“Hallelujah,” And Other Mood-Altering Mental Exercises

January 22, 2011 at 5:59 pm 1 comment

In my small CLC congregation, we have a lovely tradition of singing the the Hallelujah Chorus at the close of our Christmas morning worship services. Well, I say “we,” when in fact it is our golden-toned choir joined by visiting choir alumni who provide this rendition of Handel’s most inspired contribution to the world of music. And oh, what a glorious, rafters-lifting sound they produce, as they author wave after wave of goose pimples on the flesh on this particular pew potato. The audio memory replays inside my skull for days and weeks following my enjoyment of the original performance. 

Nothing too unusual about all of that, except that I have turned this healthy compulsion into a sanity-preserver, and the formation of that new habit went something like this: Like most people who try to make sense of society’s capacity for moral malefaction, distressing thoughts sometimes creep into my consciousness – most often when I am out walking and away from mundane distractions. But recently we’ve had many personal reasons to direct “hallelujahs” heavenward, so I promised myself I’d abandon my old, futile habit of fuming over the irrational ways of the world and adopt a new plan. 

The next time I caught myself grieving over the government meddling that has brought our once-great health care system to its knees over the past 66 years, I thought about the dear wife of a dear friend, and her recent miracle of a successful kidney transplant. “Hallelujah!” I shouted inside my head, and the resentment evaporated, poof, like a cost-of-living increase in a stinky economy. 

Later, as thoughts about the recent Tucson tragedy and how it was further embedded with angst by finger-pointing politicos started to stir up some ill will, I reminded myself that a wonderful human being we know and love, who shops regularly at the Safeway store where the atrocity occurred, was spared any personal harm or injury in that dreadful event. “Hallelujah!” echoed the now-automatic mantra inside my cranium.

And yet again, as I stewed and brewed over the recent announcement that only 35% of the 1.4 billion in relief aid sent to Haiti after last year’s earthquake has sifted through a corrupt government to reach desperate citizens, I recall that we just got news that a friend got a fine report on her cardiac stress test following complications from gastric lap-band surgery, and the “hallelujah!” burst forth out of nowhere, as if it had taken on a life of its own. 

Over and over, this little psychological tool worked to hone my perspective and balance my mood. The renewed spring in my step is sure welcome, since I’ve been experiencing “winter fatigue” lately. 

Back at home, I type into my search engine, “Why am I so tired during the winter months?” The results tell me pretty much what I’d expected: Too little daylight translates to sluggishness. Get plenty of sleep; exercise regularly – outside whenever possible; hang around with upbeat people, I read. With a new strategy for not letting life’s woes settle in to roost in my psyche, a few sunny days here and there, distraction in the form of workouts and editing projects, and a whole universe of healthful recipes yet to be sampled, I have stopped grumbling and taken action. 

Need a little extra energy to conquer your own internal and external roadblocks? How about a lovely New Year’s Day Bean Soup, some classic All-Beef Meatloaf with Mashed Sweet Potatoes, a Whole Wheat Spinach and Mozzarella Pizza for color and a virtual alphabet of vitamins, and a little dietary indulgence therapy in the form of Orange Buttermilk Cranberry Upside Down-Upside Down Cake?

Last Christmas my friend Rae sent me a tube of beans along with (basically) the following soup recipe sold by her ladies group at church, and it was fabulous. I shamelessly offer it to you here, with my own twist on a few ingredients, but buying it from Florida Chapter BB of the P.E.O. Sisterhood will save you from investing in all those different bags of legumes: 

1/3 C each of the following dried beans:        black-eyed peas

split green peas                                                         split yellow peas

lentils                                                                            black beans

pinto beans                                                                 navy beans

dark red kidney beans                                            great northern beans

2 TB salt                                                                        2 cubes chicken bouillon

2-1/2 C cubed lean ham                                         1-1/2 large onions, chopped

1-19 oz can chopped tomatoes                           1 tsp Cajun seasoning (or chili powder)

1 TB lemon juice                                                        pepper 

Wash beans, place in a large kettle, cover with water, and add salt. Soak overnight. The next day, drain the soaking water and add two quarts of fresh water and the chicken bouillon; simmer for three hours. Add ham, onion, tomato, seasoning, lemon juice, and pepper to taste. Simmer two hours longer. My husband and I managed to polish this off in two days, and it was even better the second day. Don’t even ask about day three. 

