Wednesday, September 21, 2011

MYOSITIS AWARENESS DAY

I have to post a special column, today. After you read it, you might be wondering What is she talking about? Please follow this link:

http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=a00198


About 4 years ago today, I was in full relapse with Dermatomyositis. I'd spent the previous 2 years struggling back from absolute weakness-- the inability to stand, wash, dress, leave a chair or the house without help, among other things. In those 2 years of healing I'd developed 'moon face' and a blood clot from the treatments, lost my income, social life and all casual friendships, and had amassed a pile of medical bills I couldn't pay.

Hubby-man & I moved to back my hometown of Buffalo NY, thinking I was finally in remission. I'd planned on getting a job or two and then gradually starting my own business. But I caught a cold somewhere on the way from Indianapolis to Buffalo that lasted a month, and in a few weeks, found myself unable to unpack the boxes and set up our new home properly. The second income we'd counted on, didn't happen-- I could barely walk a few feet, much less drive or get a job. My health insurance from hubby-man's job hadn't kicked in yet, either.

I was forced to apply for help and have myself declared disabled, at 43, so that we wouldn't become homeless. 4 years later, my progress towards health has been slower. I'm still not back to where I was when I moved, and even then, I had bad days of fatigue and other symptoms.

Now, at this moment, I've been taking steroids for the better part of 6 years. I'm in a pre-diabetic state from the meds, and my blood pressure, once excellent, ranges into hypertension any time I'm not extremely careful with my diet. I've been a semi-shut in for most of my forties. I still have a mountain of unpaid bills, and every month we struggle to meet our basic needs.

I know I will probably never be able to go back to my old plans. I know I will have to go through this horrible process again-- feeling better, putting my life together, and having it pulled away from me. That's what having Myositis has done for me, and I don't have anywhere near the worst case-- I'm luckier than many.

What I've done with Myositis is to take stock of my time, and learn how to spend it better. Some of it I spend helping families that need it. Some of it I spend writing: three novels and hundreds of songs so far... something I didn't have much time to do when I worked three jobs. That's what we do-- make the best of it.

Because having any form of Myositis puts you through the School of Hard Knocks. This is long, and I apologize. Yet I've left out so many things, so many losses. There's no words for the emotional, the mental pains that come with this yo-yo pattern of illness and false gains/temporary recovery. And there's no cure, yet.

Learn about it, please. Then we might have a chance at a cure. I appreciate you taking the time to read this.




Peace, Mari

Friday, September 16, 2011

Chili Autumn Days? Bake Some Cornbread...

It's cool and sunny in Buffland today, perfect chili weather. And to my mind, you CANNOT have chili without a nice bread alongside, and my choice 99 times out of 100 is cornbread.

There are so many recipes I've tried, but after a couple decades I haven't found one better and more adaptable than Marilyn Moore's Buttermilk Cornbread. It shifts as it needs to fit my mood, my pantry leftovers and the soup or chili I'm serving it with... my only problem is, there's hardly ever any left for the next day! And it's a huge hit with vegheads and meatheads alike.


Buttermilk Corn Bread

Adapted slightly from The Wooden Spoon Bread Book by Marilyn Moore


Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Grease a 9x12-inch glass baking dish*. Sift together and set aside:

2 C unbleached flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp salt

Beat together in a large bowl:

2 eggs
3/4 C sugar
2 C buttermilk
1/4 C (half stick) melted butter, slightly cooled
1 C stone ground yellow cornmeal (I like Bob's Red Mill Medium Coarse Grind)
2/3 C cooked & drained or fresh corn kernels, optional

Sift the dry ingredients into the buttermilk mixture. Mix gently, fold in corn kernels. Turn into prepared pan. Bake at 400 F for 25-30 minutes, or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Serve warm or room temp with chili, soup or salad**. Makes 12 servings.

*I use a 10-inch iron skillet or a square pan and some muffin tins.

This recipe works almost no matter what you do to it-- out of buttermilk? Use milk/soymilk with some a tsp of vinegar or lemon juice in it, or mostly milk and a little yogurt or sour cream. You can use oil instead of butter, too, but butter is the BEST.

You can cut the sugar by 1/4 C without problems. As is, it is slightly sweet and very moist. It keeps well if airtight for a couple of days.

