Shamans, gambling and throwing energy: Chambers: the spirit warrior

Last winter, I’m on the massage therapists’ table, and the big, bespectacled man says, “I’m feeling something like grief…right here,” as he touches a part of my foot. He traces “a line of grief” he says, and asks me if something has happeShaman picned but quickly says I don’t have to tell him anything, only noting “that it’s rising to the surface, so that indicates it’s been in the last few months and you have been suppressing it.” Shocker. Not me.

At that point in my life, I’d only had one item of grief to note, and it was my dog dying (cue sad country song as you dig deep and try to empathize). For those without dogs or children, think about it as the closest living being that you have spent more time with than anyone save yourself, and if you like yourself even a little, you might get the picture. In any case, I feel rather stupid, but I tell him my dog. This begat silence as he worked my body “Through the pain,” as he called it, which meant that I was emitting physical and emotional pain for the rest of the session. It hurt. It was exhausting, but I felt like a million bucks when I left.

As a part of this experience, I asked how he knew, because this wasn’t the normal massage-therapist “I felt something in the muscles,” experience. “I’m an energy worker,” he answered. My response was more than an understanding. I immediately guessed he’d been working with Shamans, or those that in the US, are typically of Native American descent, but can be from anywhere in the world or any race etc. Over the course of his life, he’d trained himself to be more receptive to the energy forces around him. He revealed he could tell something was up the moment I entered the room (by something is up, he meant that he knew I ‘was bottling negative energy and a lot of pain).

Fast forward a few months, I have a conversation with Susan, a woman of Native American descent who is in fact, a Shaman. From her early years, she could see and speak to spirits on the other side (they don’t call them spirits, they are called ‘ancestors,’ for they came before her, not those who are yet to come). We got to talking about my latest book and I was asking her if some individuals who are gifted in the area of energy use their talents for evil.

“All the time, unfortunately,” she answered, catching me by surprise. She then told me of a man who, like she, was born with natural gifts. Apparently it is rare that a male can retain these gifts as they age, because ego and passion get in the way- and when it does, the energy talents are used for self-benefit. Me being me, I ask- “Like what can/did he do?” She told me that as a youth, he would throw bad energy on his classmates to ensure they failed a test and he got better scores (by this time, apparently the elders were onto him and had to watch his every move). He would take a bet and then throw energy on two guys who were friends but suddenly get into a fight and he could win a bet. This graduated into full on stealing (a passerby would grab a woman’s handbag out of the blue and then drop it a block later), and this guy would pick it up. She kept detailing a life of progressive crime that eventually landed him in jail, and I was fascinated and appalled.

“How can anyone protect themselves?” I wondered. She basically said that a person has to have a strong internal core: immovable values and a pure mind, not one that is easily swayed by outside influences, and generally good.

“If a person has a persuasion to live life on the line, or can be moved to tell a white lie now and then, or realize that an item at the store wasn’t paid for and they don’t go back, that alone is the crack in the exterior. It makes then vulnerable.”

I’ve since used this general theme in my latest book (the time/travel action adventure series), but I think about it often. “Just a crack” is all it takes, but doesn’t that apply to so many things. Give me a bite of chocolate and I want the whole candy bar. Give me a kiss and I’ll take the whole body. So many temptations, so much discipline required.

Get the Metal Out

Last March, my plants started dying, resembling my life in certain (morbid) ways, first turning brown (akin to my breaking toes), then limping over (breaks on left foot) then ultimately, hanging over dead like my deceased brother.

It was not good. The universal dark cloud of destruction was like this all-encompassing thing, causing even my plants to suffer.

New growth on a 10 yr old plant-wow. who knew?

“How could this be?” I wondered aloud, my plaintive question coming out as a half-wheeze, half-whine.

“Easy,” replied one of my older, and much wiser friends (Shari 65 to be exact). “You moved to a well in March, didn’t you?” I nodded, wondering what that had to do with anything. Our other friend, Holly, happened to be sitting there, nodding her head.

“Metals,” Holly intoned, saying it like she was revealing the ‘mother-of-all plant’ ailments. Of course I had no idea what they were talking about, and then I was schooled in the connection between wells and plants.

Wells, you see, have high metals, mainly iron. Long term solutions are available but I’m impatient and besides, for plants, it’s easy. The way to get rid of all metals, and the iron, is to “let it sit” for 24 hours in a container. Then it’s drinkable. Both these women have been on wells for the last 35 years, I was comforted by the fact that they both had gone through a period of mourning the plants they had inadvertently sent to the great plant farm in they sky.

This conversation was in September, and sure enough, I started using water that I’d left out for 24 hours, but most of the time, I cheat. I take bottled water each Saturday morning, look to my left and right to make sure Rog isn’t watching, pour it into the pitcher and then lovingly drench my plants, that are no longer stooping over or brown. In fact, each one has started sprouting new braches, a phenomena that is as close to the second-coming in this household.

“It’s a miracle,” I said one time within earshot of Rog.

“No,” he said drolly, “it’s the water.”

At least on that point, we can agree.

The coolest salt on the block- Himalyan Salt Blocks

Fishing was the excuse for me to order the Himalyan Salt Block that I’d been ogling for a few months. Ever since I got into salts (thanks Jacque, my French friend and fellow cooking fiend).


From ocean to table- Rog and his bounty

I went a little over the top and purchased 8 types of salts, a bit dubious though I was, that each would be distinct and alter and/or enhance, the flavor of a dish.
How wrong I was, and how right Jacque proved to be, for no sooner had I fallen in love with the individual salts I ordered, but then I jumped right in and purchased 2 salt blocks of different sizes.

