Tag Archives: salt

Friday Linkage 4/14/2017

Presidents, by the very nature of being one who seeks the presidency, are creatures with massive egos.  However, the current president—who was the loser in terms of the popular vote lest we forget our recent history—has to be one of the most egocentric human beings to ever inhabit the office.  If you take a moment to listen to his interviews or read his tweets, which may lead to a little bit of vomit coming into your mouth, you see someone driven by the need to be the center of everything.  Humility is not something that this man brings to the office.  Ugh…how many more days of this do we have?

Oh right, it’s only 3 years 9 months and 7 days until the next president takes office.  But who is counting?

On to the links…

The Latest Test for the White House? Pulling off its Easter Egg Roll—Not even capable of pulling off the annual Easter Egg Roll.  Sad.

Land Transfer Advocates Steer their Focus to Monuments—This issue demands constant vigilance by advocates of public lands, which thankfully has allied some strange bedfellows in hunters, watermen, skiers, hikers, etc. over the past few months.  Nonetheless, clowns like Orrin Hatch and Jason Chaffetz—seriously, is there something in Utah’s water—are going to push the boundaries until they appease their masters.

EPA Ending Program to Prepare for Climate Change—Scott Pruitt will go down in history as one of the villains of the Anthropocene.  When the history is written by our children and grandchildren he will be remembered as a corporate shill more interested in lining the pockets of his Koch-backed overlords than preserving the environment for the people of the United States.

The De-Electrification of the U.S. Economy—I would not go quite as far as the author suggests, but there are promising trends in the decoupling of electricity consumption and economic activity.

More Subsidies than You Think Influence the Cost of Electricity—Our electricity generation and distribution system is a mess.  Subsidies are one reason why because the price we pay—assuming we even know what the price is per kilowatt hour—is distorted by a plethora of subsidies.

California’s Rising Solar Generation Coincides With Negative Wholesale Electricity Prices—Check out these two charts:


Distributed solar is huge—or is it yuge?—in California.

Washington State’s New 8 Megawatt-Hour Flow Battery is the Largest of its Kind—A big problem with renewables is variability and alignment with demand.  Take solar.  It’s production peaks right before the big demand peak from people coming home from work.  It’s the so-called duck curve.  Flow batteries are promising as a technology to deploy grid level energy storage for managing this mismatch.

Kentucky Coal Mining Museum Installs Solar—It’s not April Fool’s Day.  It’s just reality.

Appalachia’s New Trail: Finding Life after Coal—Appalachia, which is an odd way to define a fairly diverse region, has struggled economically since its settlement.  It is not conducive to industry and it has been used a pawn in politics for almost as long as there have been political parties in the U.S.  It’s residents have been abused by corporations claiming to act in their interests and governments forget about the region except every four years.

When Solar Panels Became Job Killers—China’s policies have created an economic situation where the price of solar panels has been driven artificially low.  This has led to a lot of non-Chinese companies being unable to compete with cheap Chinese solar panels.

SolarCity Will Begin Accepting SolarRoof Orders This Month—I really want some of these on my roof.

Making American Hydropower Great Again—Nobody is suggesting building new dams, but retrofitting older dams with new technology could lead to an increase in the available hydropower in the United States.  Hydro is clean, base load power that we need to help even out the differences between peak production and peak demand.

The Best Way to Restore Environments in the Face of Climate Change—Restoration ecology is going to be a major theme of the next few decades as we look to repair the damage that we have caused.  Best practices need to be figured out and shared as broadly as possible.

Rising Salt Levels Threaten Twin Cities Lakes by 2050—There is so much salt runoff from winter road salt that urban lakes will likely by devoid of fish because of rising salinity within our lifetimes.  As if we have not screwed up the planet enough.

New Sharing Depot Opening Reflects Success of Toronto’s Library of Things Movement—I want this to be the future.  Do I really need to own half or more of the tools I use once or twice year?  No.  Why does every house in a suburban neighborhood own their own lawn mower that gets used for an hour or so each weekend?  What a waste.  Sharing is caring, folks.


