Dispatches from the Swamp – the ‘slow food’ edition

When I was a child, New Year’s Day at my grandmothers was the best meal of the holiday season. She would make a ham. Our family never went for the ready to eat variety, it was always a pork picnic shoulder; the kind of ham you really need to cook. The smell of ham cooking would waft through her house and my mouth would water at the though of dinner. As an adult, I usually cook a couple of hams a year. The next day, I turn the leftovers, the bones and the broth from cooking the ham into split pea soup.

Ham in the pot, fat side up. You can see the mesh bag that you will remove later.

Ham in the pot, fat side up. You can see the mesh bag that you will remove later.

The cooking starts off with boiling the ham for about 3 hours. This does two things: it cooks the ham and reduces the amount of salt left in the meat. Most pots are not big enough to accommodate a ham completely. It mostly fit in my Le Crueset and the heavy lid pressed down on it. About halfway through the cooking time, it is important to turn the ham over. I usually start it with the fat side up. Turning the ham can be a little tricky so it is best to take your time. I find that using to large carving forks works quite well. Once the ham is done boiling, transfer it to the baking pan (make sure to keep the liquid from boiling the ham to make soup). In my case, I put it in my oval orange Le Creuset baking pan. At this point you need to remove the mesh bag around the ham. Make sure to take your time, especially on the meat side so you don’t lose too much of the meat. There is also a piece of skin on the fat section of the ham that also needs to be removed.

 

The next steps is where the magic happens. I make a glaze for the ham from:

1 can of frozen orange juice concentrate

1 cup of brown sugar

¼ of a cup cornstarch

¼ cup of yellow mustard

½ teaspoon of ground cloves

Cooked glazed ham ready for carving and eating!

Cooked glazed ham ready for carving and eating!

All measurements are approximate as I kind of just throw it all in a bowl and mix it up. My grandmother would take a lot of time with her ham, decorating it with pineapple rings, maraschino cherries and whole cloves and then she would put the glaze on it. It is important to put the glaze on when the ham is hot as it will stick to the meat because the cornstarch will thicken it. I put ½ of the glaze on the ham and put it in the oven at about 325 degrees. The ham needs to bake for about 1 and ½ hours in a covered pan. Halfway through I put more glaze on it. It is important to watch the ham as the sugar content in the glaze can cause it to burn. You also have to ensure that the ham is in there long enough for the glaze to set. If you don’t cook it long enough the glaze will have a chalky texture because the cornstarch has not been cooked long enough. Once the ham is done, remove it to a cutting board. If you want gravy from the glaze (and trust me you do, salty and sweet!) you will likely need to thin it out a little bit with some water so it is the consistency of gravy. We generally serve ham with scalloped potatoes and some other vegetables.

Check back tomorrow for the pea soup process!

Published in: on November 28, 2013 at 1:54 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags: ,

Dispatches from The Swamp – the ‘ not so fast, Not So Fast’ edition

Whether you want to eat it or not.

Whether you want to eat it or not.

I heard an interview with Shira McDermott, Chief Founder and Faster at Not So Fast on CBC with Stephen Quinn. The topic of the interview was Vancouver’s first Kale Drive. Based on the premise that there is lots of kale in people’s gardens right now, the plan, if you can call it that, is to have gardeners harvest their kale and bring it to drop off their unused kale between 10-2 on December 1.* Then they plan to turn the kale into a powder to be then used to ‘fortify’ the community meals made in the DTES. Basically they will bake the kale until it is dried, grind it, and incorporate it into the meals made by community organizations. Sounds like a great plan hey? And, as we all know kale is a ‘superfood’ as McDermott told us over and over again. Although, interestingly, she really didn’t know why kale was called a superfood except, and I quote, ‘it is very nutritional’.

On the surface this sounds like a great idea until you start to dig around a little. Just because some group of well-meaning but oppressive folks decide that people in the DTES need something in their diet does not make it right. In fact, it is extremely oppressive. There are so many assumptions built into this premise but the worst one is based on the idea that we know better than them when it comes to nutrition. We think you need this and we are going to force it on you through your community meals. Did they ask people on the DTES if they want to eat kale? I think not. They are operating from their place of mostly white and middle class privilege. The liberal ‘do-gooder’ attitude is infamous for tromping on people’s agency and dignity.

