Thursday, June 9, 2011

coconutty.

Time must alter taste buds. Two foods I hated as a kid, peas and coconut (not eaten together, of course), now monopolize my appetite in their respective seasons.

I am not sure if coconut even has a "season", but I instinctively associate it with summer - you know, coconut tanning oil. I grew up at the pool, on the beach, and otherwise never far from a body of water and what came with those surroundings - sun worshippers. Coconut oil, pina coladas, and the sweet and exotic smell of cracked coconut always made me want to...enjoy summer to it's fullest...but coconut never enticed my appetite.

Until now. I don't know exactly when I stopped hating coconut and seeing it as something other than thin, papery, over-sugared flakes thrown on top of processed confections, or why I stopped resenting coconut because, in my opinion, it ruined a perfectly good chocolate cake. My change of heart may be attributed to this; I am married to a coconut freak who can eat 20 coconut macaroons after dinner at our local Jewish deli, disregarding the fabulous chocolate chip cookies I make (and had) at home. That just can't happen in my kitchen or my life. It was LOVE. Love (and maybe a little jealousy) drove me to coconut, and now, as evident in my current state of ingredient obsession, I guess I love it too.

Not to overlook the successful marketing of coconut's health benefits. You can feel good about eating it, as well as while, eating it. And it's easier to find now, too - checked the dairy aisle lately? Coconut milk is next to the almond, soy and regular milk, instead of being over-priced and shoved into one little section of the market. Coconut water is all over, too...

I give.

I started making coconut cakes. I wanted to participate in the myth and glory of that legendary cake and have my kids say "My mom always used to make that when we were kids." (I like the way that sounds.) I made coconut ice cream, because I didn't have to cook it or make a custard out of it before adding it to my ice cream maker. And last week, I made coconut popsicles because I was on a whim and had three ingredients I thought would work lovely together.

Take note...

COCONUT POPSICLES
You will need 8 popsicle molds!

1 can sweetened, condensed milk
1 can (14.5 oz. size) UNSWEETENED coconut milk
1 cup toasted (or not, that's fine) toasted UNSWEETENED coconut flakes

Directions:
To toast coconut flakes, Under broiler, put coconut flakes on a cookie sheet atop parchment paper. Place coconut flakes under broiler for about 3 minutes - watch them they burn fast.

Mix together sweetened, condensed milk, coconut milk, and coconut flakes.
Pour into popsicles molds.
Freeze overnight.

Three ingredients, three steps. These popsicles are summer.

But not exactly healthy. So I'm working on a version with low fat or fat free sweetened, condensed milk, Truvia, coconut milk and coconut flakes. I'll let you know how those turn out.

The version I have posted carries 8 Weight Watchers points per popsicle. Gotta work some kitchen magic so I can eat these all summer long (and I will. I will.)

Tonight I'm cooking jasmine rice prepared with coconut milk and fresh peeled ginger. Next week I'm going to bake shrimp in a panko/coconut breading mix and serve with some sweet chili sauce. I love falling in love with foods, and coconut, I've done you an injustice by ignoring you and I am happy you forgive me by delivering up sweetness to me and my family and friends.

As far as the peas, an Italian dish called risi e bisi flipped me into a pea advocate, committing depraved acts of culinary opportunism (pushing other people aside at farmer's markets to get the first baby English peas of the spring, but I clearly wanted the peas more)...risi e bisi is a rustic Italian dish that combines risotto, peas, parmiggiano...oh, carbohydrate heaven! But that's another blog.

Start with these popsicles. You'll LOVE them. Follow me into more coconutty recipes. I won't let you down.

Happy summer.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

May I Join You?

This year the schedule allowed volunteering for me, which was fantastic for lessening the guilt I automatically feel as I drive by the mommy-vans parked in front of the school on my way home from the gym every morning. This year I was again one of the moms who counts with kids, reads to kids, crafts with kids, all in the name of doing my share, which, I believe in one form or another, everyone should do. Even if it's just smiling at a stranger.

So, I get invited to the volunteer luncheon put on by the school each spring, even though I thought I had been passed over (another blog), but the folded-in half invitation in italic font came home in the kids folders one day, and on the calendar it went. For many of the same reasons as I volunteer in the class, I went to the volunteer luncheon.

