Thursday, February 23, 2012

365 Days of Low Carb - 2 - Spaghetti Squash!

Spaghetti squash takes its place at the front of fall harvest. (To the left and scattered about.)
 It is by far the most prolific and easiest to grow of the winter squashes we've tried.

Spaghetti squash is aptly named. It LOOKS like spaghetti noodles, but it tastes better and
 has only 10 carbs and 2 grams of fiber per cup. Plus lots of vitamin A, minerals and other good stuff you're not going to get from ordinary pasta. Or even whole-wheat, spelt, or gluten-free pasta. Forget pasta! 
Spaghetti squash is a low-carb hero. Despite my touting it, I admit that I am sick of it. Recently PK and I were invited to a potluck, and I prepared an immense spaghetti squash sorta-lasagna casserole. I'm talking 3 inches tall in a 9X13 casserole dish. I poured everything into it from last year's garden: canned tomatoes, dried tomatoes, pesto, chipotle peppers, chard, green beans. I whipped up a layer of sour cream, Greek yogurt, chopped onion, egg, cheddar and Monterey jack, then lavished the top with grated Parmesan. (Waiting, of course, until the casserole was bubbling before topping with the Parmesan.)

PK was away, so I headed to  the potluck party alone, toting my massive still-steaming masterpiece. I arrived at the locked gate, a light mist falling. The place looked deserted. The dog greeted me hopefully. I dialed up the party hosts. They were in Montana! They'd canceled the party days earlier, but I didn't get the message. I scrutinized the casserole, which was just itching for admiration from ravenous party-goers. All it had was me, and I had just lost my appetite.

I backed down the long winding driveway, headed home, and ate spaghetti squash casserole every day for a week, sometimes twice! Not to anthropomorphize too much, but I'm sure the proud casserole was disappointed that it didn't receive the attention it deserved from the 20 or so people we expected at the party. Not that I cared at all.

Disappointment/guilt bonus: PK and I were invited to dinner by the errant party hosts last weekend, and enjoyed a fabulous authentic German fare with nary a backward glance at the spaghetti squash casserole.

There's the casserole makings. The weird-looking stuff in the center is thawed
chard. It tastes a lot better than it looks. The ingredients are all products of the 2011 garden.
Baked squash on the left, raw on the right. Both are in the 2.5 to 3-pound range, 

Spaghetti squash comes with seeds and gooey innards, which need to be removed.
A kitchen scissors in combination with a serated ice-cream scoop work great for the clean out.

More ways to use spaghetti squash:

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Bad Cat? Or Sad Cat?

Koko on his back porch throne. It's warmish and dry there, and he has a cat door to come and go as he pleases.  

But he much prefers to be inside lounging in
front of the wood fire or the gas stove or snuggling with PK or me. The problem? 
He's taken to marking his territory, which includes inside our house. 

Koko is not really our cat. We started caring for him part time a few years ago when his "other mother" goes away for a week or two, which she often does. Like me, she has an elderly mom to tend to. We'd noticed him skulking around, and thinking he was feral, put out a cardboard box lined with warm stuff and tucked it under the eaves hoping he'd shelter. He did. We quickly learned he was friendly and needy and we invited him in. Eventually we learned that he had another home.

He wasn't really other mother's cat either, but "belonged"to neighbors who apparently mistreated him. Other mother reports that he plastered himself against a wall behind a bush, ears back and eyes narrowed, whenever he saw the mean-neighbor's truck heading down the driveway. (To their credit, the mean neighbors had him neutered and presumably immunized.)

Other mother adopted him, but he fended for himself when she had to leave. Then he found us. We've had a back-and-forth relationship with him and other mother ever since.
Koko loves the hunt, and he is most often successful.
He prefers other mother. He sleeps in her bed and loves to lick her hair and face, which she apparently enjoys. She also gets up several times a night (no cat door) to let him in or out and indulge his predatory night behavior.
Koko's food dish is always supplied, but he prefers his natural rodent diet, plentiful most months of the year.
Of course, he also prefers to devour his prey in the safety of our porch, sullying the mat on a regular basis.
He usually leaves the gall bladder for our viewing pleasure. 
At our house, he sleeps in the closeed-off heated living room in cold months, and during warm weather, in the back porch. We're not into cat catering at night, although I do admit to preparing chicken to augment his diet of mice and Meow Mix. When other mother's times away coincide with ours, we pay somebody to look in on him and make sure he's fed.
When we're away, and he's here alone, the cat door is always open to give him access to food, water, and warmth. Trouble is, other critters also enjoy the chow. We know that a feral cat comes in to dine and probably to spray. Either way, the stress of nobody home and the other cat are likely what's been causing the trouble.
Koko is proud when he kills a rat, but he never eats them.
A few times, he killed rats that had slipped into the house, chalking up big brownie points. 
Koko is the only cat that comes into the house, where we have lately found cat spray on many vertical surfaces. We've also scoured cat piss from walls and cupboards on the back porch. Not fun.

