Sunday, November 15, 2015

No Place To Hide

The good news: the Magic won again last night and I am planning to take a tai chi class today. Everyone tells me tai chi is helpful to older people and people with fibromyalgia. I am looking forward to it.

The bad news: Paris. Terrorists embedded in the fabric of our daily life. No place is safe, not in France, not here in the U.S.

Tell me again how Islam is the religion of peace. Tell me how you like having to live in fear, like the Israeli citizens have had to do every single day since 1948. Tell me again how Israel is at fault and Palestinians are the victims.

You know, of course, that the terrorists are here, just as they are in every European country. Pretending to be Westerners, Christians, atheists, anything but who they really are. Living among us, spying on us, planning our deaths. Muslim terrorists, pretending to be human beings, labeling us infidels, sentencing us all - Christian, Jew, Hindu, Buddhist, atheist, Wiccan and you name it - to die violently. To be attacked in our neighborhoods, at places we gather to relax, to play, to enjoy life.

If you know me, then you know I am a fan of mediation, negotiation, mutual agreement. But you cannot negotiate with people who train their children to kill, who are driven by crazed religiosity, who have no regard for the sanctity of life.  This is a tale as old as time, it will never change.  Forget boots on the ground. We need to initiate deadly air strikes. Time to do what should have been done a long time ago. Carpet bombing. Let's be honest for once - it took two very deadly bombs to end World War II. Time to take that terrible lesson to heart and end this travesty. We have been at war in the Middle East for FOURTEEN YEARS, more than twice as long as the Big One, WWII. Enough is enough.

I need to take a deep breath after that.  And a walk. There is an art festival in downtown Kissimmee, the weather is lovely, and I would like to stroll among the artwork. I've used up a hell of a lot of spoons this morning - tai chi class at 8:00, and then to BJ's for some shopping. The tai chi, which is taught by Sifu Tony Juron (Cory's kung fu instructor) at the ATA Mass Defense School on Murcott Drive in St. Cloud, was very enjoyable, and I will be going back for regular classes. BJ's shopping was straightforward enough, as I knew exactly what I was looking for. Happy Thanksgiving.    

The art festival was more about crafts and less about art, but it was a perfectly lovely day to stroll up and down Broadway Avenue with Robert and Horatio Cane, checking out the food trucks (a White Castle food truck, in Florida!) and some new restaurants. We picked up a menu from Big John's BBQ, which is in the building formerly occupied by One Sweet Sistah, and Rob's eyes lit up when we saw the chicken livers and gizzards.  We'll be back. We also ran into old friends from our days at Congregation Shalom Aleichem and had a really good chat.  

I spent my spoons wisely today, I think.  The cooking and baking can wait until tomorrow, although I did manage to make a pot of my very simple chicken noodle soup.  My puppy Romeo, who also answers to Puppy, made out like a miniature bandit, chowing down on bits of carrot, celery, yellow squash, and chicken.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

A Transparently Invisible Illness - American Rice and Beans

In the world of cyberspace, many memes have arisen to remind us that not all disabilities are overtly apparent, and therefore, one should not leave snarky notes on cars parked in handicapped spots just because the driver did not appear to be suffering from a debilitating illness.  No doubt there is a certain amount of cheating that goes on, but given the invisible nature of many handicapping illnesses, it is better to err on the side of caution, and dare I say, compassion.

I was thinking of this while staring at my arms, which are bloodied, scarred, and roughened as a result of the terrible itching that often accompanies fibromyalgia.  Not so invisible, although I often wear long sleeves to cover them when they are particularly bad.  Yes, long sleeves, in Florida.  Of course the itching is not confined to my arms. You just can't see it.

I think I've passed the point where my disease is invisible.  Perhaps at one time, when the flares were infrequent and I might have days or weeks in between to recover, I could still fix my hair and put on my makeup and look pretty darn normal.  I did not even take a lot of sick days then, but oh geez, that changed dramatically as 2013 wound down, and so did I. I look sick, and I sound sick, and my limitations are pretty obvious even to strangers. Which causes me to wonder why state and Federal disability are giving me such a hard time, but then my own doctors are not helping in the least. Seriously, dudes, if you can't certify me back to work after all these months, what part of "permanent" don't you understand?  Do you think I am going to have a miraculous recovery? Throw away Horatio Cane and go dancing up the courthouse steps? Pick up a wheeled cart carrying 20 - six inch thick files and throw it casually onto the belt for the security scanner?  Do you think my brain is going to be able to clear its decks and make all words and facts readily available for my use? Idiots.

Now that I got that off my chest, let's switch gears. Today started off better than yesterday, but I still have just so many spoons, and I used most of them up on getting dressed, food shopping and putting things away.  There might be a demitasse spoon in the back of the drawer that will let me prepare a batch of cookies - especially now that I am seriously stocked up with cooking-baking ingredients - but I can't be sure.  My back hurts from my neck to my waist, and I am feeling a touch cranky. There's a home game tonight, Orlando Magic playing the Utah Jazz, and I may want to hang on to that demitasse so I can cheer on my boys, especially Victor Oladipo who won't be playing tonight because of a concussion.

Ah, hell, I blew that last spoon on cooking this rather whimsical version of rice and beans. Lo siento to all my Spanish friends.

American Arroz y Gandules (American Rice and Beans)

2 tablespoons butter
1/2 pound regular bacon, chopped
1 large onion, chopped
1 pound hot country sausage (I used Tennessee Pride, but Jimmy Dean's and Publix are all good)
1 large sweet bell pepper, any color or combination of colors (I used about 1/3 each of green, red and yellow peppers)
1 cup of Uncle Ben's converted rice, prepared according to package directions, substituting 1 tablespoon of fat from the cooked meats in place of the butter called for in the directions.
1 - 28 oz. can KC Masterpiece Pulled Pork Baked Beans, undrained

Put the butter and bacon in a large deep pan, starting on high heat.  As the bacon renders, lower the heat to medium high. Add the onion, and season with salt, pepper, Raging River Five Pepper Blend, granulated garlic and sugar. Cook about 5 minutes, then add the sausage.  Break the sausage up with a wooden spoon, cook about 5 minutes, then add the bell peppers.  Cook 5 to 7 minutes, then take off the heat.  Drain off all of the remaining fat in a colander, then return the meat mixture to the pan.

