Sustainable diet: The Five and Two

So…I’m trying a new approach to eating. Notice I didn’t say “dieting.” I’ve been successful at dieting a few times in my life. But each time I’ve concentrated on losing weight by “dieting,” I’ve been frustrated. I think that was less tied to giving up foods I love, more about disliking the process. I like food and I like eating. I’m a strange creature who actually enjoys going to the grocery and doing the shopping. One of my abiding interests is reading and searching for recipes. I read cookbooks and food sites like some people read novels. The process of counting every bite, or weighing food, or ordering food from a nutrition company all seem to sap the joy right out of the experience. I believe food is far too important in every way to turn it into an irritant.

I’ve been thinking about synthesizing the rules of healthy eating, the joys of eating, and smart eating, and trying to create a sustainable plan to follow. Here’s what I’m doing:

I like fruits and veggies, and it’s easy to eat a lot of those throughout my week. It’s more difficult to give up breads, sweets, and the ooey-gooey. These I find particularly appealing. The truth is, I never met a carb I didn’t like. Seems unlikely I’ll change at this point. But I can limit, if I can’t stop. So I’m doing the smart thing Monday through Friday. High protein, low carb, no sweets. I’ve found a protein fruit drink I’m enjoying, and I’m learning new smoothie recipes. Salads are great. I haven’t given up my morning coffee, but I’ve been good about everything else.

But weekends are back to normal. I can enjoy a burger and fries, or homemade bread, or mashed potatoes with dinner, or whatever, topped off with a little sweet treat. The key is portion control, always my friend. Years ago I realized I could eat small amounts of a dish…half a sandwich, a small bowl of soup, small servings of entrees… and be satisfied. Part of it is a mind game, and the rest is will power. That’s the best tip I have for long term weight management. As long as you’re eating a reasonably balanced choice of foods, I honestly believe weight control is more about quantity than anything else. And no snacking between meals or late at night. Sorry, but eating several small meals a day doesn’t really work for me…it just keeps me focused on food if I’m eating something every couple of hours. After dinner dishes are done, the kitchen is closed for business.

So, to sum up:

  1. High protein, low carb Monday through Friday.
  2. Portion control at all times.
  3. Eat what you want on the weekend, but limit serving size.
  4. Be honest with yourself, don’t sneak treats or bend the rules if you’re eating out during the week.
  5. Work out during the week. Whatever you can do is better than doing nothing.
  6. Drink water, hot or cold unsweetened tea, and protein shakes to stay hydrated and satisfied.
  7. Eat fresh and homemade as much as possible…salads, fruits, and non-processed foods.

A great rule of thumb for avoiding processed foods…if you stick to buying foods that your grandmother would have recognized as food, you’ll be ok. Standard advice: shop the outer aisles of the grocery.

Cut sodas. If you do drink a soda, don’t choose diet. Better to have sugar than an artificial substance. I feel the same about butter and margarine. Don’t get me started on that topic: it’s butter or nothing in my kitchen.

I can do a “diet” that only lasts five days at a time. Then, just when I’m really craving chocolate, or dying to try a new recipe from Pinterest, I can give in to that temptation for a couple of days. Sweet! I don’t feel too deprived, and I tend to bake and cook less during the week anyway. The weekend is when I really get into the kitchen, when we go out to dinner, or have friends over. With this system, I don’t have to impose restrictions on myself or anyone else…everything is on the menu if it’s the weekend! All I need to know is the day of the week.

This approach is mostly about being careful and thoughtful, but not rigid. It is definitely not vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, or designed to address medical diet or nutrition issues, like diabetes. (That’s my disclaimer, by the way. No medical advice here, just some good old-fashioned food strategy.) One more suggestion, there’s a great free app that can help you manage your food choices. My Fitness Pal is a digital calorie counter and food diary. It can also track exercise. You can download the app for iPhone and Android phones and monitor your daily food choices and goals. Easy and no fees attached!

