Archive for February, 2014

Winter Redux

winter reduxI’m about to repeat myself. Forgive me. I know I’ve nattered on in the past about the unfortunate confluence of the cold weather appetite bump and the human hibernation instinct.

But when day after day, the sky forms a dome of grey flannel capping a blanket of white velvet below, with only the stark silhouettes of bare trees to break up the monochrome landscape; and when the local climatologist declares this the ninth coldest winter since 1888; and when you’ve been off your feet with flu and cold symptoms more in the past two months than in the past five years; and when it’s more appealing to confine yourself to a warm kitchen than to venture outside and risk literal frostbite…

Well, as I said, forgive me. But my dog won’t even get out and exercise her little legs in this stuff.

I must say I did learn a lot about minimalist living while staring at the ceiling with a case of H1N1 that left me too dizzy to even prop myself up in chair. Helpful survivalist junk like…it’s possible to make a simple chicken and rice soup with one eye open and one hand on the counter top for balance; cats make great lap warmers and dogs will join you for a nap absolutely any time, day or night; the household and the world go limping along just fine without my input; virtually anything on a to-do list can be rescheduled; and my fingernails grow and my grocery bill shrinks when I’m not prepping and cleaning up after meals three times a day, every day. You know. Essentials like that.

But once you’re upright again and the food cravings come raging back, some creative if simplified menus based on what’s already on hand help keep a person distracted from the stretch of the Yukon just outside her living room window. Marinate and roast. That’s been my theme for evening meals lately. Marinades can infuse a richness without a lot of fat and minus the fussiness and excess of bread crumbs or cheesy toppings. Appetite appeased, conscience clear.

Then there are the must-eats of stew, soup, or chili. There’s no feeling sorry for yourself with a tummy full of warm turkey soup made from the frozen carcass of the Christmas turkey. Throw some chopped onion, celery, and fresh sage in with that homemade turkey stock and the meat scraps gleaned from the simmering bones. And finally, some brown rice and sliced carrots for the last hour or so of cooking, plus a splash of evaporated skim milk stirred in at the very end. A sure-fire cabin fever cure-all.

My pauper’s pantry chicken chili came about when I grabbed two 14.5 ounce cans of diced tomatoes with celery and bell peppers, a tablespoon of dehydrated onion, a teaspoon of Jamaican jerk seasoning, a 13 ounce can of chicken breast with juices, and a 15 ounce can of beans – kidney, white beans, cannellini; whatever is handy and appealing. Salt and pepper to taste, simmer for one or two hours, and dig in.

The oh-so-simple marinades follow below. And for today’s final offering, a tasty “crabmeat” pizza which makes excellent use of the lumpy imitation crustacean-esque product that comes vacuum-packed and refrigerated at your local grocery store. Don’t mock it ’til you’ve fried it. Or something like that.

And do at least try to keep your stomach preoccupied and your body well nourished until this national disaster of a winter has given way to more reasonable trends. (Anybody know when the next Global Warming Summit is scheduled? We could use the hot air about now.)

For one pound of roasted chicken thighs, you might try one of these marinades before baking the boneless, skinless pieces for 45 minutes at 350°F, or until the internal temperature reads 170°. Turn them at the mid-way point to keep them moistened, and cover baking pans with foil for most of the baking time, if your oven tends to run hot, like mine.

I always mix my marinade right in the pan, then turn the chicken or chops a few times if I’ve planned far enough ahead to refrigerate them for several hours before roasting. (One less dish to wash is never a bad thing.) More likely scenario: toss meat in marinade right before baking. I understand that it’s always a good idea to let cold meat come to room temperature before roasting or cooking, Makes for more predictable cooking times.

