we get home for work, creating a nice environment to come home to.  They go off about the time we’re heading to bed. 

4. Real candle look and feel.  They’re not plastic-y and cheap like some other options I’ve seen.

5. Flickers like real candlelight-looks very real.

6. Comes in three sizes-6”, 4”, and votives.  I have one 6” and one 4”, but haven’t tried the votives as they’ve just recently come out.

7. Long-lasting and reusable.  They’re supposed to get 500 hours of use with each battery, so the battery will have to be replaced about every 3.5 months.  Considering a regular candle, that’s a pretty good shelf life, without the extra money, trip to the store, and garbage in the landfill.

8. Price. At around $15-$20, the price seems reasonable for everyone.  If you factor in the candle-buyers who buy Yankee or other name-brands at upwards of $30-$40 per candle, this is chump-change.

Cons

1. Only comes in one color.  While I’m a huge fan of the white, some may wish to change it up around the holidays or for different décor.

2. Takes batteries.  Yes, they have to be powered someway, but all of those extra batteries leak toxins into the environment. 

3. Timer is only for five hours.  This works great in the evenings, but for longer parties or events, they would turn off before the night was over.

4. They’re out of stock.  We placed an order for a few more at the beginning of January, and they keep sending emails pushing the delivery date back.  However, there are some, apparently, in stores.  Which really peeves me off!  If they’re sitting around in stores, send them to the people who have already paid…basic. business. principles.

I’d really like to order the votives to see how those look and feel, but I’m afraid to place another order and it get back-ordered.

{Cookies, Rice, & Sewing Machines}

Last week, I was blog-stalking reading Bower Power, when I was given the largest zap of inspiration I’ve had in awhile.  Hmmm, that takes A LOT of zap, because I’ve been pretty motivated lately. 

Before the hubby, I had a horrible not so wonderful average boyfriend with a wonderful grandmother.  She gifted me a few bean bags, to which I fell in love with.  Now, these weren’t just any bean bags, these were magical bean bags, that would grow into a magical beanstalk…oh, wait, wrong story.  These were microwavable bean bags that heated up and kept me nice and toasty on a cold day (and they are WONDERFUL for menstrual cramps, or general stomachaches…just sayin’).  A few years into the relationship with the hubby, he threw them away.  I don’t really remember why.  Then, to make up for it, he bought me one for Christmas last year.  But it wasn’t made out of the right material, and after a year of use, it started a fire in the microwave.  Yes, a fire.  I screamed.

 I’ve been on the look-out for a replacement.  It NEVER occurred to me to make one.  Even though I know how. And my original ones were hand-made.  I am such a dork.  So, I set out on a weekend project. 

Day 1

Friday night, with 2 inches of snow and a layer of ice on the ground, and more to come, the hubby drove me across town to Jo-Ann Fabric.  I didn’t buy a sewing machine, or a hand-stitcher thingy like my husband suggested.  Nope, I was going to do this the old-fashioned way.  He laughed at me.  I got sad. Then we got in the car and I remembered—these are going to have RICE in them.  I can’t loosely hand-stich them.  What the **$%&bajeezus&%%^#** was I thinking?

Day 2

With 5 inches of snow on the ground, we went to Wally World to buy a hand-stitcher thingy.  The hubby put a sewing machine in the cart.  I took it out.  He put it back in.  I took it back out.  He promised to show me how to use it:

  • I am not dumb, and I knew I could figure it out.
  • He is domesticated and does all the sewing in our house.  Or he takes it to his mom and has her do it.

I saw a picture on the side of the one and only Martha.  It was recommended by her. AND it came with a free 1 year subscription to Martha Stewart Living.  That totally justifies the cost, right? I put it back in the cart. SOLD!  Happy early Valentine’s Day to me. Best of all? If you already have a subscription, you can get a refund for $15.  That’s brings the total cost of the machine to $74. 

Then I took a break to make some cookies…

Day 3

I read the instruction manual.  I thought back to Home-Economics class in Junior High when I made a crooked sweatshirt and frayed tote-bag. At first, all I could remember was the cute boy (or two) that made me laugh, and I started to worry that I didn’t actually learn anything.  BUT have no fear, I was an excellent student.  It all came flooding back.  Even when the direction manual was lacking, I totally figured it out, no sweat. Presser foots and handwheels and bobbin winders and threaders. I should have bought one of these years ago.   I even got crafty and hand-sewed some decorative elements on, albeit that needs some practice.  Not even an hour later, I had two super-cute rice packs. I even made the husband one.

I happen to like the “yeasty rice” smell.  It reminds me of freshly baked bread.  Eric hates the smell, so I sprinkled a couple of herbal tea bags in his.  He still didn’t like the smell, but he really loved it when I threw it under the covers as a toe-warmer when the temperature dropped below zero.

To make your own:

Great directions (and another great blog) can be found here.

You can make them in any size.  I made a really small one for practice, and the final product was about 12” x 8”.  Some people like to make separate compartments so that the rice doesn’t go all to one side. 

Don’t use instant rice.  It’s not the same.

I also chose to use 100% cotton, but make sure whatever fabric that you choose is microwave-safe (polyester, acrylic, spandex, wool would not be good choices).

I thought about using Stitch-Witchery, but couldn’t find any solid evidence that it wouldn’t set fire to the microwave, or simply melt off, leaving rice everywhere.

Be sure that if you want to sew on a cute element, you do it first, before the seams are sewn together.