Routine

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Much of day to day life falls into a string of routine activities. The trick is to appreciate the routine and mundane as they occur, instead of only after some event that upends the apple cart.

Our routine revolves around the Pampered Princess in a Yellow Lab Suit. Daisy makes us laugh every day. Just watching her sprawl on the rug is worth a smile. She can also be totally annoying. She has a mind of her own. Not her fault. She’s been raised (by the Big Guy) to think of “commands” as suggestions.

She decides what direction to head on a walk, or even if she feels like taking a walk at all. There are days when she grabs an old sneaker from the garage and parks herself on the front lawn, ignoring my coaxing to take a stroll around the neighborhood. She also has an old towel that she drags out as well. She has a $20 Himalayan chew, but she prefers a smelly old sneaker. Go figure. To be fair, Frank has more success getting her to budge. She just ignores me.

She’s also convinced us that she prefers three meals a day. Same basic amount, but she likes lunch. She gets it. Someday, I’m going to figure out just how she manages to coax us into doing exactly what she wants.

Human nature being what it is, it’s easy to let the days slip by unnoticed. But it’s Spring. A perfect time to become more aware of our surroundings and the routine events that, if we’re fortunate, make life worthwhile.

 

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Confetti Bread (Spiralized!)

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This is basically a simple version of zucchini bread, with a bonus of summer squash and carrots. It’s made even easier by spiralizing the vegetables, instead of grating them, as part of the process. Just chop the spaghetti-like strands into short pieces. If you’re spiralizing vegetables for another recipe, make a little extra and turn them into a delicious, easy bread.

Ingredients:

2 eggs
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 cup spiralized (or grated) zucchini, summer squash, carrots
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. baking powder
1 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 cup chopped walnuts (optional)

Method:

1. Preheat oven to 350. Grease a loaf pan and line the bottom with parchment paper.
2. Using the spaghetti blade, spiralize a zucchini, a yellow summer squash, and a carrot. Chop the strands into a confetti-like dice.
3. Whisk the eggs, sugar, and oil until well combined. Switch to a wooden spoon and add the zucchini, summer squash, carrots, and vanilla. Stir well.
4. In another bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda, and cinnamon.
5. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and stir well.
6. Add the nuts, if using. Pour the mixture into a prepared loaf pan. Bake for 55-60 minutes at 350.
7. Let it rest in the pan for about 5 minutes before turning it out onto a wire rack to cool.

Note: Okay to double the recipe to make two loaves. Use 3 eggs; keep baking powder the same, and double all other ingredients.

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Cauliflower on Pasta

 

This recipe transforms a simple head of cauliflower into a savory, garlicky, totally satisfying meatless pasta dish. Serves 4.

Ingredients:

Medium head of cauliflower
1/4 cup olive oil (divided)
1/4 C dried bread crumbs
1 tsp kosher salt
1/8 to 1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes
1/2 pound angel hair (or thin spaghetti)
5 garlic cloves, sliced
Grated Parmesan
1-2 TBS pesto, optional
shredded fresh basil, optional

Method:

1. Preheat oven to 425.
2. Break the cauliflower into flowerets. Place them in a bowl with about 1/8 cup of olive oil. Add the bread crumbs, salt, and red pepper flakes. Toss to coat the cauliflower.
3. Spread the flowerets in a single layer on a parchment lined sheet pan. Bake for about 25-30 minutes until lightly caramelized. Remove from oven when they are done and set aside.
4. Bring a pot of well-salted water to a boil. Break the long strands of spaghetti in halves. Cook the pasta to the al dente stage. Remove 1 cup of the salted pasta water before you drain the pasta.
5. When the pasta is done, drain it and return it to the pot to keep warm. If you like, you could add a tablespoon or two of pesto to the spaghetti to amp up the basil flavor.
6.  Pour the remaining olive oil into a saute pan set on medium heat. Add the sliced garlic. Cook for a couple of minutes until the edges are sizzling.
7. Add the cup of reserved pasta water and bring to a vigorous boil until the water is reduced by half. Reduce heat and keep at a simmer.
8. Add the cooked pasta to the simmering garlic infused water/sauce. Slide the roasted cauliflower onto the pasta. Toss.
9.Sprinkle with fresh basil, if using, and serve with grated Parmesan.

