Why I failed the Postaweek2011 challenge

I haven’t blogged a word in two weeks. I’m sure many of you are aghast. How could I?

I signed up for the Postaweek 2011 challenge. The gauntlet thrown down by WordPress to keep the fires of blogging going. I was true to my word. I posted faithfully for two and one half months. At one time, I even had three blog writings going at once. I was editing daily and readying them for posting when each week rolled around.

Then the remodeling took over my life. We had contractors working on our basement since mid-January. They just finished. I tried my best to protect the furniture and cushions with blankets and plastic. But the film that flies from wallboard finishing is like glue dust. It lands and sticks and doesn’t let go.

I did some traveling this past month and got away from the house. I was free from responsibilities and the debacle. Yippee!! I returned to the house-mess five days ago. Me, the dog, and the dust. I moved furniture, cleaned, washed, dusted, arranged, pounded, folded, sorted, and dried. My head was sifting through ideas of decorating. There was little time for anything else.

I feel no guilt, no shame; only relief. The mind is a cluttered land of information. Multi-tasking is overrated. Newsweek’s front cover last month revealed that we as a society can’t make decisions because of too much information. Technology has allowed us to discover a world of information yet we can’t decide what kind of jeans to buy. 

I made a conscious decision. My life was overwhelming and I couldn’t eek out a blog. I went on vacation, I read an entire book, and I cleaned my house. I returned to work today, well rested, and ready to write again.

Thoreau and Oliver, poets and writers, went to the woods for inspiration. Do we now go to our Smartphones, laptops, and blogging websites for inspiration? I choose to re-boot away from it all.

The Fearless Cook says….Nuts to coconuts

If you follow food trends, you’ll find that 2011 is the year of coconut water. It is the equivalent of nature’s Gatorade. It has twice the amount of potassium than a banana providing energy replenishment and youthful benefits.  Madonna supposedly drank it during her recent concert tours. She is the queen of staying young as she ages. She invested 1.5 million dollars in a Brazilian coconut water company Vita Coco.
What up with coconuts? Are they nuts or are we just cuckoo over them? Marco Polo called them Indian Nuts in 1280. Then Portuguese explorers called them Coco because the brown hair exterior reminded them of a ghost/witch named Coco.  They are not a nut, they just look like one. Instead they are dry drupes. But enough of this formality.
With all this interest in coconuts, the Fearless Cook took on this challenge. The goal was the adventure.
 
There are two kinds of coconuts the young and the old. The young ones are green  where the fountain-of-youth water comes from. The flesh from the green ones are supposed to be more flavorful. I looked online and found coconut farms where you can actually buy or invest in green coconuts for the water.
Then there are the mature coconuts that most people are familiar with. You can use the flesh shavings for recipes or it can supposedly be processed into a coconut cream consistency.  To select a coconut pick one with a round shape and a rich brown color. Shake it by your ear to listen for the coconut water inside. And avoid coconuts that have moldy or dark eyes. Sounds like a Coco witch to me!

The mature coconut

 
The next step in this coconut adventure  was opening it. This is where the fun begins. I read in The New Best Recipe 2004 cookbook that one should use a cleaver to crack open the coconut. Okay, good reason to buy a knife. I didn’t own a cleaver until this challenge.
 

the coconut meets the cleaver

 Thank goodness it was a sunny day so I could take my production outside to not harm man nor beast. 

the coconut water is running away

As the pictures speak for themselves, one crack leaked out the water and didn’t open the coconut. I eventually had to get a steak knife and pry open the coconut. The cleaver was basically useless. I’ll keep it around for butchering a hog (not).

cracked the nut

yielded 1/4 cup of water

After this endeavor, I chiseled away at the coconut flesh. It was extremely difficult to get shavings out of it. Then I went to the Frontera Produce website, the brand that wrapped my coconut, and it did not recommend a cleaver at all. Instead, as the recipe below details, the coconut should be baked, for easy opening and to soften the flesh to be shaved like cheese.

