Stuff and Nonsense: March 2013


Happy Easter!

Easter has always been one of my favorite holidays and dyeing Easter eggs must be my favorite tradition. I remember, when I was very small, my mother would let me chose the colors and add the drops of dye to the vinegar. The tiny puddles of dye always looked too little to matter, but then she'd add boiling water from the kettle and ... well, six-year-old me thought it was a kind of magic. As I grew older, I was eventually allowed to take on more egg dyeing responsibilities and, by the time I was in high school, the job was all mine. And I reveled in it, turning out all sorts of weird, festive colors that made my mother sigh a little.

Dyeing Easter Eggs

I all grown up now, with no children of my own, yet I still dye eggs. I dye eggs and remember the Easters of my childhood. Olives on my fingers, morsels of spiral ham snuck from the roasting pan when no-one was looking, my grandmother's pirogi and kielbasa. And, of course, the Easter basket! My mother made the best Easter basket -- jellybeans and a chocolate bunny, of course, but also markers and watercolors, coloring books and crayons, bubbles and an awesome cuddly stuffed bunny.

Happy Birthday, Anna Sewell

I said, "I have heard people talk about war as if it was a very fine thing."
"Ah!" said he, "I should think they never saw it. No doubt it is very fine when there is no enemy, when it is just exercise and parade and sham fight. Yes, it is very fine then; but when thousands of good brave men and horses are killed or crippled for life, it has a very different look."
"Do you know what they fought about?" said I.
"No," he said, "that is more than a horse can understand, but the enemy must have been awfully wicked people, if it was right to go all that way over the sea on purpose to kill them."


There is no religion without love, and people may talk as much as they like about their religion, but if it does not teach them to be good and kind to man and beast it is all a sham - all a sham, James, and it won't stand when things come to be turned inside out and put down for what they are. 
― Anna Sewell, Black Beauty

It's hard to believe, but there was a time when I could quote passages from Black Beauty. Indeed, I was so fond of some passages I wrote them down in purple ink in my special not-to-be-shared-with-anyone quotations book! (I wish I'd kept that book, but I tossed it in high school ... deciding it was both embarrassing and "not grown up").

I'd never been a horsey girl, but I picked up a copy of Anna Sewell's Black Beauty during an elementary school book fair -- I presume I liked the cover? Or maybe it was discounted with my copy of The Swiss Family Robinson? Regardless, I started reading Black Beauty on the way home from school ... and then I read it everywhere. Including, much to my mother's disapproval, the bathtub.

So happy birthday, Anna Sewell. You rocked my eleven-year-old world.


Greek Yogurt, & Pears, & Flax! Oh, my!

Who would have thought that yoghurt, pears, and flax could be so delicious? I've eaten this delightful mess two days running now and, as I fully expect to eat it again tomorrow, I thought I should post the recipe.

Yoghurt w/ Pears & Flax

Yogurt with Pears & Flax
Serves 1

1 6 oz cup fat-free Greek yoghurt
1 Anjou pear, peeled, cored, and diced
1 Tbsp whole ground ground flaxseed [Bob's Red Mill]
1 Tbsp flaxseed oil [Barlean's]
Honey, to taste
Ground cinnamon and nutmeg, to taste
Crushed toasted hazelnuts, if desired

Mound the yogurt in the center of a soup plate. Surround with pear. Top with remaining ingredients. Eat.
It's nutty and tangy, crunchy and sweet. Yum. So good I find myself running my finger 'round the empty bowl, trying to scoop up every last micromorsel.


Sardines, My Fishy Darlings

Hungry and too lazy to go food shopping, I turned to "Sardines with Sun-Dried Tomato and Capers," a recipe I pinned weeks ago when I decided sardines and mackerel should be my new fishy BFF's as I tried to pack more healthy oils and lean protein into my diet. This has been no hardship as sardines and mackerel are delicious.


Ingredients: Oil-packed sardines, lemon juice, capers, sun-dried tomatoes, thyme, oregano, salt, pepper, sriracha.

I usually buy boneless filleted sardines packed in olive oil and did not realize Wild Planet's "Wild Sardines in Extra Virgin Olive Oil" would be any different as the packaging said "Delicious meaty portions cleaned and scale-free." Therefore, I was quite surprised to see little fishy spines when I started mixed everything together! This made me feel a little squeamish and I at the spread very ... cautiously ... always expecting to crunch down on spiny goodness.

