New Beginnings

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Do we need to make New Year’s resolutions about food?  If so, Harvard Medical School offers up “Six Simple Ways to Smarter, Healthier Eating.”  I’ve read it – and lots of other articles with nutrition advice – carefully.  Harvard’s #6 is the absolute best: “Plan meals that are delightful, delicious and healthy.”  (I would probably add that planning is not enough; you need to also COOK and EAT the meal you plan! 🙂 )

Please note though – I’m not giving up totally on salt or sugar or bacon or coffee or red meat or butter – or wine – as this new year starts.  I did, however, many moons ago give up drinking almost all juices, eating ultra-processed food and most pasta (which, all on my own, I decided made me gain weight).  I never eat more than half of a sandwich, and I try to have desserts around only when we have company.

Admittedly, I intend my last meal on earth to be spritz cookie batter – made with a blend of butter (preferably Kerrygold) and sugar (definitely cane, not coconut – a family insider joke).  I’d be the first to say that Julia Child and I could have been soul sisters in our love of butter.  High on my 2020 Bucket List is a visit to Bella la Crema,  a new innovative “butter bar” the next time we’re near Lyons, Colorado.  Yay, Colorado! Yay having friends we want to visit in Boulder!

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That said,  a keeper resolution is that Andy and I will cut back on the amount of beef and lamb and pork we eat – for the earth’s health maybe even more than our own health.  For the time being, I’ll pass on plant-based meat.

I most definitely intend to follow Harvard’s suggestion #2:  Harness the power of nuts (and seeds).  Here are a couple of articles to support this.

8 Health Benefits of Nuts

Super Seeds and Nuts You Should Include in Your Diet

Both are well worth a read – and we’ve added them to our Food for Thought (lots of articles there are worth a read!).

To accompany this 2020 resolution of mine, let me share a few nutty family stories and recipes.  Clearly, the family is very seedy 🙂  And – on another note – Andy was quite tweedy in his “higher” education LSU position – that is until he became quite needy in his “hire” as an adjunct.  See today’s Andy’s Corner!

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Picture this:  it’s 4:30 pm on Christmas day.  Your family has all agreed to contribute something to the Christmas dinner.  Your daughter is putting the finishing touches on her Moroccan stew; your son just iced his pumpkin bundt cake; his partner is preparing a preserved-lemon dressing for her Moroccan salad.  Your older grandson….well…let’s just say a roasted carrot dip never happened 🙂

Your small kitchen is pretty hectic about now….and then your 14-year-old grandson (i.e., Moss – of guest blogging fame) announces he’s ready to make his appetizers – which will be cracker/crisps – from scratch.  And he has never made them before.  And they have to chill in the freezer for at least an hour.

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This is not our grandson Moss making crackers or Moss in our kitchen – but it is Moss making a chocolate cake for his 14th birthday! Note: sugary, chocolate-y cakes should most definitely be allowed on birthdays!

Deep breathing.  It will all be fine.

About 2 hours later (after mixing, baking, chilling, slicing and then re-baking the cracker/crisp dough), we all sit down to taste the just-out-of-the-oven homemade appetizer cranberry nut cracker/crisps – served with fig jam and brie.  And they are delicious!

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Fortunately, Ono Moore, our Siamese cat, is not fond of blue cheese or fig jam or even Nutty Seedy Fruity Crisps

Earlier in December our daughter tipped me off to Sikil-P’ak – both a healthy and unusual pumpkin seed dip – which she served at a recent All-Ladies party.  She was also responsible for the recipe for spiced nuts, which I’ve included, straight from her Picnics cookbook.  Both of these recipes are perfect for incorporating nuts and seeds into your 2020 diet – and loving every bite.

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2020 – It’s Music to My Ears

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Carole King’s rendition of Chicken Soup with Rice is a favorite.  Slipping is not a favorite.

As we begin a new decade with new joys and challenges, I find that this little ditty by the Australian artist/cartoonist Michael Leunig speaks to me.  In fact, it inspired me to put together a “2020” playlist!

