Post # 286 Time to Change the Donuts

August 20, 2014 at 9:32 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

This week has been a fairly hectic week.  Lots going on.  After last week’s post on depression, I got a lot requests to write for other blogs about my own experiences which was fun.  I also got a huge outpouring of support from all over, and my thanks go to everyone for that.  In the midst of all that, I rewrote the beginning of my novel and have been working on a new outline for it based on input from a friend who took the project on to help me make it better.

But the big news is that Partner/Spouse went to the doctor for some routine tests, etc.  They determined that he is pre-diabetic.  He has some follow-ups scheduled before they decide it’s for real, but we’ve decided to work on the assumption that he is.  So we’re reshaping our eating habits.

Everyone in my dad’s family except for my dad has the disease, so I have a predilection for it.  So far, I’ve been lucky that it hasn’t hit me.  My younger brother wasn’t so lucky and came perilously close to cashing in his chips.  If his wonderful wife had not been there, and recognized what was going on, he would not be here.  Because of all this, and previous brushes with the disease, it’s one that I’m pretty familiar with.  It’s one that can almost completely managed through diet, except in its most severe forms.  Because of that, I’ve always tried to cook and eat as healthy as possible.

Being pre-diabetic explains a lot of partner/spouse’s various symptoms and ills.  Using this as the starting point to lead even healthier lives, I went through all the cookbooks I’ve got, and pulled out four specifically for diabetes.  Then we went to the bookstore today, and got one on nutrition and meal planning specifically for diabetics.  I’m refreshing my knowledge and recreating my recipes for my standbys based on the current needs.

So!  What does that mean for the blog and for both of you readers?

I’m going to be sharing the knowledge as I get it, and the changes in recipes.  If anyone has any hints or suggestions, please don’t hesitate!  I know we’re not the only people facing this.  I’m planning to share the successes and failures, in both the food changes and lifestyle changes (no, not THAT lifestyle.)

Today, I made diabetic cookies!  Chocolate Chip cookies, at that.  I pulled the recipe from the 1001 Recipes for Diabetics.  And guess what?  The recipe is basically the same recipe I’ve been using all along.  So I looked a little closer, and while there are some very minor differences (less salt, less baking soda) the primary difference is portion size.  Instead of making cookies by the Tablespoon, these were made by the teaspoon.  There were a heck of a lot more cookies, but they were appreciably smaller.

So I worked a little of my kitchen wisdom on them and made them slightly healthier.  But only slightly.  I added raw sunflower seeds, a few sesame seeds, a tablespoon of bran.  So there’s twice the amount of protein, and some water soluble fiber to help with the cholesterol added to your system.

That’s what I want to concentrate on, really, is reinventing (remember that word?) the daily recipes so they are healthier.  Most of them are fairly healthy to begin with, but we have to tweak to get us over the edge.

In the meantime, enjoy.

thought03

Post # 285 When Life Hands You Lemons

August 18, 2014 at 2:48 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

We’ve all heard the old saying, when life hands you lemons make lemonade.  I prefer the one that says when life hands you lemons, freeze them and throw them at people.  A long time ago, we lived in an area where agriculture was one of the main industries, and citrus was one of the primary crops.  We became intimate with the growing season of the trees, the harvesting of the fruit, the varieties and subtleties of flavor in those varieties.  When I moved to Virginia, I went to the store one time and was totally flummoxed when I had to actually pay for a tangerine.

In the past few years, I rediscovered the flavors of cooking with citrus.  To me the most versatile is the lemon.

lemons

 

Tossing some fresh lemon zest, or juice, into almost any recipe with kick the flavors up a few notches.  Mix olive oil, lemon juice, fresh garlic, and fresh oregano together and you have a salad dressing/marinade that’s killer.  But there are loads of other things lemon can do.

For instance, if you like to dehydrate foods, lemon can turn into a bunch of different things.  Slice the yellow zest in wide strips with a vegetable peeler and dry it out.  From there, you can boil it in sugar, let it dry and you have candied lemon peel that can be used as a garnish or a snack.

lemon 2

If you’re really patient (and proficient with the peeler) you can slice the peel off in one long spiral.  Dry it and candy it and it turns into an amazing garnish for anything.

Take a lemon and slice it thinly across.  Cut different angles to get different shapes.  Poke a small hole in the rind of the lemon slice and dry them completely.  The pith will turn glass-like, but the slice will still maintain the slight aroma of lemon.

lemon 4

Thread a short piece of string through the hole and place the dried slices around the house as decorations.  You can also use these to decorate a holiday tree, create a centerpiece for a table, make a holiday wreath, whatever you like.

