Miracle Coffee

wp-1488932380243.jpgThere’s a lot going on these days for first world coffee drinkers. For instance, I myself have become disdainful of weak coffee or coffee served without half and half.  There are many people even more selective than myself who won’t drink anything other than specific brands of premium organic coffees, single origin and preferably fair trade. We even need a good coffee glossary of terms to figure out what all this means.

Just this week my pastor, in the Sunday morning service, apologized for the brand of coffee served at the church welcome center and announced an upgrade to come.  I don’t fault him for this, in fact it is a smart move given that the church welcomes many young, upwardly mobile coffee drinkers every week. First impressions count and there’s no reason Christians shouldn’t be on the cutting edge of coffee.

But, in spite of all these gourmet trends, I often think back to an incident years ago that has always amazed and instructed me. The scene was a wedding held in our back yard. As concierge of the event I had oversight of refreshment tables, including the coffee bar.  It was evening, and we were serving decaf from a large silver coffee urn with a convenient spigot. It came out cup by cup, dark and steaming. Lots of people were enjoying it and remarking how good it was. They were asking what kind and where I had gotten it. I would smile and pretend it was  secret, exclusive stuff when, actually, it was Folgers from the green plastic container hidden under the skirt of the table.

So, what was going on here that made it so delicious? Probably several things – a perfect offset for the sweetness of wedding cake, the right temperature, the good company in which to drink it, the general happiness of the occasion, the mystery of it all on a special evening, hearing the accolades of other coffee drinkers… Of course there is one other possibility which I can’t discount. There was a wedding spoken of in the Bible where water was turned into wine of the best quality.  Wow, maybe we were at a wedding where Folgers was turned into fair trade, single origin, organic brew! Why not a little coffee miracle? Just sayin’… it could happen.

Ordinary Times and Travels: What we eat in Seattle, post 9

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After the hammer…

“This is the first time in my 35 years that I have heard that peanuts are not nuts.” he said.

Esther’s friend made dinner for us tonight and we were standing around in the kitchen talking about “the diet project”, the AIP.  He had been interested enough to read up about it and had chosen a couple recipes from our cookbook to make, giving us the night off.  He did a bang up job and we appreciated it, a lot!

We have been following the AutoImmune Protocol for almost two weeks now, and although I think it is going fairly well, we are starting to have serious cravings for things on the “no” list, things we used to love to eat, things high on fun, satiety and comfort, but low (possibly devoid of…) nutrients.  It’s a little early to know if we feel healthier, but how could we be otherwise? That’s what I’m asking myself.

For certain, more food has come through the door of this house in the last two weeks than in similar time periods. We seem to be shopping all the time. Yet, it’s a struggle to figure out what to eat when mealtimes come around. Sometimes what we have is not the mental picture of a meal that we have been used to, so it doesn’t seem like a meal.  Thankfully, mental pictures can be changed – in fact, that is what it’s all about when you decide to take on a new way of eating. Can we stick with it until we’ve had time to change our ideas of satisfying eating? Good question.

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Yum?

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Breakfast is a difficult meal because traditionally, it’s all about grains, dairy and eggs of some sort, none of which are on our diet. We have avocado, sweet potato, turkey bacon. We need to work on our smoothie repertoire a little more.

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The lovely, nontraditional breakfast

We knew we were going to have to use more coconut in various ways so Esther ordered two young coconuts in our Amazon Fresh order.  I googled instructions on how to get into them because, frankly, looking at them doesn’t give a clue. The steps seemed simple, just hack away the outer white layer until you see a light colored “spot” where you can press your knife and make a hole. I made quite a mess doing all that cutting and got to a rock-hard layer where no more cutting was possible. But, someone forgot to put a “spot” on my coconut and I had to drill a hole with the tip of my knife.  So I had a hole, but nothing was coming out of it – until I made a second hole for air to come in. See, when you learn stuff like that in Physics class they don’t tell you that you’ll need it when you encounter coconuts.

There was at least 10 ounces of coconut water inside this coconut so Esther and I both had a good drink. However, there had to be more to eat than just the water. I knew it would take more than tiny holes to get the insides out so I took it out on the sidewalk and smashed a big hole with a  hammer. The inside of a young coconut is soft, shiny, semi-translucent and white (pretty really). I like it. Esther… not so much.

