Saturday, October 8, 2011

Cooking as meditation

I've always cooked to relax, which means when I'm under a lot of stress I tend to gain weight.  But thanks to some cholecystic issues, I've been on a virtually fat-free diet for a couple of months.  I've lost six pounds and I'm now officially classed as "underweight."  This situation has done nothing to help my stress levels.  So to kill two birds with one stone, I decided to make risotto.

My friend, Kurt, taught me to make risotto.  Well, not so much taught me as I've watched "the Maestro" make it a dozen times.  Risotto is a basic rice recipe that you can vary with the addition of different ingredients. Last week "baby bella" (aka crimini) mushrooms were on sale at Winn-Dixie and they beckoned to be made into risotto.  The recipe is relatively low-fat because you can adjust the amount of oil and parmesan cheese.  And risotto is meditative in that it requires constant stirring for about 20 minutes.  Yes, there are "oven baked" varieties on FoodGawker but I wanted to be taken away from my grading, class prep and research for a few minutes.  So without further ado, this is my recipe for


1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 finely diced onion
1 garlic clove
1 cup finely diced mushrooms (I sliced the crimini mushrooms horizontally, then diced them for a nice even texture)
2 tablespoons sherry
1 cup uncooked arborio rice (also known as "risotto rice" this is a round kernel, very different from long grain)
2 cups chicken or vegetable broth
1 cup water (plus more if necessary)
1/3 cup grated parmesan cheese
Parsley for garnish

Heat the olive oil in a wide frying pan over medium heat.  Add the onions and garlic and saute for three minutes.  Add the mushrooms and continue to saute 4-5 minutes. Do not brown.  Add the sherry to deglaze the pan.  Then stir in the rice.

Add about one cup of broth and begin stirring, still over medium heat.  When the broth has been absorbed, add another 1/2 cup broth.  Continue stirring.  Don't walk away or the rice will start sticking to the bottom of the pan.  Each time the liquid has been absorbed, add another 1/2 cup of broth.  When you're out of broth, add the water 1/2 cup at a time.  The standard cooking time is about 20 minutes, but test the rice to see if it is tender with just a little bit of chewiness to it.  When it's reached this texture, remove the pan from the heat and add the parmesan cheese.  Stir it in quickly because it will start to melt in the hot risotto.  The resulting mixture should be creamy.  Serve topped with parsley and salt and pepper to taste.  Serves 3-4.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Taking the bad with the good

I dread September - and not for the obvious reason that the world changed ten years ago today.  For me so many life changing moments have taken place in Septembers past.  One year my car was totaled by a drunk driver while it was parked on the street.  The next year I had to have breast surgery.  The next year my dog had to be put to sleep.  In 2000 my mom died unexpectedly.  It was in September that both my marriages fell apart. And last year at this time I was battling the administration for firing me without cause. 
Four car accident - one (drunk) driver, Nashville, 9/18
Cassie (aka Cassandra's Tail of Woe)
My first birthday - Mom and confetti angelfood cake!
People say that I’m a survivor... that they admire my strength.  I say that everyone has different ways of dealing with adversity.  And while every year I wonder what sort of devilry September has in store for me, I persevere.  Because I know that if one is patient, if one trusts that everything happens the way it’s supposed to, all of the bad things will be balanced by good.  

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Common Sense Dieting

Maybe it's the stress of the past few months or maybe my metabolism has changed again (or maybe it was that box of Thin Mints I managed to eat in two days around Valentine's Day).  In any event, I've easily gained seven pounds since November - enough that my underwear doesn't fit right and I know I'll never get into that dirndl I had custom made last year.  So I began this morning with a jog around the lakes and then set upon finding a reasonable diet guide on the internet.

You can't go wrong with the Mayo Clinic which provides a free online calculator to determine activity level, age, weight and other vital statistics. The calculator reduced my calories by about 450 per day (1650 to 1200) and offered a four page plan with mix and match categories and portion sizes based on the food pyramid.

With all the diet assistance you can find on the web, it amazes me how many people opt for the sketchy diet plans.  But recently I was discussing weight loss with colleagues and they wanted a diet that allowed them to eat anything and didn't require exercise.  They also wanted immediate results which led them to one of the more popular fad diets today, one that involves either injecting or ingesting a hormone and reducing calories to 900 a day.  These otherwise reasonable people would rather pay hundreds of dollars to fly-by-night companies for a quick fix than take the Mayo Clinic's free advice to help them lose weight the natural, healthy way.

It makes sense to me that people of different activity levels respond differently to dieting.  Carbohydrates are great for people with active lifestyles.  But I can't see any sense in a sedentary person restricting their diet to meat and cheese without an exercise plan to clear their arteries of bacon fat and cholesterol.  There's no organic Drano that'll blast through all that gunk - despite what you've read on the internet.  It is simply a matter of balance:  if you take in more calories than you burn, you will gain weight.  Unfortunately it's a lot easier to gain weight than lose it.

So here are some tips to tip the scale in your favor:  Park the car 20 yards farther from your office building.  Take the stairs.  Play outside with your kids or grandkids.  Go for a walk.  Join Curves.  Substitute whole grains for white bread.  Eat more veggies.  Eat more fruits.  Reduce calories.  Reduce portions.  Reduce fat.  Reduce sugar.  Prepare your own lunch.  Drink a glass of water when you feel hungry.  Eat small portions frequently.  Try to get 60% of your daily calories before 2:00 pm.

And one bad food day does not give you license to go back to your old habits.  Keep a food diary.  Familiarize yourself with portion sizes and find out where your weaknesses are.  And if you're going to eat a whole box of Thin Mints in two days (1600 calories), adjust your diet accordingly!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Consciousness exercise

Ever wish your brain was like a computer hard drive, and you could simply delete all the extraneous files that are taking up too much space and slowing down your operating system?  Today, as I lay down for my second nap, I closed my eyes and imagined searching my brain for keywords that have been interfering with my daily life: names of former employers, colleagues, previous failures, prior mistakes.  Each keyword brought up a list of files and imaginary button marked "Delete all." I pressed it. "Are you sure you want to delete these files? Yes/No" After a moment of hesitation, I clicked "yes," which was followed by the sound of breaking glass.  The dark room grew immediately brighter, my spirit significantly lighter.

Now all that's left is the defragmenting and a hard reset!

Monday, April 11, 2011

Day 34 of my Facebook fast

It's true! I gave up Facebook for Lent! It's been a lot easier than expected. And a lot more difficult because it's easy to find other procrastination sites on the web. Including webcomic xkcd

The author of the xkcd is insightful and brilliant. He's also human and gets sucked in to online distractions like the rest of us. Here's his solution to regaining lost productivity (Bonus: your house might even get tidied!) Make sure you read the comments, offering different ways of achieving the same goal.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

A cancer-fighting dessert?

Black bean brownie bites from the American Institute for Cancer Research.

These are wonderful!  Like a cross between a brownie and a mini muffin, delicately spiced with cinnamon. Perfect with coffee or afternoon tea.