The Hull Story
Last night, my husband Russell and I attended our daughter Mia's high school football game as band chaperones. These games are fun to attend for a few reasons; the football team is rather good, they won the game, the Patriot Band is phenomenal and the fans are a hoot!
When we first moved to the this area of the East, our real estate agent warned us about football in these parts. She said, 'Football is sort of like a religion around here and you best get used to it.' We thought she was exaggerating but she was not. You see, as a Californian, it is a new experience for me to see graduates of the various high schools attending the games, even if one of their own family members is not on the team. They attend, merely because they are "fans." The language, fashion choices and face paint sort of add to the whole experience too. The dedication and enthusiasm are something to witness. It's an entire "culture" that was new to us. Maybe you are part of this fan culture, Dear Readers. (Share in the comments section if you are.)
Anyway, getting back to the game...
As chaperones, we sit with the band. We help them, watch over them, check uniforms and clean up after them. We sit at about the 50 yard line, with parents and fans of the team and band all about us. To our extreme left, sit the school's Riot Squad. The Riot Squad is comprised of "Super Fans" from the high school and are one of the most entertaining aspects of game attendance. They throw gold powder packets (and each other) in the air, cheer, paint their bodies with school colors and in general, rev-up the crowd. The first time we attended a game as "fans" not "chaperones," Russell and I accidentally sat above the Riot Squad. Suffice it to say, that the last time we did that...
Last night, a mother of one of the football players was standing, not sitting, throughout the entire game. She had her face painted and wore color-coordinated socks to match the face paint. (Her mouth was pretty colorful at times too but if my son was out there, I cannot say I would sound any different.) She was dedicated and adorable. Some of her friends and family joined her in the stands and they brought along with them the most precious twin girls! As soon as the twins showed up, they were plied with noisemakers and treats; namely popcorn. Each was given a bag half as big they were tall. I'm talking HUGE bags of popcorn!
About halfway through the game, I looked over and noticed one of the girls had nearly finished her bag of popcorn. The little nymph was happily and gustily shoving, and I mean shoving, the popcorn into her little baby girl mouth as though she had not eaten in weeks. All I could think about was how much her little baby girl tummy was going to hurt from all that popcorn! Her daddy tried to sneak a handful or two of the popcorn, but only when his daughter was distracted by something else, like tucking her toy and her sister's toy into a blanket "bed." Only then could her daddy grab a quick bite of popcorn.
In our house, popcorn is a welcome and popular snack, especially with Mia and me. I use an air popper and eat mine with different salts like Himalayan or the Takesumi Bamboo Sea Salt I purchased in Japan last summer. The Takesumi salt has a smoky, almost metallic, sulfurous taste and compliments the sweetness of popcorn very well. (I know that sounds odd, but it's yummy.) As I watched the twin girls eating their popcorn, I thought about why (and how) popcorn pops. Here is the "Hull" Story.
Once upon a time, what would become "American corn" grew. These first stalks of wild corn (or maize) grew in South America in Peru over 5000 years ago! Those smarties in South America realized they could cook the maize and that it was not only delicious but also could be stored for long periods of time. Un-popped kernels of popcorn were found in a cave thousands of years later, in New Mexico, by some archeologists. Those archeologists must have been foodies because they actually popped the stuff! (That must have been kind of cool to see 5000 year old kernels pop BUT, hard pass on the tasting part, thank you.) As usual, I digress. In case you don't know, popcorn pops because each kernel has a tiny bit of water inside of the shell, or hull. As the popcorn is heated, that tiny bit of water becomes steam, which builds up as pressure and then, POP! The kernel explodes into a billowy cloud of goodness which we humans shove into our mouths with great joy. That's the "Hull Story." The end.
Popcorn and football. Popcorn and movies. Popcorn and fun. Popcorn is a huge part of our culture and we have some geniuses from ancient Peru to thank. Who'd have thunk it?
How do you, Dear Readers, prepare your popcorn? Do you like your popcorn plain, with butter and salt, caramel, cheese, chocolate or a combination of all these flavors? Maybe you put something else entirely different on top of it? Do you pop it in a hot air popper or on the stovetop? Is microwave popcorn a beloved treat? Please share in the comments section how you like to make and eat your popcorn.
