Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Flotsam and Jetsom

The end of another year looms. Some of those minutes were wasted, many were productive and hopefully the coming year will bring more happy minutes than empty ones.
In looking at 2010, there are things I learned...I taught myself to crochet well enough to make what I had in mind. They are fluffy scarves with beads woven into them so that they are like necklaces.
I learned that I need to plan my Luau weekend more carefully to allow time for a nap between lunch and night activities.
I paid attention to how my mother makes cabbage so that I can follow suit and have good food while dieting. The trick is no more than 8 minutes of cooking with the seasoning of choice (bacon slice, chicken broth), then drain it and keep it warm til eating time. The cabbage is tender but not mushy.
Chablis is an acceptable gulping wine.
Dried garbanzo beans taste like field peas when reconstituted. Canned garbanzo beans do not.
Brussells sprouts grow on a stalk.
Greek spaghetti sauce requires cinnamon to make it right.
The roads on the Dutch side of Sint Maarten pretty much suck.
I can cook in 2 or 3 languages. This is important when you are in a non-English speaking country. Like French St. Martin, where they really can speak English but don't want to:)
I can make a dessert with an overripe banana, Kahlua, butter and the contents of someone else's pantry.

To Be Continued.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Gumbo, Baby!

The coolness creeping up on us masqueraded as Spring for me one day this past week. I was walking with my best friend along a route we'd covered many times over the years and our conversation was also scampering over old fields with new fodder.
Our trip included crossing a short bridge that always makes me feel closer to the sky. In the few seconds we were at the apex I looked up, as I always do, to see what particular flavor of blue sky I was being graced with when a sharp breeze came across the bay and for that quick interval of seconds I smelled Spring.
Spring is still months away despite my hope to skip past fall and winter to my favorite time as a Daughter of Demeter.
There are still green things to harvest and eat, canned things from summer and cured meats from the last cold time to bring together in my favorite cool weather meal, Gumbo.
Shrimp, crab, fishies and chicken have no place in gumbo for me as a Florida girl. I don't like chicken and think burying crab or shrimp in soup-y stew-y things is WRONG. More on that later.
For now, this is my way to accept Fall.

Basic Sausage Gumbo

1 large red onion, diced
1 pound country sausage, sliced in 1/8" pieces (use 1/2 this amount if you are watching bad fats and boost the flavor with Vigo Ham Soup Base to taste)
1 green pepper, diced
4-5 stalks celery, chopped
2 32-oz cans petite diced tomatoes
2 cloves diced garlic
1 32 ounce container chicken stock
1 16 oz bag frozen sliced okra OR 2 cups fresh sliced okra
2 tsp sea salt
tbl paprika
many grinds of pepper
pinch paprika
some crushed red pepper and a bit of Cavender's
pinch or so of rubbed sage

Here's the hard part. You need a good pot (meaning not light-weight or thin bottomed), 8 tbls of good oil (extra virgin olive or grape seed oil, something good flavored and good for you) and 8 tbl flour.
Add the oil to the pot, heat over medium until shimmering and add the flour. Stir steadily to combine oil and flour until the mix is a soft gold, about 15 minutes. This stuff is liquid napalm so be careful not to get any on you. I like to use a flat whisk that has a heat-proof coating on it.IF YOUR BURN THE ROUX, DUMP IT OUT AND START OVER. Burned roux stinks and smells burned so you'll know if you've crossed that line. Roux requires constant stirring, no walking away to pour fresh wine or answer the door unless you have prehensile toes and can call them to stirring duty. You can easily ruin your dinner with burned roux.
After getting your roux pretty, thick and bubbly, pour in the vegetables (except okra) and stir very quickly to coat in the roux. The vegetables and the roux will act like you have just provided hem with a mortal insult by glomming together to make you think they're going to burn. Just keep stirring quickly with a wooden or other favorite spoon and it'll be OK:)
Continue stirring for about a minute to start the onions releasing their fragrance and then stir in one can of the tomatoes and about 3/4 of the chicken broth. Add seasoning and the sausage. Keep the heat at medium/medium high. At this point you decide if you want more tomato or not. I usually do, but at least one can of mine is whirred into a crushed state with an immersion blender. You can just buy tomatoes that are crushed already, but my pantry never makes that elusive can availabe when I need it.
This will also be the point at which you start thinking about adding the rest of the stock or not. A gumbo can be the consistency of a stew or a soup or in-between depending on your decisions along the way and whether or not you like rice with your gumbo. You can still change your mind as you move along the spectrum of cooking this dish.
Put the sliced okra in now, check seasonings, cover and reduce heat to medium low. Let it bubble along for about twenty minutes (range tops vary so if your's runs hot, get the heat lower so you don't burn your masterpiece). Check the flavor to see if you need salt/pepper/paprika/etc and add whatever your tastebuds dictate. Now is the time to decide whether you need that last bit of stock or more tomatoes if you didn't add them earlier. Make your decision, bring to a quick boil if you add anything, reduce to a low simmer afterwards. Cover the pot and let it simmer along for at least thirty minutes, an hour if you have it.

