Glowing, radiant health is the new black. Our Green Table is serving it up, for the whole body! Healthy recipes and tips, the latest on eco-friendly food and "skin food"products and a head's up on ingredient safety are all woven into family-centered stories and discoveries. Bring informed, aware and empowered looks good on everyone!

Abrazos! xox Penny

Thursday, April 30, 2009

This one's for "The Sisters"!

You'd think, the way I have gushed about Stuart Little for two posts, that he was the "only" one. Our kids say I am guilty of favoritism and I guess I least that's what is evident here in writing anyway. However...we do have two other sweeties, Annie, a black and white rat terrier who channels Audrey Hepburn, and Lilly, a curly haired Cairn-ish terrier with "natural red highlights" that make me envious. They are high energy cuties who like Stuart, just happened into our lives and luckily have stayed. They are mostly outdoors during the day and now, because they have calmed down a little (oh, those terriers!), they are coming in the house earlier at night and have become the resident lounge lizards on our couch. We call them "The Sisters".

Lucky for them, The Sisters' domain is the backyard. That is prime property...yes, without a couch but definitely with its own perks. The barbecue grill is there. They are oh-so-happy to see me yank out the charcoal and light up the grill. That means food is coming their way first...little droplets of tasty fat, morsels of meat or fish that fall off the grate or that I happen to flip with too much energy, even roasted veggies that slip off the skewers. All good, all theirs. And, all goes to the quickest to dive under the grill and scarf it up. Let Stuart have the house; they have the eats! They are on high alert throughout the grilling process, which is a good thing. Their attention spans (Lilly's is a little shorter) work as well as a timer or meat thermometer. They know when things are done.
A girl (or two) can only wait so long for dinner.

Despite lots of rain around here, I fired up the 'barbe a couple of weeks ago and started cooking out. I always have to remind myself that as a trained nutritionist, I am supposed to know and do better. Try as I may, I always want to sneak a little bite of roasted, charred fat and one bite leads to another. Oh, the flavor! Oh, the crisp! Oh, just one or three bites won't hurt, right? But, I grill out a lot for about 6-7 months of the year and so, to be safe, I do the following:

1. Marinate everything in an acid-based marinade (I often use a combo of marinade, dry rub and basting sauce)
2. Don't let things catch fire (don't laugh)
3. If they do, cut or scrape off and don't eat charred area, especially fat
4. Sear quickly over direct coals for "effect" and to seal in juices
5. Finish over indirect heat in back section of grill

Here is a basic marinade I use for everything...veggies, fish, chicken and even tofu. It is the Little Black Dress of my sauces and yes, The Sisters love it.

"The Sisters"Little Black Dress Lemon Marinade

Zest of one lemon
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/3 cup fruity olive oil
1/4 teaspoon Kosher or sea salt
1/2 teaspoon fresh black pepper
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary

In a glass jar, mix lemon zest, lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper. Shake to dissolve salt. Add garlic and rosemary and taste and adjust flavors. Add more garlic or use other herbs instead of rosemary. Try basil, lavendar, lemon mint or thyme, oregano. Play with this and dress it up or down. Makes about 1/2 cup. Marinate foods for at least 30 minutes up to two hours. Also, marinate overnight if that works better for you!

Holy 'Mole, I loved living in Mexico!

We lived in Mexico when our kiddos were little, really little. Our daughter was only a year old and our son, just four. We moved there young, I'll tell you, and for the most part, young worked. Otherwise, we couldn't have survived it all with such great memories intact! While we waited some nine months(Phew...that got old!) for our belongings to pass through customs, which included our daughter's crib and son's bed, our bed, all our baby things and toys, dishes, clothes, you name it...we had some great adventures and discovered a way of living that has stuck with me since.

The first discovery involves people. I love 'em and find a friendly face most everywhere. As a teen, I lived for about four months in Colombia and got a taste of how warm and welcoming people can be. Living in Mexico for as long as we did took that one step further. Blunders with language and customs aside, and I made many, you can cut through to a person's heart pretty quickly and most are good. I met delightful people there from all over the world.