Stir the cooked rice into the pan, and then stir in the beans. Taste and adjust seasoning. Cover the pan and heat on medium low to warm all the way through. If you don't like spicy, you can certainly use mild sausage and eliminate the pepper blend.

HOLY SHIT - all hell just broke out in Paris.  Terror attack which one FOX commentator referred to as "France's 9/11".  Three locations confirmed, reports of three more.

God help the people of Paris and France. God help us all.

Friday, November 13, 2015

The 47 Nights of Christmas (Cookies) - Cardamom Currant and HRC's Original Chocolate Chip

Even though they are covered with the warm, adorable blanket Terry made for me last birthday, my feet are so cold I fear frostbite.

Frostbite in Florida - inside the house - what the hell.

My life and my health have devolved precipitously this past month. The downtime (uptime?) between fibro flares has decreased to the point where I can no longer remember the last time I had a day without pain. Sometimes I have a couple of hours without much pain, so I rush to water my plants or bake cookies before the moment passes. It's astounding, time is fleeting.

I should be happy.  My cousin Maura and I booked our cruises to Alaska yesterday.  My bucket list number two item finally taking place, and even better, with my cousins.  Right now, I hurt too much to enjoy what should be a very special event.  We sail May 21, 2016 on the Crown Princess.  (Yes, I do travel on something other than Carnival sometimes. Like Thanksgiving of 2002, we were on the Norwegian Majesty. Right after that the ship was decommissioned.) I also stay at hotels other than Marriott. But not often. I am a creature of habit and I love loyalty programs. Besides, Carnival owns Princess, and this ship was built in the same yard as many of the newer Carnival ships. It is going to be an awesome experience.

My wonderful husband returned from an errand in Orlando bearing gifts: Einstein Brothers' bagels, a half pound each of pastrami and tongue, and a box of black and white cookies from Toojays.  The day was definitely looking up, but I still hurt.  It is very difficult to convey the degree of pain.  I've never known how to fully describe it. But it has the ability to suck ever bit of goodness and joy out of my life. There is no normal anymore.

During one of those moments without much pain, I watered my porch plants.  Since I could not carry the large water can (too heavy when filled with water) I made multiple trips to the sink with the smaller water can.  Much smaller, many trips.  My peppers are still fighting with the frakking aphids, and my herbs are looking down in the dumps, but I still have 4 or more jalapenos on the plants, and all five of my avocado pits have rooted and are sending healthy shoots out into the world.  I also moved the strawberries and the marigold box, and I'm sorry I did.  Too heavy for me, and the plastic was cutting into my fingers. Crap.

More resting, more snickering over political gaffes, a little Facebook, a cup of lentil soup, and just enough energy to whip up a batch of cookies.  Just one, not 4 or 12 at a time like I used to do back in the day. I also baked one recipe yesterday, but because I missed a day's blogging, you all missed a day's recipe.

Never fear - you know I love BOGOs better than coupons ...

Cardamom Currant Tea Cookies                                                                  

These are from a glorious cookbook, The Ultimate Shortcut Cookie Book, by Camilla Saulsbury, in which she gets inventive with cake mix, refrigerator cookie dough, brownie mix, and even cereal (don't tell me you never tasted a Rice Krispies Treat.) You should buy the book from Amazon. Seriously.

I love currants. Think of them as tiny raisins, perfect for rugelach and cookies from delicate dough. This cookie not only has currants, it also has cardamom, a marvelous spice, sort of a cross between ginger and nutmeg.  Only three ingredients, which make up for having to make a special trip to Whole Foods for the zante currants.

1 - 16.5 oz. roll refrigerated sugar cookie dough
1 cup dried currants
1 teaspoon ground cardamom

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray or silpat a cookie sheet.

Break up the cookie dough in a large bowl, and let stand 10 to 15 minutes to soften.  Add the cardamom, stir with a wooden spoon, then add the currants.  Mix well, using a wooden spoon.

With a kitchen teaspoon or very small scoop, drop the dough onto prepared cookie sheets. Bake for 10 to 13 minutes until just set and golden at the edges. Let the cookies cool on the sheets for just a few moments, then transfer the cookies to wire racks to cool completely.

Now, you can enjoy the cookies as they are, which is wonderful and delicate and tender, or you can take one extra step and make little sandwich cookies, which is what I decided to do, using Speculoos Cookie Butter as the filling.  Makes 48 cookies, or 24 sandwich cookies.

Here's your BOGO. kids, and it is delicious. Even Robert said that if there were an election, he would vote for these cookies.

Hillary Rodham Clinton's Original Chocolate Chip Cookies

1 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup shortening (Crisco)
1 cup brown sugar, packed
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 eggs
2 cups old fashioned rolled oats
1 - 12 oz bag semisweet chocolate chips

Believe it or not, there is a cookbook called "Presidential Cookies" and I has it. I bought it at the Clinton Museum Store in Little Rock, Arkansas, and it has cookie recipes representative of each presidential administration.  In the later administrations, the recipes were able to be vetted as coming from the various First Ladies, including Lady Bird Johnson's Chocolate Nut Drop Cookies, Rosalynn Carter's Raisin-Oatmeal Cookies, Nancy Reagan's Brownies, and three recipes from Barbara Bush, including her losing entry in the chocolate chip cookie contest started by Family Circle magazine.  The winner, of course, was The Notorious HRC, and as we all know, Bill Clinton won that election.  As the cookie goes, so goes the election, which brings me to a silly vision of Carly Fiorina running against HRC in the general election next November - who bakes the cookies? The contest has always been between those hoping to become First Ladies by virtue of their husband's success at election time - should we anticipate a cookie contest between hopeful First Dudes?

