The cookie story

I haven’t felt much like Christmas this year. We decided to spend Christmas Day with Mickey Mouse this year since Mom isn’t here anymore and the family seems to be heading in 12 different directions this year. The only decorating I’ve done was to pull a small tree out of a box already decorated and “fluff” it a bit along with putting a strange crèche I found up on the piano. Five minutes. Done. Boom.

While going through a box of Mom’s things, I found a binder full of family recipes. I didn’t think I was up to the task of making the butter cookie cut outs I made with Mom or the chocolate molasses cookies that she sent us boxes of for every special occasion. I decided to make something emotionally easier – my aunt’s “dunkin platters.”

I assembled all of the ingredients on the kitchen island and went off to search for my kitchen aid mixer. I stepped into the storage area and found it right outside the door – not where I expected it to be – but very handy indeed. It was filthy, but I figured it must have gotten dusty when my husband blew in insulation a couple of weeks ago.

I put the full pound of butter on the stove to melt and then I set about cleaning up the dirty mixer. I grumbled under my breath that the last kid to put it away had left something sticky on the base. I couldn’t figure out what it was, but it didn’t want to leave. The bread hook and wire whip were in the bowl, which was odd because I don’t store them together. They looked nasty, too, so I stuck the, into the dishwasher. Next, I checked the mixer bowl for any stray dog hair, since we share our home with 3 of them now. Instead of hair, I found a layer of dead bugs in a variety of shapes and sizes. I shivered a little and then tried to shake them into the trash. They weren’t leaving. It took tons of hot water, soap and elbow grease to make that bowl sparkle. I was more than a little annoyed.

The beater was attached to the stand. I wanted to clean it, too, since it may have touched the bugs. It wouldn’t come off. As I wrestled with the mechanism, more dead bugs fell out of the mixer head. I pinched myself to make sure this wasn’t just a bad dream. Ouch! It wasn’t. It was then that I realized this wasn’t my mixer (thank goodness). It was Mom’s. Those bugs had probably been there for years.

I was still a little queasy. I wasn’t sure that cookies still sounded good, but the full pound of butter was now melted. Waste not, want not..

I have to eat strictly gluten free, so baking cookies required ordering certified gluten free oats and gluten free corn flakes, along with gluten free flour. These were not cheap cookies to make, and they required planning. I was committed now. I went in search of another navy blue kitchen aid mixer. It took a while, but I found it, right where my husband told me he had put it.

I followed the recipe, heated the oven, and lovingly plopped spoonfuls on the ungreased tray. 10 minutes later I found a single 11 x 14 inch cookie instead of 18 3-inch rounds. I decided I needed a smaller spoon. I eventually worked out the right size, timing and temperature for the gluten-free version of these treats. After baking for most of the afternoon, I put two on a plate and made a cup of instant coffee, because Mom always have me a cup of instant to dunk fresh cookies into.

I haven’t cried in a day or three, but when I put that coffee-covered cookie into my mouth, the dam burst. I cried until the tears ran down my shirt, and then I cried some more. It was then that it hit me – these cookies are Christmas for me. Mom made cut outs all year long. They weren’t special. I only got these once a year – on Christmas Eve – and I would eat the dunkin platters because they were my favorite. My aunt who made them is still living, but she has memory problems. I haven’t had one of these cookies in at least 20 years. Suddenly, I was 8 years old and sneaking into a corner with a handful of my favorite cookies before someone else could eat them.

I really needed that coffee. Those cookies are sweet! I guess my adult self prefers slightly less sweet, which is a good thing because even after giving some away there remains a huge box.

I’m leaking a little again. It’s alright. The best memories, sometimes, are the ones that run down your face.

The Disappearing Chocolate Bar

Last Saturday, I purchased a lovely piece of chocolate. I carefully budgeted the calories for it. I knew that I could eat it without a speck of guilt, and I intended to just that. As the sun set, my husband and I sat, reading books on our Kindles in the dark on our boat.

I remembered the teat that awaited me. I went below to get my chocolate. I carefully divided it into small pieces to prevent me from eating it too quickly. I arranged them on a small plate along with some berries, and I returned to my reading.

