Tag Archives: food

Dieting isn’t that different from Astrology

Dieting isn’t that different from Astrology

As of this morning, I am on a diet.

Well, no, not really.  It’s more like I’m resetting my eating.  But I’m using the South Beach model to get me going,  because good food decisions just feel so overwhelming these days.  It’s probably appropriate that I’m starting this of all weeks, as it was a year ago this week that I went completely off the rails in a combination of stress and anxiety eating.  But it has to stop.  None of my clothes fit, and I’m back to not liking how I look in pictures.  This weekend I did all my shopping, this morning I got on the scales for my starting weight, and off we go.

As I was looking over all the lists and plans and menus for this system, though, I started to realize something.  Really, the SB diet is just the diet they gave me once I was released back to real food after my surgery.  Lean protein, lots of veggies, low carbs and sugar.  It wasn’t anything I didn’t know, I just couldn’t see the forest for the trees.  By stepping out of my head, all the mental clutter that was getting in my way, I was able to see that I knew what I needed to do and put away all that extra stuff.

Which of course made me think of astrology.

No, don’t leave.  I’m not one of those people who reads their horoscope every morning (mostly because those are too general to be of any use whatsoever). But I did study astrology, and tarot, and in the end, I realized the value of both those tools isn’t that they tell us truth, but they take use out of the clutter of our minds to look in different ways at whatever the issue is we are trying to address.  A reader will give you all their thoughts on the symbols and patterns they see in the cards, and then you try to make sense of them given your own knowledge of the situation.  And maybe you realize soemthing that you hadn’t been allowing yourself to consider before.  Or maybe it brings you around to an entirely new angle on your problem to give you an a-ha moment.  That didn’t come from the cards.  That came from you narrowing your focus, blocking out the extraneous for those few moments it takes to think “How does that piece of symbolism actually reflect in this situation?”  It comes from you.  You were just in your own way.

I think diets are the same way.  “Diets” don’t work.  Everyone knows that (or I hope they do).  Fad diets especially don’t work.  I get into this with my mother occassionally.  BUT.  The change in thinking that starting a diet brings, the analysis of “what am I doing now and what do I need to change” that comes with a new diet, THAT insight does work.  It resets your brain, as long as you understand that the diet, like the stars or the cards, are not telling you truth, they are changing your perception.

So here I go.  Starting Phase 1 today with some modifications and exceptions.  I have to eat protein first and not the high volume of veggies that this plan requires, and I have one meal coming up that is totally out of my control (plus Thanksgiving.  Oof.), so I’m going to do Phase 1 the whole month of November with those exceptions and see where I’m at from there.

 

Citizen of the World

Citizen of the World

20161008_095909We had an International dinner at church last night.  I’m a sucker for a church potluck, but this was especially fun because of the theme.  Hero and Karma came with me, although they mostly hid out in the youth room rather than have to make grownup conversation.  It was an interesting variety of food, from Korea, Colombia, Germany and Boston.  😉  Okay, some people stretched the International idea a little bit, but to be honest, I hadn’t realized how much I missed Boston brown bread!  My favorite was the Korean Chap Che, a beef and cellophane noodle dish that I really need to get the recipe for.

My contribution was zaalouk, an eggplant and tomato cooked salad from Morocco.  I do not like eggplant generally, but I love it in this.  It’s one of three salads that come on a salad platter at the Moroccan restaurant we like to go to, and I can now make all three of them.  For those who are interested, here’s the recipe I used.

Zaalouk

(Adapted from a recipe at about.com)

1 large eggplant
large tomatoes, seeded and chopped3-4 cloves of garlic, diced or smashed
1/2 c chopped fresh parsley (you can go halfsies with cilantro, but I hate cilantro, so…)
1 T paprika
1 T cumin
1 1/2 t salt
1/4 cup olive oil
1/3 cup water

First roast the eggplant.  Slice it in half, put the halves face down on a baking tray lined with parchement paper, and bake in a 350 degree oven for 30-45 minutes, or until the skin starts to collapse slightly.  Remove and cool, then scoop out the insides.  You can do this a day or two in advance, as you have time and the oven on anyway for something else.

Dump all the ingredients in a dutch oven or large sauce pan and bring to a boil, then turn back the heat and simmer for half an hour.  If the ingredients are too chunky at this point, mash them with a vegetable masher, but leave some texture.  Continue simmering until the mixture is thick enough to mound up in the middle of the pot.  This can take a while, but resist the urge to turn up the heat, as it will burn easily.  Long and slow gives the flavors time to develop.  Mine cooked almost 2 hours, but it was totally worth it.

This mixture freezes beautifully, so don’t be afraid to make extra.  I got two eggplants off the discount rack at the store for this and roasted them that day, keeping the pulp in the fridge until I was ready to make the salad.  There were plenty of leftovers, so I’ll pack them up in individual containers and bring one out any time I want to dress up a boring bit of chicken for dinner.  Or just for snacking!  It’s best eaten with pita, but any bread works, and I bet it would be great as a topping for roast chicken or kebabs!

Laminated

Laminated

Okay, finally, the first of my Great British Bake Off posts.

I started out, like a lot of people, watching Series 5 on Netflix.  A word on terminology here.  I know here in the US it’s called the Great British Baking Show.  But it’s a BRITISH show, so I will be using the BRITISH title.  Or the abbreviation, GBBO.  Second, yes, it’s SERIES, not SEASON.  Again, BRITISH.

