A few things on my mind (and on my stove):
Today I attempted a somewhat complicated dish, using a recipe from a noted chef who I don't blame at all. The net result was a kitchen that looked like a war zone, four bland chicken thighs, and a vast quantity of undercooked rice. Contributing errors included both I-should-have-known-better mistakes, I'll-know-better-next-time mistakes, impatience, and possibly picking a recipe too short on precision for a beginning cook. Key take-aways for me: 1) I now know how to blanch and peel tomatoes, and 2) 'coring' a tomato just means removing the little nubbin the stem attaches to, not removing all the guts.
I am having this weird mental block on dessert baking. Though I have found that packing a homemade goodie with my lunch keeps me out of the vending machines, I am disinclined to do the kind of baking to produce those goodies. It's as though the things of this kind that I've done successfully have done nothing to give me confidence that I can do the next thing. Tonight I made a chocolate sheet cake from a box mix, hoping that the shortcut would help. The result is okay, though I made the non-fatal mistake of frosting a bit too soon. (I did make my frosting, because I associated canned frosting with tasting like shortening.)
I am learning that I really like a variety of tastes and textures in many foods. I recently made a cole slaw with cabbage, carrot, a low-acid vinaigrette, raisins, capers, and some roughly-chopped almonds. To me, this was a great improvement over what's usually served as cole slaw. (Tonight's trivia: the 'cole' in 'cole slaw' comes from an old Gaelic word for cabbage, and is related to our word 'kale'.)
The discovery of my fondness for contrasting elements points to way to how I could approach other foods that I find good-but-boring, such as tomato sauce or macaroni and cheese.
For me, the symbolic payload of making my own bread is enormous. It's much more powerful than with anything else I make for myself.
Speaking of making things for myself: last night at the store I bought some pita chips and some hummus. As I ate, I grumped at myself a bit, wondering why I hadn't made my own hummus. It's easy, and I even have tahini. (Not making the pita chips didn't bother me at all. While I've done this, it's much more of a production.
This month’s DSMA Blog Carnival Topic is: “Describe your ideal diabetes “support group”? What would you discuss?”
This blog post isn't rambling. It's "textual impressionism".
One of the responses I’ve read to this triggered this question in my mind: Support for what? What do I need support for? Just diabetes? Probably not, since I regard myself as needing support but have yet to get on a bus to meet with a bunch of strangers in order to get it. Type 2 diabetes? People with Type 2 diabetes are in such a diverse range of situations, I have trouble believing that I’d find enough in common with people in a church basement or hospital meeting room to find much “support”.
While I’m glad there is a growing number of Type 2 folks in the DOC, and I’ve tried to do what little I could to help that along, I don’t necessarily feel closer to the Type 2s than I do to the others. It almost makes me wonder what I need more – “support” or just community.
The last support group I attended was a depression group formed through Meetup.com. I found this to be a tremendous experience. The other folks in the group were much different than I am, both in terms of their backgrounds and how they experienced emotional illness. It was a struggle, initially, to relate my situation to those of the others, but it proved to be very much worth the effort.
Here’s what I think I need support with: being an introverted, heavily-overweight, middle-aged, non-driving, non-movie-watching single guy seeking to live a healthier life against the backdrop of emotional struggles but who does not see weight loss as a healthy goal or necessarily seeks a relationship. Got all that?
Part of what works for me about the online option is that I’m able to piece together what I need out of a fairly large group. A number of us struggle with a tendency to social isolation. Some of us are old enough for aging to become an important aspect of what we are. Quite a few folks wish they weighed less. There are others who struggle with loneliness and the stigma of not being in a relationship. And, of course, way way too many of us deal with depression. Even if I don’t explicitly discuss all of these things, I still receive a measure of support from those who do. (I have yet to find others who are too terrified to operate a motor vehicle, or would rather visit the dentist than watch anything outside a very narrow range of television shows. But I feel sure they’re out there.)
My new motto is "Declare Victory and Call It a Day." Seriously. I want that inscribed on my medical ID.
This post is my April entry in the DSMA Blog Carnival. If you’d like to participate too, you can get all of the information at http://diabetessocmed.com/2012/april-dsma-blog-carnival-2/
OK, here's what you're going to do. Next time you go grocery shopping, you're going to take a quick peek in your refrigerator to make sure you have a little lemon juice or a fresh lemon. (I think lime juice would also work.) Then, when you get to the store, you'll go to the produce section and check out the avocados.
The avocado you want is ripe but not overly so. If you're new to this, the one you want will give a bit to gentle pressure but not feel squishy. (GENTLE pressure - no need to harm anything.) For this application, a little squishy is okay.
When you get home with your prize, you're going to cut it in half lengthwise, working around the large pit in the middle. You'll then rotate one half against the other, and one of the two halves will be freed from the pit.
There are a number of suggested methods for removing the pit from the other half, most of which have the potential for serious injury. I sometimes use one of those, but often I just work around the with a spoon. (I deal with more avocados than most home cooks, I'd guess. Two - and now three - of my favorite things to make include them. See here and here.)
