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Since I’m a fan of Ann Patchett, it’s no surprise that I wanted to buy her most recent book, This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage. It’s a book of short stories, but not fictional ones – it’s a compilation of essays and articles she’s written over the course of her writing life. My favorite is the one in which she describes in intimate detail how she goes about writing a book. About the process, her thinking, and the the hard, hard work it entails. I loved every one of the stories. She is quite self-deprecating about the book – it likely wasn’t her idea to put it together as she never thought any of her essays were worth much. She wrote them to make a living. Each of the chapters (essays) has been updated and/or addended to, so she did have to put some spit and polish on all of them before sending this group to the publisher. She’s written essays for a very esoteric group of publications; some I’d never heard of. But I enjoyed the book from beginning to end.

Also just finished reading The Invention of Wings: A Novel by Sue Monk Kidd. What a story. Sometimes it’s a good thing to read the author’s notes before you read a book. I guess I’m glad I didn’t (in this case the notes were at the end of the book) because it was then, afterwards, that I read that one of the characters in this novel is fictional; the other two (sisters) were real. There’s a bit about the Quaker religion in this book too, which was different. This is a slavery story and about the beginnings of the abolitionist movement. Interwoven between the 2 sisters who make waves about anti-slavery is the poignant story of one particular slave and her hard, hard life. It’s heartbreaking in many respects, not just because of the violence and abuse heaped upon her. The book is almost a page-turner. Very glad I read it.

Also read The Four Seasons: A Novel of Vivaldi’s Venice by Laurel Corona. It was recommended to me by a friend, and I enjoyed it a lot. It has a rather unusual story line, all envisioned by the author from reading a tiny line of elaborate script from a journal at what remains of a foundling hospital (run mostly like a convent by Catholic nuns) in Venice. It said something like Antonio Vivaldi purchased “a bow for Maddalena Rossa.” That started the author’s novel journey. Two sisters are raised at the Ospedale della Pieta. One becomes famous for her violin skills; the other for her voice. One is married “out” and the other stays cloistered her entire life. Then you throw Vivaldi himself into the mix, as he really was paid by the Ospedale for his compositions and for teaching some of the residents to play instruments. It’s an enlightening story about Vivaldi himself (a priest, with a lot of questions about his piety). It takes place in the early 1700s. Fascinating story and I want to listen again in total to Vivaldi’s very famous work, The Four Seasons, as a result of reading this. I’ve heard it many times before, but it will have new meaning now.

Also read The Time In Between: A Novel by Maria Duenas (translated). Apparently this book has been a runaway best seller in Europe as it deals with a little known, or I should say a part of WWII that you’ve probably never read about – Spain. The heroine is a Madrid seamstress, but is seduced by a young man to go to Morocco. She knows no one and is left high and dry when the lover disappears. She finds her way, makes friends, begins sewing couturier clothing in Morocco. The Spanish Revolution intervenes and merges into WWII. She becomes a spy of sorts (in Madrid) because she is coveted as a seamstress to the Nazi wives of Madrid. It’s a page-turner and informative. Good read.

IN THE POWDER ROOM: Our guest half-bath has a little tiny table with a pile of books that I change every now and then. They’re books that might pique someone’s interest even if for a very short read. The Art of Travel, a collection of essays about traveling (it’s not a how-to), gathering a variety of stories of some historic authors and where and why they traveled; The Greatest Stories Never Told; and Sara Midda’s South of France; also Forgotten Bookmarks: A Bookseller’s Collection of Odd Things Lost Between the Pages (just the cutest book – with a miscellany of things – letters, grocery lists, notes, reminders, confessions the author discovered hidden inside the books he purchased for his used bookstore); and The Trouble with Poetry (Billy Collins).

Tasting Spoons

My blog's namesake - small engraved sterling silver tea spoons that I use to taste as I'm cooking.

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Posted in Uncategorized, on April 18th, 2014.

In my grief class we’ve been asked to write a letter. The kind of letter you would write to someone dear who doesn’t  understand where you’re coming from in this whole grief thing. The kind of friend who maybe nudges you to get out of your grief slump. The kind of friend who just doesn’t “get it”  – who doesn’t understand that everyone grieves differently and for different periods of time. I’m new to this – I’m in the kindergarten of grieving. But I sat down and wrote this letter anyway. I haven’t had any friend or relative nudge me yet, but probably because it’s just simply too soon. This post isn’t in any way about food. Stay tuned in – there will be a recipe up soon. Two, actually.

April 18, 2014

Dear Friend:

I’ve never been down this path before, to this place called grief. It’s a very lonely place, even though I may be surrounded by friends like you and even close relatives. And even though you are there and I’m with you or them, I almost feel like I’m standing inside one of those bubbles that can protect a child with no immune system. It’s a cloudy bubble that keeps me from interacting very well with you. I can’t quite hear what you have to say, and you can’t really understand what I’m experiencing and although you can hear me speak, you probably can’t understand me very well either.