So anyway.  Series 5.

As I watched all 12 episodes over the course of two days, two things started catching my attention: hot water pastry and laminated dough.  I had never heard of hot water pastry before, although it turns out I probably had it once as a kid.  We were on a camping trip to the Upper Peninsula and stop for an incredibly rare meal out, where I had my first ever pastie.  Not PAY-stee, you perv, PAH-stee.  You know, a hand pie filled with meat and root veggies.  They’re pretty common in the part of the UP we were in because a lot of Cornish miners had ended up there during the copper mining boom and brought their food with them.  I remember not liking the crust very much, but I blame the lard.  I am not a lard fan, which made the pie we bought at a church fair in Maine last summer particularly disappointing.

Laminated dough looked even more intimidating.  The concept, for those who haven’t watched the show, is to fold a sheet of dough over a sheet of butter, roll it out, fold it, chill it, roll it out, fold it, chill it, over and over (at least 4 times) until you get a dough that is dozens of layers.  If you do it right, when you bake it, the butter melts into the dough, the steam from it evaporates and makes lovely, open layers.  The next time you have a croissant, tear it open and take a look.  That’s what you’re doing.

I have never done this.  And watching so many of these bakers try it and fail was frankly not making me any more inclined to try it.  But then they got to one of the technical challenges.  Again, for those who don’t watch the show, each episode is in three parts based around the theme of the week.  The first challenge is to make a recipe to the theme but that epitomizes them: a family recipe, a flavor profile, or even just their own creativity.  The second is a technical challenge, where all the bakers make the exact same recipe, usually one they have never seen before, given a recipe with only the bare minimum of instructions (no baking temperature or time, for example).  Then finally they have to do a showstopper, in which they take the theme and make something that could be displayed at a fancy party or in a shop window, something with real wow factor.

So back to this technical challenge.  It was advanced pastry week, and the challenge the bakers were set was a pastry called koiugn amann, a sweet pastry from Brittany in France.  They looked like a cross between croissants and popovers, and my mouth started watering just looking at them.  These aren’t the kind of thing you can just run out and buy, though.  (Okay, well, it turns out Trader Joe’s has them, but I didn’t know that at the time.)  So after stewing on it for a week or two, I decided to try making them.  The big blizzard was coming, so I was going to be stuck in the house anyway, so why not?

Man, I needed the whole day to make them.  I don’t know how the GBBO bakers did them in 4 hours!

I started with this recipe from The Kitchn.  I tried to keep in mind all the tips and advice and problems I’d seen on the show as I worked, and all the warnings about melting butter.  Since I had the time, I took the time.  (Although next time, I think I’ll make the dough ahead and let it chill overnight.)  The dough was pretty straight forward.  If you can make bread dough, you can make this.

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I think I scared the cat when I started pounding out the butter!  It was actually kind of frustrating trying to get two sticks to stick together instead of having one big block, but after I’d folded it a couple of times, it started to come together.  Stuck it in the freezer, pulled out the dough, got it rolled out, added the butter and away we went.

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It seemed to go pretty well.  It had a lovely, silky feel to it, and the butter didn’t fight me too much (which actually may not have been a good thing!)  I probably should have rested it a bit more so I could have stretched those corners to meet better.  Another reason to make the dough the night before.  This recipe had you adding sugar between the layers of both of the last two folds, and a LOT of it, but I kept hearing Paul insisting that it should just be on the last layer and they shouldn’t be too sweet, so I did what he said instead of following the recipe on that point.  Only about a third of a cup before that last roll and fold.  Even so, I was having a hard time getting the sugar to stay put, so I’m glad I went that route.  I also didn’t put sugar down on the board when I rolled it out to cut.  Again, I really didn’t want to overdo it.  I think there’s European sweet and American sweet, and I didn’t really want American sweet.

It was fun to cut it out, and I got them all mostly square!  Again, you can see where I didn’t quite square up the corners.  Definitely need to be more careful about that.

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And into the muffin tins for their last rise.  I sprayed these suckers within an inch of their lives, and I’m glad I did!  Aren’t they pretty?  You can even kind of see the layers in them!

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Oh, and somewhere in here, is when I managed to break my toe.  Kicked a chair going back and forth to the kitchen.  It stayed aligned, so there’s nothing to do about it but take it easy.  Which again, with this weather, isn’t such a hardship.

Still keeping in mind Paul’s advice and not wanting to get dinged for being underbaked, I left them in until the points were just this side of burning.

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I was really proud of these as they came out of the oven.  But as ever, the proof is in the eating.

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Not bad!  I stick by my description of them being the love child of a croissant and a popover.  For a first timer, I think I didn’t do too badly on the layers.  Some I lost by not getting those corners square enough, and some because I didn’t dust the flour off as I was folding.  Loose flour absorbs the liquid as they bake, so instead of puffing up, the layers cludge together.  So that’s that lesson learned.

I will definitely make these again, but they are absolutely a special occasion bake rather than an every weekend thing.  Next time I may put chocolate in the center, or maybe sweetened ricotta and strawberry jam.  And the really nice thing about them is they keep really well in the freezer!  Wrap them up individually in cling wrap, drop them in a freezer bag and just take a few out as you need them.  I toast them up in the oven just to make them warm and crisp again.  So next time I’ll definitely double the batch.  Although I’m going to need a bigger work surface!

