The Mystery of Chili Powder

When I see a recipe that calls for chili powder, it makes me wonder, ¿What brand of chili powder are they talking about? Yes, exactly what do they mean by chili powder? Actually, dried ground cayenne is one type of chili powder. Dried ground jalapeño is another type of chili powder. Beware, that’s probably NOT what the recipe author had in mind. The point here is I want to know which chili peppers and how much I’m using in a recipe, I do not want some mysterious blend of cayenne, sweet peppers, paprika, and sand.

If you want my advice, don’t buy anything called chili powder. The best chili powder I’ve found is not even called chili powder. It’s made by Yellowstone Seasoning based in Idaho Falls. Their Spicy Buffalo Blend was once offered at dining tables in Gardiner, Montana. I tried it on my fries, my buffalo burger, and wanted more, so I purchased a few bottles.

A couple years later, I was sitting in my kitchen in Emigrant, with my last jar of the Spicy Buffalo Blend wondering how I could get more of the stuff when it was gone. I had searched every joint in Gardiner, and nobody there was offering it any more. Sure, I could order directly from the company, but getting mail delivered in Emigrant was a tricky business. There was no regular mail delivery to my house, and I was uncomfortable with UPS because of prior bad experiences with them.

So I wondered, ¿Why not mix my own seasoning blend? Indeed. There was nothing preventing me, except that I had no spices on hand, and it was a long drive to the nearest grocery store.

I wrote my shopping list before I got to the grocery store, and decided I would need to purchase a spice grinder.

This is the Buffalo Blend recipe I came up with.

  • Bob’s Red Mill Sea Salt, 6 teaspoons
  • chipotle chili powder, 3 teaspoons
  • garlic powder, 3 teaspoons
  • onion powder, 3 teaspoons
  • ground cumin seeds, 3 teaspoons
  • ground black peppercorns, 3 teaspoons
  • ground celery seeds, 2 teaspoons
  • ground savory, 2 teaspoons
  • cayenne powder, 1 teaspoon

This recipe fits very nicely into an empty, used glass spice jar of 2.5 ounces. Ideally, every spice should be fresh ground, for the best flavor, but let’s be practical. Grinding 8 spices by hand is a real pain in the elbow. And the wrist. And some of these spices are not available un-ground. For instance, chipotle pepper is really smoked, dried jalapeño. ¿Who wants to process a fresh jalapeño into chipotle powder? Not me.

There are some people who think it’s cool to buy spices a gallon at a time. If you run a restaurant, go for it! If you’re a plain dude who lives with his mother, use some restraint. You don’t need a five year supply of spice blends, taking up space. Keep in mind that dried ground spices start losing flavor after they’re unsealed. Garlic and onion powders go stale rather quickly, say within 15 months.

You may want to adjust the recipe for your own taste. Let me suggest the most critical ingredients are the first two. Too much salt, and the other flavors will get lost. Too much chipotle will numb your taste buds and your throat.

My favorite way to use this spice blend was thus:

Take two large slices of fresh white Hutterite bread [¿And have you ever seen small slices of Hutterite bread?]. Spread each with mayonnaise or miracle whip, sprinkle on a liberal amount of the Buffalo Blend. Add fresh tomato slices, sweet onion slices, and sweet pepper slices, and serve as a sandwich.

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Successful Diets

Last week, I took a drive to my old hometown, Emigrant, where I happened to visit an old friend, one I had not seen in over two years. The first thing he said was a remark about my protruding belly. “Are you carrying a baby in there?”

A woman standing by responded on my behalf, “That’s what happens when you get married!”

“Yeah”, I agreed. “That’s what happens when you get married.”

But that’s obviously not true for everyone, and my experience in Emigrant gave me impetus to review some of my perceptions on dieting.

That friend in Emigrant has been married over 30 years, and both he and his wife are thin, active, and healthy. Another friend in Livingston has 6 children, the youngest still a toddler. She seems to have a thin disposition. She and her husband sometimes eat unhealthy snacks to be sure, but I think their “thin-ness” has something to do with their habit of always choosing small portions.

Dieting  is a scary word for some people. It never scared me; as a young man, my diet was whatever I liked to eat. My father was thin and emaciated for many years, after having major cancer surgery. He had trouble gaining any weight. No, it wasn’t in his genes. One of his sisters, and one of his brothers were both obese.

