Waiting for the rain

All the elements came together at just the right time today.

The newsletter that’s due Friday is far enough along that I could set it aside for the day. The rhubarb cake for tonight’s St. Ann’s meeting is in the oven. George is at rehearsal, so I have the house to myself. And the rain came.

We’ve had gloriously sunny days for weeks, it seems. Too much sun, maybe, for the things that are trying to grow. But now, in typical northern fashion, we have rain on the agenda for many days ahead. And it began half an hour ago.

I wished out loud when George and I were walking our dog after lunch.

“I’m looking forward to a rainy day when I have nothing to do,” I said.

Sherbet

Roses like this always remind me of a tasty dessert.

I was visualizing that close darkness that presses against the windows when storm clouds roll overhead, the plinking sounds of rain on our metal roof, a comfy chair and a good book.

I didn’t get the whole day with nothing to do, but I’ll a take couple good hours over nothing at all. It started when the wind picked up, just before George left.

“The rain is coming,” I said, not trying to sound prophetic, just recognizing the portents of restless trees, moving like spooked horses against their tethers.

I saved and closed the newsletter, quickly assembled the cake ingredients and slid it in the oven, then grabbed my camera and headed outside. Gray clouds hovered overhead, darker ones were moving in from the west. I had just enough time, maybe the last time, to snap a few tulip photos.

No longer young

No longer young, but still dancing.

I’ve been taking as many as I can, trying to capture and preserve their stained-glass brilliance in my garden. But their season is ending, their colors are fading, petals are twisted and drooped, some stems already stand naked. The wind and the rain, I figured, would finish the disrobing.

I got back in the house just in time. Rain’s forward scouts left crosshatching on the windows, and I settled in to enjoy, putting “all sensors on maximum,” as they say in the sci-fi movies. Now, it wasn’t just lilacs scents wafting through the open windows, it was that incomparable smell of rain, of wet earth and wet dust. The ping of rain on roof and skylights replaced birdsong. The atmosphere invited prayer.

“You sent abundant rain, O God, to refresh the weary land.” (Psalm 68:9)
“He gives rain on the earth And sends water on the fields.” (Job 5:10)
“The heavens dropped rain at the presence of God.” (Psalm 68:8)
“He covers the heavens with clouds, He provides rain for the earth, He makes grass to grow on the mountains (and on the crops in Door County).” (Psalm 147:8)

Peace, contentment, soft satisfaction and even the presence of God appear on no sensor sweep. But, after all, they do have the sound, and the smell, and the feel of a gentle spring rain.

Posted in contemplation, Faith-filled living, nature, Reflection | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Guilt-free banana bread

Food that’s healthy doesn’t have to taste like cardboard. I recently tried a recipe where the chef obviously didn’t get the memo.

It was billed as “healthy banana bread,” and had whole wheat flour, honey instead of sugar and unsweetened applesauce instead of shortening, among the other ingredients. So far so good. However, I should have realized that a recipe that also had no flavorings or spices would be pretty uninteresting. I tried it, and was overwhelmingly unimpressed. It was dry and tasteless.

For some reason, I didn’t just trash the recipe. I decided to tweak it instead. What I ended up with is practically a new recipe altogether, so I can safely say the result isn’t plagiarized.

I decided to use whole wheat pastry flour for a nice texture, and I made sure the honey was raw, which is SO much better tasting than processed honey. It also contains more vitamins and minerals. (And keep in mind that much store-bought honey is imported from other countries and is actually flavored corn syrup!)

The last change I made was to use grape-seed oil instead of applesauce. Most people now admit that fat doesn’t have to be eliminated altogether in order to have “healthy”; you just have to use the right kind of fat. Grape-seed oil doesn’t have a flavor of its own, which can be a plus, and it’s high in healthy omega 6 oils. I could also have used coconut oil, another healthy fat, and its coconut flavor would blend well with bananas for a tropical taste. Next time, I just might do that.

Anyway, here’s the final recipe–so far. Tweaking is never entirely done!

2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup grape-seed oil
3/4 cups raw honey
2 eggs, beaten slightly
3 mashed overripe bananas
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp orange flavoring
1 tsp rum flavoring
1/8 tsp. nutmeg
1/4 tsp. cloves
1/4 tsp. allspice
1/4 tsp. ginger
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/3-1/2 cup raisins

Preheat oven to 350° and lightly grease a 9×5 inch loaf pan. Banana breadIn a large bowl, combine flour, baking soda, salt and dry spices. In a separate bowl, mix together oil and honey. Stir in eggs, mashed bananas, and liquid flavorings until well blended. Stir banana mixture into flour mixture just until moistened, and mix in raisins. Pour batter into prepared loaf pan.