Next up: eclairs!

(For another great post on laminated dough, check out this one at King Arthur Flour’s blog.  I may try this next time!  How hard can croissants be, right?)

In the Kitchen

In the Kitchen

It’s nesting season.  Too cold to go outside, so you hunker down in the house and putter.  We’ve been tidying the house up for our house guest, although no deep cleans yet.  That’s probably going to wait for spring.  I haven’t had a lot of enthusiasm for knitting, although the new Nerdopolis tourney has started, so that’s given me some motivation.

Which leaves the kitchen.

Even post surgery, I still love cooking.  It’s just very satisfying to put something nourishing and comforting together, even if your children don’t appreciate it.  I’ve found that unless it’s sweets, I have to feed them something 3 times before they come around to liking it.  And of course with three kids, I get three different opinions.  So I just cook what I want, and they can eat it or go hungry!

It also doesn’t help that I’ve been watching a LOT of the Great British Bake Off.  Watching 9-12 different bakes every other night gets into your head and starts planting IDEAS.  And IDEAS want to be realized.  So yeah, I’ve been baking.  I’ll save the epic projects for individual posts (they deserve it!), but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been trying smaller things.  Like my first Victoria sandwich.

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I wasn’t pleased with this.  Not the concept, because I still deeply love the premise of it.  Come on, cake, jam and whipped cream.  What could be better?  But the recipe I used (it was Mary’s, so I was a little shocked) used margarine instead of butter, and mixed it all together at once instead of creaming the butter and sugar first.  The cake tasted good enough, but it was more a cornbread consistency rather than the spongey texture you’d expect from a cake.  We also messed up the whipped cream a little bit.  I found the one situation where you don’t want really firm whipped cream, and we overdid the vanilla a bit.  Who knew that was possible?  But we redeemed it in a later bake.  More on that in another post!  But it did taste great, rather like strawberry shortcake. So I’ll definitely be trying this again.

I’ve also been trying to eat more from the freezer, which has required thinking harder about side dishes to jazz up what could potentially be a lot of boring casseroles.  I pulled out a jambalaya the other night, but the only veg I had was lettuce.  So salad it was to be.  But I’m so sick of the two salad dressings we have.  I had some avocado in the freezer, so I improvised an avocado dip/dressing that ended up being to die for.  Here’s the recipe.  I just hope I remembered all the ingredients!

Avocado Dressing/Dip

1-2 ripe avocados
2 cloves garlic
1/4 cup mayo (any kind is fine)
1/4 cup plain greek yogurt
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1/4 cup onion
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
Salt to taste
White wine or chicken broth

Put all ingredients except the salt and wine/broth in a food processer (I did this in the blender, which worked, but slowly, and it had a hard time chopping up the veg.)  Blitz until mixed, then slowly drizzle in wine/broth until the mix is the consistency you want (thicker for a dip, thinner for a dressing.)  Season to taste, and dig in!

Thicker this works GREAT as a guacamole replacement, either with chips or veggies.  Thin it down, and it makes a great salad dressing.  I tossed it with romaine and a handful of parmesan cheese, and it was perfect.

The kids need to eat it a few more times…

South Africa in my Kitchen

South Africa in my Kitchen

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Last night was the big South African dinner.  What a great experience!  Not everything met with universal approval, and there were a couple of bumps in the cooking, but it was fun, and I learned a lot!

The Menu:

Bobotie
Chicken potjiekos
Cape Malay curry
Sweetcorn bake
Chakalaka
Yellow rice
Miele pap
Blatjang
Milk tart
Malva pudding

(All these recipes and some others I found in my research are on my Pinterest board for South Africa.)

The Cooking:

This was a LOT of food, kind of like preparing for Thanksgiving.  But I’ve gotten really good at Thanksgiving, so I went at it with the same kind of organizational plan as I do for that:  Make as much as I can as far ahead as I can.  I actually probably could have started a little sooner than I did, but it all worked out.

I started on Thursday with the blatjang, which is a kind of fruit chutney served with meat dishes.  Several of the recipes I’d looked at called for it as a side, so I figured I’d better have some.  The recipe said it made 2 1/2 quarts, which was way more than I needed, so I halved it.  The only liquid in it is apple cider vinegar, which you cook down like you would a jam.  The only problem with that is that as it evaporates, the whole house smells like vinegar.  A couple of times the kids came into the kitchen and winced from the smell.

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Dried apricots and raisins soaking in the vinegar overnight

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Almonds and spices added, ready for the long, slow cook.

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After an hour

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Another 45 minutes later and it’s ready!

Even after cooking that all down, it still made more than a quart.  I’m going to have to run it through the canner.  I filled a pint jar and 7 half pints, so yeah, lots more than I needed!  I had expected it to be sweet, like a mango chutney, but while it had some sweetness, it’s still very acid.

Friday night was the chakalaka and milk tart.  I love chakalaka.  Mostly because it means I get to say “chakalaka”. Which is an awesome word.  Everyone should eat this stuff just because of the name.  And because it tastes good.  It’s basically carrots, peppers and black beans, but it has great flavor and a really nice mouth feel.  Which sounds pretentious, but honestly it does.  We all liked it warm, although the recipe says to serve it warm or cold.  I served it cold for dinner, but I think I like it better warm.  You could eat it as is, or throw some cooked chicken or pork on it to make a nice meal.

