Sunday, August 24, 2014

Meatless Monday: A Banana Is a Terrible Thing to Waste

I had bought a bunch of bananas because guests were coming and I thought fresh fruit would come in handy for snacking, but this bunch never turned bright yellow. I suspect they were perfectly ripe once and would have been quite tasty, but I missed that stage. And, before I noticed, they had become heavily splotched and mushy.

I knew, however, that bananas become more useful as they age (within reason), unlike other produce that goes by. In fact, there are so many uses for over-ripe bananas that it is a crime to waste them. 

Perhaps the easiest way to deal with overripe bananas is to peel them and use them in a smoothie. You can also pureĆ© them for use in DIY ice cream or frozen yogurt.  You can even peel them, seal them tightly in a ziplock bag, and freeze them for future use. 

We have been an enjoying an extraordinarily cool August, so I decided to make banana muffins. I turned to a favorite recipe from the very first cookbook I acquired — The Young People’s Gas Cookbook [as in cooking with gas, not cooking to cause gas]. 

In the ’60s, our local gas company embarked on a campaign to encourage current and future homemakers to cook using gas ovens and ranges. They made it easy for Girl Scouts to earn their cooking badge by offering cooking classes in their test kitchen, equipped with state of the art gas appliances. The entire troop took four classes together, and to earn her badge, each girl would prepare meals based on recipes in the cookbook for her family and practice and commit to memory a variety of cooking skills from boiling to braising.  

In my case, the “Banana Tea Muffins” were a hit, the “Eggs a la King” not so much [Yes, these many years later I still remember how that dish went over with my dad.] There was a test on week four! I don’t remember the test, but I received my badge, so I must have passed!

Following is the original recipe.

  • 1 3/4 cup sifted flour
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp. baking soda
  • 3/4 tsp. salt
  • 2/3 cup sugar 
  • 2 eggs, well beaten
  • 1/3 cup melted shortening
  • 1/2 cup chopped nuts

Sift together flour, baking powder, soda, salt, and sugar into mixing bowl. In another bowl, mix together beaten eggs, shortening, and mashed banana. Add to dry ingredients, mixing only enough to dampen all flour. Turn into well greased muffin pans and bake in 400° F oven about 20 minutes, or until done. Makes 16 small muffins.

Banana Tea Muffins for Modern Times

I have updated the recipe a bit for more modern times. Here are my changes:
  • Substitute 1/3 cup NON GMO canola oil (or other light tasting oil) for the melted shortening.
  • For 3/4 cup of the white flour, substitute whole wheat flour, or 1/2 cup whole wheat flour and 1/4 cup almond meal.
  • Cut the salt to 1/2 tsp.
  • Make 12 muffins instead of 16.
  • Check for doneness at 18 minutes.

Note that the muffins may seem small by today’s standards.

These Banana Tea Muffins have a marvelously crunchy top. I bet you can’t eat just one. 

Happy Monday. Have a great week!

On Mondays I often blog on food, food issues, or gardening in support of Meatless Monday, one of several programs developed in the Healthy Monday project, founded in 2003 in association with Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Syracuse University’s Newhouse School of Communications. Meatless Monday’s goal is “to help reduce meat consumption 15% in order to improve personal health and the health of our planet.”

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Things Worth Knowing: 08.16.14

Success is all in the preparation.

Overdue painting projects finally made their way to the top of the “To Do” list this summer. Each of them is a re-do of a project from some years past.

On the plus side, latex paint has improved considerably since the last time these projects were done. It is thicker. It has low odor. It is guaranteed for longer. It is offered as paint and primer in one.

On the down side, it is pricey.

To ensure that new paint will adhere well, it is essential to remove any loose paint, to patch and prime any holes, and to get the surface smooth and clean before painting. The high cost of the new premium paints is one more reason to do a thorough prep.

In the past, paint labels advised washing down the walls with something like TSP (trisodium phosphate), rinsing well, and letting the surfaces dry before painting. TSP is a powerful cleaner that can cause burns to the skin and eyes. Furthermore, the user is advised to keep gray water from a session with TSP from entering the sewer.

The US Geological Survey cautions: “Phosphorus is an essential element for plant life, but when there is too much of it in water, it can speed up eutrophication (a reduction in dissolved oxygen in water bodies caused by an increase of mineral and organic nutrients) of rivers and lakes.” Such conditions can lead to algae blooms. 

Over the years manufacturers have come up with various “TSP Substitutes,” some in a powder form that required a rinse, others in a liquid form that you sprayed on and wiped off. 

