A Trip to Another World

Deep in the winter of 1989, I went with a group of seminary students and one of our professors to visit the far away land of Hungary.

It was just before the old Eastern block fell. Free falling into a world of communist customs agents and Russian tanks thundering through what were once farmers’ fields beside the road.

It was cold. It was dark. It was so very, very different. (Which was, after all, the point.)

Alternative Context. A program designed to get wanna-be preachers outside the familiar worlds where they grew up and into the lives of those who seemed other.

Food was quite an issue.

Red pickled cabbage, the only vegetable we encountered.

Coffee so dark and thick it didn’t require a cup.

Something that resembled liquid peanut brittle for breakfast.

A fabulous bowl of fish soup on the shores of Lake Balanton. If you didn’t mind picking out the eyeballs.

And the infamous “pig jell-o” all gray and jiggly on a platter, full of suspicious chunks, at a village luncheon.

So much I didn’t understand, long before my days of local, seasonal food.

And so much I’ve learned.

We’re having a similar learning experience at our house.

The resident herd of Newfies are going species appropriate real food.

Controversial, perhaps, in some circles. The next logical thing in our world.

They have orthopedic and digestive and allergy problems I haven’t been able to solve so far. Problems that limit their lives.

We’re starting with turkey and, while we have some skill development to work on, it looks like they’re pretty thrilled.

My fears are disappearing.

There was the whole (perceived) germ thing, after years as an O.R. nurse. (Which is way more me than what they’re eating!)

And the hunting and gathering thing which I’m doing lots of myself, still complicated a bit by that recent fall.

Quantities. Timing. Keeping them from mugging each other for a chicken foot.

I started out anxious. And hopeful. And pretending to be confident!

Which is exactly how I’ve felt about every big change in my life.

My local farmer friends are thrilled.

Bill’s stocking up on dishwasher soap.

The ironic thing is that I’m feeding our dogs essentially what we eat. Clean, local, seasonal food.

Sources I trust.

Support for farmers I know.

The beasties might be feeling like they woke up in Hungary for a while. And there’s the whole thing about shifting to one meal a day!  Adjusting to that may take a bit.

I’m hoping they’ll be glad to learn new things. I’m still learning from that trip to Hungary.

And grateful now, more than ever.

Life is for learning!

 

 

 

 

 

MOTB – 3

Monday evening, we arrived home from a great weekend with our kids. Well, except for the whole flying thing! (I’m improving, but still not thrilled with sitting!)

I wasn’t thinking about my Make One Thing Better list when I wandered through the back door and glanced into the kitchen.

There it was!

A huge better thing we’d accomplished before we left. Actually, Bill did the accomplishing. I just did the international sign language thing for two inches to the left.

One day, a month or so ago, a plan sprouted magically in my head. I’ve learned to pay attention to those.

In this case, the plan was for re-arranging the part of our kitchen the early 1960’s builder would have referred to as the breakfast room. In our case “breakfast room” means the place where the refrigerator and two upright deep freezers rub elbows with our antique oak dining table.

We did a great job with the kitchen reno about 15 years ago, given the fact that we couldn’t change the footprint. I’d still choose most of the things we did, which is kind of a miracle.

The big exception for me was the way the multiplying major appliances had worked to close off the space by my favorite, free-standing wooden butcher block.

Our very sexy glass door fridge used to sit butted up against the left side of the butcher block, headed into the breakfast room. A stainless fridge, with black sides. It felt like this massive wall, sucking up all the light. And I spend a lot of time standing at that butcher block.

So, Furniture Yahtzee. Or, in this case, Appliance Yahtzee!

The fridge went where the smaller freezer was.

The smaller freezer went where the metal shelving was.

The metal shelving went where the fridge was.

Bill, who believes we can’t move fewer than seven things in one of my MOTB games, was amazed. We moved three things and made a huge difference. As in, let there be light!

Light from the french doors to the deck. Light not soaked up from the black sides of the fridge.

And sight lines through to the wall murals I worked so hard to paint back in the day. Along with a couple more inches of traffic pattern.

Perhaps best of all, my treasured stock pots, even the biggest one, are much easier to reach.

Would I double the square footage of the space if I could? You bet!

Does it feel bigger and more open and more welcoming? It does!

There’s more room for chopping since I moved the knives.

And, it makes me happy.

I’m still sorting what goes where on the shelves. That really never ends around here.

And setting some stuff aside for donations.

There are also some changes in our routine coming up which will probably require more adjusting.

Seriously, though, it’s a whole lot of better for a couple of hours and no money.