The second thing I discovered was how to live and shop "in the moment". Perhaps things have changed a lot a since we lived there ( I am not talking about what's on the news recently...we sure had some big worries living there, too) but when we did, the "grocery" store was nothing more than a small bodega for mainly canned chiles, rice and beans, boxed milk, jars of crema de cacahuete and cajeta, an addictive goat's milk spread which alone was worth the trip to Mexico. Everything else was fresh...from a stand, stall, cart or corner shop. There were bakeries for bread, rolls and dulces, stalls where the tortillas were stacked fresh and warm, just waiting to be slathered with sweet butter and a sprinkle of sal. Carts passed by our house some filled with fruits and veggies, others with gorgeous whole fish like huachinango glistening on the ice. A weekly "farmers market" was over on the next street, too, and so every day, I went "hunting" for dinner. It was "fresh or else"...or actually, "fresh or not at all!"

In addition to finding fabulous people, I also found fabulous food, every day, and we ate well and stayed healthy. And, we cultivated some food of our own, I mentioned in an earlier post, we also had two chickens there, Georgie and Roadrunner. We "inherited" them from a family that was moving back to Denmark and those sweet birds were a highlight of our stay there. I have also mentioned that I became "hooked" on Mexico's coffee. Our kiddos used to put on plays starring The Coffee Mother. Guess who that was?! One of my other food obsessions (mmm..there were many!) was avocadoes. Love 'em and got hooked on their buttery deliciousness. To this day, I have several a week. Usually they don't last long enough to make guacamole, but when they do, here is the recipe I use.

Lean and Clean Guacamole

3 very ripe avocadoes
1/2 red onion, minced
juice of one whole lime
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 teaspoon sea salt and some fresh black pepper
1 tablespoon fresh chopped cilantro
dash of cumin

Cut avocadoes in half and discard pits. Scoop flesh into bowl and break up into chunks. Add rest of ingredients. Taste and adjust seasonings. Serves 2-3.

And here is a recipe for homemade tortillas.

Soft Corn Tortillas
1 egg
1 cup milk
1/2 cup good, fresh masa harina
1 heaping tablespoon flour of choice (buckwheat flour is good here)
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
Let stand for 1 hour and then cook like you would a crepe. Use a 6 inch cast-iron crepe pan, heat and add small amount of butter. When it sizzles, add a scoop (about 2 tablespoons) of batter. Shake pan to distribute batter evenly and cook over medium heat for about one minute or until surface of the tortilla dulls. Lift corner to see if underside has browned and then flip and finish cooking, about 30 seconds.

Let cool slightly then add some guacamole, cheese, whatever you choose and devour! Or, do as we did and eat warm with sweet butter and a pinch of salt.

And, here is a wonderful Margarita from NYC's fabulous Blue Smoke!

Blood Orange Margarita Recipe from Blue Smoke, via New York Magazine, March 29, 2009

FOR THE BLOOD-ORANGE PURÉE:4 blood oranges, peeled, segmented, and seeded, 1 tablespoon simple syrup (combine an even ratio of sugar and water in a bottle and shake until sugar is dissolved) 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

FOR THE MARGARITA: 1 lime wedge and coarse salt for rim, Ice, 2 ounces puro blanco tequila, 1 1/2 ounces fresh lime juice (approximately 21/2 limes), 3/4 ounce orange liqueur, 1/2 ounce simple syrup, 3/4 ounce blood-orange purée, 1 lime wheel (optional), 1 blood-orange wheel (optional)

FOR THE BLOOD-ORANGE PURÉE: In a blender, combine the orange segments, simple syrup, and lemon juice and purée until smooth. (Cover tightly and refrigerate until ready to use; the purée will keep for up to two days.) FOR THE MARGARITA: Moisten the edge of a rocks glass with a ¼-inch wedge of lime. Sprinkle a good amount of salt on a plate and press the outside rim of the glass into the salt. Chill glass in freezer for a few minutes. Fill cocktail shaker and glass with ice. Add the tequila, lime juice, orange liqueur, simple syrup, and blood-orange purée to the shaker and (1) shake vigorously. (2) Strain into glass and (3) garnish with orange and lime wheels!

Monday, April 27, 2009

Ripleys Believe It or Not: Not for decoration only?

Steve and Sam live in the house just up the bluff from my parents' house and they come out on weekends to relax and cook. One Saturday night, they invited my mom and me over. Mom chose to stay home, but I counted the minutes until seven and dashed over there, so excited. I was as eager to get to know them better as I was hungry for an evening out with fellow "foodies" and for a taste of how they cooked. We had bantered lots about food before and they had shared their favorite haunts for local foods. I could hardly wait to see what they were serving up.

