Friday, April 10, 2015

Da Bomb, Da Sausage, and Da Cruise Brain - Mussels with Cajun Sausage and Yellow Bell Pepper

Thursday, Day 27 - Earlier this week, responding to a therapeutic inquiry, I identified my upcoming cruise as the event that would (finally) afford me the opportunity to fully absorb and process my Medical Hell Month and its results.  From experience I know that two days into a cruise my body and mind will unkink rather dramatically, although I sincerely hope that I unkink before then as there are still 16 days to cruising.  (But who's counting?) This will be our fourteenth cruise, the thirteenth on Carnival, and the twelfth since December of 2008.  I can only plead Cruise Brain, then, as the reason I was unable to tell my therapist where I was going, other than "someplace" in the Caribbean, possibly St. Maarten.  I finally checked on my itinerary today, and it turns out we will be stopping at Cozumel, Mahogany Bay, Belize, and Costa Maya.  Well, at least I got the Caribbean part right, barely.

In the meantime, today is the day I set aside to make all those phone calls for even more medical procedures because God knows I did not have enough of those this past month.  Anything worth doing is worth overdoing. I also have to call my PCP's office and the HR lady in Tallahassee.  I'd rather have root canal.  Unfortunately I am having a brain fog day; mental acuity is apparently not on today's schedule, and I am getting irritated with myself.  All the coffee in the world is not going to break through this nimbostratus cloud wrapped around my head like a Praetorian Facehugger.

I need to cook something.  I need some inspiration, like the name of this blog, ha ha.  I need to break out of this fog, damn it.

The news was mostly depressing, but there were a few happy notes: Barry Manilow, my all-time favorite male singer, married his significant other - last year.  But the news just came out, and so did Barry. Good for him, and Jim Nabors, too.

The Magic won last night, and that's no Bull.

The framework of the deal with Iran is pretty shaky, with both sides claiming the agreement said something different.  This is good news.  We have no need to deal with the Devil.  Speaking of devils, a jury convicted Dzhokar Tsarnaev of all counts in the Boston terror bombings.

Anti-semitism is flourishing in Europe. And in the U.S.  It is a way of life in the Middle East.  These are difficult times to be a Jew.  It's also a tough time to be gay in Florida; the House just approved a religious exemption law for adoptions.  I thought we were finally past that crap.

Bobby Flay and his wife, actress Stephanie March, are getting a divorce. So is Giada de Laurentiis.  Bad things come in threes, and make no mistake, divorce is a very bad thing.  So who is next?

There's more, but you get the idea.

I got almost nothing done today, unless you count sitting in the corner of the couch with my head down.  I could not make my calls.  I could not walk out the front door.  I did not even prepare my list.  I did fill out a response card for a friend's wedding, and I did come up with a recipe I am going to share, but really, that's not enough.  Not even close.

Okay, the recipe.  I am really pleased with how this worked out.  Frozen mussels are da bomb, and so is Guy Fieri's sausage.  Hey, get your mind out of the gutter and into the kitchen!

Mussels with Cajun Sausage and Yellow Bell Pepper

1 - 12 oz. package Guy Fieri Cajun Style Sausage, thinly sliced
1/2 of a Vidalia onion, thinly sliced
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
10 cloves of garlic, sliced lengthwise
1/2 cup Goya Sofrito (Tomato Base)
1 Yellow Bell Pepper, top and bottom cut off, remaining pepper cut into matchsticks
1 1/2 cup dry white wine (I used a Pinot Grigio)
kosher salt, ground black pepper, smoked paprika, Italian seasoning, dried parsley flakes
small amount of sugar (optional)
2 - 1 pound bags frozen mussels
4 tablespoons cold butter

In a large, deep pan, place the sausage and the onion, and drizzle on several tablespoons of the olive oil.  Set on medium-high heat and cook for about 3 minutes, until the sausage starts to release some of its fat.  Add the garlic, and cook another 2 to 3 minutes.  Stir in the Goya sofrito and cook, stirring, for one more minute.  Add the yellow bell pepper, cook for one minute.  Add the wine, salt, pepper, smoked paprika, Italian seasoning, parsley, and sugar.  Bring to a boil, lower the heat, cover and simmer.