If you decide to try a five and two diet, let me know how it’s going. I joke sometimes that I’m going to do my “air and water” routine…heavy on the air, light on the water. But the truth is, I need just a wee bit more to chew on. I think this one will work for me. And in a few months, I’ll let you know how I’m doing. So far I’ve lost two pounds, don’t feel frustrated, and I’m optimistic that my willpower can hold out. Here’s hoping, anyway!

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My brownie quest is DONE!

I’m a brownie lover…and who isn’t? Very few people can resist warm chocolate, gooey, dense, fudgey…well, there may be a few citrus lovers out there who rate tart higher than sweet, but I’ll ignore that for this post.

I have a few favorite recipes, each unique, and each fitting a specific kind of brownie need. After years of tasting, testing and searching, these are my top five:

  1. My newest discovery is so dense and fudge-like you could almost think you’re eating fudge. But you’re not. You’re eating heavenly Brown Butter Frosted Kahlua Brownies. This is a slight adaptation of the recipe I found on Pinterest. If you want to go chocolate all the way, substitute a good chocolate frosting for the brown butter shown here. I’ve only made this as given, but however you choose to frost, follow the directions for the brownie base closely. The instructions are a little fussy, but so worth it!  Check out Brownies with Brown Butter Frosting and get ready for the smiles all around.
  2. An old standby, this one is the perfect brownie to serve warm and gooey with ice cream. I usually bake this in a pie dish and serve wedges of it like a crustless pie. But this slice is just a brownie in another shape. One nice thing…you get all this delicious fudginess with baking cocoa as the only chocolate ingredient…no fancy imports required! Try Hershey’s Fudge Brownie Pie with a scoop of caramel ice-cream and a sprinkling of walnuts for comfort in a spoon.
  3. A crowd pleaser (used to be a hit with my kids’ youth group)…an oldie but a goodie: Texas Brownies. These are frosted, but a little more cake-like than fudgey. They whip up easily, frost beautifully, and the recipe makes a jelly roll pan full…perfect for a big party or summer picnic. Enjoy Texas Brownies when you want to feed a crowd, or have a really big craving.
  4. For a nod to banana bread, try these luscious and tender Banana Brownies. They are scrumptious! I could eat an embarrassing amount of these, warm and fragrant, right after they’re frosted. Enjoy Banana Brownie Bars and get a little fruit in your brownie serving. With some clever rationalizing, you could even convince yourself that these are healthy!
  5. And finally…I wasn’t really going to leave the citrus crowd high and dry. This recipe for lemon brownies (I know…should be a different term…yellowies?) gives you the perfect texture with all the goodness of sweet and tart. For a totally different take on the “brownie” experience, whip up a batch of Lemon Brownies.

My best brownie baking tip…Never, never, never over bake! And, unless you’re baking for a party, plan to make your treat when you have an easy and automatic way to share…take them in to your office or a school function, or share with a neighbor. My strategy when I bake: divide and enjoy. I satisfy my need to bake and taste, and I get the extras out the door. A win for everyone!

Miami

I started this blog as a vehicle to record random grace notes in my life, and as I observed these moments occurring around me. Some posts live up to that vision more than others. Recently, this has been more a travel journal, although a very sporadic one. And it has been, at times, a chronicle of how I/we (Rob and I) migrate toward a next home, and a redefined work life.

Today is another post on travel. But really, isn’t the best travel about grace notes? And the unexpected pleasures you find along the way? So I tell myself, I’m not really straying too far from my theme, right?

So, Miami. We chose to spend our last full week away from Alaska (heard from a friend there today…it is snowing!) in the south of Florida, partly because you can never get enough sun when you live in a rain forest, and partly to look a little closer at this region of the country. We’ve done the beach, lounged by the pool, sampled some local fare, and today we’re driving down to the Florida Keys. But that’s another post.

Miami in March is warm, actually in the perfect temperature range. Sunny and warm enough to be pleasant, but not too hot, and the humidity is about right. Most of the days have been clear, perfect for being out and about, whether meandering down one of the shopping/dining districts like Lincoln Road Mall or Ocean Drive, or strolling along the beach.