The kale drive and the force-feeding of kale to people in the DTES is just one aspect of their programming. The idea behind this organization is that people abstain from food (fast) for a specified amount of time or meals and then donate the money they saved by not eating to Not So Fast who then distributes it to food security programs. On the surface, I think it is a ridiculous idea. As you read their their vision statement so many of those same assumptions I referenced above are their foundation:

Our goal at Not So Fast is to encourage communities, and our world, to consume less and give more.

No matter what your status is, there will always be someone who has more than you, and someone who has less.

The Not So Fast idea is all about going with (just a little) less to give someone else a little more. You can give up your favourite treat for a day or make some major lifestyle changes – the choice is yours. In turn, the money you would have spent is donated to Not So Fast or the food charity of your choice.

By donating to Not So Fast, your money goes towards one of several of our grassroots initiatives aimed at arming people of all walks of life to source, prepare, and enjoy the very food many of us take for granted everyday.

Because food for all is a basic human right.

The opening sentence is a noble goal however what it belies is the fact that food insecurity is a systemic issue of injustice in our society. If all of our citizens are to have access to appropriate food there will have to be a major change on the governmental level that would put people before profits and well-being above the bottom line. In short, we would need to get serious about ending poverty in our rich country. Asking people to eat a little less is only reifying the idea that charity can do what government should.

The next statement is extremely problematic. The idea that everyone can give regardless of what they have (or don’t have) is oppressive. How does it make sense that everyone should compromise their access to food no matter how little they have? It also attempts to make people feel guilty for not going without so someone else can have more. Is the single mother on income assistance going to fast so that someone else more needy can have her food? Of course they caveat the fasting regimes with groups of people who should not do it.** But what they fail to realize is that some people will do this regardless of their membership into one of these groups. What if young people with eating disorders use this idea as a way to further restrict food? The problems that could arise are endless. Instead of using a medical doctor they are relying on a naturopathic doctor for their medical information. While I recognize that they likely know a lot about nutrition, I think a medical doctor would be a more credible source.

The thing that disturbs me the most is that they have a store where they are selling journals called “The Little Book Of Less,” a journal for fasters to track their ‘good deeds and keep you on the right path.’ You can buy a single book, a pack of 3 books or a starter pack of 1 book, some pins and magnets. So the question now becomes what is their real purpose? Why would they ask people to spend money on their branded stuff instead of you know tracking things in a spreadsheet on their computers? If they were truly committed to their ‘good deeds’*** why would they be selling anything? They could set up journal and excel templates and offer them for free on their website.

I get that people want to make themselves feel better by trying to do something good in the world. Feeding people who don’t have enough to eat is a noble and lofty goal. However, when your need to do be charitable work compromises another person’s agency it is not a good work; it is oppression.

* At first they contemplated going into people’s gardens at night and stealing it.

** “Children under 13, and women who are pregnant should not fast at all. Pretty much everyone can fast safely for at least one meal, providing you are in good general health. Anyone who is diabetic (type 1 or 2), has cardiac risk factors, history of eating disorders, kidney problems, or other known health concerns should consult with a licensed healthcare provider before considering any type of food fast.”

***The right path as defined by the Not So Fast folks no doubt.

Published in: on November 27, 2013 at 3:55 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , , , ,

Dispatches from The Swamp – the ‘swimming’ edition

 

The pool we swim at in Maple Ridge, BC

The pool we swim at in Maple Ridge, BC

Recently we have taken up swimming. I have always loved the water. As a kid we spent a lot of time taking swimming lessons and playing in the pool. My limited mobility as a result of obesity and chronic pain issues from ulcerative colitis make exercise an extremely difficult undertaking.

Swimming allows me to feel free. I am able to move my body however I want to and nothing hurts. I can feel the strength in my arms as I pull myself through the water. Kicking loosens up the muscles in my hips. I also do some water running with pool barbells. Those same barbells work really well for resistance work for my arms. Given that I carry all my stress in my shoulders this is an amazing way to work those muscles and loosen things up a bit. The effects last for a couple of days.

Getting out of the water really sucks. By the third step out of the pool, I feel all the effects of gravity magnified. Thankfully it only lasts for a few minutes.

Swimming has been a great way to deal with some of my anxiety. Moving my muscles seems to release some of the tension they hold. I also feel very strong in the water and graceful – two things I don’t have much acquaintance with on land.