Four Ingredient Jalapeno Cashew Spread

For some reason I decided to plant a single jalapeno bush in my garden. I am not a particularly heavy user of jalapenos in my cooking at home because none of my other family members are fans of the flavor or the heat. Chalk it up to garden center optimism, which is the same syndrome that causes people to buy twice as many plant starts than they actually have space for in the garden. Guilty as charged.

In the past week or so, as the heat has been turned up outside and the weather took a turn for the dry, the jalapeno bush exploded in peppers:


How does one take a bowl of jalapenos that are rotting away on the counter and turn them into something that is easy to eat? Enter jalapeno cashew spread. Specifically, super easy four ingredient jalapeno cashew spread.

In the handy dandy Ninja blender I combine rough cut jalapenos, a few cups of unsalted cashews, a dash of sea salt, and some very neutral vegetable oil:


Pulse or blend that mixture until it takes on a consistency to your liking. Some people I know add more oil until it is almost smooth like peanut butter. I prefer a little coarser texture and less oil. It’s all up to you.

Another option is to use olive oil instead of a neutral vegetable oil like canola. I have yet to try olive oil as I like the jalapeno and nut flavors to come through.

What you will be left with is a bowl of spicy spread that is perfect for toasted sourdough:



You Must Read—Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us

The ability of food manufacturers to find synergy in the interplay of their key ingredients is not limited to fat and sugar, of course. The true magic comes when they add in the third pillar of processed foods: salt. [Page 264]

I have often told the story about how I usually feel good about the food people are buying when I first walk into the grocery store. Fresh fruits and vegetables are arrayed in bountiful displays and people seem to buying. However, I round the corner and walk into a miasma of boxed dinners—usually Hamburger Helper—that occupy untold linear feet of shelving. These boxes are little more than carbohydrates, salt, and fat. And people have carts full of the stuff. This is the beginning of the fall of human civilization.

9780812982190If you want to understand why these foods are so prevalent than you need to read Michael Moss’ Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us. Point by point he lays out the systematic way that processed foods have been designed and marketed to the primarily American consumer. The scary thread running throughout the book is that food executives understood the food they were selling was garbage, in terms of health, but that the almighty quarterly report demanded that they sell more crap. If you took out the references to common brand names like Oreos or Frosted Flakes you might have been fooled into thinking you were reading a book about the practices of tobacco companies.

Processed foods are vehicles for little more than salt, sugar, and fat—hence the title of the book. More insidious is that these foods are designed to engage our taste buds, pleasure centers, and memories in a biochemical dance that leaves us craving more and more. Really, try and eat one Oreo or a single Dorito. It’s an exercise in willpower that would make a heroin addict blush.

Moss does an excellent job of detailing how sugar and fat dovetail in ever higher quantities to create a bliss point that delivers a caloric time bomb into our guts. So much so that diabetes and other obesity related illnesses threaten to bankrupt what little national health care we have in the U.S.

Salt gets a little bit of short shrift here, but that is because salt is the universal lubricant of modern processed foods. Without copious quantities of this cheap ingredient—so cheap that it barely registers when it is indiscriminately dumped on food products—processed food would gum up the industrial works, taste like cardboard, and smell awful. Without salt you might as well be eating bad MREs.

What is most stunning is that this development was done consciously. As Moss succinctly writes toward the end of the book:

But there is nothing subtle about the products themselves. They are knowingly designed—engineered is the better word—to maximize their allure. Their packaging is tailored to excite our kids. Their advertising uses every psychological trick to overcome any logical arguments we might have for passing the product by. The taste is so powerful, we remember it from the last time we walked down the aisle and succumbed, snatching them up. And above all else, their formulas are calculated and perfected by scientists who know very well what they are doing. The most crucial point to know is that there is nothing accidental in the grocery store. All of this is done with a purpose. [Page 346-7]

Late to the Kale Party

I am not obsessed with kale like Erik at Root Simple.  I am not going to wear a shirt admonishing people to eat more kale.  On second thought, if buying a shirt from a small business in Vermont pissed off the bigots at Chick Fil-A then I might whip out my credit card.