Someone describes this as a “House of Mourning.” When Dave died I guess I went there, to this new House. It’s a House in my mind, really. The soul, the origin of our emotions, surely. Sometimes I take a short journey out of the House – maybe it’s to meet you for lunch, or attend a meeting. You might think I’m acting quite well, just looking at me. In fact some friends have mentioned how good I look. I don’t exactly know what they expect – that I’ll have huge black marks under my eyes perhaps? Or to find that my face is constantly solemn? In fact, I can smile, even laugh, and I don’t have black marks under my eyes, but that doesn’t mean that inside I’m okay. I’m not. When I’m out of the House, sometimes it’s an illusion. The laughs may be real – they’re not contrived and it feels wonderful. But then it’s as if my soul is sucked back into the House again. The House is where I’m incredibly sad, bereft, crying more often and feeling terribly alone. The House draws me back and reminds me that Dave is gone. That he’ll never return.

Staying in this House reminds me that I must go through this process of being alone and sad before I can come out of the House for longer periods. And maybe smile more, and laugh with abandon. Eventually I’ll be able to concentrate again for more than about 2 minutes at a time. I’ll even be able to read a book and know I’ve actually read the pages. Or that I truly engaged you in conversation and didn’t get sucked back to the House in mid-sentence – your sentence.

So just bear with me. I trust God that I’ll come out of the House eventually, this tunnel of darkness, sadness and loneliness. Listen to me when I cry and want to describe my distress. Hug me often. Just let me talk, let me cry and be my friend. I need you, more than you’ll ever know. Though I may not express it right now, your friendship means the world to me.

Thank you, my friend.

Carolyn

 

 

Posted in Chicken, on April 16th, 2014.

lemon_chicken_orzo

Like lemon? Like chicken? A match made in heaven. Along with a bit of orzo, a side vegetable (I did asparagus) and it’s a full meal. You might even want to drink the sauce it’s so good.

Janice, a part of my extended family, made this chicken a couple of weeks ago. On one of the evenings when I was so very struggling with my recent grief, and rather than stay at home and mourn, I went to Janice and Julian’s house and she made this fairly simple chicken dish. It was served in a casserole, but it’s not really a casserole, like you’d think, where everything is baked together. No, but it made for easy serving and you certainly could stick this in the oven for 10 minutes or so to meld together before serving it.

Janice found the recipe on www.pepperplate.com. And I did find it on a couple of other websites around. I adjusted the recipe slightly. Chicken thighs are slathered with a mixture of whole grain mustard, lemon zest, dried oregano, salt and olive oil. While you get the remainder of the dinner together, just let that sit to soak up the flavors. The chicken is browned on the stovetop in garlic-enhanced olive oil. If you’re using bone-in thighs, the chicken, in the pan, will go into the oven in the lemon juice/chicken broth mixture to cook through (about half an hour). I used boneless skinless thighs because that’s what was in the freezer, so instead of baking, I just slowly simmered the mixture on top of the stove (about 15 minutes or so). Then the chicken is removed and set aside to keep warm while you quickly mix up the lemony sauce. It’s quick and easy, and at the end you throw in a couple of tablespoons of butter to richen the sauce. If you’re averse to that, I think it might taste just fine without it.

lemon_chicken_orzo_bowlMeanwhile, you cook the orzo and put that into the bottom of a casserole dish, add the chicken and sauce, garnish with parsley and it’s done. You could put the entire dish into a low oven for 10-15 minutes if needed, but you can serve it as is. Serve with a green salad or a green vegetable and you have a full meal.

What’s GOOD: My family gobbled it up and had seconds. I loved it too. Loved the lemony flavor – that’s probably my favorite part of the dish. The lemon permeates the orzo (from the sauce) so every bite you eat has that lovely lemon flavor. The chicken was tender and wonderful. I’ll make it again for sure.

What’s NOT: really nothing. There are a few steps to making this, but truly, if you got everything ready ahead of time, it comes together very quickly.

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Lemon Chicken with Herbs and Orzo

Recipe By: Adjusted slightly from Pepperplate.com
Serving Size: 5

1 1/2 pounds chicken thighs — skin-on, bone-in, trimmed of excess fat
1 tablespoon mustard, whole grain
1 tablespoon lemon zest — (1 teaspoon for rub and 2 teaspoons for sauce)
1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons olive oil — (1 tablespoon for rub,1 tablespoon for cooking)
1/4 cup lemon juice — (60 ml)
1 1/4 cups low sodium chicken broth — (300 ml)
2 garlic cloves — smashed
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1/4 cup water
3/4 pound orzo

