Posts tagged ‘menus’

A Mad, Merry Dash to Christmas or a Frenzied, Fervid Rush to the Cash Register?

Like many of you, I am discouraged by the “commercial sprawl” that has ads for Christmas indulgences seeping into mid-October. Being a rebel at heart, I stubbed my toe more than once between October 21 and November 26th, racing for the remote to mute the yuletide-themed commercials insinuating themselves into my consciousness well before their time.

I’ll grant that winter weather is definitely with us. The second Saturday of this month arrived at 19° degrees (a virtual 5° with the 25-30 mile an hour winds) with a snowfall rate of 1-2” per hour that delivered an 18” accumulation by Sunday morning. But still, the premature storm of holiday spending whipped up by Madison Avenue has some strange effects, such as the neighbor’s plopping a Santa hat on his porch step jack-o-lantern and our local Garage Logician wishing everyone a Happy Hanaramakwansmas.

“You can slow down and find some peace,” I chant repetitively as I inhale (1-2-3-4), hold (1-2-3-4-5-6-7), and exhale (1-2-3-4) and start pulling gear out of the closet for my midday walk. Peering out the picture window onto the weird white winter wonderlandscape, my pup and I “wonder” whether we really want to leave the warmth of our cozy Kirknest to venture out into it.

“Even ye of the asbestos bladder cannot hold it for the next four months,” I remind my furry walking companion. So into cold-weather garb I stuff myself, giving new meaning to the phrase “the layered look.” Once wrapped in a quilted parka with my baseball cap on (for sun shielding), the hood from my sweater in use (for neck warmth), and my Dollar Store space alien sunglasses in place (for UV protection), I get a glimpse of the Unabomber staring back at me from our entryway mirror. I scare myself at this point, and I haven’t even encountered any neighborhood children yet.

 As I goose-step my way over snow-crusted walking paths, I mull over the holiday that has just whizzed past with so little fanfare, and decide to take back the holidays by revisiting Thanksgiving, making today’s subtitle Turkey Day Travails and Triumphs. With my helpful, downloaded “Countdown to Thanksgiving” checklist in hand, and after more years of cooking than I care to specify here, I thought I would have this feast down pat. Not so, perhaps because I will insist on trying out new recipes when I have twelve dinner guests sitting at my table. But there were some royal successes, too, so I will share both with you for your “helpful-and/or-amusing hints” file.

Not-So-Hot Ideas:

Basting a turkey with soy sauce, bourbon, and honey. This sounded to me like a luscious amalgam of several suggested approaches to getting that golden-glazed result we all strive for. Not so, as the soy sauce causes the skin to brown way too fast and you end up with turkey jerky instead of drumsticks and skin so dark it all has to be stripped and discarded – in spite of the foil tent. It also took me (and I am not taking literary license here) eight consecutive days of soaking and scraping and soaking and scouring to get the baked-on, caramelized honey off the bottom of my roasting pan.

My rescue plan was to reheat any slightly dry turkey meat in a hot bath of chicken broth, which does wonders to revive and moisten. I was ready to try this remedy on myself by the end of the day on 11/25. (more…)

December 21, 2010 at 3:54 am 2 comments

Power to the Pupil

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As most of my acquaintances will tell you, through a weak and weary smile, I am all about lessons learned. Maybe it’s because I came late to viewing life through grown-up eyes, I don’t know. But I have an unfortunate zeal for spreading the benefit of my revelational experiences throughout a sometimes disinterested population of family and friends, and it does seem that life lessons pop up around every corner. 

My major writing project these days presents such surprises on a regular basis. I am rewriting journal notes I kept while assisting my aging father and stepmother from January of 2005 through June of 2006. Reliving the joys and frustrations of weekdays spent with them is a rewarding but emotionally draining exercise – and one that leads me to stumble onto insights that only become apparent when viewed from a distance.

In one recounted scene, a gentle therapist helping my stepmother deal with Parkinsonisms tells me to remind the patient to “look to the horizon,” rather than let her head fall forward and her gaze drift down. These days I catch myself, on my long daily walks, letting my own head fall forward and my gaze drop as I contemplate weighty matters beyond my control. “Lift your eyes to the horizon,” I remind myself, and I’m rewarded with welcome distractions: the peach-toned underside of a bank of silvery clouds; a neighbor’s color-burst front porch arrangement of fall foliage; the frisky antics of a pair of scampering squirrels, taking a play break from the work of foraging for winter’s needs. 