Bake in preheated oven for 50-55 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into center comes out clean. Let the bread cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack.

The results isn’t just banana bread, it’s more like a spice cake. You can adjust the amounts of the spices to favor the ones you like the best. I like to slice the bread, wrap each piece in waxed paper, and freeze it, taking out only a slice or two at a time. That way, there’s always a healthy, tasty treat on hand for visitors, or when you get the munchies.

Posted in Food, healthy eating, recipes, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

The Pen

This is a story about a church pew, long-lost friends, and a pen.

Carl shared my St. Joseph School years in the red brick, eight-grade schoolhouse that was part of our Catholic parish. Together we marched over to church for Mass each morning before classes began. We made our First Communion together in the first grade–even

MFirstCommunion

Bill on the left, Carl on the right, and I’m in the upper right.

shared proximity in an old photo from that special day–and we faced the bishop together in the fifth grade to be confirmed.

Undoubtedly we faced each other in spell downs and multiplication races at the blackboard, too. We exchanged Valentines and shared hot lunches in the school basement, then went our separate ways at recess when the girls gathered for jump rope and the boys did whatever boys do in the dusty back lot.

We went our separate ways when it was time for high school, too. I went on to the Catholic school, Carl to one of the many public schools around town, and that was the last I saw of him, except for one time, at the movies, when I discovered he was an usher.

While I lost track of Carl and a lot of other classmates over the years, I also “lost” that entire grade-school campus. The school was closed, then the church was closed, and eventually everything was razed–church, school, convent and rectory. For a few years, the entire block remained empty. Now, I’m told–although I moved away long ago and can’t see for myself–that multiple-unit family dwellings have gone up. The space has been recycled, with only a little pocket park, named for St. Joseph, remaining as a reminder of what once was.

From far away, I had hoped for a piece of that church, built by German families in the late 1800s,  when I heard it was being torn down. Some people, I was told, were lucky enough to acquire bricks, or pew parts, or other bits and pieces that weren’t sold. I wasn’t one of those lucky ones.

Then along came Facebook. My high school class put up a page just for us, and the inevitable “whatever happened to…?” questions started to be answered. As more people joined the page, we began to “friend” each other, shooting messages back and forth and catching up on the many, many intervening years since graduation, back in 1966.

Facebook also has a memories page for those of us who grew up in my hometown. It was a comment I left there that got noticed by Carl, who did a search, found me on Facebook, and sent a message–right about the same time that Bill, another St. Joseph grad, made contact with both of us. Three old friends, all in that same First Communion photo, back in touch after more than 50 years.

One of the first things we shared, of course, were memories of those parish school years, commiserating over the loss brought about by changing times. Were any of us lucky enough to glean a memento? Apparently not.

But then, things began to happen. “Be watching for something in the mail,” Carl told me–and, as I learned later, told Bill that, too.

When the package came, I was astonished. Carl and I had fountain pentalked about our Palmer Method penmanship classes, bemoaning the fact that cursive writing is all but a lost art among young people today and that handwritten notes are as rare as fountain pens.

But Carl, who now operates a handcrafted pen business since his retirement, found someone willing to part with a weathered piece of pew from our old church, polished and shaped a portion of it, and produced an extremely limited edition fountain pen, with a cross-shaped clip. Each time I pick it up, I’m holding not just a pen, but a handful of memories, too, preserved by an old school friend who is one of those memories.

St. Joe's brickThe pen was just the start. Shortly after, Bill also promised a package in the mail. It turns out that Bill had a St. Joseph brick, which he divided into thirds, labeled appropriately, and shared with me and Carl. Another little piece of my youth has come to rest in my home.

How can I top that? I can’t. But I can write a tribute in this blog to two old friends, refound after many years, held dear for all the years to come, sharers in something no one else in all the towns I’ve lived in can share with me. My roots.

Posted in Catholic, Catholic life, friendship, getting older, History, Memories | Tagged , , , | 7 Comments

Avalanches and apple cake

I have a decision to make: Do I write about avalanches or apple cake?

