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Revisiting Thanks
Nov 23rd, 2011 by Nancy

Bucket of Coal

Hello my lovely blog readers,

Here’s a re-post of a wonderful bit Chris wrote for last Thanksgiving.  I thought it just as timely this year as last.

Many thanks to everyone that has made this website and my life so much fun, and I’m looking forward to many more years of sensible lunches and happy customers.  Here’s to hoping you all have full tables, full attendance, and full bellies tomorrow!

Happy Thanksgiving,

Nancy

Chris, take it away….

In response to a perceived discourtesy, November’s holiday-spirit, simply referred to as “Thanks,” is sending December’s patron saint, Santa Claus, a bucket of coal for Christmas this year.

Disturbed by Santa’s increasing intrusion on the month of November, Thanks feels forgotten and rudely ignored.  “It’s just so inconsiderate,” she said.  “We used to share the parade with him, but now he’s coming with the full-color newspaper inserts, direct-mailings and television ads before the turkeys even reach the stores.”

Public concern over Santa’s expansion appears to be mixed.  “I wish it was Christmas every day,” one seven-year-old boy confided.

Thanks, however, is convinced “St. Nicholas” has committed an egregious mistake.  “That fat, old elf is finally going senile,” she said.  “He doesn’t know what he’s doing and he’s confusing the kids.”

The facts suggest Claus did start the Christmas campaign earlier than usual this year.  Toy catalogs began trickling into mailboxes almost as soon as the trees surrendered their leaves, and electronic solicitors began flooding email accounts just after the recent elections.

When questioned, Claus admitted to a misunderstanding, though he blamed it on the complexities of varying international customs.  “I might have gotten a little mixed-up,” he confessed.  “The Canadians have their thankful thingy in October, and the missus is always nagging me about needing to ‘check the list twice’ and everything, so I didn’t want to dawdle this year.”

Is it merely an accident, or instead, a growing trend?  Ever since Kris Kringle endorsed “Black Friday” as the unofficial start to the Christmas season, retailers have been utilizing his likeness earlier and earlier to promote their sales.

“Santa is good business,” one store-manager concluded succinctly.

Statistical analysis indicates consumers, in turn, are beginning to shift their attentions to the Christmas season sooner than ever before.

“Thanksgiving?” one mother of four shrugged, “I’m thankful when my shopping’s done and all the presents are wrapped.”

In the U.S., Thanksgiving has legally controlled the fourth Thursday in November since December 26, 1941 (the day after Christmas).  Traditionally, the holiday has occurred on this date since 1863, however a source close to the Ministry of Christmas contends, “Nobody has ever said anything about the following Friday, or any of the weeks prior, for that matter.”

This same source, in an exclusive interview, revealed that Santa is no longer solely in charge of the Ministry, and that he is most likely not the one responsible for the increased promotional effort.  Tech-hungry consumer demands have allowed corporate retailers and manufacturers to muscle in on the North Pole’s operation.

“Kids don’t just want dollies, tin soldiers or BB guns anymore,” the source instructed, “they want an iTouch, an X-Box or a Nintendo DS.  Who do you think makes those, the elves?”

For her part, Thanks is unwilling to let Kringle off the hook.  Interviewed in a grocery store parking-lot, next to a row of leaning fir trees, she confirmed that she had heard the rumors but added, “Santa not in charge anymore?  I simply won’t believe it.”

Regardless of who’s to blame, Thanksgiving has clearly been slighted, and the effects of this negligence have yet to be fully realized.

“I don’t mean to seem ungrateful,” Thanks explained.  “Everybody loves Santa, especially the children, but I just think we need to stop and appreciate what we already have, before we begin asking for something new.”

When asked what she hoped to accomplish by her symbolic gesture, Thanks replied, “Gratitude should precede bounty in action and acknowledgment; it is the parent of all other virtues.  Santa should understand.”

By request: Gluten-Free Pizza Crust
Nov 14th, 2011 by Nancy

I’ve been following along with the Food Studies posts at Grist lately, and the most recent post “What’s Up with Gluten?” landed near and dear to my heart.  Finally!  Some sane, sensible, science-based words about gluten!  Thanks, Mitchell Mattes.   I commented, then mentioned I had a knack for gluten-free pizza crust (my husband was diagnosed celiac about 12 years ago), and a couple people requested it.  This seemed like a better place to post it than Grist.