Next, put your avocado halves on a plate. Salt them and drizzle them with lemon juice. Then just eat those suckers, scooping bites out with a spoon.
I did this for the first time 20 minutes ago, and that first bite was A Moment. The tartness of the juice perfectly balanced the unctuousness of the avocado, one of those great combinations of acid and oil. (Think salad dressings, or pickles on cheeseburgers, or ketchup on french fries.)
If I had a rating scale for how much I wanted you to try something, this would be WAY up there.
You could argue that this isn't even cooking. Fine. But it is most certainly eating.
I took last weekend almost entirely off from cooking, feeling a great need to engage in some sloth. But, just to give myself sandwich makings, I decided to do a small pork roast in the slow cooker. I further decided to brine my roast - that is, soak it in a saline solution before cooking - to try to get the enhanced moistness the method is said to provide. I found a brine recipe on the Internet and enhanced the brining solution with a couple of tablespoons of chile-garlic puree. I left the roast in the brine for about 24 hours in the refrigerator.
Result 1: The cooked roast was nicely moist, and has remained so throughout the week. I don't know for sure that the brine was the biggest difference, but I am inclined to think it was.
Result 2: If the hot sauce I'd spiked my brine in made any difference to the taste of the cooked meat, it was too subtle for me.
Conclusion: In the future, I will brine raw pork on most occasions when I have the time.
(Please note: this post is about a decision I made in conjunction with my doctor. I am not in any way suggesting or advising that the same decision would be the right one for anyone else.)
In a previous post, I described my intention of having a conversation with my doctor about a medication I take for which the FDA recently issued revised guidance. This revised guidance raised a possible connection between the medication and a non-diabetes problem I have. I also described my trepidations about such a conversation.
I did raise the subject with my doctor. She listen respectfully and said that she thought my concern was valid. Since I'm on another medication that addresses the same issue, she took me off the one I asked about. In June, we'll take some blood tests that will tell us if we need to do anything further. She appreciated that I don't want to be the kind of patient that runs in every time there's an article in the newspaper, and I think she appreciated that I came in fairly well informed about the issues.
Afterwards, I felt good about the conversation. I'm glad I did it, and I hope I won't be so nervous the next time I need to raise a similar concern.
(Originally posted to diabetesdaily.net)
Many Kinds of Deliciousness
Recently I found myself reflecting on the many ways that food can be delicious. The kinds of delicious go beyond the flavors detectable by our tongues, because a number of those that I’ve thought of rely as much or more on how foods feel in our mouths. (There is also, of course, the psychological realm of emotions and memories associated with what we eat, but those are beyond what I can address here.)
Here are some of the categories of deliciousness that I think make up most of the American diet: (1)
- Sweet – the whole universe of foods dosed (strongly or subtly) with sugars and their artificial substitutes.
- Lipidy – a word I’ve made up for all things fatty, creamy, cheesy, or oily.
- Meaty – different, I think, from lipidy, and not always pertaining to animal flesh. Some mushrooms, for example, are often considered to have a meaty flavor.
- Salty – ah, sodium, how we love thee.
- Starchy – carbs, glorious carbs: pastas, grains, breads, etc., especially in their more refined forms.
There are, of course, many others that we enjoy from time to time. But it seems to me that this list covers a big whopping chunk of what many of us look for in our food.
Let us consider a trip to our favorite burger joint. We order a cheeseburger, some fries, a soda, and maybe treat ourselves to a small ice cream sundae. The cheeseburger consists of a beef patty (beefy, lipidy, and salty) with cheese (lipidy) in a bun (starchy), and the condiments add a little sweet and also a little bit of acidity to help balance all the lipidy. The fries are starchy, salty, and lipidy, and most of us like to dip our fries in sweet-and-salty-with-a-little-acidity ketchup. The soda is sweet and (in most flavors) a little acid. The ice cream is sweet and lipidy with a topping that is usually sweet with some additional chocolate or fruity flavor. Thus, our meal is dominated by the five kinds of deliciousness I’ve listed above. With the addition of chocolaty and (for some) chile-type spiciness, almost all of our commercial snack foods are dominated by these flavors, too.
I am not suggesting that this is the result of some big conspiracy. And the big question of whether these features of our national palate harm us as a society or represent a symptom of large scale ills is one for others to ponder. I do, however, wonder if a limited conception of delicious creates a problem for people dealing with health challenges. I'm certain it was a problem for me.
Because I am a middle-aged fat man with both diabetes, I should be limiting starchy and sweet for blood sugar control, meaty and lipidy for cholesterol controller, and salty for blood pressure control.
What do those restrictions leave me from the list of the ways I understood delicious two years ago? NOTHING.
That's a bit of an exaggeration, but not much of one. And I found that I was unable to consistently make myself eat a diet that was high on health but low on flavor. It's not about being unwilling to give up cheeseburgers. It's about not knowing what I CAN eat that I'm WILLING to eat.
That, my friends, is why I had to learn to cook. I had to learn to feed my body without starving my heart.
In a future post, if I get to it, I'll talk about how I've expanded my conception of delicious.