While you puzzle that one out, preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Grease the cookie sheet, or if you have two silpats, like I do, put one on a cookie sheet and one on the kitchen counter.  I prefer to bake the cookies one sheet at a time in the smaller, upper oven, and second silpat lets me set up the cookies for the second batch while the first batch is baking. Once the baked cookies are removed and the cookie sheet cools a bit, which only takes a few minutes, I slide the cookie sheet under the second silpat and right into the oven.

Combine the flour, salt, and baking soda in a medium bowl. I do this by adding them to a wire strainer and sifting them together into the bowl.  In a large bowl, using a hand mixer, beat together the shortening, both sugars, and the vanilla until creamy. Add the eggs, beating until light and fluffy.  Gradually beat in the flour mixture, and then gradually beat in the oats.  Stir in the chocolate chips.

Using a well-rounded kitchen teaspoon or a cookie scoop (I use the one next in size from the really small scoop I used for the lemon drops and cardamom currant cookies) place the dough on the cookie sheet, about 2 inches apart.  These cookies do spread, and bake best with 12 cookies on a sheet.  Bake for 9 to 11 minutes until golden.

Very important: once you remove the cookie sheet from the oven, let it sit for five minutes before using a metal spatula to remove the cookies to a wire rack to finish cooling. The yield is approximately 4 dozen cookies.  HRC's recipe yield says 7 dozen, so I can only assume she made a very small cookie. I like this size for chocolate chip cookies, but your mileage may vary.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Baby Steps - Luscious Lemon Drops

When I was a kid growing up in Brooklyn during the waning days of the Eisenhower administration, all you needed to have fun was a couple of like-minded friends and the sidewalk outside your house. Well, a set of jacks and a Spaulding ball were nice to have as well, but nobody had ever seen so much as a microwave, much less electronic games. Oh yeah, and a jump rope and some chalk. All primitive accoutrements, but so very useful.

One of my favorites was a simple little game called "Mother, May I?" in which the leader stood at the far end of the designated area - in this case, between two stoops on E. 36th Street - and the players asked permission to move forward using giant steps, umbrella steps, and other variations, to get as close to the leader as possible.  It was up to the leader to decide if you could take those 3 giant steps you had politely requested (Mother, may I?) or do something else that would slow down your progress (No, you may not. Take one baby step). Eventually, even those baby steps would get you somewhere, and that is why today I am taking baby steps and considering myself lucky to do so.

Yesterday's agony is today's pain. My nerve endings have turned down the volume somewhat, and I have been able to get out of bed, take my medication, and gather the trash to be dumped outside. Baby steps, yes, but a big improvement from yesterday, when I hurt too much to care that the Magic lost to the Indiana Pacers. Considering that I had a terrible restless night full of pain, intense itching and noise uber-sensitivity (I restrained myself from throwing a couple of dogs out the window and smothering my husband with a pillow to stop his snoring) I still managed to do the stuff I like to do in the morning. It didn't hurt that Cory took over the dishwasher, which let me sit a bit to recover from cleaning the litter box.

Tonight is the fourth Republican debate, and I really want to watch this one. The moderators are from FOX Business, and have promised to avoid the circus atmosphere created by CNBC during the third debate.  Neil Cavuto may want to bring some duct tape for Donald Trump's mouth. 

Now onto the really serious matters of the day: HOLIDAY COOKIES. I like to bake cookies for the winter holidays - Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, and Christmas - in astonishing numbers and variations.  I started doing this my first Christmas working at Alexander & Alexander. The staff always made a big deal about the holidays, and someone was always bringing in home-baked goods to share.  I expanded the number and also packed up gift boxes of cookies for friends and family.  I was hardly memorable as an assistant broker - you may recall I was fired for being a "non income-producing member of the department" - but let me tell you, those folks missed my cookies.

Since law school, my cookie-baking binges have gotten irregular - downright spotty, you might say. It has been a good number of years since I binge-baked, probably a solid decade of cookie-less holidays, but now that I am retired, I wanted to try it again.  I can always take a nap in between batches.

To prepare myself for the task at hand, I sat down with a dozen or so cookie cookbooks, my personal notebook of cookie recipes, and a well-worn copy of the Congregation Shalom Aleichem cookbook.  In choosing the recipes, I set parameters and tried to stay within them: drop cookies, no bars, or rolled, or otherwise overly-complicated recipes; and no frosted cookies. I wanted to bake a lot of old favorites; nostalgia and the holidays go together.  I also had a bunch that I'd been wanting to try for a while, which fell within my search parameters. In the end, I came up with a list of 46 recipes, including 3 that are technically candies. The average cookie recipe produces 2 1/2 dozen cookies ... that works out to ... uh, well over 100 dozen cookies.  1380 cookies, if I calculated correctly.

Think about that. And me with only two freezers.

Anyway, here's the first of the batch. I've been wanting to try this recipe for a long time, and I picked up this cookbook in 1991. The recipe is not unique to this particular book, as I've seen these "Cool Whip cookies" popping up all over. Yep, I said Cool Whip.

Luscious Lemon Drops

1 - 18 1/4 oz. paclage lemon cake mix
half of an 8 oz. container Cool Whip, thawed
1 egg, beaten
juice and grated peel of one large lemon
1/2 cup confectioner's sugar, sifted

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a large mixing bowl combine all of the ingredients except the confectioner's sugar; stir well to mix. If the dough is too dry, add a little bit more of the whipped topping.

Grease, spray, or two line baking pans with a silpat.  Drop the dough by teaspoons (I used my smallest scoop) into the confectioner's sugar, turning to coat well.  Place the balls, 1 1/2 inch apart, on the prepared baking sheets. Bake in the preheated oven for 12 minutes, or until the cookies are done. They should be firm to the touch, and if you break one open, it should not be overly moist, and you should be able to see the interior crumb. Remove from the baking sheet immediately and let cool on wire racks.  This makes 48 cookies - 24 to each baking sheet.

