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Just finished News of the World: A Novel by Paulette Jiles. One of my book-reading friends said this is one of the best books she’s ever read in her life. That kind of praise required me to read it and I just LOVED it. It’s about an old man (a widower), who was a former military captain, during the 1800s, who goes from town to town to read out loud the current news of the world (yes, there WAS such a job.) Newspapers didn’t make it to small towns back then. By chance he’s asked to take a 10-year old girl to East Texas to reunite with relatives. The child had been captured by an Indian tribe as a baby (her parents were killed in the raid), raised by the Kiowa and as was often the case of such children, she wants nothing to do with leaving. So the “hero” in this story has his hands full. And yet, they learn to trust each other on the journey. Reaching the destination, there are lots of complications (of course!). This book is truly a wonderful read – I didn’t want it to end. The author has a gift of description and the severe dangers and difficulties of a old west horse and wagon journey. The relationship is tender. Now I’ve got to investigate the author’s other books, of which there are many.

Just finished Winter Journey by Diane Armstrong. Have you ever read about forensic dentistry? I sure had not, so I found it fascinating reading. It’s a debut novel for the author, and what a story. Halina, an Australian, with Polish roots, specializes in this obscure profession as a forensic dentist, and is asked to go to Poland, to help identify bone (and tooth) fragments, to put to rest a sad event in the story of this small town, when many, many people (Jews) were murdered. Was it the Nazis? Or was it the local townspeople who disliked the Jews. What a tangled web of intrigue, including Halina’s own mysterious past. I really enjoyed the read. The author does a great job of developing the characters (which I always like). This is no light read if you consider the subject matter, although it IS a novel (but based on fact). Nor is it a spy thriller – it’s more just an historical novel with lots of interesting people throughout. There’s a romance thrown in too, and a whole lot of angst about the discoveries found in the mass grave. But, the subject expanded my knowledge about forensics.

Recently finished reading The Lost Painting: The Quest for a Caravaggio Masterpiece by Jonathan Harr. I just LOVED this book. I’ve never been much of a fan of Caravaggio’s paintings, although I’ve seen plenty of them (many are extremely large) in museums around the world. His paintings were dark, often with dark subjects. But as with many of the old masters, occasionally some obscure work surfaces, perhaps credited to another artist, even, that turns out to be one done by “the” master. In this case, Caravaggio. Although this book is written as a novel (with dialogue, etc.) it’s historical through and through. It begins with two young women art scholars, in Italy, who are asked to do a research project. One thing leads to another, and to another. All true.  If you enjoy books about art – I learned some things about the paint and the canvases of the time – you’ll be intrigued as I was.

Also just read Eye On the Struggle: Ethel Payne, the First Lady of the Black Press, by James, McGrath Morris. Each year my AAUW book club reads something related to Black History Month. This is a biography of a woman you’ve probably never heard of, Ethel Payne, and about her life-long journey in journalism, struggling to keep her head above water financially, but staying true to her purposes of telling the truth about the black stories and black racism of the day. Sometimes biographies aren’t all that riveting, but I found this one to be so, and I savored each new chapter. We had a really good discussion of the book, and the ups and downs of Payne’s life, especially during her years as a Washington reporter. You’ll not be sorry to have spent the time reading this book. It’s well-written, as well. I was thrilled when the author, Morris, left a message here on my blog, thanking me (and my group) for reading his book.

Also read H Is for Hawk, by Helen Macdonald. This one has been on the best seller list. It’s a memoir about a woman who takes on a personal challenge of taming a wild hawk. Prior to reading this book, I knew next to nothing about the entire subject of hawking, or taming any of the big, wild birds. The book is equally about the writer’s inner journey. She’s a consummate writer, and every page was a joy of words, for me. My only problem is my own – I found it hard, the more time that went by, and the more time the writer spent trying to tame this bird, to scream out “let the bird go.” Perhaps it’s because I spent time in Africa in 2015, seeing animals in the wild, that I felt more for the bird than I did with the writer’s discontent with herself and the taming process. Little did I know what a hard job it is to tame a hawk. I actually didn’t finish the book. It was a book club read, and highly recommended by several of our members. And I ended up not being able to attend the meeting as I had a cold. So perhaps there is some great ending to it that would have made me feel better. I haven’t gone to the end to find out. I just had to stop reading it. But I’m not NOT recommending it. If nothing else, read it for Macdonald’s sublime proficiency with words.

Also read George Washington’s Secret Six: The Spy Ring That Saved the American Revolution, by Brian Kilmeade and Dan Yaeger. Here’s what it says on amazon: When George Washington beat a hasty retreat from New York City in August 1776, many thought the American Revolution might soon be over. Instead, Washington rallied—thanks in large part to a little-known, top-secret group called the Culper Spy Ring. He realized that he couldn’t defeat the British with military might, so he recruited a sophisticated and deeply secretive intelligence network to infiltrate New York. I won’t exactly call this book a riveting read, but it was interesting. Relating facts that few people knew about, this Culper Spy Ring. It’s a little chunk of American history researched in depth by the authors. An interesting read.

Also read The Little Paris Bookshop: A Novel by Nina George. If you’re an avid reader, you probably have the same kind of longing as I do for a quaint, independently owned bookstore right around the corner. So few exist anymore. This novel is about a very unusual book store, and book store owner. In Paris. On a boat/barge. It’s not a typical book store, and the writer takes you on a journey of discovery about (likely) her own lifetime of book reading. You’ll learn all about a variety of existing books and why they’re a good read. But it’s all cloaked in a story about this book store and the owner. And the customers. Very fun. I’m reviewing it for one of my book clubs next month.

Tasting Spoons

My blog's namesake - small, old and some very dented engraved silver plated tea spoons that belonged to my mother-in-law, and I use them to taste my food as I'm cooking.

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Posted in Essays, on March 4th, 2017.

If you’ve been reading my blog for a long time, you may remember that I included a pdf download many years ago, for exactly what temperature to grill meat. It didn’t include every possible grilled item, but it was a chart I still refer to often since I can’t seem to remember what fish needs to be when done, or even chicken breast vs. chicken thigh.

BUT, I read an article recently that totally opened up the skies with all kinds of various baked things. I’ve known for awhile that most baked goods need to cook to about 200° or possibly 190°. My new chart has it all. I’ve grouped it by types of food, mostly.

baking_roasting_grilling_chartHere’s a photo of it – don’t use it – go to the link below – I squeezed it down so it would fit here within my blog columns – so you can see what it looks like.

I also learned that a ground meat casserole only needs to be 165° to be cooked through. That’s a big help too. So, down below you’ll see a link to download the pdf and print it. It’s a one-page chart. Hope this helps you – I have mine in a plastic sleeve and it’s inside one of my kitchen cupboards – easy to reach for and refer to.

PRINTER-FRIENDLY PDF of the “Temperature Guide for Baking, Grill and Roasting.”

Posted in Essays, on March 31st, 2016.

roses_table_dinner

When I look at the picture above it bring tears to my eyes. Grieving is such a long, slow process.

It’s been awhile since I’ve talked about my grieving, and today seemed to be a day that brought it all current, even though it’s now been over 2 years. I’ll never stop missing him, my DH, Dave. A good friend came to visit today and we talked a bit about my grieving and where I am today, how I am today. And most days I’m doing well – most people tell me I’m doing remarkably well, and I suppose I am. I’ve learned to adapt to a life alone. Many hours of the day I don’t think about it – I just go about my day with errands, reading, paying bills, attending meetings, helping at church, cooking, or whatever. I’ve adapted. I fill my hours with a variety of activities, mostly Monday through Friday. Weekends are still a conundrum to me – I go to church every Sunday morning – but many of the hours of the rest of Saturday and Sunday are filled with nothing. Not that I sit twiddling my thumbs – I always find something to do – a project, filing, some TV perhaps, grocery shopping, cooking, sorting the mail. Nothing important, really. Sometimes I go to a movie by myself – I don’t mind doing that – I used to do it when Dave was in San Diego on our boat and I was home, so going to a movie alone isn’t a problem.

