Into The Eddy

Just dropping in for a rest.

Mother

It’s been a while, I know. But life has been…well, it has been life. And sometimes that’s all you can say. But tonight, tonight I needed to cook. And now I need to write. By the way, this post will contain no recipes.

Cooking is about passion. Passion for food, for people, for cultures. Romantic passion, family passion, passion for friends and above it all, passion for life. Like most of us, I cook to feed myself and my family on a regular basis. But every now and then, my cooking is purely an expression of my passion. This is where tonight finds me.

Picture this….

I’m in a tiny town of 140 or so people. My home for the summer, a 32 foot toy hauler trailer, which sits on the lot of Normandy Kayak Rental which I co-own. This is my fourth summer in this little town I have grown to love and call home.  Four years ago, when my friend Nikki Mitchell, opened the doors to the River Cafe, Normandy Kayak Rental set up shop right out in the parking lot. Her with her red and white umbrellas and the smell of smoked pork wafting through town. Us with our multi colored kayaks and bright red life jackets, across the parking lot on the town square.

That first summer Nikki and I, as well as our friend Kristin, spent many hours chopping and cooking and laughing, in order to prepare for the weekend. During the day I would run back and forth between schlepping kayaks and waiting tables. At night, I chopped.  One night I chopped so much broccoli for Nikki’s signature Broccoli Salad, I dreamt Nikki had me cutting all of the trees in the Siberian Forrest into tiny little bite size pieces. I told her the story the next morning, and in her phone she changed my name to Kim Choppy.  She had a way.

My friend Nikki passed away three weeks ago. It was not exactly unexpected. She fought pancreatic cancer for 31 months. But that doesn’t lessen the loss, ease the pain or fill the void. This little town will never be the same because of Nikki, and neither will I.

Everyone that knows Nikki has their own unique relationship. Rhonda and Nikki shared the love of flying. I came late to that party. But thanks to Nikki, I was able to experience why they love it so much. Susan shared a love for fly fishing, which again, brought so many of us together. And there is a multitude of people that share a love for music with Nikki.

Cooking.  That was….that is, the passion I share with Nikki. We would cook, watch The Cooking Channel and talk about a different show that were on The Cooking Channel. She told me stories about restaurants and chefs, meals she’s been served as well as meals she prepared. We chopped and mixed and seasoned into a friendship I will cherish for the rest of my life.

I called her Mother, although she was only 10 years older than me. She called me Baby Moses….a story for another day.

I have many memories. But tonight, I kind of think Nikki was shaking her head watching me  make my first cooking memory since her passing, solo.

photo A thirty-two foot camper has a two foot kitchen, and a three burner stove. And I needed to cook. There was a time I would have simply shot her a text and asked to use the cafe kitchen. But those days are over. So tonight, instead, I managed to bring new meaning to tail-gating…..yeah, that’s me, using the tailgate to one of my river trucks, as a prep station.

I stood in my tiny temporary kitchen, blanching heirloom tomatoes, because I had the bright idea to make homemade pasta sauce. And I fired up my good old Char-Broil Kettle Grill so I could grill squash and potatoes.  It was crazy. But I needed to cook.

My adventure ended with a big pot of sauce for later in the week, fire roasted squash and potatoes for tomorrow, and a fresh, local dinner tonight.

It was a dinner Nikki would have loved. A simple, local grown organic salad and grilled squash and onions. Everything in our meal tonight was given to me by someone in this community. From a friend. Although I cooked, I was fed tonight by people that weDSC_5556re brought into my life because of Nikki Mitchell.

I will miss so very much. But most of all, I will miss laughing in the kitchen with you Mother.  I know, I know…”keep chopping Baby Moses. Keep chopping.”

The Nail

I am not overly religious or anything. My personal relationship with my higher power is just that. My personal relationship. You won’t find me in church too many Sunday mornings. I remember to say grace before dinner when Earnie is saying grace. I “talk” as opposed to pray, for the most part.

Tonight… tonight I went to church.

The sign says “Silent Service”.  We are handed a single nail. We light a candle, then, silently take our seats.

This church is held in a beautiful former Catholic Convent. Music, reminding me of that played at Mass, filled the room. A couple of cell phones went off. Whispers of admonishment. Then silence. Silence in this life, is difficult to achieve.

