AND THEN THE WIND BLEW AND THE LIGHTS WENT DARK

I had a nice set of posts planned for this evening until the wind came up and the lights went out. We got a lot of wind which, apparently brought down some trees and although it is usually dark here at night, it was even darker than usual. A few minutes ago the lights came back. We really do need to get a generator. We don’t need one that will run everything in the house, but it needs to run the well pump, the boiler, the hot-water heater, two refrigerators and a small freezer, and a few lights or maybe the television, though the odds are that if the power is out, the cable is also out.

This was going to be a cooking post. I got myself into kitchen “go mode.” I made soft pretzels and potato soup that is close to vichyssoise, but somewhat less delicate and more toothsome.

It all started because we inherited a 5-pound bag of small potatoes. There are not many things I hate doing in the kitchen, but peeling potatoes is one of them. I’d rather wash the floor. It’s that bad. So, in the end, we moved the potatoes to a new home, bought a few big potatoes and I made potato soup.

SOUP INGREDIENTS:

  • Peel and cut-up into little bite-size pieces about 5 cups of potatoes. IF you are going to cream the soup completely, you don’t have to worry about making all the pieces the same size. If you like chunky soup, you can have process the potatoes and put the rest in as pieces. Or, you can leave it all as pieces. I like creaming the whole thing, but sometimes it depends on what I put into it and how much I want to chew. Also, depending on the size of the spud, you’ll need between three and five large Idaho potatoes. We needed three. The remaining two are going to become potato salad to go with dinner tonight.
  • Chop a medium size ( about 1 cup) of onion
  • Chop up one bright pepper. I went with yellow, but red or orange would have been fine too. Anything but green. They are bit acidy for this soup.
  • 3 cups broth (we used lamb broth because we had some frozen, but you can buy broth in the grocery. Get the low-salt variety. It’s easy to add salt, but hard to make it go away.
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 teaspoons chicken base (powdered chicken stuff)
  • 1/2 pound finely diced bacon. Owen sprung for the expensive stuff that’s more meat than fat. I actually had to add some olive oil because there was very little fat coming off the bacon
  • 1/2 cup half & half or heavy cream or sour cream
  • half a stick of butter
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic

IN A 3 TO 4  QUART SOUP POT: 

  • Fry the chopped up bacon. When the bacon is cooked and nearly crisp, add chopped onions and pepper. Cook until soft.
  • Add the broth, water, and soup base. Bring to a boil.
  • Add the potatoes. Lower heat and simmer from 10 to 15 minutes or until the potatoes are soft to a fork. Try not to overcook the potatoes. Leave a little life in them.

PROCESSING

Set up your food processor — you know, the one in the closet you never use? You might want to let the soup cool a bit. It can be rather lava-like. Pour half the soup into the food processor and crank it up. Pour pureed soup into a big bowl. Add the rest of the soup to the food processor plus the cream or half-and-half or sour cream. Some people use cream cheese. That sounded too sweet for me. Pour it all back into the pot. In theory it needs to be thickened, but it’s already very thick. Nothing liquidy about it, so I didn’t thicken it at all. Any thicker and I could have used it to lay bricks. I turned on the cooker (induction cooker) to very low (simmer is at 2 usually) to keep it warm. It was served with fresh chopped dill and my fresh, soft and salty pretzels. Perfect this time.

Generally you can serve this soup as is. You can also add other spices. I threw in some rosemary for the smell more than the taste and some Za’atar. Salt and pepper are up to each eater. None of us needed any. I chopped the chives to put on top of the soup for decoration. Other toppings include sour cream, shredded cheddar cheese, crumbled bacon, scallions (green onions) or some pretty chopped peppers. You can use whatever you want. We just had it with the chives and forgot about the cheese and sour cream. Oops. We did NOT forget the pretzels.

You can serve this soup chilled or at room temperature. Hot one day, cold the next. This recipe is for one night, four people and it’s really a meal. Very filling. Do NOT serve it before the roast turkey. You’ll wind up with an awful lot of leftover turkey.


SOFT PRETZELS

I’ve modified the recipe a bit. They are softer and a bit stickier. Perfect. The egg “wash” at the end makes the pretzels crisper or softer. I used a lot of egg (and I still had a lot left over). I think ONE egg would be more than enough. The recipe calls for two, but it’s the egg of overkill.

DOUGH

  • 1-1/2 cup of warm (tepid) water
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 packet active dry yeast (2-1/2 teaspoons dry yeast)
  • 4 cups of white flour (down from 4-1/2)
  • 4 tablespoons of olive oil (up from 3). Use 2 in the dough and save the other two to put on top of the dough while it rises

Add the dry yeast (1 packet or 2-1/2 teaspoons) to the warm water, salt, and sugar. Let stand for five minutes until it is frothy. Add everything else into your (I hope KitchenAid) mixer with the dough hook attached. Mix 4 or five minutes on low. It will form a dough and you don’t have to knead it. Leave it in the mixing bowl (why get another bowl dirty?). Use the remaining two tablespoons of oil on top of the dough, then cover with plastic wrap. Leave in a warm place (note that SOME recipes refrigerate the dough which makes it much crispier. I don’t. If you’ve been to Philadelphia, these are classic Philly soft pretzels. Add your own favorite mustard or cheese or (ta-da!) soup!

Go sit for a few minutes. Your ankles are probably swollen by now.

BOILING

  • 1 beaten egg for washing the pretzels before adding salt and baking. More eggs means softer pretzels. If you want a little crisp, leave off the egg wash
  • Coarse (Kosher) salt
  • Large pot of boiling (rolling boil) water
  • 2/3 cup baking soda mixed into the water. I have no idea what the baking soda does but I assume it does something.