Avalanches can be pretty serious and probably shouldn’t be ignored. I know; I live under one–or rather, under a steady stream of them. We’ve learned how to deal with them, but a well-intending  mailman or unsuspecting neighbor could find themselves a victim. So could our dog.

I heard George as he leashed her up for her after-supper tinkle.

“Just wait, Lady,” he said, holding her back as he slowly opened the door with one long-reaching arm. I heard the expected boom-crash.

“OK, it’s safe,” he said, now having to cajole her to step onto a deck that must have sounded lethal.

That’s what happens, you see, when you install a metal roof. Snow curlDepending on how your roof slopes, it might be no problem at all. But if the downward slant is over your door, you have to beware: nothing stays for long on a metal roof. Snow, ice, slush, whatever winter has thrown at us, stacks up only for a bit, and then begins to inch down, bit by bit, curling over the eaves into one impressive pageboy before succumbing to its own weight and landing on the deck below–and on anyone in the way at the time.

Opening the front door can mean hitting that roof-line curl, bringing the whole thing crashing down. I don’t want to be caught in it. A beagle wouldn’t stand a chance.

While we don’t have to worry about shoveling snow off our roof, we do have to deal with shoveling that roof deposit off our deck. And in the summer–well, let’s just say that on a rainy day, we run a waterfall gauntlet. However, I think summertime’s raindrop symphonies more than make up for it.

It IS a bit unsettling, though, to sit in the house and see large objects falling past the windows, followed by large crashes. It’s like living under some kind of frosty lover’s leap, with hapless entities throwing themselves into the abyss.

Tonight, when George came inside after shoveling off some of those snow curls before they became dangerous, I was standing at the kitchen counter, peeling apples. (You see how I’ve segued into writing about that apple cake after all?) I knew that battling avalanches-in-the-making deserved a reward, and what better than a warm and tasty treat from the oven?

We’re eating extremely healthy these days, though, so treats that fit in with that agenda can be hard to find. This one-bowl apple cake is something acceptable, I think. Here’s the recipe:

2 eggs
1-3/4 C sugar (I used Stevia)
2 heaping tsp cinnamon
1/2 C oil (I used grapeseed)
6 medium Gala or Fuji or Honey Crisp apples
2 C flour
2 tsp baking soda

• Preheat oven to 350° and grease a 9×13 or two 9” round pans. In a large bowl, mix the eggs, sugar, cinnamon and oil.

• Peel and slice the apples and add to the mixture in the bowl.

• Mix together the baking soda and flour and add to the ingredients in the bowl. Mix well with a fork until all of the flour is absorbed by the wet ingredients. Pour mixture into the pans and bake for about 55 minutes.

Apple cakeGeorge hinted at seconds, so although this might not be the gooey, carrot-cake sort of treat, it was the perfect reward for my honey after battling roof-line avalanches.

Posted in Dealing with winter, Food, healthy eating, Humor | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

I’m ready, let ‘er snow!

I sent a story off to my editor tonight, put some beans on to soak, picked out a good book, and now I wait. There’s a storm coming.

My cousin Charlie once told me that people in his Baltimore area headed to the store for milk, bread and toilet paper–necessities of life, I guess–whenever a couple inches of snow were forecast. We’re expecting 7-11 inches in the next two days, along with some freezing drizzle, and the only thing we’re doing is planning how to spend our snow day.

Some people, alas, must go to work. For them I pray safe travels. Some people, God forbid, may have medical conditions or emergencies that will require venturing out in the storm. But George and I are retired and relatively healthy and we intend to enjoy the coming couple of days.

I worked enough years that I can still appreciate a “free” day, a day when I have no obligations, and have the perfect excuse to goof off. The fact that the goofing off has to happen inside is no hardship at all, not when there are so many fun things to do in this house.

Nothing momentous, you understand. That’s another thing life has taught me. It’s the little, familiar, comforting things, the small pleasures, that are the most fun to savor when when time is on your side.

We’ll probably sleep in a bit, or wake up at our usual time and lie there talking, laughing, making room for the dog, savoring the warmth of thick bed linens and body heat. We’ll linger over breakfast after I’ve put those soaking beans on to cook, along with a nice, meaty smoked ham shank. Fifteen kinds of beans, to which will be added spicy curry powder. Corn bread, some healthy raisin-oatmeal cookies–ah yes, the kind of meal that thumbs its nose at winter’s bluster.

