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Homemade “Fast” Food–the Chicken Tender

I still remember when it happened–it was the summer after my junior year of high school, the summer I spent at Interlochen National Music Camp. (The place was unbelievable–eight weeks of nonstop high level music-making in a summer camp setting, orchestra rehearsal every day with a full concert every Sunday, and cabins with bunks and counselors, and horrible cafeteria food, and even uniforms if you can believe it. Powder blue shirts and navy corduroy pants for the boys, corduroy knickers and knee socks for girls.  It actually wasn’t so bad–those knickers were indestructible, and we all hated them so much that we totally didn’t care what we did in them and thus felt very free and comfortable sitting on the dirt or cleaning the cabin or whatever…)

(But, as usual, I digress.)

mcnuggetsIt was also the summer I was starting to look at colleges, so my folks and I combined the Maryland-to-Michigan drive with a couple of stops at colleges for tours and interviews and such.  Lotsa road tripping. And most important (to the point of this post, at least), it was the summer the Chicken McNugget was unveiled. (It was also the summer New Coke was abandoned and Classic Coke finally reappeared.)

And man, did we ever eat McNuggets that summer. Heck, if nothing else, it was a New Road Trip Food–we didn’t have to get Quarter Pounders any more, there was now an alternative.  A tasty, fried, easy-to-eat-while-driving, comes with a variety of dipping sauces to give one variety, alternative. (I look back and go, eew, what were we thinking?)

Since that summer, my mom says she has never looked at a Chicken McNugget without nausea again, just from eating too many of them.  For me, it took reading The Omnivore’s Dilemma to really achieve that gut-deep sick feeling, although once I grew up I grew out of them.  (I’m not going to turn this post into an anti-McNugget rant, although I have plenty of ammo for one.  Enough other internet blogger types have already done that; a Google search for “Chicken McNugget” and “gross” will give you plenty of places to look. I’m not even going to post the photo of mechanically separated chicken, the primary ingredient in McNuggets…although I might link to it. You were warned.:-)

Now I have offspring of my own, and–guess what!–they love chicken McNuggets. They don’t like burgers, one doesn’t like hot dogs,  the other won’t touch cheese of any kind, but they both love chicken McNuggets and the other fast food chains’ versions thereof.  We did find some less-than-eight-non-scary-ingredients frozen versions of the breaded nugget, but they are fairly pricey.  So, me being me, I undertook the process of trying to make one of my own that could save some money and maybe have even fewer ingredients–or at least, only have ingredients I absolutely know about.  It took several tweaks–first the crumbs were too whole-wheaty, then when I marinaded the chicken they weren’t happy with that flavor, and so forth…but last night I think I got it down.

Homemade Baked Chicken Tenders

(Note: I make a habit of, whenever I have heels of bread and/or the bottom of a cracker box with only busted up pieces, saving them in the freezer and then one day tossing them into the food processer to make crumbs.  About half and half cracker-and-bread made up this particular mix, I think.)

  • Mix half a cup of yogurt and half a cup of milk (or some recipes suggest a cup of buttermilk, but I used yogurt because that’s one of my staples); marinate a couple of pounds of chicken tenders or cut up chicken breasts in it for 15-30 minutes. (I’m not so good on quantities–for a small recipe you could do less yogurt, for a large one you’ll want more. Exactitude is not a big deal here; the chicken should be well covered by the yogurt mixture.)
  • Preheat oven to 375 degrees
  • Into a cup or so of bread crumbs, mix up to half a teaspoon of salt (depending on how salty you like them and how much already-salted-cracker crumb is part of your mix), maybe 1/4 tsp garlic powder (or other seasonings–whatever your own favorite blend is is probably fine.  Some folks suggest onion or celery salt, or Mrs. Dash’s…I happen to have garlic powder and none of the above, so it’s what I go with), other seasonings to taste (I use 1/2 tsp dried oregano or basil), and maybe a small handful of grated Parmesan if you think it’ll sell to your target audience. Place on a plate for dredging.
  • Prepare a cookie sheet or other flat baking dish; grease lightly or spray with nonstick cooking spray.
  • One piece at a time, lift chicken pieces out of yogurt mixture , let excess drip off but leave a lot on there, and dredge in crumb mixture; lay on cookie sheet with space between each one
  • Bake at 375 degrees for about 15 minutes or until chicken is cooked all the way through.

