Sunday, October 30, 2011

Spoiled Fun

Halloween has gotten a lot scarier since I was a kid – and not in a good way.

We used to dress in costumes that our mothers made or maybe buy a mask and a few things at a store then drag one of the pillowcases from house to house until our bags were so heavy and full we couldn’t carry them anymore. Then we’d rush home and sort through the loot – putting our favourites in one pile and the stuff that was okay or ones we didn’t like in a pile to share with the other people in the family. Sometimes you could trade with your friends or siblings.

There were, of course frights along the way, but for the most part they were the innocent “boo” type when someone snuck up or popped up unexpectedly.

It was a night for kids of all ages to have some innocent fun.

Sure, there were the occasional reports of someone’s bag being stolen and even rarer reports of candies and apples being tampered with but they were just that – rare. For the most part we knew the people who lived in the houses we went to.

That isn’t the case anymore. We don’t know our neighbours. We don’t know our neighbourhoods. Even going to what seems to be a safer or more upscale neighbourhood isn’t always a good plan. Sadly there are some very real dangers lurking around almost every neighbourhood. It has gotten to the point that a lot of parents aren’t willing to let their kids hit the streets anymore.

Not just because of the possible physical dangers or risk of treats being tampered with – but the fact that so much of the treats are basically sugar. With the growing rate of childhood obesity, many wonder if it is really a wise move to send the kids out to beg for even more sweets. Sure some houses do give out slightly healthier treats or even small toys or such but then they are at risk of some type of retaliation from kids who expect or demand the treats! Seems like neither side can win. It isn’t just a “TP” decorating of your yard or an egg on the house. It’s spray paint and outright vandalism.

Some hospitals offer to scan the kids loot bags to see if anything has been tampered with. I’ve heard of a few police departments that are even offering to run the loot through a metal detector.

So much for a fun night!

In Winnipeg and many other cities, there are community centres or other organizations offering a safe place for the kids to hang out for the evening. There are games, costume contests, snacks and lots of treat bags for the kids to take home after. Some shopping malls are offering the kids a chance to trick or treat in a safe environment. Employees from participating stores hand out treats to the costumed kids as they walk by.

Then there are the costumes. This is yet another bone of contention for many. Costumes have gotten much more elaborate since I was a kid. Some parents still make the costumes but store bought ones come in a wide variety of styles. Not all of them are tasteful or even appropriate for the child’s age either. Costumes can also get very expensive. Kids don’t want to wear the same costume two years in a row, so that can get very pricy for some families even if they hit the second hand stores. I heard one report that an average family can spend between $75-150 for Halloween. That includes the costumes and the treats to be handed out. That makes a formerly fun night out of the question for many.

Several schools here in the city and even in small towns have banned costumes during the school day. That has outraged some parents who say their kids want to show off their costumes and continue traditions. Some parents have started petitions but educators think the parents aren't seeing the bigger picture.

The schools have laid out several reasons for the changes. Teachers have enough to deal with trying to teach and discipline on a normal day – let alone with a bunch of kids who are distracted by costumes. Peer pressure, teasing and bullying are huge issues among young people. Choosing the wrong costume or not wearing a costume – either for personal, religious or economic reasons – can cause untold problems for many.

I don’t recall if we wore our costumes to school when I was a kid. If we did, I think it may have been that we changed into costumes for part of the afternoon. I seem to recall a costume parade when I was in about grade 5 or so.

For the record, I’m siding with the schools on this one. They are there to teach - not throw parties. I’m not saying that kids can’t have fun at school – learning should be fun, but costumes are just too distracting and a mind-field for potential trouble and humiliation. It just isn’t worth it.

Personally, I think the community centers and the malls also have the right idea. The kids are having fun and getting a more limited amount of sugar laden treats while also getting to show off their costumes in a safe environment.

Halloween used to be fun. It used to be safe to dress up in a costume. Sure we ate way to much candy but we also didn’t sit on our duffs with a tech toy, IPhone/IPad or in front of a computer screen all day. We were active and managed to burn off most of those extra calories. The bullies didn’t have social media and weren’t nearly as cruel or vicious as they are now.