The choir begins to sing. In Latin no less. I take notice the cross adoring the wall in front of the sanctuary. Nothing like the crosses I remember from churches past. This cross is two simple pieces of driftwood. Much more beautiful than any of the fancy ornate designs I have seen. I fumble with the nail in my hand. Weighing the significance.cross-23

Words begin to flicker on the screen. The seven final statements Jesus made as he hung on the cross. There for us to read. To contemplate. And then the message on the screen inviting us to participate in celebrating what I grew up referring to as, The Lord’s Supper.

But this was to be different. No little silver cups or thin tasteless wafers being passed from isle to isle. (Prerequisite food tie in – they use Hawaiian Bread instead of the tasteless wafers. And although I think wine should be used, I am pretty sure the grape juice was concord grapes.) We were invited to walk up to the heavy wooden cross laid out in the front of the church. As I stood behind Lori, waiting my turn, the nail in my hand grew heavier. We to take our nail and hammer it into the cross, giving our sins over to Christ as we did so. The cadence of the hammer and nail varied from person to person, and appeared to grow louder. More pronounced. My mind traveled between knowing each strike represented sin, and thinking about the nails driven into the cross over 2000 years ago.

Each strike of the hammer to represent my sin? I would need more nails. Thank God we are not required to list them all one by one. After a few resounding strikes, I laid the hammer down and moved forward. Celebrating in the Lord’s Supper,  I thought back to the words that were carved on the sacrament table in the church of my youth. The words Jesus spoke as he broke bread and passed the wine. “This Do In Remembrance Of Me.”

We again returned to our seats for silent prayer, contemplation, conversation. Whatever it is one does. And I thought about the past week. The protest. The court arguments. The support I saw from many of my friends and family. I thought about the life I live.  And MY relationship with God.

I thought back to the struggles of my youth and early adulthood. The conflict I felt between what I believed and what I was taught. I thought back to the days when I would fall on my knees, crying and begging God to take away what I thought was my sin. To change me.  Only to feel unanswered. Unheard. Until that day I realized I was listening to what others told me God was saying. Not to what God was telling me directly. I thought about why I still struggle today with religion, with doctrine. And how that struggle is not with my relationship with God, even though that is where I keep taking it.

Then it was over. We left as silently as we filed in. As we moved closer to the outer doors of the building, silence gave way to whispers. Whispers gave way to soft murmurs. Finally giving way to conversation and laughter. Lori, who grew up in a Christian school, singing gospel, with preacher brothers, said “I got more out of this than any service I have ever been to.”

I realized, sitting silently in that room, we were able to hear God.

There But For The Grace of God

I realize this blog is normally about food. To be honest, that was not my original intention. But everyone knows by now, cooking, talking about recipes, taking photos of meals I cook, these things are my passion. Well, one of my many passions. Life is more than recipes to feed your belly. It is also about feeding your soul.

Into The Eddy is about finding a place of respite. Slowing down long enough to regain my bearings. So, that’s what more of my blogs will be about in 2013. Finding new perspective. Tapping into the peace that resides within. Continuing this journey into my truth.

Volunteerism is not new to me. I have worked with Habitat for Humanity, played a significant role in the 2010 Flood Recovery for Nashville, as a volunteer as well as through my contract with The Community Resource Center, and have volunteered for 5 years with Casting for Recovery  a Leading Breast Cancer Quality of Life Program. If you are not familiar with these programs, I invite you to click on the links and check them out. See how you can make a difference today.

Each one of these volunteer opportunities has allowed me to make a difference in the lives of those we serve, as well as in my own life. I won’t minimize the importance of my experience, but I will honestly admit, as volunteer work goes, these are choice opportunities.

Habitat allowed me to teach women to use tools to build. Hello!! What could be better? I don’t know, but CRC is neck in neck. I was provided the opportunity to spend a lot of money, provide furniture to those in need, and drive a fork lift. Plus there is Bacon Wednesday. And as if those opportunities are not amazing enough, with CFR I am blessed to be part of providing 14 women, in various stages of breast cancer, with a weekend retreat where we teach them how to fly fish.  Building, driving a fork lift, fly fishing.  Hello!!

I love being blessed to be part of each and everyone of these organizations. But, something has been pulling at me. I needed to do something else. Not bigger. Certainly not more significant. Different. Out of my comfort zone. Something that would challenge me to my core and maybe help me find what it is I am searching for.

So I contacted my friend Ingrid McIntyre with Open Table Nashville. As their website describes it, Open Table Nashville “disrupts poverty, journeys with the marginalized, and provides education about the issues of homelessness.”