Their home is unique...very open, with a modern feel but at the same time, very cozy and personal. They collect wonderful posters and cameras and have they those displayed throughout the first floor along with quite an assortment of beautiful orchids. (Yes, I kept my black thumb under wraps!) The real eye treat for me was the kitchen and its open shelving.On long shelves that covered the whole back wall, they had glistening displays of green Jadite and Fiestaware dishes that would make Martha Stewart drool. There were jars of spices and beans, pastas and grains, bottles of waters, oils and vinegars and canned tomatoes with the most beautiful label I have ever seen. Everything looked so pretty but there was no doubt that all this was working inventory, not just decor.

The evening started off fresh and fabulous and stayed that way through dessert. They served simple, well-seasoned, beautiful food. For hors d'oeuvres there were roasted nuts and fresh sliced mushrooms. Dinner was mouthwatering, pan sauteed salmon and a gingered mashed sweet potato dish. The salad course came next and was a knockout...simple greens splashed with just fruity olive oil and a lemony Turkish vinegar. Fabulous! Dessert of simple, dark chocolate squares and star anise tea was my idea of a feast in itself.

This entry is titled Ripleys Believe it or Not and while the food was wonderful, the following story is the raison d'etre. It was hilarious the way Steve told it and I have changed his name to protect the employed! Steve is an interior designer and has done many a kitchen. Kitchens are usually the first rooms (and the most expensive!) to get a makeover. Are they a playhouse for home cooks or just for decoration only? Well, listen to this...

One night, around midnight, Steve gets a call from a client who is hysterical. He needs a new oven and he needs it by morning. Now, in other words. Never mind that it is midnight and the weekend to boot. Confused, Steve replied that how could that be..the oven is barely a year old and given its top-of-the-line status, surely it would be better to call out a serviceman, call the company, do something other than rip it out and totally replace it? The client, a new one is what he needs, period, and it needs to be ready by the time his houseguests get up. Steve senses a twist to the story and asks about the houseguests. Why yes, the client responds, getting a bit agitated because the clock is ticking away towards dawn. Yes, he went on, one of them turned the *** oven on and the firemen just left. They said whatever was in that plastic bag in the middle of the oven burnt up and melted everywhere. Long story funny, the never-cooking, never-looking client had never even opened the door of the oven (in a year) to pull out the plastic-wrapped instruction packet, much less to turn the oven on and use it. Maybe you had to be there but I laughed 'til my sides hurt. "For decorative use only" should be the tag on that work order and better order up the other replacements for that kitchen, too...just in case!

Here is a sweet potato dish similar to what they served, mashed and finished in the oven. No instruction books allowed!

Ginger Mashed Sweet Potatoes
2 1/2 pounds orange-fleshed sweet potatoes, baked until soft to yield 3 cups mashed
1/3 cup coconut milk (I use Thai Kitchen)
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
1 tablesoon grated fresh orange rind (optional)
1 tablespoon maple syrup or dark agave nectar
1/2 teaspoon fine-grain sea salt
1/3 cup raw, unsweetened grated coconut
2 tablespoons olive oil or melted butter
1/3 cup toasted macadamia nuts, chopped, optional

In a large bowl mash the sweet potatoes with the coconut milk. You can use a blender or food processor to get them really smooth. Stir in the ginger, maple syrup or agave nectar and sea salt. Let it sit for a few minutes, stir again and taste - adjust the seasoning if you need to, making sure that the ginger flavor is prominent.

Spoon the sweet potato mixture into an oiled baking dish and sprinkle with coconut, drizzle with olive oil and bake uncovered until warm and the coconut is golden, roughly 30 - 40 minutes in a 350 oven. Remove and sprinkle with the toasted macadamia nuts. Serves 6.

You can play around with this recipe, making it even more tropical in flavor by adding in orange juice or extra grated rind and pineapple pieces. You can also omit the grated coconut.

