Wednesday, December 4, 2013

so you just keep breathing? not really a food post

I tend to be a pretty private person. That may sound a bit odd, since I openly write about bodily functions, food restrictions, and my yucky health issues. I don't, however, often write about it when my feelings are hurt, I feel under-appreciated at work, or my heart is breaking. And to be completely direct, I don't even know why I am compelled to do just that, today.

I'm the oldest of five children, three girls, two boys. We've always been pretty close and still celebrate every holiday together. Our mother is 93 (don't tell her I told her age) and still the cement that holds us together, I believe. She's witty and cranky and, well, pretty much exactly what you'd expect from the woman who raised all of us.

This week the world changed permanently for me. My little sister and closest friend, Beverly Malouf Byrd, lost a hard-fought battle with an extremely rare, disgustingly aggressive form of cancer. And damn! she did fight. That story is hers, and I will not go into detail. She was as private as I, and many friends and family never knew she was ill. I know she didn't want to be thought of as the sicky. Her husband, Gary, fought hard for her, as well, and was by her side almost constantly through this. He's a saint as far as I'm concerned, and I'm so very glad he was there for her in every way possible. Their son, Dylan, caused the sun to rise and set for Bev. Attending his graduation from UC Santa Cruz was what drove her last spring, as ill as she was. She had every right to be proud of him. He's a loving, delightful, and talented young man, who adores his mother.

Bev said on many occasions that her purpose in life was to make others happy. She did just that. From her beautiful smile to her calm, friendly, welcoming demeanor, she lit up the room. To those of you who knew her, please add your experience in the comments, if you'd like. I'm not doing so well with words right now.

Right now, I am struggling to make sense of this senselessness. She's the one I'd call for help with that. We shared so much for so long, I'm at a loss. The one thing I plan to do may seem a little lame. Hell, everything feels pretty lame right now. Every Christmas, for years and years, Bev has made spiced nuts. Dozens of people looked forward to those every year. Her son and my daughter plan to continue that tradition for her. I can't eat them as she made them because of my health issues, so my plan is to tweak the seasonings for a fruit-free version. That will mean primarily using cinnamon instead of the spice blend she had perfected. When I've done that, I'll post the recipe. They won't be her nuts, but they'll remind me of her. That's all I've got for now.

I will miss you everyday, Bev.

Friday, November 15, 2013

lemons, too? phooey

There are few flavors I love more than lemon and lime, and lemon tops lime in my book, though maybe  only by a hair.

While wrapping my head around eliminating fruit, I've realized this may be the hardest. Funny, isn't it? Not apples or peaches or grapes or pears or avocados or even wine. Nope, for me it's citrus fruit that causing the most grief. I used to cut lemons in half and eat them out of hand, sometimes with salt, sometimes without. The lemons and limes in my fridge were the last fruits I gave away. It was hard. I knew I would not eat them or cook with them, and still it was hard. I must admit, I did something else that I normally NEVER do when removing a food I find I can no longer eat from my home. I kept a few limes, well, 2 limes. And half a lemon. It was a beautiful specimen: perfectly juicy with the most gorgeous pale yellow flesh. I couldn't send it down the garbage disposal or toss it into the compost looking like that. So I left it in a small open bowl on a refrigerator shelf where it could taunt me until it got all dry and brown and withered.

Have you ever put part of a lemon in the fridge to use later? In my experience, they don't usually hold up too long. They dry up or get kind of junky, and I rarely ended up using them, though I had the best of intentions. Not this last one, I pulled it out this morning, and it was just as beautiful as the day I put it in there, well over a week ago. I have since determined that was one evil lemon. It is now sitting by the sink where GK can use it to freshen the garbage disposal.

The limes will go today, too. Keeping them was just silly. What will remain is the void left by this exodus of citrus from my life. For years I've used it so often and in so many ways, every single day. Lemon juice in salads, on fish, in soup, on virtually every vegetable, brightening the flavors in lamb dishes. I'm hard pressed to think of a food not improved by lemon juice. Still for me and the rest of us who are fruit-less, it's history. And there truly is a void. White and red wine vinegars, Champagne vinegar, and cider vinegar are also fruits, as is citric acid.

Little by little I'm working through this fruit-free thing. And dish by dish I'm finding substitutes or rethinking the flavors. Distilled white vinegar holds some promise, though I will have to stop thinking of it as a cleaning product.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

are you serious?

Where to start...

I thought my diet was already pretty restricted, what with no gluten---no grains at all, really, no dairy, no legumes, no FODMAPS, few nightshades, almost nothing processed in any way, certainly nothing artificial or "food-like." I really thought there was nothing much left to remove. What can I say? I was wrong.