My Morning Prayer, beside a flickering candle, will be enjoyed with a cup of hazelnut creme coffee, or maybe cherry creme. George’s guitar will weep and wail, I suspect, and my sewing machine may hum a bit as I enjoy tending to neglected projects. There may be a cut-throat game or two of backgammon on the agenda, and for sure we’ll both adjourn to our recliners at some point and bury ourselves in our current novels–a thriller for me, a Heinlein for George, I suspect.

We’ll have to venture out long enough for Lady to do her business,

Back from pee

Lady heading in after a quick potty stop. Photo by Monica Sawyn

but being a smart beagle, she won’t insist on a long trek when the wind blows up her nose and flares her ears like Dumbo’s. No, she’ll squat quickly and head back for the house even more quickly, where her favorite spot on the couch will still be warm where she left it.

I’ve got letters to write–and who knows, maybe even another blog. The TV won’t figure into this scenario, though. George and I don’t give it a thought all day, but save MASH or Waltons or Star Gate DVDs for that time after supper when the light is gone and night presses against the windows.

The only thing that would disappoint tomorrow is if the snow doesn’t show, if the storm wimps out. If that happens, I might have to do something really constructive, and after all the weather hype of the past week, I’m just not in the mood for constructive.

So come on, Winter. Don’t fail me now.

Posted in contemplation, Dealing with winter, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 6 Comments

The never-ending pea soup story

A few years ago I stumbled onto a pea soup recipe that was certainly different from my mother’s. It had curry and cream in it and was, my family thought, lip-smacking good. Here’s that starting recipe, which I found in a Better Homes & Gardens cookbook:

• 1-1/4 cups dry green split peas
• 1 smoked ham shank (Don’t use hocks. They don’t have as much meat, but they do have a lot of outer skin which I don’t think tastes very good.)
• 1 cup coarsely chopped celery
• 1 cup coarsely chopped carrots
• 1 tablespoon curry powder
• 1 tablespoon fresh marjoram or thume or 1 teaspoon of the dried version
• 1 bay leaf
• 5 cups chicken broth
• 1 cup cream (or half and half, but of course the cream is better)
• Salt & pepper

The original recipe called for putting this in the crock-pot, but my crock-pot wasn’t big enough, so I did it the old-fashioned way, on the stove. I put the ham shank into the soup pot about 5 hours before I wanted to serve it. After about 3 hours I add the veggies and the peas, because they don’t take as long to cook, and if you soak the peas overnight, they’ll take even less time.

When the meat is tender remove the shanks from the pot and take the meat off the bones. A lot of people chop it up, but I prefer to pull it by hand, shredding it and ensuring that bits of meat are present in every spoonful. Then add it back to the soup pot. The cream is added and mixed well just before serving.

The recipe mutated a bit after a while. I discovered “spicy curry” by Spice Islands. I mention the brand because curries vary widely, and someone else’s “spicy” variety might not be quite the same. This has crushed red pepper in it, which gives the soup that little bit of heat that I love in a lot of my dishes. We like the spicy curry so much that we order it online, since our local groceries don’t carry it.

By now I figured the recipe couldn’t be improved, but then we started getting really serious about healthy eating, and I started to worry about that cream. It called for only one cup, and in the whole scheme of things that one cup, divided by several servings, probably wouldn’t do much damage to us even though we try to avoid saturated fats.

One day I wondered if I could find a nice, creamy substitute–no skimmed milk, please! So, without saying anything to George, I used coconut milk instead–the good kind, extra virgin, organic. Yes, it has saturated fat, but plant-based, and thus without the negative properties of animal fats.

The result was wonderful! And George thought so, too.

Yesterday, the soup took yet another twist. I decided at the last minute to make it, and hoped I’d have everything I needed. I always keep a ham shank in the freezer, so that was good. I didn’t have chicken broth, but I did have a jar of vegetable water from recent vegetable steamings. Lots of good vitamins caught and saved.

I dumped that in the pot along with the ham shank, and added “some” water. I didn’t measure, and when it came time to add the peas, I didn’t measure those either. I guessed that the peas I had left in two different bags would be enough. Well, I guessed wrong.

About an hour before dinner, I realized the soup was much too thin. So, I thought, how do I thicken this up, preferably with “real” food? George’s eyebrows went up when I told him what I added.

