Thursday, June 11, 2009

Spinning a New Yarn

Dear Friends,

I just wanted to take this opportunity to thank you for your frequent visits.
Your loyalty as readers has encouraged me to continue and improve my skills as a hobby writer.
I am pleased to announce that I am setting off on a new adventure to explore another passion of mine; knitting.
I hope you will join me as I navigate the complex yet fundamental language known to knitters as "directions." As a novice knitter, I have decided to chart my progress online, while sharing my revelations on life, love, and the pursuit of perfect gauge.

Waxing nostalgic about this, my first blog, I took some time to peruse the archives. After reading every one of my former posts, I can say with confidence that this has been a great learning experience for me. Though the topic was usually food, the sub-topics were really the meat and potatoes of my writing. You have allowed me to share with you my view of life as it appears from my home and kitchen. Some posts offered deeper perspective and a bit less humor, while others allowed me the freedom to just be silly. All however, were written with honesty and respect for the subject matter and you, the reader. My two personal favorites are Don't Count Your Dickens Before They Hatch, and Fignificance. Both were inspired by true experiences and were essentially my heartfelt reactions to the behavior of others. They continue to strike an emotional chord with me, even today.
Isn't that the beauty of being able to write about how we feel?
Whatever may or may not be gleaned from my prose is subjective, but I encourage you to take advantage of the recipes and cookbook reviews nestled within the archive pages. Both stand on their own merits and are worth a gander.
Whether you return often, or visit only once--I thank you.

The status of Hey, Jeet Yet? will remain active, but I will be challenged to find time to pen entries for both sites, so I beg your patience and understanding.
Rest assured, my love of all things FOOD, remains unwavering. My experiences in the kitchen will continue to provide fodder for future posts.
In the interest of time management however, I must give my full attention and effort to the technical challenges that often plague inexperienced knitters (like how to knit while holding a cupcake).

My new site (currently under construction) can be found at and
I expect to have the site running soon and I hope you'll visit often.
You may also read me at

(this blog is a bit more carefree and allows for unlimited rants on any given topic).
Feel free to leave a comment below the posts and let me know you stopped by.

So, join me, as I spin a new yarn and contemplate life to the rhythmic clacking of needles, won't you?
It just wouldn't be the same without you.

Until next time,

Make Life Delicious
Share Your Food


And again, thank you--from the bottom of my heart.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009


Unemployment is the new black.
Really, everyone is wearing it.
Okay, maybe not everyone, but there are many of us.
There are obvious disadvantages to not having a paycheck, but being unemployed has its benefits; like having the time to recognize what really constitutes a priority.
I have always known that having two new cars in the driveway was of little importance (precisely why hubby and I can't seem to let go of a beloved vehicle with "vintage" roll-down windows). But I must admit, until recently, I gave little priority to the subject of health. I think I somehow took for granted that I would always feel well (save for the common ailments), and always feel like, well... me.
But as my forties approached, I hardly recognized the person staring back at me in the mirror.
For almost an entire year, I have been battling some unexplained dizziness (having nothing to do with my semi-processed blonde hair). Countless physicians have turned me away with few answers and loads of advice (enough to make anyone who isn't already dizzy, dizzy). In fact, my most recent trip to a well respected ENT had me understanding why so many of us turn to the ePages of the web to embark on that tricky, and often dangerous path of self-diagnosis. My visit was short and after explaining my symptoms, the ENT scheduled me for a two-hour exam and handed me a mountain of paperwork to read through when I returned home. In a nutshell it explained that I was required to fast before the exam, refrain from drinking alcohol or using any type of stimulants, anti-depressants or pain medication. The test would require the doctor to squirt warm and cold liquids in both of my ears, at which point, I would be strapped to a motion table and rotated in several positions--including upside down--to determine possible causes for dizziness.
Need I say more?

And so, I decided to embark on a more practical path of self-evaluation and search the web for remedies that if not helpful, would not be harmful to my health.
One thing you should know about me is that I am a voracious reader, to a fault. When a topic interests me, I saturate my brain (and ultimately only my short-term memory because I suffer from CRS) with as much information as it will hold on said subject.
As a black-belt food lover and seasoned dieter, if I have learned anything of importance over the years, it's that what we put in our bodies plays a major role in how we feel.
Simple concept, right?
To some perhaps, but not to this whitebreadrefinedsugarloving mama. And don't get me wrong, I love good, healthy food-the kind that once had roots-- but let's call a spade a spade here. Most of what I was eating never required the use of a spade, or any other gardening tool to get it to my plate. So my first order of business was to find a good, safe eating plan to detoxify my body from my most recent gastronomic transgressions. I wasn't sure if it would have any effect on my current state of unwellness but I was willing to give it a try.

Each time I googled terms associated with detoxification, I was immediately directed to wellness programs recommended by
raw foodists (my own term because I'm not sure what to call them).
I spent an entire weekend reading and reviewing countless articles about the nutritional and health benefits of a raw food lifestyle. Admittedly, I was intrigued.
I zeroed in on the articles that specifically detailed the foods that would encourage ones body to maintain a proper Ph level--not too acidic or too alkaline. This was a subject repeatedly presented to me by one of my doctors who detected (from extensive blood work) that I was running on the high side of acidic. As it turned out, most of what I put in my body was on the list of high-acid foods. To my surprise, most of what I thought belonged on the "acidic" list (and thus, avoided), was actually part of the alkaline family of foods. Who knew?