About an hour after you leave the dough to rise, dump it out of the mixing bowl onto a flat surface, knead a few times (you might need to add a little bit of extra flour) and cut it into 8 pieces. Pretend it’s play dough and roll it into ropes. If you feel creative, you can try to make them look like “real” pretzels. Personally, I gave up and just twist them a bit for decorative purposes. It’s easier to get the twisty ropes onto a big tray. When the water and baking soda are boiling, boil each pretzel into the boiling water for 30 seconds, then lay each piece on the try. When you’re done, paint with the beaten egg and add a lot of coarse (Kosher) salt. We like them very salty, but if you don’t, use less salt. Some people put sugar and cinnamon on them, but if you do that, add a little extra sugar into the dough — at which point you have dessert.

BAKING 

  • 450 F (230 C) (Preheat your oven if it requires preheating) for about 15 minutes. I had to turn the tray so the pretzels browned evenly. I use a countertop oven that run a big cooler than the big oven, so it needs the fifteen minutes. In the big oven, closer to 10 or 12 minutes.
  • Bake for 10-15 minutes. Mine need 14 or 15. I also turn the tray around so they come out evenly browned all around.

I made the pretzels first because they needed more time for the dough to rise and also, if I turn on the induction cooker and the countertop over at the same time, the lights go out. Who knew the lights were going out anyway? Dinner was great and we have leftovers, but not a lot. This recipe is for 4 people and can be doubled or tripled. It’s filling — the essence of comfort food.

LOKSHEN KUGEL (NOODLE PUDDING) FOR DINNER, DESSERT, SNACKS, WHATEVER

I have an abscess. It’s on the gum above what the dentist calls my upper number two tooth. The number one on that side was already pulled years ago. That was the one where they couldn’t even do a root canal because I had been doing some serious tooth grinding. It had split the tooth all the way down through the root. It was my first lost tooth, but not the last. Since then, I have developed a lot of gum amidst my teeth. Somehow, I manage to eat corn on the cob and even steak, though I’m really losing my taste for beef. I’m also not thrilled with chicken.

Honestly? I’m not passionate about flesh. Part of it is hating the idea of slaughtering animals. It has always bothered me, but I was better at ignoring it when I was younger. Now, I see the meat and I think of those happy cows grazing along the Blackstone and me, putting camera aside, patting those sweethearts on their nicely horned heads. It’s hard to reconcile that with chomping down on pieces of their body.

I’m tired of our usual food. We were suffering from gastronomical ennui before the pandemic, but now? Steak in the expensive meat section at the grocery is about as tender as one of Garry’s old belts. Sometimes it looks great, but you can’t chew it. It just gets bigger the more you chew it. The pork is even worse and no amount of marinating tenderizes it. Bacon is good. Pity they have to get it by slicing up a pig.

So tonight, I made dessert for dinner. It isn’t really dessert. It’s usually served hot as part of a (much) larger dinner, but if you chill it, it’s definitely a dessert. There’s no meat in it. There are many eggs, ricotta cheese and sour cream, sugar, dried fruit or really, any fruit including canned fruit cocktail, a bit of vanilla, a good shaking of nutmeg, with cinnamon on top. Also, it’s very easy to leave out the sugar, add spices and vegetables rather than fruit, and make it a great vegetable dish.

I didn’t take pictures. I meant to take pictures. That’s why I didn’t post this recipe the last time I made it. Lack of photographic evidence. Sadly, we have eaten heartily from it and while more than half of it is left, it isn’t pretty anymore. This is a dish intended to feed a lot of people and probably more than once. The recipe says will feed eight to nine people, but that would be some serious eaters. I used to make this for special (Jewish) occasions if I knew I’d have a lot of people at the table.

Times have changed and big dinners are few and far between. Friends have scattered. Some died. Others moved to wherever their children are living. This was done in expectation of seeing these same kids more frequently only to discover they STILL never see them. Other stragglers eat their special occasion dinners at their kids’ houses where they don’t have to do the cooking, a dining enhancement I can really get my head behind. In fact, Owen here at home cooks the Big Dinners.

Garry doesn’t cook. I’m sure he never will. It’s why I can’t die of tooth decay. Garry would starve to death or live entirely on spam and pizza. I think that’s an awful lot like starving to death, just more slowly.

This is a recipe for (in Yiddish) “Lokshen Kugel” which translates to Noodle Pudding. Kugel means pudding. Lokshen means noodles. What you put in it is … well … whatever you like, really. It can be made savory or sweet, but more often is sweet, thus serving as a secondary dish with a dairy (Kosher!!) dinner or as dessert (chilled). For us, we just eat the pudding because there’s no room left after we’ve tanked down half a lasagna pan of Kugel. This was a specialty of my father, who was amidst all his wickedness, a really good cook. He made a fruit and brandy sauce that I thought could be eaten alone, forget the Kugel. I don’t make a sauce because I never got that recipe and besides, Garry and I don’t drink. Not even a little bit.

In Israel because of the Kashrut complexities, we often made it without cheese or any dairy. We used oil or non-butter margarine, eggs, sugar, raisins, and bread crumbs. The amount? Whatever you threw in, It was always fine. A friend of mine got mixed up and used cumin instead of cinnamon — and it STILL came out delicious. This really is a “whatever” dish. Since I’m not Kosher and not tied to the dairy vs. meat issue, if you are trying to overfeed a lot of people at the same time, Kugel is the way to go. And just as a note, for reasons no one can explain, this dish is typically served on Shavuot, a week-long harvest festival in the autumn.


Here’s my recipe. After you make it the first time, you can make up your own recipes.

Boil the noodles. You can use anything from 12 oz. to 1 lb. of wide noodles (eggs or not), boiled however long the bag says to boil them.