Gumbo is one of those dishes that becomes yours, just like really good chilis. The flavors and vegetable amounts that you and your family like are what matters.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Planning a Tasty Week, Lamenting a Short Weekend

I hurry. You hurry. We all hurry and we overlook important things along the way, or things that might make the day better or our frames of mind sweeter. Tonight's dinner is an example.

Tonight was supposed to have been a good dinner night and I made a very dumb mistake.
I had planned to have a grilled hunk o'beef with savory eggplant and potatoes au gratin. I had sliced and seasoned zuchinni, yellow squash, eggplant, red onion and portobello mushrooms to be grilled while the beef rested to use for another night.
The eggplant and potatoes were perfect - the one aromatic, the other golden - and the beef looked good.
The cut I had selected was, unfortunately, not the one I had intended. I had bought a hunk of top shoulder roast, which should be cooked slow-and-low, instead of chuck roast. I have done similar things before, thinking I grabbed a box of blackberry breakfast bars and discovering that blueberry bars were in my bag instead. My errors of Hurry are usually easily remedied. This one was Epic Fail.
When I applied my perfectly sharpened Rada knife to the rested beef, I detected a resistance that shouldn't have been so ...firm. I attributed that to the rareness of the meat. Beautiful, thinly cut slices of rare beef adorned our Fransicsan Apple plates. I had carefully positioned a portion of eggplant and scoop of potatoes before slicing the beef. These were pretty plates.
We enjoyed this aesthetically pleasing view until the time for eating began.
The beef was perfectly seasoned and grilled but tough as a boot - or as I would imagine one would be. We tried several different cutting methods (against the grain, with the grain, combo) and nothing helped.
The cats were delighted at their tiny bites of people food this mistake produced. We cut the rest into large chunks for the possums and raccoons who come to the back deck for meals and called it a win.
I'll serve the grilled vegetables with salmon filets this week so the grill wasn't fired for naught:)

Savory Eggplant
1 medium eggplant, topped and sliced lengthways
1 tin anchovies in oil
3 large cloves garlic, peeled
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup olive oil
Cavender's Greek Seasoning

Preheat Oven to 350 degrees. Cut a shallow, angled tic-tac-toe pattern into the flesh of the eggplant. Heat 1/4 cup of oil in a large skillet on medium high and when a drop of water "spits" in the pan add the eggplant, cut side down. While the eggplant cooks (reduce to medium low after about a minute), mash the anchovies into a paste. Put the garlic cloves through a press into the anchovy mix, stir in and add the 1/2 cup of olive oil.
The Eggplant halves should be golden - remove from skillet and place in a glass dish. The scoring in the eggplant should have opened the meat so you can spread the anchovy mixture across the surface and into the crevices.
Bake at 350 for 40 minutes or until the eggplant is tender.
I only serve this when I am making beef but that's just me.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Big Changes for a Little Family

I know a young family that is going through some positive, healthy changes. Papa has been diagnosed with diabetes and is determined to live healthily by making lifestyle changes. The little red-headed family go for outings that include, well, the outdoors and playing and walking and getting fresh air and exercise.
We will call them the Neats*. Joffe and Ifer Neat have a lovely toddler daughter we will call Cerise for the pink in her cheeks. Cerise has always eaten well because the Neats are thoughtful, planning parents who want the best for her. Ifer has been a clean eater for a while and now Joffe has joined the party.
I know a little about this kind of eating so I invite you to join me in some of the recipes I reccomend for a tasty, healthy life for my friends the Neats.
*My friend JackiOh! is the originator of this family's nickname.

