Monthly Archives: January 2011

Grandma the Character

I’m thinking about my grandmother these days because I’m raising money for those (and those that love them) that are coping with memory loss. Also, even though they were only related by marriage and never really cared for each other, my Uncle Dick passed away this week.

I will probably write further blog posts about my grandmother, because there is so much to discuss. She was a truly unique individual. Admirable for raising three kids by herself, hilarious for her sense of humor, frustrating for her manipulative ways, my grandmother was truly a complex individual. I’m not sure I really appreciated her until she was long gone. It takes a fair amount of reflection to really appreciate someone of her caliber.

The stories about my grandmother are legendary. Sitting around at family gatherings, the tales inevitably come back to her, with a great deal of laughter. At Christmas, we told the tale of the yellow Chevette, for example. She bought the car when she moved in SC in 1975 (I think) and it remained her car until she moved into assisted care in the mid-90s. She drove herself to my wedding shower in 1994 and an old high school friend exclaimed “your grandmother is STILL driving that car!?!” Everyone in town knew her car, so they’d know to watch out. She may have had the last Chevette of that year still on the road. It shouldn’t have been, that’s for certain. I drove it once and suggested that the odometer had turned over as it only seemed to have 30,000 miles on it after 20 years. No, that was accurate, even though she had driven it around Pickens County in the late 70s delivering meals to the elderly, even though she probably qualified for those meals herself. The car also had never been drove over 35 miles an hour. If you attempted to take it over that speed, it shook like a woman trying to get beads at Mardi Gras. Oh, and it rusted. Her solution? Yellow duct tape. She bragged about it to my sister, who had to admit “it looked pretty good.”

We were fortunate to have her here with us for about 80 years, but soon after that, she began to slip. She didn’t suffer from Alzheimer’s but it was similar. Instead, she had a series of mini-strokes (TIAs) that slowly took her away. After several of these, we were finally able to convince her to move into assisted living. Thank God we did. Once we got her out of there and cleaned out her home, we realized how far she had really slipped. My mother visited her faithfully, never really knowing who would be there. Would it be her mother? Or would it be someone living in a fantasy land, where she had the husband, the house and the money she never had in real life? On the best days, my mother would sing hymns with her.

My mother called me one day in February 2000 to tell me that Grandma had finally gone. She had just visited her the day before and had said it had been a really wonderful day with her. Apparently, this is pretty common with people right before they die. I’m grateful for it, because my mom and my grandmother had a very difficult relationship and my mom had been the primary caregiver for her over the past 26 years of SC residency. It wasn’t always easy either.

The news of her death was a relief. I had visited her a few weeks earlier and I barely recognized her. At that point, she was truly ready to move forward and we were too. She was a shell of who we knew and loved at that point.

So I think about the two deaths. The one of my grandmother, a slow, painful decline and my Uncle Dick, discovered by his son of an apparent heart attack, gone in seconds. I know what my cousin is dealing with is tough and shocking. But I also know watching a person slowly deteriorate is a different kind of hell as well.

So this brings me back to the fundraising issue again. I’ve had a fair number of people donate who have had relatives suffer from Alzheimer’s. They all say the same thing: cruel, horrible, painful, awful. A terrible way to lose a loved one. So I raise money for Alzheimer’s simply because it is an organization that not only researches solutions, but they support people who are slowly losing those they love, whether it is Alzheimer’s or some other form of dementia.

More information on Alzheimer’s can be found here. And my fundraising efforts can be found here. Thanks y’all.

Discovering Squashes Late in Life

Butternut Squash for Dinner!

Lovely orange butternut squash looks even more amazing against the blue of my china.

It’s only been recently that I have discovered the joy of squash. Sure, I’ve known about yellow squash and her sister zucchini for years now. In fact, I eat zucchini raw in my salads instead of cucumbers.

I’m talking about that other squash. The acorn or butternut squashes and pumpkins. You know, the ones that people use for decoration and don’t think of as food. I hear it all the time. At the Advancement (my division at work) Thanksgiving dinner, I nabbed a small pumpkin and two acorn squashes that they were willing to part with, as they only planned to use it as decoration. Several years ago, I would have thought that way too. Now I wonder how they could waste such delicious, wonderful food.

