Thanksgiving Countdown Tip #2:

November 10, 2017

Today’s tip: Inventory your pantry.

definitely not our pantry

We take for granted that we have basics like salt, pepper, and oil on hand at all times. But remember, you are probably going to be cooking more than you are used to and using much larger quantities of all those staple items. This weekend, spend a few minutes taking inventory of your pantry and make sure that you have ample amounts of every spice, as well as oil, vinegar, flour, and sugar. Check for the freshness of your baking powder and soda, as they do expire and lose effectiveness. Make sure you have pan spray and aluminum foil, as well as parchment and plastic wrap. Trust us, you don’t want to have to stop everything to run to the store ( if you can find one that is open) or brave the crowds with overflowing carts because you ran out of cinnamon.

Bonus points for actually wiping down your shelves and drawers while you are at it. There is something about starting the preparation with clean and well-organized cabinets that makes the process much more pleasant.

 

photo: Glasshouse Images

 

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Thanksgiving Countdown Tip #1:

November 9, 2017

 

It’s only two weeks before Thanksgiving. This year, we are going to toss out a tip here and there to help get you ready for the big day. Today’s suggestion?
Sharpen your knives! A dull knife makes food preparation a chore. Whether you own a sharpener or need to take them to someone to do the job professionally, get those knives honed to precision. You will give thanks for that while you are preparing the feast, and carving the bird.

photo: Glasshouse Images

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Verbal Venom

October 27, 2017

A few mornings ago, I scrolled through Facebook, glancing at articles, posts, and short videos. In a time of extreme political discourse, it is interesting to see what people have to say. It’s no secret which side of the table I sit at, but I read articles written from many points of view, whether I agree with them or not. I haven’t unfollowed people whose views are extremely different from mine, as I think it is important to burst the bubbles we often place ourselves in and understand what we’re up against with the rest of the world. And with clenched teeth, I explore the comments section on many of them.

While I fully expect to see some friction on political posts, it has become more than that. Somehow, it escalates quickly from a disagreement of views to an all-out assault on humanity. Name calling and the use of grammar and spelling more commensurate with a third-grade education is peppered with vulgarity. The threads stretch into the hundreds, if not thousands of comments, most being unworthy of notice. This morning, I happened to watch a short video about making Halloween treats from store-bought cookies and candies. I was absolutely gobsmacked to see the nastiness that such a whimsical and benign post brought about. Women attacking other women for having too much time on their hands and assuming that their homes were unkempt or their children uncared for because they took the time to cut an Oreo in half and attach it to a peanut butter cup to make a bat. Or someone stating that pretzel monsters and spider cupcakes are “un-Christian.” Don’t even get me started about the remarks related to the purchasing of “googly eyes.” Have we really reached such a low point that there isn’t a subject in existence that doesn’t set off a chain of verbal venom?

What has happened to us since the call to become a “kinder, gentler nation” so many years ago? I am truly scared to live in a world where our views on big issues are so disparate that we violently clash both in word and deed on a regular basis. There are times that it is unfathomable to me that people actually think the way that they do. I am even more afraid to live in a world where an Oreo cookie and a chocolate dipped pretzel stick can inspire this level of rage and rhetoric at 7:30 a.m. on Monday morning. Sheesh!

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Kitchen Tips Tuesday: Baking A Few Items At Once

October 24, 2017

I keep lots of cookie and scone dough on hand, so I can just pull it out and bake it off at a moment’s notice. Sometimes this means I need a few of these and a few of those. While all those cookies might fit easily on one cookie sheet, bake times are not always the same.

King Arthur Flour recently shared a great tip, which rectifies that problem completely. They suggest placing each type of cookie on its own strip of parchment paper on the baking trays. When one row is done, simply pull the entire sheet off the pan and continue baking the others.

