Saturday, December 15, 2012

Turning the Tables on Elderly Mom

Mom's handiwork.
See this? My MOM made it! In 1992! 

 I was flitting from table to table in the dining room at my mom's assisted living place, inviting residents to admire her handiwork, which they did. Politely. This is just a tiny piece of her work, I gushed. She was never without a project! 

I spoke as if the residents weren't facing the same issues of loss and diminishment. As if they all hadn't accomplished wonderful things and didn't have boatloads of great tales to tell and mementos to show and memories to share.

You can see at the bottom where she embroidered her initials and the date. I blathered on. She was YOUNG then. Only 76. 

Then I went to work on the staff. After the housekeeping director expressed the proper admiration, she said: You're very proud of your mother, aren't you?

I hooted. I've never thought of myself as being "proud of my mother." But it became clear at that moment, that yes, I am. Proud of my mother. I laughed at myself for boasting about her accomplishments.  Why laugh? Because this is what she used to do to me! Except I was painfully aware (as she isn't) and so embarrassed by all those incidents of what I knew to be overblown praise and admiration.

Now I'm getting her back. I guess it's OK that she's not really aware that I'm tearing around the dining room with her counted cross stitch Santa Claus practically grabbing innocent old people by the throat as if to say, Don't dismiss her! She's still in there! 

My mom is three weeks from turning 97. She is unable to hear or see much, and her hands long ago lost the dexterity for intricate handwork. She nods off a lot during the day, requires assistance for "tasks of daily living," uses a wheelchair, and recently was identified as someone who needs "plate guards" to keep her food from ending up in her lap.

It is difficult to watch, this mother who grows so old before my eyes and diminishes every day. But I'll tell you what I'm proud of, in addition to needlework she accomplished decades earlier: her continuing spark. She can't see, can't hear, and still she can't stand to miss anything.

The other day, I mentioned to her that bingo was scheduled for that afternoon. But as we both know, bingo (her favorite now that her brain/hands/eyes don't work well enough to play bridge), often doesn't occur because people fail to show up. Here's what she says about that: They complain there's nothing to do, but when there is something, they can't get out of their apartments. That's old people for you!
A recent photo of mom playing bingo, with the help of her friend.

Then I took her in to have her maddening ears cleaned. They were clogged with wax, stuffed back in there by those big almost useless hearing aids. In conversation, she'd forgotten something important we'd talked about last week—the death of a relative. When I reminded her she said, Not even all that ear wax can keep things in my head! See how smart she is? How funny?

 For about 12 years I wrote a weekly newspaper column, and one piece was devoted to the mother/daughter relationship. I couldn't help but think of it when I figured out the tables have turned. An excerpt from the old column follows.

But first, one more thing. I realize now that her unearned praise made me stronger. I didn't understand until much later that some mothers neglect to pile positive adjectives on their kids, or look at them with such admiration and love that the kid can just about get knocked over. In my teens, this was excruciating. Even into my 40s, as described below, her "pride" in me was embarrassing. But I think now I need to say, thanks mom, for believing I was more than OK .

Grants Pass Daily Courier, Second Thoughts column, early 1980s (excerpt)
Mother/daughter dynamic still sparkles, sparks

My mother and I were browsing in an antique store close to where I live. She'd come from South Dakota for a visit. The proprietress was minding her own business, or trying to, when my mother spoke up."This is your neighbor!" she said, referring to me. "You do know who she is, don't you?"
My father, Floyd, and mom, LaVone when they were about the age I am now.
She was still bragging up a storm about her "wonderful daughter." My father died in 2006 at 93.
"Mother!" I hissed, my face flooding with color. I knew what she was up to. She was going to brag about me to a stranger who could care less who I was. What's more, she was going to feel no remorse even though my discomfort was immediate and acute.

My mother seemed displeased that the antique store lady didn't know me.
"Well!" she said "This is Mary Korbulic. She writes for the Daily Courier!"

She delivered this information as if I was a Pulitzer Prize winner from the New York Times. She smirked and awaited a response, which she expected to be genuflection or an autograph request.
The woman smiled politely and said, "How nice. I think I have seen your name." She cast me a sympathetic look.

I am a middle-aged woman, but at that moment I squirmed like I did as a child when my mother launched into her bragging-about-nothing routine. When I was a senior in high school, she was still begging me to dance for company. That's right Dance For Company. I finally figured out how to get out of doing the "frug", if you can remember what that is.

When I brought home one A, mostly Bs and one C on my first college report card, she became the town crier. It was unsafe to go with her anywhere as she carried a copy of my grade report in her purse and would whip it out for anyone who made eye contact. She really did this.

"How nice," people would say.

 Privately I admonished her, as I had countless times. It is good at any age to have at least one person who thinks everything you do is wonderful and you are the most clever person ever, not to mention the best looking, but could she please stop sharing her  opinion?

No, she said. She could not stop. "You might as well get used to it," she said, turning away. She did not stop, and I did not get used to it.

(Being a parent now of two fantastic, brilliant, daring, and gorgeous sons, plus the grandmother of the cutest, smartest, funniest grandson who ever toddled on the earth, I kinda get it now.)

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Pain in the ass Turkey Soup and an Epiphany

A rich turkey broth with broccoli, cauliflower, mushrooms, and red bell peppers. 
Before writing this post, I searched my freezer for the carcass of one of our two Thanksgiving turkeys. Yes, TWO.  That's what happens when you're feeding 22 people for four days.
I was going to take a photo, but the freezer is way too full and somehow, the remaining carcass got buried. But I think you know what a turkey carcass looks like, plus all the bits and pieces that get left on the carving platter.

For the cook, a turkey carcass is not joy-inspiring. It means work. Worthwhile work, to be sure, but through the years, I know that making stock from a turkey carcass is a pain in the ass despite the lovely outcome. 