We’ve sampled some great food. Cuban food is everywhere, but this is a cosmopolitan city, so you can find great food of any cuisine you like. The local restaurants we’ve visited have been good, not necessarily expensive, but authentic. I Google “best…” and read reviews to see where to go for the best Cuban sandwich, burger, etc., in Miami. People – reviewers – are amazingly frank and generous in giving their opinions, sharing the good and bad. A plethora of restaurants along Ocean Drive have outdoor dining. You can also find an amazing variety on Lincoln Road Mall, everything from Italian to Sushi to pub grub. Eating outdoors is a particular pleasure in this season because it is warm. Not hot. Warm. And if the evening gets even the slightest bit chilly, the big outdoor patio warmers appear, and then it is warm again. Mmmmm, my favorite.

We’ve had the benefit of Google maps to help us navigate the city, so haven’t gotten too lost. The traffic has been good in the evenings, not so good during the day. This is a metropolis, after all, and a big one. The drive into Miami Beach from Doral, where we’re staying, is lengthy, up to an hour, depending on traffic. Driving over during the day, you get a beautiful view of the waterways and the huge skyscraper buildings that are iconic to downtown Miami.

The historic Art Deco section of town is amazing, with old buildings that have been lovingly preserved or restored to perfection. You can learn about celebrities of the past who used to stay in this hotel, or frequent this restaurant. There are restaurants and night spots, upscale stores and tourist traps, positioned randomly throughout the district. Imagine my surprise at seeing a “Duck Tour” bus yesterday (amphibious vehicles that take tourists around town and into the water.) Ketchikan has Duck Tours too. You walk down the streets of Miami Beach and see a mix of people, the ones who are obvious tourists, like us, and the “beautiful people,” the rich young residents of this area who typify the South Beach look. And there are the hawkers who are trying to persuade you to come in to their restaurant, shop their store, buy cigars. Yes, cigars. There are actually cigar girls, who stroll around with boxes of cigars for sell. Makes me think of old artwork I’ve seen or magazine ads that show “cigarette girls” from some long-ago era. But this is today, and they are selling cigars. We actually watched cigars being hand-rolled at a street shop. Very labor intensive.

Little straw fedora hats are in style here, for both men and women, and huge heels. I’m fearful for some of these women walking around on the heels I’ve seen. Now, I like a good heel as much as any short woman, and in my work environment, or any time I go out “dressed up,” I wear heels. Just part of the look. But I’m talking about a whole new animal here. These women are on stilts!

Clothing is all over the place. I see a lot of long (I mean floor length) knit dresses that are worn any time of day. On the other end of the spectrum, yesterday I saw a string bikini that gave new meaning to the word “string.” And prices of swim suits…I looked at a few that were in the $200 range…nothing special. I know Miami Beach is a high rent district, but still…there are a few stores in the area that haven’t heard of recession.

Well, if you visit in March, be prepared. You’ll want to reserve in advance (this is spring break season, you know). And if you’re driving, be prepared to park and walk for a while. We parked a few blocks away from the beach yesterday, but to really experience Ocean Drive, or the Art Deco district, or any of the other major downtown areas, you need to walk. Taking in the sights, sampling a little of this, a little of that…you can almost feel like you’re one of the “beautiful people.”

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Cruising

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We are cruising this week, experiencing the Eastern Caribbean from the ms Nieuw Amsterdam. It is an unexpected pleasure, for reasons different than I would have guessed. The stereotypical things I’ve heard are true. There is food everywhere, stays in port are brief…a few hours at each stop…and passengers, at least on this ship, for this trip, are mostly older. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

What I didn’t expect was that I would love the gentle rocking motion of the ship (boat, my husband calls it, though that hardly does justice to this vessel). Just enough to be calming and lulling, only occasionally creating a momentary loss of balance, the sensation is similar to being on a train. There’s a sensation of forward thrust, and a back and forth rhythm that is oddly soothing. I thought it might interrupt my sleep, but instead, I find myself sleeping like a baby.

I didn’t expect the views. I’m accustomed to seeing these big ships docked in Ketchikan, during cruise season in Alaska, so I knew the size. But I had never been on board, and didn’t grasp the ability to view from the equivalent of a multi-story building. In port or at sea, you can see a long way. The water looks amazing, and you get a fantastic bird’s eye view of the shading of the waters in the Caribbean ports…so much variation in color that you would think it is unreal, except you know it’s not.

