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Sunday, January 24, 2010

Bicycles, Beer and the Pursuit of Fun

I had fun and did something I've never done before this past Saturday, January 23rd - I joined a bunch of folks I've never before met and went on a Beer by Bike excursion to Dock Street Brewery. I learned about this monthly bike ride about a year ago from someone I met during one of my Bicycle Club of Philadelphia Rides. Someone mentioned to me that there is a blog called Bike by Beer and the premise is that this guy, Jesse, organizes a bike ride to a local Philadelphia Tri-State area brewery. He and his friends Twitter, blog and I presume, Facebook about a meet-up time and place and destination and then on the choosen day, people bike out to a local brewery. Past rides have included going to breweries in places such as Downingtown, Germantown, and Cherry Hill-New Jersey. Either I've had to work or other plans, or family things have come up, like, say, having a new baby! This past weekend was the first ride I was able to do and it was an absolute delight. The meet-up was at 11 am at the Art Museum steps. About 12 people arrived and we set off around 11:30 am. It was an eclectic group of riders - college students, serious riders, cyclists on vintage rides and super high end road bikes. The age range was from 19 to 43 - with me being at the oldest end of the spectrum, an almost 43-year old mom!
We rode through Fairmount Park, around the Japanese Tea House, Memorial Hall/Please Touch Museum, up Belmont Plateau and through Girard Avenue into West Philadelphia by way of Ossage Avenue and Powelton. It was a crisp sunny day, perfect for biking and rewarding one's self with a pizza and a beer at Dock Street Brewery in West Philly. I have not been on my bike in over three months, and I was feeling every bit of my not being in top riding shape. Some of the hills we rode up were truly killing my legs. It was a real eye opener for me to see how quickly you can fall out of shape - but the point of the ride wasn't to be competitive, it was about meeting new people, enjoying the thrill of biking and heading to one of the many local breweries in our part of the country.
What I loved most about this ride was the camaraderie and the ease of joining such a varied group of new people. I have ridden with people I know on trips, gone out on my own and met new people, or have gone on bike rides completely solo. Depending on my mood, each ride can be wonderful, but this past Saturday's ride was definitely one of the highlight rides of my biking experiences. I felt so welcome and accepted. There were many great conversations and great food and awesome beers. I truly look forward to having the chance to do this again. Thanks Jessie - your friends are amazing!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

One Pot Cooking: Beef Brisket with Coke, Beer & Tomato Sauce

Liz and I have a collaborative cooking relationship going on when it comes to our one-pot meals. I either call her mid-day and tell her what to toss into the 30 year old Le Creuset Dutch Oven pot we have, or I send her a brief email detailing the stuff to toss into the pot. Either way, our cooking for Dummies method really works. No, I'm not calling Liz a Dummy, she's quite brilliant. I'm just an uppity kitchen biatch but I do deign to allow my lovely to venture into my private domain and whip us up a tasty treat or two. I don't attempt to conduct or play the piano - which Liz does for her line of work, so she doesn't get to cook much for us, as that was once my line of work and my preferred creative outlet. Our beef brisket, done in a slightly Texas-style mix-up was to date, one our best efforts. Suffice it to say, there were not many left-overs. Herewith is the recipe, re-written in a more direct and ready to share method.

