Silver Linings

One of our favorite political bloggers, Heather Cox Richardson, usually takes Sundays off but emails a beautiful photo. We’re going to follow her lead and take Thanksgiving week off and post 3 beautiful photos. But we can’t resist including a video also. It’s beautiful in a different way – and funny and apropos, too (AND it’s NOT about Wynn, our Cardigan Welsh Corgi). You’ll love them all.

Taken after the 2017 Sonoma fire – photographer unknown
Taken in St Croix, Virgin Islands – by our niece, who lives there
Taken by Andy – at our home in Glen Ellen

Have a lovely holiday. Be sure to watch the wonderful Judy Garland video – and remember those silver linings.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Teaching an Old Dog New Tricks

Oakley, our Colorado-born-and-bred Aussie, turned twelve this Halloween. We credit one-year-old Wynn, our rambunctious but lovable Washington-born-and-bred Cardigan Corgi, for keeping Oakley young.

Neither dog looks particularly young (or even alive) in this photo. I think the elephant is wearing them out.

Wynn has learned a lot from Oakley…how to drink from the toilet (we keep it flushed), how to bark crazily when someone knocks on the front door, how to react when raccoons are on our roof at 3 in the morning. See today’s Andy’s Corner for more entertaining looks at Oakley’s teaching method.

But it’s worked the opposite way too. Oakley has learned from Wynn. About bully sticks.

Wynn is clearly a very astute and concerned teacher.

Bully sticks entered our lives after Apollo, a vivacious Aussiedoodle, visited us last Thanksgiving. Apollo’s “parents” brought along bully sticks. And Wynn fell in love. Not with Apollo but with bully sticks. Now keeping a supply of them is jeopardizing our children’s inheritance (and we’re not kidding).

After observing Oakley learn about bully sticks, we realized that we too might learn new tricks – even at our age. Though I haven’t taken the time to really understand “mindfulness” – which seems to appear on every news site I read these days, we decided that being more focused on the good things in our life – on a daily basis – would be…yes, good. So now each day in the late afternoon Andy pours us wine or a homemade shrub and we spend a few minutes talking about three good things each of us recalls from the day. It hasn’t always been easy. It’s actually a little tricky. In fact, I have enlisted my neighbor Deb – who is way more of a positive thinker than I am – to send me a cheat sheet!

ANDY: I’m happy that on my bike ride outside of Healdsburg I got to witness amazingly beautiful cloud banks over the fall-colored vineyards.

ANN: I’m happy that I cleaned out a kitchen cupboard and decided to give away 16 of our 51 dinner plates.

ANDY: I’m happy that a dog park friend told me that my Andy’s Corner made her grin.

ANN: I’m happy that I just ordered 8 new Marrimeko dinner plates.

ANDY: I’m happy that I watched a UPS delivery guy pause to get our maniacally barking and jumping dogs to “sit” while he gave each a treat through the fence.

Ann: I’m happy that we’re still harvesting tomatillos from our huge, lovely, healthy tomatillo plant. And the bees are still loving it up. And it’s November and everything else in the garden is totally done for (pleeeeez, can I get credit for 3 “I’m happy that” responses for this?).

Tomatillos growing and thriving in our garden – in late October

If you decide to try this (and we do recommend it), feel free to substitute “grateful,” “thankful,” “pleased about” or whatever expression suits you. We had a wee discussion as to whether each response had to be serious, and our decision was no – we could use whatever came to mind, serious, frivolous, funny, whatever, though we do encourage a little introspection on both of our parts

After some of that introspection we both came to the conclusion that cooking and sharing recipes for dishes that we really like are some of our happier moments.  The recipe we are including in today’s blog falls in that happy zone. And (SURPRISE!) it’s got tomatillos in it. AND it can help use up your leftover Thanksgiving turkey in a delicious and different way.

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Dancing in the Streets

It takes a village to….

It takes a village to write a blog. Whoops…that’s not the expression. But, in fact, Andy and I love and need every little input we get from our blogging friends and family. For example, our Albuquerque friend and blogger-helper, David, emailed me some comments on health and doctors in response to our last blog about healthy (or maybe unhealthy) trail mix.

