Thursday, March 31, 2011

Natalie's bread

My niece Natalie brought a homemade yeast bread to my house a couple of weeks ago. I'm not good with yeast breads, never was able to get them to rise properly. But Natalie is a Montessori preschool teacher and she said that she bakes this bread with her three-year-old students so surely I can do it. (Ha! Should I consider that a challenge?)

So she sent me the recipe and I baked two loaves a couple of days ago. I didn't get it to rise really well and it looked flatter, more like focaccia than Natalie's loaves, but it was still delicious. And I'm determined to conquer this bread thing and I'm going to keep at it until I get it right. I can't let a toddler outbake me, not even a Montessori toddler.

Vegan Rosemary Garlic Bread

1½ cup lukewarm water
1 packet active yeast
1 tablespoon sugar
¼ cup chopped fresh rosemary (divided)
1 teaspoon salt
3 cups bread flour
1/3 cup olive oil
3 to 6 cloves of minced garlic
2 teaspoons kosher salt (or sea salt)

In a small bowl, mix the water, yeast, sugar, and half of the rosemary. In a separate large bowl, add 1 teaspoon salt to flour, mix, then add yeast mixture to flour. Mix slowly until the dough forms a ball.

Knead on a floured board for 10 minutes (this is when having a three- or four-year-child around comes handy). Place the dough in oiled bowl, cover, and let it sit in a warm place until it doubles in size (about an hour).

Mix olive oil, remaining rosemary, and garlic. Punch dough down, knead a few times to make it easy to handle. Shape dough into 2 loaves, place several inches apart on the baking sheet. Score loaves, pour oil/rosemary mix on top. Sprinkle each loaf with kosher salt.

Allow loaves to rise for 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Bake bread for 15 minutes or until golden brown.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Fishsticks on Friday

I’ve been hankering for a hot dog all day today. I couldn’t quite figure out why. You’ve heard the horror stories about how the processing plants basically grind up some unfortunate hog (hair, skin, teeth, and bones) and slide the ground mass into a section of intestine. We buy it, grill it, and put it on a bun with relish and spicy mustard and call it lunch. It sounds great to me now and I’ve figured out why. It’s Lent and it’s Friday and I’m not supposed to be eating meat. Tomorrow a hot dog won’t be the least bit appealing but today it is forbidden, hence the only reason I want it.

When I was growing up it was a mortal sin for Catholics to eat meat on any Friday. (A mortal sin is the really bad kind of sin, the kind that condemns you to hell for all eternity. Venial sins are the little sins, like telling a minor lie, for which you burn in purgatory for an undefined period of time. Sister Mary Ignatius said it was sometime between 300 years and 700 billion years. I don’t know where she got her data.) At some point I heard that it was a mortal sin not because eating meat was wrong but because it was considered disobedience to the church. But the Catholic Church changed the rules in the 1960s with Vatican II and now the abstinence from meat rule is in effect only on Fridays in Lent.

Apparently there were lots of exceptions pre-Vatican II but none of them worked in our house. If you were over 60 years of age you were exempt because you were too old. If you were a nursing mother you were exempt because I suppose babies need meat in their breast milk. If you were of Spanish descent you were exempt because sometime in the last 2000 years someone Spanish did a favor for the pope so all Spanish people were henceforth exempt from the no-meat Friday rule. The girls in high school in Mother Rosary’s Spanish class claimed that they were exempt because they were learning to speak Spanish. What a fool I was to be taking French.

Did you ever hear George Carlin’s take on Catholicism and not eating meat on Fridays? George Carlin also grew up Catholic under the old rules. He said it seemed unfair that people were spending eternity in hell on a “meat rap” for their sin before the no-meat on Fridays rule was changed. Timing is everything.

Forever I will associate tuna noodle casserole with meatless Fridays, though sometimes growing up in my house we had fish sticks or pancakes. Over the years I messed with my mother’s basic tuna noodle formula—tuna, noodles, and cream of mushroom soup. My kids loved my doctored-up version of tuna noodle casserole whether it was Friday or not. You’ll never see this recipe in Bon Appetit.