It's the outcome, of course, that keeps me coming back. Plus the fact that I am unable to throw a turkey carcass out. Who can toss all that great flavor into the trash?

Opening a box or (gasp!) a can of poultry broth doesn't even come close. If you have a turkey or chicken carcass, here's how to make a wonderful stock, which is the basis for all great soup. 

Turkey Stock Ingredients (same goes for chicken)
  • Turkey carcass, stripped of most of its meat. Save the meat for casseroles, sandwiches, or to add to the soup.
  • 1 large  onion or 2 medium onions, cut into quarters
  • 5-6 celery stalks, cut into 4-inch pieces (More or less.)
  • 5 or 6 cloves of smashed garlic
  • 2 large carrots, cut into 3-inch pieces (Optional. Most stock recipes call for carrots, but why? They don't add flavor, that I  can tell. But they probably add vitamins. Carrots are carby, so if you use them to pump up nutrition in the stock, sieve them out in the end.) 
  • Fresh or dried thyme, 3 sprigs. Optional.
  • Fresh or dried oregano, a small fistful if fresh, a tablespoon if dry. Optional
  • Fresh parsley, a handful. Optional.
  • Leftover gravy. If you have it, use it all!
  • Boxed chicken broth 
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Stock Directions
  1. Dump the turkey carcass into a large stock pot, breaking it up to fit. Add onions, celery, garlic, and carrots and herbs, if using.
  2. Add boxed chicken broth, water, gravy, whatever you have. It isn't necessary to cover the carcass, but it should be at least half-way covered. Bring to a boil and then simmer, covered, for a couple hours. Stir occasionally so that all of the carcass gets boiled. The turkey meat should be coming off the bones and the veggies should be soft. Remove from heat and allow to cool, but not completely. 
  3. Here comes the major pain in the ass part. Get another large pot or bowl, place colander or sieve over it, and dump the turkey carcass and cooked veggies in to drain.
  4. Allow the liquid to drain into the second stockpot. That's the good stuff, the bona fide STOCK dribbling into that pot.
  5. Allow the stock to cool so that the fat solidifies enough to spoon most of it off. 
  6. In the meantime, you get to separate the meat from the carcass. Unless you want to just dispense with this step entirely. You already have the stock, which is the most important thing.
EPIPHANY! Dang. I never considered this! Until now! Next time, I may just strip the carcass super clean in the first place and not bother with this step. Because separating the bits and pieces of meat from the boiled bones and now-slimy veggies is such a pain. In yes, the ASS. Those boiled soft and slimy veggies do not make their way into the actual soup. Ok. I'm talking to myself now.
I will never again sift through a boiled turkey carcass to salvage bits and pieces of protein, even though I did it for 30 some years, and you can if you want. But not me. Wow, am I liberated or what? Old dog learning new tricks here! 

How is it that writing something down can make you realize the stupidity of doing what you've always done?!? I admit that not even the cat likes the boiled turkey. I am feeling SO liberated! Remove the meat from the boiled turkey carcass only if you're feeling particularly guilty about having too much food when so many in the world are starving. Otherwise, boil the carcass with the veggies and herbs, drain the stock, and say good riddance as you dump the bones and boiled veggies into the trash. Whooop!

Turkey Soup 
  • 6-8 cups of turkey stock
  • 2 cups of turkey meat (Approximate. Preferably not boiled)
  • (1 hot Italian sausage cut into the soup is a flavor bonus) 
  • 1 cup broccoli florets, cut into same-size pieces
  • 1 cup cauliflower florets, cut into same-size pieces
  • 1 cup dried or fresh mushrooms
  • 1 large sweet red, yellow, or orange bell pepper, cut into strips
  • smoked or regular salt to taste
  • pepper to taste
  • hot stuff (pepper flakes, garlic-chili sauce, serrano sauce) to taste

Soup Directions
  1. Prepare stock (have fun!)
  2. Set aside bite-sized pieces of turkey, preferably not boiled but those that were stripped from the carcass before the bird got boiled.
  3. Slice raw or pre-cooked sausage into bite-sized pieces, if using
  4. Cut up veggies into similar-sized pieces
  5. Heat stock and add cut-up sausage. Bring to a boil for a few minutes. 
  6. Add raw cut-up mushrooms or dried mushrooms. Cook until mushrooms are rehydrated or soft. 
  7. Add broccoli. Cook on medium for a couple minutes. 
  8. Add cauliflower. Cook a few more minutes. 
  9. Shortly before serving, add the turkey and peppers. You want the broccoli, cauliflower, and peppers to be tender but not limp. The broccoli should still be bright green. Adjust seasonings. I like smoked salt. 
Options: As a low-carb person, I avoid lentils, rice, beans potatoes, pasta and so on. If you don't care about carbs, then add any of these, or other starchy ingredients, to the soup.

Serve with a dollop of sour cream, chipotle or Sriracha chili sauce. 

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Thanksgiving Leftovers-Time Spinning Reckless

This year our Thanksgiving group gathered near Squaw Valley at Lake Tahoe.
The weather was glorious, and we spent most of one day at this beach. Some even took a dip. 
Maybe this post title should be "Thanksgiving Afterglow" or "Thanksgiving Rocks" or something other than what "Thanksgiving Leftovers" connotes. True, I will soon get to an easy breezy super-good low-carb leftover turkey recipe.

But the big story, for me, is that the Thanksgiving celebration PK and I share annually with family, dear friends, and, always, a few newcomers, provides a lasting burst of energy and hope. Leftovers, so to speak. 

Leftovers, that unlike turkey, which disappears into soups, casseroles, sandwiches within a week, will continue forever. How could I ever forget this picture of grandson Noah "smiling" for the camera with his uncle Chris  trying to match his enthusiasm? And so many other great moments.
Here we are, recovered from Thanksgiving-feast comas and ready to play beach games. 
After five years, our cross-generational Thanksgiving group has grown to 20+, a number we hold steady as the desire to include others, and the reality that too many would complicate our accommodation requirements and the intimacy that's central to the whole deal, makes us curb our enthusiasm.