While the sauce simmers, puncture one of the bags of frozen mussels and cook in the microwave on high for 2 minutes.  Repeat with the second bag. Taste and re-season the sauce.  Stir in the butter and when it is melted carefully pour the entire contents of each bag of mussels into the pan. Cover the pan and simmer a few more minutes.

Serve with bread for dipping, or over angel hair pasta.  I removed the mussels to another container and stirred cooked pasta into the sauce, just to heat through.  The pasta with the sausage and peppers is moved into a serving pan, and the mussels are placed on top.  Sprinkle on some parsley for a light garnish.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Another Brick in the Wall

Wednesday, Day 26 - After functioning at a pretty high level these past few weeks, making those hated phone calls, shlepping from doctor to lab to therapist and back again, drinking gallons of orange Gatorade laced with buckets of Miralax, everything finally came together and then ...

... brick wall.  Right there at the border of my peripheral vision.  I can see just enough to make it down the stairs and push the button on the Keurig for my first cup of coffee.  I hit a brick wall, emotionally and visually.  Call it being overwhelmed, call it cognitive overload, just make it stop.

I don't need no arms around me
And I don't need no drugs to calm me.
I have seen the writing on the wall.
Don't think I need anything at all.
No! Don't think I'll need anything at all.
All in all it was all just bricks in the wall.
All in all you were all just bricks in the wall.


So the brain fog came rolling on in, and the best I can do is take baby steps.  It's not a reaction to Really Bad News; on the contrary, the news was firmly in the "good" column. Yes, there needs to be some follow up with a surgeon, but even if  she finds something malignant, we are talking very small and very manageable.  Nothing aggressive or invasive.  And the BRCA test came back negative - so I imagine that my father Mike is looking down from the Great Afterlife, giving a big sigh of relief.

Holding myself together while dealing with the really scary unknown has finally caught up to me.  My energy has been depleted, my focus has been skewed, my back and shoulders hurt.  Pah!  I am giving myself permission for one day to have this mini-meltdown.  Tomorrow I have to be back on the phone, in the car, in the store, whatever it takes.  I need to revise my list and stick to it.

Better than drugs ... music.  Oh, I still took my meds, but I plugged myself into the iPhone for music and damn if it didn't help me.  Kept down one-eighth of a chicken salad sandwich, did a load of dishes.  Trimmed my cuticles.  Good day despite the rocky start.  I even developed plans for throwing a raisin pumpernickel dough into the bread machine, but the cupboard was bare of rye flour.   Another time, yes.

I want a virtual TARDIS (there's an app for that).
I want Martha Stewart to stop talking about spring cleaning.  Spring cleaning is not a good thing.
Bathed all four doggies.
Dancin' to "Mack the Knife."  Feeling better.

(Not going to talk about the news, though.  If you want to get depressed, please feel free to do it on your own time.)

Incidentally, these cool pictures of pretty tree flowers were taken in a sun-parched parking lot on South Orange Blossom Trail in Orlando.  As one of my college English professors once wrote across the top of an essay I had written about Lao-Tse, "We find gold in unexpected places."  Arrogant prick.  The professor, not Lao-Tse.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Om Padme Mani Hum - Waiting Is

Tuesday, Day 25 - Om Padme Mani Hum. Om Padme Mani Hum. Fear is the mind-killer ...

Oh my God, the last 10 days have been rough!  I still have not been able to process the whole thing.  The colonoscopy - twice - preceded by three days of disgusting preparation.  All that anesthesia in my system.  Just as well, it was the only sleep I got for three days.  The mammogram - one girl got pinched - the ultrasound - slimy gel all over my poor girls - and then, the wait for results.