In the short time between her receiving the results of my blood tests and our appointment to go over those results, my doctor sent me a quick message. She said she thought I'd find the results quite interesting and cautioned me against doing too much advance food prep because much would be changing. My first thought? She must have forgotten I've already removed most offending foods. We're just fine-tuning. There's not much left to change or remove. Again, I was wrong.

When we met, she smiled at me gently, took a quiet breath, and handed me the paperwork she'd prepared with my results and recommendations. She explained I had one primary food intolerance and one combination issue, foods that were okay as long as they were not consumed at the same time. For me it's a need to allow a full four hours in between potato, including sweet potato even though they are different plants, in any form and grains or their derivatives. Okay, I can do this.

But, but, but---fruit intolerance, I'd never heard of such a thing. And, trust me, I still wish I hadn't. Apparently, my body doesn't treat fruit as food, to oversimplify a bit, never has, never will. This isn't short term. This is a lifetime reality. When I first viewed the list she gave me, I'm sure I was still in a fog of disbelief and relief. After all, we'd done the tests because I had not been able to resolve digestive issues completely---ever. I wanted---still want---to fix that. But...all fruit?

I've since asked a million questions and pretty much divided the fruit list into the four different categories below.

1. Well, this isn't so bad.
pears, plums, cranberries, bananas, berries, kiwi, apricots, mango, fruit barks, citric acid, acetic acid, malic acid

2. Darn it!
Oranges, pomegranates, apples, cherries, grapes, cashews, cloves, nutmeg, mace, allspice, cream of tartar, palm oil

3. You're joking, right?
lemons, limes, fruit peels, avocado, honey, wine and apple cider vinegar

4. Okay, now this is just mean!
all coconut products: shredded, flour, cream and oil, olives and olive oil, wine

And again, I am so far out of water, it's laughable. I must laugh, or I'll cry. I'm starting to do what I advise others. I'm looking at what I can eat and choosing what I truly, truly love for now. I'm being a bit indulgent and gentle with myself as I make this adjustment, while adhering vigorously to the guidelines. I've also given away almost every fruit-related food in the house, except for those that GK particularly likes, as he will eat those. This is far easier than getting rid of food-like products because these should not harm the recipients.

My blog posts will likely focus on the ways I'm making this work, while I'll continue to share lots of general Paleo-friendly food ideas on my Facebook page, Aseafish Out of Water. My attention right now is on a Thanksgiving Day treat. I'm determined to create a foodie-lovers' sweet potato pie with maple syrup and a nut crust. I can do this.

Monday, October 14, 2013

an accidental book review

I am such a creature of habit. I didn't know that about myself until fairly recently, though, I'm sure my friends and family were well aware.

One habit I've had for some time concerns cookbooks. I have lots and lots and lots. I often buy new ones, especially Paleo cookbooks, but I rarely use them. Mostly, they sit on one of many, many shelves. And worse, I often don't read or use them at all until they've been around awhile. I'll often open them, glance at a few pages, maybe the table of contents, then set them aside. This has become such a habit that I talk myself out of each purchase many times before I succumb to the temptation.

Yesterday, I bought a new cookbook, Quick and Easy Paleo Comfort Foods, by Julie and Charles Mayfield. I had almost ordered it half a dozen times on Amazon. I think at least once I even ordered it and then cancelled the order two minutes later. Yeah, that's another dumb habit I'm not so proud of.

Still yesterday, when we came home tired and hungry and not really wanting to cook, I actually opened that brand new book. Just look at its title, Quick and Easy Paleo Comfort Foods. And staring at me to the right of the Table of Contents was meat on a stick; okay, they called them Beef Kebabs. I love the look of almost any food on a stick. And I just happened to have thawed a package of beef filet chunks from US Wellness Meats. Before we even put away the groceries, I was making the marinade. A couple of minutes later (seriously) the tender chunks of filet were soaking up those lovely flavors. GK fired up the Big Green Egg, and we were off and running.

I still didn't know what I'd serve with the beef. When I am tired and hungry, I'm at my least creative. But somehow I opened the book to Greek Salad. It sounded perfect. And it was.

This morning, feeling more relaxed and less rushed, I've been turning the pages, oohing and awing over the pictures as much as the recipes. I've got a long mental list of dishes I want to try. Seriously, for those of us who cook virtually every meal we eat, quick and easy sounds like a siren's call. Possibly, the only thing better is comfort food, but we don't have to choose. Buy the book. Or ask your local library to get it for you.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

life as a guided missile

Lately, I've done a lot of reassessing and reevaluating. For me, possibly for many of us, though I can only speak for myself here, finding direction has never seemed a natural thing. For much of my life, I heard "Do what you love, the money will follow." I always liked those words and despised them at the same time. Sounds easy enough, only what did I love? It didn't stay constant, and for everything I love, to this day, there's a flip side. It's not all sweetness and light.