It's that time of year again. The time of year when it's "okay" to eat apples again. Huh? Why wasn't it "okay" to eat apples before Mary? Who the heck do you think you are Mary? We can eat what we want when we want! You would be correct of course Dear Reader, but you would not have made a good choice if you have been eating apple out of season. Why? Because most apples in the United States are picked under ripe, treated with chemicals, waxed, boxed and placed in cold storage for many months before they are artfully stacked in the produce department and purchased by unsuspecting shoppers, that's why. Since you read this blog, you are now no longer an "unsuspecting shopper" but an "informed, brilliant shopper." ('You're welcome' by the way. ) So moving forward, you will eat seasonally. Okay, what does that mean? Man! Dear Readers, you're giving me a workout today! Okay! I will tell you... Seasonally means eating something when it is in season. Dah right? So now what's in season? Apples! Yay! Now that it's okay you purchased apples when you are supposed to, what to do, what to do?
One super yummy and easy thing to do with apples is to make apple sauce. I make my homemade apple sauce based on a recipe from "The Silver Palate Good Times Cookbook" by Julie Russo and Sheila Lukins with Sarah Leah Chase, I was given as wedding present. My copy is tattered, splatted and torn. The spine is VERY cracked and the pages are stained. It is a cherished and loved cookbook. It is the type of cookbook I hope my own cookbook will look like and become on the bookshelf in your home...
Anyway, the recipe calls for Granny Smith apples (I use Golden Delicious or heirloom apples or sometimes a mix of apples) plus apple cider (enough so they sort of float, brown sugar (to taste), cinnamon (I add to taste) and nutmeg (which I omit) a pinch of salt and a little piece of lemon peel (both of which are my own additions.) Simply peel, core and chop the apples into chunks. Simmer the apples in the cider along with the cinnamon, salt and peel, until the apples are tender and slightly mushy, stirring frequently. Then, remove the peel and mash the apples into a chunky consistency (which we like in our house) or into the fine puree-style; whichever is preferred. Store the sauce in the refrigerator. That's it! Apple sauce is a delicious snack or scrumptious accompaniment to bratwurst, pork chops, chicken or whatever. Happy apple-ing!
Please share how you make apple sauce in the comments section and whether you prefer the chunky or puree type of apple sauce.
Nasturtiums Blowing in the Breeze
There are many things in life that make me happy. Spending time walking along the coast collecting seashells, walking among trees, learning something new and of course, my family. Cooking and creating are also top of my list. Of all the things that make me happy, it's the "little things" that make me the most happy...
What are the "little things?"
The way nothing feels like the skin of a newborn baby. Sunlight shining through the trees in the winter time. The way the air feels just before it begins to snow. The salmon-pink sky of sunrise and the violet-colored sky of sunset. Laughter. Red, orange and gold nasturtiums blowing in the fall breeze.
I bet you're thinking right now, 'Dah Mary! Of course those things make you happy. Those are things that make anyone happy! What are you a zombie?'
Jeez! Dear Readers... Be nice! Okay! Okay! You would be correct. Those things would make anyone happy, even a zombie. How about these less poetic "little things?"
Someone cleaning your kitchen or taking the time to tidy their bed before they go to school. Here's a good one, shut their closet door before they go to school! (If you have a school-aged child, especially a teenage girl, you know what I'm talking about. What is it about kids and closet doors anyway?) What about somebody holding a door for you or lending you something or picking up your child from school for you? How about when you bake a cake and the ENTIRE cake release from the pan? "WOOT! WOOT!" and "Double Joy!" I say! Does the way your dog make certain everyone has given her a "good morning" pat on her head make you happy? What if a leaf blows past the window and your dog does not bark? (Now I bet you're thinking the "little things" need to be based in reality. Again Dear Reader, you would be correct.) Okay. I will give you this one...
If you take a moment to notice the "little things" happening all about you, you too may come to see they're not such "little things" after all. Although it's cliché, it is true, the "little things" in life make us happy.