Yes, I’m that person who paints their pumpkin instead of carving it, so they can wash that off and roast it down to make soups and breads and chilis and even butters.

I bought an acorn squash last week at my grocery store and the bagger picked it up and said “you eat this?” So funny. He, of course, got a lecture about well of COURSE you eat it as it’s completely DELICIOUS and so EASY to the point where he was politely controlling not rolling his eyes at me.

This week, the gourd in question was a butternut squash. I love butternut squash soup (although I’m usually just lazy and buy it) and I was out, so I had written “butternut squash” on the grocery list. Normally I shop, so I would have remembered that I meant “soup,” but for some reason, at the last minute, my husband did the shopping. He came home and said “I had to look all over, but I found your butternut squash!” I looked at him like he was nuts and said “I didn’t want a butternut squash, why did you buy that?” Whoops.

It sat back there for a couple of weeks and then I realized that it was delicious wonderful food and I needed to do something with it, so I went to allrecipes.com and searched for a recipe. I found this little beaut and then I changed it entirely. I mean, no onion or garlic? And why would I use blue cheese when fat free feta is so delicious? And panko, mmm, panko is so much better than normal breadcrumbs.

Here’s what I did:

  • Butternut Squash, a good medium one, peeled, deseeded and chopped up into half inch pieces
  • Onions, raw, 1 medium, chopped
  • Garlic, 2 cloves, minced
  • Athenos Reduced Fat Feta Cheese, 5 oz (in other words, the container)
  • Breadcrumbs, Ian’s Panko, 0.75 cup
  • Olive Oil, .25 cup
  • Paprika, 1 tsp
  • Basil, 1 tbsp
  • Ground cumin, .25 tbsp

The directions for this are so easy. Withhold a quarter cup of the breadcrumbs. Mix everything else together in a casserole dish. Sprinkle the remaining breadcrumbs on top. Put in an oven at 425 for 40 minutes.

I put mine in the oven and played with my oven timer, then went to Jazzercise . I set it to start at 6:00 pm, for 40 minutes. I came on home in hopes that I hadn’t burned down the house, but it had worked like a charm! Except I didn’t account for the time it would take the oven to heat up to 425, whoops. Still, dinner on the table soon after getting home from working out, whee!

And the kid gave it a HUGE thumbs up. But then again, she’s 11 and eats well and snarls whenever she passes a McDonald’s, so she’s a little different that way.

Nutritional Info: Four big servings. Fat: 19g fat, carbohydrates: 31g, calories: 324, protein: 11g.

Life Changing Jazzercise

Christine and Jessica

Two running Jazzers

It’s nearly 16 years since I started Jazzercising. I was dragged there by my sister Carla, who was dragged there by a boyfriend. Both dropped out, but I stuck it out. Oh, sure, I only did that because I wanted the 100x shirt. I was certain that would make me appear to be a fit person, solely by wearing the shirt.

Jazzercise knew what they were doing, because by the time I got to 100x, I was addicted. I average 150 classes a year, so you gotta figure I’ve been to more than 2,000 classes.

Now I’d love to say that I was a natural. That I took to it right away. This was not the case. In fact, I believe I spent most of the first class standing behind the step, staring at the instructor. When she told me after class I did great, I looked behind me to see if she was talking to someone else! I don’t even think I attempted any arm movements for the first 20 classes. But by 100, well, I had it figured out.

Still, I thought it was great. I feared a perky instructor, ridiculous music, many thin blond students, as though it was some sort of grown up cheerleading practice. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

It’s a real workout. People are surprised to come and find that it’s not really that easy. It’s not a grandma exercise program (although we got plenty of grandmas that come to stay in shape.) I love that it focuses on core muscles now. I have abs that shouldn’t be on a middle-aged mom. Heck, I give my doctor recommendations on what I do to stay healthy. (Not a joke. I’ve told him Jazzercise, Weight Watchers and now Sparkpeople.com.)

And it’s pushed me to try other things. Last year, at the tender age of 46, I ran my first half marathon. I’d tried running before, but never really got very far with it. This time, it came much easier and for that I’m grateful to Jazzercise. There’s no way I would have tackled that without already being in some sort of shape already. And running was so much easier and enjoyable since I was already in shape!