6 beaten eggs. Today I used seven eggs because I had 7 eggs in the carton. I refused to save the whole box for a single egg. I broke all the eggs directly into the Kitchenaid beater, turned it to 2 or 3 and went off to let them beat while I collected the rest of the stuff. You can also do this by hand. That’s how I did it last time and this was a lot easier, even with cleaning up the mixer.

15-oz. container ricotta (or cottage) cheese. I like ricotta better, but traditionally, it’s supposed to be cottage cheese. It doesn’t matter. Either will do the job.

16-oz. container of sour cream. The real thing, not reduced fat (yuk). Without the fat, it won’t thicken up in the oven. Also, it won’t taste right. NOTE: You can use a block of real (not whipped or low fat) cream cheese instead of sour cream. Let it soften before you add it to the mixture.

1 cup sugar. I’ve used white sugar. I’ve used light brown sugar. I’ve used dark brown sugar. I’ve used whatever I had in the cupboard. I haven’t tried using maple syrup, or golden syrup, but that would probably work too.

4 tablespoons melted butter

1 teaspoon (more or less) of real (not the fake stuff) vanilla. Or almond flavoring. Whatever. Flavoring. You can use more flavoring if you prefer. You’re going to eat it, after all.

A thorough sprinkling of nutmeg.

Turn on the beater, then assemble the fruit. Before I started everything else, I put the raisins in a cup of hot (tap) water to plump up. Other dried fruit you can use? Dried pineapple, cranberries, lingonberries, dried cherries. I’d really love to use chopped crystalized ginger, but not everyone loves it as much as I do. It’s a gamble. Then, I drain a 14-oz. can of fruit cocktail. I throw all the fruit, whatever it is, into the mixer with the cheese, eggs, and butter. Whatever you use, you need about three cups of fruit of whatever type. I thought about chopped prunes, but decided it might have unexpected side effects.

By now, the noodles should be draining in a colander in the sink. Put the noodles back into the pot unless you have a really huge mixing bowl. Pour all the stuff from the mixer into the noodles. Mix with a big spoon. Wood is good.

Spray a lasagna pan with oil, EVEN if it’s nonstick. Just to be safe. Pour the contents into the pan, Shake cinnamon over the top.

Bake for 1 hour at 350 F (177 C). Set a timer for 1/2 hour and put a layer of aluminum foil over the top for the rest of the baking unless you like it super crispy. I like it softer, so I’m pro foil. 

The result should be soft, but not runny and have the consistency of pudding. Which it is. If you have a big dinner planned, serve it with the roast or the turkey or (how non Jewish can you get?) baked ham. Or, chill it and serve it as dessert.


We eat it AS dinner. There’s so much of it, even if everyone eats until kugel is coming out of their ears, more than half of it will be left-over. For this you will need two big covered plastic containers which you will store in your refrigerator. You can use it as a side dish with whatever you are eating the next day, give one of the containers to kugel-worthy friends, or wait until you just can’t eat any more of it and toss it.

The Duke strongly objects to any form of disposal unless he is the disposal unit.

Meanwhile I’ve got a bad tooth, a fever, I ache everywhere because my pain meds combined with the antibiotics aren’t a great combination, and I’m not planning to die yet. Oh, and loperamide is dangerous taken with clindamycin so if my stomach totally gives up on me, there’s nothing I can take. We got into a quibble about calories and kugel. I say it’s no more fattening than any other pasta-based dish. I have no proof that this is true, bui that’s what I think and I’m sticking with it.

IT’S THREE O’CLOCK AND WHAT SHALL I DO WITH THE DEFROSTED MINCED MEAT?

This is the time of day when I have to ponder dinner. I think Owen’s going to make meatloaf. He does that well. Better than I do. I used to make pot roast to die for, but somewhere along the line, the cuts of meat have gone down hill. Back in The Day, pot roast was a cheap cut. Now, pot roasts and stew beef cost as much as sirloin … and sirloin, assuming it’s not laced with gristle, does NOT turn into a good stew.

The longer you cook it, the tougher it gets. About the only meat that still comes out more or less as expected is minced beef and chicken. In Israel, we ate chicken so often I thought we’d all begin to cluck. Beef came from Argentina where it was “grass fed.” In kitchen terms, it meant the cattle was out there on the range for most of its life. It had muscles.

It’s illegal to grow pork on Israeli land, so the kibbutzniks grow it on cement slabs. The pork chops and ham were great. You couldn’t buy it in a grocery store, so you had to go to the Arab butcher shop or Bethlehem. They had great meat in Bethlehem. What they lacked was proper refrigeration and I couldn’t buy it. All those flies. You can’t unsee that.

There were a lot of vegetarians in Israel because if you ate only vegetables (usually with dairy, and fish), you didn’t have to contend with separating dairy from meat dishes and associated cooking pots. A classically Kosher kitchen needed a LOT of storage space because you needed a set of dairy dishes, another set of meat dishes, with a separate set of pots and pans for each. Just to finish off the the storage conundrum, you needed a special set of everything for Passover.

If you weren’t really Kosher, but you had parents, friends, and family who WERE Kosher, you needed a secret stash for non-Kosher meals. My mother’s family were home-Kosher but were total heretics in the face of Oriental cuisine. That was before the arrival of Thai, Vietnamese, Japanese and other amazing Asian dishes. You had to be ultra super orthodox to comply with the laws of Kashrut when the smell of Asian spices food wafted your way.

Ah, the memories.

The original reason for Kashrut (kash-root) laws is the line in the Torah which says “Thou shalt not seethe a kid in its mother’s milk.” Translations vary, but that’s the gist of it. After a thousand years of arguing, the Rabbinical Courts decided you couldn’t eat meat and dairy together. During the 1400s, they added chicken to the meat category, even though chickens don’t make milk. They just decided chicken was meat-like and should therefore be considered meat. If it wasn’t meat-like, it would have had to be fish-like and lacking gills and scales …


You can’t make this stuff up.


