Saturday, November 20, 2010

So This is Love...

So, this is the miracle that I've been dreaming of... my new washer and dryer... I swear this song has been in my head since they were installed yesterday... So, this is love!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Peoria & Deer Valley S.D. Overrides

I cannot put this post off any longer. We need to discuss a.) economics, b.) budgets, and c.) voting.

This should come as no surprise, but the state of Arizona is in some pretty serious financial trouble. There is not enough revenue for the services we provide. We are in the red. There is no more money.

And yet here's the school districts needing more money! The Peoria and Deer Valley districts recently voted to pass the overrides, which means that they can spend 10% more than what the State has deemed necessary for the operation of their budgets.

The overrides allow the districts to collect 10 percent more than the state provides to their budgets, a sum that covers teacher salaries and other operating costs. Failure would have meant the districts would have lost a third of override funding next school year, $5.5 million in Deer Valley and $6 million in Peoria.

Read more:
I have a couple of issues, specifically, with this. One, failure would mean that the districts had to stick to the original cap of expenditures, not LOSSES as the article says. And 10% more spending means $5.5 million in Deer Valley and $6 million in Peoria, MORE! Their budgets are already $50.5 million a year and $60 million a year, respectively. And the voters said they should spend more! And guess who's paying for that? All of us. I have no idea where they are going to get the money...but maybe I do.

When your revenue goes down, your expenses should follow suit. This is what's called budgeting. But the school districts don't want to follow a budget. They want to be able to increase their expenditures without regard to what is actually happening in the world around them. I ask you, why should school districts be any different than any other company or individual? Why do they get to spend whatever they want for "needs" when just a little bit of money-sense would help?

Every company, entity, household or person is looking at their diminished income and determining what areas can be trimmed. I think the same standard should be expected of our school districts.

"But what about cuts to sports? But what about cuts to the arts? What about teacher's salaries?"

Believe me, I am a HUGE fan of sports and I love all things artistic and don't want these programs to go away. But why must tax-payers pick up the tab for these things? In most cases parents can afford to pay-to-play (hello extra-curricular activities, i.e. CCV Stars...) and also there is the possibility that students could possibly 1) raise the moneys as a team and 2) ask locals for scholarships.

This is the heart of my frustration. When we agree to raise taxes to pay for things like sports, arts, early education we are letting the government become our charitable institution of choice. People no longer look to non-profit organizations for filling these voids, we now expect the government to do this.

I think voters, especially Christian voters, are missing the boat on this one. When the government begins to take the place of charity, people are less inclined to be charitable with anything, especially since we think, "Well, I already pay my taxes." Taxes are not charity, and there would be more charitable giving if fewer taxes were required.

I read about a middle school who needed to cut athletic programs, and decided to go with a pay-to-play format, which was administered through Young America, for only $50. Why is that so bad? Wouldn't some parents be willing to pick up the tab for another kid if that kid couldn't afford it?

The proponents of the overrides used fear of the future and they played up the cuts to athletics and arts. They didn't even bother to explore other avenues of keeping these programs.

I am comforted by the fact that the overrides passed with VERY slim margins (253 D.V., and 824 Peoria) which I hope means that more and more people are waking up to the subtle encroachments of our government.

Recent Recipes

I have tried a couple of good recipes lately that I feel compelled to share. I love cooking Asian and I love making soup, so these two recipes are right up my alley!

I made Chicken Satay Stir-Fry with Orange Jasmine Rice last week. It does have peanut butter in the sauce so I scooped out some of the chicken stir-fry mixture before coating with the peanut butter sauce for Jack, my cute little allergen...

This was great! I was thrilled with how it turned out. I pretty much love all of Rachel Ray's recipes, but this was great. It was an easy recipe and best of all didn't call for Hoisin Sauce, which can be kind of pricey. It wasn't very spicy which I appreciated because I'm not sure the girls would go for it, and besides I have Chili Sauce that can easily spice things up. I think this is one of my new go-to's. I found that you could probably mix in a bag of stir-fry veggies in lieu of cutting the fresh veggies, but I happened to have all the veggies on hand so I chopped and cooked.

Then on Sunday I made Minestrone Soup from the Food Network Page. They had a list of 50 easy soups, and they did not exaggerate. None of the soups on this list seem intimidating to me. I may just make all of them! For Sunday meal, though, I made the Minestrone Soup because we had all ingredients on hand and also it seemed healthy.

If you make this soup I would add half more liquid to the cooking. It didn't have enough soupy-ness to it, in my opinion. I think this could easily be crock-potted, which I may try in a pinch, but really, it came together so fast that I'm not sure a crock-pot would be necessary.

However, I'm not sure I'll be making this soup again since the link to the 50 easy weeknight soups recipes is not working on the site! Ugh!