Please share a "little thing" you noticed today in the comment section.
The Other 30%
Our bodies are made up of mostly water. In fact, our bodies are comprised of nearly 70% water! That's a LOT of water Dear Readers! There is water in cells, blood, waste, sweat and even in the bacteria we all carry around. The bacteria out number our own cells! But, lets not focus on the that.
The other "30%" of our body is basically oxygen and well, nothing. This is kind of frustrating to think about because when I say to someone (usually my husband Russell) 'Use that space between your ears for once!' (Not that I would ever say this! Come on...) He, I mean they, can't! Oh God! Life just got complicated! Lets not focus on that bit of enlightenment either. Instead, lets focus on the 70%. What do ya say? Okay? Good.
Getting back to the 70%...
Yesterday, our youngest daughter, Mia, stayed home ill. She came home Monday evening and began vomiting. Understandably, she was weak and tired but had no other symptoms. She woke the next morning, feeling even more weak and tired and I started to think. 'I wonder if she had become dehydrated?' Dehydration is one of those silent but deadly experiences. It sneaks up on you, ever so stealthily and then WHAM-O! You're knocked over by it and it can be very scary. We are experiencing a heat wave here in the East and it's been a challenge to be active, believe me. Mia is a very active kid. She is in choir and band, both very physical activities and both conducted without much opportunity to drink as much as she should. (I work in a commercial kitchen and it is painfully hot in there before I even turn on my equipment! Once ALL the equipment is going, forget about it!) Those things, coupled with the fact she is a kid, combine to make the perfect opportunity for the silent killer to strike.
I began to ply Mia with electrolyte water and sports drinks. I fed her foods with salt on them, like organic popcorn and I made certain she ate meals that contained a balance of protein, sugars and carbohydrates to give her body the energy she needed to recover from a trauma. I sent her to school today with electrolyte water and a good lunch and strict instructions to hydrate ALL day and to eat. You see, Dear Readers, if you do not know, over-hydrating can be equally as dangerous as not drinking enough. If a person drinks too much fluid without eating enough food, their sodium and potassium levels will get thrown off and this is very dangerous! (I know because this is what happens to me quite often.) My levels are very sensitive and I have to monitor myself all the time. When my levels get off, it feels like I am spiraling down a tunnel and no amount of water will help so I have to supplement my fluids. It's a horrible feeling and sneaks up on me, even though I know to be careful.
Anyway, here are some symptoms of dehydration to keep an eye skinned for:
2. Dark pee
4. Increased pulse
7. Thirst (big dah right?)
Here are some symptoms of over-hydration to keep an eye skinned for:
Do you have a great tip for keeping hydrated? Please share it in the comments section.
There is a flippable book on my work desk. Today it is turned to the following saying; "Mommy, when I grow up I want to be a total bitch just like you."
My mother always says, 'Mary, you look like such a normal person and then you open that mouth.' Thanks Mom... 'I am who I am.' Is my reply. Isn't "owning" who we are part of "growing up?" Only by taking ownership of who we are can we grow as a person. So, 'Who am I?' is a good question to exam today.
Each of us has a story. We, all of us, are products of our environment. We become psycho killers or cooks. We become fierce or flounder. We become directed or lost. Sometimes, we are a mixed bag of all these qualities. I tend to cook with psychotic and fierce intensity which I allow my love of my family (and cooking in general) to direct.
I had an opportunity to meet Sara Moulton recently. (If you live under a rock, Sara Moulton is a cooking rock star! She is as kind and patient as she seems on her PBS television show, "Sara's Weeknight Meals" too.) I got to ask Sara what she loves most about cooking and she asked me in return. We had the same answer! We both love cooking for our families and those we love. I also got to ask her if it is 'normal' to think about food and cooking all the time. (You know, read about it, watch cooking shows, think about it, dream about it.) She said, 'YES! It's called "Passion!"' Whew! Sara said she too dreams about food. Double 'WHEW!'
Direct the manic energy of your inner psycho killer with love and passion to release your inner rock star and share that with the people you love. If that passion is cooking, writing, photography, gardening, learning, exploring, whatever.