I've always loved cooking, but not every day. Not when I was tired or grumpy. Not just because we needed food on the table. Not when someone else directed the menu. Not when I'd rather sit in the sand at the beach. Not if I had a great book that had captured my imagination. Not when I had to.  In my wildest dreams, I would not want to plan, prepare, or cook food for a living.

I love to write: fiction, nonfiction, poems, articles, journals. Except, of course, not every day. Not when I'm tired or grumpy. Not when I'm feeling reclusive. Not when the thought of a pen or keyboard makes my skin crawl. Not when I just want to hide from myself or my thoughts. Not when I have to. And it's not just cooking and writing, I find those feelings and attitudes everywhere in my life. So, do what I love? That's a hard one.

So, I've decided to give up the whole do what you love thing. I will do what I do. Being a bit self-indulgent, I know the truth is, if I'm doing it, I love it. At least I love it right now. And I won't promise to love it or to do it tomorrow. Clearly, that makes long term planning a bit more difficult. Or, just possibly, it makes it easier. I'm becoming more and more convinced that we do little, if anything, in life that is truly wrong. I see how my seemingly poor choices, along with those of which I am pleased, have led me to where I am today. They'll continue to lead me. I'm not always proud of my choices, but they have served me. When I'm off course, I correct. And really, like a guided missile, I'm usually off course. I find that amazing about guided missiles. Except for the moment they hit their target, they're virtually always off course. They simply correct, and correct, and correct once again. And that is my plan. I will keep correcting, tiny corrections, not whole new targets, I sure hope. As much as I admonish myself for not having clear, concise, meaningful goals in my life, I'm far more directed than I admit, even to myself. Off course, a lot, unsure of the target I've chosen sometimes, and yet never so far off that a minor correction won't get me back on course, even if I'm not totally aware of the target.

My intention, where Aseafish is concerned, is to be much more outspoken and directed in my posts. I tend to be a somewhat guarded and reserved individual, especially when it comes to what's important to me, personally. I'm working on breaking through that a bit at a time. When I first began writing a blog that was food directed, I thought it also needed to be recipe and menu driven, though I rarely use a recipe or a menu. I thought I should have something new and different to say, even profound. The voice is my own, but I cannot promise that everything I say will new, and let's not even visit the idea of profound.  I even thought I had to lecture. (ugh) I also didn't get too personal or revealing, though it could have sounded as though I did. I thought I needed to be vague and try for some universal appeal, even though many of my favorite bloggers are up-front and direct. Some will even tell you not to read their posts if you don't agree with them. I enjoy their candor, though that's not my philosophy.
Saying "goodbye" to teaching high school and "hello" to lots more time in the kitchen.  Yay! retirement!

I'm pretty sure we all know in broad terms that the Paleo community is not made up entirely of 20 to 30 year old cross fitters. Not everyone looks like a model or even wants to. Not everyone is just starting a family or looking for her first apartment. Many of us are settled in life with families and careers. I retired this year. I have grown children and grandchildren. That's a far cry from the college kid who is playing with meals for his first time ever. We all have different voices. We all, I do believe, have something to say. Go! Guided missiles.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

giving menu planning a shot---in my dreams

I am not a planner by nature. I'm not good at making lists, though I give it a shot from time to time. I'm not the best at follow-through. I tend to forget.

Still, having changed from a very structured life to one that's more free-flowing, I find myself surprised by mealtimes, at a loss for what to serve or eat. This is frustrating anytime, but when you deal with dietary restrictions and ordering in is not an option, it's downright scary.

I wrote those first two paragraphs about two months ago. At that time I seriously thought I could conquer meal planning. Two months and many attempts later, I'm declaring defeat. I can plan for a large party or a holiday with ease. Everyday stuff, though, just isn't happening, and I doubt it ever will.

Since, as I noted earlier, ready made food and ordering in are not options for me, I knew I needed to do something. This, like most of my food adventures in gluten-free and Paleo eating, has been and will likely continue to be a work in progress. I'm very fortunate to have a large chest freezer and a series of closets (and one underused dining room) that we've converted to pantries. So while I still don't have meal plans, I have lots of food that can be prepared at my fingertips. Of course, mostly I have ingredients. Ingredients require time, attention, and energy. I'm still working on the energy part.

