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Whores and other stupid statements.

July 4, 2014

Increasingly, I find Facebook a framework for informational irresponsibility.  I am witness to statements that are far too stereotypical to be credible, and a plethora of inflammatory, unvetted information.  Facebook is King of the Quip, a place where a picture and one-liner can take hold regardless of their grasp on reality.  A forum largely for whitewashed quarter truths and the ultimate Telephone Game.

Don’t we read anymore – anything besides the Huffington Post or cyberlinked blog posts or each others’ walls?  Does anyone bother to delve into the court decisions or laws or news reports regarding which we have Very Important Opinions?  Or is the old saying “good enough for government work” now good enough for all of us?

I fully, fully support free speech, both yours and mine and people with whom I vehemently disagree.  I support everyone’s right to believe what they want, repeat what they want, and comment on it any way that they want to.  I am saddened, though, by the willingness to “repost this if…and if you don’t, I’ll understand…”   You’ll understand what?  That I could care less about cancer because I don’t “take the time” to repost something on my wall?  That I couldn’t possibly care about human rights because I won’t sign your petition?  Because the bruised up woman or kid in your staged photo needs my help and here I am, refusing to take time out of my day to… to what?  Post something about it on Facebook?

Knock it off, you can’t be serious.

People get all judgey about social media as a simple minded time waster and say things like “Oh I don’t do Facebook…”  Personally I do find it a valuable tool for photo and event sharing and keeping track of people that I care about, but with whom I would likely lose touch if it weren’t for the ease of the venue.  A friend who moved cross country, my homeschooling friends doing the most interesting things, a friend with cancer, various political and social groups, information sharing, recipes – I get more recipes off of Facebook than probably anywhere else.  Lots of things are good about social media – probably more good than bad.

What gets me, and what threatens to eclipse the good, is the passing of pictures accompanied by inflammatory statements.  The lack of respect for the Whole Story.  The assumptions that all are of one mind, and if they aren’t, then they are either evil or stupid.  The stratifying into huge groups of people – All Republicans, All Catholics, All Women, All Men, All Liberals, All Gun Owners, All Anything.  Nothing is an “all.”  When things are passed around that are reactive and emotional in an electronic forum it deprives us of what keeps us a Human Community: empathy, listening, communicative human contact.

We all know this, come on – they are basic 8th grade debate skills.  High school level psychology.  One episode (and maybe half) of Dr. Phil. Stuff your grandmother taught you.  Blanket statements are bad for your argument; they contribute to stereotypes, ignore facts, and are unnecessarily hurtful.   So when I see stuff that describes some portion of my family, or me, or my friends, or people I know, or any group, I can’t help but think… If the person posting this knew me…would they still be my friend?  Have I kept these parts of my life against which they so categorically rail secret enough that they just don’t know? Or is their disrespect for others with different opinions so great that saying these things amounts to no more than flipping someone off while you’re in your car and they are in theirs… They’ll never know, and you’ll feel much better.  Screw the truth, screw compassion, and let’s forget about a conversation that includes information from people that, in person, you probably respect.

Think about what you pass on.  Don’t just look at the picture, actually read the article and consider the source.  Just because you disagree doesn’t mean that saying something mean about others is okay.  This morning I’m thinking specifically about an article in which it is asserted that Republican men don’t have sex (I assure you that they do).   The blogger who wrote the article quoted – quoted! – a tweet from a random person and then proceeded to attribute the sentiment to all conservatives.  And the article makes it look  like either a business or a politician made the statement publicly.  Then the writer goes on to suggest that a radio talk show host has been rightfully prevented by God from having children.

Really? That’s an okay thing for you to say?  I support your legal right to say it, but do statements like that give credibility to your position – or are they just mean?  The lack of research and consideration for what is credible and what is not astounds me.

The solutions lie in kindness.  Compassion.  Respect – and not just for me when I agree with you, but respect for me when I don’t.  Because I’m not stupid, I’m not evil, and the very good news is that most people are not.  But we need to act with more comprehension than a Repost on Facebook.

Can your HOA bust up your Solar Dream? (in North Carolina, anyway?)

May 29, 2014

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That’s some pretty solar you got there, Mister.

Too bad we’re going to have to sue you for it.