They also assist other organizations in providing the homeless community with Warming Shelters on nights like we are currently experiencing in Middle Tennessee. Open Table had volunteer opportunities for Inn Keepers at any one of the Warming Shelters, so I signed up, and asked my sister to join me in this experience. Last night we headed over to East Nashville Cooperative Ministry to take part in providing a hot meal and a warm place to rest for about 25 of Nashville’s homeless.

The experience was at once, heart wrenching and uplifting. We met incredible people, with stories that quickly make you realize, “There but for the Grace of God…” Many of us, at any given time, are closer to homelessness than we would want to comfortably admit. The men and women we met….

Look, I admit, I am one of those people that sees someone panhandling and mumble to myself, “I’m not giving them money. They will just by liquor or drugs.” I, shamefully, am one of those people that have thought, or uttered the words, “Get a job.” And yes, I am one of those people that have seen homeless people under one of Nashville’s overpasses or lying on a warm heat grate downtown, and shake my head in pity and embarrassment.

Last night Gloria and I sat up all night long, talking to this wonderful guy, homeless, this time around, for a couple of years. Transplanted here from the West and in love with Nashville, he knew this is where he would stay. A guy we both found to be very intelligent, articulate, funny, thought provoking, and yeah, probably dealing with mental illness, drug or alcohol addiction, or some other demons. When “Groto” (seems everyone there  has a street name) finally made his bed on the cold concrete floor, thankful for the blessing he was receiving that night, my sister and I looked over at him, sleeping peacefully and smiled. Genuinely smiled.

You should have seen guy from the streets, who only moments before was talking tough about life. Now here he was, all wrapped up in his sheets and blankets, a stuffed teddy bear and a bible under his head for a pillow. In one hand, he held this little pink floppy eared bunny rabbit. Wrapped in his other arm was a soft grey stuffed elephant. And he was sound asleep, smiling.

I could not tell you when I last fell asleep smiling. Or when I have ever in my life sat up from a dead sleep, to proclaim, “It’s f***ing beautiful out here! I love you God.” as Groto did. Never in my life have I witnessed such unconditional love and compassion for my fellow man. Not from the volunteers, but from this community united through homelessness.

These men and women, Groto, Tyesha, CJ, Country, Tennessee, Nate…I wish I could remember all of their names…they know what it means to be your brothers keeper. Although by the standards of most of us, these people have nothing, they still find a way to share whatever they have with each other. Money, clothing, blankets, and yes, cigarettes and even alcohol.

We sit here as a wealthy nation, arguing between the rights and needs of the haves and have-nots, between the 99% and the 1%, between the right and the left, while this community of men and women share the belief, it is their personal responsibility to take care of each other. If I had asked anyone in the room last night for a buck so I could buy a Pepsi, I know everyone that had a dollar to their name would have gladly taken care of me. Believing all the while, it will come back to them.

After a night of listening to their stories; from one night I think I could fill a book; hearing how they ended up where they are, the losses they have experienced, the blessings they have received – am I different? I don’t know. I really don’t. But I choose to believe I will wake up in the morning a bit more compassionate. More willing to give, without condition. Less judgmental and more willing to seek out the story.

Most of all, I hope to reach a place where I fall asleep with a smile on my face, only to wake up and say, “It’s beautiful here. Thank you God.”

Obsession

On more than one occasion, I have been accused of being obsessive compulsive. I am not. We throw around terms like OCD to apply to our little quirky behaviors, when they really do not. Admittedly, three days before Thanksgiving I put all of my spices in alphabetical order. Savory on the bottom and baking spices on top. I was teased about it by friends and family. But the point they missed was, I did not feel this was a must do or I would experience harm and discomfort. And second, it’s time to bake. And because I am organized, I can tell you if I have something in my cabinet, pantry, refrigerator and freezer. Go ahead, test me. Odds are, I can even tell you exactly where it is located.

Some call it OCD, but I will go with being organized and efficient. Now that I am focused on healthy eating, I am even more obsessed with knowing what is, and just as important, is not, in my culinary arsenal. I do not want to clutter my kitchen space, or my body, with foods that will not benefit my health.

So yes, I have a brand new food obsession. No longer do I seek the perfect burger, or grilled cheese. I feel no compulsion to master Chicken and Dumplings or Beef Bourguignon. Been there. Done that. Today, I crave the flavors that will not only satisifiy my taste buds, but also keep me moving in a healthy direction.

I am obsessed with food. With working out. With keeping track of how many ounces of water I drink every day. With taking my vitamins. All new obsessions. And I am happy and healthier than I was 90 days ago. I am down 30 lbs., my cholesterol has dropped from 210 to 145. I am off of blood pressure medication I have been taking for 7 years. I have dropped two or three pants sizes. My heart rate is lower than it has been….okay, you get the point.  I am also obsessed with tracking my numbers and sharing way too much information with anyone that will listen.

