Posts tagged ‘menu ideas’

October Creeps

16155286-autumn-trees-in-kensington-metro-park-michiganNo. I’m not referring to the misguided juveniles who egged our van a few years ago at about this time. Or the insecure punks who taped a naughty magazine fold-out to our front door a few Octobers before that. I am talking verb, not noun – as in the nature of this month of transition here in Paul Bunyan territory.

Junetober. That’s how our favorite local weather wag summed up the early, sun-blessed, 78 degree days of this tenth month of 2013. But with the calendar edging toward month eleven, the cold seeps in like frigid Lake Superior lapping at your timid bare toes.

Occember. That’s what I’m calling these current conditions, as the greedy, winterish nighttime hours begin to nibble at either end of the shortening days. It’s that skulking darkness that robs us of light both morning and evening that most affects my sense of emotional equilibrium. That, and the temperature bottoming out at 28 on yesterday’s morning walk.

With my energy level waning, the scale seems to have caught the creeping disease, as well. “Up three pounds since Monday? No way,” I argue with the frustratingly mute digital readout that stares back at me unblinkingly.

I blame a few things for this latter example of October creep. Weeks’ worth of feeding the tension born of caring for an ailing loved one, with altered routines and delayed mealtimes. Taco Bell’s introduction of the humongous Cantina Double Steak Quesadilla with chips and salsa.

But whatever the cause, the red flags are a-flappin’ in the cold autumn winds: It’s time to look to hearty, satisfying soups to stave off the cold weather appetite-ignition that can take over anybody’s best intentions – family health crises and ill-timed, 960 calorie fast food temptations aside.

With this in mind, last week I concocted from on-hand ingredients what turned out to be a lovely, stomach-filling, activity-fueling, body-warming pot of Lentil and Vegetable Soup with Organic Chicken and Apple Sausage.

I don’t go out of my way to buy organic. The jury seems to be locked in perpetual debate over the merits vs. the extra expense, and I am a penny-pincher by necessity, if not by nature. But those conservative spending habits led me to a discount grocery where bargains on almond milk and “casein-free chicken sausage with no fillers” can often be had for a good price. I think I have eight packages of it in my freezer right now. And a four pound bag of lentils on my cupboard shelf from the same shopping trip.

Ah, the wonder of the accidental recipe. Add some on-sale Chinese Five Spice for a sweet/savory nuance, some end-of-season summer squash, a few more always-on-hand ingredients, and I end up with a huge pot of dense, nutrient-rich soup which I’ll have to devour all by myself before it gets past its own “use by” date. Tough assignment, but I believe I can rise to the task. If you’d like to join me in this mission, the recipe follows.

Meanwhile, I am trying to resist a second steaming bowl of lentilly goodness, since that would likely push me right back up into double steak quesadilla calorie range – a risk I may just be willing to take if the sun doesn’t peek through those gray flannel clouds pretty darned soon here.

For the quick and easy soup assembly, line up:

2 C lentils
6 C water
1 small onion, peeled and chopped
2 yellow summer squash, chopped
2 large stalks celery, sliced thin
2 carrots, peeled and sliced thin
1 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp Chinese five spice*
1 C chicken broth
12 oz chicken and apple sausage, sliced
salt to taste

Place lentils and water in a soup kettle and bring water to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes. Add onion, squash, carrots, celery, broth (or 1 cup water and 1 teaspoon or cube chicken bouillon), seasonings, and chicken sausage. Bring mixture back to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer for at least another 30-45 minutes, or until carrots are tender.

This soup pairs quite nicely with a pan of homemade corn bread, corn muffins, or corn sticks, fresh and hot from the oven. My gang likes my reduced sugar version of the Quaker White Corn Meal recipe, baked in corn stick pans for the maximum in crispy, crunchy surfaces and edges:

1-1/4 C flour
3/4 C corn meal
2 TB sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 C skim milk
1/4 C canola oil
1 beaten egg

Heat oven to 400 and grease your preferred pan. Whisk dry ingredients together, beating out any lumps, then stir in milk, oil, and egg just until dry mixture is evenly moistened. Pour into prepared pan and bake to a golden brown – 20-25 minutes for 8-9″ square or round cake pan; 15-20 minutes for 12 muffins or 18 corn sticks.