Which never happened. The bones broke up, mixed right in, and tasted no different than the surrounding fish mixture. Or the crunchiness of the crisp bread obscured the crunchy fish bones. Either way, it was all actually quite good and I would happily make it again for lunch.


If I were serving this to other people, however, I think I would probably use good quality oil-packed tuna instead of the sardines. I would also throw in some chopped pitted Niçoise olives and fresh parsley. Indeed, fresh herbs all around would make this a great summer dish.


Celebrating Spring with Strawberries & Blue Cheese

It really is spring! The calendar says so and nature agrees!

First Spring Blooms 2013

First Spring Blooms 2013

Wanting to celebrate, I made a beautiful “spring” salad of baby arugula, strawberries, crumbled blue cheese, and sliced almonds dressed with white balsamic vinegar and Barlean's flax oil. I used a lovely bit of Boucher Family Farm's Madison Blue in the salad -- it's very creamy with great tang. At the moment, one of my favorite blues.

Spring Salad

While I made this salad, I founding myself singing Miriam Makeba's "Love Tastes Like Strawberries." I'd never heard of Makeba until I saw her commemorative Google doodle and now I can't get enough. Good thing my library system has a vast and varied music collection!


Around Connecticut: Birthday Bakery Crawl

Took The Husband on a bakery crawl for his birthday, because The Husband loves himself some baked goods and we live in an area full of bakeries we have not visited yet. You would think, considering how much money we spend on baked goods every year, that such a thing could not be true and yet it is.

While I'd plotted a great many bakeries thanks to Yelp and Google Maps, we only visited three before The Husband cried uncle! I have no doubt we'll visit the remainder soon ... a bakery a weekend would probably be the sensible method.

Sensible, schmensible. Visit all the bakeries. Eat all the things.

Cupcakes @ Sugarbelle
Cupcakes  from Sugarbelle

Mousse cake @ La Petit France
Chocolate mousse cake from La Petit France

Tarts @ Aby's Bakery
Assorted tarts from Aby's Bakery


Improv Challenge: Peas & Carrots

For March's Improv Challenge, I was all set to tackle my Mom's split-pea soup recipe. I even bought a ham! But then the weather warmed up just enough to suggest that spring was around the corner ... and I didn't want soup, anymore. Fickle tummy! So I made a delicious salad of many shredded crunchy things ...

Crunchy Salad of Crunchiness

Crunchy Chicken Salad
Makes 4 large servings

3 boneless skinless chicken breasts
8 oz Napa cabbage, shredded
4 oz red cabbage, shredded
4 oz sugar snap peas, strings removed, chopped on the diagonal
2 oz bean sprouts
1 red bell pepper (ribs and seeds removed), thinly sliced
1 large carrot, coarsely shredded
4 scallions, thinly sliced
½ cup sliced almonds
1 recipe "Ginger-Sesame Dressing", as needed [or Newman's Own, Maple Grove Farms, Annie's Homegrown Organics, etc]

Pound the breasts until they are flattish and then marinate in some dressing overnight or until needed.

Line a baking pan with parchment paper or foil, add marinated breasts, and bake at 350F° for 20 minutes or until breasts are cooked through. Set aside, let cool, then shred into small pieces with two forks. (Chicken can be prepared a day or so in advance, if desired).

Toss everything together. Add dressing, as desired, and toss until salad is evenly coated in dressing. Divide between four plates. Garnish with more sliced scallions and almonds, if desired. Eat

To make assembling this salad easier (and faster), I shredded/chopped all of the vegetables in my food processor using the "slicing" plate (my "shredding" plate shreds too fine for salad, imho).


If It's Spring, Then I Must Be Craving Salad

Regardless of what the weather may be doing, my body knows Spring is upon us. I'm waking up earlier and earlier and experiencing great fits of restlessness. I itch to be outside, in the sun, prepping my garden beds or just watching the birds return from their winter homes. And my craving for salad knows no bounds.