Most of all, I am obsessed with creating perfect salads. Salad was once simply lettuce or spinach, tomato, cucumber and bottled dressing. Just like mom would serve. But today I find it a challenge to see how many raw vegetables, fresh fruits, and beans I can get into a bowl. A really big bowl. Best thing about salad, if you do not go nuts with the dressing, you can eat as much salad as you could possibly want.

My new favorite dish – Wilted Kale, Roasted Yam and Caramelized Onion Salad. Easy. Packed with vitamins and nutrients. And simply delicious. Trust me, you really want to try this.  photo-1

1 bag of Kale
1 Red Onion, sliced thin
2 Shallots, sliced thin
2 Yams, peeled and diced
2 tbsp. Red Wine Vinegar

Peel and dice yams. Place on baking sheet, toss with melted coconut oil and coarse ground sea salt. Bake at 400 for about 30 minutes until fork tender. When complete, remove from oven and allow to cool. In the meantime, pour a turn of extra virgin olive oil into a non stick skillet. Cook sliced red onion on medium low heat until soft and slightly caramelized. About halfway through cooking, add sliced shallots. Continue cooking until done. Remove from pan and set aside. Add a couple tablespoons of olive oil to non stick pan and add Kale. Toss frequently until warm and slightly wilted. You may want to cook in batches. Remove from pan and place in large salad bowl. Toss in caramelized onions, and yams to mix thoroughly. Give final toss with 2 tbsp. of red wine vinegar.

This salad can be served slightly warm or refrigerated. For a nice finish, toss in a 6 oz container of crumbled goat cheese. Healthy and delicious.

Breakfast of Champions!

I was at the gym this morning……..wait, did I just say those words? I can honestly tell you, I never thought I would be one of those people. But I do try to go every day now. The weather is getting colder and I am not as inclined to do my dam walk. Besides, the Normandy house is closed up for the winter so I am in Nashville. The dams here are not walker friendly.

To be more accurate, it’s not really a gym I go to. It is the local Metro Community Center. Most cities have them. Nashville has quite a few. I recommend you check it out if you have one in your area. Cheaper than a gym. Similar facilities. Plus a track, basketball court, and even indoor pools. Ours offers classes like kickboxing, yoga and my favorite FIRE. This particular class is a great core and cardio workout you can start at any fitness level. One of the best parts of using the Community Center, your fees help programs for those less fortunate. The center I use provides hot meals to neighborhood kids after school. For some of these kids, it is the only chance they have for a hot supper.

I work out, make myself feel healthier and stronger. And I help kids to be healthier and stronger. This is a classic example of a win win. But I digress. I’m at the Community Center and a couple of ladies I take the FIRE class with are talking to one of the staff members. We started talking about the increase in new members all of a sudden. Normally, fitness attendance drops off between Thanksgiving and Christmas. At our location, it has increased. Why?

Maybe it is the change in weather. We have a long fall in middle Tennessee. Last week it was in the high 60’s. This week we have had frost every morning and it’s been below 30 at night. You see far fewer people walking or running on the Greenways or sidewalks. It could also be, people are doubling down for the holiday. Let’s lose in the weeks between so we do not have a net gain after New Years. Who knows? But the reality is, getting and staying healthy does not have to be as hard as we make it.  If you can take 30 minutes out of your day to take a brisk…and I mean brisk…walk, and eat healthy meals 90% of the time, you’ve got it.

Changing habits is hard. But change is good. I have started paying attention to my plate more and more. These days, instead of a plateful of starches, I like to see 3/4s of my plate covered in fresh, preferably raw, predominantly green, veggies & fruit. The other 1/4 of my plate can share space between protein and grains. It’s a relatively simple formula. And you really can fill up on fresh vegetables.

Why wait for the New Year to start making changes? Here is a healthy and delicious breakfast recipe to kick start  your journey. For breakfast, I usually eat oatmeal. But once in a while, I like a traditional breakfast. So, how did I make it healthy? Easy.photo

1 veggie burger, seasoned and cooked in frying pan with a tiny bit of olive oil.1 oz or less of your favorite really good cheese. The trick is, if you do not eat something often, then eat the best when you do.
1 big handful of spinach, sauteed in olive oil with a healthy spoon of salsa.1 large free range organic brown egg – scrambled with a touch of water in the pan with sauteed spinach mixture.1 avacodo slice.
Season to taste – I used smoked chipotle for this particular dish.