Once they are cool, I put them on a clean baking sheet, single layer, and put them into the freezer, uncovered.  I leave them overnight, and the next day, transfer them to a freezer bag.  If you plan on enjoying these right away, don't bother with this step. These are delicate, although they scream lemon, and a very nice edition to a cookie platter.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Something in the way she moves

Sometime during the night I must have done something to my neck - slept wrong, as if I ever sleep any other way - and am now in a type of pain I had only previously had nightmares about. It has affected my equilibrium to the point that if I try to stand or walk, I feel as though I am going to black out. The day is half over and I have not been able to leave my bed, much less head downstairs for a cup of coffee. All the doggies are with me; Romeo, my personal guardian, has as always planted himself close to me, and I am certain that if he had opposing thumbs he would be doing his darndest to fetch me that coffee.

My plans for today have turned into shit. Just making it downstairs, which I finally managed after more Advil and application of a cold compress, is going to be my solitary accomplishment. Oy, I had such plans! In anticipation of a bumper crop of zucchini, I puzzled out a recipe in which the zucchini will be stuffed with a crab cake filling, topped with pan fried oysters and a good drizzle of homemade remoulade. But I couldn't even get out of the house to buy the crab and oysters.

Which brings up another issue of greater importance, to me anyway.  My vision is deteriorating again, and I am concerned.  Just 6 months ago, I went for an eye exam because of problems with my eyesight, and at that time learned that what had been 20/550 vision for over 30 years was now a mind-shattering 20/750.  For a brief time the new glasses were a blessing, but after a few months I started to have problems yet again.  I would not trust myself to drive at night.  My daytime vision is getting frustratingly fuzzy.  I'll be making another appointment to have my eyes checked; I only hope that new glasses will solve the problem.  If not, I'll be looking for an opthamologist who takes my insurance.  

And so it goes. (You don't have to thank me for the earworm.)    

Monday, November 9, 2015

Doctor Disco

Things I forgot to talk about in the last blog post: Peter Capaldi and last night's "Doctor Who" and my friend Lynne, that lucky lady, eating her way through New York City.

Last night, second part of a two-part episode, even better than the first part. Oh, the Osgoods! Even Clara was good, really good, especially when she wasn't being Clara. And of course, a bonus for us Whovians, the episodes were built on an earlier episode which featured three other Doctors. Four, if you count the Curator.

But Capaldi, that fabulous actor who was born to play the Doctor, is making me rethink my previous   declaration of Favorite Doctor. Christopher Eccleston, you've got competition.

My friend Lynne and I go way back to the mid-seventies, when we worked for a certain large insurance broker. Our office was in the city, on Sixth Avenue (at that time stubbornly referred to as Avenue of the Americas) but we both lived in Howard Beach. That's a long ride on the A train, my friends.  Later on, Lynne moved to a very cool section of Brooklyn. She took me to my first (and only) discotheque, where I sat paralyzed in fear someone would ask me to dance. See, while I love disco, I can't dance. I'm all about the music, but I've got two left feet.  (Someone did ask me to dance. He was wearing a bow tie. Back then, bow ties were not cool. Heck, Matt Smith hadn't even been born.)                         

Over the years, Lynne and I lost touch as we moved away from the metropolitan New York area, and when we finally found each other again, she was upstate New York while I was in Central Florida. This weekend, however, she was in Brooklyn for a friend's event and she told me she was going to eat her way through New York City. She had already started with Spanish food for dinner and a REAL NEW YORK BAGEL for breakfast, and her future plans included Chinese dim sum and stuffed derma (a Jewish specialty that used to be served on every plate at every bar mitzvah and oh, how I loved it!)

What we've got here, folks, is one Brooklyn expatriate with a SEVERE case of food envy.  Lynne, if you are reading this, I expect a full report. As a gastric bypass postie, I've gotten sort of used to enjoying food vicariously. But that's not going to stop me from letting out one long, sad sigh of self-pity.  Just one. Indulge me.

My big cooking is done for a while. I have enough food for 35 people, even if they were to all drop in at the same time. That doesn't include the cooked stuff in deep freeze. So of course, I took the next logical step and started thinking about Christmas cookies.

Rob and I made it to St. Augustine in great time, and made a quick stop for a bite to eat at McDonald's, this one on the corner of State Route A1A, just down the road from Anastasia Baptist Church..  If you are ever in the area, don't stop here. The only time I saw a McDonald's this disgustingly dirty, we were in Mississippi on our way to Little Rock, facing a bunch of snaggle-toothed cretins behind the counter who glared at us because we are a mixed-race family. This was one of only two places where I felt compelled to slip my Star of David inside my shirt collar, the other place being the airport in Munich, Germany.

The problem in St. Augustine wasn't the crew, although they should have had more registers open. And someone on the patio, cleaning cleaning cleaning.  I ordered a 4 piece chicken nugget, ate one and threw the other's out.  It tasted fine but it occurred to me that if the front was that dirty, who knows wat condition the kitchen was in? My stomach turned, and that was that.

The program was fabulous, with many accolades for Rob's cousin Michael, and for Michael's wife Carol, the original inspiration. I do have a question though - it came up briefly, and I've heard before, that when a civilian tells a military person "thank you for your service", it is perceived as hollow, and merely an attempt to be politically correct. Is there a better way for a civilian to show appreciation?

If you are able to view my Facebook page, I have already shared two posts from Michael, with links to a video of the terrific performance by the St. Augustine High School Chorus, and pictures from the event.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Better, Maybe - Polish Stir Fry with Potato Pierogi Potstickers

If Rachael Ray and I ever collaborated on a recipe, this is what it would taste like.  Ha ha, seriously. I've been making an easy version of kielbasa and kraut for well over 30 years, and my guys are likely to scarf up the whole thing in one sitting. I came across a more sophisticated version in one of my Rachael Ray cookbooks, which she calls "Polish Stir-Fry and Pierogi Pot Stickers with Herbs and Sour Cream." Very good also, but not without the need for some gentle tweaking to suit the palates of my two food critics-in-residence.  Rachael uses kale in her dish, and my family is of one mind when it comes to kale: HELL, NO.  So I substituted turnip greens, one of my favorites.  Mustard green would have worked as well. (I suspect that my husband would have preferred I left out the greens altogether, but spoonie don't roll that way.  Greens are good, as long as they are not named Kale.)

