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Archive for December, 2008

Christmas and a cold

What a wonderful Christmas I had with friends and family in Virginia! I flew into RDU on Tuesday and rode three different transit buses to get to Northgate Mall, where Brent’s sister picked me up after she finished a little shopping. I often take the buses to Northgate if I get in earlier in the day. Picking me up at the mall saves Brent about one-and-a-half hours off of the round trip to the airport – a little closer to home. But since his sister was able to pick me up, we had a nice visit in the car and stopped for a cup of coffee before we got back to South Boston.

That night Brent and I picked up really nice salads at Four Oaks restaurant to take home. Johnny cooks there, and oh my does he make the absolute best blue cheese salad dressing I have ever eaten! I had to get me some of that! Fresh vegetables in a salad were exactly what I wanted for supper since I had just pretty much eaten snack food all day long. I tried some chicken earlier at the mall, but it was just yukky and I couldn’t eat hardly any of it

Christmas Eve (the next day) we had the opportunity to take care of our little grandson while his Mom and Dad worked, and I wrapped gifts (that I had flown back to So. Bo. ahead of time) and Brent entertained little Brody. Soon Brody was snoozing on the sofa! That night Brent fried oysters and made some of his delicious cocktail sauce. I had a little salad left from the night before, so we split that (did someway say blue cheese dressing?!?). However, salad and scrumptious oysters were not quite enough for me, so I finished off the meal with a bowl of Cheerios.

Christmas day was fabulous! I saw Brent’s family, my mother, my brother, and my cousin Laura and her family. I really like visiting people that mean so much to me. Believe it or not, that is my favorite part about Christmas – not the food, but visiting with friends and family. And having the time to do so! Doesn’t mean that the food was not worth celebrating, just means as much as I love food, I love interesting people even more.

But speaking of food, Brent’s mother made her usual way-more-food-than-anyone-can-eat spread, and I ate a lot of it! I got a plate full of just vegetables (including turnip greens!) with plans to go back for a second plate. However, by the time I finished talking with Brent’s cousin Billy and his family, the food had been removed from the table and packed away! Oh my was I disappointed! I really didn’t miss the dessert, but I truly wanted more potato salad. I prepared candied yams, and they must have been tasty because there was just a little bit left to take home. I never tried them – they were going to be part of my second plate. Bummer.

Friday night we went out to eat with our neighbors, and it was great to be with them again. I don’t always get the chance to visit with them when I travel back to Virginia. The night out was fun, the food was good, the conversation that evolved a little around current events was great, and afterwards I fell into bed exhausted! Up early the next morning and back to the airport to return to Kansas, and I arrived in Manhattan just a few minutes before the snow fell. It was beautiful! And I was glad to be in this apartment with my kitty and the warm heat. Oh yes! And I brought a cold back with me and left Brent with one. We have talked a few times today, sharing news about our cold symptoms. So romantic.

Well, gotta go! Tomorrow is another day at the library and I want to be fresh and perky for the new week! Plus, this cold medicine is kicking in and I’m feeling very drowsy. No telling what I might say if I keep typing.

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Is it cold yet?

My goodness has it been cold this week! Six inches of snow followed a couple of days later by a thin layer of ice. The main roads are pretty clear, but definitely not my street! As I looked out my window again this morning, I see the reflection of our ice skating rink that was once a street. In the summer I love the trees, but since the city doesn’t remove the snow or place chemicals on my street, and the sun doesn’t seem to ever shine through, and cars don’t come this way unless it is necessary, and the temperatures are staying way below freezing, it makes for quite a treacherous walk to work every day. (I walk in people’s yards as much as possible.) And when I say it has been cold, I mean very cold. Today it is -4 degrees with a “feels like” temp due to the wind of -16. Yes, it is colder than that in many locations, but for this Southern girl I’d say -16 is pretty dang cold!

I mentioned in my last post the Medjool dates I purchased. I have enjoyed them so much, and right now I am eating my last one for breakfast. Just plain, along side my half peanut butter sandwich and second cup of coffee. They were so large that when I stuffed a few with the almonds and goat cheese earlier this week, each date took at least two whole almonds! And Mmmm……were they delicious! I actually have one stuffed date sitting in the little refrig at work, and I’ll finish it off tomorrow.

And remember the beet and apple salad I mentioned last time? I made it twice this week, and it is surely one of my new favorite meals. I would have thought this time of year that beets would have been plentiful in the produce section of the grocery store, but I was mistaken. However, they did have fresh beets already steamed and ready to eat sitting with the other produce, so I purchased those (though I hated paying extra to have someone peel and steam them. I could have done that myself very quickly!) Anyway, for each salad I cut up half of a Granny Smith apple and 3 beets, both into large bite-size chunks. Sprinkled goat cheese and pecan pieces on top (and some of the pecan pieces were coated with maple syrup. Oh my goodness!), then drizzled on the magical blend of balsamic vinegar and local Pottawatomie County honey. Not only was it so super tasty, it was rather filling. Which is important for someone like me who loves to eat more than I should!

