Our Neighbor to the North

We drove up to British Columbia Canada last week for a business trip for me. SunRype, a Canadian apple juice producer located in Kelowna, BC, invited me to visit their plant to see their process and exchange information about how we both handle certain issues.

SunRype plant in Kelowna, British Columbia

SunRype plant in Kelowna, British Columbia

I jumped at the chance to make the visit – it sounded interesting professionally, and also gave me a chance to make a visit to a very beautiful area. As we were making the last part of the drive up, we were able to tune into some Canadian radio stations. The top news was President Obama’s first foreign visit – a trip to Canada. Other than his faux pas of telling his audience how happy he was to be in Iowa – oh no, make the Ottawa – he was well received. We noticed all the newspapers gave that story top billing. Carrie said that in DC little mention was made of his visit north. But I felt a good sense of solidarity as Dave and I made our first visit north of the border in many years at the same time that Barack Obama made his first visit as President to a foreign country.

My iPod, set to shuffle, appropriately chose to play Joni Mitchell singing “A Case of You” (with the refrain “Oh, Canada”) shortly before we crossed the border.

Our Greeting as we drove into BC

Our Greeting as we drove into BC

The Okanagan Valley is  like a sister valley to the Yakima valley where we live. It’s similar in many ways, but oh so different. They grow a lot of tree fruit (such as apples, peaches, pears and cherries) and wine grapes.  Some of the public art in Kelowna celebrates these fruits.

Giant peach and pear in Kelowna park

Giant peach and pear in Kelowna park

The number of vineyards and wineries is staggering. But while it’s also a desert climate, at the far northern end of the Great Basin Desert, the setting has more trees, lakes and elevation change than the Yakima Valley.   Kelowna sits on Lake Okanagon, a beautiful lake that  has a mythical creature named Ogopogo (which Dave notes is an palindrome), much like the Loch Ness Monster.  I loved this tiled rendition of an apple box label.

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And I like their accent. They say “about” and “process” and lots of other words differently. Very distinctive. It’s an accent I wish I had.  Also very polite and nice. We noticed even the city bus display a “sorry” sign for the “out of service” bus.

So, let’s raise a glass of apple juice in a toast to our wonderful neighbor.  Cheers!

Directionally Challenged – A Recipe for Disaster

Hey – I’m related to a lot of directionally challenged people and I just didn’t know it. I had no idea that besides Becky (the normal one) so many of my relatives have problems with right and left! I did some reading and found that many people with this problem are “visual learners”. Which actually does fit me, and why I continue to tell Dave that I truly think a GPS unit in the car would help me. If I can see a picture with arrows pointing a certain way, or cars driving off a certain direction, I’m fine. But giving directions to someone else that involve things like “drive a block and then turn left”….. a recipe for disaster.

Oh, that’s where the dyslexic cook part comes into this! I like trying new recipes, even if they don’t always turn out right!

Who shares your birthday?

February 12th is approaching (or here or past by the time you read this). It’s Dave’s birthday. While he doesn’t like celebrating birthdays, I am always envious of the people who share his birthday. The two most famous have been in the news this week as February 12, 2009 is the 200th anniversary of the birth of both Abe Lincoln and Charles Darwin.

Lincoln has also been in our thoughts recently with the inauguration of Barack Obama. In the days before the inauguration, Obama retraced the train trip Lincoln took to the Capital. And then he took his inauguration oath with the Lincoln Bible, although this included some distractions due to Chief Justice Roberts mixing up the order of some of the words in the oath.

And Charles Darwin– he’s one of my scientific heroes (click on the hyperlink for a great article from the New York Times). Someone I’d like to invite to dinner for a lively discussion and slide show (OK, not possible in his time, but still something I’d like to see) of his visit to the Galapagos Islands.

So, who shares your birthday? Elvis Presley and I have a shared link because we were both born on January 8th. And, while I won’t generally admit it, I do like singing along with some of his songs (even if no one else can stand to listen). Sing along with me – “unchained melody” or “I can’t help falling in love” ? Or don’t sing along and just tell me to be quiet. Being able to sing out loud without anyone telling you to be quiet is probably the strongest argument I can make for driving to work by yourself.