The results - a few minor bobbles.  Needing more calling, more scheduling, more waiting.  Watched the news, watched "Chopped", watched "Marvel:Agents of Shield"; I'm beginning to feel the way Raina looks.  Now add prickly to fretful and grumpy.

I tried to eat, I really did.  I gave into my fast food cravings and picked up a junior whopper.  No cheese.  Small onion rings.  Back in the day, my idea of a fine lunch.  That first bite, so good.  Second bite too.  Two onion rings.  And that's it, my passing acquaintance with protein and fat.  

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Anyway you want it. That's the way you need it. - Beefy Vegetable Soup n' Stew

Monday, Day 24 - I woke up this morning, my bed piled high with furry children.  All five of them,  including The Last Cat Standing.  If my back did not hurt, I would have bounded out of bed with great joie de vivre, but my back does hurt, and I had to settle for sitting up and breathing.  Happiness is relative.

I don't sleep through the night, and when I do awake at 3:30 am or whatever inconvenient time my panic overcomes my need for sleep, I access the internet and indulge in esoteric research.  Before I dropped off to sleep last night it was all about the location of Ebbets Field and the Polo Grounds, and the old-timey teams that had played in those locations; when my eyelids betrayed me a few hours later, I was looking up breast ultrasound results (again).  Well now, that proved to be useful because I am convinced that what I saw on the screen at the ultrasound lab were pictures of fluid cysts, nothing more.  I just need to hear this officially from my lady doc and I can move on with my life.  Hopefully it will all come together at tomorrow's doctor appointment.

Having done no cooking for several days, I am finding myself fixated on clam fritters and on a beefy vegetable soup.  I have a rather ingenious idea for the fritters, but frankly, I need the soup and I need it now.  My ability to swallow has deteriorated, which may well be temporary, but until I can manage more than a 1-inch square piece of buttered roll for breakfast, I am going to have to seek out a nutritious liquid lunch.  Even my delicious split pea soup is not going down well, which is kind of crazy, but then so is my digestive system.

So today has been a bad day for dealing with doctors.  Not that the doctors were rude or anything, but circumstances have left me with issues to deal with.  The psychiatrist I've been trying to contact for three weeks did finally call me back, and I actually got an appointment set, and then I learn that the doctor no longer has an office in Kissimmee, or even Orlando.  Winter Park.  Sorry, have to look elsewhere, thanks for returning my call.  The other issue has to do with certain papers that needed to be filled out, and that's enough of that.  I've already made phone calls to try to fix it.

And I have finally been able to get something down my throat, something with rich flavor and nutrition.  The amazing thing is that, totally unexpectedly, I got a fabulous broth for me, a delicious beef stew for the boys, and three gorgeous bones for the boy Yorkies.  While I would love to eat the stew, I can't.  But the broth has been infused with the flavors of all the fresh vegetables, pungent herbs, and beefy short ribs, and I got exactly what I needed.  If you want to skip the last step of separating the stew solids from the broth, feel free to do so and enjoy your beefy vegetable soup intact. Anyway you want it.

This might look like a lot of ingredients, but it all comes together easily:

3 tablespoons roasted garlic extra virgin olive oil
2 pounds beef back ribs (about 3 ribs)
1 onion, chopped
1 leek, chopped,
4 cloves garlic
1 large carrot, chopped
1 large parsnip, chopped
1 large stalk celery, chopped
8 oz. baby bella (cremini) mushrooms, quartered
3 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon dried thyme
1/2 tablespoon dried oregano
1/2 tablespoon dried sweet basil
1 tablespoon granulated garlic
kosher salt
coarsely ground pepper
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 - 32 oz. containers beef stock
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1/2 tablespoon sugar
a few drops Tabasco sauce (optional)
2 bay leaves
1 zucchini, chopped
1 yellow squash, chopped
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1 green bell pepper
1 jalapeño, halved or quartered, seeds and veins removed (optional)
2-3 ears fresh corn with kernels cut off
1/2  pound fresh green beans, cut into 1-inch pieces
6 red new potatoes, quartered