Manufacturers of candies, costumes and decorations are capitalizing on the season. Merchants are filling shelves with overpriced products. Advertisers are trying to turn consumers into gluttons. Peer pressure to fit in has reached a boiling point for many.

Families can’t afford to celebrate Halloween anymore. Kids aren’t safe on the streets and risk endless teasing for the wrong choice of costume or any other so called coming of age infraction.

I wish we could turn back time and let kids enjoy the night the way we did when we were kids but that just doesn’t seem to be possible in this day and age. I don’t think that Halloween should be cancelled – at least not yet. Kids grow up too fast. They need to experience the fun of dressing up and spending time with other kids in person rather than through texts, cell phones and computers.

We need to keep the costumes out of the schools and let them focus on teaching. We need to encourage local community centers and malls to host safe events for the kids. It’s sad that things have changed so much but nothing ever stays the same and at least for now, these are the most reasonable alternatives to preserve Halloween..

Halloween should be a night of fun. Enjoy it if you can. Above all, be kind, be safe and have fun!


Sunday, October 23, 2011

Baked Pork Tenderloin with Veggies and Kraft Dressing

This is a recipe I came up with a couple of months ago. I wanted something flavourful and simple that would also be versatile depending on what dressings I had in the fridge.

Baked Pork Tenderloin with Veggies and Kraft Dressing

1 12-16 ounce pork tenderloin
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon onion powder
1/4 teaspoon dried basil
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
1/4 teaspoon McCormick No Salt Added Garlic & Herb Seasoning (or equivalent
1/2 medium onion – sliced thin
1/3 cup sweet red bell pepper strips
1/3 cup (approx) Kraft Mandarin Orange With Sesame Dressing*, divided

Preheat the oven to 375F.

Pat dry the pork tenderloin and place on a parchment lined baking dish. Combine the garlic powder, onion powder, basil, thyme, and seasoning in a small dish. With your hand, spread half of the spice mixture evenly over the tenderloin. Drizzle with about 2 Tablespoons of the Kraft Dressing. Carefully turn the tenderloin over. Spread the rest of the spice mixture evenly over the other side of the tenderloin.

Arrange the onion over the seasoned pork, then lay the red pepper strips over the onions. Drizzle approx 2-4 Tablespoons of the Kraft Dressing over the veggie topped tenderloin. Bake in the preheated oven for approx 35-40 minutes. Remove from oven and let stand for 5 minutes before slicing. Serves 3-4.

*Other Kraft dressings would also work well with this. Such as: Sweet Onion; Roasted Red Pepper; Greek Feta and Oregano or Italian.

Note: You could add additional sliced onion and strips of red pepper along the sides of the tenderloin if desired - just make sure that a bit of the dressing is drizzled on them to prevent them from drying out while baking.



Sunday, October 16, 2011

Picky! Picky!

A couple of weeks ago I saw a segment on a TV show about picky eaters. Picky in the extreme actually. Some of these people had diets that consisted almost entirely of potatoes in various forms. They ate next to no meat and found most other vegetables and fruits to be disgusting. Some of them seemed to be more healthy than others but no medical evidence to their health or lack thereof was provided.

People who can walk into a grocery store and not have to worry about what ingredients are in any given product or go to a restaurant and order anything off a menu are extremely lucky. They have no idea just how hard it is to shop or go to a restaurant and have to check all the ingredients. Whether it is by personal taste or an allergy, finding foods that a person is comfortable with or is safe to consume can be a real challenge.

I’m not quite sure where I’d fit on the picky scale. I’m not an overly adventurous eater. I tend to try new foods by asking to try a bite of whatever the people I am with have ordered. If stores are offering free samples, I check the ingredients and then decide if I want to try it. I don’t like to spend money to try something I may not like. I don’t want to end up wasting the money or the food if I don’t like it. There are some foods that just repulse me either by appearance, smell or taste and I couldn’t even consider eating. There are some foods that I remember eating as a kid and just found to be disgusting or even made me nauseous.