Can your HOA really make you leave solar off your house, citing too-ugly-for-our-neighborhood mantras that leave property values within their sphere of control, and you with that same old high electric bill?

Yes, actually, they can.  Well sort of.

Many states have passed legislation that prohibits HOAs or municipalities from banning solar, or from making restrictions that result in a significant cost increase to the customer, or a loss of efficiency for the system.  That’s a good thing – panels installed out of site but on the north side of your roof under a tree are just umbrellas for the squirrels.

In North Carolina, cities and counties generally may not adopt ordinances prohibiting the installation of “a solar collector that gathers solar radiation as a substitute for traditional energy for water heating, active space heating and cooling, passive heating, or generating electricity for residential property.”   City and county ordinances may, however, prohibit the installation of solar-energy collectors that are visible from the ground and installed (1) on the facade of a structure that faces areas open to common or public access; (2) on a roof surface that slopes downward toward the same areas open to common or public access that the facade of the structure faces; or (3) within the area set off by a line running across the facade of the structure extending to the property boundaries on either side of the facade, and those areas of common or public access faced by the structure.

Ack.  Really?  What does that even mean?

The above applies to both commercial and residential installation.  In residential installations, deed restrictions, covenants or similar binding agreements recorded on or after October 1, 2007 prohibiting the installation of solar-energy collectors for residential property on land subject to the restriction are void and unenforceable…except under the above conditions.

Municipal agreements and HOAs may also regulate the location or screening of a solar-energy collector, provided they do not have the effect of preventing the reasonable use of a solar-energy collector for a detached single-family home.

So…in North Carolina, as long as everyone can agree that no one can see your panels, everything should be fine.  State Solar Access laws prevent HOAs from flat out denying your solar journey, but do give them a huge amount of power over the aesthetics of the system.  If you are considering solar and are governed by an HOA, you may start by asking them first (somehow the “ask” is often HOA magic potion).  Go for a bigger system than you actually want, and negotiate down from there.  Find the spot on your roof that will produce and can’t be seen, and be ready with production numbers and research on home values affected by solar installations (for every $1 saved on electricity, the home value is estimated to go up at least $20).

For more information on North Carolina’s solar access laws, or the solar access laws in any state, take a look at the DSIRE database at http://www.dsireusa.org.

 

 

Lifesavers

May 26, 2014

My husband returned from an installation in Haiti about 3 months ago. He isn’t much of a talker in the first place, and the text messages and Tweets that he sends are fairly indicative of his story telling style… short, fragmented, and haphazardly detailed. He’ll answer my questions, but only if I ask the right ones.

Recently his wallet became encased in mud, so much so that I had to completely empty the contents in order to clean it. In between two cards I found a carefully flattened Lifesaver wrapper.  It didn’t look quite like trash, so I set it aside with the other important cards.

I forgot about it, and then remembered as I again assembled his wallet.  As I handed him his stuff he told me why he had the paper.

Before he left for Haiti I went through the house and gathered leftover candy from the holidays, including a box of Lifesaver tubes.  Speaking no French, Bob found that in previous trips he communicated best by handing things out – but he didn’t have much, and ended up using all of his Altoids on the kids that followed him around.  Money didn’t feel like the right thing to share, but Lifesavers…He likes them, we had a bunch, and they fit into the luggage.

Bob was sitting on the clinic stairs in La Bruyere and cracked open a roll.  Pepe, his constant 9 year old sentry during work on the roof after school hours, approached him, wondering what he had.  Bob offered him a pack, and Pepe tore into the pack. One by one he opened each candy, throwing the wrapper onto the ground. There are no trash receptacles in the villages, and littering isn’t the big deal there that it is here. Being the source of the trash, however, Bob was distressed. He motioned Pepe over, communicating through a series of waves and sounds that he would like for Pepe to please give him the wrappers rather than throw them on the ground.

Pepe understood.  He walked off a few steps and unwrapped a candy, then brought the paper back to Bob.  Again and again he did this, one after the other, always carefully handing the paper back until he held all of the remaining Lifesavers unwrapped in his hand.  Grinning at Bob, he ran off to his friends and handed out the by-now-sticky candy.