Now I do both. I get totally different things out of it. From running, I get solitude, peace, reflection and intensity. From Jazzercise, I get core workout, toning, stretching, strength training, but most importantly, friends.

The One Day Sale is on Monday. I’ve got no reason to promote this, except that it’s worked for me. Go to the Jazzercise site if you’re interested.

Roast Chicken all week

Last Sunday, in the face of a late night snowstorm, I roasted a chicken. No I did not run out and buy milk and bread (well, ok only if it was on the list) but instead thought this would be smart. Apparently others did too. I had to go to two grocery stores to find a bird. Not necessarily an organic one, although that would be preferred; one at all.

Still, it was a smart idea to roast a bird. I followed Jamie Oliver‘s instructions, except I also tossed in two baking potatoes and a sweet potato into the tray, and I skipped making gravy. I’m an odd bird myself as I don’t care for gravy (hmm, greasy meat drippings + flour is good in what way?) but my husband does. Even he declared “you don’t need gravy for chicken as it’s moist by itself.” Fine with me! If I don’t like gravy, then you can bet I probably can’t make it either.

The husband took a quarter of the bird (you know, the leg et al) and my daughter and I ate some of the breast meat and we were left with a fair amount of bird. For a humanely treated bird at $9 (plus veggie costs of course), not such a shabby dinner! We had enough left over that we pretty much ate the same thing again, except I put my chicken on a salad and they enjoyed the rest of the roast veggies. I also made the family eat quinoa, which apparently I made too much, so I got to make some nice salads all week from that.

Quinoa

Quinoa Salad with Green Tea

Christine’s Quinoa Salad or What-Veggies-Do-I-Have-Leftover-Right-Now Salad

  • Quinoa (cooked, leftover from dinner because the family doesn’t know what’s good for them)
  • Finely chopped up red pepper
  • Finely chopped up carrots
  • Finely chopped up zucchini
  • Finely chopped up mushrooms
  • Feta cheese
  • A teaspoon of olive oil, the good stuff since you’ll be really tasting it
  • A splash of balsamic vinegar
  • Maybe some chopped up walnuts

The rest of the week, I ate two quinoa salads and the chicken on two other salads and my husband ate the wings and some of the other meat. And at the end of the week, we made chicken and rice soup.

Here’s the funny thing about the soup. I pulled out a recipe and when I was done, I believe I used three of the ingredients. I used chicken instead of turkey. I used rice instead of tortillas. I used a jalapeno, not called for. I believe once I got past the onion, garlic and chicken stock, I did something else entirely. I used a lot more cumin than the recipe suggested. I even forgot the dang can of tomatoes. Here’s what I made:

In a soup pot, saute in a little bit of olive oil:

  • 1 onion
  • 2-3 cloves garlic
  • jalapeno pepper

Add 64 ounces of chicken broth and leftover roast chicken. Season with oregano, cumin, paprika and coriander. If you want a bit more heat, add red pepper while you’re at it.

Get the whole pot up to a boil and toss in half a cup of uncooked rice. Simmer for 20 minutes. Then, DO NOT FORGET TO ADD YOUR CANNED DICED TOMATOES. Or if you do, like I did, then just add salsa to your soup when done. (Alternatively, don’t bother with the canned tomatoes whatsoever and just use salsa.) Garnish with avocado, unless you’ve let the damn thing go bad at the bottom of your fridge.

We were very very lucky, with 8 inches of snow, that it didn’t kill us too badly with ice, which is frequently what happens. This concerned me because our neighborhood is a lovely old neighborhood with lots of lovely old trees. And lovely old trees are wonderful things unless Mother Nature gets mad and brings us an ice storm and then the branches can’t take it and some sort of power is inevitably lost. However, this did not happen, but if it did, I was prepared to stick the food in a container outside on the screened porch. I’m still convinced having the roast chicken around, even with the threat of lost power, was a good thing to do.

