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Sunday, February 07, 2016

A discourse on dinner and dentures

Today I had to abandon part of my planned dinner menu. I was  using another of Annabel Langbein's menu suggestions. But I forgot one crucial  fact:  She is younger than Mr. G and me and probably has all, or at least most, of her own teeth. I began cooking the poor man's version of  Osso Buco-  with beef shanks rather than the more expensive veal shanks.  To accompany it, Annabel suggested saffron spinach risotto,  beet, fennel and goat cheese salad with balsamic glaze, and for dessert,  pear and prune custard  cream.

The osso  buco  was coming along nicely when I began to prepare the salad.  Annabel wrote that the secret to   beets and fennel in a salad  is to slice them  very, very thinly with a mandoline. So I peeled a beet, as instructed, and  sliced it almost paper thin.  Then I tried to chew a piece.  It was like  trying to eat paper! I have seen those commercials for denture adhesive  where some smiling person declares, "I can eat anything!"  HA!! It simply ain't so, at least not for Mr. G and me.  I cannot tell you how many times I have  had to make a hasty exit from the dinner table because my bottom denture has decided to  assert its right to freedom and tried to escape from my mouth. It makes dinner conversation nigh on impossible and causes those across from me to wish they'd never  accepted the dinner invitation to begin with! And it doesn't matter what kind of adhesive I've used, or how recently I had the dentures relined-  at some point, while eating some foods, they are going to become totally unbalanced,  begin to rock, and   attempt an escape. The  thinly sliced raw beet had this effect, so I decided to abandon the raw beet and fennel salad and use them in a cooked dish  in the next few days instead..

The osso buco was  coming along nicely, but I decided to check on  the beef shank  after an hour.  Good grief!  It was mostly bone, sinew and gristle, with very little edible  meat.  I trimmed off the inedible  parts and decided we needed more meat. I had a few meatballs left over from last night's meatballs in Moroccan tomato sauce, so  tossed them in.  The  spinach saffron risotto was delicious,  the  osso buco caught Mr. G's fancy and he got seconds of both.

 I experimented with an Asian pear in the pear and prune custard, which was a mistake. It wasn't  all that bad, but next time I'll use Bartlett pears or something similar, I think. At least I've satisfied my curiosity about what Asian pears taste like, how they hold up in baking, etc.

It  occurred to me as we were finishing supper that I hadn't taken any pics tonight.  It's a good thing I'm not a serious food blogger! I did take some pics the other night as I prepared a meal of cod in olive tomato crust and skillet broccoli, but didn't  post about that meal because my muse had gone on a walk-about. But if you're curious, as several people on facebook seemed to be, about  what a cod loin is, or even if a cod can have loins, here are some pics of the ingredients prepped, processed into a paste, then used to coat the cod loins  before they're placed under the broiler for a few minutes. That  meal was  quite tasty and I should have posted about it instead of complaining  about an AWOL muse!

Saturday, February 06, 2016

Snowfall on Memory Lane

I ran across an old scrapbook from  1957/1958 today. I was in  eighth grade that year, and must have had ambitions to be a fashion designer or or a writer.  The scrapbook was  filled with  sketches  of ballgowns that I described in  glowing terms: "A billowy white satin sailor design floor lenght(sic) evening dress with blue velvet trimming." Another was a mermaid  one-shoulder  dress described as "A lovely  lime-hued evening dress with a mermaid skirt and Grecian inspired bodice. In crepe threaded with gold."  But the  pièce de résistance was "A most fabulous creation.  Pink satin evening dress with pinafore-style top and gathered skirt with hand embroidery on white satin." Since I can't remember ever being particularly interested in fashion, and absolutely loathed wearing pink , or satin, for that matter I found this discovery most interesting. I do remember wanting to be an artist, but that was probably because my brother was an artist and had won a scholarship to art school.  Looking at my sketches now, I see that artistic  talent did not run in the family.  Several years later, one of my high school art teachers told me as much. It crushed me!

What I was a little better at, evidently, was studying and writing.  The scrapbook contained report cards, ribbons won at poetry festivals, penmanship certificates, a newspaper clipping showing me smiling out from a group of oratorical contest finalists. I had made a note in the margin that I had finished second.Also included in  the memories was a letter from the Birmingham News congratulating me on winning an honorable mention in  the newspaper's  creative writing contest.
I have no idea  what    I had submitted but have a vague recollection of winning   some sort of honorable mention for a poem I'd written about winter and children playing in the snow. Which is interesting, since I don't remember seeing snow even  once during the entire time we lived in Birmingham  between 1952 and 1959. I do remember that  when we left Alabama for Illinois in November 1959,  the weather had been so mild that  I didn't even own a heavy coat.   Illinois was quite a shock and we had to go shopping for  a coat and  warmer clothes before I could start school.
 Now we have snow at least once every year.  In fact there are  predictions that we may get some flurries the day after tomorrow. I hope  we don't get anything more than flurries because as nice as snow is to look at, it creates havoc down here. Now we do have snow on a fairly regular basis, I've gotten cranky  in my old age and can't think of anything poetic to say about it. Here is a collage of snow pics from 2011 to 2015.