Spring Must Be Coming: Salad

To soothe my craving, I made two salads of baby arugula, shredded carrot, chopped roasted beets, sliced almonds, crumbled blue cheese, chopped egg, and crumbled crisp-cooked bacon. The first, I dressed with Barlean's flax oil and yummy-on-everything Katz Late Harvest Zinfandel Agrodolce vinegar. It was fab and I felt positively righteous eating it. "Look at me,” I thought, “catering to my cravings like a healthy and sensible person rather than eating too much of something I don't particularly enjoy to make up for ignoring my cravings. Go, me."

And then I dressed the second salad with Cindy's Kitchens' positively addictive Gorgonzola & White Balsamic and felt a smidge less righteous, because I'm still having a hard time getting my brain to forget the "fat = bad food" and "bad food = food guilt" philosophy I let it marinate in over the past three decades.


Why-Isn't-It-Spring-Yet? Comfort Food

Grey. Cold. Blah. Winter had me craving some serious comfort food last week -- braised cabbage, macaroni and cheese, roast chicken, mashed potatoes, and meatloaf with brown gravy. And I fed those cravings. All of them. Took two meals, but they were satisfied.

Midweek Comfort Food

I can't think of anything I'd rather pair with macaroni and cheese than braised red cabbage. They go together like peanut butter and jelly. I used the Vegetarian Slow Cooker's recipe for "Bavarian Braised Cabbage" and it was so good! And easy! The Husband was disappointed the recipe was meatless and did not eat any ... which was fine by me. I ate the whole pot in a day.

The beautiful macaroni and cheese was by Kraft. Yes. Hearty Four Cheese Kraft Homestyle Macaroni & Cheese Dinner mostly made as the bag directed ... I couldn't read the silver lettering on the bread crumb and cheese powder packets and ended up throwing bread crumbs in when I wanted cheese. This mistake turned out pretty okay as the breadcrumbs helped thicken the sauce. I did tart the macaroni and cheese up with a thick layer of shredded Cabot Seriously Sharp before I put it in the oven and, oh my, the cheesy goodness.

Heck Yeah Meatloaf

I know, I know. Homely! But comfort doesn't need to be pretty, it just needs to be comforting. And delicious. And it was. Enough so that there wasn't any leftovers. I used Coconut & Lime's easy recipe for "Peas & Carrots Meatloaf" and I recommend you give it a try! I would stress grating the carrots finely, as the recipe directs, because I grated mine quite coarsely and they didn't blend well with the other ingredients -- which might be why the meatloaf fell apart, come to think of it.

The gravy's just a basic beef-stock-and-herbs reduction and the potatoes are instant. Yes! Cooked with chicken broth instead of water and tarted up with lashings of heavy cream and melted butter, they're nothing to sneer at.


Eating the Alphabet: C is for Chayote

March's Eating the Alphabet Challenge was to use C and/or D ingredients. Last year, I used chickpeas in "Pasta With Chickpeas, Spinach, and Golden Raisins" so I planned on sticking with a "D" ingredient this time 'round. Maybe daikon radishes or dates. But then I espied chayotes at Shoprite and knew I had to give them a try.

Chayotes (also called "mirliton," "cho-cho," and "christophine") are adorable pear-shaped gourd-like fruits. Besides being totes adorabs, chayotes are also a great source of folate, fiber, and vitamins A and C. Raw chayote has a very crisp, dry texture -- a bit like biting into a slice of underripe pear. Flavor-wise, it's very cool and refreshing with a decided cucumber note. And, although technically a winter fruit, thanks to global commerce chayotes are available year-round.

Chayote & Friends
It's making a prune face at me ;)
Chayote & Friends
Just like that!
If you can't find chayotes, most recipe sites I visited suggest zucchini or summer squash as a substitution in a cooked dish, but I think the flavor and texture would be wrong in the raw dish I've made. I would recommend jicima as a substitute or, if you're planning on serving the salad immediately, a well drained salted and seeded cucumber would probably work alright.

The recipe I made, "Ensalada de Chayote, Elote, y Tomates" (Chayote, Corn, and Tomato Salad with Red Wine Vinaigrette), comes from Thomas Schnetz and Dona Savitsky's Dona Tomas: Discovering Authentic Mexican Cooking (Ten Speed Press, 2006) and is a compilation of recipes from Dona Tomas restaurant near Berkeley, California. I borrowed the cookbook from my library along with The Mitsitam Cafe Cookbook (splendid recipe for "Pulled Buffalo Sandwiches with Chayote Slaw") and Down-Island Caribbean Cookery (many delicious cooked chayote recipes).