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The staff are friendly, helpful, efficient. This crew is mostly from Indonesia and the Philippines, and of the ones we’ve talked with, I hear the standard employment contract is ten months. Ten months at sea, then they go home to family for a couple of months. Last night at dinner one of the staff was talking about his wife and children. He misses them, but after he’s been home a couple of weeks, he’s ready to be at sea again. He has done this for 15 years, and this is his way of life. Addicting, he said, and I can see how that could happen. Variety, scenery, and motion color your work environment. And the passengers change regularly. Good or bad, no one stays too long.

We are surprised at the spaciousness and the amenities. There are lounges large and small, an internet cafe (for a fee) a library (free), a well-equipped gym (free) and a spa/salon (definitely not free). A small theater offers recent movies several times a day, there are on-board shops, a medical clinic, a culinary arts showroom, and a large theater for the live performance shows the entertainment crew hosts each evening. A photo studio offers portrait sessions, you can play basketball or ping pong, swim, sit in a sauna or jacuzzi, walk the deck. There is a casino for gamers. There is opportunity to purchase fine art, attend a variety of lectures on history of the ports of call as well as related areas of interest. You can be social or not. We have chosen not, which means we are not seated with others for dining. We chose the “open” dining option, no set time or partners for dinner each evening, and no requirement for formal dress. The most stringent dress expectation is “smart casual,” which means no shorts at dinner. Smart casual is a good fit for us.

One of the curiosities of the cruise industry is the connection between this type of travel and jewelry. When we moved to Ketchikan, I was surprised by the number of jewelry stores there. Most of them are closed during the off-cruise season in Alaska, which is October through April. Jewelry is the most prominent item being sold on board, or at the ship-sponsored shops at each port. Still haven’t understood that connection. But the jewels are beautiful.

The food ranges from a huge buffet line, available most hours of the day, to a large dining room that offers a next step up in sit-down service, food choices, and ambience, to smaller and evermore select dining options, based on prior reservation and additional fees for dining. The fees are a flat per-person charge rather than per item. The service and selection seem appropriately upgraded for the ones we’ve sampled, and the upgrade fees seem fair and proportional. My biggest curiosities with regard to food are 1) how does the staff manage all the logistics of storage and prep for the demand and 2) how can people eat so much?! I am eating little more than my normal amount each day…ok, I’ve had to sample a variety of desserts…but who needs a midnight buffet? There are different themed restaurants: one with classic American fare, an Italian dinner-only option; an Asian-inspired option with the delicate flavors and robust chiles of multiple Asian cuisines. And there is the very upscale grill that offers a fine steakhouse menu. If by chance you need additional refreshment during the day, you can have afternoon tea at 3:00; room service for select items round the clock; and there are various stations for coffees and non-carbonated beverages. There are bars on every level to accommodate passengers’ thirst. Alcohol and sodas are extra; this is not an all-inclusive experience.

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Would I do it again? Yes. You get a brief snapshot of what each port has to offer, a sampler, so to speak. This would be an ideal way to travel with family. The variety of activities allows for a range of interests and energy levels. You could enjoy time together as well as apart. And above the base price for the cruise, you can spend more as you add shore excursions or onboard upgrades. But the basic package is generous and relaxing. Best of all, you can be as casual as you choose. There are two formal dining nights out of the seven nights of this cruise, but even on those nights, there are options for passengers who choose to pass on formal attire, which we’ve done. When you book your cruise, you’re given the choice for open seating (no set dining time) and the expectations for formal or casual attire. No surprises on that front.

For our initial cruise experience, we chose to travel with Holland America Line. The other major cruise lines offer different levels of luxury and attract various age ranges. Obviously, the average age on a Disney cruise is likely to be different than on some of the other lines. And you can also experience themed cruises, singles cruises, round the world cruises. I suppose, like many things in life, once you scratch the surface, you find a whole world that you never knew existed.