At the age of 19, I was with my mother visiting a Mr. Mac clothing store in Utah, getting measured for a suit. It was a ritual experienced by hundreds of prospective LDS missionaries every year. Mac’s brother was there, offering us suggestions. He ordered the waistline of my new pants to be a bit larger than the actual measurement, 32 inches, saying that most missionaries tend to gain weight on their mission. All my casual pants were a 32 waist, but my new suit pants turned out to be something like a 33 waist. They were a bit loose, so I had to wear a belt to keep them from slipping down.

I did not gain a pound during my missionary experience in New York. And that’s not for lack of trying. Some of my cherished memories from New York are Sunday dinners with the Lugo family. Sister Lugo set a table of food before us, the variety of which always amazed me. After I had tried a little of everything on the table, Sister Lugo followed up with ice cream. When I protested that I was too full, she told me to eat it slowly, and it would slip down easily.

One of my earliest food addictions was for New York pizza and calzone. Most of my lunches during my mission were simple, like a bagel and a bottle of soda. But once in a while, if we happened upon a new pizzeria, we had to try it. I remember ordering a large pizza at a certain place, because they did not offer individual slices for lunch. That pizza could have satisfied at least 4 hungry missionaries, but just the two of us finished it up. And we did not discard the hard crusts. The server remarked that he had never seen just two ordinary guys devour a whole pizza like that.

If it’s hard to imagine why I did not gain weight after eating enormous amounts of bread, cheese, and ice cream, perhaps I should tell the rest of the story. I rode a bicycle several miles a day, then walked a couple more, doing door-to-door contacting, or “tracting”. That exercise certainly affected my metabolism.

After I moved to Memphis in 1992, my diet changed. I gave up cheese, but replaced it with new indulgences. One month I had nothing for dinner except root beer floats. That’s when I noticed I had gathered some belly fat, or a “spare tire”. I developed a taste for pork barbecue, or BBQ, and key lime pie. I stopped bicycle riding, and my metabolism seemed to change.

I started to have some body image issues, but was in denial. When I was visiting a tuxedo shop to get measured for a tuxedo, the tailor learned from his measuring tape that I needed a 34-inch waist. I argued with him, saying that must be wrong. I had never worn pants that large, and my 32-inch pants all seemed to fit me just fine. He graciously ordered a 32-inch pants to placate me. And when it actually came time to wear the pants, I could not fit into them. I had to place a rush order on larger pants in order to make my sister’s wedding reception.

In 2008 I was a truck driver, and I wasn’t happy with my health. I was having panic attacks, symptoms of sleep apnea, and felt intuitively that something needed to change. I had given up most dairy products, but that wasn’t enough. I knew that high fructose corn syrup, hydrogenated vegetable oil, and monosodium glutamate were the top three poisons of western civilization, but that was not the source of my problem.

If you read a couple summaries of any famous diet plan, someone will have bad things to say about it. How could I decide which diet plan was best? Maybe the exact diet was not so important as getting off the path I was on.

In Kevin Trudeau’s first book on natural cures, he suggested following a diet developed by Jeff McCombs, known as the Lifeforce Plan (not to be confused with the book by author Michelle Schoffro Cook). The main focus of this diet was to kill-off most if not all candida living inside a body. That idea intrigued me.

The food part of the diet is simple in theory. Aside from the prescribed daily supplements, you may drink only water, and eat only meat, whole fruits, and whole vegetables. Dairy, grains, legumes, sugars, vinegar, and oils are not allowed.

I thought this out very carefully before starting the plan. Whenever I went into a truck stop or restaurant, I would be tempted by cravings for chocolate, pancakes, donuts, sausages, hamburgers, fries, corn dogs, nuts, popcorn, tacos. I had obtained many buckets of dry food storage, over the years. Wheat, rice, beans, honey. Preparing for hard times was almost like the fourteenth article of faith. Could I give up those things for the rest of my life? Probably not, but I could certainly abstain for three months.

Giving up foods I enjoyed was brutal for those three months, but finding the right foods to eat was also a challenge. I learned that almost any place that sold food had bananas, so sometimes I had nothing for dinner but a banana. Was that tough? Sure it was. But there’s more.

I had to sit in a sauna three times a week. Living on a truck is in some ways similar to being in jail. You have to go where you’re told, when you’re told to go there, and leave when your time is done. You cannot usually go to a health spa or club to enjoy a sauna.

I made my own sauna in the cab of my truck. This stunt was only practical during the summer, on clear days. Whenever possible, I would park with the windshield facing the sun, spread a couple towels on the seat, and close the windows and sleeper berth curtain. The sun would heat up the cab to a temperature that made me sweat all over by the end of my 30-minute session. And I had to drink plenty of water.