Portable Petit Quiche

1 14 oz container Better n Eggs (BNE)
sea salt, pepper to taste
choice of healthy additions: minced, sautee'd onion, bell peppers; grated sharp reduced fat cheese (I like extra sharp cheddar), drained chopped green chilis, drained salsa solids, leftover vegetables, etc.

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees, coat an 8-cup (large) muffin tin with non-stick spray.
Pour BNE into a mixing bowl, add salt and pepper and one whole egg. Whisk together and add a tsp of milk or 2 tsp cottage cheese if you have it. Add no more than 1/4 cup of grated cheese, stir in, and then add no more than 1/4 cup of whatever else you want - finely minced turkey and cooked onion and peppers or salsa that has been pressed through a sieve. I like to use cheese and a little can of chopped green chilis from which I've squeezed the excess liquid.
Stir until everything looks even and then pour into the greased tin. Pour evenly into each cup, bake for 20-30 minutes until the tops are golden and a toothpick inserted into a quiche-muffin comes out clean.
These will keep for days in the fridge. Let them cool, pop them out of the tin and wrap each one in a piece of waxed paper and a paper towel. They re-heat easily in the nuker. 30-45 seconds on high with their wrap loosened a bit and they are ready to eat after a cooling minute or two.

5 minute Breakfast Sandwich
When you have a little extra time but still need to move while eating, this is a nice change.

Whole Grain Bread, toasted
3-4 slices turkey bacon
2 eggs
salt and pepper

I believe in giving your body stuff to digest that it recognizes. My body knows what butter is, the crap in Cholesto-butr, I Can't Believe This Is Margarine etc is not recognizable. Just use you fats in moderation.

Frizzle up a package of turkey bacon (Butterball is nice) on Sunday and stick in a zippy bag in the fridge.
Monday morning, get the zippy from the fridge and remove 3 slices, put on a paper towel.
Put a 1/2 tsp or so of butter in a small non-stick pan on medium, pop two slices of whole grain bread in the toaster and whisk the eggs to a little froth. The pan should be ready so add salt and pepper to the eggs and pour into the pan. Turn heat to medium high and scramble the eggs while the bacon is doing 15 seconds in the microwave. Toast, eggs and bacon should all come up at once now - top the toast with the eggs, then bacon, add top slice of toast and press together. Wrap it in a paper towel and head out:)

The latter recipe sounds very simplistic but that is the point - a few movements that take very little time can keep you from making a drive through mistake that will cost you MORE in terms of money, time, and most importantly, nutrition.

Help your good intentions become good actions; think before you open your mouth - whether eating or speaking!
And thanks to the Alex Sink campaign for the ads. I've voted, and look forward to Ms. Sink as Florida's next Goernor:)

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Sint Maarten 10-10-10

Here we are on Oyster Bay in Sint Maarten on their first Independence Day!
I just made a modified version of Spanish Bean soup for the doughty PJ7 DX-pedition ham radio operators housed in the condo - Charlie and our friend John Miller K6MM from California.
The guys are waiting for a ship to arrive with all of their equipment. However, true to the ingenuity this hobby requires, they have cobbled together a couple of stations and are on the air and making contacts.
We can see the French side of the island across the bay from our bedroom and living room windows. The water is that sweet blue the Caribbean offers that is a blend between the shade of a true turqoise and blueberries mashed in champagne.
Sint Maarten Soup
1 stick smoked sausage, sliced
1 bag dried garbanzo beans, cooked and drained
4 large diced potatoes
2 large yellow onions
2 cloves garlic (sliced in half)
64 ounces chicken stock
1 liter bottled water
Paprika, sea salt, Cavender's Greek Seasoning to taste

Sautee the onion, garlic and sausage in 2 tbl Extra Virgin olive oil until onions are translucent. Add potatoes and stock, season with 2 teaspoons sea salt and half tsp Cavender's. Bring to a boil and add garbanzo beans. Bring all to a boil, add a tsp of paprika, reduce heat to a simmer. Taste for seasoning after about 30 minutes. If broth is too strong, add water. Adjust seasonings every 15-30 minutes. Simmer for about 2-2/12 hours until beans and potatoes are soft.

