Category Archives: Cooking

Mutant Fish Alert

It’s been a pretty slow week in the woods. It has finally stopped raining and that means I should be thinking about how to be productive. This is a throwback, I suppose, to working my whole life and feeling like something must be accomplished each day. I’ve given this a lot of thought lately since, after a year of settling in, getting to know the area (sort of), and just taking care of the house, I’m thinking maybe it’s time to get out and do something. The Pike County Dispatch is delivered to me on Thursdays and it is typically ignored and recycled. However, this week I decided to read through it and make an effort (albeit half-hearted) to find out what’s going on in the area and my immediate community. I also read The Hemlock News cover to cover. I very rarely read the letters to the editor but the title of one, “Mutant fish alert,” caught my attention for obvious reasons.

spawning salmon

After reading the letter that claims that “if only 60 genetically engineered salmon were released into the wild, the wild population of salmon would be extinct in only 40 generations!” I googled this and found that it is actually 40 years but the letter writer made his point. This led me to consider whether farm-raised salmon (for the record I only buy wild caught salmon) is genetically modified. Apparently they are not but they are fed genetically altered food. There’s a lot to think about here, like who is genetically altering fish and why?

Back to it being a slow kind of boring week for me. I called Blue Ridge Cable to see if my bill could be reduced (having taken advantage of some promotion a year ago, my bill jumped up $50 a month!). Please don’t give up on this yet — I will get back to the salmon. As it turns out, I could cut it by $5/month by taking advantage of yet another special (that by the way will increase my bill by yet another $70/month after one year). So, not going to reduce it but will get more for my money the phone representative explained. Consider what I’d have to give up — back to the slowest internet service, no more ESPNU, perhaps giving up other features that I really like. So, I decided to wait one more year and take advantage of the “special,” which provided even faster internet service, more HD channels that I don’t need and every pay channel known to humankind! I do, by the way, get the fish channel which, according to the Blue Ridge representative, is very popular up here!!

This morning I decided (it being a slow week and weekend) to see what was on the pay channels and there was “Salmon Fishing in the Yemen,” a film I wanted to see ages ago. I settled in with a mug of coffee to watch and actually found a connection to the mutant fish alert letter. The question in the film is whether farm raised salmon would freely swim upstream because it isn’t in their DNA or their parents’ DNA to swim freely. This is an interesting question. Of course, after many dramas, the fish do swim upstream presumably to eventually spawn. Other dramatic twists and turns later, it ends on a hopeful note that such a project is not out of the realm of possibility. I couldn’t help but think of the mutant fish letter while watching. There really is a bipartisan bill, H.R. 1667: To Prevent the Escapement of Genetically Altered Salmon in the United States, and for other purposes. Apparently there are people who are trying to “overcome natural physiological reproductive barriers [using] techniques not used in traditional breeding and selection.” These “covered fish” are modified through DNA technologies (which may or may not be patentable according to this week’s Supreme Court ruling!) to carry out the above-mentioned reduction of reproductive barriers.

My slow week resulted in learning about some interesting things going on in Congress about fish, not to mention watching a very entertaining movie. This on top of the deer population control measures that are coming up for a community vote on July 13th and the sighting of one or two golden bear cubs in the community. Wow! I am learning more about wildlife than I ever thought I would!

Amazing Mother’s Day

I am not sentimental about holidays or birthdays but this Mother’s Day was definitely special. It reenforced my decision to move north and be closer to family. Michael and Allison invited me for brunch at their apartment with Rachel and Dave of course. My trip into the city was a very good one on a beautiful warm sunny day and, even though I left myself 15 minutes to find a parking space, I turned onto West 89th Street and got a space just past their apartment. Whenever I find street parking I am reminded of a terrific Calvin Trillin book Tepper Isn’t Going Out, which is the best send-up on New York parking that I have ever read. I probably should have taken a photo of the parking space!

Michael and Allison together prepared an amazing vegan brunch of salad with kalamata vinaigrette, oatmeal maple scones/muffins (recipe included here), and veggie-filled crepes. Rachel and Dave stopped at the Bagel Pub (not a pub) and brought HUGE bagels, tofu cream cheeses, regular veggie cream cheese and whitefish salad (for me and Dave which was delicious!). mothersdaybrunch This photo was taken while Michael was creating the tastiest crepes ever that were accompanied by a tarragon aioli. All of the recipes came from the vegan Candle 79 cookbook except the scones and it was indeed impressive. The mimosas were wonderful as well and served in Tennessee pewter goblets that made them even more special.

