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Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Don't Dump on me

Like the weather, my mood has turned from hot and sunny to a bit cool and overcast. It's nothing really, kinda like a round of PMS mixed with the usual low grade downers that follow an unusually high period of feeling SUPER great. It could be from not having gotten enough sleep, not getting to the gym for a workout, and feeling rotten about that, as well as from the usual work stresses. Liz and I have both been too busy with our jobs and with visitors, so we haven't had much down time to spend together.
Tempers and temperatures have been fluctuating in Philadelphia adding to my blah mood tonight. That and the Phillies lost the game I attended tonight against the Washington Nationals. I stayed until the end hoping they might pull out a 9th inning rally like they did the previous two nights. Fat Chance! It was chilly and windy up in section 327, and by the 9th inning, most of the folks in my section had retreated to warmer locales. Funny thing is, the past few games I have left early only to find that the Phillies pulled off nearly impossible come from behind wins. The team has played awesome offence, hitting major league home runs and batting around all the players in late innings with one or two outs on the board. We hoped for one of those miracle evenings when something stupendous would appear before our eyes out in yonder field o'dreams. The best I can say about tonight's game was the couple of bucks I found on the ground inside the ballpark as we were walking to find the escalator up to our section. Made attending the game kinda sweet. Finding valuables or cash can do a lot to make up for a not so swell day.


As for my mood, I had a real moment today of wondering when my attempts at being more mindful would really work. It's a much more difficult process to learn to listen, pay attention and be respectful of a person's needs. My brain wants to explode sometimes from the pressure of learning. I heard my co-worker say a phrase today, "Itchy Brain". I missed the context of her saying this term, but I took it to mean that your mind is growing and expanding rapidly with ideas, thoughts and new information so quickly that you cannot contain the physical sensations that come along with it. Perhaps it also refers to the head scratching thoughtfulness or worry one does when you are thinking hard. Google the term and you can find a few sights that refer to "Itchy Brain" in terms of anxiety and depression. This fits in perfectly too with my mood swings, though today's head scratcher was more about being self-aware and falling into old, self-destructive patterns. Getting defensive and then wanting to be dismissive as well as wanting to flee. Wisely, I didn't follow the same old path I've taken before - a moment of mending the monkey mind? It's so hard to break free of my habits of wanting to walk away and ignore a problem or to become hostile and argumentative. The old behavior of not knowing how to keep the old pie hole shut tight. Add in a dash of shameful thoughts that know one will like me if they really got to know me and my head is filled with a toxic mixture of an anger and depression cocktail. What I finally recently discovered is that a lot of people do know me well, and that for the most part, I am consistently the same person every day. I get so worried about other people's perceptions that I forget to see the other side of things: sometimes you disagree and your relationship remains the same. Sometimes the other party disappoints or admiration is knocked down a notch but it's not just me who has fallen out of grace. The old tapes that play on a nagging loop in my head are are hard to quiet. When you grow up hearing a voice telling you that you aren't so great and that if only "they only knew what you were really like, no one would like you" it can be a difficult to silence change and silence that station's channel. WFUM - The F'd Up Mind station, brought to you in stereo! Now available in HD Radio.
Find me the remote, I need to tune into something more soothing and serene please.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Summer Whole Wheat Pasta Salad

You always need a pasta salad recipe. It's one of those recipe ideas that changes each time you make it, using what you have on hand, and allowing it to be as big or small as you need - it tends to grow before your eyes! I pulled this pasta salad together quickly for lunch on Sunday, with little effort and using only a handful of ingredients. It's perfect for summer, it's light, low-fat, has a ton of veggies, and more importantly can be eaten cold! Switch out some of your junk in favor of lighter healthier fare, no one will know the difference and you can save yourself some points, calories and gram-o-fat! This recipe is kind of informal - increase or decrease the quantities as needed. I made do with what I had in the kitchen, grabbing a handful of this and a can of that. It's better if you use fresh vegetables and a homemade salad dressing, but you can take some short cuts and use a good bag of frozen veggies; a decent low calorie or fat free salad dressing, and a few canned products like - olives, capers, artichoke hearts, beans, and sundried tomatoes (not soaked in oil). You can also use fresh or dried herbs - if using fresh, you can use a lot more; dried herbs are much more intensely flavored than the fresh counterparts.