Serve with a warm baguette and real butter:)

I soaked so many garbanzos I had extras which I have frozen to cook as a side dish. Re-hydrated garbanzo beans taste amazingly like field peas.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

I love Food TV!

I have gotten on a Food Network kick again lately. I am trying the "Clean Eating" method of having a healthful and hopefully weight-reducing way of living so inspiration to cook is necessary:)
I am still playing with salmon; tonight was a solo meal of pan-sauteed filet topped with my modified tzsatzki sauce (cucumber and sour cream with sea salt), fresh avocado with lime and tomato slice with a few extra cuke slices. It was good, so tomorrow night when Charlie comes home we'll have the salmon cucumber sauce again with Picchio-pachio, a simple pasta dish of fresh tomatoes, basil, garlic, olive oil and linguine.
Just ordered some Sensa, so we'll see how that works on my non-smoking cravings for all things food. I'm glad I stopped smoking but I really don't like being 40 pounds heavier:)

Wednesday, July 21, 2010


Did you know that wild-caught sockeye salmon tastes vastly different from farmed salmon? It does - and enough different to change me from a salmon-hater (except for lox and salmon croquettes) to a salmon lover.

There is a uniqueness of taste to wild salmon that I look forward to experimenting with, but for my first preparation I used a Publix recipe as a jump-off point.

Coriander Salmon with Easy Dill Sauce; Cucumber Heart Salad

1 1/4 pounds sockeye salmon, skinned and cut into serving-sized pieces
sea salt, coriander, fresh pepper, EV olive oil

Light Sour cream, fresh dill


Two cucumbers, peeled, seeded, and chopped
one can artichoke hearts, chopped
One lemon, juiced and zested
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
3/4 cup diced red onion
5-6 oz bag roquette (arugula)

Whisk lemon zest and juice with oil, sea salt to taste and a little crushed garlic if you like. Toss the salad ingredients with the dressing - remember to use good olive oil for salads. DaVinci is among the best tasting grocery store oils you can get.

Mix 3/4 cup sour cream and 4 tbl of chopped dill, set aside (squeeze whatever is left of your lemon into the mix even if that amounts to an eighth of a teaspoon; it does add piquancy).

While the salad is setting up and melding flavors, rinse and pat dry the salmon. Season with about two teaspoons of coriander per side and a pinch of sea salt, fresh ground pepper. Press the seasoning into the fish, heat oil on medium high heat until water sizzles in pan. Add fish and cook about 4 1/2 minutes per side. The fish will look opaque and feel firm when done. Take up to plate, add sour cream mixture to pan and whisk for about 30 seconds to warm.

Add salad to plates, overlap with Salmon and drizzle fish with dill sauce.

One another note, my youngest kittens are black twins who have wide blue eyes and look like tiny bears. They have wrapped my husband around their miniature claws:)

Sunday, May 2, 2010

My legs are brown!

I got back from the tanning salon this afternoon and realized I had allowed myself to be seen in public in a pair of shorts for the first time in I don't know how many years. My legs are brown and look quite nice!

Let me back up - about a week ago, after several weeks of consideration, I joined a tanning club. My fair, freckly skin has been protected for about the past ten years by determined sun avoidance. I love the feel of the sun on my skin and have felt deprived over these years but reminded myself that this exercise would keep my skin young.

Well, I am going to spend a week on some beach with my mom in June and decided I'd like to enjoy the sun rather than fearfully spackle myself with SPF 50 whitewash. I want to walk in the sun without fear of burning, smile at the sky with a golden face and enjoy the warmth of summer on my skin.