Why they work

This is the larger block- 2″ thick

-the salt flavor seeps into the food, but not overly so
-the salt block can be chilled for cold apps
-the salt block can be put in the broiler or on the grill and give the meat, steak, fish or chicken a wonderful, natural flavor as well
-the look COOL, which is, in my opinion, just as important as the flavor

Where to buy
Don’t go retail. As much as I love to shop local and support retail, I’m sorry, I just can’t justify $65 bucks for a product I can get on-line for $35. And to my surprise, the best products I found were located 45 min away from me, right here in Seattle at Saltworks. Who knew? I guess all the seafood helps supplies. I went to the products section and purchased a whole lotta flavors– I love the tops by the way. Hands down, my favorite is the Alderwood Smoked sea salt that we use on nearly all our fish (cooked) either during or after. It has a bit of a bite- but the pour top is modified to prevent the consumer from over-use- which you have to be careful about, as it will overwhelm the fish.

What to serve

Sort of a weird view-but that’s one half of a tuna

We had our virgin serving at 10 pm last week, when Rog returned from a 3-day salmon and tuna fishing trip. He caught 300 lbs of tuna, brought it home, fillet-ed it up with his sushi knife he bought special (be it for the tuna or the salt block, I know not), told me to break out the wasabi and soy sauce and walla- che’ Rogez.

When to use
This Sat, I’m going to be whipping up 7 apps for a dinner cruise we are giving, and I plan on serving either the salmon rolls or the tuna tartar on one of the blocks- chilled. Oh, and yesterday, I cooked turkey on the bigger one- it was divine.

I def give the packaging a 5-star review.
It’s so robust it’s easy to resend. love this product

Great gift idea
I really, truly like this as a gift for all my cooks and wanna-be cooks. If nothing else, it’s got a definite unique, cool-factor, and the smaller block I picked up for $15 and free shipping. How can you beat that? Def get this for the snobby person in your life that has a gr
eat kitchen and doesn’t know a darn thing about using it. wups. did I just say that. yes. yes I did.

Best halloween treats –

A week ago I threw my first, and probably last, adult halloween party, at least in this home. After 14 years of refusing to my request, Rog, out of the blue, said, “why not?” (of course, I think this was right after he’d returned home from a week of fishing for Salmon in Oregon and two days before leaving for Pinehurst, but whatever. I’ll take it).

“Witchy fingers” — the biggest hit of the night
The first thing I do is call cousin Nance, she of the ideas for the 9-foot witch that I ended up changing to a jilted bride, for lack of either witch costumes at Goodwill and the lack of ability to sew the darn thing.
“Make the eyeball trouffles” Nance recommends with all the must of a mom who had been on the road all night, ferrying her fourteen year-old daughter from Vegas to San Diego for yet another soccer championship game. “Or the witches fingers. Two kinds. Or the meringue bones. Or mummy pigs in a blanket (the party fav).”
Before I can get in a word, she promises to send me a dozen recipes that have pictures. I fret about ingredients, but she assures me I don’t have to worry.
My personal favorite-the chocolate rats (rolled in
white confectioners sugar or crushed choc graham crackers
for dark- although next time I might use sweetened dark
chocolate)
“This is American baking at its best,” she says me in a laughing-while-soothing voice. “It’s all butter, flour and some salt and vanilla extract in different measurements.” When I receive the recipes, she’s right. Save for a few recipes, the only addition is eggs and almond extract (for the almond variation of the witchy fingers) or the sweet witchy fingers, and chocolate (white and semi-sweet) for the RIP cookies an coffin brownies.
Peanut truffle eyeballs covered in white chocolate
For simplicity, I think I’m going to include a few recipes in this blog, and then break them out into separate blogs. Just for grins, I’m going to include the professional photo (from Nancy’s original emails) and then my ‘reality’ photo. It’s nice to know that they all taste the same, no matter the look (in theory, that is). 
The first thing I do is crank up some Lana Del Rey Blue Jeans remix and get going.
And because I had nothing better to do, I used the ‘spooky template’ from Microsoft Powerpoint, changed the words and printed out a “Slimy Sarah’s Best Rancid Recipes. I overlayed this on top of my oldest and most word Barefoot Contessa Cookbook. I’m sure she didn’t mind.


Best Halloween Treats- Sweet Witchy Fingers

The only difference between this recipe and the original “almond” witchy fingers is that this has more sugar (shocker) and no almonds. the outcome on the dough is about the same.

Ingredients

2 tablespoons red food coloring

The almond with the skin gone

30 blanched almonds
2 large eggs (room temperature is best)
1/4 tsp pure vanilla extract
8 tbs unsalted butter (1 stick) room temp
1/2 confectioners sugar
5 tbs white granulated sugar
pinch of salt
1 2/3 cup flour

Directions

  1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with Silpats (French nonstick baking mats) or parchment paper, and set aside.
  2. Place food coloring in a shallow bowl. Using a small paintbrush, color one rounded half of each almond. Set aside to dry.
  3. Separate 1 egg. Set aside the white. In a small bowl, whisk together yolk, remaining egg, and vanilla. Set aside.
  4. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine butter, confectioners’ sugar, granulated sugar, and salt. Beat on medium speed until well combined. Add egg mixture, and beat until smooth, about 2 minutes. Add the flour, and mix on low speed just until incorporated. Wrap the dough in plastic, and chill until firm, 20 to 30 minutes.
  5. Divide the dough in half. Work with one piece at a time, keeping remaining dough covered with plastic wrap and chilled. Divide the first half into 15 pieces. On a lightly floured surface, roll each piece back and forth with palms into finger shapes, 3 to 4 inches long. Pinch dough in two places to form knuckles. Score each knuckle lightly with the back of a small knife. Transfer fingers to prepared baking sheets. Repeat with remaining dough.
  6. When all fingers are formed, brush lightly with egg white. Position almond nails; push into dough to attach.
  7. After the fact, I made the sweet
    witchy fingers w/ black nails
    Tip: Unless you are going to eat immediately,
    place in a container or the cookies will dry out 
  8. Bake until lightly browned, about 12 minutes. Cool completely.

