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Archive for February, 2009

Eating out a little too much

This past week has been such a busy week that, well, I didn’t take as much time as I should with my cooking and eating plan. Let’s just say there was no plan! I ended up eating three meals from Houlihan’s! Three! And I’m trying to save money? Obviously not too much this week.

I went out to lunch one day with friends to celebrate the birthdays of three of these colleagues, and instead of celebrating by giving them a much deserved gift, I celebrated by ordering myself a chicken and ham sandwich. With fries. And that meal surely made for a sleepy afternoon! But the company was fun and we laughed and talked and behaved in the restaurant. Honestly, we did. Maybe next year I’ll buy each birthday girl a side of fries if they are nice to me.

One meal from Houlihan’s was more healthy – their salad with salmon I have mentioned before. However, this time the fish did not taste very good, and had I not ordered the meal “to go”, but had eaten it actually in the restaurant, I would have sent it back. Anyway, as soon as I got home I removed half the veges for another meal. Then I dug in on what was left. I ate some of the salmon (less than half), because it didn’t taste like it was really bad, just like it was probably the last day they could safely serve it, if that makes sense. Threw out the other half, and really enjoyed the veges. It is still one of my favorite restaurant salads out there. And at least I was able to take the other veges to the library one day for lunch. So, I got two meals out of that purchase – saved a little money, I guess. OK OK!! A salad made at home would have saved more money!! Bite me.

My supervisor and I had a meeting planned for 9:00am one morning so that we could write my “performance plan” for the year. This plan is a rather detailed way to write out my goals for the coming year and is required by the end of this month. I had already written my ideas on another sheet of paper, scratching them out and adding new as I pondered over my ultimate goals and how I would like to see myself as I come up for my mid-tenure review in October. Well, 9:00am did not suit either one of us after all, because she was in the middle of major map work, and two people that were scheduled to work the desk were sick, and I had to work in their places off and on during the day, including the 9:00am hour. We rescheduled for 11:00am – but that time fell by the wayside as well. So we rescheduled for 4:00pm. By that time we both were tired and ready to go home, but still had this task at hand. So we took all our papers to Houlihan’s and ate supper and knocked out this plan! Because I had turned my first two sheets of scribbled notes into a more organized list of work to be done, it wasn’t too difficult. So I celebrated with a hamburger. And fries. Again. I did leave off the added fat of cheese. No cheese. Does that count?

Yesterday (Saturday) I met two students at Willie’s for lunch so that I could hear about their trip over the Christmas holidays to Paris, Belgium, and Turkey. It was just a wonderul way to break up my Saturday chores. We also talked about their futures and where they will be going after they graduate this year. They are both so excited, and so intelligent, I have no doubt they will do well. And to celebrate their successes I had a corned beef Reuben. With fries. Only these were sweet tater fries, so I had a little more fiber and a different set of nutrients than I devoured at Houlihan’s. My! These fries were absolutely scrumptious!! OK, so they were still fried potatoes. Again…..Bite me.

So, did I prepare any food here at home? One particularly tasty meal was composed of beans and freshly-made guacamole. I soaked navy beans and cooked them with a little molasses. I heated them at work and added a little salsa. I sat that dish next to my creamy but chunky homemade guacamole and ate them both with crunchy corn chips. Mmmm……I think I’ll have more of that today! Does that sound good or what?

I have really been hungry this week for some reason. Good thing I have been walking a lot or I probably would have gained weight. Speaking of hunger, I’m feeling it right now! Uh oh……do you hear the peanut butter in the refrigerator calling me? Or is that the cream cheese? Maybe the Gouda? I have several fresh apples that I hear calling to the Stilton blue, and they said I could come, too. Did you hear them? Surely you did! What should I bring to this food fest? The whole wheat crackers? Or maybe the one white flour bagel I purchased at the grocery store Friday night? Of course, I’m a grownup, so I could even bring more of those beans if I wanted. What? Did you hear the cheese say I could bring some of the all-fruit gourmet blackberry preserves with the huge chunks of blackberries stuffed inside? You know, it is Sunday, and it would be rude of me to ignore my friends in the next room. I guess I better rush in there and pull together the perfect combination for the perfect party! See y’all soon – I’ve got a feast to prepare!

