Thursday, January 27, 2011

7 Ways to use Greek Yogurt

Because I have potlucks to attend three or four times a month, and all my friends make food from local sources, I try to keep local ingredients on-hand ready to make potluck desserts and meals. One product that has saved my bacon many a time - when I fail to plan ahead - is Wagon Creek Creamery 's luscious Greek Yogurt, which can be incorporated into an amazing array of dishes.

At $6 for 32 ounces at the OSU-OKC Farmer's Market (and somewhat more through the OK Food Co-op), it's not too expensive - comparable or cheaper than the Fage brand available in stores here. Wagon Creek Creamery Greek Yogurt is made from milk from their own pasture-fed cows, which means that, according to many sources, it has a higher nutritional content - more CLA, Omega-3 fatty acids, and vitamins.

Taste tests conducted by the Okla-vore showed that the low-fat and full-fat versions had equivalent flavor; and the low-fat version has no bizzare fillers as commercial low-fat versions sometimes do. So don't be afraid to get the low-fat greek yogurt - it's quite tasty.

And it's incredibly versatile - substituting for both sour cream or unsweetened yogurt! Use it plain to substitute for sour cream, or add some honey or sugar to make it sweeter. Here are just a few ways that you can use this healthy dairy:

1. A main ingredient for dips - tzaziki sauce, raita, herb veggie dip, and pumpkin dip come to mind.

2. A tangy, tasty topping for pancakes, waffles, muffins, oatmeal, or granola.

3. An ingredient for creamy soups.

4. Makes a great snack combined with fresh or dried fruit, or used in a fruit smoothie.

5. A great base for sauces like creamy curry sauce or for creamy pasta dishes.

6. A general sour cream substitute in dishes like seven-layer dip.

7. A handy ingredient for desserts or dessert toppings (like Peach Yogurt Pie or Bulgarian Yogurt Cake, for example).

As you can see, it's vital to have some on hand at all times.

More ideas and recipes are available here. If you live in Oklahoma, you can order the Wagon Creek yogurt (and other locally made products) from the Oklahoma Food Cooperative or find it at the OSU-OKC Farmer's Market (open year round on Saturdays). In case you are curious as to my fascination with this product, I have not been paid or been given free Low-Fat Greek Yogurt to write this post. I just like the stuff, and want Wagon Creek to stay in business... by the way, their butter is pretty darn good too...

Monday, January 17, 2011

PurBlood sales drop amid criticism, competition

July 1, 2017 - - NEW ORLEANS --

PurBlood stocks took a tumble today after tepid sales during the second quarter and amid criticism of vampire elitism, falling $1.45 to close the day at $24.67 per share. Anthony Baker, blood activist and head of the non-profit organization Blood Equality, released this statement: "The very name PurBlood implies there is something wrong with the blood of some of us humans. We demand equal vampire treatment for all humans, regardless of what we eat, what we've been exposed to, what drugs we take, or what we've been doing for the last thirty years."

PurBlood spokesman Alexandar Conquel vigorously denied charges of enabling discrimination. "The PurBlood concept is that vampires can now accept donations from any consensual human donor, regardless of how polluted their blood may be. The PurBlood filter removes over 15,000 toxic chemicals from blood donations, including heavy metals, legal and illegal drugs, and even excessive cholesterol. It is an effective way to achieve blood that smells and tastes good, while eliminating the chemical additives inherent in modern human blood."

Some vampires credit the PurBlood filter with increasing their health and energy. London vampire Claudia van Huston says, "For decades, blood just tasted worse and worse and my energy level dropped to like, zero. Americans started to taste like McDonald's hamburgers left out in the car for a few days - with a side of ashtray. But now, it's like drinking blood from the Amish! I haven't felt this good since 1920. And my skin looks great."

Others report that the filter isn't worth the trouble. "With some vamps, the PurBlood filter is popular," reports 140-year old vampire Caroline Chamberlin. "I just can't stand it, though. Takes all the fun out of drinking, like drinking baby food, or a nutritional shake." She confides, "Plus, the blood donors don't like it either. A needle, hose, and blood bag is just not as intimate as a bite."

