Archive of ‘easy’ category

Raspberry Blancmange, Boob Pudding & Biopsies

This is a cautionary warning. If you are offended by crayon drawings of boobs or pudding shaped like boobs, please stop reading now. Also – never pick up a copy of National Geographic again. Sometimes there are real boobs in them.

Note: All of these pictures have been taken with an iPhone  This week has been stressful enough that I was not about to even attempt Lightroom or futzing with my camera.

This is my boob:

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These are my boobs with possible cancerous nodules on them:
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The above shape of my boob was drawn at my request by a young child who I will not identify, so none of you who take yourself too seriously will call CPS on his/her parents. The picture was also not drawn to scale or in any realistic way at all. And I put in the weird areas. Even I’m not twisted enough to have a kid do that.

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Last week, I alluded in my post that I was dealing with a scary medical issue. On Thursday afternoon, I will be having a mammographic stereotactic biopsy. This whole process does not seem real. This was supposed to be a a checkbox on a list of things I needed to do (pap smear, vaccines, dealing with other health issues) to be healthy and live a healthy life.

On the 14th, I went in for a screening mammogram. Since I have a family history of breast cancer, a base line mammogram is a good idea. As I get older, these x-rays will be something that will be used to compare later mammograms to.

I come home and work on stuff around the house. Little flutters of anxiety flit in and out of my head. It was like that when I waited for a pap smear test to come back. Around 3:30, I get a call. A very calming, reassuring voice tells me over and over that there’s no reason to be scared, but I need to come back in for a follow-up mammogram and ultrasound.

 It’s not until later that evening that a scene clicks into my head. I can see it in my mind like I’m watching a movie. Earlier that day, this beautiful Indian woman and I were brought back to the dressing rooms and given our little tie front robes. I was directed to the waiting room on the right. She was directed to the waiting room on the left. My sign said “screening”. Hers said “diagnostic”. I burst into tears so heavy that I make my t shirt damp. I wish I could have gone back in time and hugged her. She flits in and out of my mind every damn day, and every time I think about her, I ask God to help her, to get her through this, to help her family get through this.

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I sat in the diagnostic waiting room with my mom when I went back for a follow up mammogram. My first series of mammograms was fine. I mean, it’s not a breast handling technique I want my husband to learn, but it was more uncomfortable than painful. The very last x-ray done makes me dizzy with the pain. It’s like my boob was a zit that they were trying to pop. These mammograms still show suspicious issues, so an ultrasound is done. There is nothing like having your boobs lubed up and pressed firmly with something that feels like a giant computer mouse for a good time. The food scene from 9 1/2 weeks flashes through my head, and I remember that I was never very turned on by the honey scene even when I was 23 and stupid. I still think of how many ants that would attract and what a mess it would be to clean up. After that, a very nice doctor tells me that I have two areas of concern on my right breast. One is merely suspicious. The other is very suspicious, and I’ll need to have a biopsy where actual tissue is removed using a special tool that will collect larger fragments of tissue and uses a vacuum. In my head, I imagine one of the prize toy claws with a Dyson attached to it.

 After this visit, I go home and curl up on my bed for a few hours. I make myself get up, put on a black dress and go to the funeral of my friend’s 46 year old sister who died from complications from Type 1 diabetes. This was a woman who did everything she was supposed to do to manage her diabetes. This was a woman who was deeply loved by her entire family, but especially her brother. I hear a sermon telling everyone not to be sad, that this woman is in a better place. I feel my husband grow rigid beside me because this is the kind of thing that broke his faith for a while – this “be happy” approach without much regard to the grief and the sadness that all of those who loved her will be going through. Yes – they’re all relieved she’s not in pain anymore. But they’re really going to miss her.

I spend the next few days trying to make it through with black humor. I horrify my mom by telling her that I’ve never been felt up by so many different people since my junior year in high school. I tell Marcus that he has to scoop the litter boxes because he should feel guilty that I might have cancer. I find out I might have a titanium marker left in my boob, and I ask my husband if this makes me part Gobot. Someone leaves a bitchy comment on the Facebook page for this blog, and I totally want to reply “Man – you are going to look like such an asshole when you see my post on Tuesday.”

And then I burst into tears and scare the cats.

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I worry about my Mom. No one who had to endure the hell she went through with her two battles with cancer should ever have to worry about their daughter going through this. I worry about my dad. He keeps his emotions locked in very tight, but when my mom tells me he stayed up until 11:30 cleaning the night we found out I needed a biopsy, I know he’s trying to wrestle whatever control or solution or approach he can over this situation. Everyone hugs me more and holds me longer.