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Delicious meals and guests

Hello world on this cold morning! I thought I’d start talking about food (well, duh, that’s what I do!) I have eaten and/or prepared lately. Such as the one dish I made recently – shrimp with Alfredo sauce on wild rice. I realize that this entrée is usually prepared with pasta, but when I was much younger my mother use to prepare a shrimp and cheese dish (involved Campbell’s shrimp soup that we bought frozen “in the day”) and she served it on Minute Rice. So cheesy shrimp on rice always tastes more natural to me. Hmmm……poor choice of words. Shrimp in cheese is not natural unless these little creatures live and swim in cheese. They don’t. They’d probably enjoy it as much as I would, but they don’t. I guess I should say it just taste “mo better” on rice. And, as we know, that two-word phrase would be something the great Justin Wilson would have said.

Anyway, the other night I made my usual white sauce, substituting heavy whipping cream for a portion of the milk. This sauce is super tasty and rich made with all whipping cream, but I have found that it is truly not good for my cholesterol levels, and I have a past lab test to prove it! However, when I make something special, like my homemade Alfredo sauce or tomato bisque, I use some cream, just not all cream. [And since making that one simple change in my life, cholesterol seems to no longer be a problem. Really. I’ve had two lab testings since that not-so-good one, and they have both been well within normal limits. I’m not so stubborn that I cannot adjust my cooking practices when necessary. Truly.]

The sauce begins with a roux composed of real butter and flour, stirred together until a light golden brown. Then goes in the milk and cream. Just when it starts to bubble I add my freshly grated Parmesan. Then the raw shrimp. My goodness! Does that sound heavenly or what?!? When I serve it to guests I use whole-wheat pasta, because pasta is what they expect. But when it is just me? Bring out that whole-grain rice!

I’ve also rediscovered a fairly healthy breakfast that I learned from Johnny. Well, for him it was always an after-school snack, but I find it is a very filling and tasty breakfast, plus it is easy to pack and prepare at my desk if I go to work earlier than usual. Simply this: a few Ritz crackers, a schmear of natural peanut butter on each, topped with slices of banana. Now, I realize that a hearty whole-wheat cracker would be better for me than a Ritz, but I love a Ritz cracker! And the low-fat Ritz cracker is crunchier than the regular, so that’s how I make this breakfast. I’ve eaten that combo several times lately. Side note: Johnny often (or always?), included a second schmear of Miracle Whip salad dressing. I use to do the same, but trying to keep most of my meals healthier, I not longer add the MW. And I find it just as tasty and filling, just maybe not as slippery.

The hubby, Brent, has been out here in Kansas for a few days and we’ve had a few good meals together already. First night after he arrived into the Manhattan airport, I prepared chicken coq au vin. Lots of onions and mushrooms in that one! Yes, and a little bacon grease and butter, too. Really, I just used a little! Since Brent is not fond of too much wine in any of his food, I substituted some of the red wine with water, just to calm down the flavor a little. Believe me, it was still very scrumptious and special. He ate every bite! And you know, we cooks love it when that happens. We also had creamed white potatoes, green beans, and a small serving of my favorite beet salad. He had been anxious to try some of the beer from the local Tallgrass brewery, so he drank that with his meal, and I had a glass of Riesling. Even though we were both totally stuffed, there was also decaf coffee and tiny Toll House cookies I baked in the toaster oven after we had completed our meal. These cookies I buy in the dairy case in the grocery store and just cut off small portions of the dough and cook them in that little oven. By waiting to bake them, we were assured of those gooey little warm chocolate morsels. Oh my oh my! Absolutely delectable!! Even though there is nothing quite as wonderful as something freshly prepared and baked, I just don’t eat sweets enough to warrant making a whole cake or batch of cookies. So, every once-in-a-while I bake two of these tiny cookies in my toaster oven.

Yesterday we went back to campus and ate the special buffet lunch that the Bluemont Room offered for Valentine’s Day. We met my friends Alice and Tara C. and totally ate and ate and ate! The company was wonderful and the food was better than usual. However, I didn’t want much supper that evening. Brent and I together made a large bowl of guacamole (with the chunks in it that I learned from Larry), and crunchy corn chips. After eating some of that I was totally stuffed! However, Brent still wanted a little more dinner, so I heated up for him a serving of the meatless baked pasta I had frozen several weeks ago. Lots of cheese! I heated it on the stove top and added a little more spaghetti sauce so it wouldn’t be too dry. Toasted some bread, and also added one small meatball (again, I had frozen a few a while back). He seemed pleased with that, filled up, and we neither one had coffee of dessert last night.

