The Amazon Iowan

Blog of Author Heidi Cullinan


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Food: Cullinan Standard Stir-Fry

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Once upon a time, when we didn’t know what to make for lunch/dinner, we made spaghetti or some variation on the spaghetti theme. Quick, easy: open carton, open jar, heat/boil, serve. Though by a twist of irony I could eat that meal now that my dietary stuff is straightened out, the truth is that I no longer want to. Too much tomato still makes me a bit off, and pasta straight-up never leaves me full. Honestly, if I don’t get vegetables on a regular basis, I get very cranky, and if I’m not careful with my protein I start eyeing the cats funny. This is how the Cullinan Standard Stir-Fry came to be.

It has many, many incarnations, but the general gist of my stir-fry is a lot of vegetables, some greens, some protein, some spices. Occasionally I make it with rice, but when I do that I either use meat, faux meat, or beans.

The version pictured here has quinoa, my very favorite grain in the whole wide world. I’m not sure how much protein is in it, but I can tell you that if I eat it regularly, three times a week or so, I feel fantastic and never really want much in the way of meat. Plus it allows me to be lazy: it’s grain and protein in one, and it cooks up fast. I prefer rainbow quinoa because it’s pretty, but really any of it is fine.

This version also has chopped kale, but I’m known to use spinach too. Just depends on what I have in the house. I love both greens, but I favor kale because I feel it is the more super of the two superfoods. The other vegetables vary, though I’m partial to carrots, onions, peppers, and zucchini.

Anna will eat this dish with us–it’s not her favorite, but she’ll eat it because it’s not spicy and doesn’t have anything too bizarre, plus she’s very good about vegetables. When she eats with us I usually put broccoli in it as well, as it’s her favorite vegetable. I also chop the mushrooms finer because she doesn’t care for them, so I hide them away.

I’ll give the recipe for what I made above, but remember it’s very versatile.

Cullinan Standard Stir-Fry

Vegan, Gluten-Free

Ingredients:

  • 3/4 cup tri-color quin0a
  • three small potatoes, peeled and diced
  • two carrots, peeled and diced
  • two stalks celery, chopped
  • one zucchini, diced
  • 3/4 cup chopped crimini mushrooms
  • 1/2 red pepper, chopped
  • 1/2 green pepper, chopped
  • 1/2 yellow pepper, chopped
  • 1 small yellow onion, diced
  • 1/2 cup grape tomatoes, cut in half
  • 1 cup chopped kale
  • 1/8 cup nutritional yeast
  • 2 tsp vegan Worcestershire sauce
  • salt, pepper, turmeric, & summer savory to taste

First order of business is to get all that stuff chopped. It takes forever, and if you’re not used to cooking whole foods, it will be annoying. I simply consider it part of cooking now, and I like it, especially if I have NPR to listen to while I work or am taking to Suede on the phone or something. You also want to sort things into bowls so that you can cook them for different times. For this I had three bowls, though I accidentally screwed it up a bit and put the carrots in the wrong bowl.

I always have a “cook long” bowl and a “cooks little” bowl, and sometimes like today I have a bowl that is in the middle. Potatoes, carrots, onions, celery, and peppers are all “cook long” in my book because I hate them crunchy. Kale, tomatoes, garlic are all “cook little.” Mushrooms and zucchini are in the middle for me, so it kind of depends. Basically kale you need a minute or so to soften, and garlic burns crazy early, as do tomatoes, so they’re last. I do spices last too.

So first you rinse the quinoa and put it in a cup and a half or so of water to boil. Save the strainer because you’ll need it in a bit. The quinoa will basically cook there on the back burner while you fry the other stuff, and it’ll be ready right about the same time as the last of the veggies are done. Works out great. Once the water boils, put in the quinoa and turn it down to medium/low.

Use a large skillet and heat up some oil. When I’m using potatoes, I use olive oil because I found with coconut oil they stick. Don’t know why. Basically you need a few tablespoons of something, or if you want to be all uber-healthy you can use water and stir fry that way. I figure this is about the only garbage I eat anymore, oil, so I use whatever I want. Once that’s hot, put in you “cook long” bowl and get it softened up. About five minutes in, add the middle-range bowl, and about five to ten minutes later, or whenever everything seems mostly cooked and nothing is harder than you want, add the last bowl. Toss it all together, add your spices and the yeast. Drain the quinoa and add it too, stirring it all together.