Assemble as pictured, create an omelet, make a simple scramble. Doesn’t matter. This is healthy, delicious and satisfying.

Detox

Change is not always easy. Life changes can be extremely challenging and difficult. But what if those changes are an integral part of your journey? What if you can carve your path through controlling your changes instead of just standing by and waiting for them to take place? Or worse, falling back into the comfortable, the familiar.

There is a reason comfort food is called comfort food. It is familiar. Safe. Predictable. Warm. Comfort food is also, more often than not, unhealthy. It tends to be rich, high in calories, fat, salt and carbohydrates. We turn to comfort food in times of stress. Once the food is consumed, the stress remains, coupled with feelings of guilt. Comfort food also is believed to create a hormonal response that leads to an increase in abdominal fat, and is considered to be a form of self medication.

Why do we equate something that is so bad, so negative for our existence, with comfort? The toxicity of comfort food can cause depression, obesity, high blood pressure, a negative body image, and a myriad of disease. The major effect of too much comfort food, which is obesity, has even been related to failed relationships, unemployment, financial crisis.

So, what do you do when that which was thought of as comforting becomes toxic?  Detox!

That is exactly what I did. I’ve been making better choices for the last couple of months. I eat relatively healthy, and frequently. In addition, I have been walking about 3.5 miles almost every day, drinking tons of water, working out a bit. I have been actively making changes. Carving my path. Taking an active part in my journey. Yet I know I still needed to get rid of those things that are most toxic for me.

So, I decided to step it up and do a simple three day detox, courtesy of Dr. Oz. If you have never detoxed, it is pretty easy. Instead of eating you drink fruit and vegetable juice, take vitamins, drink plenty of water, and take a detox bath every night. Anything ending in a relaxing bath has to be good!  If you want more details, take a look at Dr. Oz’s one sheet. It will tell you exactly how to get started.

I had no problems with this. I think because I have been eating well, I did not go through any type of withdrawals. I drink very little caffeine. I have not been eating refined sugar or processed foods that much lately. So that part was easy. For me, the hard part was, two out of three of these detox juices do not taste that great. The breakfast drink is yummy.  I could have it every day. The lunch recipe included coconut oil. Now I cook with coconut oil. I put it in my oatmeal once in a while. I have used it in other recipes in place of oil or butter. I am not opposed to coconut oil. In cooking. But it solidifies quickly. So when used in one of these juice drinks, it taste like you are eating – coconut oil.

The dinner drink – I can’t begin to tell you what was wrong with this combination. I love everything in it. Except coconut water. I do not like coconut water. And it appears blending with fruits and veggies does not make it one bit better. Hey, sometimes you have to buck the traditional, the comfortable, and make your own way. So I created a couple of my own Detox juice options. Sorry Dr. Oz, but we both know this detox can not work if I will not drink the juice.

If you have a blender, you can easily give these drinks a shot. You do not have to do a full detox for three days. Or 60 days, as Joe Cross did in Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead. Although it is tempting. We can all benefit from more fruits and vegetables in our diet every day. Letting go of the comfort just may be the best thing for your life.  Forget what your mom said about eating your vegetables. Drink your vegetables!

Morning Purple Juice –  juice

1 cup Water
1 cup Raspberries
1 Banana
1/4 cup of Spinach
1 tbsp. Almond Butter
1 tbsp. Flax Seed
Juice of 1/2 Lemon

Sweet Dinner Greens – (I made this one up.)

1 cup of Water
2 handfuls of Spinach
1 handful of Kale
1 stalk of Celery
1/4 cup of Pineapple
1 tsp. of Chia Seed (Think Ch-Ch-Ch Chia Pet)

All you do is blend it to as thin consistency as possible. This is not really juicing. It is blending. You will be left with all of the fiber in your drink. I found if you blend the greens with the water before you add anything else, it is less likely to burn out your blender motor. Take your vitamins and make sure you drink 64 – 80 oz of water. If you get a headache, do as my sister says, “Drink some water, eat some bread, and put some clothes on.” No, forget the bread. Drink more water. How you dress is entirely up to you.

“Awareness is the greatest agent for change.” ― Eckhart Tolle

Chilly Chili Weather

Obviously, in light of Sandy, which brought crazy weather to the entire eastern part of the country, I have no business complaining about weather. This epic storm brought widespread flooding, hurricane force winds, massive power outages and historic destruction all the way up the eastern seaboard. The devastation in New York and New Jersey is unimaginable. My thoughts go out to everyone affected. Fortunately, my friends have all weathered the storm safely and relatively unscathed.