Best halloween Treats- Almond Witchy Fingers

Witchy fingers- you can use any color for the nails
I mixed it up with black

Almond Witchy Fingers

Ingredients
1 cup sugar
1 egg (room temp best)
1 tsp Almond extract
1 tsp Vanilla extract
2 2/3 cup Flour
1 tsp Salt
3/4 cup whole Almonds, blanched
2 squares melting chocolate (optional)

Directions

1. Combine the sugar, egg, butter, almond extract, and vanilla in a bowl. Mix in the flour, and salt. Cover and refrigerate the dough for about 30 minutes, or until it’s firm.
Once you have the (chilled) dough, use a scooper to create
a nice uniformity of size
Cut the ball in two or you will have ginormous fingers
Roll out the door
Enlist your kids and start painting
2. When you’re ready to shape the cookies, only take out a small portion of the dough at a time. Shape the cookies into fingers by rolling and working with your hands. Score the top of the cookie with a knife or spatula to make it look like the wrinkles in your knuckle. Press an imprint into the tip of the cookie with your finger to make a spot for the almond finger nail. Press an almond into the tip of each finger to look like a fingernail.
3. Placed on a cooking sheet lightly coated with no-stick cooking spray and bake at 325` for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the cookies are a very light golden brown. Let the cookies cool on a drying rack.
This will make about 30 fingers (depending on how
much dough you devour)

Tips:
1. I was very intimated by this, since I’m as artistically akin to a walrus (I flounder in my fatness on the beach as I watch others do the real work). However, used my scooper (same as previous recipe) to place the (chilled) dough on the parchment paper (on the cookie sheet). I failed on the first two attempts, as this resulted in a Fessick-size finger (that would be the giant in The Princess Bride). Go for something more human size. I then cut the dough ball in half. This was more realistic.
Remember to ‘score’ the fingers to make it took realistic
2. Round the dough into a ball (rolling between your palms)
3. Using your fore-and middle fingers, roll the dough on a flat surface (I used my breadboard with a bit of flour), pressing a little harder, resulting in one end being a little thinner.
4. Cut your time down dramatically by skipping the chocolate rims. I made it easy on myself and fun for the kids. I took a paintbrush, dropped red food coloring in a ramiken and painted the top of the (dried) blanched almonds. It definitely needed 2-3 coats to attain the deep-red color.
Allow the fingers to cool entirely before moving.
5. Last but not least- this recipe didn’t call for an egg white application, but I added it after the first batch looked–boring. Take 1 egg white and apply a nice, thin coating (using another paintbrush). This makes the finger shine in a nice-crusty-sort of way.
6. OH! be sure to push the almond fingernails in the dough a little ways–otherwise the fingernails will fall off.

Best Halloween Treats- Peanut Butter & White Chocolate Eyeballs

Peanut Butter Eyeballs
This is actually more of a truffle recipe, because the peanut butter concoction isn’t baked. It’s beyond fatty, rich and creamy. The key is having the dough chilled so you can work with it during the two rounds of molding and shaping. Start with it first, as it takes the most time.
Ingredients
1 1/2 cups creamy peanut butter
1/2 cup butter, softened
2 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
12 ounces white chocolate, chopped
2 tablespoons shortening
2 drops blue food coloring
1/2 cup miniature semisweet chocolate
chips
red food coloring (optional)
DIRECTIONS
1. Beat the peanut butter and butter with an electric mixer in a large bowl until smooth. Beat in the sugar and vanilla. Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes. Roll chilled dough into small, eyeball-sized balls and place on 2 baking sheets lined with wax paper. Refrigerate for another 30 minutes.
2. Melt the white chocolate and shortening in a microwave-safe glass or ceramic bowl in 30-second intervals, stirring after each melting, for 1 to 3 minutes (depending on your microwave). Do not overheat or chocolate will scorch. Dip each eyeball into the white chocolate and transfer to the waxed paper until the chocolate has set. You can chill them in the refrigerator.
3. Stir a few drops of blue food coloring into the remaining melted white chocolate. Make a round “iris” on the top of the cooled eyeball and press a mini chocolate chip in the center for a “pupil.” For an extra spooky bloodshot eyeballs take a toothpick dipped in red food coloring and make squiggly lines on the eye.
This was the professional version (not use of light
blue around the eyes. I think it makes a big difference)
A couple of tips: 
1. Use a small ice cream or cantalope scooper for the dough. The provide uniformity of size and shape. Drop all these on the lined cookie sheet and put in the fridge.
After melting the chocolate, you can roll the chilled balls around in the choc and then place quickly back on the baking sheet. They will dry fast, but the longer the dough is at room temperature, the soggier it gets, which makes it harder to work with.
2. Use a squeeze bottle of food coloring instead of applying the blue with a toothpick or paintbrush. That takes way too much time. I used black for my color and it was over in seconds. Then me and my 7 year old poured a 1/2 teaspoon (or so) amount of red food coloring in a little ramiken. Take a toothpick (as directed) and then make the lines.
3. An added touch–Blue around the black eyes. My daughter was having so much fun, I then took a bit of blue, gave her a new toothpick and encouraged her to draw a ring of blue around the pupils. She did great.
Only downside of this dessert– after a few hours at room temperature, they get mushy on the inside- but the outside looks perfect.
My version- still yummy!
Next up: Witchy fingers- two versions

Best spiderwebs

Nothing kills my spook-mojo like cheap, inelastic fiberwebs. I spent the extra .50 cents, thinking, in my marketing mind, that it would be better than the cheaper brand (see below), I sprung for BooBatts at Lowes, and have been cursing at myself, throughout my house, ever since. How this product ever passed inspection, consumer tests or the buying manager at Lowes, let alone any retail is beyond me. It tears. It rips. It does NOT stretch. It’s the anti-stretch. It’s like glorified cotton balls packaged together and marketed as “Super Stretch Web.” False advertising claim. If I was a lawsuit oriented gal, I’d join a calss action.

Product review grade: F+. It gets the + because it’s white.

On the other hand, The CelebrateIt Halloween spider web is awesome. No link because the store where I bought it–Michaels— web site is so lame it doesn’t list it as an item. It stretches and holds together, creating the amazing sheer look. I have stretched this stuff five feet, and that’s after cutting it up a bit. LOVE IT.

Yes, it’s actually less expensive and oh, so much better. Grade: A+. The plus is because the price point is $2.49.