The luncheon was on a half day, early school dismissal, so the day was kind of a mad dash...but by the time the luncheon began I was out of my grungy clothes, had done the one-day-sale grocery shopping and dropped off the goods at home, and was in a sundress, perfumed up and lip-glossed, with a smile on my face. If you've ever navigated school functions, you know how important that smile is.

The luncheon was a buffet. Hot coffee, fruit salad, fresh bagels...I went straight to the coffee. Fuel for my smile.

Fold-out chairs were assembled in circles throughout the school auditorium, and there were several circles in which I could have planted myself, at least one person I knew in each circle. I had grapes sliding north, south, east and west on my paper plate, ready to fall and cause someone (probably me) to slip, and I needed to commit and park it. I almost sat next to my friend from back east with an accent. But there was someone sitting alone in a circle, by the door.

Well, I don't like seeing people alone. I understand that there are people who enjoy solitude (I am one of them, please don't call me on Fridays between 3:00-6:00 p.m.), but this volunteer luncheon was a social function. Walking through the heavy doors of the school auditorium involved a commitment to chat, mingle, get to know people better, and smile (don't forget the smile) while forking at grapes on a floral print plate.

I sat next to the lone volunteer and I mentally recalled my conversation-starters from the part of my brain that remembers being employed.

What drew me to this volunteer, this 60-something woman, was the fact that I had not seen her at school before, I was almost certain she was not a school parent or grandparent. I had a feeling she was one of the seniors who volunteer their time at schools where the budget falls short of hiring people.

Turns out, I was right.

Joanne was her name, and she, I learned, reads with kids every week for a few hours. My meager volunteering experience, I think this task is one of the hardest. It involves encouragement, repetition, optimism, and diligence.

We chatted more. Other people joined us. Joanne's appearance now took on a more personal quality to me - her hair was short, she's busy and doesn't want to fuss with it. She had only coffee, it wasn't her usual time for lunch. Her glasses were the kind that go light inside and dark outside, she travels light (these are all assumptions, but I was subconsciously building this woman's character up with increasing speed, I do that). Because she had me at the words "retired nurse." She had me when she told me how she and her husband drive seniors to their doctors appointments and take meals to them - seniors who have no one else to do these things. "I don't know what they'd do without us," she straightened her blouse from the cuff and cleared her throat, settling back into her fold-out chair with a solemn smile.

Gosh, I don't know what this world would be like without people like you, I thought.

"So you're still in the service industry, even in retirement!" I added with enthusiasm I hoped she would infer as appreciation, after all, it was a day for appreciation.

"Indeed I am," she replied, and nodded her head.

"My grandmother was a nurse," I felt selfish for adding that. I wanted to hear all bout Joanne, but adding this footnote about my grandmother may loosen her up and encourage more conversation. I already had started writing about her in my head, and I needed additional material.

"Oh, is that right?" she asked, seeming pleased to let me talk for a while, sipping her coffee. I mentioned how my grandmother retired here in California from Ohio and then volunteered at a free clinic at the beach, and how my grandfather volunteered his spare time driving a school bus to keep himself busy while Grandma did her thing. "When I was a teenager and my grandfather would drive by our house and honk the big school bus horn, I used to die of embarrassment," I popped a couple of grapes in my mouth. "Now, I think volunteers are heroes, and I still see my Grandpa hunched over that big wheel with just a big smile on his face." Joanne smiled and said "Hmmm."

Darn. She's done talking. Other people joined in our circle. Get away, other people. Joanne is my own personal hope for humanity and I was talking to her first.

"My husband and I though are taking a vacation here in a few days, we're volunteering then too," she straightened her shirt again from the collar. Predictable and selfless. I LOVE this woman. Before I could ask, she was giving everyone who sat around her now the details of her...get this...Alaskan ranger vacation at a national park.

"So you get to have the vacation the rest of us can't even get or even book online?" Excuse me, Mr. Volunteer Dad, that was my line, I got this story started. Continue, Joanne.

Joanne was loose now. Her face lit up, her cheeks got rosy, and her shoulders broadened. Or maybe the caffeine in her coffee kicked in. "Every summer we go up to a state park in Alaska and volunteer at the campsites. We get to see everything, eagles, a moose being born in front of us, it's just....amazing."

