Wednesday, December 1, 2010

December In Florida

A week or so before Thanksgiving I started tasting the leftovers. As it was, there were none. With three invitations for dinner, I didn’t get a bird. There was a can of cranberry sauce in the refrigerator that had to be eaten. It’s finally gone though it took me four days to eat it.

Now I’m tasting Christmas cookies. There is no fear that elves are going to hide all my sheet pans for the next three weeks then return them in time for Christmas heavy with six or seven kinds of cookies, some wrapped as gifts and some left for me to munch on. Holiday baking will be, as always, my very own labor of love. Six-hour cookie-baking marathons are in my future. I know it. And I love it.

Local gift cookies will probably be baked in the middle of the night or wee hours of the morning during the week before Christmas. Cookies to be mailed will start earlier. I know my daughter and her family will probably eat them as they sort out the other presents. I sure hope the trip to Long Island doesn’t reduce them to crumbs. Perhaps a short list of uses for cookie crumbs may be in order.

My kitchen won’t spawn only cookies this year. I had planned on making bread for the neighbors. (That might be intimidating since one of my neighbors had a small bread delivery business.) French bread from an authentic French recipe was first on the list. Talk about a labor of love - it takes almost two days to make! When it comes out right, it even tastes like love.

I love to make pumpernickel. It’s one of those recipes that scare first-time cooks. How can all that stuff come out tasting good? Trust me. It does.

Then there’s one of my favorite breads to eat, Swedish Limpa. It’s another recipe that might frighten one who has never tasted it. If you’re ever had it, though, you might be like me and wait in line at 5:30 in the morning at the bakery that (used to) make it only on Thursdays. (It’s a staple now that I’m 1500 miles away. No waiting for the bakery to open on Thursday morning.) Haven’t decided who gets Limpa. I might just eat it all.

After nearly twenty years I discovered there are pink peppercorns growing in my yard. Well, technically, pink peppercorns are from the Peruvian peppertree and mine are from Brazil. I think it’s the difference between $24 per pound and $36. This year it will be an experimental gift is to my daughter. (It’s no gift to people who watch the county try to eradicate the “weed.”) The entire family, including my six-year-old grandson, cooks. When I started cleaning the seeds, there grew a kinship to the girls and women picking stamens from a crocus to harvest saffron. I, of course, will try it before I mail it. As a gift, it should come with a small peppermill. In my kitchen, it will be ground in a mortar and pestle. I hope it tastes good.

Spice mixtures are always in the mix as gifts. They are very personal. Are you a grill master? You need a spice rub. There are Asian spice mixes, Mediteranean, Mexican. As I said, it’s personal. Don’t think I’ll give spice mixes as gifts unless I know they are going to people who really want to try them. Why go to all the trouble of grinding and mixing – and sometimes growing – the ingredients only to see them thrown into the garbage? No landfill in the nation has ever appreciated Herb de Provence.

Everyone loves cookies!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Celebration Potatoes

The world watched this week as thirty-three brave men ascended into what must have felt like heaven. A collapse in the mine where they worked trapped them underground for over two months. Watching each miner emerge, one by one, was a wonder. Their emotions seemed contagious. Fresh air and freedom are things my friends and I take for granted. Those miners will never take anything for granted again.

Being a foodie, I immediately thought of a celebration dish for the men in Chile. The food they rationed before supplies could be sent down was canned tuna and peaches. I had plenty of canned tuna and some canned pears in my hurricane kit. Emergency supplies, in my mind, should be saved for emergencies. There would be no tuna or peaches used in celebration. I started looking for authentic Chilean recipes. I had a chicken breast, an onion, and some potatoes. All of the chicken recipes necessitated a trip to the grocery store, a trip I didn’t want to make. Root vegetables, grown deep in the earth seemed incredibly fitting.

The search for a potato dish unearthed Picante de Papas.

3 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 serrano or jalapeno chiles, seeded & minced
1 cup half & half
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
5 medium potatoes, cooked, pared & sliced
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
1 clove garlic, minced
4 tomatoes, peeled and sliced
¼ cup grated Gouda cheese
Salt to taste

Preheat oven to 400 F. Oil a medium glass or earthenware casserole with 1 tablespoon of the vegetable oil.