Heat the olive oil in a large deep pot.  Season the beef ribs with salt and pepper.  Sear the ribs on all sides, remove and set aside.  To the pot add the onion, leek, garlic, carrot, parsnip, celery, and butter.  Cook on high for a few minutes to promote caramelization.  Add the butter, then the mushrooms, thyme, oregano, granulated garlic, salt and pepper. Stir and cook for a few more minutes, then add the tomato paste.  Let the tomato paste-coated vegetables cook for a few minutes and then pour in the beef stock and stir in the Worcestershire, Tabasco, bay leaves, and sugar.  Bring this to a boil, lower the heat, cover and simmer for 30 minutes.  Add all of the remaining vegetables except for the zucchini, yellow squash, and potatoes and cook, covered, another 30 minutes.

Remove the cover, and with a large metal spoon, remove as much of the fat risen to the surface as possible and discard.  Taste and carefully re-season the soup.  Add the zucchini, squash, and potatoes, cover the pot, bring to a simmer and cook for another 45 minutes until the vegetables are all tender.

Remove the beef ribs and let cool so they can be handled.  Skim any more fat that has risen to the surface.  Taste and re-season again, including a glug of Worcestershire.  This is important, because each time you skim off the fat, you remove some of the seasoning.  If you wish, remove the meat from the bones and stir into the soup.  Serve the soup as is, or use a large slotted spoon to remove the meat and vegetables from the beefy broth.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Initiation Into The Mysteries Of Matzo Brei

Sunday - On this particular topic I draw a line in the sand.  It is spelled MATZO BREI and it is served SWEET.  It is an Ashkenazic Passover dish, and it is served sweet.  Even the Litvaks eat their matzo brei sweet, and as for us Russian Jews, we eat everything sweet.

Unfortunately, I can't remember the last time I actually prepared matzo brei, and I was not thrilled with the result.  I am my own worst critic, but I always try to learn from my mistakes.  As soon as I tasted this, I made a face and declared "my mother's is better."  For the first time since she passed away in 2000, I wish she was around long enough so I could ask her how she made her matzo brei so good.  Beyond staging a seance to reach her, I dug deep into childhood memories and decided that it needed to be a lot eggier.  Here is an example of a deceptively simple recipe where execution is everything.  To achieve the almost French toast quality of my grandmother-who-raised-me's matzo brei, I may have to ignore printed recipes and follow my instinct, which was telling me to break the matzo pieces even smaller, use more eggs, whisk them with a little milk, and let the matzo soak a good amount of time.  Maybe next weekend.

My yen has shifted to fresh vegetable soup.  Really fresh vegetables, nothing from the freezer except possibly green peas.  I want a lot of broth and I want it to be very flavorful.  That, like the avocado devilled eggs, is simply going to have to wait.

I hope everyone enjoyed a wonderful Easter Sunday.

We are spending it quietly in post-matzo brei stupor, watching television.  I can safely say that there is such a thing as too much Food Network.  So we have switched to "High Anxiety", which about describes my state of mind if I stop to think.  However, one cannot stop to think while watching Mel Brooks, because one is laughing too much, even if one has seen the movie too many times to count over the past 40 years, knows all the sight gags, and can recite the lines along with the actors.

If one cannot think, one cannot worry.  Good show, Mel.  Good show.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Woody's Excellent Adventure

Saturday - Having exhausted my own list of doctors, this morning I headed over to my kids' doctor.  The veterinarians at Hunter's Creek Animal Hospital have cared for every single one of my furry kids, the only exception being Ira the First.  (We shall not take this moment to extol the virtues of rats as pets nor compare them to their crazed cousins, the hamsters).