Shellfish isn’t kosher. Kosherly-speaking, you are forbidden the joys of shrimp, lobster, clams, scallops, calamari, or octopus. You can only eat fish which has gills and scales. Depending on your family, they may be even more frenzied about shellfish than Oriental food. My mother ate non-Kosher food with gusto in restaurants and on vacation, But at home? Nope.

Owen doesn’t like fish except (sometimes) well-chilled shrimp with hot sauce. Garry is a shellfish guy, but is unenthusiastic about salmon — which I like a lot. Now that it’s a 2-to-1 negative vote on salmon, so I haven’t seen any in months. Both of them are okay with flat white fish. Haddock and cod — my two least favorite offerings from the sea — along with sole, scrod, and whatever else lies on the bottom. They are all tasteless. It’s fish without flavor except whatever spices or sauce you put on it. It’s easier to take fish oil capsules.

The most important thing to know about legally Kosher fish is that it’s a vegetable. You can eat it with dairy OR meat, though why you’d eat meat when you’re already eating fish, I have no idea. Overall, if you can grasp the concept of “fish as a vegetable,” you have conquered the most complicated part of Jewish law as practiced in the kitchen. There’s much more complicated stuff, but only men get to think about it. Equality of the sexes has not come to Orthodox Judaism. I doubt it ever will.

We’re having meatloaf and Owen’s special Brussel sprouts. At least someone around here likes vegetables.

WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE FOOD?

Fandango’s Dog Days of August #10: MY FAVORITE FOOD

My favorite food is anything that someone else prepared — and tastes good — and which someone other than me will clean up when the meal is finished. In the end, I don’t care exactly what kind of food it is, as long as it isn’t something really bizarre (like snail, ew). I want to be served and not wind up on clean-up detail.

It would be nice if the served food were take out Sushi with a big side dish of shrimp tempura, but if i can’t get the Japanese food, I’ll take a pizza. I’m not picky. All I want is not to have to cook and clean, slice, dice, fry, saute, or bake. Mind you, I love my kitchen  and I’m a good cook and  a good baker. I’ve been cooking and cleaning kitchens for 55 years. I think that’s enough. And once someone else takes over the cooking? I’ll be delighted to occasionally make something special for special occasions.

That’s what I REALLY want to eat.

HOW TO SPEND A DAY NOT BUYING AN OVEN – Marilyn Armstrong

I spent most of yesterday not buying a new countertop oven. Probably 7 or 8 hours were consumed looking at and deciding to buy it, then deciding it was too expensive, too cheap, not big enough, too many options I would never use until my brain turned to mush and I gave up for the day and night.

About 6 years ago, I discovered the joy of the countertop convection oven. The first one I bought was an inexpensive medium-sized oven from Waring, reasonably priced at about $75. It lasted two years before the legs fell off, probably from heat exhaustion.

New kitchen faucet!

My electric bill had dropped by 50%. I  had not realized my range was so expensive to run. When the Waring died, I upgraded and got a Kitchen  Aide convection oven. I have used one or the other of these two countertop ovens for everything except for the few times I had company.

When COVID-19 intruded on our lives, I started to bake a bit. I always liked baking, but for a lot of years I was too busy working or too busy being sick. These days, though, I have some time. I need to make better use of it. Although I love taking pictures and writing posts, I also need to do things which get me off the keyboard.

When I baked gingerbread the other day, I had to use the big oven. Ditto for the salty soft warm pretzels. I was either going to invest in a new full-size range or a much bigger countertop oven.

They are making new countertop machines differently than they were six years ago … or even last  year. Many of them are a lot bigger and more powerful. Big enough to cook a 12 to 14 pound turkey.  Most of them can be used as a family oven, convection oven, and/or an air-fryer.

I owned an air-fryer but rarely used it. Recently, I gave it away. Owen has a big one downstairs. How many air fryers does a three-person household need? Even Owen’s doesn’t get used often.

Then, there’s the tale of the wandering Kitchen Aide electric beater. I owned one years ago, but after heart surgery, I couldn’t move it. It weighs almost as much as our Kirby Vacuum which, if you own one or ever owned one, weighs slightly less than a VW bug.

Owen moved back. By now, he had given my Kitchen Aide to Kaity and had gotten a newer one for himself. Meanwhile, I had a Sunbeam mixmaster which was good for most things, but caught on fire attempting to work through whole wheat bread dough. Smoke started pouring out of its motor. After that, I didn’t have an electric mixer and I didn’t bake much.

A couple of weeks ago, Owen gave me his new Kitchen Aide. What goes around, comes around. To create counter space for the mixer, I’ve had to do massive kitchen rearrangement. I threw away a lot of china canisters — even those with sentimental value. I bought stackable containers from small to huge for flour, yeast, spices, sugar, and everything else.

The kitchen looks bigger because finally, there are empty spaces on the counters. I got a big, heavy plastic board for rolling dough or chopping vegetables. I’d have gotten a marble one — they are supposed to be the best for rolling dough — but anything big enough was too heavy to wash in the sink. Besides, I would drop it on my toe. Which would hurt.

Today, I consulted with Owen on oven sizes and finally bought a really big one that is so new it has no ratings. The ratings were making me crazy. So many of them were written by people who blamed the machine for not doing what it wasn’t supposed to do. Or not having the right temperature because they assumed that they should never need to adjust cooking time based on their machine.

You need to know your oven, whatever you are using. One guy said that the package instructions always were wrong and it was the machine’s fault. It apparently never occurred to him to adjust the timing. Package cooking directions — including those in cookbooks — work if you are using the same equipment the cook was using. If you aren’t, then you adjust the temperature up or down until it comes out right.