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We give thanks for singers.
All types of singers.
Popular, concert singers and
tuneless singers in the bath.
Whistlers, hummers and those
who sing while they work.
Singers of lullabies; singers of nonsense
and small scraps of melody.
Singers on branches and rooftops.
Morning yodellers and evening warblers.
Singers in seedy nightclubs, singers in the street;

Singers in cathedrals, school halls, grandstands,
back yards, paddocks, bedrooms, corridors,
stairwells and places of echo and resonance.

We give praise to all those who give some small voice
To the everyday joy of the soul.

Amen

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Andy and I agreed that we’d each make a playlist of 20 songs that we’d enjoy while cooking – or cleaning up after cooking….songs that have something about food in the title or lyrics.  Get it? 20 and 20 for 2020!

You would think this would be a non-confrontational task! 🙂  I started my playlist with my ode to Andy: Sweet Home Cookin’ Man  (listen and watch it here).  I thought “Lord how my baby cooks” was tender and loving, but Andy took exception to the “ain’t got personality” and “ain’t got such good looks” lines.

Well he ain’t got personality
He ain’t got such good looks
When I come home hungry
Lord how my baby cooks
He’s a chef of fine distinction
Always cooks and it’s just right
Whether I come home in the morning baby
Or somewhere late in the night.

That was nothing compared to when I read over Andy’s blog and his playlist and noticed one of his top choices:  My Wife Can’t Cook  from Bill Wyman of Rolling Stones fame (listen and watch it here).

If it wasn’t for the beans that come out the can
A lot of the peas or the beets, the rice and the Spam
The milk and bread at the grocery store
I tell you, I couldn’t eat no more

‘Cause let me tell you, my wife, she can’t cook
If I thought she could read, I would buy her a book
But she knows how to do with the fuss and bother
She don’t even know how to boil hot water

But in the healing spirit of the New Year, we moved on 🙂  Isn’t that what a relationship is all about?

My 20 songs for the 2020 playlist are below.  You can listen to bits of each song right here – or go to Spotify to get the whole thing.  Dance around to it while you’re makin’ that Crawfish Etouffee, sippin’ on a Sazerac, and dreamin’ of going to Mardi Gras!

And just to make a point, I would like to remind you of some undeniably great recipes that I’ve fixed for Andy – with canned beans!

*Not Your Mother’s Chili
*MountainWestBob’s Easy Crockpot Chili
*North African Crockpot Lamb Stew
*Quick White Bean Soup
*One Dish Pasta and Beans

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I’m very selective about the brand of beans I buy!

In fact, we celebrated New Year’s Eve with friends, serving them this d-lish Black Bean Chili (which also happens to be vegetarian).  After everyone left, Andy turned up the speakers, clicked on his Jazz for Kitchen Cleanup playlist and welcomed in the New Year.  See today’s Andy’s Corner.

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Bourbon Makes Everything Better

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How accurate are our memories?  That’s a question Andy and I discuss frequently.  The answer has such an impact on everything, and it’s pretty clear that there is no 100% correct response.

But I’m 98% sure I’m remembering correctly that every evening my parents would sit down and have a bourbon and water – to toast the end of another day.  The bourbon was always Ancient Age.

Another childhood memory is of my mother giving me a mixture of honey, bourbon, lemon juice, and hot water when I had a cold or cough.  I don’t remember whether or not I ever faked a cough and cold in order to get that elixir.  But I really did like it.

My fondness for bourbon remains to this day.  And I’ve managed to successfully blend bourbon-based dishes into my holiday repertoire, making the whole family’s spirits a little jollier.

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Bulleit is our preferred brand of bourbon these days

Here is my “adults-only” remedy for a cough or cold or sore throat:

Bourbon Cold and Cough Remedy 

  • 1 oz bourbon
  • 1 oz lemon juice
  • 1 T honey
  • 1 oz hot water

And here are two of our bourbon-infused standbys – which we’ve already blogged about: Honolulu Walnut Date Christmas Pudding and Pumpkin Pie O’Brien.

To add to that we’ve got three other delicious bourbon recipes to offer up.  And Andy is offering up a MOST unusual and “spirited” greeting card in Andy’s Corner.