After 3 months of following the Lifeforce Plan, I had lost the flab around my waist. My pants were extremely loose, and I felt good. It was a time of awakening. I proved to myself that I could lose body fat without strenuous exercise, without drinking nasty concoctions, and without making myself sick.

So what has happened to me in recent years? I weigh more now than I ever have in my life, but my wife insists I am not fat. She is insistent that we eat balanced meals. We’ve had some light-hearted disagreements over this idea. In a gift shop we recently visited, there was a plaque with this saying:

A balanced meal is a cookie in each hand.

I’ve thought a lot about this topic, and come up with some observations on fit people. You might call this, “7 Habits Of Highly Fit People“. I did not invent these ideas. I have only tested them.

1- These people do not eat when they are not hungry.

2- These people do not eat foods they don’t care for just to please others.

3- These people eat mostly raw, fresh fruits and vegetables.

4- These people do not eat close to bedtime.

5- These people drink pure water, first thing in the morning, and plenty of it during the day.

6- These people move their whole body daily, enough to cause perspiration.

7- These people use small treats to reward themselves on some occasions.

Millet in a Skillet

This is a tasty sweet bread you should eat with a fork.

For this recipe, you will need:

-mixing bowl with a handle

-rubber mixing spatula

-pie & cake server

-cast iron skillet, well seasoned

-Blue Diamond almond milk, 1+1/8 cup

-corn oil, 3/8 cup

-chicken eggs, 2

-millet flour, 1+1/2 cup

-Prairie Gold whole wheat flour, 1 cup

-cane sugar, 1/8 cup

-sea salt, 1 teaspoon

-Rumford baking powder, 1 teaspoon

For some people, it will be difficult or impossible to find these exact ingredients. I suggest you check into a Wild Oats Market, or the equivalent. If there is nothing of the like available to you, you will have to make substitutions.

Put a drizzle of the corn oil into the skillet, and warm it in a convection oven set at 350° Fahrenheit. I will warn you in advance, no other vegetable oil will taste quite as good in this recipe as corn oil. Measure all the ingredients carefully into your mixing bowl, with the remaining corn oil, and stir until you have a nice batter.

Make sure your hot skillet is coated inside with the corn oil, then pour the batter into it. Bake for about 40 minutes.

Remove from oven, and slice like you would a pie. Serve immediately.

Lambert’s Cafe

copied from my old blog – June 11, 2008.

* * *

Stopped in Sikeston to visit that famous Lamberts Café, “home of throwed rolls”. What a treat, but not necessarily for the slim-of-waist. In all the times I drove up here from Memphis, passing by those billboards with the Lamberts ads, I didn’t take advantage of the opportunity to see what the big deal was. So today, I decided I had enough time to taste those throwed rolls.

Had to park on a gravel lot, near some kind of showcase pavilion, because there was no designated parking for big trucks. But there were many busses, bikers, and ordinary folks. Lots of tourists. I was disappointed to see a sign on their door, “We Do Not Accept Credit Cards or Checks”. There was a flowery wreath hanging over it, so I tried to lift it to see if I read it correctly. I did: No credit cards. In handling the wreath, I caused several flowers to fall out onto the pavement. When I stooped to pick them up, I learned these flowers were not plastic. The carnation was real, the daisy was real. Some other flower was real. Must have been REAL expensive to make. Another customer noted that the foam pad that held the flowers was moist, so as to keep the flowers watered. What was the occasion for special wreaths? I do not know.

Lamberts Café was started in Sikeston by one Lambert family, in about 1940. The present building looks like a huge barn. It has the old-style wooden floor, some rustic wooden bench-style seats for the customers, and did I say…

The place is HUGE inside.

I did not know what to expect, so I decided to order the days special. After ordering, a different man came walking by, hawking “hot rolls” so I held up my hands, and he promptly tossed one at me. It was steamy hot, so I had to put it down on a paper towel. Pulled it apart, and slowly ate it. I was hungry, and my pork chops had not arrived yet. A few minutes later, a girl walks by with a pot of molasses for the rolls. As I had no bread for it, she couldn’t very well give me any molasses. Another few minutes, and a different girl come walking by hawking “apple butter”. Now that tempted me, but I had already eaten my bread roll. I didn’t think throwing (or tossing) the bread made it any more special, by the way. But it was good enough to eat.