After much deliberation, I decided to try a raw food plan for one week. I would determine at the end of the week if there was a significant change in my overall feeling of well being.
I dragged the juicer up from the basement and compiled a lengthy shopping list. On the upside, I wouldn't be using my oven much and would likely save a few bucks on my utility bill. On the downside, I had danced with organics before and found them totally unaffordable. What I didn't anticipate however, was the sheer inability to locate merchants who carried more than half of what was on my list. My first (and very unsuccessful) trip had me walking the non-produce aisles of a supermarket thinking to myself "what do these people eat?" Save for the fruits and veggies already in my cart, there was quite literally nothing to eat--well, at least nothing that appeared on my computer generated shopping list.
Disappointed, I returned home and placed an online order for several raw items, the likes of which included familiar nuts, seeds, and dried fruits, and an assortment of foreign items like Himalayan sea salt, raw hemp seed powder, and chia seeds (I have no idea if these are related to the famed Chia Pet, but I seriously considered eating a Chia-Pig right out of the box during a particularly hungry trip to Wal Mart). That handful of items cost me one weeks grocery money and none of it required the use of a fork.
I was worried.

Several articles warned about the side effects of detoxing too quickly. For this reason, I opted to stay close to home on days one and two. This is advisable only for someone who isn't constantly thinking about food, and isn't surrounded by foodie magazines, kitchen gadgetry, and a pantry full of teen-friendly snacks. Clearly, I had my work cut out for me. I passed the time by reading raw food cookbooks (I kick myself every time I have to repeat that ridiculous term), and testimonials from the rich, the famous, and the ordinary, about the life changing effects of a raw food diet.
As it turned out, sticking close to home was a good idea since days one and two consisted solely of clear liquids and small portions of raw, organic produce. Use your imagination.

I wish to spare you the sordid details, so let me offer you a summarization of my week on the wild side, beginning with day three:

Many who subscribe to the raw food lifestyle generally do not eat meat, or dairy, or poultry. Some however, allow their diets to include the raw, unpasteurized versions of the aforementioned including raw milk, raw-milk cheeses, and organic, fertile eggs. I challenge you to find these products locally, wherever you live. I can tell you with some surety, they are not hanging around my neck of the woods. So, breakfast on day three immediately presented a challenge for me. I settled on a slice of sprouted bread with a schmear of raw honey (oh come on, just because I can't have a bagel, doesn't mean I can't use the lingo) with a handful of raw pumpkin seeds, raw sunflower seeds and dried fruit--all washed down with a home-juicer concoction of carrots, apples and pears.
I missed my cereal. I missed my yogurt. And I was already jonesing for a baconeggandcheese on a roll (that's how we say it around these parts) in anticipation of the misery to come.

A raw food diet is not complicated, although some of the ingredients are (I never gave a moments consideration to sprouting my own nuts, beans and seeds for bread or making my own nut milk from raw nuts, but, to each his own. I simply do not have the time or inclination to do so).

I entertained the thought of a simple raw nut-butter and jelly sandwich on sprouted bread for lunch, but the jelly part turned (an otherwise simple American staple) into an intensely complex production requiring a blender, a dehydrator, teflex sheets and a food processor. Making raw preserves takes forty-eight hours and surely by then I would have been dead from starvation (keep in mind here that although I've been known to put up a few jars of homemade preserves, I always believed squeezable jelly was a groundbreaking invention). So, PB & J was out.
For lack of any better ideas, I settled on steamed kale, quinoa and raw pine nuts for lunch
(minimal cooking at temps lower than one hundred fifteen degrees is permitted on a raw food diet).
It was uneventful, less than memorable, but I was full.

When I had a hankering for a midday snack, I turned to the dried fruits and raw cacao nibs I purchased online. Throughout the day, I munched on raw veggies, drank plenty of water and made a few cups of herbal tea from organic tea leaves (no bag, no string, higher price).
By this time on day three, the sense of deprivation I felt was overwhelming, but I won't lie to you; I was surprised to discover that I wasn't experiencing what I call the "witching hour," usually around late afternoon, I am ready for a nap. Just three days in, I found that I was able to skip my usual cup of joe to ward off that drowsy feeling.

Dinnertime frustrated me. I couldn't seem to find a protein I liked that was acceptable on the raw food plan. I tried to have an open mind and purchased a package of cold-smoked salmon, hoping to replicate a weekend brunch I had many times at my childhood friend Ellen Bernstein's house. Only this time, there would be no toasted everything bagel and no mountain of cream cheese. I sliced extra onion to layer atop the (sprouted) bread and salmon sandwich upon which I spread mashed avocado. I ate it -and hated it. I dreamed about that avocado nestled between sour cream and queso fresco on a crispy taco. I got through it in anticipation of the smoothie ahead of me.

