Sunday, November 16, 2008

The Future's So Bleak - I Gotta Eat SPAM

SPAM is booming these days. No, not the stuff that clogs your in-box. I'm talking about the meat-like substance that vaguely resembles ham. SPAM (aka "Something Passing As Meat") is making a big comeback these days as the economy tanks. The people that work at the SPAM factories are expecting big holiday bonuses these days. Consumers all over the world are cutting back, and as they do so, they turn to time-honored staples like Hormel's SPAM.

From the New York Times this weekend comes the following forecast for SPAM employees:

"In a factory that abuts Interstate 90, two shifts of workers have been making
Spam seven days a week since July, and they have been told that the relentless
work schedule will continue indefinitely."

When I say SPAM, do you think of Monty Python's SPAM-a-lot (like I do?)

Ah.... Monty Python is always good for a laugh. Excuse me while I watch the video again. LOL!

This past weekend, I was reading about the history of SPAM. I realized that the unnaturally pink cube of gelatinous mixture has never touched my lips. Am I missing out on something special? The SPAM website describes it as "meat with a pause button," since you don't have to refrigerate it. Somehow, that doesn't make me want to run out to the grocery store to stock up.

In case you actually want to know what SPAM is made of, here is the list of official ingredients:

chopped pork shoulder meat with ham meat added; salt (for binding, flavor, and firmness); water (to help in mixing); sugar (for flavor); sodium Nitrite (for color and as a preservative).

SPAM is actually quite popular in many areas of the world. If you can believe it, 3.8 cans of SPAM are consumed every second in the U.S. If you really want to see SPAM in action, go to Hawaii. Hawaiians eat an average of four cans of SPAM per person per year (this is the highest SPAM consumption rate per capita in the world). There are entire websites devoted to SPAM recipes.

Personally, I just don't know. I think canned tuna is just as cheap as SPAM. If I get to the point that I can't afford to buy real meat, I think I'll just go vegetarian.

Pumpkin Cranberry Bread

'Tis the season for baking... and pumpkins! Hot on the heels of my Pumpkin Soup Recipe comes Pumpkin Cranberry Bread. Now, as much as I love pumpkin, you may be overdoing it if you serve Pumpkin Cranberry Bread with Pumpkin Soup. But this delicious homemade bread is excellent for breakfast or lunch, and also makes a tasty holiday appetizer. You may also want to give Pumpkin Cranberry Bread as gifts to your kids' teachers, your mail carrier, or to anyone else that deserves some sweetness in their life.

Ingredients for Pumpkin Cranberry Bread:

2 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1 T. pumpkin pie spice
2 t. baking powder
1 t. salt
2 cups granulated sugar
2 eggs
1 3/4 c. pumpkin (1 15 oz. can)
1/2 c. vegetable oil
1 c. dried cranberries

Directions for Pumpkin Cranberry Bread:

Combine flour, spice, baking powder and salt in a medium bowl and set aside
Combine sugar, eggs, pumpkin and vegetable oil - stir well in a large mixing bowl
Stir in dry ingredients with pumpkin mixture
Fold in cranberries

Preheat oven to 350 degrees
Prepare two 9X5 inch loaf pans with baking spray and then lightly floured
Spoon Pumpkin Cranberry Bread mixture into two pans

Bake for 1 hour.
Remove and allow loaves to cool at least 20 minutes before slicing. I have to tell you, the photo above is my actual oven and I am literally smelling the Pumpkin Cranberry Bread baking as I am typing up this post. My kids keep coming in and asking me if it is done yet!

Pumpkin Cranberry Bread is an obvious choice for Thanksgiving. Children literally eat it up with the delicious holiday pumpkin and cranberry flavors. We enjoy Pumpkin Cranberry Bread all fall and into the winter. It is so easy that kids can help in the kitchen. No mixer is required!

How about another pumpkin bread variation? Here is an easy step-by-step video to enjoy:

Maybe you love cranberries, but not pumpkin recipes? OK, then - you asked and I will answer. Here is another video for cranberry walnut muffins:

I have one small confession to make. This afternoon, I couldn't decide between making Pumpkin Cranberry Bread or homemade Zucchini Bread. I use both recipes often, but ultimately, the ease of Pumpkin Cranberry Bread won out over the idea of grating zucchini. Then again.... I do have four able-bodied children to help with that task. So, stay tuned for my next kitchen post! Happy Holiday Baking!

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Cute Kid Gets Out the Vote

Its Election Day 2008! If you haven't voted by now, you probably only have a few hours left. What are you waiting for? Well, OK - I'll give you an extra minute to watch this cute kid get out the vote:

Remember, if you don't vote, you can't complain about the results!

