Post #563 Life Changes, Then Changes Again

February 25, 2018 at 5:22 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

I wrote the paragraphs below on Monday, 2/19.  It was a little scary and I felt vulnerable, but it was not totally unexpected.

As I write this, I’m laying in a hospital bed thinking about dinner and listening to my stomach growl.  All I’ve had today was a glass of orange juice and a roll for breakfast.  I’ve ordered dinner from the cafeteria and I’m just waiting for it to be delivered.  Grilled chicken Cesar salad.  Things change so fast.  I woke up this morning at about 5:30 and after doggedly trying to get back to sleep, gave up and got up.  I shaved and showered and made myself presentable for work.  I took the dog for his morning walk and fed him when we got back inside.  I kissed Partner/Spouse good morning and reviewed email and the daily comics while having breakfast of orange juice and a bun.  About 8, I put together my lunch (standard Joe Lunch, ham sandwiches that I’m currently addicted to, home made of course), got dressed in working clothes, and eventually we made our way outside to clear off the snow from the car.  Should have done that yesterday, but didn’t seem to have the energy for it.  Hmmmm.

The snow had crusted over and what would have been an easy peasy job yesterday turned out to be moderately more difficult, but not insurmountable.  The car’s heater working from the inside helped out a lot.  I struggled a bit, trying to catch my breath, and noting a slight weakness in my arms.  It’s hell getting old, I told myself.  Just one of those things more years bring to us.

I was panting a little when I got into the warm car and Partner/Spouse asked if I was okay.  I’d spent the previous week at home ill with the flu so he was right to be concerned.  I shrugged and said “Fine”.  But as we traveled further from home, I  realized I wasn’t fine.  I was having a difficult time catching my breath.  It was getting worse.  I heard Partner/Spouse ask me something, but I couldn’t reply.  I couldn’t get enough air into my lungs to form a sentence.  I managed to choke out, “Pull over.”

He pulled into a parking lot, asked me a couple of questions, then immediately drove quickly, but safely, to a nearby hospital.  One thing about our new home.  Hospitals are everywhere.  We were here by 9am.  I’ve been here ever since.  Likely going home tomorrow.  Hopefully.

My breathing is under control, but other parts of me are not.  They’ve run two EKGs because there was an “anomaly” on the first one.  My blood sugar was over 300.  Normal is 100 or less.  There were a couple of other minor things that caused them to wonder what was going on.

What they’re looking at is a possible heart malfunction of a minor kind.  What’s got them most concerned is the threat of diabetes.  Looks like my family curse has finally caught up to me.  Right now they don’t know enough of what’s going on to tell me definitively how it’s going to be treated.  But I’ve spoken with a dietician, and I know plenty about diabetes,   Looks like the blog is going to change a bit as my diet and exercise routines get shaken up.

So, I got out on Tuesday.  They ran more bloodwork and heart monitors.  They came in and discussed what they found with me.  Early stage diabetes, slightly high blood pressure, a heart murmur that I’ve been aware of for years that seems to mess things up for me.   Out of work for the rest of the week, and a trip to a new doctor.  Two prescriptions to work on the diabetes and the blood pressure.  None of it was a big surprised.  Mom had hypertension, and dad’s family all had diabetes except him.  I’d always taken care to be active and to watch my diet, but over the last couple of years had let the diet slide.

So, doing what I normally do, I started researching diabetes and the diet needed to help maintain a good weight and keep blood sugar spikes, high and low, to a minimum.  The internet offered a wealth of information, and there are tons of books to help guide you.  Partner/Spouse found a recipe book from the diabetes association that’s going to get us started on the right path.  I even downloaded an app to my phone so I can track my BG (blood glucose), and my diet and exercise.  So I’m in the information gathering stage at this point.  It turns out that mostly we eat right anyway.  We have some minor changes to make.  And I have to adjust eating times versus work time to make sure I don’t bottom out during the day.

The time spent in the hospital and having everyone worried about me was more of an “eye opener” than a crisis.  I’m adjusting my life and eating habits in baby steps.  There’s so much to learn.  And I need to start learning about adjusting my cooking habits to work with my baking skills.  Cuz who wants to give up all that cake and those cookies?  And bread?  No way!

Well, the first thing I learned from the dietician in the hospital is that a diabetic diet is no longer about being sugar-free or carb-free.   It’s about being balanced at every single meal.  It’s about finding the right balance for your system.   I learned that there are good carbs and bad carbs, and cake isn’t necessarily a bad carb!