I upped the amount of kielbasa, cut it differently to get the rustic manly char I was looking for, adjusted the amounts of onion and sauerkraut, and went with a coarse ground mustard instead of mustard powder or prepared spicy brown. And that sour cream she serves on the side? Stirred it right in with the kielbasa and its cruciferous cousins, as I would do in preparing my own recipe.

I didn't touch her recipe for the pierogi potstickers at all, as the recipe is sheer genius. Okay, I added some extra butter.  But that's all.

Polish Stir Fry:
2 pounds kielbasa, cut into 2 inch pieces, then halved lengthwise
olive oil (garlic infused if you've got it)
2 large red onions, quartered and sliced
1 - 1 pound bag of chopped turnip greens
2 pounds of sauerkraut (in bags from refrigerator case), rinsed and drained
4 tablespoons coarse ground mustard
1 tablespoon sweet paprika
kosher salt
ground black pepper
sugar, optional
1 1/2 pints sour cream

Heat a large skillet over medium high heat and add half of the kielbasa, cut side down, and cook until browned and a little crusty.

Turn the kielbasa over, brown the other side and using tongs, remove the meat to an aluminum baking dish. Add about two tablespoons of olive oil to the pan, and then add the onion. Sauté just until the onion starts to soften, and start adding the turnip greens, a handful at a time, letting them wilt down before adding the next batch. Next, add the drained sauerkraut and stir well over medium heat.

Add the mustard, paprika, salt, pepper, and a pinch of sugar to cut the bitterness of the greens.  Stir the kielbasa into the pan. Cover and heat through for about 10 minutes so that the flavors all come together, hold hands and sing Kumbaya. Stir in the sour cream. Move everything into an ovenproof serving dish (like the aluminum baking pan from the kielbasa), cover with foil, and place in a low oven to keep warm while you prepare the potstickers.

Pierogi Potstickers:
1 stick of butter, softened
about 1 1/2 pounds frozen potato pierogi
1 cup water
2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
2 tablespoons chopped fresh onion chives
2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
kosher salt
ground black pepper

Place the softened butter in the bottom of a large skillet. Add the frozen pierogi in a single layer on top of the butter, then pour in about a cup of water. Cover the pan, and on high heat, cook the pierogi for 8 minutes (counting from the time the water boils). Remove the cover and keep cooking until the remaining water has evaporated.

Lower the heat to medium high and cook until the pierogi begin to stick to the pan. Carefully remove the pierogi to a serving dish, sliding a spatula underneath to release from the pan without tearing it open. The bottom of the pierogi should be a lovely golden brown.  Spoon the butter remaining in the pan over the pierogi, sprinkle in the herbs and season with salt and pepper. Serve alongside the Polish Stir Fry, with additional sour cream, rye bread and butter. If you like beer, this would be a good time to drink it. Since I dislike beer, I'll stick to my Crystal Light flavor of the day.

As crappy as I feel - the pain has faded a bit, to be replaced  by the parasthesia (insane itching and pins and needles sensation) - I can't help but feel a bit exhilarated by the recent performance by the Orlando Magic. My Magic, who have won 3 of their last 4 games. Life is good in the City Beautiful. Except I don't live in Orlando anymore, but you know what I mean.

Rob and I are heading to St. Augustine just for the day, to watch a very special program, "Honoring Our Veterans". This will include the presentation of the documentary "K9s for Warriors" created by Rob's cousin Michael Rothfeld. Looking forward to this event.

Finally, six years ago this weekend, Rob and I were in Charlottesville, celebrating a special birthday with our dear friend, Dr. Maurice Lipper, husband of my sister from another mister, Bethe Gochberg Lipper. They are both gone now, but instead of my usual grieving, today I want to celebrate the life of a charming, sweet, astonishingly bright and loving man, husband, father, grandfather and friend.  The perfect life partner for my beloved friend, together in Heaven, thank you for your friendship. You are missed.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

And again - Swedish Meatballs

Friday - Let's try this again. Life, I mean. The last 5 days have been less than optimal.  Started off bad, got worse, with yesterday having the major crash and burn moment. Today, I filled out a little paperwork for disability, sprayed a few pepper plants, and crashed again.

Saturday - Seriously, this is getting old.  Days and days of pain, feeling useless, depressed, and unfocussed. I shouldn't even be blogging when I feel like this; people don't read blogs to feel bad all the time, and lately that's all I've had to offer.

On a happier note, the Magic won last night against the Toronto Raptors. And while we were watching the preshow, we caught Rob's godson Ben and his dad Jay on screen, while they were in a group of fans meeting with center Nikola Vucevic. That was all great fun.  I have such high hopes for my team this year, especially as it seems they finally have the right coach.

This morning I was awoken by a parade next to my house. Osceola County Veteran's Day parade, and that's what happens when you live downtown like we do. Sometimes living here reminds me of when we lived on Kings Highway in Brooklyn when I was a kid. My bedroom fronted the main road, and the sounds of traffic were always there.

Let me give you the recipe for the Swedish meatballs I prepared the other day.  They came out quite good, which I was able to confirm once my tastebuds were working normally. My refrigerator is so full of cooked food I had to label the pans to make any sense of it, but there is still one more dish I'd like to prepare before my body totally quits on me. (I am beginning to understand why some folks take strong pain-killers, despite the risk of addiction.  This is becoming unbearable.)