Happy sloshing and noshing. And do stay warm out there.

*My bottle of Chinese Five Spice lists anise, cinnamon, star anise, cloves, and ginger as ingredients. I figure a small pinch each of cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and perhaps crushed fennel seed would do nicely as a substitute.

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October 24, 2013 at 4:46 pm 2 comments

Of Politics and Poached Fish

cooked fish filletA thought came to me on my morning walk: From a material perspective, we are only as free as we are self-sufficient – individually or as a nation. The example of a parent-dependent teenager comes to mind. Or the 2010 Census report that 48.5% of U.S. households now receive some type of government benefit.

Of course the huge federal bureaucracy that distributes this largesse relies, in turn, on loans from potentially fickle sister nations to fund its ever-expanding and redundant social programs with their bloated official departments, gargantuan staffing demands, massively costly opportunities for fraud, and vote-buying rebate schemes. Not much peace of mind in trusting such a behemoth of snowballing debt as it teeters on the edge of the fiscal cliff. But I’m exhausted from screeching at that runaway train, so let’s switch rails right here.

A second thought came to me on the heels of that first, rather obvious deduction: Individuals can be very quirky when it comes to the source of their personal sense of security and well-being. I once knew an elderly woman who really needed to have a large stockpile of toilet paper on hand, or she wasn’t entirely comfortable with her situation. For me, it’s an overstuffed freezer and some good leftovers in the refrigerator. Or at the very least, the makings for several good, nutritious dishes that I can plan the week’s menus around.

Not all security blankets are created equal, of course. The tale of the addicted smoker who makes a pajama-clad midnight run to the nearest 7-Eleven because he can’t get through his morning coffee without a nicotine fix does not make for an amusing water cooler anecdote. I also believe that my need for a well-stocked larder makes more sense than my former acquaintance’s tissue fetish. After all, you can get creative with substitutes for Cottonelle, but you won’t have the energy to hunt for that old Sears catalogue without some means of supplying nutrition to your body.

So that takes me back to the self-sufficiency theme. Another progressive proposal popped up in a May 10th New York Times Op Ed Piece titled, “Pay People to Cook at Home.” The concerned writer claims it’s virtually impossible to find time to cook healthful, from-scratch meals, so half of We the People should be paying the other half of We the People to stay home and do just that. Of course this would further require subsidized classes on nutrition and meal planning, not to mention courses in basic cooking skills.

It always tickles my sense of irony that Big Government’s idea of helping people take care of themselves is not to just get out of their way and let them do what they have done for millennia – i.e., hand down traditions and skills from generation to generation – but to establish yet another public assistance program indoctrinating citizens on what they should do and how they should do it. So why am I not laughing?

As for me and my house, we happen to think that even having a garden is within most family’s capabilities and time limitations. If ol’ Black Thumb Girl here is able to raise green beans and tomatoes, then anyone can. The planting and harvesting takes no more time than a trip to the store every few days. You could make it a family activity – something to replace game night when the weather turns warm. But an equally essential piece of the autonomy and well-being scenario for me is food prep. Maybe that’s why I obsess over my own hoard of collected and improvised recipes.

And you certainly don’t have to spend hours cooking to come up with delights from the kitchen. So that brings me to thought number three for the day: a sampling of my experiments with the ample contents of my freezer and refrigerator over the past few weeks. Some ideas for low-effort meals: Oven-Poached Tilapia Fillets with Olives; Honey Balsamic Baked Chicken Thighs; Stir-Fry Beef Strips on Cardamom-Infused Basmati; Baked Salmon “Hash”; and a quick, easy, vegetarian-night meal of Baked Sweet Potato with Black Beans and Tomatoes.