“Really?” he said. “In pea soup?”

pea soup

THIS pea soup is guaranteed to stick to your ribs! (Monica Sawyn photo)

I added rice. It’s that delicious organic basmati brown rice that is my new favorite. I hadn’t a clue how much to add, so I did three handfuls. The rice itself soaked up some of that extra liquid, and it also released its own starchy thickener that completed the job.

I’ve never heard of rice in pea soup. Potatoes, yes. Maybe even pasta. But as far as I know, rice is a first, for me anyway. And it’s really, really good. What was a rescue operation will now be my newest mutated version of pea soup, thick and hearty and perfect for these cold winter days.

I have to wonder, though: what other tweakings lie in the future?

 

Posted in Food, healthy eating, nutrition, recipes, soup, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

It’s all Martin’s fault

It’s Martin Luther King Day. I hate Martin Luther King Day.

It’s not because I have anything against the man. Him I like, as well as what he said and his valiant efforts to bring some peace and equality–maybe peace through equality?–into the world. No, what I don’t like is that its designation as a federal holiday means we don’t get any mail.

In saying that, I feel a bit like those old fogies on my sons’ paper routes whose only reason for getting up in the morning, apparently, was to read the newspaper. When the paper was late because of winter storm, press break-down, or a delivery truck flat tire, my sons bore the brunt of their very nasty ill temper. And they all insisted they be the first on the route to get that paper, a nice piece of illogic that none of them could seem to recognize. Get a life, I wanted to tell them.

Our Very Own Mail!

Here’s proof. The big event for me when we first moved here nearly six years ago was bringing in the first piece of mail–a letter from my mother. Photo by George Sawyn

I assure you, my day isn’t defined by what comes in the mailbox. Whether it comes at all is another thing. Sundays I understand, because even I refuse to work on Sunday. But a holiday where only a select few get the day off? What’s with that? Isn’t it more important that the mail go through?

Today, for instance, was the day the weekly letter to my mother was supposed to go out. Last week’s weekly letter, that is. Every Thursday or Friday, like clockwork, I send my 92-year-old mother a letter. In a pinch, when I’m running behind, the letter goes out on Saturday. She still gets it early the following week.

Last week, for various reasons, the completed letter didn’t make it to the Saturday mailbox in time. That’s OK, I thought; I’ll get it out Monday and it will still be there mid-week. Oops, nope, guess again. It’s one of those no-mail days. If I were like those old fogies from my kids’ paper-route days, I’d be calling my postman and complaining long and loud.

Lucky for him, I’m more sensible. Doesn’t mean I like it any better. My whole day has been one of false starts: heard a truck rumble past, thought “mail!” and then remembered. Got the dog dressed up to walk in this frigid weather, grabbed the mailbox key–and remembered. Got excited about our parish directories that were to be mailed out today–but nope, that’s not going to happen.

If I’m brutally honest, I’ll admit that there’s never anything very exciting waiting in that box. A letter from my mother, once a week. A letter from an incarcerated friend, now and then. Packages, as often as I’ve found something irresistible during online browsing. Other than that, it’s catalogs like crazy because every online merchant in the universe seems to have my address; incessant letters from Charter cable which can’t seem to accept the fact that we don’t have a TV for anything other than watching Netflix DVDs or streaming; credit card offers, solicitations, the odd bill now and then. And did I mention catalogs?

How often I get good mail isn’t the point. It’s the possibility of getting good mail. It’s that wonderful feeling of anticipation, like buying a lottery ticket knowing you’ll probably never win but savoring that tingly, anything-can-happen feeling that you might win. This might be the day when I get an unexpected piece of mail, like a real letter from an old friend or a dear relative, or a package I forgot I ordered, or–better yet–that someone ordered for me.

Every morning we wake to a brand new day with nothing written on it, and anything can happen, I’m fond of telling people. The same is true of mailboxes. They may sit there cold and empty in that dim morning light, but there’s always the hope that they’ll fill with a delightful surprise when the mailman goes by.

But not today. Today is Martin Luther King Day. I have a dream, he said. I’m sure it didn’t include a vast, coast-to-coast sea of empty and silent mailboxes. He was about bigger and brighter things than that.

RIP, Rev. King.

Posted in Holidays, Human behavior, Humor, Lifestyle, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

Souped-up veggies

Now and then I get tired of vegetables just cooked and plopped on a plate. Even adding spices and herbs doesn’t relieve the tedium, especially in winter, when there aren’t as many kinds of fresh vegetables available.

