Posts tagged ‘recipes’

Please Do Try This At Home

ducks_207635April 20, 2014, was as close to perfect as a day could be. Having recently read the sad news that some pastors in our sister congregations in India have been viciously attacked at their own doorsteps by militant Hindu activists, we were blessed to gather, unmolested, with our church family to celebrate Christ’s astounding victory over death, and His promise to comfort those persecuted in His name.

Once back at home, the sunny day waxed glorious, reaching upper-70s temperatures we haven’t seen for many cold and gloomy months. A leisurely dog walk; a relaxed late breakfast with my hubby; the luxury of a brief, restorative early afternoon nap.

Post-nap, I bustled to prep my contributions to this year’s Easter dinner. To accompany our niece’s baked ham dinner, I would make the roasted asparagus and sweet peppers sprinkled with feta cheese and chopped pistachios I’ve described here before. (With pine nuts now up to $64.00 a pound, the pistachios were a serendipitous and delicious adaptation to the original dish. I may never do the pignolis version again!)

Next, I had volunteered roasted, glazed carrots. I didn’t want anything too rich or sweet. But this wasn’t a time to skimp on the taste factor, either. There was some good quality, organic, 100% apple juice languishing in the back of my refrigerator. Mixed with a number of on-hand ingredients that grabbed my attention as I trolled through the pantry, it translated to a crowd-pleasing, rave-inducing side which I had actually had the foresight to jot down the recipe for as I was concocting it. Here, I offer this successful experiment for your eating pleasure in your own home kitchen.

Our Easter Sunday wrapped up with a relaxed gathering of dear ones for a great meal at the home of an amazing young woman – wife, mother of two, fulltime senior paralegal, and final-year law school student – who still manages to be one of the most poised and gracious hostesses I’ve ever encountered.

Sitting on a sunny deck, watching “the guys” play their version of backyard baseball, with the family dog tirelessly chasing after the batted wiffle ball and the toddler making frequent passes through left field towing his little red wagon. How perfect is that?

For the family-friendly roasted carrots you’ll need…

For each two-pound bag of peeled carrots, cut into 2″ chunks:

1 TB butter 1/2 C apple juice or cider
1/2 red onion, sliced thin 1/4 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp pumpkin pie spice 1/2 tsp dried dill flakes

In a glass measuring cup, combine the apple juice and butter. Microwave just until butter is melted. Stir the garlic powder and spice into the butter/juice mixture. Arrange carrots in a foil-lined sheet cake pan and pour liquid over all, tossing to distribute. Sprinkle with dill flakes. Bake at 400˚ for 30-40 minutes, or until fork tender.

With gray skies and a 48˚ wind-rattled atmosphere, today’s weather has dipped back into yucky territory – a “change for the wetter’ as our local weather pundit puts it. But if I close my eyes, I can recapture the feel of that sun-soaked deck with its view of two ducks landing in the neighbor’s backyard pond. Ah, Minnesota. It’s good for the imagination, if not the arthritis.

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April 23, 2014 at 6:18 pm 1 comment

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.

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

Autumn Awakening

A few days ahead of its official debut, fall has fallen upon us with a decisive “plop.” Last evening I heard my favorite local weather guy issue a hard frost warning for the upper regions of the state.  For those of you living south of the snow belt – for whom the term “seasonal vegetation” is an unfamiliar concept – a hard frost is when temperatures are sufficiently cold, for a long enough period, to seriously damage all those “annuals” we delusional Minnesotans spent good money on last May.  It’s also when the neighbors’ flower beds start looking like a linen sale at Goodwill, in one last desperate attempt to stave off the inevitable.  Like I said, delusional.

But after a summer that was more swelter than anything else, I am savoring every energizing snoutful of crisp morning air, every watercolor wash of cloud across the pale autumn sky, and every creeping stitch of crimson lace embroidering itself around the edges of fading green leaves.  I am also taking a few days to unplug, literally, from the quasi-reality of play-by-play political narration, and focus on events closer to home.  Stuff like friends fighting the good fight against medical challenges, the hope of a positive career change for loved ones, and delightful anecdotes issuing from the mouths of babes.

A friend recently told me that her school-shy grandson, Zachary, answered an inquiry about his first day of fifth grade thusly:  “It was the longest six hours of my life.”  No doubt some facial dramatics accompanied his response.  I sympathize.  I recently spent a grueling six days trying to respond to the IRS charge that we had underpaid our 2010 taxes by $624.00 – the same year, mind you, that they had sent us an unrequested $550.00 refund of overpayment.  At least little Zach will outgrow his grade school desk and move on; barring some miracle of rational legislation, the IRS will be hovering always.