This time around, I opted for a totally chemical-free solutionUltimate Cloths®. and water. 

Ultimate Cloths® are often sold as fundraisers, but anyone can buy them online. I had already been using them to wash windows, get the grime off cupboard doors, clean computer screens and eyeglasses, and make stainless surfaces shine.

I decided to see if they worked well enough for paint prep. I got out a bucket of water and my “Bad Boy” (the large version of the cloth designed for use on washing a car) and got to work on the light pink wall in the hallway vestibule. With a damp cloth and a bit of elbow grease, two decades of grime washed off. As the wall became bright pink once more, my cloth and the rinse water grew ever grayer. 

The prep was much easier, cheaper, greener, and less hazardous to my health.

And the new paint went on really well. 

I imagine there are other similar products out there, but Ultimate Cloths® are the ones I know. Give ’em a try and get busy. I guarantee you will find many uses for them. 

If they seem a bit pricey, factor in that you can use them over and over, and that you will not require any other cleaning products besides water. 

Granted, once you use them a couple of times they may not look white any more. The instructions say that you can bleach them, but I have let this go. And I note that they are available in colors now. You can read more about the cloths here

I hope you find this a “Thing Worth Knowing.” Check for more stories like these as time goes by.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Meatless Monday: Eating Invasives

“If you can’t beat ’em, eat ’em” is the mantra of both urban foragers like “Wildman” Steve Brill and chefs, including New Haven's Bun Lai, whose restaurant features an Invasive Species Menu. In fact, the European green crab featured on Bun’s menu is one of the dozen invasive animals hunted by Jackson Landers, who documented his adventures in Eating Aliens.

Invasive animals often make themselves known in dramatic ways — leaping into boats  (Asian carp) or rooting in farmers’ fields (feral pigs). A quieter, even more pervasive threat, comes from the invasive plants that are taking over our landscape. They are such a problem that many states have formed Invasive Plant Working Groups with action plans and corps of volunteers who attempt to eradicate these invaders when possible and, at the very least, keep them from spreading. A key component of any successful program is educational outreach, alerting the public to the problem and enlisting their help in containing it. Here is a link to the group at UConn. 

What is an invasive species? In short, it is a plant or animal introduced by humans, intentionally or accidentally, to a new location where it has taken hold to such an extent that it has crowded out or become a threat to resident native species.

One such species common along roadsides, forest edges, and city lots in Connecticut is Japanese knotweed (Polygonum cuspidatum) also known as Japanese bamboo. Introduced as an ornamental in park settings in the 1870s, it was used to control erosion along roadsides in the 60s and 70s. It has since gotten out of control. This beautiful plant is easily identified by its hollow, red stems [more about this later]. 

Knotweed in an urban lot in May

Japanese knotweed can thrive under a variety of growing conditions; it can even withstand roadside salt and tolerates drought. Once established, this vigorous growing plant is difficult to eradicate. Its seeds germinate under a wide range of conditions. Established plants spread vigorously by producing new stems from long, deep-growing rhizomes; root fragments created when you pull up or dig up the plant can repopulate! Thus, the best way to control it is to cut it back before it flowers.

This invasive plant does have some culinary uses. The young shoots have a lemony taste. Steve Brill and others have used these for making pie and jam. You will find some recipe ideas here. Bun Lai created a beverage “Knot Your Mother’s Lemonade.” 

But, here’s the thing. It’s fine to harvest and eat invasives in a manner that will help curb the population [and if you know that the the site where you harvest is free of lead, pesticides, and other contaminants]. But, you have to be extremely cautious not to spread the invasive while you are gathering it. Remember what I said about knotweed propagating by root fragments?

Back to the stems… The red stems contain reservatol, the chemical in red wine and grape juice that may have heart healthy properties. Since Japanese knotweed is a cheaper source of this chemical than grapes, this plant is now being cultivated and harvested for medicinal use. The majority of the reservatol supplements sold today are manufactured from Japanese knotweed extract.

What does it mean to cultivate an invasive? What if it escapes and multiplies where it is not wanted? Are there adequate measures in place to keep this from happening? 

Take care when dealing with invasives or you might inadvertently cause harm when you really meant to do something good.

Happy Monday. Have a great week!

On Mondays I often blog on food, food issues, or gardening in support of Meatless Monday, one of several programs developed in the Healthy Monday project, founded in 2003 in association with Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Syracuse University’s Newhouse School of Communications. Meatless Monday’s goal is “to help reduce meat consumption 15% in order to improve personal health and the health of our planet.”