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The milk tart didn’t go as well.  The initial recipe wasn’t well written, with no instructions on how long to boil the custard mixture or even if you should, and the sequence of instructions wasn’t clear.  But I trusted it as best I could and ended up with this:

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Ugh.  Maybe it will set up over night, thought I.  I made the custard sauce for the Malva pudding and went to bed, hoping.

It didn’t.  *sigh*  Into the trash it went, and I scrambled to find a new recipe.  Found a good one on Allrecipes and banged out the crusts before I went to PT.  I didn’t get back from that until 10:30, and then it was full bore cooking until dinner at 5.

First off I finished the tarts.  This filling thickened up nicely and made two beautiful, smooth pies:

20151024_113243Then I did the Malva pudding, figuring I could add the syrup just before dessert.  Which worked out pretty well.

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I was a little worried at how full the dish was that it might overflow.

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But it worked out just about perfect!

I figured I’d do the bobotie next, as it was kind of like a meatloaf, so I could put it together and stick it in the fridge until it went in the oven.

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All the yummy bits

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All mixed together

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And in the casserole.

Oh yeah, that was a good choice.  All the lovely smells of onions and curry and turmeric were starting to fill the house.  Hero helped me with the knife work on this part until she forgot the difference between sliced and chopped.  Honestly, what do they teach kids in culinary school these days? 😉

So that went in the fridge while I made the pap.  I figured I could make that ahead and keep it in the crockpot on warm until dinner.

20151024_171217I don’t think I made it right.  It came out as more like a really dense dough than a polenta, and it was still really grainy, even though I added more water.  I think this is one of those situations you need to have had the real thing to know if you did it right.

The sweetcorn bake took no time to throw together and in the oven, although I was reminded again of the fact that I cannot cream butter by hand.  Thank you, Kitchenaid mixer!  Put that in the oven, set the time, then figured I’d do a clean up before the final push.  Loaded the dishwasher, wiped counters, pulled the plug to move the mixer back…and pulled the entire powerstrip out of the wall.  Which was fine, I just plugged it back in, completely forgetting that the microwave that had just been reset had had the timer for the sweetcorn bake.  Which I’d forgotten was in the oven.

Next up was the curry, as that had the longest cooking time.  Another round of sauteeing onions and garlic, veggies, meat, then adding in the tomatoes, fruit and spices.  Oh. My. God.  Before it had even had its stewing time, I wanted to crawl into the pot of this stuff and never come out.

20151024_152852Yes, you’re seeing right, those are banana slices in there.  And apricots, raisins, almonds, carrots, ginger, curry, turmeric, cardamom… Foodgasm doesn’t even come close.  I had been excited about this recipe even before this just because it seemed to have all the flavors of Indian food that I love without the heat that I can’t cope with.  But honestly?  You can’t really compare this two.  They’re just totally different creatures that share genes.  Very, very good genes.

That had to simmer for a couple of hours, so I put the bobotie in the oven…and found the sweetcorn bake.  Just in time!  It was perfectly done, despite my inattention, and looked yummy!

20151024_171331Then it was back to slicing up veggies for the potjiekos.  Potjiekos is Afrikaans for “little pots”, and basically it is a layered dish intended to be cooked in a cast iron pot over a fire.  For this one, we sauteed onions, garlic and chicken, then layered on potatoes, sweet potato, squash, carrots, green beans and mushrooms, then added cinnamon stick, bay leaves and pepper, put the lid on it and forgot about it.  On purpose this time.

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The recipe specifically says not to stir it, so I didn’t.  Much.  I just couldn’t see how the seasoning was going to get through everything!

Last up was the yellow rice, which, once you get it in the pot, is pretty hands off.

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From there I added the custard to the top of the bobotie and started laying out the table.

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Most of the custard slid down the sides, dang it!

 

The Dinner

 

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None of the adults I’d invited aside from Nikki were able to come, but most of Hero’s friends were there.  Have you tried feeding new foods to teenagers?  But I have to give them points for trying.  They all liked the potjiekos best, probably because it was a) chicken and 2) the least seasoned of everything.  To my surprise, they liked it with the pap, so maybe I didn’t go entirely wrong there.  My favorite was the curry with the yellow rice.  I was disappointed in the bobotie, which I had expected to really like.  But the flavor of the lamb just overwhelmed everything else in the dish.  the blatjang helped a little, but it wasn’t my favorite.  But that’s okay, because Morgan really liked it and wasn’t crazy about the curry.  Balance!

We had the main courses, then took a break to clean up a bit while I put the finishing touches on dessert.  Which I completely forgot to take pictures of.  Doh.  The milk tart was nice and refreshing, not too sweet.  Nikki and I agreed it would be really good with some fresh fruit or compote, or a nice sweet wine.  The Malva pudding was the opposite end of the spectrum, almost too sweet!  It’s like a dense bread pudding soaked in simple syrup.  It really needed the custard to cut the sugary sweetness, but it was still really good.  I think both of those are being added to the recipe collection.