We were quite lucky overall. Husband decided to try to clean off the driveway on Monday afternoon, before the threat of the ice. I thought he might be a bit nuts there, but that turned out to be smart. We only had one shovel with a tip on it, useless for snow shoveling. We were forced to use rakes. I’m sure we looked like ignorant Southerners, but we got it done in a little over an hour and a half. The snow was light and powdery at that point. Had we waited, it would have indeed had a thick layer of ice on top. Plus, they actually plowed my neighborhood roads, go figure. I could easily get around by Wednesday, which meant I could get back to work and Jazzercise and everything else and that could only be good. (Seriously. Some of my FB friends sounded a little desperate to get out of the house at the end of the week.)

Still, I totally adored watching it get to 52 and melt and melt and melt. I’m hoping the sidewalks AND the sinuses are clearer tomorrow and maybe I’ll attempt a nice an easy 3 miles. It will be Sunday, after all.

Apples, apples, apples

I am swimming in the band fruit apples. If any of you work in an office, you’ve been subject to the kid fundraisers. Hell, I’ve brought them in myself. Wrapping paper, cookie dough, pizza kits, magazines … and band fruit.

Normally the band fruit to buy is the oranges. Not a big fan of oranges. Once I bought them and they all went bad. No one would eat them. So instead, I tried one year to buy the apples. A box of apples showed up, with them all separated to keep from getting bruised. Big, enormous apples … with a sticker that said “Red Delicious.” I was stuck with 44 of them.

Personally, I can’t stand a raw Red Delicious apple. I think they are mealy, mushy and not with great flavor. Seemed the best use for Red Delicious apples was to bake the mealiness out of them and then flavor them with spices and a little sugar. And so I baked. Apple bread. Apple muffins. Apple crisps. You name it.

This worked, but now I was awash in carbs. I gave away a lot of bread (Christmas gifts!) but I still had way too much bread lying around for me to be tempted. The next year, I tried apple butter. That worked too, but it only used 8 apples at a time. Fortunately, the family actually began to eat the apples, and so they disappeared in good time.

Now I bought the apples thinking we’d do both, only to have my kid get braces. She can’t eat raw apples now unless they are chopped down. So I made applesauce! Which is very easy to do, if you haven’t done this.

This one is from the Joy of Cooking. Left to pick one cookbook, it would be Joy of Cooking. What an excellent reference book and cookbook. I got this by accident from my book club when I first married 16 years ago and wow, what a wonderful month to forget to submit the card. (For you young ones out there, yes, there used to be book clubs. I joined so I’d quit buying crappy romance novels in the grocery store. I also forgot to submit the card and got David Sedaris one month.)

Applesauce

Apples, fresh, 3 large
Cinnamon stick, 1 serving
Ginger, ground, .5 tsp
Nutmeg, ground, .5 tsp
Apple juice, unsweetened, .5 cup
Lemon juice, 1 tbsp
Granulated sugar, .34 cup

Peel and cut up apples and put them in a pan, along with the fruit juices and the cinnamon stick. Simmer for 20 minutes covered, until apples are tender, not mushy.
Add sugar and spices until sugar has dissolved. Remove from heat and mash with a potato masher.

Nutritional Info: Servings Per Recipe: 8, Calories: 88.6, Total Fat: 0.4 g, Total Carbs: 22.7 g, Dietary Fiber: 2.2 g, Protein: 0.2 g

Family gobbled this one up and having it warm wow, that’s all I can say. The hardest part was peeling the apples. The rest … you pretty much put it on the stove and go do something for 20 minutes.

Now I was ready to make Jane Brody’s Applesauce Oat Bread. If I could have two cookbooks, this would be next to Joy of Cooking. I bought this one when in Chicago waaaaay back in 1988. Ironically on the cover it says “Living the High-Carbohydrate Way” which doesn’t fly too well with the trends today. Still, she was an advocate (may still be) for grains and fruits and veggies and I think that is still a great idea today.