Initially Bob wondered why Pepe was handing him all of those candy wrappers.  He wasn’t sure how to let him know they were trash, just not on the ground trash, and didn’t want to confuse the boy.  Soon, he realized that the boy thought that Bob thought that they were valuable.  AImagend Pepe desperately wanted to please my husband.  The language barrier prevented Pepe from asking why Bob wanted the wrappers, though he was visibly confused.  Bob couldn’t explain that he didn’t strictly want the wrappers… but this is why a barrier to talking is nice sometimes, even if the barrier is just your brain telling you to shut up.  Times when it is important to get candy to your friends, even sticky and covered in little boy hand-dirt, and to let the foreigner have his wrappers if that’s what he wants.  Everyone wins. And that’s what I think of whenever I come across that wrapper in his wallet.

Leftover-Worthy Lentil Curry

March 30, 2014

Curried Lentils with Spinach

 

I. Do. Not. Like. Beans.

Smother them in sour cream and cheese and…ok.  Maybe.  But just on their own, like in some kind of side dish without hot dogs or, God forbid, in soup?  No.  (A friend puts them in soup with green olives, and I just cannot put my head around this.  I hate it.  And if you’re reading this and it’s you that does it, know that I love you and I think you’re an amazing cook… But I hate this soup.)

So when the top middle girl child suggested Lentil Curry for one of our dinner baskets I thought Oh Geez.  But wanting to be supportive of organizational industry and culinary research, I agreed and we put it in line for a weeknight dinner.

So.  Good.  So good.  Yum.  I ate leftovers for three days (lesson: 1 bag of lentils is enough.)

Lentil Curry

2 cups red (or yellow) lentils
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 onions, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup (or more, to taste) turmeric
2 teaspoons cumin seeds (or a little less ground cumin)
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 -2 small hot red chili pepper, seeded,and chopped (or you may use dried chile flakes, a pinch or to taste)
1 (28 ounce) can diced tomatoes, undrained
2 carrots, finely diced
1 tablespoon lemon juice
6 cups vegetable broth (chicken broth may be substituted)
1 (14 ounce) can unsweetened coconut milk (optional)
2 -3 tablespoons chopped cilantro (if you like cilantro.  I do not.)Directions:Sort lentils and rinse under cold water.
Place everything except the coconut milk into crockpot, stirring to mix thoroughly.
Cover and cook on LOW for 8-10 hours or on HIGH for 4-5 hours or until vegetables are tender.
Add coconut milk, and cook on HIGH for an additional 20 minutes.

When I serve this I garnish with both sour cream (can’t help it) and salted, sauteed spinach.

Curried Chickpeas

March 26, 2014

Chickpea Curry Chana Masala

My husband eats this, and he hates chickpeas.  My brother in law eats it, too, and he’s a dedicated steak and potatoes man.

The spices in here can be made to suit your taste… I like lots of garlic and adore turmeric, but really want only a hint of cumin.  To me, sour cream is essential to almost everything – but it isn’t vegan, and not everyone likes it.  For a vegan substitution you can use soy based sour cream, which really is almost just as good.  Before you decide that you can’t do this dish because of ingredients, confusion, or whatever, please be sure to read the notes at the end first.

  • 1 tsp dry mustard
  • 1/2 cup minced shallots or garlic
  • 1/2 cup minced shallots or 1/4 cup minced garlic
  • 1 diced or chopped onion, however you like it
  • 2 cups of dried chickpeas
  • 1/4 cup (or a little less) turmeric
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 tbs ginger
  • 1 tbs Paprika
  • 7 cups vegetable stock

Throw everything in the crockpot and cook on low all day (8 hours-ish)
You may need to add water in the end, but it should be fairly thick.
Add salt and pepper to taste.

NOTES

Turmeric:  You can find this at any grocery store.  We use so much of it that I buy it by the half pound at our local grocery coop.  It’s color is bee-yoo-tiful.

Turmeric is farm-able.  We can grow it here locally in North Carolina, a very orange root that can be sauteed fresh or powdered once dry (this is how you buy it in the grocery store).

The main pharmacological agent in turmeric is thought to be curcumin.  In numerous studies, curcumin’s anti-inflammatory effects were comparable to hydrocortisone and phenylbutazone, as well as over-the-counter anti-inflammatory agents such as Motrin.  Curcumin produces no toxicity.