Renting a place to accommodate 20 -25 is a challenge. Having a great time with that number, however, is no problem. We long ago progressed beyond the one-day celebration and are now up to three to five days. Heavy feasting. Immoderate wine drinking. Tireless dancing. Animated conversation. Hiking. Spirited ping pong. A horseshoe-like game called washoes. And whatever outdoor activities the weather or terrain allows. All make for a colorful whirl of time spinning, reckless, on fast forward. 

This annual gathering, and also friendships and traditional celebrations that have gone before, remind me of what matters: honesty, friendships, old and new; family, whether blood-related or not; zest for life; traditions, both established and developing; flexibility; and maybe most important, recognizing that although the universe doesn't give a crap about you, your friends and family do.

And you care about them. Big time. What's more important than that? (Maybe zest for life, if you can manage that on your own.)

Here's a compilation of photos from this year's Thanksgiving celebration with credit to Steve Lambros and Laurie Gerloff (and me) with others from Lauren Frank, Gail Frank, Paula Stone, Chris Korbulic and Tom Landis.

The Goods

Here's that pretty dang good and super easy recipe for leftover turkey. Cooking is a shared responsibility at Thanksgiving, and PK and I were in charge of turkey this year. We brought two; one fresh, one smoked, around 19 pounds each. We ended up with mostly smoked turkey leftovers—a good thing! Because I used smoked turkey for this casserole, I didn't add any salt. If your turkey isn't brined or salty, you may need to add a little punch.
All ingredients are leftovers. I brought the artichoke/jalapeno dip and raw broccoli for appetizers that didn't get used. As usual, we had way too much food despite our pledge to go light. Ha! For a similar result, you could add YOUR leftovers and tie it all together with a pre-made sauce or dip, such as the artichoke jalapeno concoction. 

Turkey Snap - Broccoli, Artichoke/Jalapeno Turkey Casserole
Serves four. Bake in a 9X13 casserole at 350 for 30-35 minutes to bake. FIVE MINUTE prep.
  • 2 (approximate) cups Costco's Stonemill Kitchen's artichoke jalapeno dip (1 carb for 2 TBSP), enough to cover the casserole bottom.
  • Sliced cooked turkey, enough to cover the dip. Turkey may be smoked or roasted. I used smoked. HAM could be substituted.
  • 2-3 cups raw broccoli florets, cut into bite-sized pieces. (Save time. Buy precut and trimmed in a bag.) 
  • 3/4 cup chopped onion
  • Grated cheese, cheddar, Parmesan, or whatever you have on hand, enough to spread on top of the casserole.
  • Salt and pepper to taste. Note: If you use smoked turkey or ham, additional salt could be overkill. 
  1. Preheat the oven to 350.
  2. Spread enough artichoke jalapeno dip in the bottom of the casserole dish to cover it with 1/4 to 1/3 inch.
  3. Arrange sliced turkey or ham generously atop the dip. 
  4. Mix remaining dip with the raw broccoli and diced onions. The mixture should be visibly covered with the dip, but not thickly. If the mixture seems too dry, and you ran out of the dip, add mayo. Too little is better than too much.
  5. Spread the broccoli/dip mix atop the turkey slices.
  6. Cover with foil and bake for 25 minutes.
  7. Remove from oven and uncover. Top with grated cheese and pop back into the oven for 5-7 minutes. Remove when cheese is melted, and let rest for a few minutes before serving.  
Note: The broccoli will still be al dente after 25 minutes. If you like broccoli more tender, give the covered casserole another 10 minutes in the oven before melting the cheese. 

Monday, November 19, 2012

Hello Winter Salsa

Fall is so beautiful in Southern Oregon. Our own country road, about to take a sharp left to follow the blackberry fence. 
Fall tantalized us for a long time with summerish temps. That was then. It is now winter, just in time for Thanksgiving, which seems an odd time to be slicing and dicing the season's final pico de gallo with tomatoes harvested just last week. That is so late. We haven't had a hard frost yet, which is so unusual. But I'll take the tomatoes, even if they are mottled and wimpy.
Late late season tomatoes, a surprise harvest from plants we didn't have time to pull before our wonderful Blues Cruise earlier this month. Late tomatoes are pretty much limited to Roma types.
Pico de gallo. Definitely the year's last, and blurry!
Off season, I use canned tomatoes. It's not fresh salsa, but still good! 
We still have jalapenos and a few sweet peppers to add to salsas and stir fries.

Winter Salsa

1 large can (one size up from soup cans) whole tomatoes, preferably Roma type. A quart of home-canned tomatoes will do
1/3 cup diced onion. Use green onions or a sweet onion, if possible
2-5 sliced, diced jalapeno peppers. Seed and remove white membranes unless you want a lot of heat
Pepper flakes to taste
Juice of a half lemon (depending upon size)
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp sweetener, if desired
1/2 to 1 cup cleaned and dried cilantro leaves
salt to taste
Note: In the absence of fresh peppers, I use pepper sauces or flakes to add heat. 
Use a food processor. Place onions and peppers into the work bowl and process briefly. Drain the canned tomatoes and save juice for another use. (How about a bloody Mary?) Add whole tomatoes, lemon juice, cumin, sweetener, if using, and cumin. Process until tomatoes are how you like them. I prefer chunky. Add the cilantro and a pinch of salt, if using. Let salsa mellow for a few minutes. Then taste and adjust. 
Fall photos below. 

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Post Blues Cruise Stress Syndrome (PBCSS)

Hoisting a mojito on a Puerto Rican beach. The Blues Cruise began and ended in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
There's a wonderful Old Town there, and also a World Heritage site. And we saw some amazing Flamenco dancers.