The Aftermath

As I expected, there was a lot of food left over.  I had prepared by getting take out boxes from the dollar store, and packed up samplers for the folks who couldn’t make it.  The curry I packed up in single(ish) meal containers for me to take to work, and did the same with the bobotie for Morgan to have for his lunches.  The potjiekos I split into two containers to be the meat and veg base for a couple of last minute soups.  So not much went to waste.  Except the pap.

So all in all, a good experiment.  I’m looking forward to the next one!  The mother of one of Hero’s friends is Colombian and has offered to send us some dishes if we do a Colombian night, and I’m not about to say no to that.  Apparently she makes amazing cicerones.  But it will be a couple of months.  Next month I’m cooking actual Thanksgiving, so I’m not putting myself through two major meals in a month.  I think I’m going to take them out to a Japanese hibachi place instead.  It’s a kind of cooking I can’t do myself, and while they’ve had sushi, they haven’t had other kinds of Japanese food.  December will be crazy with getting ready for the holidays, so I thought we’d to something Scandinavian (cuz you know, that’s where Santa comes from), so I’m thinking fondue.  We do a home fondue for New Year’s Eve, but this way the kids can see just how bad I do at it!

So, farewell from South Africa!  I’ll report back with our next destination!  And if you have any questions about what we ate or how I made it, let me know!

Sagittarius By Any Means Necessary

Sagittarius By Any Means Necessary

I think I’m a pretty traditional Sagittarian.  Philosophical, intellectual, a bit of wanderlust.  The only problem is I’m poor.  No matter how much I would love to travel to… well, anywhere, really, I barely have the means to leave the state.  This eats at me at times, especially when my friends get to take these great trips all over.  This summer was an anomaly that I doubt will be repeated for a while, barring a lottery windfall.  But that doesn’t mean I don’t dream about it.

Since I broke my foot, I’ve been spending a lot of time on the couch.  Great knitting time, but I need to have distraction while I’m doing it.  I paged through Netflix and ended up on a couple of Anthony Bourdain’s travel shows.  Which I pretty much inhaled.  I can sit for hours watching these shows.  It’s how I tend to experience new cultures, unsurprisingly for a fat (even former) girl.  But it makes me want to climb through the screen to inhale all the smells of the places he visits.  Yes, even durian fruit.  I want that experience.

I’m sick of the food I normally cook.

Take these three seemingly random facts, put them together, and you get my latest project.  I’ve decided that once a month, I’m going to let the kids pick a country, any country, and I’m going to make a big sampler dinner of foods from that country.  It’ll give me an excuse to spend a few weeks poking through recipes and learning about the culture, and then I’ll cook 3-4 entrees, 2-3 sides and a couple of desserts so we can try everything.  I’m inviting anyone who wants to to come over.  Certainly my friends, but also the kids’ friends, hell, you can come to if you want!  You don’t have to bring anything, but if you do, it has to be from the country du jour.

I presented this idea to the kids last night.  The boys looked kind of not impressed, but Hero immediately came out with “South Africa!”  Which, okay, where the hell did that come from?  My second thought was, “How different could that be from other European colonial food?”  I picked up my phone and started looking and wow, it’s REALLY different!  Now I’m getting excited! I’ve got about a week to pull recipes together, and I’m going to cook for the dinner on the 24th.  None of the ingredients seem too far out there, so it will be interesting to see how it goes.  Just need a bottle of South African wine!

So expect monthly reports as I travel within the confines of my kitchen!  And if you have any recipe or resource suggestions, shout them out!  I need all the help I can get!

Taking Care of Business

Taking Care of Business

This was my first weekend out of the boot, and much to my surprise, it ended up being brilliant.

My first stop Saturday morning was physical therapy.  This was my first time ever doing PT, so I really had no idea what to expect.  But it’s a really nice center, and the team there was great.  I’m working with Mike.  He did all my baselines and tested my function, which he said was actually really good.  I credit it to cheating and doing stretches while still in the boot.  He did say both my feet are hypermobile, so we’re working on strengthening both of them.  Well, in the office we’re working on strengthening the broken one, but at home I’m doing the same exercises on the other side as well.  It actually didn’t hurt much, and it’s not as big a set of exercises as I’d expected.  Mike doesn’t think I’ll have to do more than an couple of weeks, which is good because it costs me $20 a pop even with my insurance.  I did find out they do gait analysis there as well, so once I get approved for running (and save up the $250), I’ll do that 6 week program to keep this from happening again.

Hero was sleeping over at a friend’s house, so I stopped off to pick her up.  Since we were out already, I took her with me to Horsham to see about getting my phone fixed.  About 3 weeks ago, the camera quit on me.  I just kept getting “Camera failed” messages.  I’d had that before and had been able to fix it, but this time no go.  Which is part of why I haven’t been blogging much the last few weeks.  Blog posts without pictures are kind of dull!  And then the charger stopped working.  It hadn’t been working well for a while, occasionally not connecting unless I jiggered it just so.  But then it started shifting into car mode, which no one could give me a good explanation of what that was.  Something to do with docking it, but since a) I didn’t have a dock and 2) it was doing this randomly and sometimes constantly in and out, it was making the phone pretty much unusable.  I’d taken it to a guy in town, who hemmed and hawed and wanted $75/hour while sounding very unsure of what the problem was.  Yeah, nope.  This place in Horsham is part of a chain, so I thought I’d at least give them a try.  Totally worth it.  He knew exactly what the problem was (apparently it was pretty common for these phones) and he thought he could fix it without replacing the port.  $55 if he did, $35 if he didn’t.  Sold!  And he said he’d diagnose the camera at the same time.  I couldn’t afford to get it fixed that day, but at least then we could plan.  3 hours later, it was fixed.  Not only did they not need to replace the port, they’d also fixed the camera!  Apparently there was water damage in it, which confused me, as I hadn’t spilled anything on it.  In the end we both think it was sweat from carrying it running.  Which I can believe.  So I’ll have to find a different way to rig that.