David suggested I read Natural Causes by Barbara Ehrenreich. It’s a rather polemic book, given that Ehrenreich writes about how we are “over-doctored.” A reviewer sums it up this way: I found [it] comforting because it reinforced my own judgement that annual screenings for various diseases can lead to more problems with false positives, over medication, damage caused by the testing itself than they are worth beyond a certain age. Furthermore, the book affirms that various dietary prescriptions (eat this not that) are often contradictory and have little impact on longevity. Also, as the book details, you can exercise to exhaustion every day and still die young of a heart attack or cancer.

One of Ehrenreich’s most quoted lines from the book is this: “Once I realized I was old enough to die, I decided that I was also old enough not to incur any more suffering, annoyance, or boredom in the pursuit of a longer life.”

Take note of the figure on the treadmill

Ehrenreich, a prolific and liberal and highly-acclaimed (if polemic) writer, passed away last month at the age of 81. Though her name was familiar to me, it took David’s suggestion for me to delve deeper into who she was and what she wrote. After finding this article by her in a 1993 Time Magazine – “Burt, Loni, and Our Way of Life” – I was hooked. Here’s one of my favorite excerpts from it:

Consider that marriage probably originated as a straightforward food-for-sex deal among foraging primates. Compatibility was not a big issue, nor of course was there any tension over who would control the remote. Today, however, a spouse is expected to be not only a co-provider and mate, but a co-parent, financial partner, romantic love object, best friend, fitness adviser, home repair-person and scintillating companion through the wasteland of Sunday afternoons. This is, rationally speaking, more than any one spouse can provide.

Probably the overload began with the Neolithic revolution, when males who were used to a career of hunting and bragging were suddenly required to stay home and help out with the crops. Then came the modern urban-industrial era, with the unprecedented notion of the “companionate marriage.” Abruptly, the two sexes — who had gone for millenniums without exchanging any more than the few grunts required for courtship — were expected to entertain each other with witty repartee over dinner.

The subject of Ehrenreich’s Time article: Burt Reynolds and Loni Anderson – before it all went down

In my mind that’s a picture perfect description of the perils and pitfalls of marriage in this day and age.

Another one of Ehrenreich’s acclaimed books is Dancing in the Streets: a History of Collective Joy. One reviewer wrote, “When one reaches its final pages, one becomes more convinced that dance, that is, dance with no inhibitions or restraints, or “dancing in the streets”, is part of being human, a necessity like air, food, and water. A culture that has it is a vibrant and confident one. A culture where it is absent is a dysfunctional one.”

OMG. I read this and realized that our daughter, Sara, had just unknowingly contributed to this blog. She recently texted us this video of her and her friends practicing their salsa-dancing skills on the streets and under the Bart in Oakland, CA. It took me all of 2 seconds to decide to use her video (and it will take you just 90 seconds to watch it and feel the collective joy dancing can bring).

Now we all just have to find a street to dance in.

“Collective Joy”

My blog had come together. Except where was the food tie-in? The closest Ehrenreich ever got to writing about food was in her book Nickel and Dimed: on (Not) Getting By in America, but that’s about the impossibility of living in the U.S. on minimum wage, such as restaurant waitstaff often make. So I returned to Sara’s video. Salsa :). Of course.

I wasn’t sure whether salsa dancing preceded salsa as a Latin dip. It does not, according to this article from Tasting Table, “What salsa came first?” As early as 1571 a Spanish monk who wrote a dictionary translating Spanish-Nahuatl referred to an Aztec sauce as “salsa.”

We’re big into Mexican food at BigLittleMeals, so we’ve already posted some great salsas (Lazy Day Salsa, Corn and Tomato Salsa, and Tomatillo-Avocado Salsa), but today’s recipe for salsa is one of our favorites. Andy also has a Mexican recipe in today’s Andy’s Corner. But Mexican food isn’t the focus. It’s mushrooms. Mushrooms as a world-saver. Be sure to read it. It’s an environmental eye-opener.

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He’s Nutty – and Seedy – and a Bad Apple. It’s Just Bananas!