Probably talking about Dave today brought it into the now, rather than pushed to the recesses of my emotional soul. I can do that mostly – just “not going there,” as they say. I could let myself go sometimes, but most of the time I am able to convince myself that it will only make my eyes red, make me congested for an hour or two, and make the rest of my day a sad one. That’s kind of what happens if I hit a trigger. And there can be any number of them. Seeing one of Dave’s shirts (one in particular hangs in with my own clothes, a favorite shirt he wore often, a Tommy Bahama polo shirt). Occasionally I hug the shirt to me and wish I could catch his scent. But no, it’s long gone. Today I was talking about Dave. My friend Darci was remembering when she heard about Dave’s death. When she left I felt a bit down.

roses_vaseAs I was preparing my dinner I glanced out the kitchen window and noticed the profusion of blooming roses out in the garden. I’ve paid absolutely no attention to them. But because I was sad already, they were a trigger for me. Dave loved roses – particularly red ones – and the two bushes must have about 20 blooms on them. I felt guilty for not noticing them. If Dave could talk to me he’d be telling me to GET OUT THERE and enjoy those roses. CUT THOSE ROSES! So, in addition to cutting a few of the roses, I decided to do something that I’ve not done even ONCE since Dave died. I set the dining room table and had my dinner there. Alone. Classical music playing from my Sonos speakers.  I took the pictures before I actually ate the meal as I thought I might write about it. I poured myself a glass of wine, but it didn’t taste good to me. The dinner wasn’t very good, either (leftovers). Up to that point I was feeling okay, but as soon as I actually sat before my plate of food I began to cry. I looked out at the view (a gray day today, cold almost) and just felt incredibly lonely. I talked to Dave. I told him about his roses and apologized to him for not noticing them. And I cried some more.

Most evenings I sit at my kitchen island – with the TV on for background noise – and I eat there. Dave and I only ate our breakfast and lunch in the kitchen – we ate in our dining room every night we ate at home (or on our patio outside during the summer months). He actually enjoyed setting the table and setting up candles and a nice ambiance. All I had to do was cook the food and he was ready and there with the lighter for the candles, his glass of wine, music, etc. I may have mentioned this before – sorry for repeating it, but it’s on my mind – a few weeks before Dave had his stroke we were eating dinner as usual. Dave was a bit melancholy and said something about not feeling all that great – just didn’t have much energy and he said he had a feeling that he wasn’t going to live all that much longer. I, of course, in my usual chipper (naysayer) way said, oh, honey, you’re all right. Maybe you’re anemic (he sometimes was). He said, no, I just feel like maybe I’m reaching that point. I’ve lived so much longer than anybody thought (because he was a Type 1 diabetic and had lost 2 legs and had had heart bypass surgery – even his doctor was surprised at his energizer-bunny-body). Dave was 74 then, and that IS a fairly long life for a Type 1 diabetic. But he’d plumbed some depth of himself and was preparing himself, I suppose. We had a very heart-to-heart talk and among many things we said to one another that evening, I’d told him that if he went before me, that I’d be setting a place for him at our table.

dinner_aloneBUT, since Dave died I’ve not been able to eat at the dining room table by myself. I’ve entertained many times and that’s not a problem, but to eat there – all by myself – has been just too hard. I was able to eat in the dining room tonight, but no, wasn’t able to set a place for him. Just couldn’t. I’ve thought about it lots, setting his place next to mine. I’m not yet able to stand up to the kind of grief and trigger that will bring on. It sounds like a little thing, but for me it’s not. It’s a bit of a hurdle – a mountain I must climb – and I’m not ready to do that yet.

Music is also a trigger for me. Am sure I’ve written this before too, but a few weeks after Dave passed away I set up a custom station on Pandora that plays a wide variety of relatively quiet classical and choral music. Many pieces by John Rutter and others sung by the Mormon Tablernacle Choir. There are some pieces (which always play when I select that custom station) that just bring on the tears, and I only play it when I’m feeling sad and am willing to “go there” with my grief. It’s cathartic, I think. Dave loved jazz, though he liked classical music too.

Until you’ve been there, you just don’t know how losing a dear loved one is going to affect you. Dave was the love of my life and I miss him so very much. Thank you for reading. Sorry for unloading all this emotion on all of you who come here for recipes! None today.

Posted in Essays, Travel, on April 26th, 2015.

Every time I travel I seem to have odd frustrations or difficulties. Maybe not big ones, but traveling in Europe, especially traveling in old-world countries where you’re staying in old hotels or inns that aren’t Hiltons, or even European mega-hotels, you’re going to find oddities in every place you stay. Here’s my little bit of (sage?) advice. Every trip, I come home with things I need to remember for the next trip.

1. European countries don’t all use the same plugs. I knew that – I’ve traveled abroad many, many times. And there’s a difference between an adapter and a converter – I only needed an adapter as all my electronics are low voltage so I didn’t need to convert from 220. So, I took just one adapter plug which I’d purchased recently that SAID it would work in all plugs in Europe (except Britain). Wrong. Britain has its own very big cumbersome plug. We didn’t go to Britain so I was fine with that part. But even in mainland Europe, you’ll find three different kinds of plugs – Image result for converter plugsthe old 2-prong, and a newer thick bodied indented 2-prong with a ground and a 3-prong type in Switzerland only. I had the one with the ground, and I didn’t take the old-fashioned little 2-prong one. I didn’t have the Switzerland one, but the 2-prong did work in one plug in each hotel in the 3-prong plug. But even if you DID have the 2 (or 3) different kinds of plugs used mostly in Europe, it was problematical everywhere I went, to find an outlet. The photo at right I found on the internet – not sure what the red X’s meant, but wanted you to get an idea about the so very different configurations! Also, old hotels don’t have many outlets. Sometimes you have to move furniture to find where the lamp was plugged in, for instance. Sometimes the only  outlet that would charge was in the bathroom. But some of those were only for razors and NOT electronic devices. But then, sometimes I’d find my iPhone just wouldn’t charge. The lamp worked, but it wouldn’t work to charge a phone. Rick Steves had one very clever idea – use some duct tape to hold your American plug into the adapter, so you don’t accidentally leave behind your adapter plug. I only took 4 electronic devices (iPhone, iPod – that I listen to when I’m trying to go to sleep, my Kindle and my Canon battery charger). All had different cables and outlets. So Rick Steves’ advice wouldn’t have worked since I had to switch them every day or two. Two of the adapters connected to a USB, so I took my one Apple USB square plug that fit into the adapter. My problem was that my adapter was the wrong type in most of the hotels. Fortunately, Tom (Joan’s husband) let me use his and when he flew home from Rome, he handed it to me and I was able to use it the remainder of the trip. It was a multi-purpose plug and you turn a knob and out pop different kinds of plug configurations. I think I have one of those somewhere here at home in my big overflowing travel drawer – but obviously I hadn’t taken it along! Just one more thing to remember. Here’s a link to a website that gives very specific info about plugs. Do ask at the hotel front desk for plugs – sometimes they offer them.

2. When you travel in Europe, eating out mostly, it’s hard to get vegetables. I love vegetables. No, I’m not a vegetarian at all. But just as we have the same problem here in the U.S., not many restaurants offer side vegetables. Often entrees are served with just meat and a carb. No veggies. So, you have to expect the same in Europe. It’s hard to get veggies. Salads are available – and we ate them in abundance in many cities we visited. Veggies were harder to find and if you do find them, they’re often a fried appetizer (not my favored way to eat them). My advice: if  you have any kind of problem with getting sufficient fiber in your diet, take along something over-the-counter.