Lemon 5

You can add various colors, sizes, and shapes by using other citrus fruit and other sizes of the same fruits to mix up the look and add variety.

If you use a microplane to pull the zest off the lemon and dry it out, you can easily turn it into a powder.  That powder can then be used anytime you need zest.  It won’t have exactly the same pop, but it will provide a subtlety that will enhance almost anything.  Add to drinks, plain water, whatever.  Kept in an airtight container in the fridge or freezer and it will keep for nearly ever.

Don’t forget to freeze the juice from all this zesting.  A standard ice cube tray will handle the juice from about four medium to large lemons.  Ever wonder the correct way to juice a lemon?  It’s really easy with the right stuff.

First of all, you want to juice into a fine mesh sieve to keep all the seeds and junk out.  The sieve should be balanced over a non-reactive bowl.  For instance, no aluminum!  Plastic, ceramic, etc. will work fine.  To get the most juice out of any citrus fruit, there are two schools of thought.  First, though, the fruit has to be at room temperature.  Then you can either put it in the microwave for 20-30 seconds, or you can roll it vigorously against a flat service.  What both of these do is break the membranes to release the juices.  Then slice the lemon in half.  Some people use muscle power and squeeze like crazy.  Others use a mechanical device of some kind.  I’ve gone through all the different juicers and here’s my favorite.

lemon juicer

You poke the pointy end into the fruit and start twisting while squeezing with the hand that’s holding the fruit.  It cleans everything out of the fruit.  Once all the lemons have been juice, use a rubber spatula to clean off the juicer into the sieve, then press the pulp and seeds in the sieve to release extra juices.  When you’re done, you’ll have a small amount of fibrous pulp and some seeds in the sieve, and a boatload of juice in the bowl.

Freshest Homemade Lemonade:

  • 3/4 – 1  cup sugar
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup fresh lemon juice (4-6 lemons)
  • 3 -4 cups cold water

Heat water and sugar together over low heat until sugar is dissolved completely.  Zest one lemon, slice another, juice all lemons until you have one cup (strained as described above.)  Remove sugar syrup some heat and add lemon juice and zest.  Pour into large pitched and add cold water to taste, minimum of three cups, but four if needed.  Add lemon slices and chill pitcher until ready to serve.  Good stuff!

Lemons can also be a fun kind of garnish, too.  Get a small plastic storage container and fill with one inch of purified water.  Freeze until solid.  Place a thick lemon slice on top and cover with water, but not enough to float the lemon.  Freeze until solid.  Add more water to an inch over the lemon.  Freeze solid.  Unmold and store in plastic freezer bag until use.  Float in a punch bowl or pitcher to give drinks a festive look.

lemon 3

A long time ago, I used to live in a small trailer park in my home town located in the middle of the orange groves.  The owners were family friends and treated me like family.  One day, I had gone to the office to collect my mail and the oldest granddaughter was there watching the front sales area where fresh fruit and juices were sold.  She was eating some fruit and offered me some.

“What is it?” I asked.

“It’s a white grapefruit, one of the first from our new trees.”

“Oh, no thanks.  Grapefruit is the only citrus I don’t like.  I don’t like the flavor at all.”

“Really?  This one’s really sweet.”  She handed me a section so I popped it into my mouth.

It was lemon!  Pure lemon!  Unadulterated, straight off the tree, no rind or zest, LEMON!  I gagged, choked, swallowed, and managed to get the thing down my throat and out of my mouth.  She laughed through the whole thing.

But I still like lemons.

Enjoy!

lemons

Post # 284 Breaking News

August 13, 2014 at 8:52 AM | Posted in Uncategorized | 5 Comments

Today’s post is not about food.  By now, everyone has heard of the death of Robin Williams.  He suffered from depression which led to an addictive personality.  He chose to end his life on Monday, the 11th.  A lot has been said about depression in the past few days, and I hope more will be said in the upcoming days.  Most people are talking about how said it is that he couldn’t reach out for help.  Some are saying how sad that he felt the need to end his life.  A few are talking about how cowardly it was for him to take his life, that he didn’t die of a disease but by choice.  I’d like to share something I’ve only told a few people before.

I’ve battled depression my whole life.  I’ve never been professionally treated for it; I’ve never taken drugs for it, unless you count chocolate; I’ve never had therapy for it apart from long talks with sympathetic friends about other subjects.  Oddly, I also have an optimistic personality and with everything I’ve experienced and read, I manage my depression pretty well.  But every day I have to decide if today is a day that I beat the dragon or the dragon beats me.