The smoothie is one of my great success stories on this plan. I discovered that rice milk is nearly undetectable when combined with an assortment of fresh and frozen organic fruits. It fulfills the need for a small amount of liquid to blend otherwise chunky ingredients to a smooth consistency. I already had a jug of raw agave nectar in my arsenal (months prior I had been experimenting with different sugars in my attempt to battle chronic fatigue and the crash commonly associated with the consumption of refined sugars) and it served me well as an added sweetener when necessary. The rest of my family had steered clear of my alien menu until the smoothies invaded my kitchen. They were on board for every fruit (and often veggie) concoction I whipped up, with rave reviews.

With a full day of raw food under my belt, I retired to bed and slept soundly until my alarm rang the next morning. I managed to get through another twenty four hours on the plan (eating variations of the same foods), with a noticeable rise in my energy level.
On day five however, I called it quits.
My reasons are simple.
I don't suppose it would be fair for me to assess whether or not the plan was working because clearly, I didn't give it enough time. What I can tell you is that there was improvement not only in my energy level, but my body in general, seemed to be operating with more regularity. While the dizziness remained unchanged, I slept more soundly than I had in months and as a frequent sufferer of headaches, I am pleased to report that I was headache free for my short time on the plan.
Coincidence? Perhaps.
So why did I quit?
Well for starters, I knew I was in trouble when I found myself clutching my sheet pans and asking out loud "how would salami taste in a cookie?"
But truth be told, the real catalyst was the arrival of my beloved cooking magazines. One article in particular struck a chord with me and there was no turning back. It featured recipes for healthier versions of comfort foods and the accompanying pages depicted families sharing homestyle meals around a well-worn dinette.
There was no choice involved in my surrender. Those families in the photos might as well have been my family and that sauce-spattered tablecloth, my own.
Times like these, when our nation is on the cusp of something, and jobs are hard to come by, we all need something to depend on. I can't think of a more solid foundation than my old dining table and my rickety ladderback chairs to comfort us during a period of such uncertainty. Somehow, the notion of a raw meal spread upon inherited table linens doesn't bode well with me.
On a more personal note, I know that over the past decade, many things about me have changed. I have joined the ranks of the over-forty set, my memory isn't what it used to be and I no longer recognize the names of the IT celebrities--but to those who know me and love me, I'll always be the cook. That's right, the cook, not the salad maker, or the juicer or the sprouted-bread maker--THE COOK.
As my nest gets emptier, I am comforted by the notion that wherever my children are, they might look forward to returning home for a favorite meal. They will remember my simple advice that in social situations, the ice can always be broken with a discussion about food--the universal equalizer. They will remember my mantra that nothing in life can't be improved with a little melted Mozzarella. And maybe, just maybe, they will remember what joy homemade food has brought to our household and they will carry on the tradition with their own children someday.
I rest my case.

Were my efforts for naught?
I dare say they weren't.
As I am typing this post, I am munching on a mix of raw seeds and raw cacao nibs, a surprising and tasty addition to our snack pantry.
My blender remains on my kitchen counter as a permanent addition to my most-used kitchen appliances. Since the beginning, we haven't missed a day of homemade smoothies.
Kale has become one of our produce staples. After all of the fuss and experimenting, it turns out we like it best raw and slapped on a sandwich.
Agave nectar has replaced the addition of sugar in our beverages and wherever possible.
I spend more time in the produce aisle and the perimeter aisles of the grocery store than anywhere else.
I have a newfound respect for the role protein plays in ones diet. My hat goes off to those who maintain a raw lifestyle and manage to creatively prepare a very limited selection of raw proteins.
You don't know what you have until you can't find it.

Quite honestly, I was surprised at how many of the raw food items I enjoyed ( I stand firm however, in my protest against outrageous prices--one small loaf of sprouted bread costs five bucks). Perhaps as more of us rethink that term consumption, focusing primarily on consuming more of what comes from the earth, and less on our role as consumers who depend so heavily on chemically engineered foods, we will have more available to us-- at more affordable prices.

That is not to say however, that I will ever permanently give up the all-American hot dog at a family picnic, or pass up the opportunity for a diner breakfast at midnight with a dear friend. But I am committed to making more conscious choices for the sake of my health.

In retrospect, I wish I could have been one of those raw diet success stories.
But alas, it was not meant to be.
Tomorrow morning I will once again browse the want ads, quite possibly with coffee and donut in hand, content to accept the fact that my goose, quite literally, is cooked.

Until next time,
Make Life Delicious
Share Your Food


Friday, January 16, 2009

OAT TO SELF: Use Your Grain

Mares and Does might have appreciated oats as a viable food source long before the rest of us, but it wasn't until recently that I added them to my own diet.
It wasn't for lack of trying that my own mother couldn't get me to eat oatmeal as a child, and she finally laid the matter to rest (dumbfounded) when I failed to appreciate that childhood favorite, the oatmeal cookie.

What's not to like about oats?
It's a question I've heard many times but haven't been able to answer until recently. As an adult, I recognize the importance of whole grains as part of a balanced diet, and more specifically for the health benefits associated with regular consumption of oats. After trying several varieties, it was a pot of perfectly cooked, steel-cut oats that finally convinced me my issue is more with texture than it is with flavor.
I put oats on the back burner for a while and concentrated my efforts on using more whole grain flours in my baked goods.
That is, until now.