When the first wet, heavy snow of the season caused power lines to sag and we lost electricity for three days the second weekend in November, I had another opportunity to “lift my eyes” – first of all from my minor, into-my-chest grumblings about the inconvenience to see that the temperature outside was – thank the Lord – 40 above, and not 40 below. By the time it was all over, I had realized a thing or two about the imposed tranquility of not being able to carry the day’s work into the evening hours, and that the world does not stop spinning on its axis if dishes pile up in my sink or my blog is late getting posted.

What a luscious luxury to while away a few morning hours writing birthday poems and Thanksgiving cards in a sunny corner of the dining room, or to play a leisurely game of Scrabble by candlelight after the evening has rolled darkness into that same corner. Not being tied to the clock or to my chore calendar went from exasperating to calming as we lit dozens of candles for light and warmth and psychological comfort, and soaked up the restful quiet like grateful birds refreshed by a gentle summer rain. (more…)

November 27, 2010 at 9:37 pm Leave a comment

Schizophrenic Weather and Two-Way Suppers


There is something about this time of year that confuses both my body and my mind. Maybe it’s the split-personality weather, which can’t decide whether it wants to March through October like a roaring lion or gambol into November like a frolicking lamb. This back-and-forth leaves me with contrasting urges to either skip down the street in the autumn sunlight or retreat to a cave in the early evening darkness. Today, the temptation to hibernate beckons like a siren song. 

But as the ancient Greeks and Romans warned, succumbing to such lures can yield disastrous results. For me that would translate to a non-productive day in my tightly scheduled later-life attempt to make up for a wasted youth. I resist the urge to slump into a corner by seeking out ways to make a contribution; to create something worthwhile. And that’s when the “aha” light goes off in my cranium, illuminating an almost forgotten theme I came up with a few weeks before the shortening days messed with my hormonal balance and the brain fog settled in. 

So, before the urge for a mid-afternoon nap can hurl my good intentions up against the craggy shoreline of Lethargy Land, I turn to a subject I feel passionate about to revive my enthusiasm: good health vis-a-vis good food. Within my house divided, we often have more than one main dish on the table at dinnertime. But that’s a bit of extra effort that no busy cook needs to take on, so the idea of dual-appeal entrees seems tailor-made for other households with diabetic diners to be considered. 

If that doesn’t describe your situation, just go with the full-out version of Chicken Meatballs in Sweet and Sour Sauce (a slimmed-down version of Aunt Dorothy’s ‘circa 1958 Ham Balls, which called for 1-1/2 cups – yes, cups – of brown sugar) or Hamburger Casserole (revised from cousin Susan’s 1966 cream of celery soup hot dish) or the thoroughly modern Inside-Out Reuben.  The Reuben is loosely based on a recipe I came across last spring which has been percolating in my head for all those months.  Say, maybe that explains what’s going on in there. It’s not cerebral smog clouding my thinking, it’s creative steam… (more…)

November 4, 2010 at 11:20 pm Leave a comment

Balance: It’s Not Just a Clever Name for Margarine

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An aesthetically pleasing integration of elements.”  That’s Merriam Webster’s Definition Number Six-A for the term “balance.”  Number Five-B reads, “Equipoise between contrasting, opposing, or interacting elements.”  As I take my midday walk, I ponder how God’s nature offers up stunning examples of both definitions:  the nip of the chill autumn air against my cheek vs. the rich warmth of the seasonal colors enveloping me;  the bright pumpkin orange that pops up in farm fields, on doorsteps, and in countless harvest-time displays, countering the beige blandness of spent garden foliage. 

And then there is the more practical definition Number Three, “A counterbalancing force or influence,” as in the invigorating effect of fall crispness that causes us to step livelier, to really throw ourselves into those raking and bagging chores, but which also blesses us with the perfect conditions for a good, sound sleep at the end of our day’s efforts. 