Imagine a plate.  Divide the plate in half vertically.  Then divide the right half of the plate in half horizontally.  The left half of the plate, the largest piece, should be filled with good vegetables.  A salad, or a mix of a few veggies steamed but still crunchy would be fine.  Try to leave off sauces, but if you find that you can’t, use them minimally.  The top half of the right side of the plate should be protein, the leaner the better.  Proteins can come in many forms but choose the leanest you can.  The bottom portion of the right side of the plate should be given to starches.  It’s a good way to remember how to balance your plate.

It’s also a good way to remember one cardinal rule:  Portion size is important.  Long ago, when I was on a specific diet, I was told that portions should be no larger than your tightly closed fist.  Other “experts” have said a portion should be about the size of a deck of cards.  In this case, it’s about balancing the portion sizes.  Protein and starches should each be about one quarter of the total meal with veggies and fruit making up the other half.

Today for lunch, I had a BLT with no mayo.  I don’t like mayo.  White fluffy stuff, yuck.  But when it’s broken down, it’s two slices of toast (wheat berry bread), two slices of bacon, and a whole bunch of lettuce and tomato.   The bread was a “good” carb since it was high in fiber and low in sugar.  The lettuce and tomato were both good veggies and piled high.  The bacon wasn’t the best protein, but wasn’t the worst either, so overall it was a balanced meal.

It’s going to take time for me to get in the habit of thinking this way.  Juice, for instance, is not as healthy as we think.  Neither are smoothies, oddly enough.  I asked the dietician why and her response made sense.  How many oranges do you eat at one time?  I usually eat one.  The amount of sugar and fiber are terrific, in one orange.  How many oranges does it take to make a glass of orange juice?  Five?  Am I going to eat five oranges at once?  And since juice doesn’t have the pulp, usually, I’m not getting the fiber, but still getting all the sugar as well as the vitamins, etc.  Smoothies are in the same category.

So, over the next several weeks, I’ll be writing about what I learn, and how I apply it to my diet to make it more healthy.  I’ll still be writing the usual anecdotes and stories and recipes to go along with them, but I’ll be adjusting them to a more diabetes friendly format.  So, here’s to the future!

And as always,

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Post #562 Lemon That Goes On Forever

February 18, 2018 at 10:41 AM | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

I’ve probably mentioned it before, but I really like lemons.  Matter of fact, I’ve probably mentioned it many times before.  Like most people, my earliest memories of lemon are drinking KoolAid Lemonade in the summertime, and sucking on lemon drop candy whenever they were available.  There used to be a store on the corner in this one place we lived that sold penny candy from a counter.  I remember buying fifteen pieces of hard candy for a nickel and sucking those things all day long.  The lemon usually disappeared first.

When we moved to Arizona, I found myself in the middle of citrus heaven.  Oranges, tangerines, gigantic grapefruit (whose flavor I detest and never ever eat them), limes, and lemons were so common, people had trees in their yards and begged people to come over and take the fruit.  Where I once was used to pulling a ripe apple off a tree, now I could grab an orange.  Roadside fruit stands were common.  One time after I’d graduated from high school, I stopped at a stand that was open year round that belonged to a friend’s family.  I was looking for a half gallon of fresh orange juice.  The younger sister and I were chatting while she was eating something citrus.  She handed me a section.

“Here, try this.  It’s from one of our new trees.”  They had a large orchard that stocked their fruit stand.

“What is it?”  It looked pale yellow, almost white.

“It’s a white grapefruit.”

I declined.  “I don’t like grapefruit.  Tastes nasty to me.” I explained.

“You’ll like this.  It’s sweeter than normal grapefruit.”

I shrugged and popped it into my mouth.  A burst of strong, overpowering lemon flavor exploded in my mouth.  When it’s not what you’re expecting, it will come as a surprise and I almost spit it out.  I know my eyes were watering.  But it was lemon and I ate it and eventually enjoyed it.

When I was a kid, and had extra quarter to spend, I more often than not would get one of those terrible hand pies from Hostess and the only one I’d consider getting was lemon.  I still eat those things.

When we moved to Maryland, we found a dairy that made lemon ice cream.  It wasn’t a sorbet or a sherbet or a frozen ice.  It was vanilla ice cream, but they blended lemon zest and some pulp into the ice cream.  They also found the best lemon sandwich cookie which they broke into small pieces and mixed into the ice cream.  We must have eaten forty gallons of that stuff before we moved.  So so good.  Especially with chocolate sauce.  Yum!