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Esther’s fake bacon substitute.

Esther has discovered which meats she is able to tolerate most easily, and I have to hand it to her. For a vegetarian, she is doing great. She has had some kind of meat protein almost twice every day. As a vegetarian, she would eat burgers made of soy or black beans, and she would eat fake bacon, also a soy product. As an AIP girl she is bothered least by fake soyburgers (read real beef burgers) and fake soy bacon (real meat bacon) because they look similar to what she has grown accustomed to eating. See, it’s all in your mind.  She eats tuna. I don’t know what it is about chicken though. For her, it begins with the smell and only gets worse with the sight and taste. I’m afraid I will be eating the roast chicken all by myself. Getting to like chicken will take some work.

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I love meat and have no problem with cooking it, but I wish it were less messy. What to do with all the fat and how to get it off the dishes and counters is a battle.  I’ve made three batches of bone broth but so far, no one has gotten into drinking it straight.  It is kind of piling up in the fridge.  I froze some of it in our ice cube trays, causing a near unhappy moment when Esther went to get ice cubes.

What else hasn’t worked… yes, the coconut Greek yogurt. I’m not sure you can make yogurt out of anything other than real milk, but there was a recipe, so Esther tried it. The black probiotic culture she added to it looked strange but we were able to think of it as specks of vanilla bean (also not on the diet). After culturing overnight in a warm place it was still coconut cream liquid. But it tastes great poured over bananas or the apple/cranberry compote we made. Fake yogurt, this also will take some work.

I don’t mean to say that we haven’t discovered some really good, simple recipes that I am happy to add to my regular cooking line up. I wrote about the Nomato Sauce in a previous post. Tonight we had a cauliflower dish that easily takes the place of fried rice, and some steak flavored with coconut aminos that was so flavorful.  One good thing we have both noticed is that we do not feel distressed after eating, no uncomfortable fullness, and of course, we are not gaining weight.  I am happy to see Esther able to tolerate meals without pain, and she is eating more good, nutritious food than I have ever noticed before.

Ordinary Times and Travels: The Project, post 5

Youngest daughter and I are tackling a big project. We are learning about and transitioning to the Auto-Immune Protocol (AIP).  There are many autoimmune conditions these days, growing in number all the time. There are so many things in our food and our environment that cause inflammation in different parts of our bodies. We have increased stress in our lives. These things get our immune systems ramped up and so sensitized that they turn against us – they think our own bodies are the enemies and start attacking.  Have you noticed the numbers of people who are gluten intolerant? How about psoriasis and eczema? Rheumatoid arthritis, Lupus, irritable bowel syndrome, GERD, digestive issues, allergies, asthma, frequent infections… all of these can be conditions of autoimmunity.

For years as a teen, my daughter experienced stomach pain in conjunction with meals, fatigue, and mild depression. We went to doctors looking for answers but it is difficult to diagnose a problem that presents itself differently depending on the person, their particular genetic predisposition, their stage of life, their lifestyle, and many other varying factors. She’s had other symptoms since, and many more doctors, but no real solutions.

Putting the pieces together has taken years for Esther, but maybe she is getting closer, understanding more. We are trying the AIP because it is an elimination diet – it will help us identify the foods that are causingher symptoms of inflammation.  Initially, all foods known to cause inflammation are excluded, giving the body time to heal.  Then some of those foods are carefully re-introduced in order to identify the culprits.

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Yes, it’s a modified Paleo diet.

We have several good books to teach us and provide meal plans and recipes – that makes it a bit easier – but it is still a hard transition. Enter bone broth, one of the “good” foods allowed on this diet.

I have heard for years that chicken soup is good for us when we are sick. Turns out, properly made meat broths are healing for us for quite a few reasons. I decided to get right into it and make some bone broth for us. I’ve never had to hunt grocery stores for bones before, but I found some. I think bone broth is  becoming a trend and the ingredients are more widely available. I found beef short ribs and beef marrow bones, brought them home and put them in the pot to cook for 24 hours, along with some vegetables for flavor. I’m not giving specifics here because you can google the recipe if you desire.

