By Janeen Ellsworth
There's an old family legend--I dunno if it's true--but I hear that, back in the day, when it was frigid outside, my mother-in-law would turn the empty oven on just to heat up her chilly kitchen.
I'm both shocked and inspired by Gigi's bold problem-solving skills. She's always soooo savvy. I can't imagine her doing that now; this was 30 years ago. Besides, she's *woke* when it comes to nat-gas usage and enviro issues.
Sill, I got to thinking, nothing's wrong with turning the oven on to heat up the house as long as something's in it!
There was ice forming around the edges of my kitchen's windows this morning, like I'd awakened inside some wintry Charles Dickens novel. Thanks to the Polar Vortex of 2019, it was minus-4 degrees at eight a.m. here in Pittsburgh.
All I could think about was baking. Something. Anything.
My son, Leo, the future bakery owner, insisted on blueberry muffins. Who could blame him? They're delicious and festive anytime of year. I knew he'd be the leader of this endeavor. I wanted him to take charge, and I love that he loves baking. He's really good at at. And it was, after all, his fourth day off school in a row. The kid was bored. He needed to put his passion and skills to work for something.
But practical me couldn't ignore the six, lonely Granny Smiths sitting on the counter that weren't getting eaten. So I whipped out a stash of recipe cards from the front page of my 'Sweets' recipe binder. I'd swiped these cards from a basket near the cash register of a beautiful apple orchard's storefront last fall while we were on an afternoon outing during our annual family reunion getaway there.
Gigi brings 14 of our family members together to chillax at a sheep farm in Bedford every November. (Told you she was savvy.) On the day we'd gone galavanting around town, we'd stumbled upon the Ridgetop Orchards, acres and acres of delightful fruit trees among rolling hills and valleys of Pennsylvania farmland. There we gathered up crates and crates of Honey Crisps and Empires and Jona Golds, and mixed and matched them all for so many pies and fresh snacks.
I'd shoved the recipes into my purse without really reviewing them all. But once home in Pittsburgh, Leo and I placed them, in alphabetical order, into my recipe binder, mouth watering at their titles and ingredients. Rustic Apple Cake. Apple Butter Pie. Yum!
Every so often, Leo pulls them out and admires their enticing images. "We gotta make these someday, Mom!"
So today was that day. We decided on following the Rustic Apple Cake recipe, which calls for Honey Crisps, but I always prefer keeping those in their heavenly fresh state and eating them raw. Instead, I bake with Grannies pretty exclusively.
I kept reading, and a couple of lines down the recipe I realized this one called for Bourbon. Maybe that's what makes it rustic?
It also included an entire cup of sugar. I consider it a personal obligation to halve any recipe's sugar. This one could've been limited further, depending on how used to sweetness you are.
A quick adaptation to axe the booze and minimize the sugar made this kid-friendly and *almost* healthy. It kept us warm as it baked for a a whole hour, smelled glorious in the oven and tasted every bit as wonderful. It's great for dessert, an afternoon snack, and can even fly as a breakfast coffee cake.
And don't those apple chunks look like little glaciers? That's why I'm calling this Polar Vortex Apple Cake!
Big thanks to the folks at Ridgetop Orchards for these wonderful recipes, memories, and of course, their delicious apples!
POLAR VORTEX APPLE CAKE
4 C apples, peeled, cored and chopped
2 Tbsp milk
2 C flour
1/2 C (or less!) white granulated sugar
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 butter, melted & cooled
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 C raisins
1/2 C chopped walnuts
Preheat oven to 350. Butter a 9" round pan.
Peel, core and chop apples. Set aside.
Sift together flour, salt, cinnamon, and baking powder.
In a separate bowl, whisk together melted butter, beaten eggs, white sugar, and milk.
Add wet mixture to dry mixture. Once blended, fold in chopped apples (and nuts/raisins, if using).
Spread batter into pan.
Bake 1 hour, or til a toothpick comes out clean.
Cool in pan. Flip onto cooling rack.
Resist urge to sprinkle with powdered sugar;)
By Janeen Ellsworth
You, me and 100 million others are presently freezing our kachingas off during this powerful Polar Vortex of 2019, according to CBS News.
To stay safe, remain indoors. Work from home if you can. Sip tea. Watch movies.
That's about all January is good for anyhow.
But when you finally emerge from your dark, dank cabin--no doubt to ensure your friendly Amazon Prime guy doesn't slip and fall and break his neck on the ice all over your walkway when he comes to deliver your fleece-lined yoga pants--be sure to sprinkle only the safest ice melt product your family can afford.
But what in the heck is the safest product? When it comes to safety for the environment and safety for pets, the answer isn't always clear.
Rock Out With Rock Salt? Nahhh...
Sodium Chloride-based products, otherwise known as rock salt, are the most common kind. But they are corrosive to soil, toxic to plants, and can contribute to damage in the concrete by increasing the number of times the roads freeze and thaw, freeze and thaw.
My fellow Pittsburghers are all thinking about potholes and sink holes in our beloved streets...
But, according to studies reported by Peters Chemical Company, rock salt isn't even effective below 20 degrees Fahrenheit. Which means that, even though rock salt is cheap, it's useless during the frigid temps we're experiencing right now.
Furthermore, rock salt is bad for dogs because of canine licking habits--it's bad enough they get it on their paws. It can cause serious skin irritation. But it's worse when they ingest it, causing potential gastrointestinal issues.
Some ice melts that claim to be "proven safe for pets" are anything but. According to Kate Hughes at PetMd.com, "Ethylene glycol-based ice melts contain the same active ingredient as antifreeze, which is very deadly if ingested."
You may find propylene glycol ice melts, then, but those come with problems for cats in the form of damaging red blood cells. Hughes reports that these use urea as the active ingredient.
Jigga-what? You read that right. If you're flashing back to junior high biology class, you're not alone. Urea is, in fact, a byproduct that comes from pee.
"While generally recognized as relatively pet-safe," she says, "[propylene glycol] is not as effective as other ice melt options, according to some chemical companies."
Magnesium chloride products are also available but, according to Peters Chemical Company, are worse for concrete roads. They cause "crumbling, fracturing and brownish discoloration" in short order. Over time, they gum up those machines people and trucks use to spit them out. You need more of the stuff to melt the ice, and it takes a long time to work.
So...the Winner Is?
Experts agree that Calcium Chloride-based ice melt products are safest and most effective for the environment.
They're less corrosive than their Sodium Chloride cousins, they work all the way down to 25-below-holy-crap-it's-frickin'-freezing-degrees, and they work faster than magnesium chloride or sodium chloride products.
*Note: The stuff with urea in it performed slightly more kindly to vegetation than Calcium Chloride, though less effectively on actually melting ice, according to Peters Chemical's reporting on studies done on farms in Iowa. So one can presume it's a bit safer for pets.
But either way, Calcium Chloride seems to be better when you want to satisfy both the environment and fur-ball friends.
If you want to totally nerd out on de-icing fun facts, read through the links throughout this article. They're full of numbers and chemical formulas that science geeks, like my friend Justin who spawned the question that gave birth to this story, would love to sink their teeth into.
Thanks, Justin, for suggesting I write this. And stay safe out there, everyone!
I'm Janeen; writer, mother, wife, and full-time, radical Reductionist. I share stupid-easy tips on how to save money while reducing your impact on the environment, & I'm committed to helping others live a life of simple sustainability.
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