I'll write more about what I'm keeping in the freezer and pantry soon. I've done that in the past, but like so many aspects of my Paleo food course, it is ever changing. My daughter will occasionally look into our fridge or pantry and say, "Who are you?". Everything looks so unlike what she'd always been used to seeing.

And, to those of you who plan, you have my unending respect and admiration. I don't know how you do it.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

steaks on the egg

I'm looking forward to grilling steaks this afternoon, assuming these crazy temperatures and high humidity don't force me inside.

It seems as if I've cooked steaks forever. Until recently, I've felt comfortable in front of the grill. I grew up using a wood fire in a large built-in barbecue on the patio outside our kitchen door. It was beautiful and fun, but it pretty much had one temperature and you were on your own guessing what that might be. Trial by fire so to speak.

For many, many years after that, I used a Weber kettle-style grill. I loved it, them actually, as I went through a few ever-so-slightly different models. The one I still have, even though I no longer use it, is red with an accurate thermometer built right in. I love it to this day, but it was overshadowed by our Big Green Egg. Which brings us to my current wariness with grilling.

The Egg can be regulated beautifully. I've slowly barbecued deep pit style beef for almost two days with ease. I've also managed some great steaks from time to time. And at least twice, I've managed to set myself on fire. One of those times resulted in some pretty nasty burns and a trip to urgent care. Both necessitated and emergency call to my hairdresser. And there's my now ongoing issue with sparse eyelashes. But enough about my carelessness.

One big issue for me, aside my newly acquired fear of the flames, is keeping my steak rare and getting GK's well-done, while browning both well and not destroying the meat itself. We buy mostly grass-fed meat, and simply put, I don't want to ruin meat I had to talk myself into buying due to what seems like ever-increasing price tags. I was delighted this week to find a few clues. In Melissa Joulwan's The Clothes Make the Girl this week was a link some of the best steak advice I've seen in awhile, dispelling some deeply ingrained myths.

 If you are cooking steaks for the Fourth of July, or anytime soon, don't start your grill before you read these great tips for cooking steaks from Serious Eats.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

i should have known better

I've mentioned that I rarely buy food at Costco. I simply don't trust them. It's not that I never buy anything there, it's just that, normally, I'm super-cautious and don't expect much. Still, I almost always look.

Given my usual caution, I don't know what I was thinking today. I saw some beautiful T-bone steaks. Seriously, they were beautiful, and we are not even T-bone fans. I carefully selected an especially nice package of two steaks which weighed a little more than 3 pounds. I was thinking grand, fun-filled BBQ and leftovers. I was really kind of jazzed.

When we got home, I quickly went to the steaks to salt and refrigerate them, my usual routine. That's when I noticed the small print, explaining they had been "blade tenderized" and should be cooked to a minimum temperature of 180F for safety. Geez! 180! That's a joke, right? Even GK, who eats well-done meat, wouldn't want a steak cooked to that temperature. I, personally, am a rare meat fan. I'll tolerate medium-rare if I have to, but I don't relish the thought. 180F, no way.

Still, I do not feel bound to follow labels where safety is concerned. This label was a different situation. You can easily bring the temperature of the outside of a large piece of meat, like a steak, to a very high temperature, well over 180F without overcooking the interior. At least if a careless food industry has not poked holes all through it, you can. Blade tenderization stabs meats in mass, introducing the likelihood of bacteria being moved from the surface inward. The result is a bit like ground meat in terms of safety issues.

So now I'm sulking and trying to talk GK into taking the damn things back.

and now a new chapter begins...

I'm a high school teacher. More accurately put, I was a high school teacher. Last week, I finished packing my personal stuff, said sad and encouraging good-byes to my students, completed the last reports, the final bit of paperwork, and drove away. For the final time.

It was a personal choice, though I'm still feeling a slight tinge of loss and am floundering a bit putting all my new freedom to good use. My plan is to sleep later each day, to play in the garden more, to talk myself into enjoying photography, to spend far more time in the kitchen creating and experimenting, and to write. I've not attended to this blog on a regular basis for some time. That will change.

In the coming weeks, expect more and regular posts, a new look, and most likely a new site. It will not be an overnight occurrence, more like an extended process, much like my learning to sleep past 3 or 4 am.

Thank you for your patience and for hanging out with me during these transitions. Now, to get into the kitchen, so I have something fun to write about....

Saturday, February 23, 2013

of crock pots and childhood

I've been enjoying my crock pots a lot lately. Possibly the best part for me is having hot, moist, long-cooking sorts of meals that take only minutes of my attention.