Like many, in an attempt to make resolutions for 2009 that would encourage me rather than discourage me, I set out to make small changes to my diet and lifestyle--changes that would require little effort, yet allow for significant improvement.
And so, once again oats were back on the table.

As with any task, I needed proper motivation. Who better to
turn to for a nutritional pep-talk than my favorite power-food
author, Jonny Bowden?
I dug out my well-worn copy of his book The 150 Healthiest Foods on Earth and turned to the chapter on Grains. Much of the information I read was familiar to me, like the fact that oats are heart-healthy and can help lower bad cholesterol and triglycerides. What I hadn't realized however, is that oats have the highest protein content of any cereal (in addition to its 5g of fiber content). Where carbs are concerned, oats pack a very low glycemic load.
For a carb-lover like me, that's a win-win.
It's no wonder why Jonny Bowden calls oatmeal the
"Muhammad Ali of foods."

But what's a carb-loving, oatmeal-hating woman to do?
The same thing she always does; take a not-so-favorite, healthy ingredient and hide it in a cookie.
The hiding part however, proved to be more complicated than expected. After much ado, I discovered that my plan to use ground oats as the sole replacement for flour wasn't fool proof. The first few batches served as lessons in what not to do. While I love a loaded cookie as much as the next gal, the addition of fruit and nuts did little to mask the texture of a mostly-oat cookie. My first batch was grainy but had good flavor. By substituting some of the oats with only whole grain flour, I arrived at a slightly smoother cookie whose flavor (unfortunately) seemed a cry for regularity.
In the end perseverance paid off and I finally arrived at a deliciously healthy cookie whose nutritional value far exceeded my expectations. My basic recipe below includes a combination of oats, ground oat flour, whole grain flour, AP flour and ground nuts which, when combined properly, allow for a moist, chewy cookie.

So encouraged by my success, I decided to take a chance and add ground oats to recipes which seemed to offer good "hiding places" for this prize-fighting grain.
To date, I have added ground oats to the likes of meatballs, meatloaf, quick breads, and even pizza dough with excellent results. I also discovered that with patience and a few additional ingredients, homemade granola far exceeds the supermarket variety.
Surprisingly, I enjoy a mostly-oat granola when it is slow-roasted to a perfect crunch.

I suppose Mom was right.
Perhaps I should have paid closer attention to the grazing fauna
of my sing-songy youth.

What do you think Mom and Jonny Bowden might say about the
nutritional benefits of ivy?

Until next time,
Make Life Delicious
Share Your Food


I'm happy to share with you my basic recipe for a great, healthy cookie.
You can use any variety of dried fruit and nuts you choose. I prefer to use almonds or walnuts with dried blueberries or cranberries for their nutritional benefits, but make this one your own to satisfy your taste buds.
To make oat flour or nut flour, simply grind the nuts and oats separately in a food processor until it resembles fine meal.
This recipe yields about 40 cookies (depending on the size of your cookie scoop).
Store cookies in an airtight container for up to three days or freeze (completely cooled) cookies in a double layer of zipper freezer bags.


3/4 Cup whole oats (not quick cooking oats) separated
3/4 Cup finely ground nuts
1 Cup white whole wheat flour (or regular whole wheat flour)
1 Cup all purpose, unbleached flour
1 tsp Baking Soda
1/2 tsp Salt
1/2 Cup (1 stick) unsalted butter softened
1/2 Cup Canola oil
1/2 Cup light brown sugar
1/4 Cup granulated sugar
2 Large eggs
1 tsp. Pure vanilla extract
1 Cup dried fruit (larger fruit pieces chopped in small dice)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Line baking sheets with parchment paper


Grind 1/2 cup oats in food processor until it resembles a coarse flour, combine with remaining 1/4 cup of whole oats (alternatively, for a smoother cookie, grind entire 3/4 cup oats). Place oats in large mixing bowl. Grind nuts in food processor until mixture resembles coarse meal (do not grind to wet, buttery stage). Add nuts to oats in bowl. Add flours, baking soda and salt to bowl. In another bowl, beat butter until fluffy. Add oil, sugars, eggs and vanilla. Beat until smooth and creamy. Add butter mixture to flour mixture and blend until combined. Add dried fruit and fold in by hand until well incorporated. Drop dough by spoonful onto parchment lined sheets, spacing at least one inch apart (I use a small cookie scoop and then I depress cookies slightly with the bottom end of a drinking glass which yields a flatter, more uniform cookie). Bake cookies for 12 to 14 minutes on top-middle rack in oven. Watch carefully so bottoms don't burn. If necessary, move rack to top position if bottoms darken quickly. Remove cookies when edges are slightly golden and centers appear set. For chewy cookies, allow cookies to cool completely on baking sheet set on wire rack. If you prefer a crisper cookie, remove cookies from baking sheet after five minutes and allow to cool completely on wire rack.

**An added note:
Do yourself a favor and get your hands on a copy of Jonny Bowden's book
The 150 Healthiest Foods on Earth
It might be the best thing you do for yourself in 2009.
You'll learn the straight facts about what you should eat and why.
It remains my go-to food bible, and a constant source of inspiration when I'm stuck in that familiar rut of eating the same things over and over again.