I overheard a dejected fellow Blues Cruiser complain that she was suffering from this painful syndrome (PBCSS) a week ago. We (all 2,500) Blues Cruisers were disembarking at the ungodly hour of 8 a.m. from the Celebrity Summit cruise ship after seven raucous, rock n' rollin, bluesin' n bumpin', grindin' n growlin' days at sea with a boatload of blues musicians. And also some bluegrass, honky tonk, boogie woogie, jazzy, funky musicians, on the Legendary Rhythm and Blues Cruise. Well, it was just great.
  • Live music from late afternoon til early morning, except on "sail days" when it began around 11 a..m.. Some jams lasted until nearly 9 a.m. Or so I heard.
Susan Tedeschi (in the middle} was one of several musicians who stepped up for the North Mississippi AllStars when their main guy's arrival was delayed by Hurricane Sandy. 
  • Cruise fare. Sumptuous, over-the-top, and it seems "free" even though we paid in advance.
Some type of fancy carbohydrate with happy server.

Shrimp chilling in one of many ice sculptures.
  • Invisible beings constantly cleaning our "room." (We're not at the "suite" level of accommodation, but felt like privileged beings nonetheless.) 
  • Fun like-minded cruisers all wrapped up in the music.
  • License to stay up all night partying. Well, not all night, but I made it past 4 a.m. a few times.
  • Wonderful islands to explore, however briefly.
  • Riding the elevator with Derek Trucks, Taj Mahal, Susan Tedeschi, Ana Popavic, Victor Wainwright and other luminaries.  Excuse me for name dropping, but .....

This was a vacation in the best sense of the word. It was loaded with surprises, delights, and star-studded moments, and was a complete departure from my ordinary life. For one thing, no cooking for 10 days!
More photos:

But....there's something called Cruise Guilt.  I experienced my usual dilemma when faced with the reality of being one of the luckiest people on earth. Lucky by accidents of birth and marriage. Lucky because an "invisible" person who works umpteen hours a day cleaned up after me. Lucky because I had at my disposal enough food to feed a small nation. Lucky because, unlike so many people on the streets of the four tropical islands we visited, I have all my teeth.

I have never visited a developing or Third World country—or impoverished areas in the USA— without the contrast between lucky me and seemingly unlucky "them" creating grey clouds that cast shadows on my usually sunny disposition. It's compassion, but it doesn't go far enough. I've beat myself up about the disparity of being on the "have" side of the haves and have-nots since I was a child. Sure, I give to charities, and I don't try to barter with street vendors. Just give 'em what they ask, or more than they ask. During one especially odd time in my adult life, when I was thinking about What would Jesus do?, I toyed with giving everything away and living an ascetic life. This was, of course, impossible because I was married with children, and I did not want to give the husband or the children away.

We left the alternative-reality-bubble-of-excess of the cruise ship four times to make quick swipes around tropical islands: Dominica (my favorite), Barbados, St. Lucia, and Martinique. Reentry into ordinary life was rugged. Harsh, as my friend Laurie noted as we spent nearly 18 butt-numbing hours traveling from Puerto Rico back to Oregon. Traveling away from powdery white sand, azure bathtub ocean water and round-the-clock world-class entertainment. Back to......well, what is it we have here? The first few days were unseasonably warm and sunny and we harvested some surprise tomatoes. But now reality has descended and it is definitely dreary fall/winter. I will hang onto that great moment drifting in the swimming-pool colored Caribbean trying to keep my rum drink from taking the sea.
Yes, that's the Caribbean, not a swimming pool, and my rum drink remained saltwater-free.
I will also cherish moments such as this:, when the female musicians on board absolutely kicked it. That was one of the best spontaneous performances I have ever seen.

And now. Back to everyday. What's up here in Ordinary Life? This afternoon I played Skip Bo with my 96-year-old mom and other ancients at her assisted-living place,where I visit almost daily. Rotary projects include boosting membership. Women's Crisis Support Team Circle of Friends online newsletter writing is in my immediate future. Fall/winter gardening continues. Thanksgiving plans are coming together.

Ahhhh, Thanksgiving. A cherished time with friends and family and an opportunity to  officially thank the Universe for blessings great and small. Going on the Blues Cruise? Definitely on the "worthy of  gratitude" list.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Sweet on Sauerkraut—Low-carb and delish.

Mouth-watering braised spareribs with homemade sauerkraut, cauliflower "mashed potatoes" AKA cauliflower faux potatoes, and one of the season's last dense, sweet, and colorful San Marzano tomatoes.
 I'm not sure you could buy this combo anywhere for any price. See below for faux potatoes recipe and how to braise spareribs with sauerkraut.
Who grows up eating sauerkraut these days? I did. Ya. Back der in Nor' Dakotah, den.

I remember dark, cold winter days with dankness seeping up from the cellar, where laundry (washed in a wringer/washer) took three days to dry. Pork and sauerkraut simmering on the stove made everything right. As a child, I wasn't shy about sucking the marrow noisily from pork ribs and lapping up the sauerkraut juice when eagle-eyed mom wasn't hovering. I didn't know sauerkraut was good for you. I only knew that when cooked for hours with pork and served with richly buttered mashed potatoes, it was heavenly. But then I grew up with German/Scandavian heritage in the deep midwest where meat, potatoes, and kraut were winter staples. My parents didn't make their own kraut, but they sure loved whatever they bought. I have no idea if it was teeming with lovely bacteria. I only know that when it was on the table, words were not spoken and slurping was acceptable.

When PK and I first grew a garden back in the 1970s, cabbage was one of our first crops, and making kraut, one of our first projects. Somehow with kids, jobs, etc. etc. kraut-from-scratch disappeared from our to-do list.  This year, however, it made a comeback, spurred, in part, by the fact that fresh kraut resides in small jars with huge prices in the millionaires-only section of supermarkets. Like $6-8 bucks for a pint? Canned kraut is cheap, but canning zaps the fermentation benefits.