Notes: I used boneless, skinless chicken thighs because that’s what I had on hand. So I cooked them on the stovetop (not in the oven as indicated below), covered, for about 20 minutes
1. Heat oven to 400° (200 C).
2. Make rub for chicken. Combine mustard, 1 teaspoon of the lemon zest, oregano, thyme, salt and 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a small bowl. Use fingers or a brush to coat chicken on both sides with the mustard rub.
3. In another bowl or measuring cup, combine remaining lemon zest (2 teaspoons), lemon juice and the chicken stock. Set aside.
4. Heat remaining tablespoon of oil in a large oven-safe skillet or frying pan over medium heat. Add the smashed garlic then cook about 1 minute or until you can smell toasted garlic and the garlic has browned around the edges. Remove and discard the garlic, but leave the oil.
5. Add chicken, skin-side down into the hot garlic-infused oil and cook 2 to 3 minutes or until the skin has turned golden brown.
6. Turn the chicken over then add the lemon juice/chicken stock mixture. Stir to combine, then bake 25 to 35 minutes or until a thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the chicken reads 175°F (79 degrees C).
7. Remove pan from oven then transfer the chicken to a plate and cover with aluminum foil. You’ll have more than a cup of fluid in the pan. Place the pan over medium heat and bring the liquid to a gentle simmer.
8. In a small bowl, combine the cornstarch and water; stir well, then add to the sauce. Stir as it heats – the sauce will thicken slightly. Turn off heat and add butter, stir until melted.
9. PASTA: Cook pasta in salted water until it’s just barely done (taste it to make sure it’s not over cooked). Drain, then pour into a casserole dish. Add all the chicken on top, then pour the sauce over the top; garnish with Italian parsley. You may have too much sauce – use it for another purpose – just pour enough sauce over the chicken as you think you’ll use when served.
Per Serving: 576 Calories; 25g Fat (40.1% calories from fat); 30g Protein; 55g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 97mg Cholesterol; 349mg Sodium.

Posted in Uncategorized, on April 13th, 2014.

daves_chairFriday morning I woke up and knew it was Friday. Exactly 3 weeks since Dave died. I laid in bed in sadness . . . thinking about that morning. The awfulness of it. The phone call from the nurse who said “there’s been a medical emergency; you need to come to the hospital immediately.” I asked what had happened and she wouldn’t say, just repeated that there was a medical emergency, you need to come right away. The drive to the hospital (about 20 minutes away) was horrible. I was crying and driving – probably not very safe. I prayed over and over and over. I think I knew, but I held out hope. I remember parking my car in the multi-level parking garage, and the endless walk/run from there to the front door of the hospital, having to wait in line to get my ID badge to go to the ICU. The wait for the elevator, the wait at the ICU doors for them to open them up so I could enter the ICU unit. My mad dash down the rooms. The nurse who announced loudly when I was about 15 feet from the room, saying “his wife is here.”

I remember seeing them administering CPR with about 10 blue-clad uniforms surrounding Dave’s bed. The nurse I knew who held onto my shoulders and made me sit in a rolling desk chair outside the room, the ICU doctor crouching in front of me telling me what had happened. Hearing the people in the room say something like “let’s try the paddles again one more time.” But I’d heard what the doctor had said, the one crouching in front of me, that even if they were able to get the heart to beat, his brain had had no blood for 25 minutes. And he said “you need to let him go.” I turned to the nurse who had been so kind to me and she said the same thing, “you need to let him go.” I said yes. And I sobbed. They stopped. It was over.

So, on Friday, as I went about my morning routine, I thought a lot about Dave. About those 9 days he’d been in ICU with all the ups and downs of the brain in trauma, the rhythm of the ventilator, the blood pressure cuff that automatically took the readings every 15 minutes. The tones of the machines that administered drugs hanging on the pole by the bed. His temperature was up, then down. Blood pressure up, then down, then up again. Then down very low. His blood sugar up and down, up and down. Pulse fast, then slow. His brain must have been struggling mightily during those days. He was peaceful. Of course, the early days it was a drug-induced sleep and peace, but he didn’t wrestle with anything, which is comforting. I remember the day before he died when his eyelids flickered open often, but he didn’t seem to see. Or follow. Or respond to my voice.

I’m sorry if this is more information than you ever wanted to know. I try not to relive those moments all the time – it’s too heart-wrenching. But Friday, at that 3-week interval, I mourned hard. Some hours later I glanced at my watch at exactly 8:30, that was when his heart had stopped. And the Code Blue team had been called. I just think Dave somehow let me know that that’s really when he went to heaven. I hadn’t been watching the time – I really didn’t want to. But at exactly 8:30 I did look at my watch. I don’t want every Friday to be a bad day. Or every 21st day of the month to be a bad day. Dave wouldn’t want that for me, I know.

All the food has been eaten now – all my wonderful friends who brought things for me. Last night I  defrosted a flat Ziploc of cabbage patch stew, one of my favorite things. My cousin Gary, who is still with me, and I had that for dinner. Very much comfort food for me. Today I need to cook. Todd, one of the sons in law arrives with his daughter for a few days. They were here last week, but this is Taylor’s spring break week, so they’re coming down to spend it with me, which is nice. So, assuming what I’m making today tastes good (a pork shoulder recipe) I should have something new to report in another day or two.