3. Don’t forget Pepto Bismol or Imodium. I took a package of the latter along just in case, but then I gave it all to Cherrie when she got sick in Switzerland. Fortunately I didn’t need it, but as soon as I got home I came down with an intestinal bug. I made a quick trip to the drug store. Cherrie and I both arrived home with some kind of bug. Not from food because it didn’t begin until 18-24 hours after our last meal in Paris. It was a kind of bacterial flu bug, I guess. I’m still under the weather as I write this 7 days after getting home. Some doctors will now give you a prescription for Cipro when you’re going to travel, a heavy-duty, multi-use antibiotic. I didn’t have any and would be reluctant to use it unless I was very sick. It’s a very strong drug. Cherrie visited her dr. a couple of days ago and she told her not to use Imodium because it can easily be over-done and then you have the reverse problem. Her dr. recommended Pepto instead, which you can buy in liquid (probably not the best choice when when traveling), capsules or chewables.

4. Only a few hotels have room safes unless you’re staying in very high end hotels. Mostly I wasn’t. My cell phone went with me everywhere, even though I left it turned off a lot of the time. And my Kindle slipped into my purse most days. The only item I left in my hotel room was my iPod which I hid as best I could. Someone mentioned on our trip that hotel safes aren’t all that “safe” either. I bought a new purse for this trip – a nice-enough Brighton (black fabric, flat) that had room for my iPhone and my Kindle. I wore it cross-body, which most people do anyway. I kept it zipped up and never had anything valuable in the outside compartments or zippered slots. We actually never encountered any gypsies on this trip, which was very unusual. We saw a few homeless sitting on the ground with a money cup, but that was it, and only in Paris.

5. Be sure to have some money in local currency. On this trip I only needed euros and Swiss francs. I found an envelope in my travel stuff with about 40 euros in it. That meant I didn’t have to find a money exchange or an ATM at the airport. Sometimes at the airport there are long lines. Currently, the best “deal” according to advice websites, is to use ATM machines to get money, which I did exclusively. In Europe, ATM machines are everywhere (only exception might be a very tiny village). And some banks are now offering no-fee international ATM usage. I think Capitol One is one of them, and USAA, I’ve heard. When I left Switzerland, I used my last Swiss francs as part of the hotel bill, and the balance was charged to my credit card. (Oh, and by the way, American Express is often refused at hotels and restaurants all across Europe. I may be giving up my AE card when Costco’s AE membership credit card will no longer work next year.) I came home with about another 40 euro. That will go back into my safe for my next trip. Or I’ll sell them to Cherrie who is going on a 7-week family trip to Europe in about 4-5 weeks.  Don’t buy foreign currency at a bank here at home. They rip you off on the conversion.

6. Every hotel/inn we stayed in, including our apartment in Lyon, had hair dryers. That was a big boon. Even small hair dryers take up lots of suitcase space. And extra suitcase space we did NOT have! If they didn’t have one in the room, all we had to do was ask at the front desk and they’d hand us one.

21_inch_bags_red7. We all traveled with one 21-inch spinner suitcase and a carry-on. This is a newer size, with 4 spinner-wheels. And it’s a deeper suitcase. If you think 21-inches, you may be gasping that no, you couldn’t possibly. But these new ones really are deeper and some have a zipper extension you can use also. I can’t tell you how great this was. A very worthwhile investment. Mostly they’re made to fit in the overhead as carry-on baggage. Another important reason is that European cars have short trunk space. When we rented cars in Italy and Switzerland, we had station wagons in both places (non-standard – thanks to Tom who arranged both rental cars for us). In the rear we were able to fit all 4 of the 21-inch suitcases and 2 of the carry-ons (3 straight in, one sideways across the back and 2 carry-ons stuffed in). Joan had a backpack that sat at her feet, and my carry-on was flat on top, so it became the armrest in the middle in the back seat. If you’re traveling alone, you’ll have no difficulty. But with 4 of us, it made for a bit of squeezing. We all took a similar bag and a carry-on. (We had a meeting about this before we left the U.S. because I knew from previous trips that trunk space was going to be a problem with any rental car.) My carry-on slipped over the handle extension of my suitcase. On my flight home, when I packed my heavier raincoat and my minor purchases into the suitcase, it was very tight. So, I did unzip the extender. In that configuration, my suitcase would easily tip over frontwards, but once I plopped the carry-on on top, it would stay upright. Two of us had red bags. The 4-spinner wheels made for very easy walking long distances from terminal to terminal and mostly, once we arrived at a new destination. I checked my suitcase – I never intended to take it on board a plane –  because I had in my suitcase several liquids that were more than 1.3 ounces (sun screen, shampoo, aerosol hairspray, etc.) which are no-nos. We also walked distances from our car into hotels, or when we did train travel, from taxi to platforms, platform to taxi. Those spinner bags are now a necessity in my book. FYI: For my 22 days abroad, for my clothing, this including what I was wearing: I had 3 pairs of slacks, 8 tops [including the thermal undershirt and one slightly more dressy kind of top], underwear for 5 days, a pullover sweater, vest, raincoat with hood [no umbrella], 3 thin “pretty” scarves, 1 pair of leggings, 1 pair of thermal leggings, 1 longer sleep t-shirt, 2 pairs of socks, 1 extra pair of shoes, 1 warm neck scarf and 1 pair of gloves – that I wore only 1 day. I wore everything except the thermal leggings. Next trip I’ll forget the leggings, all but 1 dressy scarf, replace the raincoat with a thermal windbreaker of some kind. I washed underwear and socks often but they all dried overnight with no difficulty. Thank goodness for heated towel racks in a couple of places. If the trip would be in warm weather that would change significantly the packing needs, obviously.

8. Don’t pack heavy stuff in your carry-on. There’s a lot of walking involved in airports these days, and especially for international travel. It’s just the way it is. And if you travel much, you already know there are long security lines as well. My carry-on is just a fabric type with 2 handles and a shoulder strap. I carried my cosmetics (all items within the 1.3 ounce limit) in there. And my travel pillow. My important travel docs for all the trip planning I’d done for Switzerland. And a paperback book (just in case my Kindle had a problem or during the time when you can’t use electronic devices). My purse actually would fit in there as well, and I took this other cute plane-purse thing that I hung at my airplane seat (see #10 below).

9. Traditional raincoats are out. I took a black London Fog raincoat that has a semi-fuzzy lining (not removable). Everyone else wore a kind of a padded, warm windbreaker style, and I’d say that 98% of everyone we saw in all 3 countries were wearing the same. So my regular raincoat will go into the rarely-used jacket closet henceforth. For my next cooler-weather trip I’ll probably need to buy something new. Some designers now make a thin puffy-coat that mushes down to next to nothing and fits into a small square and packs easily. Darlene had one she bought at Nordstrom.

10. My Samantha Brown packing system was great. And particularly I loved the small purse that you use on the airplane (which can be used as a regular purse on your travels; it’s small, though). There’s a photo I found on ebay for one sold separately. To buy new, you Clever-SAMANTHA-BROWN-Lightweight-Nylon-Crossbody-handbag-Convertible-for-TRAVELhave to buy the whole set: Burgundy Samantha Brown 6-piece Travel Survival Kit. There are many colors (mine was bright red I bought at HSN) to choose from. I used all the pieces which are a heavy-duty water-resistant polyester, I suppose. But I particularly loved the little 7×8” purse that you hook onto the airline seatback in front of you. It held: my Kindle, my lip moisturizer, a little vial of Tylenol, a tiny bag of snack food, Kleenex and my prescriptions I would need to take in flight. There would be room for a tiny bottle of water, but only if I removed the Kindle. The other pieces in the set (that goes into the suitcase) include two sleeves for slacks or other clothes, an underwear bag with a “wear me” on one side, and “wash me” on the other – easy to keep everything in one place and you knew each day how many clean clothes you had left. The thicker cube was for tops/shirts. I was able to fit 8 of them in there. Unpacking my suitcase was a real breeze – sometimes I did that and put the packs/cubes into a drawer or shelf. Other times, one-night-stays, I left everything intact and it made for very neat and quick re-packing. I like the system. In a bright color there was no way I’d forget it. I’m very impressed with the Samantha Brown packing system. I also bought the accessories kit – one additional packing case that contains 3 small cubes inside. In there I stored my charging cables, my adapter plug, my camera battery charger, scarves, jewelry and a Ziploc bag with all of my miscellaneous small liquid things I needed (hair gel, extra shampoo, the aerosol hairspray, body lotion – a few hotels didn’t provide any – and my moderate sized tube of sun screen that I need to wear every day because I’m so fair skinned). And also the two small pieces of jewelry I took and barely wore.