Sauté onion in small saucepan in remaining 2 tablespoons of oil, stirring occasionally, until just softened. Add garlic and cook about a minute.

Scatter half the onion and garlic on the bottom of the dish. Cover with half the potatoes then half the tomatoes. Salt lightly. Sprinkle with half the chiles and half the cheese. Repeat the layers, ending with cheeses. Pour the half and half gently over the dish. Bake 35 to 40 minutes or until half and half is absorbed and cheese is browned. Serve immediately.

While searching I found another recipe – similar but different, if you know what I mean. It called for green pepper, not chiles, changed the cheese, and included sour cream.

I had three purple potatoes, one sweet potato, and one small white potato. My refrigerator guarded about one cup of half and half and about three tablespoons of sour cream. I had plenty of grated Parmesan. The only other cheese I had was a four-cheese Mexican blend. My Vidalia onions were about to head south but there were three of them. The life expectancy of my four small tomatoes was debatable. Since I had no peppers of any kind, I decided to make a root-vegetable strata. That seemed a fitting tribute for the miners trapped underground for over two months.

I didn’t peel any of the potatoes before I cooked them and only the sweet potato afterward. What can I say? I like potato peels and the purple ones have skin so thin you could read through them if you stripped them off a cooked tuber. I didn’t cook the sweet potato as much as the others fearing they’d turn to mush and be impossible to cut. That was a good call.

The onions went into the bottom the casserole after a good sweat in a small frying pan. Didn’t have any fresh garlic left and was afraid I’d have to settle for garlic powder when I spied a tiny bit of granulated garlic in the cabinet. It was more than enough to sprinkle on the onions. Then I sliced the purple potatoes as the first potato layer. A sprinkling of cheeses and about a tablespoon of sour cream went on top of the purple layer. Next came the sweet potato. It was cooked enough to peel the skin off easily but not enough to mash with the knife when cutting. More cheese and sour cream and then the white potato. Finally, the end of the cheeses. I poured the half and half slowly and carefully over the whole thing and sprinkled on a few pats of butter and another sprinkle of Parmesan.

I wanted to eat half an hour after the casserole went into the oven but I could still see some half and half. Maybe I saw it or maybe I felt a need to follow directions. I waited the longest five minutes of my life. I take exception to “Serve immediately.” Hot potato isn’t an idle description. They are hot and stay hot. Cheese, as any pizza lover knows, is a very good insulator. Aware of this, I served some on a plate and watched the steam rise before I tasted.

It was worth the wait. (And I didn’t burn my mouth.)

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Purple Potatoes

I met a new friend last Tuesday. Actually, it’s a new store. It’s been around for almost a year but it’s new to me. Why would I need a new store when I’m running out of savings and the prospect of a job is infinitesimal? Because it’s a produce store!

An old friend told me about Top Crop Produce in Venice, Florida. He mentioned they have purple potatoes. I had to go there! I made plans last Tuesday to go to “unemployment” which is about two blocks from the store. Top Crop was the most helpful part of the trip.

I went for purple potatoes and bought purple potatoes. The plantains looked perfect. All the lettuces looked perfect and very crisp. Everything in the store looked perfect. Nothing else could make me insist on taking it home. Such a narrow vision isn’t like me. I usually end up with one impulse purchase but not last Tuesday.

One last stop on the way home found some discounted meat. That’s been the bulk of my meat purchases lately. Found a small tray of ground round for less than the price of ground chuck and a large (for me) tray with five little loin end pork chops. I went home with plans for the week. Like most plans, they were flexible. This plan, however, had to include purple potatoes.

Tuesday night, after a lunch of Sunday’s leftover dinner with the addition of some steamed carrots, was a simple plate of boiled purple potatoes cut and covered with whipped butter. They were the best potatoes I’d eaten since I was a kid when my father dug a hole in the garden, filled it with straw, and planted potato eyes. The potatoes grew up clean but we washed them anyway. That garden was how I learned the taste of fresh vegetables and fruit. (Stuffing freshly-caught fish in the freezer to prepare for the ride home from Wisconsin was how I learned the taste of fresh fish. The fish swam in the sink at home before my father cleaned them. I never wanted frozen fish again.)