To make the Star Anise Tea...just place 3 star anise in boiling water and let steep for a few minutes, then remove and sip. Soooo relaxing! There is a picture of the star anise in the photo with the mashed sweet potatoes.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Breakfast anytime...hopefully not before noon

Had they ever met, Stuart Little and my dad would not have been on the same page. Or, at least not until late afternoon when they both “take a dive” and enjoy a good nap. I could see a chance for possible camaraderie there. Otherwise, Stuart, the perennial early riser and my dad, “morning is over-rated”, would have been incompatible bedfellows. However, there is one thing they would have agreed on, other than the nap, and that was a good egg for breakfast. My dad loved eggs…not fancied with sauces and fluff, but a good scrambled, over-easy or poached egg. Stuart Little agrees. Basic, simply cooked eggs belong right up there with the best of the best. Dad had designated “egg days” and woe be to anyone who violated them with thoughts of cereal, pancakes and yes, even my magic protein shake (If Our Green Table Could Talk entry). Egg Days were sacred and not to be passed over or violated with substitutions. Period. My parents have an extra fridge in their basement and that is where dad’s treasure trove of eggs “lived”. Religiously, every Tuesday night and Friday night, he would take inventory in the upstairs fridge and replenish the stock so that Egg Days on Wednesday and Saturday could “fall into place rather nicely.”

Simply cooked eggs need two simple components to be at their best: freshness and gentle treatment. Use old eggs and the whites are watery and the yolks, flat. Tough it up cooking an egg and you are one step away from rubber. Springtime has lovely eggs and you can find them easily now directly from farmers or from a market that knows local egg farmers! Make sure they raise their hens as nature intended: eating grass, grubs and bugs and enjoying plenty of fresh air, sunshine and clean water. (As a side note, when our children were little and we were living in Mexico, we had two Rhode Island Red hens, "Georgie" and "Road Runner", and later when we moved back to the U.S., we got two more hens and two ducks to boot. What a hoot they were and the eggs, oh my…I can still taste them! I heartily recommend having your own chicks if you can!!)

FUN!!! Right as I am writing this, our neighbors are coming over for a glass of wine and guess what they brought…6 beautiful home-grown eggs, 5 brown and 1 gorgeous green! They keep four hens in their backyard and feed them with their yard’s bounty of grass-y, worm-y things and add in some extra kale and yogurt for zip. The eggs are amazing...plump, deep orange-yellow yolks that sit up at least a mile high (well, slight exaggeration!), but they do tower over the firm, thick whites. They smell so great, too...almost "fragrant" and the taste is like spring itself...fresh, fresh, fresh.

Here is a recipe for simple, perfect-every-time scrambled eggs. All you need for extras are thick slices of toast with sweet butter and a little local honey and then another spring treat...fresh local strawberries.

Simply Scrambled Eggs (This recipe is adapted from Julia Child...really hard to top! I understand that baseball legend Ted Williams always made his famous scrambled eggs this way too...slow and easy does it!)

4 fresh eggs
sea salt and fresh black pepper
1 tablespoon sweet butter
1 tablespoon heavy cream (optional)

Break eggs into a bowl and beat just to blend whites and yolks. Season with sea salt and black pepper (The only change I make to this recipe is that I add salt and pepper at the end.) Heat a skillet over low heat and add butter. Heat until melted and then add all but 2 tablespoons of the beaten eggs. Slowly and gently scrape the egg mixture from the outside and bottom of the pan towards the center. Use a wooden spoon or spatula. It will take a minute or two until the eggs start to set. DON'T RUSH things by turning up the heat. After about 3 minutes more, the eggs will be like lumpy custard. Cook a little longer if you like a "drier" scrambled egg. Fold in last 2 tablespoons of raw egg, cook a minute or two until set and then season to taste with sea salt and black pepper. If you want, you can fold in additional sweet butter, the tablespoon of heavy cream or some herbs. Dill and chives are nice and still basic and shouldn't cause a veto! Serves 2-3.

Next entry, I will share the new goat cheese and crackers I found that we ate over talk of chickens, eggs and backyard gardens. Oh, and I have to tell you next about the dinner at Sam and Ed's (names changed to protect the employed)! Beyond fun!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

If our green table could talk...