Depression isn’t something that makes sense.  It’s not a physical disease, but it can make you hurt physically.  It’s not strictly an emotional disease although it can reduce you to tears in no time flat.  It’s not completely a mental disease, but it will capture your brain in a spiral that sucks your soul down.

I once spent several months forcing myself to get out of bed each day.  All the best advice said tomorrow will be better, so I’d wait until 12:01 and say, “Well, it’s tomorrow, and it’s not any better.”  Then I’d go to sleep in despair.

When I was in my late teens and early twenties, I weighed in at about 130 pounds while standing just shy of 6 ft.  I wasn’t eating enough because eating just seemed pointless.  I would eat only when others were watching me so they wouldn’t know how much I was hurting.

I once wrote a poem I titled “The Color of Loneliness.”  To me, it was indigo, dark and impenetrable.

That’s the deal with depression.  It makes you fell completely helpless.  It makes you feel weak.  It makes you feel empty.  It makes you feel like the entire universe is empty, there is no joy.  It makes you feel “not good enough.”  It doesn’t matter what you know about yourself, or what others tell you about yourself.  The dragon is always there telling you nothing is worth it.  The pain of depression can be overwhelming.  It can engulf you so that all you can see is the dragon and nothing else.

I was going through my ultra religious phase at the time and learning that as far as God was concerned, I was worthless.  Even the lesson “But I love you anyway” got twisted by the dragon to mean the exact opposite of what was intended.  I would huddle in my bedroom for hours at a time just shaking in despair until some obligation would force me to get up and get out.  I put on my social mask and played like everything was perfect in my life, despite the fact that I was broken in ways I thought no one could understand.  Even those people who came close to suspecting were put off by my “You don’t understand.”

Every time I bought myself something new, whether it was a book or a shirt or a boxed pizza kit, the dragon was always there whispering I didn’t deserve it.

Finally, one day, I decided it was time to end the pain.  I don’t remember how I was going to do it.  I tried to get what small affairs I had in order.  There wasn’t much.  I was still young, barely in my twenties, so I had no appreciable debt.  I had even fewer belongings.  Really, all I had to do was decide the date and time, and write the note.

Death, as such, has never scared me.  I’ve always believed that life is terminal; you’re not going to get out of it alive.  But the manner of death has always bothered me because I don’t like pain.  Who does?  Apart from the Marquis de Sade?

So, it came time to write the note.  And that’s where I stopped.  How in hell could I explain this to anyone so they’d understand and not be upset?  I couldn’t.  I tried for days and was left with nothing.  And for the first time in my life, I felt hope.  I felt the dragon go silent.  I started wondering why it was so hard to write that goodbye note, and the only answer I could come up with was that I was here for a reason.  I just had to find that reason.

I still battle the dragon every day, but I’m happy, or fortunate, to say that most days I win.  Once in a great while, the dragon takes hold, but I’m a little wiser to his antics now and can usually shake him off.

Millions of people suffer from depression, clinical or otherwise.  There are thousands of groups in our communities, online or physical, designed to help every facet of society.  One that means the most to me is The Semicolon Project.

http://projectsemicolon.org/

The semicolon is a grammatical device that looks like a comma beneath a period.  It connects two sentence clauses into one sentence.  It can also act as a comma separator in lists where the items are longer than single word.  It means that the author chose not to end the sentence.  I draw one on my left wrist (I’m right handed, so  . . . . ) periodically to remind myself that I chose not to end the sentence, and to help others not to end their sentences.

 

semicolon too

 

Ending your sentence, or giving in to the dragon, is not an act of despair or cowardice.  I’ll never attempt to judge another’s pain or their decision regarding it.  I’ll mourn the loss.  I’ll continue teaching and reaching out.  I’ll do what I can to make this place better until I get to the other place.  I simply pray and hope they’re in a better place.

To Robin William, if you know what I’m saying, you gave us laughter, and fun, and tears, and moments of gasping joy.  Thank you and please be at rest.  Your dragon is gone.

With heartfelt gratitude and immeasurable delight, I say again:

Enjoy!