Tuna Noodle Casserole

16 ounces egg noodles
8 ounces cottage cheese
6 ounce can French-fried onions
3 cans tuna
2 cans cream of mushroom soup
1 cup frozen chopped spinach
½ cup grated carrot
1 cup milk
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese

Cook noodles as directed on package until barely cooked, drain. Mix cooked noodles with cottage cheese, half of the French-fried onions, tuna, soup, frozen spinach, grated carrot, and milk.

Put noodle/tuna mixture in a large deep casserole dish. Top with remaining half can of onions and grated Parmesan.

Cook at 350 degrees for 30 minutes or until bubbly and brown on top.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Cauliflower soup

What to do when you find a beautiful head of cauliflower sitting on your kitchen counter? You make curried cauliflower soup!

I happened to have saffron and turmeric and ghee in my pantry and I searched through my files, combined, adapted, and came up with this recipe. It was yummy and really not hard to make. [If you don't have an immersion blender, get one! It's a great little tool!]

Curried Cauliflower Soup

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium-size head cauliflower, cut into florets
1 large onion, diced
1 tablespoon ghee
1 teaspoon sugar
3 large garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon ground ginger
½ teaspoon ground turmeric
Pinch saffron
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper (½ teaspoon if you want it hotter)
3 cups chicken broth, homemade or from a carton or can
½ cup half-and-half
½ cup coconut milk
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Heat oil over medium-high heat in a large, deep pan. Add cauliflower, then onion; saute, stirring occasionally until vegetables start to turn golden brown, about 7 minutes. Reduce heat to low, add ghee, sugar, and garlic. Cook about 10 minutes until vegetables are brown and carmelized. Add ginger, turmeric, saffron and cayenne pepper; and saute 1 minute longer. Add broth and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to low and simmer, partially covered, until cauliflower is tender, about 10 minutes.

Remove a few pieces of cauliflower and set aside. Using an immersion blender, puree until smooth, about 30 seconds. Add half-and-half and coconut milk and heat through. Add cauliflower florets that were set aside and serve.

Makes about 4 servings.

Sunday, March 20, 2011


On Friday night I had almost nothing in the refrigerator. I held out one more day and avoided the grocery store. But in spite of my self-imposed no grocery shopping embargo I had a really great dinner last night. I even used the pickled sushi ginger (but not the buttermilk).

God bless Ina Garten! I had a couple of Trader Joe's swordfish steaks in the freezer. I thawed them and made this recipe from the Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics cookbook. I used chopped sushi ginger instead of fresh ginger. It was fabulous and I'll bet it's a great marinade for chicken too.

Here's the recipe almost exactly as I made it--you know about the ginger and I only used 1 tablespoon of Dijon mustard. I'm even posting her photo of the dish. Absolutely no one is better than Ina Garten.

Indonesian Grilled Swordfish

1/3 cup soy sauce
¼ cup canola or peanut oil, plus extra for brushing the grill
2 teaspoons grated lemon zest (2 lemons)
¼ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
¼ cup minced or finely chopped fresh ginger
2 tablespoons minced garlic (4 cloves)
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
6 (8-ounce, 1-inch-thick) swordfish steaks

Combine the soy sauce, canola oil, lemon zest, lemon juice, ginger, garlic, and mustard in a bowl. Pour half the sauce in a low flat dish that’s just large enough to hold the swordfish in one layer. Place the swordfish on top of the sauce and spread the remaining sauce on top. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 4 hours or preferably overnight.

Thirty minutes before you’re ready to serve, build a charcoal fire or heat a gas grill. When the coals are medium-hot, brush the cooking grate with oil to prevent the fish from sticking. Remove the fish from the marinade, allowing some of the ginger to cling to the fish, and discard the marinade. Sprinkle the fish generously on both sides with salt and place it over the coals. Cook for 5 minutes on each side, just until it’s no longer pink in the middle. Place on a platter, cover tightly with aluminum foil, and allow to rest for 10 to 15 minutes. Serve hot or warm.