Top Crop Produce has become my choice as a farmer’s market. It’s open seven days a week. It’s air conditioned. I don’t have to prepare for an hour or more in the sun. (The parking lot is a short trip to the door. I may be sorry for telling others about it because I’ll need a hat and sunscreen for that trip.) And did I say they take requests? If they can get it and it’s local and good, they will. They also sell coffee in packages and by the cup. I hear it’s good. I don’t drink coffee so I don’t know but that doesn’t mean I don’t care.

What else did I do with Tuesday’s treasures? Haven’t found a job yet but did have a great dinner. I pan fried three pork chops in a dry non-stick pan with just a bit of salt and pepper. Then I used the same pan to fry some lardons, slices of bacon I happened to have in the freezer cut into about a quarter inch slivers. Leaving the bacon fat in the pan but taking out the lardons to drain on paper towel, I added some butter, about a tablespoon, half a small Vidalia onion cut into thin rings, and four ounces of sliced mushrooms (I used crimini) and cooked them until everything started to soften. Again, I boiled the potatoes while cooking everything else. The plate was simple. Two of the tiniest pork chops, one potato cut into wedges and slathered with more butter, the onion, mushroom, and bacon mix all put on a plate.

Izzy got a little pork chop, a couple of pieces of potato, some of the bacon, and a mushroom or two carefully cleaned of onion. We both gave dinner rave reviews.Wonder what I’ll get next week at my new BFF store. Think I’ll lift the limit a bit and buy more than one thing. That kale sure looked good.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010


First came the magazine. Then came the cookbook. The magazine folded. The cookbook may not have been remaindered but it was selling at steep discounts. There was a website that disappeared shortly after the print magazine. Now there’s an app for that!

Conde Nast had the biggest and arguably the best cooking magazine on the planet. They were shuttering a legend. To this day the Gourmet cookbook offers a free subscription to a magazine no longer in print. But the gang at Times Square knows the power of the brand. They gathered some friends, of whom they have many, and planned a limited release series of news-stand-only special editions. The first is “Gourmet Quick Kitchen” and two more, currently unnamed, are planned. If sales blossom, is a semi-annual or quarterly Gourmet big magazine in the future? We’ll have to wait to find out.

“Gourmet Quick Kitchen” was supposed to appear on newsstands Tuesday, September 7, 2010. I found it at the local Walmart on Saturday, September 4. Naturally, I bought a copy. Shopping was over for the day. I had to get home to read my treasure. The only thing I forgot was butter.

Once home, I sat down to read it. It felt good to be greeted by an unadorned gray inside front cover instead of ads. The first, unnumbered, page announces, “Here’s a secret:” and continues with a secret even better than the fact that lemon juice will curdle milk. Before the recipes begin on page 6 with Spicy Pepper and Garlic Shrimp and a handy Kitchen Tip on how to devein shrimp in the corner of the page and by the time we’ve developed a craving for snappy shrimp, we’ve already seen the Roasted Tomato Tart twice and we want to eat that too – now. The distance between pages 6 and 12 couldn’t be longer.

From the photo index on the inside back cover (no ads again!) I counted 81 recipes. All look scrumptious, probably due to the simple albeit sometimes whimsical photography. Total overall Start-To-Finish times range from 10 minutes to 3 hours. Three hours may not seem quick but good food sometimes takes time to put together and there are only a few items taking more than an hour. They look good enough to save for a less hectic day.

At 129 pages, Gourmet Quick Kitchen contains ten “chapters” of recipes, one Kitchen Notebook, one containing menus, and a recipe index. Sold in the magazine section with a cover price of $10.99, I consider it more a soft-cover cookbook than a magazine. One of the 10-minute recipes, Chile Peanuts, was similar to something I thought I invented. In contrast, one of the desserts had me slapping my forehead with the palm of my hand saying, “Why didn’t I think of that?” Nothing looks impossible for the home cook. Now the decision is what to cook first.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Birth of a Journal

I’ve attempted to write this entry two, three, four, maybe six times in the last month. Everything started out wrong, or starting right was stranded after a paragraph or two. Every failed attempt made me doubt my ability to write. This one seems to be doing the same.

An editing job has stagnated. That is totally unlike me. Normally, I dig in and mold words and sentences to say what they were meant to mean.

