"Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?" ~ Mary Oliver

Tag: cooking

preoccupations . . .

view from where I sit . . .

view from where I sit . . .

When you’re limited to how much you can move around, life changes. It’s going on five weeks now since I fell and broke my ankle. Ten days ago from actual surgery. Five days since I stopped taking painkillers that were responsible for insomnia. Still not sleeping through the night. With the inactivity, I’ve discovered that my mood is better when I take short breaks to do light housework, cooking or playing the piano. The operative word in the last sentence is “short.” Right now at 4:10 in the afternoon, there’s a peach cobbler baking in the oven; poached chicken tenders in a dashi broth, ginger root and green scallion cooling on the stove; and sticky rice starting to bubble in the rice cooker. The cooled chicken will be dipped in a light oyster sauce. Along with it, I’ll quickly saute fresh spinach with some garlic and a splash of chicken broth. Some pickled cucumbers on the side.

This morning, I started re-reading one of my favorite books that I spied in the bookcase, “Philosophy Made Simple” by Richard Hellenga. It’s a story about a man whose three daughters are grown, one of them planning to be married, a widower who looks to make a move from the Midwest to Texas to buy and run an avocado farm. That’s right. He meets up with a Russian emigre who owns an elephant named Norma Jean who makes paintings holding a brush with her trunk. He sells the paintings for a hundred dollars apiece as tourist souvenirs. It’s a great little story but I already know what happens in the end. His wife died after having an affair in Italy and returned to him afterwards. In spite of it, he looks for meaning in life by listening to tapes his wife made after she left him. This kind of plot line is why I’ve decided I can’t write a novel myself. Maybe short stories or posts on a blog are all I can handle. My imagination doesn’t spin long enough if you know what I mean.

I’m also not embarrassed to report that I’ve been watching TV crime shows such as “Bones” and “Castle” while lying on the couch most of the day with my ankle elevated “higher than my heart.” I used to brush right past those shows, thinking they were rather diluted and sappy. Well, they are sometimes sappy but surprisingly, some of the plots are engaging and there’s a lot of humor found in both casts. There also seems to be some good chemistry among the actors and what can I say, it’s not the worst thing to do while recuperating. So you see, my life and routine has scaled down quite a bit. If I were sleeping and waking up rested in the morning, I’d be a lot happier. I’ve weaned myself off of Vicodin and Tylenol, each of which contained acetaminophen which can harm your liver. Just an aspirin a day is all I’d like to take for inflammation and pain.

One idea I came up with the other day was to use some brown and dark blue Marimekko remnant material that resembles piano keys to hand sew covers for the bolster cushions I use to prop up my knees when elevating my ankle. Why stop there, I thought to myself? Two more Marimekko remnant pieces won on eBay later (loden green, brown, cranberry stripes) I’m thinking about covering the large cushions and making a dropcloth for the bamboo telephone bookcase. Maybe our home will be wall-papered in Marimekko patterns by the time I’m on my feet again!

Although there’s plenty of visual stimulation in this great room that combines our kitchen and living area, I’m hoping that the Marimekko graphics will tie things together visually. At least, it’ll give me some hand sewing to do during the weeks between casts. The sutures are to be removed a week from now and a new cast put on for an additional three weeks. By the beginning of May, I’ll have a better idea of whether/when I’ll be able to put weight on my right ankle.

Meanwhile, G. continues to carry the household load by going to the store with my annotated shopping lists, helping me up and down from room to room, washing dishes after all our meals. We’re more than grateful and happy to get through this together.

And so it goes today.

and it’s all good . . .

Early roses from the garden (the striped one is called "George Burns")

Early roses from the garden (the striped one is called “George Burns”)

As some of you may know, I like to cook. One of the most interesting things to me about it is that every day offers an opportunity to learn something new and to try it out right away and be able to taste it. In the last bit of time, we have been consciously simplifying what and how much we eat. At the same time, flavors, textures and new tastes emerge as our meals evolve.

The Food Network show, “Chopped” is fun to watch because the contestants take such different approaches to the incompatible ingredients in their food baskets. The judges’ comments are also instructive, critical about too little or too much seasoning, whether a dish hangs together and looks appetizing. Anyhow, “Chopped” is entertaining to watch besides the Red Sox and the Bruins (3 down, 1 to go!) As a result, G. now teases me by saying “Time’s up!” or Thank you, Chef!” when we sit down to dinner.