After I wrote that, I realized I had piqued my curiosity and made a list of all of my pets who have been treated at Hunter's Creek Animal Hospital. Whoa. Ten cats, six  dogs, all needing regular care, medication, boarding - I must have put somebody's kid through college.        

Dora the First (Little Dora)
Ira the First (El Exigente, the Demanding One)
Minerva Athene (Minerva the Claw)

Pixel Piacentino (Lord Pixel, Schrodinger's Cat)
Zebadiah John Carter (Zebbie)
Princess Polly Ponderosa Penelope Peachfuzz (Polly the Paw)

Ira Cesar Arana Castaneda Morris the Second

Emeril Lagasse (Em the Street Cat)

Dejah Thoris (Deety)
Dora the Second (Dora Maureen, Dodi Li)

Romeo Lee (Puppy - yes, he thinks his name is Puppy)
Anakin Skywalker (Darth Kitten, Lord Vader)

Athene Minerva (Teena)

Tuffy Elvis

Woodrow Wilson Smith (Woody)

Indiana Jones

Chelsea Rose

I never had pets as a kid; my first cat, Ira Cesar Arana Castenada Morris the First (El Exigente, The Demanding One) came to live with me in 1976. I can only imagine I've been trying to make up for lost time.

The vets at HCA are the best.  My favorites are Dr. Jim Vega, who took such exquisite care of Ira through diabetes, seizures, and cancer, and Dr. Valerie Marino.  It was Dr. Marino we were visiting this morning to try to find out why Woody was acting so weird.  Hiding in the corner of the kitchen, behind Anakin's litter box; sleeping in the dustpan,  drinking extra water, losing weight, refusing treats, that sort of thing.  Concerning because he will be 12 in November, a dog of mature years teetering on the edge of old age.  Sort of like me.    

But he was fine this morning, proud to be walking on Tuffy's blue leash, lifting his leg at the fire hydrant in front of our house and showing the world who is in charge, riding in the front seat by himself and not having to share with a sibling or two.  He showed his vulnerable side inside the vet's office, but just enough to garner sympathy and extra hugs, and then he decided which door we should exit through (the door that had "EXIT" written on it, of course. This boy can read).  As if that wasn't exciting enough, we went shopping! in a new! Petsmart! and helped me pick out a few things while receiving admiring glances from canine as well as human females.   That pretty dachshund wanted to make his acquaintance, it was very obvious. Finally, we headed home, sharing a few nacho-flavored Bugle snacks in the car, and he bounded up the front steps, eager to brag (just a little) to his brothers and sister.

It was an excellent adventure for Woody, and now he is passed out next to me on the couch.  Rob and I both think that what he needed was a whole lot of personal attention.  Yes, we will fine-tune the pH of his urine, and feed him a little soft food, and wait for the results of the zillion blood tests. He has a little heart murmur, and his old teeth are failing him, but he is in pretty darn good shape. Excellent shape.

I came across a recipe for devilled avocado eggs which looks really good - sort of like guacamole in an egg white shell - but I have no avocado en la casa, no cilantro, and no energy to go out to pick some up.  Publix is closed tomorrow for the Easter holiday, as it should be.  So either I wait for Monday to snag an avocado, or do something else.  I'm leaning towards Something Else, but first I have to check on just how much cooked food is already inhabiting my refrigerators.

I may wait for Monday before I devil any eggs, but I am planning on making matzo brei for tomorrow's breakfast.

The Magic won tonight, beating Milwaukee.  That's two in a row, two on the road.  Go Magic!

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Mah Nishtanah - Why Is This Night Different From All Other Nights?

Good Friday, Day 23 - This year, Easter and Pesach (Passover) fall out at the same time; today is Good Friday and also the first night of Passover.  I love when that happens.  I also love that I snagged the last two boxes of egg matzo in Osceola County.  I haven't opened them yet; that first taste of Pesach matzo is special and should be saved for the start of the holiday.