While the recipe does not say to peel or seed the chayote (every part of the chayote fruit is edible), I chose to peel mine and remove the large flat pit as my chayote skins were a bit blemished and unsightly. Peeled, there were some rusty brown spots such as you might see on a peeled apple, and I just cut them away.

Peeled Chayote

Halved Chayote

As I planned on taking this salad to work with me over a few days, I did not dress the salad until I was ready to eat it. I stored the vegetable mixture in a large covered bowl and it kept quite well. Like jicama and unlike apples, chayote does not discolor when exposed to air. I stored the vinaigrette in a repurposed mini milk bottle.

Chayote Salad

While I really loved this salad, I didn't think that much of the vinaigrette and stopped using it after the second serving. Instead, I switched over to Newman's Own Lite Honey Mustard Dressing and Lite Lime Vinaigrette. The Lite Lime Vinaigrette was fantastic and made me wish I'd not wasted time (and ingredients) on the recipe's vinaigrette. The last day, I didn't have much of the salad left, so tossed it with some salmon and served it on a bed of chopped romaine and that, too, was fabulous.

Chayote Salad w/ Salmon & Romaine

So glad I tried a new fruit! Looking forward to making many other chayote recipes!


The Eating O' The Greens

There was a bit of ham, cabbage, and peas leftover from other recipes and I had the idea to sauté them together in a pan with olive oil and seasonings. The idea, I think, was a sound one ... but the application left a little to be desired. Definitely a (delicious) work in progress!

Cabbage, Peas, & Ham

I used my food processor's shredding disc to prepare the cabbage and that was not the best idea as the disk turned the cabbage into itty-bitty confetti pieces similar to what you'd find in KFC cole slaw. Not what I wanted at all and, because the cabbage was so finely shredded, in the pan it went from crisp-tender to squishy in the blink of an eye. That was disappointing and I was prepared to be displeased by the whole dish, but the broth created by all the vegetable and ham juices was phenomenal and redeemed it all.

(If I made this again, I'd definitely use the slicing disk).

Sautéed Cabbage, Peas, and Ham

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup frozen peas
2 cups Napa cabbage, coarsely shredded
1 cup baby spinach, thinly sliced
1 cup chopped cooked smoked ham
Zest of half a lemon
Dried savory, to taste
Ground caraway, to taste
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

In a large heavy pot, heat oil over medium heat until hot; add peas, cabbage, spinach, ham, and zest. Sauté, stirring occassionally, 4 to 5 minutes, or until cabbage is wilted and tender.

Cabbage, Peas, & Ham

Remove pot from heat and stir in caraway, savory, salt and pepper. Toss to combine and serve over brown rice or buttered noodles.


Quinoa & Ham Salad

The Husband does not like ham. Therefore, I seldom buy ham. However, I like ham. And Dakin Farm was offering a 1.5 pound boneless smoked ham with free cob-smoked bacon and since I needed to stock up on Cabot cheese anyway ... well, it's no surprise there's a ham in my fridge.

I've been making ham-and-cheese microwave scrambled eggs -- beaten eggs, splash of milk, shredded Seriously Sharp, diced ham, cracked pepper all in the microwave for a minute or so -- and while that's a nomilicious combination, it's not very adventurous. Also, I neglected to go grocery shopping over the weekend, so I really needed something hammy to take to work.

Ham & Quinoa Salad

Obviously, I made a salad. Salad-making has become my default cooking setting. When I don't know what to eat, I just start chopping all the things and then toss them in a bowl with random vinaigrette and call it a meal.
Quinoa & Ham Salad
Serves 4

1 cup quinoa, cooked according to packet directions, cooled
15 oz. low-sodium black beans, rinsed, well drained
1 small shallot, chopped
1 red pepper, chopped
1 carrot, shredded
8 oz cooked ham, chopped
½ cup vinaigrette of choice [Cindy's Kitchen Fresh Avocado Vinaigrette]
Chopped cilantro, as desired

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl and toss until vinaigrette is well distributed. Serve over salad greens with additional dressing on the side.
I served this salad over mache, my new salad green BFF. Not only is it tasty stuff, but mache is high in vitamins A, C, K as well as high in omega-3 fatty acids. Yum.