Sauerkraut, and other  fermented veggies, are rich sources of bacteria advantageous to our guts and other parts. You can look it up. Fermented grapes make wine, which everyone knows is a magic elixir, fermented milk/cream, makes yogurt, a gut boon if there ever was one, and fermented cabbage makes sauerkraut, a delectable tangy treat that will have you thumping your chest. You should see PK's chest from all that thumping. Bruised and swollen!

Sauerkraut is a low-carb treat with only 6 carbs per cup. That makes for a hearty meal of kraut, pork ribs and faux mashed cauliflower potatoes at only around 12-15 carbs per heaping plate.

It all starts with volleyball-sized cabbages, which we started from seed in the spring and harvested in July.
We weighed the cabbages and sliced them into thin rounds with a super-sharp knife.
A Mercer. Thank you, Lanny. Then we salted the shredded cabbage with non iodized salt.
How-to link for making sauerkraut follows. 

Nearly four months later, I'm removing fermented kraut into cold-storage jars.

It's perfect sauerkraut. Crunchy and tart. 

A half gallon on top, and a gallon on the bottom in our garage refrigerator.

Here's some gross stinky stuff, including mold, that was skimmed off the top.
Don't worry. Stinky moldy stuff is part of fermentation. Skim as much as possible.
With this batch, I also scooped out any kraut that had turned soft, which was on top and around the perimeter.
Despite our efforts to keep everything submerged, the edges were somehow exposed to air.  

Our outside "kitchen" for messy and/or super-heated projects. Here PK slices  cabbage for  fermenting in a crock while our Four Wheel camper glowers in the background wondering when the hell we'll go camping!

Want to make your own kraut? It helps to have homegrown fresh cabbage, but sauerkraut can be made from any fresh cabbage. See this for directions.

Braised spareribs and sauerkraut
1 rack of spareribs
half of a large onion
one medium-sized apple
1 quart (or more) fresh kraut

Cover the spareribs with foil and bake at 275 for an hour. Drain the fat and juices and set aside. Cut the ribs apart and brown in a large skillet. When browned, add half of a large chopped onion and a cored apple cut into pieces. Cook and stir for a few minutes, then dump the kraut into the pan and cover. (Add the juice back from the fat and juice drained after roasting the ribs.)
Cook covered over low/medium heat until the rib meat is falling-apart tender. Remove the cover if liquid is too much.
Serve with mashed potatoes or, if you're a low carber, cauliflower faux mashed potatoes.

Cauliflower faux mashed potatoes
1 head cauliflower cut into flowerets
half and half or whipping cream

Cut the cauliflower into pieces. Place into a pot and cover with lightly salted water. Boil until tender.
Remove from heat and drain thoroughly. Apply butter in the quantity that pleases you. Ditto salt.
Drizzle with half and half or whipping cream. Smash with a fork or an immersion blender. Add cream to desired consistency.
To ramp it up a notch, scoop into an oven-proof pan, mix in a dollop of sour cream, and bake at 350 for a half hour. Remove from oven, cover with grated cheese, and return to oven for five minutes.

Love that kraut!

Monday, October 15, 2012

Life is But a Dream

As sometimes happens, I write posts and they languish in the "drafts" file. I ran across this tonight. Although it's dated, I kinda like it. Especially now that summer is but a dream.
Noah, 2, works on his water-front construction project at our Labor Day camp.

I was lounging in my REI camp chair at Juniper Lake in Lassen National Volcanic Park on Labor Day weekend, book in hand, grandson Noah engaged in construction not far away. The pristine lake was calm, blue and clear. Lassen's peak jutted on the horizon. Along the shore, a smattering of happy campers shared our experience of near solitude. We were off the grid for Internet and cell phone service and outside airline flight patterns. Quiet, quiet, quiet.

On Labor Day weekend. Near solitude. Peace. Only 18 tent-camping sites and a couple of group camps. No potable water. Pit toilets. A rough gravel road not recommended for trailers or RVs. Perfect.
Sun-seeking friend, Laurie, soaking in early-morning warmth. For her, perpetual life in the sun is but a dream.
She's almost got it nailed, though, now that she's become a rainbird, not the sprinkler, but the person who escapes Oregon's winter rain for southwestern sunshine.
A canoe or two sliced the still waters. Far from shore, a raft of exuberant kids sang "Row, row, row your boat, gently ......." Their singing and laughter skittered across the lake like a skipping stone imprinted with Be Here Now. One day they'll remember how it was on this gilded day in the American West. How lucky we are to have wilderness and these moments. For millions of people across the globe, a day like this is an unattainable dream. So many can't imagine the luxury of an entire lake of clean clear water and several days of leisure time with family and friends with ample fresh food and the added bonus of nobody trying to kill or rape them or steal their children.
The family here and now: PK, MK, Heather, Noah, and Quinn. Photo credit : Laurie Gerloff.
Son Chris is off in the Arctic doing backflips off of glaciers. 

Back to Juniper Lake and the raft of children singing/shouting Row, row, row......from perhaps a half mile across the lake. The kids on the lake helped. But the real deal was the grandson's chirruping in the morning and his parents—our eldest son and his wife—lovingly tending to him and to one another. Their little family reminds me of our little family years ago, when PK and I were the harried parents and our sons were the heavy construction toy guys. The long weekend was a series of full-circle moments. I'm still smiling. Row row your boat......Life is but a dream—if you're really lucky. I am grateful for good fortune, good family, good friends, good (yet entirely detached ) universe.