We are two, maybe three weeks into this fall weather and I am already missing summer.  I am not looking forward to  four or five months of no business. Especially when I was really just getting the hang of this whole kayaking gig.

Oh well, apparently I do not control the weather, so I am going to make the best of this dip in temperatures. I spent this past weekend with my wonderful friends, The Music City Fly Girls, camping, fishing and generally having a wonderful time. A couple of us slept outside by the fire, braving the wild coyotes, winds and dipping temperatures. The rest of the wimps…I mean women, were tucked safely inside the cabin.  Very few fish were caught by the way. But that is never the point of these trips.

Once I made it home, and the temperatures continued to drop, I decided it was time to make a big pot of chili. Because I am on a more mindful journey these days, I decided to make it vegetarian chili.

I know, I know…some of you purist out there are screaming at the screen, telling me there is no such thing. Chili, after all, means seasoned meat. Not beans. Not corn. And certainly not vegetables. Respectfully, I disagree. Chili is the flavor first, and the experience second. Ingredients are not relevant.

Besides, this is my blog. And my VEGETARIAN CHILI is the perfect way to warm up a fall evening. Quick and easy to make, even for a week night meal. By the way, a 1.5 cup serving is only 390 calories and has only 3 grams of fat and 32 grams of protein.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sweat 1 Onion and about 4 stalks of Celery in EVOO until tender. Add one diced Yellow Squash, 1 diced Zucchini, 1 diced Sweet Yellow Pepper and about half of a Yam, diced. Saute for about 5-7 minutes. Add 1 can of diced Fire Roasted Tomatoes, 32 oz. Unsalted Organic Vegetable Stock, 1 can Organic Black Beans, 1 can Organic Northern Beans and a package of Meatless Soy Free Grounds. Season to taste with Black Pepper, Cumin, Curry powder, Smoked Chili Powder, and Italian Season flakes.

Let it all cook for at least 30 mins. Longer is always better with soups. If you hit it at the end with the juice of half of a fresh lemon, all of the flavors will pop. You’ll notice I did not add any salt. I feel there is more than enough sodium in the canned vegetables, it is not necessary to add more.  As a matter of fact, I make it a point to rinse the canned beans to remove as much salt as possible.

Enjoy.

 

A New Journey

Summer has gently faded into fall. A beautiful, mild fall. So far. But who knows what November will bring. And what’s more frightening, local farmers hanging out at the little market in Normandy, they are all talking about a harsh winter. These guys normally, know their weather stuff. They have to. Part of the job you know.

The season changes always give me hope. It doesn’t matter the season, it always holds promise of change, growth, cleansing. This season, I’ve decided to really embrace change. Maybe even use the season change as a catalyst to get me moving forward on my own path.

I do not like to talk about this kind of stuff, but like so many women I have battled with weight issues most of my adult life. I can give you a million reasons why. Start with childhood issues, and move on to adult issues. Find a few other random issues, and a possible undetected thyroid issue, and boom! I am where I never thought I would be.

Here’s the thing, I am healthy. Well, except for the obesity thing. Everything else about my health though, my heart, my cholesterol, glucose,  all good. And, I’ve spent the summer lifting kayaks, so I am also reasonably strong.

Yeah, yeah, yada, yada. I’m still overweight, overly stiff, and a bit sluggish. So, as the leaves are changing, as the nights are becoming cooler, I feel quite the pull to change and become cooler myself.

So, I am on a journey of healthier choices. As much as I have enjoyed my run with bacon, nothing last forever. And here’s the thing, since I am eating healthier, making changes, I am suddenly eating a lot! Like so much I have a hard time fitting in all of the eating. I seem to be having a meal or a snack every three hours. I eat breakfast, which I seldom did before, unless it was crappy fast food. I have fallen in love with oatmeal again. Especially with a little bit of organic peanut butter.

Organic peanut butter! Who’da thunk it. Here’s the thing, it’s nothing but peanuts. That’s it. No salt. No sugar. Peanuts. I learned from someone wiser than me, pour off the oil on top first. It’s better for you. Cottage cheese, salads, fruit, snap peas, hummus, organic soups. There’s a lot you can eat when you choose to eat healthy.

I did get a little pissed the other day because I think it is ridiculous and unconscionable that it cost so much more money to shop healthy. But I realized the trade off is, what I buy, I actually eat. I am not buying processed foods, carbs, junk. Pretty much all fresh foods. So, even though it is more expensive on the front end, I am not throwing away as much stuff. I am buying exactly what I eat, and nothing else. And, then there will be the future medical savings.

