Archive for August, 2010

So I’m watching a cooking/food show with two hosts – a chef and a nutritionist – who “fix” the unhealthy cooking and eating habits of guests.  This particular episode is about a group of women painters who meet at one of their houses once a week for lunch, with wine, and an afternoon of painting.  The luncheon host, although a passionate artist, has lost her passion for cooking.  Her meal of lasagne and a soup was bland, colourless, and I noticed that while she was preparing it (they filmed her), her voiceovers were all tinged with “Oh, I guess I’ll just make lasagna…”, and “I’m so tired – I want to spend more time in the studio, painting” and “Oh no, I still have to make the soup…sigh”…I think that might contribute to flavourless, colourless food!  She obviously didn’t want to be making it at all.  I was shocked to discover that these women, all in their 50s, meet at the one woman’s house only, and this women does all the cooking every week!  …why aren’t they sharing in this??  They are all creative, lively women – if they each hosted the others at their own homes once every 5 weeks (there are 5 women), the one woman wouldn’t be doing all the work and wouldn’t be so tired.

All the women seem to be somewhat overweight, and all have health issues – inflammatory conditions, high blood pressure, acid reflux, food allergies, etc.  What got me, and what made me start to write this blog (otherwise known today as a rant), is one woman who laughed and said “If I can avoid vegetables altogether, I will”…what is up with that?  How can an otherwise intelligent woman, with great creative ability, a lively personality, and lots of friends, who seems educated and fairly well-to-do, “avoid vegetables”??   What was worse is that she seemed amused by this, maybe even proud of it.

I don’t buy the excuse that kids don’t like vegetables…I think that’s a parental problem, not a kid problem.  I know, I know, kids’ tastebuds aren’t developed…ya-da-ya-da-ya-da…and I get that they might not like intense flavours or earthy flavours like in mushrooms…I get that.  But honestly, there is nothing about broccoli that a kid shouldn’t like, raw or cooked!  How can a kid not like eating a salad full of crunchy carrots, the snap of snap peas, the juiciness of cucumbers, and with the fun of tomato juice dripping down their chin?  And that’s before you’ve added a tangy dressing, one as simple as olive oil and lemon juice with fresh dill.  I think a lot of kids are being fed overcooked, flavourless, not-overly-fresh food.  In Canada…that’s not necessary.  And you don’t have to buy exotic vegetables, or buy out of season.  Even in the autumn, kids would love a plate of carrot sticks, celery, raw cauliflower, and turnip sticks with Ranch dressing, or better yet, a little tzatziki, and a few pita pieces on the side.

I know I grew up in a really good time, when families only knew how to eat seasonally so we learned to do a lot with carrots, turnip, celery, potatoes, and onion in the fall and winter – we learned to make a roast beef go a long way, to use the leftovers for the stew, to make our own gravy.  But I’m also a product of the global village we now live in, where we can get bright red, juicy peppers in December, and a dozen varieties of exotic mushrooms all year long, not to mention spices like saffron, imported from Morocco.  We also have at our disposal innumerable internet resources for recipes, so if you have all the above-mentioned goodies on hand and don’t know what to do with them, there is no excuse for letting them rot in your fridge.  And that brings me back to my point:  the woman who says she avoids vegetables whenever she can…does she not get that she’s a little old for that excuse?  Surely, among all the vegetable choices we now have available in any given grocery store, she can find a few to like…maybe she won’t like jicama, or maybe she will discover that mangoes, although tasty, really aren’t worth all the work it takes to get to the flesh of them…and that’s fine – how about returning to the old standards?  Tomatoes, potatoes, green beans, beets, carrots, celery, onions, to name a few.  She’s the heaviest of all the women, and the one with the most health issues.   She also said she watched her mother have a stroke and knows “it’s not a pretty picture”…Has it never occurred to her to find out how to avoid THAT in her life, rather than avoiding broccoli?  I don’t get it.  This was the same woman who said she is very happy to let the other one do all the cooking, although she only eats half of what is on her plate because she knows she will pay later with acid reflux if she eats all the forbidden foods (hey, I hear there’s a preventative option for that…in the US they like to take a pill that will then allow them to gorge on all the food their body doesn’t want, to circumvent indigestion, acid reflux, etc.  I guess they never heard of simply not eating those particular foods??).