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Baci Il Cuoco

Much to my family's chagrin, I often remind them to thank the cook. They scoff, not because they are inconvenienced, but because they believe that the simple act of devouring a meal is indication enough that they enjoyed it. I disagree.
In this case, words just might speak louder than actions.

Several years ago, I stumbled upon a three-foot sign that reads
"Baci Il Cuoco." It means "kiss the cook" in Italian. I had to have the sign, not only because I believe in its message but because my beloved grandmother's maiden name was Cuoco, and any connection I have to her or my Italian roots is a good one. And so, the sign hangs high in my kitchen, not far from the one that reads "Mangia e statti zitto!" (loosely translated: "shut up and eat!"). For those of you who haven't already figured it out--I am an Italian-Italian wannabe. I am an Italian-American waiting for the genie to emerge from his lamp, so he can grant my first wish; the one that has my parents living in Italy, birthing and raising their brood of five above a pizzeria in Naples.
But alas, that is fodder for another post.

So let me get back to the subject of thanking the cook...
Surely, I need not remind you that cooking is as much an act of love as it is one of obligation.
I think we all need to take time out to thank not only the cook who prepares the meal, but also the one who found time to shop for groceries in between daily commitments and chaos. And while we're at it, shouldn't we thank everyone involved in getting our meals to the table?
We mustn't forget that from the farmer who rises early to pick our produce at its peak, to the cashier who works the late shift and carefully bags last-minute rotisserie chickens for harried, hungry, commuters, each plays a significant role.
The fact that we have any meal at all to share in these trying economic times is a blessing worthy of pause and gratitude.

I spent a significant amount of time this past week reflecting upon all that I have to be thankful for, specifically the blessings I have been afforded in 2008. Although it seems I was foolishly short-sighted in my own annual resolutions, so many others rose to the occasion and made me proud to call them my friends or relatives (or both).
I didn't follow through on Oprah's advice to start my own gratitude journal, and perhaps that will be something to consider for 2009. Instead, I made it my mission to thank a few special people on their birthdays and remind them (in many, many words) of their qualities and contributions for which I am so grateful. These are the people who remain oblivious to the fact that they consistently teach me valuable life lessons because they teach by example (and for the record, they remain oblivious because they are too busy helping others to notice). They provide me with a higher education of sorts; one that exceeds the parameters of professional development--they are the ones who simply make me want to be a better person.

And where education is concerned, I am no longer afraid to admit that I am still learning how to learn. At forty-something, I struggle with a not-so-reliable memory and I've had to face the cold hard truth that whatever education I seek will likely be limited to short-term retention. I am an avid reader and most of what I choose to read is culinary in nature. My failing memory has turned out to be a blessing at times because there are many kitchen experiments I'd rather forget. Sadly, the same condition has not befallen those who dine with me regularly, and perhaps this is the true reason they occasionally neglect to thank the cook. Nonetheless, I remain mindful of the basic tenets of good cookery; using the freshest ingredients and the best tools available.

Recently I was reminded of the value of great cookware. I was hosting a holiday gathering with friends when a curious neighbor inquired about my pantry cabinet and why I chose to store cookware inside, instead of the obvious non-perishables. I responded with a wordy complaint about the cookware's heft and size and my need to have it in close proximity to my stove. Our dialogue prompted me to demonstrate and lift the largest enamel-over-cast iron dutch oven I owned onto the stove, where it sat for two days until I was inspired to put on a pot of hearty soup. Quite honestly, making gallons of
pasta e fagioli seemed easier to me than the prospect of wrestling with the pot to return it to its rightful place. The soup was a huge success but the thought of storing leftovers and washing that pot was daunting at best. I used every last Tupperware within my arsenal to freeze the leftovers and filled the dutch oven with warm soapy water to soak, dreading the task of scrubbing the pot clean.
A short time later, much to my amazement, that pot cleaned up like a dream, with no elbow grease involved.
For a moment, I stood alone in my kitchen, embarrassed. When did I become a middle-aged, kitchen wimp with a failing memory?
Really, I can't answer that because I can't remember. Had I recalled why I shelled out top dollar for these pots in the first place (superior heat conduction, low maintenance, easy to clean), I might have been more motivated to use them. But there is a greater lesson to be learned here. I soon realized that on more than one occasion in my life, I have avoided tasks that, while rewarding at their completion, are difficult in their execution.
Simply stated and as shameful as it is for me to admit it, I dislike hard work. But who doesn't?

Reality dictates however, that most of us are strangers to what hard work really is. The majority of us will complain about the day job, the rush-hour traffic that follows and the self-inflicted, organized chaos we impose upon our children for fear of 'downtime'. There will never be enough paid vacation or sick days to appease us and the minor catastrophes we classify as "crisis" pale in comparison to what others endure. It shames me to think that I complained about lifting a
too-heavy pot in the comfort of my own kitchen, blessed to have more than enough ingredients to feed a not-too-hungry family, because this has been a painful year for so many, both financially and emotionally.
I have to believe that things will get better, but until they do, I can't think of a better time for us to practice being better people and put words into action.