This thought trail leads me to the deduction that good health is one of the natural world’s most profound examples of physical equilibrium, and that maintaining it presents some special challenges as the air turns cold and allergens like ragweed, mold, and dust mites join forces with flu and cold germs to begin their annual assault on our immune systems. 

Apples, oranges, pears; fiber-rich oatmeal, barley, and beans; yogurt, tea, pumpkin seeds; beef, selenium-rich pork, sweet potatoes; a 45-minute walk, a positive outlook, and that good night’s sleep.  These are all helpful wellness-promoting weapons to stow in your personal immunity-boosting arsenal.

As far as diet goes, a little research brought up some enticing cool-weather combinations to make stoking the immune system’s engine seem more like comfort than cure.  Some people tweet, I tweak – recipes, that is, to suit my goals of low-fat, high fiber, nutritionally dense fare, which I now offer to you.  May you find each to be “an aesthetically pleasing integration of elements.” 

For starters, Sweet Potato Soup With Toasted Pumpkin Seeds and a warm loaf of Date-Studded Honey Oat Quick Bread.   For the main course, Ginger and Orange Marinated Pork Tenderloin with Warm Apple and Lentil Salad.  And with so many naturally sweet ingredients worked into the menu, no dessert required.  Just a cup of steaming hot green tea to lock up that immune-defense storehouse of yours.  (more…)

October 21, 2010 at 5:37 pm Leave a comment

Fall Reflections: Gratitude Revisited

   Walking in the park last weekend, I captured a sensory snapshot of a glorious fall scene: A burst of cranberry red and pear-gold tree tops creates a feathery mesh filter for marshmallow cream clouds, shrugging in slow motion across a backdrop of purest cerulean blue. And if that weren’t effusion enough, I look past the clouds to see a pale, ghostly white moon still haunting the late morning sky. Incredible. Makes one grateful to be a part of creation. 

I had been thinking about the topic of gratitude anyway, and how I wanted to address the subject this week. Although of all those who boast absolutely no justification for piety, chief among them would be me, I did recognize, even as a child, that I had much to be grateful for – from the abundance of super market offerings to laying down to sleep in a comfortable bed under a sound roof, with a father and mother just steps away for whom my welfare was a major concern. 

As an adult I have tried, with the faltering success of one who has never known hunger or hardship first-hand, to truly appreciate the privileged lifestyle to which we in this country have access. Just last week I had caught myself mentally grousing about some trifle, and consciously redirected my attention to the nicely warmed stream spurting out of the shower head at me. “Thank you, Lord, for clean, pure water,” I corrected myself. 

Then on Friday, as our Bosnian dinner guests share recollections of the loss and deprivation they have known, Mirsada coincidentally tells of offering up her gratitude for a recent shower because it reminded her of the days when violence and terror displaced her from her bomb-ravaged family home to a huge holding facility for war refugees, and baths and food were in meager supply. The substance of my own gratitude for a plenty I have always known deflates by comparison. 

But on this evening, we can share a bountiful meal and our combined thanks, so I pull out the Fiesta Ware and try to come up with a menu that this couples’ two thoroughly Western children will enjoy. Jenny, the oldest, is blessed to be immersed in her parents’ heritage, and her American-born younger brother will likely hear enough of their struggles to grow to understand the perspective that gives his parents a unique brand of gratefulness.

On this night, we are all grateful to to partake of the plenty which, by God’s grace, still exists in our society. A huge batch of homemade macaroni and cheese ( satisfies the youngsters. For everybody, Simplified Oven-Fried Chicken seems to appeal. And for a slightly more sophisticated take on things for the grown-ups, Whole-Wheat Linguine with Spinach and Fresh Tomatoes; Brussels Sprouts with Sausage, Craisins, and Pine Nuts, Baked Squash Gratin, Brandied Roasted Apple Slices, and a nice loaf of buttered, oven-warmed multi-grain bread. 

To cover all age-ranges, dessert is Chocolate Cupcakes Sandwiched with Butter Pecan Ice Cream and Smothered in Hot Fudge Sauce. Truly, gratitude comes naturally when the gifts of good food are wrapped in the company of good people. Do I hear an “Amen”? (more…)

October 6, 2010 at 10:51 pm 1 comment

Bad Change, Good Change, No Change at All

   “It’s just not the same.” That was the observation of a friend who’d revisited the Minnesota State Fair after having lived in Texas for ten years. “I am exhausted, having spent yesterday afternoon breast-stroking my way through a sea of humanity.” That was my observation to another friend the day after my husband and I participated in that “Great Minnesota Get-Together” following our own long absence from the event. 