That’s it, and it’s fairly easy. Next time I will bake a really big double batch and freeze them–then a minute or two in the microwave will be all it takes to get dinner on the table.  The most time- and energy-consuming part is the dredging process, so doing a lot of it at one go will make future eatings much easier…

Do they taste like McNuggets? Not even remotely. But they taste good.

Confession…

8229-the-penitent-magdalen-agostino-carracciBless me, green sisters, for I have sinned.  Through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault.

Friday night the kids and I watched The Wizard of Oz, their first time seeing it (agenda: a dear friend handed down her daughter’s “Dorothy” costume, and I’m hoping to convince my daughter to wear it for Halloween, which would not be possible if she did not see the movie…), and we vegged out and munched on butter-flavored microwave popcorn.

Saturday  after work instead of going home for dinner, I unexpectedly had to head to the city to my in-laws, who are ill. I stopped at Walgreens to pick up a couple of things, and the Cheetos (my big vice–it’s awful!) were just sitting there on the shelf, looking all orange and false and delicious. The serpent tempted me, and I did eat.

Sunday night, after an unbelievably intense week and weekend of running around like crazy people, my husband got home from visiting his folks and we got the kids to bed, and he announced that he was craving pizza.  So at 8pm we pulled out the Gino’s East frozen deep dish we had in the freezer, which wasn’t ready till 9.  (The man whom thou gavest to be with me, he gave me of the pizza, and I did eat. Three slices I did eat.)  (I at least get local points for that one, because the pizza came from Gurnee.)

I fell off the wagon big time, and now I’m feeling all bloated and icky while running to catch up and climb back on. Which I’m sort of doing–I had tea and a homemade granola bar for breakfast, and I will finish the broccoli in the fridge for lunch.  And there’s an organic free range chicken in the fridge for one of these nights, but I’m not going to cook it unless we’re going to be home to eat it, you know? (I have till Friday before it even hits the sell by date, so we’re okay there.)

It wasn’t all bad…on Friday with their popcorn the kids got attempt two at Authentically Junky Tasting But Not Actually Junky Nor Horrifically Expensive breaded chicken tenders; this was closer than the first try.  I did do try #4 of the granola bars and got some more bread dough going in the fridge for the week.  And we tend to have cut up apples and carrots with practically every meal, and at least the kids ate well and didn’t do much wagon-falling once I’d corrupted them with popcorn.  (Our neighbor’s daughter had her first birthday and there was cake and ice cream, but they didn’t gorge–of their own choice, even when ice cream seconds and thirds were being offered; they recognized they’d had enough. My work here is done!)

If nothing else–I have had brought home to me once again the reality that all these hideous processed things (okay, the pizza wasn’t hideous, it was AMAZING) that I have been programmed since childhood to think of as “rewards” are actually no reward at all–I feel sluggish, heavy, bloated, and generally Not So Great.  And this weekend I am going to a dance workshop for three days and I will need to be mobile! So I’ll yank myself back onto that wagon and hopefully remember the lesson…

The end of a song about a love between my brothers and my sisters…

Or really, not the end of the song at all. Mary Travers may be gone, but the song is still singing away.

A friend sent me this link yesterday: Mary Travers of Peter, Paul and Mary Dies at 72.   I know she lived long and well; I know she was probably very tired and ready.  And I know when it’s my turn, if I can look back on my life and say honestly that I made even half of a percent as much difference for good in the world as she did, I’ll be content.

(But this is a green blog? Why is she blogging about this here? What did Mary Travers have to do with greenness?) (I’m glad you asked.)

(note: semi-political rant below…)

  Read the rest of this entry

Forget thin–just get healthy

A friend of mine sent a link to this article.  I find it very problematic, for a whole bunch of reasons.  Someone commented on it (my response is below):

Funny – I have heard this from a couple of different sources recently. Perhaps there is a new “public” strategy to just get people to reduce their intake and control weight as an easier first step to a healthier society. Obesity is a major problem for the western world. I suppose the concept is that someone who goes from 300 pounds down to 180 pounds is going to be better off (whether they have exercised or not).
 
