Sunday, June 9, 2013

Healing Foods and Retro Cheesecake.

 At the end of May, I had my baby-making equipment forcibly removed for my health-- on Wednesday, May 29-- and didn't get to eat anything but broth & juice until late Friday morning. In fact I went for over 35 hours on nothing but a few ice chips towards the end of that time frame. Though I'd been told the food at Sisters Hospital on Main was good even if you were vegetarian, I didn't feel like sticking around long enough to really find out.

 Instead, since I was doing amazingly well for a person with an auto-immune disease after a major operation, I came home and had half a veggie sub. And my family has been bringing me food ever since-- sprouted quinoa and roasted vegetables with a tub of peach sorbet from my niece, soup and some burgers for the hubby-man from my mom, lasagna and chili and muffins and more from my big sister, pretty and tasty chive heads from my younger sis (and I'm looking forward to her spicy black bean burgers soon).

 I've felt so much better for these meals, made with love and forethought, brought as needed and given with care.  My body began to try to act normally pretty quick under the influence of such good stuff. Every day has brought more movement, less discomfort. And it's healing just to know that I don't have to rely on takeout when I'm too tired to cook, which happens at least every other day. Knowing that the hubby-man has food to get him through the worst of it helps too-- I can take a nap during the day without worrying that he'll starve through his workweek because I was resting like I'm supposed to. I can shop the fridge instead of making him go shopping when he's had a full day.

 Both family and friends have done other wonderful things for me: brought me books to read and magazines to enjoy, flowers to scent the house. They've run errands and done laundry and  it's overwhelming. I've gotten visits and cards and gifts in the mail, a pedicure while I was in the hospital and a pot of fully mature herbs to use when I feel up to cooking. All of this, bolstered by the food, had made a giant difference. You wouldn't believe how short a time it's been since the surgery, if you saw me walking around doing dishes today. That's how lucky I am in my choice of surgeons and my bounty of loved ones. That's how powerful a gift of healthful food can be.

 I felt so well and good yesterday, I cooked a whole meal-- sloppy lentils (okay, they're super easy), veg in sauce, baked potatoes and a retro cheesecake, the soft creamy kind I never had in childhood. This is the kind that starts with a can of sweetened condensed milk, an item rarely found in my kitchen; but I remembered having bought one some time back as I was leafing through a recently acquired dessert cookbook, and there was a recipe for that creamy, fluffy unbaked cheesecake, topped with cherry pie filling. For once, it sounded good. Maybe that's a natural side effect of reading four dessert cookbooks in a row.

 It was not a success but not a total failure. Being so easy, you'd wonder how it could get screwed up, and I'll tell you: I used a food processor to mix the whole thing, instead of a mixer as specified. Even using less liquid and more chill time, I ended up with more a cheesecake-flavored spoon pudding than a cheesecake. The upside is, it tastes good, and I've found out now that the Baker's Corner cherry pie filling, sold at Aldi's, is the best canned filling ever. Not too sweet, it seems to be made from sour cherries and has a deep, tart fruity flavor. Worth the cost of the cheesecake experiment for sure! Though I'm putting the failure all on myself and my use of modern methods, the cookbook/recipe was so old I can't be certain that the relative leanness of our contemporary dairy products isn't partly to blame, so I won't share this recipe until I've tried it again as written and had more success.

 Not to be satisfied with a pudding, I've stuck the bulk of the cheesecake mess in the freezer, and we'll see if we get a cheesecake-y frozen dessert** for the effort.

 Because sometimes sweets are healing, too.

Thanks to all my family, here and in Indiana, and my friends all over the world, for your gifts, help, and kind thoughts-- it's working!

  Have a delicious week. Peace,


**Yes, we did. Freezing this baby made it so good, I might do that every time.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Heat of the Moment-- Red Sangria

 In my office, there's a sweet breeze. I'm at the table that serves as a desk having red beans and rice, and chilling a gift of raspberry vodka to make one twisted, perfect Cosmo.

 You have to have some way to beat the heat. Mine is throwing some easy food in the mini-crockpot and looking forward to a great cocktail in the yard later. In hot weather, a single, wonderful chilled drink does it for me better than a pitcher of cheap beer; but a pitcher of Sangria is not to be spurned.
 Below is one we tried recently, and enjoyed.