As I read the thriller, I reached for a piece of chocolate and a berry. When the chocolate had melted in my mouth, I reached for another piece, and another. Before long, I reached for another piece of chocolate, only to find the plate was empty. I felt around on the bench seat where the plate sat empty, in case a piece or two had slid off unnoticed. When my tactile search turned up no chocolate, I reached for my iPhone to turn on the flashlight. I searched the bench and the floor, sure that there must still be 3-4 piece of missing chocolate. My search turned up nothing except some dead spiders that had escaped the vacuum.

As I resigned myself to the fact that the chocolate was truly gone, and that I had finished it, I was sad. I had eaten all of those decadent, highly anticipated morsels of good chocolate and had barely noticed it. Instead of being an enjoyable experience all on their own, they had merely melted into the background of the story I was engrossed in.

Mindless eating is one of the causes of our epidemic of obesity. From the time that our parents hand us a container of goldfish or cheerios to keep us quiet, we learn to consume food without even thinking about it.

Mike McIntyre of Cleveland’s WCPN aired a show this week on Mindful Eating. Dr. Susan Albers shared a five-point strategy to practice eating mindfully so that the food that we choose actually registers in our brain as having been consumed.

Albers shared the 5 Ss:
Sit down – Sitting down (preferably at a table – not your desk, the couch,or the car) makes eating more of a ritual. Removed from the influences that keep us from focusing on our meal, we are more likely to successfully practice mindful eating.

Slowly chew – You’ve heard it said that it takes 20 minutes for your stomach to tell your brain that it’s full. Many of today’s highly-processed foods are easy to swallow without chewing. Either they are soft, semi-liquid, or liquid like smoothies, pouches of applesauce, or macaroni and cheese, or they dissolve in our saliva as soon as they hit our mouth – like potato chips. By forcing ourselves to mindfully chew those foods rather than gulping them down, we can be more in the moment and eat mindfully.
Savor – When you eat mindfully, you can truly enjoy your food. I enjoyed the piece or two of chocolate that I remember eating. I savored them. Until I got into the book and began to consume them mindlessly, I really savored them. Had I not been expecting more pieces of chocolate because I failed to savor them all, I quite likely could have been satisfied with less.

Another piece of advice was to “eat like a chef.” Iron Chef and Cleveland native Michael Symon is famous for including bacon and fat in many of his dishes. Chef Symon is in great shape. Although he eats some decadent food, he doesn’t stuff himself with it. Many chefs eat just a bite or two of those spectacularly rich foods and walk away. Having savored that first bite, they can push themselves away from the table satisfied with the experience.

Simplify your environment – I overate last night. I’m usually very good about weighing and measuring virtually everything. Last night, however, I simply grabbed a bag of snacks and brought them to the computer room with me. As I took a handful of cashews, I promised myself it would be the last. Soon, however, I found my hand back in the bag.

Similarly, there is an open bag of potato chips left over from a meeting in my kitchen right now. As I went to the kitchen to pour a glass of water, I spotted the chips and my mouth started watering. Although they weren’t in today’s plan, I weighed out exactly one ounce. Although an ounce of chips won’t make or break my diet, had I put the chips away, I wouldn’t have craved them at all.

If you’re going to have your trigger foods in the house at all, do yourself a favor and put them where they are out of sight!

Smile between each bite. Albers suggested that smiling between each bite gives you a pause – time to consider how full you are before you take that next bite. That pause also helps to extend meal time so that you experience satiety.

Mindless eating is a big problem for me. I’m going to put these suggestions into play as I learn to be more mindful about not just eating, but regarding life in general.

Take the [Lunch] Bucket Challenge!

I was thrilled recently to learn that the Vermilion, Ohio chapter of the Salvation Army will be launching a backpack program for students in January of 2015.  For those of you unfamiliar with the concept, a backpack program supplies children from households that are food insecure (not enough money to ensure enough food is in the house) with a backpack that is filled with food items for the child to consume on the weekend when there are no school lunches and breakfasts.

Second Harvest Food Bank partners with several local charities that sponsor backpack programs in other nearby school systems.  A donation to Second Harvest or to Vermilion Salvation Army for the backpack program is a great way to get this project started.

photo (9)

The Ice Bucket Challenge has gotten a lot of press lately.  Thousands of people have taken the challenge to either donate to a charity that funds ALS research or to douse themselves with a bucket of ice water (or both!)  Whether you think the idea is ingenious or lame, there’s no question that the challenge has raised millions for ALS charities and raised awareness of the illness and its challenges.