Another thread in my cooking lately, is searching for healthy recipes that are also compatible with our taste in food. I have been reading “It’s All Good,” authored by Gwyneth Paltrow and Julia Turshen, a cookbook that underscores non-gluten, non-dairy recipes that include many Asian ingredients. Recipes such as “Buckwheat soba in ginger broth,” “Scallion pancakes made with brown rice flour,” “Polenta with Shitake mushrooms and leek,” and “Avocado cucumber soup” are among the book’s highlights. There are before and current photographs of Julia Turshen that will tempt you to try out their food philosophy because her skin is glowing and she looks trim and relaxed after losing sixty pounds!

In any case, one of the elements in “It’s All Good” is the use of a heavy-duty blender like Vitamix although the authors are careful not to be elitist about this expensive piece of equipment. Coincidentally, my daughter, C., brought up the Vitamix last weekend when she was visiting, saying that friends of hers had raved about how versatile it was to use and also how easy it was to clean. After her visit, I took a three-hour Japanese Vegetarian cooking class at the Cambridge Adult Education Center last Sunday and my instructor, Yoko, also extolled the use of her Vitamix. She used hers to pulverize dried kombu and dried Shitake mushrooms individually to have on hand to make dashi stock or to add to a variety of dishes. I was impressed by how Yoko personalized the use of the Vitamix to suit a specific type of cuisine. These three Vitamix strands in the ether convinced me to look into it further and I ordered the Professional Model 300 in ruby red which arrived yesterday.

The first thing I noticed is that the very simple packaging mirrors the elegance of Apple computer packaging. You know what I mean if you own a Mac product. Right away, I was impressed with the foresight the manufacturer put into presenting their product. I read the manual and played the DVD of a youngish male cook (with heavily tattooed arms) who read his lines from the teleprompter rather stiffly but walked us through how to use the Vitamix. Seems like the most important thing is to load the ingredients from lightest weight first (on the bottom) to heaviest on top. The liquid and soft foods on the bottom draws in the heavier ingredients on top. Start the machine on the setting, “1” and gradually move the dial to 10 for 30 seconds or whatever amount of time is called for. (Apparently, using frozen fruits, you can make a berry sorbet in 30 seconds!) If needed, use the tamper (a pusher) which does not reach the blades to stir the ingredients while grinding. Clean by filling halfway with warm water and a couple of drops of detergent, run it on high for 60 seconds, rinse and invert on a dishtowel or drainer to dry. Simple. It all sounded good to me.

The one thing I noticed while watching the DVD, was that I instantly knew I preferred the Vitamix in black to the red one sitting on the kitchen counter. My daughter, C. has been wanting one too and so I talked to her on the phone last night about whether she’d like the red one if she was ready to purchase, or I could send it back just as easily. My other daughter, M. who lives in Minneapolis, has been sounding rather wistful whenever we talked about the Vitamix on Skype. M. said that her good friend Noemi, (whom they just visited in Winnipeg and is a real foodie,) loves her Vitamix which she has used for a long time.

I thought to myself (after paging through the very thick and heavy hardbound Vitamix recipe book that came with the machine,) that utilizing this expensive kitchen tool would be worthwhile only and if only one were able to personalize its use to make foods compatible with what we like to eat. Thus, (drumroll) the recipes in “It’s All Good” quickly morphed in my mind as an ideal companion to the Vitamix because the recipes use it a lot and the dishes mirror our palate. So, Voila! as the French like to say. I could now conceive of a rationale for owning (and paying for) one.

So here we are in the beginning of June, a day after G. and I planted our morning glory seedlings near the barn where they will climb up strings to the second floor landing and grace our days with visions of heavenly blue on foggy mornings in the Fall. Based on reactions from both my daughters, C. and M. I’m thinking maybe a Vitamix will appear in their Christmas stockings this year (counting in everyone’s birthday and anniversary gifts for a year too!)

In any case, it’s all good, isn’t it?

Addendum: Here’s a link to the book, “It’s All Good,” and if you’re interested, my review under the name Eden is titled: “It Actually IS (almost) All Good!”