Friday, March 18, 2011


For the past few days I have refused to go to the grocery store. I’m just not in the mood. But that posed a bit of a problem when I opened my refrigerator tonight to figure out what to make for dinner. I refused to call for pizza delivery. Beer and oven-roasted asparagus are nice but they don’t make a balanced meal. So I looked at what I had available—Canadian bacon, buttermilk, cheese, pickled sushi ginger, and a jar of olive salad. I didn’t use the buttermilk or the pickled sushi ginger—they will have to be breakfast tomorrow. How about a buttermilk/sushi ginger smoothie? Anyone want to come to my house for breakfast tomorrow?

So tonight I took what I had available and came up with a concoction that actually was quite good. I didn’t measure so I can’t tell you exact amounts. Just punt.

Pasta with Canadian Bacon and Olive Salad

Canadian bacon, about 4 slices, cut into julienne strips
Angel hair pasta (the one that’s high in protein)
Boscoli Italian Olive Salad, about ¼ cup
Shaved parmesan cheese

Saute the Canadian bacon until crispy.
While the bacon is cooking, boil water and start cooking the pasta.
When the pasta is cooked, drain and toss with bacon and olive salad.
Sprinkle parmesan cheese on the top and eat it.

Serve with beer and oven-roasted asparagus.
Serves 1 lazy person.

Thursday, March 17, 2011


It’s a shame about Fen-Phen. It’s a shame that the FDA discovered that it caused heart damage in as many as 30 percent of the people who took it. It’s a shame because it worked.

Fen-Phen was a combination of prescription drugs that was used to suppress appetite. Toni and I went to a doctor to get prescriptions for it back when it was the hottest thing in weight loss. Toni and I have done many crazy things together. Going to a diet doctor was but one of our misadventures. We loved Fen-Phen. Dieting was effortless. We were skinnier than ever. It seemed too good to be true and I suppose it was.

It probably has been 20 years since we heard about this doctor who was prescribing the weight loss wonder-drug combination. So we both made appointments and went together to his office in Alexandria. Neither of us liked him—he was a pale, pudgy, weasel of a man and he just seemed creepy. But still, he was a means to an end. Apparently he needed some sort of excuse, some diagnosis, in order to submit the charges to medical insurance and to prescribe Fen-Phen. Amazing but true, both Toni and I were diagnosed with . . . are you ready for this? . . . ear wax. The weasel doctor stuck instruments in our ears, extracted ear wax, and prescribed appetite suppressants. I suppose the appetite suppressants also suppressed the accumulation of any future, deadly ear wax. Go figure.

At first Toni wasn’t losing weight as quickly as she wanted so he also gave her a prescription to rev up her thyroid. Wow—that really worked. The guy was probably giving us drugs that would kill us, but we’d be thin when our hearts blew out.

Yep, it’s a shame about Fen-Phen. It’s a trade-off. Would you rather be a fat person with ear wax or would you prefer to keep your major organs functioning? I know, I know—it’s a hard choice.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

That dirty word

Since when did the word evangelical become a dirty word? I never try to hide my Christianity. Yet I’ve noticed that some people kind of look at me sideways when they ask me if I’m evangelical, like that’s just too weird. I know what they’re thinking because I used to think the same thing. They equate evangelical Christians with Republicans and Tea Party members and meat eaters and people who wear lots of polyester. Politically I am somewhere between leftist and I-don’t-care to be either a Republican or a Tea Party member. I’m a fallen vegetarian. I prefer natural fibers but I have no moral repugnance to man-made fibers. Even man-made fibers are useful on occasion. But I’m still determined to be a Christian—does that make me (that dirty word again) evangelical?

(Never, ever depend on me for a definitive explanation of anything theological. What I write has no theological basis, it’s just an observation.)

I’m not even sure what the term evangelical Christian means any longer. I think it’s supposed to mean that a person who believes in Jesus is called to proselytize, to “spread the faith to all nations.” No one else ever affected me by preaching to me and I’m not comfortable preaching to others. I’m just going to live my life the best way I can, try to “live the Gospel,” and not be an embarrassment to Jesus. Sometimes I fail.