Published in: on November 26, 2013 at 5:17 pm  Comments (1)  
Tags: , ,

Could Get a Little Bumpy Around these Parts

 

So, I went to the doctor today. She has put me on prednisone which is the two medications I hate the most in the world. Prednisone makes me have crazy thoughts, makes me very grumpy and for some reason, I have trouble eating whilst taking it. I get all the bad side effects and not the one I might actually enjoy. In the past, large doses have messed so much with my blood sugar that I ended up on insulin until I could taper off of it. At least it is only a 5-day course. I am sick of being so sick and I am ready to feel better.

The prednisone is only a short-term plan. I have to go back to see my GI doctor with the hope that I can get on to Remicade with is a biologic medication that treats Crohn’s and Ulcerative Colitis. In the past, pharmacare would not pay for it but it seems they have loosened up some of the restrictions.

Mostly, I feel sorry for Deb. I get really, really bitchy and moody taking prednisone. At least I have some ativan to help keep it somewhat under control!

Published in: on November 25, 2013 at 4:51 pm  Comments (2)  
Tags: , ,

Music from The Swamp – the ‘top 10 most played songs’ edition

music4

Anyone who has read this blog for any amount of time knows how much I love music. It is the salve that soothes my soul, it feeds me and keeps me sane all at the same time. So, dear readers, I present to you my top 10 list of songs:

10. Crash Hard by Dustin Bentall played 164 times.

9. Someone Like You by Adele played 164 times.

8. Torn Screen Door by David Francey played 169 times.

7. What Will Become of Us by Passenger played 180 times.

6. Rest Your Head by Ben Caplan played 198 times.

5. I Will Wait by Mumford and Sons played 212 times.

4. Weighty Ghost by Wintersleep played 220 times

3. Same Love by Mackelmore and Ryan Lewis played 250 times.

2. Lover’s Eyes by Mumford and Sons played 298 times.

1. Ghosts that We Knew by Mumford and Sons played 412 times.

Clearly I have a thing for Mumford and Sons! I am not sure this list is completely reflective of my listening habits over time. I reset my iTunes play counts about 2 years ago so this reflects my obsession with Mumford and Sons late last year. Perhaps I will do another list of 11-20.

Dispatches from The Swamp – the ‘Stevie Ray is growing up’ edition

Stevie Ray

Stevie Ray

 

Stevie Ray is now 5 months old. This is a very important milestone as her first heat is expected in a month. Except Stevie Ray will not be allowed to have a heat as we will have her spayed a few months ahead of time. Besides the obvious reason for doing this, which is birth control, there are many health and behavioral benefits for the dog. Here are some of the benefits:

  1. There are way too many unwanted animals in the world. And unless you really know what you are doing you should not be breeding your dog.
  2. Your female dog never has a(nother) heat. Female dogs in heat are a major pain in the ass. They bleed all over the house. You have to ensure that she does not come into contact with intact male dogs. Even if a neutered dog breeds her, she can have a false pregnancy. I have seen it happen.[1]
  3. The risk of mammary cancer is almost zero if a dog is spayed before her first heat. Spaying is an investment in the long-term health of your female dog.
  4. A dog who has been spayed cannot develop pyometra – which is an infection of the uterus that requires and immediate spay. It can be a very serious condition. My sister lost one of her bull mastiffs to pyometra after spending $10,000 to try to save her.
  5. Carrying and birthing puppies can cause injuries and stress to a dog. Dogs can die giving birth.
  6. Once a female goes into heat her desire to roam increases. If she never has a heat then this behavior is less likely to develop.

 

 

Spaying dogs young means they recover very quickly. Spay techniques have improved so much that the incision is often very tiny. I expect Stevie Ray will be quiet and need rest for the first 24 hours. After that, we will try to limit her activity for a week or so. Thankfully she loves her bed in her x-pen so it won’t be too hard to convince her to spend some time there with a chewie.

 

Please spay and neuter your dogs; it’s the right thing to do.

 


[1] Not to one of my dogs!

Published in: on November 23, 2013 at 2:18 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags: ,

Dispatches from The Swamp – the ‘random’ edition

 

Jesse and Stevie Ray laying together.

Jesse and Stevie Ray laying together.