Even better than the food was the chance to sit around the table and talk, something we all rarely get to do. It was relaxed and we caught up on what everyone was doing. Even though we all email and talk often, there is nothing like sitting around with one another and just chatting. Besides, I always learn a lot about healthy eating and making good food choices when spending time with everyone. After sitting for a while (it was a VERY big brunch) we took a walk to look at a few baby things in Rachel and Dave’s car. Walking through the West Side Community Garden I made sure to get some pictures of us and of the gorgeous tulips. The concept of this garden as a lovely and peaceful green space for neighbors is one of the reasons I so love the Upper West Side (my next post). wheresdave Not only are the flowers beautiful, but there is a dedicated space for residents to plant vegetables that is fenced off and well cared for. More on that tomorrow. After transferring some things from Rachel and Dave’s car to mine, I was off again and back home in no time. My only errand for the day was to buy fava beans and, much to my delight and surprise, Allison and Michael had a surfeit of fava beans. Really! I consider myself a very lucky person and thought about what a fantastic afternoon it was as I made the drive home.

Here’s Allison’s scone/muffin (scuffins?) recipe. They were very very good!

Maple-Oat Muffins
Serves 14

2/3 cup cooked oatmeal, cold
Egg replacement equal to 1 egg (I used 1 T. flax meal, mixed with 3 T. warm water. Let sit for 10 minutes.)
2 T canola oil
1/4 maple syrup
3/4 cup soymilk (or any non-dairy milk)
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 T. baking powder
2 T. sugar
1/2 t. salt

1. Preheat oven to 425F
2. Stir together oatmeal, egg replacement, oil, maple syrup, and non-dairy milk in large bowl until blended. In a separate bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, sugar, and salt. Combine flour mixture with wet ingredients, stirring until just mixed.
3. Pour batter into greased or paper-lined muffin tins until 2/3 full. Bake 20-25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

Winter Pantry

Weather governs everything we do, what we wear, what we choose to eat, and how we feel. I accept that, but didn’t realize how much winter in the Poconos would dictate my daily schedule and how I shop. Although my neighborhood supermarket is quite close, sometimes (like this morning when it’s 9 degrees), I’m unlikely to venture out just to find fresh produce. Besides, I went shopping yesterday because I knew it would be sunny and warmer than today. It’s not clear whether I think about these things because I have to, because I’m retired and have time on my hands, or because I live alone. I choose to believe that it’s because I’m super-organized and am trying to eat freshly prepared foods and less meat.

When we decided to drive straight through from Tallahassee to Lords Valley last week, I realized that I had enough food in the pantry and freezer to make meals for a couple of days — in case I couldn’t get out to shop because of the freezing rain and snow. (That wasn’t the case, but it was comforting.) This led me to make a list of the items that one should have in a “winter pantry,” to make sure that there are nourishing, nutritional items available just in case! Then I thought why not share this with my friends? So here goes. This is a list of what’s in my pantry right now and items that I replenish immediately upon using OR buy two of when I can. Since my local market is limited in some of the more exotic items (exotic to Lords Valley includes things like quinoa), I often pick things up when I go into the city especially since my dentist is across from the largest Whole Foods in New York! Spices and herbs are not listed since that’s a matter of taste and there are so many. Suffice to say the spice racks that were installed when the kitchen was renovated is full! Coffee, tea, and hot chocolate are staples as well.

In the pantry:
Bulgur wheat
Rice, brown/white/arborio
Orzo (yes I know this is pasta but I decided to list it separately)
Couscous (also pasta — I like the Israeli couscous because it isn’t as grainy)
Beans, canned and dried
Stock, veggie and chicken (not to mention homemade turkey stock from Thanksgiving)
Soups (canned just in case)
Soy/rice milk in a carton (in case I lose electricity)
Tomatoes, diced/crushed
Flour, sugar, and salt of course!
Jar of pesto/marinara sauce (these are fun to buy at Eataly in NYC)
Artichoke hearts
Dried fruits, apricots/pineapple/cranberries/cherries

Then, in the fridge I keep the following (these are the items that keep over weeks):
Frozen peas
Frozen bagels
Frozen whole wheat English muffins
Peeled garlic (I just found this in a jar with a rather long off expiration date)
Hard cheeses, parmesan/cheddar
Smart Balance and Earth Balance

If I’m not going to be gone long, I’ll keep a couple of onions and shallots in a bowl on the counter. Keeping in mind that all of my garbage has to be taken to the dump on a schedule that’s not always convenient, I choose carefully what I leave behind. There are things in the freezer that I don’t care to reveal because they are going to the garbage but needed to not smell up the place. The other thing I have to keep in mind is that groceries have to be hauled the 40 steps down to the house from the upper driveway in the winter. Not so bad other times when I can drive down, but the driveway won’t be usable until the spring thaw.