Another closer to home event is the publication by an acquaintance of a lovely little recipe collection titled Desserts in Jars:  Fifty Sweet Treats That Shine.  Now, I am constantly thinking that I’ve come up with a novel recipe idea, only to do an internet search for, say, “peach and fig chutney,” that turns up a dozen variations of my brainstorm that have already saturated the web.  Storm indeed.

Once I got a hold of a copy of Shaina Olmanson’s brightly illustrated gem of a book, I was astounded with the creativity, skillful writing, and beautiful photography – which she does herself – that landed her in this cozy little niche of the cookbook market.  When I cornered her at church last week and further learned that her very professional, award-winning web site has thousands of subscribers, I first reacted like a slightly dazed boxer.  Should I take a TKO, and give up my own meager efforts?  If this is what the field holds – young, ambitious, MFA-seeking bombshells of talent, with the savvy to cut through the jungle that engulfs the path to publishing success – should I even fool myself into thinking I’ll ever have a shot? Apples to oranges, I know, but still…

Fortunately I have another acquaintance who also happens to be a gifted fellow writer and a dear friend, and who helps me past these spasms of self-doubt.  Bless her.  Everyone with a dream should have a half-dozen friends like mine.  “Apples to oranges is correct,” she reminds me in an email.   But it’s more than that.  “The entire focus of why [you and I] write is very different, and our drive to write is also.  I lament that some of the old avenues for publishing are not available today.  Where do I fit?  Or do I even fit?  Apple, orange, pear, or kiwi, I will figure it out, or God will hit me over the head and show me… [but] what and how He is using me outside of writing is the most important.”

She concludes,  “Finally, I get to the Luther quote:  ‘To have faith, to love, to endure suffering, these three should be enough to keep us delightfully busy.’  And by love he didn’t mean the warm fuzzies, he meant love that acts.”

I have been so certain that I was being called to write – profiles of inspiring people of faith; nutrition and recipe pieces promoting good health; advice for a life of purpose and moral courage – that I forget, sometimes, that taking my mother-in-law to the grocery store on Thursday mornings can be an act of love.  But only if I approach it with a right heart and mind, not resentful of time taken away from the keyboard, but consumed with gratitude for the opportunity to serve.

I may not be published, I may not be unique, I may not know exactly what to do next to ensure that I’ll have justified my existence by the time I leave this earth.  But I can learn to listen with an unbiased ear to the echoes of my Lord’s voice, and to maintain my soul “open to the facts of God’s creative purpose, and not muddle it with my own intentions.”  (Oswald Chambers.)

So we work toward goals, as best as we can define them, but we take care not to lose track of the small graces we are invited to participate in every day.  And we don’t compare ourselves to other varieties of produce.

Now, I unabashedly offer you my own modest, not-particularly-original rendition of a Ghirardelli cookie recipe, revised and tweaked and, I think, rather delectable.  I didn’t take a picture, because photography isn’t really my thing, but I’ll trust you to put your imagination in gear.  Can’t you almost feel your nostrils tingle with the taunting aroma of freshly baked cookies on a hard-frost-warning September afternoon?

Coconut, Pecan, Butterscotch, Chocolate Chip Cookies

1-1/4 C unbleached flour                                                          1 C white wheat flour

1 tsp baking soda                                                                        ½ tsp salt

1 C softened butter                                                                     ¾ C sugar

¾ C brown sugar, packed                                                         2 tsp vanilla

3 eggs                                                                                             ¾ C bittersweet chocolate chips

¾ C butterscotch chips                                                              ¾ C sweetened flaked coconut

¾ C chopped pecans

Whisk together flours, soda, and salt; set aside.  Beat butter with sugars on low speed until creamy.  Continuing on low speed, add vanilla and eggs, one at a time, until mixture is well blended.  Gradually blend in flour mixture.  Stir in chips, coconut, and pecans and drop by 1/8 cup measure (or cookie scoop) onto ungreased cookie sheets.  Bake on middle shelf of oven for approximately ten minutes, rotating cookie sheet after five minutes, until golden but still a bit soft.  Cool on wire racks.  Pour large glass of cold milk.  Enjoy.

As I prepare to hit the “publish” button, I am hearing that the city of Duluth got a dusting of snow last night.  Plop, plop.

September 24, 2012 at 3:35 pm 2 comments

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

What Color is Your Universe?

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.  (more…)

February 16, 2012 at 6:37 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.)

Have a taste and see what you think. If you like what we are serving up, please tell your family, friends, co-workers, and neighbors to stop by for a visit, too.

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