Youngest daughter is not used to eating this way at all (neither was I) and that is why it was suggested that we investigate the diet, together, while I was visiting this December. It involves cooking your own food at home, which is hard for Esther with her work schedule. It involves not eating any processed foods. And it involves eating meat, which is a real problem because she has been a vegetarian for many years. I think the way she describes it is being “existentially opposed” to eating animals, so it is rather daunting for her to look at, buy, touch, smell, or eat any meat. I made her stay away from the broth makings.

I stored the broth in quart jars and refrigerated it. Most of the fat from the meat had been skimmed off but the part remaining came to the top of the jars and solidified. I opened a jar this morning and saw this.

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Honest, I did not do this. It just happened.

Although I do not believe in omens, this pretty much symbolizes Esther’s view of a diet with a preponderance of animal products . But for the sake of feeling better at long last, she eats what I make for her. I’m just sayin’, this is going to be a project, for sure.

Thanksgiving Chronicle: Ordinary Times and Travels post 4

Here we were on Thanksgiving Day, in Michigan, preparing to gather at the coffee house and cook our festive meal. Since the plan was to see if we could snack/taste/eat pretty much all day, breakfast was out on the bar when we arrived. Hmmm, coffee was no problem since the place was still basically a coffee house. While some of us talked and lost track of time, others of us got busy in the kitchen fixing up the next round of food.

This was the BIG meal, the one with the turkey. My brother, the host, claimed the job of cooking the bird. He has done it several times and has gotten good at it. None of us gave the turkey another thought. I made a gorgeous veggie tray with several dip choices, just so none of us would have to stop eating between meals. Julie was busy putting together her signature salad, glazing pecans to toss with the lettuce and mandarin orange. Somehow, we all got a bit distracted when the spatula she was using began to melt (who knew?) and glaze the pecans with plastic along with sugar. Pick the plastic out? Start over? Waste all those lovely nuts?

At this point, there were a lot more people in the kitchen because it was nearing our appointed meal time. It kind of sneaked up on us and there was a “hurry up” atmosphere. Ryan was suddenly on to his mashed potato job (Aside: Did you know adding a sweet potato in with the white ones make an interesting contribution? #newtome). Jamie was finishing up her pilaf. Esther was roasting her brussels sprouts.  Jon was getting his tofurkey warmed up. The cold dishes (cranberry salad and others) were being taken out to the line-up on the bar. Gary had finished the turkey and he and Bob were carving. Richard was getting his Thanksgiving song ready to play for our blessing on the meal.

wp-1481649557967.jpgWe were at the very last moment, when Mom asked if there was gravy. She had that big-eyed look that said it wouldn’t work as a meal if there wasn’t gravy for the mashed potatoes. She must have weathered crisis like this before because she had good ideas for making it – hunting up some turkey juice, some canned cream soup, and a few other things. We even found some odd fish shaped dishes that worked for serving it. We rocked it, really.

 

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It was a lovely meal. Unlike many who photograph their food before it’s eaten, I mostly wait until the plates are decimated to take pictures, so I can’t show you the “before” loveliness, but you can see that we did have a good lively time at the table. Such fun, and it only got better when it was time for pie and coffee. Plenty of good food and hours of good company gave us a lot to feel thankful for.

Celebrating for only one day, when people come from a long distance, would be a waste of travel expense. We also have other “near traditions” that are emerging in our family and they take at least one more day of celebrating to accomplish. The Friday after Thanksgiving (not Black Friday for us) will be in tomorrow’s post…

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Downsizing: The Terrible Meal

I’ve written several times about my desire to “lighten the load” of my household, to get rid of “stuff” before moving or dying, whichever comes first. But not lately, and lest anyone think the desire has abated I want to update the record. In fact, I am more determined than ever to whittle down to the amount of stuff that will fit in a good sized U-Haul van.  One trip. My determination was fueled by a week of helping someone else with a lot of things move those things into a storage unit. It was arduous, and being that everything is in storage it will have to be moved again sometime. We can hardly wait.