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 Pound Uncooked Whole Wheat Rotini
  • 1/2 Cup String Beans - blanched and cut into 1 inch pieces
  • 2 medium carrots - peeled and small dice - blanched
  • 1/2 red bell pepper - seeded and small dice
  • 2 medium celery stalks - small dice
  • 1 - 14 to 16 ounce can small or medium pitted black olives - drained
  • 1 14- 16 ounce can cecci beans (garbanzo or chick peas) - drained and rinsed
  • 1/2 Cup Loosely Packed Fresh Flat Leaf or Italian Parsley - roughly chopped
For Dressing:
  • 1/4 teaspoon each of the following dried herbs and spices: Parsley, Thyme, Basil; Garlic Powder, Onion Powder or Dried Minced Onions
  • 1/2 teaspoon Freshly Ground Black Pepper
  • 1 teaspoon Salt - Sea Salt or Kosher Salt
  • 1 teaspoon Sugar
  • 1 Tablespoon Dijon Mustard
  • 1 Cup Rice Vinegar
  • 1/4 Cup Red or White Wine Vinegar
  • 1/3 Cup Olive Oil

Dressing Directions:
  1. In a large measuring cup or mixing bowl, combine the dried herbs and spices - herbs through the sugar. Whisk to combine.
  2. Mix in the prepared Dijon Mustard. Pour in the rice vinegar and red/white wine vinegar. Slowly drizzle in the olive oil while continuously whisking to incorporate and emulsify.
  3. Taste and adjust seasonings as needed. If the dressing is too acidic, add in a bit more olive oil. If the dressing is too thin and watery, and you want to watch the oil content, whisk in more Dijon Mustard and another pinch of salt, pepper and sugar. Set dressing aside. The salad dressing will hold, refrigerated for up to 2 weeks in a tightly covered container.

Directions:
  1. Bring a large pot of water to a rapid boil. When the water reaches a boil, add in 2 tablespoons of salt and the dried pasta. Cook the pasta until al dente - about 12 minutes or according to package directions. When the pasta is cooked through use a slotted spoon or fine mesh strainer ladle and remove the pasta from the hot water, but retain the water to blanch the vegetables. Drain, rinse and cool the pasta. Set aside in a large mixing/serving bowl.
  2. Prepare the vegetables. Use the pasta cooking water to blanch and cook the string beans until they are crisp tender - about 6 minutes. Drain, rinse and cool and add the cooked string beans to the cooked pasta.
  3. Blanche the carrots until they are tender - about 4 minutes. Drain, rinse and cook the carrots and add them to the cooked pasta.
  4. Dice the celery and peppers, adding them to the cooked pasta.
  5. Add in the olives and cecci beans.
  6. If serving later, such as the next day, cover and refrigerate the pasta salad, undressed at this point. Otherwise, mix together the salad dressing and pour it over the pasta salad. Toss to combine thoroughly. Refrigerate until ready to serve. Pasta salad can be served and enjoyed cold or at room temperature. Makes 8 sides servings.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Life the City - Touring and Triathlon Training