11. If you’re so inclined, do get a Global Entry pass. It costs $100 for 5 years (and takes about 4-6 weeks to get it, including an in-person interview at only some border patrol locations set up around the U.S., to do the Global Entry screening), and probably isn’t worth it if you don’t do a moderate amount of travel. And it doesn’t help anywhere but in the United States (leaving and returning) so it didn’t help as we arrived in Italy, left Italy, arrived in Switzerland, or flew out from Paris) but it was SO fast getting through passport control at LAX, both departing and returning. On our return, they have kiosks now in the international area (more for Global Entry pass holders and fewer for those who don’t). You slide your passport in and it snaps a photo of you, you tick a few things on the screen and it’s a breeze. We walked right through and out to baggage pickup.

12. It used to be that Europeans wore dark clothes about 8 months of the year. Not so anymore. My wardrobe was all planned around black and brown, mostly black. My coat was black. My sweater was black. My vest was black. Two of my tops were plain black. We saw people wearing all kinds of colors and nobody stared like they used to. I can remember on previous trips feeling embarrassed because I was wearing even a brightly designed (maybe still in black/brown and white) blouse. Now everybody wears just about anything. Although we didn’t see white pants or even light color slacks. But everyone wore brighter colors in shirts and tops. And coats were in every color of the rainbow (except white).

Women Short Sleeve Thermaskin Heat Scoopneck13. My favorite 2 pieces of clothing were my velour vest and my Land’s End Thermaskin short-sleeved undershirt. I wore them both about 16 of the 22 days I was gone.  The black thin undershirt (pictured right – and it also comes in white) was perfect for cooler days and has a longer length so it keeps tucked in, and I think I’ll be wearing it lots here at home on colder winter days. If I wore a v-neck top over it, it looked fine if the scoop neck showed. The vest I’ve had for years – it’s a longer style so my tops didn’t hang down below (even though that’s very current style), and it was fuzzy enough to provide lots of warmth if I zipped it up. I also took the Thermaskin leggings, but I never wore them.

14. Be prepared for duvets everywhere. I’m not a duvet person. They make me too warm, so I’m continually having to stick my feet out or fold back the duvet to cool off. I know there are different weights of duvets, but every single place we stayed had fairly heavy duvets. So if you’re a warm person, you might want to pack very light pajamas or sleep in the buff. I took a long tee-shirt as my sleepwear. I lost a lot of sleep being awakened in a heat, and no, I don’t think they were hot flashes. None of the hotels had blankets in the closet, or I’d have tossed that duvet off and used one. Not a big deal, but it did bother me some. When possible, I opened windows to keep the room really cold at night. That helped. In some places my hotel room overlooked a busy square or a trattoria or bistro, and opening the window wasn’t feasible or I’d have been awake all night, but in most places I could. Or I adjusted the heat to very low, if I could, and that also helped.

15. Use small bags or Ziplocs for different toiletry types. I’ve decided that small little bags or Ziploc bags work best for the different kinds of toiletries needed. I have a great little cushy cinch-up thing for my make-up. But everything else needs to be divided up into bags or Ziplocs by use: shower (shampoo, gel, hairspray, body lotion), night-time (prescriptions, eye makeup remover, lip protector and my nasal spray) and morning (prescriptions, lotion, sunscreen). I have amongst my travel things 2 large box-shaped padded things for toiletries, but they’re bulky. I found the smaller things worked better. I have oodles of little zipped bag things I’ve gotten from cosmetic give-aways – they work well, or just the quart-sized heavier-duty Ziploc bags make for easy squishing here and there to fit in the suitcase. This is especially true if you’re trying to squeeze everything into a 21-inch bag. If you’re using Ziploc bags, put a yellow piece of paper in the morning one, a blue one in the shower bag, and a black one for night-time. Very easy to see which one is which. Since we 4 women were traveling together and shared one bathroom in the apartment in Lyon, France, we all had to keep our toiletries neat and tidy. We just picked up our baggies or whatever(s) and took them back to our bedrooms so the bathroom counter space (minimal) wasn’t clogged up with our stuff.

16. Take snacks and a water bottle every day. Not that you have to bring snacks from home necessarily (although I wished I’d had a few protein bars along on this trip) . . . but stop at a grocery store and find some kinds of snacks that will work for you and your family. Have one in your “day pack” or purse for those times when there just aren’t any restaurants nearby and you’re famished. Also, take along a small water bottle. Sometimes hotels offer a free bottle – take it and refill it each day (I know, they say that’s not a good thing, but hey, this is just one trip) so you have it with you, or in the car. If you have children, definitely have water and snacks available. I had a few Trader Joe’s dark chocolate bars in my suitcase, and I shared them with everyone now and then. One little square helped me get through to a later meal. Nuts would have worked also.

17. Figure out what kind of international cell phone plan you want to use. Now, I’m no expert, but after being with Tom & Joan for 8 days with cell_phone_wifiTom having a portable hotspot in his pocket, all of us got spoiled really fast with having internet most of the time. When Tom and granddaughter Lauren flew home, Joan and I were sad! The hotspot Tom had, only worked in Italy and he rented it for a short time span anyway. Next time I travel, I’ll be getting myself a portable hotspot. Not that it will work for my next trip (Botswana and Dubai next fall) but it will work in most places for most trips except remote areas in Africa (a guess). I purchased a small, special plan with my wireless carrier, but as good as I am with techie stuff, I had no idea exactly what I was getting (and I don’t have my bill yet to know what I did use) I wasn’t sure it was the wisest. Every hotel offered free wi-fi. Here’s one photo I took in the town of Matera, in Tom & Joan’s cave hotel room (the door is open because the light through the door was all we had, other than soft indirect lighting). We’d just checked in and all of us were on our phones checking for texts and email. This happened every single day of the trip! I don’t think I’ve mentioned yet that in France, wi-fi is pronounced wee-fee. You can purchase/rent short-term phones in Europe, but they’re a new number and I didn’t expect to get any phone calls. Although I did get one from my opthalmologist’s office wanting to ask me a question or two – this at 3 am Europe time. I didn’t think to turn my phone completely off at night. There are plenty of websites that will give you advice about how to handle this – there are so many options. Too many. Some cell phones don’t work in Europe, either, so that’s another factor.

All of these words of (my) wisdom are just my two cents worth. Merely FYI.

Posted in Essays, on January 23rd, 2014.

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Just got through reading one of the most in-depth articles ever – about cocoa (photo above from King Arthur Flour). You might not think you need to know more about cocoa, but if you’ve noticed the grocery aisles lately, you can now find a variety of cocoa types on the shelves, and unless you know the differences, you might make a big mistake using a different kind (like Dutch process) in your Grandma’s old-favorite chocolate cake recipe.

The folks at King Arthur Flour sell 5 different types of cocoa powders. I own a couple of them, and only know the simplest of rules – if the recipe calls for baking soda you can use Dutch process (or regular, actually). If the recipe calls for baking powder, you only want to use regular cocoa. But there are so many, many nuances of chocolate in the different types.

So, if you’re a home baker and have interest, head over to KAF and read the article written by PJ Hamel. They made several different recipes for chocolate things with all the different cocoa types and show you the difference in photos, but also describe the differences in the taste. The article is well worth reading and book-marking for future reference. KAF, as I mentioned, carries a very wide variety of cocoas you can buy. I’m a fan of their products (and no, they don’t pay me anything to say that!). If you sign up for their email stuff, you’ll hear about it when they offer free shipping. But you  need to be a reader of their blog in order to hear about the recipe developers and their baking efforts.