Uh oh, I did not think of the other added expense. New clothes!!

So, if you want to hang in there with me on this journey, keep reading. But be warned, my recipes will be different.

For example  –  This morning’s breakfast scramble bowl, 2 eggs scrambled with sauteed spinach, two Boca breakfast links and a little bit of my brothers incredibly tasty homemade salsa. It was delicious. And only 274 calories. Next time I will adjust to egg whites only. For today, baby steps.

Actually, today it was 8082 steps in one hour. 3.3 miles. A pace of 18:14, whatever that means.  Yep, this is my new journey. And I rock!

Southern Genes

Do you ever think about Nature vs. Nurture? How much does our DNA shape us in comparison to the influences of our childhood? Where does genetics end and culture take over?

I have no clue. I probably do not understand any of this well enough to even form a semi-educated guess. But what I do know is, no matter how many years or miles divide you, sometimes you just can’t deny your family.

Last year my sister and two of my brothers were at my house. My brother Mark and I, we are only 13 months apart. If you saw him walk in a room, you would immediately know he is my brother. We look a lot alike, we are built alike, we talk alike, gesture alike. The list goes on. And we grew up with the exact same influences.

My sister Gloria and brother Mike, they are 12 and 11 years older than me, respectively. I do not know how much we were really raised alike. We have the same mother, but they, and my other two sisters, are from Moms first marriage. By time I came along, their formative years were past. But, they did have a hand in raising us. Built in baby sitters for the first 5 or 6 years of my life.

So anyway, we all go to breakfast with Lori and her dad. The four of us ordered the exact same thing. Eggs cooked exactly the same. And when the plates came to the table, we did the exact same thing with our food. We even seemed to eat our food in a similar order. It was amusing to watch. I would say the four of us had not sat down to breakfast in a restaurant together in….I’m not sure ever. At least not that I can remember.

Fast forward a year later. Mike is coming to visit again. A few days before, Gloria mentions something about wanting Chicken and Dumplings. I love Chicken and Dumplings. But I have never actually made this dish myself. For about a week I had been thinking it would be the next dish I try to make. And hey, it’s my sissy. I would move a mountain for her. Or lots of rocks with her.

The day Mike is flying in he sends me a text from the Atlanta airport, just to let me know he is running on time. I send a text back, “random question brother. do you like chicken and dumplings?”

He responds, “that’s so weird. i was just thinking about chicken and dumplings on the plane. i love them.”

Gloria and Mike are craving the same dish 600 miles apart. This is clearly a sign. Who cares I never made them before. This is my family. If I cannot use them as guinea pigs, what good are they really? Gloria heads to the airport, I head to the grocery store.

Everyone was happy when dinner was served. Both of my siblings and Lori gave my first attempt high praise. I was pretty pleased myself. I always thought Chicken and Dumplings would be a daunting dish to make. But honestly, dinner was ready in about an hour.

If you have been intimidated by the thought of making this southern favorite – southern because the dumplings are strips of thin dough, not balls dropped from a spoon – let it go. This is easy.  And yummy.

 

 

I simply boiled a cut up whole chicken with diced onion, celery and green peppers. Water about 3 inches above the chicken. Seasoned with salt, pepper and poultry seasoning. Boil the chicken until done. I think mine took about 40 minutes.

While the chicken is cooking, make your dumplings.

3 cups of cake flour or 2 3/4 cups of all purpose flour
3/4 tsp. baking soda
3/4 tsp. salt
4 1/2 tbsp. of Lard. Yes Lard. If you cannot find Lard, (how many times can I say the word?) use shortening. Just do not tell anyone. This is a southern classic for God’s sake!
1 cup of milk.

Okay, you know how to do the deal with dough. Mix your dry ingredients, cut in the shortening until you get that tiny grainy thing going. Kind of like small peas they always say. Then add milk about a quarter at a time. You might not need all the milk. When it forms a ball of dough and feels right, it’s ready. Do not over mix or things will get to gummy. I will be happy to explain the science of this to you. I study under the tutelage of Alton Brown.

Roll the dough out on a floured board. About 1/4 inch thick, and kind of in a rectangle. Then just cut your strips about 1×2 inches. Do not measure. That’s crazy. Just guess and try to keep everything uniform. When you are done, toss the dough in a little flour to coat. That way they can rest a good 20-30 minutes while your chicken finishes.