In fact, some of the so called medical weight loss programs focus 100% on reduced calorie intake with little or no exercise component. Then once the pounds are off, I guess the question would be whether the non-exercising 180 pound person is as healthy as the exercising 180 pound person – my guess is that the exercising person would be “healthier”. But it seems to make sense that both of the 180 pounders are overall healthier than the fatty…!
 
And what about the choice of foods that make up the reduced calorie diets…?
 
My two cents,
XXXXXXX 
My own response to the comment:
The whole slant on this article I don’t have faith in is the “thin equals healthy, exercise equals thin, therefore exercise to be thin” non-logic.
 
How about, moderate and healthy eating + moderate and healthy exercise (+ other moderate healthy variables)=healthy? If we think of exercise as only a route on the way to losing weight, and weight loss as the key to health, I think we’re missing the boat.  Because exercise is JUST A GOOD THING. 
 
The 300 lb person who shifts to a regimen of healthy, balanced, moderate eating is probably going to lose weight. And be healthier. Ditto if that person exercises, as long as they are safe and careful about it.  The 200 lb or 175 or whatever technically overweight person might not lose weight, or much of it, doing either of these things–but they’d still be healthier.  And I suspect they’d be much healthier than the really thin person who eats garbage and doesn’t exercise at all.  The problem is that we as a society look at a thin person and think they are healthy and “take care of themselves” and a not-as-thin person (I’m not talking morbid obesity here–that is its own set of health problems) and think they are less healthy, and don’t.  Doesn’t always follow.
 
(I know lots of healthy exercising good-food-eating overweight people, lots of eat garbage don’t exercise thin people, and not a single healthy exercising good-food-eating obese person. Just for the record. I’m not advocating obesity at all, or dismissing its importance as a huge health problem in this country. But I firmly believe that focusing on lifestyle, not weight, is the key to addressing it.)
 
Off soapbox now.

This doesn’t compute…

My computer is old.

Now, I’m really honestly not a bells and whistles kind of person, nor do I need the shiniest newest version of what everyone else has. (Ask my husband; we’re in negotiations about what kind of car to get when we retire the old minivan, currently at 130k and beginning to decline, and he wants New and Shiny Optiony while I want Used and Basic…this should be interesting…and no doubt there will be a post about it at some point.) (For more on our Difference Of Paradigm where gadgets are concerned, see my post about buying a new lawnmower)  But this thing is between 5 and 7 years old, and it’s been in use literally every day of those years. Now, I may not be a true computer geek, so I may not know what I’m talking about, but even for someone anti-disposable-keep-it-till-it-keels-over-in-a-puddle like me it does seem reasonable to assume that when a piece of delicate designed-for-obsolescence-in-2-years hardware is around and working literally every day for 5+ years, some of the innards are going to begin to wear out, or get dust particles in them, or not make connections the way they used to. (Hey, it happens to all of us.)

Anyway, to make a long story whinier, I really would love a new computer. My monitor is fine, my speakers are fine, it’s just the tower itself that desperately needs replacement. So, me being me, I went to work with the research. This is not exactly a time when we’re prepared to sink dollars into this.  But my computer stinks.  So I’m researching anyway.  Just to be prepared. Just in case. You never know, right?

And–who knew?–there is now a green direction to look for new computers as well. The Energy Star website has a place where you can actively look for computers with the Energy Star power rating.  Greenpeace–good old crunchy Greenpeace–has a “greener electronics guide.”    And Dell…Dell has the (sigh) Studio Hybrid  .  Just check out this inexpensive, small sized, Energy Star Gold rated little cutie…I ran through all the options I’d want/need (considering I don’t need monitor, speakers, etc. and our office has its own security stuff) and it’s still well under a thousand bucks (and I could probably do with even less than that).  And it’s just gone on sale, too.

Studio Hybrid Desktop

This is a seriously reasonable little machine–and I wouldn’t even know how to calculate how little power it actually uses and what that gold energy rating would mean to a whole office of people with these things and the building’s power bill when all’s said and done.