I once did a retro 50s dinner party using America’s Test Kitchen’s recipe for the ultimate meatloaf. It was incredible, but it also took me hours and hours spread over two days to put together. This is my take on their own streamlined version of that dish: 

½ cup fine-chopped onion                                 ½ C fine-chopped celery

1 med clove garlic, minced                                 ¼ tsp dried thyme

1 tsp paprika                                                             ¼ C V-8 (or tomato) juice

½ C vegetable or chicken broth                       2 large eggs

½ tsp unflavored gelatin                                     1 TB soy sauce

1 tsp Dijon or dijonnaise mustard                    2/3 C crushed bran crackers

2 tsp dried parsley                                                  ¾ tsp salt

½ tsp pepper                                                             2 # extra lean ground beef 

Cook onion and celery over medium-high heat in a nonstick pan sprayed with canola oil, 6-8 minutes. Add garlic, thyme, and paprika; cook and stir for one minute. Reduce heat to low and add vegetable juice; stirring, cook about one minute or until slightly thickened. Set this mixture aside in a small bowl to cool. 

In a large bowl, whisk broth with eggs, sprinkle with gelatin; let stand five minutes. Stir in soy sauce, mustard, crackers, parsley, salt, pepper, and onion mixture; add ground beef and mix gently with hands until thoroughly combined. Cover a wire cooling rack with foil and poke holes in foil for drainage. Place this on a foil-lined cookie sheet, then form meat mixture into a 10x6x2” oval on the prepared rack and bake at 375° for about 60 minutes, or until meat thermometer reads 135-140. Serves four normal adults plus one brother-in-law, with leftovers for tomorrow’s lunch. 

For the mashed sweet potatoes, start by piercing then roasting eight medium sweet potatoes at 375° for one hour, scooping out the insides into a bowl, then mashing along with one of the following: 

4 TB canola oil margarine                                     4 TB reduced fat cream cheese

2 TB margarine and 2 TB evap. skim milk       ½ C fat-free half-and-half 

For the “how to get them to eat spinach” pizza side dish, you’ll need: 

1 # prepared whole wheat pizza dough          4 C fresh spinach

¼ tsp nutmeg                                                            salt to taste

pepper to taste                                                          2 TB sun dried tomatoes

3/4 C grated mozzarella, divided                      ¼ C cottage cheese

¼ C grated Parmesan                                             2 TB basil pesto 

Roll out dough to a 12” circle (or substitute a whole grain flatbread). Bake dough on a preheated cookie sheet for 10 minutes at 375° then set aside. In a large nonstick skillet coated with cooking spray, saute coarsely chopped spinach over medium heat until slightly wilted, two-to-three minutes. Stir in nutmeg, salt and pepper to taste, ½ cup of the mozzarella, the cottage cheese (or ricotta), Parmesan, and drained tomatoes. NOTE: I use fat free cottage cheese and part skim milk mozzarella. 

Spread pesto over prebaked crust or flat bread; top with spinach mixture and then with remaining ¼ C mozzarella. Bake at 375° for 15 minutes, or until it looks “goldened,” not browned. 

Upside down-upside down cake is not a typo. A calculation error, perhaps, but not a typo, as in I originally wanted to be able to turn this beauty out onto a serving platter and present it in all it’s gleaming scarlet glory, until I realized that I was making a 13×9” cake. Hmmm. A bit unwieldy for that plan. Halve the recipe if you’re serving from a cake platter. But I started with an old favorite and improvised from there: 

2 large oranges                                                          2 C sugar, divided

4 C cranberries                                                          1 C softened butter

2 eggs                                                                             1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp baking powder                                                 2-1/2 C flour

1 C buttermilk* 

Remove all of the zest from both oranges, halve them, and squeeze the juice into a heavy saucepan. Add one cup of the sugar and the cranberries. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer until cranberries burst and sauce thickens – at least ten minutes. Let cool and thicken. 

Place butter, orange zest, and remaining 1 C sugar in mixer bowl and beat at medium speed until light – at least 3-4 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time; beat until light and well incorporated. In a separate bowl, combine soda, powder, and flour and whisk to combine. Beat flour mixture into butter mixture alternately with buttermilk until batter is smooth. (*I used ½ C cream, ½ C skim milk, and 1 tsp lemon juice, mixed, which I allowed to sit for a minimum of five minutes.) 

Spray a 9×13” baking pan lightly with canola oil and spread the cranberry mixture evenly in pan. Carefully spoon batter over cranberries in large dollops; even more carefully, smooth out the batter to totally cover cranberries. Bake at 350° for 35 minutes, or until cake springs back from a light touch. Serve warm with a fat free half-and-half, ice cream, or a small blop of whipped cream. 

At this point, I fervently thank God for the blessing of a plentiful food supply, and I do believe I feel another “hallelujah!” coming on.

Entry filed under: Musings of a Midwestern Foodie. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , .

Spaghetti Night at Grandma’s Simplify to Maximize: Healthy Living 101

1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Craig  |  January 22, 2011 at 8:08 pm

    Good Afternoon. I know a couple of these people. Things are still going well. Have a nice evening out. We are going out also. Dear Debbie is taking a nap now. We go from having appointments every M, W & F to M & TH starting next week with an add’l doctor appointment thrown in very few weeks. It will be a few more months till life gets back to somewhat normal assuming everything goes well.


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