Dave’s chair, the one pictured at top, isn’t a comfortable chair for me – not an emotional discomfort, but a physical one – because it has a very deep seat. Dave was a tall man, and that chair was definitely his. It sits directly facing the big TV in the family room. It’s where he watched his favorite westerns, the 007 movies, the news. Golf tournaments and football games. I think I’m going to need to rearrange the room because the chair is very uncomfortable for me – I’m a short person, so I have to slouch to sit in it at all -  not at all an easy angle to watch TV. One of these days I’ll think about it. When I have some strong backs to push and shove the furniture to new positions.

My cousin Gary, who is still here with me, you might recall, has to eat gluten free. Or at least flour free. The only thing I did make a few days ago were the absolutely fantastic GF peanut butter chocolate chip cookies. I made them the first time this past December and posted about them. There’s nothing IN them except peanut butter, brown sugar, soda, salt, vanilla and chocolate chips. And you’d absolutely swear there must be flour because they look and taste just like a cookie that contains flour. I made a double batch and he’ll take most of them home with him. I kept out a few.

I wrote the program for the memorial service we had last Monday. About 300 people came. What a tribute to him that so many people came to bid him goodbye. The program was really crowded with information. I wrote this on the back cover – just information about Dave that most people might not know. Our 3 children wrote a paragraph each also, but this is the paragraph I wrote first, when I sat at my computer and started to write the program.

Did you know about Dave’s favorite things? That he loved red roses? And jazz! And travel. His favorite movie was The Music Man, and he’d cry every time at one particular song in it. His 2nd favorite was Casa Blanca. Western movies made him happy, especially those starring John Wayne, and anything 007. Sailing gave him such peace and freedom and he was very proud of his boat, Decadence (so named because it has a shower and an oven in it). It was his pride and joy, along with his new BMW convertible and his wine cellar. Many mornings he visited one of the local coffee stores for good conversation with people. He loved the Lord; he read and reread Psalms and Romans. And he truly loved his guy friends in his men’s Bible study group. He loved music – God spoke to him through music especially singing in the church choir. He loved candlelit dinners any night of the week – ribeye steaks along with a good bottle of Zin or Cab, enjoyed in our dining room with the sun setting on the horizon. He was fanatic about washing dishes – funny, but true. He loved his children (and grandkids), worried about them nearly every day as parents are wont to do. He was a real romantic and he loved me for 31+ years. Goodbye, my darling. . .

Posted in Uncategorized, on April 3rd, 2014.

I’m still not up to doing much cooking yet. Dear friends came over a week ago and we collaborated on having the St. Patrick’s Day dinner we’d planned in mid-March. I made the corned beef, according to my friend Linda’s recipe, Corned Beef for St. Patrick’s Day, a post from a couple of years ago. We  had the usual side dishes of cabbage and onions. Cherrie made her Colcannon, the mixture of mashed potatoes, leeks, cream and kale. I sent Bud and Joe to our wine cellar to find a really good bottle of red, which we opened in Dave’s honor and gave him a toast. I cried.

We also opened a bottle of bubbly, which Cherrie and I just love (it’s one of the many things she and I share a love for) – it was a pink champagne, but not sweet. It was wonderful. It tasted good. The whole dinner tasted good to me.

Cravings during grief probably vary with everyone, but what I crave is carbs. Not normal for me. I’ve eaten more breakfast cereal in the last 3 weeks than I have in two years! But my doctor has suggested I make sure I get protein 3x a day, so I’ve started having the one link of sausage (I’ll need to make a new batch of my home made ground pork and turkey sausage that I like so much, but for now I have Costco’s in the freezer) and a tiny bowl of yogurt with blueberries and raspberries. I’m not hungry much at all (also very different for me), and since pounds are coming off (a good thing) I’m able to limit portions without any difficulty. Eventually, I’m sure, my appetite will resume, so I’m going with the flow. I do eat 3x a day, so I’m getting plenty. My usual chocolate craving has virtually disappeared, although I did eat about 5 chocolate chips (not cookies, just the chips)yesterday, so maybe that’s resuming also. I do crave bread, mashed potatoes, toast. A half a sandwich used to be my norm if I ordered a sandwich (I’m more a salad girl, actually) but sandwiches have appealed to me. Now I eat half of a half a sandwich and save the rest for dinner. That’s worked. Friends took me to a Jewish deli the other day and I really enjoyed the 1/4 pastrami sandwich on fresh, soft rye bread.

And how am I doing, you want to know? Well, maybe a little bit better. Sleep still gives me fits and if I’m not rested I don’t cope well the following day. My doctor has given me something to help me sleep, but am very reluctant to take it every night. I still cry at odd moments every day. Sometimes several times a day. Looking at that one picture of Dave still brings me to tears nearly every time. Reading the cards from people – oh my gosh, I must have nearly 100 of them – makes me cry. Sometimes it’s the verse on the card. Sometimes it’s what the friends wrote about Dave. I still have a pile of cards to open – it’s very emotional doing that – so I try to just do 3-5 a day.  One of my blog readers commented today – I love what it said – “Sometimes my memories sneak out of my eyes and roll down my cheeks.” So very true. Thank you, Connie. A friend brought me a book of daily Christian reading for grief. I ordered two books recommended on www.griefshare.org. I’m going to start going to a 13-week grief workshop in about a week. It may be too early for me, but the class won’t be offered again for several months, so I’m going to try.