I could cream them or mix them with other sauces, but we’re trying to avoid those kinds of add-ons that are usually full of fat or other useless calories. I do manage to roast them, or whip them in combination with each other to come up a new taste, and that helps. Can’t forego them altogether because they’re just too important for all-around good health.

So, on this cold, gray winter day I decided the answer was a big pot of soup. I hadn’t planned it ahead of time, so I had to make do with whatever veggies I had on hand. But that’s the beauty of soup: The list of ingredients is entirely variable.

I started with two big leeks, sliced thin as far up the stalks as I could go. I sautéed them in coconut oil along with some white mushrooms, added garlic powder, turmeric (love that beautiful yellow color it gives to everything, to say nothing of the taste), salt and pepper. When the leeks were soft, I added the cut-up chunks of a chicken breast half. The ones I buy are huge, so half is plenty.

Once the chicken was no longer pink, I transferred all of it to a soup pot, and added vegetable broth and enough water to equal about 7 cups. The broth is my own. Whenever I steam veggies, I save the water in a quart jar in the fridge, mixing it all together and then using it for soups, gravies or anything else that needs a flavor boost. That way, I don’t dump any stray vitamins down the drain when the steaming is done.

In this batch, I had the steamings from beets, rutabagas, carrots and parsnips.

Soup

Photo by Monica Sawyn

Thanks to the beets, the color was really dark, and I did wonder what this would do for the eye appeal of my soup. Turns out, with the yellow of the turmeric, I ended up with a deep golden color that was wonderfully appetizing to look at.

Anyway, to this mixture I added half a dozen or so carrots–the last ones I had in the fridge–two stalks of celery, the stem portion of some beet greens, and about three handfuls of organic basmati brown rice, which is much more flavorful than regular brown rice. I let all of it simmer for about 45 minutes, then added the chopped leaves of two beet stalks, and a healthy bunch of chopped spinach. It takes only minutes for the greens to wilt down.

Just before serving, I whipped an egg and drizzled it slowly over the top of the soup. It immediately cooks up, and adds some natural thickener, as well as lovely color and flavor.

Usually I make my own bread, but I confess this time I served the soup with an onion-and-cheese bread I bought from a local bakery. Toasted, it was the perfect accompaniment to the soup. Since we use as little butter as possible, we brush a bit of olive oil on the toast. It’s a wonderful substitute for butter.
The mushrooms and the greens have the added attraction of being good sources of potassium, which plays an essential role in the response of nerves to stimulation and in the contraction of muscles. So, if any of you deal with leg cramps or any kind of mild erratic heartbeat, you might think about increasing your intake of potassium–and that doesn’t have to mean gorging on starchy bananas. If I had planned ahead, I might have soaked some white beans overnight and used those instead of rice, since white beans are one of the highest sources of potassium.

Meanwhile, this soup looked good, smelled wonderful, and tasted delicious. I’m SO glad we have leftovers!

Posted in Food, healthy eating, nutrition, recipes, soup, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

I’m catching on

When it comes to oil, I’m a late bloomer. I freely admit it–but then, I wonder how many other people might be in the same boat.

We’ve just come through an era when “fat” was the enemy, according to misguided research and the understanding of the day. We cringed from fat of any sort, and of course did more harm to ourselves than we did when we were eating the wrong kinds of fat.

And then, the full story came out: Not all fats are created equal. There are bad fats–butter, alas, being one of them–but there also are good fats out there, and our body needs them to prevent the inflammation that has been identified as the real culprit in heart disease. Even saturated fats, like those found in avocados and coconut, are not only OK, they’re beneficial.

So, when George and I began to get really serious about what we eat, we reluctantly admitted that butter should play a smaller part in our diet, but that things like olive, grape seed, and coconut oil were not just allowed, but encouraged.

So, I began experimenting. George loves garlic toast–butter, garlic salt, yum.  Oops, nope, had to change that. So, I tried brushing olive oil on the toast, then a liberal sprinkling of garlic powder, and just a smidge of salt. It has proven to be a very tasty substitute for the old way of doing it.

Remember the dipping oils we found in restaurants,

Oil

Photo by Monica Sawyn

the kind that served fresh bread with a side of oil? The first time I did that, I felt positively sinful, soaking up that oil which my fat-is-the-enemy days had told me was a no-no. But I’ve gone back to that.