Slow Cooked Beef Brisket with Coke, Dark Beer & Tomato Sauce Ingredients:
  • 2 Large Yellow or White Onions - cut into 1/4 inch thick half moon slices
  • 5 Medium Carrots - cut into 2 inch large chunks
  • 2 Celery Stalks - cut into 2 inch large chunks
  • 5 Garlic Cloves - roughly chopped
  • 4 to 5 Pound Beef Brisket - trimmed of most of the layer of fat and silver skin (leave some fat on for flavor)
  • 8 ounces Coca Cola
  • 12 ounces or up to 2 Cups Amber/Dark Beer - such as a an Amber Ale, Lager or Red-style Beer (Sam Adams Winter Ale, Harp, Base Ale, etc.)
  • 1 - 14 Ounce Can Low or No Salt Tomato Sauce
  • 1/4 Cup Low Sodium Soy Sauce
  • 2 Tablespoons Worcestershire Sauce
  • 1/4 Tablespoon Freshly Ground Black Pepper
  • 1 Tablespoon Ground Chipotle Pepper
  • 1 Tablespoon Ground Cumin
  • 1/2 Tablespoon Dried Oregano
  • 1/2 Tablespoon Dried Thyme
  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Position one of the oven racks in the middle of the oven.
  2. Wash, peel and chop the vegetables. Place the chopped vegetables into the bottom of a 5 to 7 quart Dutch Oven Pot.
  3. To this, add the brisket on top of the veggies and pour over 8 ounces of Coke; a bottle or 2 cups of a good amber/dark beer, the tomato sauce, Worcestershire & Soy Sauces, and the dry seasonings - freshly ground black pepper, the ground chipotle pepper through the dried thyme. Push the brisket down to submerge and if needed, make sure the seasonings are spread all over and not just laying on top of the meat!
  4. Put the lid on the pot and place the pot in the oven, on the center rack, in the middle of the oven. Allow the brisket and vegetables to braise for 2 1/2 hours, undisturbed.
  5. Then, after 2 & 1/2 hours, remove the lid from the pot give a gentle stir to the mixture. Braise for another 1/2 hour with the lid off, allowing the liquid in the pot to thicken and reduce. If the mixture is too watery, continue cooking with the lid off for up to a total of an hour. If the liquid has reduced down too much, pour in up to 1 cup of water and stir. Total cooking time should be between 3 to 3/12 hours in the oven.
  6. Remove the brisket from the braising liquid and vegetables and allow to stand, on a platter, loosely covered for 1/2 hour before slicing. The meat should be tender but still be firm enough to slice against the grain.
  7. Serve hot, with the vegetables and braising liquid over mashed potatoes, noodles, or slices of white bread. YeeHaw! Enjoy!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Lighten Up! Chicken Salad with Dried Cranberries

Chicken salad is not your friend. Most any "salad' that contains copious quantities of fatty but tasty mayonnaise is not figure friendly. Tuna, egg, whitefish, chicken, potato and the insidious macaroni salad, they are all the enemy, unless you know tricks to make them lighter and healthier. Doug Henning, David Copperfield, Houdini? Who needs magicians when the Great Gorniaki will amaze you with my kitchen magic show! Like Penn and Teller, I'm here to reveal the secrets to creating something so taste defying that your friends and family will hardly believe their eyes or taste buds!
First, you have to remove the fat. You need to replace the unctuous Hellman's with a mouth-feel rich and creamy substitute. Second, you need flavors, pizazz, oomph! Third, you need a good chicken, whether it's left-over rotisserie or roasted chicken, or a few poached breasts, the chicken needs to be well seasoned, tender and delicious. Forth, add in some healthy veggies to bulk up the salad, giving you a serving of your veggies and making it a real salad. Contrary to the popular Homer Simpson belief, Yes, You can make friends with Salad!

Chicken Salad with Dried Cranberries Ingredients
  • 2 Chicken Breasts, about 2 pounds total: Poached, Roasted, or Rotisserie - Cooled & Cut into 1/2 sized cubes/large dice
  • 1 Large Celery Stalk - washed and cut into medium dice
  • 1 Large Carrot - washed, peeled and shredded
  • 1/4 Cup Dried Cranberries
  • 1/4 Cup (about 1/2 small) Onion - small dice (COMPLETELY OPTIONAL, USE ONLY IF YOU LIKE ONIONS RAW!)
  • 1 - 5 to 6 ounce container of Non-Fat Greek Style Yogurt - such as Fage
  • 2 Tablespoons Dijon Mustard
  • 2 Tablespoons Light Sour Cream
  • 2 Tablespoons Dried Italian Seasonings or Herbs de Provenance or a combination of Basil, Marjoram, Oregano, Parsley, Tarragon and Thyme
  • Salt and Freshly Ground Black Pepper - to taste
  1. Dice the chicken, celery, onions (if using) and shred the carrots. Place in mixing bowl along with the dried cranberries.
  2. Make the dressing - in a small mixing bowl, blend together the Greek Style yogurt, Dijon mustard, sour cream and dried seasonings. Let the mixture stand for 5 to 10 minutes to let the dried seasonings reconstitute and release their flavors.
  3. Taste and adjust seasonings, flavoring with salt and freshly ground pepper to taste. If the dressing is too bland, add in more Dijon mustard, dried seasonings, salt or pepper as needed.
  4. Pour the dressing over the chicken and vegetables and fold the ingredients together to incorporate. Serve well chilled. Makes 4 to 6 servings. Keep covered and refrigerated. Holds up to 4 days.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Turn a Frown Upside Down