Marinade I
2 TB soy sauce 2 TB red wine vinegar
1/2 tsp garlic powder 1/2 tsp coriander
1/4 C water, as needed tiny pinch of sugar

Marinade II
1 TB olive oil 1 TB soy sauce
4 tsp tahini 1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp ginger 2 TB chicken broth

For four easy weeknight baked pork chops, before you bake the bone-in meat at 350° for 30 minutes or until registering 145° on a meat thermometer, mix together and slather over them…

1 TB dry sherry 1 TB soy sauce
1 tsp sesame oil 1/4 tsp garlic powder
1/8 tsp Chinese five spice 1/4 C chicken or vegetable broth

For the pseudo seafood pizza I used a packaged whole grain pizza crust and topped it – in the following order, reading left-to-right – with…

3 TB yellow curry paste, smeared 6 large green olives, thinly sliced
1 pkg imitation crab meat, chopped 1 large shallot, thinly sliced
2-1/2 oz shredded colby-jack cheese 1/2 oz crumbled cotija cheese

Bake according to crust instructions, cut yourself a slab for lunch, then sit back and imagine a tropical coastline vista. They do exist out there. Really.

February 28, 2014 at 10:03 pm Leave a comment

True Romantics

old booksI was musing here not long ago about the rewards of preserving snippets of the past. Valentine’s Day being a time for sharing the sentimental, and as a sort of post script to that previous piece, I’m sharing another recent experience that left my heart warmed and rewarded.

A few months ago I posted the following ad online:

Early 20th Century Cookbook Collection

Fascinating materials for the food historian or the curious contemporary cook. Eight hardcover books from 1908-1946, plus 14 paperback booklets dated 1906-1950, including 1917’s A Thousand Ways to Please a Husband With Bettina’s Best Recipes; a 1946 edition of Joy of Cooking; a 1950 edition of Betty Crocker’s Picture Cook Book; the 1944 Better Homes and Gardens Cook Book; The New Jell-o Book of Surprises from 1930; Rumford Southern Recipes, and more. Books range from fair to good condition.

This assortment had belonged to my beloved stepmother, but I was running out of room, and none of my stepsisters were interested in these family items.

With nary a nibble from the Craig’s list crowd, I hatched the bright idea of narrowing my audience to a more select group. The term “Home Economics” is apparently as outdated as my association with college campuses, but I managed to locate and contact the Food Science and Nutrition Department through the University of Minnesota’s home page.

The secretary – excuse me – the administrative assistant there referred me to the Department Head who offered to place a blurb in the staff newsletter. When the Department Head himself thought about my offering, he decided to purchase the set for his wife, as part of her Christmas gift last December. “She tells me she really enjoys reading old cookbooks,” he shared. It was an example of what my stepmother would have called synchronicity.

I delivered the books to said professor in ribbon-tied bundles according to size, and then rushed off to finish my own harried Christmas preparations. He was a very nice, soft-spoken fellow. A genteel individual in the classic sense. I was immediately sorry to have rushed through our exchange so quickly, but soon refocused on more positive thoughts of the holiday to come.

Come January, I found myself speculating over how this kind man’s wife might have received his thoughtful and unique gift, worrying just a tad that it might have been a disappointment to one of them, once in hand. The brown-edged covers of the paperback pamphlets were charming, with their marcel-waved, cherry-faced housewives positively elated over the products of their displayed baking efforts, but some were a bit weary with age. Would that have been a detracting feature?

Driven, cat-like, by a raging sense of curiosity, I decided to inquire.

On Mon, Feb 10, 2014 at 12:53 PM I wrote:

Professor:

Good morning. I am the person from whom you purchased the old cook book collection that had come to me through my stepmother and her ancestors. I don’t mean to barge into your busy day, but I have been curious to know if your wife found the assortment to be entertaining and informative, as I did.

A belated happy new year to you and yours.

SAK

At 1:21 on that same date, the professor responded:

She loves them. I will find her at the kitchen table or by the living room fireplace reading them. They are the perfect gift for her. (They have a good home.)
Thank you,

G

On Mon, Feb 10, 2014 at 4:41 PM, I replied:

How delightful. Thank you for taking the time to respond. You are a gracious gentleman, and I was pleased to have the chance to meet you.