We’ve had a good time, and a quiet time, mostly enjoying the slower pace and forced disconnection from our norm. We chose not to connect to internet while cruising, and have only had our phones on to check messages. I think about life in an earlier era, wonder about what it would be like to travel by ship in times past. My guess is that the more recent past offered similar levels, perhaps even more, luxury. The distant past? Well, I probably would not have been a fan of travel in sailing ship times. I like running water, toilets that flush, and all the extra amenities that 2012 affords, thank you very much!

So yes, I would recommend cruising. We’ll likely find opportunity to experience it again at some point, when we need a little time out of the race of life, the slow and steady motion of a ship’s engines, and the simple routine of onboard life.

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Food for inspiration: Lemon Cream Cheese Cupcakes

As everyone knows, you think better with food. Especially with something that is a luscious blend of comfort and decadence. Lemon cream cheese cupcakes fit that description perfectly. This is my new favorite sweet treat, not to be confused with something low calorie. If I haven’t said it before, I’m saying it now: you will never find a low calorie dessert on my table, unless the dessert is just fruit. My dessert philosophy is really quite simple: if I’m dieting, I don’t need dessert. If I’m eating dessert, I must not be dieting. So now you know.

The ingredients are standard pantry and fridge items, so this is a great treat to bake on a whim. That’s usually when I whip out my cupcake pan…when I just want a little something without having to run to the market.

I would eat them all, but, alas, that could be ugly, by anyone’s standards! I typically share part of the batch. Check it out for yourself, you may want to have a sweet feast. And best, this is easy, so easy!

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Lemon Cream Cheese Cupcakes
(I think the original recipe is from Kraft. Honor to whom honor is due.)

Ingredients:

1 pkg. (2-layer size) white cake mix
1 pkg. (3.4 oz.)JELL-O Lemon Flavor Instant Pudding
1 cup water
4 egg whites
2 Tbsp. oil
1 pkg. (8 oz.) PHILADELPHIA Cream Cheese, softened
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter, softened
2 Tbsp. lemon juice
1 pkg. (16 oz.) powdered sugar

Method:

HEAT oven to 350ºF.

BEAT first 5 ingredients in large bowl with mixer on low speed until moistened. (Batter will be thick.) Beat on medium speed 2 min. Spoon into 24 paper-lined muffin cups.
BAKE 21 to 24 min. or until toothpick inserted in centers comes out clean. Cool in pans 10 min.; remove to wire racks. Cool completely.
BEAT cream cheese, butter and juice with mixer until well blended. Gradually add sugar, beating on low speed after each addition until well blended. Spread onto cupcakes.

OR: if you don’t want to make a cream cheese icing, pick up a can of cream cheese frosting at the market. I’ve made my own, which is yummy, following the recipe, and I’ve also used the prepared cream cheese frosting. Believe me, either choice will be perfect!

One last tip, shared by my daughter: these are delicious as soon as they’ve cooled enough to frost, but they take on an extra special goodness if you chill them before serving. I don’t know what it is; the cupcakes seem to be a bit denser in texture, if you like that. I do, so I typically build in enough time to chill, after frosting, and before sampling.

Enjoy!

My new favorite recipe – Salted Caramel Pecan Butter Bars

Tonight I tried a new dessert/cookie recipe, which I’ll share below. But first, let me tell you it incorporates a lot of good things. It combines butter, caramel, and (my own personal addition to the mix) chopped pecans. The dessert/cookie…haven’t decided which category it will ultimately fit in my opinion…is baked, so it has an ooey-gooey warm comfort feeling. It has a sprinkling of French sea salt over the caramel layer, so it has a hint of sophistication. You can cut this into squares, or if you want to serve as a more formal dessert, cut into wedges and add a scoop of ice cream or whipped cream on top…decadent, decadent!

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A few other notes: I made a half recipe, as the full version calls for a pound (a pound!) of butter, and it is my policy never to make such a large amount of a dish I haven’t tasted. Just in case, you know, that the combination of all the luscious ingredients listed is not greater than the sum of the parts. After all, it would be, at the very least, a small tragedy if I had a pound of butter baked into a dessert I really didn’t care for. So that was my choice for a first attempt with this recipe. Having made it, and now, tasted it, I can safely say that I wouldn’t hesitate to commit to the whole thing. Provided I had a good way to dispose of all but one or two pieces. Otherwise, I would be needing to invest in a new size of clothes very soon. These are that good. But I wouldn’t care, most likely, because, these are that good.