Post # 283 Random Thoughts at the Grocery Store

August 11, 2014 at 5:12 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

I was selecting eggs a few weeks ago.  We use a lot of eggs in baking and cooking and just eating.  They don’t hang around long enough to “go bad” so we aren’t all that concerned about how old the eggs are in store, though we do buy the freshest we can.  We also try to find Jumbo sized eggs, or extra large.  So I was standing in front of the case and selected a dozen Jumbo sized eggs in a cardboard carton.  Cardboard is biodegradable.  Now everyone opens the carton to make sure the eggs aren’t broken.  But I do something my mom taught a very long time ago.  I quickly ran my fingers along the tops of the eggs making certain that they were all loose in their respective cups.

“What are you doing?” a lady asked.

I smiled.  “Something my mom taught me.  It’s easy to see cracks in eggs on the top, but the ones on the bottoms you can’t see.  If the eggs move in their cups then there usually aren’t any cracks.  The egg whites didn’t leak out and make them stick.”

You’d a thought I just handed her the secret to eternal life.  Her whole face lit up in wonderment.  “I never thought about that!  I’m going to tell everyone I know.”

I smiled again.  “Hope it helps.”

Another time, I was trying to select avocados.  I don’t like them.  I don’t eat them.  But Partner/Spouse likes them and likes to make guacamole.  I decided to surprise him with a couple for dinner that night since we were having Mexican.  Since I’m not experienced in avocados, I was completely out of my element.  I asked a lady standing there how to choose one.

“All you need to do is look at the stem end.  If it’s black and kind of icky looking, it’s over ripe.  If it’s still green and healthy looking, you should be able to keep it for a couple of days.”

“Hmm, if I’m going to use it tonight for guacamole would I want an over ripe one?”

She then gave me a recipe for guacamole using over ripe avocados, lemon, garlic, tomatoes, and a few other items that everyone went wild for.  I learned later that it was Alton Brown’s recipe.  No wonder it was good.

Once, I was reaching for a ten pound bag of generic AP flour.  I use a lot of flour over the course of time so I tend to select the best value.  I’ve used the upper end, expensive brands, and I’ve used the generic cheaper brands.  For most of my applications, the generic flour is indistinguishable from the brand names.  One caveat about this, you want to use the right type of flour for what you’re cooking, so use bread flour for bread, etc.  As I was reaching for this giant bag of flour, an older guy, looking puzzled, asked “Why are you taking that one?”  I told him and he asked, “What’s the difference?”  So I found myself in the middle of the baking aisle having a discussion on the various types of flours, etc.  “I’m just getting this for the wife.” he said.  “I don’t know what to get.”  I handed him a five pound bag of AP Gold Medal flour, “She’ll be fine with this.”  He walked away happy.

Years ago, I used to buy Bounty paper towels because I liked the lumberjack on the wrapper and in the commercials.  It was no big deal, I just liked it.  When Partner/Spouse and I started dating, he insisted on buying Viva.  When I told him I liked Bounty, he actually did a comparison of the two focusing on strength, absorbency, hand feel, and scrubbing power.  We’ve been buying Viva ever since.  We hate the “select a size” feature, but otherwise, it’s all good.

When I was a kid, Keebler used to make a chocolate cookie that was two chocolate wafers with chocolate cream in between.  For a little kid, they were the perfect four bite size.  Somewhere along the way, when I wasn’t looking, they went away.  Then, suddenly, they were back!  They must have found several boxes full in a warehouse somewhere.  I bought those when I felt like and enjoyed them again, although now they were only a two bite size, sometimes three bites.  I’d grown.  Then something awful happened.  They disappeared again!  I should have bought every bag on the shelves and bought the replacements when they came in.  But many years later, another company created a rival cookie of the same type that was worlds away better.  I’d learned my lesson and I bought every box on the shelves.  One time, I was checking out and had ten boxes.  Two girls in their early twenties were walking by and I heard one say, “Oh, he bought them all!”  They got pretty snippy in their comments to each other so I decided not to offer them a free box as I’d been first inclined to do.  But over time, the cookie disappeared.  Which was okay, because the quality went down, too.  Now I don’t even look for them.  So sad.

I think a lot of things at the grocery story.

Enjoy!

Post # 282 Soup is Good Food, really and truly

August 8, 2014 at 6:49 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

About a hundred years ago, when my brother and sister and I were still very small, we lived in upstate New York for a few years.  I loved the years we spent there, and from the moment we moved west, all I talked about was moving back east.  I made it after two decades and I was still just as entranced by the eastern sea board as when I was a little kid.  But back then, when I was little, things seemed a whole lot simpler.

