What Color is Your Universe?

February 16, 2012 at 6:37 pm Leave a comment

I have a pair of sunglasses that make the world look rosier.  They’re just clunky, black plastic cast-offs leftover from my husband’s eye surgery a few years ago; big, unfashionable, monster wraparounds. I’m not sure what tint it is that imbues the lenses with this marvelous quality, but on an overcast day, the gloomy tone is muted, and on a clear day, oh my:  The sky becomes a richer, more poetic shade of  blue, and the sun’s rays take on an intense golden hue that makes everything they bounce off of seem to glow with the promise of spring.  Well, almost everything.  It would require more than a bit of ophthalmic trickery to totally transform the gray-washed landscape this stretch of snow-deprived northland winter leaves behind it.

But lift your eyes to the skies, and the effect will grab at your breath – an intense reminder to soak in the warmth and beauty, and tuck some away for tomorrow.  Perry Como nailed it:  “Catch a falling star and put it in your pocket, save it for a rainy day.”  I think I was much better at that sort of thing when I was a child.  It’s easier, at ten, to be unaffected by news headline that seem irrelevant to your tiny square of cosmic real estate; to instead relive, on a drab, boring Tuesday, the thrill of last Saturday’s birthday party or even borrow joy ahead anticipating next week’s class outing.

But getting back there, to that spot where you are focused on something good and lovely, and you’re built up from the inside-out with optimism, seems a worthy goal for any adult steeped in relentless reality 24/7.  A January Sunday supplement article touched on this idea with a set of recommendations.  I have a history of miserably failing to measure up to such checklists, but I fared pretty well on this one.

For brightened prospects in 2012, the piece suggests, “track your passions,” and focus on core values and natural inclinations.  In my case, a set of negative circumstances – age, gap in employment, national economic decline – backed me into a spot where I am staying home, doing what I love to do.

I had already, to use the article’s catch phrases, noted that I was on a “joyless trail” before I left traditional office work to care for my dad and stepmother in 2005; I also had vivid memories of the consuming pleasure of hours spent writing, and had thus identified my “hot track”; and I’d had decades to “spot the patterns” of those activities that make my heart sing.  I’d even been able to “warm up” my life gradually, as I tiptoed tentatively onto this new path.

As for the author’s urging to “up your gratitude,” once again I felt vindicated, having been moved years ago to start writing gushy notes of appreciation to people in my life, past and present.  So maybe I don’t get an A+, since the ideal is brief, non-syrupy notes – a slightly different breed of correspondence than I’d been indulging in.  But I can try the less flowery approach from now on.  No prob.

Yup, between patting myself on the back for finally being ahead of the curve on a batch of “experts’ advice,” and armed with my own personal version of rose-colored glasses, I am very hopeful about the year ahead.  Just keep following my passion and letting people know that they are loved.  For me, the best way to cover both of those bases is to whip up a large presentation of something hearty and healthy and vibrant with color to place in front of my Partners in Dine.  And then gush about it, of course.

Something like a Simple Chicken Stir Fry with Brown Rice and some Honey-Balsamic Glazed Grilled Plums should  liven up even a snow-cloud-shrouded day like the one I am glimpsing through my study windows this morning.  The main dish requires only one pan, so clean-up is a breeze; it’s colorful, tasty, and nutrient-rich, so dinner guests are both pleased and well-nourished; and the tangy little surprise of grilled winter plums keeps things from getting dull – a good idea at any meal, but especially in the throes of mid-winter, when the next national excuse for celebration is over a month away. 

For the stir fry I used what I happened to have on hand, and eureka, I had stumbled upon something very good indeed.  Start with two pounds of skinless, boneless chicken breast meat (or chicken tenderloins), cut into roughly two-inch pieces.  Place the pieces in a medium mixing bowl, then whisk together the marinade:

2 TB canola oil                                                         2 TB soy sauce

½ tsp ground ginger                                                ½ tsp garlic powder

1 TB orange juice

Pour marinade over chicken, tossing to coat, cover, and refrigerate for up to two hours.  In a crunch, you can reduce the marinating time to however long it takes you to prepare:

4 large carrots, peeled                                             3 C sugar snap peas

2 large sweet red peppers                                       1 bunch scallions

1 can sliced water chestnuts                                    2 C broccoli

(This would be a good time to start cooking your brown basmati rice according to package directions, since it takes up to 40 minutes on simmer after being brought to a boil.)

Slice the carrots into fat matchsticks and the green onions into ¼” pieces; core, seed, and slice each pepper into 16-20 lengthwise strips; pull or cut the broccoli flowerettes into bite-sized pieces.

Twenty minutes before the dinner gong, start a large, deep, non-stick skillet over medium-high heat and dump in the chicken along with the marinade.  Stirring frequently, cook for about five minutes, or until no longer pink.  Remove chicken to a plate leaving juices in pan, toss in carrots, and cook for three-to-four minutes, stirring occasionally; add sugar snap peas, stir, then cover and let cook for another three-to-four minutes.

Remove cover and add peppers, onion, and water chestnuts.  Cook, stirring often, for another three-four minutes, then toss in broccoli, cover pan, and let steam for three-to-four minutes longer, stirring once about half-way through.

Remove cover, add chicken to pan, and heat through, stirring as needed. Serve on rice, with a bowl of cashews on the side for garnishing as desired.  Serves six.

The plums are a simple treat:

½ C balsamic vinegar                                            1 TB honey

1/8 tsp coriander                                                     six large, ripe, juicy plums

2 tsp melted butter

Pour vinegar into a small saucepan and boil over high for about three minutes, or until reduced by half.  Whisk in honey and coriander.  Pit plums and cut in half.  Brush cut sides of plums with melted butter and place, buttered-side down, on a non-stick grill pan over medium-low heat.  Grill for about fifteen minutes, or until a fair amount of juice has collected in the pan and fruit is fall-apart tender.  Pour off any plum juice into vinegar mixture and bring back to a boil just to heat through.

Serve warm fruit doused with sauce in small dessert bowls or, as I did, two-halves-to-a-serving with a small square of super-grainy rustic corn bread (made with two cups of cornmeal, only two tablespoons of flour, two tablespoons of baking powder, a teaspoon of baking soda, and butter milk, etc.), and a small wedge of queso fresco, with the extra sauce poured over all.  Plum delicious.  I really had to say it.

And I see, as I wrap this up, that a dusting of powdered sugar has fallen, making my front lawn look like a giant frosted Christmas cookie.  Think I’ll don my trusty, dowdy shades and let them transform the whole neighborhood into a gingerbread village for my midday walk.

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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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