Am I losing my touch? Has the heat affected my brain? No, at least I hope not. I’m just getting old. Not senile, mind you, just old. My mind would rather wander to my past than work on the present. Remembering the first rose I smelled, a pink one, on October 5, 1968, will never leave my memory. It’s been said that trauma stays with you. That may be the reason I can remember the acrid smell of a forest fire when I was fourteen months old. Hogs surrounding the ’46 Nash in Farmer Paul’s field . . . .

The memories come faster now than they did a month ago. How fast will they arrive in September? When I hear my Internet friends talk about the journals they keep, I shy from the conversation as I have never kept a journal. My Aunt Evelyn gave me a diary for my birthday (or was it Christmas?). I was around ten I think. I remember unlocking the thing just to make sure the key worked. I flipped through the pages and locked it up again. That’s the last time I ever touched it. It was pink.

Dr. Judy has diagnosed a long-standing case of regret; regret that, imagining herself a writer, she has never taken the time or effort to record the things that made her who she is. Prognosis: If left untreated, the brain will clog with memories too precious or important to erase until all function ceases. There is a cure. Write about it! (That seems to be the cure to most writers’ problems.)

So today starts the jumbled journal that will be diary entries never written when they were new. Entries will be written out of chronological order, surfacing as they float to the top of my memory, interrupting my thoughts as they free themselves. As memories not as fresh as the eggs in my refrigerator, they may be more frantic or romantic than they originally occurred.

What use will this serve? It will free my mind to think of new things. Recording my past will give insight into my present and possibly my future. My daughter and her family will have a glimpse of my life from my point of view if they dare want it. Each entry might serve as a springboard for scenes or perhaps entire stories, long or short, when the creative well seems a bit dry.

My memory needs some exercise and starting today, it’s going to get it.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Hiding Behind My Keyboard

It’s been way too hot to take Izzy eating. We learned that when we went to review Sarasota’s #1 pizza. Today’s not too bad except for the off-and-on drizzle. It’s not a good day to take my favorite canine out, though, since loud noises scare her so much and you never know where the fireworks are on the Fourth of July.

The pizza review never saw the light of day. It was a good pizza, don’t get me wrong. I’d eaten at the restaurant before when I used to work in the neighborhood. The food is terrific. The parking lot leaves a bit to be desired. The one table where Izzy might have eaten in the 90+ degree heat had an umbrella but was on a little corner of concrete jutting out at the end of the parking lot. Poor girl stayed inside the locked and running van while our pizza was cooked. We raced home to eat it. Izzy got more than I wanted to give up.

Giving up was not what we wanted to do with “Eating With Izzy.” Right now the plan is to resurrect the column when the weather cools off. We could feature a recipe eaten with Izzy once a month as a preview of an upcoming cookbook but that might compromise copyright with a publisher. I could take myself out for a meal and actually give the doggy bag to the dog and write restaurant reviews that way. I could beg off for most of the rest of hurricane season. Begging off doesn’t feel right.

I have been writing, though, and writing every day. Just this morning I finished an essay that, like most of my recent writing, won’t make me any money. Though I always caution new writers never to write for free, most of those cautions are posted on a volunteer message board. Go figure. The essay contest I just entered is taking me far from attempting to make a local name as a foodie. An international foodie name fits just fine.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Decisions, Decisions!

Izzy got invited to a pizza place the other day. (See, she’s getting famous already!) We thought about going Saturday. There was one little problem. We had already planned to go to the grill we had reviewed last month to watch the World Cup. Izzy dragged her soccer ball squeaky toy from under a chair and I cleaned it up. We were ready. Then came the thought of pizza!

We really should just stay home in the heat and try to assemble our new charcoal grill. That would be the practical thing to do. Since when is a dog ever practical? (I’m a triple Virgo so I don’t count.) That grill, however, has made the list of procrastination projects. It will be quite an extensive list if given any thought. Right now it consists of mowing the lawn and putting together the grill.

But back to our Saturday conundrum. When I ask Izzy if she wants to go see Annie, her eyes get big and loving and she gets a big smile on her face. When I ask if she wants pizza, she licks her lips. It looks as if the decision will be mine and mine alone. We may be in trouble. I have such a horrid time making decisions!