This approach was helpful, somewhat. It did soften the flesh and I put it in a cheese grater. It was labor intensive and I got very little coconut shavings out. After all this work, Mr Coconut was thrown in the trash. Ba bye.

Easy Coconut Shavings (ha) 

  • 1 Frontera Produce coconut
  • 1/2 Cup confectioners sugar

Place coconut in heat-proof container, cover and bake at 400° F for approx. 20-40 mins. Once coconut has cracked open remove from oven, discard coconut water, and remove white pulp immediately. This process is much easier when the pulp is still warm. Shave pulp chunks using a cheese shredder. Lay out on a sheet pan and toast coconut shavings at 400° F until dry and golden brown. Remove shavings and dust with powdered sugar.

After my coconut adventure, I saw a food show on the OWN network Anna and Kristina’s Grocery Bag. The show, first aired 3/11/2009 was their review of a Thai cookbook which recommend using fresh coconuts for the dishes they were preparing for a professional chef. The highlight of the show was their adventure into cracking open and using the water, milk and flesh from green and mature coconuts. Oh my gosh. It was hilarious. These women tried to open a green coconut with a hammer and nail. And the mature coconut was taken to the side of the road near a drainage grate and she beat it open with a hammer! I kid you not!

Kristina and Anna made five recipes and three turned out well. The professional chef told them to just buy the coconut milk and cream in the cans and forget about the fresh coconut.  I totally agree.

Coconut water by Naked

So going back to coconut water. I drank the quarter cup from my coconut and it tasted like plain Pedialyte (infant electolyte replacement formula).  Vita Coco has it in variety of flavors. Most recipes have it as an ingredient in smoothies. It is pricey at about $3.00 per container. If I start drinking it daily, I’ll report back on my youthful transformation (or not). Madonna and I are a year apart in age, she’s older.

Hello my name is Patty, I’m a candy addict

It’s the middle of the afternoon, I just finished lunch. The gum I’m chewing just isn’t cutting it. I scrounge around my desk drawer, then my purse. I’m looking for a lost M&M or Smartie that may have dropped out. But alas, the mining expedition came up dry.  I chew a new piece of gum to keep the taste buds happy. Running to the vending machine will waste time. Get on with it, get back to work.

It’s been a couple of weeks since Valentine’s day and I’m still thinking about candy. There are four holiday events during the year when the candy has themes and is overflowing entire aisles devoted to: Halloween, Christmas, Valentine’s Day and Easter. From October to April it is candy, candy, candy. It’s one holiday rollng into another and the candy is plentiful.

At my Weight Watchers meeting, the leader admitted she was a sugar-holic. She described how she was told that the only way to get over her addiction was to go to the candy aisle and confront the sugar. She failed miserably because she left purchasing bags of candy. Going near the candy aisle was the equivolent of being an alcoholic, you can’t have just one Snicker bar.

I’ll admit I never thought too much about candy until it was always around. I have a friend at work who will slide me a bag of sour gummies or Willy Wonka Nerds. I guess that is how any addiction starts; it is a socially acceptable introduction. It breaks up the monotony of the workday. Everyone is doing it.

Most people need to watch what they eat and I am one of them. I can’t eat on a unlimited basis because it takes me down a spiral of unhealthiness. Being overweight took a toll on my ego many years ago. I climbed out of that hole but, it is a day-to-day challenge. It takes a great deal of discipline from deep down inside me to temper the cravings. 

There is something about that sugar rush on my tongue. It’s like a party in my mouth. I become unconscious. And then I get sick. Why did I eat that?

My name is Patty and I’m a candy addict.

The bag lady blues

A stage play The Purse Chronicles debuted in Denver this past year from author Coleen Hubbard. The play involves two men who find a purse and try to imagine the personality of the woman from the contents. I thought of this play as I peered into my bag this week. It’s winter, so I switched to my bag with lots of pockets. You know the over-the-shoulder-boulder-holder, bicycle courier, bag. Two months ago, when the holidays were upon us, I thought it would be easier to have this big bag since I would be hauling a lot of stuff with shopping and all. Unfortunately, the holidays are over and my bag is getting heavier by the day. I emptied it out and couldn’t believe what was in there.