If our green table could talk, I might have to clean up my mornings a bit. I consider myself "sort of" a morning person, but that does depend on the morning and on Stuart Little. He is our little chihuahua, actually, our medium chihuahua (Stuart Medium is a more fitting name for him...all 11 plus pounds!). We found him as a 6 month old stray. He was stranded, terrified and huddled under a holly bush eating a bag of cheese crackers when we saw him out of the corner of our eyes. Lucky for all of us. His holly bush refuge was about 10 feet from a dangerous interstate exit ramp and we were in danger of staying broken-hearted over the loss of our precious Corgi mix, Teddy...the last of the wonderful menagerie of pups that grew up with our children. Anyway, once we rescued each other, Stuart Little nestled into our lives quickly and now sleeps cuddled up on our bed every night. Most nights, all is well and everyone is happy. Some nights, not. He can be restless, toss, flip and burrow as chihuahuas love to do and he can be an early riser. That's where our green table comes in. Like I said in the very first entry, Setting the Table, that green table knows all our stories!!!

Usually the first sight our green table sees every morning is Stuart under one of our arms on his way outside. When I am the carrier, the next sight is me trying to gain some way to cope with the early hour. Up until a couple of years ago, I "brewed" my coping skills in a coffee pot and siphoned off the first cup as the rest of the pot brewed away. Heaven help anyone who got to that first cup before I did!!! Grrr is right! Having lived in Mexico and Colombia, I grew up on coffee, good coffee, strong coffee and could down java with the best of them. That first cup ( I swear it is stronger than the others) was the jolt I depended on. About two years ago, I started doing something new and I think our green table would agree. My morning person polls are up.

Now, stumbling or not, the first thing I do is have a glass of cold, I mean cold, water dressed up with a splash of 1/4 of a lemon or lime. That really wakes me up and resets my metabolism. Lemons and limes are very healing. Next, I blend up my magic protein shake. So magic in fact that Stuart Little has gotten in on the last drops in the blender. They are his or else!

Here is what I see has happened to my health. I have a handle on caffeine. Now I share the first of the morning brew better (ha!) and only drink about 2 cups of coffee total. I have boosted my immune system so much so that in the past two years despite huge stress and sorrow from sick and dying parents, umpteen plane trips (two that lasted 18 hours!), living out of a suitcase for weeks and even months, traveling to India where I ate every delicious morsel I could, and juggling lots of other demands, I have held off colds and the flu and strep throat. Amazing. I usually spend most winters fighting off respiratory bugs and cough my way to late spring.

And so, now I encourage everyone to shake up their day, if not mornings, with a kefir/whey combo. In additon to being delicious, this protein shake makes perfect nutritional sense. Your immune system needs good bacteria to flourish so that the good bacteria can fight off the bad. Kefir and whey work together to stimulate the growth of good bacteria and strengthen the immune system against infections and viruses. They are a great match. Your digestive tract will love it. Even if you do not tolerate milk well, give it a try. Here is the recipe I use. If you want a terrific source for clean, safe whey, let me know...I have it delivered wherever I am!

Magic Protein Shake

2-3 ice cubes
7 ounces total liquid (I mix kefir and water, sometimes adding in pomegranate juice)
1-2 scoops organic vanilla whey protein
1 scoop "greens" powder or a handful of greens, destemmed
2 tablespoons frozen blueberries and 1/2 frozen banana if I have it
Dash of cinnamom or slice of raw ginger

Blend the ice and frozen fruits and "greens" powder until slushy, adding in a little water or juice. Add kefir and whey powder and spices and blend for only about 10 seconds or until just blended in. Make sure ingredients are well mixed but do not overblend. I like mine thick but you may want more liquid. Makes 1 serving.

As a sweet note, my dad, the ultimate Non-Morning person but consummate Green Thumb, sent me home with a suitcase full of lily of the valley plants a couple of summers ago. I dutifully gloved my black thumb and planted them. They looked really pitiful for years. This year, they are blooming profusely... and I have 6 gorgeous, fragrant blooms! Go Dad!!! I still reach for the phone to call him with news.

Coming next, more breakfast!

FUN with new friends!