On our way back from dropping off the phone, we noticed one of the churches up the street from us was having a rummage sale, and some of their neighbors were taking advantage of it to have a yard sale of their own.  I hadn’t gotten to go yard saling all summer, plus I love poking around in churches (a hold over from my childhood), so we stopped to check it out.

Well.  Did we ever score.

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At the rummage sale, Hero found this great floor seat that is on rockers and reclines for $4.  I found gold cut lace valences that match the new dining room paint and a dozen black napkins, all for $2.  And best of all, I found a hand cranked meat grinder with 3 grind plates and the original package insert from the 40’s for $5.  Homemade sausage, here I come!

The yard sale across the street was even better.  They had antiques.  Real, genuine antiques.  Not high end stuff, but still.  Just my favorite kind of stuff, old and sturdy.  One of the pieces was what must have been the seat to a vanity.  Just a simple bench with rolled arms.  It was missing the crossbrace and desperately needed reupholstering, but my mind instantly shouted, “Spinning stool!”  I braced myself as I asked how much they wanted for it.  When she said a dollar, I think I threw the money at her trying to pay her so fast.  And we found a running hydration belt.  It was a really good Nathan belt, still with the tags on it.  I’ve been researching these, so I knew these went for $55-65.  They were selling it for $1.50.  Again with the money throwing.

So I ended Saturday dead chuffed.  I made pancakes for the kids for dinner and ribs for me and started planning how I would recover the bench.

There’s a Joann’s about a mile and a half from our house, so the Sunday morning plan was to go get fabric and foam.  But I wanted to ride my bike.  Mike had told me I could ride as much as I wanted, and I’d taken Galadriel out for a warm up ride around the parking lot across from the house, just to get used to everything, so I figured a bike shop would be perfect.  Hero decided to go with me, as Joann’s is right next to 2nd Avenue, our favorite place for used clothes, so off we went.  The ride was not bad.  I was able to get up the Insurmountable Hill (my initial motivator for getting a lighter bike) with only a little huffing and puffing.  At that point the main road made me nervous, so we decided to risk the sidewalk.  Except the sidewalk through there was TERRIBLE.  I just about jarred my teeth loose.  First cross street we came to, I bailed and went the long way around.  But she rode sweet, and I didn’t have any problems with the gears or shifting.

At Joann’s, I found a great upholstery fabric that echoed the original fabric the stool had had, which ended up being 40% off, and the dense cell foam I got was half off as well.  Woot!  I also got buttons I need to finish up a knitting project (which I should get back to knitting on, actually).  I managed to keep it together in 2nd Ave.  Got another pair of running capris and an awesome pair of Clarks shoes, all for under $20, while Hero got some costume pieces for about the same.  Just for grins we stopped in the dollar store as well, and I scored the best trick or treat handouts ever.  Glow in the dark vampire teeth.  I bought 4 dozen.  No candy at our house this year, but I don’t think the kids will mind!

The best part?  It all strapped to the back of my bike.

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The ride home was a little more problematic.  I took the chance of riding in the street on the main road, which meant going up the back side of the Insurmountable Hill, which is even worse than the first side.  I made it to the top on my last gear (barely), and in celebration, I slammed the shifter all the way up…and threw my chain in the middle of traffic.  Lesson learned.

I’ll save the refinishing tale for its own post, but needless to say it was an incredibly satisfying weekend.  The hunter-gatherer in my soul was much pleased!

Another One For the (Recipe) Books

Another One For the (Recipe) Books

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I’m working from home today.  As I tweeted earlier, this is dangerous, as home is where the food lives.

I’m back up to 145 pounds.  Which isn’t bad, but I was almost to 140 before I started comfort eating.  This is a big problem for me, especially now that I’m not as active.  Starting Monday, I’m back to tracking and behaving.  Not going down that slide again.

But I’m not going to regret finishing the homemade brownies this morning.  Because brownies.

I’d show you a picture of them, but I can’t.  Because I ate them.  Still not sorry.

This is another one of those recipes from my mom that I ended up tweaking.  It calls for baking chocolate.  Who the hell keeps baking chocolate these days?  Certainly not me.  My kids would eat it behind my back.  (Well, we did the same when we were kids.  Well, not me.  Ben.  Ben would eat anything marginally sweet if he thought he could get away with it.  Even though he usually didn’t.  It was totally Ben.  Every time.  Honest.)(Okay, yes, I tried it once.  That was all it took.  Never again.  Have you tasted plain baking chocolate?  UGH!)

Where was I?

Oh yeah, baking chocolate.  Which I never have.  But I did have cocoa powder.  And on the side of the container, it had instructions for how to substitute cocoa powder and Crisco for baking chocolate.  Well, I had that.  But as always, I called Mom to see if she thought it would work.  She was…doubtful.  But I wanted brownies, so I figured bad brownies were better than no brownies and gave it a shot.