I can dream, can’t I?

peace,

J

Novel forms of exercise

I’m attending a big convention thing this week.  At one of those convention centers where all the hotels are connected by Habittrails…er…skywalks…and you can get wherever you want to go without actually leaving the building. (Aside from not quite loving breathing nothing but a/c air for ten hours at a stretch, this is a good thing, because at ground level you can’t necessarily get where you want to go due to construction, busy streets, buildings, etc.)

The catch is that the parking lot is a good quarter mile by habittrail from the convention center, and the nearest hotel almost double that.  And every room seems to be far away from every other room. And despite there being plenty of time to get where you need to go, one seems to always be in a hurry.  And one is also usually carrying a couple of bags of heavy Stuff one picked up or purchased in the exhibit hall or at a showcase or something.

One way or the other–this week I’m going to be walking A LOT.

And I’m re-reminded of why you don’t so often see fat Europeans or New Yorkers; the whole “walking as best and most efficient method to get where you want to go” mindset is something we’ve lost in the burbs, or the Midwest, or wherever we’ve lost it from–that convention center is designed so that walking is the best way to get where you’re going.  Life in the suburbs is not–it’s really hard to walk most places, with no sidewalks, busy intersections with no “walk” signals, strip malls with fences in between them so you have to wander for days to even find a route…

I need to walk more. Seriously.

–J

Landscaping Rant, part Deux

We should not have been surprised.

EXPOSITION:
The basic plan: we are adopting a little dog, littler than our current wiener dog, and though our kids are generally quite good and we pay attention, there is always a risk that someone could forget to shut the screen door all the way and she could escape since our patio area is not fenced.  So we wanted to build a small, simple fence around that area, preferably not hideously ugly, that would enable two little dogs to run out there and do their Business without risk of immediate escape.

This itself was easier said than even planned, let alone done.  We have a big privet hedge along one side of the patio, and the patio goes too close to our property line, for actual fencing to go around it without removing the bushes. (We have no idea what they are, except exuberant and healthy, and we can’t bring ourselves to just have them ripped out.)  So we figured some of that ornamental wrought-iron-look garden fencing would work…except that it’s all 4 inch width bars, and the new dog’s head is likely less than 4 inches in diameter, so that won’t work.

Our next plan was to do some kind of simple mesh just along the bushes and some slightly more elaborate fencing across the front, most likely that we’d make ourselves. (Er…okay, that my husband would make himself.) First we can’t find picket fence panels premade with pickets less than 4 inches apart. We could special order something closer, or make it ourselves, but honestly with the dog coming in maybe a week we want to get this done. So we get a nice piece of 8×4 cedar lattice that we can use across the front of the patio.

Stake-sinking time.

HERE BEGINS THE RANT:

Okay, remember those lovely (and yes, they were lovely) people who sold us this house and were able to close in two weeks? Who put a lot of time, effort, and money into getting their house ready to sell? Whose previous landscaping style employed a lot of white gravel, and instead of removing anything old when they relandscaped to sell, they just put mulch and stuff over the gravel, leaving all the old landscaping materials where they were?

Well, in the side yard where the newly-put-in-to-sell-the-house patio is, they apparently did the same thing. Which is apparently why the landscaping on that side is suspiciously about 6 inches higher than anything on the other side of the privet hedge.  And guess what they used for landscaping, apparently, over there? ROCKS. Big river rocks, about 7-10 inches in diameter, flush against one another, all over the entire area.  Seven inches under a thick mattress of evil cypress mulch, a single layer of rocks, practically touching each other, all the way around.  And on the house side, one of them is half-buried under the patio, and thus impossible to remove.

Rocks. This is not what I was picturing. This is not the kind of issue we expected to run into. Giant, carefully laid, probably fairly expensive rocks.  So now the fence has to be a couple of feet away from the patio in front (because the rocks seem to sort of stop up there somewhere), to avoid the under-house rock,  at which point we’ll pray we don’t come up with anything else heinous. 

And my tarragon is wilting, and something’s chewing on my basil, and the veggies still look stunted, and I think I accidentally bought German instead of Roman chamomile.  Not that this has anything to do with the rocks or the fence, it’s just something else to irritate me.

Bummer.

