Meatloaf

The American meatloaf is the evolutionary result of the American industrialization of the slaughterhouse. Industrialization brought down the cost of meats and promoted the distribution of meat products across the nation. For decades, carcasses in whole, half or quarter cuts were shipped from central points to any city or butcher shop. Times change and the modern version of shipping meats is more specialized, with specific parts aggregated into one package and shipped in cardboard boxes. Only specialty butcher shops work with whole carcasses today. Within this business structure, meatloaf is one of the most economical meat dishes that can be assembled at home.

Meatloaf is part of a minced meat tradition that goes back at least two millennia. The Romans had a recipe. With the technology of a knife or a cleaver with a durable sharp edge, even the toughest and most undesirable meats could be reduced to good, tasty recipes. The most difficult cuts (ears, nose, and tails) were processed into sausages but the tough pieces of muscle could be made tender too by fine dicing. Minced meat recipes can be found in every culture but the variations of meatloaf, using the meats and ingredients at hand, are favored dishes in Europe, South America, Africa, and the Near East. In Lebanon, the dish will be minced lamb or lamb mixed with beef as kofte while in the Philippines, a dish called embotido and is made from ground pork stuffed with hardboiled eggs. The variations of minced meat recipes across the world depend on the availability of inexpensive ingredients in the local economy.

The American Meatloaf gained prominence in home kitchens during the Great Depression, after the 1928 Stock Market Crash. Rationing during WWII confirmed its status as a gut filling dish that could be served using many variations. The recipe of minced meat could be stretched with breadcrumbs of any bread, stale cereal, or crushed crackers. Saltines were popular. The dish could be enhanced with ketchup, jelly, barbeque sauce, mashed potatoes, and spices. Even more, immigrant traditions could add their own flair to the minced meat dish.

The United States is a melting pot and meatloaf is a unique example. The mid-twentieth century witnessed the rise of advice columnists, who began as a staple in immigrant newspapers on matters of assimilation and who evolved into a nationwide ethos of community and behavior. Ann Landers and Dear Abby, competing sisters, were some of the most trusted voices in American print during their tenures. Ann Landers printed her meatloaf recipe in her column and the dish became an enduring sensation. In the decades since, Ann Lander’s recipe (or some near variation) has become the American meatloaf:

Ingredients

2 pounds ground beef

1 egg

1 1/2 cup bread crumbs

3/4 cup ketchup

1 teaspoon Accent® seasoning mix

1/2 cup warm water

1 package dry onion soup mix

2 slices bacon

1 can (8 ounce size) tomato sauce

 

Mix all the ingredients except for the bacon and the tomato sauce. Form a loaf and place in pan. Lay bacon on top and pour sauce over the loaf. Bake at 350 degrees for one hour.

First, the recipe is not kosher or halal. Second, Accent and onion soup mixes are high quantity MSG products, which makes the dish particularly tasty, yet makes it untenable for those avoiding MSG. Most of the ingredients are bagged, boxed, or canned too. Only the egg and the beef need to be fresh, making this recipe clearly rooted in the supermarket cuisine of the mid to late twentieth century.

For a current recipe, the history of meatloaf points to a dish of minced meat and local ingredients; local, as in what is in your refrigerator. Instead of dry mixes, add the liquid from leftover soup or broth. Add a couple of tablespoons of red wine vinegar and a raw egg. If you don’t have stale bread to turn into breadcrumbs, mashed potatoes work great with a little elbow grease. Any ground meat will do, from beef, pork, and lamb to turkey, chicken, wild game or fowl. Along with salt and pepper, any typical spice combination in the cabinet will work.

As a dish, meatloaf ingredients are flexible to your tastes and traditions. Jalapenos on top – why not? Some European recipes stuff the loaf with olives, East Europeans stuff with hardboiled eggs like the Filipinos do.

Use your hands to mix this recipe. If you want to cook the fat out by letting it pool in the pan, then use less breadcrumbs.

If you want to freeze the dish for later, only cook for ½ hour. Let cool and wrap in freezer paper. Use within six months. Defrost overnight in refrigerator and cook for ½ hour (@ 350) to serve.

 

Basic Meatloaf

2 lbs ground meats

1 egg

1 cup of broth

2 TBS grape must* (Italian Saba) and 2 TBS red wine vinegar

1 ½ cups breadcrumbs

1-2 tsp salt

1 tsp pepper

½ tsp each: basil, thyme and celery seed

Tomato sauce or any gravy

 

Mix in one ingredient at a time (all spices together though), leaving tomato sauce aside. Form loaf and place in greased bread pan. Pour tomato sauce on top and cook 1 hour at 350 degrees. Recipe doubles easily.