I have dutifully applied the proper products and gradually added to my minutes in the tanning bed and my legs are now a very pretty, healthy-looking tan. I am ready to wear dresses again, and skirts! No pantyhose, ever!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Spring and Renewal and Feeling Bright

Last weekend we had the first day of Spring and the day was windy and sharp with cool. Spring is more of a state of mind for me at this point, more about the promise I see in the buds on the Turkish Fig tree we planted today and the scent of the fat cream flowers on the grapefruit tree.

We had some homeless folks who are in a work training program come over to do planting and cleaning outside. The man was personable and bright, the woman not so much. It taught me a little about cognitive abilities that I usually don't have to consider. With her, you had to tell her about each thing that needed done twice. Him, no - got it first run and had already found a way to make it better before I could draw a breath.

I'll be looking for grants to write for this group tomorrow. Helping people help themselves is worth spending my time on.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Those little memory flashes...and PIZZA!

Not long ago, I was ticking through pleasant memories to pass minutes on a sleepless night. I went back to my last radio gig, when I had a really good guy as the music director and morning show and I side-kicked for him.
A side-kick just helps the 'funny guy' be funnier. Write some jokes/bits, be the straight man, be a good second banana. I had done that gig for quite a few guys and was usually their boss. The best ever was my friend Chuck who now works in a top 25 market.
I knew he was good from the beginning and I wished he'd come along back during the heyday of personality radio.
This guy taps into the best of everything. He brings joy to the world he looks at and can communicate that from behind a mike. And he isn't a pain in the ass to skeptical people like me.

He found me on FaceBook today and all of my shelved feelings for this little brother of another mother came back. He is, of course, older and his otter-slick black hair is now grey. And I still want good things for him and would cheerfully kick the pins out from under anyone who offered him harm. My poor dear, stuck with friends who haven't lost their redneck proclivities:)

Anyway, in those ancient days when radio was changing and we could record our voices over music on a hard drive and have it sound live, we tested the studio we were getting. We recorded some normal "DJ" time and drove to my favorite pizza place, Barnaby's, a few miles away and sat with a little radio on our table. We ordered pizza and beer and waited for the top of the hour to come to listen to his voice talk up the next song. We looked at each other with eye-brows arched and eyes opened large and then howled and slapped palms. IT WORKED, and radio would not be the same again.

The pizza was wonderful, as it always is at Barnaby's (Tallahassee, FL) and we scarfed it down so we could scoot back to the studios to see what other magic this new thing could help us do.

Publix Pizza dough
16 oz can good crushed tomatoes
Basil, oregano, thyme, sea salt, ground sage
mild Italian sausage, removed from casing and scramble-cooked
sliced white muchrooms and red onions
Mozzerella and Parmesan cheese
Pre-heat oven to 400

Mix the crushed tomatoes with the seasoning, add more to taste.

The closest I have had to create the at-home Barnaby's experience starts with dough from Publix. You do have to work it and stretch it and settle it on a cornmeal-dusted pizza paddle.
Once you get it stretched to a thinness (this dough bakes thick), prick it well with a pastry pronger or sharp-tined fork.
Slide it onto a pizza pan (I like the ones with holes in them, crisper crust) and put on bottom rack of oven for five minutes. Remove, give a few minutes to cool and then add as much of the sauce as you want, add toppings and cook for another 10-12 minutes.

Pour a cold beer, cut the pizza into slices and enjoy it with a friend.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Will it or won't it??