And the patio–the less-than-a-year-old, put-in-to-help-sell-the-house patio–is already starting to fall apart.  Cosmetically very pretty, but not well made at all.

Anyway–The plan will be to erect 4 4×4 posts along the front of the patio, 2 on each side of the walk. On each side, we’ll put a 2 ft by 4 ft lattice panel, and in the middle we’ll make a simple 3 ft wide gate out of the lattice, with hinges and a latch.  So far 3 out of the 4 posts are in, and the 4th one we’ll wait on because the first 3 are the most important, and if we can’t get the 4th one in we’ll make do with extending the mesh. (Which worked but is sort of unattractive. At this point, I don’t think we much care.)

And next spring, we’ll ask ourselves a different question: this year it was all about, “do we tear out the bushes?” Next year it’ll be, “do we tear out the patio and put in something smaller?”  Because if we do that, we can replace our makeshift  little fence with an extension of the nice cedar fencing we have around the rest of our yard.  And we will hire someone else to do it, to pull out and deal with all the ridiculousness the previous owners left behind.

I want a garden, not an archaeology site.

Where’s the Beef? (hopefully in someone else’s kitchen!)

The beef rant. As promised.
 

 

Okay, I love meat.  In spirit and desire, I’m a total carnivore.  I don’t even like to dress it up with much seasoning or salt–there’s not much I like better than a nice juicy steak.  Just lovely and delicious and…wow. 

However.  I don’t eat them much any more. (In fact, I can’t remember when the last time I had a steak was…unless it was that night Al and I went out to Ruth’s Chris for our schmantzy first anniversary date. That was six years ago. Wow, has it been that long?) I still eat beef occasionally, but usually as a second-billed ingredient and only in things where I can’t substitute something else. And on Superbowl Sunday I relent and actually put beef in the chili.  And yesterday’s blog entry did mention how we’ll still do beef lunchmeat from time to time, but I’m working on excising that. Don’t tell Al. (It’s okay, he probably knows.)

Last summer I read Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma.  This is not a book for anyone who wants to remain in blissful bigfoot ignorance or who would have deep personal pain about never wanting to pull into a McDonald’s drive-thru again. You’ll learn more than you ever wanted to know, but what will gross you out more is realizing how much of this semi-food you’ve been eating without knowing what was in it and how it got to you. Since then I’ve read a few more books (Pollan’s In Defense of Food is also really good, and sort of less scary.) –but Omnivore is that rare book that has actually hit me hard enough to, overnight, change the way I think of food and eating.  Read it. Read both.  (Omnivore grossed me out and scared good habits into me, and Defense gave me a way to live those habits with some joy and hope.)

Did you know that cows have to consume 16 times as much grain to produce an equal amount of meat? That’s before even getting to the part about how they are fed food that’s bad for them and makes them sick (corn, which they can’t digest properly…that’s why grass-fed beef is so much more expensive), then pumped full of antibiotics to keep them alive long enough to be fattened enough for market.  That’s also without factoring in refrigeration and processing of the cattle into meat.  Chicken is better, but only a little–something like 8:1 instead of 16:1. I mean, yes, significantly better, but if it takes 1 acre of rice to meet the caloric needs of, say 8 people, and 5 acres to feed chicken to feed the same 8, and 10 acres for the same caloric result in beef, well, do the math.  (These figures adapted from michaelbluejay.com/veg/environment.html –but check around, this is becoming fairly common knowledge.)

Mark Bittman’s Food Matters is another good book on this topic–he explores (and supports fairly well, though with somewhat propagandy if effective hyperbole) the now fairly widely disseminated idea that the single best thing every American could do to reduce their carbon footprint has little to do with consuming less oil and everything to do with consuming less meat.  I highly recommend it, although while I’d buy and re-read the Pollan books, I’d probably get the Bittman from the library first.  His recipes are good, but their appeal to the greenmama is eclipsed by the skepticism of the speedymama.  In fact, it is the book that led to the inception of this blog–I wanted to document at least my own ways of living the values without spending the time his methods seem to require.  (He also talks a lot about packaging, like how it takes something like 1600 calories in expended energy to make that plastic bottle the zero calorie water is served in. Sort of appalling.)

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