As relatives and friends begin arriving this weekend I’ll probably do some cooking. I’ll have to. I have 2 large coffee cakes in the freezer to bring out – gifts from friends. Another dear friend, Kathy, brought me a batch of frozen lentil soup this morning (Ina Garten’s recipe, she said). That will taste particularly good. And my darling PEO sisters are bringing a dinner to serve 20 people on Sunday. And food for 6 for breakfast too. God bless them – I do feel so blessed. My cousin Gary, who spends Christmas at our/my house every year, is coming down for 10 days. I hope I’ll be UP to doing some things, not just having to do paperwork and dealing with our family living trust issues, etc.

Thank you, dear readers, for your patience with me. I will get back in the kitchen eventually.

Posted in Uncategorized, on March 25th, 2014.

hol·low

noun \?hä-(?)l?\

1. A cavity, gap, or space: a hollow behind a wall.

2. An indented or concave surface or area.

3. A void; an emptiness: a hollow in one’s life.

4. A small valley between mountains.

25Dec2009.Dave.Thurston.1This blog isn’t going to become a forum for grieving, but since I’ve received so MANY emails and comments from all of you, my readers, with kind words of encouragement and prayers, I thought I’d just write a little bit. Hollow is all I can feel right now. Our son and his wife had a photo of Dave on their family photo wall (at left), and when I took it down, I crushed the frame to my chest. It’s so HIM! I held it and I sobbed. I wish I could carry it around with me everywhere. Practically, I can’t hug it to me as I lie in my lonely bed at night, but I sure do hug it periodically during daytime hours. I’ve propped it up on my kitchen island and I see it there every time I walk in the kitchen. They’ve loaned it to me for now.

Many tasks await me – coordinating with the dear friends who are going to deliver eulogies at the service (April 7th); writing and printing the program for the service (our church would do it for me, but I want to do it myself), flowers, decorations, food, coordinating and ferrying people flying in from all over, responding to emails from my/our friends who have just poured their love on me. I want to do this right because I want to honor Dave, my helpmate, the man who treasured me for 31 years. Sara, our daughter, is putting together two separate powerpoint slide shows with pictures of Dave over every stage of his life – one to be shown before and during the service, and the other (with more lighthearted pictures) to show during the reception. We went to Kinko’s yesterday and scanned them in (most are printed snapshots).

Hugs are my undoing – I cry every time. Here’s hoping that gets better as nobody likes to hug some teary old woman!

Posted in Uncategorized, on March 22nd, 2014.

My dear darling hubby, Dave, passed away yesterday, the 21st. He fought valiantly and had begun to regain consciousness from the stroke and drug-induced coma, but the doctors believe he had a sudden lung embolism (a blot clot that lodged in the lung and it stopped the heart and brain). They gave him CPR and the paddles to the chest but his heart had stopped. It was an agonizing decision to tell them to stop. My family surrounds me. I’m not cooking, obviously, but eventually I’ll get back in the kitchen, I suppose. We have 3 children and 5 grandchildren. And yes, I’m just devastated. He was the love of my life. A wonderful husband, dad, and grandpa. We were married for 31 years.

Thanks much to those of you who sent me emails or left comments. It’s a terribly lonely time when you lose a spouse but I do feel surrounded with loving and caring family and friends.

Posted in Uncategorized, on March 19th, 2014.

dave 2Last Tuesday (over a week ago) my husband, my dear darling DH, Dave, had a stroke here at home. He had severe vertigo and then the vomiting that goes along with that. I, of course, didn’t know that he’d had a stroke. I called 911 a few hours later and he’s been in our local hospital, in ICU, ever since. He had surgery last Thursday to relieve pressure on the brain (because the cerebellum, where the stroke occurred, was swelling – the cerebellum controls equilibrium and fine motor skills). They kept him in a drug-induced coma for 4+ days and took him off the sedation on Sunday, but so far he’s not waking up yet. They tell us this isn’t unusual. His heart went haywire within those 4 days and they did have to use the paddles to the chest (called cardioversion) to shock his heart back into rhythm, which it did. His blood pressure was way up, but as the days have gone on, his vital signs are all stable and good. He’s on a ventilator, of course, they’re feeding him through a tube. He opened his eyes yesterday for about 20 seconds (but we don’t think he focused on anything – he didn’t track movement or voices), but so far he’s still wanting to slumber. I hesitated telling all my readers about this because most of you don’t know him. I don’t have any more posts “in the bank” as bloggers sometimes refer to it. The Nutmeg Muffins I made were the last things I baked prior to Dave’s stroke. I have one more recipe to go, but I haven’t written it yet. It will just have to wait. There’s been not one stitch of cooking going on in my kitchen for 8 days. And I have no idea when I’ll start again. If you’re a believing person, pray for my hubby.