I love, really love, hanging out in the kitchen and spending all day on a sauce. I truly do. But I absolutely, positively do not enjoy coming home tired and hungry and grumpy after a day of work and hoping for a creative impulse. I'm not going to find creativity then not matter how hard I look. So instead, especially in winter, I try to keep something simmering and ready. Something that satisfies on all sorts of levels. Winter is serious comfort food time.

My favorite food memories are almost all of Syrian or Lebanese meals, the food my grandmother cooked (and my mother, though mom was always a southern girl at heart.) I don't make many of these dishes anymore, unfortunately. Many, if not most, use grains as a mainstay and gluten is abundant. Still,  I long for those flavors.

 One of my favorites was a long, slow cooked dish we simply referred to as green beans and rice. It started with ground lamb or beef (most often beef during my childhood years due to relative costs) that we browned with chopped onions, salt, and pepper. Next we added lots of green beans, fresh or frozen, and a can or two of tomato sauce and an equal amount of water. This simmered, covered for hours and hours and hours. Seriously. The green beans almost, but not quite, melted into the sauce. This was then served over mounds of rice, first browned in butter (probably margarine when I was a child) and steamed. I loved it, still do to this day, though when cooking in my own kitchen I made it with diced lamb or beef more often than ground. These days, of course, I don't eat rice and I also can handle only the tiniest amount of tomato. In reality, I should probably stay as far away from any tomato as I possibly can, but every once-in-awhile I use a little. Just a little. Still, that means no tomato sauce at all, since it's pretty darned concentrated.
A few tomatoes in a large pot of food can add the flavor without so much tomato.

While trying to find a good lazy-day plan for a leg of lamb from Lava Lake Lamb, I inadvertently discovered an easy dish that is becoming one of my favorites. I love their lamb, and while I was not in the frame of mind for hours in the kitchen, I was sure as heck not going to waste that lamb. I decided to put the lamb in the crock pot and hope for the best. Then those green bean thoughts started dancing in my head. What if I put a couple of pounds of green beans in the bottom and layered the other ingredients? Now, when I say layer, I mean toss in randomly for the most part. They just end up in natural layers. I used what I had. Not wanting to chop an onion, seriously I was feeling that lazy, I used frozen pearl onions. I grabbed 3 small Roma tomatoes from the freezer and tossed them on top. Then I plopped the lamb on top of the veggies. I figured with that many watery vegetables, I would not need to add any more moisture. Good call, since there was plenty of broth produced without the addition of liquid.
What a delightful surprise. It was far better than I ever expected. The flavors were wonderful and even reminded me a bit of stuffed grape leaves, another childhood favorite. I have made this dish since, evening starting with a piece of frozen meat. I did mention the lazy part, right? It's virtually foolproof and not time-sensitive. It can cook 6 hours or 10 without issue.

I still love to spend hours in the kitchen when I have hours to spend, but it is utterly delightful to come home to dinner that's hot and ready and a house that smells like childhood.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

ah, a new year

There's something about a new year that delights me. The promise, the possibility, the very newness of it. I love New Year's Day. And I especially love this one.

Looking back on 2012, I can, but won't, recount far more negative than positive in those 12 months. That's not to say nothing good happened in 2012. In the world, in my personal life as well, I see much to appreciate. It's just that so much of 2012 does not fall into that category. 2013 is all ahead.

I woke this morning startled by my own focus for the day. I want to clean my kitchen---top to bottom, and more reorganizing and optimizing than cleaning. Still, I want it squeaky clean, as well. This is not like me. It's not that I'm a fan of dirty kitchens or anything else for that matter. It's just that it's not my focus. I've often mentioned that I am the mess-maker extraordinaire and GK has kindly volunteered to take care of the cleaning. This is a delightful arrangement that works quite well for the most part. What I do give up is control. When he puts dishes, utensils, cookware, foods away, he decides where they are to go. It's a matter of practicality, of course. But when I reach for a specific knife and find another in its place, my body tenses and I suppress (usually) a slight grumble. My tools should be where they belong, right? Not in my wildest, craziest dreams would I consider walk into "his" garage and moving so much as a screw. And back on the kitchen end, you don't even want me to start on the frustration of spending twice as long looking for ingredients that have been moved as I spend making the dish I'm cooking. So today is kitchen "cleaning" day, and for a little while at least, I'll be able to find things in my kitchen.

It was easy to get his commitment  to help. It's pretty rare for me to ask for a day devoted to cleaning. When I do, I get cooperation, muscle-power, and encouragement. All the time, of course, he's in utter disbelief that I've said "let's clean." It's the best of all worlds for me and a most wonderful way to start a new year.