Friday, February 05, 2016

My muse has deserted me on this leg of the trip

I  have trouble posting when  my muse disappears, and that  is the case now.  Despite what most folks may think, there are times when I have nothing to say. Usually  that doesn't stop me from talking, as Mr. G would be only too happy to tell you, but writing is another story. 

 Maybe  I'm preoccupied knowing that next Wednesday I'll once more  be hooked up in the infusion  room receiving more chemo and this time next week I'll  be tethered to the portable chemo pump again. This leg of the journey  through life is just  a bit difficult, but I'm going to try to keep my thoughts lofty in order to keep the fearsome Laistrygonians, and the Cyclops, and the angry Poseidon  of the chemo treatment at bay and not let them raise up before me. So tonight,  to close out this week of freedom,   I'll  share one of my favorite poems,  Ithaca written by C.P. Cavafy,  and read in English by Sean Connery.  Enjoy.

Thursday, February 04, 2016

Artichoke intimidation

I don’t have a bucket list but if I did, cooking and eating a whole artichoke would have been on it.  And it would have been marked off as “Done” today!  I’ve always liked artichokes, but have always been a little intimidated by them. Well, actually, intimidated a lot by them, with their thorns and scales.  They remind me of some sort of warrior vegetable dressed in scaly, thorny , spiky armor malevolently  daring me to try and get at its delicious little heart. But the little heart is what I’ve always enjoyed about them. And fortunately, it has always been  a comfort to know that  someone else was brave enough to wrestle the warrior and  put the hearts in a can or marinate them in a jar for me to enjoy.

The California Artichoke Advisory Board  reports that “One large artichoke contains only 25 calories, no fat, 170 milligrams of potassium, and is a good source of vitamin C, folate, magnesium and dietary fiber.” They also note that according to some recent studies artichokes contain an unusual amount of anti-oxidants, in the form of phytonutrients and that a  study done by the USDA ranked  artichokes as the number one vegetable in anti-oxidant count. The phytonutrients  in artichokes have  positive effects on the liver and are also useful in curing hangovers! There's an awful lot of good stuff packed in those mean looking little warriors.

After seeing an enticing  photo of  an artichoke drizzled with shallot vinaigrette  in Annabel Langbein’s  cookbook, I decided the time had come  to  cook and eat an artichoke.  So when we went grocery shopping at Publix  the other day, I put two in the cart. Interestingly enough, our check-out person  confessed that he wouldn’t have the slightest idea  how to go about cooking or eating  one of those things, so apparently I am not the only one intimidated by them.
Annabel Langbein's  beautiful  artichoke

I was going to cook them last night, but  with the kitchen gremlins camped out in the kitchen, that didn’t happen.  I needed to use up some smoked salmon that was in the fridge,  and decided to make smoked salmon carbonara for tonight's supper. I thought the artichokes with vinaigrette might be a good appetizer.

Guess what?  Artichokes aren’t intimidating after all.  Their fierce appearance is a false front; their spiky armor  is transformed into soft delicious petals when cooked. I followed Annabel’s instructions for trimming them and boiling them, put them on a plate, pressed   scraped the  tender flesh from the bottom of the leaves with our teeth before  finally reaching the tender little heart.  Eating an artichoke is not something to be done in a hurry.  It is better enjoyed as a leisurely activity, so you can savor each delicious  morsel of  goodness.
My   artichoke lotus, without benefit of a food stylist's  talent. ;-)
down slightly on the top and they transformed into lotus-like flowers on the plate. I drizzled them with some of the vinaigrette and we used the rest as a dip for the leaves. We pulled the tender leaves off, dipped them in the vinaigrette and

Tonight’s supper  was  very satisfying and  had the added bonus of  helping me overcome my fear of artichokes. If you are  intimidated by artichokes too and have  been afraid to cook one “from scratch”  you should  try  it. Let's stamp out the fear of artichokes!