He’s nutty – and seedy – and a bad apple. It’s just bananas! Since when did nuts and seeds – and apples and bananas get such a bum rap? Apparently, a long time ago. Online Etymology Dictionary indicates that “nutty” goes back to 1846 when “off one’s nut” meant being crazy in the head – nut and head being synonymous. “Seedy” was also used back in the 1800’s and referred to something “no longer fresh or new”…like a plant that has gone to seed. In 1736 Benjamin Franklin stated that “a rotten apple spoils its companion.” “Bananas”- referring to crazy – is much more recent…maybe the 1960’s and connected to “going ape.”

But let’s put these common expressions aside and instead focus on all that’s good about nuts, seeds, apples, and bananas. In fact, let’s narrow it down even more. How about a little research into how nuts, seeds, apples and bananas can help us sleep better (and I’ll bet there are a lot of you out there craving a good night’s sleep)?

AARP (whose writers probably know something about sleep issues) published an article on the seven “Superfoods” that can help you sleep better. Pumpkin seeds and nuts were among those seven. The Cleveland Clinic suggests a bedtime snack of bananas or apples – or maybe some sour cherry juice.

(A personal aside: a small study from LSU showed that adults with insomnia who drank 8 ounces of tart cherry juice twice a day for 2 weeks slept 84 minutes longer and reported better sleep quality compared to when they didn’t drink the juice, so we dutifully bought our first-ever bottle of sour cherry juice. I’m still working on convincing myself I’ll like it, but Andy is practically addicted. In fact, he ran into the Sonoma Market just yesterday to pick up another bottle. Try it when you need some sleep!)

I wanted dried sour cherries for my mix – and it’s next to impossible to find them without added sugar. These are pricey but delicious.

The key seems to be what has the most melatonin, selenium, zinc, and magnesium. There are numerous studies published online that verify their effectiveness – not only for sleep but for many other ailments. As part of the NIH website, the National Library of Medicine is a good source for reliable data on all of this.

In looking at specific nuts and seeds, one question is whether roasting them decreases some of their nutritional value. While it appears most nuts and seeds lose some nutritional value after roasting, an LSU study showed that pistachios contain exceptionally high amounts of melatonin, whether they’re roasted or not. Other studies indicate peanuts actually have more melatonin after roasting.

The only catch remaining, as I worked toward putting together the perfect sleep-inducing trail mix, was that I wanted the ingredients to be eco-friendly. That’s why you don’t see almonds appearing on my list. Living in California and being hyper-aware of drought make me think we need to avoid these water-needy trees (and 82% of the world’s almonds come from here! Shocking?!).

Walnuts growing in California. Walnuts are not only a great health food, but in this water-stressed state, UCDavis research indicates that walnut trees may actually produce BETTER if water-stressed.

The data on nuts and seeds is all over the place, depending upon whether you’re researching health benefits, or water usage, or labor issues. Here’s how a recent paper, entitled “Environmental, nutritional and social assessment of nuts” from researchers at The Institute of Environmental Sciences in the Netherlands ranked nuts and seeds:

Whoops. I did have one last desire in finalizing my recipe. And that was that it be gender-neutral :). I was searching for a good pre-made mix at our local market and came across the package pictured below (mind you, I didn’t see one that said “Women’s Energy Mix”). I figured it must contain some ginger or pomegranate…or maybe even dried oysters, since they all boost testosterone levels – but no. It remains to be seen why this is for men.

Listed ingredients: Raisins (raisins, sunflower oil), Pumpkin Seeds, Sunflower Seeds, Papaya (papaya, cane sugar), Dry Roasted Almonds, Cranberries (cranberries, cane sugar, cranberry seed oil), Dry Roasted Cashews, Dark Chocolate Raisins (dark chocolate [unsweetened chocolate, cane sugar, cocoa butter, soy or sunflower lecithin {emulsifier}, vanilla], raisins [raisins, sunflower oil], pure food glaze), Cherries, Walnuts, Organic Pineapple, Apples, Pine Nuts.

Putting together your own mix is cheaper and gives you the ability to pick and choose your favorites, but if you insist on buying a packaged trail mix Consumers’ Reports has some brand suggestions and even two recipes. Their advice is to always check the sugar and salt content.