As I write, Koko is curled up on my office armchair, sound asleep. He looked so pitiful peering through the glass door in the chilly porch. I caved. I've closed the cat door to keep feral cat out and will try making Koko feel safe and loved and see what happens. Hopefully, no spraying.
If you've had a cat-spraying problem and resolved it, please advise.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

365 Days of Low-Carb Living - 1

The lovely stuff that makes Outrageous Snapper outrageous. Just make sure your snapper is FRESH!
Starting from the bottom left: Greek olives,  garlic, cilantro, fresh lemon, sliced bell peppers, diced sun-dried tomatoes.

That's how I described the red snapper in a dinner I cooked in January 2005, the year I kept track of everything I ate. That's right. Nearly 365 days of methodically recording breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks. I stopped a couple weeks short of a year, which may be testament to my sanity. Am I really that boring? Sheesh.

However, I was then, and am now, a carb-conscious gal, and that's basically what this one-year food diary was all about. I also reported highlights of daily life, random thoughts etc., as well as recipes. (Kinda like my blog, huh?)

Nobody else was privy to my observations then, however, and I was not shy in rating the snapper meal a multi-cultural melange, a totally accidental gourmet dinner, and super good! Outrageous!

I've recently revisited these odd notebooks and am amazed and puzzled at what I wrote. I've decided to try to re-create some of the dishes I described with superlatives, such as the outrageous snapper,  and also to revisit a few of my thoughts. One never knows whether one's thoughts are worthy until revisiting them. Even then, it's dicey, which is a also good cooking word.

Ok, so one recent evening, because of wanting to recreate some of the 2005 recipes, I was really groovin' in the kitchen. Tunes were pulsating on our new sound system, my notebook was opened like a  cookbook next to the stove, and I was chopping and sauteing and dancing around. I think it was the Subdudes. Or maybe Ghostland Observatory.

Passing through the kitchen,  PK noted my excitement. What was so I doing? he asked.
I am trying to recreate THIS! I said. And I pressed into his hands the notebook turned to the page with the Outrageous snapper. Super Good! recipe.

He read the two pages and solemnly put the notebook on the kitchen counter.
Then he said, Can I tell you something? You're not going to like it. 
This is PK's way of being subtle and preparing me for a bomb.

Ok, say it! I got ready. Bristling just a little.

Ok. I will. You shouldn't be praising your own cooking!

I love this. PK would never praise anything he did,  except maybe that he fathered and helped raise two unbelievably great young men. (There I go again with my superlatives! Totally deserved, of course.) So for me to praise my own cooking in my private food diary was offensive. That's just how he is.

I love him anyway. I remember when he grew the best apples I have ever tasted, no exaggeration, and when people came to buy them, he said things like, Oh, don't take that one. It's probably got water core. Or,  Oh, the apples picked last week were a lot better.  Or,  You'd do better just to go to over to the supermarket and buy your apples. 
As a salesman, PK fails.

And so it embarrasses him that I would comment even to myself about the virtues of something I've cooked or created. I admire his humility, a trait he passed along to our aforementioned utterly amazing
two sons. I don't think of myself as a braggart, but I can't imagine suggesting a recipe (or a whole way of eating) that I didn't think was at least good, at best, great.

What I'm going to do is try to ignore him and tell you how to re-create some successful low-carb cooking experiences. To be honest, the outrageous snapper I made recently did not rate the superlatives I gave it seven years ago. But! I believe that has totally to do with the fact that I did not use fresh fish as specified by the recipe.

The weak link in my recent snapper dinner—the snapper!
It looks good, but not fresh and unworthy of the rest of the ingredients.

BTW, I had NO recollection of cooking this meal, so I was forced to follow my own directions. I commiserate, therefore, with those who have requested further direction on certain other recipes. I defend my position that altering recipes here and there matters little. You don't run to the store if you're lacking an ingredient. (Unless you're baking,which low-carbers do very little of)

However, when a recipe calls for fresh fish, use fresh fish! Not previously frozen and kinda grey looking—and the only snapper left in the case—as I did the second time around. Grrr. I should know better.

Here are recipes for the snapper and the cabbage.
An unlikely, but delicious, accompaniment: curried caramelized cabbage.
I'm not taking credit for either. The Indian curried cabbage came from Fran McCullough's book, the Low-Carb Cookbook, a great resource. The snapper may be credited to another low-carb author, Dana Carpender, as I have relied on her books a lot through the years. Or maybe I snagged it from the Internet. I'm pretty sure I wasn't smart enough to come up with combining the salty Greek olives with sweet dried tomatoes.