Remove the chicken from the stock and allow it to cool. I strained my broth to get rid of the mirepoix.  Bring the broth to a low boil and start dropping in your dumplings. If you don’t think you have enough broth, use chicken stock or milk. I went with a little milk. Stir, don’t stir, cover, don’t cover. I don’t think it matters. Work that out yourself. I stirred a little, just to keep everything off the bottom. I did not cover. Cook about 7 minutes and turn down to low. Remove the bones and skin from the chicken, shred it up a bit and return to the pot. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

That’s it. It is not hard. Although this blog is really long! But WORTH IT!!

Naked Awesomeness

(yeah, I have your attention now, don’t I?)

Have you noticed how disgusting food has become at fast food and chain restaurants? I was watching the Hardee’s/Carl’s commercial where they feature two scantily clad women, one grilling a burger, the other smoking pork. Apparently these women stay sexy by using BBQ as a condiment, right along deep fried onion rings to top your cheeseburger. It weighs in at a whopping 1000 calories and almost 2000 mg. of sodium. Seriously, if these bikini babes were actually eating the Memphis Burger, they would not be staring in this food porn commercial.

(As I’m typing this, Denny’s just aired a commercial for Build Your Own Burger. Cheese, Mac n Cheese, and Chili topped one creation. What the ….?)

Saturday night Lori and I decided to go out for a steak. We hit a local steakhouse that showed promise. We figured we could split the monster rib eye and try a couple of their other menu items. Fried corn was on the menu. Now, I’m thinking fried like as in skillet corn. Which is pretty much creamed corn only better.

No. That would make sense. Instead, somebody got the bright idea to take a perfectly good half ear of corn, bread it, and deep fry it in the same grease they deep fried…I don’t want to think about it. Why would anyone deep fry corn? Yeah, I know, we deep fry Twinkies, Snickers Bars and God only knows what else. But why corn on the cob? Why? Watch enough commercials or episodes of Man vs. Food and you may never eat again.

But this blog is about Fish Tacos.

I have seen many turn their noses up at the mention of a fish taco. Could it be due to the word taco. I’ll admit, I automatically envisioned ground fish (like the beef or chicken versions) with tomato, lettuce, cheese, sour cream and salsa in a taco shell. Not really all that appealing if you ask me.  Then I stepped into a local eatery, Baja Burrito, and gave it a try. OMG! (Okay, I won’t use that “term” again.)

This fish taco is a lovely lightly breaded white fish with shredded cabbage and this awesome sauce. Naturally, I decided to try to make my own version. Except instead of a soft taco shell, I thought I would make it more like the “naked” burritos they serve. Basically a burrito in a bowl instead of wrapped.

Okay, so let’s scratch the breaded and fried version. I really do not deep fry anything. Too messy for me.  Instead, let’s do a breaded baked tilapia. Coated first with Greek yogurt mixed with a squeeze of fresh lime. Then dipped panko bread crumbs, seasoned liberally with Old Bay and a bit of chopped cilantro. Pat firmly to coat well, add thin slices of lime and bake in oven at 400º until flaky.

While the tilapia is baking, I reach in the freezer for a package of the best rice in the world. Yes, frozen brown rice, found only at Trader Joe’s. My friend Catherine turned me on to it. I dumped the rice into a heavy pot, added a can of drained and rinsed black beans, drained chipotle corn and fire roasted tomatoes, not drained. All you have to do is bring it to a boil, then let it simmer real low while the fish cooks. Just before you are ready to serve, hit it with a squeeze of fresh lemon. It truly brightens the flavor.

Okay, the third step in my, let’s call it a Naked Fish Taco Bowl, is to attempt to create a flavorful, creamy sauce, that serves to replace the sour cream you might normally use. Here’s where I decided to get a little creative. I took roughly a quarter cup of Greek yogurt, a heaping tablespoon of mayo, a squeeze of lime juice and a bit of smoked paprika. I had no clue what this would end out tasting like. But I swear, it was so yummy I could have eaten it with a spoon.

What am I going to top this with? Oh I know, pineapple, kiwi salsa. A bit of orange pepper and onion sautéed in butter, diced fresh pineapple, diced fresh kiwi, avocado, cilantro, tiny bit of honey, lime and lemon juice. Taa-Daa.

Okay, a scoop of the rice mixture on your plate, or eve better, in a bowl. Add a piece of baked tilapia, spoon on a liberal amount of the special fish sauce (I need to work on a better name) and top with a spoonful of pineapple, kiwi salsa.

That’s it. Dinner was on the table in about 30 minutes. And it was AWESOME!

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