Posted in Cookbooks, Essays, on January 15th, 2014.

cookbooks verticalIt’s not a new tidbit here, that I love cookbooks. Now, there are collectors, and then there are collectors. I’m just a general all-purpose cookbook collector. I own about 300 or so now, and have given away at least another 150 or more. I tell myself that I do NOT need one single solitary additional cookbook. Ever. But I just can’t seem to help myself. I do occasionally order one because I just have to, that’s all. Others I’ll put onto my wish list at amazon, hoping that family or friends will buy it for me for my birthday or at Christmas.

If you haven’t noticed, cookbooks are one of the hottest selling genre of books these days. Didn’t used to be so. It seems like amazon sends me an email every few days (maybe it’s weekly) telling (touting) 2 or 3 more new cookbooks that I should look at and perhaps buy. There’s probably a special tag in the amazon servers just for me (and others like me) that says “sucker” or “easy” where it comes to buying cookbooks. You think?

The shelves you see at left reside in our family room, right next to the kitchen. Actually I’ve culled some out of that since I took that photo a couple of years ago. Unfortunately, I have a sofa-table just a few feet away that is a repository for stacks of stuff. Magazines I haven’t gotten to yet (and have been there for at least a year!), books I’ve pulled out of the shelves above and never re-filed, then I’ve stuffed some other cookbook into it’s slot. The depth on that sofa table is about 16 inches or so. Mostly more cookbooks. People give me books (not always ones that I’ve requested) and they have no home, exactly.

As of a year or so ago I created a cookbook annex up in my office (upstairs). I think I have 3 shelves there, and mostly they are books I don’t refer to for cooking. Most of them are memoirs and some rather esoteric cookbooks that are pretty to look at, but not to cook from.

When we had new carpeting installed underneath the family room shelves a year ago I had to unload that entire shelf system. Oh my gosh was that difficult, time consuming and back breaking. I sorted through the books when I went to return them, and tried my best to group them and I did give away another 20 or so. Problem is that some barbecue books that really belong on the 3rd shelf left had to go on the bottom shelf because they’re tall. Really tall, and they won’t fit anywhere except at the bottom. I’ve considered using a Dewey decimal system, but no, that makes no sense since all the books, just about, are within one small, really narrow group of numbers. Because of the variety of heights, I can’t group all similar genres together.

Some years ago when I subscribed to Eat Your Books, the site that helps you find recipes within your own cookbooks, I entered most of my cookbooks into my own site there. I’ve mentioned it numerous times here, that if I want to find a recipe for chicken and artichokes, for instance, I can go to my site at Eat Your Books and enter those two items and it will give me a long list of the different recipe titles, the book they’re from on my own bookshelves, and the list of main ingredients. I use it all the time. Far better to sit at my computer than to stand in front of that bookcase for 45 minutes hunting. I love that site.

Today I was catching up on my blog reading and really enjoy the varied things I find (read) on the Eat Your Books blog. This one has to do with Anne Willan. She’s the American author, chef, and owner of the La Varenne cooking school in Paris. She and her husband have lived in Paris for a long, long time. If I ever have the inclination, and the time, on some trip to Paris I’m going to sign up for a class.

Anne Willan has just published a new book, a memoir type with recipes: One Soufflé at a Time: A Memoir of Food and France, and I ordered the hard copy just yesterday. Once I’ve read it, I’ll let you know what I think of it. Cookbooks I always order in hard copy; memoirs about cooking as well; nearly everything else goes to my Kindle.

In the meantime, though, I have some other books that require my attention. I’m doing the review in one of my book clubs of The Submission: A Novel. I read it last year and highly recommended it to everyone I met. Because I couldn’t stop talking about it, our selection committee chose it to read in my AAUW book group for 2014, and of course, no one else was willing to do the review, so I’m it. I’m a little intimidated about that because there are some very sensitive religious and ethnic issues in that book, and generally, in that group, anyway, we don’t choose books that have that kind of potential discussion problems. Fortunately for me, Seattle (the city of) selected that book in it’s read-a-book program, and they have a very detailed guide available with discussion questions. So I may be able to use those without having to figure out for myself how to squeeze through a minefield of religious issues to have an open discussion. No one in my group is Muslim, and perhaps I’m overly concerned, but I think it will take a sensitive hand (voice) to keep the discussion from getting out of hand. I’m also supposed to be reading any book by Alice Munro for one of my other book groups, but haven’t even started on that one. My 3rd book group, fortunately, I’ve already read the book. Just today I also ordered 5 more books on my Kindle. Just finished reading  The Four Seasons: A Novel of Vivaldi’s Venice. A novel about 2 young girls sent to a convent in Venice and both become musicians of note. Both are taught by Vivaldi. I’ll be writing that up on my left sidebar in the next day or so.

To get back to the reason I started this post, on the Eat Your Books blog, they discussed a Cookbook Tree of Life that has been created by Anne Willan (the print pictured at left, photo from the La Varenne website). I immediately clicked through to the source article at zester daily, and then further to Anne Willan’s blog post to take a look at it. In a nutshell, Anne laid awake one night thinking about her own family tree (framed copy) in her closet, and began thinking about whether cookbooks, as a collective group, could also have a comparable family tree. She must have spent months researching this, and narrowed the field to the first four cookbooks printed prior to 1500. And then expanded the tree in width and height to reach the breadth of books about 100 years ago. The cookbook tree covers the period of 1674-1861. From what I can see, the 16” x 20” $65 limited edition print would be a keepsake. I’ve thought about ordering one for myself, but I lack wall space anywhere near the kitchen to hang it. Besides, do I need it? No. But do I want it? Yes. But . . . I’ll try not to order it. Perhaps you’d like to, though.

Posted in Essays, on December 25th, 2013.

The below came from the blog, Eat Your Books. Just thought you might enjoy a laugh, or a harumph. Meanwhile, I hope all of you have a Merry Christmas or a Happy Holiday, whatever it is you’re celebrating today.

Eatocracy has Eat This List: 2014 food trend predictions. Two of their editors each describe 5 trends, along with some honorable mentions. The article has full explanations behind each selection; briefly, they are:

  • Fish collars, heads and trash fish
  • Heirloom beans, peanuts and field peas
  • Haute Jewish deli
  • Reconsidered rice (and no, I don’t know what that means)
  • Raw beef
  • Eating with your hands
  • Housemade hot sauces
  • Parfaits
  • Breakfast for dinner

Over at The Daily Meal, they asked 25 chefs to  Predict the 2014’s Dining and Culinary Trends. We’ll let you look at the complete list, but here are some of the food items that were mentioned:

  • Gourmet tacos
  • Pork
  • Dishes from Sardinia, Sri Lanka, Laos, and Malaysia (SE Asia is hot)
  • Lots of grains and seeds – grits could be big
  • Asian mustard greens
  • Coconut sugar

And then we have the Wall Street Journal, which focused on just one trend in their article, Historical Recipes Are the Next Big Thing. As they write, “In a culinary landscape filled with Szechuan pastrami and cronuts, it can feel like our chefs are slaves to novelty, forever breaking with traditional foodways in favor of dishes inspired by artistic whims and enabled by modern technology. But look past the clamor of innovation and you’ll find some of the country’s most gifted toques quietly engrossed in old cookbooks, viewing the historical record as a treasure trove of ingenious techniques and preparations.”

However, as they explain later in the article, “The trend doesn’t stem from fetishizing the past so much as from the deeply held conviction that, when it comes to cookery, time-honored methods often trump personal innovation.” And, as  Adam Leonti (chef of  Vetri in Philadelphia)  points out, “Recipes from the past tend to lack the precise details we see in today’s texts…and that provides opportunities for creative thinking and experimentation.”

So if you want to be au courant,  dig out those old cookbooks and see which recipes trigger your curiosity. Sometimes the old is new again.

Posted in Essays, on May 9th, 2013.

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If you’re not all that interested in knowing more about bell peppers, well, I understand. Come back in a couple of days and there will be a recipe up again on the blog. The “food scientist” in me wants more info sometimes, just better knowledge about the food products I buy, even if they’re something I’ve been purchasing for decades.