Jilted Brides make my Halloween

The final product–but she has windblown hair
need to put a clip in that
The mask- 4 bucks at Goodwill. Looks like Michael Jackson
met up with the joker. Looks like a jilted bride to me

Nothing like writing an entire blog, just to have it lost upon saving. The upside is the mind-popping, blood-vessel bursting anger can now be focused in to an infinitely shorter blog (past readers know I feel of the 5-paragraph-limit ages ago. Maybe this will put me back into recovery. dare to dream).

Step 1- wrap the cotton with
clear tape. Attach the
mask to ensure it fits.

The backstory. I have halloween envy. It’s all my cousin Nancy’s fault. She’s a spooky-time goddess who happens to sew better than anyone I know, and that’s saying something (ok, maybe she is on par with my aunts, but I don’t think they’ve made a 9 foot witch). Hence, the envy.

Step 2-attach the $4.95 wig,
also courtesy of Goodwill

“Go to Fabricland–” Nance starts.

“Full stop,” I interrupt, reminding her Rog sews a hemline better than I do. Nance regroups.

“OK. Right. Go to Goodwill and pick up the witches costume, a wig, some PVC tubing and you’re on your way.”

Couldn’t help myself. It
looked like a size 6, so
I put it on, feeling sort of
gross, like an interloper
on someone’s day of
happiness gone awry

Later that day,  I show up, nary a witches costume in site, but a lovely, armpit stained bridal dress with a three foot rain for the bargain basement price of $19.95. I’m in love all over again, ready to don garters and pumps.

I go home, grab Rog’s disgusting mop, some tape, spraypaint, a few hangers and I’m ready to rock. Here goes the pics. (see, I almost made the 5 paragraphs. We should all thank the buggy-save feature on blogspot).

Step 3- attach the hangers
to the clear tape.
Step 4- attach the bra and undershirt
Step 4- I had to McGyver and use a safety pin,
no bubble gum.

This is right before the paint.
Step 5- use the primer

Step 6- add the reds and the grey

Save the lawsuit- use a an author release form


Out of the blue, I was contacted by a former sports star who is writing about about the travails of bad money management, for lack of a better phrase. The story is the same: elite athlete rises to fame, makes loads of dough (American slang for money, dear Russian readers, who come to this site in droves) for a period of time and then poof. It’s gone. The mysteries of why athletes go broke tend to be the same: blown on wine, women and song (well, exotic cars and way too many babies with different wives (the most famous being 9 babies by 9 woman. whoa. that’s a lot of action), but I digress).

It’s not just America. It’s everywhere. Athletic and entertainment money managers don’t do much good if they are ignored or fired or never hired in the first place. So after a career, the athlete inevitably bemoans that reality of poor money management and repossessed cars. The stats are harsh. 78 percent of NFL players go broke within a few TWO years of retirement, and 60 percent on NBA players w/in 6 yrs. But it’s not just athletes. Entertainers follow the same trent.

When I was told of the story, the athlete also indicated he’d lined up lots athletes so speak on the record, as well as coaches and those in the entourage. His own advisor recommended she have those going on record to sign an author release form, ensuring that she does not get sued by a broke athlete or money manager for a share of the profits of the book, should she be so lucky.

Thus, it was my pleasure to contact my own editor, who used this release form for many of her own projects. These are a little hard to come by (most internet searches produce nada), so if you are going to be writing a book, interviewing folks and don’t want to share a piece of the profits (even to Grandma Nila), then use this author release form. And I must give a plug to the filefactory. It’s fast and free. Two things I appreciate.

Smoke salmon & Cheese

Yesterday Rog did his annual Salmon fishing derby, thereby saving us nearly $300 (at $18/pound, fresh, wild caught salmon is shhhbendy).

As I smoked it and had friends over, the question is always, every year “what’s the cheese you are serving?” followed by some complimentary phrase along the lines of.. “I’ve never tasted salmon so good.”

Hint: it’s not the salmon. Granted, it’s good. Don’t get me wrong, but it really is the cheese.

Use Premium Premium Aged Gouda– the kind I use is Premier and it’s aged 26 months. (tried to find a link-couldn’t) It’s healthy (ingredients- cows milk, salt, cheese culture, rennet & annato). It’s imported from Holland (I still have my wooden clogs from my trip hanging in my house), and only $11. Very worth it.

Serving tips-
You can spear it on a toothpick for bites, or slice it up or even use some crumbles if you want a more casual atmosphere.

If your local grocery/deli doesn’t carry Premier, other premium brands will work-just look for the ingredients and the aged.

Steelhead Trout Northwest style w/dill sauce

Decapitating the trout

Rog brought home two ginormous trout last month, just in time for me to cook it for a couple out of town executives he told me we were entertaining (with 1 hour notice).

In that kind of time, there is only one choice, which, all things considered, works perfectly well for a party of 8-10, and requires limited prep. I highly recommend this simple, amazing, Sarah-created, recipe, along with the simple sides for a super meal.

Heat the oven to 325 degrees.

You will need:

  • Tinfoil
  • 2 lemons
  • 1 medium to large onion
  • Coconut oil (natural, unrefined if you have it)
  • Lemon salt
  • The trout
Open the trout (I had to cut the head off myself. Ugh. Good thing I have a big butcher knife). My ovens are the largest one can buy outside a commercial kitchen. This bad boy was so long, I had to tuck the tail under.
Directions

  1. Fillet the trout (mine came filleted and gutted).
  2. Lay out the tinfoil on the baking sheet (I used one with curled edges to prevent run-off)
  3. Lay the trout inside
  4. Open it up and using a spoon, knife or spatula, spread a nice layer of the coconut oil on the inside. Follow this with a sprinkle of the lemon salt/pepper mix, followed by the sliced up onions and lemons.
  5. Close the trout, and repeat the process above. Even though you won’t eat the skin, I’m convinced the flavours seep in to the fish.
Cook for approximately 2.5 hours, until the fish is just flakey. This is important. If it’s truly flakey, like a croissant, it will in reality, be dry once the fish has a chance to rest.
Remove from the oven and let it rest for about 10-15 minutes. This is also key, as the fish needs time to come back together (e.g. firm up) before you start slicing it apart.
Serve with your choice of rice, asparagus or other salad and you are ready to go!