We are entering into that gorgeous time of year in Philadelphia when the trees and flowers have bloomed, the skies are clear and the temperatures are above 70. Though the last two days have been unseasonably warm, nearer to the upper 80's than is normal for late April. Rittenhouse Square looked like the Jersey Shore today, there were so many people laying out sunbathing, playing Frisbee and jamming on instruments.
I was out biking and running and inside swimming all weekend. I felt like I was doing a mini-triathlon spread out over the course of two days. Friday after work I rode 25 miles round trip, with Susan Hill, up West River Drive and into the Wissahickon Trail to Valley Green. It was a wiser ride to do, riding along the side of the river that is less crowded and into Forbidden drive at a less inhabited hour. The ride into Valley Green isn't easy on a road bike with skinny tires. I felt every pebble in my mid-section and bottom. Small painful price to pay for a bit of freedom from joggers, Rollerblades and baby strollers crowded the path on Kelly Drive.
Saturday I went to a run clinic along the Wissahickon Trail in Chestnut Hill with the Danskin SheRox Tri mentors and participants. It was the first of the season's training clinics. I had the chance to meet a fellow Tri-Gal, Ellen, a woman who happens to live near me, and is a first time participant. My SheRox Tri mentor, is surprisingly and funnily enough, a woman named Sue. Seems like so many of my athletic partners are Sue's. If you want to be in our work-out gang of Hearty Girls, you need to be a Sue. I'm Sous Chef. The lady I met this weekend is not a Sue, but she said we could call her Sue-Ellen! The run clinic was fantastic. It was a basic get out and run at your own pace event, with a question and answer session after. Having one tri under my belt, and having continued my training in between the seasons, I could appreciate the work I've done and the things I've learned in the past year, about tri's, exercise and the importance of finding your athletic rhythm and ability. Ellen and I ran a slow and steady pace for 20 minutes through the Valley Green Wissahickon trail. Then we turned around, as designated and ran back to the start. I think we ran about 3 miles, maybe a bit more, for a total of 40 minutes. I felt great! Towards the end, I picked up my pace. I could talk some while running, so I wasn't to exerted. It was so wonderful to see what the indoor running has helped me do for an outdoor run. Running is fun! And it's cheap. I still love the biking, but I'm starting to see that running is addictive and I like it.
After the run clinic, I was home by 10:30 am. Ate breakfast, did some errands and went to the bike shop and bought spandex biking shorts! At 1 pm I had a swimming lesson. Part-two of my triathlon day. Got to the gym early to warm up and do some practice laps. I've been taking swimming lessons to help improve my swim. It's made a tremendous difference. I have learned essential breathing techniques, how to reach forward better, how to utilize my strokes and how to turn to breathe without lifting myself out of the water. Had I had one or two of these lessons last year, I may not have panicked so much in last year's swim portion of the tri. What a difference a year makes. Anyone who is reading this who wants to or is going to do a triathlon - if you can't swim well, take some lessons, it will help you in countless ways. Running is easy - you can power walk, jog or just dash out there. Biking, you just pedal and go, but swimming, you need to have real skills to help you get through the first leg of the event.
In between the running and swimming, I biked around on my beach cruiser, going from place to place, adding in 6 or 8 miles. That's part three of my weekend triathlon. Saturday night, I went to a fundraiser party for the LiveStrong Foundation Ride. I've signed up on a team to bike ride 70 miles, raising funds for Lance Armstrong's cancer foundation. The team I'm on is Margaritaville or Bust - its Sue S.'s brother's group. Her brother is a cancer survivor, and he and his friends have been doing the LiveStrong Ride for the past 3 or 4 years. It's a great cause, that raises money for cancer research and other cancer fighting causes. I have to raise $250 for the event, which I think might not be too difficult. My hope is that I can get 50 folks to give $5 each - for which I will give each donor a personalized photo from my collection. I'm also hoping to get some of those yellow Live Strong bracelets to give away too. So if you want to contribute, you can click here - or check out the side-bar icon on the right to go to my fund-raising page.


Sunday - no exercise. It was City Food Tour Day. I barely had any time at home this weekend, what with being out all day on Friday and Saturday. I made lunch for Liz and her mom who is here visiting. We ate a quick meal before we all had to go off in the afternoon for Opera and Food Tours. The past few weekends I've been working on my tours with the Robert and Eric at City Food Tours. Last Saturday I trained for the Flavors of Philadelphia Tour - Tomato Pie, Cheese steaks, Pretzels, Cookies, and other important Philadelphia food groups. The past two Sundays have been Cheese, Chocolate and Gelato. Lots of fun. This weekend's tour was a group of 24 Drexel University Students. One of our best groups yet. Robert and I split the group into two, each of us taking a group to a location on our own. The Drexel students were fun, respectful and interested in each destination and the lessons we discuss. It was such a contrast of behavior from one of our other tour groups, where we had to fight for the group to listen and pay attention to us. Previous large groups have been more interested in texting, cellphone conversations and socializing than they were in learning about the reasons why there are so many kinds of cheese when they all start out as milk, or why small batch chocolates are tastier and more nuanced than drug store chocolate bars. Kudos to Drexel University and the Student Activities coordinator, Nicholas. What a delight it was to hang out with you all!
The upcoming week will find me practicing my swimming, biking at least one long ride - home from Paoli on Friday afternoon, a possible run, and doing two or three more City Food Tours. In between there's more time with Liz' mom, work, a lecture at the Free Library, Phillies game and a shift at Williams-Sonoma. If it seems that I'm not blogging as much, it's because I'm not. The weather is too nice to keep me inside to write!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Cooking Tips: Perfectly Cooked String Beans

It amazes and astonishes, flabbergasts and flummoxes me that there are so many people who don't like vegetables, who cannot cook vegetables and who don't understand the benefits of eating more plant based foods. It's cheaper, healthier and far easier to consume the green stuff than to spend the green stuff on McProcessed In-and-Out fast/fatty foods. Like my culinary hero, Mr. Mark Bittman espouses, ya gotta eat more of a plant based diet to keep this Green Earth Green! In honor of Earth Day, and as a service to my fellow readers, I'm offering up a little cooking lesson of simply prepared veggies. From time to time I plan to write lessons on the wonders and delights of simpler fare. Should you have any questions or would like to see a featured post, send me an email or post a comment. I would love the input of ideas from ya'll!