 I've always preferred Sangria made without soda of any sort, and this one fills the bill. It does require a simple syrup, which I made in the cool of morning, which is the best time to get any cooking done these days even if you, unlike us, have AC.

 By the end of a hot day, no one really wants to cook. Do all your chopping and such as soon as you get up, and by evening you'll feel like a genius for having made your own life so easy. You'll also love having a glass of this fruity Sangria with your easy dinner. If you need something stronger, hop over to the Cocktail Lady's blog, and look through her past year's cocktail recipe entries-- there's sure to be something you'll enjoy. Just reading through a week's worth of cocktails has a mellowing effect.

I have, of course, tweaked the original recipe a bit, just to suit my taste. It was overly sweet for me otherwise, and I like lots of fruit.

Red Sangria

Friday, May 3, 2013

Changing lanes-- grocery lanes! The Update.

  As foretold in past posts, I have shifted around my shopping habits, going into new stores for new foods, trying to look at our daily meals with a fresh eye. There's been some success and some falling back on takeout, though mainly that happens when I'm sick. But I've been sick often since January.

  One neat thing is, when forced by sheer necessity to visit my old stomping grounds at Aldi's and Dash early in the experiment, I found myself taking a new approach, buying different foods for different meals than usual. That makes rejigging your diet easier-- what is hard, is to let habitual purchases fall by the wayside so you're not buying new things at the same time as you stock up on all your boring go-to meals, which will end up displacing the fresh ideas you had, costing you twice as much weekly and eventually leaving you with a cupboard of expired inspiration.

 On the CLBB, we have ways of dealing with this cupboard. We have pantry cleanout challenges to use up the odd ingredients, or we each ask "What do I do with ---?" and collect the recipes that other experienced cooks share in sympathy. They've all been there, they know the drill.

 Problem is, I can't afford this leftover approach. I say this knowing there is a bag of raw peanuts and a jar of vine leaves lurking in my own cupboard, mocking me by their very presence. Not to mention the last of the green tapioca beads I bought in the Asian grocery, (which I have discovered are quite a pain to cook) and the mini-cupcake liners I never used for truffles after all.

 Staples like eggs, milk, bread or flour, cheese, juice, apples, carrots, nuts-- all of these items are higher priced now than they were when I moved back to Buffalo six years ago. Even for those who don't buy almond milk, cage-free vegetarian eggs, whole-grained or gluten-free flours, organic carrots. The prices will continue to climb, and what can we do? Try to make more and more money?

 Even that won't be enough, someday not too far away. There will be shortages, there is a need for a change in our food production systems. Right now, the cost of eating cleaner and more compassionately is being pushed onto those least able to bear that cost. You and I, the poor and infirm, the weak and helpless among us, the deliberately weakened animals born to a short life of hideous cruelty and a vile, protracted death. And the food we eat is less nourishing by degrees, more hurtful than helpful. This hasn't been going on for as long as it seems, either-- the same meals that nourished my grandmother to a sprightly 88, have caused or contributed to a veritable chaos of health in most of my generation of the family. And we ate fresh food, prepared from scratch, from childhood. Yet my mother and my two older sisters have had cancer. Myself, my younger sister, my niece, several cousins raised with us, all have chronic illnesses.

 The top six people at Tyson don't care, nor do the gods of Monsanto; and they don't share our burden. The people that live as vastly as kings, are also the people that run the media sources that make you and I feel terrible for buying juice we can afford for our kids. They want you to point to yourself when the question of where and how the fruit for that juice is grown comes up, they want YOU and I to identify with the hapless  growers and pickers and packers whose back-breaking labor is barely paid for, those countries full of people that cannot grow most of their own food anymore because our top corporations have purchased the land for us, spraying it indiscriminately with toxins that hurt everyone and everything. Those kings of industry, those top people, those media whores want you and I to shuffle guiltily between Walmart and the Co-op, making ourselves crazy and poor trying to solve the world's problems while they shovel images of the good life we can never have at us through the ads in Rachel Ray Everyday.