And, since I’m thinking about money in terms of investing, rather than spending, these days, I’m pretty excited.

What’s tickling your mind in this moment?

It might be worth paying attention!

 

 

 

Winner. Winner.

It’s been a while since we’ve done a recipe.

Part of that is because I’ve been busy recomposing my list of go-to ingredients over the last year or so. It’s been a bit of a challenge, as most new things are. Then I remember how much better I feel and I get up and do it again the next day.

Growing past a few personal tendencies toward food fundamentalism has been the biggest challenge for me. I’ve discovered, deep inside, how to join together the new things I’ve learned and the individual quirks I bring to the journey, all in relationship with a gluten-free, diabetic husband who’s fond of 1000 Island salad dressing in a jar!

Learning where it works to wander occasionally toward the fringes, and where it really doesn’t, in light of the future I long for.

We made a bit of a trip in the direction of  the fringes on the 4th of July.

I wanted fried chicken. It’s probably a genetic thing. (At least a recent one!) I did not want belly aches and swollen ankles. I did not want carb cravings or chemicals or trans fats.

Homemade was clearly in order.

The best wings I could buy. A few extra for the stock pot. Some research and a new theory for the dredging part of the plan. An extra set of hands in the kitchen.

It worked!!!

Sadly, I did not take a picture. When I suggested a do-over “for artistic purposes”, Bill immediately volunteered to go to the Farmers’ Market. So, here, just for you…

Grammy’s Best Wings Ever

Serves 2-3 adults for a main course.

Preheat oven to 400 F.

1-1 1/2 pounds chicken wings per person. Local, pastured, sustainably raised, wing tips removed and discarded if needed.

1 c. organic brown rice flour. (Or white, if you prefer.)

2 tsp. aluminum free baking powder.

2 tsp. good Celtic sea salt, plus extra for finishing.

1 tsp. freshly ground black or mixed peppercorns.

1 tsp. dried thyme.

1/2 – 1 tsp. ground chipotle pepper, if desired.

1 – 2 tsp. lemon zest, if desired.

Good, imported olive oil or other oil of your choice for frying. (You really can fry in olive oil!)

About 1/2 hour to 45 min. before cooking, remove wings from fridge and bring to cool room temp.

Mix all dry ingredients, plus lemon zest, if desired, in a medium sized bowl, adjusting seasoning as desired.

Heat about 1 inch of olive oil in large skillet, preferably cast iron, over just less than highest heat, adjusting to avoid smoking.

Toss about a quarter of the wing pieces in flour mix to coat.

Place wings in sieve and tap off extra flour.

Using tongs, add wings to hot skillet. (Be careful. They’ll pop!)

Fry until nicely golden brown and turn to second side. Continue to fry until golden brown.

Remove to sheet tray lined with parchment paper and a rack, if desired.

Continue coating and frying wing pieces until all are finished. (I used 2 trays with racks for this amount.)

Roast wings in hot oven for 10 minutes.

Remove, checking a larger piece for doneness. Roast an extra 1-2 min. if needed.

Re-season with good sea salt.

Sprinkle with hot sauce if desired.

Enjoy!

This is not the way my mom made fried chicken. Nor the way my grandmother did it. It is a way that meets all those same sentimental, emotional needs for me, and Bill loves it, too.

Juicy. Tasty. Oddly hospitable.

Serve with lots of veg!

No guilt. No belly aches. No hobbling around the morning after.

Or, as my Food Network buddies would say, recalling historic Las Vegas: Winner, winner chicken dinner!

Next, we try fish!

 

 

One Skillet Wild Shrimp with Spring Sauce Verde

I’m just beginning to realize how much I hibernated this winter. Granted, it wasn’t that cold in Atlanta and we have heat. I seem to have hibernated, all the same.

Suddenly, my imagination is awake again. My hunger for variety. And company.

I treasure the freezer, still about half full of deep, rich bone broth after the dark days. I just want other things, too. Fresh, tasty, light things. Quick things. So, tonight, for the first time, an ongoing experiment and a relatively recent favorite, all with minimal dishes to do!

This is delicious. Tasty in a grilled sort of way. A bit of heat. Lots of crunch. Complex and, at the same time, very clean. Try it with leftover roast chicken breast or a seared, roasted, and sliced pork tenderloin. Or, to skip the meat, do the veg mix and toss with scrambled eggs, or top with fried eggs. (We will!)

Seasonal food is at its best when what there is and what you long for meet!