Pretty smart, huh?

photo: Glasshouse Images

 

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Kitchen Tips Tuesday: Storing Raw Meat

October 17, 2017

 

Whenever I purchase raw proteins; chicken, fish or meat, I put them in a plastic bag in the store, before slipping them into my own canvas tote. While that may seem to defeat the purpose of bringing your own reusable bag, it keeps any juices and harmful bacteria from leaking and contaminating my bag, and in turn, my other foods. Those bags can harbor lots of nasty germs that can make you sick. It is important to wash your bags regularly to avoid cross-contaminating other foods, especially those fruits and vegetables that don’t get cooked.

Once you get home, be sure to place those foods on the bottom shelf of your refrigerator so any leaks will be contained, and the chance of drips onto other items is limited. This holds true for defrosting animal proteins as well. It is safest to defrost them slowly in the refrigerator, and placing those high-risk items on a plate on the bottom shelf will protect your other foods and food surfaces from contamination.

photo: Glasshouse Images

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Kitchen Tips Tuesday: Mirepoix

October 10, 2017

 

It’s no secret that I am a big Trader Joe’s fan. I brave the crowds frequently to stock up on items that are unbeatable for both price and quality.

One of my latest discoveries is not new to the brand, but it is new to me and it is life-changing. One word. Mirepoix. 

Mirepoix (meer – pwah) is a staple in the French culinary world, consisting of diced onion, carrot and celery, which provides the base for soups, stews, and sauces. It takes a bit of an effort to make, due to the washing, peeling, and dicing of the vegetables.

Trader Joe’s offers it in a 14 oz tub, layered with the perfect proportion of one-half onion, three carrots, and 3 celery stalks, all cut and ready to use. In the time it took to unpack my groceries, I had sauteed the Mirepoix and was ready to add the other ingredients for a quick pureed soup. And did I mention it’s only $2.99?

Quick Pureed Soup:
Slowly saute the mirepoix in butter or olive oil, until the vegetables start to soften, and the onion becomes translucent. True mirepoix is not meant to brown or caramelize.

Add the vegetable of choice, (zucchini, cauliflower, and broccoli are all good options) and any herbs you might like. Add enough chicken or vegetable stock* to fully submerge the vegetables and simmer covered until they are soft. Puree the mixture until smooth, put it back in the pot, correct seasonings and enjoy!

* If you don’t have stock on hand, Better Than Bouillion is another easy fix. It comes in a jar and is spoonable, rather than dehydrated into a salty cube. It is organic, not full of fake ingredients, and a big dollop added to the pot of water makes a tasty soup. It is high in sodium, so be sure to taste before adding additional salt.

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A Good Place

October 9, 2017

Lately, I have been watching the first season of a sitcom called The Good Place. It features Kristin Bell as Eleanor, who died and was sent to the afterlife. In the afterlife, there is The Good Place and The Bad Place. Eleanor is sent to the former but is having trouble fitting in. After settling in, it comes to light that there is another person by the same name who died at the same time, and was inadvertently sent to The Bad Place. It goes without saying that Kristin’s Eleanor turned out to have not been a very nice person in her past. Long story short, her friends in The Good Place try to help her be a better person, and it is agreed that if she can up her “life points”, she can stay. She needs over 1.2 million points to stay, and she arrived deeply in the red. Of course, hilarity ensues. And of course, this got me thinking about how I would fare if this fictional place were real.

from The Good Place

In The Good Place, points were tallied for doing good deeds, and the size of those deeds is commensurate with a number of points given. For every transgression, points are deducted.

I think I am a decent person. I am honest, hardworking and empathetic to others. I am also snarky, impatient and quietly judgemental. Could the good outweigh the bad?
Are a few well-placed albeit “bad” words used for emphasis, rather than actual curse worth a trip to the Bad Place? How about a few snarky comments whispered to someone who gets my humor? Can those tiny little deficits be made up by equally tiny acts of holding doors, being super polite to restaurant workers and giving up my seat on the subway? I spend my days making cookies. Everyone loves cookies, right? Doesn’t that count for something?