A long-time favorite I rediscovered this week was the cucumber and cream cheese sandwich. December is definitely not the time of year to eat cucumbers, because they tend to be watery and bitter, I think. But remember that scrumptious meal I mentioned last time at my friend Jan’s house? When I left she gave me some of the leftovers to bring home, and one delight she gave me was a small bag of sliced cucumbers from the tasty vegetable crudite tray. And for a December cucumber, it has been a good one! I’ve got a just enough left for one more half sandwich, and I will most likely eat it today or tomorrow at my desk for my morning snack. You know what? All of these half sandwiches I eat would be healthy if I could stay away from the enriched flour bread!! But man! I really like it.

Since it is so cold, I feel a lunch of tomato bisque coming on. Yes, made with skim milk. But just a little whipping cream. Yep! I feel that creamy tomato moment just around the bend!

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Wow! Two posts in one morning! That is what a second cup of coffee does for me – more talking! Aren’t you the lucky one. Since I’ve been dealing with the blues, I’ve decided to try one of the most important healing methods for such moods. Healthy habits. Again. As I’ve slipped away from the pescetarian lifestyle, I’ve more than just slipped. I’ve just raced around that meat-loving NASCAR track like Carl Edwards in the lead on the 250th lap!. [Well, OK. Jimmy Johnson won the Sprint Cup Series again this year; third time in a row he has won the honors in that circuit. But Carl Edwards rocks! And he ranked second place, and I’d rather use him in my analogy. Because…..well…..he rocks!]

At my dinner last night with friends I did eat a little meat. But my portion was much smaller than a fist, so I’m sure it was no more than 4 ounces. I’ve got a little chicken in the refrig I need to eat today or tomorrow so it doesn’t spoil, so I think I’ll eat it tomorrow for supper. Before then, though, I will eat no meat.

Yesterday I made a dish with lots of cheese which I will eat on today. I cooked whole-wheat penne noodles and placed them in the bottom of a shallow casserole dish. In a separate bowl I mixed Ricotta cheese and fresh Parmesan with a little garlic and black pepper. I spread that on top of the noodles and add small chunks of mozzarella throughout. I covered the noodles and cheese with organic tomato sauce and then topped with more thin slices of mozzarella. I baked in the oven and took a little to my neighbor, but I haven’t tried it yet. Surely it will be delicious, especially after I add a little more fresh Parm on top. Did someone say there would be cheese?

[side note: Penne noodles are my favorite pasta. They are bite size so they don’t half hang out of my mouth like a spaghetti noodle. Plus, the little ridges hold the sauce so well. Yep! My favorite.]

At People’s Grocery yesterday I bought some really pretty Medjool dates in which I plan to stuff each with a whole almond and a little soft goat cheese. Yum! I see no reason I cannot take that for my mid-afternoon snack tomorrow at the library. And sometime today I am going to eat a salad of beets (cut into nice chunks), Granny Smith apples, and add more of the goat cheese. Kevin told me that it would be extra tasty if I added a drizzle of Balsamic vinegar mixed with a little sweetener, so I think I will stir into the vinegar a little local honey I bought earlier this year.

I started my day with my private coffee blend and one-half sandwich made with cream cheese and slice cucumbers. Oh yum! Since I’m listening to the wind outside, feeling so grateful for my warm and cozy apartment, I think later this morning I will enjoy a third cup of coffee with another one-half sandwich, only this one will be toasted with organic natural peanut butter, composed of only peanuts and a little salt. Yes, some natural peanut butters have palm oil, so please read your labels!

At least I have continued my walking, so exercise has been with me all along. Of course, it takes real Midwestern courage to walk when the wind is blowing between 20 and 25 mph and the temperature registers in the single digits! But as I told my friends last night at dinner, “I’m a Kansan now. I live, drive, and vote here.” The least I can do is walk here!

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This week has been interesting for me. Feeling blue. Feeling angry. “What for?” you may ask. Well, I’m not really sure. I think part of the reason is that I am missing Carrboro, this wonderful little town I lived in while working at UNC in Chapel Hill. Very liberal – much more than I am myself. What I liked most was walking to my co-op grocery and hot bar and deli on a Saturday morning and eating a vegetarian (or easily a vegan) hearty breakfast, and sitting on the lawn with many others. Over-hearing the various conversations, sometimes about their organic farming operation, sometimes about the most recent opera in Raleigh, some conversations about the work being done to repair a leak in their roof, a carpenter talking about his new job on a construction sight, or (my personal favorite!), public policy issues, both federal and local, that are in the news.