Now for the Dill Sauce.

I must say, I was a bit offended. The discriminating fishers who attended this feast liked the dill sauce as much, or more, than the fish itself (and this is saying something. The two guests, both in their late 50’s, hovered by the oven, looking/poking, and have fished since they were boys. I was under pressure).

Dill Sauce

                  1/3 cup sour cream
                  1/3 cup mayonnaise
                  1 tablespoon finely chopped onion
                  1 teaspoon lemon juice
                  1 teaspoon prepared horseradish
                  3/4 teaspoon dill weed
                  1/4 teaspoon garlic salt
              Pepper to taste

Discarding food storage

A sunny day in Seattle is to be cherished. Adored like a bright, glimmering object that, like Cinderella in a bubble, will suddenly burst and leave us with a dirty floor and clouds. It is not a time to be squandered, indulgently spent indoors, downstairs, in the food storage room.

Yet today it was.

rotten tomatoes Old food: A fact of food storage life
Old food stinks in any form

There is a backstory. With me, there always is. I’ve recently been asked to visit a woman who has been through some trying times. She and her husband, both accountants, are preparing to send their only daughter off to college, live in a lovely home and in their late forties/early fifties. Over warm banana bread, she revealed that her husband recently landed a job after being unemployed for three years. Through savings and a lot of food storage, they had made it through the first year and a half, relatively unscathed. After that, they had no money for food.

“When you are choosing between the mortgage and food, you choose the mortgage.”

Their church welfare system helped out, making up the difference in food supplies. Her income afforded the basic necessities of utilities gas etc. Beyond the fact that I’d lived in complete oblivion of her situation (from the outside, I’d never have guessed, unless she’d confided in me), I was amazed she had stored away enough food for a solid year and a half. Enough for two adults, one child, two pets, and relatives that had come to stay at her home due to dire circumstances of their own.

Today after church, as Rog took the chitlens to the park, I passed on the gratiutous suntanning on the lawn an opted for the task of taking an accounting of my own food storage. I’d been preening to my mother about having a full six months of wet food (can soups and the like) and a year of dry goods (flour, oatmeal, dried eggs and milk etc).

“And what to my wondering eyes did appear, a whole lot of bad, near-exploding flood, instead of eight, shiny reindeer.”

I was mortified to learn that the majority of my cans had not been rotated in a VERY long time (some dated back to 2003). While lots of vegies, fruits and soups were in the last year, a couple of gems were near to exploding, the metal siding pushing out like Santa after a post-Christmas gorge-fest.

As I pulled and dumped the offending items, I wondered what in the world to do with them. Local food banks? Nope. They won’t accept food past the expiration date. Save for the worst-case scenario. “If you have no food and you are starving, you’ll eat anything.” So said my mother, who returned my call while on her vacation to speak to me like a true Swedish mother.

I looked on line for a few resources, that reiterated what we know about old food storage (losing taste etc, inability to cook right etc), but not what to do with the pounds and pounds of out of date food.

“Chuck it,” said Rog.

I did the only thing a green-minded person can do. I forced myself to open each one, rinse and clean, then separate the cans and glass to be recycled. Let me tell you. Do NOT do this without either holding your breath or wearing a gas mask. Safety first. When I talk to mom next, I’ll tell her my thoughts. I’m not going to eat something I can’t stand the smell of, human food included. I’d rather starve.

Flat cookie culprit

Embarrassment and shame comes in simple forms. Flat cookies being one of them.

When we went to the end of the year teacher celebration at a local family farm, I covered my plate of chocolate chip cookies with a towel, slipped them on table of desserts and skeddadled before I could be associated with the offending items that resembled wilted, flat potato chips with little black mounds. At the end of the event, after goat petting, kitten chasing, pig-humping extravaganza (yes, it’s true. It was a sign), I returned to the table, and, when I thought no one was looking, lifted my plate.

Click to enlarge babygoatnursing-600.jpg
I would have given you a pic
of the flat cookies, but all I
found was a pic of the feeing

“Were those yours?” comes a question from behind me. Ugh. The voice of a friend who happens to be a bonified chef. She is with her husband.

“I’m so sorry they turned out terrible,”  said, cutting off the eventual badness that was going to be next.

“They were great!” her husband said. “What’d you do?”

“I made them flat,” was my response.

“That was how I knew they were homemade,” said the chef.

It was true. The two plates I brought had a smattering of crumbs. The other store-purchased cupcakes, brownies and other items in boxes.

I bemowned the flatness.

“It’s the soda,” said the chef. “It’s probably old.”

Did you know that? Went home, bought some new soda, and walla! no more flat cookies.

**Update- the following morning, 3:42 AM.
I get this text.

‘Sarah. it could be butter. Cut the butter by half and replace with lard or shortening. makes all the difference’

So texts mom.

I was up, sleeping restlessly. I text back:

‘mom. thx. we are bats. go to bed.’

Preventing varicose veins

Back in Sept of 2010 when I wrote about remedies for reducing and eliminating ugly varicose veins, I should have written a section about prevention. Silly me. In my defense, I was trying to keep to She’s comment about the 5 paragraph blog which is the bane of my existence. I’m more writer than blogger, and not so good at that, but I digress on what my readers already know.

I had the uncommon good fortune to have a friend whose family was in the circus. Literally. Three generations of performing with Barnum & Bailey’s traveling circus. What, might you ask, does this have to do with vericose veins? Everything, for it was my friend’s mom bit-o-wisdom that I largely credit with keeping the snake-like demons of ugliness off my legs.

One afternoon, while we were inside their round house, which resembled a four-story high hobbit home (as in, hand-constructed and earthy, more like a mountain than a residence for humanoids, we were having a chat. I was watching my friend’s brother flying around in the trapeze in the center of the room, their practice space. The father was in his wheelchair (he fell without a net) years before I met the family, and my friend was harnessing the belts on her waist. As usual, I was in awe of the graceful, lithe bodies that swirled above me, commenting on keeping a beautiful physique. Somehow, the conversation turned to legs, the mom’s in particular.