In addition to the ones that hang on plaques in my kitchen, I am reminded of adages I heard throughout my childhood but didn't fully understand until not so long ago.
Perhaps these will serve as guideposts as I navigate through a new year of hope and possibility.
I invite you to join me and make any or all of these your own:

Many Hands Make Light Work

If You Won't Help, Don't Hinder

A Simple Life is its Own Greatest Reward

Dirty Hands = Clean Money

If we all gathered, formed a circle, and placed our problems in the center, when asked to pick one out of the center to keep, each of us would likely take back our own.

Kiss the Cook

Shut Up and Eat

Until next time,

Make Life Delicious
Share Your Food


Sunday, December 21, 2008

Food Forethought

My long hiatus from blogging has officially ended.
While it was imperative that I focus my attention on health and family, the subject of great food was never far from my mind.

Presently, while the visions in my head aren't necessarily of sugarplums, I find myself distracted from my annual holiday
bake-a-thon (one contestant, no spectators, and A LOT of butter), as I contemplate a menu for Christmas Eve.

For years, I have wanted to recreate the traditional Christmas Eve
Feast of the Seven Fishes.
It is quite possible that I totally made up the name of that feast. There might have been more or less than seven fishes and if my memory serves me correctly, it's more of a seafood fiasco than a feast. Nonetheless, I want it, whatever it's called, and no matter how many crustaceans have to be sacrificed--I WANT IT.

There is a foggy childhood memory that haunts me to this day; one Christmas Eve, my mother presented me with an early gift. It was a rabbit fur coat with a matching hand muff, to be worn over my Sunday best. I knew we were going someplace special because an early gift was a rare occurrence.
We left holiday mass and headed for an unfamiliar address. When we arrived at the crowded house, we were ushered to a finished basement crammed with plastic-covered banquet tables, at which were seated more blue haired relatives than I had met in my lifetime. Most spoke Italian (quickly), while few spoke the same broken English as my live-in grandmothers. I was immediately taken by the smell of the basement. It was intoxicating. It was spicy and familiar and it made me hungry. As I looked around however, I was terrified of what stared back at me from huge silver bowls placed at the center of each table. Creatures I thought I recognized from encyclopedia photographs sat rigid and lifeless in pools of red velvet sauce. A feeling of panic set in and I prayed hard and fast for a slice of pizza that never materialized. I am haunted by this vivid memory, not for the sake of dead sea life, but instead because I was too young and too foolish to let such gastronomic pleasure pass me by. If only I could time-travel backward to that feted night, I would refuse the compensatory bowl of spaghetti and instead indulge, elbow to elbow, with the blue haired and the bibbed, savoring every morsel of such briny fare. But alas, it must remain only as a distant memory, rife with missed opportunities.
I long to mimic that night and play hostess to a bevy of tentacled treats.
Sadly however, I seem to be the only one in my family excited by this prospect and would likely be left to face the cracking of crustaceans alone. Each year I propose we make this tradition our own, and each year the Christmas Committee (a.k.a. my own Italian American fish-phobic family) rejects my proposal.
Had I been more diligent in my search to find a true-to-tradition Italian family, willing to adopt me for Christmas Eve, I wouldn't be faced with the daunting task of whipping up an impressive meal on the Eve of the year's most gastro-spectacular holiday.
Oy, the pressure.

While others might be content to compromise, my stubborn,
all-or-none mentality, won't allow me to.
I want the whole Italian shebang. If I can't have it all, then I don't
want ANY of it.

And so, I have decided upon a prime rib roast for dinner.
No shrimp cocktail.
No lobster tail with bland, American butter sauce.
Not even baked clams on the half shell.
No surf. Just turf.

Let them eat steak.

Until Next Time,

Make Life Delicious
Share Your Food



Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Wait, Watch Her

It's a delicious September day here on Long Island and in my estimation, a perfect day to get back to blogging. I've missed the opportunity to share my daily rants with you, but I'd be lying if I didn't admit that my time off was a welcome hiatus from my ordinary life.

I want to get back to what's important (our never-ending discussion about food, of course) but I owe you at least a few details of how my summer was spent.
Let's just say I've been around the block a few times. Literally.

I left you in June with the notion that I would inevitably succumb to the pressures of dieting and join countless others in an organized
(read: conformist) attempt to shed unwanted pounds.
And so I did.
I forked over the hard earned cash and joined the club no one wants to belong to. The most difficult task however, was the prospect of owning my number on the scale. I much prefer the don't ask, don't tell policy when it comes to weighing in, but unfortunately, this wasn't an option.
Thankfully, the institution I joined is like Vegas, what happens there, stays there.

I won't bore you with the minute details of my struggle with points and portion control, so, in a nutshell, here's what happened:
I followed the plan.
I complained a lot.
I ate less and exercised more.
I lost fourteen pounds (with fourteen more to go)
And then I quit.

Yep, that's right, I quit.
I probably would have earned useless (albeit pretty) key fobs and incentive charms had I stuck around long enough to meet specific benchmarks (and ultimately my goal weight), but I had an epiphany somewhere along the way and decided that thirty bucks a month would likely have greater impact on my life being put to more entertaining use at a casino.
I should probably also mention that my first trip to a Connecticut casino yielded this beginner two thousand clams from a shiny slot machine. Needless to say, I'm more than willing to consider replacing my food addiction with gambling.
But seriously, after months of following the plan, I became resentful of some of the information presented to members by "meeting leaders." Some days, I felt like a test subject for a pilot program that might have been called "Dieting for Dummies." Most of the question and answer sessions were interrupted by plugs for brand products conveniently sold at meeting locations.