I definitely have emotional/anger/depression issues. Welcome to January and Winter in Philadelphia. No sooner do we turn the page of our calendars, clear away the holiday decor and vow to make and keep resolutions for the New Year do I find myself in the same awful familiar place called my wacky state of mind. I've had a week of disappointments and bad news and some stress at the office. I'm finding it very difficult to get to the gym and the effects are showing more and more in my mid-section, my deflating muscle toned arms and legs and in my emotional state. Parenthood has been good on many levels, yet I am struggling with trying to be a mindful parent and partner while also working full-time and negotiating our new life with the baby. I realized today, (yes, after 42 years, I just realized today!) that when my mood turns ugly and irrational, there is no clear way for me to get back to the sane center easily. I can "see myself" becoming two or three people all at once - in a soul splitting horcrux or Sybil kind of way - an irrational, angry, hurt, disappointed temper-tantrum throwing 4 year old; a rational parental caring self; and some third body - someone who is struggling to join the parent and the 4 year old. Several times this past week and weekend I found myself in situations that just triggered me right to high tilt volatility. Having been in therapy for more than half of my life, I know that the specifics of what happened is not what upset me but it's what's behind the incidents and what the deeper memories/issues they triggered. But try to figure that out in the middle of feeling slighted, hurt, and left-out and it's near impossible for me to remain calm. I hate resolutions, but I think I need to make some for myself this year. In my last post that recapped 2009, I mentioned that I wasted more than 9 months of my psychic energy letting other people's behavior bother me and get the best of me. I'm doing it again, and I need to stop. I'm so afraid to say to someone, hey, what you're doing is hurtful, or mean, or disappointing to me. I know where this comes from - my childhood upbringing and being forgotten, not heard, not validated, not cared for and made to feel like I was an intrusion by someone so angry at the world that all of the hostility and frustration was dumped onto me. It's a heavy burden to carry for 42 years. I carried it as body armor for 22 years as an over-weight person. Now I carry this burden in my head and it explodes out of me, making me fly off the handle, irrational and hostile with other people and deeply depressed filled with hatred towards myself. My favorite therapy quote, discussed in many sessions, but from my favorite source, from of all places, The Sopranos, is this line Dr. Melfi tells Tony Soprano, early on in their therapy together - "Depression is rage turned inward." Sister, you said a mouthful.
So, my resolution this year is this: when faced with a stressful or hurtful or disappointing situation, I wish to attain a calm and rational state of mind; I want to find a way to be non-threatening and less angry so I can confront the uncomfortable situation, in order to gain clarity, closure and to feel empowered by my standing up for myself. I'll keep you posted on my progress.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Lighten Up! Chicken and Spinach Meatloaf

More recipes in the spirit of cleaner, lighter and healthier eating. This isn't a real "Temple Food" recipe, it's closer to a "Deceptively Delicious" recipe. Usually meatloaf and comfort foods are not words to describe healthier meals, but anything IS POSSIBLE if you retool your ingredients. I have a few meatloaf recipes in my repertoire that are fairly light but there's always a new way to improve the stats and cut the fats. For this meatloaf, I used ground chicken, chopped spinach, grated carrot and lots of seasonings. This was moist, tender and packed with flavor. So good that I felt that I could indulge in pan frying some polenta fries. Big mistake, while the polenta was delicious, frying, even in a minimal amount of oil made a mess of my kitchen. Oh well...
Top this with a simple tomato sauce or with "doctored-up" ketchup, to which you add garlic powder, onion powder and hot sauce. For side ingredients, consider a salad, side of greens and a lighter starch, such as mashed potatoes with pureed cauliflower, made with skim milk and light butter. Or be daring and make sautéed or baked polenta - from the prepared tube you can get at the grocery. The prepared polenta is a good blank canvas that cooks up quickly. It is fairly bland, so definitely season it well and handle it minimally.