I had a great time last night with some new friends. Invited to speak on how to live better with gluten intolerance and Celiac Disease, I had a couple of goals in mind...for myself as well as my new friends: keep it simple and keep it fun. Over the weekend, I was in the grocery check out line ahead of a woman who was buying an $8 bottle of gluten-free, high fructose corn syrup- free salad dressing. Can you imagine? Eight dollars!!!!!! Oh, I felt like she was being totally taken advantage of and yes, ripped off. Most bottled salad dressings start off with inferior ingredients, especially oils, anyway. That experience came on the heels of a call from a gal who wanted her little daughter to have fun at her own birthday party. All year long, she had been excluded from birthday party fun because of her gluten-free needs. As a little girl myself, I remember those parties well. I was allergic to cow's milk, eggs and chocolate and so while my pals were gobbling down birthday cake in the dining room, I sat in their kitchen with some cardboard tasting substitute and listened to all the giggling and glee others were having as they ate their yummy tasting cake. I felt her pain as a mom and as a little girl and can't wait to help them throw a beautiful party where everyone can have her cake and eat it, too!! I have learned lots from a gluten-free baker and can't wait to share what I have learned. Hope to have samples to nibble on soon!

Back to last night...spring is here and greens and all kinds of fresh veggies are popping up everywhere, in farmers markets, in the grocery store and even in backyards. Because they are so essential to healing, I throw veggies, herbs and spices in wherever I can, even in my morning shake. I wanted to serve up the grain quinoa last night. It is a fabulous grain, quick cooking and nutrient dense and well-tolerated by nearly all. As life would have it, the recipe for the salad I wanted to make had lots of things I didn't have in the fridge and so I played around with what I had. Because it had so many shades of green in it and because this week celebrates Earth Day, I am calling it Earth Day Quinoa Salad!

Earth Day Quinoa Salad

1/4 cup fresh lime juice
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
1/4 teaspoon fresh black pepper
1/4 minced jalapeno peppers (marinated)
1/4 teaspoon sea or kosher salt
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
Mix all together in a glass jar. Give it a good shake to mix thoroughly.
3 cups water
1 1/2 cups quinoa
1/4 cup sliced green onions
1/4 cup minced fresh cilantro
1/4 cup minced fresh mint
1/4 cup diced fresh carrots
1/2 cup blanched fresh asparagus
1/2 cup blanched broccoli

To prepare quinoa, wash first and drain well. Then place in saucepan with water, bring to a boil, reduce heat to simmer and let cook, uncovered, for about 10-15 minutes. When done (you will see the little curlicues spiral up off the grain), drain off any excess water, fluff quinoa with a fork and let cool. To blanch asparagus and broccoli, wash well to remove any sand and drop into boiling water for 1-2 minutes. remove and plunge into a bowl of ice water. Drain well.

To assemble salad, add veggies to quinoa and mix well. Add vinaigrette to taste. Then, taste and add any extra sea salt or pepper or additional mint or cilantro. Serves 6.

We ended the evening with "shots" of agave nectar and they were a nice finishing touch for the salad! Ha...gotta have fun, right? Cheers!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Hook, line and sinker

I could write a book about my experiences over the past 18 months…I really could. But, instead, I am going to write about here on this blog. How “modern”, right? These past months have done more to shape and redefine my life than I realized. I have morphed from being daughter, sister, wife, mom, friend, caretaker, Girl Friday, family advocate, estate executor at dizzying rates, sometimes with all roles colliding in the same moment and me, the “individual” sandwiched so thinly between all these layers that I felt like a pressed panini. Every emotion previously known to me and then some new ones surfaced. From deep joy to deep fear to deep grief, all the gang’s been here, either in my heart or head. I felt my own stress balloon and my so-far, so-good health start to roll off my back like a droplets of rain…not in a torrent of a hard shower but in a steady drip of a slow drizzle. Forever the optimist, I know that easier times are coming, but I have to get to that new place whole and healthy and bring along the “good” with the “bad”. My life’s passion is food and all that has gone on over the past year and a half (and yes, all that is to come!) will have some roots in food and nourishment! In my mind, at least. And so, here I go…

Hook, line and sinker…I made every mistake in the book this week and broke all my own “rules”. What did I do? I went to the grocery store hungry, rushed and desperate. What did I see? Everything that looked “convenient”. I nearly lost my senses, really. You see, I had just gotten home from being gone for over 5 weeks. My dad died very suddenly on February 27…just after I had come home from being with him for a month. He had lung cancer but died from a fall. We did not rehearse that scenario. Right before I left him in early February, his oncologist said he had between four and six months left and that is what I had written in my day planner. Not in ink mind you, but I left him thinking I would see him again. When I got the call from my mom at 5 a.m., I was deeply stunned as well as deeply saddened. In two hours, I was on an airplane headed back to my parents’ home with little more than two changes of clothes, both brown and drab. Maybe I absorbed the vibes from those colors and wearing them non-stop for five weeks helped muddy my judgment, too! From early morning until collapsing in bed at night, I sometimes sat, but never stopped. I felt “funny”…stress and the huge shift in how I was eating talking back, no doubt. But, I am getting ahead of myself.