So what are some of those foods you may ask?

Well, there is a bit of a list here.

My mom used to cook a duck or a goose once in awhile, but I just never enjoyed the taste of either one. The flavours were strong and the meat seemed either stringy or greasy even when roasted. Lamb and venison weren’t on the menu very often either but they were meats that just didn’t appeal to me. Liver was on the family menu every few weeks – I couldn’t even tolerate the smell of it let alone the taste!

Sardines and head cheese (a truly disgusting luncheon meat) are two of the things I recall my dad eating on occasion. I couldn’t even sit at the same table when he ate them! Actually, pretty much all “luncheon meat” is rather disgusting.

I’ve never enjoyed bitter tasting foods such as grapefruit. I can tolerate a tiny amount in a mixed fruit drink but not a glass of juice or a cut up grapefruit to eat. I do like lemons – just not straight! I put them in lots of different main course and desserts as well as squeezing the juice on fish or vegetables.

Besides the grapefruit, I’m also not a fan of raspberries. The flavour is too strong to my liking and I hated the seeds getting stuck in my teeth! You won’t find cranberries on my plate or in my glass either. We had crab-apple trees on the farm as well as rhubarb. Mom used to try sneaking some into an apple crisp or other desserts but I could ALWAYS taste it and never ate more than that first bite! Gooseberries aren’t on my grocery lists either. Plums aren’t particularly appealing to me but I don’t mind a bit of plum sauce with an egg roll. And yes, the dislike of plums does extend to prunes and prune juice. I’ve never enjoyed the taste of cantaloupe yet I love honeydew! Mom made a lot of jams and jellies but about the only ones I ever ate were strawberry or grape.

I’ve never liked the taste of figs or dates – even baked in desserts or cookies. Speaking of desserts, I’ve never understood the taste appeal of tapioca, rice pudding or even a bread pudding. I’ve tried several types of these desserts over the years but it just doesn’t do anything for my taste buds. Same goes for any toffee or caramel type candies or desserts. A true waste of calories for me. Marshmallows are empty calories. The only way I’ll eat them is in a piece of rice krispie squares or an occasionally perfectly roasted marshmallow between chocolate and graham wafers – in other words a s’more!

The taste of an olive is not something my palate enjoys yet I do cook with olive oil!

I eat a fair amount of vegetables but parsnips, turnip/rutabaga, and egg plant are not on my plate. I’ve tried cooking turnips in various ways but the smell alone is enough to turn my stomach. I’m not a big fan of cauliflower but will eat it in a mixed veggie combo or a stir fry. Green peppers don’t agree with me (I burp them almost instantly) yet I love red peppers. Jalapeno’s won’t be in my shopping basket either – a mild salsa is as close to spicy as I get! Lima beans and beets are also not welcome on my menus.

Smelly cheeses such as blue or Swiss do nothing for me. I much prefer a medium cheddar, a mozzarella, Monterey Jack or a Havarti.

I love celery but can’t stand using celery seed in a dressing. Dill makes me ill so I’ll never steal your pickles! I can’t stand the taste of liquorice. That means that you won’t find anise or aniseed on my spice rack. I’m not a huge fan of mint but I can handle the flavour and taste in small amounts in a dish or dessert.

Walnuts aren’t a nut that I care for. I think I’ve just had too many experiences where they were a bit stale or on the verge of being rancid. I’ll take an almond, peanut or cashew ANY day!

I love tomatoes, but can’t stand tomato soup – although I will eat a vegetable soup that has tomatoes in it. I love salmon but refuse to eat the skin or bones. I wrote a whole post about my dislike of Perogies.

There are foods that I have mild to moderate allergies to. They aren’t severe enough that I would need an epi pen but I would get severe stomach cramps and/or diarrhoea if I ate them in even a small serving. Those foods include oranges, rye and barley. Orange in a cookie, cake or a mixed fruit drink doesn’t bother me, but a multigrain bread or baked product can really mess with my stomach.

For some reason, there are also some foods that even though I am not actually allergic to them, I get sick if I eat them. Yogurt of any variety – even the frozen ones give me severe stomach cramps.