Today we are planning a drive to Wamego to go back to the Emerald City Market where we plan to buy the Parmesan that will go with our homemade pesto we will make tonight or tomorrow night, and a nice chunk of Stilton blue. The Stilton goes heavenly with my 1/2 apple snack I have almost every morning at work, and……well….I just adore cheese! Especially really fine cheese like they have at the Emerald City Market. The other night we have left together we plan to grill a steak. Brent is definitely a meat-eater, can grill a steak the best ever, and how can he come to Kansas and we not have a good ol’ Kansas beef steak? I mean, it just all goes together, right? But there will also be some veges and a fresh tossed salad. Oh my oh my! I’ve got to wait at least 10 whole hours until the supper hour. Can I do? Will I do it? Life is full of challenges, isn’t it?

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OK OK, last weekend’s Sunday night was absolutely one of the tastiest of my life! Really. And for someone who has lived over……mumble mumble…..years, and who loves to cook and eat really good food, that says a lot! Yes, this past Sunday night I traveled to the metropolis of Wamego (pop. 4,246 according to the 2000 US Census) and had a simply marvelous meal at the Emerald City Market on Lincoln Avenue. Yes, on the same side of the street as the OZ Museum and a little restaurant called Toto’s Tacoz.

Before you jump in your car to drive to this delightful over-the-rainbow paradise, let me tell you that it is a store and not a restaurant. But every once-in-a-while, the owners, Larry and Clark, offer up a gourmet meal that follows a particular theme. On this specific night they served up several authentic Italian dishes, but not only did they serve the dishes, they allowed us to watch as they cooked and instructed us on how to follow the same steps at home. What I found most amazing, in front of the audience of ten hungry people, they cooked, instructed, shared stories, answered questions, laughed, drank wine along with the guests, and never lost their place in the scheme of preparing our dinner. Honestly, I think that one major feat amazed me more than just about anything else!

Hmmm…..let me think about my favorite dishes that night. Well, first of all they focused on the grains of Arborio rice, polenta, and orzo. I had prepared Arborio rice once before myself, and I still don’t understand why we call it Arborio rice when it is raw but then call it risotto when it is cooked. I’ll have to ask them that question next time I go to the store.

Anyway, one dish involved sautéing shallots in butter. Lots of butter. Then Larry added the Arborio rice, champagne, and chicken broth. When just about done he added frozen green peas and a mixture of wild mushrooms. I tell you what! I love mushrooms and butter, and this whole dish was just so darn creamy! (oh yes! And sprinkled on top of each serving was freshly grated Parm. yum!)

We actually enjoyed two complete meals, the first starting with an orzo salad composed of cooked orzo combined with crisply-cooked pieces of pancetta, pecans, and a few other goodies for tremendous flavor! One of these “other goodies” was a garlic flavored olive oil, and when I say “flavored”, I mean only one cup of olive oil was infused with ten cloves of garlic!! And all of these delightful flavors were stuffed into a tomato half and served to my ravenous tummy.

The next dish served was the risotto dish with lots of butter I mentioned earlier. Followed then by my favorite dish of the evening, a buttery, buttery, small, crispy polenta cake topped with strawberries cooked with sugar and brandy, and also topped with a few fresh strawberries to make it even more appetizing and emerge even more appealing. Did I mention there was butter involved? Anyway, since I was afraid that I would not be able to eat all the food, I always left a little of each course on my plate. However, not with the polenta cake and berries! It was all I could do not to pick up that little plate and lick it clean! Rest assured, I did not do that, but I did run my fork over the plate several times to get every scrumptious calorie available to me!

After that three-course meal, we all took a little break while Larry and Clark (and their wonderful and very efficient assistant, Kris. You really did a good job, too!) sorta reorganized the kitchen. As we walked around the store I found so many wonderful jars and packages of specials foods (olives, spreads, grains, etc.) that I will need to try at home someday. And that will be easier now, because one of the treats of attending this special affair was receiving a gift certificate for $5 free good stuff when I spend $20. Not a difficult chore. (I already have my eye on the Stilton blue and the Parmesan in the cheese case.)