Swedish Meatballs

4 eggs, beaten lightly with a whisk 
1 1/2 cups of whole milk
1 cup dry breadcrumbs
1 stick (8 tablespoons) butter, divided 
1 medium onion, finely chopped
3 pounds ground beef (I use market beef)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 1/2 teaspoon dried dill weed (or 1 1/2 tablespoon fresh, chopped)
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon cardamom
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon flour
3 - 10 1/2 oz. cans beef broth
1 1/2 cups cream or half and half
white pepper
black pepper
1 tablespoon fresh dill, chopped, for the sauce
additional nutmeg, allspice, and cardamom, to taste, for the sauce

In a large bowl whisk the eggs and milk together, then stir in the breadcrumbs.

In a large deep skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of the butter and add the onion. Saute until soft and lightly golden brown.  Let it cool.

To the breadcrumb mixture, add the ground beef, the onions, salt, dill, allspice, nutmeg and cardamom. Stir to combine well, cover and refrigerate for at least an hour, up to overnight. Shape into meatballs, about 1 3/4 inches in diameter.

In the remaining butter, brown the meatballs in batches of 12. As they are done, move them to an aluminum baking pan, using a slotted spoon. Add the flour to the pan and stir to make a roux.  Season with white and black pepper, dill, numeg, allspice and cardamom.  Gradually stir in the beef broth; bring to a boil, stirring constantly.  Add the cream.

Taste carefully and adjust the seasonings.  The beef broth is salty so you likely will not need to add any salt.  Pour the sauce over the meatballs. Cover the pan with foil and bake at 325 degrees for 45 minutes or until the meatballs are heated all the way through. Serve with buttered noodles (I mix these with some poppy seeds and green peas) and lingonberry preserves.

Friday, November 6, 2015

No Pain No Gain No Sane

Not unexpected, but unwelcome just the same, excruciating pain. If my body was was a movie theatre, it would be praised for its Surround Sound capabilities, but since all it is, is a fragile sack of protoplasm, this poor old body hurts everywhere. EVERYWHERE. Some places worst than others; on a scale of 1 to 10, my back pain registers an eleven, while my legs and shoulders are hovering between eight and nine.

My mind is befuzzed and I am feeling guilty - there is paperwork that has to be done, and emails to respond to, and faxes to send. I can't quite focus, so these tasks linger, taunting me from their neat pile of notes in the stack on my corner of the kitchen counter.

Noise bothers me today. If the door between the house and office squeaks one more time I am going to borrow a gun and shoot it off its hinges. Yes, that bad.

My dearly beloved Orlando Magic took pity on me last night and turned in a win, over the New Orleans Pelicans, which is a damn stupid name for a basketball team, if you ask me (which you didn't). The oddly-named team plays in an oddly-named venue - the Smoothie King Arena. Frankly I'd be embarrassed to play in New Orleans, but since I am unlikely to ever be invited to play on an NBA team, I won't have to hurt anyone's feelings. Especially Ryan Anderson, because he used to play for the Magic until some idiot in the front office let him go. Pah - I still miss Jameer Nelson.

My mood, which was reasonably good despite the pain, has gone steadily southward, and not just because the Magic are going to lose to the Houston Rockets tonight. This is the part of the depression that rides shotgun with the fibromyalgia, and when I don't feel well physically, it takes advantage of my weakened state and creeps into my head. I'd say it's a good thing I am heading to my therapist's appointment in a little while, except I'm worried about my therapist which is silly. I've always kept a distance between myself and my therapists (Transference? Who dat?), but I've been seeing the same therapist for such a very long time it's hard for me not to notice little things.  I am a Jewish mother. So sue me.

Two days - I started the above post two days ago. Still can't finish it, and there will be no Swedish meatball recipe for you today either. My most profuse apologies. This has been a long stretch of pain, five days, no breaks and getting worse, and I've got a full-on fibro flair going here. Never mind. Maybe tomorrow will be better for all of us.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Here Comes The Sun - Chicken in Tarragon and Tomato Cream Sauce

Energy. I gots it.

Uh oh. That usually means I am going to do too much and suffer for it. Intellectually I know that I should slow down, but I can't.  Something compels me to jump up and do stuff. I really cannot sit still. Adult ADD or something - maybe it's the fibromyalgia. Maybe it's Maybelline.

Yesterday I cooked too much - as if there is such a thing - and prepared a glorious chicken dish that will make you wish you lived here so you could have some. Or you could take a quick trip to the Food Mecca of your choosing, haul out your electric frying pan, and have at it. Later. I have to go cage my tomatillos and rhubarb. Allon-sy!

I have a new earworm:

Here comes the sun
Here comes the sun,
and I say, It's all right
Little darling
It's been a long, cold lonely winter
Little darling
It feels like years since it's been here
Here comes the sun
Here comes the sun,
and I say, It's all right
I came by it honestly, trying to finish planting brassicas and lettuce before the sun came careening around the corner of my house:

Well, at least the spinach is safe, but I am done gardening for the day. It may take me the rest of the week to plant those lettuces, but I've got some major limitations here, courtesy of My Friend Fibro, the cheeky bastard. 

The porch plants have been turned and watered, the caging is complete, a couple of hundred aphids have been killed, and the spinach are in the ground, soaking up the nutrients.  That was gorgeous, rich dirt that James procured, and it has been enriched with 10-10-10 fertilizer.

I am inspired to start a whole new project that has nothing to do with cooking, gardening, knitting, or coloring books. Really? you say. Really, I say. It has to do with books and shelves and stairs and moving in. Yes, I know I've been living here for a year and a half.  I lived in my last house for 12 years and never completely unpacked. I'll keep you advised.

This glorious chicken recipe is from a neat cookbook, The Soup Mix Gourmet, by Diane Phillips, published in 2001. You all know that as much as I like cooking with fresh foods, some of them right out of my garden, and creating recipes from scratch, I am not the type of snob who turns up her nose at a recipe involving a can of Campbell's cream of anything, a cake mix, or a packet by Knorr's.  And do I ever love their bouillon cubes!  This book - and I hope you can find it - has 375 recipes that get a little boost from some pre made  product.  Honestly, the stuff is really good.  This is my favorite from the book, and I have made it a number of times which is unusual for one such as me who rarely repeats a recipe more than once a decade, if ever. I made a very few minor changes, and I doubled the amount of sauce because I always double the sauce. Wait till we get to the Swedish meatballs tomorrow.