This holiday weekend I am going to do my best to not think about all the medical tests and procedures of the last few weeks.  Yesterday I went for the mammogram, ultrasound, and dexascan.  I'm not worried about the dexascan, but the others - well, as you know, the lab folks generally won't discuss what they see, but one can learn a bit from body language, verbal cues, and reading upside down.  There is definitely something - several somethings - on the right side, but that was no surprise.     Both lab techs seemed concerned at what they saw.  At the very least, I see a needle biopsy in my immediate future.   I also got a phone call to come in and discuss the results of my BRCA test with my doctor.  And I already had an appointment to discuss my hormonal blood test results.  If I am lucky, she will have the official results from the ta-ta testing by then.  I am going to try real hard not to dwell on any of this until I get to talk to her.  There is nothing I can do about it between now and then, and if there is something I need to take care of, it will be after we return from the cruise. Same goes for the gastrenterology stuff.  My appointment with that doctor isn't until May 11, which I'm guessing is a good sign because his office picked the date and made the appointment for me.

The CPS is quiet right now; no pain, no brain fog.  A peaceful interlude.

Our seder at Jay and Laura's house was so very, very nice.  The stuffing I brought was well-received. Jay prepared the charoses, and Laura handled everything else, including fluffy knaidlach (matzo balls).  Delicious.  For me, however, the best part of the meal is the Hillel sandwich - charoses and horseradish on a bit of matzo.  I think that should be a little sandwich offered at an English High Tea.  Now there's an idea. We all took turns reading from the Haggadah, which relates the story of Passover and the Hebrews' escape from Egyptian slavery. I had four glasses (sips) of wine, and still managed to wield an electric knife in the Carving of the Pesach Turkey.  Life is good when you have friends with whom to share the holidays.

No cooking for me today.  I gave Woody a bath, using Dawn dishwashing liquid to help with the fleas.  Yes, Dawn.  It's safe, and it works.  I tried it on Chelsea the other night.  Both doggies are clean, flea-free (for now, anyway) and their fur is soft and silky.  Dawn - who knew?

Anyway, I have a new project to obsess over - a front yard vegetable garden!  Herbs and tomatoes and peppers and zucchini.  And herbs.  Lots of herbs.  I'm very excited about it.  Maybe strawberries. Yes, very excited. Totally clueless, but excited.

Anakin watches the world from the kitchen window

To my Jewish and Christian family and friends, I wish you all a happy, healthy, and peaceful holiday.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Even Kids With Chicken Pox - Passover Potato Cauliflower Farfel Stuffing

Thursday, Day 22 - If you've ever seen the movie "Demolition Man", you will understand when I state that the very worst of all ear worms come from childhood commercials.  The irony, by the way, is that all those kids with chicken pox who liked Armour hot dogs are now living in fear of coming down with shingles.  I know I am, and I only ate Hebrew National hot dogs as a kid.

One of the cuter commercials periodically invades my brain, if for no other reason that it has to do with chocolate.  Nestle's does not, in my opinion, make the very best chocolate, but circa 1955 they did make the cutest commercials.

Which brings us to Farfel.

No, the other farfel.  Matzo farfel.  Which is matzo that has been broken into uniform sized bits.  Nothing to do with Nestle's or chocolate or canine hand puppets with snapping jaws.  It was matzo farfel that I needed to prepare a proper turkey stuffing for Passover seder, and it was matzo farfel that I could not find in Publix.  With that a fairly major problem, I planned on substituting a cauliflower potato mash-based  stuffing, incorporating the only Passover matzo product I had in the house, which was matzo meal.

Or so I thought.  Turns out that I did have a nice, new, hermetically sealed container of matzo farfel tucked in a safe spot on a different pantry shelf.  So I decided to incorporate both ideas, which resulted in a pretty tasty dish. Along with the potatoes, cauliflower, and matzo farfel, this stuffing includes sautéed onions, celery, garlic, turkey sausage, oven-roasted mushrooms, and a whole lot of seasoning.  The only thing I would change is to reduce the amount of potato and cauliflower to 1 pound each.