 And we have to do it; we have to stand against the worst that we see, we have to fight from a small base, making inroads as we can.

 I have my own plans for this, growing slowly and not-so-surely. But they won't show up much here in June, my friends. I'm having a hysterectomy at the end of May, and I won't be doing much cooking or shopping come June! So this blog will be on a limited hiatus, from June to sometime in July. Afterwards, it is hoped, my summer obsession with the farmers' market will spur me to inspired creations that I can post here to delight you.

 If you would like to write a guest post, though, during my off time or anytime this summer, please let me know! With recipes or without, it will be a welcome change. Meantime, expect a post or two before my June Hiatus.

 Have a lovely weekend!


Tuesday, April 9, 2013

You Gotta Feed the Monkey...

  As a woman that became a full-time professional salaried nanny at the age of 18, and worked as one for most of the 25+ years since, I've become acquainted with my fair share of picky eaters.

 The battle of the table is a hard one to win, and often one of the primary frustrations of new parents and nannies alike. There are few issues that can be both so silly and so worrisome at the same time; and table troubles can have a lasting impact on more than the way your children will eat as adults.

 What happens too often is that parents and other caretakers, in an effort to make sure the kids are reasonably nourished, become short order cooks in their own kitchens, slaving away for love at a job they would never, now, do for money. And it gets worse and worse, instead of better, as children get used to being literally catered to!

 Enough. It isn't healthy for any child to think that the world revolves around them-- and most children will eat at least some of the healthy food they see their parents and other adults actually eating.

 Don't give in to boxed organic junk food, 10-times-a-day snacking, and don't give in to the frantic need to make sure your child has eaten enough, if it means you are jumping up and cooking three meals in sequence several times per day. Aren't there better things you could all be doing? Here's how, tried and true, culled from decades of experience in creating, and correcting, poor eating habits.

1. Put out a small meal or snack with no more than three items, including one thing your kid/kids usually will eat. This goes for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and maybe one of two daily snacks-- though at snack time, the selection should be smaller- 1-2 foods.

2. Sit down and eat with them, even if you have to leave after a few minutes. This makes more of a difference than you know, if you're into the habit of flying around doing other things while your kids scramble your brain with requests for more, different, better. When I stopped using snack time as a chance to catch up on side work, like emptying the dishwasher, the kids ate better consistently, and we all felt ready for that next play session.

3. Get out of the meal zone fast, after serving one meal or snack only-- do not cater to different tastes too much, do not worry if the meal doesn't get eaten. Instead, have a healthy something or other packed in a bag that they don't know about; have them quickly help you clean up a bit and then get out of the house or at least the kitchen, and play or read with the kiddos. When the little darling that wouldn't eat their oatmeal is starved and moaning about it, offer them that piece of fruit or cheese chunk or red pepper strip that you have socked away, and if they're really hungry, they will eat it. if not, I assure, they aren't going to starve to death.

4. Realize that no change comes instantly, and healthy eating is a time investment that pays off long. So make it fun, by letting them help grow and prepare some of their own healthy foods. Make it interesting, by having frequent picnics in odd places and at odd times, like a snow picnic I shared with some kiddos in front of a museum one winter's day; or a castle feast in their own playroom, with pictures of jugglers and performing lions that we drew and colored first, then hung with painter's tape on the walls for atmosphere, along with some scarf "tapestries." Last of all, make it a habit by eating well, most of the time, yourself. If you don't know the difference between a treat and an everyday food, neither will they.

 Here are the NOTS-- and they do become knotty problems difficult to solve, if you're not careful to avoid these typical parental/grandparent pitfalls.

1. Don't ask your kids what they want to eat for most meals-- they're not supposed to be raising themselves, making their own food choices and incidentally, your food budget choices along with. That's your job-- you are the one with superior discretion, an understanding of good nutrition and its effects over time, and the master of your own time budget, too. It's okay to give them a chance to participate in meal planning once in a while, but not often.

2. When offering a choice of snacks or other foods, give only two options, and NEVER give a completely open choice** -- small children aren't capable of making that kind of wise choice, and will tend to become fussier, confused, and harder to please, merely because you have left a big, big decision to their tiny minds. Instead, give them one option they often enjoy, and one you hope they might enjoy, and have tried with mixed results. And make sure, after they haven't taken that particular choice, to offer it again regularly, but not so constantly that it draws resistance from being overdone.
That's a classic move from impatience. You have to be the one to be patient, it's not their job.

