Monday, April 11, 2011

Please, myself

As I was offering our family prayer the other night, I found myself praying that people will be stirred up to care for the earth. To believe in their responsibility for climate change, and their ability to do something about it. I had never prayed about this before, and I got fairly choked up addressing this subject to God. It's something I think about a lot, but I had it on my mind particularly because of this article from the Washington Post.

Nick and I try to live an eco-friendly life. We're not perfect, but we sacrifice in our student budget to consume in an eco-friendly way, and we are always trying to make improvements. Everything we use to clean our house, dishes, and clothing is earth-friendly. We buy recycled paper products. Luke's diapers and wipes are eco-friendly (affordable because of Amazon Mom). We recycle. I air-dry the lion's share of our laundry. We eat meat sparingly, and only buy vegetarian-fed meat. We've got re-useable shopping bags. As we've shopped for furniture for our new apartment, we've sought out sustainable and eco-friendly products (Thank you, Wal-Mart), and Luke's moses basket, crib, and mattress were all eco-friendly. I don't list these things to pat myself on the back, but just to say, these are things we've managed to do in our student life.

But when I think about this little guy...

and so many others like him, I feel wracked with guilt. My mind starts racing about what I can do better. Could I use my car less? When can I learn how to sew so I can make napkins, produce bags, snack bags? Could we possibly afford organic produce? How can I remember to not just turn things off, but unplug them? Where can I find bio-degradable trash bags? Could we switch to eco-friendly toiletries?  Can we use less water, less electricity? I know there's more. I know I could do more, because everyone in America could do more. It's worth the hassle, and it's worth the money.

There are the big, charismatic poster species for environmentalism and conservation--polar bears, tigers, elephants. I feel for them. When I see footage of starving polar bears fighting their way through slushy, unstable ice, I feel like I can't breathe. But in some ways, it's the little r-strategists that grip my conscience. Maybe having my own child makes me think like this, but when I read the Washington Post article, all I could think of was pied flycatcher parents, searching and searching for food for their little ones, and finding nothing.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Thank You, Betty Crocker

According to Wikipedia, Betty Crocker is not real. "She" was made up by Marjorie Husted and General Mills.

According to me, it doesn't matter. The Betty Crocker Cookbook is  real, and it's absolutely amazing.

According to Wikipedia, the first Betty Crocker cookbooks came out starting in 1930.

According to me, too many basic cookbooks seem like they're still from 1930, with a narrow selection of traditional, meat-based American/European meals. The latest Betty Crocker Cookbook is anything but.

I was given this cookbook at a bridal shower by the lovely Sharon, a lady-friend of Nick's grandpa, and I am so grateful for it. We have tried so many recipes from this big red binder, and I kid you not, every single one has been excellent. I have a low-level obsession with just how good this cookbook is.

It covers all the traditional basics that you might want to know. Hard-boiled eggs done to perfection? Pie crust of any variety? A loaf of honey-wheat bread? Got it.

But what's even better is the wide variety of recipes from around the world and the irresistably tasty vegetarian meals. Thai? Indian? Italian? Morrocan? Spanish? Japanese? Mexican? German? Got it. Quinoa dishes? Inventive recipes for black beans, white beans, or any kind of beans? Three different veggie burgers? Fresh pasta offerings? Got it.

Plus it has great pictures, the recipes are clearly written, it has nutritional info for every recipe, and the binder style makes it easy to remove a single page and put it somewhere visible while you're cooking. Whoo! How many positive attributes can I cram into one sentence?

There are way too many recipes I love from this cookbook for me to post them all, but here are three of our family favorites. I'll include links to the original recipe on the Betty Crocker website (which is also a great resource, but it doesn't have everything that is in the cookbook, so the book is worth having), but this is the way we make these recipes.

Thank you, Betty Crocker, from each and every one of my tastebuds. Yum!

Pad Thai
4 servings
(I usually double it for 8 servings! But don't double the eggs).