I worry about my husband. Helpful support from his family is pretty much a pipe dream. He has my family and his friends to lean on, but he’s also been beaten down by life in the last couple of years. He is terrified of losing me. He wants to fix this, to make it better, and he can’t.

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I worry about me. The thought of have successive needles stuck into me, so they can vacuum actual tissue out has caused two actual panic attack and brought me to the verge of others several times. Despite a phobia of needles that set in when I was 13, I have gotten much better through the years and have dealt with the last few blood sticks like a boss. I was doing so well. I got a flu shot a few weeks ago and didn’t flinch. The nurse gave me a hug, a sticker and a lollipop. I got a cortisone shot in my back two weeks ago, and while I was nervous, I got through it fine with only one reminder from my mom “Those are really good deep breaths you’re taking. Try taking them slower.” Now I feel terrified and ashamed that this irrational feel has taken control over me again. I made an appointment with a doctor for guidance on how to deal with this on Thursday. Easy answer – I will be gorked out of my mind on Thursday. Marcus is hiding my iPhone so there’s less of a chance I will “drunk” tweet. Sometimes he’s quite the killjoy.

Some quick tips if you have a friend that gets an abnormal mammogram or has to have more extensive testing done. Don’t tell them not to worry, or that they’ll be fine; that lots of other women have had this done and it’s nothing. Seriously - don’t do that, especially if you’ve never had this happen to you. Internet statistics are not what your friend needs. Your friend is scared. Let her be scared. Hug her. Let her cry. Let her rant. By insisting that everything is going to be OK, you minimize her fears and experiences, and you have no right to do that. After they’ve cried and freaked out a bit, then it’s OK to remind them that it is very likely the outcome will be OK, but that you also understand why they’re so scared.

Another tip – you have no idea what a person going through this brings as baggage on this shitty, shitty roller coaster ride. You may have had an abnormal mammogram and a needle biopsy and yours turned out just fine. That’s truly wonderful for you. But for other women it stirs up so much emotion that they feel swept up in a tidal wave of fear and déjà vu. Maybe their mom wasn’t at their wedding day because she died from breast cancer. Maybe they watched a friend fight and fight and fight and eventually had to watch her succumb to the disease. Maybe they’ve had to watch their sister go through chemotherapy and have seen how awful the process was for her.

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I have a mom who made it through two occurrences of cancer. The first one almost killed her. The second one was no walk in the park. And the phrase “Hopefully, the chemo kills the cancer faster than you” comes to mind. She has nerve damage and when it’s not causing her pain, she experiences times where she can’t really feel her feet and hands. She’s fallen down and knocked herself out. She’s broken her ankle. Every time I’m with her I make sure to follow her up the stairs and go first down the stairs. I know it annoys her, but I will never not do it.

A friend who was diagnosed with cancer in her early 30s was with us when Marcus and I got engaged. I remember her having to keep her intravenous port above water in the hot tub at the cabin. She read our favorite passage at our wedding. I see pictures from our wedding with her in them, and I cry. She fought cancer. She fought it hard.  Cancer won. A couple of weeks ago, my husband got all choked up and said “I really miss April. The world is worse off without her here”.

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And then I sit here and think about the state of healthcare in this country, and I am filled with rage. I rarely bring politics onto my blog, but there is something indecent, immoral and un-Christian about a country that lets people die because they don’t have health care. Those of us without healthcare? Very few of us are the lazy bums some people like to think we are.  Some of us have tried for years to buy insurance. Some of us have been told that it’s obvious that after seven different agents and applying for the same companies over and over again because our papers keep getting “lost”  - that we’re being illegally discriminated against, probably because of familial history. There’s no point in suing because we don’t have the money or teams of lawyers that insurance companies do. Some of us are uninsurable. Some of us don’t have the money to pay for insurance coverage because of the cost, while the insurance companies’ CEOs are being rewarded with millions in salary and millions in bonuses. Please don’t bother arguing with me about this in the comments. You’re entitled to your point of view. I have lived through this, and you will not bring me around to your way of thinking because of a comment left on my blog.