Curcumin is also effective in the treatment of inflammatory bowel diseases such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.  In a recent study, mice given an inflammatory agent that normally induces colitis were protected when curcumin was added to their diet five days beforehand.  All the signs typical of colitis (mucosal ulceration, thickening of the intestinal wall, and the infiltration of inflammatory cells) were all much reduced in the mice that received the curcumin treatment. While the researchers are not yet sure exactly how curcumin achieves its protective effects, it may be that benefits are the result of not only antioxidant activity, but also inhibition of a major cellular inflammatory agent called NF kappa-B.  Turmeric has been shown to be effective at very low doses – as low as 0.25 percent, the amount in a typical curry dinner.

(Studies can be referenced here.)

Other conditions that may be addressed by turmeric are Rheumatoid arthritis and cancers (including colon, prostate, childhood leukemia, and general progression of existing cancers).  Studies show that the spice may be protective against Alzheimer’s, and greatly assists the liver in clearing LDL cholesterol from the body, which reduces one’s risk of cardiovascular problems.

Chickpeas (garbanzo beans)

I do not soak these overnight as many recipes call for – they are just fine placed dry in the crockpot and bathed in broth for 6 or 8 hours.  Also, dried chickpease are superior, in my opinion, in texture to canned, though canned will work just fine.  If you do use canned chickpeas, you can put this recipe together in a deep pan, stovetop, in about 20 minutes.  Just be sure to brown the onions and garlic before adding the rest of the ingredients.

And speaking of other ingredients…

I very often put carrots in this recipe, either grated or in chunks.  I also add potatoes, sweet or white, and have put the whole thing over chicken.  It goes very well over rice or quinoa, though it isn’t necessary, and I use soy or regular sour cream to garnish.

Gumbo Stuffed Flounder over Grits with Sauteed Kale

February 27, 2014

Gumbo stuffed flouynder Kale

My dinner peeps told me they’d like stuffed flounder for dinner.  It’s a dish that seems very 1988 to me…heavy, very olden days upscale restaurant-y when done right, and extremely irritating when done wrong.  I used to live very near the Chesapeake Bay, and then coastal New England – so I also have an aversion to inland seafood.  I settle for frozen.  We’re west of Raleigh, North Carolina, now and though our Asian market can be trusted for fresh fish (in fact it’s, still alive and in the tank…), I typically do not do seafood.

One time as I journeyed through Pennsylvania near the Mt. Joy area I stopped at the Amish Safood House.  The paradox of the name didn’t dawn on me.  I ordered the stuffed flounder and it – and everything else – was covered in “Imperial Sauce,” a reconstituted concoction that approximated Hollandaise in color, and a thick rug in texture and ability to hide multiple sins underneath (like their version of stuffed flounder…)

BUT my family jumped around and cried for stuffed flounder (and Working Girl and Forenza shaker knit sweaters), so I obliged.

I had shrimp on hand, and beer brats.  So I made a sort of stock-less gumbo, took out the okra (my kids still won’t eat things with okra, unless it’s just the okra, right out of the garden) and added corn,  because they love corn and earlier the little one cried because we weren’t having spaghetti and meatballs (which I never, ever cook because I hate the dish altogether).  Corn just seemed like the natural solution to that.  I pan roasted the corn for a few minutes in my grandmother’s cast iron, which I do just because it pleases me.  I also poured a glass of wine at this point, even though it was only about 4 pm.  In my defense it was Saturday.

I used kale as a side dish – it’s something I’ve learned to like, and I think I’m on my way to love.  Cut into strips and sauteed with ample garlic and olive oil, then dressed with sea salt and good balsamic vinegar, it’s heaven.

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The olive oil I use isn’t fancy, but I love it.  It comes from California Olive Ranch, and has a Harvest Date right on the back.  Olive oil sometimes sits around for months or YEARS in warehouses awaiting shipment overseas, which compromises the quality hugely.  I love this stuff, and it’s always fresh.  Also, if you catch the bottle out of the corner of your eye it looks like you have Jägermeister sitting on the counter.

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Grits.  Sigh. Can we make grits another post?  I get hate mail at my dinner table over grits.  And love letters.  The kids like Gigi’s grits.  My brother in law likes mine.  Husband will eat mine, but he eats anything.  The older kids hate them, but drowning them in hot sauce helps.  So clearly I don’t have the answers here… Talk to Paula Deen, maybe, I imagine she sauces up some pretty good grits.  For mine, I make them like the directions say, then add butter and cream.  And cheese.  Bacon if I have some (seems like too much, really, here…but go for it if you want.)