“Just don’t cross your legs,” she said, something my mother had also told me. “It’s the most important thing you can do.” She went on to point out that men who cross their legs always have a lot of red marks and bumps above their knees. “And do you notice the women? They have red marks on the top of their thighs from the hours and days of weight on their legs.” She then lifted her calf to show where the pressure on the lower leg creates spider veins.

As a teenager, I took her words to heart, never, ever, crossing my legs. It was hard to sit sideways, knees touching, as the others looked far more compely, sitting with their gams crossing, ankles touching delicately in perfect posture form. As an adult, I struggled to look refined as men and women in business meetings crossed and uncrossed, as much to make a statement as to be comfortable. Not I. I kept the faith, just as I did for not wrinkling my nose, raising my eyebrows or raising my forehead in order to stave off deep lines (that worked!).

Years later, as women of my age started getting saline solution injections or having their veins removed, I have been fortunate to do neither, but have used the horse chestnut oil I mentioned in the earlier blog.

Is it the floors?

Quite a few women I now hang with are firm believes that the floors they stand on have assisted in the maturation of veins. Hard floors, particularly in the kitchen (slate, tile etc) are considered the culprit by many. I can’t say either way, since I have slate and have been standing on that for a dozen years now. Several women have ripped up their floors and put installed bamboo floors or cork. The bamboo is supposed to be quite soft, and the cork feels bouncy in a weird sort of way. It’s an interesting look (not for me) but works well in the right setting.

Teenagers reading this….don’t cross your legs, exercise, and adults, give your feet a rest and keep the horse chestnut oil handy.

PS the last time I saw my friend, she was getting shot out of a canon as I watched in Entertainment Weekly. Yes. people do live that life.

Thick & Rich Pork Chops & Gravy

My cooking zone, complete with two science projects in front
of the cookbook

Pork chops don’t have to be hard, dry or tasteless. After years of failed attempts, I found a great recipe that has been my go-to for all things pork chops for years. It’s easy to make, provided the you do things in the right order, and above all, use good ingredients, starting with the pork chop. I made the (mostly American mistake) of choosing meat that’s overly lean. Had I listened to my dad’s admonitions to “keep in the fat! It gives it flavor!” my results probably would have been much better. 

One of my most often-made vegies. String beans cooked in
organic vegetable or chicken broth. Quick, easy and flavorful

First off, the pork chops. Pick out nice, thick chops, not thin. You will waste your time.  My preferred cut is a 1.5-1.3/4 inch cut of pork chop. I typically make 4 at a time, since the chops I get are so huge, I typically share with someone else in the family. (Surprisingly, Costco has a great selection of thick chops, (for beefy American’s no doubt) but they aren’t organic or natural. When I go to the butcher, I have to request the thickness.

The rest of the ingredients are straightforward, though as usual, I recommend sweet, salted butter and sweet, Walla Walla onions.
Overview
The recipe essentially comes from The New Best Recipe, though I have made some changes as usual. It’s called Smothered Porkchops, for indeed, it is smothered, but this is what keeps it moist and flavorful. What you’ll be doing is flash-frying the pork chops in a butter/onion base while making the thick and rich gravy. You re-add the porkchops back into the main pan, cover and cook for a bit. You have the most divine pork chops and gravy to hit the planet. While this is cooking, you roast the red potatoes and make the string beans. 
Pre and Cook time- @1hr 10 min

Ingredients
3 oz (abt 3 slices) bacon, cut into 1/4 inch pieces
2 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
1 3/4 cups low-sodium chicken broth

I used a cast iron press to speed up the bacon and
even out the cooking

2 tablespoons vegetable oil (I split this with butter)
ground black pepper
2 medium size sweet onions, sliced thin (I make mine very small)
Salt
2 tablespoons water
2 medium garlic cloves, minced or pressed through a garlic press
1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme leaves (dried is ok)
2 bay leaves
1 tablespoon parsley (fresh or dried)

**note: I’ve actually cut down the cook time about 5-10 min by doing a few of things slightly out of order. The gravy is supposed to be made after the pork chops are done, but I make the gravy first, thereby smothering the pork chops in true southern fashion.

Directions
1. Fry the bacon over medium heat and brightly, rendering the fat, about 8-10 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the bacon to a paper towel and reserve, leaving the fat in the pan (you should have about 2 tablespoons. Add vegetable oil if you don’t).
2. Reduce the heat to medium low and gradually whisk the flour into the fat until smooth. Cook, whisking frequently, until the mixture is light brown, about the color of peanut butter, about 5 minutes.
3. Which in the chicken broth in a slow, steady stream; increase the heat to medium-high and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. Cover and remove from the heat; set aside.
4. Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a 12 inch skillet over high heat until smoking. Meanwhile, sprinkle the pork chops with 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Brown the chops in a single layer until deep golden on the first side, about 3 minutes. Flip the chops and cook until browned on the second side, about 3 minutes. Transfer the chops to a large plate and set aside.
5. Reduce the heat to a medium and add the remaining 1 tablespoon oil, the onions, 1/4 teaspoon salt and the water to the now-empty skillet. Using a wooden spoon, scrape up the browned bits on the pan bottom; cook, stirring frequently, until the onions are softened and browned around the edges, about 5 minutes. Stir in the garlic and thyme and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Return the chops to the skillet in a single layer and cover them with the onions.  Pour in the reserved sauce and any juices released by the pork chops; add the bay leaves. Cover, reduce the heat to low, and simmer until the pork is tender, about 30 minutes.
6. Transfer the chops to a warmed serving platter and increase the heat to a medium-high and simmer the sauce rapidly, stirring frequently, until thickened, like a gravy.

Red potatoes
Ingredients
Potatoes
Olive oil
Salt and rosemary

Directions
1. Dice the potatoes in quarters, drizzle oil, add salt and rosemary. Toss and place in a convection oven at 400 degrees. Cook for approximately 5-8 minutes then remove, scrape and move the potatoes. Return to the oven for another 5-8 minutes.
2. Remove and serve warm or cool.