It is, actually, a recipe from “Gluten-Free Gourmet: Living Well without Wheat” by Bette Hagman.  Her book was a lifesaver for me back in the dark ages of food allergies.  Fast forward to the present, and I’m overwhelmed (and delighted) by all the food producers that include allergen information on their labels.  ‘Makes my life much easier.

Anyway, back to the recipe: I’ve made this many, many times and have found a few shortcuts that make assembly easier, as well as additions that (I think) improve the outcome a bit.  Besides all that, today’s The Big Game, which is all the excuse I need to make a pizza.

YEAST-RISING THICK PIZZA CRUST adapted from The Gluten-Free Gourmet: Living Well without Wheat, by Bette Hagman, copyright 1990.

This makes dough for two 12-14″ pizzas.  The dough freezes nicely, so you can make one pizza now and sleep well knowing you have the makings for another one later.

1. Begin by preparing two pans for pizza.  I use the underside of my lasagne pan (or cookie sheets).  Why the underside? you ask – In truth, I don’t know why I started doing that.  Maybe the heat reaches the pizza better; maybe it’s just because it’s easier to serve pizza off a flat surface.  In any event,

pan and oilI generously coat the the pans with olive oil (tip: if your pans are non-stick, you’ll find the oil doesn’t distribute well; in that case use vegetable shortening), then dust them lightly with cornmeal to give the pizzas that “tavern pizza” finish.cornmeal for panoiling pan

Don’t worry that your pans are rectangles and you think your pizza should be round; go ahead and make a “racetrack” shaped pizza.

11-12 dry ingredients2. Throw in a large bowl (a stand mixer if you have one is perfect for this):

2 C rice flour

2 C tapioca flour

2/3 C dry milk powder

3 1/2 t xanthan gum (Essential.  Found at many grocery stores these days; try the baking aisle or the health foods aisle)

1 t salt

2 T dry yeast granules I recommend, if you haven’t baked in awhile and you have some dusty old packets of yeast in the back of your cabinet, pitch those and by a jar of the granules.  Fresh yeast does make a difference.

water, shortening and egg whites

1 T sugar

Mix with the bread hook or cookie paddle a few times to combine the dry ingredients.

3. Separate 4 eggs; we’ll use the whites in the pizza. Save the yolks for another day -

you were looking for an excuse to make custard, yes? Or maybe lemon curd?

4. Combine:

pizza dough is like really sticky frosting1 1/2 cups hot water (hot tap water is fine – 125° to 135°)

3 T shortening

Water at that temperature will allow the shortening to melt.

5. Add the water and the egg whites to the dry ingredients (turn the mixer on low if you are using one), and blend at high speed for 4 minutes.

Don’t worry that the water is too hot for the yeast – the act of adding it to the mixed dry ingredients cools it rapidly.  As long as you are using fresh yeast don’t worry, either, about proofing the yeast (softening it in warm water+a little sugar before use).  This method described above has worked every time for me. Note that the xanthan gum provides the stretch that the gluten-free flours lack, and it needs time to soften and develop in the dough.  Finally, you won’t need to let this rise; it will do so while you spread the crust and dress it.

After the mixing, you will have a dough that’s much wetter and stickier than traditional wheat dough.  Don’t worry, that’s normal for gluten-free goods.

Divide the goo onto the two prepared pans, then liberally coat your hands in olive oil and gently press and prod the doughs into flat, roundish crusts that are about 1/4″ thick, leaving somewhat thicker edges to hold in sauce and toppings.  Re-oil your hands as necessary to minimize sticking; the finished crusts will be shiny but not drippy with oil.   I find that the dough is prone to tearing, so be gentle and patient; I also find that the heel of my hands works better than my fingers for spreading crusts.  Note that you won’t get a perfect circle and it won’t look “justlike a wheat crust” but it will be fine, and it WILL taste great.11-12 pizza in process 3pizza in process 1pizza in process 2

DRESSING THE PIZZA

Have on hand:

11-12 cheese added

11-12 sauce added

Tomato sauce for pizza (about one cup) I use a good quality spaghetti sauce, and it works just fine.  If you use that and happen to have a little tomato paste on hand, add it to the sauce to thicken it a bit; if not, that’s fine too.  Be careful if the spaghetti sauce is “chunky”, as the pieces, when you try and spread them on the dough, can tear it.  Be careful, and take your time.