Back in my early twenties, my sister in law decided she wanted to make a home made lemon meringue pie from scratch all by herself with no help from anyone.  She grabbed my mom’s old cookbook and went to her house.  We didn’t see her all day.  Since the pie was the star for the day, my brother and I put together a quick cookout  of hot dogs and hamburgers and an afternoon of splashing in the pool.  His wife showed up later in the afternoon with a pie that looked like it came from a professional bakery.  One thing about lemon meringue pie.  It will always look spectacular as long as you put enough meringue on top and brown it right.  Hers was crunch, though.  I glanced at the filling and noticed seeds and white rind suspended in the yellow curd.  I really wouldn’t have been surprised to see leaves and twigs floating in there, too.  Later, when I suggested next time she strain the lemon juice, she giggled her high pitched embarrassed giggle and said she forgot and hoped no one would notice.

So, the best ever lemon pie I’ve ever had or made comes from America’s Test Kitchen.  As always with ATK, follow the directions to the letter.  They run the tests to make certain that the results are reliable and delicious.  This one uses a LOT of lemon juice so have plenty of lemons on hand.  One trick to get more juice from a lemon is to roll it vigorously on the counter while pressing hard on the fruit.  It will break up the fibers inside and help release more juice.  And don’t forget to strain the juice.  ATK encourages people to share their recipes, just give proper credit and don’t change the recipe.  So try the pie and share if you want to!

ATK’s Mile High Lemon Pie

  • Lemon Filling
    1 ¼ cup sugar
    1 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons finely grated zest (see note)
  • ½ cup water
  • 3 tablespoons cornstarch
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 8 large egg yolks (4 whites reserved for the meringue)
  • 4 tablespoons (½ stick) unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces and softened
  • Note: Zest the lemons before juicing them.

Whisk sugar, lemon juice, water, cornstarch and salt together in a large nonreactive saucepan until cornstarch is dissolved. Bring to simmer over medium heat, whisking occasionally until mixture becomes translucent and begins to thicken, about 5 minutes. Whisk in egg yolks until combined. Stir in zest and butter. Bring to simmer and stir constantly until mixture is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, about 2 minutes. Pour into cooked and cooled pie crust. Place plastic wrap directly on surface of filling and refrigerate until set and well chilled, at least 2 hours and up to 1 day.

  • Meringue
    ½ cup water
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 4 large egg whites (reserved from filling)
  • Pinch of salt
  • ½ teaspoon cream of tartar
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract

Adjust oven rack to the middle position and heat oven to 400 degrees. Combine water and sugar in small saucepan. Bring to a vigorous boil over medium to high heat. Once syrup comes to a rolling boil, cook for exactly 4 minutes (mixture will become slightly thickened and syrupy). Remove from heat and set aside while beating egg whites. The 4 minute time frame was stressed in the show to get the sugar syrup to the right temperature.

Beat egg whites in stand mixer at medium-low speed until frothy, about 2 minutes. Add salt and cream of tartar, and beat gradually increasing speed to medium-high, until egg whites hold soft peaks, about 2 minutes. With the mixer running, slowly pour hot syrup into whites. Add vanilla and beat until the meringue has cooled and becomes very thick and shiny, 7-9 minutes).

Using a rubber spatula, mound meringue over filling, making sure meringue touches the edges of the crust. Use the spatula to create peaks all over the meringue. Bake until peaks turn golden brown, about 6 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and cool to room temperature. Serve.

 

Post #561 Pasta’s the Bomb!

February 11, 2018 at 3:01 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

In the constant search for  quick and easy nutritious meals for the weekdays, I often turn to pasta.  It’s inexpensive; it’s amazing versatile; it’s delicious; and it’s the subject for today’s blog post.  Wading through the various types of pastas can take days and more words than I could manage in a month.  There’s long pasta, short pasta, round pasta, flat pasta, hollow pasta, shaped pasta, filled pasta, and even pasta from the leftover of making the above pasta.  Fresh pasta cooks in seconds; semi-fresh pasta cooks in a couple of minutes; fully dried pasta cooks in several minutes.  Some pasta is added directly from the cooking water into the sauce.  Some is drained first.  Others are drained, cooled, dried, and added to salads.  Like I said, amazingly versatile.

Most typical for pasta is to add it to a tomato based sauce.  Right now, I’ve got a chunk of beef roast in the slow cooker with two chopped up tomatoes, some chopped onion, garlic, and salt.  Tomorrow, the roast will get shredded and some more ingredients will be added.  Cooked pasta will be added and we’ll eat it up.

Growing up, pasta meant two things:  spaghetti which we loved because it was guaranteed to be messy as we slurped it up off the fork, and macaroni and cheese which we loved because it was macaroni and cheese.  What’s not to love?  As I grew older and started reading about other dishes, and going to different types of restaurants, I learned about other kinds of pasta.  I had ravioli, and lasagna, and beef a roni, and for a very short period, even ate a ton of spaghetti-Os.