If you don’t like how dry this is, you can add some white wine, broth, or even water to add a kind of sauce. If that gets too thin, you can add flax seed to thicken the whole business up. Personally, this is pretty flavorful to me, and there’s always a bit of water carryover from the quinoa, so I call it good.

You can eat a huge heaping plate of this stuff too, and it fills your belly and stays with you all afternoon. I like to make a pile so I have leftover, and I have eaten it for breakfast. I love getting busy writing, find I’m hungry, and I can have a pile of good veggies and quinoa just by heating it up. And because you can vary the veggies, it always feels a bit different. You can change out those spices too–thyme is good, so is garlic, and fresh basil can be very fun. Different kinds of onion, no onion, more tomato–you name it. Bok choy can be the green instead, or there can be many different greens.

We famously eat this in front of the TV while we watch Warehouse 13. You may eat it wherever you like.


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For the Fractured Foodies: Confessional and Recipe

This is my first holiday with my food allergies. I would like to think I’m doing well, but it’s definitely a war and there are a lot of casualties, some of them visible and some of them silent. This post is my way of coping with some things that have been hard about my journey, and it’s dedicated to my fellow food allergy sufferers: I hear you, I feel for you, and I’d like to have you over for a meal.

While I’ve attempted to be empathetic to my friends with allergies over the years, I can tell you there’s no substitute for comprehension than living the life of one who cannot eat the food the rest of the world enjoys. It’s not the same as being vegan or vegetarian or even being a picky eater. There is absolutely no substitute in the world for the strange, lonely, frustrating place that is looking at a menu or a holiday buffet and not choosing to refrain but being disallowed by your body–not your mind–from partaking. It’s weird and not at all fun to be in a store or restaurant full of food and watch it narrow or disappear before you, to be hungry and not be able to eat–and have others blithely eating all around you with maybe a “oh gosh, sorry” before chowing down. It’s a bitch, a serious fucking bitch and a wound that only those of us riding the same nasty wave can truly comprehend. I tend to forget how very much energy I expend on thinking ahead to make sure I can eat until I am lucky enough to be somewhere that I can eat without issue. Quite often when I find those rare moments, I cry in relief, and that’s not overstated even a little.

I suspect this will get better, as I’m only six months on (though I’ve been playing with food restrictions for over a year), but I can tell you the holidays are so bad I’m considering how to avoid the whole scenario in the future. Holiday events are by their nature full of joy and fuckery like no other occasion can manage: everyone is trying to rope in nostalgia, everyone is over-booked and stressed to the nines, and we tend to gather with people we don’t see that often and aren’t up-to-speed with in a way that would make the whole show easier if we were better connected. Add food to the mix and you might as well start drinking.

What I’ve learned is best is to approach each event carefully and pragmatically and do a lot of heart-hardening. I attend holiday parties full and telling myself I don’t want or need anything, actively disassociating my brain from the part that wants to slide into that comfy holiday feeling and eat and enjoy and maybe even feel a bit sick afterward from indulging in the sheer pleasure that is food. Occasionally I have moments where I think very dumb things like “surely one cookie won’t hurt” or “I bet I can tolerate just a little of milk,” but my wingman and wing-gal step in pretty fast and remind me of how very, very badly I can feel and have felt up until the past four or five months, how far I have yet to go, how I’m still getting what my body views as poison out of my system. Forearmed is best, I’ve found. But it’s lonely.

There’s a level of discussion one can have with friends and family about how to include me, but it’s always a land mine and most of the time leaves me feeling even lonelier with a few very notable exceptions. It helps a little that I know no one means to have things end that way, but the result is very, very lonely and sad and angering in a way that I’m still working on how to sort out. People get very emotional very fast about food, and again, unless you’re walking this fun little walk, it’s impossible to understand how many little knives crop up in something as simple as eating. Every cupcake, every grilled cheese sandwich is an opportunity to mourn; holiday gatherings are full-on funerals, ones where most people are having a party. It’s weird, and it sucks, and I bet while it gets easier it’s also never quite the same.

I have, however, had one significant victory this Christmas: I rescued my fudgy bonbons.

For the past eleven years, I’ve made a huge swath of Christmas cookies. They are ubiquitous at any gathering I host or attend, and all Anna’s teachers get a treat sack full, as do her lesson instructors and our neighbors. I spend quite a bit of money and many, many hours to make them, and in the past they have always been one of my joys of the season.