Add fresh herbs and a little chopped tomato, scatter small cubes of cream cheese on the top. Or grate 1/3 C carrots or zucchini or apple into it, and add some spice if you like. Add grated cheeses and oregano. Substitute 1/4 C Whole Wheat flour for an equal amount of unbleached. Or forgo the corn kernels, add chopped nuts and a little maple syrup, and decrease the sugar a little. It is just a delicious and easy to make cornbread.

[NOTE-- I don't sift, personally, just stir the flour before measuring and then lightly spoon it into the cup.]


**I remember when the old Buffalo Rome restaurant at Elmwood & Hodge used to have an unsweetened, Southern style cornbread on the menu-- they served it with fresh tomato salsa and raw sliced moons of red onion. It was dynamite, and this bread tastes good served the same way, even if you don't decrease the sugar.

Whatever way you try it, it's satsfying and 1000 times better than the boxed mix stuff. And it's quickly put together-- I'm making it now, and going out to PeopleArt Coffeehouse for this season's Open Mic night later.

I wish a you beautiful fall evening! Peace, Mari

Thursday, September 8, 2011

The More Things Change...

The more we want to eat the same. There's never a lack of new restaurants destined to close within two years, here. Enthusiastic entrepreneurs open their sub shops, pizza parlors, ethnic restaurants and diners with high hopes.

Hopes that are too high, actually. More than ten years ago, I read in a trade journal that the minimum cost for opening a successful restaurant that would last beyond five years was 2 million dollars. And it's a given that a restaurant needs to be able to operate at least two years firmly in the red if it's going to make it. That's a helluva lot of capital to acquire, and you can see from a brief history of our area that such advice goes unheeded. I'm remembering the lovely Coffee & Tarot place on Delaware Ave. that closed after barely a few years, to be replaced by a pizza joint that lasted, oh, just over a year, I think.

It's not a horrible location, but it doesn't stand out to the eye, either. And though I visited both incarnations several times each, I still can't recall the name of the cross-street. Which says to me that even though there's a decent parking lot behind it, this place isn't gonna fly as an eatery unless there is major time for it to become entrenched in the local viewfinder, and a majorly good product/service as well.

Sad. That's just one corner of Delaware Avenue... If we looked at Main Street near Winspear, we'd have too many sad tales to tell of sub shops closed, hopes and bank accounts drained. The problem is, folks, you have to have more than a few great recipes and some moxy to make a lasting impression on the Buffalo food scene. You need experience in running front and back of house, working both too. A great location is paramount. But above all, you have to have operating capital; it gives you time to work out the kinks.

For those of us not interested in prepping, but just in eating, there's a clear message: get it Now, before it's gone. If you've been meaning to check out the Palace of Dosas, El Palenque, Falafel Bar, do it. Enjoy it while you can.

And don't forget the old standbys that may be just barely standing by--- I'm sure the neighborhood people thought The Cameo restaurant would never close, but it did. Who knows when the next long cherished taste will disappear? Whether it's a bakery you love, a sweet shop, or the place you know you can always get a great sandwich, don't take it for granted-- eat something good tonight!

Peace, Mari

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Tried and Tweaked Thursday-- Stoned Fruit

Peaches, that is, and plums. We haven't gotten freestone, yet, but they're coming, the gal at the FM assures me.

Maybe the West Coast had their peaches in July, but we're getting ripe local peaches now, and it's just in time to bake them into pie or peach cake with our heatwave subsiding. Mixing the seasonal offerings by sticking peaches in an oatmeal cake is always good, but then so is peach ice cream.

However you eat them, have as many as you can, while you can. I'm up to two a day, and Saturday I found not only the average fuzzy orbs but also white peaches at our village FM. Outstanding.

Speaking of West Coast, we are working on having a guest blogger from Cali soon, so be sure to check back for that... it's going to be a treat.

While we're talking treats, there's a breakfast dish we all (meaning hubby-man, I, and any small children that happen to be around that day) think of as a treat, and look forward to.

Yes, it's oatmeal. But it's better than average oatmeal, far better in taste and health profile than either those tiny organic cups you zap in the office microwave or those hideously high in sugar and sodium packets you need two of to make a decent bowlful. Compared to Peach Oats Brulee, that stuff isn't even food. And now that September is here for real, this recipe is back in rotation.