Sorry, Mom, I like these better than yours.

They were a little softer than hers, with a really nice mouth feel and perfect chocolate-ness.  And I had half a bag of walnuts, so in they went.  Perfect, perfect brownies.  I’ll make them this way from now on.

Cocoa Powder Brownies

3/4 c cocoa powder
1/2 c + 1 T Crisco
2 c sugar
4 eggs
1 1/2 c flour
1 t baking powder
1 t salt
1 c chopped walnuts (optional)

Put cocoa powder and Crisco in a glass measuring cup or small bowl and melt in microwave in 30 second bursts, mixing until smooth.  In separate bowl, mix eggs and sugar until well blended.  Add melted cocoa slowly until well blended.  Add flour, baking powder and salt, mixing until fully incorporated into a thick paste.  If using nuts or other add ins, fold them in.  Press dough into a greased 9X13 pan and bake at 350 degrees for 30-45 minutes until done.

Feel free to add other goodies (chocolate or other flavor chips, peppermint pieces, fresh raspberries) in place of the nuts.  Go wild!

Recipes

Recipes

A couple of goodies I’m mostly writing down so I don’t lose (Can’t put everything on Pinterest!)  Plus I know you’re dying to make what I do!

First up: DIY pot noodles!

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In desperation and low funds, I bought the kids some ramen packs to have for lunches.  And stole a couple of mouthfuls for myself.  I like ramen well enough, but I don’t like the seasoning packets, and they’re way too high in fat and carbs for me now.  So when I saw this great post on the Kitchn website for DIY ramen, I got a little excited!  I need to play with the recipes given, but I had an opportunity to get creative on Wednesday night.  We had leftover spaghetti and sauce from dinner, so I thought, why not try to do a minestrone bowl?  And it wasn’t bad.  I think I used to much beef paste, as it was REALLY salty, but otherwise it was yummy!

Minestrone Pot Noodles

1/2 T beef bouillon paste
1/4 c pasta sauce with meat (or without if you prefer)
1/4 c frozen mixed veggies
1/4 c frozen spinach
1-2 T canned white beans (I used garbanzos as that was what I had on hand.  Red beans would work, too)
1 c cooked spaghetti
1 T shredded fresh basil
1/2 scallion, sliced
1 T parmesan

Spread bouillon paste on bottom of a widemouth pint jar.  Layer pasta sauce, then frozen veggies and beans, then spaghetti, packing down tight.  Put basil and scallion in a snack size bag, roll up and tuck into jar.  Do the same with the parmesan.  When ready to use, remove the bags, fill jar to 1 inch from top with boiling water, stir, put lid on, wait 3 minutes, then add the basil, onion and parmesan, stir again and eat.

More of these as I try them!  But go to the Kitchn post for the basic method so you can try your own combos!

Another website find was homemade English muffins.  These may be my absolute downfall.  When I was in grad school, Thomas’ made these things called Australian toaster biscuits, which I LOVED.  Mom would get them for me every time I came home.  But then they stopped, and I was sad.  Fast forward way too many years.  I’ve started doing Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day off and on.  I know it sounds kind of gimmicky, but honestly, it’s an easy way to have great bread around.  Since I shouldn’t eat much bread these days, I like the bread I do have to be really good.  We make the brioche dough a lot, as it makes really good cinnamon rolls easily.  The only problem is that it makes a lot of dough in each batch, as a batch is intended to last up to two weeks.  I could have the dough, but that’s no fun!  So I was looking for ideas for other things to do with the dough, and found the English muffin post.  I had about a pound of dough left, so I figured I’d try it out.  OMG, they were SO good!  They remind me of those Australian toaster biscuits, dense and chewy without the bitterness of traditional English muffins that I don’t like.  I think I’m going to make a full batch of dough tonight to turn all of it into these for the freezer.  They came out very thick and broad, so I think for the next batch I’m going to cut it down to 2 ounces instead of 3.5 but still pat them out as wide.  And I only get to have a half a one at a time. I ate most of the six from the first batch, and I’m not ashamed of it, but the scale was a little unhappy this morning…  (I’m sorry there’s no pictures of these.  I ate them all.  As I said.  Still not ashamed.)

And finally, I owe you marinade recipes!  I used these on salmon, but they would work well on chicken or pork, too.  Hrm, or maybe grilled shrimp…

Maple Dijon

4 T maple syrup
2-4 T Dijon mustard (depending on how mustard-y you like things)
1 lb fish

Mix the syrup and mustard to combine.  Put fish or meat in a freezer safe zipper bag, pour in the sauce and seal.  Squish it around gentle to cover everything, then freeze flat.  Thaw to use, then broil or grill as you prefer

4 tablespoons of mustard was a little much for us, so next time I’ll halve that.  I may put some curry powder in it as well for variety.

Mustard Soy Marinade

1/2 c soy sauce
2 t red pepper flake
2 t whole grain or Dijon mustard
1 t garlic powder
1/3 c oil
1/3 c brown sugar
2 lb fish

Combine all the ingredients in a small bowl.  Put fish or meat in two freezer safe zipper bags, pour in the sauce and seal.  Squish it around gentle to cover everything, then freeze flat.  Thaw to use, then broil or grill as you prefer

We haven’t tried this one yet, but it sounds good, doesn’t it?