So there was a happy ending to the cooking show:  the chef instilled a sense of fun in cooking for the one woman, who is now able to express her creative side in the kitchen with colour, and without the rigidness of always measuring – she even was able to use her fingers as tools for preparing her meals (and there is nothing more fun than getting your hands full of spices and herbs…okay, well, there is one thing that comes to mind!).  And now I forgot where I was…oh yeah:  the women were taught by the nutritionist how to deal with their health issues by improving their eating and cooking habits, and they learned not to be afraid of new food items, and that so-called “health foods” or organic items are not necessarily “only for granola-bar types”.  A big part of this show was that the women learned to have fun in the kitchen, and that cooking is a really great place for expressing one’s creative side.

Because I couldn’t wait to get started on my rant, though, I missed finding out what I think was a very important aspect of the show – whether or not they decided to take turns cooking for each other!


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…can you see my head shaking??   I forgot to add the friggin’ salt to my bread!  It’s not even humid today, so I can’t blame it on that.  Honestly!

I try not to use too much salt in cooking, but geez…you actually need it in baking, especially breads – salt is necessary to keep the yeast fermentation from running amok, and it sort of evens out the gluten so you don’t get all those nasty holes in the baked product.  I came across a recipe for “anadama bread”, something I vaguely remember hearing the name of but had never seen a recipe for – it’s apparently an American bread, the origin of which no one seems certain.  The most amusing story about it that I came across was of a Massachusetts fisherman whose wife, Anna, gave him nothing but cornmeal and molasses to eat every day.  One night he became so angry, he tossed the ingredients in with some yeast and flour and made a bread in the oven while muttering to himself, “Anna, damn her!”  Come on…you know you’re smiling! 🙂

Back to my bread:  So I’ve got two loaf pans sitting on the counter, just taking a few more minutes to rise again, and looking pretty darn good if I do say so myself!  Fingers crossed…I’ll know in about 30 minutes.  This is especially ticking me off because I was making it for my sister-in-law, who just had hip replacement surgery, and I wanted to bring her something warm and homey as she recuperates at home.

Here’s the recipe, which I came across at Simply Recipes (http://simplyrecipes.com/recipes/anadama_bread).

1/2 cup cornmeal
2 cups water
1/2 cup molasses
3 tbsp butter (at room temperature)
1 tbsp salt
1/2 cup warm water
1 package active dry yeast
4 1/2 cups bread flour

Note:  I make bread the old-fashioned way, by hand, so don’t know how this would be done with a machine.  I use quick-rise yeast, and the directions for it are:  combine 1/4 cup warm water and 1 tsp sugar in a small bowl.  Add 2 1/4 tsp. yeast (equal to one 8g package); stir to dissolve.  Let sit for 5-10 minutes until mixture thickens and becomes creamy.  Then add to the cornmeal/water/molasses mixture.

To make bread:  In a large bowl add cornmeal and two cups boiled water, stirring constantly to prevent lumps.  Let sit for 30 minutes.

Add molasses, SALT, and butter; stir to combine.  (The warmth from the mixture should be enough to melt the room-temperature butter).  Add the yeast liquid, and mix everything.  Add the flour, one cup at a time, stirring after each addition.  It will become increasingly more difficult to stir the dough with a spoon, so eventually you may just want to use your hands (it’s also very satisfying to get your hands on dough!).

Turn dough out onto a lightly floured board, and knead until smooth and elastic, about 8 minutes.  (Kneading dough by hand is very pleasurable – physically it’s just fun, but it’s also meditative…there is something almost spiritual about it.)  Oil a large bowl and put the dough in it, cover with a dish towel, and let rise until it doubles in size…about an hour.  This is where more fun comes into it:  take your fist, and just let that dough have it…give ‘er!  It’s very satisfying!  Kerpow!  Splat!  Oomph!  Whack!  Whew…okay, it’s good.  Once you’ve calmed down…form the dough into two rectangles, turn the edges under, and place in the pans.  Let this dough rise again, until it’s peeking over the top of the pans about 1″…again, in about 1 hour.

Bake at 375 for 30 minutes or until the crust, when tapped with your knuckles, makes a hollow sound.

POST-BAKING RESULTS:  It’s surprisingly good!  A nice subtle molasses-y taste, albeit a tad bland, but nothing butter or homemade jam couldn’t cure…hmmm…jam making tomorrow?  The bread itself is a bit dense, owing to the cornmeal, so it’s not as tall as I would have liked, but the texture is beautiful – even, cooked perfectly, and there are no holes.  I think it’s good enough to give away…phew!

Pass the salt, please. 🙂

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