The original plan was for Izzy to go out to lunch with me once a month. Now approaching the third week, one week before out next scheduled outing, we’re considering revisiting that plan. Even though we can’t really afford it, we may have to do our lunches twice a month. (Still trying to find work so we can go once a week with an occasional splurge meal just for me.)

Any self-respecting triple Virgo would have this problem solved. She’d make a schedule of lunch outings and post it on a calendar. Random choices would work. Choices made according to a pattern (any pattern) might work even better. She could map out lunches for an entire year in a short time. Maybe I should look for where I hid my self-respect and get to it. It’s always good to have a plan. The hard part comes when you try to make one. Will planning “Eating With Izzy” get a schedule for the year or will it end up on the list of procrastination projects? We should know before the soccer game.

I’ve been making a lot of lists lately. While procrastination projects pile up, I’m thinking of making a list of them. Maybe tomorrow . . . .

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Eating With Izzy For Real

Our first column appeared on I pulled it up this morning and immediately posted it to my Facebook page. That was five hours ago and so far no comments have been made. It’s lunch time now and restaurant people are very busy. Writers without day jobs are probably so busy writing they have no idea what time it is. Those who go off to work each day are probably so happy to be away from the desk and computer I’m the last thing on their minds.

I don’t feel slighted. I’m not the most important thing in the universe, sometimes not even to Izzy. My major fear is that my link will get swallowed up on the page. Only three people in the whole world would be tempted to click “Older Posts” three or four times until they see it.

Relatively new to posting links on Facebook, I just realized anyone can find the article in my “Links” area. It’s highly unlikely that my activities will cover that up for at least another month.

Izzy was such a lady when we went out. She wants to do it again – and soon. It would be nice if we could go out once a week instead of once a month. As it was the trip to the farmer’s market and lunch ate up my entire food budget for the week. Good thing I have food in the freezer! I didn’t really need that cake from the market but it sure was good! It’s doubtful I’ll be able to eat all the arugula before it wilts into oblivion. Maybe my neighbor can help eat it. Their lettuce has all gone to seed so they might welcome it. Izzy decided she likes the little yellow tomatoes so they won’t be a problem. And the purple pepper was so good that it’s gone!

All I really need at the grocery store this week is fruit juice and that’s on sale (on a BOGO, no less!). Let’s see if I can get into the store and out again with just four bottles of juice.

I cooked chicken breasts for the weekend. They were big! It took two days to finish one. Tonight I’ll see how much of the Cajun spiced one I can eat. That and a simple salad of arugula and baby yellow pear tomatoes sounds like a good meal for the first of June.

As I was bemoaning the fact that nobody had commented on my link one of my friends did just that. She said she wishes she could try the restaurant. Too bad she lives in Knoxville.

In a little more than three weeks Izzy and I have to decide where to eat next. Knowing me, it will take every day of those three weeks. Knowing Izzy, she’ll be happy to go wherever I take her. She’ll be a lady again and maybe she can have a little taste from my plate (again).

Monday, May 31, 2010

Memorial Day, 2010

Happy Memorial Day, we say to friends. Are you cooking out? Going to the beach? You’re driving to Great Aunt Elsie’s? Have a safe trip.

Maybe we fly a flag. We click on videos posted by our friends and share them with others, videos of funeral processions or Arlington National Cemetery, a country song of patriotism playing over it all. We plug in a DVD and watch an “old” movie: Platoon, Full Metal Jacket, Apocalypse Now.

Memorial Day is meant to be a memorial, a day to thank the soldiers, sailors, and marines who gave their lives for their country – for our country. We cannot thank those who have died to defend our freedoms. We can pray for them if that is a thing we do. Memorial Day seems to be a Veteran’s Day with flowers.

Did we go to a parade with marching bands and the local VFW post? Did we stay home because parking was too far from the parade route? Was the parade at an inconvenient time? Talk about inconvenient with a man on a stretcher bleeding from where his leg used to be. If he lived long enough to get a prosthetic leg, he would be happy to walk a mile or more to honor those with whom he served, no matter what war at what time in which country.

We may not pray for the dead or put flowers on their graves. We may not agree with the war in which they died. Remember, though, that they did not start the war. A government did, most likely our government, the same government that began returning the dead to their homeland only since Viet Nam.