*thickened grape juice

Pizza, no pretensions

Pizza, for all the fanfare and faddishness about it, is another example of a flatbread. Some historians and anthropologists conclude that flatbread was probably the first type of bread created and certainly, it origins predate written history. Relatively late historical entries in the record include Persian soldiers baking flatbread on their shields out on fields and Classical Greeks serving flatbreads painted with olive oil and topped with cheese.

While flatbread concoctions such as pizza magherita emerge from noble Italian houses, pizza was a poor family’s food. The dough was basic and cooked very quickly. In Southern Italy, the very poor could bring their own scraps of dough to the baker and cook a pizza in the baker’s oven at the end of the day for a coin or two. Anything could be thrown on top. Flatbread with toppings had been sold in takeaways and in outdoor stalls for centuries to the working classes.

Pizza dough today is enriched white flour and often cut with shortening for extra crisp, very difficult for those with food intolerances. Whole wheat pizza dough is often bitter and hard to crisp, even on a baking stone. However, there is a trick, a simple ingredient that suppresses the bitterness and promotes crispy, even as a leftover for breakfast the next morning: buttermilk.

NOTE: Most buttermilks have extra chemicals. The best buttermilk is only pasteurized milk and two bacterial cultures.

This the bread machine version: (in order of placement in loaf pan)

  • 1-1/4 cup water
  • ¼ cup buttermilk
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 3 cups whole wheat flour
  • 1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
  • 1 Tbl sugar
  • 1 Tbl bread machine yeast

 

  1. Set on quick dough setting (45 minutes).
  2. Remove and place dough in ceramic bowl and cover with plastic wrap, letting sit until dough rises (1/2 hour to ¾ hour)
  3. Make pizza, focaccia bread, or flat bread of choice.

Can be refrigerated in Ziploc for up to 24 hours.

The Pretensions and Potholes of “Pure Food”

There is nothing quite like pretentious people whose condescension and arrogance destroys a community’s good will for everyone else. They leave behind them a wake off-putting ill will and sour judgments for those who come after them, those who are not pretentious but have the same issue. Purity of food for purchase is a maddeningly complicated issue but it is doubly so for those with food intolerances. Their pursuit safe food to consume amid the complications of the industrial food complex is exacerbated by the elitist aspersions cast upon them as they search.

Typically, two sorts of people pursue a pure food diet: those who believe that a diet stripped of modern food chemistry processes will prolong and enhance their lives, and those who already have health issues, especially people with catchall vaguely understood syndromes such as Chronic Fatigue and Hashimoto’s. Controlling what one consumes is not typically curative but avoiding certain ingredients is a significant strategy for mitigating symptoms.

Pure food is a trial of patience. Trying to maintain such a strict regimen is expensive and takes significant hours for researching, shopping multiple sites both online and bricks-and-mortar, and then cooking. (Try finding a can of tomato sauce without citric acid in it.) As an exceptional and desired purchase, pure foods are often the most expensive in the store; they spoil faster.

Pure food is any ingredient that has not been genetically altered, fertilized with aluminum-based chemicals, and has not been adulterated with man-made chemicals before it reaches your kitchen. Pure foods do not really exist in the 21st century. Most of the common grains have been genetically altered the laboratory. The pursuit of high yield fields or insect-resistant stalks using modern laboratory techniques rapidly changed the genetics of wheat, corn, soy, and other grains. There is no way back either to earlier stocks. Economics play a role as well, emphasizing bigger harvest varieties, which are not as tasty or nutritious as progenitor varieties. Even more, processes used in the fields, such as killing the wheat with Roundup® two weeks before harvest to dry out the stalks for easy harvesting, are not the best for human health. From seed genetics, to field maintenance and onto harvesting, every step has the potential to corrupt the purity of the grain.

An enthusiast must seek out “heritage grains” or “heirloom vegetables and fruits” to find ingredients that our inherited guts have learned to digest easily from centuries past. However, if the farmer uses common fertilizer, which is an aluminum product, the plant is absorbing unwanted elements from the soil. Harvesting using the chemical-kill technique reduces the purity of the grains (by absorbing the killing agent) while the techniques of harvesting fruits and vegetables before they are ripe and zapping them with gas to ripen later along with FruitFresh® to give them flavor introduces all the chemicals a food purist is seeking to avoid. A shopper in a grocery store or a specialty shop cannot truly know what happened to that product, grain, vegetable, or fruit before it arrived for purchase.