One of my favorite herbs is rosemary, and I especially like it placed over a piece of pork in the crock-pot where the two flavors can mingle for hours. I fixed that the other day, and had rosemary left over. So I stuck a sprig in a cruet, poured olive oil over it, and let it sit for a few days.

Then one night, we decided to have salad for supper. We’ve eliminated store-bought dressings because they have the wrong kinds of fat and usually have sugar and other unpronounceable ingredients–all of which we’ve eliminated from our diet. So, I was on the prowl for a quick and easy substitute. Enter the cruet of seasoned olive oil.

George and I both sprinkled it on our salads, and rolled our eyes in delight. A little cracked pepper, maybe a slight sprinkling of salt (but don’t overdo) it, and I decided I’d found perfection. I used that same oil to make scrambled eggs tonight. (Oh yes, eggs have been taken off the forbidden list, too.) I think I’ll add a couple cloves of garlic to that salad oil, too. What? You say you’ve been doing this for years? That it’s nothing new? Well, I told you I’m a late bloomer.

Another favorite of ours is olive oil mixed with lots of chili powder, plus onion and garlic powder, a little cracked black pepper, maybe some salt. I brush it on potato wedges and roast them to crispness in the oven, and the other day I did the same with sweet potato slices. Wonderful! I had some left, so today we brushed it on our squash and steamed broccoli and carrots. I never would have thought those herb combinations would be good on veggies. Silly me.

Isn’t it great when something really great tasting is also good for you?

Posted in Food, healthy eating, recipes | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

No ordinary stir-fry

I have a favorite go-to meal when I want something simple, healthy, inexpensive–and tasty. Actually, if it’s not tasty who cares whether it’s any of those other things? But the other day, I made two changes to this old favorite that sent it over the top.

It’s nothing fancy, so if you’re into gourmet or unusual, this wouldn’t be for you. But it’s so darn good, and so pretty to look at, I think it would satisfy both those who like to cook, and those who like to eat. It’s a stir-fry. Just a simple stir-fry–with attitude.

The meat is always a cut-up boneless, skinless chicken breast–or half a one, if they’re big. I sauté the pieces in a healthy oil, which has always been olive or grape-seed, but this time I tried coconut oil, and what a difference that made! I used good, extra virgin coconut oil that I got at the health food store, which means it was a bit more expensive than the cheaper varieties. I knew it was worth the price, though, when I opened the container and smelled–coconut. The last, cheaper brand I bought had no aroma at all.

The coconut oil added a special underlying flavor to the whole dish without overpowering it, and I know I’ll never make this again using any other kind of oil.

Over the chicken I sprinkled a healthy dose of coarsely-ground black pepper, a generous amount of garlic powder, and my new favorite spice, turmeric. Why I’ve never cooked with it before is a mystery, but I love the slightly sweet, mild curry-like flavor, and the delightful yellow color it adds to foods. (And to your kitchen counter if you’re careless with where you lay your stirring utensil, so be careful.)

Once the chicken was cooked through and just a bit browned, I remove it from the pan, and then, after adding a bit more coconut oil, I dumped in the veggies to soften a bit. These vary each time I make the dish, depending on what I happen to have in the house.

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The stir-fry while still in the pan. Photo by George Sawyn

On this day, it was chopped onion, broccoli broken into small pieces, carrots halved and sliced very thin, and chopped red, sweet peppers. When the veggies were tender, I added some water, a bit of corn starch to thicken, and just a light splash of soy sauce, since that’s very salty and we’re watching our salt these days.

After the mixture thickened, I added some chopped swiss chard, stirring until it was nearly wilted, and then put the chicken back in to warm. I served the whole thing over organic basmati brown rice. Now, if you think you can substitute white rice, or even regular brown rice, and still have the same tasty meal, you’d be wrong. Basmati has a wonderful, almost nutty flavor that’s so good I can eat the leftover rice cold, all by itself. You do have to give it 30-40 minutes to cook, though, which means it takes longer than the meat-and-veggie mixture.

Dish up some rice on a plate, top it with the stir-fry, and there will be enough color and flavor to please even the most discriminating taste. Best of all: the whole meal is entirely healthy. We had this for New Year’s Day, and tomorrow we’re eating the leftovers. I can’t wait.

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