The caramel color of the flour

Dry Ear Remedies

One of the fringe benefits of taking up martial arts was the youngish, hot-looking instructor on staff during the times I found most convenient. I was married of course, he single, and about a decade and a half too young even if I had been of the four-legged, mountain-dwelling type of feline, but still the motivation of impressing the young man increased my determination to complete a V-sit up, learn to flawlessly execute rolling knuckle push-ups and stand in a lung poster longer than I thought humanly possible.

The impossible dream of him ever glancing my way for a comment other than to push in my hips or keep my elbow up higher when lifting a sword during a down thrust was dashed when, during a break, he asked if I’d been out in the sun. I responded that no, it was Seattle in the winter. Of course not. Why do you ask?

“Your ears are really dry.” With that, I slunk out of the studio as fast as decorum would allow, cursing my Swedish roots to the edge of the land from which we came. Why me? Why my dry ears?

It’s not like I hadn’t known about my dry ears for oh, say, twenty years already, since I’d hit puberty, nor had I used every method, tip, trick or remedy to rid myself of this evil malady. But no. It’s with me, like my long legs, thick hair and fat, cow milking hands, the progeny of my generations of Scottish cow farmers I’m sure (Vikings conjures a more flattering image, but I lack the prerequisite red hair).

Thankfully, I’d forgotten this ego-reducing incident until I had my hair back in a baseball cap and my 6 year old brought it up. “Mom, why do you have dry ears?” Off goes the cap, down falls the hair, covering my offensive, though perfectly shaped ears and I wonder…why can’t we all be perfect? Would it have been so hard for God to have extended his love from the outer edge of my ear to include the inside? It couldn’t have required more than a nudge fingertip to give my inner lob the moisture it needed.

Until this unanswered question of the universe is answered, I must rely on man to solve the problem. First, why?

Dry Skin on the Ear CanalSome common reasons include…bad hygene. People who don’t bathe more than a few times a week get the dry, crusty film. Over bathing can cause a similar result, since the oils on the skin get washed away and the surface becomes like the scalp–dry and flaky. The Mayo Clinic cites actinic keratosis which are lesions on the skin. I’ve never seen nor suffered from that. From all my research, ‘itchy’ is a common side effect, but I’ve never had a single ear ‘itch.’ This is attributed to Swimmers Ear or an ear infection and so on. All kinds of remedies are available for this, none of which apply to me.

Here’s what I’ve had and tried…(it comes and goes, like Vivaldi’s Four Seasons). During the spring and summer, my ears are mostly fine. Enough moisture, enough sun, the proper balance of both. Fall and winter, not so much. My mother hypothesized it was in line with the amount of water I consumed….

Natural remedy #1….more water and liquids. This certainly has helped, perhaps more than anything else. My scalp and skin produce similar results, why not my ears?

Natural Remedy #2… less moisture…in other words, when I shower, I must pull my hair back and get ALL the moisture off every surface of my ears. Just like my scalp, when the moisture isn’t 100% gone, my scalp goes berzerk.

Natural Remedy #3…the weekly ‘scrape.’ It sounds more disgusting than it is. We scrape our teeth two times a day (brush) we scrape our scalp by combing, we scrape our legs, faces (men) and armpits with blades, why not scrape our inner ear.

Here’s what you do. Take the end of a tweezer (mine is round and thin but not sharp) and gently run the flat edge along every area that is dry. This gets off the old, invigorates the new.

Natural Remedy #4….Along with the water, start taking Vitamin E or daily Omega 3 gelcaps. This is a long term solution–it won’t take effect for a few weeks. When I take one or both daily, my ears are nearly perfect on the inside, plus my hair is glossier and skin/nails much improved.

Natural Remedy #5 (quick fix-see tip)….Borage Oil.

Things that DON’T work. Lotions are terrible. It just turns the dry skin in to the ears version of pancake mix without the benefit. Oils are worse. The oils plus dry skin is a mushy goo, that still then needs to be scraped off. gross. The last thing that doesn’t work are Q-tips, or the soft removes. The marketing folks would have us believe pushing dry skin around is the same as getting rid of it or improving circulation. Not so.

Tip:

Now if you are completely desperate, getting ready to go out and you pull your hair back (or get your hair trimmed) and see the white dry skin, scrape it off (gently, so as to not make the skin red). Then apply a little bit of Borage oil from a gelcap. Borage is one of the beauty world’s best kept secrets. Years and years ago, I was told of a great concoction to use on my face: primrose oil, vitamin E and borage. You can find my recipe here). That’s fine for the face, but much too thick and heavy for the ears. Borage is light, and just the barest hint, when applied to the ears, will eliminate the dry and cracked look, allowing you to go out for hours and not worry about being embarrassed.

Starch-less Vanilla pudding in a pinch

7:32 PM and the husband and kids just left the building. Water park time after a day of skiing. I’ve got the excuse of my monthly gift from above that allows me to stay where it’s warm and dry, in front of the fireplace, an entire hour and fifteen minutes of peace. Wash my hair? Clean the condo? Nope.

I race to the kitchen, all the while considering my options for the fastest, creamiest, thicket desert possible, feeling like a convict imprisoned for making a cake with regular bread flour. I’m on the lam and in a rush. Flan? Creamy to be sure, but cold and takes too long. Rice pudding? Sounds divine but I don’t have my mom’s recipe, and even if I did, I don’t have the oranges or the rice. Pudding though hits a button. I flip open The Ultimate Southern Living Cookbook, knowing I lack the cornstarch in my cupboard but hoping for options.

This once again proves my theory that most
American food is some combo of egg, sugar, flour and
butter w/a titch of vanilla extract and salt,
 though not necessary in that order

There it was, page 166. The Vanilla Pudding recipe (cook time 11 minutes), was right above the Banana Pudding recipe (35 minutes to cook). I combined the two (well, using the flour from the second recipe instead of the cornstarch from the first) and changed some of the measurements. In no time flat, I had a full cup full of creamy, vanilla pudding, appropriately hidden in my cup, disguised as warm milk, should my family arrive and catch me in the act.