I am waiting for spring to begin and getting a little cranky about it.
I had plans for a nice grilled supper tonight but it was too damn cold to make my poor husband stand outside and tend the fire.
I'll tell you what I have in mind anyway since it WILL happen;)

2 lb boneless chuck roast, marinated
2 lb skinny aspargus, tough ends snapped
two portobellos, sliced thickly
3 bell peppers - red, orange, yellow

Mix a marinade of half cup extra virgin olive oil and half cup red wine vinegar, whisk in 1/8 tsp ground mustard, 1/2 tsp each thyme and oregano, three cloves of minced garlic. Rinse and pat roast dry, put into a bag with marinade, massage marinade into beef. Put in the fridge for at least an hour, optimally overnight.
Wash and dry peppers, turn oven on to BROIL, put peppers onto a cookie sheet covered with foil (so you don't have to wash the cookie sheet) and place under the broiler, Turn the peppers every 5-7 minutes, as teh skin chars, until all sides are charred a bit. Remove from pan and put into a plastic bag, close bag, let rest 20 minutes or more.
When the peppers have cooled, remove from bag, seed and peel. Section peppers into strips based on where the pepper's bracts are, set aside.
Brush a little olive oil on both sides of the mushrooms and sprinkle with oregano and a little time. Put them aside and grill chuck roast to desired steak-eating temp; start mushrooms when you have five minutes of cooking time left. Grill them OFF direct flame until they are fork tender.
Spray a grill tray with cooking mist or brush with oil, arrange asparagus in one layer and place on grill, tossing spears until crisp-tender.
Your cooking should have items come off in this order: chuck roast, mushrooms, asparagus. The roast needs to sit for 10-15 minutes before cutting. The asparagus has to be watched because it will be done quickly.

Cut the roast along its sections and top each with a strip of pepper. Serve with the mushrooms and asparagus, a little good balsamic dribbled over the asparagus is nice:)

Saturday, January 9, 2010


The Meowies are in fine form tonight. They don't want to stay out long because of the cold but still have some energy to burn so fur is flying, a certain amount of catly cursing is going on and I think someone just hocked a hairball on the carpet.

I woke up to nine of them sharing the bed with me this morning. I know, I know - that sounds like a lot of cats. It is a lot of cats but it works out.

We just started with two, the late Jackson and then-young Romeo; a feral mother showed up with kittens in the back yard and we tamed them but could never get her and she kept producing until she took off. So we have something like 12 tame and "fixed" and four or five I feed but haven't been able to tame. Oh, and the Big-headed males from the neighborhood who come around for wetfood and to flirt with the intact females.

Romeo, my 19-pound Flame Point Siamese, my once-timid Romy, now growls low in his chest when he sees those interlopers. Romy hasn't got the equipment to mate but he considers all of the yard and its residents to be his responsibility. He took one kitten to be his special charge when we first began adopting our windfall. Porter, black down to his paw-pads, bumped his tiny black nose against Romeo's big pink one and it was love.

Po is now grown but still bumps his nose against Romy's and curls up beside him to nap. Sometimes they look like the symbol for Yin and Yang; a black apostrophe curved into a white one.

My little troop have two big litter boxes in the laundry room that I clean often enough to wish cat excrement was a marketable commodity. I'd make bank on even a penny a pound - seriously.

They are ready for me to move to the bedroom. Romeo, Porter, Randy, Cabrillo, George and Trixie, Jerry, Icom, Carrot and Wink will come to the bed but Bill (aka Fuzzbutt), Lo Po (little Porter) and Bo Po (Baby Porter) will sleep wherever they feel most secure. They are the wildest of the group; only Bill likes being petted. LoPo and BoPo are solid black babies just like Porter and have the same curiosity about people that led Po to tame himself.

This morning I realized that cats really do smile. One of my big golden boys (Cab) was laying beside me, purring as I pet him, and I saw him in profile and saw his mouth curved up. I looked at some of the others who were nearby and purring; all had the upturned mouth. I watched them nap and walk and play through the day and saw the way they held their mouths during all of their activities - they definitely express emotion with more than just their eyes and tails.

I have always loved cats and feel very fortunate to have so many who love me back. It's a nice feeling to walk into the yard and have greetings chirped and moawed and miaowed and meowed to me as they leap and roll and trot to me. Most of them are shades of light orange down to red orange (6), then we have brown tabbies (2), black or black and white (4) and precious Wink who manages to be all colors with eyes that are a human hazel shade.

I have always heard that cats are solitary, that cats are not as loyal as dogs nor capable of the unconditional love that dogs show, that cats choose who they love.

I am actually hoping that is true; because if it is, I am a hell of a human.