Maida Heatter, who passed away this year at the age of 102,  was known for her excellent dessert cookbooks, with cakes being her specialty.  Her 86-Proof Chocolate Cake is superb and keeps well for days.  Just beware of over-snacking!

The Classic Manhattan cocktail is…well…a classic.  Perfect for holiday entertaining.

And the Steamed Persimmon Pudding with Bourbon Sauce has been a part of our family holiday tradition for years. Continue reading

Men in Aprons

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Our friend Alan rocking it in their Boulder kitchen

Isn’t that a fabulous photo?  When our friend Jina posted this Instagram shot of her husband, Alan, stir-frying Pad See Ew for their fam, I knew it had to be the “lede” on this blog.  Jina wants you to know that she too cooks, but that they divvy up the time in the kitchen.

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Moss, our younger grandson, wearing aprons and cooking at a very early age

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Our son Travis, focussing on his Belgian heritage as he fixes his famous Brussels Sprouts

How times change….and often for the better.  My dad learned to fix a few meals when he was 81.  His specialty was microwaved eggs and freshly squeezed orange juice.  Other than that, I believe he subsisted on Arby’s roast beef sandwiches.  My brother, at about that same age, is finding the George Foreman Grill a helpful resource in his entry into cooking and the kitchen.  Microwaved frozen vegetables are another healthy addition to his repertoire.

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Andy, on the other hand, is from a slightly-younger generation…a War Baby (alas…he’s too old to be a Baby Boomer).  He’s been in the kitchen since Day 1 of our marriage.  If you believe that, I’ll tell you another funny story.

Really, though, through most of our 52 years together Andy has not only been the faithful clean-up person but he has mastered breakfast – witness our many recipes stemming from his early morning cooking skills.  And then check out today’s Andy’s Corner to see how making Swedish Pancakes can be an Extreme Sport!  But Andy’s cooking has not been put to a serious test until this last month (see our last blog).

Now that I think about it, maybe this blog should be titled: Cooking for Ann.  

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Andy cooking for Ann

For those of you who aren’t cookbook aficionados, that would be a twist on Ina Garten’s 2016 Cookbook, Cooking for Jeffrey.  Mind you, I love Ina Garten and almost always love her recipes, but how can a woman in this day and age write about cooking for “her man!?”  Consequently, I am delighted to be blogging about how Andy has been cooking for “his woman” the last month or so….all the while believing in my heart of hearts that there should never be one mate who is always in the kitchen!

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My criteria for recipes to help Andy adjust to his new super-simple evening meal cooking included the following:

  • no sautéing
  • no dicing
  • no prep time longer than 15-20 minutes
  • a recipe good to freeze or re-warm
  • healthy (ish)

Sandy and Stacey, our neighbors, joined us for Andy’s first foray into cooking for others:  Roasted Chicken Thighs with New Potatoes (for this Mini-Dining In, they brought a scrumptious salad to share).  When we warmed up the leftovers from this sheet-pan dinner a few days later, we both declared it (again) a keeper!  Delicious, easy, fast to prepare, re-heats well.

Chinese Jook Chicken is a no-brainer, fulfilling my criteria with ease.  Chicken Pozole Verde can be streamlined to come together quickly and easily.

When all else fails, we revert to Andy’s standby – grilling.  Nothing could be simpler than a grilled steak or pork chop – and a simple salad (the Broccoli Edamame Salad fits our criteria and is healthy and delicious) .  And we often add a Japanese baked sweet potato.  After all, this is Cooking for Ann – and baked, mashed sweet potatoes with butter could totally be my Last Dinner.

We’re not Crock Pot people generally speaking, since we’re usually around and can just as easily simmer on the stove-top or slow roast in the oven.  But the Crock Pot sounded worth a try for simplicity’s sake – and a bit of a new adventure for Andy in the kitchen.  These two recipes are easy, yummy – and even a little exotic. Continue reading

God She Works in Mysterious Ways

 

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Rhea – FKA Ancho Antwerp Walden Hill

Her name was to be Ancho Antwerp Walden Hill (long story) and we were to pick her up at SFO on Friday, October 25 at 1:30 p.m.  Now she lives in Maine and is instead “Rhea.”  Her given name when she was born near Fairplay, Colorado, was Baby Ruth.