1 1/2 pounds petite red potatoes, halved or quartered
1 1/2 pounds cauliflower florets
1/2 stick butter
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1/2 tablespoon ground black pepper

Boil the potatoes and cauliflower together for about 20 minutes until tender.  Mash together with the butter, salt, and pepper.  Set aside.

1 pound bulk turkey sausage
2 large onions, chopped
3 large stalks celery, chopped
6 cloves garlic
reserved mushroom stems
2 tablespoons roasted garlic olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
handful of fresh flat leaf parsley, chopped
Spices: Emeril's Essence, kosher salt, black pepper, granulated garlic, ground ginger, dried thyme, dried rosemary, rubbed sage - to taste
1 pound matzo farfel (about 6 cups)
2 cups water
1/2 stick butter

In a large deep skillet heat the olive oil, then add the sausage.  Break it up as you cook it, then add the onions, celery, garlic, mushrooms and 2 tablespoons butter.  Cook everything together until sausage is no longer pink and the onions are tender.  Stir in the spices and the fresh parsley.  Add the water and 1/2 stick butter;  once the butter is melted, add the farfel.  Stir well until the farfel is moistened.

1 pound whole button mushrooms, stems trimmed level with cap.  Reserve stems
3 tablespoons roasted garlic olive oil
kosher salt
ground mixed peppercorns

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  Add the mushroom caps to a baking dish with the oil, salt, and pepper, stir well.  Turn the caps stem-side down and bake for 30-35 minutes.  Turn over and bake 5 minutes longer.  When the mushrooms are cool enough to handle, cut into quarters.

4 extra large eggs

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a very large mixing bowl, combine all the above mixtures.  Taste and re-season generously.  Then add the eggs and mix well by hand.  Turn the stuffing into an aluminum baking dish.  Drizzle the top with a little garlic olive oil. Bake until heated through and crispy on top, one to 1 1/4 hours.  Sprinkle with paprika and parsley flakes, and serve to a deeply appreciative audience.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Flying High Now - The Original Split Pea Soup

Wednesday, Day 21 - Stick a fork in me, the Do Over is Done. Many thanks to my son, who got me there, and back, and there again, and back ... finally to have my first cup of decent coffee in three days, accompanied by one of those cute chocolate mini-scones, I had picked up at Whole Foods for that express purpose.

Of course after the anesthesia, I wasn't as steady on my feet as I had hoped, and I was more than happy to take my coffee and my Yorkies and head upstairs for a while.  With my feet back up on the bed, I wasn't doing much better than yesterday, and I guess Chelsea must have known that, because she decided to walk across the iPad keyboard and turn on the music.

Smart little girl.  The "Theme from Rocky" always lifts my spirits.  I'm not sure how she learned that little trick; I think it must have been Anakin who showed her the way (that's not a Peter Frampton reference, by the way.)  But it worked, as I am giving serious thought to heading over to Publix to pick up this and that, and then taking on some of the cooking I had to put off.

Bad idea.  Which did not stop me from food shopping, but I should have stayed home.  My digestive system is still complaining about the three-day assault, and I should have shown it a bit more respect. Not only that, but having driven to Publix, I was more than a bit frustrated that they had nary a Passover shelf to be found.  Oh, they had boxes of matzo in the regular Jewish section, but not one was for Passover use.  No matzo farfel, no matzo meal, no cake meal nor potato starch.  Not even a container of overly-sweet coconut macaroons.  How am I supposed to make farfel stuffing without farfel?