We were all called back in for the second meal, which started with a tortellini soup. These tiny little donut-like rings were filled with scrumptious cheeses, which Larry cooked in a beef broth, flavored with garlic and a few vegetables. It was a very light beginning to our second meal, so I ate almost all of that. Oh yes! I forgot to mention that we were also given baskets of hearty bread with small bowls of dipping oils, sea salt, and freshly-grated Parm. This bread, along with the accompaniments, was a perfect dipper for the soup!

The main course this time was a polenta cake created with heavy cream, eggs, and other tasty things. Of course, that also means more garlic! Clark baked them in the oven, topped with thick slices of pork loin wrapped in proscuitto. Anyway, the pork was tender and the proscuitto crispy. Well, you know me and pork, I can’t eat much of that. But I had about four bites, and for pork, it was about the best I’ve ever eaten. I’m still wondering if it was really an Italian dish, though. Seems like if we were eating polenta (which for me was just like eating really hearty lip-smacking grits), and also eating pork wrapped in pork, it surely was more of an authentic Southern American food. I know all my relatives back home in the South would have loved it!

We ended the night with a risotto pudding of sorts, loaded with milk, vanilla, sugar, and creamy, creamy risotto. Clark cooked it on top of the stove in a double boiler, and it tasted so much like my own famous rice pudding I bake in the oven, only creamier. Oh yes! No garlic here, but still the butter. Mmmmmm…..more butter……oh my goodness! Then, for the ultimate crown of this creamy yum, he topped it off with a drizzle of dulce de leche. Vanilla flavored risotto topped with a caramel-like sauce? Oh my goodness! You know I do not dislike chocolate, but I’d rather have vanilla and caramel any day, and this dessert offered both!

Truly, this evening was great fun, attending with Regina and Tara B, two of my librarian friends. We shared the evening with seven other people we did not know, and that camaraderie only added to the entertainment. We were given the choice of wines, with Cavit’s Pinot Grigio (my choice), or a pinot noir called Pinot Evil. Again, you know me, I only had half of one glass, and then drank water the rest of the evening. I would have enjoyed more, but I already found myself talking right much, asking questions, and beginning to laugh a little too loud! However, water is good.

Sure, this type of evening isn’t free, but I believe the $40 I paid was well worth the food and the pleasurable evening. And the memories? priceless!!

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Right now I am sitting in my little apartment, cuddled under covers with my computer, talking to my kitty, drinking my second cup of awesome coffee, and eating a very small portion of a Bumble Bar I bought at my own People’s Grocery. It is mostly composed of rice syrup and tons of tiny little flax seeds and a few peanuts, but it pretty much looks like a bunch of little seeds just smashed together! However, I tend to wake up hungry, and just two or three bites of something like this takes care of it. And this bar is made of good wholesome ingredients, so it is totally healthy and filling! However, I’m sure I’ll still want breakfast again in an hour or two.

While I am sitting here crunching on this Bumble Bar, I am also thinking about the totally delicious pizza I ate Friday night at Regina’s house. Not only were the two pizzas super tasty, they both looked so pretty they could have been on the cover of any foodie magazine as a prize winner! Ellen and I dined on these pizzas with Regina, and even though I purchased a few of the ingredients, I did not help put them together. I still have this cold, and even though I thoroughly washed my hands, I didn’t want to touch the food too much that others would be eating.

Anyway, Regina made pizza dough, so the crusts were freshly made. One pizza was a thin crust, and we had no tomato sauce on that one. First Ellen placed huge chunks of mozzarella over the whole thing. Then she sprinkled kalamata olives, chopped red onion, mushrooms, artichokes, fresh spinach leaves torn into tinier pieces, a little basil, and feta cheese. It was so pretty! With the white cheese, green spinach, and purple olives, it really looked like a classy Christmas decoration! I would say that I hated to eat it because it was so pretty, but that would be telling a tale. I didn’t mind eating it at all. None. Nada. It was…..oh my goodness it was so very good!!

Then Regina also had a dish to prepare a deep dish pizza. On that one Regina first layered on more thick chunks of mozzarella. And instead of a tomato sauce she just opened a can of tomatoes and spread out a few chunks of that juicy red fruit along with some basil for extra flavor. (mmmmm……!!). Then she added cooked sausage, chopped red onion, pepperoni, mushrooms, and more slices of mozzarella on top. That one took a little longer to cook, but it was definitely worth the wait. I still couldn’t eat a whole lot because of my cold, no matter how tasty. So I brought home the rest of the slices I did not eat and I shall enjoy them this afternoon. I make pizzas sometimes but always buy the crust. I probably will not delve into the world of homemade crust, but I definitely will go with the idea of putting mozzarella on the bottom of all the toppings. That was an absolutely delectable idea!