The days special was something a little out-of-the-ordinary; barbecue pork chops. That’s plural. Initially I thought it would be just one chop. Maybe, just maybe, two pieces of 1 pork chop. It was two pork chops. Not teeny weeny pork chops, but thick-cuts, meaty pork chops. Even without the rim of fat, there was enough pork in front of me to last at least three meals. And it cost just $10.99 . The waiter came to the table with a large aluminum frying pan. I thought it was another pass-around thing, for everybody, but not so. This was my order: two huge pork chops, in a HUGE aluminum skillet, with two bowls of vegetables on the side. I look at this thing, and know immediately, there is no way I can eat all this today. There was more ham in the bowl of beans than there was beans. This was more meat than what I remember eating at barbecue places in Memphis. More than a whole rack of ribs — that much meat! Did I say it was HUGE ? But I’m willing to give it a fat-man’s try.

Then another man comes walking by, offering some zesty concoction of tomatoes and macaroni. A few minutes later, another man comes by with fried potatoes. Yummy yummy. The potatoes alone were better than anything else made of spuds served to me at any truck stops, over the years. Then another girl comes by with a big bowl of fresh-fried okra. At that point, I was too bloated to even try the okra.

Scratching my head over this, as maybe you already know; for $10.99, it seemed almost too good to be true, for all the food I got. While I’m cutting into these pork chops, I’m wondering if maybe the waiter misunderstood, and gave me a double order. Not so. Was delighted with the food.

By and by, the bread roll thrower came by again, and tossed another bread roll at me. This time, I waited for the molasses. It was worth waiting for. The only way it could have been any better, would be if they had fresh dairy butter for the bread, instead of “Country Crock”. Oh well. But it was good even without any spreads.

They gladly gave me a take-out container, for the meat I could not eat. And it would serve as a good lunch for me, another day.

Gotta roll now. If you haven’t tried Lamberts Café, its worth the experience. If you are not big on pork, or any meat entrée, order a vegetable plate. Don’t worry about choosing which vegetables you think you’ll like, because, all the “pass-arounds” will fill you up — even if you eat none of your entrée. That’s no joke. Lots more to tell, but gotta roll. And I don’t mean bread roll.

Bad Hair Day

Copied from my old blog. Monday, March 9, 2009

Was parked at a truck stop in Hebron, Ohio, with a loaded trailer, on a Sunday. I wanted to drop the load, and get rolling with something else, but dispatch wanted me to stay with it, and deliver it Monday morning. Although it was March already, it still felt like winter. The air had a bone-chilling effect on me, as it crept slowly through the corners of my truck, and around my shoulders.

¿What could I do to pass this day of idle time? Before I was a truck driver, I attended an LDS (Mormon) church every week. In those days, I was an active participant, serving where I was needed. I didn’t feel needed today; not even with a loaded trailer to tend.

There are a few trucker chapels, fashioned out of trailers, at various truck stops around the country, but they aren’t quite the same as a home church with familiar faces, who share your own religious faith, in depth. My delivery schedules rarely left any opportunity to attend church, and I often felt anxious about it.

My Garmin GPS receiver showed there was an LDS ward building about 7 miles away. I was grateful to have that Garmin GPS receiver, and for how it helped me to find fuel stops, rest areas, and other points of interest.

I considered the 7-mile drive, with a 53-foot trailer in tow, into a residential area, looking for the church, and a place to park my rig. I didn’t feel like going to all that effort for a church meeting. About that time, one of the associate pastors of the local truck stop chapel came walking up to my truck, to invite me to the church service. I recognized his face, and said I would come to the service.

I remembered being in that same truck stop chapel one Sunday last year. There was an odd after-church encounter I had with another truck driver. After the pastor had given the benediction, there was time to socialize, and I asked the man next to me if he used a GPS receiver on his truck. His response was, “Every day.” When I inquired more particularly about it, he kept pointing to his Bible, which was sitting on a chair. In other words, his Bible was his GPS receiver. It seemed he was suggesting that he didn’t need anything else to help him get where he wanted to go. I may be lacking that kind of faith; when I want to get to the Nestle plant, to pick up a load of chocolate, my Holy Bible is not where I look for directions.

This Sunday, I did not have time to get showered and dressed in time for the 09:00 church meeting. Had to settle for a quick shave, before I left my truck. Was already wearing blue jeans (not my favorite) and thought it could be more meaningful, or reverent, if I put on my blue wool jacket, and a silk blue tie. Now, this silk tie was my favorite, until just after the last time I wore it. I left it in my bag of laundry, forgot about it, and washed it in a washing machine. Not a good thing to do to silk garments. The tie came out wrinkled. I couldn’t just toss it in the garbage. It seemed that a wrinkled tie was better than none, since it was my only blue tie on hand.