Some vampires who enjoy drinking in public have had difficulty adjusting to the PurBlood process. Nicholas Pellican, author of Tainted Blood: You've got to run away, shared his tips for vampires eating on-the-go. "Vampires don't have to go to Boulder, CO, to enjoy a night out on the town. I mean, a little tainted blood is not going to kill anyone. I just tell my readers, hey, when you get someone with bad blood, you can stop. You don't have to keep sucking to be polite. Thank them politely and just walk away."

The PurBlood filters also face stiff competition from the popular Blood Detective kit. Mattias Sandia, a Mexican vampire, uses the kit, which includes a health intake survey and a blood evaluation test that can be mailed off for an analysis, guaranteed to return in one day, or your kit is free. "Yeah, it takes a little bit of the spontaneity out of the whole process," says Mr. Sandia. "But these days, you have to be careful. I mean, really bloody careful."

Many vampires believe that these commercial products don't address the root of the crisis. Some groups, such as the Sanguine Conservancy, encourage humans to live together with the vampires as partners in green communities. Conservancy members live "off the grid" far from power plants and industrial manufacturing, grow organic food for their human blood-donors, and avoid products containing parabens, BPA, and other common chemicals. In exchange for enduring a thorough de-tox and adopting an eco-friendly lifestyle, human partners receive stipends, completely expense-free living, and guaranteed retirement.

Sanguine Conservancy spokesvampire Jessica Houston asserts that their approach is more beneficial for humans than a simple filtration product. "Essentially, we are helping humans reduce their body burden from what we call the "Toxic Trifecta:" toxic environment, toxic food and toxic lifestyle. Not only does this make you tastier, but also less prone to health problems, sickness and disease."

However, a powerful and well-funded new lobbying group, the Vampire Alliance for a Healthy Blood Supply, argues that lifestyle adjustments are not enough to protect humans from contamination. Robert Miller, head of the VAHBS, says "We are calling for strict regulatation of all new and existing man-made chemicals, especially the chemicals allowed in food and body products, and a clean-up of the toxic residues in the air, water, and soil. It's not only about what's good for us. After all, it's your blood, too."

PurBlood CEO Brendan Waters supports the proposed VAHBS regulation, but doubts that it will ever pass. "Legislators didn't regulate these extremely profitable toxins when child cancer rates increased. They didn't regulate them when the human breast milk studies came out, proving that mothers were passing on the poisons in their own bodies to their babies. If vampires think that Congress cares about their health, they've got another think coming. Then again, vampires do have the accumulated wealth of five thousand years. If anyone can make this happen through sheer brute force campaign donations, it's them."

Monday, January 10, 2011

2011: Living in interesting times

Some economists have high hopes for 2011. The stock market has broken 11,000 and many predict GDP growth. I don't necessarily see a rising stock market and GDP as indicators of economic health, especially since the vast majority of stock market gains goes to a very small minority of people. The stock market may zoom, GDP may grow, but what will be happening to the majority of people - considering the forces and trends that are in play? Maybe it's my pessimistic side, but I continue to have some major concerns about the economy:

1. Municipal, county and state debts and expenses

States and cities are having trouble meeting their financial obligations (read: paying the bills), even after an influx of federal stimulus funds and some budget cuts. State revenues plummeted by 31% in 2009 from $1.6 trillion to a total of $1.1 trillion. Some states, like Illinois, are six months behind on payments of over $5 billion.

The states also owe an enormous amount in health care and pensions to their retirees in the Boomer retirement avalanche that started recently. Collectively, public employee retirement obligations are underfunded by $1 trillion. Eight states (including my own, Oklahoma) are underfunded by over a third. How's that for conservative fiscal management?

On top of the plummeting revenues and unfunded liabilities, the American Society of Civil Engineers gave our infrastructure a "D" in 2009, and civil engineers estimate that governments (including state and city) must spend $2.2 trillion over the next five years to shore up the condition of our roads, sewers, water treatment plants, dams, bridges, and other infrastructure.