Where do all the politicians go? Is there a special place for them in the afterlife? How about those whose religious beliefs make them so pious that they ultimately are intolerant of those who don’t share their views? Is being good subjective, with different standards for different groups, or would they call it like it is, deducting points for denying rights to those who are of a different race, religion or sexual orientation?

One cannot compare the act of saving lives, helping to broker world peace or curing a deadly disease to the type of acts of kindness most of us are capable of. Yet, if we all tried to be the best people we could be in this life, maybe Earth could be The Good Place.

Which place do you think you would go to, and why? Let us know in the comments. Also, season two is shaping up to be a little weird. Thoughts?

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You May Say That I’m A Dreamer…

September 6, 2017

 

Many years ago, I had a dream. I would take a child, most likely a little girl who had been abandoned by her birth mother and placed on the steps of an orphanage, and raise her with all the love and advantages I could possibly offer. That dream became a reality in 2001 when we brought our daughter home from China, where she had spent the first 13 months of her life in a welfare center near Nanchang, in the Jiangxi Provence of China.

She was beautiful, and even at a year old, she was verbal, pointing at animals and foods and saying their names in her native tongue. She was fiercely loyal, crying when her caregiver from the orphanage left her and mourning her departure throughout our time in Nanchang. Our pediatrician assured us that her inconsolable outbursts, despite the discontent of the other hotel guests showed that she was able to bond and that she would in time, bond with us as well.(She did.) She told us that children who are able to thrive in the worst of conditions are innately fighters, able to overcome the obstacles that appear in daily life. That these kids tend to have exceptional grit and rigor. She hit the nail on the head.

Throughout her life, our child has been a fighter. When faced with challenges, she says “bring it.” When faced with adversity, she confronts it, sometimes with tears, but ultimately with strength and resilience. She adds value to our lives in a way I could never express, but even more importantly, she adds value to her community, through hard work and service to others, and will no doubt contribute to society as an adult.

Today, as I read that our president wants to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) my heart breaks. I remember sitting in that dingy room in John F. Kennedy airport in New York, holding my squirming and crying baby after a grueling 20-hour flight to her new home, listening to the cacophony of languages around us as we waited to be allowed to bring our immigrant child into this country. A few months later, the government issued a ruling that children adopted by American families during a specified period of time would be granted automatic citizenship. Our daughter was issued an American passport and no longer needed to use her Chinese issued papers and green card for identification. There is no official record of her birth.

She has lived the American dream; one where she has access to a loving family, a safe home, abundant food and clean water, a top tier education and the opportunity to be the best version of herself possible. Other than the fact that her parents are Americans, how does she really differ from the “dreamers’, some of whom may have been in that room with us on that very day at JFK when we brought her home? How does she differ from those who share that same desire to achieve, to rise up above their humble beginnings and fulfill their greatest potential? How bland of a country would America be, without our rich tapestry of cultures that weave together a society filled with bountiful flavors, styles, music, and customs?

Yet with the stroke of a pen, our president can take away the life these people dreamed of when they came to America. He can order nearly 800,000 young people back to their former homelands. Many of these people are living productive lives, whether they are working in our kitchens, picking our food, serving in our military, or tending to our health. These are the dreamers.

You might say that I too am a dreamer. I dream of a world where people are treated with respect and dignity and granted the opportunity to contribute to society in a way that is uniquely theirs. I dream of a world where we are judged solely by our actions and not by our race or religion. And I wake up to the realization that my child, had there been a very slight twist of fate affecting her parentage, could now be facing deportation back to the country that shunned her in the first place. And that is a nightmare.

Photo: Glasshouse Images

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When Did Politics Become A Religion?

August 10, 2017

 

Politics have become a religion. Wait a minute, hear me out on this one.

If religion is defined as a set of beliefs held with ardor and faith, than today’s political climate is definately religious.

Whether a Democrat or a Republican, people hold so tightly to their beliefs that any challenges to those ideals are completely shut down, often with a vengeance.