Chicken in Tarragon and Tomato Cream Sauce

3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons olive oil (if you have garlic infused, use it)
12 chicken thighs, bone-in
kosher salt
ground black pepper
1 cup chopped shallots
1 1/2 pounds mushrooms, sliced
1 cup white wine (I used a semi-sweet)
1-28 oz. can San Marzano tomatoes
1 tablespoon dried tarragon
ground white pepper
2 cans Campbell's cream of chicken soup
1 cup heavy cream

I used a rectangular electric frying pan, which let me cook all twelve pieces of chicken at the same time. Or you can use a large, deep skillet and cook the chicken in two batches.

Season the chicken with a generous amount of salt and pepper on both sides. If you have time, put the chicken back in the refrigerator, uncovered for an hour or two.

Heat the butter and oil over medium high heat. Place the chicken in the hot pan, skin side down, and brown the chicken, about 15 minutes on each side. Take your time with this. Remove the chicken from the skillet and set aside.  With a large metal spoon, remove any solids in the pan, and all but 4 tablespoons of the fat.  Reserve some of the fat, in case you have to add back a little, mushrooms being notorious fat suckers.  

Add the shallots and sauté for a few minutes, then add the mushrooms. Cook until the shallots are soft and the mushrooms begin to turn golden. Add the wine and bring the sauce to a boil. Add the tomatoes and tarragon, breaking the tomatoes up with a wooden spoon.  Cook until the sauce begins to reduce. Stir in the soup and the heavy cream, and bring to a simmer. Taste and re-season. 

Return the chicken to the pan and simmer, covered, until the chicken is cooked all the way through, about 15 to 20 minutes. 

By the way, I can already tell you that Something Bad has happened to my back. My feet are up and the Advil are flowing. So much for my new project. Crap. This is some of the worst lower back pain I've ever had. Ever.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

It's a Hard-Knock Life - Double Blueberry Muffins

I can't get out of bed. I can barely sit up, and I can't uncross my legs so I can try to slide off the side. My heart is pounding because I can't yet walk to where I keep my medication.

I just fell asleep while typing that. You want my life, you can have it - cheap.

First order of the day is getting out of bed and taking my morning medications. Still can't move, not sure I can swallow. My head is definitely not working straight. I can't think, I can't read. And is that the gastric pain swooping in for a landing? Why, yes it is! Welcome to my Monday morning nightmare!

The Mets lost the World Series in a 4 game sweep by Kansas City, and I am sad. The Magic lost the third game of the new season to the Chicago Bulls, and I'm getting angry. Don't make me angry, you wouldn't like me when I'm angry. My team is reaching the point of being hopeless, and the season just started. Let's not forget that in 1997 or thereabouts I was voted "Most Likely To Go Postal" by my coworkers and staff at DCF Legal.

Do not go gentle into that good night ...
Rage, rage against the dying of the light

Oh yeah, I'm a mess this morning. So many things to do, and the time to do it, but no strength. All my energy is going towards fighting this pain.

So I make it downstairs and start some food prep. Yes, I can cut open a bag of cole slaw mix for the kraut sveckle. No I cannot open and drain those cans of tuna fish. Yes, I can walk outside to check on my garden, but I cannot lean over to straighten the cones around the cucumbers and I can't walk around the corner to the porch to check on the peppers and herbs, even though I am relying heavily on Horatio Cane.

Horatio Cane, get it? Never mind ...

I got the salad done. I seasoned the chicken. I finished and published yesterday's blog. I sat down. I may never get up. How am I supposed to live like this for the rest of my life?

The muffin recipe came about when I happened to find the most amazing blueberries at BJ's. Apparently Welch's now grows blueberries, and may I say they are the biggest blueberries - yes, as big as grapes. I wanted to make a muffin that was easy and all about the blueberries. Trust me, this is all about the blueberries, and has no need of a crunchy topping or glaze.  Good with black coffee. Also good thing I baked them yesterday.  Today would have been a big nope.

Double Blueberry Muffins

2-9 oz. boxes Jiffy golden yellow cake mix
2-7 oz. boxes Jiffy blueberry muffin mix
4 extra large eggs
1 cup sour cream
1 cup half and half (whole milk works fine)
grated peel of one large lemon
3 cups fresh blueberries

This is a double batch, but when you've got gorgeous blueberries in season, you want to use them in the best way possible. So you are going to need two muffin tins; place paper liners in each cup. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

In a large bowl, combine the cake and muffin mixes. Put the blueberries in a gallon ziptop bag; remove about 1/4 cup of the dry mix and add it to the blueberries. Close the bag and shake gently so that all the berries are dusted in the mix. (This will prevent them from all sinkinking to the bottom during baking.)

In another bowl, whisk the eggs, then add the sour scream, half and half, and lemon peel, and whisk to combine.  Pour the liquid ingredients into the dry, and with a spatula, mix until just combined.  Add the blueberries and any dry mix in the bag, and fold them into the batter with the spatula.

Divide the batter among the muffin cups, filling each one almost to the top. This gave me 23 muffins, but you may get 24. Or 22. It's all good. Bake for 20 minutes until done.  Let the muffins cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then remove to a wire rack to finish cooling.  Yes, some of the blueberries will burst with the sheer joy of being such an integral part of such a muffin, so you may need to use a small, sharp knife to loosen the blueberry bond between the muffin and the top of the tin.  Wield a light hand and you will be well-rewarded.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Catching My Breath - Creamy Potato Spinach Soup

Earworm Alert:

I don't wanna be left behind
Distance was a friend of mine
Catching breath in a web of lies
I've spent most of my life
Riding waves, playing acrobat
Shadowboxing the other half
Learning how to react
I've spent most of my time

Catching my breath, letting it go
Turning my cheek for the sake of this show
Now that you know, this is my life
I won't be told what's supposed to be right
Catch my breath, no one can hold me back, I ain't got time for that
Catch my breath, won't let them get me down, it's all so so simple now

I love Kelly Clarkson, but enough is enough. (Cuing Mother Superior Helen Gaius Mohiam's voice):    Get out of my mind! Yeah, that worked.