In the search for a snack that is devoid of any scary sounding preservatives I latched onto baked kale chips.  A friend of mine always has a bowl of them handy and the crispy little bits are quite delicious.  To my surprise, Costco had giant bags of baby kale this past week:

Bag o Kale

Just ~$5 for a big ol’ bag of baby kale.  I split the bag with kale loving friend—he puts it in just about everything he cooks, which makes me wonder if he is part of some kale cult—and I set out to make kale chips.

It’s been a while since I felt like a total failure in the kitchen, but my attempts at kale chips brought me down to my knees.  I tried batches at 250, 300, and 350 degrees like several recipes on the internet said would produce the perfect kale chip.  I tried batches with very little oil or no oil at all.  I salted some and tried other spices on some.

The end result looked okay:

Kale Chips

Each time the batch totally lacked something that made it an appealing snack.  The worst part was that every batch had a lingering aftertaste that accumulated after a few chips.  It was actually quite awful.  A swig of Chinook IPA took care of the aftertaste.

Furthermore, a good sized jelly roll pan produced very little in the way of finished products once the chips had reduced down.  It was a lot of time, effort, and energy for very little return.

I am going to have to side with Dana Cowin who declared kale chips a passé foodie trend on a recent episode of Top Chef.  At least no one is marketing kale deodorant because some clown has come up with bacon deodorant.

Homemade Tomato-less Sweet Corn Salsa

Every few months whether on personal or business travel I find myself near a Trader Joe’s and cannot help myself to a few bags of products.  I am sure that some of my TJ’s love is a direct function of the fact that I do not have a store near, so many of the products seem unusual or new to me.  Heck, to a lot of regular customers the rapidity and randomness of items’ arrival and disappearance is a mystery to them as well.

One item in particular—Corn and Chile Tomato-less Salsa—was a true find.  Not only was this stuff good on chips by itself, but it was a great addition to a bowl of quinoa along with some black beans to make a knockout quick lunch.  Too bad my couple of jars did not last that long.

This is where my desire to bust out the canning supplies comes in handy.  I checked out the ingredients:

corn, sugar, onions, red bell peppers, jalapeño peppers, distilled vinegar, spices, salt, guar gum.

Nothing revelatory or really odd.  Seems like a lot of sugar, but that is easy to take care of when I make my own version at home.  I can axe the guar gum because that is to help the appearance and I could care less.  So, really, we are talking about an ingredient set that I could pretty much rustle up from my pantry.  Why exactly did I buy this stuff again?

The internet delivered lots of recipe variations.  Apparently, people are pretty much obsessed with Trader Joe’s.  My gain.  I combed through the recipes to get the ratios right and added my own “spin” because I like a little more heat.  I also did not know what I was going to do with ½ of a red pepper and jalapeno, so I upped the amount to an entire one of each.  Here’s what I started with for a recipe:

2 cups corn

1 cup onion

½ sweet bell pepper

½ jalapeno pepper

1 Tbsp. salt

¾ tsp. ground mustard

¼ tsp. Pepper

¼ tsp. cumin

Sugar to taste

Mix all ingredients together in a sauce pan on the stove, and heat until almost boiling. Let cool and then transfer into a resealable container. Store in fridge for up to a month.

Some recipes called for up to a half cup of sugar, which I felt was a little excessive.  I probably put a quarter cup into this batch to balance out some of the extra heat from the whole jalapeno, but your palate may be different.

Here’s what it looked like in jars:

corn salsa

There is not a lot of liquid in the corn  salsa because you do not add anything extra, so it is just the result of the sugar and released water combining to make a sweet, syrupy binder.  I prefer it this way because it makes for a useful addition to so many recipes and quick meals without watering things down or making everything taste like tomato liquid.

I also chose not to can this batch because I wanted to see how it turned out.  This summer, when I am swimming in fresh corn, I am going to have to can some of this because storage space in the refrigerator will be at a premium.  Oh, I cannot wait for late summer.