Eggs and I don’t get along either. I can’t eat them as a main ingredient in a dish without getting sick. That also means that I have to avoid eggnog or other beverages that include eggs. If I were to have even a paper thin slice of angel food or chiffon cake, I would need to drink at least a quart of water to avoid stomach cramps or throwing up. I can eat Miracle Whip – which is made with eggs but I can’t tolerate a homemade mayo. My potato salads contain no eggs other than in the mayo.

Then there are foods that I have no idea if I like or not because I’ve never tried them. This may seem strange but to the best of my recollection I’ve never tried oysters, clams, lobster or escargot. Believe it or not, I don’t recall if I’ve ever tasted an avocado, artichoke or a guacamole dip. The closest I’ve come to an anchovy is in a Caesar Dressing. I’ve never tried sushi or tofu either.

So, all that being said – that does eliminate quite a few things from my diet but there are still a lot of foods that I love. I just have to be a bit more creative with the things that I do enjoy eating.

Oh all right - maybe I am a slightly picky eater!!


Sunday, October 9, 2011

The Beauty Of The Season

In mid September, I got to spend a weekend at a friends cottage up at Gimli. It was a cool, windy weekend, but very relaxing. The leaves were just starting to turn, but what I noticed more than anything was that the geese were flying south. Hearing their honking as they flew over was a definite sign that the seasons were changing.

Back here in Winnipeg, it took another week or two for the leaves to really start turning. We've had some beautifully warm weather here for the last couple of weeks and limited amounts of frost, so the changing of the leaves has been more gradual. Some trees are still rather green.

As I said, the weather has been well above normal for the last while - in fact we broke a record on Wednesday October 5 with a high of 31.1C/88F! Our normal highs for this time of year should be about 13C/56F so the days of 25C/77F are very welcome!

I've been taking full advantage of the warm weather to get out and enjoy the beauty of the season.

Anyone who knows me, knows that autumn is my favourite season! I love the spectrum of colours that Mother Nature paints the landscapes as the season progresses. The crunch of the fallen leaves under my feet. The smells of wood fireplaces. The bountiful tastes and aromas of the garden harvests. A true seasonal feast for the senses!

In the last day or two, the weather has started to head to more seasonal norms. The winds have taken many leaves from the trees and we are expecting some rain this coming week. All good things must sadly come to an end.

I knew that change was inevitable, so a week ago Saturday, I grabbed my camera and went for a walk in a nearby park. It was a sunny but cool, windy morning - and I loved it! Then on Monday, I met my aunt to go for a walk in another local park.

The two parks are vastly different. With the exception of a couple of cement paths and a few wooden benches, the first is still somewhat rustic. The second is a huge park that has been almost entirely landscaped. Both are quite interesting - but in many ways I prefer the first as it reminds me more of being in the countryside at this time of year.

I took a lot of pics on those walks - about 120 or so on Saturday and about 80 on Monday! That may seem like an excessive amount, but as I've said in the past, I tend to take a LOT of pics when I pull out the camera. Despite having a 3" LCD screen on my camera to view the pic, with my lack of eyesight, I really can't tell what I've got till I get it onto the PC and see it in full screen. I often take two or more of pretty much the same shot so I'm more likely to get one that I can use. Occasionally, I get really lucky and surprise myself with how good a shot turns out!

So, earlier this week, I spent some time sorting and editing pics. I saved about half of what I took. From those, I've put together two new autumn slideshows from the two walks.

The first is called "An Autumn Morning Walk". All the pics were taken on October 1, 2011 along Wellington Crescent and in Munson Park.

The second is called "A Walk In The Park". All the pics were taken on Monday October 3, 2011 at Assiniboine Park.

If the leaves haven't all fallen where are you, I hope you will take a little time and get out to enjoy the beauty of the season!


Sunday, October 2, 2011

Maxine on Autumn

Well, we are just over a week into fall, and I am trying to get out and enjoy as much of the beauty of this season as I can. Today, I thought I'd share some of my favourite seasonal observations from Maxine!!