Archive for May, 2010

Putting on the Armor of God

   Jean Michaels is petite.  Casual observation suggests she’s not capable of hefting heavy loads.  This misleading first impression supports the adage that appearances often deceive. 

Jean has always had a bit of spunk to her personality, but she didn’t necessarily see herself as a warrior.  Born in Saint Paul, Minnesota, in 1954 to a photographer dad and his homemaker wife, she spent her growing-up years working in the family business with her four siblings, and going to church every Sunday. 

“Dad was a good, frugal businessman,” says Jean.  He trained his children in every aspect of daily operations, and they established a solid, middle-class lifestyle.  “We had a lake cabin and snowmobiles, and we were the first family in the neighborhood to have a color television set!” 

When Minnesota winters became tiresome and Arizona friends spoke of good opportunities there, the family relocated to Phoenix.  Life seemed pretty good.

Still, being ripped out of familiar surroundings just as they were starting their junior and senior years of high school was rough on Jean and her older sister; finding a place among cliques of teenagers who had been together since elementary school was daunting. 

In 12th grade Jean joined the Vocational Industrial Clubs of America to get a head start on charting a career path, but a persistent sense that something was lacking impelled her to seek emotional connections outside of school.  Shortly after her 1972 graduation she became a licensed cosmetologist, and that same October married a slightly older fellow from a troubled family. 

Jean worked as a hairstylist until her first son came along in late 1973.  Her husband attended church with her, but there were hints that living his faith did not come easily to him.  By 1976 she sensed that she had married for the wrong reasons and fled back to Minnesota with her son to make a fresh start.  When her husband followed, pleading to keep the family intact, they decided to try for that new beginning together.

Following their relocation, she welcomed two more sons into her family, one in 1978 and another in 1981, but her feelings of being controlled, of not providing the best environment for her children, and of not being “equally yoked” intensified.  After 20 years of good faith efforts, she finally left the marriage. (more…)

May 31, 2010 at 4:36 pm Leave a comment

Here Comes Summer – Blam!

   Well this must be Tuesday, because here I am sweltering. It started in earnest on Sunday – a fitting day for earnestness – and by Monday my front porch thermometer measured 98° and the humidity hit 50%.  Brisk breezes make midday walks tolerable, but the air conditioner cranks away grudgingly in the bowels of this old house of ours.  The stealth attack of summer heat had me frantically racing around last weekend digging tee shirts out of storage, having re-prioritized “summer clothes retrieval” on my To Do list a half-dozen times in as many weeks. 

Once I’d located a few sleeveless tops and some capris, I slowed down to enjoy the stroll down memory lane that my seasonal clothing transfer evokes.  There is the purple cotton knit Love and Peace-embroidered  Henley shirt from the summer of 70-something and a few halter dresses that I made from McCall’s patterns around the same era.  The dresses come in handy for indoor-only wear when even Old Faithful chugging away under the floorboards can’t quite cool the far edges of the house.  And of course my mother’s White Stag tennis shorts from the 40s always bring a flicker of a smile to my face as I mentally recapture images of sepia-tinged family photos of her wearing them.

This in turn reminds me of old family dinner favorites, now copied onto dog-eared three-by-five cards in my own recipe box, waiting for some expression of interest from the next generation of cooks.  What better way to stimulate that interest than to whip up a retro meal of Mom’s standby dishes.  I settle on a main course called, simply, Chinese Beef, making a few very minor updates, and then try to remember what she used to serve with it.  White Rice, of course, although a nice brown basmati would work well, and perhaps a small salad of Mandarin Oranges and Spinach with Toasted Almonds. 

Dessert is easy – my mother’s favorite go-to quick finish:  Coffee Ice Cream Parfaits.  (more…)

May 25, 2010 at 5:30 pm Leave a comment

Custodial Government: The Legacy of a Complacent Citizenry

   I once received a coffee mug from an organization to which I had made a small contribution. I can’t remember now which organization, but the mug is a gem, inscribed with incisive quotes warning against overreaching government and the resulting threat to individual freedoms.

The quotes also remind us that, without the perspective of history – preserved as objective record rather than re-written in movie scripts, or in charming if inaccurate little memoirs tainted by the author’s current idealistic prejudices – we are doomed to suffer unnecessarily from repeated mistakes.  Case in point:  A Nanny State mentality is what has crippled the economy of Greece, yet international sentiment is to pour more money down that black hole and hope that the gravitational collapse will somehow consume itself into nonexistence, as if the laws of nature only applied in outer space.

Today, saddled by unsustainable debt and unfulfillable promises, our own ever-expanding government is becoming a greater threat to its own citizens than it has ever been to our enemies.  Perhaps it’s a good time for future leaders of this once-proud nation of self-sufficient individualists to review the proclamations uttered by these wise men of decades past…before it’s too late. (more…)

May 22, 2010 at 5:43 pm Leave a comment

Stewing Over The Weather

   Let’s see now:  We had summer in early April and autumn in early May.  The poor little irises were quaking in their roots, but we bravely carried on, fueled by comforting culinary concoctions.  As I savored a few days of freedom to steam up the kitchen, I reminded myself that I’ll be wishing for a little of this “coolth” when I’m sweltering away in – oh, I don’t know…October, maybe?  Or perhaps next Tuesday. 