Remember the poem “In Flanders Fields?” That wasn’t Flanders, New Jersey. It was in the Netherlands, written during World War I. That was before World Wars got numbers. It was called the Great War, the War to End All War. So far we’ve gotten to number two. I don’t want to see three. But we’ll see fighting throughout the world every day, probably until the end of time.

We bring them home now, the wounded, the dead, and the nearly dead. Medical advances have almost kept up with military advances. Some of the wounded are lucky enough to heal with only physical scars. Others carry emotional scars that will follow them for life. Some have engineered parts fitted to their bodies, mostly arms and legs. I shudder to think of others. It would be interesting to know the number of “survivors” there would be using WWII or Korean “War” medical knowledge.

There are 508,152 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans as patients in the VA system. Thousands more are waiting as much as a year for VA treatment for serious ailments including traumatic brain injury. Of those, 243,685 (48 percent) are mental health patients and 142,530 (28 percent) are being treated for PTSD. (It’s interesting that post-traumatic stress syndrome patients are separated from mental health patients.)

Perhaps instead of going to the beach or Aunt Elsie’s we should visit a VA hospital and thank a vet that would have died with medical knowledge from 50 or 60 years ago. Tell him (or her) how grateful you are for your freedoms he or she defended with such selflessness. Maybe you can make a new friend.

In Flanders Fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Eating With Izzy

The air is charged at my house these days with both excitement and anticipation. Izzy will be my dining partner somewhere besides our own dining room. We’re going to a restaurant! Together!

We’ve been discussing this outing for about a month. Izzy wanted to go but I kept telling her I couldn’t afford it. There was only one restaurant where she was specifically invited within my usual travel range. I’ve eaten there before and love their food. Izzy agreed that this was where she would make her public dining debut. The menu is affordable so how could I let down my best friend?

Then something fortuitous happened. I was looking for an organic farm not too far away from the house. As often happens with my Web searches, I got sidetracked. Instead of searching local farms, I ended up searching local dog-friendly restaurants. Landed on a page that looked new since it had no photos, requested from viewers, and no reviews, again viewer supplied. Izzy and I considered checking out the restaurants on their site and I made a list.

Another random epiphany grabbed us as we discussed future dining plans. Izzy and I would write restaurant reviews together. We would place them on a public forum with an international audience. People all ‘round the world could feel more comfortable about talking with their dogs instead of to them. They might find a special place to take them out to dinner when in Sarasota, Florida. Most important, though, was getting Izzy out of the house and into the public eye. She would write from the dog’s-eye view while I discussed the food and the service.

I linked up with on Facebook and think we’re up for our first article next week. We’ll be eating out once a month if Izzy likes her first encounter. If not, guess I’ll have to write her part.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Dinner for Breakfast & Vice Versa

I’m really trying to get through this summer with no air conditioning. Not sure I’ll make it, though. It’s still May and temperatures are around 90 every day. Writing can be hot work but cooking is even hotter.

I really should clean out my old office that’s used as storage now so I can write under a ceiling fan instead of at the fringes of a breeze from the fan over the dog’s bed. The phone’s right there and the television’s farther away. Sounds like a much more efficient place to work.

One day last week I made Chicken Toes (like chicken fingers but shorter) in the morning. They were oven-fried and cooking in the morning meant it barely got warm in the kitchen. It was a good plan. The only problem was I ate all but two before dinner time. Izzy, my German Shepherd, and I had a discussion as we shared the last Chicken Toe and decided it was a good idea to make dinner for breakfast but we should probably eat it for breakfast as well.

This morning over hamburgers and green beans, Izzy suggested honey oat cereal for dinner. She took credit for the idea because every good idea is her idea. She thinks she’s a very smart dog. She’s right. Don’t know how right she’ll be about dinner. I was thinking hard-boiled eggs and salsa. We’ll see who wins.
I’d cook on the gas grill on the back patio but I never got used to using it. Besides, it hasn’t been the same since the neighbor’s tree fell on it. It’s falling apart and held together by only one screw. Checking around for charcoal grills nearly every time I go out shopping. Some day soon, I’ll bring one home. And I won’t forget the charcoal.