Being totally bonkers about our 9-year-old Aussie, Oakley, (check out Andy’s funny/clever video on today’s Andy’s Corner!) we were (I was?) bound and determined to have another dog with her bloodline.  There had been some serious discussions amongst friends and family about whether an 8-week-old puppy was something we really needed.  House too small for 2 dogs?  Check.  Puppy too active for two older people?  Likely check.  Oakley pretty bent out of shape?  Check.  Two Siamese cats unwelcoming?  Two checks.

Fortuna intervened.  According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, Fortuna is often represented bearing a cornucopia as the giver of abundance and a rudder as controller of destinies, or standing on a ball to indicate the uncertainty of fortune.  Andy wrote a nice bit about Fortuna on Andy’s Corner a while back.

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Fortuna – as depicted in this Vienna statue

On Wednesday, October 23, PG&E declared they were shutting off power in our area due to extreme fire risk (another long – and not happy – story).  Our neighbors were vacationing in Hawaii, and we were caring for their place, so Andy and I decided we needed to check on their generator (we really should invest in stock in generator manufacturers given the number that have been sold in our area in the last 2 years).

Did you know that every few years oaks produce an overabundance of acorns?  This appears to be one of those years for Northern California.  Joan Morris, a local wildlife columnist, explains, “Scientists still aren’t certain why oak trees produce massive amounts of acorns on a semi-regular basis. They know that the weather makes a difference, but it’s not recent weather, rather weather from a year or two earlier.”  She continues, “Scientists also believe that oaks might reserve their energy, building up to a massive release of acorns as a way of self-preservation. By putting out fewer acorns some years, the trees may actually be keeping in check certain populations of animals that eat the acorns. Then, when the oaks do mass produce, the acorns stand a better chance of becoming trees because there are fewer animals to eat them. As it is, only about one in 10,000 ever become trees. The others are eaten before they can establish roots.”

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Did Fortuna, as the giver of abundance, provide us with these acorns?

Long story short – winds had blown tons of acorns off their oak in the week since our friends had left their home for their Hawaiian holiday.  Andy and I dodged the acorns successfully for a bit, but then I came rushing down their backyard hill, stepped on a spot particularly loaded with those little slippery things, slid, fell, landed with my ankle twisted underneath me – and badly broke it.  Sh*t.  Actually, I may have said something worse.

I should have read this bit from Scott Aker, head of Washington DC’s National Arboretum, before heading out that day: “Clearing your garden of tenacious acorns can be a chore…acorns are sort of like ball bearings or marbles.  If they get on walkways, we try to be very conscientious about clearing them. We don’t want anybody to break a leg. I would caution your readers to pay attention to that. Try to get them off walkways as early as they can. It may be a daily chore.

Our agonizing decision had been made by the time I had surgery on my ankle, Friday, October 25.  Ancho, instead of arriving at SFO that day, was now on a flight to Maine, not San Francisco.  And Andy and I came home – along with my walking boot and crutches and the prospect of 8 “non-weight-bearing” weeks – to a one-dog household.

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Is Oakley sad that Ancho didn’t join our little Glen Ellen familia?  Maybe yes; likely no.  Is Andy sad that Ancho didn’t join us?  Maybe yes; likely no.  Note: photo taken just before October 25.

Was it just bad luck when I fell on the acorns?  Was it Fortuna intervening in my life and the life of little Ancho Antwerp Walden Hill?  Should I be comforted by this statement regarding Fortune?

Luck – good or bad – never lasts.

And now on to recipes.  At first I was going to post a recipe using Ancho chiles – but then decided that a more fitting recipe would put acorns at the forefront.  TENACIOUS ACORNS!  Andy found this recipe when he did this blog.  These cookies are delicious.  BUT – it’s almost impossible to find acorn flour.  And I don’t think you’re going to want to make the flour yourself (see these instructions from Mother Earth News).  So if you don’t have it, simply substitute almond flour and the cookies will be gluten-free and delicious (though golden, not chocolate brown).

Acorn Cookies

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