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.

How (not) to read a recipe

The Fearless Cook’s kitchen is getting a facelift. Where once was a doorway is now going to be a wall to add more kitchen space. So in the spirit of preserving my sanity I will write about the act of reading recipes, according to me.  

the kitchen doorway to become a wall

I’ll be the first to admit that I think I have adult attention deficit disorder. It has taken most of my life to figure out how I figure things out. To learn something new takes every bit of patience and focus I have to “get it.” For me, practice and practice and practice, does make perfect. Once I have mastered a task, I find shortcuts to get to the end product quickly.

For the average cook, the basics of cooking start with reading a recipe.  True chefs or chemists understand how ingredients and flavors coalesce. They can taste their way through cooking.

The first recipe I ever followed was Snickerdoodles. It is basically a soft sugar cookie that uses cream of tartar instead of baking soda and is rolled in cinnamon-sugar instead of granulated sugar.  I mastered the recipe mostly through observation. I saw all the ingredients going in, how to roll the dough into balls, pop then into the cinnamon-sugar blend, drop the dough onto the cookie sheet and into the oven. Easy, right?

I made a lot of cookies because it was so easy.  But I couldn’t eat cookies for the rest of my life, I had to cook something else, like dinner? I then discovered soups and chili. Another easy cooking format. Throw all the ingredients into a crock pot and turn it on for 8 hours and voila! dinner for eight.

Reading a recipe is like reading a short story. A writer gets better at her craft by reading, so, a cook should better her skills by reading a recipe, right? When I read one recipe at a time I get a glimpse at a culture and the melding of the ingredients like characters in a story. And just like when I read, if I don’t understand a part in the story, I read it over and over again. I’ve found that I  “get it” when I put my reading of the recipe into the actual act of cooking. Hands on and making mistakes as I go along.

A difficult recipe usually has many ingredients and steps to complete to get to the finished product. This takes a lot of focus on my part. I try to read the recipe from beginning to end. Even though I think I have a good idea of how to make it, I end up going back and forth from the cookbook to the stove, from the cookbook to the chopping board and so on. There isn’t much finesse and flow in my approach. Last year I made Julia Child’s Boeuf Bourguignon from Mastering the Art of French Cooking. It took an entire day for me to make the recipe the way Julia advised to make it. I patted dry each piece of beef before I braised it and I didn’t crowd the mushrooms!

One friend told me that she and her husband would read recipes to each other and discuss them. So, last week on Valentine’s Day, I had my husband read the recipe aloud to me. It actually was more fun to cook that way and we shared in the preparation. It was true team work and saved a lot of time.

I read a lot of recipes. I am drawn to them whether they appear in magazines, TV, newspapers, websites, or cookbooks. I scan the title, the picture, the ingredients, and preparation. If the ingredients are readily available in my kitchen, the flavors are appetizing, and the cooking methods are familiar to me, I will most likely make the dish. I have a short attention span. If I want to cook something for a everyday meal, I want it to be easy to follow and take less than an hour.

But, I am The Fearless Cook, so I will continue to read recipes and investigate different ingredients, one at a time, in the never-ending quest to be an accomplished cook. Even if it takes a lifetime.

Look at all the cookbooks I need to read!

The Fearless Cook takes on….the (sexy) Artichoke

the sexy artichoke

Many years ago, I was put to shame by a teenager and his knowledge of artichokes. He went on and on about how cool it was to be served an artichoke flower. To peel it leaf-by-leaf, dip it in warm garlic butter and savor the fleshy end piece. He made it sound so sophisticated and sexy.  

The music group, Cibo Matta, has a song “Artichokes” whose thinly veiled lyrics are about sex. According to the website 10 songs about food that are really about sex, this song made the number #6 position.  So what better time of year to tackle the artichoke but Valentine’s Day?

I knew nothing about the artichoke plant before taking on this challenge. It is a pretty piece of produce, but also intimidating. It has all these thorny leaves and most of the plant is inedible. It is a thistle plant native to the Mediterranean region and brought to the United States by the Spaniards. I also read that it is a member of the sunflower family.

Another interesting tidbit is that Castroville, CA produces 80% of all commercially grown artichokes. It was put on the map after Marilyn Monroe was crowned Artichoke Queen in 1948. She was the epitome of sex, right?