Sure – there are some programs for those who can’t get insurance. Good luck navigating your way through them. It’s taken us two years to be able to get affordable general health care. It’s taken eight cancelled visits to try to access a state program that is supposed to help women with cervical, ovarian & breast healthcare. It took so much time that my mom told me to just go ahead and schedule a mammogram, and she would pay for it. I’m glad I didn’t wait to get the mammogram done through this state program. A very kind woman at the center where I got my mammogram done cuts through the red tape. I have to sit in an office and be told “Now I don’t want to offend you, but God is there with us through every step of the way, and you need to remember everything is a part of God’s plan”. I am Christian. If I had not been, her words would not have brought me to Christ. This woman works in a government office and holds a lot of power over what kind of cancer screening I’ll have access to. I find the fact that she had decided to talk about God with me, when she had no idea what religion I may or may not have been, abhorrent. On the way out, this same woman tells me to look for the silver lining in this black cloud. I’m lucky that if I have breast cancer, I’ll be able to get on TennCare. Other cancers are not covered, and you’re shit out of luck if you have them and don’t have insurance. After subduing the strong urge to punch her in the throat and tell her that I was glad Allah was there to guide me through this journey, I quickly thanked her and left. photo (7)

Right now I want to take my boobs off, put them in a box for safe keeping and take them out for special occasions, like our wedding anniversary or Marcus’ birthday. It would be even better if I could send them out for repair and maintenance.

I chatted with a friend last night. After she pretended to be aghast with me when I said I just wanted to have a normal, boring life, she put it into perfect perspective. I want to be beige. I want to have a beige life for a while. I’ll still wear fuchsia because I look horrible in beige, but a beige life sounds wonderful right now.

I realize that the outcome from this biopsy has a very good chance of being a good one. But I am 39 years old. I should not be going through this. No one should be going through this. Fuck Cancer.

photo (11) My pimp hat seemed appropriate for this picture.

I have wonderful friends and a wonderful family that have been hard at work keeping me busy and diverting my attention away from Thursday. One of my friends who I have given the alias, SchmArin, brainstormed with me on ways we could make boobs out of food. Cupcakes seemed way overdone and not much of a challenge. Plus a 3 year old frosts cupcakes better than me. I also thought about rice krispy treat boobs, but they seemed to be too lumpy for my comfort. He’s been cooking his way through the pudding section of the The Essential New York Times Cookbook, so we pondered pudding options. He thought blancmange (A sweet dessert commonly made with milk and/or cream and sugar thickened with gelatin) would work best. He had breast shaped bowls, so I planned to go over to his place to make this magic happen. Raspberries seemed like our best bet for nipples.

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First, I ran to the closest grocery story and our local food co-op. Neither place had raspberries. I called SchmArin and asked him “Would strawberries work as nipples if we just used the tip?” He told me that was the strangest question he had ever been asked. I told him I was sure it wasn’t the strangest question I had ever asked, but it was up there on the list. We decided to make our blancmange first and then worry about nipples later.  SchmArin went off on a weird tangent about doing some kind of raspberry center or drizzle. After a few minutes I was able to convey that while I wanted these puddings to look like my boobs, I wanted them intact and not portrayed as they would be during the biopsy. I have very little shame, but that seemed too much even for me.


Please forgive me for flipping the video the wrong way. I’ve been a little nervous.

We followed the recipe from the cookbook pretty closely. We decided to flavor the blancmange with a little bit of raspberry jelly. I’m pretty pale but not vampire pale. We thought the jelly would be nice with the lemon and would warm up the color a little. We had a very scary grey stage at one point, but the addition of a tiny bit more jelly got us back into flesh colored territory very quickly. We poured them into the bowls. We wanted to make them a little fuller, so we had enough blancmange for 5 1/2 bowls. We threw the boobs into the fridge and went out in search of nipples.

After perusing many fruit options, raspberries still seemed like best idea. I tell you, there’s nothing that makes me feel more like a locavore than buying fresh raspberries in March in East Tennessee.

On Sunday, we unmolded the first halfway filled bowl (stick the bowl gently in hot water until it unsticks a bit from the sides) and plopped it out on a plate. Marcus, SchmArin and I dug in. We all agreed; my boobs were pretty damn tasty. They were a little too see through around the top area. If we ever make boob pudding again, we’ll use more cream for part of the milk (and I made the adjustment in the recipe posted here). For some reason, SchmArin decided to toast some almond bits and add them to the top of the boobs. I think this makes my boobs look dusty, but it made SchmArin happy, so I went with it.

This is the way I cope. The more I can laugh at a problem and the more that I can mock it in a ridiculous fashion, the better I feel about the whole thing. Thankfully, I have a husband, family and friends who indulge me when times get tough. No matter how everything works out, that is one thing that I will always be grateful for.


