Doldrum-Defeating Strategies

January 22, 2012 at 10:36 pm 1 comment

I read recently that Hostess Brands, Inc. has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.  They had filed  in 2004 as well, reemerging in 2009, but then hobbled into this new year under a daunting debt of $994 million dollars owed to the Bakery and Confectionary Union Pension Fund.  

I struggle with mixed feelings about this announcement.  The mere thought of such nutritional atrocities as Ho Hos, Sno Balls, and Wonder Bread may throw the grown-up me into a figurative swoon of disgust, but air-puffed Twinkies and mass-produced twin-packs of crème-filled chocolate cupcakes also occupy a cherished segment of my memories of childhood.  The fact that my mother doled out these treats as if they required rationing coupons simply added to their mystique. 

I’ll admit it took many years and a lot of false starts before I finally weaned myself off my thusly acquired  sugar cravings via six-plus servings of fruit spaced throughout the day.  But now that I’m here, I refuse to waste calories on any processed treat – no matter how much nostalgia attaches to it.  Even homemade treats don’t hold the allure they once did, so those stacks of cookies and candy that rise ceiling-high on our sideboard throughout December usually make it safely to their intended recipients without being molested by moi. 

Do I suffer from the notorious Holiday Weight-Gain Syndrome?  Nah, not me.  I’m too busy making and packing up goodies to eat them.  My personal danger zone lies in the valley of the post-holiday slump I seem destined to slide into every January 2nd, practically like clockwork.  Suddenly I feel crumpled by tiredness.  I have trouble getting out of bed in the morning, I want to eat until I’m double-stuffed like an Oreo, and I start to feel trapped in my own living room.  Even with unusually mild winter weather ushering in this New Year, I feel vaguely derailed. 

And in a typical Minnesota gotcha’, our temperatures last week dropped from a sunny high of 55° on a Wednesday to a windchill of five two days later.  After years of dealing with such craziness, that’s not enough to produce Alice-like wonderment in me, but it is unnerving on a par with tuning in to Wheel of Fortune and seeing Vanna White wearing a pantsuit. 

And now today’s morning temp logs in at a minus-ten, with a ridiculous minus-30 as a “feels like” number.  Did I say trapped?  Cabin-bound?  Off-routine?  Unsettled and disoriented?  Cooped up in the house, I catch myself murmuring the phrase “my little tweetum pie-ums” to our snuggling chihuahua-papillon-mix pup Muñeca, until I am brought to my senses by a glimpse of JJ the cat, hovering in the corner trying to stick his paw down his throat. 

So, shake it off and look for some practical solutions, right?  “Warm up with a bowl of piping-hot, healthy soup…for a satisfying and slimming dinner,” suggests  “Our healthy soup recipes…all include chile. And studies show that capsaicin—a pungent compound in chiles—revs up the body’s metabolism and may boost fat burning,” they crow on.  Sounds like just what I need, but of course I’m compelled to come up with my own original formula for accomplishing those promised results. 

Inspired by a lovely soup cookbook I received as a Christmas gift and a quick skim-through of my computer recipe files, I come up with a Spicy Pinto Bean Soup that is guaranteed to clear your sinuses and get your motor purring.  While it simmers on the stove, I put together My Best Meatloaf Ever, and vow to never again eschew the simple pleasure of a humble, basic pan of this classic comfort food.  Staying on-theme,  I discover a recipe for Caramelized Pear Bread Pudding at the Eating Well web site, and modify it as you’ll find below, to make for a tummy-warming, spirit-lifting wrap-up to any midwinter soup supper.  I think I’m actually stoked enough to dig out the scarf and defy that dad-blasted thermometer.  But perhaps a second steaming bowl of capsaicin-charged bean soup first…

For the mood-boosting pinto bean soup, you’ll need: 

1 C pinto beans                       2 TB chicken soup base

5 C water                                28 oz can crushed tomatoes

1 green pepper, chopped         2-1/2 C chopped celery

4 sm garlic cloves, minced      1 TB honey balsamic vinegar

1 TB chili powder                   1 tsp cumin

1 tsp allspice                            1 tsp Tabasco sauce

1 bay leaf

I usually end up doing the quick-soak method to pre-prep the beans:  Place in six cups water, bring to a boil, and let bubble for three-four minutes; cover pan, remove from heat, and let sit for a few hours.  You can opt for an overnight soak, and save yourself some time the day of preparation. 

Drain and rinse soaked beans, add them back to a large kettle along with all remaining ingredients.  Bring soup to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer on low for two-four hours, or until beans are tender.  I am convinced that the quick-soak method requires more cooking time, but your experience may vary.  Most soups can sit at a simmer for hours, of course, so start early and enjoy the aroma. 