For the tilapia to serve two, round up…

1/2 C thickly sliced shallots 1 tsp olive oil, plus cooking spray
1-14 oz can diced tomatoes 3/4 C dry white wine
1/4 tsp dried thyme salt and lemon pepper to taste
5 small to medium tilapia fillets 20 large green olives, halved

Preheat oven to 400. Coat a large cast iron skillet with cooking spray, add olive oil, and place over medium heat. Sauté shallots until softened, stirring often. Add tomatoes, wine, thyme, salt, and pepper. Cook over medium another five minutes; stir in halved olives.

Immerse the fillets in the sauce, then bake for 20 minutes. Serve with cooked orzo, lightly glazed with garlic butter, and a spinach salad.

And for the chicken to serve three-to-four, you’ll need just…

2 TB honey balsamic vinegar 1 TB sesame oil 1 tsp garlic powder 1/2 C chicken broth
1# boneless, skinless thighs

Combine first four ingredients, pour over chicken, and bake at 350 for 40 minutes. Serve with steamed Chinese pea pods and cardamom rice (see below).

The simple stir-fry for four requires…

1/2 tsp onion powder 2 lge cloves garlic, minced
1 TB shredded ginger root 2 TB soy sauce
2 TB rice vinegar 1# sirloin in 1/4 ” strips sliced against grain
2 C sweet pepper strips 1 can water chestnuts, drained
1 bunch green onion, sliced 1 can bamboo shoots, drained
2 C bean sprouts chopped peanuts for garnish

Mix first five ingredients in large bowl. Toss in thinly sliced beef and marinate for 15-30 minutes. Coat a skillet with cooking spray, place over medium heat, and sauté meat for 2-3 minutes, stirring often. Add next four ingredients, and continue to stir-fry until peppers are crisp-tender. Add sprouts and cover; cook for another 2-3 minutes

At the beginning of this process, start one cup basmati rice to cook in three cups water along with 1/2 tsp salt and 4 cracked whole cardamom pods. Cook at a simmer for 15 minutes, or until water is absorbed. Pick out cardamom before serving rice topped with stir-fry andsprinkled with chopped nuts.

Then there’s the simple salmon…

1 salmon fillet fresh lime
1 tsp Old Bay seasoning* 1 large red potato, cut in 1/2″ cubes
1 TB olive oil, separated 1 bunch scallions 1 sweet red pepper 1 med zucchini

Place salmon in a glass pie plate and douse with a generous squeeze of lime – about two tablespoons. Sprinkle with Old bay seasoning (*or use 1/2 teaspoon each garlic powder and paprika). Bake salmon at 375 for 20 minutes (or wait, and nuke it for three minutes when the vegetables are almost done). Meanwhile, put potato in a small bowl, drizzle with one teaspoon of oil, and microwave for three-four minutes, or until almost fork-tender.

Heat a skillet over medium, add remaining oil to skillet, toss in potatoes, onion, pepper, and zucchini, and sauté until potatoes are lightly browned, stirring often. Serve salmon on vegetables.

Now, to wrap things up, a humble but tasty meatless meal for one…

1 large sweet potato, scrubbed 1 tsp good olive oil
1 small onion, coarsely chopped 2 lge tomatoes, coarsely chopped
1/4 tsp garlic powder 1/4 – 1/2 tsp cumin, as per taste
1/4 tsp powdered coriander 1 C black beans

To really speed things up, you can zap the potato in the microwave for 4-6 minutes, or until tender to a fork-poke, then nuke the topping ingredients until heated through, but if you have time, heat the oven to 275, combine the seven topping ingredients in a small casserole, and bake for 60-75 minutes, along-side the sweet potato. Then slit open the steaming potato and heap on the goodies. Salt and pepper to taste.

Okay. That’s enough thinking for one day. But do have a blessed, well-nourished, safe and secure Memorial Day weekend.