One guy complained that the baking pan didn’t fit in the shelf slots. Someone had to tell him that he was supposed to put the pan ON the shelf, not on the heating tubes.

So many dummies complaining the oven got hot. Yes, ovens get hot. When they are hot, don’t touch the glass on the door. You will get burned. Very young children figure it out. Even my dogs can tell if something’s hot and keep their noses away from it.

Grown up people aren’t as smart as young children or dogs.

I hope this oven works out. I can finally use my baking pans again and with the air fryer gone, there’s room for a regular toaster again. No matter what anyone says, a countertop oven is not a great toaster.

THE PRICE OF FOOD, THE COST OF STAYING ALIVE – Marilyn Armstrong

This post started out as a comment to Rich’s piece, but it reminded me of all those years when the Fishery Department in New England begged the fisher-folks to hold back on fishing out the spawning areas. St. George’s banks — which is technically both U.S. and Canadian waters — I think the line runs right through the area. George’s Banks are closed, both by Canadian and American authorities because of overfishing.

If they didn’t close them, there wouldn’t be any fish in the future. Almost all our fish these days is imported. Salmon from Canada where it is farmed, and the rest from Asia.

Our food has more than doubled in price. We could buy a week’s food for the three of us for around $150 before the quarantine. Now it costs MORE than $300. We do have some locally grown food just beginning to show up in the markets and ironically, our farms which have been doing poorly are suddenly a very big deal. We can get (easily) eggs, milk, honey, and strawberries. We have tons of blackberries growing in our own back 40, but it’s even more lethal than our rose bushes and before we can get them, the birds eat all of it.
Squash is coming into season. Also cucumbers, peppers, tomatoes, and with a little luck, we’ll have a good year for peaches. Soon (I hope!) we will also have fresh corn. We don’t grow mountains of corn because we have so little flat land, but what we do grow is delicious.

Everything is organic. Not because we are such believes in organic produce, but because we have such a high water level, fertilizer seeps into the aquifer, and if we kill the aquifer, we are all in big, permanent trouble.

We have no slaughterhouses. I’m sure that the individual farms raise a few pigs and beef cattle for personal use, but it doesn’t go to the stores. There is a huge chicken farm nearby. They have a big restaurant (no open right now, of course), but they also sell it in their shop. It costs twice the imported prices but it is very good and their chickens roam free.

Shooting through a wire fence, these are impressionist chickens. Need eggs?

Anyone with a back that works grows acorn squash (by November I’ve overdosed on squash), tomatoes, and onions. Also round, red potatoes. Some people have started growing jalapenos, too. In this limited rural area, summer is the only time you can get fresh local fruits and vegetables. After September and October (apple season — we have gigantic orchards for apples and they are great apples … and the farmers keep cross-breeding new varieties, albeit our local apples are much more expensive than the imported ones. Probably not THIS year!

The cows in the meadow

Not much fish except via Canada where they farm salmon. We used to have wonderful fish, but they overfished the region and it’ll be decades before we can get fish from the ocean again. Our rivers are good for trout — if you like trout and none of us do — and while down on the Cape they are farming lobster, there aren’t enough of them for more than their immediate areas.

New England had the biggest and best fishing fleets in the world. All gone. The fleets are gone and the areas are now filled with private boats. Which is fine, but they don’t bring in fish.

The fisherfolk were warned yearly to NOT go to George’s Banks because that was where they spawned. Garry covered those stories and he always came back shaking his head at the thick-headedness of the fleets. Yes, they’d need to raise prices and wouldn’t be able to bring in the volume of fish they had before, but if they didn’t stop harvesting the fisheries, there would be no more fish at all.

Eventually, when no one cooperated, they closed down the areas about five years ago (maybe it was longer — has swept by so quickly — before there were no more fish to breed. The coast guard patrols the area and there are all these little wars at sea. If we don’t poison the waters, fish will come back — and that’s if we manage to keep the Canadians and Japanese from trawling the areas.

Seafood, the delight of New England is gone. We do get great eggs and butter, though. The milk is great, but we have a lot of people here who have inspected cows, so they don’t homogenize the milk. Garry loves the cream on the top. I stopped buying it.

After Garry steals the cream, even the dogs won’t drink it.

INTRODUCING THE POTATO – BY ELLIN CURLEY

When we celebrate the discovery of America by Christopher Columbus on Columbus Day, we should also be celebrating Columbus’s discovery of the potato. More accurately, Columbus’s introduction of the potato from the New World to the Old World. This introduction of New World foods to Europe and the east is known as the “Columbian Exchange”.

Christopher Columbus

The potato, and other native American plants “…transformed cultures, reshuffled politics and spawned new economic systems that then, in a globalizing feedback loop, took root back in the New World as well.” This quote is from an article in the Washington Post on October 8, 2018, titled “Christopher Columbus and the Potato that Changed the World.” The article is by Steve Hendrix.

An example of the potato’s earth-shattering impact is that it helped eliminate famines and fueled a population boom in parts of northern Europe. This made urbanization possible which, in turn, fueled the Industrial Revolution. This population explosion also helped several European nations assert dominion over the world from 1750 to 1950. Thus the potato is also responsible for the rise of Western Europe and its colonies, including America.

But let’s get back to the initial introduction of the potato to skeptical Europeans. The potato spread slowly. At first, it was viewed with suspicion and plagued by misinformation. Initially, some people claimed that the potato was an aphrodisiac. Others believed that it could cause leprosy. When Sir Walter Raleigh brought potatoes into the Elizabethan court, the courtiers tried to smoke the leaves!