What are you passionate about? Please share what makes you tick in the comments section.
Don't Eat the Purple Mushrooms!
There are many things in life that are important to do intelligently, to do well and to do with heart. Walking, rollerskating, making coffee and of course; cooking, to name just a few. I am using the word, "intelligently" because I am not about doing something "perfectly." There is no such thing as "perfect." Period. So, lets play devil's advocate. I invoke the right to play devil's advocate for two reasons: 1. It's my blog and I can do what I wanna. 2. See reason 1.
Devil's advocate is played when a person takes the opposite side of something in order to invoke a debate. At it's root, it is meant to be helpful but it's all in the delivery. Like sarcasm, playing devil's advocate can back fire but, I am brave (or stupid) so here it goes.
Lets say you walk stupidly and badly. Huh? Give me a second please. By this I mean, you walk across the street, do not look in both directions, at night, with ear phones on, music blaring in your ears AND are chewing gum. What happens? You get flattened by the bus that did not have its lights on. Does that sound good? Nope. (It doesn't to me either.) Here is another one. Since we just established you cannot walk intelligently or well, you give rollerskating a go. Things do not end well. I will just leave the outcome to your imagination.
Now, lets play devil's advocate about cooking. You're in the forest, having a picnic with your friends. (You have mobile phones, of course.) One of your friends begins looking up the mushrooms you passed on the way to the perfect picnic spot. You and the group begin discussing how delicious mushrooms would taste with the chicken you brought for lunch. 'Oh yes, please!' You and your friends sing in unison. 'Go and pick them. NOW!' Your friend with the mobile phone (and fantasy service) skips off to go and harvest the mushrooms. 'They were purple!' He chants' as he disappears from view. 'They will look super pretty with the chicken and red grapes you brought us Mary. Oh Mary, you are SO awesome!' (Hey! No judging here at Mary's Kitchen! It's my blog and my game!) He, yes he, skips back, super excited, brushes the moss from the mushroom caps and nestles them alongside the red grapes on everybody's plates. You all marvel at his knowledge and your good fortune for having a friend clever enough to learn how to pick wild mushrooms by merely using a mobile phone and dive into the little lavender caps of joy. That is your last meal. The end. The moral of this game of devil's advocate? If you need me to spell it out I'm a little worried about you but there is nothing I will not do for you, Dear Readers, so here it goes. Cook intelligently and cook well. (By the way, you're welcome for saving your life! I mean, this exact scenario could actually happen. Thank goodness you read this blog every day. Whew!)
See how important using your intelligence and doing something well can be?
Okay, what does any of this devil's advocating have to do with anything? Well dah.... EVERYTHING! I get asked all the time by people what I believe are the most important skills in a kitchen. Well, Dear Readers, it really breaks down to just one skill. Ready? Intelligence. Intelligence keeps you safe, aware, organized and focused in the kitchen. Intelligence keeps you curious learning and helps you to cook well. It's just that simple. Be the smartest cook you can be and always cook from your heart. Skills and such will come with practice. Cooking is the same as anything else you wish to learn, practice makes you better, strong, faster and yep, smarter.
Make the Blender Go 'rrrrrrr'
We are in the middle of a particularly ornery "Indian Summer" here in the East. Yesterday was pushing 90 degrees and the next couple of days will be the same. Yesterday was also a parade day for local bands. Parade days mean uniform days. Uniform days mean polyester, lots of polyester.
Polyester + 90 degrees + blacktop = sweaty teenagers.
Sweaty teenagers need ice cream. It's just that simple. Do the math.
As my husband, Russell and I were escorting our daughter, Mia and her friend the 23 miles back to our car, through the crowd, up hill, in 90 degrees, over the blacktop, we overheard the following and I thought it would be a perfect blog.
*Please note, the measurements below are inaccurate. I call this "recipe" 2000 Calories of Goodness."
'So what you do is you put some ice cream in a blender.
Then, you put a bunch of cookies in the blender.
You add about a cup of heavy cream.
You make the blender go 'rrrrrrrrr!'
Then, you pour the milkshake into a tall glass and top it with some more whipped cream!