THE BAG

I have six contact lens cases in there. I think I kept throwing them in because I couldn’t see one in there; Fifty credit card receipts, an empty prescription bottle and a bottle of hair product my stylist gave me to sample; A digital camera, battery charger and four photo cards; My wallet with cash, drivers license and cards, a check book, wallet sized pictures, five professional membership cards, business cards, four pens, three gift cards, and two types of wipes; Three sets of earrings, two necklaces, a bracelet, a watch and a rosary; Ten coupons, a note to myself, empty candy wrapper, two types of hand cream, prescription glasses case, reading glasses case, a birthday card and a book of stamps; A handkerchief, a pack of gum, a napkin, silver jewelry cloth, mouth guard container, a plastic spoon and a pair a gloves.

The contents and type of bag one carries around says alot about their personalities. A window to the soul. I think mine is more like a junk drawer.

In the past 60 years, the contents of our bags have changed. We went from one little bag to carry money and lipstick in, to lots of extra bags to meet different needs. We need bags to carry our coupons, daytimer, laptop, newspaper, magazines, smartphone, cell phone, work out clothes, yoga mat, umbrella, lunch, and bottled water.  My bags spill over into my car as I have places to go before and after work. 

I also have extas bags in my car to switch out to for style if I am out and about. Two or three fun stylish bags. After I arrive at my destination I decide which bag would look better with my outfit. I swap out the contents from one bag to another then head in with my bag that coordinates with my outfit.  

Why do I do this to myself? I don’t think I am trying to be a hoarder. I want to be prepared for any situation that is thrown upon me when I am out of the house. And I probably spend most of my time away from home in my car. My car sometimes feels like my second home. 

My bags are my baggage. These bags are packed with some level of fear. Fear of being unprepared. Occasionally, I have to give myself an intervention and purge the contents when the strain becomes too much for my shoulder or when the car needs cleaning.

I’m getting older and all of this stuff in my life is dragging me down. It takes a lot of time to throw stuff out and be organized. I think I am staying ahead of it and then it piles right into my life again. There isn’t enough time built into our lives to stay organized. We run from event to event and have little down time.

I just gotta keep pluggin along, cuz I’m singing the bag lady blues.

The Fearless Cook takes on…Garlic

Fear, innate in all of us, is a human instinct. It is nature’s coping mechanism to protect us from the emotional bad stuff. The number one thing people are afraid of is a terrorist attack. Cooking in the kitchen did not make the top ten list. My minor in psychology causes me ponder these things.

I grew up in a rural town and some people might say that because of that upbringing I was sheltered from the “real world”. I was exposed to cooking according to how my mom did it in the 60s and 70s. There were five kids in my family and cooking was a way to get food on the table to feed seven people. Cooking with non-traditional ingredients and foods weren’t high on the list.

I will never forget my first exposure to garlic. It was 7:00 am on the hospital day shift and the assistant head nurse was giving me me my assignment for the day. She was of Italian descent and she reeked of garlic on her breath. Whoa! That was overpowering! My mother never cooked with real garlic, ever. She used garlic powder or salt that got sprinkled into a sauce or chili. I had no idea such a thing existed.

This was the beginning of tackling my fear of cooking. I was determined to overcome foods and ingredients I knew nothing about, one at a time. The basics of cooking are the ingredients, one ingredient building on another. One ingredient can make a recipe sing.

So, with respect to garlic, you were my first fear. I looked at you in the produce section all tiny in that wrapping paper of Mother Nature. I wasn’t fond of your strong smell in my hands. But combined with olive oil in a sauté pan and heaven!

As you can see below, garlic comes in many forms,already minced in a jar, already peeled in a bag, dried minced and of course garlic powder. With all the focus of cooking magazines, websites, TV shows and features; garlic is available everywhere now.

When I started cooking with garlic I started with garlic powder. Then I moved to the minced garlic in a jar. Both of these versions didn’t require touching it with my hands. I slowly moved to the real thing and it took an awful lot of practice AND TIME to break open those cloves.

the side of a knife to break open the clove covering

look a clove!