Eggs are an issue. Besides the factory-style cruelty to animals, the eggs that chickens lay are the product of what the chickens eat. The same rules apply to all manner of meat. Feeding animals is expensive, yet there are inexpensive alternatives, all of which are neither healthy for the animals nor for the human consumers.

Milk? Do not purchase ultra-pasteurized, which is seared milk overlaid with chemicals to mask the burnt flavor.

The popular response to this search for purity is BUY ORGANIC. An entire shelf of books has been written on the falsehood of the term, organic. In brief, the USDA’s primary mission is to help American food companies sell their products. Their secondary, some claim tertiary, mission is food safety for the consumer. In this context, Organic is a poorly regulated term with a porous definition and many legal exceptions. Ultra-pasteurized cream can be/is still labeled organic.

Pure foods cost more but the price sticker is not proof of quality. For those with food intolerances, the only method is to experiment. If the ingredient makes you feel ill, which is typically headaches, nausea, cramping, slight temperature, inflammation, popped-out belly, or messy bowel movements, do not eat it again. (Sound like fun, let’s try it again!) This method is neither healthy or even easy to pursue – try counting the number of discreet ingredients a person eats in one day. Further, limited diets restrict a social life, going out for meals with friends or going to visit others in their homes becomes an always losing game of how long can I stay before I feel sick?

The pretentious person takes this pursuit of pure food as a moral crusade, opting to justify their food choices as a pursuit of ethical and moral principles that have been compromised by greed and power. They play a blame game and it is this blaming behavior that sets teeth on edge and causes eyes to roll. For those trying to mitigate symptoms of poorly understood, often disbelieved diagnoses, the issue is not moral even if the moral component exists. The issue is just being able to eat without getting sick.

Food purity is not Western diets versus the rest of the world. Where allowed, food flows from distant points all around the globe. Modern chemistry and food processing techniques make this world-wide distribution possible, making the variety of available foods at any time of year astounding. However, this global food market is not always necessarily good or healthy. Food intolerances are spreading and escalating. While others can debate that food purity is a moral and economic issue, food purity is a health issue for those most affected. The afflicted still hope for a magic list of foods they can consume without getting sick, and perhaps this is the core moral issue.

 

 

 

Lessons on Granola #1

Please find the recipe below. The lessons and reasoning in choosing these ingredients will follow in #2 and if necessary #3.

Glenn’s Granola

2 sets of ingredients: the grain (Dry) and the glue (Wet)

Prep time: 1 hour

The Grain (all raw)

  1. 8 cups rolled oats
  2. 1 cup kasha (buckwheat whole oats)
  3. 1 cup sunflower seeds
  4. ½ cup pumpkin seeds
  5. 1 cup chopped almonds
  6. 1 cup chopped (choose) Cashews, pecans, walnuts, and/or macadamia

 The Glue

  1.  ½ cup brown sugar
  2. ¼ cup maple syrup
  3. 2 Tbs honey
  4. ¼ cup molasses (unsulfured is better)
  5. 1 cup oil (I use olive)
  6. 1.5 tsp salt
  7. 2 Tbs cinnamon
  8. 1 Tbs ginger
  9. 1 Tbs vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Mix all the grain ingredients in an over-sized bowl.

Add all the glue ingredients to a sauce pot set on medium. If brown sugar is hardened, press down on chunks as the mixture heats. Stir occasionally. Allow mixture to foam once and immediately turn off heat. Stir. Entire process takes five minutes.

Pour glue into grain mixture and stir until thoroughly coated. Use wire rimmed baking pans or parchment paper on top of cookie sheets. Spread mixture on pan evenly. Place pans in center of oven.

Total Bake Time is 30 minutes. At 15 minute mark, swap places and turn around the pan for even baking. Let granola cool in pan or on paper.

12 servings. Granola will last a week (hah!) in plastic-ware on counter.

On Elder Suicide

A colleague just lost a 72 year old father-in-law to suicide. He wanted to assure us that are the family making a concerted effort to remember the joys and successes of the man’s life and not just his tragic end. Only a short time has passed since Robin Williams took his life while in his sixties. Elder suicide is not a new phenomenon and its tally has been recorded for decades; it is not uncommon. There are many lessons to be learned in these tragic deaths and the first and most important is that not everyone can be saved from their own destructive impulses.