And interestingly enough, the leader and the receptionist who couldn't even remember my first name, and rarely took the time to provide detailed answers to multi-faceted questions (well, how can a ten-ounce cupcake add two pounds of fat to ones hips???) suddenly found the time to hand write postcards telling me they missed me and wanted me back ,after I quit.

And so, although the plan works and it's basically fool proof--if you follow the rules--I credit my slowly shrinking waistline to more than just a commercial diet plan. The fact is, I received more motivation and willpower from my walking buddy than any meeting leader might have afforded me.
I mentioned earlier that I had been around the block a few times and this is the real story of my gradual (and ongoing) success;
On a pleasant night some time in late June, I spied my neighbor walking her dog. We were previously acquainted through neighborhood gatherings and high school theatre events in which both of our teenage daughters were active participants. I always thought she was a peach of a gal but life's hectic pace and our over-scheduled kids never left much opportunity for socializing.
On a whim, I decided to throw on my sneakers and offer to join her (if I had it to do all over again, I would have remembered the socks. At least now the permanent scars from subsequent blisters have some sentimental value). What transpired in the weeks that followed was better than anything I could have outlined in my commercially manufactured "Activity Journal."
My neighbor and I established an almost-daily walking routine that strengthened our resolve as much as it did our legs.
Instead of dreading the three-quarter mile trip around our circular neighborhood as I had before, time flew by, as did the miles, while we chatted about our lives--past, present, and future. We commiserated over snack-attacks, chore-challenged husbands, and our need to manage the chaos of everyday life. We rewarded ourselves from time to time (okay, a little more frequently than that) with impromptu trips to our local Crackbucks for macchiatos and lattes (you're smart enough to figure out which venue I'm referring to. Their beverages are so addictive, we're sure they're laced with something--hence the name).
And for every pound I shed, I gained new insight into the successful management of dieting and friendship and how they aren't mutually exclusive. In fact, I probably owe my walking buddy at least half the credit for keeping me on track, literally and figuratively.
That is not to say that we don't fall off the proverbial wagon and succumb to the occasional slab of lemon pound cake. But we get back up, dust ourselves off and acknowledge that life offers little joy without the occasional indulgence in great food (and I assure you, nothing, and I mean NOTHING, that comes pre-packaged and stamped with the commercial diet plan seal of approval qualifies as great food).

With summer winding down and two successful months under our belts, I was blindsided by a nasty summer illness whose presence still lingers today. I was benched from walking for a while and it was during this recuperation that I gave some deep thought to the prospect of quitting the club.
Undoubtedly, I was enjoying life as a smaller version of me and I was eager to reach that seemingly attainable target number on the scale. But smaller jeans weren't providing me with the euphoria I expected. I was missing something and my futile attempts at suppressing the truth of the matter were waring me thin but unhappy.
You may recall that I decided to hang up my apron in June. I took off the oven mitts and intended to live life as one of the others (the ones who don't cook or bake, and don't care to). But I was fooling no one--least of all myself. This leopard couldn't change her spots any more than she could exchange her pots for pre-packaged meals. I needed to come to terms with the fact that I missed my kitchen and my gadgets. And more importantly, I missed the experience of sharing great food with the people who love me no matter what size my jeans are.

And so I made the decision to quit.
But not in the sense that I gave up dieting, weight management or portion control.
I tried to explain to my meeting leader (and a nosy receptionist) that I would continue the plan on my own and on my own terms. They scoffed. They regurgitated statistics about success rate (or lack thereof) without the support of fellow members and moderators.
I explained that I had a strong support system (with no prepayment necessary) and that I was eager to experiment with a more realistic approach to weight management. One that allows a food-centric woman to indulge in the occasional cupcake without the need for calculation or confession.
They wished me well but told me in no uncertain terms that I would likely return; and they would embrace me with open arms (after I paid for registration, stepped onto the scale, and slapped on a name tag).
I left the diet center with a bit of apprehension.
While motivated, I was still unsure of how to balance my love of food with my need to maintain a healthy weight and lifestyle. I didn't want to prove them right and return to the center pounds heavier than the weight at which I joined. And so, where does that leave me?

I am fueled by the knowledge that healthful eating is only as complicated as I make it.
I have heard tell from seasoned chefs that the quality of a meal is only as good as the tools and ingredients used to make it. I believe the same can be said for lifestyle as it pertains to good health and weight management. Like those obscure kitchen gadgets rarely used, but tucked safely away in my kitchen drawer should a need arise, I possess the essential tools to maintain a more slender, healthier me. I realize now that I have always had these tools at my disposal but failed to call upon them in the past for fear that life would be flavorless.
I understand now that I can have it all; I can have my cake and eat it too.
The slice may be a bit smaller but I'd rather have a small slice of real cake than a perfectly portioned low-fat popsicle any day. And if reality dictates that my pasta portion must be downsized, then so be it. A petite plate of pasta beats the pants off a platter of soba noodles any day.

