Rainy Days and Sundays

May 28, 2011 at 3:09 pm Leave a comment

What is it about a rainy day that makes a person feel like curling up in a corner with a quilt and a good book?  The squirrels seem to retain plenty of zip in this weather, judging from their frisky game of leap-frog tag across the front lawn.  My own ambition-level and mood, however, tend to fluctuate with weather conditions, although I’ve been able to flatten out the s-curve a bit with consistent endorphin-generating exercise.  And since the Sabbath is my weekly Official Day of Rest until the summer months turn it into my Official Day of Yard Work, I actually find relief in an occasional all-day spell of Sunday showers that gets me out of mowing and weeding – a sort of  “laziness permission slip” from Mother Nature.  

I’ve always blamed my dreary-day dips in mood on dark skies fooling my body into cranking out the sleep hormone associated with nightfall, and of course certain aches and pains can  accompany extremes in humidity.  Now Columnist Rich Maloof tells us that a 2008 study suggests only minimal effects from either good or bad weather states.  As added insult, Maloof offers the no-nonsense conclusion, “Most people are no more emotionally powerless against the weather than they are unable to put on a hat.”  He also quotes psychology professor Dr. Ani Kalayjian:  “We encourage people to take charge of their feelings.” 

Sounds reasonable.  But if storm-induced low barometric pressure reduces the amount of oxygen in the air, and dark skies trick my pineal gland into midday serotonin production, I get unnaturally tired.  When I get unnaturally tired, I get crabby.  I think my analysis is every bit as logical. 

Still, experience has taught me that, yes, alright; I can “take charge of those feelings” and “empower myself” to surmount them. So on any given gloomy day, I might plunge into something I’ll love being able to cross off my to-do list.  If I just can’t face organizing a closet or cleaning the oven or tidying the garage, I’ll do something both productive and uplifting.  For me that’s baking cookies for my neighbors or inviting a friend to dinner, because it’s the waste of time associated with feeling lethargic that really bugs me.  

One project I’ve had tucked into the bulletin-board frame of my mind, where I keep mental sticky-note reminders, is writing up some of my kitchen concoctions from April and May.  With June staring me in the face, I’d better hop to it and dispense with a half-dozen tasty dishes that fit right into a spring theme.  First, several vegetable recipe adaptations –  a Three-Pea Medley, a Brussels Sprouts With Dates and Walnuts dish, and a Mango-Glazed Carrots side, all of which sent me into spasms of delight.  But then I do love my vegetables. 

You might be more excited about Raised Currant Buns, whole wheat biscuits with some nice additions, or a Four Cheese Scalloped Potato casserole, slimmed down for everyday consumption.  For the mildly adventurous, ever try a Ground Chicken Lettuce Wrap?  Talk about a carbohydrate-watchers best friend – and if you don’t, you know I certainly will.  (Non-foodies:  you may skip to the last two paragraphs.  Mother Nature I am not, but I can grant you permission for that much.) 

All three of the vegetable sides were inspired by a lovely Easter menu suggested on the Food Network’s web site.  I’ll admit that the pea combo sounded a bit contrived to me at first, but having consumed my tweaked version of the original product, I am now a full-fledged fan: 

2 C shelled English peas*                   2 C sugar snap peas

2 C snow peas                                     1 TB sunflower oil

½ C fine-chopped red onion               ¼ C toasted sunflower seeds 

Set a large pot of salted water to boiling over high heat.  Set up a large bowl full of ice water close to your working area.  Add English peas to the boiling water and cook for one minute; add the sugar snap peas trimmed and cut in half, and cook for another minute; add the snow peas, trimmed and cut in half, and cook an additional two minutes.  Drain the peas and plunge them into the ice water to stop the cooking process. 

Add oil to a large non-stick skillet and heat over medium high heat.  Add the onion and cook, stirring frequently, for 3-4 minutes.  Add well-drained peas along with salt to taste and heat, stirring frequently, for four-five minutes.  Toss with sunflower seeds just before serving. 

*You can substitute thawed frozen peas.  Just add them along with the blanched sugar snap and snow peas during the final re-warming step.  

For the Brussels sprouts: 

2 # fresh Brussels sprouts                   1 medium shallot, sliced thin

1 TB walnut or olive oil                      1/3-1/2 C chopped walnuts

1/3-1/2 C chopped pitted dates          pinch of cayenne (optional)

salt to taste 

Following the instructions for the three-pea dish, trim sprouts, remove outer, brownish leaves, and cut in two, stem to stern.   Parboil them in salted boiling water for three minutes, then surprise them with an ice-cold bath.  Heat the oil in a large pan, then add the shallots and toss them until they soften and glimmer a bit – about two-to-three minutes.  Drain the sprouts very well then add them to the pan, stirring constantly, and heat them through for another four-to-five minutes.  Season as desired and toss in nuts and dates. 

This combination set my taste buds atwitter, and I couldn’t stop, but these quantities should serve six-eight normal diners generously. 