I feel virtuous having all these things in the pantry and fridge. I’m so smart, I think. So why is it that whatever I want to make needs an ingredient that isn’t there? Life in the mountains changes everything!

Face to Face is Better!

On my trip to Tallahassee and to Weaverville, I discovered a lot of things, some less obvious than others. The most obvious is that seeing friends in person sure beats Skype or any other technology out there. Meeting up with friends that know me, with whom I have a history, and who understand the decisions I’ve made in the past couple of years means everything. I was fortunate to move from one person to another, sharing meals, lots of coffee and non-stop conversation. The Friday before I left Tallahassee, I went to Kim’s house for dinner with Kim, Todd and Pablo. kimtoddpat After months of hearing about Pablo, his trials with the Florida High School Athletic Association, and the final decision that allowed him to play soccer, it was a real treat to meet him. The photo is taken by him so will be remembered by me as the “Pablo photo.” I didn’t take nearly as many photos as I should have in spite of having a brand new camera which has so far never been used!!

Kim is a wonderful cook and, with Todd’s help (while we drank wine and talked with several teenage boys who stopped in for a bit), she made a Nigella Lawson recipe of shrimp and black rice. A beautiful salad from the garden and it was a perfect meal. We sat around the fire pit talking before dinner — talked about all sorts of things mundane and critically important (at least to us). I was never more comfortable visiting her home and began to realize the obvious importance of friends who know me better than I know myself!

eternalgrounds The next morning Robin and I went to breakfast and then shopping. We decided to get a cup of coffee and found a newly opened coffee shop, Eternal Grounds. (The photo is Robin looking pensive!) The name alone should have tipped us off that this was a church-run shop and if that didn’t, the logo sure should have. Upon ordering and paying for the cafĂ© au lait and latte we each received “words of the day,” which was a parchment-like paper rolled and tied with a ribbon with a biblical passage on it. I was blessed often for my patience and for coming in and finally received the coffee. It was absolutely delicious, the barista certainly knew what she was doing (and was so cheerful throughout), and I found the marketing concept quite amazing. Robin and I marveled at the fact that coffee would be the vehicle through which to “spread the word,” and wondered if the location would make a difference to its survival. Time will tell I guess.

That night, Robin and John invited my cousin, Jill, to join us for another southern dinner — I think my friends saw that I needed fresh seafood — of grilled grouper (from Southern Seafood) and asparagus. We had a wonderful time relaxing, eating, enjoying the perfect weather, and just being in each other’s company. My dog, Sydney, also thought that she should have fresh seafood as did Ernie, the large black German Shepherd, so it felt just like being at home. I never thought I’d miss southern cooking! I had grits at least three times while I was there.

Tallahassee is a small town even though it is the capital of Florida and, population-wise, a good-sized city. I met Kathy, my neighbor, friend, and realtor, at Starbucks early and as I entered the shop, ran into a long-time acquaintance. Then I sat down and the man sitting next to me looked familiar — Dennis, the former Dean of Flagler College in Tallahassee. It turns out that Dennis was born and raised in Honesdale and was very familiar with where I live in Lords Valley. Small town, small world. There are lots of kinds of friendship — friendship of convenience, transitional friendship, locational friendship, work friendship. (I have purposely left out book club friendship because that will be a totally separate blog.) There is no substitute for dear friends who will drop everything to sit for a few minutes and catch up — there’s nothing better.

Cooking for One

I love to cook, love to read cookbooks, and love to watch certain cooking shows on the food network. I subscribe to Cooking Light, get recipes from friends, but have never mastered cooking for myself. I think that’s because I do not like leftovers, never have and rarely eat them. There are books available, websites out there, but I think it’s very personal. One good thing about cooking for one is that I can experiment with dishes that I like without thinking about anyone else — very selfish. So, I’ve been looking for ways to cook what I like, be healthy in my choices, and not fall into the trap of prepared foods or snacking from the pantry. As anyone who cooks knows, it is easier to prepare foods you’ve done before — it tends to be for me chicken or fish. This gets boring for sure, so now and then I decide to make something like a big pot of soup or chili or spaghetti sauce. Then, my frugal self says this is a very good thing because I can freeze portions and then have lots of good things in the freezer when I don’t feel like cooking fish or chicken! Why does this make me feel a bit pathetic? Why do these dishes tend to be tomato-based (I don’t even like tomatoes that much)? Why is this even blog-worthy?