And when all else fails, and I become deaf to the voice of reason, hearing only the sweet song of sinful indulgence, I will turn to my greatest defense--the support of a friend who understands and acknowledges the joys and struggles a food-centric life affords.

I take comfort in knowing that I am not alone.
Like me, there are so many who fight the daily battle between good health and happiness (and let's face it, they're not called Happy Meals for nothing).
If more of us took the approach that whatever food vices or demons we battle, the simple (but sometimes difficult) act of moderation makes a healthier weight more manageable.

Perhaps I am a bit misguided as that meeting leader suggested.
Maybe I am prime candidate for relapse and reconciliation.
But I'm betting on my success.
Visualization worked for me in an effort to improve my chances at the casino. I imagined a windfall sizeable enough to afford the purchase of a laptop. And today, as I type away at my new MAC Notebook, I imagine a happier, healthier me, preparing great food and savoring the flavors of a food-centric and fulfilling life.

For those meeting leaders and members who watched this hopeful woman make her exit, I would implore them to reserve judgement and avoid the urge to assume that her failure is inevitable.

Just wait, watch her.

Until next time,

Make Life Delicious
Share Your Food


Monday, June 2, 2008

Driving Without a Map

Well, after much deliberation, I have decided to give myself the summer off from writing and baking. I'm not sure which one I will miss more.
It seems that I have lost something, but I haven't yet been able to identify what that something is. Perhaps it is my mojo after all.

Recently, I took some time to read through my older posts in an attempt to discern in what direction (if any) I am headed.
As it turns out, in writing (as in life), I am better able to find my way by following intuition rather than by following a map.

During a late night out with girlfriends and a lengthy debate over the long-term effectiveness of commercial (read: expensive) diet plans (requiring the purchase and consumption of diet-brand
pre-packaged meals), I reached the unfortunate conclusion that my skinny alter-ego wants her moment in the sun (sans baggy t-shirt). Encouraged by a friends recent weight loss (seventeen pounds in what seems like twenty minutes--Kudos to you, girlfriend--you look marvelous), I am struggling to find my own solution. I am strongly opposed to commercial diet plans for a long list of reasons which I won't bore you with (not the least of which is that I cannot justify spending the same amount weekly for my own meals that I would spend to feed a family of four-and don't get me started on health concerns over foreign ingredients and microwave dependency).

At this juncture, I only know a few things:
I know that I cannot afford to replace my pesticide-laden produce with organics.
I know that I cannot cut it as a farmer or a farmer's wife (and speaking of which, has anyone seen that show Farmer Wants a Wife? Although I hate to admit it, I'm addicted to the show--and not just for the sake of taking a gander at Farmer's six-pack--have you seen those quilts?).
So getting back to organics, growing my own produce is out of the question.
I know that I hate to exercise but love to dance.
I know that I wish laughing was a competitive sport because I'd be quite a contender.
I know that wine doesn't really cut it as a TV snack, even if you pretend to chew it.
I know that tankinis are made for one body type only, and apparently, I don't have that body type.
I know that buying a skirted bathing suit means you should probably just wear shorts.
I know that swim shorts were invented for women who avoid wearing skirted bathing suits and ultimately, everyone knows why you bought the shorts.
I know that I wish those flattering swim cover-ups were water-proof.
I know that having darker, tanner skin doesn't necessarily make you look smaller (I guess that rule only applies to black pants).
I know that a great straw hat can draw attention away from too-wide hips (but one should avoid wearing said straw hat into a rough ocean).
I know that when I stand in front of a mirror, wondering why the bathing suit I loved last year only looks good this year when accompanied by a straw hat, a flattering cover up and high-heeled wedge sandals, it has nothing to do with the bathing suit (seriously, how does one swim in heels anyway?).

And finally, I know that a diet plan which allows for cupcakes
and foot-long hot dogs probably requires purging, and so,
I'm still looking for a diet plan.

That's it.
That's all I've got.

I'd like to add however, that my search isn't only about weight loss.
I suppose I'm as good a candidate as any for a perimenopausal
forty-something crisis (if that's what this is then someone should warn my loved ones).
As the parent of one college student (who enjoys living away from home more than I ever expected she would) and one teenager (in desperate need of drum lessons and concert tickets), I find myself with a bit more time to focus on my own needs. My inability to define those needs outside the realm of edibles, is what terrifies me.
For far too long I have depended on the confines of my kitchen to serve as a safety net and welcome distraction from life's little catastrophes. And although there is no greater confidante than homemade bread dough (active, responsive, resilient and attentive-all the qualities of a good friend with no baggage), I am eager to untie my apron strings and experience a life without oven mitts.

I can't change the fact (nor do I wish to) that I am a hard-wired food lover. I still rise and rest to thoughts of gastronomic pleasure.
But I need more.
I recall a friend's grandmother saying "Sometimes, it's good to be hungry."
I'm not sure I'll ever know exactly what she meant by that. I have a feeling however, that for me, personally, a little hunger might do me a world of good.

And so, my search begins without a plan, a map, or a recipe to follow.
Yesterday, this would have been a daunting prospect.
But today, intuition is on my side.

And come to think of it, I'm a little bit hungry.

Until Next Time,
Make Life Delicious
Share Your Food


Have a delicious summer!
See you in the fall.