This is my husband. You should feel sorry for him because this is one of the least embarrassing things I’ve made him do.

 

New Jersey BlancMange
Serves 6
Adapted from The Essential New York Times Cookbook

3 cups whole milk with a layer of cream or use half milk & half cream
5 tablespoons sugar
2 1/2 teaspoons gelatin
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
Grated zest of 1 lemon
5 teaspoons raspberry jelly
3/4 teaspoon almond extract
Optional – toasted almond crumbs and/or fresh raspberries

In a medium saucepan, combine the milk (or half milk, half cream), sugar, gelatin, salt, zest and raspberry jelly. Bring this slowly to a boil, Making sure to whisk so that the sugar and gelatin dissolve. If your jelly seems clumpy, use the whisk to push down on the clump. When bubbles form on the milk, remove from the heat. Strain through a fine seive (the one we used wasn’t fine enough). Stir in the almond extract.

Pour the liquid into six 1/2 to 3/4 cup bowls or ramekins. Chill until firm – that took about 3 hours for us. Dip the bowls in warm water to loosen and unmold onto plates.

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McLynchburg Lemonades – Horrifying Cocktail Aficionados Everywhere

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No green food coloring was used in the making of this drink.

I have never been one for fruity, over-sweet cocktails. I like my bourbon neat, and I’ve never found a margarita mix that I could tolerate. I think this process started in college. While most of my friends were getting carded every time they ordered a Sex on the Beach or a Long Island Iced Tea, baby-face me got away with ordering a vodka tonic with a twist of lime almost every time. From an early age, I was well on the path to becoming a cocktail snob.

My husband jokes that I like manlier beers than he does. It’s true – give me a stout, and I’m a happy girl. But I’m game to try any kind of cocktail. It either needs to be the kind of refreshing drink that you crave when it’s 90 degrees out like Watermelon Gin Fizzes or a Route 69 Cherry Limeade. If it’s not something that’s going to cool me down, it needs to have an intriguing element to it like lavender (Kid Curry Cocktail) or basil (Peach Basil Sangria)

The McLynchburg Lemonade is not one of those cocktails. At all. And yet, I still adore every single sweet, fruity gulp of it.

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I had my first Lynchburg Lemonade at the Gaylord Opryland Hotel. This place is amazing. It looks like a Sandals Beach Resort, a hideously huge McMansion, Pigeon Forge and a botanical garden all got together for an orgy, and 9 months later this hotel was born. As a child I occasionally went to brunches there with my parent and participated in Easter Egg hunts, so I have a soft place in my heart for it. Is it tacky? You better believe it. But it’s tacky in such a refined way that you actually feel posh when you stay there. Its presence almost makes up for the fact that they ripped apart my beloved Opryland Theme Park and turned it into a steroid infused mockery of an outlet mall. The Opryland hotel has also provided me with the sweet, sweet image of Sarah Palin giving a speech standing in front of a podium that had “GAYLORD” posted in big letters across it.

The first time I took my husband to Nashville, I told him he had to experience the Opryland Hotel. It was too glorious to be missed. I brought him to the restaurant in the Cascades Atrium because it was where I had my first Lynchburg Lemonade. I have no idea if this still goes on, but at one point there was a nightly light and water show there. A man dressed in white would play a gigantic white piano in what had to have been an homage to Liberace. That show was another formative step towards my love for all things camp.

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We each ordered a Lynchburg Lemonade. We sat there looking at the pulsating fountains and tropical trees all around us. And then my husband turned to me and said “Not bad. I bet we could make this better. This tastes like a mix.” I looked deeply into his eyes and said “Let it be done.”

As soon as we got home we made them ourselves, and they were better. Every once in a while we’d make and drink them, usually while sitting on our upper porch that we like to call “The Veranda” when we’re feeling fancy.

The topic of  Lynchburg Lemonades can be very controversial. Some things in the South are sacrosanct and should not be changed, but there is no way in hell I would ever buy a container of sweet & sour mix.  So we make our own sweet and sour mix (it’s very similar to this recipe), and we sometimes change it up with a more natural lemon-lime soda than Sprite. You may do these things as well, but here’s the “real” recipe for a Lynchburg Lemonade.

One hot August day we decided a Lynchburg Lemonade was in order, but there was no Jack Daniels to be found. The only whiskey we had was a bottle of Bushmills Irish whiskey. We defiled that whiskey, and we defiled it hard. Into the Lynchburg Lemonade it went, and it was delicious. We decided to name that drink a McLynchburg Lemonade, because O’Lynchburg Lemonade didn’t sound as dumb.