May 24, 2013 at 5:36 pm 1 comment

Lessons From a Cleanse: Part Last

Front Yrd 3-23-11 IIEntering weeks two and three. “I needed to be reminded of the importance of variety and balance that this past week has taught me,” reads my journal entry for day 8. I focus on flavor vs. plate-filling bulk, and learn more about the satiating attributes of omega-3 oils and the metabolism-boosting, immunity-bolstering benefits of exotic spices.

I connect with the Creator through prayer, not meditation, so while I don’t “practice” yoga, I do yoga-style limbering exercises from a dusty tome I discovered in my book collection, and rid myself of stress headaches and neck tension in the process. My four mile morning walk had become less than relaxing, upper body muscles contracting against sub-zero wind-chills and lower body tensing against the frosty uncertainty underfoot. In its place, I reintroduce some weight training and intensify the indoor aerobics sessions.

Week two also allows for hot breakfasts – cardamom quinoa porridge with toasted almonds, and luscious banana, oat flour pancakes smeared with honey. One day I go crazy and sub in a bowl of brown rice with vanilla almond milk, nutmeg, and chopped gala apple. Severely sublime.

Lunch and dinner recipes include the one and only clunker in the batch, sesame kale salad, but that is more than compensated for by mouth-watering baked salmon in coconut broth; earthy, nutty black bean-brown rice patties; paprika-warmed roasted squash and brussels sprouts on quinoa with tahini sauce; a Dijon, lemon, olive oil-dressed broccoli and chick pea salad for the gods; baked sweet potato with Swiss chard and creamy avocado; and a lemon-herb sardine salad that is way, way better than it sounds.

I never even got around to baking cherry-date bars or making creamy mango pops. I was too busy experimenting with my new favorite snack – fruit smoothies. My proudest serendipitous find: a whole, small, fresh pineapple trimmed, cored, and whirred to a pulp with a splash of light coconut milk and a generous cup of frozen raspberries. No stomach rumblings going on that night as I lay me down to sleep.

On day 10 I write, “Even better energy, body-ache, mood, and flexibility-wise than days 1-9. I am loving this. My only complaint about the menu is that it is too rich; I cut back on the oil-heavy sauces, and still have lip-smackingly good results. And what a revelation: Vegetarian doesn’t suck, or suck you dry of energy.”

On day 12, “I think the euphoria is wearing off a bit. Maybe it’s being stuck inside, trapped by the frigid weather day after day; maybe I’m craving some good ol’ lean beef chili or a baked chicken breast. It’s not a terrible crash, but anticipating week three’s prescribed tofu-heavy menus doesn’t help. We’ll see how it goes.”

Well. That’s how it goes. Very well. I should have known that if you marinate almost anything edible in enough soy sauce, olive oil, salt, and pepper, then roast it until it bubbles, it’s going to turn out pretty darned tasty. Firm tofu – basically soy bean curd formed into spongy blocks – is quite, uh, sponge-like. It absorbs whatever good, flavorful stuff you expose it to. Serve it thusly infused, on a bed of shredded fresh baby spinach leaves and warm brown rice, and it is, dare I say, beefy – in both texture and flavor.

Add in lunch and dinner recipes for roasted red pepper and kale frittatas; garlic and lime-dressed avocado and black bean tacos sprinkled with toasted pumpkin seeds; baked acorn squash stuffed with shimmering sautéed onion, cannellini beans, quinoa, and kale; poached egg on a bed of brown rice, shredded red cabbage, and edamame beans; and a roasted slab of halibut with diced beets and lemon dressing, and you have another seven day’s worth of epicurean delights.

And I haven’t even mentioned week three’s bodacious recipe for banana-apple buckwheat muffins. I didn’t have buckwheat, so I used millet flour – also gluten free. The results were, like the old Mounds candy bar commercial claim, indescribably delicious. But you know me; I’ll have a go at it anyway. The dense, moist, honey-sweetened little breakfast cakes that tumbled out of my oiled muffin tins were rich with cinnamon, mellow with diced sweet apple chunks, and satisfyingly crunchy with coarse-chopped walnuts. I wanted to eat all four in one sitting, but reined myself in to the recommended two per serving. With a cup of hot tea, these would make a tantalizing treat for any day of the year. Morning, noon, or night.