For me it’s okay to defy description. It’s okay to be a liberal, a Bible-toting Christian, a feminist, and a banjo player all at the same time. None of those labels is inconsistent with being evangelical, is it? Can I simply work on being a good Christian and not worry about the labels?

Irish cooking

A number of years ago my mother recounted her adventure eating Irish food. She was in Ireland on a group tour. The food had not been memorable and toward the end of the trip they were craving something different so they went to an Italian restaurant. She ordered spaghetti and meatballs. The dish arrived—a pile of spaghetti and meatballs in the center of the plate, surrounded by mashed potatoes. So much for Irish food.

My opinion of Irish food wasn’t elevated much by all the women of Irish heritage who surrounded me when I was growing up. For over 30 years I was married to a guy who was 100 percent Irish. Not a drop of non-Irish blood sullied the family bloodline until he married me, a mongrel. My mother-in-law was a wonderful woman and she made great spareribs. But I recall one Thanksgiving looking at the table and seeing nothing green—there was a turkey, ham and roast beef, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, rutabagas, stuffing, and slightly burned rolls. I think there was a brownish jello mold.

My husband used to complain that I didn’t have the things in the refrigerator that his mother had. Like he could always open his mother’s refrigerator and find a plate of cooked meatballs, unimpeded by any kind of protective wrap. He always entered his childhood home through the back door to the kitchen and walked straight to the refrigerator. I just wasn’t a good wife or a real woman because of a cold meatball deficiency. It was grounds for annulment in the Catholic Church.

Yesterday my dear friend Trish made colcannon and sausages and brought them to my house. Colcannon is a traditional Irish dish that is a sort of cabbage and potato hash. The colcannon was yummy, but note that although it has a fancy Irish name it’s still cabbage and potato hash. What’s not to love about cabbage and potatoes fried together with butter?

For our Irish meal I made a new recipe for Irish soda bread that turned out well—slightly salty, slightly sweet, slightly caraway—and not dry like the commercial soda bread you buy at the market. And it’s easy—just requires a bowl and a wooden spoon, a quick stir, and pop it in the oven.

Irish Soda Bread

2 cups all purpose flour
5 tablespoons sugar, divided
1½ teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
¾ teaspoon baking soda
4 tablespoons butter, chilled, cut into cubes
2/3 cup raisins
2 teaspoons caraway seeds
1 cup buttermilk

Preheat oven to 375°F. Lightly butter a 8-inch-diameter cake. In large bowl stir together flour, 4 tablespoons sugar, baking powder, salt, and baking soda in large bowl to blend. Cut in butter with pastry cutter until coarse meal forms. Stir in raisins and caraway seeds. Make well in center of flour mixture. Add buttermilk. Gently stir dry ingredients into milk to blend. Do not over mix.

Using floured hands, shape dough into ball. Transfer to cake pan and flatten slightly (dough will not come to edges of pan). Sprinkle dough with remaining 1 tablespoon sugar.

Bake bread until brown and tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 35 minutes. Cool bread in pan 10 minutes. Transfer to rack. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Chicken salad for Anna

Anna! My sister said she sees you occasionally at church and that recently you said you remembered my chicken tarragon salad. I think of chicken salad as something that I make only when the weather gets warmer. And that will be soon so thank you for reminding me about the recipe.

I would love to see you!

This is a recipe that I've changed and refined over time. I don't think I ever make it the same way twice but this is a basic version.

Chicken Salad With Artichokes and Tarragon

3 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts
32 ounce carton chicken broth
½ cup sour cream
½ cup mayonnaise
1 cup celery, cut into julienne strips
1 tablespoon dried tarragon
Salt and pepper to taste
6½ ounce jar marinated artichoke hearts, drained and coarsely chopped

Place chicken breasts in single layer in a large pot.
Add just enough chicken broth (add water or white wine, if necessary) to cover chicken. Heat to simmer, cover, and cook very gently for about 10 minutes, until no longer pink. Remove from heat and allow chicken to cool in liquid for 20 minutes.
When chicken has cooled, break into bite-sized pieces.
Mix sour cream, mayonnaise, celery, tarragon, and salt and pepper.
Pour over chicken, add artichokes, and blend gently.
Refrigerate for 4-6 hours before serving.