How do you act when your life is good? I'm not taking my extraordinary fortune for granted. I've lived long enough to know that a split second can alter lives and create a vortex of misery. I am recognizing that I, and my family, have been spared a lot of grief so far and blessed with so much. I will grab the bliss for as long as I can. And enjoy "life is but a dream" until, and if, a slide into another reality becomes inevitable.

Which it will. Shit happens. People get sick, fall upon misfortune, die. Things change.

Thinking again about blue beautiful Juniper Lake. It hasn't changed in hundreds of years. It was the same when my father, now dead and buried, and my 96-year-old mom, now losing her memory, eyesight, hearing and dignity, were born. And it was the same when their parents were on the earth and their parents before them. Long after I'm gone, it will be there sparkling in the sun, and I hope the park service doesn't put in dump stations and pave the road for RVs. It will be the same when grandson, Noah, is an old man and  his grandchildren pipe across the clear waters, "row row is but a dream."

And it is. And a fleeting one at that. Enjoy it now.

Watermelon enthusiasm. Talk about enjoying the moment! 
Taking a break from taking a break at Juniper Lake.

Mt. Lassen as seen from Juniper Lake. 

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Hair Dye. the Fall Garden, and the Cruel March of Time

Note to readers: Many of you contacted me earlier today to say several photos on this post were blacked out. Maybe Blogger thinks it obscene to publish photos of a young person alongside her older self? Whatever. I hope the photos are there this time around. Thanks for letting me know. Mary K.

The corn is dead, rattling in the breeze. That sunflower on the left doesn't look too chipper either.
The birds have about finished it off.

Fall is a tough. I spend so much time in the garden that I identify with its cycles—not so different from human cycles, except the garden is on fast forward. You plant the seeds and get all excited when they emerge from the warming soil. You water and coax and soon they burst forth with flowers, roots, fruits, vegetables. They're good for a few months, but then senescence—natural aging and decline—takes over and it's quickly downhill. You can prop em up, water, fertilize and admire. But nothing stops the process. Before long, they'll form an involuntary vegetative-state support group and that'll be the end of it. 

Here's an Italia zucchini plant, ravaged by squash bugs but STILL producing fruit.
It'll cling to life until the first frost. But its huge-leafed youthful magnificence? Gone.
The perennials, such as the glorious rose bush, the faithful asparagus, the young berries and the aginig but reliable apple trees, will rest for the winter and surge forth in spring. They're amazing. I don't identify with them, however. I only feel kinship with those poor annual bastards facing imminent demise and they don't even know it. Maybe that's a good thing. Without knowing, there's no threat of being in denial or, heaven forbid, trying to hide the fact that you're approaching the inevitable. And that you aren't quite as fabulous looking as you once were. 

Which brings us to hair dye. I colored my hair for decades. (To younger readers: You reach a point when decades is the appropriate word when quantifying your past. You will not believe how quickly this happens.) I started in high school, took a few years off for being a hippie, and went back on the bottle in my 30s. In recent years, I've struggled with whether to continue my relationship with Clairol. I'll go without for a few months and then can't stand the grey and do another treatment. PK says, No, no no! Get over it! But I'm not quite there yet.

The juicy July garden bursting with life.

More July juiciness. It is difficult to go out there without being overcome. It isn't just the colors and the vitality, it's the birds and insects and the wonderful promise of so much botanical exuberance. And it smells so great.
Me in the summer of my life, high school grad on the left, college grad on the right. Bottle blonde and proud of it.
Juicy! Let it be known that my hair for the college photo is the best it ever looked in my entire life.

Here we come to fall with the crone look, uncombed(but colored!) hair.
Almost 50 years since high school graduation. 
I'm wise enough to acknowledge the inevitability of my personal "garden cycle." But I'm not strong enough  to at least try to postpone the drooping, the sagging, the furrowing, and the greying. Hence yoga, bicycling, careful eating, mirror avoidance—and hair dye.  I won't be botoxing and I am repelled by the idea of draining thousands into "having work done." But I'm still vain enough to deny grey.
So I'm back on the bottle. Not that most people would even notice.  My hair is naturally grey/white.  With coloring, it is white/blond. It's weak and silly, I know. But next time you see me, how about keep quiet if you think I look brassy, OK?  If you'd like to talk about the cruel march of time, however, I'm here for you. More garden photos and musings follow, if you like. 

Friday, September 21, 2012

Eggplant Parmesan + Low-carb notes

Revised August 23, 2015
Email subscribers, please click on the blog title to get to the website where photos look better and text is easier to read. 
Most everything you need for eggplant Parmesan is right here. Jalapenos optional.
This time of year all our dinners look the same—red and green—mostly red. That's because of tomato bounty, tomato beauty, and so many greens and eggplants and onions and garlic and basil and on and on. Truly an embarrassment of dishes/riches from kitchen bitches. Of which I am apparently one. I'm a little bossy about diet and cooking. An eggplant Parmesan recipe follows, pictures first. This year I have had to beg or buy eggplants as we had a mysterious eggplant crop failure.
I published an earlier eggplant Parmesan recipe that included this step: slice and salt the eggplant. Let drain then rinse and dry before proceeding. The next time I opined about how to make it, I said this:
Eggplant Parmesan is so much easier when you skip the salting-the-sliced-eggplant-then-rinsing-and-drying steps and also the dredging-in- flour-or-crumbs part. I omitted the flour/crumbs step because of my carb-avoidance behavior, but discovered that dipping the slices in a beaten egg and frying in olive oil is just as good, if not better, than the carb-dredging routine. Oh joy! I left out the salting part when I was in a big rush and discovered THAT doesn't matter either. So right there you lop off another 15 or 20 minutes.
I am sticking with the no-salting method. Anything that saves prep time is good, especially when you can't tell the difference with the finished product. 
Most eggplant Parmesan recipes direct you to dredge  the eggplant in a seasoned flour mixture before frying or baking. No, no, no. Not at all necessary. Some suggest you bake the eggplant after dredging in flour mix, ostensibly to save you from fat. No, no, no. No need to be saved from olive oil! The need to be saved from flour is, however, compelling.
Layered egg-batter fried eggplant. Full recipe below.
This is the deluxe eggplant Parmesan, which means I needed to use sweet onions and peppers, which are undulating toward the kitchen from our crazy pumped- up garden. A very aggressive garden indeed. Onions and peppers are optional.
More layering. Did we talk about the homemade marinara sauce?  Only if you have time and tomatoes to spare.