With last week starting out gloomy and cold, I made soup three times and stew once, so today’s ruminations are dominated by thoughts of one-mish-deals, as my dear father-in-law used to call them.  Wednesday, an unconventional but heart-healthy lunch of sardines on Rye Crisp® and a simple lentil soup made by softening 2/3 cups each of chopped red onion, chopped celery, and chopped green pepper in a bit of canola oil in a heavy pot, adding this to lentils (1/2 cup dried, cooked for 25 minutes in four cups of water), then “souping up” the combination with a 14 oz can of chicken stock.  Throw in a teaspoon of Cajun seasoning and there you go, or I went, or whatever.  You could add chopped ham for protein if you’re forgoing the sardines in spite of the testimonial below.  Makes about two servings. 

According to, sardines are a storehouse of nutritional value offering omega 3 essential fatty acids, rich supplies of vitamin D, Vitamin B12 (for a healthy nervous system), and calcium – made more absorbable by the vitamin D.  They are also one of the few food sources rich in phosphorus (a boon to kidneys, bones, and teeth), and they are low in calories.  Enhance their mild flavor with a pinch of onion powder, perhaps, and munch them, bones and all, on whole grain crackers for a guiltless pleasure.  For a tongue-tantalizing treat, top off this meal with a few slabs of caramelized mango, peeled and cooked au naturel over medium low on a grill pan for at least 30 minutes. 

For the less adventuresome, how about a nice bowl of Pea and Sweet Potato Soup topped with Pulled Parmesan Croutons, Creamy Potato Soup with Gruyère, or Pork Stew with Garbanzo Beans.  And for dessert, a Brown Rice Pudding with Dates and Sugared Almonds – inspired by my well-worn 1965 Fannie Farmer Boston Cooking School Cookbook. Dare we call this a polite way to thumb our noses at Mother Nature?    (more…)

May 17, 2010 at 5:59 pm Leave a comment

Comical Commercials and Spring Surprises

   Years ago there was a commercial on local television showing a robust Viking Maiden – complete with shield, spear, and antlered helmet – belting out in operatic style, “Welcome to winter, in Minne-sotah, here is your fuel bill, ha-ha-ha-hah!”  Used to crack me up every time.    

With this week’s temperatures falling from 80° at midday on Tuesday, down to the 40s with a mitten-requiring wind chill twenty-four hours later, and the jokers on the weather channel talking about a “few flakes of snow in the upper portion of the state,” I’m not so inclined to laugh.  (Uh, wasn’t that me you heard chortling a month or so ago about having made it through March with no white stuff?)

But cooler weather is the cook’s friend, so I grasp the opportunity to make hot chocolate out of plain old cocoa powder with a menu of Roasted Vegetable Mélange served over Creamy Polenta and alongside oven-tender Pork “Dominoes” cut from boneless ribs, with some Crusty Whole Wheat Peasant Bread (remember that artisan bakery outlet just around the corner from lucky me?).  My mother-in-law likes Cranberry Sauce on the side with this, and with practically any other non-beef entrée, so that might nice if you have some on hand.  I make mine with fresh or frozen cranberries and part-sugar, part-stevia extract.

Add Baked Pears Stuffed with Chopped Apricots and Almonds and served with a creamy Wedge of Gouda and you’ve got dessert.  I’ll take mine with a nice hot mug of *Skinny Mocha Supreme, thank you.   (*See “choco-coffee” recipe in 10/10/09 post.)  (more…)

May 8, 2010 at 5:54 pm 1 comment

Kitchen Karma

   Serendipity.  I’ve used the term here before.  Defined as “the lucky tendency to find interesting or valuable things by chance,” it was one of my dear stepmother’s favorite concepts and lies at the heart of many a bout of culinary creativity.  Paula Dean’s bacon cheeseburger served on a glazed, raised donut comes to mind as an example, but I don’t encourage you to test the merits of that particular nutritional disaster. 

I do encourage you to stock up on novel finds at the grocery store, cook often enough to have interesting leftovers around, and experiment with meals suggested by whatever you happen to have on hand.  I’m thrilled when I can extract inspiration from among the miscellany that is my refrigerator’s contents.  Yes, I know I need to expand my world.  The solitary life of the writer, and all that… 

Back on topic, I recently shared the web address for a lovely site called Cooking for Seven, which offers quality recipes and exquisite photography – all done by a very young woman living in northern Minnesota.  I served her recipe for the world’s best guacamole for my mother-in-law’s 87th birthday celebration, and (I am not hyperbolizing here) it was truly incredible stuff.  It was also the basis for a very tasty lunch I put together for myself last week, and it works right into today’s theme.  

Inspired by the Taco Bell Lenten special of shrimp tacos, which I fell in love with but couldn’t seem to replicate at home, I grabbed the leftover guacamole, some whole grain tortilla wraps, some leftover blanched broccoli from the birthday party spread, and an excess handful of walnuts chopped for cookie-baking to put together a menu of Shrimp Tacos, Warm Butter Bean Salsa, and Grilled Peaches with Ricotta.  Lucky tendency, indeed. (more…)

May 4, 2010 at 5:41 pm Leave a comment

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