Stuff I Like: Tiny But Mighty Popcorn

If you have children in your home there is one truth: A bowl of popcorn is about the most fun snack kids can imagine.  There is nothing quite like putting in the latest animated feature on DVD and letting your daughter have at a big bowl while she sits on the floor.  Pure happiness.

The problem is that if you are looking for a non-GMO popcorn, you are pretty much out of luck.  Corn is one of the most heavily penetrated crops when it comes to the percentage that is genetically modified.  By some estimates the percentage is as high as 85%.  Furthermore, a lot of the popcorn on the shelves of the grocery store is junk.  I cannot count the number of times I have half of my original measuring cup in unpopped “old maids.”

Thankfully, I picked up a copy of Radish—a local magazine covering food and environmental issues—and it profiled Tiny But Mighty Popcorn.  Based in Shellsburg, Iowa Tiny But Mighty Foods grows and packages a different variety of popcorn:

Tiny But Mighty

Like so many foodstuffs, the geniuses behind GMO seeds have produced larger and larger popped kernels at the expense of flavor and texture.  You end up with a Styrofoam version of popcorn that has a hull similar to razor blades.  Tiny But Mighty is different because the popcorn is hull-less when popped, having cooked off during popping.  This means that there is none of that annoying digging at your teeth to free the stubborn hull chunk.

The story is that the variety of popcorn was an heirloom type, nearly forgotten in the rush to modern agriculture.   Until someone “discovered” a jar of popcorn, saved some to plant, and popped the rest.  They say the rest is history.

Is it the best popcorn I have ever tried?  Yes.  Additionally, popcorn is one of those snacks that I love giving my children.  They consume it voraciously, but it is actually fairly healthy.  As it is popped, there is very little oil used, contains a lot of fiber, and is very low in sodium when salted.  Who could ask for anything more?  Not this parent.

Tiny But Mighty also qualifies as a local company for me being located a mere 16 miles from my house.  Heck, I could hop on the bicycle and be at the farm in less than an hour.

Pickling Cauliflower

I have conquered pickling garlic and ginger.  The results have been good and the pickled vegetables have flown out of mason jars and into waiting mouths for the past couple of months.  I decided to “up my game” a little bit and try to pickle cauliflower.

Cauliflower may seem like an odd choice to pickle, but for anyone who has tried pickled cauliflower it is a known treat.  The problem is that a small jar of pickled cauliflower is quite expensive when you consider that the primary ingredients are so inexpensive.  This is the same logic that led me down the path of pickling both garlic and ginger.

The recipe that I started with was from Fine Cooking.  This particular recipe details how to prepare the cauliflower for shelf stable storage, which is an important trait for me.  It’s not that I am a doomsday prepper or anything, but I want to acquire the skills to preserve food in a way that is not dependent upon refrigeration.  It’s just a learning tool really.

I departed from the recipe—big surprise to those who know me—in a few ways.  First, I omitted the onion and red pepper.  In the commercial mixes of pickled summer vegetables I often dislike the onions and red peppers because the texture borders on slimy.  No slimy for me!  Second, there will be no coriander seeds in my jars.  Why?  I cannot find coriander seeds to save my life right now in eastern Iowa.  Three stores did not have them over the weekend and I have up looking.  I am sure that the product exists somewhere but I have abandoned all hope this round.

The process is real similar to pickling garlic or ginger.  That is to say, it is surprisingly easy and foolproof to make something pickled at home.  It’s really the gateway drug of home preserving because easy success just makes you want try ever more difficult projects.  Tomato sauce in the summer anyone?

In about twenty minutes, you end up with this:

Pickled Cauliflower

The turmeric really adds a yellow hue.  Compare a jar of pickled garlic packed on the same day:

Cauliflower versus Garlic

Yeah, I went a little crazy pickling this weekend.  A week from now I will noshing on pickled garlic, cauliflower, and carrots.  Sweet.