By week’s end, I’m feeling fabulous again, if a tad hungry on the small portions. The added exercise inspires me to note, “Perhaps this will be the week I prove to myself that I need them pork chops!”

But as I count down the last three days of “clean” eating, I don’t feel deprived at all. I chow down on those delectable muffins, revisit my favorite aoili-dressed broccoli and garbanzo salad lunch, and find that I am not even remotely straining at the bit to get back to “normal” eating.

So what is my bottom-line take-away from this little experiment? For a type-A perfectionist, there’s the reinforced message that slowing down, focusing with heightened intention on what you put into your mouth and what you expect of your body, and seeking out ways to feel lighter and less sluggish after a meal are legitimate steps on the ladder to overall wellness. Even if you think, as I did, that you have it all figured out, opening the mind to new input can nudge you up and over your seasonal lethargy like nothing else I’ve stumbled upon.

Seven weeks post-cleanse, I am still feeling good; still benefitting from a varied exercise routine, the occasional vegetarian meal, and the creamy, high-calcium, low-calorie goodness of unsweetened almond milk on my morning oatmeal. Although the regimen I’ve described hardly requires sacrifice – a word with such poignant meaning for large portions of the world’s population – it does demonstrate that even voluntarily giving up indulgences can buttress a sagging disposition.

As we Minnesotans tiptoe cautiously toward the Ides of April, today’s weather forecast reads like an Almanac page from February: Storm warnings blanket half the state, with predictions for up to eight inches of new snow and a feels-like temperature of 20-something. Now there’s a Real World trial for a reinforced spirit. You may just see me careening back to the shelter of the three week challenge, desperately seeking serenity. The perpetual grayness of an interminable winter does have a way of punching a big fat hole in even the most determinedly readjusted attitude.

Note: To find the recipes I’ve gushed about above, pop on over to http://www.wholeliving.com/action-plan.

April 11, 2013 at 4:57 pm 2 comments

Summer, When It Sizzles

It’s been a cruelly hot season.  I could be uttering that comment from almost any state in the union this summer of 2012, or from a lot of international locales for that matter.  But then plenty of our ancestors, living in eras predating the “threat” of greenhouse gases, have suffered similar heat wave conditions.  London, in 1858; New York in 1896; most of North America in 1936. 

Such references are sacrilege to those who view the dogma of Global Warming as Gospel Writ, but historical cycles of radical temperature fluctuation are documented by both human records and geological evidence.  On the other side of the argument, some of the prime movers behind the concept of climate change – at Britain’s University of East Anglia, for example – have been exposed as having deleted, doctored, and withheld information that fails to support the theories upon which their careers are founded.  They also sought to blacklist both the scientists who refute those theories and journals which publish opposing viewpoints.  That’s a clincher for me. 

But I really didn’t intend to make this a piece on political controversies.  (There’s always so darned much to fume about, is the problem.)  I’m thinking in more down-to-earth terms, as I while away a rare Monday morning when my husband and I can both sit in the study together, clicking away at our keyboards – he playing solitaire and listening to Mexican music on Pandora, me rambling my way to the true topic of the day for this blog posting.  Guess we’re the 21st century version of celebrating Labor Day by avoiding real labor of any kind. 

As for that practical perspective, I could thank this scorcher of a summer for forcing me to make some positive changes:  A literally sickening bout of overexposure one 105° day in early July motivated me to move my four-mile power walk from pre-lunch to pre-breakfast.  Who needs all that direct sun exposure, anyway?  How much cooler, more comfortable, and shady the walking path is at seven a.m.  I got a particularly early start one day last week, and was treated to a soul-stirring view of the sun, glistening like a freshly-cut blood orange just above the eastern horizon.  Talking to God feels like a true one-on-one in those still quiet hours, before the neighborhood starts to rumble into full-gear. 