I surely am not unhappy here in Kansas! But maybe because it is that Christmas time of year, I am just thinking of times past. I’m not sure. However, I’ll be glad when the mood passes!

In the meantime, I’ve been having a few wonderful moments to add to my repertoire of memories! Since my Carrboro Co-op, Weaver Street Market, is something I am really missing right now, Saturday I decided to not only buy groceries and maybe a sandwich at People’s Grocery (my smaller co-op here in Manhattan), but also to take the time to eat that sandwich right there! I read a vegetarian magazine while sitting quietly at a table, eating a homemade green pea salad and one-half of a sandwich. Yum! I requested the multi-grain bread, but they were out that day, so I decided to to splurge on the sourdough. (Yes, I should have ordered the whole wheat, they had it, but…..sigh…..I’m a sucker for white flour!) They have a menu board with all the fixin’s for a tasty sandwich, listing proteins, veges, and spreads. I can just pick what I want and they make it fresh for me. And I stand there every time, and go “hmmmm….what do I want today?” And I almost always get the same thing: cucumber, onion, herbed cream cheese, tomato, and avocado. Yesterday that is exactly what I did. ‘Cept I went wild and did not have tomato! Someone needs to calm down this librarian woman!

Wednesday was the special “Winter Holiday” luncheon for the library, and we were treated to a tasty meal from the Bluemont Room in the Union. I sat with several of my friends and laughed and laughed! I watched tiny little Jenny eat several desserts (not fair!), and we talked about Tara’s baby pictures. Sara made me laugh until I thought milk would come shooting out of my nose! OK, so it would have been water or coffee, but the milk analogy reminds me of elementary school when I ate at a table with friends every day.

Now, when it comes to the food, I think it was the creamed spinach I liked best. I brought blue cheese dressing from home and enjoyed the tossed salad. (I never like Bluemont Room salad dressings, and I never go wrong with cheese!) I ate a little dessert and drank a very tasty cup of coffee. And then, of course, a nap was calling me. However, I wanted to keep my job, so I decided to let it keep calling while I kept working.

The next night one of those friends invited me to her house to help decorate her tree. There was food and a small gathering of more friends. And food. And cheese, of course. What a great idea! Lay out all the ornaments, and around the ornaments place some tasty food, and I go to town! One ornament on the tree, two bites of food. One ornament on the tree, three bites of food. And on and on and on! My favorites were the homemade guacamole with pomegranate seeds. Boy that was good! And Donna also made a pot of settler’s beans, something I never eaten before, but I ate two bowls that night. And Ellen brought one of my favorite snacks in the world: cream cheese and pepper jelly to spread over hearty crackers! Wow! By the time I left I could have rolled home! But thankfully I had driven my car.

We laughed, we ate, we talked some about Chapel Hill and Carrboro (Jenny and Matt were at UNC while I was there, too), and a little about public policies. Man! I have not been able to find many people here who are interested in discussing current events, so that was a really great treat for me.

Last night I was invited to another friend’s house for dinner, and it was really wonderful. Jan is not part of my library world, and I find I enjoy having at least one friend away from work. She and her husband had a few friends over for dinner and included me, and again, I ate and ate and ate. There was a tossed salad with roasted tiny tomatoes, small chunks of roasted zucchini, feta cheese (did someone say cheese?), and a tasty vinaigrette. There was garlic bread, deviled eggs, baked beans, and twice-baked potatoes with a little cheddar. Fred had smoked lamb chops and pork ribs on his grill, and everyone really gobbled those! For appetizers we had homemade cheesy breadsticks, a corn dip, and an herbed Fromage d’Affinois and crackers. I even had a little wine with the cheese and crackers! I have found that if I only have about half a cup of wine with some food, then eat a full meal and wait at least an hour or more before I drive, I’m fine.

It was really, really great this week to spend so much time with friends. I guess I am creating new memories here in Kansas, and one day I will look back on these memories and miss them like I miss Carrboro. But in the meantime, I’m going to enjoy each and every one!

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Ten degrees here yesterday. Ahhh……how I remember my first full winter here, 2007-2008, my street holding ice from December 1 until the end of February. There was just a little bit of ice that fell on the 1st, but our shady street held that ice close and long! An ice storm followed on Monday December 10, 2007 that took out electricity for many days for many folks, and I’m so grateful I was not one of those. The K-State campus was closed the day after the storm, and once we were up and running again, there was snow. Cold and messy winter. But much beauty, as most ice storms often bring. I wonder what ‘ol Man Winter will bring Kansas this time around?