Sir Walter Raleigh

It took a while for people to realize what a nutritional bonanza the potato is. It’s filled with complex carbohydrates, amino acids, and vitamins. It is a nutritionally complete diet when paired with milk. It also took time for people to take advantage of the superior productivity and sturdiness of the potato over other agricultural products, like grains.

In the 1600’s, Europeans finally figured out how to successfully cultivate potatoes. The effect was dramatic – the population of places like Ireland, Scandinavia, and other northern regions, increased up to 30%. In a 1744 famine in Prussia, King Frederick the Great ordered his farmers to grow potatoes and ordered the peasants to eat them!

Famines were prevalent in Europe. France had 40 nationwide famines between 1500 and 1800 as well as hundreds and hundreds of local famines. England suffered 17 national and regional famines just between 1523 and 1623. The world could not reliably feed itself.

Enter the potato. Because potatoes are so productive, once everyone started planting them, they became a diet staple. In terms of calories, they effectively doubled Europe’s food supply. For the first time in Western European history, the food problem was solved. By the end of the 18th century, famines almost disappeared in potato country. Before the potato, European living and eating standards were equivalent to today’s Cameroon or Bangladesh.

Another benefit of the potato is that it is easily portable and stays edible for a relatively long time. So potatoes could easily be transported to the cities, fostering their growth. This created an urban factory workforce. Hence, the Industrial Revolution.

In the mid-1700’s, a French man named Antoine-Augustin Parmentier took it upon himself to launch a PR campaign on behalf of the potato. He created publicity stunts to draw attention to his miracle product. For example, he presented an all potato dinner to high society guests. One of them, it is claimed, was Thomas Jefferson. Parmentier also convinced the King and Queen to be seen wearing potato blossoms. His biggest stunt was to plant 40 acres of potatoes at the edge of Paris, knowing that the starving population would steal and eat them.

Antoine-Augustin Parmentier

The potato took such firm root in Europe that by the end of the 18th century, roughly 40% of the Irish people ate no solid food other than potatoes. That was also true of 10-30% of other countries like Belgium, the Netherlands, Prussia, and Poland.

In the mid-1800’s, catastrophe struck. Blights started wiping out the potato crops. In 1845, in Ireland alone, one half to three-quarters of a million acres of potatoes were wiped out. The following years, up until 1852, were even worse. The Great Potato Famine was one of the worst in history in terms of percentage of population lost. Over a million Irish died. A similar famine in the U.S. today would kill 40 million people!

Potato blight

Within a decade, over two million people fled Ireland, over three-quarters of whom came to the United States. That changed the history and demographics of the U.S. And it began the phenomenon of the Melting Pot.

A major commemoration of the potato exists in Germany. A statue of Sir Francis Drake was erected in 1853, although Drake did not, in fact, introduce the potato into Europe. The statue depicts Drake with his right hand on his sword and his left hand holding a potato plant. On the base is the following inscription:


Sir Francis Drake

Dissemination of the potato in Europe
In the year of our Lord 1586.
Millions of people
Who cultivate the earth
Bless his immortal memory.


Drake statue in Germany

So, as Steve Hendrix said in the Washington Post, “…a small round object sent around the planet … changed the course of human history.”

TASTING EVERYTHING – Marilyn Armstrong

I’m a firm believer in tasting each item on your plate separately. Why? Because I put effort into cooking each part of the meal and I want you to taste it.

I’m in favor of not mixing your whole meal into one gloppy mess. If I’ve made the effort to cook three or four separate components to make a meal for example chicken limone, garlic mashed potatoes, and fresh asparagus with a hint of butter sauce.

I want to be able to taste each part of the meal separately. I want YOU to taste each of them separately, too. If you are one of those people who mixes everything into one heap, I will sit across the table and glare malevolently at you until you finally ask me what’s wrong.

I will then tell you what is wrong. In considerable detail, probably more detail than you want to hear.

I will explain the intricacies of the preparation. not to mention the labor I put into producing these gourmet delights.  And how by mixing them, you have nullified my efforts and personally offended me.

Telling “But that’s the way I like it” will win you an invitation to go buy an everything pizza. You are not worthy of my table. If you have, perchance, put ketchup on it, just back away from the table and leave quietly. It’s for your own safety.

I have figured out that I’m not “typical” as far as this style of eating goes. I often feel like I should never bother to cook anything more complex than pasta or chili. Or stew. Why bother to make separate items if no one can tell which is which? Why not just throw it all in one pot and cook the hell out of it? It’s one of many reasons I’ve lost my interest in cooking.

WORLD SHARING WHILE WATCHING THE IOWA CAUCUSES – Marilyn Armstrong

Share Your World 2-4-2020


This year, politics is more critical than I ever remember it. To be fair, though, I’ve always been fascinated by our elections, debates, primaries. How they work, how people make their decisions. This year in Iowa, you can see — and I don’t know that I’ve ever seen this before — people thinking about what to do if their candidate doesn’t seem likely to win. Who will they then support?

Every single one has said that the bigger issue is getting Trump out of office and will if it comes to that, support anyone who isn’t Trump. That’s a huge change from 2016. Let’s hope it’s a national trend.


And the questions are:

When was the last time you tried something new?

Tonight I tried a recipe I found in a magazine in my doctor’s office. It was a creamed bean soup and I decided Garry liked it when he came back with his third helping. It went very well with warm garlic bread.

If you were forced to eliminate every physical possession from your life with the exception of what could fit into a single backpack, what would you put in it?

Bonnie guarding my computer

You mean like with a fire taking over my world? All my meds because I can’t live without them, my computers and back-up hard drives, and my cell phone because that’s what they are for. Stuff in a couple of cameras, too. The dogs don’t count. They won’t fit in a backpack!

What simple fact do you wish more people understood?