I’ve also changed some cooking habits, like starting things – oiled, quartered red potatoes, for example – in the microwave, then finishing them on the stovetop.  Or maybe starting a main dish on the stovetop, allowing for a 15-minute finish in the oven rather than an hour-long sauna-maker of roasting time. 

And the weather has apparently been very good to people’s vegetable gardens – at least to those who were diligent about watering.  More than one kind neighbor has gifted us a bucketful of cucumbers and tomatoes.  Now there’s another motivator:  a pile of plump, luscious, juicy, red lycopersicon esculentum – that New World discovery which our European friends can thank Christopher Columbus for exporting back to them, along with its full complement of 14 essential nutrients. 

I cubed some of the Roma tomatoes and tossed them with peeled, diced cucumbers and a light lemon juice and olive oil dressing, with salt and pepper to taste, but any good Italian-style dressing would work for this summer version of an enticingly crunchy tossed salad. 

When most of the beefsteak tomatoes came to full ripeness at the same time, I remembered I had a drawer full of zucchini and two eggplants waiting impatiently in my vegetable crisper.  A little recipe skimming on the internet, and PING! came the idea for my new favorite veggie casserole.  Add some lightly sautéed, sliced smoked sausage and it could easily become a main dish. 

I served pork chops braised in red wine with shallots with the Cheesy Layered Eggplant, Zucchini, and Tomato casserole to a whole tableful of non-eggplant eaters.  They scraped every last bit from the serving bowl and never knew what hit ’em. 

On another sweltering afternoon, I discovered a really good price on chicken thighs and let Better Homes and Garden online inspire this lightened version of Chicken With Golden Raisins.  Served with ultra-quick-cooking whole grain couscous and a spinach salad, we gave thanks for the blessing of digging into a pile of appetite-reviving richness, even in the middle of…whatever you choose to call this.  I call it a good excuse to sound off a little, and an even better excuse to cook light. (more…)

September 5, 2012 at 4:28 pm Leave a comment

Thundershirts For All!

Some days, it just doesn’t pay to tune in to the evening news.  Between the potentially devastating national heat wave, raging fires in Colorado, rampant gang violence in Chicago, and hit-and-run tragedies closer to home, the fear and trembling can be tough to shake off.  

Turn to the internet, and you end up learning about such things as the defunding of highly successful holistic, abstinence-centered sexual risk avoidance education in favor of expanding the reach of contraceptive-centered programs.  So now I’m afire with indignation.  That’s hard to shake off, too. 

Yes, sometimes the world seems like an upside down and backward place, where staying sane and tranquil translates to an impossible mission.  The ads between news segments – or yahoo headlines – offer plenty of pharmaceutical solutions for the disquiet caused by too much exposure to the raw facts of modern life, but I don’t fly that way.  Enter the pet care industry.  I’m serious.  Semi, anyhow. 

Last year about this time I was complaining about the dreadful effects of booming fireworks on my eight-pound chihuahua-papillon.  Quaking like partially-set jello in a 6.3 earth tremor and panting with anxiety – highly contagious responses, I might add –  it was 3:00 a.m. before I finally convinced her that the threat had passed.  

That’s why my ears pricked up when I saw a promotion for the ThunderShirt®, a swaddling garment designed to calm and comfort your furry companion through storms and other loud events.  Since I’m not big on drugs for my pets either, I made a point to look into the merits of this product. 

Bottom line:  My vet’s office offers it for a lower price than online outlets or pet warehouse chains do, and the goofy looking little spandex gizmo is quite effective.  We survived both this year’s July 4th celebrations and recent thunderstorms with very little trauma for Muñeca or her owners, and sailed into July 5th rested and much less angry at the pyrotechnics industry.  Lessened anger is a good thing.  It clears some emotional space for the angst that goes along with those nightly news reports. 

But wouldn’t it be great if we could come up a human equivalent of the Thundershirt®?  Maybe a stretchy, velcroed version of that ultimate in fad Christmas gifts, the Snuggie®?  Please contact me if you are interested in a little entrepreneurial effort in this area.  I have plenty of ideas, but I’m a bit challenged in the action department. 