Some people process what the world offers with effervescence, and help make it a better place while they're here. Some people are filled with goodness and you can't help but wonder if you may have come into contact with such people because your faith was a little shaky...

I want to be a better person, I want to transcend through osmosis and, Heaven help me, even chit-chat.

May I join you?

May I listen to you and let you remind me of my Grandma, may I silently trip out on how you look like my bestie's biological mother, may I emulate you next time I catch myself griping about helping with another craft project with 5 year olds, may I blog about you because for once, ONCE! someone I put on a pedestal truly deserved it?

You just can't put an estimate on giving. You can't. It ripples.

I sat and listened to Joanne talk about how she and her husband will spend their summer, and in another attempt to connect with her, I discussed our first state park camping experience last summer, as well as our Pacific Northwest vacation years ago, and I simply enjoyed talking about something besides budget cuts or what class my child was in this year, or hopefully will be in next year. I continued to paint a picture of Joanne, but more of a worthy illusion, of her helping campers, keeping the state park in check, and I believe that no wildlife will go unnoticed or unappreciated in her presence. She'll be surrounded by nature while she does what is in her nature - assisting others and improving what she can.

She and her husband usually drive to Alaska but this year they're taking a cruise to their destination, they're making the most of the journey. I wanted to say "May I join you?" (I so adore cruising), but instead I smiled (a genuine smile) to myself, emphatically stated she absolutely must have the time of her life, because, no doubt about it, she deserves it.

Just ask any of the kids who can read better now.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Turning 40

Because my birthday is in the last month of the calendar year, most of my friends have already passed the mark and I am watching the pages fly by on the calendar waiting for my turn, but I am not filled with dread as I expected to be.

There are several roads I could go down if I change my mind and want to fret - reading articles about how long my hair should be since I am now middle aged, listening to people talk about the decline of passion in marriages, or how to keep the passion alive in relationships, look at pictures of myself at 20 when hair color was optional and a sun tan didn't seem like a pre-cursor to sun damage...yes, I have ample material to make me feel like I'm past my prime in life, if I were to buy into that.

But I don't. Because it may sound cynical, but I defend it as sensible - the number 40 is a way to rationalize stupid, selfish acts, or to convince you to buy into them.

It's a simple formula shoved down the throats of the still-impressionable. "You've denied yourself, now is the time to indulge." Or, "Haven't accomplished all you thought you would? It's not too late!"

Quicksand.

I'm sitting here wondering why it's only now that I understand the things I was told in my youth by wiser people, but that isn't a heavy weight, it's the price of admission. And I don't feel the price is exorbitant, it makes me smile - often times to the point that little ones ask me "Why are you smiling? No one said anything."

"Nothing," I reply, and it's assumed that dementia is sitting in. But I don't mind. When I can smile and take things in, without stating the obvious or inserting my fears into a moment of all-planets-aligned, that is where I always wanted to be, just never knew.

When my parents were my age, I remember a movie called "Middle Age Crazy", in the era of "North Dallas Forty" and before "The Big Chill." I saw parts of Middle Age Crazy here and there and I remember wondering if I would lose my mind one day, wake up on THAT birthday and act like a child again. The main character, who turns 40, buys a sports car, alienates his wife, strays with other women, watches footage from his birthday party in which his wife cries about how much she loves him, and ends up spray painting the hood of that sports car, a rationalizing statement (that happened to be the name of the movie). I looked at my parents long and hard after that movie, challenging them because, it was understood, their chance at fallibility had passed. They needed to be well-behaved because they were adults, they needed to have it all figured out because they were parents (or vice versa).

Booby trap.

If you want to feel like an instant piece of crap, compare yourself to someone else, or measure your character against what society and the media say it should be. The age forty seems to be a magnet for these illogical measures, and I am not trying to be arrogant when I declare this practice as silly. Temporary insanity can set in at any age. People make mistakes as long as they are alive. And you are never too old, or too young, to feel just fine in your own skin, and at peace with your life as it is.