Shredded mozzarella I use about a pound per pizza.  It looks like too much; it isn’t.

Shredded fresh parmesan If you don’t have fresh parmesan, you can omit this, but I highly recommend it.

Toppings as you see fit.

The most common difference between homemade pizza and good restaurant pizza is that homemade pizzas tend to have too much sauce and not enough cheese.   Once the crust is spread, apply a modest layer of sauce, then ample shredded mozzarella to within an inch or two of the edge.  Add toppings, then finish off the whole affair with a dusting of grated fresh parmesan (about a half cup per pizza).

Apply another coat of olive oil to the outer edge if it looks dry, then

11-12 pizza ready to bake

Salt and pepper the whole thing, especially the outer edge – I know, I know, you’re thinking doesn’t the cheese have finished pizzaenough salt already? Ignore your concerns.  The results are great.  I haven’t tried any seasoned salts, but I bet they’d work well too.

6. Bake the whole affair at 400° for 20 – 25 minutes.  Check the pizzas at about 15 – 20 minutes, and rotate the pans if they aren’t browning evenly.

Enjoy!

If you’d like to make one pizza now and another later, you can freeze the dough as soon as it’s mixed; OR you can spread the dough, place the cookie sheet in the freezer and harden up the raw, spread crust, then wrap and store it for future thawing, dressing and baking; OR you can “blind bake” the undressed crust  for 15 minutes and freeze it for later use.  I’ve done all three with good results.

I’ve also mixed the dough and divided it into 8 “mini pizzas”, then blind baked them for future use.  It’s more work but a real treat to pull one out for a quick dinner.

slice showing crustLet me know how they turned out!

crust underside - browned, crunchy+chewy

The Plastic Files: Episode One
Nov 5th, 2011 by Chris

The Truth Is Out There …

We’re about to embark on a gripping adventure.  A confounding mystery has thrust itself into the offices of Lunchsense World Headquarters, and we, driven by an unyielding determination to shed light on any dim corner of obscurity, feel obligated to inveDetective-with-smoke-flippedstigate.  It’s a bewildering complexity that involves multinational corporations, government agencies, public health groups, environmentalists and possibly even mad scientists.  The wellness of the planet and the sustenance of our species could hang in the balance.

The story begins with the kind of woman you cross the floor and light a cigarette for (if people still smoked).  “Hey, I kinda like your lunchboxes,” she says off-handedly before shooting me one of those straight-to-the-gut stares that suggests more than it delivers.  “But,”—there’s always a hangnail, a stickler, some pain to snap me out of it—“are these plastic food containers safe?”

Ah, there’s the rub; the stopping point for many potential lady-friends and forward-thinking fellas alike.  It seems plastic has recently transitioned from its gilded, “better living” period to a much darker phase of skepticism and mistrust.  Who crashed the Tupperware party?  Do we have good reason to be afraid?  Is plastic another asbestos—a toxic substance that surrounds us, masquerading as modern convenience?  Or has public anxiety been heightened egregiously by the rampant spread of misinformation via nefarious, unqualified sources?  Who can be trusted?

Since selling plastic food containers is a part of our business, and since we’re human and live here too, Lunchsense has decided to put our considerable resources (this blog space) toward determining exactly where the truth lies.  Combining Nancy’s scientific/research background with my own journalist’s instincts (shaded by a gumshoed-sleuth persona), we’re certain to crack the case.  We’ll leave no stone unturned in our quest to discover what is known and unknown about this seductive, synthetic substance.

In the coming weeks, we’ll be featuring a series of blog posts related to the safety of plastic food containers, and we’ll be looking at the most viable alternative (for our purposes), stainless steel.  We’ll outline and weigh their environmental impact, both in the manufacturing process and in the post-consumer period.  We’ll also examine any health risks involved with using plastic (or stainless) food containers.  Finally, we’ll discuss what qualities consumers use to determine “good” from “bad,” how those impressions are influenced, and where (we think) our food containers rate on that scale.

It’s sure to be a heart-pounding thrill, so stay tuned for our next installment, a short, historical primer entitled: Plastic Fantastic? We’ll explain what plastic is and how it’s produced.  We’ll describe the different types of plastics and discuss the chemicals used in the manufacture of these types, including their toxicity and any associated health risks.

The truth is out there, so don’t you dare miss a single upcoming episode of our revealing series: The Plastic Files!

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