We'll talk about that tomorrow.  Today is the day I am making my split pea soup, based on the split pea soup recipe I submitted to the Sisterhood of Congregation Shalom Aleichem cookbook in the mid-nineties.  Today I have made a few small changes - I am using smoked meat (neck bones) instead of a milder ham bone, and so I added an extra quart of water and some sugar.  As I sit here now, I hope I did not misjudge the amount of neck bone I added to the soup.  I also threw in 2 cloves of garlic with the caramelizing onions, and some black pepper along with the salt and basil.

I gave in to my paranoia and removed one of the neck bones while the soup still had another hour to cook.

Oh hell, I just lost two full paragraphs ... I know it had something to do with chopped herring ... no, I am not making that up.  I was planning a luncheon, and I had a theme, and a menu and I'd even designed an invitation.  It was witty culinary repartee and now it's lost.  Nuts.

Well, at least I didn't lose the recipe, which I got from my grandmother-who-raised-me many years ago.  That woman had a way with onions, and I can't deny ...

The Original Split Pea Soup

1 pound split green peas, rinsed under cool water (don't skip this)
2 large grated carrots (yes grated, not sliced, diced, chopped or minced.  Oh, and grate them yourself)
3 stalks chopped celery
3 onions, chopped
3 tablespoons butter
1 1/2 pounds beef, ham, or pork bones, optional
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon dried sweet basil
black pepper, to taste
2 quarts water
3-4 kosher frankfurters, sliced

Melt the butter in a large deep pot on medium high.  Add 2 of the chopped onions, and sauté until golden brown.  This should take awhile to get the right degree of caramelization, and lower the heat as needed to avoid burning the onions.  Add the water, and then all the remaining ingredients except the frankfurters.  Bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer, partially covered, for 1 1/2 to 2 hours.  Remove the meat bones from the soup, remove the meat from the bones and return it to the soup.  Add the sliced frankfurters and simmer another 10 minutes, uncovered.  Stir well to break up the peas.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Do Over

Tuesday, Day 20 - Sometimes I am my own worst enemy.  This was one of those times.

As a result of my lack of due diligence, tomorrow is a colonoscopy do over. Don't ask; you wouldn't want the details.

So as I spend another day in purdah, away from my kitchen (because if I cook, I taste), I am enjoying quality time with Chelsea.  My little sweetheart has discovered the joy of sleeping with her head on my pillow, and who am I to discourage her?  While she alternates snoring and wheezing, both completely normal for her, I am looking at Sephardic Passover recipes.  I wish I knew definitively if  my one-eighth Dutch heritage is also Sephardic, but I haven't even tried to delve into that level of genealogical research. Being seven-eighths pure shtetl Ashkenazi has always dominated my personal history, culture, and culinary roots.  Except for falafel, but everybody eats falafel.  Our family name - Nathan, or Natan - could be Sephardic.  History tells us that following the Spanish and Portuguese Inquisitions, many of those Jews (including crypto-Jews) headed to the Netherlands.  My mother-who-died-much-too-young had the maiden name of Nathan, and we know the Nathans were Dutch.  I think of myself as a speculative Sephardi, and that lets me work with rice, peas and beans during Passover.

For Pesach, I plan to make a farfel stuffing to accompany the turkey that our hostess is preparing for Seder and Friday night.  No rice, peas or beans, mind you; one woman's speculation is another woman's kitniyot. But there shall be matzo farfel instead of bread, and lot and lots of fried onions and celery.

Having made serious inroads on the clear and convincing chicken soup, I have already turned my thoughts to split pea soup.  After 3 days of prep for the damn colonoscopy, all I can do is dream of food.  Truly, I cannot wait until this is over.

One thing I will never dream about again is Jell-o.  I always liked Jell-o, but haven't eaten it since my gastric bypass 12 years ago.  Apparently I've lost my taste for it, and now all I can think of is a Color War song from Camp Anawana, circa 1960-1962:

The punch is so mellow,
it tastes like melted Jell-o
and the next day we all look grim.
And the clinic line is growing,
because we all are going,
and Doc Goldstein just gives us Coricidan.