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A facelift for the kitchen improves more than appearance

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I engaged a local contractor to make a major improvement in my kitchen, and it was finished this past Saturday. What we did was convert from a laminate-type counter top to ceramic tile. This gives me a few things: first and foremost, the tiles themselves are waterproof, after they have been grouted and sealed, and I eliminated the unfortunate stain right next to my sink on the old counter top. It was formed by repeated exposure to water, followed by cleaning with many different products. It ended up bleached of its original color and was quite unsightly. Now I have ceramic tiles that can be cleaned with a strong disinfectant such as chlorine bleach, if necessary.

I have also verified that the countertop tiles are waterproof by observing that they do not stain from exposure to such things as coffee. They are tight--and they are also sealed with silicone to prevent water seeping under them. The grout is also watertight after sealing, so my counter tops are quite improved.

This process took time--or it will take time if it is done right--as the contractors removed the entire three counter sections and started over with wood bases for each section. Then there was tiling, grouting and sealing, with periods between each step for the materials to dry. Fortunately this happens fast in Arizona, with our desert climate. Now I have a kitchen that is not only more attractive but also more sanitary, which is of interest to anyone who is concerned with food-borne illness.

I heard the news Monday that the famous Chiquita Banana company has entered into a billion-dollar merger which will create the largest banana company in the world. I am of two minds about this. I was definitely put off the whole idea of buying and cooking pork after the merger between Smithfield and China, which had a scandal just recently relating to their disgraceful abuse of swine--after which they dumped thousands of dead pigs into the rivers to rot. Believe me, I have no desire to eat that "other white meat" even though we have been assured that the Chinese will not be importing pork into the United States any more than they are now.

So what is the potential effect of this banana conglomerate? I would say it is less inspection and quality control of the product. With Republican politicians who swear that their goal in life is to eliminate the Food and Drug Administration, we are coming to see more and more that we are on our own in the supermarkets.

Now, if you went to the butcher counter of Whole Foods in Tucson, you could make sure--as far as it is humanly possible--to know where their pork comes from, who produced it and where, and if it is responsibly raised and processed. The meat market at Sprouts is also open to inquiry, which would make it easier for pork lovers to get ribs and roasts that they can conceivably eat without apprehension.

The election of a new Republican congressman yesterday in Florida does not bode well for you and me, since he ran on a program of opposition to the Affordable Care Act, and will be committed to voting against inspection and regulation of the food you eat and serve to your family every chance he gets. If this pattern is repeated across the country in this voting season, you are on your own in the supermarket, and the devil take the hindmost.

You can keep on looking for the "organic" label on bananas, and of course those of us who live in banana-producing parts of the U. S. may be able to get locally-grown fruit, at least if there are banana groves in Florida or another subtropical area of the country. Otherwise, you must trust and hope that those "organic" labels are telling the truth.

And I also hope that the definition of "organic" in countries that market their bananas to the U. S. is the same as ours. If it is not, we may never know.

Before we tighten up the requirements for buying bananas forever, though, there is one recipe that is well worth making in honor of the wonderful banana and the dessert recipe called Bananas Foster. Here it is.

BANANA UPSIDE DOWN CAKE

Ingredients:

1/2 cup chopped organic pecans
1/2 cup organic butter, softened and divided in half
1 cup firmly-packed organic light brown sugar or Splenda Brown
2 tablespoons rum
2 ripe organic bananas
3/4 cup organic granulated sugar or Splenda Bake
2 large organic eggs at room temperature
3/4 cup milk
1/2 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups organic self-rising flour
1/4 teaspoon ground organic cinnamon

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Toast the pecans in a single layer for 8 to 10 minutes or until they are toasted and fragrant, stirring once.

Melt half of the butter in a lightly-greased 10-inch cast-iron skillet or 9-inch round cake pan (with sides that are at least 2 inches high) over low heat. Remove from the heat and stir in the brown sugar and rum.

Cut the bananas diagonally into 1/4-inch-thick slices; arrange in concentric circles over the brown sugar mixture. Sprinkle the pecans over the bananas.

Beat the sugar and remaining 1/4 cup butter at medium speed with an electric mixer until blended. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, just until blended after each addition. Add the milk, sour cream and vanilla; beat just until blended. Beat in the flour and cinnamon until blended. (Batter will be slightly lumpy.) Pour the batter over the mixture in the skillet. Place the skillet on a foil-lined jelly-roll pan.

Bake at 350° for 40 to 45 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in the skillet on a wire rack 10 minutes. Run a knife around the edge to loosen the cake from the pan. Invert onto a serving plate, spooning any topping in the skillet over cake and replacing any stray banana slices.

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