Prior to about 1980, there was only one kind of bell pepper available – GREEN. Which is why I didn’t like them much. My Dad loved stuffed green peppers (filled with a ground beef and rice mixture and served with tomato sauce). I thought these were vile – I could eat the filling, but the pepper part was bitter, acidic. That stuffed pepper style was very popular during the 1950-70 time frame.

Somewhere around 1960 shoppers were offered a choice of colors –  and bell pepper sales soared. I do remember when they first began appearing in grocery stores – the ones from Holland. But oh, were they ever expensive – way beyond my food budget. In the 30 years after that our per capita consumption of bell peppers quadrupled. According to the USDA, on any given day, about a quarter of Americans were eating some amount of a bell pepper, which is double the amount we’d eat of a French fry. Well, that’s a good thing! The same percentage increase occurred with chile peppers too, although it’s leveled off in the last 20 years. All the credit is due to the Dutch, who figured out how to outsmart nature. You probably already know this – all peppers start out green, and it’s only because they are left on the bush or vine that the colors develop.

Why do Bell Peppers Turn Color?

The scientific explanation – as fruits begin to mature and develop sugar, the sweetness alters their chemical makeup and the chlorophyll start to break apart, which then permits the underlying colors to develop.

Because peppers are a very tender product, they’re very susceptible to bugs and viruses (who knew? viruses? really?). Only very careful farming can produce a fully ripe and colored bell pepper without it developing blemishes and soft spots. Holland’s farmers raise all of theirs in greenhouses, which is why they’re so pristine (and expensive).

Our taste buds really only recognize two tastes in peppers – sweet or hot. Well, I’ll add a 3rd one – bitter, which is what is in green bells – to me, anyway. There are 22 wild varieties of peppers out there and 5 domesticated ones. Most peppers are grown in California and Florida. Chile peppers mostly come from Mexico, where there are at least 3 varieties that grace nearly every Mexican family’s table with regularity. I’m guessing those are: jalapeno, serrano, and poblano. We can find those at our grocery stores every day here in Southern California.

bellpepper2What makes a chile pepper hot is capsaisin (cap-SAY-eh-sun), and if you remember nothing else from this little write-up, the heat in peppers comes MOSTLY from the ribs. Not the seeds. That’s not to say that if you bite into a piece of the green of a jalapeno, you won’t taste heat – you will, but the real heat is in the little whitish/yellowish rib membrane inside the pepper. Remove those and you’ll have a much milder pepper experience. Unless, of course, you WANT the heat, in which case leave it in! Different peppers contain different concentrations of capsaicin (like habanero, the hottest, to the bell pepper which has the least) . And the heat is caused by a recessive gene. That was news to me! What’s interesting is that the heat in chiles can vary not only by variety, but also from peppers on the same bush. Little Japanese shishito peppers (at left) are the most variable – about one in every dozen will be hot enough to blow off the top of your head. Figuratively, of course.

CHOOSING PEPPERS: With the bell peppers, choose the heaviest ones, the ones that are the most filled out and the darkest in color. They’re the sweetest. The recommendation is to choose the peppers that have the boxiest shape with the flattest sides. And obviously, don’t buy one that has a blemish or a soft spot anywhere. Chile peppers should be average size and also unblemished and definitely firm. No soft ones at all.  The best prices on all peppers is in the mid-summer when they are available in abundance.

STORING PEPPERS: They’ll keep best if wrapped well and stored in the refrigerator at about 45°. That’s the temp of most refrigerators. No colder than that, though, or the peppers will start to break down.

Nearly all this information came from Russ Parsons’ book How to Pick a Peach: The Search for Flavor from Farm to Table.

Peppers for Cold Meat – my favorite recipe you’ll find here on my blog that showcases bell peppers – it’s a sweet and sour kind of relish that’s just a match made in heaven for almost any kind of meat. It’s easy to make and keeps for weeks and weeks.

Posted in Essays, on March 26th, 2013.

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The world lost a wonderful writer when Laurie Colwin died in 1992, very young (48) to a heart attack. I remember opening my issue of Gourmet that month to read the unbelievable news that Colwin had died suddenly. There was no explanation about what happened. I’d been a fan of her writing for many, many years. I adored her essays in the magazine, and had purchased her first food essay collection, Home Cooking: A Writer in the Kitchen (Vintage Contemporaries). I loved the stories – most of them were from her many years of writing for Gourmet. Her writing style was so witty, folksy, down to earth. But loving, and matter-of-fact. She shared simple recipes, but with a charm and verve that made you just want to go right to the kitchen and make her beef stew. Or her gingerbread. Or her creamed spinach with jalapenos.

Recently I moved some of my cookbooks and other books related to cooking from my kitchen/family room area to my upstairs office. Books I don’t refer to with any frequency made the transition along with various cookbooks I can’t bear to part with, but don’t use much. When I came upon the Home Cooking book, I decided to set it aside and it’s been sitting in the book rack in one of our bathrooms for about 2-3 months. Even my DH has picked it up from time to time and enjoyed reading a story. I’ve just finished reading it from cover to cover, with a renewed enthusiasm for making some of her recipes (of which there are few). There are several quotes that I found so humorous, so I decided to share some with you. I don’t think I’m allowed to completely write one of her essays here, but bits and pieces are okay, I think. Perhaps they’ll pique your interest – enough to buy the book yourself.

In the Forward of the book, Colwin wrote a little explanation about her love of food and socializing in the presence of food.

Unless you live alone in a cave or hermitage, cooking and eating are social activities; even hermit monks have one communal meal a month. The sharing of food is the basis of social life, and to many people it is the only kind of social life worth participating in.

No one who cooks cooks alone. Even at her most solitary, a cook in the kitchen is surrounded by generations of cooks past, the advice and menus of cooks present, the wisdom of cookbook writers. In my kitchen I rely on Edna Lewis, Marcella Hazan, Jane Grigson, Elizabeth David, the numerous contributors to The Charleston Receipts, and Margaret Costa (author of an English book entitled The Four Seasons Cookery Book).

One of the delights of life is eating with friends; second to that is talking about eating. And for an unsurpassed double whammy, there is talking about eating while you are eating with friends. People who like to cook like to talk about food. Plain old cooks (as opposed to the geniuses in fancy restaurants) tend to be friendly. After all, without one cook giving another cook a tip or two, human life might have died out a long time ago.

Perhaps Colwin’s most famous essay is the one entitled “Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant.” It is, without a doubt, my favorite food essay ever, and I’ve opened this book more than once just to read this chapter. Colwin was young and an aspiring writer back then, and had to economize in order to even live in New York City. She rented an apartment that would likely drive a normal person off the edge, but to Colwin, it had charm in spades. Here’s what she wrote:

For eight years I lived in a one-room apartment a little larger than the Columbia Encyclopedia. It is lucky I never met Wilt Chamberlain because if I had invited him in for coffee he would have been unable to spread his arms in my room which was roughly seven by twenty.

I had enough space for a twin-sized bed, a very small night table, and a desk. This desk, which I use to this day, was meant for a child of, say, eleven. At the foot of my bed was a low table that would have been a coffee table in a normal apartment. In mine it served as a lamp stand, and beneath it was a basket containing my sheets and towels. Next to a small fireplace, which had an excellent draw, was a wicker armchair and an ungainly wicker footstool which often served as a table of sorts.

Instead of a kitchen, this minute apartment featured a metal counter. Underneath was a refrigerator the size of a child’s playhouse. On top was what I called the stove but which was only two electric burners – in short, a hot plate.

Many people found this place charming, at least for five minutes or so. Many thought I must be insane to live in so small a space, but I loved my apartment and found it the coziest place on earth.

My cupboard shelves were so narrow that I had to stand my dinner plates on end. I did the dishes in a plastic pan in the bathtub and set the dish drainer over the toilet . . .