This year, of course, was different. One of my favorite holiday traditions had become a full-on exercise in feeling left out, this time by my own hand. I made it my misison to find vegan replacements. I did easily for all but one: fudgy bonbons. Full of sweetened condensed milk, wrapped around Hershey kisses and drizzled in white chocolate–I had a hard row to hoe on this one. I did it, though: I learned how to make vegan sweetened condensed milk, replaced the kisses with vegan chocolate chunks, and replaced the white chocolate (you cannot, cannot make that vegan) with mint chocolate and candy cane pieces. They are nearly identical to the original and possibly more delicious.

There are less cookies this year, and yet they were even more expensive. They took more time and came with a great deal of anxiety: would they turn out? Would they be as good? By and large they’ve been better and tastier, as I don’t get to use cheap waxy chocolate for anything but must use high quality dark chocolates and richer, more delectable everything. I’m not giving as many away, not per gift nor to as many people. But I still did my cookies, and I can eat them.

So far Dan and Anna have declared them as good if not better too, which is heartening, but they are as ever my greatest allies in the weird allergy food war. I’m ready for comments from people about how a favorite is different or missing, and I also still have all the old recipes for someone else who would like to make ten dozen cookies with as many eggs and sticks of butter as is desired in my place.

I’m dead serious too about wanting to have a food allergen party. Because I know everything I deal with is a minor shard of what the gluten-free people must endure. I don’t have to be GF, but I take a perhaps odd but intense pleasure from providing gluten-free meals for my friends who require them. It becomes a kind of quest: even when it costs me double or triple what it would to make something, even when it is very hard, I want to do it, perhaps more so. It’s a weird karmic payback or pay it forward, because yes, if you want to tell me you love me? Make an effort to include me in food. To shun me hurts more than I can explain, but to include me makes me so grateful I often can’t express how much it means to me. Like when my friends Mary and Mike not only insisted in getting me a special meal at their wedding–at their wedding–but they arranged for a special Heidi-friendly dessert and then came over to be sure I received it. I didn’t cry, but it was because I swallowed like hell. I will remember those cookies and that effort forever.

You know what, non-allergen people? You have a lot of people who need that kind of attention in your life. Most of them don’t tell you about it because it truly is easier to suffer quietly than try to get people to understand. But food is a big fucking deal. If you don’t have an allergy, cherish that. If you do? Let’s get together and eat. Copiously.

In closing: vegan fudgy bonbons. Because a world without them was a void that needed filling.

vegan fudgy bonbonsVegan Fudgy BonBons

  • 2 cups semisweet vegan chocolate (chips or chunks or a brick, whatever you can find, as you’ll be melting this)
  • 1/4 cup + 1 tsp Earth Balance shortening
  • 1 cup vegan sweetened condensed milk (see recipe here or find one you like)
  • 2 cups flour (I bet you could use a fine GF one for this. I’ll try to play.)
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 3 oz vegan mint chocolate
  • 12 oz vegan dark chocolate (you need chunks: I used Enjoy Life mega chunks, but anything you can coax into a clump of kiss-like shapes will work)
  • Parchment paper

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).

Prepare your condensed milk: this will take some time, so be ready for that. I found patience and Netflix on my phone were essential for the process.

In a medium saucepan (double boiler if you’re fancy, microwave if you’re lazy), combine chocolate chips and 1/4 cup shortening. Cook over low heat, stirring until melted. Remove from heat and stir in the condensed milk. Add the flour and vanilla; stir until well blended.

Take walnut-sized balls of dough, roll them into a ball and insert a roughly “kiss-sized” equivalent of dark chocolate. I used 3 whole chunks of Enjoy Life Mega Chunk Semi-Sweet Chocolate, but anything will do as it will conceal upon baking. Shove the chocolate inside, seal it in the dough, and place it on a baking sheet about one inch apart. They won’t expand so you can get pretty dense on this sheet.

Bake for 6 to 8 minutes or until dough is no longer shiny.

Using the top of a double boiler or microwave, melt the 3 oz mint chocolate and 1 tsp shortening together. Stir to blend, then drizzle a thumbnail sized portion on the top of each cookie. I clump the cookies together on parchment paper and drizzle with a spoon en masse, but if you want to take care and make them pretty, go individual. You may need more chocolate for this method, however. Before chocolate cools, add crushed candy canes on top for contrast, garnish and extra texture.

Protip: pop these beauties in the microwave for five seconds to get a touch of melty goodness before eating, though I’ve found the vegan version to be more succulent and melty naturally. Take that, you damn eggs and cows.