Steamed Artichokes The New Best Recipe 2004

So here I go. I trimmed off the pin-sharp thorns from the tips of the leaves. It makes for easier handling. Then with a a sharp knife, I tried to cut off the top two rows of  the artichoke. I found this pretty difficult to do, so I used a kitchen shears.

Then I cut the stem flush with the base of the bulb and dropped it into a bowl of lemon juice and water to prevent browning before steaming.

I steamed my artichokes by placing the base on top of a 1 1/2 inch thick onion slice. If you have difficulty balancing the artichoke, then pop out the inner 3-4 rings of the onion.

artichoke steam bath

The pot was filled with water a half inch below the top of the onion rings.

Once the water comes to a boil, then cover and cook for 30 minutes or until the outer leaves release into a flower. I had to check the pot periodically to make sure the water did not boil out.

The artichokes were removed from the pot and cooled for 15 minutes. I served them warm, pulling off one leaf at a time and dipping the bottom end into the garlic butter. To eat, scrape off the end with your teeth. It can also be served cold, but it tastes better warm.

leaf-by-leaf dip into garlic butter - YUM

So one by one you get to the heart, the edible part of the plant. See how much fun it can be if shared by two people? 

The Heart

Remove the fuzzy part to reveal the heart.  

I reserved the artichoke heart for an appetizer. I cut the artichoke into bite size pieces, mixed it with soft roasted garlic and a dash of hot pepper sauce. Served on a crostini.

The Fearless Cook Footnotes

The leaf-by-leaf method is ideal for an intimate meal. One heart to be shared by two 🙂

The cost of one artichoke was $3.00. If I was making an artichoke dip, I would go for the jarred version. You get more hearts for your money. My 9/12 oz jar cost about $3.50. 

My lovely artichoke our time together was fun while it lasted. It was a labor intensive tryst we had for very little food. I’m a practical girl raised in the Corn Belt and we live for food production.

Invisible me

Invisible. Not visible.

It’s being in a crowd of people and you don’t acknowledge those around you.

It is eavesdropping on conversations that aren’t being shared with you.

It’s when you are not recognized by others. 

It’s when you shut the door and no one dares to knock.

It’s when people know you, but they don’t know you, because they don’t want to admit they know you.

The act of being invisible is a phenomona. Phenomena is an observable fact or aspect that is observed through the senses; an experience. The tug and war of being noticed and not being noticed. Being invisible has been with me all of my life. Invisibility is a multi-level experience.

In high school I wanted to be invisible. If Harry Potter cloaks were for sale I would’ve sold my soul to buy one. The fear of being made fun of was greater than being noticed, in a nice way. I never wanted to change my hair-do, my style of clothing or class schedule for fear of being noticed. I wanted to slide through and get out. The emotional pain-potential was too high.

As a young adult, I was racked with insecurities. I worried. I wanted to be approved by others. The invisibility cloak I gave myself was added poundage. I hid under the subcutaneous layer of fat. People ignored me. I got approval in other ways.

Then I woke up and discovered who I was without the poundage. I entered the world without it. I was freaked out at the attention I received. People,  especially men, looked at me differently. I was sexually attractive. Even attractive women noticed me. I entered the exclusive “Beauty Club”.

Things changed again after marriage and children. People didn’t notice me again because I was a stay-at-home mom with two children. What did I matter to the world? I was a frumpy nobody.

Then I entered the work world again. I was in a high-profile positions and the boss’s prize pet. Then I was the goat of the office whom everyone blamed. I didn’t agree with the boss. I was ostracized.

Being invisible at age 51 yrs. old is much different from being invisible at 17 yrs. old. Life tossed me the ups and downs; the losses and triumphs. I was left a shell at mid-life. I grieved in my cocoon. 

I again have emerged. Now, being invisible, is being cloaked in a level of confidence. I watch events fold open before me. I now know why people have wrinkles, grey hair, wear red hats and purple dresses. The hormones are gone. We’ve been through hell and back and we’re older and wiser.

I’m like a squirrel in a tree. My tail is switching back and forth and the dog below can’t see me. I’m invisible. I’m in control.  

Invisibility was self-imposed as a teenager to preserve my identity. It is self-imposed now to ensure my air of confidence and spirituality. It is what it is. I am who I am.