When people move do they throw away all their food? No, they take it with them. What if you live in a place where having a pantry stash is recommended? I have imagined how it would be in a hurricane after a week of no electricity and no food in the grocery stores to have a cupboard stocked with plenty. And I have one of those that I have been reviewing and deciding what to keep and what to trash. For instance, would you eat this?

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I would. And there were other things. Last week I made pumpkin pie with no crust, which turns out to be pumpkin custard or pudding because for some odd reason I had several cans of (outdated) pumpkin and several cans of (outdated) sweetened condensed milk. It was delicious. It was untouched by time. I ate it all. And the (outdated) sauerkraut looked so fresh that I had to go out and get some hot dogs to go with it. Mind you, I test all these things.

There is still a box full of canned goods which must go soon or maybe two or three years ago. Today I wanted to use up a few things so made a menu based on stuff in the box. Dessert was first. There were cans of pie filling, blueberry and cherry. I had also found in my recently cleaned freezer some phyllo dough which I thought could possibly pass for pie crust. I will do anything to not have to make pie crust. There was also a little bit of ice cream in the freezer and I figured that old ice cream could possibly outweigh old pie filling if it wasn’t very good. Dessert, check.

The chicken was new thankfully. I just bought it last week so no freezer burn on that. But I did open up a can of cream soup to make gravy over it. And I wasn’t worried about the potatoes. Potatoes are either edible or rotten even if you don’t know how old they are. You’ve seen the green beans. Honestly they were pretty good okay and probably tasted the same back in 2011 when they would have been best by. Add a fresh green salad and I had a meal that was passable. I call it the terrible meal but I’ve cooked worse, lots worse. The greatest accomplishment was using up four cans in one meal. I was ecstatic.

I’m a little worried about this confession since some of my readers live close by and have eaten at my house. Will I have friends turning down meal invitations? I don’t know. I had a guest at this meal and he didn’t seem to mind, although, now that I think about it, his usual effusive comments were lacking. Now that I think about it, it was kind of a terrible meal, unless you can imagine a hurricane, starving people in other countries, or what they eat on Naked and Afraid. Then it would be a pretty good meal, just sayin’…

Experiencing Beyond Diet #2

Eating plan: Day 5

So, how’s it going Ms. “Not on a Diet”?

It’s a mixed bag of good and dietary evil. The things I miss are breads and cereals because there are none in this first week. The longing hits me in the morning when there’s nothing to have with my waking cup of coffee. (Ooops, coffee is not on the menu… but you already know I’m being flexible, right?)

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Yep, I just turned a one ounce serving into six ounces. (And I had to have a few more just taking this pic…)

The other thing, the evil of which I speak, is that my weakness for nuts is hijacking my adherence to the plan. Yesterday, the snack of macadamia nuts and something else which I don’t even remember, turned out to be an hour long spree of eating until the container was half empty (a lot of nuts). I was concentrating on some hard computer work and the angst was mitigated by the action of eating and chewing. That and the fact that I just can’t quit when it’s something I like that much. I have packages of walnuts, almonds and macadamia nuts sitting on the counter beckoning to me every time I look in their direction. I feel fatter than I did on Day 1.

One thing I am finding interesting is my daughter’s digital scale. Maybe in other countries they weigh their ingredients all the time but I have never sized portions that way.

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This is a half cup (or it would be if I mashed out all the air spaces)

I know what a half cup of something looks like, but how much is an ounce of nuts? Well, this handy little scale tells me just how much, and sometimes it’s surprising. Is 4 ounces of meat one chicken thigh or two? How much does a slice of deli turkey weigh? It’s all right there, and I’m gradually getting a sense of how to estimate those quantities. Good thing.

 

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Love this digital scale (read thinking of confiscating it…)

Yesterday, I almost stopped in for a Wendy’s Frosty. I was so tempted, but the memory of the macadamia nut binge was still there, thankfully. I resisted.

Isn’t it funny how we habitually think of meals as having certain elements? I had chicken and sautéed spinach for breakfast and although it tasted good, it just wasn’t right somehow…  Would make a great dinner though. I will probably get used to having dinner three times a day, eventually, maybe, I hope.

On with the eating plan, week two shopping trip coming up. I’m wondering what to do with things left over from week one so there will be room in the refrigerator. Perfectly good food should probably be eaten, right?  Just sayin’…

Don’t Say Diet, Please

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Yes, I caved. There are times when advertising actually works.