 And if you do the same for other choices, like toys, books, music and games, you will gradually find your kids becoming more easily satisfied and less fussy. Kids need boundaries to thrive and learn, and this is one often overlooked way of setting reasonable limits, a way that helps provide security for them, as they absorb the comfort of knowing that you are in charge. That's what they really want and need, so give it to them, and let them get on with the real business of childhood-- learning and having fun, instead of making all the important decisions they are not yet prepared for.

3. Don't offer treats on a daily basis-- that means fruit rollups, Pirate Booty, and crackers, as well as candy and soda and cupcakes. These are junk foods, and shouldn't be part of your kids' daily diets. It doesn't matter if the corn was grown by monks and hasn't been near a chemical, it's still cheesy popcorn, it's still junk, just slightly healthier junk. A half PB& J made with fruit spread at least has some protein, and high-quality carbs if made on whole-grained bread. Fresh fruit, or a handful of dried, makes a reasonable serving of natural sugars, whereas fruit leathers give far more sugar per serving, and less fiber, than say, half a peeled apple or a 1/3 cup of melon chunks. They're less filling, too, leading to the need for more, more, more. Real food satisfies in more than one way-- junk satisfies taste buds only, while dulling them to the nuances of good, fresh food.

 Let's talk nuts and bolts, now, real foods for real kids. From the very beginning, offer wholesome whole grains, fresh fruit and veggies, chunks of plain soft tofu, (prepared gently and without seasoning or toppings. Cooked oatmeal or other whole grains should be a standard breakfast, with small amounts of natural sweetener like molasses, agave or real maple syrup, along with wholesome toppings. Soup or sandwiches make good breakfasts too; don't get fooled by advertisers that sweetened cold cereal is the best morning fuel. Lunches can be anything from a cold veggie plate, with hummus or spinach dip, to cooked rice and beans, to blended soups or smoothies and some fresh muffins or bread, or pasta salads. Try to offer some protein, some quality carb and some fresh veg or fruit (or both) at each meal. Nut milks, for those not allergic, make a great starting point for a quick soup or smoothie, and they have enough nutrition and heft on their own to be a substantial part of a child's meal.

Here's a few things you can make for snacks or small meals, that please kids and seem treaty when they aren't: artfully carved veg like tomato roses, carrot curls, hearts and other shapes carved from cuke or pepper sides; savory whole-wheat biscotti or biscuits (with cheese, sun-dried tomato snips, or pine nuts for more interest), fruit salads that have a little veg in them (like carrot shreds, tiny cubes of seeded tomato or cuke or zucchini), and nut butters with grated apple on pita triangles.

 By the time your child is one and a half at the latest, they should start to eat what you eat for dinner, minus overly spicy, or choky, fibrous foods. Get a food mill and use it when needed, to mash up what you're having into a digestible offering. Then keep a variety of fresh fruits, vegetables and cheese, bean dips or yogurt handy for snacks to fill in the cracks.

 Kids will often eat something raw, like pepper strips, that they won't eat cooked. Or sometimes, it's the other way around! Our perception of snack food doesn't have to be theirs-- be more creative and watch them eat healthier without issue. Stir fry or lightly sauté veggies with a tiny pinch of salt and offer at room temp. Throw the cherry tomatoes you'd thought they eat raw into a pan just long enough to soften slightly. And don't be afraid to gloss cooked veggies at dinner with a little butter and/or honey-- after decades of experimentation, I've found that it's better to get kids eating veg with a little fat than not eating them at all. My mother got us to ADORE cauliflower, broccoli, carrots, spinach-- all by serving them cooked tender-crisp and dotting them with a little butter and salt. To this day, I prefer vegetables to sweets.

 For years, I followed parent rules and gave children plain cooked broccoli, and watched them reject it-- parents have reason to be concerned about fat consumption, but the little bit of interest fat adds to veg, isn't where to cut it out of. When I started cooking vegetables at work the way I'd had them in childhood, lo and behold, more kids started eating more veg more easily. Besides, small children really do need fat for brain development, among other things; a severely low-fat diet doesn't produce healthy kids. Cut out the sugar, which they truly don't need.