I’m doing okay – as long as I get enough rest I’m functioning. I have been spending long days at the hospital. Two of our kids live locally and they’ve been wonderful. I don’t lack for friends who want to help, to visit me, or bring me a sandwich, or friends who want to give me hugs – and oh, do I ever need those! One of our pastors has visited him every day. We don’t know how much he will be affected by the stroke – but as a double amputee it’s quite possible he’ll have to learn new ways to walk, although since he lost his legs (below the knee, to diabetes, in case you didn’t know) he’s used his eyes to balance as he walks, so perhaps he’ll adjust more easily than they think. Won’t know until he wakes up, sits up, and stands up. I’ll write another update when I have more to tell.

Posted in Breads, on March 18th, 2014.

last_word_nutmeg_muffins

Isn’t that a funny name for a muffin? I thought so until I tasted these, and now I see why, without a doubt, you won’t want to make any other kind of recipe for a nutmeg muffin.

Using nutmeg in a muffin – as the main flavoring – is certainly edgy. Some people might even say risky. Yet I’ve learned to trust Marion Cunningham. What a consummate baker she is. As time has gone by, more and more, I’ve learned that she really knows her baked goods. She must be part chemist. But most home bakers would never think to add so much nutmeg – for this batch that makes about 14 regular muffins, or about 26 mini-muffins, you’ll use about 3+ tablespoons of freshly grated nutmeg. Specifically, Marion says to grate 1 1/2 whole nutmeg pods. That’s one PILE of nutmeg, I’ll tell you, now having done it. I didn’t measure how much it was – but I’d say it’s almost 1/4 cup’s worth. Do not, under any circumstances, use pre-ground jarred nutmeg for this.

microplanes 350Using a rasp grater – a microplane grater – made easy work of it. I used the long, thin one on top in the photo at left. It probably took me about 5 minutes to get it done. The microplane creates airy shreds – lighter than other things you might grate. If you were to use regular ground nutmeg, it probably wouldn’t be anywhere near as much. But then, it also wouldn’t taste anywhere near as good. There is something significant that happens when you use freshly grated nutmeg.

The batter was simple to throw together – you don’t even use a mixer – just a fork. First you combine all the dry ingredients. Then you combine the wet ingredients in another bowl and slowly add the wet into the dry and stir JUST until you don’t see any streaks of flour. It’s very important that you don’t over mix this batter – you’ll have tough muffins if you do. The batter is wet, and using a tablespoon of baking powder is certainly a lot, but these don’t rise over-much, considering. I filled each muffin cup to the top, so they all puffed up nicely.

nutmeg_muffin_pan

There’s more batter than you need, really, for one batch – I could have made another 3-4 mini-muffins, even after adding little dib-dabs of additional batter to each cup in the above 24-mini-muffin pan, so I poured the last of it into a greased glass (custard) cup and baked that right alongside the others – just for 5 minutes longer. The recipe indicates they’re best eaten warm, so I’ll probably reheat them in the microwave for about 5-7 seconds.

What’s GOOD: Loved the texture (light) of these. Right out of the oven they were heavenly. I ate one with nothing on it at all. This recipe exists on several other blog sites and most of the bakers served them with jam and/or butter. I’ll probably put out butter when I serve these to my friends who are coming to play Scrabble. The recipe indicates they stale quickly, so freeze them as soon as they cool down and defrost only what you need. The nutmeg flavor is sensational. But then, I love nutmeg.
What’s NOT: There was nothing not to like about these. Definitely a keeper.

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Last Word in Nutmeg Muffins

Recipe By: The Breakfast Book, Marion Cunningham
Serving Size: 14

2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cups sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 1/2 whole nutmeg pods — grated (yes, really that much – it’s not a typo)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 egg
3/4 cup heavy cream
3/4 cup milk
5 tablespoons butter — melted

NOTES: Can also be made as mini-muffins – makes about 26; bake for a shorter time, about 5 minutes less.
1. Preheat the oven to 400° F. Grease the muffin tins.
2. Stir together with a fork or whisk the flour, sugar, baking powder, nutmeg, and salt in a medium-size bowl, thoroughly combining the ingredients. Beat the egg well in a small bowl, then stir in the cream, milk, and butter and blend well. Add the cream mixture to the flour mixture and stir only until there are no streaks of flour. Don’t overmix.
3. Spoon batter two-thirds full into each muffin cup. Bake for about 20 minutes, or until the rounded tops are lightly golden. Remove muffins from the pan, and serve warm. Or cool on a rack and store or freeze for later use; warm before serving.
Per Serving: 201 Calories; 10g Fat (43.5% calories from fat); 3g Protein; 26g Carbohydrate; trace Dietary Fiber; 45mg Cholesterol; 239mg Sodium. (Mini-muffins would be half the amount)

Posted in Salad Dressings, Salads, on March 16th, 2014.

crunchy_napa_cabbage_salad

Oh gosh, this salad is just SO good. I think I could eat this every other night for the rest of my life and not get tired of it. Does that tell you anything? Like – - you need to make this? It’s that good!