Where I am not challenged is in the eating department.  Heat-wave or no heat wave, the old appetite  always chugs heartily along, eager for a novel enticement.  At this week’s in-law dinner it was something old, something new, something borrowed, and something blueberry.  Or cherry, whichever does a better job of floating your boat.  The “old” would be Grilled Marinated Chicken Breasts with Sesame-Dressed Gourmet Brown Rice Blend and Steamed Sugar Snap Peas; the “new” and the “blue,” Creamy Fruit Salad with Pistachios in Wonton Cups; and the “borrowed,” simply the inspiration of Alton Brown’s online fruit salad recipe, which I adapted to suit my family’s tastes. 

No anxiety at our table on this night.  The entire crew was pleased, and my stomach was appeased – two sometimes impossible missions in themselves. (more…)

July 12, 2012 at 6:14 pm 2 comments

Sweet Promises and Sauerkraut

I’m working on a major writing project about caring for elderly parents, so I’ve been reading a lot of memoirs lately.  It’s been a depressing experience. 

It’s not that these accounts don’t hold touching examples of tender human exchanges; of forgiveness and grace; of healing and renewed relationships.  Where aging is their focus, well-chosen anecdotes often reveal the unpredictable, tragi-comic nature of physical and mental decline. And some of the authors’ insightful verbal snapshots are sheer rhetorical genius. 

What troubles this former apostate is the prevailing agnostic viewpoint that seeps into the texts, extinguishing any flicker of hopeful expectation that eternity offers a glorious, new future to step into as earthly life subsides.  It’s a faith-void that ultimately sucks all the meaning out of human existence.  

“What could I say?” writes Meg Federico in Welcome to the Departure Lounge, wondering how one is supposed to live when an end is in sight.  “Nobody tells you this stuff,” she laments.  “But shouldn’t a lifetime of church on Sunday offer some comfort, especially now?”  Indeed it should.  But I guess it depends on which pew you’ve been warming and your reasons for plopping into it once a week.  Somebody sure told me “this stuff,” once I was willing to sit still and listen. 

“What about God?” the author asks her troubled mother.  “God isn’t working anymore,” comes the addled response. 

God isn’t working anymore.  I had a magic talisman that was wonderfully reassuring to tote around with me when I was fit and able, eager to dress in my finest and meet with friends for coffee after the 10:00 o’clock service.  It was all glittery and shiny, just like youth, but no matter how hard I shake the darned thing, it has quit working now that life’s cherry bowl has gone sour on me. 

“Mom wouldn’t buy dumb platitudes,” daughter Meg concludes, drawing a moral equivalence between Holy Scripture and Kahlil Gibran.  Nobody with a true need ever does buy dumb platitudes.  That’s why there is a True God with a True Message who offers True Comfort when we most desperately need it.  Of course, we have to meet Him half-way.  He can’t guide us through the rough patches if we’re walking away from Him. 

It’s been claimed that every foxhole is populated with instant converts.  Not so every nursing home sick bed, it seems.  Depressing.  And inexpressibly sad. 

Because they are research, I read these books through to the end, but I do feel a need to push the “refresh” button on my mental computer screen when I’ve finished.  I might revisit an uplifting email from a fellow writer, compose a note to a granddaughter who is facing unusually tough challenges, or whip up a batch of Caramel Crispy Chex Mix for my in-residence mother-in-law. 

Then it’s out the door to steep in the scent and color of resplendent apple blossoms, wonders of Creation waiting just around the bend in the path to the park; to meditate my way through a power-walk and reconnect with the Source of my own hope and assurance.  Even as the child of God in me prays for those who face illness and recovery, and especially for those who walk in darkness, the perpetual foodie in me drifts to thoughts of a knee-slapping menu:  a comfort food meal to beat all, on a coolish day in June.  