In my rush to get dressed, I didn’t bother to go inside the truck stop building, to the men’s room, to brush my hair. The front part of my hair was sticking up, from being pressed against a pillow while sleeping. A bad hair day. If it looked odd to the others in that chapel, nobody told me. So I didn’t know about it, yet.

The pastor commented that I looked like I was ready to give the sermon. Nobody else in the chapel – not even the pastor – was wearing a necktie. My own necktie suddenly seemed more wrinkled than it was before I walked into the chapel.

Mercy was a young college student, visiting the chapel. She was practicing photography, and asked each person if it was okay to take photographs of them. I had no objection. I felt reasonably secure, in my blue wool jacket and wrinkled silk tie. Although none of us were supposed to pose, or act any different than we normally would, I kept glancing at Mercy. She was clearly the most attractive person in the room. It was somewhat distracting, the way she kept moving around to try different angles, even as the pastor spoke.

The associate pastor, who came to me at my truck, had a certain medical condition. I felt impressed to talk to him about it later, after the benediction. He had been blessed with the use of a certain medicinal tea, and I had been blessed with other medicinal herbs. We both learned from each other, and agreed that God uses many different people, in many different ways, to bless others with healing. Unfortunately, some of these people are persecuted by members of the more popular medical professions.

Yes, Mercy was still there taking photos of me shaking hands with this man, listening to him talk about his condition. Her camera flashed, not a few photos. I had to resist the urge to turn and pose for her.

I didn’t care what Mercy did with her photos, until I made my way to the men’s room, and looked into the mirror. That’s when I learned that my hair was sticking up, making me look goofy.

I imagined that Mercy was having a laugh about this.

Pizza Rye Bread

While working in Southaven Mississippi, I used a bread machine a couple times every week to help with lunch. One of my favorites was rye bread, without any caraway seeds. My buddy Charles came up with the idea to mix fresh tomatoes in with the bread dough. While it baked, people said it smelled like pizza.

Select a bread machine with a vertical, two-pound capacity pan. If you’re thinking of trying a horizontal loaf machine, be aware that this recipe will probably not work well. The horizontal style does not mix well, and mixing is crucial where pulpy tomato fruit is being added.

• 375 ml fresh tomatoes (1.5 cup) – finely chopped.

Use a glass measuring cup to check your tomatoes. Keep all the seeds and juice. The tomato juice level should sit precisely at 375 ml. If it doesn’t, add more water, a spoonful at a time, until it does.

• 750 ml bread flour (3 cups)

DO NOT use bleached, or all-purpose flour as a substitute for bread flour. DO NOT add any milk powder for “flavor”. DO NOT send your Social Security Number over the internet.

• 30 ml real butter (2 TBS) … Do not use margarine or shortening.

• 30 ml white sugar (2 TBS)

• 5 ml sea salt (1 teaspoon)

• 5 ml crushed red pepper flakes (1 teaspoon)

• 5 ml crushed basil (1 teaspoon)

• 2 pearl onions – peeled & chopped

Some people may want to try garlic, instead of onion. Cute idea, except that fresh garlic could be bad for yeast. In fact, fresh garlic has been used to treat certain Candida infections 🙂

• 7 ml active dry yeast (about 3/4 envelope)

That’s right. You don’t need the whole measure of yeast you like to use for constipation bread … er, I meant “plain white bread”. If you have one of those special jars of bread machine yeast (quick rise), you should measure out 2 teaspoons of it.

You know the routine; moist ingredients in the bottom of bread mixer, yeast on top of the flour. At this point, you’re probably wondering, “¿What about the rye flour?” Glad you asked. Doncha worryaboutit. Keep the rye flour to the side, and start the bread machine.

Choose a large loaf cycle – about 3 hours, with at least twenty minutes worth of mixing or kneading on the front end. Do not use a cycle much longer than 3 hours, no matter if they use confusing names, because the loaf will tend to go flat the longer the lump sits. Watch the stuff mix. If the tomatoes aren’t chopped finely enough, the mixture will appear dry. DO NOT add extra water here. Just bite your thumb for ten minutes, until the tomatoes are pulverized into the bread flour.

• 250 ml rye flour (1 cup)

Now start adding rye flour, or dump it in suddenly. It doesn’t matter how you add it. Let it mix another few minutes, and inspect the lump. A dry lump will have cracks in it, or chunks that rip away from the main lump. If it’s too wet, the dough will form a sludge in the pan. The right dough should form a smooth elastic ball.