I should give deliberate thought and action to taking care of my body. Even though I figure God will leave me here as long as he sees fit, I have a choice about some things. Do I want to be old AND miserable, with conditions I could have avoided? Not really. But staying healthy is not as effortless as it seemed to be back a couple of decades ago.

Knowing I was about to have a couple of weeks with only myself to feed (well, except for my daughter’s cats, dog and horses) I decided it would be a good time to try out a new eating plan. I prefer to say eating plan, rather than diet. It sounds more necessary. So I picked an eating plan that sounded a lot like the way I already eat (ensuring success, or nearly so). Appropriately it was called “Beyond Diet”. When my skinny friends on Facebook recommend a plan, I listen. But mostly, it didn’t cost very much and it promised two weeks of not thinking of what to have for dinner.  I’m in.

I went to the store to get food for week 1.  I guess that part went pretty well, and I actually like hanging out in Publix as long as I have a jacket with me. They had almost everything on the rather extensive list, except halibut and unsalted pumpkin seeds.  The food only cost $150 and I was thankful because it would have cost a lot more if I’d gotten everything organic like the list said.

My first big problem was getting it all in the refrigerator at my daughter’s house. Her fridg is full, but there is almost no food in it. She watches a lot of cooking shows and contests so she has weird stuff like coddled cream and Da Nuong and siracha sauce and different colored olives. No food. The bottom shelf has her veterinary vaccines and the cooler where she keeps specimens of stuff I don’t want to think about in connection with eating. I had to get rid of a few things to make room, sorry Jules.

The second big problem, as I forged ahead into day 1, was that I was getting behind in the schedule almost immediately. I had just finished cleaning up after breakfast and it was time for the snack, and then time for lunch.  No kidding, there is something to eat every two hours all day. It’s kind of like being tied up in the kitchen and for a while I considered looking for a plan called “Beyond Eating” so I could get something else done.  Good thing I know how to modify.

And the third thing, not really a problem but different for me, is that there is some kind of meat for protein almost every time I eat. Buffalo, turkey, chicken sausage, halibut – I almost never get these things. Did you know that meat is never sold in actual serving size quantities?  I’m supposed to prepare 4 ounces of ground turkey but it’s only sold in 10 ounce packages. Who decides that 10 ounces is better than 8, or 12 and why? But I can modify.

This morning, day 2, I did great for breakfast but then I went outside and lost track of time until afternoon snack – oops. And I’ve been invited out for dinner but my “free day”, so called, isn’t until day 7.  I can modify, good thing, huh?

Check in again in two weeks to see if I’ve experienced remarkable “Beyond Diet” results.  Just sayin’, as usual…

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Yeah, it’s the makings of turkey chili. It was pretty good.

#atozchallenge: Vanilla

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Black and white, chocolate and vanilla.  Classics in the world of flavors and although vanilla has some B complex vitamins and several important minerals, it usually gets left in the shadow of all the hype about chocolate.  It’s actually a flavoring found in most desserts, baked goods  and many drinks. It’s also expensive, coming in second behind saffron.  Here’s why…

It’s a bean grown by the only fruit bearing orchid around.  It grows in tropical climates, the flower blooms for only one day and when commercially farmed, has to be pollinated by hand.  The pods turn from green to yellow before being picked. They are left in the sun to dry and wrapped to “sweat” for up to 20 days. Follow this with 4-6 more months of air drying and a bit of fermentation before you get the thin, dark bean in the picture above.  The beans inside the pod are scraped out in powder form.   All this is pretty labor intensive from the sound of it.

You can buy the pods in health food stores.  The extract, formed by dripping alcohol over the beans is found in most groceries.   Vanilla sugar is the last form and many people make it themselves – just cut the beans or even just the pods in thirds and place them in sugar to infuse.

I wanted to picture my favorite vanilla concoction but I went to the freezer and it was gone.  I love, love, love vanilla ice cream with the specks of vanilla bean.  So I’m left with this picture, not nearly as mouth watering.  Ice cream will be on the grocery list this week, just sayin’…

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