 Well, aside from the notes below, this is probably enough to get most parents feeling a little insecure and defensive-- but please, don't be. We all make mistakes feeding kids, we all mean well, and we can all make changes for the better. Be patient, with yourself and them, and don't forget that kids are easily distracted-- use it! When they fuss about their meal, tell a joke and then pass the peas. Take them away from the table and do something else for a while. But don't make deals, don't serve them dessert instead of good food, and don't let yourself become a full-time chef in your own home.

 Peace, and a peaceful mealtime to you, Mari

 A young friend  of mine, enjoying brekkie.

**This goes double for restaurant meals-- You should look at the menu, choose two things, and offer the kids the choice, before the server comes to take your order, not while she's there.

 Not adhering to this simple rule is one of the primary sins of annoyance parents commit in restaurants, that drives servers and other patrons insane and practically guarantees bad service for everyone. A side benefit of limiting menu choices is, your family becomes welcome at all restaurants you patronize, because the employees know you're not going to waste their time asking little Johnny what he wants to eat and then arguing with him, while the rest of their customers are waiting and hungry. It's good childcare and good restaurant etiquette.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Going Wild with Onions

 As I was sitting in my kitchen office, watching the lovely sunshine illuminate the utterly unlovely back lawn as revealed by melted snow, I felt the need of some uplifting flavor to keep up my Spring Awakening, and thought about making this bread from Brother Juniper.

 Wild Rice and Onion Bread is a treasure of a recipe. It's both comforting and crisp, with an aroma as it bakes that draws people into the kitchen, hungry looks on their faces. One slice is never enough. It's beyond tried and true-- I've shared it with friends, many places, and then watched my friends share it too. Easy but delicious, with a crisp crackly crust and a soulful flavor that needs no adornment.

 Rolls from this dough are wonderful, or a nice round loaf, decoratively slashed; but frankly I've taken to making long baguettes of it, in order to enjoy more of that savory crust! And the bread is gorgeous to see, speckled with grains that peek out from the crust. The savor and texture of the onion and rice make a for a fresh, hopeful almost-spring nosh.

WILD RICE AND ONION BREAD  from Brother Juniper's Bread Book--
                                                                       Slow Rise as Method and Metaphor, by Peter Reinhart

(Adapted slightly by Amvyn from the CLBB. Thanks, Amy!)

8 C unbleached high-gluten, bread, or all-purpose flour
1/3 C chopped dried onions or 1 C diced fresh onions
1/3 C brown sugar
2 Tbsp instant yeast or 2 1/2 dry active yeast, proofed in 4 Tbsp warm water
1 1/2 Tbsp sea salt
1 C cooked & cooled wild rice blend
1/3 C buttermilk
1 1/2 C warm water

Mix all the dried ingredients, including the yeast and rice, in a bowl, then add the liquid ingredients, reserving a little water for later for adjustments during kneading. Turn the dough out onto a floured counter and knead for 10-12 minutes, or until dough is elastic, unified and tacky but not sticky.

Return dough to a clean bowl, cover with a damp towel or plastic wrap, and slip the bowl into a plastic bag. Put it in a warm spot. Allow between 45 minutes to 1 1/2 hours for dough to rise/double.

Shape as desired, into 2 loaves or a loaf and rolls, place in greased pans, cover and let rise again, allowing 45-60 minutes for rising. Cut a star pattern in the top, or for rolls, brush with an egg wash made of 1 egg beaten with 1/2 C water. This is a good idea if making baguette, too.

Bake in a preheated 350 degree F oven, for approximately 45 minutes-- rolls will take 12-15 minutes. These loaves are best if sprayed with cold water frequently during the first 10 minutes of baking to make the crust brittle. Cool thoroughly on wire racks before cutting. Makes 2 round loaves, or about medium 15 rolls.
 Serve with soup, or with sandwich makings, or on its own, though a glass of wine would be sooo happy sitting next to a slice of this bread.