4 cups water
1 package (6 to 8 oz) rice noodles (the thick kind)
1/3 cup fresh lime juice
1/3 cup water
3 tbl packed brown sugar
3 tbl fish sauce or soy sauce
3 tbl soy sauce
1 tbl rice vinegar or white vinegar
3/4 tsp cayenne pepper
3 tbl vegetable oil
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 medium shallot, finely chopped
2 eggs, beaten
1/3 cup finely chopped dry-roasted peanuts
3 cups fresh bean sprouts
4 medium green onions, thinly sliced
1/4 cup firmly packed cilantro leaves
*Plus: 12-16 oz of tofu, frozen cooked shrimp, or chopped cooked chicken

1. In 3-quart saucepan, heat 4 cups water to boiling. Remove from heat; add noodles (push noodles into water with back of spoon to cover completely with water if necessary). Soak noodles 3 to 5 minutes or until noodles are soft but firm. Drain noodles; rinse with cold water.
2. Meanwhile, in small bowl, stir lime juice, 1/3 cup water, brown sugar, fish sauce, soy sauce, vinegar, cayenne pepper, and 1 tbl of the oil until well mixed; set aside.
3. In non-stick wok or 12-inch nonstick skillet, heat remaining 2 tbl of oil over medium heat. Cook garlic and shallot in oil about 30 seconds, stirring constantly, until starting to brown. Add eggs, Cook about 2 minutes, stirring gently and constantly, until scrambled but still moist.
4. Stir in noodles and lime juice mixture. Increase heat to high. Cook about 1 minute, tossing constantly with 2 wooden spoons, until sauce begins to thicken (sometimes I add a little cornstartch+water to thicken). Add tofu, chicken, or shrimp. Cook 2-3 minutes, tossing, until noodles are tender. Serve with chopped peanuts, bean sprouts, green onions, and cilantro. Additional lime wedges are also nice.

*If using tofu, stir-fry in wok before adding the eggs, then set aside. Proceed with the recipe.
If using shrimp, make sure it's cooked, peeled, deveined medium shrimp and that you thaw it beforehand.
If using chicken, stir-fry it separately with a little basil and garlic, then set aside.

Lemon-Pepper Pasta and Asparagus
6 servings

12-16 oz uncooked farfalle (bow-tie) pasta
1/4 cup olive oil
1 bunch (1/2 lb to 1 lb, depending) asparagus, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 tsp grated lemon peel
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper
3 tbl lemon juice (we usually just liberally splash lemon juice in at all stages of cooking. Go nuts!)
1 can (15 oz) white beans
Heavy whipping cream, if desired

1. Cook and drain pasta as directed on package.
2. Meanwhile, in 12 inch skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat. Cook asparagus, lemon peel, salt, and 1/2 tsp pepper in oil, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are crisp-tender.
3. Stir lemon juice and beans into asparagus mixture. For creaminess, add a couple splashes of heavy whipping cream. Cook until beans are hot. Add pasta; toss*. Sprinkle with more pepper and lemon juice if desired!
*If adding the entire box of pasta seems to make the dish too pasta-heavy, set aside a serving's worth of the noodles to eat another time. We usually do this to have a better pasta-asparagus ratio.

And a special thank you to this recipe in particular. Nick noticed this one, and he is pretty much always the one to make these incredibiscuits. In his words, "People look at me like I'm a biscuit-making god, when really it's just the easiest recipe ever."
(Betty Crocker picture)

Easy Garlic-Cheese Biscuits
10-12 biscuits

2 cups Original Bisquick mix
2/3 cup milk
1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1/4 cup butter, melted
1/4 tsp garlic powder

1. Heat oven to 450 degrees.
2. In medium bowl, stir Bisquick mix, milk, and cheese with wire whisk or fork until soft dough forms; beat vigorously 30 seconds. On ungreased cookie sheet, drop dough by 10 to 12 spoonfuls about 2 inches apart.
3. Bake 8 to 10 minutes or until golden brown. In small bowl, stir melted butter and garlic powder until well mixed; brush/pour on warm biscuits before removing from cookie sheet. Serve warm.