2000 Calories of Goodness! YUM!
That's it! It's that easy!
Please Don't Eat the Grass
Sugar makes the world go round. We crave it, need it, want it, covet it and hate it all at the same time. We harvest it, wash it, mercilessly crush it. Dose it with lime, boil it and then we evaporate it in a "strike" (a vacuum pan) and add some nucleation crystals. (If you do not know, nucleation is the initial process that happens during the formation of a crystal from a solution. Adding nucleation crystals helps the sugar molecules arrange into patterns we recognize as crystals. Savvy? Good.) But wait, there's more. At each stage of the process, there are many, the sugar is extracted and the process is repeated. As you can imagine, the first sugar is the highest quality and is used to make "white sugar." There are numerous phases of the extraction and by products too, molasses for one. The second sugar is lower in quality and is usually blended with the first sugar, bleached a bit and then sold as "raw sugar or "Demerara sugar." (Funny how raw sugar is more expensive than white sugar yet it is actually lower in quality. Huh. No judging because I prefer the taste of raw sugar but, huh.) The third sugar is used for "brown sugar" and the last molasses by product is black strap molasses. Molasses gets sulfurized or not (we eat the unsulfured but the other kind is fed to cows.) The collected sugar is then bleached and formed into granules or loaves.
In its "natural" form, sugar is not all that appealing. Sugar comes from sugar cane which is a perennial tropical grass. Again, huh. Try this the next time you order coffee, 'I'd like a double espresso, mocha chai latte, light on the froth with just a dash of perennial tropical grass, thank you.' Doesn't work does it. Nope. Somehow "sugar" sounds more romantic and most of us don't eat grass. "Sugar" is the generic name for "sweet, soluble carbohydrates." Look it up. Ok, lets try that. 'I'd like a double espresso, mocha chai latte, light on the froth with just a dash of sweet, soluble carbohydrates, thank you.' Nope, that doesn't work too well either. Best to stick with "sugar." It would be kind of fun to try ordering coffee that way though, don't ya think?
Last night I felt it coming on. It sort of built up all day. With the feeling comes the anxiety that something bad is coming. Once that feeling begins, there is often times, no turning back. Pain, Dear Readers. Pain is an unwelcome guest in our bodies. It arrives without warning and takes up residence in our heads, backs, stomachs or neck. Pain is well, a PAIN!
This morning Pain woke me up, the little sh!+. I did not and do not appreciate being woken up by Pain. Is there any worse way to be woken up? Pain decided my head was the perfect place for a little vacation, so that is where it parked. Pain broke out a beer and a lounge chair and got comfortable! (Even opening my eyes hurt.) I knew this was not a "breathe it away" kind of headache but a "take migraine medicine, go back to bed, put the lavender eye pillow on and then breathe" kind of headache. Our dog, Lollipop came to keep me company and she was blissfully quiet and comforting. She laid there and cuddled up to me as I tried to do some yoga breathing. If you're not familiar with yoga-type breathing, it's the type when you inhale as fully as possible and sigh it out. The sound of my "sigh" actually hurt me head more so I just exhaled without noise (unless moans count) and they don't. I placed a lavender eye pillow over by eyes and breathed in its calming scent. My mother, Ellen, made it for me and it's filled with organic flax seed, garden-grown lavender flowers and some lavender essential oil. It is perfectly weighted to provide just the "right" amount of tolerable pressure on my eyes to be comforting and not cause more pain. Lavender eye pillows are fabulous for relieving stress or pain. Try making or purchasing one and you will thank me, believe me.
Thankfully, between the medicine, the breathing and the lavender eye pillow, my headache had all but disappeared by the time I began by day. I knew a good workout and strong coffee would help me and if I was careful, I should be able to keep the little prick, I mean Pain, away. I can still feel Pain, hiding behind my eyes just waiting to pounce when I let my guard down but I know it's there so I will try to keep hydrated and keep breathing deeply all day.