My hair is longer than it's been in years, but I keep it in a clip most days. I don't buy expensive, youth-sustaining facial creams because there are too many to choose from and it makes my brain tired. I recently started jogging not because I am afraid of gravity hitting me hard, but because it feels good when I'm done. And I can honestly say that when I am in the right (or wrong) light in a restaurant bathroom and my wrinkles are exposed, I remember how I got them (eating Hawaiian shaved ice on a beach reading Stephen King and Anne Rice while my best friend or honey/future husband snored in the sun on a threadbare towel next to me), and I smile.

"What are you smiling about?"

Nothing. Everything. Happy birthday to me. No regrets.



Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Summer Treats - Homemade Popsicles


Got fruit on the counter that's a little too ripe? Listen here...

Get your blender or food processor ready.
Puree.
Freeze.
And "Yes, kiddo, pleaaase get yourself dessert!"

MANGO BLUEBERRY POPSICLES
the mango is so sweet no extra sugar is necessary.

6 oz. blueberries, rinsed and looked over for bruises or excessive squishiness
2 ripe mangoes, peeled, pitted, roughly sliced
popsicle molds

Puree the fruit and pour into the molds with a funnel if necessary.
Freeze at least 4 hours.

Note - if you're using thick fruit, you may need to add a little simple syrup to get the right sweetness and consistency (see below for simple syrup how to).
Also, some fruit will benefit from a squeeze of lemon juice to prevent browning (strawberries, bananas).

Enjoy the fruit of summer while you can, use every last bit, sneak in the anti-oxidants under the guise of dessert and you've done a darn good thing for everyone.

SIMPLE SYRUP
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
Stir together over medium high heat until sugar dissolves. Refrigerate leftovers and use for lemonade or limeade.

Friday, July 9, 2010

To The Ball Player Who Saved My Son's Life


I've tried to find your Mom at ball games since the incident but I've been unsuccessful. I've rehearsed the conversation a thousand times, what I would say, and how I would deliver the words slowly, so I wouldn't cry and freak you, a 12 year old kid, out completely.

Tonight I understand you're playing on an All Star team, against a team in which we have an amicable interest. My husband and son are at this game right now, but I stayed home to play on the computer and watch Ghost Adventures. But now I wish I would've come to the game so I could look at you and smile, and maybe tell you something that - if silly to you - is so, so important to me.

But a this-decides-who-goes-to-district-championships-ball-game may not be the right venue for what I need to say anyway, so here goes.

Four months ago during that inter-league ball game, it was my son's first season in the majors division, and he was still ten years old. My son is, I would say, small to medium size in a division where there are many players bigger - or as big as - their coaches. I've heard people refer to you as "The Beast" because you hit bombs, your long balls go far, and you, as I witnessed that night, hit hard. In tonight's All Star game, you've hit a three-run and a two-run home run, both before the 3rd inning. Wow.

But that getting-dark-early night in late March, you made what seemed like a meaningless decision at the time, but you saved someone's life.

Because you used a wooden bat.

The line drive you hit took my son down on the pitcher's mound so fast I couldn't believe there wasn't a body-shaped dent on the hill. My son stayed down there for what seemed like twenty years while the paramedics assessed him, slipped a gurney beneath him, taped him down for safety and wrapped his neck (this is when I began to cry that night, but I don't say this to make you feel bad).

I didn't notice you, or anyone else, after my son fell. What I remember is being in the emergency room with our league president and something being mentioned to me about "the kid who hit Alex" and how you, and your family, were so concerned.

I made myself a mental note to ask the league president, Phil, to let you know my son, I was being told, escaped severe head trauma somehow.

"It's because of the wooden bat," my husband said in the waiting room of Children's Hospital. "What do you mean?" I asked, because, I admit, I knew very little then about why metal bats were so expensive and preferred by young ball players. "The batter was using a wooden bat, if he wasn't," my husband paused then and didn't finish his sentence. But I understood it to mean that had you chosen to put your strength behind a metal bat, my son may not be asking for a popsicle or which episode of Wizards of Waverly Place was being shown in his cordoned-off area in the ER. My son may have been

You understand, right?

When we got home from the ER that night, and I had to wake my son Alex up every two hours to check on him, I passed the time by reading online news sites. That very night, I read an article about Gunnar Sandberg, a 13-year-old pitcher who was in a coma after being hit by a line drive 12 days earlier while pitching, the batter using a metal bat. The title of that article was something like "ball player clings to life." I read that article, placed my hands over my face and wept, realizing the miracle that happened just hours earlier.