So what is this stuff? It’s mostly Napa cabbage cut into narrow shreds, a whole bunch of radishes, some snow peas (or sugar snap, because that’s what I had on hand), some green onions and toasted almonds. All that cloaked in a really delicious mayo-based dressing that’s sweet with a little bit of sugar, sour with a bit of white wine vinegar (I used white balsamic), and flavored with ground ginger, a bit of cayenne, a garlic clove and just a smidgen of toasted sesame oil and soy sauce. Then you add a cup of mayo. The salad part can be made ahead; so can the dressing; then you just combine them before serving, although you don’t use all the dressing. The salad is best served immediately, or within a few hours. The next day the cabbage is somewhat wilted, but the salad is still edible. Not at its peak, but still tasty. I don’t eat left over green salad cuz the green leaves just get limp – and to me they’re inedible. This cabbage salad was nowhere near that, so it IS definitely edible one day later.

The CRUNCH? It comes from the cabbage, the radishes, the peas and even the toasted almonds. All of it is crunchy. The origin of this recipe is Sunset Magazine. A month or two ago the magazine did a 25-year retrospective of their favorite recipes. This recipe – THIS ONE – was the #1 nominated recipe (from both readers and editors). More reason to make it. Again and again and again.

What makes it special? I’d say it’s the salad dressing. It has just a hint of Asian flavor (from the soy sauce and toasted sesame oil) but it’s very subtle. Truly, it is subtle. And I particularly liked the hint of sweet in it too. And the faint hint of heat from the cayenne. And it’s probably from the variety of veggies. The combo is just different. I don’t know who came up with this recipe, but I tip my hat to her/him.

What’s GOOD: absolutely everything. Love-love-love this salad. It’s going to go onto my favs list if that’s any indication of just how good it is.
What’s NOT: Nothing, other than the time required to slice and shred the veggies. But worth it, for sure.

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Crunchy Napa Cabbage Slaw

Recipe By: Sunset, January 2014
Serving Size: 8

1 pound Napa cabbage — coarsely shredded
12 ounces snow peas — strings removed, thinly sliced (or sugar snap peas)
1 1/3 cups radishes — thinly sliced
1 1/3 cups green onions — (including green tops), thinly sliced
1 1/3 cups cilantro — lightly packed, chopped
2/3 cup slivered almonds — toasted
CREAMY SOY DRESSING: (you’ll use 3/4 of this to dress the above salad)
3 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 clove garlic — peeled, minced
1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
1 cup mayonnaise

1. In a large bowl, combine cabbage, snow peas, radishes, green onions, and cilantro.
2. DRESSING: Whisk together sugar, white wine vinegar, soy sauce, garlic clove, ground ginger and toasted sesame oil, and cayenne. Whisk in 1 cup mayonnaise.
3. Add about three-quarters of dressing and the almonds to cabbage mixture; mix to coat. Taste and mix in more dressing if you like. Pour into a serving bowl.
Per Serving (not accurate as you don’t use all the dressing in the recipe): 342 Calories; 30g Fat (74.5% calories from fat); 6g Protein; 17g Carbohydrate; 4g Dietary Fiber; 10mg Cholesterol; 306mg Sodium.

Posted in Salad Dressings, on March 14th, 2014.

apple_cider_vinaigrette_close

The other night I made the best salad. I can’t say that on any ordinary evening I feel my green salads are exceptional. They’re GOOD, but not exceptional. And usually they’re good because I make my own salad dressings. This one, though, was about the salad itself, and it was likely enhanced because of the dressing. I’ll tell you about what was in it down below. . . it’s not like I could even come up with a recipe, exactly. But I will tell you what I put in this one.

The dressing, though, is what I’m mostly telling you about today. But first, I want to talk a bit about vinegar. If you read any of the foodie magazines, you’ve likely read somewhere about the sad state of apple cider vinegar in our country. Most of the stuff we buy at the grocery store (Heinz included) is just the straight white vinegar with a little bit of brownish coloring in it. It’s not cider vinegar at all. apple_cider_vinaigrette_in_cruet

According to Wikipedia, apple cider vinegar a type of vinegar [that is supposed to be] made from cider or apple must and has a pale to medium amber color. Unpasteurized or organic ACV contains mother of vinegar, which has a cobweb-like appearance and can make the vinegar look slightly congealed.