The media frenzy surrounding Robin Williams’ death immediately pointed to his history of depression and perhaps other mental illnesses even though he was under treatment for Parkinson’s disease. The message left for entertainment consumers is that depressed people kill themselves. The media left for fresher tales of woe and then ignored information that was released later. Rarely does the media circle back to examine earlier released articles, meaning that a later review of Mr. Williams death got little play.

Parkinson’s disease is a progressive disorder of the central nervous system of the brain. The disease is incurable and affects brain chemistry. Besides the physical symptoms of stiffness and tremors of limbs that an observer can see, victims of Parkinson’s disease experience organic depression. “Organic” signifies that the depression is not from an external source (i.e. loss of a spouse or a job) but is an issue caused by brain chemistry. Medications for organic depression may not be effective and in this case they were not. Robin Williams committed suicide but he died of Parkinson’s disease.

The case of Robin Williams is not atypical for the disease. No one failed Mr. Williams and Mr. Williams did not fail himself. However, practitioners of certain religious systems condemn Robin Williams and his death, consigning him to their version of after death damnation commonly called “Hell”. What these people believe is not of consequence but the pain they inflict on mourners is consequential. Of course mourners have doubts; they have doubts whether they were attentive enough or aggressive enough. If only they had observed “x” or seen “y” or asked “z”, they bargain that they could have prevented the tragic end. Or they are angry at the deceased for causing them such pain. Hellish condemnation only fuels the pain of profound mourning.

One of the formidable reasons for religion is to guide us through the painful episodes of our lives. When a religious system causes more pain at the point that it supposed to provide solace, the theology is false. Any religion should be able to understand suicide as a disease, as our medical science demonstrates that it is. Suicide in the oldest cohorts of human beings is not wholesale preventable or simple to understand. Even more, these adults are old enough and have enough experience to succeed in their destructive impulse. If anyone can succeed in acting on this urge, our elders certainly will.

Our ever evolving understanding of disease and its courses forces us to reassess our elders’ motives and our judgments of their behaviors. Disease attacks mind, body, and spirit. When the brain is afflicted by a disease, boundaries of behavior may disintegrate. It is the disease not the person and the caregiver is helpless. Condemnations and self-recriminations are common, wrong and only spread the destructive consequences of the disease beyond the afflicted.

My colleague in mourning is correct: celebrate the successes of a life when lived well and invoke the good memories. If one wants to pray for these souls who have been released from the burden of their tangled minds, then pray for cures that allow mortals to go gently into that long, dark night.

Ebola and Dallas

Ebola has struck in the heart of Texas and her citizens are panicking. While the media scolds the good citizens of Dallas for overreacting, the same outlets are pouring journalists and resources into covering the story. Potential doomsday scenario crossed with reality TV sounds like a great combination to entice viewers.

This little contradiction, driven by the economics of the news cycle, is actually beside the point. While a focus on Dallas is newsworthy, the attention is a bit off center. That a nurse following isolation protocols contracted the virus is tragic but the emphasis should be more than one woman’s heroism turned possible death warrant. The tightest focus should be on the fact that this woman, following Centers for Disease Control (CDC) protocols and supervision, who acted with conscientious and exacting procedures, still contracted Ebola.

Liberia and Sierra Leona do not have CDC protocols and supervision nor do these countries have the ability to implement best practice procedures. Hospitals are a collection of huts with fences around and through the property .They do not even have enough isolation suits or gloves to go around. Hospitals are inconsequential because people are lying in the streets bleeding and spewing out contaminated body fluids. Clothing, sheets, and rags are all contaminated. Burying victims of Ebola is a dangerous business too, another terrible vector of infection.

This outbreak of Ebola is more devastating because previous outbreaks have been in rural, somewhat isolated areas of Western Africa. This time the virus is hurtling through urban populations. In the previous outbreaks, health care workers had to wait for the wave of infection to dissipate on its own, to burn itself out. With large burgeoning populations of crowded poor neighborhoods, the wave may not crest in the near future. Quite the opposite, the rate of infection is doubling each month according to estimates.

If the CDC cannot control accidental infection in the United States, what hope does Western Africa have? I fear that this pandemic is only beginning. The resources being brought to bear are not the best quality and quantities of supplies are not available. Families, neighborhoods and villages are being ravaged. The countries are poor and economically teetering; the entire national cabinet of Liberia fled the country and had to be dissolved. This is the worst of circumstances for containing this plague.

Let us pray.