Fortunately, palates grow wiser and more refined; cooking skills increase and become more deft.  Shortcuts are not to be sneered at when there’s a family to feed and no time to create things by scratch.  Many of my pasta shortcuts have found their way into the blog and I’m going to re-share them now.  And I’m going to add a couple of new ones.

When I was in college, I lived with my sister and her husband for a while and one of their go-to recipes was a tuna-noodle bake.  We used whole wheat macaroni boiled to barely al dente.   One can of tuna in water was drained and added to it and a can of cream of celery soup was used to bind it together.  A half cup of cheese cubes, fresh chopped broccoli, fresh chopped mushrooms mixed in then it’s all put into a standard loaf pan and topped with a mix of sunflower seeds and sesame seeds.  Bake at 350 until cheese melts and bubbles and golden crust forms on the top, about 30 minutes.  Let it cool for a few minutes before digging in.  I made this with leftover chicken, pork, ham, beef, steak, whatever protein I had at hand.  I mixed up the soups I added, too.  It was good and filling.  And as all pasta dishes are, it was very versatile, lending itself to whatever was on hand.

Another go-to pasta meal I ate a lot of in college, and still make pretty often now over three decades later is a home version Hamburger Helper’s Macaroni and Cheeseburger.  Only better.  I started off this recipe using boxed macaroni and cheese with the sauce, not the powder.  While the pasta is cooking, I cook up a pound of hamburger well done.  I tend to season it pretty well, more than I normally would so when it’s mixed, the flavorings don’t get lost.  I drain the hamburger completely.  Once the macaroni is done, I make the mac and cheese, then dump the hamburger in and mix it up.  I try to cook the burger into large lumps so there’s something to bite into.   That’s the basic version.  Sometimes, I added freshly steamed veggies, or sometimes raw.  Other times, I put all in a casserole dish and bake it for about twenty minutes at 375.  Sometimes,  mostly now, I don’t use the box mix but make my own mac and cheese.

Home made mac and cheese is another one we have on occasion.  I don’t usually fix it with a sauce since neither of us like milk or cream so we don’t generally have it on hand.  But what I do it boil up a cup of macaroni and drain it.  I put it in a casserole dish and put about two tablespoons of butter in it and stir to melt and coat.  Then I add two cups of shredded cheeses, mostly cheddar.  The pasta is usually still warm enough to melt the cheese a little.  Then I cover it and put it in a low oven for about twenty or thirty minutes so the cheese melts completely.  Remove the cover and allow to cook for another ten minutes if you want a golden crust on the top.

Finally, here’s a recipe I haven’t tried yet, but it sounds really good.  It involves cooking the pasta in butter.  I haven’t had much luck cooking pasta in anything but water, but this sounds intriguing.  It makes a portion for one, so multiply by how many you’re feeding.

Butter Lemon Angel Hair Pasta

  • 2 oz angel hair pasta, broken to bite size pieces
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 cup chicken broth, heated
  • Juice from one small lemon
  • Zest from one small lemon
  • Pepper to taste
  1. Melt butter in medium sauce pan. Put broken pasta in and toss to coat well.
  2. Add chicken broth and pepper and stir. Cover and let simmer over low heat for ten minutes or until all liquid is absorbed.
  3. Remove from heat add lemon juice and stir. Garnish with extra pepper, and lemon zest. Serve immediately.

I see this as a side dish with grilled chicken or fish.   But it’s very easy and quick to make and sounds wonderful.  Looking forward to trying it.

So what are some of your go to pasta dishes?  Feel like sharing?  I know we’d all like to hear about them.

As always,

Post #560 Yellow Cake with Chocolate Frosting – A Special Request

February 4, 2018 at 4:45 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

I don’t usually struggle for topics to write about, and this week wasn’t any exception.  I had two or three good ideas and was ready to plow into it when I read an email I got from the host site of the blog.  They automatically forward any comments on the blog so I can read them immediately and this was from a new reader who asked me to post the recipe for the best yellow cake ever.  As I looked through the blog, I realized the recipe was there, and so was the frosting recipe.  But they weren’t together in one post, and that seems like a crime.  So here it is.