When I was alone I lived on eggplant, the stove top cook’s strongest ally. I fried it and stewed it, and ate it crisp and sludgy, hot and cold. It was cheap and filling and was delicious in all manner of strange combinations. If any was left over I ate it cold the next day with bread. . .

In this tunnel-like dollhouse of an apartment, Colwin often entertained, but only a party of three. Four made impossible logistics. She often served soup – a one pot wonder. Usually she brought in dessert. I’ve tried to envision an apartment 7 feet wide by 20 feet long, which had to have included a bathroom of sorts, thereby leaving very little space left for living. Yet Colwin found it absolutely comforting and homey. She always preferred to eat at home rather than go out – she was a champion of good old-fashioned kinds of home cooking. Nothing fancy was her motto. One of her mantras was about salt – lots of it – and seasoning everything with celery salt too.

Eventually Colwin married – moved into a more normal sized house – and had a daughter. She continued to write. Including numerous novels. Here’s a link to her many published works. None is available on the Kindle.

Posted in Essays, on February 11th, 2013.

I’ve just gotten around to reading the January 2013 issue of Bon Appetit. It’s a very interesting issue with some edgy ideas I certainly found thought-provoking, so I’m sharing them with you. They call it the “The Cooking School” issue. That doesn’t mean a list of cooking schools to go to, or places that hold cooking classes. No, the subtitle is about learning to master some of the basic cooking school techniques. Particularly it’s about pan roasts, salads, braises, sauces and salted sweets. Normally I wouldn’t even give that a passing glance, other than breezing by some of the recipe titles, since I (think I) already know how to pan roast, braise, sauce and make sweets. But even I – an experienced home cook – found the articles interesting, informative, very explanatory – and the recipes are different.

After reading the issue, almost cover to cover, I tried a salted chocolate chunk cookie (I will share it in a day or two, even though it didn’t hit my CC cookie buttons particularly – but it might hit yours). Anyway, I will share another recipe from this cooking school section, but what I wanted to talk about was the section on salads. The title page of the sub-chapter on salads says:

Skip the lettuce and tomato. Instead, follow the lead of today’s hottest restaurants by making crisp, vibrant shaved-vegetable salads without a mesclun green in sight.

Next to that was a carrot salad that looked like the carrot pieces were shaved and crisp-roasted (actually they weren’t baked at all, but they were crisp-curled in ice water). Here’s the more thorough preface:

For years, you couldn’t go to a four-star restaurant without getting a forkful of mâche. Then there was a love affair with arugula. And we still have feelings for kale. But these days, the salads we really can’t resist don’t even have the very thing that used to define salads: the greens. Like many of the country’s most inventive chefs, we’re replacing them with other, less obvious vegetables (and nuts and herbs and seeds). Mandoline in hand, we’re shaving sturdy produce into ribbons and coins, adding outside-the-salad-bar complements, and dressing them lightly in simple vinaigrettes. The results are delicate, yet packed with bite – and without question, far more dynamic than any bowl of romaine and Ranch could ever be.

No, that’s not my baby picture . . . I just had to make a point here – I’m not crying buckets – yet – because I’ll still be making salads with greens no matter what the food experts or trends have to say. Not that I won’t dip my big toe into the arena of these newer salads, but I still love arugula, and kale and romaine. Ranch? Not so much.

On one of the pages of this multi-page chapter there is a chart of what to put in these new veggie-centric salads. It’s divided into 3 sections:

  • Foundation (thinly slice one or two of these): fennel, cucumber, celery, beets, radishes and celery root
  • Dimension (add smaller quantity of one or two of these to lend character): coarse breadcrumbs, apple, cumin seeds, red onion, Parmesan, pepitas
  • Finish (a bright element – like lots of fresh herbs): parsley, celery leaves, watercress

Lastly, I’ll share one more sidebar on one of the pages. Here’s what it said:

Balsamic is not king – and other truths about vinaigrette (3 rules for dressing a 2013 salad): (1) Rethink your vinegar [no more balsamic, instead use sherry vinegar and champagne vinegar]; (2) Easy on the oil [no more 3:1 ratio of oil to vinegar; instead lean toward 2:1 which will work with the more subtle sherry and champagne vinegars since they’re much milder, less acidic; if you find them too astringent, just add a bit more oil, but not back up to the 3:1 we have been used to.]; (3) Hands, not tongs: use your hands, not tongs . . . as it’s the best way to tell if the salad is over- or under-dressed.

I’m not so sure this will work for me, although I have pretty much stopped using balsamic vinegar in salad dressings – they’re too much, too heavy and often too acidic, even though I use better balsamics (i.e., more expensive). I use it in other things, but rarely in salads anymore. I’m also not so sure I can handle the acidity of a 2:1 oil to acid ratio in a salad dressing. That’s going to be very astringent. It might depend on the brand of sherry vinegar or champagne vinegar. I’ll have to test a few salads and see what I think.

As I write this, I’m going to make a different salad from the issue – a celery salad with celery root and horseradish. Most likely I’ll post it. I happen to love celery leaves and they’re dominant in this particular salad.

Posted in Essays, on October 5th, 2012.

risotto_sous_vide

We were on our recent trip, and in a hotel where we had a TV. I’d flipped on Good Morning America, I think it was. And they explained in a very short blurb that rice contains arsenic. More than we’d ever thought. And more than we should be eating. That was about it. A week later, I mentioned it to my cousin Gary, who consumes a lot of rice and rice products (because he’s gluten intolerant). His jaw dropped. Really? he said. Yup, really, but I didn’t have much detail.

Once home I found what was probably the genesis of the news item – an article in Consumer Reports. It’s in the November 2012 issue which you can read here. I’ll give you a synopsis. And if you read nothing more than this: the scientists say we should not consume more than 2 portions of rice per week. A portion is 1/2 cup for an adult. Or 1 full cup a week. And that’s a combination of all rice products. The level of arsenic varies greatly by type and by brand. Inorganic arsenic is known as a carcinogen. Bad news. And particularly worrisome are rice-based baby cereals. They’re not the worst, but then infants don’t eat much quantity of any cereal. Down at the bottom of this post I’ll give you some bullet points with recommendations.

So, here’s what happened . . . back in January Consumer Reports published an article about the level of arsenic in apple and grape juices. That was the original arsenic eye-opener. The folks at CR thought maybe they should do some more scientific study about arsenic in other foods. They chose rice, and they tested over 200 brands of rice products (everything from common white rice to rice syrups, rice cereals, baby food, rice pasta and rice crackers – my cousin is gluten intolerant, so he eats a lot of rice crackers and other rice-based products – hence my concern for him).

The scientific part of it – there are two types of arsenic that we consume in food – inorganic and organic. It’s the inorganic we need to be more concerned about, although the FDA and EPA both say there are no safe arsenic levels. Period. Scientists think the arsenic has increased because of insecticides that have been used in the past hundred years. Here’s what the article says:

. . . The U.S. is the world’s leading user of arsenic and since 1910 about 1.6 million tons have been used for agricultural and industrial purposes, about half of it only since the mid-1960’s. Residues from the decades of use of lead arsenate insecticides linger in agricultural soil today, even though their use was banned in the 1980’s. Other arsenical ingredients in animal feed to prevent disease and promote growth are still permitted. Moreover, fertilizer made from poultry waste can contaminate crops with inorganic arsenic.

I’m sorry folks. I’m just stunned. Ashamed. Angry. Angry that the gosh-darned profit engines of food commerce will, at every juncture, choose to promote growth and therefore profit (in vegetables and grains and in meat production) to the possible detriment of our health. Doesn’t it seem logical that arsenic in anything, at any level, is not good for us? For gosh sakes, it’s a POISON! So even though arsenic-enhanced insecticide was banned in the 1980’s, the ground still contains it and it passes through into crops grown in that same soil. AND, animal feed still does contain arsenic and it’s allowed. How come? And of course, chicken farmers have all that chicken poop they consider a product as well, and it’s made into fertilizer, yet IT contains higher levels of arsenic. It goes back into the ground for our food.