The carrots went alongside ham for a recent company dinner: 

1 C mango puree                                 1/3 C pineapple juice  

1-1/2 tsp honey                          ½ tsp ground coriander  

2 whole cloves                         2 # thin carrots, peeled 

Start a largish ham in a preheated oven according to package guidelines.  Mix first five ingredients in a heavy saucepan over medium heat and cook for 30-40 minutes to thicken and reduce volume, stirring occasionally.  Spoon some sauce over ham after meat has roasted for an hour or so.  Cut peeled carrots in half, on the diagonal, and add to bottom of roasting pan for the last hour of roasting time.  Pour remaining glaze over meat and carrots and baste every fifteen minutes or so until carrots are cooked through. 

The country-style whole wheat currant buns are revised from an old recipe card collection called My Great Recipes, with a smidge of homemade honey butter suggested to make them hot-from-the-oven irresistible: 

1 pkg active dry yeast                         1 C warm milk – 110°

½ C warm water                                 ½ tsp salt

2 TB sugar                                           1 C currants

¼ C melted butter                               ½ C wheat germ

3 C whole wheat flour                        2-to-2-1/2 C white flour 

Mix together in a large bowl the yeast, milk, and water; stir to dissolve.  Add salt, sugar, and raisins, and butter; stir to combine.  Add wheat germ and whole wheat flour gradually, stirring to form a soft dough.  Stir in all-purpose white flour and beat until well combined.  

Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead it to a smooth and elastic state.  Place kneaded dough into a well oiled bowl, turn to oil all surfaces, cover, and let rise in a warm spot for about 75 minutes, or until doubled in volume.  Turn dough out onto floured surface, punch it down, divide it in half, and then divide each half into 12 pieces.  Place roughly-shaped buns onto greased cookie sheets and allow to rise for an additional 30 minutes. Bake at 375° for approximately 20 minutes, or until lightly browned. 

Serve warm along with: 

½ C softened butter                            ¼ C good, local honey

¼ tsp nutmeg                                      ¼ tsp almond extract 

Beat together until well blended. 

For my version of simple scalloped potatoes, I combined two recipes and then tweaked that combination even further: 

cooking oil spray                                 4# russet potatoes, sliced thin

salt and pepper                                     ½ C evaporated skim milk  

½ C low fat half-and-half                  ½ C chicken broth 

¼ tsp grated nutmeg                          2 cloves garlic, minced

¾ C grated Romano cheese             ¾ C grated white cheddar

¾ C grated Gouda cheese                 ¼ C Parmesan, grated fine 

Set a very large non-stick frying pan sprayed lightly with cooking oil over medium high heat.  Add half of the potato slices, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and arrange remaining potato slices on top, adding more salt and pepper to taste.  Combine the milk, half-and-half, broth, nutmeg, and garlic and our mixture evenly over potatoes.  Cover pan and simmer for six minutes. 

Spray a large, shallow baking dish with cooking spray and carefully transfer half of the potatoes and liquid to the prepared dish.  Combine grated Romano, cheddar, and Gouda cheeses and sprinkle half of this mixture over the first layer of potatoes.  Top with remaining potatoes and cooking liquid,  remaining three-cheese combo, and finally, sprinkle the top with the fine-grated Parmesan.  Bake at 425° for thirty minutes, or until golden and bubbly, then let the conglomeration rest and settle in for five minutes before serving. 

And from a recent Saturday lunch experiment, I highly recommend ground chicken lettuce wraps, but then so does my husband, so my bias has some (semi-) objective support: 

½ C packed sliced scallions                ¾ tsp garlic powder

1-1/4# lean ground chicken                 4 tsp soy sauce

1 TB hoisin sauce                                2 TB sesame seeds

1 C slivered water chestnuts               large lettuce leaves 

Spray a large non-stick skillet with cooking spray (or lightly coat with sesame oil) and toss in the sliced scallion (green onion).  Stir fry for just a minute or so and then add the ground chicken.  Sprinkle chicken with garlic powder and cook over medium-high heat for approximately five minutes, stirring frequently. 

Stir in the soy and hoisin sauces, sesame seeds, and water chestnuts.  Cook another three-to-four minutes, stirring often, then spoon into well-washed, well-dried lettuce leaves – I like hearts of romaine for this – and roll each leaf tightly to form a hand-holdable tidy bundle. 

*****

Today, I walked a brisk and cheering three miles in the drizzle; mini-pup refused.  Now I am chipper and she is depressed, unless I’m reading too much into her being draped, hang-dog style, over the back of the couch.  

Anyway, as I was sloshing along I realized that, if I stop to think about it, that is stop to focus on signs of fatigue, I often feel a bit sluggish during even the sunniest of days.  It seems to be my constitutional makeup, one of the reasons I have to put some effort into staying energized with activity and diet.  Solution:  Don’t stop to think about it; no scientific study required.  How’s that for taking charge?

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

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Recipe. According to Encarta, "a list of ingredients and instructions for making something." The thesaurus offers the alternate terms, "formula, guidelines, directions, steps, technique."

And what is the "something" we are aiming for here? Simply a life of robust good health in every important area - spiritual, physical, cognitive, and emotional.

To that end we offer inspirational real-life stories about PEOPLE OF FAITH AND COURAGE; menus and cooking directions meant to fuel your creative inclinations and your healthy body in the form of MUSINGS OF A MIDWESTERN FOODIE; and ADVICE FOR LIFE from the perspective of those who have lived it to maturity. (Click on the green category tabs at the top of this page to learn more about each section.)

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