Chicken and Spinach Meatloaf Ingredients:
  • 1 & 1/2 Cups Frozen Chopped Spinach - thawed and excess water squeezed out of the spinach
  • 1 Medium Carrot (about 1/2 cup) - peeled and finely grated
  • 1 Small Onion (about 1 cup) - finely diced
  • 4 Garlic Cloves - finely minced
  • 1/2 Bell Pepper (Red or Green) - finely diced
  • 1 Pound Ground Low-Fat Chicken or Lean Ground Turkey
  • 1 Egg - lightly beaten
  • 2 Tablespoons Dried Italian Seasonings
  • 2 Tablespoons Tomato Paste
  • 1/2 Tablespoon Salt
  • 1 Teaspoon Freshly Ground Black Pepper
  • 1/2 to 1 Cup Whole Wheat Bread Crumbs - finely ground; use as much as needed
  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Spray a 1 pound loaf pan with cooking spray, set aside.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, combine all the ingredients, the chopped, thawed and dried spinach through the ground chicken. Gently fold the ingredients together to combine.
  3. Mix in the beaten egg, Italian seasonings, tomato paste, salt and ground black pepper. Fold into the ground chicken mixture. Slowly add in the bread crumbs until the mixture will hold together and feels drier to the touch- the mixture will be somewhat sticky, but firm. You may not need the whole cup of bread crumbs.
  4. Put the mixture into the prepared loaf pan and place the loaf pan onto a baking sheet (to catch any spills). Place in the preheated oven and bake for about 1 hour, checking and rotating the loaf pan every 20 minutes. The meatloaf is done with a) an instant read meat thermometer reaches 180 degrees or b) the meatloaf appears browned on the top and when pierced with a knife the juices run clear and it feels firm and dense.
  5. Allow the meatloaf to cool in the pan for at least 20 to 30 minutes before serving so the juices can redistribute into the meatloaf and so it can "set-up".
  6. To serve, turn loaf pan upside down and remove from pan. Slice and top each slice with your favorite tomato sauce concoction or with spicy ketchup. Makes 8 slices/4 generous servings.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

The Annual Year in Review: 2009

Last year, I "borrowed" this idea of the 30 plus questions from my friend, Aimee, who in turn borrowed this from someone else's blog. I like the 20 question format. It's easy, you get to talk about yourself without much provocation and sometimes you reveal something about yourself to yourself. As my 2nd Annual Installment of the Year in Review, I present this year's All About ME! or a few things I care to share...

1. What did you do in 2008 that you’d never done before? DROVE A CAR to Pittsburgh and got my driver's license.

2. Did you keep your new year’s resolutions, and will you make more for next year? Yes, even though I tend not to make resolutions. I continued to work out, keep my weight off, eat healthy, and I learned to drive.

3. Did anyone close to you give birth? Hell YEAH! We had a baby boy this year! Last year when I was reflecting on 2008's milestones, I knew we were in the midst of trying to get pregnant, and we had one miss, which I didn't want to write about but was weighing heavy on my mind.

4. Did anyone close to you die? HMMM, I don't think so, but still there are many illnesses in my friends and family's lives.

5. What countries did you visit? Ah, we didn't leave the USA. We barely ventured out of the state this year. We did head down to Florida for a "baby-moon" vacation in July. Ventured to Sanibel and Pittsburgh. Not a big travel year for us, and I even video taped and shared my New Year's Eve tradition of running with a suitcase.

6. What would you like to have in 2010 that you lacked in 2009? I pretty much got what I wanted in 2009 that I didn't have in 2008. Maybe the basics, more money, affordable health insurance, peace in the world, no war, closure with my family.

7. What dates from 2009 will remain etched upon your memory, and why? March 6th - we had our lucky day with the fertility doctor; June 2nd - our 10 year anniversary; August 2nd - my 2nd Triathlon that went down in a rainy downpour mess; August 23rd and the LiveSTRONG ride from hell (NEVER AGAIN!); October 15th to the 17th - Nate's arrival.

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year? As cliched as it sounds, becoming a parent.

9. What was your biggest failure? Not keeping my temper in check or knowing when I reached my maximum stress point before I had a major melt-down.

10. Did you suffer illness or injury? Fortunately no. A few sore back aches, a wounded knee that won't bend properly.

11. What was the best thing you bought? Driving lessons and The new IMac computer. 'Nuff said.

12. Whose behavior merited celebration? Liz's - she gave birth!

13. Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed? The media and the excessive hype of celebrity misdeeds or deaths. No more Tiger/Michael Jackson/Reality Idiots.