So, onto the details. First, credit to the site where I found this. Check this out for a great read. So funny! And thanks for the recipe, which I discovered on Pinterest.

Salted Caramel Pecan Butter Bars

For the Crust:
1 lb. salted butter room temp
1 cup sugar
1½ cups powdered sugar
2 Tbs vanilla
4 cups all purpose flour

For the Filling:
1 bag (14 oz.) caramel candies (about 50 individual caramels), unwrapped
⅓ cup milk or cream
½ teaspoon vanilla
1 T. coarse sea salt (optional)
1 cup chopped pecans (my addition, optional if you don’t care for nuts)

To make the crust:

In a large bowl, combine butter and sugars. Using mixer on medium speed, beat together until creamy. Add the vanilla and beat until combined. Sift the flour into the butter mixture and beat on low speed until a smooth soft dough forms.

Spray a 9×13 inch baking pan lightly with non-stick cooking spray. Press one-third of the dough evenly into the pan to form a bottom crust. (I found I used about half the dough for the crust and the remaining amount was enough for the crumbled topping.)

Preheat to 325F.

Bake until firm and the edges are a pale golden brown approx 20 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool about 15 minutes.

While the bottom crust is baking and the remaining dough is chilling, make the caramel filling. Place the unwrapped caramels in a microwave-safe bowl. Add the cream. Microwave on high for 1 minute. Remove from the microwave and stir until smooth. If caramels are not completely melted, microwave on high for 30-second intervals, stirring after each interval, until smooth. (I did this step in a small sauce pan on the stove top. Just put the caramels and cream on a low simmer and stir now and then until all melted and gooey.)

Pour the caramel filling over the crust. If you choose to salt the caramel, sprinkle it over the caramel layer now.

Remove the remaining chilled dough from the refrigerator and crumble it evenly over the caramel.

My addition: Top with a cup of chopped pecans.

Return the pan to the oven and bake until the filling is bubbly and the crumbled shortbread topping is firm and lightly golden, about 25 – 30 minutes.

Let cool before cutting into squares.

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Other ideas: I’m thinking of sprinkling mini semi-sweet chocolate chips over the top the next time I bake this. Don’t overbake! The cookies cut beautifully after they cooled. Last, if you’re looking for a great shortbread recipe, this one is as good as any I’ve tried. I have never made shortbread with two kinds of sugar, but the dough was easy to work with and baked beautifully. It could stand alone as a wonderful shortbread if you want something a little less sweet, or a bit more simple.

Enjoy!

Random goodness

Here’s a fun new find: drink in Food Gawker. You can see recipes with a click of a button, sort of like looking through a big card catalog. You can save or share, so click away!

Other discoveries this week: I’m addicted to quotes that are pithy, clever, witty, wise, funny…any or all of these things. Found a great blog that has a roundup of 100 quotes, a few of which I already love, many of which were unknown to me: Visit Demanding Joy.

Made the simplest of shrimp salads for dinner: 1 dozen large shrimp, deveined, cooked, and chilled; mixed greens; fresh cilantro leaves; grated carrot; a sprinkling of lime juice; handful of roasted peanuts; add a light drizzle of Sesame Ginger dresser. Toss to mix. Devour. Serves one hungry diner. Yum!

Discovered a lot of new uses for my dishwasher. Seriously, who knew?! Check it out. (I don’t necessarily endorse all these ideas, but some of them sound good.)

Saw a post about the rising popularity of drinking vinegars, long popular in Asia. I must admit, my grandmother is a big fan of drinking apple cider vinegar…according to her, it can cure pretty much any ailment you’ve got. But I didn’t know she was cutting edge. Here you go, in case you want to serve the latest flavors at your next dinner party: From Serious Eats, the new-old-fashioned drink…

I like this blog: great idea, simple but inspiring: Share some kindness.