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Sugar Is a Toxin for Everyone, Not Just Me

I have seen the light. I have been redeemed. I actually arrived here before I knew where I was, but it took three different videos to help me figure it out, and the beauty is, you can watch them all too. What they will tell you?

  • The Western diet is seriously fucked, and it’s sugar’s fault.
  • Sugar is not only making you fat, it’s giving you heart disease and diabetes and cancer and all sorts of crap you had no idea it was doing.
  • Your brain sees sugar and cocaine pretty much in the same way, and sends you after sugar the same way an addict goes after a hit.
  • You need to stop consuming fructose outside of eating whole fruit NOW or as soon as possible.

I’m not going to rehash everything in all these videos. I recommend you start with the original 60 Minutes story, move to the Overtime, and if you’re ready for a deep cut, book an hour and a half to watch Sugar: The Bitter Truth and have your mind blown so badly you’ll need a bucket to catch it. Basically between these three shows you can learn about how incredibly awful sugar is. Don’t even ask why the government isn’t telling you. You’re not stupid. You can figure that out easily enough.

What you can take home right now without watching the videos is that every scientist who’s worked on this sugar thing has drastically reduced their own intake of sugar and that of their children because the data and science is that hard and that moving. I’ve seen it shake my husband the pharmacist to his core, and he’s walking around reading labels and cursing and starting the food-mourning process. Basically doing what I’ve been doing the last month.

It’s weird to basically have shown up for this party before I knew it was a party. All of a sudden in our house I’ve become the lighthouse instead of the lone reed. When Dan looks at me in despair asking, “How am I supposed to do this?” I just shrug and say, “Really, it’s not bad at all once you get your bearings.” In fact, it’s even fun. But it’s weird, very weird, to watch these shows and go, “Oh, hey. I’m already there.”

Now, the weird thing is I’ll tell you that I do drink fruit juice, which is part of the problem they’re saying. But I”ll also tell you my consumption has gone way, way down as time has gone on to the point where one eight ounce glass a day is more than enough, and I cannot stomach orange juice. Way too sweet. I prefer Naked juice which makes me full and feels like a meal. Mostly I drink juice in the morning first thing with my fish oil. (I know. Try not to think about it.) My coffee has gone down too, because I feel more like tea. I have coffee but not nearly as often, and it’s more for pleasure than because it is the substance which allows me to participate in life.

I’ll tell you what I’ve told my family. If you choose to cut down/out fructose, you want to do this gradually. Given that it really is about the same as quitting crack and that you’ll be seeing it EVERYWHERE all the time while you do, this is not easy or fun. Be kind to yourself. Also, during the detox? Fruit juice is your friend. Try to do mostly fruit, but if you’re needing that dopamine hit, grab juice. Thick juice with good stuff in it. It will give you the hit but not be as bad as a can of pop, and you can keep working toward cutting down. For me it has taken its own journey. If I want sweet I have pomegranate green tea or my fruit-juice sweetened bread or cereal. In both cases I’m getting a little fiber and some glucose, which is what you actually need.

Anyway. You seriously do want to watch those videos. And you really, really, REALLY want to look into drastically reducing your sugar too. I’ve got the people I need covered. Dan is already working on it, and Anna announced that she wants SOME easter candy, but if the bunny put pistachios in her hunt-and-find eggs, she’d be pretty damn happy. “We’re going to be the heathliest family on the block!” she announced at dinner.

Damn straight.

 


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What I’m Eating: Homemade Granola

Okay, this one is very hodgepodge, but it rocks this earth.

Start with brown rice puffs and a bit of uncooked oatmeal. You can use one or the other alone or mixed, about 3 cups or so. (I eyeballed it.) Add nuts of choice: I have walnuts, whole almonds, macadamia, and cashews, all raw and unadulterated. I would guess they were about two cups total. Pumpkin seeds (raw), about half a cup or so.

I also added about 1/3 cup total millet and quinoa, uncooked. It was what I had left over.

Now comes the flavorings and oil. I went with canola, about a quarter cup or enough to get it all wet. Quarter cup coconut sugar and about 3T agave nectar, but you could just use agave. (If you don’t know about agave nectar, cry. It’s cheap, low glycemic, and hyper sweet.) I added vanilla, nutmeg, cinnamon and salt.

I also added milled chia seed and this dried fruit, flaxseed and cocoa powder I found at the store. I think the latter and the agave are my secret weapons.

Stir all this together, spread on a baking sheet and bake at 300F for 20 minutes. I’m eating it without any mill because it doesn’t need it.

I like the rice puffs because they make it light, not heavy.