If you’re lucky enough to find apple cider vinegar that comes from some local farms, all the better, but on a bulk note, I generally buy Bragg Apple Cider Vinegar. According to their website,

“Certified Bragg Organic Raw Apple Cider Vinegar is unfiltered, unheated, unpasteurized and 5% acidity. Contains the amazing Mother of Vinegar which occurs naturally as strand-like enzymes of connected protein molecules. . . Bragg Organic Raw Apple Cider Vinegar is made from delicious, healthy, organically grown apples.”

bragg_vinegarAt upscale markets you can sometimes find lovely winery-produced wine vinegar and at organic farms (particularly apple orchards, I’d guess) you may be able to buy apple cider vinegar. Since I see that rarely, as I mentioned, I buy Bragg Apple Cider Vinegar Organic Raw — 32 fl oz – sometimes even at my regular grocery store. I prefer to buy the unfiltered that contains the “mother,” a clump of yeasty, spongy stuff that you’ll sometimes find in the bottom of a bottle of vinegar (only the apple cider type).

Back to this dressing, though . . . I went to my most recent salad dressing cookbook I bought last year, Vinaigrettes & Other Dressings: 60 Sensational recipes to Liven Up Greens, Grains, Slaws, and Every Kind of Salad. By Michele Anna Jordan. I leafed through, looking at every recipe. I’ve added one of her recipes in this book to my regular rotation, the Molasses Honey Vinaigrette. And I settled on this one to try something different. I did make two tiny changes – I used apple juice concentrate mixed with a little water (so it may have been slightly more concentrated than her recipe; and after tasting the dressing, I decided it was just a tad too acidic, so I added another T. of oil.

Why use Bragg?

Simple: it’s a true cider vinegar made with the must of apples, not just a white vinegar that’s colored to look like cider vinegar.

According to the author, she prefers to use this dressing on a cabbage slaw or on a chicken or duck salad. (I used it on a green salad!) She offers 4 variations on the recipe below – I have included them in the recipe below, although I haven’t tried any of these variations. A spicy version: adding 2 T. apricot, kumquat or fig jam and  3-4 garlic cloves (wow, 3-4?). Another variation has 1/2 cup pureed fresh mango in it and cilantro. A 3rd one adds 2 T. hot pepper jam, like jalapeno jelly; yet a 4th adds 1-2 tsp. chipotle chile powder and a T. of crème fraiche.

So, the mixture is combined in a glass jar, or as I did, in my handy-dandy Chef’n Emulstir 2.0, Salad Dressing Mixer. It was a gift for Christmas, and I will say, I use it a lot. After I make a salad dressing, of course, it resides in the refrigerator. Depending on what kind of oil I’ve used, it may be really firm (as in EVOO) and a bit thinner if I’ve used canola oil. I take the Chef’n Emulstir out of the refrigerator when I start fixing dinner, so that by the time I’m ready to toss the salad, it’s warmed up and will pour out of the spout and doesn’t clump on the salad. First, though, you grab the jar and flex the green handle thingy, which rotates inside the bottle, hence stirring it up well – emulsifying it as best I can.

The SALAD, then . . . for a salad to serve 3 people (we had a houseguest, our friend Joe Casali, of the Italian mushroom story) I used about 1 1/2 cups of Romaine, about 3/4 cup of arugula that I chopped up coarsely, 1-2 leaves of red leaf lettuce, 1/4 cup chopped-up sugar snap peas, about 1/2 cup chopped celery, mostly inner pieces, 1 medium tomato, chopped up in fairly small pieces, about 3 tablespoons of Feta cheese, crumbled, 2 T. toasted almonds, a few dried cranberries (craisins), a few pepitas, and lastly after dressing and plating the salads, I added 2 slices of avocado on each one.

What’s GOOD: I liked this dressing a lot. I have just enough for another salad. The author says to use up all the dressing in one go, but I didn’t do that. I’ll add an addendum here if I find the dressing doesn’t taste great at the 2nd iteration.
What’s NOT: nothing that I can think of. All dressings are best the day they’re made, but that doesn’t keep me from making larger quantities. Nothing in dressings can really spoil except with very long term storage (the oil could turn rancid, but that’s a long shot).

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Apple Cider Vinaigrette

Recipe By: Adapted very slightly from Michele Anna Jordan, from her book Vinaigrettes and Other Dressings
Serving Size: 6

2 tablespoons apple juice, frozen concentrate
1 tablespoon water
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar — [I use Bragg brand]
3/4 teaspoon Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil — [I used about a tablespoon more]

1. In a glass jar add the apple juice concentrate and water. Stir or shake to combine.
2. Add the remaining ingredients and shake well before pouring over a green salad of your choice. Also goes well on a cabbage slaw or a chicken salad.
NOTES: VARIATIONS (I haven’t tried any of these):
(1) Zesty – add 2 T. apricot, kumquat or fig jam and 3-4 minced garlic cloves. Serve on pork or pork sliders.
(2) Mango – add 1/2 cup fresh mango puree and 2 T cilantro leaves. This one is best on fruit salads.
(3) Spicy – add 2 T. hot pepper jam – serve with chevre cheese and leafy greens.
(4) Smoky – add 1-2 tsp chipotle chili powder and a T. of creme fraiche. This particularly goes well with carrots, jicama and radishes.
Per Serving: 130 Calories; 14g Fat (91.8% calories from fat); trace Protein; 3g Carbohydrate; trace Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 237mg Sodium.

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