14. Where did most of your money go? Doctors, again; diapers, wipes, formula.

15. What did you get really, really, really excited about? The birth of our son, Nate

16. What song will always remind you of 2009? Can't say there is one.

17. Compared to this time last year, are you:
a) happier or sadder? happier
b) thinner or fatter? about the same, though my mid-section is getting paunchier
c) richer or poorer? again, about the same, but the dollars aren't going as far and taxes and health insurance are going through my roof.

18. What do you wish you’d done more of? Biked - of course!

19. What do you wish you’d done less of? Watched Television

20. How did you spend Christmas? We had about 17 or more people come to visit over the stretch of holidays. I grocery shopped, cleaned, decorated, entertained and cooked for days. It was a lively and exhausting holiday season, our first Christmas with our baby.

21. Did you fall in love in 2009? Yes, in love with my precious son, Nathaniel

22. What was your favorite TV program? again with the tv? Burn Notice, In Plain Sight and Royal Pains.

23. Do you hate anyone now that you didn’t hate this time last year? Disappointed with several folks, again. I try not to hate, but in the moment, I sure do have some mean vile feelings for people.

24. What was the best book you read? I am getting worse and worse each year as I read less and less and watch too much tv and spend too much time on Facebook. I read Johan Brunnel's "We might as well win", Nora Ephron's "I feel bad about my neck" and a few other tosser books. Nothing sticks out for me this year.

25. What was your greatest musical discovery? No musical discoveries this year to share. Still like the same folks from 2008, Adele, Amy Winehouse, and back to the oldies - CSN&Y; Madonna; The Moody Blues.

26. What did you want and get? A baby, a better time on my triathlon, an ipod nano.

27. What did you want and not get? A new bike...sense a theme here? Another Phillies World Series win.

28. What was your favorite film of this year? UP and Julie/Julia

29. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you? In 2009, I turned 42. Went to work for a few hours, took a new friend with us to my favorite tea shop, then to the Reading Terminal Market and then to the Flower Show. That evening, Liz and I had dinner and a good bottle of wine at our favorite restaurant, Paradiso. It was a great birthday.

30. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying? Knowing how to keep myself on an even keel. I spent 9 months stressing over other people's behavior that I cannot and could not control. What a colossal waste of my psychic energy.

31. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2008? PREPPY with a Miami Twist! Pink and Green, Oranges, Brights. Bring on the Spring/Easter Fashions!

32. What kept you sane? Exercising, biking, cooking

33. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most? Merle Streep, Patricia Clarkson, Helen Miren - hot, sexy older women who look like real hot sexy older women.

34. What political issue stirred you the most? The Health Care Reform Issue - does anyone understand it and are any of us going to benefit from this? I sure as hell hope so, my combined expenses for a decent but not great plan, plus the cost of our not even 3-month old son's insurance is more than our monthly mortgage payment. With the money we are spending, we could afford two or three houses on our block.

35. Who did you miss? Rachel, Troy, Michael C., Steven H, friends who live too far away.

36. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2009. You can never be too prepared and you are never prepared enough. Our baby came about 6 weeks early, and we put off finishing the nursery, household stuff and some major purchases thinking we had WEEKS to take care of these things. Surprise! Nate is a determined little fella. I got my driver's license one week before the baby was born, just in the nick of time. Even though I try to lay out all of my next day's needs, lunch, coffee, book bag, etc, there always seems to be something else you just need that you didn't anticipate.

37. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year. I made a playlist on my Ipod inspired by the birth of our son; these are the songs that sum up my year, or at least the past 2 1/2 months:

  1. Beautiful Boy (Darling Boy) John Lennon Greatest hits
  2. Roly Poly The Little Willies
  3. Little Star Madonna Ray Of Light
  4. The Nearness Of You Nancy Wilson The Best of Nancy Williams: Ballads, Blues & Big Bands
  5. Yes, Sir, That's My Baby Nat King Cole
  6. Don't Cry, Cry Baby Nat King Cole
  7. Cowboy Romance Natalie Merchant Tigerlily
  8. Mother And Child Reunion Paul Simon Negotiations And Love Songs 1971-1986
  9. So Beautiful Simply Red Simply Red - Greatest Hits
  10. You Are The Sunshine Of My Life Stevie Wonder Original Musiquarium 1 (Disc 1)
  11. What Child Is This Vince Guaraldi Trio A Charlie Brown Christmas
  12. Moon River Andy Williams Moon River: The Very Best of Andy Williams
  13. More Bobby Darin Ultra Lounge