I always look forward to the end of Daylight Savings Time, because I get an extra hour of sleep. Except this year. This morning, at 4:30 AM (officially 3:30 AM), I headed downstairs with Chelsea and gave her a luxurious, much-needed bath. Since  I was now wide awake (Chelsea napped in her bath) I made my coffee and started to prepare this luxurious, much-needed soup. My other cooking plans got put on hold so I could start planting the brassicas.  Which was a REALLY stupid idea, because I overdid yesterday and now I was about to overdo today. Am I in denial regarding the fibromyalgia?  Mmm, I would have to say "yes." So despite my achy muscles and headache, I plunged right back into the garden taking on a major planting project.  All those brassicas and lettuces, nine seedlings to a pot and I don't remember how many pots but it was a lot.  So I only got through half of them before I had to cry "uncle", wave the white flag, and come out with my hands up.

Anyway, I didn't get my extra hour of sleep, and I'll still have to give it back come spring. That's the part that really sucks. The part that doesn't suck is that we bought a new car for Robert. Unexpected, especially the deal that allowed us to swap the 2013 for the 2015, virtually even Steven. For the first time in I don't know how many years, there is nary a red car in the Rothfeld family.

And I baked some blueberry muffins, but that's tomorrow's story. I also hurt like hell, but that's everyday's story.

I have been deliberately ignoring the news.  It's all bad, and bad news can be overwhelming when I feel like this. The only presidential candidate I can even bear to think about right now is Dr. Ben Carson. He is so soothing to listen to, even when he says something which causes liberals to go running for their blood pressure medication. Fortunately, I have low blood pressure.

Let's talk about soup. If you follow this blog, you know how I get about soup; I probably spend more time working on soup recipes than I do with okra. There's a reason for that, beyond my simple love of soup: I can usually get soup down my aging gullet, and more importantly, keep it down.  I try to stick to textures that won't cause problems, and I have found a delicious keeper with this Creamy Potato Spinach Soup. Unlike a baked potato soup, this is not overly thick or rich. The creaminess comes mostly from the potatoes, which are whirled smooth with an immersion blender before the spinach is added. I did use a small amount of heavy cream, but if you want to leave it out, no harm no foul.

Creamy Potato Spinach Soup

6 slices regular bacon, chopped
2 tablespoons butter
2 leeks, white and light green parts sliced thin
1 large clove of garlic, sliced thin
6 baking potatoes, peeled and cubed
8 cups of water
4 Knorr chicken bouillon cubes, broken up
2 bay leaves
1 rounded teaspoon dried thyme
3/4 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1-10 oz. box frozen chopped spinach, defrosted, all liquid squeezed out
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 cup shredded pepper jack cheese
kosher salt, white pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

In a large pot, cook the bacon until well-rendered and as crisp as you like.  With a slotted spoon remove the bacon to paper towel to drain. Pour off all but 3 tablespoons of the bacon fat, and add the butter to melt.  Cook the leeks and garlic in the pot until the leeks are soft and beginning to caramelize.

Add the potatoes, water, bouillon cubes, bay leaves and thyme. Season with salt and white pepper, and bring to a boil.  Cover, lower the heat and simmer for 30 minutes. Remove the cover and cook another 10 minutes. Remove and discard the bay leaves. With an immersion blender, puree the potatoes until smooth. Add the Worcestershire, the spinach, the cream, and the nutmeg, and bring up the heat to just under boiling.  Add the cheese and stir until melted. Serve garnished with the cooked bacon, or not. Au naturel for me, thank you.

Gorgeous soup. Enjoy.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Saturday, as usual - Ribs and Muffins

Crockpot Barbecue Pork Ribs
Carrot Muffins

Oops, I owe you a couple of recipes.

But first, today was a shopping day, as usual for a Saturday. Lowe's for garden stuff. BJ's and Publix for food and other stuff. Hundreds of dollars of stuff. Stuff to stuff into the car and then take out of the car to bring into the house and to stuff behind other stuff.  Saturday, as usual.

That would have been fine, more than enough in fact, but noooooo, I had to go outside and start messing with the garden. Did more than I should have. I'll kvetch about that tomorrow.

Here are the recipes; both of them very easy.  The recipe for Spiced Carrot Muffins is from Williams-Sonoma. These are good, but not spiced in any sense of the word.  If you like more spice add cinnamon. Rob actually like them the way they were, and so did I. We report, you decide.

Don't be freaked out by the dark green shreds - those are from the deep purple carrot I shredded along with the orange ones.

The Crockpot Barbecue Ribs is a favorite recipe of mine.  The ribs come out so tender and flavorful, you may never use the oven again. The recipe works perfectly in a 6 quart oval crockpot, cooking two racks of ribs.

This time, I tried cooking four racks of ribs in my new 8 quart crockpot.  I also used a different spice blend, as I favor my mild Jamaican Jerk Rub.  These ribs also cooked beautifully, however, if you follow my lead, you will need to reverse the position of the ribs several times so everyone gets a chance to cozy up to the heat, which emanates from the sides.  You will also need more time to finish them.

I used Sweet Baby Ray's Original BBQ sauce. Once they were done, I laid them out in a very large pan, poured on more sauce, and put them under the broiler BRIEFLY.

Speaking of briefly, that's today's blog post. If you didn't watch Doctor Who last night, you missed a goodie.  Good plot, good acting, and a couple of Easter eggs. Try to catch it On Demand.

Have a peaceful Sunday.