String beans are one of the many veggies I eat on a daily/weekly basis. Yes, as a child, I ate many a can of The Jolly One's salty, grey/green French cut string beans, and yes, they were disgusting. Not much better is the bird's eye viewpoint of Mr. Clarence's frozen food world - mixed square cuts or freeze dried/frozen green beans. Stringy or freakishly shaped, these versions of chilled to the max vegetables are a tad better for you but ultimately it's best to think in terms of KISSing the cook and preparing your own haricot vert, snow peas or sugar snap peas. You will be surprised at what your taste buds have been missing.

The original idea - mind you I have none of my own, came from my chef'ing days working at Whole Foods Market and Andro's Fine Foods at the Reading Terminal Market. At Whole Foods, we would actually deep fry the string beans in canola oil! Those were cooked by the 50 pound case, daily. They tasted great, but oye vey, the fat calories and greasy mess! This technique is a prime example of how to totally screw up a perfect food and fool people into thinking that they are eating something "healthy". I know a lot of vegetarians and vegans who would be shocked to learn that those Chinese green beans in black bean sauce they've been consuming are higher in fat and calories than the General Tao's Chicken their friends are scarfing down, and that most likely the green beans were fried in the same vat 'o grease as the Generals chicken!

Mr. Andros had the right idea when it came to whole food cookery. His delicious cakes may have been full-fat affairs, drenched in artery clogging buttery caramel sauce, but the savory meals were not so bad. We would make several pounds of steamed green beans with dill, olive oil, salt and pepper for our prepared fare. It's an easy 5 ingredient recipe. Variations for seasonings would be using a mustard vinaigrette, a simple balsamic and olive oil dressing or my Essential Soy Sauce dressing. One recipe begets another, get the basic technique down, i.e. steaming, boiling, saute, grill or roast your vegetable and the dressing choices are up to your imagination.


  • Perfectly Cooked String Beans Ingredients:
  • 1 Pound Fresh String Beans - stem end snipped off, and if necessary, any dry or brown ends trimmed
  • 5 Cups Cold Water
  • 2 1/2 Tablespoons Kosher Salt - divided
  • 2 1/2 Tablespoon Dried Dill - divided
  • 1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
  • Freshly Ground Black Pepper - to taste

Directions:

  1. Use a 4 quart or large sauce pan and heat the 5 cups of cold water over high heat until it comes to a boil. When the water begins to boil, add in 2 tablespoons of kosher salt and 2 tablespoons of the dried dill.
  2. While the water is heating, wash and trim the green beans. Keep them as whole as possible, there's no need to cut the string beans into small pieces. Once the water has come to a boil add in the string beans, stiring once or twice to fully submerge them. Allow the water to come back to a rapid boil, then reduce to medium low and cook the string beans for 6 minutes.
  3. After 6 minutes, drain the string beans in a colander and shake off any excess water. Put the cooked string beans either back into the pot or put them into a large serving bowl. Season the string beans with the reserved salt, dried dill, 1 tablespoon of olive oil and freshly ground black pepper. Serve hot, at room temperature or cold. Enjoy! These are delicous!

Monday, April 13, 2009

In Memory of Harry Kalas: 1936 to 2009


Beloved Phillies announcer, Harry Kalas, THE VOICE of the Phillies since 1971, died today, at the age of 73. He died, on the job, in Washington, DC, doing what he loved best, working for the Phillies, getting ready to cover the day's game, the Phillies vs the Washington Nationals.
I had the privilege of attending many Phillies games and listening to Mr. Kalas's play by play for a better part of the past 22 years of my life. I've been an avid Phillies Phan since I was a young teenager, falling in love with the Phillies during the 1980 World Series. In the years that followed, my fascination and love of the game has grown with each passing year. Harry has been an integral part of my Phillies experience. The game won't be the same without him. Summers in our backyard, listening to the Phillies game on the radio won't have the same special feeling now that his distinctive voice has been silenced. I am so happy that I've had years of listening thrills and chills, hearing Harry's calls, the infamous "This Ball Is OUTTA Here!" and the final play of the 2008 World Series call "The Phillies Win!"
Last week was the Opening Week of the 2009 Baseball Season. Two of the home games played at Citizens' Bank Ballpark were the Opening Day and Ring Ceremony Games, both of which we were able to attend. During the Ring Ceremony Festivities, Harry Kalas threw out the ceremonial first pitch to The Phanatic. Right before my camera battery gave out, I snapped these photos. So glad that I did. Mr. Kalas, thanks for the memories.
Here's the wind-up and the throw, right down the line!