(1) Doubtless, there are people that have spent considerable time on this topic that would find my listing incomplete or even laughable. Nonetheless, I press on.
I described making homemade pizza in this post, and I've made pizza more or less the same way every weekend, refining my method.
I've arrived at the conclusion that the way to go is to make my crust as it is done in the recipe, except I (1) use only half the dough, (2) roll it out as thin as I can, (3) let it rest for a while, and (4) roll it out as thin as I can get it again. This produces a crust that is very thin and also a little bit smaller.
Tonight the toppings were roasted onions, roasted tomatoes, and goat cheese. Here's a shot of the whole pizza and a close-up:
The crust was nice and crispy, almost cracker-crisp. I meant to try docking the crust, but forgot, so I had the big bubbles you might expect from water becoming steam VERY rapidly. (Being laid on a cast iron griddle that's been brought to 500 degrees will do that.)
The flavor was good, but missing a little something. I think it needed something herby, and maybe some more salt.
However, with this pizza I'm confident that I can consistently produce pies as good or better than I can get delivered and for a fraction of the fat. Win!
For all the cooking shows I've watched, there are only a few times I've attempted to directly reproduce something I've seen made on a TV show. I've learned a vast amount about ingredients, techniques, and combinations, but have rarely attempted to take a specific recipe from screen to table.
I did it tonight.
I've wanted to make balsamic glazed onions for some time, since a friend mentioned loving them. I've looked at some recipes, but not really been called to action by any of them. But tonight I was watching the Cooking Channel with my neighbor lady, and Giada De Laurentis started making them. Giada's shows aren't my favorite, simply because little of what she cooks fits with what I'm trying to do right now. But what she did to those onions looked like JUST what I wanted to do, so I came home and did it.
I chopped the ends and outer peels off a handful of cippolini onions and a handful of pearl onions. (The show hadn't used pearl onions, but I didn't have enough cippolini onions to make it worth it.) I made a dressing of about 2/3rds inexpensive balsamic vinegar and 1/3rd olive oil. I added salt, pepper, and dried oregano to my dressing. (The show had used fresh thyme rather than dried oregano.). I lined a small baking dish with parchment paper (to ease cleaning) and threw in my onions and my dressing and got everything coated. I then put the pan in a 450 degree oven, and left it there for an hour.
(I -love- roasting things. Am I really a cook or a slow pyromaniac?)
The results are delicious. When I first pulled my onions, I thought many of them were burned, but that proved to be crusted love. What little liquid was left was simply concentrated fabulous. (You didn't know that "fabulous" was a substance that could be concentrated? You do now.)
I'm thinking pizza with these onions. More specifically, I'm thinking pizza with these onions accompanied by goat cheese and roasted tomatoes. I may be thinking this well into the night.
POSTSCRIPT 4/4/12, 11 PM When I removed the parchment paper from my dish, I found a mess underneath it. Next time, I'll use aluminum foil.
Saturday night, I made chocolate shortbread. The dough was pretty much made of flour, butter, and cocoa powder. The dough was ultimately kneadable, but was unbelievable soft -- I felt like my dough ball might explode at any moment and leave me nothing but a mess.
Sunday, I made bagels again. My food processor gave up about five seconds into the kneading, so I had to knead by hand. The aim, in the words of the recipe, was a dough that was "tough and elastic". I certainly achieved that.
I cannot imagine two doughs being more different. As I put it on Twitter, if the shortbread dough was a person, it would give flowers to strangers. The bagel dough would take your lunch money -- and then beat you up anyway.
The oddest thing was that after rising and resting, the bagel dough had become very soft and pliable - not delicate like the shortbread dough, but a delight to form into rounds.
I made this particular batch mostly as a gift to a friend from work, a native of Baltimore. He emailed me that they were delicious, much better than he had frankly expected.
A week or so ago, I had an emotional experience that brought me face to face with the fact that I -really- want something sweet with my lunch. That being the case, it made more sense to make my own treats. I was attracted by the "bar" category because of the portability factor. I really don't want something I have to carry in yet another plastic container. My first effort was the "Oatmeal Butterscotch Bars" recipe from the "America's Test Kitchen Family Baking Book." I was alarmed when I put the batter in the pan: it was quite thick, and I expected it to either burn or turn out dry. In fact, they were really good - and a fabulous way to end a lunch.
In the last twenty-four hours, I have made eggs four times - three shots at a poached egg and a batch of hard-boiled eggs. The three poached eggs each were made by slightly different methods. The last one worked pretty well, except that I think I want the yolk on my poached egg to be firmer than most people. (My method of choice is to add a splash of vinegar to the water, bring the water to barely simmering, then stir the water in one direction before carefully adding the egg. The recipe called to simmer it for 4 1/2 minutes: I'll try longer than that next time.)
The hard-boiled method was more successful. Put the eggs in the pan, add enough water to cover by an inch, bring to a boil, cover and remove from heat for five minutes. Then you put it in ice water for 5 minutes. The texture of the cooked eggs was great, there were no green rings around the yolks, and they were easy to peel.
As a self-taught cook, I often find that I need to go back to something that's very basic.