I’m not a cake expert, but the cakes I do I think I do pretty well.  I’ve never had a complaint.  But it didn’t start out that way.  When I decided I wanted to learn how to cook, I approached my mom with the simple request, “Will you teach me how to cook?”  After she stopped spinning cartwheels of delight, and shouting her hallelujahs, she said, “Sure.”  She grabbed her beaten up cookbook and told me to search for a recipe I’d like to make.  After nearly an hour of looking and puzzling, I chose a yellow cake with chocolate frosting.  She made me read through the recipe three times so I’d be familiar with the steps, then made me go to the kitchen and pantry to make certain we had all the ingredients.  Then she made me line everything up and get ready to start.  I didn’t know it at the time, but she was actually teaching me some pretty basic cooking principles.

I started measuring out the ingredients when she stopped me.  “What’s that?”

“It’s a teaspoon.”

“You sure about that?”

“Well, it’s the size you guys use for your coffee and coffee and tea are basically the same thing, so I figured this was a teaspoon.”

“It’s not.”  she said.  “These are your measuring spoons.  The largest is a tablespoon, the next is a teaspoon.  Below that is a 1/2 teaspoon, and then the 1/4 teaspoon.  When you’re baking, you have to be precise with your measurements or things will turn out wrong.”

So I measured everything out into small or larger bowls to make sure we had enough of all the right ingredients.   Then I read through the recipe one more time.

“Mom?  What’s sifting mean?”

“It’s mixing all the dry ingredients together to make sure they’re well combined.  Tear off a large piece of waxed paper and put it on the table.  Put a cup of flour in the sifter and sift it onto the paper, like this.”  She walked me through the process, then left me to get on with it.  I measured out the flour, put the other dry ingredients with it, and sifted the result three times.  Today, I’d just put it all in a bowl and take a medium size whisk and whisk it all together for a couple of minutes.  But that’s what she knew and that’s what she taught me.

I mixed the cake together and poured it into a 13×9 sheet pan.  I didn’t want to attempt a layer cake at that point.  So I sat there watching my cake cook, then cool.  Then made up the frosting from a box mix, and spread it on.  Even though it was only an hour till supper time, I asked if we could have a small piece right then.  She grinned and indulged me and we each took a big bite.

“What did you do wrong?” she asked.

It was the densest cake I’d ever eaten.  “Nothing, I think.  I followed the recipe to the letter.”

“You sifted the flour three times?”

I nodded, reviewing all the steps mentally.  “I can’t think of anything I did wrong?”

“Tell me the steps.”

“I measured out three cups of flour and sifted the other stuff and the flour together.  Then – ”

“You measured out three cups of flour?  In addition to the one I did to show you how?”

I nodded suddenly seeing where it was going.  We both realized the cake had four cups of flour instead of three.

She shrugged.  “Still tastes good.”  And taught me another lesson.  If the results are good, the recipe is merely a guide.

Over the years, and there have been many (nearly 50), I’ve tried many cake recipes looking for that elusive “perfect” cake.  I’ve made cakes french style, italian style, american style, and “Joe” style.  Here’s the recipe I’ve come up with as the perfect yellow cake.  And I’ve included the chocolate frosting recipe this time.

Yellow Cake

  • 1 cup butter
  • 1 ½ cup white sugar
  • 2 whole eggs
  • 6 egg yolks
  • ¾ cup milk or water
  • 1 ½ tsp vanilla
  • 2 cups flour (cake flour works best)
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp salt
  • Directions
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease and flour 2 – 8 inch round pans. Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.
  2. In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the egg yolks one at a time, then stir in the vanilla. Beat in the flour mixture alternately with the milk, mixing just until incorporated. Pour batter into prepared pans.
  3. Bake in the preheated oven for 25 to 30 minutes, or until tops spring back when lightly tapped. Cool 15 minutes before turning out onto cooling racks.

 

Chocolate Frosting

  • One pint heavy whipping cream, room temperature
  • ½ cup butter (one stick) room temperature
  • 1 ½ tsp vanilla, high quality
  • ½ cup cocoa
  • 3-4 cups powdered or icing sugar

Directions

  1. Cream butter until light and airy. Add vanilla and mix till fully incorporated.
  2. Gently add cocoa to avoid major spillage. Once cocoa is fully combined, beat until fluffy.
  3. Add one cup of sugar and ¼ cup of cream and carefully blend until incorporated, then beat till fluffy. Add another cup of sugar and ¼ cup of cream. Carefully blend, the beat until fluffy. Repeat with one more cup of sugar and ¼ cup of cream.
  4. At this point, there will be a lot of icing, probably more than enough for a standard two layer cake or sheet cake. Add more cream in small amounts and beat into icing to get the desired consistency. If more icing is needed than what is made, add the additional sugar and use the extra cream to blend to spreading consistency.

As always,

 

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