I had some blood work done yesterday. I am 2 points away from being anemic (explains my fatigue) and my C Reactive Protein has quadrupled since June. C Reactive Protein is the measure of inflammation in the body. It is a relief to know that there really is something more going on than normal.

It has been so interesting watching Stevie Ray develop. The other day she discovered her hackles and her big dog bark when she hears a noise that startles her. I have also noticed that she has become more coordinated.[1] Her default play position is on the ground, usually on her back playing bitey face. This morning she actually play hopped backwards which is something completely new for her. I was impressed! She also seems much more able to run in more coordinated fashion. It is so much watching her grow up and develop – it is not something we get to do very often.

 


[1] She is seriously an uncoordinated puppy! Probably due to her breed.

Published in: on November 22, 2013 at 1:55 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags:

WTF is wrong with people?

 darwinawards

Amongst today’s headlines is one that demonstrates that we, as a society, are pretty fucking stupid. Apparently gas can be had for $.80 a litre in Bellingham. So what do people in the Lower Mainland do? Well, they flock down there, en masse and fill up their cars. But they don’t just stop with their cars, no; they fill up plastic gas cans. Some vehicles have been seen pulling away with upwards of 4, 25 litre gas cans to take home.

These people are attempting to demonstrate evolution in action. Imagine you are booking down the highway, giggling to yourself about how much money you saved getting your gas in Bellingham and all of a sudden you are rear-ended or you hit someone else. A minor accident turns into a fireball that could kill you (hopefully) or some unfortunate victim. Who in their right mind drives with 100 extra litres of gas in their car?

Apparently one woman was seen with 4 gas cans in the back of her car. She definitely gets the village idiot award because she didn’t bother putting the lids on correctly. She left them with the spouts pointing out. So now she is going to get high on gas fumes driving home.

So, fucking, stupid.

Published in: on November 21, 2013 at 1:31 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags:

Dispatches from The Swamp – the ‘almost wordless Wednesday’ edition

Jesse in sepia. I love this photo!

Jesse in sepia. I love this photo!

The mighty bull huntress!

The mighty bull huntress!

Liquid brown eyes. One could get lost in those eyes.

Liquid brown eyes. One could get lost in those eyes.

Gracie being Gracie.

Gracie being Gracie.

The little Prince of The Swamp.

The little Prince of The Swamp.

Thoughtful Stevie.

Thoughtful Stevie.

All photos by Sheena Staples.

Published in: on November 20, 2013 at 4:22 pm  Comments (1)  

Cooking at The Swamp: Making kick-ass bone broth

 

The nice thing about being home is having time and energy to cook. Lately, I have taken up the gauntlet of making the most perfect broth: chicken and beef. There are no recipes per se and it is dead easy. It takes time and patience (think days not hours) but the result is beyond compare. I have made broth for a risotto that blew me away and we are on round 2 of beef with barley soup. In addition to being extremely tasty, the nutritional value of bone broth is unparalleled. It does help to save as many bones from chickens and beef as you can. Storing them in the freezer is a great solution. Here is the method I use:

  1. Roast your bones. Let’s say you are doing chicken. You may have a couple of chicken carcasses to use up. You can combine those with some necks and backs. You put them in an uncovered roasting pan and roast them at 350 or so until they are browned. With beef bones you do the same thing. Although with beef, I like to use ox tails and short ribs. Both have very rich meat on the bone. We also throw in some marrowbones as we often have them in the freezer for the dogs. Similarly you roast them until they are deeply browned and perhaps a bit dry. It is the cooking of the meat and bones that gives the broth its flavor. You can also throw in some veggies like onions, carrots, garlic and celery.
  2. Once the meats have been roasted about 3 hours remove from the oven and put into a stock pot or crock pot. I have used a crock-pot for my last 2 batches so that is what I will comment on. I start in on high to get it going and then turn it down. I then let it simmer for 24-48 hours. I tend to do beef longer than chicken because the bones are so much thicker.
  3. Once the broth is ready strain the meat, bones and vegetables out of it and discard them. Let the broth cool and place in the refrigerator overnight to allow the fat to rise. Skim the fat and you are done.
  4. You can now turn your broth into a great soup, risotto or freeze for later use.

Your broth may resemble gelatin. This is how it should be. This means it is full of the good stuff form the bones.

I will run this post again when I have some pictures of the process!

Published in: on November 19, 2013 at 2:48 pm  Leave a Comment