Phanatic, ready to catch Harry's pitch
Harry, waving to the Phans

Blowing us a kiss, thanks for the fun, good times and great calls.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Whole Wheat Vegetable Lasagna

Can you make a lasagna that's healthy and tastes great at the same time? Impossible you say? It's not only possible, but it's fantastic too! This recipe comes from good friend, Susan Hill, my Hearty Gal, Biker Chick and health and fitness mentor. She made this lasagna with whole wheat noodles and tofu! She has been telling me for years that tofu can be used like ricotta in Italian-style dishes. Both Susan and another co-worker, Phyllis, have also talked about the transformation power of freezing tofu before you cook it (kind of like water into wine and the body of the Lord into our daily bread. It's Easter, I'm on a transmogrification /transubstantiation kick here!) I'm slowly coming around to the realization that tofu can take on many culinary guises if you think outside the usual Asian/Indian flavors to which I've subjected it. I'm working on an Italian chicken cutlet dish that uses tofu - it's still in the working stages, but suffice it to say, marinating tofu in Italian salad dressing and then baking it yielded a decent "kosher-acceptable" version of "Spaghetti and Meatballs" that I could take to work for lunch at the 'gog. But back to this very healthy and vegetable packed lasagna recipe inspired by Susan Hill.
There are a few things to know about this recipe, it's on the order of a Cooking Light Lighten Up swap-out. Pick and choose how many swaps you want to make. The version I'm offering is the full-up lightest, low-fat version I could make that tastes great and does not using faux ingredients. If you are substituting low-fat or non-fat cheeses, remember to layer the flavors along the way using spices and seasonings. There are many ways to take out the calories and keep in the taste, so many that you and anyone else eating this will never know you've made radical changes that are good for you. I used low-fat shredded mozzarella and non-fat ricotta cheeses, mixed with shredded low-fat firm tofu. The tofu was first frozen, in its container and then defrosted. This changes its texture, making the tofu meaty and dense. I used dried herbs, they fare better in longer cooked dishes and are readily available. I grilled zucchini and eggplant, to partially cook the vegetables; it also added a mellow smokey flavor. The carrots were coarsely grated, which added texture and avoided having to cook them first. The lasagna noodles were whole wheat. No par boiling was needed, I just used extra tomato sauce in the layers. This saved time and the unnecessary washing of an extra pot. The lasagna sets up more firmly because the noodles absorb the excess moisture from the vegetables and tomato sauce. Lastly, I added a small can of pumpkin puree to the tomato sauce, adding flavor, body, and fiber as well as stretching the sauce to accommodate the enormous lasagna I wound up making.
It's important to have all of your ingredients prepped and ready before you start assembling the lasagna. Don't make the mistakes I did; I didn't have enough tomato sauce, ricotta mixture or a large enough baking pan ready when I started. I had to mix extras as I went along, foolishly thinking that I wouldn't need all of the ricotta or tomato sauce that I had available. I also didn't anticipate how big the lasagna would become. Plan to use at least a 9 by 13 deep baking pan or cake pan. You have to leave room for expansion of the noodles and for any over-flow of sauce should there be some spill-over. As for the ounce, cup and can measurements; some cans of tomato sauce, pumpkin puree and boxes of pasta vary by brand. Don't worry about small amounts, use what you have on hand, if it's a few ounces more, you'll use it. If it's short, don't worry about it. The over-all recipe is very forgiving. Go forth and experiment!


Whole Wheat Vegetable Lasagna Ingredients:
  • 1 Medium/Large Eggplant - washed and cut into 1/4-inch thick rounds
  • 4 Medium Zucchini - washed and cut into 1/4 inch thick slices or rounds
  • 3 Tablespoons Olive Oil
  • 3 Medium Carrots - peeled, washed and coarsely grated
  • 1 Box (about 12 ounces to 1 pound) Whole Wheat Lasagna Noodles - uncooked (Ronzoni makes a great version)
  • 42 Ounces (about 5 Cups) No-Salt Tomato Sauce (this was one large 28 ounce can and one 14 ounce can)
  • 1 Small Can Pumpkin Puree (about 2 cups or 14 ounces)
  • 4 Tablespoons Dried Italian Seasonings or a combination of Parsley, Thyme, Oregano and Basil - divided
  • 4 Garlic Cloves - minced
  • 1 16 ounce container Non-Fat or Low-Fat Part Skim Ricotta Cheese
  • 1 Package Firm Tofu (about 1 pound or 14 ounces) - frozen then defrosted and drained and squeezed of excess moisture - shredded or crumble once defrosted
  • 1 Large Egg
  • Salt and Freshly Ground Pepper - to taste
  • 1 - 8 ounce Package of Shredded Low-Fat, Part Skim Mozzarella Cheese

Equipment Needed:
  • 9 by 13 Deep Dish Baking Pan
  • 1 or 2 Sheet or Baking Trays
  • Grill Pan - if grilling the zucchini and eggplant
  • Box Grater to shred the carrots and/or the mozzarella
  • Aluminum Foil