Well, anyways, the soup was good. I sauteed carrot, onion, celery, garlic and cabbage in olive oil, then added 4 cups of chicken broth, a rind from Parmesan cheese, a can of diced tomatoes, a can of garbanzo beans (the recipe called for cannelini beans, but I didn't have those on hand), salt & pepper, brought it to a boil, and then simmered for 20 minutes. I added some Orzo pasta and cooked for another 8 minutes until the pasta was done. Before serving I removed the rind.

I probably added too mush pasta, which I realize now that I type this out. But next time I will add about 6 cups of water/chicken broth. The girls liked it, especially the garbanzo beans, and Jack liked it too. I was happy to discover that he didn't have a reaction to the Parmesan rind.

I would love to encourage you to pick up Parmesan cheese the next time you're at Costco. Freshly grating my cheese has made a WORLD of difference taste wise, and as for cost it seems to be less expensive to buy and grate your own. And then you have this delicious cooking spice!

All in all, a great simple soup with not a lot of allergens. It's terrific as leftovers, too! I love soup!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Egg Free Oatmeal Cookies

Last week I made egg-free Oatmeal Cookies with the hope of being able to share them with the littlest buddy, Jack. I made the Vanishing Oatmeal Cookies from the back of the Quaker Oats Box, substituting two tablespoons of Flax Seed Meal with 6 tablespoons of water, for the two eggs the recipe called for.

Anyways, the cookies turned out pretty darn good. And also, I ate more than my fair share of cookie dough since it didn't have raw eggs in it I figured it was totally safe!

I was worried that the cookies, upon baking, wouldn't hold together, though. And to some extent I was right. When I pulled the cookies out at 8 minutes, my usual time for cookies, they were still pretty doughy, so I put them back in the oven.

However, I may have just been paranoid.

All in all, the cookies were a lot denser, however they did taste good. They kids have been eating them, so that's good.

But I realized that I didn't sub out the butter, so they're a no-go for Jack! I can't believe I blanked on that! So, really, I need to be finding vegan recipes for Oatmeal Cookies. I'm back to the drawing board...

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Water Into Wine?

Finding this egg substitute is kind of like turning water into wine, except I'm not Jesus and I like wine more than I like eggs.

However, this substitute is pretty darn close to the Miracle at the Wedding. If you are ever in a pinch for eggs, and have flax seeds around, then I recommend my new favorite cooking and baking go-to. Per one egg, take one tablespoon of flax seeds, grind them up, and then mix three tablespoons of water to make a paste. This will give you the emulsifying agent that eggs bring to baked goods.

I have used this in pancakes and a quick pumpkin bread recipe. I was thrilled with the way my pancakes turned out. I adapted this quasi-vegan recipe from Katie's Buttermilk Pancake recipe.

2 tablespoons flax seed, ground, mixed with 6 tablespoons water.
2.5 cups soy milk (Or any non-dairy milk that you prefer to cook with.)
4 T. canola oil
2.5 cups flour (I used a mixture of whole wheat & a.p.)
2 T. sugar
3 t. baking powder
1 t. baking soda
1/2 t. cinnamon
1 t. salt

Mix the dry ingredients, then slowly add in the wet ingredients. Don't overbeat or the pancakes will turn out tough - some lumps are fine. Cook on a hot griddle until bubbles form on top, then flip.

The pancakes came out beautifully. They were puffy, tasty, and everyone loved them! This is my favorite pancake recipe by far especially since Jack can eat them and they make great portable snacks.

A few things I've noticed about using flax seeds. One is that you really do need to grind pretty thoroughly. I made the mistake of not grinding long enough and had a few rouge seeds hanging about at the end of the batter. But the consistency of the batter was unaffected so it turned out okay. I just don't like to waste...

Another thing is that I think it's probably better, meaning more nutritious, to freshly grind your seeds as needed. But I'm not a nutritional analyst, so if you don't have a grinder and are buying the meal, then it's probably fine. I'm just suggesting that the fresher the grind the more nutritious the seed.

Thirdly, when using flax seed meal rather than eggs in baked goods, you may notice that you don't need to cook the goodie as long. I have been using my nose, and then testing with a toothpick. If it comes out dry then the goodie is done! With the pancakes I waited until the edges were nice and firm, because I didn't see too many bubbles. I think that may be a property of using the flax seed meal.

Lastly, I think it's beneficial to try and mix in whole-wheat flour for your baked goods when using flax seed as an egg substitute because whole-wheat flour hides the look of the flax seed meal scattered throughout your baked good. (The amazing Erik always notices color and specks...) Also, using flax seed meal gives a nutty flavor, slight in my opinion, but that flavor won't come through if you use whole wheat flour.

Today I may attempt oatmeal raisin cookies with flax seed meal. I'll let you know!