Creamy Vanilla Pudding 

Ingredients
1/3 cup sugar (I used 1/2 cup)
2 tbs flour
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 cups milk (I used 2 cups whole milk plus 2 tbs whipping cream)
3 egg yolks (original recipe calls for 2, but since this is w/out the cornstarch, I bumped it up)
1 tbs butter
1 tsp vanilla extract

Process
1. Combine sugar, flour and salt in a saucepan. Cook over medium heat, gradually adding the milk, cooking approximately 6 minutes or until a boil (I used a timer and guess what…at exactly 5 min 55 seconds, it came to a boil).
2. Beat egg yolks 2 minutes or until thick and pale. Gradually stir in 1/4 of the hot mixture in to the egg bowl, stirring constantly. Take this mixture and add back in to the mixture on the stove, bringing to a boil and cook about 3 minutes.
4. Remove from heat; stir in butter and vanilla.

Pour in to small, unassuming little cup and use the smallest spoon possible to elongate the pleasure that will slide down your mouth.

Add bananas if you so desire, or toasted coconuts. Divine.

Sunday dinner– Roast and Pecan pie

During my childhood, mom had a routine on Sunday’s that included making easy yet impressive all-in-one meals that provided a great lunch but also lots of left-overs. Prepping for the afternoon meal meant she put a roast in the oven before we left for church, allowing it to cook to perfection as we sang to the heaven’s above. When we arrived home, the roast was ready, along with the vegies. All she had to do was make the buttermilk biscuits and gravy as we set the table (as we aged, she allowed us to take over the biscuits). Fifteen minutes later, we were sitting down to dine like we were at King Arthur’s Court.

Meal in one: The Perfect Roast

Mix of fingerling potatoes (my fav), carrots and onions

My favorite is my clay pot meat roaster. It’s divine for keeping the juices in the meat, capturing the gravy and circulating the air for the vegies. That said, I’ve made 2-sponge breads in it as well, because it turns out a perfectly formed loaf that is brown on the sides and spongy in the middle. The food is restaurant quality (serious).

Ingredients

  • Roast
  • Vegetables: sweet onion(s), carrots, potatoes (your preference) and any other vegies you’d like
  • Broth-your choice
  • Salt and pepper

Prior to the onions and additional vegies

Process
1. Heat oven to 500 degrees.
2. Brown all four sides of the roast, on all four sides. Salt and pepper to your hearts desire.
3. Cut one onion, lining the bottom of the roaster.
4. Place the meat in the roaster, covering with the onions.
5. Cut and place carrots and potatoes around the meat.
6. Add about 3/4-1 cp of vegetable, meat or chicken broth.

Once you have loaded up the claypot, place it in the oven and cook away.

Now I completely spaced to get the ‘after’ photos, so I’ll have to do it when I made the next one. Trust me, it comes out perfect. The serve..

6. Remove the vegies, place in a serving dish and keep warm (covered is best, in the warming oven).
7. Make the buttermilk biscuits (will add link).
8. Top off with pecan pie or chocolate mousse.

I recommend a lid with a handle that fits tightly.
This is enough to feed a family of four or 6, depending
on the ages of the kids.

7. Place in the oven at the appropriate temperature and timeframe based on the size of the meat. (6 min/pound at 500 degrees).

Perfect Pecan Pie

It’s a fallacy to think that pecan pie is only suitable for the holidays. Many restaurants in the states serve it year around, warmed, with a huge dollop of vanilla ice cream. It’s no wonder. It’s very inexpensive, requires only a handful of ingredients and is practically idiot proof.

The essentials. Use good ingredients. Don’t skimp on the butter. Use a quality brand, and make sure its salted and sweetened. Using unsweetened, unsalted butter results in a bland pie.

Pre-cooking

Another essential is the corn syrup. I’ll admit, I avoid corn syrup like the plague. The impact on my health is just not worth the stuff. My lone exception to this (and of course, my justification) is that it’s worth it for the pie. Why corn syrup? It is a good thickener, and recipes without it have a different texture (and tend to be runnier). The tip? If you want a slightly thicker pie, use more corn syrup–not much though. A little goes a long way (e.g. if you increase the amount from a 1/2 cup to a 1 cup, it will almost turn to candy. You’d have to cut it with a bit of butter).

Make my tried and true perfect pie crust ahead of time

Ingredients
1/2 cup butter
1 cup white sugar
1 cup corn syrup
1/4 tsp salt
4 large eggs eggs
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/4 to 1 1/5 cup pecans

Directions
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees
2. On the stove top and low heat, melt the butter, add the sugar and the corn syrup. Heat until melted, stirring constantly.
3. Remove from the stove. Let cool (this means you can insert your finger w/out getting burned).
4. Mix the eggs and vanilla in a separate bowl.
5. Add egg mixture to the butter/sugar mixture. (hint: if your mixture is too warm, the eggs will cook, ruining it, and you will have to discard and start over).
6. Add pecans
7. Pour in to uncooked pie crust. Cook for 50-55 minutes.

The make or break aspect of pecan pie is not to overcook. The top should “bounce-back” to the touch (place your index finger on the top, in the center). If it’s hard, it’s overcooked and will be unedible. If it’s mushy, you need to cook it a bit longer.

When you remove the pie, place it on a cooling rack for at least 20 minutes. This will ensure it sets and doesn’t run. Serve warm with ice cream.

This is the butter, corn syrup and sugar.. ..nicely melted

As it’s melting (and in between stirring, chop the nuts)

Test the mixture for “done-ness” (my Don-kingism). The mixture should drop easily from the spoon

Take off the stove and cool slightly. Add the nuts
Now, you might exclaim “why nuts! those belong at the end”. I’ll tell you why.
you must wait for the mixture to cool, or else you will curdle and cook your eggs
(in other words, they will scramble). Since you have nothing better to do,
you might as well get busy and add the nuts, stirring it around.

When the mixture is sufficiently cooled, add the eggs

This is the final mixture–slightly brownish. NOW you may add to the empty sheel

Photos…