See you out there!

Food must-haves

The Market

Grocery time again…how does it come around so often? I make my list, because I never go without a list – that’s fatal – a sure way to come out with a cart full of essentials that have nothing to do with What’s For Dinner – you know – olives, and favorite teas, special cheese, fancy herbs and spices. You get home and realize: I just spent (fill in the blank) and have…nothing to eat. But I could garnish a fabulous salad bar, and I have a pantry full of exotic extras. So, everything goes on the list, even standards like milk and cream. Because if there’s one thing I’ve learned about shopping…if it’s on my list, it’s more likely to make it into my cart and out the door. No guarantees…oh no, the grocery cart is just like life…being on the list doesn’t mean I’ll actually pick up the item. If I’m with Rob I’m much better. If I’m shopping alone, I’m likely to be one of the multi-tasking people who is also on the phone strolling down the aisles. (I do make a point of being off the phone when I go through the check-out. I mean, there are limits!) Check out etiquette demands that the customer have the standard chit-chat that’s required for the process of spending amazing amounts in a few short minutes and leaving with checker and customer feeling like there was a fair exchange of produce for cyber money.

But the point of all this is…I suddenly noticed that so many of the things I now consider standard for my pantry/fridge were once unknown in my kitchen universe. Some of the change is due to exposure…you experience a taste and can’t get enough of it. Or you suddenly have access to an item that you haven’t been able to purchase in the past. Sometimes the adventure of trying a recipe that has an ingredient new to me is enlightenment enough, and I find that I have a new staple to stock.

Now I buy (on a regular basis):

~chopped dates – essential for making English Toffee Pudding dessert. I don’t make this often. But I might need to make it at any time. Best to be prepared; when you need this dessert, you NEED it.

~lemongrass – amazing flavor for Asian dishes, subtle but distinct.

~cilantro (love that taste and fragrance) – kicks up Mexican standards and Asian recipes, or just plain good in salads.

~fresh mozzarella – required for Caprese salad, and let me just say that I could eat this salad every day for the rest of my life; also perfect for a grown up grilled cheese (definition of grown up grilled cheese is multiple cheeses on a grilled panini that creates an ultimate ooey-gooey-eating experience when you take a bite…)

~ginger-peach tea – best flavor for unsweetened iced tea, my personal choice for beverage of the year.

~turbinado sugar – perfect for sprinkling on top of muffins or cookies to add a finishing touch before baking.

~Balsamic vinegar – How do I love thee? Let me count the ways: good for salads, marinades, sweet and savory dishes.

~Dubliner cheddar cheese – so sharp it practically squeaks! Cannot. get. enough. of. this.

~egg beaters – an essential for Rob’s morning scramble.

~water crackers – perfect light pairing with sharp cheeses.

~small containers of gourmet ice cream – I love to get a BOGO or 2-for price and choose our favorite flavors. The small size is perfect for indulging without too much guilt, and this size has a significantly smaller freezer footprint than standard containers.

~edamame – I love these little beans, and they’re good for you. I think if you eat enough of these they actually erase the impact of cream addiction.

~Greek yogurt – so thick and luxurious!

~sparkling water – another thing I buy for Rob, when he’s not drinking “Hawaiian” water – water with various fruits diced up and added to give flavor without calories.

~rhubarb – best for fruit pies and crisps, and the best combination is rhubarb and orange. If you’re lucky enough to have a rhubarb plant you will never need to buy this again. You will have plenty to use in season, to freeze for out of season, and you may find yourself looking for unlocked vehicles to share your extra rhubarb bounty with fortunate strangers…yes, it grows at an amazing rate (at least in a rainforest).

~Bocca burgers – I can hear my son groaning now…he’s a meat snob and looks askance at anything vegetarian that masquerades as a burger. I don’t say that this replaces the classic grilled beef burger, but in a pinch, and especially if I’m eating dinner alone, it’s an easy and good alternative.

These are a few of my favorites at the market. Ten years from now, or possibly sooner, I’ll have a different list of kitchen standards. But at the moment, I’ll be feasting on these things. Hey, I know What’s For Dinner!