I also don’t like GM (genetically modified) food. I wrote up an essay about genetically modified seed a couple of years ago about Monsanto, and the genetically modified corn and canola seed that is almost everything we eat now. Monsanto is a weasel of a company. And they wield great power. Scary power. Here in California, we are voting on a proposition next month about whether food labeling must state if something is a GM product. Obviously I’m voting for that. Most people, when questioned, probably would choose not to eat GM corn; yet it’s very pervasive and I’m guilty of not asking the corner farmstand employee whether the corn I buy there is GM or not. The produce man in my market has no idea. He doesn’t care. He just preps the produce. However, more people are paying attention (I think and hope) to where food products come from. Last night my DH and I were at Costco and he was looking at a frozen case of shellfish. I walked right on by because in past trips I know the shrimp came from Vietnam. I’m not buying shrimp from Vietnam. Articles I’ve read tell me for health’s sake, I should buy only shrimp manufactured in U.S. waters. I’m all for that. But they’re very hard to find! The lobster in the case was from Brazil. I don’t know anything about lobster farming or trapping in Brazil. They were beautiful things – and expensive I might add. We bought none of them. We did buy fresh halibut from Alaska, though. New recipe coming up soon.

I’m sorry, I got sidetracked there. We’re talking about arsenic in rice. I’ll get back to that now. The bottom line is that in an extensive study CR did, people who ate more rice – logically – tested high for arsenic in their systems. Arsenic is known to cause a variety of cancers (lung and bladder first and foremost). Organic arsenic, so far as scientists know, is not harmful. We eat it in several types of seafood, actually, so in the tests, they eliminated any results from people who had eaten seafood within 24 hours of the urine test used. Over a lifetime of eating rice (and in many countries eating rice is a 3-times a day national pastime) this could cause significant cancers.

RECOMMENDATIONS:

  1. If you’re pregnant, cut way, way down on rice in any way, shape or form. Adults, it is suggested, should eat no more than 2 servings (so about 1 cup total) per WEEK. That includes rice cakes, rice cereals, rice drinks, rice pasta, rice cakes.
  2. Consumer Reports recommends you find out about your drinking water – if you’re on public water, you’re okay generally. Only if you use a well water or other sources, should you have the water tested for arsenic.
  3. Change the way you cook rice – rinse it thoroughly in any case and discard that drained water. Use more water than called for when you cook it (that removes more of the arsenic to that cooking water that you’d also discard). They recommend using 6 cups of water for every cup of rice. That will remove about 30% of the arsenic in the rice. Yes, you wash away some of the nutrients, but it’s safer for eating.
  4. Don’t eat brown rice – it has higher doses of arsenic than white rice – because much of the arsenic is held in the outer layers of the grain. Remember, rice is grown in a specialized pond and the rice leeches stuff from the underlying soil.

Consumer Reports has made a bunch of recommendations to the USDA, FDA and EPA, including: (1) the industry needs to set a standard for arsenic in rice [there is none at this time]; (2) producers should develop rice types that don’t “take up” so much arsenic from the water/soil, and then use the one(s) that perform the best; (3) the EPA should phase out all pesticides [period] that contain arsenic; (4) the USDA and EPA should end the use of arsenic-laden fertilizers and manure; (5) the FDA should ban the feeding of arsenic-containing drugs and animal byproducts to animals. To learn more about this part, go to the main article (at the bottom). Of course, the U.S. Rice Federation is vehemently arguing that arsenic in our rice is way overblown as a health risk. I’m sorry, ANY arsenic in my rice is too much.

If you go to the article, you can review the entire chart about the rice products they tested. I’m going to give you a short list, though, of the products that were high (bad) that you should, for now, avoid (in my opinion anyway). And I’ll give you the names of the rice products that were better than others. No rice products were free of arsenic. If you eat any rice products at all, you’re ingesting arsenic. No way around it. Rice raised in the American South has higher levels than others – probably because of the years and years of insecticides used on that same land. It appears that rice from Indian and Thailand have lower levels, but CR didn’t test some of the more obscure brands I see in my local Indian store.

Lundberg, the small company here in California, that raises a lot of rice, has, generally, lower levels of arsenic in their products. There was one exception. But their company (and the CEO, Grant Lundberg) is investing lots of resources to test all of their products more extensively. Good for them. They may be one of the first on the bandwagon to improve the problem.

Here’s a list from Consumer Reports with THE BAD ONES – higher incidences of arsenic in their products (listed in rice type order, then alpha order, not the level of arsenic). Some had lower ratings, but CR used 3 tests of each product from different packages and some showed varying results. The ones in red had the highest levels: RICE: 365 Everyday Value (Whole Foods); Cajun Country Enriched Long Grain; Cajun Country Popcorn Long Grain; Canilla Extra Long Grain Enriched; Carolina Whole Grain Brown; Della Basmati Brown; Doguet’s Brown; Goya Enriched Medium Grain; Great Value Brown (Walmart); Jazzmen Louisiana Aromatic Brown (this one had the highest number of all); Lundberg Short Grain Brown; Martin Long Grain Brown; Texas Best Organics Long Grain Brown; Uncle Ben’s Original Enriched Parboiled Long Grain; and Uncle Ben’s Whole Grain Brown. INFANT CEREAL: None exceeded 5 micrograms per liter, but of the 4 types listed, two were higher – Earth’s Best Organic Whole Grain Rice and Gerber Rice. HOT CEREAL: Bob’s Red Mill Brown Rice Farina Creamy White. READY-TO-EAT CEREAL: Barbara’s Brown Rice Crisps. RICE CAKES & CRACKERS: Suzie’s Whole Grain Thin Cakes. RICE PASTA: DeBoles Rice Spirals, Tinkyada Brown Rice Pasta Shells and Trader Joe’s Organic Brown Rice Fusilli. RICE FLOUR: Arrowhead Mills Organic Brown. RICE DRINKS: neither tested brands exceeded the arsenic levels for concern. RICE SYRUP: Lundberg Sweet Dreams Eco-Farmed Brown and their Organic Brown (both). RICE VINEGAR: only one brand tested and it is very low.

Now, here’s the list of THE BETTER ONES – lower incidence of arsenic, not necessarily healthy levels, but still beneath the 5 micrograms considered a level of concern: RICE: there are about 20+ brands listed – I’m only listing the ones that had the lowest incidence – seek them out if you can – Archer Farms Organic Basmati (Target – it’s from India), 365 Everyday Value Organic Indian Basmati White (Whole Foods, from India), Archer Farms Organic Jasmine (Target, and it’s from Thailand), Lundberg California White Basmati (California), Martin Long Grain Enriched (Missouri), and Trader Joe’s White Basmati (India). INFANT CEREAL: Beech-Nut Homestyle Rice and Gerber SmartNourish Organic Brown Rice. HOT CEREAL: Bob’s Red Mill Organicv Brown Rice Farina Creamy Rice and Cream of Rice. READY-TO-EAT CEREAL: Arrowhead Mills Organic Sweetened Rice Flakes, General Mills Rice Chex Gluten Free, Kellogg’s Rice Krispies, Kellogg’s Rice Krispies Gluten Free and Trader Joe’s Crisp Rice Cereal. RICE CAKES & CRACKERS: Asian Gourmet Plain Rice Crackers, Edward & Sons Organic Brown Rice Snaps Unsalted Plain Rice Cracker, Lundberg Brown Rice Organic Rice Cake, Quaker Lightly Salted Rice Cake. RICE PASTA: Annie Chun’s Maifun Rice Noodles. RICE FLOUR: Arrowhead Mills Organic White and Goya Enriched. RICE DRINKS: Pacific Rice Low Fat Plain Beverage and Rice Dream Classic Original Rice Drink. RICE VINEGAR: Asian Gourmet Plain.

So what’s all that say . . . well, that we shouldn’t eat as much rice as we thought we could. Eat white rice. Be extra careful about feeding rice products to infants. Pregnant moms should be extra careful too.

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