Applesauce Oat Bread

    Whole Wheat Flour, 1 cup
    Flour, white, 1 cup
    Old Fashioned Quaker Oatmeal- Plain 1 cup
    Baking Powder, 4 tsp
    Cinnamon, ground, .5 tsp
    Ginger, ground, .5 tsp
    Cloves, ground, .5 tsp
    Baking Soda, .25 tsp
    Salt, 1 dash
    Egg, fresh, 1 large
    Applesauce, unsweetened, .34 cup
    Brown Sugar, .5 cup not packed
    Water, tap, .5 cup (8 fl oz)
    Corn Oil, 2 tbsp
    Raisins, .34 cup (not packed)

Mix the dry ingredients together. Beat the egg, applesauce, water, oil and brown sugar together. Add the raisins and then the dry ingredients, mixing until the dry ingredients are moist. Bake at 350 for 50 minutes.

Servings Per Recipe: 12, Calories: 163.3, Total Fat: 3.5 g, Total Carbs: 32.8 g, Dietary Fiber: 2.5 g, Protein: 3.9 g

I still have about 22 apples left. Thank God this guy’s daughter is going to college next year and I’m off the hook. But I still have apples left. More applesauce perhaps. Any other ideas?

Sparkley Beret

Joyce's Gloves

Wristlet 1

My wristlets

The complex cable pair

Sparkley Hat

The silver sparkle hat

Ah Stitch Diva, your patterns are always a challenge. Sometimes I’m up for it, sometimes not so much. Still, an email announced the sale on the wristlet pattern and in the end, I couldn’t resist the hat either. The yarns being on sale made it impossible not to pass up.

 

Wristlets were made in quick order for a UCDA friend until I realized I missed a key instruction that required I pull them out and knit them again. A second pair of wristlets required complete concentration to follow the complex cable pattern. I was ready to tackle the hat.

After I whipped up one, I remembered similar yarn laying in the bottom of my basket, only it was beaded. This time, I made it with a slightly bigger set of needles, to get the slouchy look. I love it! Go figure … I pay to hide the gray in my hair and now I just put it right back in by donning this hat! I have an inkling of what I might do with the second hat. And maybe I’ll take some of my Stitch Diva failures out of another basket and tackle either another hat or set of wristlets.

And with that, I’m ready for some real mindless knitting.

Crab Burritos, redux

Back when I first started to change my eating habits, I discovered Hungry Girl. Now much of what she loves I don’t necessarily follow. I find she uses a lot of fairly processed foods and artificial ingredients, but really she mostly eats very healthy. Crab burritos was a fairly early attempt and I loved the concept. But with fat free cream cheese and no fat sour cream? Uh, maybe not.

I had an extra thing of crab meat from when I made mini crab cakes for the Christmas Eve party that got canceled. Alas, they were served to a group that included a husband who loves crab but limited his intake due to a gout attack; a sister, a brother-in-law and a mother who didn’t care for crab themselves; a bunch of kids who would rather eat chicken nuggets; and another sister who is allergic to shellfish. Thank God for my mother-in-law, raised in Delaware. She ate the rest when we took them with us the next day.

But I digress. The extra container of crab needed to be consumed and the husband was out town, plus I had an odd collection of tortillas. So it was time to make some crab burritos!

Mix in a bowl:

  • 8 ounces of crab meat
  • 4 ounces of Chobani plain yogurt
  • About half a tablespoon of Old Bay seasoning. If you don’t have Old Bay, go with some garlic salt, some oregano and some paprika

Mix in another bowl:

  • A can of black beans, rinsed well
  • A little bit of lime juice
  • A garlic clove, minced

Now take four tortillas. Me, I’m partial to the Ole Extreme Wellness Tortillas (despite the silly name) because they are loaded with fiber and they are fairly low calorie. And, thanks to my mother’s insistence that I eat that whole grain bread in the early 70s, not the Sunbeam I so craved, I have a taste for grains that others feel is made from twigs, sticks or cardboard. Fill each one with crab meat and black beans. Roll up and stick them in a baking pan. Top each one with a little bit of salsa and some Laughing Cow Queso cheese. (Believe it or not, it’s my husband that brings this stuff home.)

Toss it in the oven for about 10 minutes. Each burrito is about 220 calories, I believe. And yum! My daughter gobbled it up. But then again, my daughter eats good stuff. She mocked the McDonald’s direct mail piece that showed up the other day. Then she ripped it up and threw it in the trash. Morgan Spurlock, she is your biggest fan.