Then yesterday my neighbor Larry and I shared a lunch together of some of his totally awesome chili, topped with cheese and his famous guacamole. Really, I’m sure it is famous. And then he prepared a side salad of greens, onions, sun-dried tomatoes, pine nuts, and a drizzle of basalmic vinegar and walnut oil. You know? I’m not a real walnut fan, but that drizzle added just the right amount of sweet. Again, I couldn’t eat all of the chili, so I brought the rest back to my refrig so I can eat it for lunch later this week at work. Geez…..I’m already psyched about lunch at work. Man! I guess I really, really do like good, wholesome food, huh.

So, today is Sunday. Which means I do my weekly laundry, finish my cleaning around the apartment, and watch some TV I recorded earlier this week. I also need to spend several hours completing my prep for a class this week. And for my food today (yes, as confirmed in the last paragraph, a real priority for me!), I plan to eat some of the leftover pizza I brought home from Regina’s with a side of a tossed vege salad. And I think for another meal I will prepare my new fried rice recipe with veges and peanuts.

I seldom get philisophical in my writings, but today I will share something with you. This movement into whole, natural foods I began a few years ago has been a large part of my deeper spiritual growth. I am a woman of faith. And as I look at these foods in their more whole and natural state, I realize, again, how much love God has for each of us. He provided us with so many delicious foods. So many vitamins and nutrients. Juicy apples and oranges, colorful carrots and squash and spinach, peanuts and almonds and pecans, And when I do decide to sit down and eat part of an animal – and let’s all face the fact that when we eat meat we do just that – I thank the Lord and the animal for living his life so that I may have protein and other nutrients. Some people believe it is wrong to eat an animal, others believe that practice is part of the circle of life, and I sit somewhere in the middle. I believe it is a personal choice, but somewhere deep inside I don’t think I myself should practice carnivorism. I will continue my quest to eat less meat, and eventually I hope to be a full pescatarian. Why is fish OK with me? I’m not sure, but right now I’m OK with that practice. However, I’ll be honest in my blog and not hide the fact that yes, I do still eat meat.

My goodness! It is almost 9:00am! Time for one of my favorite shows ever – This Week with George Stephanopoulos, and time for me to shut up! I like the way the people in the roundtable offer varying points of view without being rude to each other like they do on FOX and even CNN sometimes. They do not interrupt each other and we can actually hear what they say. As a professor said to me once, “In a conversation we learn when we listen, but not when we talk.” A wise man.

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Back home after a wonderful American Library Association (ALA) conference in Denver. In the midst of learning my way around the conference center and walking on the slippery sidewalks (Snow in Denver. What a surprise!), I had a few good meals.

The first night there we went to The Capital Grille. Four of us rode to Denver together, and John (a vendor rep) took us out to eat. It was wonderful! You know how I enjoy a delicious meal with friends and conversation. We talked about the economy and digital products and what we liked and what we did not. We talked about libraries in general and our jobs. And the food? Absolutely scrumptious! First we all shared a crab appetizer, with huge chunks of crab meat on top of lettuce, onions, and avocado in a martini glass. Really pretty. And scrumptious! Then I ordered a bowl of lobster bisque with huge chunks of lobster floating throughout, and a dollop of sherry poured right into the middle of that creamy yum. Most often lobster bisque consists of only the puréed lobster and cream and other goodies, but they also added chunks this time. My oh my I could go for some of that this morning!

By then I was full, so I’m afraid I wasted my entrée of baked wild Alaskan cod. I ate maybe three bites of the fish and just one bite of the lemon couscous. I felt really bad about being so wasteful. Wasteful. But I just couldn’t eat anymore. But while others had dessert, I did enjoy a delicious cup of decaf coffee. After that my colleagues went to another restaurant to interact with more librarians, but I went back to the hotel room. You know me, early to bed and early to rise. Very seldom do I deviate from that model. Sounds boring, I know. But for me it makes for a more productive life!

The next day I ate lunch with Stephanie from Louisiana, another librarian from Missouri, and one from…..hmm….I don’t remember. We met at a restaurant called

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