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.