Balsamic Glaze

2/3 c balsamic vinegar
3 T brown sugar
2 T Dijon
2 lb fish

Combine all the ingredients in a small bowl.  Put fish or meat in two freezer safe zipper bags, pour in the sauce and seal.  Squish it around gentle to cover everything, then freeze flat.  Thaw to use, then broil or grill as you prefer.

This is the one I’m most excited about!  I have a sacred bottle of orange cranberry balsamic vinegar as thick as molasses that we got in a shop in the Italian Market a year or two ago, which I love to use on pork, but this seemed an even better application of it!

There, I think that’s the lot of it for now!  Payday’s today, so once I pay all the bills, (ouch) I’ll see how much I can put towards expanding my pantry to keep ingredients for all these on hand!

The Other Weekend Project

The Other Weekend Project

I got a new pantry.

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Well, technically, no.  I didn’t add on to the house or anything.  But moving the rabbits out gave me a shelf back, and thanks to the wonders of Freecycle, I got a new freezer.

A big freezer.

A semi-orgasmic big freezer. (Yes, I’m weird.)

You guys probably remember my old chest freezer from my freezer cooking post a couple of weeks ago.

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Seriously not of the large.  I think it was about 7 cubic feet, most of that downwards.  So it wouldn’t hold a lot, but it also was really hard to use.  If I wanted something on the bottom, I had to empty everything out of it onto the washer and dryer, get what I needed, and then load it all back in again.  I lost a pound and a half of Italian sausage last week because I missed them on reloading and they sat out for three days.  Ew.

Frustrated by that loss, I decided to take a chance and put a request out on Freecycle.  For those of you not familiar with this, Freecycle is a local group-based exchange community where people who need something or people have something to get rid of post their items and see if anyone else needs or has them.  The only catch is it has to be free.  No fees, no bartering, FREE.  In the past, I found a new family for my old piano and got a full brewing kit for Nikki.  I haven’t had as much luck recently trying to get things people had posted, to the point where I was wondering if my account was messed up.  But I took a chance and put out a request for an upright freezer, minimum 13 sq. ft.

A week later, I got a response.

Of course, it was right in the middle of the 4H chaos, but I didn’t want to risk losing it, so I said of course we would come Friday night.  I ran home after work, the boys took the seats out of the van, and off we all went.  It was only about 20 minutes from the house.  The lady was waiting for us when we got there.  She was so nice.  Apparently her husband had worked in the meat industry and was a big carnivore, so the freezer was his.  But he’d passed away recently, and she didn’t need it, so my post was incentive for her.  And OMG, this thing was BEAUTIFUL.  Big enough to put a couple of bodies in!  And pristine.  Only 5 years old, so definitely more efficient than my old beast.  She had a dolly, so we got it in the van lickety split.  She even gave us a big bag of meat as well.  She said she was just feeding it to her dogs, which was a waste, so of course I took it!

We drove home, Xander getting only a little squished in the back.  But when we got there, I realized we DON’T have a dolly.  So getting it into the house became trickier.  We slid it out of the van, which worked great until the cardboard I was using as a skid slid out, exposing the trunk latch, which gouged the hell out of the side of the freezer.  So much for pristine.  We managed to get it up on the porch, but then I was stymied.  It just wasn’t going to fit through the door.  But I had to leave in 45 minutes to get Hero from the fair, so I sent a desperation text to Eric.  I got lucky, and he came over fairly quickly, took the door off the freezer (I have to learn how to do that) and he and Xander moved it in while I emptied the old one.  The new one wasn’t going to fit in the old space, though, so I cleared some of the stuff off the pantry shelves and swept up all the rabbit poo, and we did a quick rearrange.  Then they put the freezer in, I slammed all the frozen stuff into the new freezer, and ran off to get the girl.

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Look at that.  That is everything you saw in the picture of the old freezer AND half the stuff from the fridge freezer.  And it’s still not even half full! I’m absolutely giddy.

Saturday was spent at the fair, so I didn’t get to do much, so Sunday was cleaning day.  I did a bunch of laundry to clear the decks, and had Hero shopvac up the rest of the rabbit litter (Taffy is a slob).  Then I reorganized the shelves, as the back end isn’t as convenient as the front end now.  But that’s okay.  I’ve put the long term storage items on that end and the things I use all the time on the end closer to the kitchen door.  I also got a couple of 5 gallon buckets.

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Two of these are filled as labeled (I’ll get the sugar the next time I get paid).  These will go on the bottom shelf, along with new bins for potatoes and onions as soon as I get them.  I feel a little like a prepper, but it really does feel good to have this stuff on hand.

The weirdest think I’m happy about?  I have ice cubes.  I have never had room in my freezers to keep ice cubes on hand.  Whenever I’ve needed them for a party or anything, I’ve had to go out and buy a bag.  But now I have a bin in the door of the big freezer, and I just keep making up trays and dumping them in the box.  Xander’s already gotten in the habit of adding them to his drinks.  It’s such a little thing, but it just feels so good.  And we realized we can actually keep ice cream on hand (assuming I can keep the boys from stealing it all).  We never could because again, just no room.  I’m just… No words.

So my next project:  Making and freezing half a dozen pizzas.  I have room for them now, and it will give me a no cook night!