So, Happy Birthday Dave and Abe and Charles!

The temperature is rising…..

No, I’m not talking about global warming, although it’s certainly something worth blogging about. Instead, what’s the newest worry we can add to our food related scares? I haven’t blogged about the recent peanut related salmonella problems. I probably should. No, instead, I’ve been thinking about the articles I’ve read about mercury in high fructose corn syrup.

Mercury. When I think of mercury I usually think about those old fashioned thermometers that use mercury in the bulb. Oh, you know. The ones you aren’t supposed to break and then handle that fascinating ball of liquid mercury for fear of poisoning yourself. Thermometers where the mercury rises in the bulb as the temperature increases. So, recent articles in the news disclose that mercury is showing up in high fructose corn syrup, which is widely used in many food products. How did the mercury get in the corn syrup? It’s manufactured using sodium hydroxide. And sodium hydroxide (or caustic soda) can be made ( but isn’t always made) using a process that uses mercury, which ends up adding mercury to the sodium hydroxide, which then ends up in the corn syrup.

At times, I’m truly disturbed to admit I work as a food scientist. How can anyone feel good about realizing that the work of fellow scientists has resulted in this? It’s another unrealized consequence. You can think you are doing one thing (that is good) and end up with an entirely unwanted consequence (that is not good). It’s made me think hard and deep about what my company does to make apple juice. What unwanted consequences are coming from our making apple juice and apple sauce and dried apples and fresh apple slices? More things to keep me from sleeping soundly at night.

An apple a day….. — you’ll have to fill in the rest of the sentence.

The Dyslexic Cook

I’m kind of dyslexic.  Oh, I don’t mess up letters in words.  They always march by in the right order and I can read just fine.  But directions that involve right and left give me problems.  I have to close my eyes and try to visualize things and then carefully pick our the right words.  I use all the standard crutches – like holding my hands up and seeing that my left hand makes the letter “L”.  Or that I “write with my right” hand.  It doesn’t work well.  Dave pities the poor person who asks me for directions.  

But I’m glad that I don’t get messed up with numbers.  Imagine what cooking would be like if you had problems with transposing numbers. Too much baking powder? Too little flour. All possible if numbers dance around for you and rearrange themselves. I was thinking about this and decided that I can put up with direction dyslexia but am certainly glad that numbers behave themselves. I love baking and cooking too much.

What’s for breakfast?

I love breakfast. I wake up hungry and ready to eat — soon. A favorite food early in the morning is hot cereal. Wheat Hearts is a great choice, but I can’t seem to find them locally. Oatmeal is also great. Call me weird, but I like starting the day with a hot bowl of oatmeal. Thick, steel cut oats are best. Old fashioned are still great. I even will go with quick cooking oats – as long as I can start with plain oats, and not those horrible packets sold by Quaker Oats of instant oatmeal that have a high load of sugar and flavors. Still, I’m always open to other ways to eat oats (besides turning into being a horse and eating them raw).

So, I was reading in the Milwaukee Journal about Heinemann’s, a local institution, closing their restaurants. This restaurant holds a soft spot for Dave – his parents went to their downtown location in the center of the city for lunch, when they were courting. So, in reading the article, I noticed that a favorite menu item was baked oatmeal. Baked oatmeal??? What in the world is that? I did some searching, as Heinmann’s was unwilling to share their recipe. I found many recipes and tried one this morning. It didn’t as much butter as some the recipes I’d found, but it seemed interesting. And I liked it! Here is what I made. (Actually, I divided everything in half and baked it in a small casserole dish):

Baked Oatmeal

1 1/2 cups skim milk
2 eggs, beaten
2 Tbsp butter, melted
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp cinnamon
2 1/2 cups rolled oats
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1 cup sliced bananas

Preheat oven to 350. Spray a 9 X 13 pan with non-stick spray. Whisk together milk, eggs, butter, and vanilla. In a large bowl, stir together cinnamon, oats, brown sugar and baking powder. Fold milk mixture into oat mixture. Let stand for 15 minutes. Pour inot prepared pan. Bake 35 to 45 minutes. Top with sliced bananas…

Yummy. So, next time I will add some fruit to the baked oatmeal. Chopped up apples, or dried fruit. But I will make it again.