Directions:


  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. On a sheet tray or in a large mixing bowl, toss the zucchini and eggplant with the olive oil and season lightly with salt and freshly ground pepper. Arrange the vegetable slices on a preheated grill pan or arrange the zucchini and eggplant on sheet trays and roast in a preheated, 375 degree oven until its knife tender - not cooked all the way through, but still has some bite to it. If grilling the vegetables, grill on each side about 2-3 minutes. If roasting, cook for 10 minutes, turn the vegetables over and roast an additional 5 minutes. Transfer the cooked vegetables to a platter and cover lightly with aluminum foil; set aside to cool while you assemble the rest of the ingredients.
  2. Peel, wash and grate the carrots on the coarsest side of a box grater. Set them aside.
  3. Mix together the tomato sauce, pumpkin puree, 2 tablespoons of Italian Seasonings, minced garlic, 1 tablespoon of salt and 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper. Set aside to allow the dried seasonings to rehydrate in the tomato sauce mixture, while you move onto mixing together the ricotta and tofu.
  4. In a large mixing bowl, combine the ricotta cheese, crumbled/shredded tofu and the remaining 2 tablespoons of Italian seasonings. Taste and adjust seasonings, adding salt and freshly ground pepper to taste. Once the ricotta mixture is seasoned to your liking, add in the large egg and stir to combine. Set aside.
  5. Spoon some of the tomato sauce mixture onto the bottom of your lasagna pan. Layer the lasagna noodles on the bottom of the pan, breaking the noodles to fit the in the entire bottom layer. Spoon more tomato sauce on top of the noodles. Next add a layer of the ricotta mixture on top of the tomato sauce. Layer the eggplant on top of the ricotta. Spoon another layer of tomato sauce over the eggplant and then sprinkle with some of the shredded mozzarella cheese.
  6. Add another layer of lasagna noodles over the eggplant layer. Spoon more tomato sauce over this next layer of noodles. Layer the zucchini over the tomato sauce and scatter more of the shredded mozzarella over the zucchini.
  7. Create another layer of lasagna noodles, repeating with adding more tomato sauce, the remaining ricotta cheese and the shredded carrots. Finish this layer with the last of the lasagna noodles and tomato sauce. Bake, covered with tin foil, in a preheated oven for 45 minutes. Uncover and sprinkle the remaining mozzarella cheese over the top and bake for another 15 minutes, or until the top layer of cheese is melted and begins to turn golden brown. Allow the lasagna to set for at least 30 minutes before cutting and serving.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

In the Swim



I've officially started training for the 2009 Danskin SheRox Tri. I say officially because I've now hired a swimming trainer to help me improve my swimming skills and to learn more efficient swim strokes and techniques. I don't want to panic and doggie paddle the 1/2 mile swim portion of my triathlon this coming August 2nd. I had my first lesson on Friday afternoon, and I put to use the tips the trainer gave me when I swam on Saturday afternoon. I have not been swimming since September but I continued to do my other work outs; weight training, running, biking when the weather permitted, and taking yoga classes. The workouts have paid off greatly, my upper body strength is strong and I felt confident in the pool this past week. Once I get my breathing into a steady rhythm, I think I can swim the Schyulkill without resorting to slowly paddling along while two or three other waves of swimmers move quickly past me.
I'm not sure why I stopped swimming once the Fall arrived. I used the excuse that I didn't want to catch a cold or get too wet only to go out into the cold night air. I guess I figured there was always time to get back to the pool. Truth be told, I love to swim. It's fun, as relaxing as meditation and the improvement it gives to your body are amazing. Swimming is the ultimate low-impact work out that quickly yields great aerobic and full body toning results. I'm really looking forward to my other lessons so I can build my endurance and perfect the crawl stroke. It's so funny to me that when I was in the Schyulkill River last year, that all I could think was, "NEVER AGAIN" and now I can't wait to plunge back in and take on that murky water challenge. Having survived that portion of the triathlon and having the knowledge of what to expect, I'm not only not afraid, but I feel like even at this early stage, I'm sort of prepared. The best thing about having started swimming again is that I now know that my physical capabilities are so much further along today then they were last year at this time. I'm not starting from the beginning but rather from some mid-way point. I can see where I was and where I need to go from here. What a great vantage point for perspective.

Monday, April 6, 2009

How to cook a hard-boiled egg

It's recently come to my attention that a lot of people don't know how to make a decent hard-boiled egg. Forget perfect, I'm concerend that one learn how to cook the eggs correctly, we'll worry about perfect another time. Besides, perfect is so over-rated. One of the assistant teachers at the preschool where I work was about to add a cold raw egg in its shell to a pot of already cooked-about to become hockey pucks-eggs. All I could see was exploding green eggs all over the kitchen. While I told her what to do, I realized that she and a lot of other people had no idea how easy it can be to make a good hard boiled egg; it's also so easy to make them badly too. So herewith is today's lesson. I promise it will work and you will no longer have a green ring, grey yolk, or rubbery eggs for your next Easter Egg hunt.