I remember my old Weber kettle and how I’d clean off the snow in the winter and grill meat for a week. Chicken breasts, little steaks, lamb chops, maybe pork chops would land on the grill each Sunday night. I’d feast all week and only needed to add a salad and a cup of my favorite vegetable. When I get the new grill, I’ll do the old tricks. I’m dying to grill veggies this time. And I won’t forget the marshmallows!

I win tonight for dinner. Izzy already ate. Hard-boiled eggs, here I come!

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Plans for a Long, Hot Summer

It's really still just spring but it feels like summer here in Florida. With temperatures rising to near 90 degrees daily, I'm happy to be close to two miles from the Gulf of Mexico since the sea breeze lowers daytime temps by nearly five degrees. Next month brings hurricane season, though, and what's happening with the weather lately may make it frightening. A see breeze may feel good, but not when it's a 135-mile-an-hour wind accompanied by pelting rain.

Part of my plan for keeping cool this summer, apart from being grateful for ceiling fans, is to take advantage of OPA/C whenever possible. What's OPA/C you might well ask. It's other people's air conditioning, of course. The lack of sounds in the air tells me most of my neighbors are spending long, hot, frugal days as well. The silence of A/C compressors around here tells me we're all living under ceiling fans. No wonder my friend next door talks to me on facebook! It's cooler than over the backyard fence!

So where do I find OPA/C? I go shopping! Have you ever heard the phrase when the going gets tough, the tough go shopping? Well, it's true! Shopping can be expensive, though, so I give myself a budget (a very frugal budget) and window shop from the inside of the windows a lot. This weekend I added the library to my itinerary. Next time I'll bring my library card!

Remember when I announced earlier this month that I volunteered to work a fundraising dinner? Well, it was a success. About 200 people found the little restaurant where it was held and $2,000 in donations and raffle ticket sales were donated to Our Mother's House. (Wonder what Francesco spent on the food.)

The food smelled fantastic! Idiot girl here didn't wear a hat - or long sleeves - and wore out my SPF #80 in the first hour or two. Consequently, when the food came out, I was too sick from the sun to eat any. I'll have to drop by Etrusco next time I'm in the neighborhood and try Francesco's lasagna. (That's what I eat the first time at any Italian restaurant.)

I decided before the event to volunteer my time and knowledge to Our Mother's House. Still working on the plan for that. I'm sure it will involve a new printer for my laptop. I'll need to contact the volunteer coordinator, check out their facilities, and write up a proposal. I could be very happy teaching young moms and their children how to cook inexpensive, nutritious meals. With any luck, they'll be happy learning.

Found out one of my bargain buys from a few years ago, a 35-cent hat worth at least ten bucks, was a sun-protective hat! Read the label in time for my second farmer's market trip. By the time season rolls around again, I'll be famous as the lady in the lavender hat. Maybe I'll also be famous as the old lady who teaches kids how to cook.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Happy Cinco de Mayo!

One of my favorite things to do for holidays is cook. Naturally another favorite thing to do is eat. Since I love Mexican food, actually almost all Latin American food, Cinco de Mayo has become one of my favorite holidays.

I'll use any excuse to make and eat Mexican food. Such an important holiday that changed not only Mexico but the United States as well deserves to be celebrated on both sides of that border which has become so controversial of late. Don't believe that battle in Puebla, Mexico had an impact on the United States? Google Cinco de Mayo and find out. Cinco de Mayo started in the morning of May 5, 1862. Can you think of anything else happening in 1862? Give a big gold star to that kid jumping up and down in the corner going, "Ooh! Ooh!" Yes, the War Between the States better known as the (capitalized, of course) Civil War.

I think we need a dish or several to commemorate the Battle of Gettysburg. That's where your research will lead you. My research will look for food.

So what's for dinner tonight? I took the easy - or was it desperate? - way out. I'm making chili. There was a bit more than half a pound of ground beef in the refrigerator. Tomorrow morning it would be dog food. Tomorrow afternoon it might be garbage. I had all my secret ingrdients except for beer and a gold Rolex (I never have the gold Rolex and rarely the beer).