To which he further responded:

And I enjoyed meeting a person who is obviously very caring – you did not sell the books to the highest bidder but to a person who would value, enjoy and care for them.

My best wishes,

G

The image of this nice man’s wife poring over with interest the contents of a literary time capsule from generations past that my stepmother had cherished brightened my day. Lit up my week. And his generous comments put to rest any lingering concerns about the decision to give the volumes up.

They indeed have a good home. That, in my mind, is a romantic thought: A loving husband valuing treasures from the past, and being tuned in enough to his wife’s passions that he found her the perfect gift.

A match made in heaven, perhaps. Happy Valentine’s Day, all.

February 14, 2014 at 9:31 pm 3 comments

The Persistence of Memories

bundle of old lettersLast year, for my birthday, a dear, long-time friend sent me three letters I had written to her eons ago. I caught my breath and felt a lump form in my throat when I saw that vaguely familiar loopy adolescent handwriting and the ancient return address. I chuckled out loud over the goofy notation on the backside of one of the envelopes, “To open, insert big toe under flap and wiggle.”

Reading the letters themselves, the words and thoughts of my 14-to-17-year-old self, led me through a whole catalogue of feelings. This was possibly the most meaningful gift I have ever received. A little background:

I am a saver. It’s a compulsion I’ve been trying to rein in, having now disbursed the material belongings for two households with similar inclinations. There’s nothing like plowing through someone else’s inexplicable stashes – used zippers and outdated advice columns anyone? – to make one take the vow. My husband and I are determined not to leave the same massive challenge behind for our survivors. But holding onto things is a tough tendency to reform, with its intensely emotional and deep-planted roots.

To be clear, there are two kinds of motivation for us saver-types. One, the practical if extremist conserve/reuse/recycle mentality; the other, a result of being raised by a thrower, and the sense of grief that the loss of childhood treasures can create. I suffer the double-whammy of being plagued by both impulses, and crushing regret over lost diaries, doll collections, and scrapbooks plagues my psyche to this day.

So my approach to “clearing out” is definitely a cautious one. Over the past decade of trolling through the files of departed loved ones, I have appreciated coming across old correspondence, which either makes a good contribution to the Family History portfolio – another project for another day – or becomes a perfect opportunity to re-gift the original sender by sharing the long-lost sentiments of an earlier day. A note written by a beloved aunt to my mother-in-law when her baby boomer sons were still toddlers; a beautiful letter sent to that same mother-in-law by her soon-to-be daughter-in-law in 1970; actual recordings of the voices of my stepmother’s three grandsons, circa 19774.

When I received my own such offering from a friend who knows me well enough to understand how very much I would value it, my goal of carefully preserving all that which has meaning and sharing it with others was reinforced ten-fold.

I started with my own Christmas card stash, and tossed all the generic messages, saving only the photos and annual letters. That’s one whole grocery bagful to the recycling bin and out of my file drawer.

Next, my own bulging file folders labeled “Personal Correspondence” and “Consumer Correspondence.” Most of the consumer-related stuff can be purged, although you may see a few prime examples of snarky and indignant complaints reprinted here for your entertainment in the future. But the personal communications will be fine-tooth-combed for opportunities to share the delights of a photographically accurate step back in time with others.

Today, a friend’s daughter celebrates her 13th birthday. This child was a mid-life blessing to a loving mom who had finally found her prince, and I remember the day of her baby’s birth with crystal clarity. What I had forgotten was the charming content of emails this mom and I exchanged leading up to her miracle baby’s entrance into the world.

Today I am putting together a folder of chronologically-ordered email exchanges I printed out and filed away at the time. This afternoon, I will deliver this collection to the mom along with her daughter’s birthday gift. The notes are replete with joy and humor and a teensy bit of angst, and they transported me right back to the time and place and state of mind of their origins. They made me smile, they touched my heart, and they recaptured lost moments.

I hope and pray that they will do the same for my good friend, also known as the beautiful Sarah’s mom.

February 6, 2014 at 6:20 pm 2 comments


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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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