Monday, November 3, 2008

Stress Fracture Blues

Dang it! The training for the Portland Marathon (and just perhaps my age too) has finally done me in. Just a month after I ran 26.2 miles, I ended up with a stress fracture on my right foot. And I have over-training to blame.

I am so frustrated! Running is my stress relief, my religion, my saving grace on a crappy day. Not only that, but coming up on age 40 seems to have slowed my metabolism such that I have to work extra hard to keep the pounds at bay.

Now, I get news today that there shall be no running for 4-6 weeks. What can I do? Swim? Um.... no. Not only am I not that great of a swimmer (I couldn't do a flip turn to save my life), but the thought of all the extra effort of pulling on a swimsuit and getting all wet in a pool, makes me want to run as fast as my kitten from a running bathtub. If that wasn't insult enough, I have to wear an ugly post-op "shoe" that has a stiff sole and keeps me from bending my toes when I walk.

I found out that it is not uncommon for women like me to suffer a stress fracture. Women my age (pre-menopausal - gulp!) are more likely to have issues with bone density. The amount of running I was doing - about 30 miles per week - also had something to do with it. So, how to keep injuries at bay in the future? Slowly increase mileage (check), make sure you have good, supportive shoes (OK, I need to work on that), and don't run when you are feeling any pain (my bad - I ran on Sunday even though my toes were hurting). If only I could be like this guy in the pole-vaulting video and continue my sport while I am healing:

What can I do for the next month or two after being diagnosed with a stress fracture? Starve myself - since I'm not burning off 500+ calories per day with exercise? Nope. I can't do that. I love food too much! To help me in that department, however, I have taken on Julie's no-sugar challenge, which has at least three times today kept me out of the Halloween candy. No leftover birthday cake for me either. I have considered starting to ride my bike to work - I live only 4 miles from downtown Bend - so that would be theoretically easy. But its November. Waaaah! I don't want to cycle in the snow.

I guess the bottom line is that the stress fracture is nature's little way of telling me to slow down. Heck, it was dark today at 4:30, so who wants to go out and exercise in the rain in these conditions? OK, yes, it would have been me....

Saturday, November 1, 2008

How to Live Happily Ever After

Last night, Cinderalla came to my house. She was in good company with Wonder Woman and a black kitty cat. Later that evening, I'm pretty sure I saw Snow White - but it could have been Sleeping Beauty. It was pretty dark.

With all these adorable children dressed up as their favorite Disney characters for Halloween, it got me thinking about the appeal of "happily ever after." Who doesn't like a story that ends with the girl swept off her feet by the man of her dreams? I'm not a feminist, by any stretch of the definition of the term, but I have to admit that I'm worried about setting up my own daughter to believe that happily ever after is founded on getting married to a handsome prince.

In my book, happily ever after is the way a woman lives when she is financially secure in her own right. This does not mean that there are no handsome princes out there - however, the smart woman is one who can take care of herself, no matter what happens to Prince Charming! There are so many ways to do this - from getting an education (complete high school or get a GED at least), to establishing your own credit record, and sticking to a household budget. No one is going to wave a magic wand and give you a castle to live in, rent-free! While you're out there building up your credit, learn to use your voice too! Speak up when something is not going your way, and you'll get treated better in the long run. One of my favorite thoughts (don't know who gets attribution) is that "we teach people how to treat us." Keep that in mind and you'll be a stronger, happier person.

Am I some kind of nut to suggest that you can live happily ever after just by finishing school and setting a budget? Yes and no. Life will have its ups and downs. Children will get sick. Loved ones will die. Prince Charming may argue with you endlessly about the cost of coloring your hair while he goes off to golf on the weekends. It is an ongoing process - living happily ever after. It requires constant management by YOU, of YOU. Sometimes the glass will definitely appear half-empty, but its up to you to look deep for the joyful experiences and relationships you have to turn that perception around.

I also have to remind myself that even grown-up movies are but fairy tales. The silver screen can make me feel disillusioned by my own life. The last movie I saw, "Nights in Rodanthe," had me drooling over Richard Gere and silently cursing my husband for not having a romantic bone in his body. Living happily ever after means being able to put things into perspective, I guess. Those characters on screen are truly make-believe, and we're only given a tiny glimpse into their fake lives. With mortgages to pay, carpools to run, and toilets to scrub, no wonder my spouse and I don't dash off to the beach for a carefree weekend of love-making. And if we did, we'd probably be arguing about finances most of the way. Who wants to watch such reality when they go to the movies?

It is just a fantasy to believe that we, as women, will be entirely taken care of by a devoted, doting partner. Yes, that is the cold, hard fact. Happily ever after demands more than that. It requires personal growth, independence, and healthy boundaries. As long as you are secure the person that you are - you don't need Prince Charming to "complete you." But he can still be a cute accessory.....