YUM.

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The best mac & “cheese” ever.

We have friends over tonight to have dinner and a fireside chat, and we elected to make this mac & cheese recipe, and OMG. Let’s put it this way. Jeff, who is so not the person you’d think would like a vegan mac & cheese dish, went back for seconds. Caryle, who was suspicious of it as well, also enjoyed it. Me, I wanted to put my face in it and ate it until I was nearly sick.

***

Vegan Mac n’ Cheese
inspired by Oh She Glows and Everyday Raw

Ingredients:

1 1/2 cups raw cashews
3 T. fresh lemon juice
3/4 cup water
1 1/2 tsp. sea salt
1/4 cup nutritional yeast
1/2 tsp. chili powder
1/2 clove garlic
pinch of turmeric
pinch of cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp. mustard (dijon or yellow)

8 oz. of elbow or shell pasta of choice

freshly ground black pepper
paprika, for garnish

*optional add-ins: roasted broccoli, sauteed mushrooms, spinach (I highly recommend these!!!)

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 350F. If you are adding roasted broccoli to your dish, this would be a good time to start preparing that, so it can roast in the oven while you work on the rest! You should also start boiling some water for your pasta.I opted for gluten-free, quinoa shells, but any pasta will do.

While you’re waiting for your pasta to cook, start working on the “cheese” sauce.

If you have a Vita-Mix, or other high-powered blender, making this sauce is a cake-walk. Simply throw the first ten ingredients into the blender, and blend until smooth and creamy! If you do not have a high-powered blender, don’t worry– you can easily use a food processor or blender to process the cashews first, until they are finely ground, or ideally, a nut-butter-like consistency. Once your cashews are thoroughly processed, add the rest of the ingredients and process until smooth.

You should have a thick, smooth sauce. At this time, you should check your pasta. Once it’s cooked to your liking, drain and rinse it, then return the pasta to the pot to be mixed with the cheese sauce.

If you’re adding any roasted or sautéed veggies, this would be the time to do it. I highly recommend adding roasted broccoli to this dish.

I also decided to saute a handful of mushrooms– they added a really nice texture to the dish! Once you’ve mixed everything together, pour the mac n’ cheese into an 8 x 8 square dish and garnish with a sprinkle of paprika and black pepper. Bake at 350F for 30 minutes.

What I’m Eating

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People keep asking me what I’m eating, and I never know what to say, largely because what I’m eating doesn’t have a conventional name. So here’s what I’m eating for lunch.

It’s a pita base (sprouted whole grain), with a variety of vegetables and more for the filler. After shredding part of a carrot, I chopped some spinach, portabella, celery, and chard stalk. I tossed in some walnuts, black beans, a cut up piece of falafel, and a half an avocado. This got put in hot olive oil to sauté for a few minutes while I heated the pita and added some green salsa and spring greens. The hot stuff was done then, and into the pita it went. And now into me.

That’s what I’m eating.


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Food Freak

I’m warning you now. This post will not contain anything at all about books, boys, RWA, or even cats. It’s going to focus possibly obsessively on food and inflammation. But the take home message for those of you who have been following my pain struggle over the years? The byword of the moment is “cautiously optimistic,” but I may very, very well have found myself a way out. It’s both very easy and hideously impossible.

Consume purified fish oil daily. Do not eat refined sugar/flours. Avoid dairy. Avoid the nightshade family (tomatoes, potatoes, and alas, eggplant). Avoid peanut, soy oils. Avoid processed everything as much as possible.  And then, entirely unrelated but my body’s stubborn new leaf since August: no meat. None. NONE. Not unless I want to feel like I have lead weights in my gut. The dairy is part of the same thing too, somehow, and I just don’t go there at all, because it’s always a horrible mistake.

Yes. This is really crazy hard. But it really crazy works.

I’m only a few days into it and helped along by sterroids, though I’ve stopped those now. The result is huge. I mean, unbelievably huge. Within two days of the fish oil (Yeah, I drink it. Yeah, it’s skeevy. Yeah, it really fucking works!) and being absolutely rigorous about sugar and flour, 80% of my chronic pain is gone, and a lot that remains is reminiscent of a few years ago before things got very horrible. I’m so clear in my head I sometimes just laugh for no reason. I’m bouncy. I bounce all over rooms, partly because I can, because when I land on my feet it doesn’t hurt. I’m awake. I don’t feel like I’m flagging out all the time. I don’t have nervousness and paranoia from feeling too foggy and having to cope with the world. I drink less coffee because it makes me feel too wound up and I’d rather have tea. I’m chugging water like they buried gold in the bottom of every bottle.