Ingredients

  • 1 Onion, diced, including the top of you have it
  • 3-4 garlic cloves
  • 2 T olive oil
  • About a pound of sausage, you choose
  • 1 sleeve saltines, crushed
  • 1 tsp thyme
  • 1 T paprika
  • 1 T parsley
  • 1 pound shrimp (chop roughly if very large)
  • 1 tsp cayenne pepper
  • salt and pepper to taste – about 1/2 tsp of each
  • 1tsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 3 eggs
  • 3 or 4 spoons of mayo
  • 1/2 cup corn, pan roasted (or not)
  • 1 glass of wine
  • pretzels
  • honey mustard sauce

The last three items are strictly for me to eat while I cook.

Brown the sausage (cook through) in the pan.   Reserve fat in the pan.  Remove sausage, cool, then chop roughly.  Brown the onions and garlic in the same pan, same fat.  For the last 2-3 minutes, add the shrimp and cook through until just firm.

After everything is cooled somewhat, mix with remaining ingredients in the same bowl.  Cut a slice in the flounder and form the mix into an inside-the-fist sized ball, then place inside the flounder (as best you can.  I found that I ended up placing the filling on the flounder and kind of covering it half-assed with the flap of fish I had cut on the top.

Cook covered in a 350 degree oven for about 15 minutes, then uncover and cook for an additional 10 minutes.  I have a broiler that will go to a low broil temperature, and that’s what I used.

Paying for College is Cake

November 5, 2013

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Jake’s Sour Patch Cheesecake.  They’re inside!

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We’re staring down the barrel at a whole lot of college book and tuition money if everyone who’s supposed to do what they’re supposed to do does it.  And they will.  And… Yay!  And yikes, a little.

I had an idea the other week, and it’s been taking shape and things have been falling into place.  Which is how I found myself at the grocery store in the candy aisle where I never go because I have small children, and if small children are with you in the store in the candy aisle things get very crazy very fast.

Today, though, I grabbed a bag of Sour Patch kids.  I thought my four year old would melt out of the cart in a puddle of happiness and disbelief.  She clapped her hands and reached for them.  “They’re for the cheesecake,” I told her.  Her eyes rolled back into her head and she collapsed into the bottom of the shopping cart.  Emma loves cheesecake.  Candy was apparently the only thing missing.  Image

I went on a bender of cheesecake baking about a year ago, just after the holidays.  My first attempt was implausibly perfect, a restaurant quality feat of custard and crust that begged to be eaten in one sitting.

The next 5 or 6 were terrible.  They blew up, they got wet, they resembled pudding.  I hadn’t taken a picture of my first success, and began to wonder if it was a trick of my mind, wishful thinking powerful enough to manufacture desserts like one of those 3-D printers.

Flash forward to fall of 2013 and it’s a cheesecake-athon in my kitchen at all possible times.  Today, right after I left the candy aisle, I bought out the store of 3 packs of cream cheese.  I bought a 5 pound tub of sour cream.  Eggs (since our chickens can’t be bothered), and bottles of vanilla.  The four year old sat in the cart, covered in dairy and Sour Patch Kids, playing with my iPhone.

Our extended family community has 2 in college currently, and 3 more who will be.  They are the fabulous of the fabulous kids, conscientious and hard working, and all of them are contributing to their education.  We are blessed.  We were thrilled when two received scholarships, a third went to work for FEMA to earn an education award, and another is tackling all of the jobs 24 hours can hold in order to save money.

Still, there are books and activities and other stuff – endless stuff – that just makes this time cost more than anyone thinks possible.

Which brings me to the SoImageur Patch Kids.  I’ve been asked if I would sell so-and-so a cheesecake or donate a cheesecake so often in the past few months that finally I did it.     Samples have gone out and orders are coming in and I’m in no way prepared…everyone is going to have to learn to make cheesecake, I fear.  My nephew’s was first, mostly because I thought the result would be beautiful and unusual and appealing.

And that’s why I’m in the candy aisle.

Emma’s happy.  I’ve sampled so much that I feel like I may need some blood work done in the near future.  I’ve started juicing again to combat my surely climbing sugar levels.

Look for us soon at http://www.universitycheesecake.com

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