How will states, counties and cities meet their obligations to pay current employees, finance a cascade of retirements for another 25 years, and maintain our infrastructure, which is over 50 years old in many places? One hint: Meridith Whitney predicts fifty to one hundred "sizeable" municipal bond defaults worth billions of dollars over the next few years.

In addition to the aforementioned defaults, choices may include declaring bankruptcy, deep cuts in services, increasing fees and taxes, and cutting wages and benefits of employees and pensions of retirees. And, of course, continuing to let the infrastructure deteriorate.

2. The housing market

Although home prices have fallen over 20% over the last three years, median home prices have not fallen to the long-term "trend line." Some analysts have predicted further value decreases of 20 - 40 - even 80%. With homes forming the bulk of the assets of the typical American family, further price falls are likely to cause pain across the board: consumer spending, municipal tax revenue, lack of mobility to move to new jobs, ability of retirees to fund their retirements. Etc.

Interesting twist: the legality of the foreclosure avalanche is also now under serious scrutiny. With banks pulling all sorts of blatantly illegal shenanigans - robo-signing, fake witnesses, failure to transfer ownership documentation, etc. - will they be able to kick people out of their homes? We'll see how this plays out in 2011.

3. Employment situation

The U3 unemployment figure is officially 9.8%, or 15.1 million Americans. After adding people who would like jobs, but haven't looked in the past four weeks, and people working part-time but who would like to work full-time, that figure transforms to U6 - 17%. Additionally, the mean length of unemployment is the highest since 1948 - 35 weeks. And do these numbers even attempt to measure the impact of the recession (which is reportedly now over) on the millions of independent contractors and self-employed who have seen their revenues cut in half?

The real stories are those of people struggling to hang on, of people who are losing jobs, homes, and hope, of people who don't yet realize that life may never again be what it was - for them or their children. These problems have always existed, but are increasing in number as the middle class becomes hollowed out.

Hiring may improve, but it would have to improve quite markedly to employ even a fraction of the people who lost their jobs during the recession along with the new graduates hunting for a career.

4. Energy peaking and prices

2010 was the year that the International Energy Agency reported that peak (conventional) oil happened back in 2006, but continued to predict that our energy demands would be met by a combination of other energy sources, most of which are of lower-quality, riskier and more expensive to extract.

Oil prices are up around $90 per barrel again. In my opinion, still too cheap for the value of the energy we get from oil, but possibly beginning to push the envelope of what our extremely dependent economy can finance. Will prices cool off again, or will sustained high prices result in another economic crash? High energy prices have often preceded major recessions and depressions, so stay tuned.

Coal, just as much as oil, is fundamental to our economic and household systems. The assumption that coal could continue to fuel our way of life (via electric cars, for example) is implicit in many of the plans for an energy transition, especially if that energy transition has to happen in the next five years, since solar and wind produce only a very small fraction of our total electrical capacity. Now China is reporting that they won't be able to continue growing their coal production, resulting in potential increase of Chinese coal imports. Peak coal is now on the horizon.

5. Food prices

Food prices are again reaching the highs set back in 2008 due to a series of crop failures caused by extreme weather around the world. In 2008, rocketing food prices caused riots and social unrest. What will happen this year?

Food prices might be more of a cause for concern for the world's "undeveloped" countries, but food banks in America are also hard-pressed to meet demand, and one in seven Americans, or 43 million people, are already on food stamps (aka SNAP).


All that, and I even managed to avoid mentioning the $14+ trillion federal deficit! To be sure, we are living in interesting times, and 2011 could be one extremely interesting year. The economic, energy, and environmental indicators that I follow are negative, and the leaders of our world are not responding in a constructive way. As Jared Diamond observed in Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or to Succeed, it's our response to crises that decides our fates.

Rather than acknowledging the true extent of our predicament, our leaders are fiddling with the deck chairs while they hold their breath for a deus ex machina - hydrogen cars, dilithium crystals, alien saviors, economic revivals, miracles. Like the rest of the world, I don't know what surprises 2011 has in store for us. But rather than hoping for the unsustainable to miraculously become sustainable, or a benign government to sprinkle fairy dust all over us, we need to get ourselves in gear and start creating communities, food systems, and economies that will hold the center, come hell or high water.