I started thinking about migraines and the different types of migraines. I wondered what it is called when a migraine causes the sufferer to see flashing lights in particular. Wouldn't you know it, there is a name for that type of migraine, they are called "Aura Migraines." Doesn't that sound almost fun? It sounds like a ride at a carnival or a fair. The "Aura Migraine" is five tickets to ride please... Hard Pass! It's the type of ride you realize too late is not for you!
Now that you have a migraine, what can you do about it? Well, for one thing, breathe. Breathe fully. For another, hydrate, with water please. There are other home remedies for migraines such as acupressure. Two that I have tried might help you too but of course there are many others.
1. Activate/stimulate the Third Eye area. The Third Eye is that spot right between your eyes. Simply apply gentle yet firm pressure there for one minute.
2. Drill for bamboo. Say what? Yep, drill for bamboo. You know that place where one of your three pairs of glasses sits on either side of your nose bridge? Yep. That is where you "drill." Apply gentle yet firm pressure to one or both sides for one minute too.
The thing about these two pressure points is they are places you are drawn to apply pressure because you probably have pain there from your headache. Other places on the face, like just below the cheek bones are pressure points too. I say, try any and all of these remedies to help you feel better. A dark, quiet room does the trick too and my mother likes a heating pad applied to her face. I say whatever works.
Please share your remedies to alleviate headaches in the comments section.
All Cracked Up
Do you have one of those people in your life that think they're funny? I mean "delusional funny." When that person cracks a joke, they are so proud of it but they are the only ones laughing in the room? Their laughter turns to nervous fear when they realize their zinger was not all that zingy. Yep. That person. Well, Dear Readers, I am just lucky enough to be married to such a person. Lucky me. Lucky me.
This morning, BEFORE exercise and coffee, my charming husband, Russell, strolled up to me, quite casually and even more casually said, 'I don't like your new haircut.' Now Russ and I have been married a LONG time so I know when to brace myself. The funny part is, HE does not? Huh... Anyway, I recognize the proud 'this is gonna be good' glint in his eyes so I took a breath and waited for the "it." I looked at Russ with a puzzled look (pretty typical actually) as he continued to stroll toward me and attempt to cuddle me as he said, and I am NOT kidding, 'I don't like your haircut anymore because now I don't have the worst hair in the house.' No doubt this well-documented and brave moron believed his teasing would be well received. After all, my hair is pretty silly-looking in the morning, today's 'bed head' was no exception BUT really? Russ just cracked up and tried to cuddle me some more. He had the sense to be a little afraid at this point but only a little. He is after all, a moron. (This is my life Dear Readers.) Every woman "Dear Readers" will thank me for the upcoming message to my men "Dear Readers." Attention men "Dear Readers," a little advice. IF the woman makes jokes about her hair, you may not! Ever! LEAVE the ranks of well-documented and brave and morons strolling about the planet. We are at our limit!
Whew! I feel like I have done my civic duty and can finally get down to what today's blog is really about, cracked cakes. This morning, a reporter and photographer from the local newspaper called the Morning Call, are coming to my house to do a story about Funny Cakes. The reporter emailed me and said we will do the usuals such as showing photos of this and that and do some 'beauty shots.' 'Beauty shots?' I thought? 'Beauty shots of my Funnycake?' My next thought was, 'Oh-oh.' You see, my Funnycake as several large and not so funny cracks. Cracks most anywhere do not usually fall into the "beauty" category so what to do what to do? I cannot remake it because I do not have time... I figured I best share why it cracked. THAT I have time to do.
My cake cracked, any cake cracks, because the temperature was too high and the rack was placed incorrectly. This makes perfect sense because I baked the Funny Cake in the toaster oven. One rack setting, too close to the heat. I saw the crack was happening but it was too late. I adjusted the heat, but again, it was too late. (The heat in a toaster oven is also not as accurate as a normal oven.) In my defense, it is very hot and humid here in the East right now and I did not want to turn the oven on, even for a newspaper article. Since the Funny Cake is charming and a rather silly cake, I am not too concerned and there is this other wonder- trick and it is called, "dust it with powdered sugar and serve." Problem solved!
Share your techniques for saving a dish that did not turn out as beautifully as you'd hoped and we can help each other.
Avid home cook and passionate instructor