And right then, you became one of my favorite people in the entire world. Ever.

Because you, for a reason I will probably never know, used a wood bat when batting against my son as he pitched, a little guy facing big, able players like you. After the incident that night, the game was called, people I barely knew texted us and my cell phone rang non-stop, and the concern displayed was, honestly, very flattering to my son. He took it all in, smiling goofily at the attention of nurses and fellow players, and we all knew we'd dodged a bullet.

But the concern that mattered most was yours. Your family's. I made our league president promise me that night that he would contact your family by way of your league president and let them know that my son was fine. Mild concussion. Few headaches. He got back on the mound after that game, during the same season, and pitched 5 times. He pitched in one of his All Star games, too.

I'm a Mom. The parent of a ball player. We never realize the risks we've been exposed to sometimes until it's too late. There are, I believe, "it's a miracle" incidents, divine intervention, moments of strong intuition in everyone's lifetime - unexplained decisions to do one thing instead of the other for no apparent reason. In case you didn't know it, the wood bat was one of yours, his, ours. I know you're using a metal bat in tonight's game. But you didn't on March 23, 2010, and how come? Doesn't matter now. I just want you to hear me say thank you.

This will have to suffice. If I could talk to you right after the incident, I would tell you

You did nothing wrong. You didn't hurt anyone intentionally. Random things happen and this one turned out okay. Maybe you'll never understand why I need to tell you this until you're a parent too, but thank you, thank you, for making that seemingly meaningless decision of using a wood bat because that choice impacted my son's health, his life, and probably saved it, and therefore, saved mine, and his fathers, too. And please, don't let this incident mar the sport for you in any way [fast forward to July 2010 and evidently it hasn't! Good for you, kid!]. There are risks in everything we do. And because of an unexpected incident in which no one wanted to be a participant, I'm bittersweetly aware of how fragile and miraculous life really is, and I love more completely now.

I asked my husband tonight to perhaps approach your parents after the ball game and give a summarized version of this speech to them but I got an "Oh come on honey, I don't wanna do that...". So this is it. The official appreciation letter to you that you'll probably never read.

But I needed to pen it.

I can't remember the ball hitting my son in the head, all I remember is seeing my gray Ugg style boots running down the bleachers towards the field where he laid, huddled by the coaches who got to him before I did. I remember a district umpire telling me I was handling it well, and my father telling me to calm down when I yelled at the 911 dispatcher (to whom I later apologized, by the way). Mostly I remember the feeling in my chest when I learned the had-it-been-a-metal-bat scenario. I felt like someone had punched my heart so hard that it shot outside my body and landed somewhere else, and for a moment, I couldn't find it. For just a moment, my spirit and body felt the emotions of that scenario, but my eyes found my son's face, and he was looking at me; alert, conscious, alive.

These things happen and I don't know why, but I'll take away the best, and worst, lessons from it that I can. Not a day goes by that I don't thank you, many entities and divine beings for the miracle that was my son leaving the hospital that night. I've done some research on the metal vs. wood bat debate, read the statistics, and become a wood bat advocate.

You, unnamed player from an anonymous little league, started in motion a miracle when you simply picked up a bat. However far your ball playing goes, you get to say that, always.

And I, except for your own parents, will be your biggest fan.

Thank you.

Monday, May 3, 2010

SHRIMP ON SALE, LEMONS ON TREE, HERBS IN THE GARDEN


Butter, lemons, cilantro, olive oil (or butter), salt and pepper.
Six ingredients are all you need.
Seven, if you count the pasta or rice to soak up the juices.
This is one of those warm weather dishes that can put you in a sun-washed, ocean air-infused, citrus scented state of mind, in that place where the world is your chaise lounge.

Here is what it looks like when it comes out of the oven...


And here is how it looks ready for your palate, on a bed of shells (the pasta kind).

When the sky is blue and the sun has touched my shoulders, I make this dish and I dream about the lazy days of summer, vacations at the beach, the bounty of summer food...

shellfish, citrus, and bunches of herbs.

If you just open your eyes and take it all in, there is so much to enjoy.