I used to love the Fair for its otherwise forbidden deep-fried goodies-on-a-stick, and for the delicious people-watching opportunities and free entertainment. But when you can’t even see past the wall of trudging bodies to note which annual attractions you have just been swept by, and when you can’t even walk side-by-side with your sweetie, but must form a single file human projectile to cut a path through the density, it’s overwhelming enough to drain all the fun out of it. 

I also don’t care much for spending eight bucks for a pork chop on a stick or five dollars for half a sandwich. (It seems that paying a hefty entrance fee at the gate buys you the privilege of paying more hefty fees at every turn, once inside.) “Change” in the form of record-setting attendance figures may have transformed the Fair-going experience, but don’t expect to get any back from that twenty you just handed your thirteen-year-old. 

At least the weather was good for our day’s outing, with enough cloud cover to keep the temperatures in the mid-seventies and the need for a sun-shielding parasol allayed – although it might have come in handy as a defense against those aggressive mommies with their armored strollers. Skinned a few toes in that losing battle. 

Today, however is windy, rainy, and on the cold side; either our thermometer is broken or we’ve taken a 40 degree nose dive from last week’s mid-90s. Writing, reading, or cooking. It’s hard to choose between the three as my pet grey day activity, so I do a little of each. My favorite escape literature is Jan Karon’s Mitford series, and I recently treated myself to her Cookbook and Kitchen Reader – a great gift idea, by the way, for you or someone you like a lot. So here I sit, writing about my reading and cooking adventures of this afternoon. 

Since the cool weather invites us to crank up the oven and leave a large, bubbling pot on a slow simmer all afternoon, my menu for this preview-of-autumn day includes my very own Ham and Crowder Peas with Zucchini and Red Onion; a takeoff on Rick Bayless’ Jicama Salad as a refreshing counterpart; and Iron Skillet Pumpkin Corn Bread – the result of applying a few changes of the positive kind to Puny’s cornbread recipe. You’ll have to explore the Mitford series to get acquainted with the charming character, Puny. 

Meanwhile, try your hand at this cool weather menu and start to like the idea of summer – and over-crowded fairgrounds – being left behind. (more…)

September 14, 2010 at 9:07 pm Leave a comment

Unsolicited Observations and Flexible Feasting

    If you asked me to describe last Thursday and Friday – or, apparently, even if you didn’t ask – I would say they were two of those virtually perfect summer days that the Upper Midwest is capable of producing: 80-ish temps with reasonable humidity levels; whisper-light breezes; powder blue skies, quilted with just enough cloud batting to keep the sun from scorching through. 

Of course, all of this will change. Things have a way of doing that. Even the most reasonable bits of advice can devolve into bad counsel. Just the other day I stumbled across the claim that brushing your hair the traditional 100 strokes a day is bad for it, for heaven’s sake; that it “pulls hairs out of their follicles and possibly weakens individual strands.” Is nothing sacred? Next thing you know, someone will decide that eating eggs and drinking beer and coffee doesn’t constitute nutritional suicide. Oh, wait; I guess we’re already hearing that flip side message, aren’t we? 

But then change is what keeps life interesting – life and food preparation. So at the risk of spraining something maneuvering through this contorted transition, I’ll ease into a short discussion on one of my favorite topics: revising great recipes to meet the goal of keeping people healthy. Only a few tweaks are required to lighten up Rachel Ray’s Chutney and Cheese Stuffed Chicken Breasts, so that may be a good place to start. Next, my version of her BLT Potatoes, a big panful of Roasted Yellow Pepper Strips (follow directions for red pepper strips in 11/25/09 posting), a cooling batch of Cucumber Raita, and a refreshing rewrite of Peach Melba on a Tuffet – short or long version.

Guess it’s time to revise my long-held suspicion that the only good change is the kind you get back from a five dollar bill. (more…)

August 9, 2010 at 5:54 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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