One Skillet Wild Shrimp with Spring Sauce Verde

Serves 2 hungry adults for a whole meal or 4 for a main course. WildFit/Paleo friendly & Gluten-free.

Total time, about 1 hour. Active time, 15 minutes. (A handy sous chef is helpful, as this goes quickly.)

First, dispatch someone wise in the ways of  local markets to “source”, as my foodie friends would say, some really excellent shrimp. For us, from Georgia. The Atlantic is good for US friends. Or the Pacific Coast. Whatever is “local” for you. (Shrimp from China and Viet Nam should be avoided for health reasons. If you must buy commercial, pre-packaged shrimp, please check the label!) You’ll also want some bright greens, as clean and local as possible. Here’s the list:

 1 1/2 pounds excellent shrimp. We buy the 16-20 size (large). I like them with heads and shells best. Today, only shells. (See below.)

1/2 large head Romaine (or other deep green, crunchy lettuce) per diner.

About 4 – 6 c. washed, trimmed, and chopped mixed greens. (The more, the merrier!) In this case, baby arugula, some Italian, flat-leafed parsley, a bit of fresh basil or thyme, and a few clumps of dandelion greens. (Reserve stems of parsely, if using. They’re great in salads, smoothies, or shrimp stock!)

6 spears really fresh asparagus, stemmed and sliced very thinly, from the garden, if possible. (Optional, but awesome! Sliced broccoli stems, or even chopped stems from collard greens, Swiss chard, etc., would work, too.)

1 Vidalia onion or a handful of scallions, trimmed and thinly sliced at the last minute. (WildFit friends may wish to avoid “sweet” onions like Vidalias in “deep Spring.”)

2 – 4 cloves of minced garlic.

3 excellent quality anchovy fillets. (Trust me!)

Juice of 1/2 a fresh lemon.

3 Tbsp. good olive oil, divided.

Freshly ground black or mixed peppercorns.

Good, Celtic sea salt.

1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes, optional, to  taste.

Optional – 1/2 c. or so of hot, cooked, organic rice per person for those who desire. (Bill does!)

And the plan:

About 1 hour before you wish to serve, remove shrimp from fridge, if still frozen. Rinse in collander and set to thaw/drain. (If your shrimp are thawed, start here about 30 min. before you wish to serve. Rinse and drain well.)

Place rice in oven at 350 F. to re-heat if needed. (Or steam, or whatever.)

Shell shrimp, as needed, reserving and freezing shells, if desired, for stock. I like the $2.00 plastic thing-y you can buy at many fish places to help remove shells and “vein”.

Drain shrimp some more and pat on paper towels. We want them as close to dry as shrimp get!

While shrimp drain & dry, start washing and trimming your veg as necessary. Tonight, I picked out the pine straw and tiny maple trees, and returned them to the compost. Halve Romaine the long way, remove any wilted outer leaves, rinse and drain really well. Dry greens well in a kitchen towel and chop as needed. They’re going to wilt/shrink!

Place shrimp in a bowl with 2 Tbsp. olive oil and about a tsp. each of salt and pepper. Toss well to coat.

About 15 min. before you plan to serve, heat large, heavy skillet (preferably cast iron) dry over high heat. (A few drops of water should skitter around.)

Place Romaine halves, cut side down, into skillet, pressing down occasionally, to sear. When cut side is nicely browned, remove to serving plates, cut side up.

Reduce heat to medium high.

Add oiled and seasoned shrimp, with extra olive oil if pan gets dry, in 2 batches if needed to allow space to turn and sear, turning with tongs until shrimp are fragrant, pink on the outsides, and opaque through the center, about 3 – 5 minutes, depending on size. Resist overcooking!

Remove cooked shrimp to serving plates, over seared lettuce.

Add an extra Tbsp. of olive oil to same skillet, over medium heat. Add sliced onions and stir to begin to wilt.

Add anchovy fillets and stir to incorporate with onions.

Add asparagus, if using. Continue to stir fry, adding a bit more olive oil if needed.

Add chopped greens and herbs, continuing to toss.

Add lemon juice and crushed red pepper flakes. Season with S & P to taste.

When the individual bits are all still intact but the greens have wilted, spoon over Romaine, shrimp (and rice, if serving).

Serve, perhaps with additional lemon wedges, if desired.

If you saved shrimp heads/peels, place in zipee bag and squeeze out air. Freeze, labeled, and dated. Watch here for stock recipe to follow.

Enjoy!

What am I trying to accomplish?

If our first language is touch, our second is food.