As for the perfected meatloaf, it’s based loosely on my mother-in-law’s approach, which has fulfilled many a birthday dinner request from her sons over the years.  I sincerely believe that this  uncomplicated version is every bit as good as more ambitious recipes I’ve tried in the past – including one memorable attempt to follow the America’s Test Kitchen instructions when hosting a 50s-themed dinner for friends a few years ago.  That approach required starting a day in advance, a 24-item ingredient list, grating and freezing cheese, sauteing vegetables in butter, a few hours of hands-on attention to minutiae, and topping the loaf with a sugary tomato glaze.  (Love you guys a ATK, but as I said, never again.) 

I should note that the Test Kitchen recipe does include my mother-in-law’s secret ingredient:  crushed soda crackers.  This in mind, and drawing on previous tweaks and twitches, I use what I have on hand and stumble upon this elemental but savory ticket back to Mom’s dining room table: 

2# 91% lean ground beef*      2 eggs

2 tsp Worcestershire sauce      ½ C V-8 juice

2 tsp onion powder                 10 whole wheat Ritz crackers 

Preheat oven to 350°.  Place the beef in a large bowl.  In a small bowl, whisk together the eggs, Worcestershire, and V-8 juice, then use your hands to blend liquid mixture into ground beef until thoroughly distributed.  Place crackers in a small zip-lock bag and crush them to a very fine crumb using a rolling pin.  Add the onion powder to the bag and shake well.  Thoroughly blend dry ingredients into meat mixture then press into in a standard 9” x 5” loaf pan, patting to firm and smooth surface.  Bake for one hour.  I often serve this with steamed green beans and roasted chunks of Klondike Gold potatoes.  So. Very. Unpretentious. 

(*I’ve long used 93% lean beef, which seems like a difference that would make no difference, but I’m now convinced it does – at least in this application.) 

For the caramelized bread pudding, gather up:

 2-1/2 C evap skim milk          4 lge eggs

1/2 C sugar, divided                1 tsp vanilla extract                                                                                                 

1 TB brandy                         1 tsp lemon zest

1/4 tsp ground nutmeg            4 C cubed whole-grain raisin bread

2 TB golden raisins                 1 tsp softened butter

2 TB softened butter               3-4 ripe pears, cored   

1 tablespoon lemon juice         1/3 C chopped pecans

Preheat oven to 350°.  In a saucepan over medium-low heat, heat milk, stirring frequently, for five minutes or until steam comes off surface. In a large bowl, whisk eggs until well blended, then gradually whisk in 1/4 cup of the sugar. Very slowly, whisk in the hot milk, then the vanilla, lemon zest, and nutmeg.  Fold in the raisin bread and the raisins, making sure the bread is covered with liquid; cover bowl and set aside to rest. 

Use the teaspoon of butter to grease the sides and bottom of an 11-3/4” x 7-1/2” x 1-3/4” baking dish.  Cut each pear into 8 slices, lengthwise, and toss with lemon juice.  

Melt the two tablespoons butter in a medium skillet over medium-low heat and sprinkle the remaining 1/4 cup sugar over the butter. Lay pear slices in pan in an even layer, and allow the pears to begin to brown and the sauce slowly caramelize, for about ten minutes.  Watch the heat level carefully, and adjust as necessary to avoid over-browning.  Turn each slice and continue to cook another three minutes or until the sauce is golden brown. 

Transfer pears in a symmetrical arrangement to prepared baking dish and scrape any remaining syrup over them; sprinkle evenly with pecans.  Carefully spoon bread and custard mixture on top of pears and bake for 60-75 minutes, or until browned and set. Cool slightly on a wire rack before loosening sides with a knife run around the edges and inverting pudding onto a large platter.  

And right about here, the warm scents filling my kitchen and swelling my nostrils cause me to stop and further ponder the fate of Hostess, whose waxy-glazed cupcakes with their signature white frosting squiggle have been around in some form since 1919; the iconic, mold-resistant Twinkie, since 1930, when it was originally pumped with a banana-flavored filling.  Should our sloping economy and pitifully poor planning lead this historic company to the ignominious end predicted in the business news, that’s a truckload of classic Americana and generations of treasured childhood memories forever tainted. 

I think sentimentality is winning out over adult reasoning for me on this one.

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

From Sunset Into Sunrise: Year’s End Thoughts About What Really Matters A Cup of After-Christmas Tea, Anyone?

1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Rae Harris  |  January 22, 2012 at 11:09 pm

    Good grief! Not Twinkies! Gone the way of the buggy whip, and the two-party phone line. I have not had a Twinkie for over 30 years; but suddenly I’m filled with an overpowering urge to find one!


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