Twin Spica, Volume One

In 2010, the Japanese space program suffered a terrible setback when its first manned ship, "The Lion," fails at launch and crashes into the middle of Yuigahama city, leaving death and destruction in its wake. All of the crew members on board the ship were killed. As with many other innocents, Asumi Kamogawa's mother was very badly injured in the disaster, and she remained in a coma for years before dying ...

Jump to 2024: Asumi yearns to visit the stars, but how will she ever explain her desire to enter Tokyo Space School to her father, the ex-rocket engineer? And even if Asumi does gain his acceptance, will she pass the surprise practical exam?

This is the first volume in a sixteen-volume series. As an introductory volume, it works quite well. Besides Asumi's travails and friendship-building during the practical exam, there are three additional stories ("2015: Fireworks," "Asumi," and "Another Spica") which either give more dimension to Asumi, her parents, and the hallucinatory Mr. Lion or, in the case of "Another Spica," give us a hint about how Twin Spica came to be. (Or I presume that's what "Another Spica" is trying to do ... other opinions are welcome).

Overall, I found Twin Spica, Volume 1 to be a delight. Charmingly illustrated with a compelling story and tons of well-crafted secondary characters ... yes, I can see myself reading fifteen more volumes. Alas, my library system only owns the first four volumes and I see many of the rest are currently out of print. Sigh. I will just have to rock those four as hard as I can.

Twin Spica, Volume 1 by Kou Yaginuma (Vertical, 2010)


Bleak House: Installment 1

In Installment I of Bleak House, we are introduced to Chancellery, Jarndyce and Jarndyce, the wards, the love child, and the Jellybys. Oh, the Jellbys!

I feel I should be offended by Dickens' rendering of Mrs Jellyby, a philanthropic lady so caught up in distant causes that she neglects the proper management of her household, rearing of her children, and respect due her husband. But, really, I found her simply ridiculous. Irritating and rather pathetic, but also unavoidably comic. Felt terribly for the little Jellybys -- especially Caddy, who lacks education or training in anything useful and who has no happy future to look forward to. Unless she runs away from home, I can't see how she'll better herself or attain any happiness. Maybe, Esther will take Caddy under her wing?

(Quite possibly, I found the Jellyby household more tolerable than it actually was because I kept amusing myself by referring to them as the "Jellybabies" and, considering the child that got its head stuck in the railing and the other who fell down the stairs, they would do better to have been actual jelly babies).

I've read enough orphaned girl romances, that I'm pretty sure Esther's mysterious man of the plum cake and goose liver pie will turn out to be none other than her great benefactor, Mr Jarndyce. And yay for someone taking a kindly interest in Esther! At the beginning, when Esther is a child, her godmother (her aunt in deed, but not law ... so her father's sister?) is ... well, it's a good thing she dies and were it not for Mr Jarndyce arranging to have Esther sent off to school, I do not know what would have befallen her. The maid, Mrs Rachael, was no better than the aunt and would never have taken Esther in. Indeed, I wonder why either of them every had anything to do with Esther. Funds? Christian duty? Perhaps "Love the sinner, hate the sin," but I never saw any evidence either of them loved Esther. Poor Esther. (Annoying Esther. Want her to grow a backbone and some self-esteem. "Oh, everyone is so much better than me, because they are so nice to me." No, Esther, they are nice to you because you are likable person).

While Dickens' descriptive language has, in other novels, occasionally driven me mad, I find it's really working for me in Bleak House. Mud, rain, fog, dinosaurs. Yes, dinosaurs!

LONDON. Michaelmas Term lately over, and the Lord Chancellor sitting in Lincoln’s Inn Hall. Implacable November weather. As much mud in the streets as if the waters had but newly retired from the face of the earth, and it would not be wonderful to meet a Megalosaurus, forty feet long or so, waddling like an elephantine lizard up Holborn Hill.

I take my hat off to you, sir, for that fine image.