It’s blog-worthy because I need help. Cooking for one person is a challenge that lots of us face as we navigate living on our own. My friend, Roxanne, cooks freshly picked seasonal vegetables and is clearly a more creative cook than I am. Cathy, from my Tallahassee book club, has lots of vegetarian recipes that are wonderful. Lynda sent me a recipe for cookies this morning and talked about new things she is trying out. I have often talked about this with my cousin Jill who is single and a vegan. She makes the most wonderful soups and dishes and will eat them all week-long. Honestly, I just threw out another tub of Noodle Soup for Needy People (see an earlier post) because I only like it when it’s freshly prepared.

I know other single people who rarely cook fresh ingredients, relying on packaged mixes or prepared frozen foods. These aren’t bad, but I somehow equate using them on a regular basis (don’t get me wrong, I always have a Kashi pizza in the freezer and a couple of Amy’s Bowls!) as giving into a way of living as a single person that has been perpetuated by the advertising industry; marketing foods by implying that we single people need to pay attention to nutrition and the way to do that is to buy foods that will pay attention for us! All of this said, I welcome any ideas that you might have. Several years ago I hosted book club at my house and Anita brought a red lentil dish in a tagine. It’s been a go-to recipe for me ever since, so I hope she doesn’t mind if I share it with you here. It makes enough for 6 people easily. Let me know what you think!

Red Lentilstagine

2 cups red lentils
2 tbsp. olive oil
1 yellow onion, finely chopped
1 tsp. cumin seeds
1/2 tsp. ground cardamom
4 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
2 tbsp. ginger, finely chopped
4 cups vegetable broth
1 1/2 cups chopped tomatoes with juice
1/ cup chopped cilantro
1 tsp. ground turmeric
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and finely chopped
salt to taste

1. Spread lentils out, sort, rinse and drain well.
2. Heat oil over medium high heat and add onions. Cook until softened.
3. Add cumin, cardamom, garlic and ginger. Cook, stirring often, until fragrant (about 2 minutes)
4. Add lentils, broth, tomatoes, cilantro, turmeric, salt and jalapeno and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium low, cover and simmer, stirring often, until lentils are soft.

Serve over rice of your choice (Anita recommended basmati rice cooked in half water, half coconut milk — delicious!!)

Noodle Soup

After the Thanksgiving turkey, my son-in-law David and I made a lot of stock that went into the freezer. Now, after all the wonderful Christmas meals, and everyone gone except Rachel, the snow began to fall and it seemed the perfect weather to use the turkey stock for soup. I share this with you because Nigella Lawson’s Noodle Soup for Needy People has been my go-to comfort food for years. Not only is it an opportunity to use up lots of things left in the fridge but it’s good for colds or when you’re just plain feeling sorry for yourself (I fit into that category today!). As I was putting it together and reading Nigella’s notes on not following the recipe but just throwing whatever you felt like eating into it, it seemed worth putting down here for others. My friend Joellyn from Phoenix stopped by (yes, really) on her way from Maine to Arizona; she brought me a HUGE bunch of kale from her garden. After she left I of course made a big pot of noodle soup. When the store has two-for-one spinach (they did today), this is my go-to soup. If I have leftover chicken or salmon this is a perfect way to use it up — and it’s healthy too.

Here goes: Use about 4 cups of stock — I usually use vegetable stock, but I had the turkey stock in the freezer. Add to it one star anise, some finely chopped or grated ginger (depending on how you like it), a tablespoon or two of brown sugar, and some soy sauce. Bring that to a simmer and let it go for a bit. Then you can add whatever vegetables you like — I add mushrooms, bok choy or spinach or kale, sugar snap peas, bean sprouts, green onions. And, of course, the noodles. Cook the noodles separately. This is important. If you cook the noodles in the soup, they absorb all the liquid and the broth is what makes this soup special. Udon noodles are very good and recommended by Nigella, orzo, or any leftover pasta in your pantry work well. I had another bowl for lunch today on a day when the temperature didn’t go above 28 degrees and it was just as good reheated. I have been known to freeze it but it’s better from the pot or fridge.

I hope you will try this. As I share lessons learned about living alone, retirement, negotiating winter issues and the cold, the value of soup that makes me feel better is important. Let me know what you think.