Equipment and Ingredients to make 6 Hard Boiled Eggs
  1. A 3 or 4 Quart Sauce Pot with a tight fitting lid
  2. Cold Water from the faucet
  3. 6 Large Fresh Eggs - white, brown or Martha Stewart pretty coloured shells, it makes NO DIFFERENCE!
  4. Pinch of Salt - Kosher is best but any table salt will do
  5. Heat - from the stove, gas, electric, or shudder, those invection glass top monstrosities
Directions:
  1. Carefully put the eggs in the sauce pot and add enough cold tap water to cover the eggs by one inch above their shells.
  2. Put a pinch of salt into the pot. This is in case the eggs crack, it will help keep the egg white from spewing out. It also increases the water's boiling time and boiling point.
  3. Put the lid on the pot.
  4. Turn the heat up to medium-high. Bring the water to a rapid boil. Don't walk out of the kitchen or go too far away, you need to be aware of when the water begins to boil rapidly.
  5. Once the water has come to a rapid boil - where big bubbles are forming and there is a lot of steam and noise because the eggs are jostling around in the pot, TURN THE HEAT OFF!
  6. Remove the pot from the hot burner and place it on another burner that is off and cool. Keep the lid on the pot and let the eggs sit in the hot water for 10 to 12 minutes, depending on the size of the eggs. USE A TIMER! Medium to large eggs, 10 minutes; extra large to jumbo up to 12 minutes. Double yolk eggs - what, you got money to burn, forgetaboutit! Don't use 'em for hard boiled eggs!
  7. After the timer has dinged, carefully pour the hot water out of the pot and start to run cold tap water over the eggs. If you have any ice sticks or ice packs in the freezer, carefully toss one or two into the pot with the eggs to help cool them down. Chill the eggs under cold water for about 5 minutes. Remove the eggs from the cold water, they should now be cool enough to handle. Refrigerate immediately, separating them from uncooked eggs or marking them with a pencil, distinctly so you know which eggs are raw and which are cooked, unless you want to spin the eggs, in which case you should know that a hard boiled egg will spin on it's end like a top and a raw egg will just weeble over and wobble.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Baseball and Biking

It was a sporting day - took full advantage of the Spring-like glorious 50 degree plus weather and went on a 47 mile bike ride with the Bicycle Club of Philadelphia. We road to Ardmore, through several counties and a dozen or more neighborhoods while climbing many challenging hills. Later, Liz and I walked down to Citizen's Bank Ballpark to attend the Phillies Home Opener along with 45,000 other fantantical fans. Our mood went from high and hopeful to dashed into the ground in a matter of innings. Starting pitcher, Brett Myers, gave up 2 home runs in the first inning, along with a run to lock in a loss early on. By the seventh inning stretch, our nerves were as spent as my battered body and aching knees - the Phills were losing 4-zip and both Liz and I were exhausted from our long days. All I can say is - it's early April - there's still time to win ball games and time to work on my hill climbing and breathing abilities. Rest up, it's gonna be a long season!

Giant Phillies Jersey that Phans were encouraged to autograph for the team


One of the funnier jersey's I've seen around the ballpark

Marching Band from Cardinal O'Hara High School, leading the 2009 Phillies team down Citizen's Bank Park Street at 10th into the ballpark, and through Ashburn Alley

The giant United States Flag for the opening game ceremonies
Father and Son - Chase Utley Fans, heading to the big game