I go through moments where I’m so happy I cry and then moments where I’m uncertain and terrified and then angry about all the things I can’t eat again, maybe ever. I worry this is just a right now fix and it will go away. I worry how I will ever eat out with anyone ever again. I worry how every time I’m in a social setting I”m going to have to be the one who has The Food Problem, how either I’ll have to not eat while everyone else does, or they’ll resent me for having us have to eat at a place they don’t want to go. I’m petrified about all the travel I’m doing and how in the world  I will ever eat at conferences.

Because all of a sudden the world is full of food I cannot eat, and the things I can are stuff I’ll have to make at home or be lucky to find. Even a bowl of processed cereal with soymilk is poison. (Sugar in the cereal. Refined flour. Sugar in the soymilk. Soy oil/fat in the milk.) This morning I wanted Life cereal with soymilk so bad, and I couldn’t have it. Well, I could, but all I could think about was how good I felt, and what if that changed if I ate it? How much is too much? Right now I’m kind of in this detoxing state, so I figure I should be an angel about it.

But sugar is in everything. Starbucks. Everything at Starbucks. Bakeries. Even the great vegan cupcakes at Wheatsfield have sugar and flour, refined to pleasant textures that apparently make my body swell up and go crazy.

There’s also looming stuff like, “How the hell did this happen?” I don’t even know if I’ll ever know the answer even if this does turn out to be the fix. I have a feeling that later I’ll be able to indulge a little in the things that are poisons right now, but every couple hours it hits me that I’m probably eating like this for the rest of my life. It just blows my mind.

It doesn’t make me angry anymore as much as panicked and sad. I confess, I feel very left out. I feel like everyone else gets to go to a party of food and I can’t come. I feel like just as with shoes (never in my size) and clothes (ditto) I now am Other in food as well, someone who will watch other people blithely enjoy whatever they want while I quietly just don’t. It’s not true, because I’m already finding great food, and I don’t miss dairy at all, not at all. And raw chocolate? COME TO MAMA. But yeah, there’s a sadness, because it’s this huge loss. And it’s going to make my life hard and the life hard of anyone trying to eat with me.

Except of course I’m not the only one. You start to talk about this too much, and there are a zillion of us, all with different allergies and issues keeping us from different tables.

This morning it was bugging Dan, both his food issues and mine. His are more subtle, more about weight and heart health, and there isn’t the pain thing as a motivator, so it all becomes emotional. I have to say, pain is a big motivator. Yeah, I’m sad about no more french vanilla granola and soy yogurt. But I’m more excited about being able to empty the dishwasher. About not spending the weekend in a near-coma from pain, so drugged I can’t even take my kid on the outing I’d promised her. I think about that Life cereal and soymilk but then think about how I could probably clean the house this weekend and not hurt for three days after. It’s less about wanting to clean the house and being able to. The other night I cooked and did the dishes to boot largely because I could. Because cooking didn’t exhaust me. Because I felt good.

I cannot tell you how amazing it is to feel good.

So I guess I’m hoping this is just the start of a new wild journey that takes me further and further from chronic pain and into health I haven’t even let my self dream of having again. I”m hoping you start seeing me blog about how much I’ve enjoyed my food today and how good it made me feel.

And I hope if you have chronic pain, if you have a food issue — I hope you find your answers too. And if you’re now a food freak like me, let’s go to lunch. We’ll annoy the waitresses together.


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Temptation Peanut Butter Cups

I had a request for this recipe, and since I was typing it, I thought I might as well type it into a journal entry.  These are "cookies" I make with some regularity at Christmas, though they are by no means a Christmas-like cookie.  That’s just when the spirit of frenzied baking seems to hit me, and that’s when they happen.  Below is the official recipe.

Temptation Peanut Butter Cups
by Ann (Sporleder) Jackson 
found in Memories from Immanuel Lutheran Church, Lidderdale, Iowa, 125th Anniversary/Fundraiser edition

1/2 c. oleo
1/2 peanut butter
1/2 white sugar
1/2 c. brown sugar
1 egg
1 tsp. vanilla
1 1/4 c flour
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 bag mini Reese’s peanut butter cups

Mix all ingredients, except peanut butter cups . Roll into 1 inch balls.  Place in ungreased miniature muffin tins.  Bake at 350 for 8-10 minutes.  Take from oven and press peanut butter cups into middle until top shows.  Let cool before removing from muffin tin.  Cool on wire racks.  Makes about four dozen.  