Outrageous Red Snapper
1 - 2 T olive oil, halved
3 fillets of fresh (!!!) snapper
1/3 cup chopped sundried tomatoes
1 medium green bell pepper, sliced into strips
1/2 large lemon
1-2 T minced garlic
1/2 cup coarsely chopped pitted Greek olives
1/2 bunch of cilantro
salt and pepper to taste

Lightly saute garlic and peppers in half the oil, two minutes max
Add tomatoes and olives and squeeze in half a lemon
Heat the mixture through and remove from pan. Set aside.
Add remaining oil (if you need it) and fry the fish in the same pan. You want the fish to be just barely cooked through. Squeeze remaining lemon on and season fish with salt and pepper.
Return the veggie/olive mix to the pan and gently settle around the fish. Heat through and serve with curried cabbage. If you don't care about carbs, serve with brown rice.

Curried cabbage
Melt a couple T of butter in a large non-stick skillet and stir in a little curry powder.
Thinly slice half of a large head of cabbage and mix into the butter and curry. Cover and cook on medium heat until wilted, stirring occasionally. Uncover and cook, stirring frequently, for about a half hour or until cabbage begins to caramelize. Add more curry and/or butter to taste, and salt and pepper.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Firsts on the Mountain

This is Mt. Thielson, a photo taken en route to Mt. Bachelor where the "firsts on the mountain" occurred.
 I didn't carry my camera while skiing, but this shows the type of weather and scenery we enjoyed.
 Just imagine the people, OK?
The post title sounds like I maybe did something daring in the outdoors following the path of son Chris. But no, all I did was show up at Mt. Bachelor on a recent glorious day, ski in my intermediate fashion, and pry into the lives of innocent strangers trapped with me on the chairlift. Some conversations were as remarkable as the perfect bluebird day. I did not impose upon these people my inclination to photograph, hence a few descriptive words must suffice. They were:

A man in his early 80s who had traveled to Mt Bachelor from farther east in Oregon to get in his skiing ya yas for maybe the last time. 
PK and I rode the chairlift with him and his wife. During chairlift chit chat he divulged that at this higher elevation and a greater exertion level, he had to go into Bend to have his pacemaker turned up. His wife commented that he could just drop dead out here any minute!
Yes! he said, And I can't think of a better way to go! Or a better place to do it!
Later, I saw this guy ripping it down a narrow curvy run. He zipped  past me with a big grin on his face and snow spraying behind. You GO! I yelled.

Will PK and I be cruising mountains when (if) we reach 80? Will zest for life prevail? We can only hope.

A young ER nurse who recently relocated to Bend, Oregon, from Indiana to escape overweight people who, she says, have overrun her state and imperiled her health.
So many patients there are 250 pounds or more, she told us. Being grossly overweight is the norm. I know an imaging tech who ruined his back positioning a 400-pound man. He can't even work now. I routinely had to move patients who weigh twice what I weigh. I'm not willing to risk my health to do it. Look around here, she says, encompassing the great Oregon outdoors. I can't believe that so many people here are healthy! 

Well, maybe she's never been to the Bend Wal Mart? But seriously. What a comment on the national condition that a young healthcare professional would relocate based on the menacing corpulence of her home-state population.

A 52-year-old handsome man in a relationship crisis who dumped his entire load on us after a chairlift conversation during which we learned he was skiing for the first time in 20-some years.

He was alone on the  mountain, we were headed for a beer at the ski lodge. I invited him to join us. Over a bottle of Sessions, he soon got down to business, which was unburdening himself of a shitload of pain.

Why hadn't he skied in  20 years, I asked? That opened the floodgate. His wife of 23 years was a warm-weather person. He grew up skiing and loved it, but they lived in the cool wet Northwest, and took winter vacations south.

And, oh, by the way, his wife met a guy on Facebook and now she wants a divorce and he had to move out because she doesn't want him there and it really hurts to live where you're not wanted and his teenage daughter told him he should divorce her mother but he's a Christian and wants to do everything and anything to save the marriage and show his 3 children that marriage is a commitment and you can't just walk away because your wife has gone crazy because you helped her through breast cancer and your raised 3 kids together and you love her and maybe it's menopause and she'll come to her senses soon. 

Thirty minutes later, PK and I said goodbye and good luck. We looked at each other.
Not so bad. Not so bad at all.

My take-aways for the day. Everybody has a story, and you never know who you're talking with until you ask. Also, I'm pretty damn lucky to have PK.