So we created a new holiday ritual in our home. Every St. Patrick’s Day we go to a fine purveyor of spirits in our fair city. Every St. Patrick’s Day we ask them what kind of moderately-priced Irish Whiskey they recommend. And every St. Patrick’s Day we enjoy the look of horror that spreads across that person’s face when we tell them what we’re going to do with it.

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Have a gloriously fun St. Patrick’s Day everyone. And for the love of all that is holy, stay away from the green beer.

McLynchburg Lemonade
Serves 2

2 part Irish Whiskey
2 part sweet and sour mix
2 part triple sec
8 parts Sprite or lemon-lime soda

Add ice and give it a good stir. If you’re feeling all Sandra Lee and want to garnish it up, stick some lemon slices and cherries on the edge or in the drink.

Trout with Brown Butter-Caper Sauce and Facing the Cruelty Behind my Cooking

 I’m on a brief blog hiatus for the next little bit, so I thought posting some of my favorite posts from the past would be a good way to fill in until I got a new blog post up.  This post is from August 30, 2009.

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The Clinch River is one of my favorite places in Tennessee. Sure – It’s a creation of TVA and that in itself is a strike against it. But it’s such a beautiful place that I find even that can’t diminish my love for it.

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TVA or the Tennessee Valley Authority has a very mixed heritage in our area. During the 1930s, the Tennessee Valley was a very poor area, even by Depression Era standards. TVA projects displaced over 15,000 people, covering over towns, native burial grounds and land that had been in families for years. On the other hand, TVA provided jobs to an area that was surrounded by poverty. Marcus’s grandfather was an electrician at Norris Dam and a few other TVA projects. TVA reduced the devastating floods in this area but they also destroyed pristine areas when they built projects like the Tellico Dam. The creation of the Tellico Dam ruined one on of the best trout fisheries in the area when they dammed the Little Tennessee, and land that TVA acquired through eminent domain at a very low cost is now being sold for hundreds of thousands of dollars per acre to developers.

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No matter what my feelings towards TVA are, Norris Lake is here to stay. The Clinch River starts in Southwest Virgina, near Tazwell. The Clinch and Powell River meet up at Norris Lake, formed when Norris Dam was built in 1936. Norris Dam is the first dam built by TVA and at the time was constructed in a modernist style – considered quite advanced and controversial at the time. It really is an impressive sight, especially at dusk.

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Because the dam is 285 feet high, it impounds a large quantity of very cold water. This cold water is the perfect temperature for trout. In the 80s, TVA constructed a weir dam that speeds the river back up about two miles from the dam – this adds oxygen to the water and makes it even more habitable for trout.

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On a hot summer’s night, not many things are more refreshing then walking alongside the tailwaters. Not only is it beautiful but the rushing, cold water kicks up a cool breeze, even on a hot night. During the summer, there’s usually fog that begins to form as sunset approaches.

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Norris State Park, Cove Creek Wildlife Management Area and Chuck Swan State Forest all preserve areas around the lake. We’ve seen groundhogs, hawks, osprey, deer, skunks and foxes around here.

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On Friday, Marcus and I went blueberry picking at a farm nearby and stopped by the river so Marcus could fish for a bit. It was one of those days when the fishing alchemy was perfect and in the hour we were there, Marcus quickly caught several brown trout. Two were too small to keep and one was too big so they were quickly let go. Marcus asked me if we should keep the other ones to eat and I told him he could make that decision. It was a cop-out. If he decided to keep them, I wasn’t responsible for their death. But even doing that made me feel bad – I could have asked him to let them go and he would have.

I’m a bit of a hypocrite when it comes to facing the cruelty of my cooking head on. Sure, we buy the majority of our meat from local, humane producers and we eat a lot less meat than the average consumer. But I don’t feel guilty when I eat that meat. I don’t feel like I personally caused that animal to die and it’s because I’m so insulated from the process.

I think there’s a lot of truth to the saying that if slaughterhouses all had glass walls, we’d be vegetarians. Most of us have insulated ourselves from the cruelty of our choices. We buy pork or beef at our grocery store, sanitized and packed in a neat little package. We don’t have to see the horrific conditions those animals were raised under. We don’t even have the courage to call it by it’s animal name – cow meat or pig meat.