History matters. Our life is all in the past and we don’t know the future. Things that happened more than two thousand years ago affect us today. Like, for example, the birth of Christ, the life of Confucious, the American Revolution, the Constitutional Convention.

Going back even further, the development of democracy under both the Greeks and Romans. The invention of porcelain in China. When the rest of the world was running around in animal skins, the Chinese were analyzing porcelain glazes.

So much of history lives with us — for good and ill — today. Our failure to deal with its implications has had a lethal effect on our culture.

What food item do you go through fastest in your house?  (credit to Sandmanjazz)

Cinnamon bread and fruit-flavored sparkling water (ICE in particular).

Please feel free to share something that makes you happy!  

I’m extremely happy we discovered that our toilet was about to crash through the floor and probably kill one of us. We had NO idea how serious the situation was. It would have been a lethal fall for someone.

DIET PROGRAMS – BY ELLIN CURLEY

I’ve struggled with my weight since I started peri-menapause in my mid-forties. I’m not sure why my metabolism went haywire so early, but it did. At that point I’d enjoyed around 25 years of being able to eat whatever I wanted and not gain weight. And when I did gain weight, say on a trip or over the holidays, all I had to do was cut out desserts for a week or so and the weight just melted off. It was heaven!

I did have a lot of experience with dieting though. I had a period during my adolescence when I gained weight and had to struggle to take it off. Also my mother lived on a roller coaster of weight gain and loss, often for medical reasons, so she was dieting on and off throughout my life. The only weight loss program my mom and I knew about was plain old calorie counting. We had little booklets with the caloric values of the most common food items and that was our bible. We were scrupulous about weighing and measuring our food and keeping track of our daily calories.

I found this online. It’s the exact same Calorie Counting booklet my mother and I used during the 1960s and 1970s!

When I gained weight in my forties, I tried the familiar calorie counting and then went on to try two fad diets of the day – a high protein, low carb diet and the opposite – a high carb low protein diet. I lost weight on both but I wasn’t happy with the unbalanced diet I was eating. I also regained most of the weight once I added back the ‘omitted’ foods into my diet. I ended up losing weight on Weight Watchers with their point system, which is similar to counting calories.

One of the many high protein, low carb diet plans out there

I managed to maintain my weight for many years and when I gained ten pounds in my sixties, I went back to Weight Watchers. I hated the forced obsession with food and the endless decisions about what to eat and how much. But it had worked before, so I went back. But this time I ran into a problem. They recommend a minimum diet of 1200 calories a day. I made the mistake of telling them that 1200 calories is maintenance for me and that I had to go below 1200 calories to lose weight. They said they could not condone such an ‘unhealthy’ program and refused to work with me!

My son had already switched from Weight Watcher’s to Jenny Craig and was loving it. He recommended that I try it too so I did. I was initially reluctant because Jenny Craig is one of those programs that provide you with most of your food for each day. You add fruits, vegetables, salad, and yogurt to what they give you, but basically everything you eat each day, and when you eat it, is prescribed by the program. I was afraid I’d hate the ‘frozen food’ entrees and was suspicious of eating mostly ‘manufactured’ food rather than fresh. I was also reluctant to give up my freedom of choice, which is part of the joy of eating – to have what you want when you want it.

From day one I realized how wrong I was about everything. It took me a while to weed out the food items I hated and zero in on the ones I liked. But I had an epiphany. For me, the best way to diet is to stop thinking about food altogether. Eating processed meals is a good way to do that. I have no problem eating their food and in fact, find some of it tasty, particularly their Mexican, Italian and Asian dishes.

I would shun this food when not dieting, but for me, not ‘craving’ food is essential for a successful diet. A major reason this plan works for me is that I don’t have to think about choosing or preparing food at all. Jenny Craig suggests recipes to enhance their dishes, but for me, it’s great that I don’t have to do anything but heat up, defrost or unwrap my meals and snacks. Looking forward to food and seeing it as a major ‘activity’ of the day, is the real problem for me.

A Jenny Craig entree for lunch or dinner

To be fair to Weight Watchers, they now have a cornucopia of frozen foods on sale at most supermarkets, complete with point values for each item. My son is using some of their foods to help him stay on track with his calorie/point goals. But for me, there’s still too much choice and too many food decisions to be made every day. I want my eating to be mindless and mostly uninteresting when I’m dieting (though I love the yogurt and the energy bars I have to eat every day and the desserts are pretty good too.)

Some Weight Watchers products

On Jenny Craig, I have to eat something every few hours so I don’t ever get truly hungry. The food is also designed so that smaller than my usual portions are satisfying (extra fiber?), so I never feel like I’m suffering. Portion control has always been one of my biggest eating issues.

I eat healthy food but I generally tend to eat too much of it. If I like something, I want to eat lots of it. And I find it very hard to resist food that’s right in front of me, so, for example, I usually end up eating large quantities of appetizers that are left out on the counter. I seem to have a unique stomach – I rarely feel full, so I usually don’t feel a physical need to stop eating. I tend to stop when I intellectually decide that I’ve eaten enough. With Jenny Craig, this is not an issue. When the meal or snack is gone, you’re done. No more temptation.

One of my weekly menu plans. The handwriting is substituting dishes I like for ones I don’t like.

I should add that in both Weight Watchers and Jenny Craig, the plan includes weekly meetings with a diet consultant, complete with a weigh-in. I found that useful when I started the program, but once I was acclimated to it, I skipped the sessions and just went in to buy my food and get weighed (this is for their records. I weigh myself at home and use my home scale as the measure of weight loss.)