Now, I have broke open many a garlic bulb and the cloves are not always that easy to pull apart and break open. But with practice I have gotten better. Now once it is out of the paper you can put it in a garlic press to mince it (still don’t have to touch it!), mince it or chop it with a knife (full hands on at this point), or put it whole in the food processor (and let the blades chop it for you). I have seen several ways to get the smell of garlic off your hands, which include: pouring mouthwash over your hands, rubbing your hands with kosher salt and lemon, and rubbing your hands on a piece of silver.

Garlic is a member of the onion family. China produces the most garlic in the world with the U.S. 6th in production. Throughout history, many cultures believe in the medicinal properties of garlic. Garlic cloves were swallowed whole or strings of garlic bulbs were worn around necks to ward off viruses and even bacteria. It is available in pill or capsule form in the health food supplement aisle for people trying alternative methods of reducing cholesterol levels. This health benefit has helped the popularity of garlic. Knock on wood, I have not been sick this year. In fact, one day when I felt a cold coming on, I roasted some garlic with vegetables and my sniffles dissipated.

One of the best ways I like to use garlic is to get a big piece of aluminum foil and throw 6-8 whole cloves in with fresh beets from the garden, cover it with olive oil and kosher salt. It gets steam-roasted in a 350 degree oven for about an hour. The garlic is so buttery, soft and wonderful that I eat it whole or spread it on a crostini. No offensive garlicky flavor.

The nice thing about all these different forms of garlic is that it makes it easier for us as consumers to use it more readily. There is a garlic chicken recipe that calls for 40 cloves of garlic. I saw Alton Brown make it once on “Good Eats.”. How would you like to unwrap several heads of garlic, smash and peel until you got 40 cloves? That is labor intensive. That bag of already peeled garlic would save me 30 minutes of prep time. I conquered my fear, but I don’t want to spend my whole day in the kitchen. I do have a full time job afterall.

Paper? Plastic? Please don’t BYOB!

Okay I jumped on the bandwagon, I have reusable bags that I to take to the grocery store for my purchases.  These bags are everywhere. Businesses are selling them or giving them away and slapping a brand name logo on the side. Everyone’s doing their part for the environment, right?

My friend Joy, the bargain shopper, brought me a bag from TJ Maxx that was HUGE. I couldn’t believe it. I took that puppy into the grocery store once and it fit all the cereal boxes into it perfectly. I also have some very small bags that are great for items like cosmetics and gum.

But have you ever noticed? All those bags come in different sizes, shapes, and colors. There is no standard size, they are all different.

Here’s another observation. Those bags get really dirty using them over and over again. If you don’t get a plastic bag in the meat department to wrap your meat, it’ll ooze all over your bag. 

And you know what else? The baggers at the grocery store hate my bags. 

I was at the store and a checker looked at my bags and made fun of them. “Wow these bags are really small.”  I didn’t think anything of it letting it slide. But, then I had the same checker again and she made the same comment, again. I couldn’t believe it.

Then I got self-conscious. So I sorted through all my bags and made sure I had all similar sizes that were roomy and square on the bottom so they would sit well when being loaded.  I washed them, folded them neatly and had them sorted when I returned to the store for my shopping. 

Well the checkers liked me and my bags for a while but then another problem came up. The baggers wanted to treat my bags like the plastic bags. You know how it goes, they throw a few items in a bag and then toss it into the cart. Then they would run out of my bags and have to use the plastic bags.

Well, that did it. So now I’m practically bagging the groceries myself. The bagger is really looking at me now.  So I am bringing my bags, sorting the items as they are scanned, and bagging the items according to the size and shape of the bag. 

My family doesn’t understand why I hate shopping at the grocery store now. The fun is gone. All the planning. The grocery list, the coupons, and now the bags. I am exhausted before I pull into the parking lot. One place that is fun to shop is at Costco. The items are so big you barely need a bag or a box to put it in. The checkers just pile it all back in the cart and you wheel it out to your vehicle. If I need a bag for small items, it is already in the car!

BYOB? Bring your own bags? No booze!

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