 Keep those thoughts of Spring coming! Peace, Mari

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

5 Thrifty Things

Here are five thrifty little ways to use what is in your house, right now, to eat better.

 1. STEMS--

  Don't toss the stems of parsley, cilantro or mint. Tie them with kitchen string or throw them onto a tea ball and let them simmer in whatever you're cooking, to infuse with their flavor after you've used all the leafy parts. In fact, cilantro stems are so tender to start with, you can chop them very fine and use as you would celery, to add flavor and a slight crunch to soups, sautes, chili.

2. ZEST--

 I may have said this before, but I'll repeat it now: citrus fruits are precious and wonderful, especially to those of us in cold climes, so don't throw out the rind. Peel off the washed skin of any and all citrus in irregular sections with a paring knife, and freeze in a ziploc bag or (my choice) freezer container, for up to 6 months. You can take it out of the freezer and use as you would fresh, without thawing. Whether you're making a salad dressing, a sauce, baked goods, a drink, etc., it works perfectly.

3. GO NUTS--

 When you're down to the end of the bag of almonds: a couple handfuls of nuts are just the thing to grind and use to thicken a stew, add to a sandwich filling, use in a dressing for fruit salad. Chop instead and mix with a dash each of cinnamon and cumin, and scatter over chili, curry, rice, a smoothie. Use whole in pasta sauce (sauteed first for a nuttier punch), or to change up your usual fajita vegetables or burrito fillings. Or simply toast in a dry pan with a pinch of sugar or salt and shake of dried spice, then top your next salad with more flavor and nutrition than croutons provide.

4.  POT of GOLD--

 As in lentils (really the red ones cook up as golden-orangey). Or try black, navy pea, dark red kidney, pinto, or some of Rancho Gordo's exotic items, but cook up a big pot of beans on the weekend or any time. Using a slowcooker makes it convenient to cook them while you're busy living, and having them on hand in the fridge means you have a meal starter, adaptable to nearly any ethnic cuisine. You'll be able to whip up an Indian feast of lentils and spinach, pinto and potato curry, or Tex-Mex, Greek, Italian or Southern meals. Coming home to prepped beans makes dinner at least 60% easier for me, and usually has the benefit of making me feel more creative, too, knowing I'm not starting from zero.


 The brine or oil leftover from your last jar of olives, pickles, marinated peppers or artichokes, is NOT garbage-- it's flavor you've already purchased. Don't toss it! Instead, trim and shred/julienne carrots or zucchini, or cukes, or slice onions or peppers, and immerse them in the fluid for several hours to overnight. Now you have homemade pickled veg to perk up a salad, saute or salsa. If using pickle juice, add extra vinegar to lower the overall salt content, and to make it go farther. Also, don't hesitate to try hard pears, lemon rind, or lightly cooked root vegetables. Flavor-boosted veg, almost instantly. It keeps for a week or more before it starts to be visually unappealing. Diced, these tasty gems are nice on top of hot or cold soups, in stews, mashed into a topping for crakers or bruschetta, or simply served on a plate for a pre-meal nibble.

 It's been a weird winter, but I feel Spring rising up. Good eating to you, friends.


Friday, January 11, 2013

Tried & Tweaked Thursday, Gone Bad.

During my first solid year of 100 % veghead living, I wasn't frantic as some get, since I'd long been used to eating veg-centric meals; but I did want to increase my repertoire, if only to have a better chance at pleasing my picky-eater of a partner. He still ate meat, and I wasn't wild about making the whole meal-with-meat-on-the-side thing happen every damn day. In those days we frequently had dinner guests, too, and I was determined to show them all that plant-based food was not going to leave them starved and unsatisfied. In Indianapolis, saying I was vegetarian was often taken to mean I dined only on salad, tofu, and a side of self-righteous anger.

So I stretched out, subscribed to some new food mags, and went on a deep search of my old cookbooks for overlooked recipes. In Rose Elliot's Complete Vegetarian, I discovered a world of easy, adaptable recipes that didn't strain a grocery budget. There were fancy mains, inventive and classic salads, sauces I'd never dreamt of, and simple, pleasing family-style dishes like Veggie Hotpot. This was a casserole of sliced potatoes, layered with some chopped veg and a walnut-studded tomato sauce, flavored with oregano. The kind of fireside comfort food best served with a plain green vegetable side and maybe some rolls.