That’s what works for me.  Stretching to the heights and then grounding my thoughts in the practical.  A crock pot of Pork Ribs Braised in Beer with Sauerkraut and Cabbage; some simple, light and fluffy Mashed Swidaho Potato Pancakes; and a batch of Brown-Bread Muffins takes me back to childhood, and turns out to be one of the most succulent meals I’ve offered at the family dinner table in months.  Truly comforting, it fortified this diner enough to go back and take up another volume in her current research assignment.  For basic directions, see below.  And I’ve thrown in my Customized Chex Mix recipe for good measure – and guilty pleasure.  A mixed fruit compote would work for the highly conscientious.  (more…)

June 18, 2012 at 4:23 pm Leave a comment

April Foolery, Octoberish Surprises

My daughter-in-law, Esther, grew up in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico – a preserved 16th century colonial hill town and World Heritage Site.  She and my stepson have lived part of their married life in that quaint city, with its large population of American retirees and its international arts community.  The town’s “foreign settlers” are lured by an enriched yet small town atmosphere, the reduced cost of living, and a temperateness of climate that is almost impossible for this northern girl to wrap her head around.

To convince my brain, I checked out a Weather Channel chart which shows a gentle arch of evening-low to daytime-high temperatures spanning the year.  Temperatures range from 44 to 78 in January, February, and March; from 53 to 85 in April, May, and June; from 56 to 79 in July, August, and September; and from 46 to 76 in October, November, and December.  That confirmation brings the  place dangerously close to a fantasy ideal that has been brewing in the imagination of the two Minnesota-weary Baby Boomers who live in my household.

But back to the Real World that comprises our Midwestern existence: It was a mere three weeks ago in mid-March that our bullishly high temperatures of 80-something were breaking old records like so many china shop tea cups.  People were wearing shorts and pulling out the flip flops.  Ahem; did somebody mention “flip-flops”?  Here we are in the second week of April, and it dips to 27 degrees overnight. I had to dig the pup’s fake shearling jacket out of mothballs and zip the liner back into my two-season coat.

Things are warming up a bit as the week progresses, but last night I heard a sheepish weather guy whispering the word “snow” in conjunction with next Monday’s forecast.  I feel bad for the farmers and those people who have plants in their tender care, but I have to put sympathies aside and try to make cider of this shriveled apple we’ve been handed.  Time to haul out the soup kettle and bake up some bread, as my husband settles in front of the computer to lose himself in a virtual tour of real estate offerings in ol’ San Miguel.

The soup is a cinch.  With inspiration from over a hundred recipes in my nifty little all-color, all-soup cookbook, I settle on Corn, Chili, and Chorizo Soup and a stew-like Turkey and Lentil concoction, then set about adapting them to my own self-imposed nutritional mandates.  Now for some hearty bread.  If I had it to do over, I would opt for the Walnut and Seed Bread recipe tucked in at the end of the Love Food Soup collection, but I had a few ingredients I wanted to use up and a different recipe I’d been wanting to fiddle with, so I whipped up my version of Prune and Walnut Bread – and then managed to over-bake it to just a few strides short of burnt offering territory.  So much for fiddling.

There is a story passed down about my husband’s grandmother, as a 22-year-old newlywed, baking a cake that didn’t meet her standards for serving to others.  Embarrassed over the mishap, she stashed it in her hope chest and ate away at it, one slice a day for as long as it took to consume the entire thing on her own.  Family lore has it that she was reluctant to throw it on the trash heap out of fear that her failure would become public knowledge.  I prefer to think that, like me, she couldn’t stand the idea of wasting all those good ingredients.

Whatever the case, having trimmed the darkened top off of my own imperfect creation, I have now been eating away at a slightly dry White Wheat, Prune, Walnut, Applesauce yeast bread for five days running.  And the recipe made two 9” round pans-full, so there is one in the freezer that I’ll have to deal with.  Later.  Meanwhile, for the non-martyrs among us, whole grain tortilla quesadillas made with Monterey Jack cheese go beautifully with either of these chill-chasing soups. (more…)

April 13, 2012 at 5:52 pm Leave a comment

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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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