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

Cooking Under a Chaotic Sky

My new soil heating cables came today.  Just in the nick of time, too, since after several  mild, warm days the temperature is  taking a dive tonight and tomorrow night. I got the new cable  buried in the seed starting box and  as I  stepped up on the deck to  go in the house  late this afternoon, looked up at the western sky. It was quite beautiful with so many   shades of grey and  white, but there was something   a little unsettling about it, too. I got a sense of chaos from it. And chaos is about  what I got when I cooked supper tonight. In case you were wondering, Murphy's Law is alive and well and operating in my kitchen!
The plan was to attempt an entire menu from the Annabel Langbein cookbook:  Artichokes with vinaigrette, Chicken  and leek gratin, Garlicky vegetable  toss, with pear and hazelnut pies for dessert. It was going to be so beautiful and so delicious, just like on her show where she whipped it all together in a half hour.  Oh, yes, that was the plan. Suffice it to say,  it was another  plan gang agley.

We ended up not having the  artichokes- and there were no snow peas in the  garlicky veggie toss. They were in the fridge, but they didn't make it into the  saucepan.  I thought the chicken leek gratin turned  out nicely but Mr. G didn't care for it- he said the Provençal crust topping   had an off taste to him, maybe because  I had let it burn slightly. I also overcooked the zucchini in the veggie dish,  mis-measured the ingredients when I was making the pastry for the pies which made the  pastry more bread-like than pastry-like, and then I  dropped the compost pail, scattering the  contents all over the floor. But the icing on the cake, was the hazelnut butter for the pies. 
The instructions called for  roasting the shelled hazelnuts until  they smelled fragrant and the skins start to split. Well, evidently  my nose   was stopped up because I never smelled them and by the time I remembered they were in the oven, they were pretty over-roasted. But the skins were holding tight. Annabel said  to let the nuts cool, then  rub them in a clean dishtowel to remove the skins. What she didn't tell you was to start this  a week ahead of time, because it is not a quick and easy job, and the skins   do not want to be cast off, they are quite clingy. By the time I had finished, there were  nut skins all over the  counters, all over the floor, all over EVERYwhere!I finally got most of the skins off, whizzed the nuts in the food processor, added some salt and vegetable oil and Voila!  We had hazelnut butter.  Of sorts.
Then I rolled out the pastry into rounds,  peeled and halved a pear,  cored it, then sliced the halves lengthwise almost to the top so they formed fans when pressed down slightly.  I mixed the  hazelnut butter with some confectioner's sugar, spread the mixture onto the pastry rounds, topped each round with a  pear half and popped them in the oven. The recipe called for glazing the pears with  apricot jam  after baking, but my neighbor had given me a jar of pear honey she had made so  I used that. They didn't look too bad, and tasted fairly decent, so all was not a complete disaster. I did try to clean up most of the mess I'd made in the kitchen, but did leave enough mess for Mr. G to mutter over. I think he's be most disappointed if he didn't have anything to complain about when he's washing dishes! I don't know if I'll try any of those recipes again.At least not until I get some  kitchen elves to serve as sous chefs.

Tuesday, February 02, 2016

A political rant, because sometimes, you just have to say it.

OK, I've had it up to here with all the Hillary bashing and the talk about how Bill Clinton's policies were the worst thing that could have happened to women, to blacks to the poor, to immigrants, etc., etc. and how Hillary will just be more of the same. Bill  Clinton was not a perfect president; he made some mistakes, some pretty bad ones, actually.  But  he also  kept  a lot of things from becoming really horrendous for a lot of people in this country. Where were you people in the 1990s when Newt Gingrich was ramming his "Contract with America" down our throats? Where were you when a Republican Congress was insisting, and refused to budge, on cutting food stamps by $24 billion over six years, with $3 billion more cut by banning food stamps to legal immigrants and insisting on no food stamps for unemployed workers not raising children, without any hardship exemptions? Do you remember when Congress also refused to budge on allowing legal immigrants to receive social services, declaring that legal immigrants who had not become U.S. citizens could not get Federal welfare benefits and social services during their first five years in the U.S.and insisting that food stamps and SSI benefits be cut off?

Do you recall that President Clinton vetoed two welfare reform bills put forward by Newt Gingrich and Bob Dole before finally signing a third one in which he had managed to force some compromises from Gingrich and Dole. Congress had called for letting the states determine how to allocate food stamp money and determine eligibility requirements for the program. Clinton managed to preserve national standards and the guarantee that the poor will obtain food stamps.  He also won the fight to guarantee Medicaid coverage- another program the Congress wanted to turn completely over to the states. Clinton also succeeded in strengthening day care support for children of welfare recipients. Congress had been demanding much deeper cuts than the cuts that were in the final bill signed by the President.