I’ve had people throw a fit when Marcus has mentioned that he sometimes hunts and fishes quite a bit. These people stand there in their leather shoes, holding a burger from McDonalds and tell us that hunting is cruel and have no idea of the irony of their statements. We’ve created a world where we don’t have to see the consequences of our actions, at least when it comes to the meal on the kitchen table.

There’s no getting away from the fact that creatures on this planet will die to produce the food that keeps you alive. You can be a vegan and animals will still have died to produce your food. Even humans will be harmed and possibly die to produce the food you eat. All kinds of animals die during the harvesting process. Merely using the land for the growing of food, rather than animal habitat, causes death. If you don’t eat organic produce, farm workers will contract cancer because of the chemicals that are used in the farming of your food. Even if you eat organic foods, farm workers in foreign country will go hungry when the organic peaches they grow to provide for their families are turned down for not being up to standard. Even if you buy local, organic produce, you’re still not blameless. An organic farmer I know lost 600 tomato plants in one night to deer. His losses were so great that he had to get a depredation permit in order to get any kind of harvest at all and to control his losses for next year.

I grow a lot of our produce in my suburban garden. Every year we fight off the birds and possums so we can harvest our tomatoes. They don’t usually take enough to cause severe losses but I know the frustration of going out to the garden and finding nibbles and pecks in almost all of the not-quite-ripe tomatoes. A few weeks ago, we had a difficult choice to make. The biggest groundhog I had ever seen was in our back yard. They may be cute animals but anyone who’s gardened knows that devastation they can cause in a garden in a single night. It disappeared, never to be seen again but what would we have done if it had decided to make its home nearby?

We need to strip off the marketing gloss of our dining choices and come face to face with the cruelty that comes as a result of our choices. That doesn’t mean we need to go out and shoot a deer or kill a chicken ourselves, although I greatly admire people who are willing to do that. It does mean that we need to be aware that our food comes with a cost. We need to treat our food with the reverence that it deserves – we need to use it wisely. We need to appreciate the farmers that grew it and the lives that were lost in the production of it.

This life can be an amazing gift – full of beauty and wonder. But none of us can escape the fact that it can be cruel as well. In the gorgeous surroundings of the Clinch River valley, I was responsible for the death of three living creatures. The best thing I could do is to be grateful for the loss of those lives so that I could live.

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Trout with Brown Butter-Caper Sauce

1/4 teaspoon olive oil
2 trout fillets – about 4 oz each
Salt and Pepper
2 tablespoons shallots (We used Egyptian Walking Onions from our garden)
1 heaping tablespoon of drained capers
1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon butter

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First off, if you caught your own fish, you need to clean them and fillet them.

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Chop your shallots and get your capers and lemon ready. Add oil to a non-stick skillet and put over medium heat. Heat for 2 minutes. Salt and pepper both sides of fillets and add to pan.

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When the edges of the fillet start to turn white, flip. This will take 1 to 1 1/2 minutes. After flipping, cook for another 1 1/2 or until fish flakes easily with a fork.

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Remove fillets from pan, put on a plate and tent with foil to keep warm.

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Add butter to skillet. Watch carefully because in a non-stick skillet it’s hard to see when it begins to brown. It usually takes about 2 to 2 1/2 minutes for us.

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When it’s beginning to turn brown, add shallots and sautee for two minutes until they begin to soften.

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Then add lemon juice and capers, cook for another minute.

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Pour sauce over fish and serve.

For a printable recipe, click here!

 

2465276993_396ac181ea_o This meal is part of my One Local Summer meal for this week.  Admittedly, capers aren’t local but I’m hoping that next year, I’ll have pickled nasturtium buds to use as a substitute.  The butter was made from Cruze Farm milk and we used some of the caper juice to sub in for the lemon.  Instead of shallots, we used Egyptian Walking Onions from our garden.  We served this fish with roasted Dragon Langerie, Masai and Purple Trionfo Violetto beans from our garden.  Dessert was a blueberry cornmeal cake made with local blueberries and local cornmeal.

Anniversary Apple Butter & Loving the Wrong Person

 I’m on a brief blog hiatus for the next little bit, so I thought posting some of my favorite posts from the past would be a good way to fill in until I got a new blog post up.  This post is from November 17, 2010

 

Loving the wrong person

We’re all seeking that special person who is right for us, but if you’ve been through enough relationships, you begin to suspect there’s no right person, just different flavors of wrong. Why is this? Because you yourself are wrong in some way, and you seek out partners who are wrong in some complementary way. But it takes a lot of living to grow fully into your own wrongness. It isn’t until you finally run up against your deepest demons, your unsolvable problems – the ones that make you truly who you are – that you’re ready to find a life-long mate. You’re looking for the wrong person. But not just any wrong person: the right wrong person – someone you lovingly gaze upon and think, “This is the problem I want to have.” – Andrew Boyd, Daily Afflictions.