These freeze well.

The above is the unadulterated recipe, but stay tuned for my notes and modifications.  First, though, I must wax briefly over my love of church and local community cookbooks.  These are what I was taught to cook from, and I love them because of the culture they carry, because of their simplicity and practicality, and sometimes because they are dated and/or impenetrable.  My favorites are the ones with no real measurements or things that say, "Bake in hot oven until done."  Some are very, very old, translated (or not) from pioneer great-great grandmothers.  Some are cringe-worthy artifacts of Campbell’s soup ad campaigns to turn simple dishes into preservative and fat-laden monstrosities.  Some are so strange only a starving farmer would eat them.  But some are gems, the sorts of things you could only find in small town cookbooks.

I love this one because it is a marriage of everything.  It is simple and adaptable and not really fancy, but the fussiness of the baking tins and the unwrapping of the peanut butter cups seems to fit Christmas. (I can’t bear to make them any other time because they are work and fancy, and I was raised that This Was Not Done.  Now, if someone special were coming, that would be different.  But for everyday?  NEVER.)  Of course, they really aren’t fancy, unless you are from small Germanic towns in eastern Iowa.  But I digress.

My first modification on this one is that I use salted butter instead of "oleo."  I’m not sure how far out in culinary culture "oleo" translates: my grandmother taught me at the age of five that "oleo" was margarine and/or Crisco.  In the 80s butter was old-fashioned and bad for you, so we used the other.  My grandmother to this day favors a mix of Crisco and margarine sticks.  Personally, I always use butter.  There’s less bizarre stuff in it, and the "oleo" is no better for you.  I like the flavor and the richness of butter, and if you’re eating a cookie, you’re already going to hell.  Go in a Cadillac.  

You can probably use unsalted butter, and I’m sure there are solid culinary reasons for this.  For some reason unsalted butter feels too posh for me.  I already feel like I’m being flash by using butter. Besides, I like salt.  So in it goes.

The other thing I do is that I chill the dough.  I just realize now for the first time that you don’t have to, according to the recipe, but I have always done so, as far as I remember.  A lot of this has to do with the fact that I prep dough one day and bake when I can work it in.  Also, I only own one mini muffin tin, and have to do this in three batches, including cooling time.  (Owning more than one mini-muffin tin for cookies I only make once a year, again, feels too posh.)

So, I start this gig by mixing the dough and chilling it for an hour or so at least, but I’ve left it in the fridge cumulatively for three or four days and it’s been fine.  When I’m ready to bake, I heat the oven and start prepping the pan.  I spray the thing with cooking spray because I don’t trust my muffin tin, or the cookies.  I roll the dough into walnut-sized balls and drop them in, and when the oven’s ready, in they go.  While it’s baking, I unwrap twelve cups and have them on standby.  (Tip–be damn sure you have all the papers off, including the bonus ones the factory sometimes puts on them.  There’s nothing worse than a Reese’s cookie with a bunch of paper between you and the melty-chocolate.) The cookies need to be done, but not brown.  They fluff up a bit, turning into lovely little poochy-things in the oven, but don’t let them brown.  I like to wait until they aren’t shiny, and then out they come.  IMMEDIATELY press the cups into the center until the whole business is roughly level with the surface of the tin.  

The recipe says both "let cool before removing from muffin tin" and "cool on wire racks."  Forget the racks.  Put the thing somewhere out of the way, somewhere cool/cold if you can manage it, and walk away for hours.  In winter mine go on our screen-in porch on the picnic table hibernating there for the winter, and usually I can retrieve them in an hour or so, depending on how cold it is here.  If it’s not cold, you’re just going to have to be patient.  So if you are comfortable with posh, two and maybe even three muffin tins will be required, either that or a lot of advance planning, because these take awhile.  

Once they’re cool–as in, the chocolate is completely reformed and solid–use a knife to loose then cups and shimmy them out.  This is where you realize your walnuts need to be more conservative than generous, because if you have excess cookie dough in the tin, it’s going to crumble now.  Resign yourself in advance to having a few unsightly cookies that are either lopsided or break upon removal.  (These generally go to my husband, who is only too happy to dispose of them.)

I have never in my life had these make a full four dozen, but then, I’ve never met a recipe that didn’t either lie or beg to be modified.

And thus endeth the tale of Temptation Peanut Butter Cups.  May you bake and eat them in good health (though if you eat them too often, your health, alas, will not last.)