How many of you remember the  "Taking Back Our Streets Act" of 1994 proposed by   the Republican Congress, that sought to establish a mandatory minimum sentence of ten years for state or federal drug or violent crimes involving possession of a gun, or the repeal of the Crime Control Act that had provided funds for drug courts, community justice programs and social prevention spending?  Clinton did what he could to get Congress to compromise before signing some of these bills to prevent a total gridlock in Washington. Maybe he could have fought harder, dug his heels in, refused to compromise, etc. Then you’d be complaining about something else he did or didn’t accomplish.
I remember those years  too well, and I remember  how frustrated and angry I got every time I saw Gingrich with his smarmy smile and his hateful, nightmarish proposals. Clinton vetoed 35 bills between 1995-2000 and although the Republicans challenged 11 of those vetoes, they were able to override only one. But Clinton was an adept  politician who knew how to use the threat of a veto to get the Republicans to back down from some of their more nightmarish  proposals, and he threatened  a veto on  140 bills in order to get those concessions. Without those concessions, the poor, the middle class, the American worker, the immigrant population would have most likely been much worse off. So no, I don’t think Bill Clinton was the worst thing that happened to  a lot of people, nor do I think Hillary, if she were  elected, would be either.  She has already shown that she knows who and what she’s dealing with and has demonstrated her ability to stand up to them under some of the most adverse conditions.  In my opinion,  she has both the domestic and foreign policy experience to be the next president  and commander-in-chief and I  will continue to support her.

Monday, February 01, 2016

A recycled post about our calico cat and other contrary critters

This is a post from March 2006 about  Patches and our old rooster, Sam.  Although  Sam   met his demise  several years ago when he lost a fight with an enraged  'possum, Patches, described as  an aging cat in 2006, is still with us- even more aged. She's still feisty, but moves a little slower now.  She  can't groom herself as she once could, and consequently developed some terrible mats that looked  awful  and must have been  very uncomfortable.  She wouldn't hold still for us to do anything about them for more than a few minutes at a time, so they continued to get worse.  I finally found some  super  little cat  grooming combs last week and Patches actually seemed to enjoy having me me  comb out about  95% of the mats over  several days.  She finally got  tired of the whole process today though and  hissed at me. So I'll have to be   very careful as I attempt to groom her daily. I'm afraid if we don't keep the loose hair combed out we'll have more mats.  Anyway, she's still as ornery as ever.  She  gets along OK with Agatha now, but barely tolerates poor Victoria, who has never  done her any harm.  Cats can be so contrary. 

Anyway-- here's the old post. Patches still looks pretty much as she does in the pic, except for being a little thinner- probably because of losing  so much hair this week:

This is Patches- an aging calico Manx. She is almost fearless, even in her old age. She does NOT like Sam. And Sam does NOT like her. She also does not like the very big black cat who sometimes turns up behind the fence. No matter how badly she wants to go outside she will always pause at the door and look around to make sure the coast is clear. If Sam or the black cat are anywhere in sight, she'll retreat back inside. Hawks, possums and other critters do not phase her, but in her mind, Sam and the black cat are truly her mortal enemies.

Now I just assumed that Sam didn't care for cats in general, seeing as how if poor Patches does happen to be outside at the same time he is, he comes at her the same way he goes after Mr. G. but turns out I was wrong. I think Sam knows that Patches and Mr. G are in tight and he sees Patches as an extension of Mr. G.

Even though I'm the one who most often feeds her and changes her litter box, Patches cares much more for Mr. G than she does for me- she gets on his lap and rubs up against his legs. But she ignores me for the most part unless she's hungry or wants to go out. She doesn't ask nicely, either- if I'm not moving fast enough to suit her, she hisses and gives me that evil look that only cats can give.

As it turns out Sam does NOT hate all cats- and here's how I discovered that interesting bit of information. A month or so ago I had lunch with some fellow soapmakers, and ordered calamari, which I love. It took an inordinate amount of time to get my order and when it came, it looked lovely and smelled wonderful. But when I bit into it, I surmised that the delay in being served had been caused because they were out of squid and the chef sent someone out into the parking lot to harvest rubber from tires, because I swear, that's what I was trying to chew! Since everybody else was already almost finished with their meal, I decided not to send it back, but asked for a rooster bag and decided Sam and the girls might enjoy having a go at it.

So that evening, when I let Sam and the girls out, I tossed the calamari out with their regular corn. They picked at it, tossed it around, and generally played around with, so I came back inside. Next time I looked out, Sam was sitting on the deck rail, intently watching something. I followed his gaze, and saw Hentietta and the big black cat, sharing the calamari as nice as you please. Pretty soon, Sam and the other girls joined them, and there they all were- three hens, a rooster, and a big black cat, feasting away together like they were the best of friends. I figure Sam has recruited that black cat to help make Patches' life miserable, and he repays the mean critter by inviting him to dinner every once in a while!