You know, I had this lovely post all worked out for our anniversary.  I was going to post our recipe for apple butter because when my husband and I got married, we made apple butter for our guests.  I figured they all probably didn’t need another engraved-with-a-random-wedding-date-cheap champagne flute so we went for something practical. And our guests seemed to be happy with it – I actually saw several guests drinking it like a shot.  Either we made a damn good apple butter or those guests were drunk.  Probably both.

My husband and I have turned making apple butter into an anniversary tradition and I had this wonderful blog post idea about how marriage was like a jar of apple butter.  And it was so cute without being retch-inducing and I’m sure it would have totally gone viral in a major way and at this point in time, I’m sure one of Ellen’s producers would have been calling me, asking me to make apple butter and be witty on her show.

Life has this funny way of getting in the way.  Instead of writing that post, we painted our bedroom blue.  And worked on code.

Why did we do this?  Because it had to be done.  My husband and I run an online shopping board and we’re heading into what we refer to as crazytime.  We’re getting over 200 non-spam emails a day and the posts on our site and traffic to it are going up.  We’re also getting ready to make a MAJOR update in our board software and that’s been causing us to tear our hair out,  especially since it has to be done before the week of Black Friday.

Add to this stress the fact that we’re also in the middle of some pretty big home renovations.  We have this beautiful, big house and we’ve spent the last two years crammed into three rooms.  We made some progress a couple of weeks ago and got our office opened up but I’m jonesing to have our bedroom back.  Especially since I’m sick of our clothes being scattered to the four winds throughout our house.  And especially since we’re working on a deadline and have to have a certain amount of our house finished by the time we re-finance.

So instead of some swooningly beautiful prose about my husband, I’m going to say this.  I love him.  And the man drives me crazy. And I drive him crazy. And sometimes that crazy is even in a good way.  I would have rather been on a tropical beach, sipping on a frosty tropical drink while we lounged in the sun together.  Hell – I would have rather been hiking in the rain.  Instead, we painted our bedroom blue.  And I threw a hissy fit about not being where I wanted to be and being where I was.  And my husband waited for me to finish and then said he was going to finish painting the trim now.  And I sighed.  And realized that where I was, was where I was.  And I was lucky to be there with the man that I was with.

So we ate cupcakes & drank red wine from our anniversary champagne flutes.  And painted.  But I still made apple butter.  And I had the problem I wanted to have.

The key to really good apple butter is really good apples.  Stayman Winesaps are my preferred apples for this.   If you’re not sure what kind of apples to use, buy lots of different kinds and mix them.  Please understand that the measurements below are flexible on purpose.  There is no way for me to give you an absolute recipe for this – every batch of apples are different so you’ll need to season this as you go.

If I can get my hands on organic Stayman Winesaps, I simply quarter them and cook them with skins and cores.  This takes a lot longer to cook down and you can’t do chunky-style applesauce this way but as long as you put everything through a food mill, this is my favorite way to make apple butter.  It’s next to impossible to find organic Stayman Winesaps locally though so the method I have detailed below is the one I regularly turn to.

I don’t like to keep a slow cooker going all night (and it’s really not smart to do this while the apple butter is cooking down) so I start this on the stove, stick it in the fridge overnight and heat it back up again on the stove.  And then I pour the applesauce into the slow cooker to cook down.  Again – this is not something you can really leave because you need to leave the lid askew in order for it to cook down.  You’re also going to need to scrape down the sides of the slow cooker every hour or so.

Anniversary Apple Butter
8 lbs apples
2 cups apple cider
1 – 2 cups packed dark brown sugar (my batch I used 1 1/2 cups)
Juice from 1/2 to 2 lemons (I used one lemon which was about 4 tablespoons of juice)
2-4 teaspoons cinnamon

Making Applesauce:
Core & slice apples.  Place in large saucepan with apple cider, one cup brown sugar and two tablespoons lemon juice.  Bring to a simmer over low heat and simmer for 2 hours or until apples are tender and falling apart.  Season to taste with cinnamon.  Correct the seasonings again – if the flavor seems a little flat, add more lemon juice.  Now you can eat this as applesauce or you take the next step and make into apple butter.