BAKED LEMON SHRIMP WITH CILANTRO
1 lb. shrimp, defrosted, peeled and deveined
3 lemons, sliced
1 bunch cilantro, chopped
5 tbsp. of butter, or 3 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil (or a combination of both!)
coarse grain salt and fresh ground pepper

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
Lay lemon slices in a 9 x 13 pan or casserole dish.
Layer chopped cilantro on top of lemons.
Lay shrimp down on top of the lemon slices and herbs.
Top shrimp with butter and/or olive oil.
Add salt and pepper on the very top.
Bake at 425 degrees for approximately 15 minutes, or until shrimp is pink and opaque on both sides.

Place shrimp atop fresh cooked pasta or rice, and pour buttery, lemony the pan juices over both.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Garbage Plate, A Real Mess

Going out to breakfast.

Doing brunch on a Sunday.

Meeting for coffee and scones.

Taking the family out for pancakes and waffles.

All of the above!

I used to wait for Friday evenings. When were were dating, he took me out for oyster shooters and steamed clams with linguine at places with dark oiled wood and copper pots hanging from the ceiling.

I now wait for Sunday mornings. Our dates have become family weekend breakfast outings where smiley faces are put on pancakes with whipped cream, chocolate chips and maraschino cherries and we determine where to go by the durability of the crayons that come with the kid's menus.

And we do a lot of living on our Saturdays.

Something happened to me in between the Friday Night and Sunday morning - besides becoming a wife and a mother. I became an advocate for survival. Well, not just our survival. I want us to thrive.

Saving money.

Eating less sodium, processed foods, preservatives.

Hibernating inside our home after long, over-scheduled weeks.

I can do that myself, maybe even better.

All of the above!

We've been doing our Sunday breakfast outings in lately. We've spared ourselves the long wait in restaurants and pricey meals to simply stay at home, watch Sunday morning baseball, and decide only between cinnamon rolls or pancakes. And why shouldn't we? To have a fabulous weekend breakfast meal at home, all you need is a good sense of humor, a few market ingredients, and the learned skill of removing eggshells after toddlers insist on cracking eggs, that irresistible culinary task of young chefs everywhere.

This past Sunday morning, I didn't decide between anything. I made it all - all being everything I had in the fridge and pantry at the time (only ingredients I missed were sausage, toast, and gravy).

I made a Garbage Plate. A mess of breakfast foods on one platter, cooked on the same griddle, one thing after another, a delicious marriage of going-out-for-breakfast flavors, all in one bite. I've ordered this several times in diners, and seen it done on Food Network. Well, Saturday night, I saw a show that served their patrons the prototypical Garbage Plate, the tell-tale mess of piled-high eggs, potatoes, cured and salted meats, cheeses...and I fist-pumped my sous chefs, saying only, "10 a.m."

And at 10 a.m. the next day, we took it on. Peeling and grating potatoes, sharp cheddar. Whisking eggs and grinding fresh pepper. Chopping up bacon into small bits and I am not ashamed to say, cooking the eggs in the residual grease (aahhhh, memories of my childhood).

If I'd had any leftover coffee, I would have made a red-eye gravy. If I had corned beef, I would have made a hash. If I hadn't used all of the tomatoes in the salad the night before, I would have made a salsa.

Next Garbage Plate, another mess.

We do so much living, we need to compensate with a lot of eating. The satisfaction of a hearty breakfast Sunday morning makes surrendering those Friday nights easier.

Of course, Friday nights are how we got into this mess in the first place.

GARBAGE PLATE
5 Russet/Idaho potatoes, peeled and shredded
1 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil, or canola
coarse grain salt and pepper to taste
dash of Tabasco
8 slices bacon, chopped
12 eggs, whisked - salt and pepper added
2 cups grated cheese

Preheat a griddle or large, flat pan over medium-high heat.

In a bowl, toss potatoes with oil, salt, pepper and Tabasco.
Put potatoes on griddle and let cook about 5 minutes per side, until the potatoes are browned evenly and cooked through (may need longer depending on your stove and pan).
Slide your big hash brown onto a platter big enough for a big mess.
Cook bacon next, until done.
Top hash brown with bacon.
Drain most of the fat off the griddle, reserve about 1 tbsp. of fat for the eggs.
Add eggs to griddle and cook until done.
Add eggs onto mess on the platter.
Top eggs with grated cheese, it should melt right away.