There was an advertising campaign from a soup company which showed kids of various ages outside playing in the snow.  Periodically, one or another of them would holler out to their mom, “Is it soup yet?”  She would smile and shake her head no as she stood at the stove stirring something in a pot.  After a few shouts from the kids, she waved them indoors where she served them freshly made instant soup.  Two coups of water with an envelope of soup mix heated through was part of a healthy hot lunch on a cold day.  The kids raced inside to eat hot chicken soup, a sandwich or two, and a glass of milk.  Sales for that company went through the roof!  This was in the early to mid sixties when home cooking was all about convenience.  I still ask “Is it soup yet?” when I want to know if dinner is ready.

Soup

 

I love soup.  I don’t to marry it or anything, but I love soup.  Mom liked making soup; it helped stretch the food budget.  She also liked convenience so we had a lot of instant soups, canned soups, cup of soups, and the like.  We also had a lot of home made soups.  One of her favorites was one of my least favorites.  Being Irish, and being raised on a farm for much of her childhood, she was particularly fond of potato soup.  I hated it.  The only part of it I liked was the bacon bits.  Every other ingredient was off my list of things to eat.  Potatoes were icky.  Milk, yuck.  Onion?  Nuh-uh!  But in our house, if you didn’t eat what was on the table, you just didn’t eat.  So I forced it down and prayed for my favorite the next day.

My brother and I dearly loved Beans and Cornbread.  Or, as we called it, Beengs and Cornbread.  Hot, slightly salty, firm but mushy beans, chunks of ham suspended in a wonderful rich and thick broth.  And hot cornbread with melting butter on the side.  What couldn’t be better?  I made some of this earlier this week!  Dad would always break up his cornbread into the bowl and pour the soup over it.  I think it might be a generational thing because the FiL does the same thing.  I prefer the two to be completely separate from each other, each their own delectable taste treat.

Mom like making soup, but being a haphazard cook, sometimes the soup was burned.  How do you burn soup, you might ask?  You set it to a high boil, sit on the couch, open a book, and don’t move any of the chicken or vegetable for the next three hours.  Trust me.  It’ll burn.  But when she paid attention, oh my gosh, it was wonderful.  She would put a chicken in the stock pot and start it boiling.  Later, she’d take the chicken out and add a few chopped veggies.  Later, she’d pull all the meat off the chicken and add it back.  About fifteen minutes before serving it, she’d make a medium light dough with herbs in it, then spoon that into the hot broth.  By the time the dumplings for done, the whole mess tasted like it came right from cook’s heaven!  I still don’t know how she did it, but I’ve come close.

Then someone gave her a crock pot for Christmas.  Soups and stews abounded!  Perusing the grocery store shelves, I discovered there were stocks other than chicken and beef.  Who knew?  As America’s tastes changed, what was available in the markets changed.  Who remembers when miso soup starter became a staple on the store shelves?  I do!

One day, I was making a beef vegetable soup and it looked a little thin.  The flavor wasn’t as robust as I wanted.  It didn’t have any depth.  I didn’t want to add any bouillon to it because that would make it way too salty with the flavors that were already there.  So I added a can of chopped tomatoes to it.  Holy Mother of all this is Holy!  That soup took on a flavor that nearly knocked me over.  I called two or three friends just to tell them about it!

But I don’t like tomato soup.  Matter of fact, I don’t like any of the cream based soups.  Cuz I hate milk and cream, that’s why.  I’ve never liked them.  The last glass of milk I drank was in 1968.  I just decided I’d had it.  In college, a friend introduced me to a way to make a “cream” soup without any dairy product at all.  It was a Wow! moment.  She made cream of broccoli soup with flour, chicken stock, broccoli, and some seasonings.  It was a creamy, delicious delight.  Up to then, I’d added canned “cream of” soups to my soups to get a “creamy” texture, but the flavors were so terrible that I hadn’t done that in a while.  Now, I had a way to make good creamy soups.

More recently, I learned that if you cook chopped onions in oil and allow them to brown, then add stock or water and make your soup, it will take on the color of the brown onions.  The Two Fat Ladies taught me that and I’ve used that technique a lot!  Don’t use if you’re looking for a lightly colored soup, such as chicken.  It will get brown.  The browned onions add an incredible flavor to the broth.  Don’t do this with fresh garlic, though.  Browned garlic is mostly just burnt garlic and tastes terrible.

While I’ve been writing this post, I’ve been making soup!   I made vegetable beef while writing this and working around the house.  When I wrote about adding tomatoes, I added tomatoes!  When I wrote about how much I love soup, I decided to make soup!  I’m going to add noodles to it later so they don’t break down too much before serving.  As you can see from the pic below, the onion trick works!

soup 1

Enjoy your soup.

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