Right after my dad died, neighbors and friends fed us with all kinds of casseroles and sweets. I am not particularly fond of casseroles. Most are too salty and too starchy for me but when cooked with love and delivered with kindness, they are irresistible. Even knowing that mainlining carbohydrates never feels good to me, I gobbled and re-gobbled, to keep my weight and energy up. I rationalized that at my age, weight doesn’t come off anywhere else but my face anyway! I have a big sweet tooth which needs little encouragement. It was in its glory with all the cookies, muffins, cakes and pies and I nursed each indulgence with an aspirin for my almost daily “carb” headache.

When I got home, all I could think of food-wise was fish and salad. The irony of it all is that my parents live in a fishing village. My mom does not like fish and so there you have it. When the casseroles stopped, we ate Stouffer’s Mac and Cheese and Welch Rarebit instead. These are her comfort foods and they did work for her. She has been making meals from Stouffer’s entrees for years. My mom’s favorite recipe is to make a casserole from a frozen mac and cheese casserole entrée. Phew. Can you imagine? Overload. It is amazing and frightening how chemicals can make a non-cheese entrée taste cheese-like. Anyway, all I wanted to eat for my first dinner home was fish. I figured it would also be appealing to my husband who, when left on his own, eats whatever his heart desires, but more on that later!!

So, not even waiting to unpack, I headed to the grocery store for my catch of the day. The seafood case was not exactly brimming with fish and most were “previously frozen”. When I am my usual self, I steer clear of anything but “fresh” and “wild” fish. However, there in the case, with a jaunty lemon cup perched among the plump fillets, was wild halibut…one of my all time favorites. I glibly ignored the “previously frozen” label. I thought to myself…how bad can it be? The color did seem a little off and the flesh did not glisten, but it smelled fresh, meaning that it didn’t smell at all. I got the fillets home and roasted them with some fresh herbs. Oh, my goodness…what a difference in texture. It flaked alright but the flakes were almost tough and rubbery, not silky like fresh halibut. The flesh looked grayish instead of the classic bright white. It tasted good enough but a little puny, not sweet and clean like fresh halibut does. Because I was desperate and by now, my husband was hungry, it was edible but I will not be making that mistake anytime soon! The sauce I used was a big hit and here it is. We had it the next morning with our eggs and then again over veggies. Yummy…a lifesaver!

Improvised Salsa Verde

2 tablespoons sherry wine vinegar
Fine sea salt
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
Small handful of mixed greens and herbs (spinach, mint and fresh dill) all destemmed)*
6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons capers

In a small bowl, whisk together vinegar, salt and mustard. Pour into a blender and add in greens, herbs, olive oil and capers. Blend until smooth. Taste for seasonings and serve over fish. The leftover sauce will still be delicious for about 2 days, stored in the fridge. To serve it again, bring it to room temperature and stir to mix. Sauce recipe makes about 1 cup.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Setting the Table

I have a green table that sits in the middle of my kitchen. No telling how old it is. It has been in many other homes, I suspect, before mine. The legs are sturdy and graceful, but the “toes” are stubbed and worn. There is part of the table that forms a brace joining the legs. It is a great perch for baskets and dogs’ paws. The surface of the table unfolds like a puzzle and goes from small to large with a wiggle of a couple of pieces of wood hidden underneath the main tabletop. The man I bought it from said it came from Hungary. I love the color, or colors of green, that pop through. Starting with emerald through to lime, there are many shades until, in small patches, the bare wood softly peeks out. The colors of green remind me to choose well and responsibly. I love this table, the food that goes on it, the chairs, elbows and paws that pull up and rest there. It is the heart of my kitchen and reminds me daily of family, of savory recipes and delicious conversations. It is the centerpiece for not only our food, but for our stories. As a nutritionist trained in science, that table roots me to the simple joys and art of cooking and eating with family and friends.

Today, I have a big bunch of fresh red radishes smack in the middle of the table. Looks a little holiday-ish for April! I am just going to dig into those...sliced thin with a little sea salt and sugar. Simple,delicious and sweet.