Eggplant Parmesan

Let's make some assumptions. You have fresh tomatoes and nice firm glossy eggplants. You have time. (The biggest assumption of all.) But listen. If you don't have time to make your own marinara from fresh tomatoes, but still want to make a fabulous eggplant Parmesan, buy a good marinara sauce and pump it up with garlic, a little pesto, some pepper flakes, and your desire to make yourself and others glow at the dinner table.

Do what you can do. Good cheese helps no matter what.

This makes enough for 6-8 servings in a 9X13 inch pan. It freezes well, and keeps for several days refrigerated.

2-3 medium to large fresh eggplants
1.5 to 2 quarts marinara sauce, more or less, homemade preferable
8 - 10 ounces grated Parmesan cheese
12-16 ounces shredded mozzarella, jack, cheddar cheeses, mixed
salt and pepper to taste
salt for treating eggplant slices
2-3 medium eggs
2-4 Tbsp olive oil
1 cup thinly sliced sweet red pepper or jalapeno pepper or combination—deluxe version  
1 cup thinly sliced sweet onion—deluxe version.
1. Slice the eggplants into 1/2 - 3/4  inch rounds.

2. Beat the eggs in a small bowl. In the meantime, heat half the olive oil  over medium heat in a non-stick pan. When the oil is hot, but not smoking, coat the eggplant slices in beaten eggs and fry in olive oil until lightly browned on both sides. Add more oil as necessary. (May be more than 4 tablespoons.) Set aside fried eggplant slices on a grate to cool. Blot with paper towels, if you're weird about oil. If you have leftover egg, fry quickly, chop, and add to casserole. It's a sin to waste food.

3. When all eggplant slices are fried, spoon a layer of marinara on the bottom of your casserole dish. Add a layer of eggplant, sprinkle with cheeses.

4. If you're using sliced sweet onions and/or peppers, spread some atop the cheeses
5. Add another layer of eggplant topped by more "deluxe" items, if using, then cover with marinara.

If you have leftover eggplant slices, place a piece of waxed paper between slices and freeze for later use. 

Pop uncovered into preheated 350 degree oven. Bake for 35 - 45
minutes, or whenever sauce is bubbling around the edges. Remove from oven and apply the final layer of mixed cheeses plus a few fresh pepper/onions, if you like.  Return to oven and turn off the heat. Allow the cheese to melt for five to seven minutes. Remove from oven and let it rest for about 10 minutes before serving.

Low-carb notes
Eggplant is low-carb to the max. One medium unpeeled eggplant has about 13 grams of carbs plus 19 grams of fiber. Which, with fiber grams subtracted, is a minus-carb count.

Peppers are also very low in carbs, but onions are not, and fresh tomatoes, depending upon sugar content, may be high in carbs. However, they also have a lot of fiber, especially if you follow my directions for using the entire tomato, skins included, to make homemade marinara.

Do you know about subtracting the fiber content from carb content to figure out how many carbs you're consuming? Example: a half cup of chopped raw tomato has 4.2 grams of carbs and 1 gram of fiber. Subtract the fiber gram and you get carb 3.2 grams. (The Complete Book of Food Counts by Corinne T. Netzer)

People who are serious about losing weight with low-carb diets count every carb and most try to keep their carb consumption at 30 per day or fewer. That's roughly the equivalent of two thin slices of bread, One large baked potato with skin has about 50 carbs and just 4.8 grams fiber. You could run on that thing for two days! Except that after eating that many unbuffered-by-fiber carbs, you're likely to feel hungry a couple hours after eating.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

BLT into BBT - Sandwiches without bread

I gotta admit, I seriously miss bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwiches. No bread? No wheat? No BLTs!
Damn. I'm sacrificing here. Whoever said giving up bread/grains would be easy?

But WAIT! Here's a tasty solution—the bacon, basil, cheese and tomato salad, a variation of the popular  Caprese salad which can be tweaked in so many ways. Adding bacon? Well, you decide.

You can't pick it up, but you can relish that bacon/basil/tomato delectability. I guess you could use lettuce instead of basil, but at the expense of flavor. I'll be planting winter crops soon, and have literally hundreds of lettuce volunteers sprouting right now. I'm debating whether to save any. I much prefer spinach, chard, and kale—for BLTs as well as winter salads. For now, though, I prefer tangy basil, while it lasts, on my BBTs.

Note: I've spent a half hour trying to download a photo of the Caprese salad with crispy bacon strips atop. The computer won't do it. Perhaps my Mac is sensitive to the cringing and crying some may experience regarding BACON debauching the iconic Caprese. Whatever. Just imagine how delicious! Delicious. A word is worth a thousand pictures.

In the absence of a bacon-enhanced Caprese, here's a no-bread sandwich made with a huge chard leaf wrapped around sliced cheese, sweet onions, tomatoes, chicken and a bit of deli ham.
Caveat: Best to eat this outside to accommodate the drip factor. 

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Writer's Block de-Construction Project

Writer's block. I have it, thank you very much.

Thanks to those who have inquired about the lack of recent posts. (Few, but much-appreciated, inquiries, by the way.)