We like dark chocolate chips in our trail mix – but don’t let the trail mix sit in the sun!

Are you sleepy yet?

If you’re still not convinced you need to improve your sleep, there is research hot off the press from UC Berkeley (Go Bears!). This new study verifies that those who are sleep-deprived show a decreased desire to help others. Eti Ben Simon, a scientist at the university who co-wrote the study, states in a news release, “If you’re not getting enough sleep, it doesn’t just hurt your own well-being, it hurts the well-being of your entire social circle, including strangers.” We could speculate on some politicians who are not getting enough sleep! 🙂

Speaking of politics – which we don’t really do much on BigLittleMeals – be sure to check out Andy’s Corner for today. He’s got another video to share, and it’s perfect…and funny.

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The Greatest Feat

It’s awesome when folks band together to affect a positive outcome. For you non-Californians, let me relate the events which recently led up to a very positive outcome for our state.

In early September the weather report warned that temperatures throughout the state were to rise to outrageously high numbers (here in Glen Ellen our temperature got to near 110 degrees). That was followed by an emergency cell-phone alert, asking Californians to cut their electrical use between 6 and 9 pm that night.

Yes, I was confused as to why we were to cut the usage in the evening – when the temperatures would start to fall. La duh. It turns out that California has enough solar panels feeding electricity into the grid to keep things going during the day. But come evening all that ends – yet homes in the early evening still have their AC cranked up, and folks just home from work and school are using lots of appliances and lights and TVs and computers.

Solar panels in California’s Mojave Desert. Andy drove by this on his way from Chino, CA, to Colorado and says it’s mind-boggling in its size.

According to an article in September’s The Atlantic about this episode and California’s electrical grid, “within 45 minutes of that alert going out, the state had cut more than 2,000 megawatts of electricity, roughly as much energy as it normally takes to power more than 1.5 million homes. And the grid was fine.”

This is what a large-scale solar battery storage plant looks like (this one is in Oxnard, CA). Those batteries helped keep the grid going (They’re also problematic. An enormous one at Moss Landing in CA has had a multitude of problems with fires.)

The Atlantic article continues with an analysis of what needs to come next in regards to the grid, since “electricity is the lifeblood of technical society.” FYI: Two decades ago, the National Academy of Engineering ranked electrification (“stringing up the world’s power grid”) as the greatest engineering feat of the 20th century, outranking the automobile (No. 2), the airplane (No. 3), radio and TV (No. 6), computers (No. 8), and the telephone (No. 9). Recently a Stanford researcher, Michael Wara, commented that electric cars may be just what’s needed for the future of our “old and rickety” grid because their use will force growth in the electrical industry, which has been stagnant.

8 Tesla and 2 “universal” charging stations for electric cars have been installed at Sonoma’s Community Center on East Napa St.

There’s a caveat to electric cars helping us and the grid out: If electric cars are all being charged in the early evening, the grid will be even more challenged. So charging has to take place during the day or after 11 pm.

In thinking about electricity, and the grid going down (especially if it’s dinner time) – as may happen before all this needed growth occurs, we could go back to our blog about the apocalypse and remind you of the kinds of food to have on hand. Clearly, you’ll want peanut butter and cans of beans. But what about meat or fish, if you’re not vegetarian? How about cans of tuna and…yes…SPAM?!

We’re going to bank on the good people of California tempering their electrical usage when the next grid-preservation warning goes out. But just in case the good people of California have a bad day, we’ve got recipes for Spam hot and Spam cold – and for tuna hot and tuna cold.

Our Cardigan Corgi, Wynn, isn’t sure she wants Spam, especially while it’s still in the can

And speaking of Spam: please note the “convenient” pull tab on the Spam lid in the photo above. Andy has lots and lots to say about such conveniences in today’s Andy’s Corner. Suffice it to say, he’s not pleased.

So here’s to the grid and your electric stove functioning and to enjoying HOT, fried Spam (I should add that California – as of January 2023 – is requiring new homes to be “electric ready.” A cook’s concern – environmental issues aside – is that the use of gas ranges in new construction is being discouraged and in some areas, not even allowed).

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