I fried up the beef, shaking garlic powder, cumin, and oregano over the pan. Ground some black pepper over the whole thing and turned it and chopped it up with my spatula. The beef - minus the fat, there wasn't much - went into my crock pot. Then I added diced tomatoes. I realized as soon as I opened the can that I need new glasses. The tomatoes were Italian style. Instead of slitting my throat or making semi-Mexican lasagna, I added a little smoked paprika and one of my secret chili ingredients, cocoa powder. It wasn't just cocoa powder. I used my cocoa/ancho chile/cinnamon rub. The store-bought chili powder went in next. I stirred it up, covered it, and waited. While I was waiting, it started to smell good enough to eat. Then I realized there was no salt in my chili. I'm not bit on salt and the chili needed some more liquid so I shook in a few drops of soy sauce and added water. I'm waiting again.

Can you tell yet that I cook by taste? Actually, I cook by smell whenever I can. Cooking by taste can be fattening, leave me not hungry when the meal is ready, and leave a lot less for anyone else who happens to be eating with me.

It's been in the crock pot for close to three hours. I'm getting hungry. I should have put in a little molasses but I'm out. Maybe I could have added a bit of brown sugar but it's too late now. (I'm also nearly out of that, too.)

Think I'll chop some onion for my bowl. (Izzy wants to try some. No onion for her!) I'll be back after I have a taste.

Oooh! It was good! It was hot - both kinds of hot. Adding the Ancho to the chili powder might have been a little much, just a little.

I'm going to have more. Don't worry. I'll save some for Izzy. She won't get the onion on top.

Happy Cinco de Mayo!

Monday, May 3, 2010

I Volunteered!

Wasn't sure what I was going to write about today. A week of eggs and potatoes didn't sound very exciting. Even adding a pound of chicken livers didn't help. Well, it helped add a little animal protein to go with the potatoes. Veggies added variety and color but trying to eat five pounds of potatoes before they grow eyes and roots can get monotonous.

The week of potatoes, of course, put a new cookbook on my list of things to write. Mrs. Potato Head! You've got to try the potato salad!

A local restaurant club is hosting a fundraiser on Saturday, the day before Mother's Day. It sounds like a great time for a great cause. I wanted to go. I don't get out much these days. They needed volunteers. I called.

After a wonderful conversation with "Sarasota Sally," I volunteered to work the early shift, 2 to 6 for a dinner that lasts from 5 to 8. Don't know if I'll get any food but I sure will have things to do. Note to self: light lunch and full tank of gas.

The charity reaping the benefits of this dinner is Our Mother's House, a Catholic Charities program for homeless mothers. Since I work (hard) at frugal eating, I thought there might be a place to share my obsession with these mothers who can never afford lobster. After the dinner would be a good time to make a plan to take to Our Mother's House for some classes on shopping and cooking healthy meals the kids will like (maybe even love!). Ideas for cooking with the kids will have to be part of it.

Once I catch up with him, I'll be cooking with my grandson by e-mail. I started writing him a cookbook when he was three. He's five now and I'm still working on the chapter for four-year-old cooks. If I don't volunteer too much, I should catch up with him by June. The book lasts until age 13, though, so I'd better write fast.

Time to make dinner! Do I want potato salad (I said it was good!) or oven fries to go with my burger? Incredible ice cream for dessert. Blue Bell has a new flavor, Summer Berries. Might have to make freezer room before it goes off sale.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

What's For Dinner?

I started cooking (seriously) when I was fourteen. I started writing (seriously - sort of) when I was twelve. It took several decades to put the two together. My grandson made me do it. He liked to help in the kitchen when he was three. I decided to write him a cookbook.

Garrison, my grandson, is five now. He'll be adamant that he's five and a half. I'm still writing the chapter where he's four. (He'd be upset if he knew that so I'd better write fast.) Something stopped me. It was something that stopped a lot of things. It was the economy.

A weekly grocery bill for two people and two dogs (even though one was on prescription food) shouldn't come to nearly a hundred dollars and not include lobster - a lot of lobster. I decided to make notes on frugal shopping and frugal cooking. That morphed into the beginnings of a cookbook and a weekly grocery tab of around fifby bucks if I shopped alone.

Now the household consists of one person, one dog, and no income. I spend my days looking for work, scouring grocery store sales that don't burn much gas, and entertaining myself playing with cheap food.

This week russet potatoes and large eggs were on sale, a sale nobody should miss. Last night eggs made the dinner. Tonight a potato will be stuffed with anything that sounds good.

There's almost a whole day before dinner comes around again.