Once we tried it, and it passed muster, I made it again and again, learning to slant it towards whatever flavor mood I was in. As written, it was a great and easy meal for a busy university student (as I was at the time), because I could throw it together in minutes after coming home from my last class and then stick it in the oven while I wrote papers, read chapters, or did laundry.

Back then I mostly chunked the potatoes, and often used jarred salsa in place of the chopped tomatoes-- still a good way to go. I rarely bothered to pre-cook the taters, preferring to add more liquid (like a cup of vino and a splash of soy sauce), so that they would just cook through while adding their starch and absorbing enough of the liquid to make the sauce, well, saucy.

 Yesterday, when I opened the old book to refresh my memory, I decided on another tweak-- one I've done in the past, though it's been years. I mashed the potatoes, along with a rutabaga. And layered everything with some leftover cheese fondue (otherwise, it's a perfectly vegan dish) and served it bubbling hot to my (current and final) hubby-man.

 Who hated it. In fact, he said it was "bland and depressing," which I didn't agree with or even understand. He clarified for me, saying it tasted like something you'd feed an orphan in a Dickens novel. Not the reaction I was hoping for. I spent the evening calling him Dick Whittington (not actually from Dickens), but was crushed anyhow.

 I make it a policy not to share things here that haven't garnered a good response from others, so I won't share this recipe yet, not till I've gotten my zing back and found a version that is LOVED. But I feel it's possibly helpful for others to note that we all make cooking mistakes, have failures. And I am enjoying the leftovers, and would disagree heartily with my man's assessment. Taste varies, and we can't get around that sometimes.

 Maybe I'm just attracted to picky guys. Peace, Mari

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Refreshment: Changing the Way We Shop

During a time of year that many are making resolutions to eat differently, I'm finding a need to shop differently, too, hoping to combat a growing problem. It's an issue we've all encountered, I believe--

 I've been going stale in the kitchen.

 Low income, outside pressures and the will-o-the-wisp palate of my hubby-man have combined lately, giving me a less-than-enthusiastic outlook on our daily diet. THIS is hard to face, coming from a person that loves cooking and eating more than almost any other activities. And when I'm not actively cooking or eating, I'm reading about them. Yet when it comes time to make dinner, I've felt stalled, bored, dull. Wishing someone would just come and feed me for a week; but feed me with nutritious, fresh food such as I dream of making in my best moments.

 The dream is there; but when you're in the grocery store you've been going to for years, the same products sit on the same shelves (and I bitch crazily if they move those shelves around too often!!!) and you find yourself responding to your same budget by buying the same old things.

 Tough to break cost-related food habits, isn't it? Well, I tried by adding a few new items, intending to make stuffed grape leaves, soy spread, whatever... and so I have an unused jar of vine leaves taking up cupboard space, and a year-old packet of organic soybeans that will now take ages to cook.

Not helpful! While the urge to change up the cuisines I borrow from was a good one, I'm sure, I may have gone too far into hopefulness-- it's been years since I made grape leaves, or cooked soybeans from dry. Too much extra thought required to use them, and so they sit, a waste of money that could, back when I bought them, have been spent on more immediate needs.

 Ruminating on the situation while rereading old cookbooks for inspiration, I realized that a new store, a new set of them really, could help. It was a strategy of mine back when I lived in Indianapolis, to switch up the places where I did the bulk of my shopping. It means traveling farther, and getting used to new traffic patterns, but it has the benefit of forcing me to think outside the usual parameters of what we eat. The possible downsides include temporarily increased costs, since it's easy to go a little nuts over new items; and more outrageously overconfident buying.

 That's why, when I tread the aisles of my new stores this week, I'll have just a few newish recipes in mind-- and a list of necessities in hand. I guarantee I'll still be buying oatmeal, for its many virtues, and some kind of green vegetable. Sooner or later, I know I'll be excited to go back to some of my old haunts, hopefully with a cartful of awesome new vegetables and other goodies.

 Where do you shop? What's always in your cart? I'd love to know.

  Peace, and Happy New Year--