Things that contribute to writer's block:
1. Starting a post and thinking it's crap. And I don't know how to fix it.
2. Worrying about kayaking son, at this moment likely pitching camp beside a wild-ride Greenland river, hundreds of miles from civilization but close, probably, to polar bears and with hypothermia hovering.
3. Obligations looming with various nonprofits.
4. Mountains of tomatoes to process. Also peppers, eggplants, onions etc. Then come apples.
5. Looking back on fifty-some blog starts that are mostly outdated.(See below)
6. Thinking my blogged words sink into a sea of too much communication. Anybody out there need more words?
7. Inability, so far, to write meaningfully about my now-ancient (almost 97--year-old) mother. She is always on my mind and in my heart. I guess I'm still processing how I feel about her and the inevitability she represents.
8. Weak character that sometimes leads me to watch Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert rather than toil over uncompleted blog posts.
9. Inability to treat blog writing like real work. I wrote for a living and stood (yes, stood) before my computer for several hours a day writing for money. I rarely stand when I write anymore, and blog only in my "spare" time, which is usually after 8 p.m.
10. Adherence to ridiculous expectations that hinder creativity. Any self-respecting list needs 10 points.

Blog posts in draft include:

  • life is but a dream, parts 1 and 2
  • aging and death
  • garden variety volunteers
  • a box of baby teeth
  • low carb on the road
  • smiling for real
  • might as well dance
  • taking on hard stuff....why?
  • old people doing splits
  • pepper Paul picked a peck
  • the 90s - decade of loss
  • no matter your age, you might be old

Wow! So many uplifting topics! Let me know if you see anything of interest.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Season of Tomato-Love Casserole + Low-carb Notes

Here it is—Summer's Best Baked Tomato dish. 

It's tomato love time, and if you have the love, and are almost tired of Caprese and other raw tomato dishes, give this baked tomato casserole a whirl. I first tasted it at a potluck, where several people were drooling and swooning and smacking their lips and talking gibberish.

I think my friends Kelly and Dave brought it, made from their fresh Grants Pass, OR tomatoes. Anyway, it has become a summer highlight for PK and me. PK loves tomatoes so much that he eats them for lunch with mayo and maybe some cheese and then he's good until dinner, when tomato-something is the main dish. As of today, our first major harvest, tomatoes have taken over the kitchen and the back porch. Soon they will occupy the freezer and the pantry. And, of course, a top spot in our culinary hearts.

The morning's harvest. The tomatoes are mostly HUGE Brandywines, as large as the sizable cantaloupe on the upper left and the spaghetti squash on the lower left. A few of these giants are also split, meaning they need to be used pronto.  No problem! The basis for my fave tomato dish is right here—fresh, sweet, juicy heritage tomatoes.

Summer's BEST Tomato Casserole

3-4 large ripe tomatoes, more if tomatoes aren't notably large. I used 3 hyper Brandywines.
1/2 large onion
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 1/2 cups grated cheddar/jack or other cheeses
3/4 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup coarsely chopped fresh basil, plus whole leaves for topping beauty
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 375
Use a 9X13 casserole dish, not aluminum. No need to grease the pan.
Trim and slice tomatoes and place in a colander to drain while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.
Thinly slice the onion. Use a cooking onion, not a sweet one such as Walla Walla.
Combine the cheeses with the mayo and chopped basil.

Everything but the tomatoes.....before mixing. 
Don't freak out about the fat! This is basically a low-carb dish, so you're doing all right.

Layer the tomatoes and the sliced onion.
At this stage, salt and pepper to taste. Next, add half the cheese/mayo/basil mixture. 
Ready to pop into the oven with the second layer plus the basil-for-beauty effect.
 The chopped basil-for-flavor is mixed into the cheese/mayo combo.
Those big leaves are for show, which means they're  optional.
Bake for 30 minutes at 375 degrees in a pre-heated oven. Casserole will be slightly browned and bubbly. It is SO good. Get out your bib!

The entire dinner, left to right: heavenly baked tomato casserole; sauteed mixed veggies and chicken  topped with chipotle sauce; fresh melon with diced spearmint; marinated cukes and onions. I love summer!!!

In the wings, the first of a 6-week tomato harvest ready for processing. 

Low Carb Notes

A fat-phobic vegetarian friend (I love her!) asked about vegetables and carbs. She said (something like) Don't all vegetables have carbs? If you're eating low carb, how can you eat so many vegetables?

Yes,  of course all veggies have carbs, but in varying proportions. Corn and potatoes explode with carbs, onions are kinda dangerous, and parsnips, turnips, beets, sweet potatoes, winter squash and others are to be consumed in moderation. But chard, broccoli, kale, zucchini, lettuces, and many other greenish veggies  are low in carbs and can be heaped on the plate with lots of butter and/or salad dressing and consumed without guilt.
This is the low-fat/low-carb divide. You can eat a thick slice of bread or a baked potato without butter or sour cream or anything  else to make it taste good. You will get a butt-load of carbs and a couple hours later, depending upon what else you ate, you'll get slammed with a blood sugar dive. And then you'll be hungry for more carbs. You may even get the shakes.
Conversely, you can load a plate with a mountain of greens, cooked or not, pile on cheese and/or meat, salad dressing, mayo, butter or other fat, and two hours later, you won't be hungry at all. In fact, it'll likely be five or six hours before you feel compelled to eat. The blood sugar highs and lows don't run the diet program, and they don't run your life.
As for tomatoes.....they seem to occupy the middle ground in carbiness. (thank you, Stephen Colbert, Mr. Truthiness)  A small tomato, according to the Atkins chart has about 4.5 carbs. I'd guess the large Brandywines have at least 15 carbs - roughly equivalent to a slice of bread, minus the fiber in the tomatoes.

I'm not an expert, but have read a lot and done this low-carb thing for 10 years. This much I know. I will feel better and more satisfied (and weigh less) eating a huge tomato with a generous hunk of cheese or other fat  than a sandwich of nearly any sort.