Making Apple Butter:
Put apple butter through a food mill.  You can also puree it in a food processor but I think the food mill gives it a really silky consistency you can’t get anywhere else.  If this is cold, I usually heat it back up on the stove and then pour it into a slow cooker on low.  Make sure that the lid to your cooker is askew and cook for about 12 hours.  Make sure to scrape down the sides as it cooks.  Let most of the liquid cook out.  It will get very dark.  About 6 hours through cooking, taste and add any additional sugar or cinnamon that you think it may need.

Allow it to cool completely.  You can refrigerate this for up to three weeks or you can can it.  To can, ladle hot apple butter into prepared jars, leaving 1/4 inch headspace.  Process in a hot water canner for 10 minutes.

Please click here for a printable recipe!


Broccoli and Soba with Toasted Sesame Seed Sauce, the Gift of Improvisation & Snarky Cats

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This was so good that I licked the plate.  As I was licking the plate, a Mira-cat was eating near me.  She turned toward me and gave me side-eye and I’m pretty sure that if she could talk, she’d have said “At least I eat daintily out of the bowl like a civilized person. Peasant.”  After retorting that at least I don’t lick my own ass, I realized that I’m really glad my cats can’t talk. One, because I’m pretty sure they’re snarky jerks but two, you all would think I was crazier than I already am.  My cats keep my secrets but only because they can’t verbally negotiate deals to sell them to the highest bidder.

One of the skills you need to develop when you belong to a CSA is the ability to trust yourself to improvise.  Note – I did not say that you need to learn how to improvise.  Because you already know how to do this.  Yes.  You do.  No arguing.  What you need to learn how to do is to let yourself improvise.

Eating locally and seasonally is delicious and being part of a CSA will give you produce that is fresher than you can imagine.  But it’s very different from planning a menu and going to the grocery store to get those groceries.  Or even going to the farmer’s market to get the produce you need.  You need to learn to be flexible. You need to let yourself improvise.

So improvise.  Make mistakes.  Know that it won’t always work out but that’s OK.  It will probably be edible and you’ve learned what not to do.  A lot of times that’s just more important than knowing what to do.

This is the frittata I made the other day.  It stuck to the pan.  I don’t care.  It’s delicious and allowed me to use up some yellow zucchini, onions and the lardons I had left over from the salad I made the other night.

Risottos, pasta dishes, egg rolls, stir-frys, salads, pizzas, fritters – all of these recipes can be played without a lot of trouble.  Change out cheeses, vegetables, spices, meats, etc.  You can even create your own recipes.

This is not a recipe for exact amounts and ingredients.  Instead of broccoli, put blanched asparagus or cauliflower in it.  Or barely blanched summer squash.  Or sliced cucumbers.  Or lightly steamed and chopped greens.  Have a fresh turnip that needs to be used?  Dice that up and throw it in.  Are you out of soba?  Spaghetti noodles would work. I love ginger and garlic and I wouldn’t hesitate to add more.  More scallions would be a lovely touch as well.  Cilantro sprinkled across the top would be delicious.  Add in diced chicken, shrimp or tofu.  I had no hulled white sesame seeds so I used brown, unhulled ones.  Next time I make this, I’ll probably double the broccoli and use half the noodles. Play with this.  It’s hard to screw up.

Broccoli & Soba with Toasted Sesame Seed Sauce
Adapted from Vegetarian Planet by Didi Emmons
Serves 2-3

1/2 cup white sesame seeds
8 ounces dried soba noodles
4 tablespoons Chinese black vinegar or balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons sugar
4 – 6 tablespoons soy sauce
1 1/2 T minced fresh ginger
2-3 garlic cloves, minced
2 teaspoons dark sesame oil
5 scallions, chopped fine, both white and green parts
4 heaping cups small broccoli pieces, blanched

Preheat oven to 375. Pour the sesame seeds onto a rimmed baking sheet. Toast the seeds in the oven until they are a rich brown color on the edges.  The recipe said 10 minutes but this took only 5 minutes in my oven.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.  Add the soba noodles and cook for 5-6 minutes or until the noodles are just tender.  Drain them, rinse well with cold water and drain them again.

In a large bowl, stir together the vinegar, sugar, soy sauce, ginger, garlic, sesame oil and scallions.  Add the noodles.  Stir well.  Add the sesame seeds.  Stir well again.  Add the broccoli, stir well and let sit at room temperature for 30 minutes before serving.

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