Community at The Point

There’s a little art gallery/beading store/restaurant that I love here in Ketchikan. It’s called The Point, Ketchikan’s only “waterfront art cafe,”

The Point

and it is housed in a building that overlooks the water. You can have lunch and watch float planes landing, or see the big ships docked down the way. On a nice day, the water looks so blue it’s amazing.

The food is just the simple fare of lunch: soup, sandwiches, quiche, cookies. They serve artisan freshly baked bread with their soups, and the cookies are baked in house as well. In fact, from what I can tell, everything is done in house. Which is amazing, when you realize that it is more an arts business than a food business. Or at least that’s the way it began. Not sure these days that the restaurant side of the business isn’t taking top billing.

You can eat at The Point, or if you have a work meeting and want to order, they’ll deliver their full menu for the day to your office. Simple as a phone call and a credit card. And the food is so good, if you let staff know where you’re ordering lunch, they’ll show up with appetites.

But the best thing about this restaurant is that it’s local. Owned and operated by people who have been here for a long time, it reflects the personality of the place. Local artists are prominently featured in the gallery displays. Classes are held there, and at lunch you see a mix of people from town, from all ages and walks of life.

I think the success of the restaurant side of the business is a bit of a surprise to the owners. They seem to be growing in popularity and in menu offerings. I and others have asked if they plan to publish their recipes. I have a sense that they’re on to their own little “overnight” success story. And it’s refreshing to see a small town enterprise doing well…not a chain, another fast food place, not linked to national advertising: just a local effort that is paying off and is the result of hard work and risk taking.

Good for the entrepreneurs! And good for me at lunch!

Keep Trying

Little Riley is transitioning to table food.

Riley

She’s almost off baby foods completely, and is getting less of her daily nutrition from milk now, more from solid foods. Of course, she has a limited diet. Foods are introduced one at a time, and having only a few teeth yet, she is unable to tackle anything but soft or easily dissolved textures. Some foods she has already rejected, at least for now. She doesn’t think she likes peas. She loves pasta, and cheese, bananas and yogurt. Anything that doesn’t suit her taste is quickly moved off her tray to the floor. Surprising how early little kids learn to spit out what they don’t like.

But sometimes offering a food again gets a different result. Does she forget she already tried something and didn’t like it? Maybe her first round rejection was more a reflection of a bad mood, or she wasn’t really hungry. Who knows what a one year old is thinking when it comes to choice?

Sometimes I surprise myself with the same type of about face. I recently tried oysters again. And this time, for the first time, I liked them. I had locally harvested Coffman Cove oysters, renowned for their delicacy, and showcased on seafood menus. Not sure what made the difference: the variety of oyster, the freshness, or the preparation. These oysters were baked in their shells. The shells were easily opened after baking, and the oyster was delicate and delicious, spritzed with lemon and dipped in melted butter. What have I been missing all these years I thought I didn’t like oysters?! Turns out, I didn’t care for raw oysters. But this new taste has me excited to try them again, which I plan to do this very weekend.

Obviously, not everything we dislike at first will grow into a like. Sometimes I become more convinced, a second or third time around, that my first opinion of a food or experience was correct: never going to work for me, or be a first choice. If I’m starving, there are some foods I could eat. But that doesn’t mean I would select them, short of desperate need. In other cases, exposure equals acceptance. I’ve recognized that in many situations. I’ve had to warm up to some things, but eventually, I’ve moved a place or experience…or even a person…from the “dislike” to “like” column in my log of personal preferences.

Stephanie called me yesterday to say that Riley had eaten peas with her dinner the night before. Good job, Riley! Keep trying, and maybe you’ll find you change your mind about a food you dislike, or something even more important. I’m embarrassed to admit that I’ve sometimes been quick to judge, to form an opinion, to know how I felt about something, or someone. And then…a different context, or preparation, or even a different mood on my part, and my attitude shifts. Watching Riley experience the early phase of discovery of choice reminds me that I can change my mind, that trying something again can make a difference. And that you can miss out on some good things if you quit trying too quickly.