Friday, April 3, 2009

The Mindful Monkey Mind

Being a mindful person is difficult, especially if you are a chatterer like me. The past few weeks have been intense filled with emotional talkative hours that has been pushing my brain into a million new directions. That kind of intense. Deep stuff. Work is busy, as usual. Life is stressful, who doesn't feel this way? The new intensity and changes happening around the 'gog and in my life have to do with emotional development and improvements on a personal, spiritual and career level. I have a new co-worker, who is an absolute delight. We are becoming friends both in and out of the office, making my days at work much more enjoyable. I love all of my co-workers, especially the women in my immediate office. I am a lucky person to work with thoughtful smart women who encourage and support one another. Our new addition's presence in the workplace is a gracious addition, and I am learning a lot about myself as she and I learn about each other and navigate our jobs and the changes happening in the workplace.
One of the biggest things about which I've become aware of is learning how to be mindful; listening carefully to people and hearing what someone is saying; allowing another person to speak without interrupting them. New friend is from the West Coast, and has been telling me that what she notices about the East Coast is how many times people interrupt you when you are talking. Ever since she's pointed this out, I too notice it. Maybe it's not just an East/West Coast difference, but it has made me want to allow people to have their say and to allow me mine. Something else I also find myself doing is telling every little story there is about someone - it's judgemental and biased. I would like to unlearn this critical, negative behavior. It's difficult. Positive changes, as my boss wisely told me recently, are still changes, and change can be difficult to accept. Sister, you said a mouth full and you don't know the half of it!
Growing my mind in new directions has had an interesting affect on me, I find that I've become reflective and at the same time, willing to be open and revealing with friends in ways that I haven't been before. I'm not a Roseann Barr type, wanting to air out every weird dark secret both real and imagined. Nor am I so closed off that I'm afraid to discuss my life history for fear that it defines me as who I am now rather than giving the details as to how I came to be. It can be energizing to share your history and stories with someone new, just as it can be bonding and reaffirming to share previously unexplored information with a loved one or friend in your life who's been there for years. Maybe it's seeing one's self in a new light that can be so illuminating. I've been calling my new co-worker/friend, my key-light person. She's helping me to become a better person and to see my behavior and social situations in ways I've never before noticed. This in turn is making my brain go on rapid fire over-load in good ways.
My monkey mind is chattering away, swinging from branch to branch, demanding bananas, attention and checking out each thing along the way with a new curiosity. Now Curious George might have gotten away with this kind of behavior, after all, he had The Man in the Yellow Hat to fix his messes, but I do not have that luxury. Perhaps it's because I did not have a parental figure to protect and over-see my messes when I was growing up. Being a parent to myself was a difficult task. My friend Colleen reminded me of a funny thing I once said (once?! well, there were a few that truly stand out!) I was remarking on how I'm often depressed - that it's been endemic in my life. In my usual sarcastic but funny way I said "I've been depressed since the birth of myself". Which is sad but true. I did not have the guidance and authority in my formative years to reign in the mischief monkey. My big yap has gotten me into heaps of trouble over the years, mouthing off each thought as it happens into my mind instead of carefully considering what I could, should and ought to say.
Quieting the monkey mind and becoming mindful is a long-haul task. As I take steps in a new direction I'm also using tools and changes I currently have, such as what I'm learning in yoga classes and via meditation. There is also the meditative and right/left brain activity of shared biking and exercise, which I've missed with the Sue's/Susan's and other Hearty Girls during this past cold winter. Working out alone has kept me physically fit and ready for the next set of challenges and the Spring and Summer season, but I miss the emotional connectivity with my partners. Since I'm in training mode now, setting forth for this season's Danskin SheRox Triathlon, assorted bike tours and centuries, Mother's Day Breast Cancer 5K and various and sundry other physical pursuits, I also want to work out the old grey matter. I'd like to be more direct without being abrupt or argumentative. I want to be a mindful person. I'll let you know how I'm doing as the journey progresses.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Food Finds: Caramel Vanilla Swirl Marshmallows

This is a fantastic food find, on par with my last post regarding peanut butter, bananas and Fluff or Marshmallows. Jet Puff Marshmallows have a new flavor out on the store shelves. I found these babies at Target, Caramel Vanilla Swirl. They are FANTASTIC! The marshmallows were fresh and soft tasting, with a butterscotch like flavor, surprisingly good for a packaged mass-marketed confection. As I stated in my previous post, one of my guilty food indulgences is marshmallow. During Christmas 2007 at Williams-Sonoma, we sold commercially produced "gourmet" marshmallows and again at Valentine's Day in 2008. I preferred those to the yearly roll out of the heavy "hand-made" marshmallows that they sell each Christmas; those are like little lead weights and take a lot of tasting to to really enjoy, though they do last a long time in a cup of hot cocoa. Since they company did not sell the puffy marshmallows this past holiday season, I've been on the search for a tender vanilla scented puff of sweet air. These might be it. Jet Puff also makes strawberry, chocolate, a 4-flavor variety, and green and red stars and trees for Christmas. Only the strawberry marshmallows are worth seeking out, the others are unexceptional and even more chemical tasting than anyone should want to taste. If you find these in your local grocery or drug store candy aisle, buy a bunch, they are so worth it! The next grilled peanut butter, banana and marshmallow treat I make will be with the caramel vanilla swirl flavor. Or in a health-ified crispy treat - made with puffed brown rice cereal...nah, who am I kidding a crispy treat should be as decadent as it was meant to be, made with Rice Krispies and good old fashioned butter or margarine! Enjoy!