Those who defend our current president, will do so without limits. He himself once said that “I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters.” He appears to be right on that account. While currently only 33% of Americans approve of the job he is doing, those people will defend his every move, however outrageous, or treasonous it may be, as they devoutly believe that he is the savior of the American people.

Those who dislike the current administration will not budge on their conviction that he is going to ruin our country, and that everything he, or his advisors say is should be considered egregious.

The two factions hold on to their theories for dear life, not open to even considering that the other side could be correct. They believe what they believe, and like religion, it is not to be questioned or challenged.

The extensive array of news sources provide fuel for our fodder. Where the major networks and newspapers were once the only trusted sources, there are now tens of thousands of papers, websites and opinions out there to choose from. Suddenly, we pick and choose our facts, based on what we want them to be. Lies? “Alternative facts” are what we call them now.

I remember when we were first about to become parents, I concluded that if you read enough baby books, you would find one that agrees with the way you want to raise your child. Co-sleeping or sleep training; time outs or more time together; whatever feels right to you is correct, and you can find a so-called “expert” who wrote a book to tell you that it is the best thing to do for your child’s well-being.  Politics have become the same way.  Whatever you want to believe happened, there is a news organization which will tell you that it is what “really” happened. From the lips of our chief executive, to those of our “trusted” newscasters, we embrace and accredit the reports we choose to believe. You can almost always find a story that will take either point of view, right or wrong,  if you look hard enough. And if you can’t, just read the comments and there will be hundreds of rude attacks condeming the article and anyone who might agree with it, in an often not so eloquent manner. (Tip: You will be perceived as more intelligent if you don’t have spelling and grammatical errors in your rebuttal.)

Oh, and if you can’t find a way to defend someone, just trash their opponent. It’s a great distraction when you don’t have a leg to stand on, but aren’t willing to accept the reality of what is being said. You can even call them cute little names, like Libtard, and Snowflake.

Politics and current events are unfolding before our very eyes. We don’t need to rely on information from a book written thousands of years ago to guide us through it, yet many are not willing to let go of their beliefs, to react and respond to what is happening in realtime. Jews rarely become Christians, and neither group tend to become Muslim or Buddhist. It’s not how they were raised, and it doesn’t conform to their doctrine.

In decades past, politics were black and white. They were factual and explainable, whether or not you agreed with the decisions being made. Now, politics have become a chosen belief system that guides one’s morals and values on somewhat blind faith. Just like… religion.

photo: Glasshouse Images 

 

 

 

 

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Kitchen Tips Tuesday: Rinsing Rice and Grains

August 8, 2017

When cooking rice and grains, most people just put them in a pot with the requisite liquid and follow the directions for cook time. There is a crucial step that is often over looked, and that is rinsing.

Rinsing grains dates back to a time and place when they weren’t processed and boxed like they are today. While most grains purchased in the USA aren’t considered toxic, they could benefit from a good rinse.

Rice: Giving rice a rinse takes off some of the surface starch, resulting in a less sticky end product. Many also notice debris in the rinse water, especially when the rice came from the bulk bins rather than a box. Imported rices, such as basmati and jasmine may have talc, or powdered glucose on them to make them appear cleaner looking. Looking cleaner, and being cleaner are two very different things, and it is advisable to rinse the talc off before cooking.

Other grains, such as quinoa, farro and barley benefit from a rinse, not only to remove debris, but to remove any saponins that may still linger. While domestically packaged quinoa has been treated to remove the dangerous coating, residual saponins are the source of the unpleasant and bitter flavor that sometimes occurs in cooking quinoa.

Rinse the grains either by running them under water in a fine mesh sieve, or by submerging them in cool water, straining them, and resubmerging them in fresh water until no more debris floats to the surface.

Soaking grains (and legumes) cuts down on the phytic acid, a compound which can make these foods harder to digest. Soaking also jumpstarts the process, cuts down on cooking time and tends to yield a better texture.

Taking the time to rinse grains is akin to taking the time to rinse vegetables. Well worth the extra few minutes for a safer, and better outcome.

photo: Glasshouse Images

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