Serves 6.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011


As if there aren't enough things in this cruel world to do damage to an old woman like me! I just found one I didn't expect. But, of course, when one has an accident it's just that--unexpected.

I was reading a thing about home safety, the kind of article I usually see in the AARP magazine. (I really hate the fact that I get that AARP magazine and that I bother to read it. It's just so old.) It discusses injuries (and causes of death!) that happen in the home. The U.S. Home Safety Council says that every year nearly 20,000 people die and 21 million medical visits are needed due to home accidents in the United States. Put me down for one of those medical visits.

Here's what the Council reports:

Those most at risk are children and the elderly--a recent report from Harvard Medical School found that the chance of dying from a home accident increases dramatically after the age of 65. In fact, people over the age of 75 are four times more likely to die from a home accident than those aged 65 to 74.

Of course, people of all ages can be hurt by an accident (you've likely got at least one home-accident story of your own by now). The irony is that most home accidents are the result of human error and could almost always have been prevented.

The list includes the top six causes of injury:

(1) Knife cuts
(2) Slamming fingers in windows or doors
(3) Falling down stairs
(4) Cooking burns
(5) Falling out of windows
(6) Electrocution

Yes, I've likely got at least one home-accident story of my own by now. I've done all of those things at one point or another. The injury du jour happened yesterday. I was innocently putting a box on the top shelf in my office. I innocently stood on my desk chair to reach the top shelf, ignoring the fact that the desk chair has wheels on it. (Don't laugh--I've innocently done it before and it never rolled when it wasn't supposed to roll.) Well . . . yesterday it rolled away when I was at the top of my ascent with a box in my hands. The descent wasn't pretty. I landed crumpled on the floor with a boxful of papers scattered over me like dry leaves on a dead squirrel.

So I sat there on the floor, stunned, saying to myself, "You old fool, just look what you've done now." My arms hurt the most and I expected I had dislodged a fingernail or two trying to break my fall by grasping the edges of the bookshelves. No blood, no obviously broken bones. Eventually I got up and walked. I iced down the hurting parts and waited for morning.

When I got up this morning I realized that the damage is all concentrated on my right side--right arm and shoulder, right leg, and right ankle. This afternoon I went to the chiropractor and he did what he could to straighten me out. His prognosis is that I'll hurt for a while but I'll live.

Do I need to remind myself not to stand on that desk chair with the wheels? I'm an idiot.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Toggle switch

I’ve spent the day driving around, cleaning winter’s muck out of my garden, and muttering to myself about the sheer existence and nature of God. I’ve been having some “issues” with the Lord. It used to seem that my relationship with him was like a light switch—on or off. I was either lying at his feet, praying and worshipping, or I was ignoring him because his being seemed so implausible. I’m much more mature now, more sophisticated (that’s a joke!) because I now see many more variations in my relationship with him—more like a toggle switch than simply on/off.

I believe in him, but sometimes that almost makes it more difficult. I believe but I wonder how a loving father can let his children live in a world that is filled with so much pain. Why are pain and suffering, fear and turmoil, cruelty and depair such a big part of our humanity?

So I’ve been reading the Book of Job to try to understand what God has told us about the nature of suffering. And I still don’t get it. Why did God even take the bait when the adversary (Satan) got him to test Job’s righteousness? Why didn’t God just tell the adversary to go back to hell where he belonged? And what about Job’s alleged friends? A lot of help they were. Job’s children died along with all of his animals then he got herpes all over his body and he scraped at it with broken glass. Yet he wouldn’t curse God. If I get a splinter wedged under my fingernail I might come close to cursing God, but Job didn't.

The only answer is that human suffering is something we cannot understand because God is God and we are not. Job says, “He is not a man like me that I might answer him.” (Job 9:32) Job has no logical explanation for his suffering, but he doesn't lose faith in God. Where does that kind of faith come from?