Once I lost the desired weight on Jenny Craig, I had no trouble maintaining it, even after I went back to eating ‘real’ food. First, I initiated a transition program for myself – mixing Jenny Craig food with ‘regular’ food for several weeks before phasing out of Jenny Craig food altogether. I may keep some of the energy and dessert bars as part of my usual routine since they are quick, easy and satisfying and keep me from winging it on desserts and snacks, my weakness.

Some Jenny food products

I’m hoping that my extended time on Prednisone didn’t permanently affect my metabolism. I’m still dealing with high interocular pressure which was also caused by the Prednisone. I only want to lose 8-10 pounds, which isn’t a huge amount, but it’s enough to make a difference in how I feel and how I think I look. So, we’ll see how this diet works for me this time around.

I’m sure it won’t be the last time I have to go through this!

GETTING NOSY AGAIN – Marilyn Armstrong

Judy Dykstra Brown popped up with these questions and I found them kind of interesting. Also, I haven’t done this in quite a while, so why not? Right now, the shower installers are back removing ALL the grout and replacing it with the right stuff. I knew something was wrong. It just took a while to convince them that something was amiss.

Meanwhile, we can’t use the shower until tomorrow, but it is fixed.

Does anyone know the odds of getting a contractor to come back and fix something? I think approaching zero would be pretty accurate. Kudos that they came and did it properly this time.

1.  Do you like mustard? No, though honey mustard is an exception.
2. Choice of carbonated drink? Black Cherry ICE. It’s a lightly carbonated water and fruit juice with no sweetener.
3. Do you own a gun? No!
4. Whiskey, Tequilla, Rum or Vodka? We don’t drink.
5. Hot dogs or Cheeseburgers? Cheeseburgers. Garry, though, heavily favors hot dogs.
6. Favorite Type Of Food? Japanese, Thai, Chinese, Mexican (GOOD Mexican which is almost impossible to find in New England)
7. Do you believe in ghosts? Sort of.
8. What do you drink in the mornings? Coffee!
9. Can you do 100 pushups? Not even one.
10. Summer, Winter, spring or fall? Fall. If we had Spring, I’m sure I’d like it.
11. Favorite hobby? Photography, writing, reading. I still miss horses.
12. Tattoos? One which is uniquely mine.
13. Do you wear glasses? Yes. Two kinds. One is for using the computer and another for distance. I don’t wear glasses to read.
14. Phobia? Spiders.
15. Nickname? Hey, YOU! Also, Owen’s mommy, and Garry’s wife.
16. Three drinks you drink? Coffee, ginger ale, ICE, fruit juice (especially orange and grapefruit).
17. Biggest downfall? Unable to travel and can’t walk very far — OR do stairs. My sporting life is over and I will never pitch for the Sox.
18. Rain or Snow? Rain!
19. Piercings? Just ears.
21. Kids? One 50-year-old son and a 23-year-old granddaughter.
22. Favorite colors? Cobalt blue,  hot dark pink, wine red, and racing green accented with black.
23. Favorite age? 40 was good. 43 was even better.
24. Can you whistle? No.
25. Where were you born? Brooklyn, New York
26. Brothers or Sisters? 1 older brother, 1 younger sister. I’m in the middle.
28. Surgeries? When I exceeded 20, I stopped counting. Now, I can’t remember.
29. Shower or Bath? Shower. Last time I tried a bath, I couldn’t get out of the tub. Now, we don’t have a tub, just a big shower.
30. Like gambling? Not for real money. I love games, but I don’t want to lose my money and I don’t want to take someone else’s.
32. Broken bones? No. I specialize in torn ligaments and tendons.
33. How many TVs in your house? 3 – Living room, bedroom; Owen has his own.
34. Worst pain in your life? Having my spine fused. Emotionally? Losing my brother.
35. Do you like to dance? Yes, but I can’t anymore
36. Are your parents still alive? No.
37. Do you like to go camping? No. We used to “cabin camp” in Maine. That was okay except for the outhouse. Too many crawly things.

Please play along! These are fun to do and fun to read.
Copy, paste, change the answer!!

SHARE MY WORLD – JANUARY 20, 2020 – Marilyn Armstrong

Sharing My World  on 1-20-2020

QUESTIONS:

Where do you get your news?

I have a subscription to the Washington Post. I also read newsletters from the L.A. Times, Newsweek, Huff. And I read The New Yorker and Garry sends me a lot of clippings from the New York Post. We also watch the news to see what’s happening locally. We don’t spend a lot of time watching national and international news. I’d rather read about it. I find reading less depressing than watching.

What ‘old person’ thing do you do?

Go to bed late and get up late. I got up very early and was out of the house every day by 5:30am or 6am for 50 years. Now, I sleep in when I can and stay up until Colbert is over or whatever else I’m watching is finished. Then I go to bed and usually listen to an hour of audiobooks.

A Kindle and a Bluetooth speaker for listening to audiobooks

When was the coldest you’ve ever been?   The warmest?

I think when we used to go sledding when I was a kid, I was always frozen — which didn’t stop me. It didn’t matter how much clothing I wore, either. Also, they didn’t have the same level of warm clothing then that they have now. Fleece boots have really helped me live a better life.

Woods and fence

Back then, my feet were always blocks of ice as were my hands and face. These days, when it’s that cold, I don’t go out, yet I still need a heating pad to defrost my feet at night.

As for warm, we had one summer in Israel where the temperature topped 44 degrees (Celsius). A friend of mine didn’t drink enough water and was in a coma for more than a week from the heat.

None of us had air-conditioned homes.  Usually just getting out of the sun was enough because the air was so dry. That level of heat, though was more than many people could handle.

Do you eat food that’s past its expiration date if it still smells and looks fine?

It depends on what it is and how long past its expiration date. A yogurt a day over is fine. A week over? Not so much. On the other hand, I think a can of peas is permanent and probably will have the same food value in 100 years. I’m not sure it has any now.