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One Tiny Bud

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Harboring a little
beacon of hope
on a window ledge.
Without advanced notice,
a tiny impatiens
bud unfurled.
Hibernating
in a house plant’s
warm soil,
it chose today
to bloom.
As though called
to soothe the 
irritation of 
the arrival of
a blizzard
on the threshold
of Spring.   
A promise
of better days
to come.

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Corned Beef and Cabbage Revisited

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I posted this last year, but it’s that time again and I’ll be making it again tomorrow, so it seems reasonable to post it again.

Irish or not, it has to be done. During the week that includes St. Patrick’s Day, everyone is just a little bit Irish, and Corned Beef and Cabbage has to make an appearance.

A celebratory dish that turns up once a year takes a little bit of thought. Especially if you have no ethnic background with years of experience under your belt.

I’ve tried different techniques over the years, but I think that braising produces the best results. Boiling on top of the stove produces tough meat, and trying to regulate the pot for hours in an attempt to keep things at an even simmer is an exercise in frustration. Braising takes care of that problem.

Just for the record, corned beef has a quite a bit of fat and shrinks a lot. A three pound piece of meat will feed three people, with leftovers.

Ingredients ( For six people with leftovers for hash or sandwiches)

2 3pound pieces of corned beef
8 whole peeled potatoes
8 whole peeled onions
8-10 carrots, cut into large chunks
1 large cabbage, cut into 6 wedges
cold water
1 8 quart or 2 6 quart oven proof pots with lids

Method:

1. Almost cover the meat with cold water. If the meat fits comfortably in one big pot, that will work. If not, use two pots to start. Once the meat shrinks down, you can put the two pieces into one pot. Bring to a boil on top of the stove.
2. Put the covered pot (or pots) into a pre-heated 325 oven for 3 hours. At that point, the meat should be close to tender. Since, I had started with two pots, I transferred both pieces of meat to one pot, and put it back in the oven for another half hour. I then used the liquid from the second pot to cook the vegetables. If you’re using one pot, leave it in the oven for 3 1/2 hours.
3. Remove the meat with some of the liquid; cover with foil and set aside.
4. Put the potatoes, onions, and carrots into the braising liquid. Bring to a boil on top of the stove. Cover and place in a 325 over for about a half hour, until the vegetables are fork tender. Remove from the liquid, cover, and set aside.
5. Cabbage is last. Put the wedges into the same braising liquid. Bring to a boil. Cover and put the pot in the 325 over for about 20 minutes. You want tender cabbage, but not soggy cabbage.
6. At this point, I removed the layer of fat and cut the corned beef into slices against the grain. I then put all of the vegetables and meat into a roasting pan; added some of the braising liquid to keep things moist. I covered it with a layer of parchment paper and sealed the pan with heavy duty foil. Shortly before dinner, I popped it back in the same 325 over for about a half hour to make sure everything was warm.
7. Yes, lots of steps, but a finished product ready to serve with tender meat and vegetables that retain their taste and texture.

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Mercurial March

 

Mood swings of March. 
Sunshine and flowers one day.  
Leaden clouds and snow the next.
Burst of optimism that settled chairs on the deck
squelched by a cover of heavy, wet snow.
March weather, however dreadful,
viewed as a temporary 
aberration.
Its grasp tenuous at best.
Days are longer; sun is stronger.
In spite of obstacles in her path,
Spring is about to cross the finish line.

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Old School

 

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I made chicken soup the old fashioned way with chicken on the bone and water. A few carrots, stalks of celery and a couple of onions. Salt, pepper, a little dill weed. Bring to a boil; skim the layer of scum that rises to the top. Turn down the heat and set to a slow simmer on the back of the stove for a few hours.

After about an hour, I removed the chicken pieces (thighs and legs.) When they were cool enough to handle, I removed the meat and set it aside. I returned the bones to the pot to enhance the flavor and let the soup continue to simmer for another hour or two. Bones removed, meat shredded and returned to the pot, noodles (cooked separately) added once the soup was cooked.

This should not have been such a novelty. Across cultural lines and for generations, soup has been made with water. Its flavor drawn from whatever ingredients were incorporated into the soup. I had fallen into the habit of using commercially prepared stock as a base. Prepared stock saves time to be sure, but it can’t compete with the flavor of slowly simmered soup with a simple water base.

Funny how the old ways are often the best ways after all.

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