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We like protein water. Yes, we do.

Current status is 85,853 words revised.  Unfortunately the total word count is climbing back up and now the overall is 179,888.  I suppose the good news is that in another 3k I’ll be half way through.  Of course, the damn thing could go up again.

It’s chapter six’s fault for completely not going according to The Lovely Organized Plan and instead introducing this very helpful and actually quite stunning plot twist which solves tons of things and explains why books well past this one have kept popping up in my head (can we say long arc?  Can we say WAY long arc?), but it padded this thing quite a bit again.  I keep whispering prayers that there will be stuff coming up that I can cut, and there are some places I’m eyeballing, but honestly, I have learned my lesson.  I’m just going to keep slogging through and let it be what it will be.  But there will be a editing only pass that will have to come after, because so much of this is new, now.  It’s progressed well beyond truck draft, though.  (Jenny Crusie’s analogy for the draft that your progeny could sell for profit if you were hit by a truck: crude, but coherent enough to be story.)  I can also say that this, if it had to be labeled, could be shelved under “fantasy.”  But I am still actively resisting labels, though.

The trouble around here is that I am having a hard time with the real life side of things.  Anna and I are doing okay, and Dan continues to be a saint, but there is the trouble of laundry and food.  The laundry I can work with, but the eating is proving both troublesome and bothersome.  I resent having to eat at all, but then I get very hungry and yet nothing sounds good.  I absolutely hate taking the time to eat, and there’s a sensitivity to having too much/the wrong thing in my stomach that makes me edgy.  I am really wishing there were a personal chef around here, but they’d probably be annoyed because I don’t know what I want.  More of that spinach-artichoke Alouette cheese, that’s for damn sure.  But in the meantime, there are protein bars and protein water.

I hadn’t tried the Special K protein water yet, and it’s pricey, but I can recommend it.  It does not take the whole edge off, but these would be really good if you have to wait another hour or two to eat and yet are really hitting the wall for a protein fix.  Far, far better for you than a snickers, and it tastes pretty much like Crystal Light.  I have another bottle downstairs and two more protein bars, and there will be more purchased soon.  Because I’m about to go back to work, but first I’m going to rinse out my mug, make new tea, and dig into that Kashi.


Leave a comment

We like protein water. Yes, we do.

Current status is 85,853 words revised.  Unfortunately the total word count is climbing back up and now the overall is 179,888.  I suppose the good news is that in another 3k I’ll be half way through.  Of course, the damn thing could go up again.

It’s chapter six’s fault for completely not going according to The Lovely Organized Plan and instead introducing this very helpful and actually quite stunning plot twist which solves tons of things and explains why books well past this one have kept popping up in my head (can we say long arc?  Can we say WAY long arc?), but it padded this thing quite a bit again.  I keep whispering prayers that there will be stuff coming up that I can cut, and there are some places I’m eyeballing, but honestly, I have learned my lesson.  I’m just going to keep slogging through and let it be what it will be.  But there will be a editing only pass that will have to come after, because so much of this is new, now.  It’s progressed well beyond truck draft, though.  (Jenny Crusie’s analogy for the draft that your progeny could sell for profit if you were hit by a truck: crude, but coherent enough to be story.)  I can also say that this, if it had to be labeled, could be shelved under “fantasy.”  But I am still actively resisting labels, though.

The trouble around here is that I am having a hard time with the real life side of things.  Anna and I are doing okay, and Dan continues to be a saint, but there is the trouble of laundry and food.  The laundry I can work with, but the eating is proving both troublesome and bothersome.  I resent having to eat at all, but then I get very hungry and yet nothing sounds good.  I absolutely hate taking the time to eat, and there’s a sensitivity to having too much/the wrong thing in my stomach that makes me edgy.  I am really wishing there were a personal chef around here, but they’d probably be annoyed because I don’t know what I want.  More of that spinach-artichoke Alouette cheese, that’s for damn sure.  But in the meantime, there are protein bars and protein water.

I hadn’t tried the Special K protein water yet, and it’s pricey, but I can recommend it.  It does not take the whole edge off, but these would be really good if you have to wait another hour or two to eat and yet are really hitting the wall for a protein fix.  Far, far better for you than a snickers, and it tastes pretty much like Crystal Light.  I have another bottle downstairs and two more protein bars, and there will be more purchased soon.  Because I’m about to go back to work, but first I’m going to rinse out my mug, make new tea, and dig into that Kashi.

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