Lately, I’ve been learning more and more about food, largely with the help of my WildFit friends. One of the keys to my learning has been a new awareness of the food messages American TV bombards us with. Especially, our kids.

One of the things I noticed is the tremendous power of those who sell “breakfast foods.” Think about it. The vast majority of what we think of as breakfast is hugely processed, overly sweet, and filled with chemical colorings and preservatives. Leading, I suspect, to health problems and issues with attentiveness and concentration in school kids.

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Each little bit helps!

This morning, Sarah and I went on an adventure. I had two quick errands to run and she loves to ride in the car. At 60 F. and overcast, it’s still cool enough for her to wait 10 minutes in a car with the windows down about four inches.

We ushered Phoebe and Luther out to the deck with a big bowl of water and a variety of rope toys. Sarah was delighted to go with me.

I went looking for provisions from my favorite butcher and a few more veg to pop into an already magnificent pot of soup. I found more!

All the spring flowering trees are in bloom!

The dogwoods are just getting started. The redbuds are stunning. There are some purple ones that look like wisteria but I’m not sure about that. Gorgeous, in any event. And brilliant, crimson Japanese maples which aren’t blooming but look like they are.

Our pinky-purple Loropetalum is dripping with blooms and, one by one, the azalea bushes are popping, too.

While Sarah was snuffling the breeze, I was on a sight-seeing tour for gardeners!

When we got home, I saw some early season bees, happily buzzing among the blooms I left on a few of the collard greens, and I actually felt tears in my eyes.

I have a history with bees.

I’m desperately allergic to stings. Bees, wasps, yellow jackets. You name it.

One day, years and years ago, I got stung on the knuckle of my ring finger in the parking lot of a grocery store. Within 20 minutes, my arm was swollen to my shoulder and I was having trouble breathing.

Enter my close relationship with Epi-pens!

Dave is allergic, too. I try to pretend not to know that he keeps his Epi-pen at home in the closet where the first aid stuff lives.

For a long time, I was pretty phobic about bees. Especially the buzzing. The usual anxiety symptoms. Avoiding anything with flowers. And then, one day, my phobia was gone.

It happened at a training session in Ericksonian Hypnosis. We were watching an ancient, scratchy video of Milton Erickson working with a client about her bee phobia. Somehow, I dropped into the trance experience of that moment and, when the video was over, my phobia was gone.

I’m still appropriately cautious. No floral or fruity perfume. Ditto, scented shampoos. No hairspray. I carry my Epi-pen, especially when eating outside.

Now, though, I can appreciate bees for the aerodynamically improbable, life-giving miracles that they are. I speak kindly to them in the garden. I plant things for their pleasure.

Sage and lamb’s ears are favorites with the local gang. Just about anything with purple flowers. And the funnel-shaped flowers. Check for recommendations in your area. Hummingbirds will like them, too. And butterflies.

It’s a chance to nurture our mother, the Earth. To feed the generations that follow us. To learn new things.

Like no GMO’s. No neonicotinoids. You really can grow a garden without chemical fertilizers and herbicides and insecticides!

And early indications are that feeding Phoebe small doses of very local honey is helping with her severe allergies. (And my sanity!)

Our garden starts with organic, heirloom seeds. And lots of compost. And barrels planted full of leafy green stuff,  right in the front yard, because that’s what I eat.

Or, if you don’t have the room, some potted herbs. This is one place where each little bit actually does help. Which is an encouraging thing to realize on a day when you’re juggling dogs and running errands or whatever it is you’re doing.

And then there’s the whole thing about the power within us to be healed of our fears and phobias. That’s pretty encouraging, too!

For the moment, though, time to dry-brine a perfect chicken for dinner. (Just click for the recipe!)

Life Lessons from the “Chopped” Kitchen

I watch a lot of Chopped on Food Network. Not as much Chopped as West Wing, but it fascinates me. First, there’s the whole process of opening up a basket of random-esque ingredients and figuring out in 20 or 30 minutes of TV time how to turn them into something past edible and headed in the direction of delicious.

I cooked a couple of meals like that in San Diego last summer. Unfamiliar kitchen. New friends with a tangled web of food needs. Five big bags of groceries purchased by someone else who was, blessedly, a great deal more benevolent than the Chopped folks. A grill I didn’t know how to use. And, on the first night, about 2 ounces of olive oil to feed 12 people!

Amazingly, it all turned out great! And I have to admit, I felt a bit like I’d just won Chopped.

Then again, the whole mystery basket – vs – clock thing isn’t the only thing that intrigues me about Chopped

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