I originally took it from Moosewood Restaurant: New Classics, by The Moosewood Collective. And the method they use is wonderful: old-fashioned oats, such as you can buy at Aldi's for less than $2/very large container, cooked on the stove for a few minutes in boiling peach juice, then baked in the oven and finally topped with a little butter and brown sugar that is broiled into a slightly crunchy coating. Marvelous, but does require about 40 minutes or so of cooking and prep, which doesn't work when you have to have breakfast on the table at 3:45 am.

I tweaked it for the slowcooker for overnight cooking. Switched out broiling for microwaving the topping-laden bowl, although that's not strictly necessary. Realized that fresh peaches on top or cooked along with the oats were a welcome addition. As is, when you want spice, a touch of cinnamon or ginger thrown in.
MMMM.

Not saying we never do the baked version-- we do, when it's cold enough to welcome turning on the oven to warm the kitchen, and we have a relaxed morning to enjoy the whole deal. It's not exactly a tough dish either way. But sometimes, when you have to be up early, you need an extra reason to crawl out of bed. A precooked wholesome gourmet-flavor breakfast is one good reason.

PEACH OATS BRULEE Adapted for the slowcooker from Moosewood's New Classics


Equipment: 1 1/2-2 qt. mini slowcooker, and a wooden spoon.

Ingredients

about 2-2 1/2 C whole oats: old-fashioned oatmeal, not quick oats*

4 C peach juice**

2-3 Tbsp unsalted butter or your favorite substitute, divided

2 Tbsp brown sugar, for topping

Diced peaches for topping/cooking, optional

Turn on slowcooker to low. Add 1 Tbsp butter to bottom of cooker.

Read directions on your box of oats to determine how much you need: I use the same ratio of water/juice to oats that they specify for regular cooking, plus a smidge extra 'cause I like it less creamy. This works to about 2, 2 1/2 C oats to 4 C juice for my 1 1/2 qt cooker. So put in the juice before the oats, put in the smaller amount of oats, and just make sure that they come up about halfway-- add a little more if they don't.

Add 1/2 C peaches, or chopped dried apricots if you like, and put the cover on the cooker. Cook overnight, or for 6-8 hours.

In the morning, give a good stir to the oatmeal, and adjust the texture if needed.*** At this point, you can either throw the remaining butter and the brown sugar on top in the slowcooker, cover a moment and let it melt, or you can dole out bowls and add the toppings evenly (butter first, then sugar) and stick them each in the zapper for about 20 seconds or so. Eat happily, no milk required or desired here.

Serves 3-4, by our helpings.


Mari's Notes

*You can use quick oats in a pinch, but you'll need more-- add an extra 1/4 C after you get the oats measured up as it says above. Or you could go the other way and use Steel-cut oats, in which case you'll need somewhat more oats than the package recipe calls for. I use a hefty 1 1/2 C oats-to-4 C -juice for steel-cut.

** I use Welch's Peach Medley because it's widely available and inexpensive; any of their peach blends would be fine. Of course, After the Fall, or any other peach blend, works well too.

What also works is Dole's Peach/Pineapple/Orange blend, though it's a brighter, tangier taste. And to completely change the flavor, use apple juice or cider along with some Apple Pie Spice and chopped fresh apples or chopped walnuts on top. Same measurements as above. MMMM.

***All slowcookers have their own heat settings, and differently stored oats soak up different amounts of liquid, so the first time you make this, give yourself an extra few minutes before you need to serve, so you can adjust the texture to your liking, for your cooker.

If it's a bit too liquid as is, grab a handful of oats and rub them smaller, then add to the cooker and stir. Cook on high for five mintues, and you should be able to proceed with toppings as usual. Or you can throw in a cup of prepared granola or other whole-grained cereal to absorb the extra juice, stir and proceed as usual. Ground flax seed is also a great thickener, so you could add a few Tbsp of that and let it thicken for a few minutes before getting on with the toppings.

If the oatmeal seems too dry instead of fluffy and creamy, add a few Tbsp hot water, stir in, and let cook a few more minutes.
The next time, you'll have a better idea how your cooker works with oats.

Do feel free to send in your favorite ways to soak up September... I'd love to hear it.

Happy September 1st! Peace, Mari