Oysters are an ol’ Virginia traditional food for this time of year. Those of you who have spent many years eating these really yukky looking but very tasty morsels know that we use to always say, “oysters are only available during the months with an ‘R’ in them.” Of course, now with refrigeration, oysters are available almost any month out of the year, but remembering the “R” criteria in the past kept us away from oysters when the days were too warm.

And the Chesapeake Bay was the place for Virginians to get their oysters, and it was like an additional Christmas present from God to the family to have oysters on Christmas day. And that tradition continued in my family until a few years ago when my uncle died, several years after my own father died. My uncle was the last of my father’s immediate siblings to pass over. Yes, some of us still eat oysters, but the large family gathering ceased, and the celebration of the oyster is just not the same.

Most of my life I hated to even get near one of those creatures my father would continue to bring from the kitchen to the table. We would gather around the table in our home and he would prepare not just fried oysters but also stewed. And what did he and his siblings eat while waiting for our large breakfast to make it to the table? Raw oysters. Oh my goodness I hated to even look at those things! But as I grew older and wiser, I discovered one day, when I actually decided to try one, oh my oh my!! Stewed, fried, or raw, love ‘em all!! I simply regret not trying them earlier. So much time wasted.

My uncle’s family lives in three different states now, and well, we know how spread out my own family is these days! So the coming together for all of us has ceased. I try to stay in touch with each of them occasionally, but………anyway……. Last year at Christmas time when I flew back to Virginia, I wasn’t able to stay too long because I was scheduled to work at the library the day after Christmas, so it was the first December in many years I did not get oysters. Back in October of this year, the second “R” month toward the end of the year, I inquired at the grocery store about oysters. Would I be seeing them in Kansas this year? The reply was, “yes, we will have them, but only around Christmas”. bummer. So I waited, and finally purchased a small container this weekend. I fried them and ate every last one! All by myself! I ate a few green beans, but other than those few little veges it was just me and the oysters. Our family always cooked them in cracker meal, but I just used the flour I had on hand, and this girl had no complaints! It’s not quite 6:00am on a Saturday morning, and right now I sure wish I had a plate full, along with a side of my own cocktail sauce with extra horseradish.

Sad, though, the oysters I purchased were processed in Virginia, but no longer taken from the Chesapeake Bay. Too polluted. It’s so easy in this country for some industries to pollute, pay the fine, and keep polluting, pay the fine again, and keep polluting. Thank you, EPA, for allowing another American food source to disappear. [uh, a little sarcasm there.] I hope you will do a better job of protecting our corn and wheat. OK OK, there is so much more I can say here, especially about recent added protection for energy companies to “change clean water into nasty dirty water so that too many citizens of Appalachia have to purchase water for use in cooking and drinking.” ugh. Yes, yes, I’ll shut up and for now leave that subject.

Today I will work at the library for a few hours, take my recyclables to the recycle center and mail a few Christmas gifts. I have one meal of turnip greens left (did I hear someone say, onions, egg, and vinegar, oh my!), and last night I prepared a delicious meal of the drumsticks I made for my son and daughter-in-law a few weeks ago. Creamed potatoes and fresh broccoli seasoned just right. And what does that mean I have today? Leftovers!!! Really good leftovers!

I also this week made my first tomato bisque since last winter. I learned my lesson, though. Last winter I became so enamored with heavy whipping cream, that I used only heavy whipping cream and tomatoes and a few seasonings to make my bisque. Every week. No mixture of heavy cream and a lower-fat milk. Just cream. And believe it or not, my cholesterol level skyrocketed!! Really! The doctor was very concerned, but I told him that when I came back in six months it would be back down, because I would not make my extra creamy tomato bisque. And I was right. No heavy whipping cream for six months and all my lipid levels were great! So this was my first bisque, but healthier and still oh so very scrumptious! I took a can of tomatoes, 1/2 can of low-fat milk, 1/2 can of heavy whipping cream, and one small can of tomato paste. I added a little fennel seed, sugar, salt, and dried basil, ran it through the blender, cooked until hot, and oh my goodness! Still a lot of heavy whipping cream, but I will not be eating it every week like I did last winter. Really, I promise!

I also have several honeycrisp apples, the best snacking apple I’ve ever eaten. I’ll make a Waldorf salad, using these apples, celery, and pecans. And I have everything to make a really good vege pizza with lots of cheese. Our son, the certified chef, suggested I salt the cheese when I make my own homemade pizza, and what a good idea! Lots of cheese over the tomato sauce, onions, green peppers, and mushrooms, and the extra salt really makes it taste better. Obviously not healthier, but certainly more flavorsome.

Dear me, I must stop writing now and get to the kitchen. I am so totally hungry!!

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