Chopped Cauliflower Salads

I picked up a mixture of different colored cauliflower florets -- white, purple, citrus yellow, and green romanesco -- at Whole Foods because the colors made me think of Spring, but I didn't know what to do with them once I got them home. I thought about roasting them, but wanted something I could take to work that wouldn't need reheating (the line for the microwave can be long and I am very impatient when seized by The Hungries).

I ended up making two chopped salads with the cauliflower and some odds-and-ends out of the fridge and was surprised by how good they both came out. The first is not as healthy as I'd like -- what with the ranch dressing, shredded cheese, and bacon -- but pretty darn tasty. And Cain's Naturally Delicious Chipotle Ranch is my kryptonite. (Ingredients-wise, it isn't that terrible for a ranch dressing, but I'm pretty sure I could make a healthier home-made version. If I weren't lazy).

Salad of random

Salad the First
1 romaine heart, coarsely chopped
2 cups coarsely chopped cauliflower florets
⅔ cup thawed frozen onion
⅔ cup thawed frozen peas
1 large carrot, shredded
2 Tbsp real bacon bits
2 Tbsp shredded Cabot Seriously Sharp
2 Tbsp Cain's Naturally Delicious Chipotle Ranch

Second salad of random

Salad the Second
1 romaine heart, coarsely chopped
2 cups cauliflower florets, coarsely chopped
2 Tbsp minced shallots
⅓ cup chopped dried tart cherries
¼ cup shelled sunflower seeds
1 Tbsp light mayonnaise
1 Tbsp cider vinegar
ground pepper, to taste


It's in the Bag and Under the Covers: Stories of Dating, Intimacy, Sex, & Caregiving About People with Ostomies

So you poop in a bag and you want to know if what you feel about that is "normal?" You're either going to end up on the Internet or at your public library, looking for information about what it means to be an ostomate. Not the nitty-gritty medical stuff -- doctors cover that pretty well -- but the messy emotional stuff about relationships and intimacy your doctor might have given you a not-really-helpful brochure about. (Mine had a middle-aged couple walking hand-in-hand on a beach. I was nineteen. It did not make me feel better about my new self).

Should you end up at your library, ask your nice reference librarian to interlibrary loan this book for you. Should you end up on Amazon, go ahead and buy it ... then donate it to your library when you're done with it.

Truly, I found It's in the Bag and Under the Covers to be a very helpful, informative, and encouraging book. The book is a compilation of true stories contributed by members of so you're guaranteed a healthy dose of real people talking about what it is really like to live with an ostomy. Some stories are funny, some are sad, and some had my nodding along saying "that! that is exactly how it happened for me, too!"

(Basically, we are all beautiful, sexy creatures and people who really like us and want to make beautiful sexytimes with us won't care about how we go to the bathroom).

It's in the Bag and Under the Covers: Stories of Dating, Intimacy, Sex, & Caregiving About People with Ostomies by Brenda Elsagher (Expert Publishing, 2011)


Slow Cooker Curried Lentil & Kale Soup

Sunday, I cleared a freezer shelf with this surprisingly tasty slow cooked lentil-kale-everything soup. I used low-sodium organic chicken broth, but substituting vegetable broth would easily make it vegan. (Swapping half the broth for coconut milk might also be a good trade).
Slow Cooker Curried Lentil & Kale Soup
Serves many

8 oz bag frozen chopped onions
8 oz bag frozen mixed pepper strips
10 oz bag frozen cubed sweet potatoes
16 oz bag frozen cubed butternut squash
2 14.5 oz cans low-sodium chicken broth
1 tsp salt
1 Tbsp Penzeys Maharajah curry powder
½ tsp ground turmeric
½ tsp smoked paprika
30 oz bag chopped frozen kale
17.63 oz package Melissa's steamed lentils

Combine everything but the kale and lentils in your slow cooker insert and cook for 5 hours on High.

Making Kale & Lentil Soup

Puree with an immersion blender until smooth.

Add lentils and kale. Stir well. Cook for another 15-20 minutes.

Adjust seasonings to taste -- I added a little lemon juice and sriracha for brightness.
I've been eating this for breakfast, of course, and a big bowl with some fruit on the side keeps me comfortable (and happy) until lunch time -- not surprising as the soup is full of dietary fiber and protein!