September is Hunger Action Month.  I’ve turned my Facebook Profile orange for hunger awareness.  Those of you who know me already are aware that fighting hunger is an issue that is important to me – especially as it relates to children who are hungry.

For the month of September, I’m starting the Lunch Bucket Challenge.  I will not eat at restaurants / fast food for the month of September.  Instead, I will eat lunch at home or pack it in my lunch container and donate the savings to a local hunger program at the end of the month.  Each day I will photograph my lunch and ask others to join me in this challenge.

photo (8)

Wednesday September 3, 2014

Seasoned grilled chicken with strawberries, blueberries, mushrooms, sliced almonds and honeyed goat cheese on a bed of romaine lettuce with a blush raspberry vinaigrette dressing (prepared and consumed at home).

I will be posting details shortly about a second fundraising initiative for hunger.  Please check back for details!


Cutthroat Chopped! – Family Dinner Edition

My husband and I are fans of cooking competition shows.  We especially enjoy Chopped! and Cutthroat Kitchen on food network.  

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the concepts, on Chopped!, a panel of contestants are given a basket with several mystery ingredients, each of which much be used in a dish that they have 20-30 minutes to create.  They also have use of a pantry stocked with beautiful produce, spices, and staples.  

Cutthroat Kitchen works much the same way, but instead of ingredients in a basket, the contestants are assigned a dish and given 60 seconds in the pantry to shop for ingredients.  After they have selected their items, the other contestants bid on opportunities to sabotage them with handicaps, such as stealing ingredients or cooking with one hand tied behind their back.  

The food is rated by chefs, and contestants are eliminated or allowed to progress to the next round and the winners are rewarded with cash.

My household consists of my husband and I and two boys (26 and 14) and a girl (18).  As busy as we all are with activities, work, etc., we still try to have a sit-down family dinner at least 3-4 times per week.  As the best cook and the mom, preparing that dinner nearly always falls to me.

Some days dinner prep at my house feels  like a combination of these two shows. 

The rules of the Cutthroat Chopped! are simple:

  • Get dinner on the table with ingredients on hand in the pantry (fridge/freezer/cupboard) 
  • You must serve an entree that everyone will eat
  • You must not use processed foods in preparation
  • You have 60 – 90 minutes to accomplish this task
  • Incorporation of kale is an automatic loss

Your sabotages are:

  • Your dish must be gluten and dairy free
  • There is a distinct possibility that one of more of the ingredients that were in your refrigerator yesterday may be missing or unusable
  • The judges are picky eaters, so no shellfish, mushrooms, big pieces of onions, olives, big pieces of tomatoes or vegetables other than carrots, peas or corn may be used
  • Occasionally there may be a guest judge (a grandchild or friend) with their own dietary sensitivities or dislikes – these must also be accommodated
  • You have to fit your workout (and a shower!) in during this 60-90 minutes
  • One of the judges will be at boy scouts, work, or track practice.  You must anticipate the judge’s arrival time so that everyone can eat at once and the kitchen can be clean before bedtime.

Bonus points are awarded for

  • accommodating all judges’ preferences
  • correctly anticipating the missing judge’s arrival time +/- 10 minutes
  • any meal involving beef

The (nightly) competition begins.  Of course, since I didn’t plan ahead, my proteins are all frozen.  I get them in the microwave to thaw, change into my workout gear, and run to the treadmill for my warm-up.  Next, I prep the meal and get back on the treadmill while it bakes, stews or braises. Exhausted, I shower, serve dinner and wait for the judges to comment while making witty dinner conversation and asking the judges about their day.

The judges critique the flavor, texture and presentation.  After the judges have all commented, the head judge gives the meal a rating.

The rating system is simple:  

  1. I would eat this at least once per week (this is reserved for roasted chicken thighs and baked tilapia)
  2. I would eat this at least once per month 
  3. This was not a hit, but you may prepare it occasionally if you enjoyed it
  4. Shrimp and grits territory (my family hates shrimp and grits).  This is the worst rating in our system and involves ordering pizza or reheating leftovers so nobody goes hungry.

The prize?  I am invited back to the next round to do it all over again, and I never have to do the dishes or clean the kitchen.  Since I hate kitchen cleaning, this is a win-win.  I am a survivor.

Author’s note: My judges knew I was writing this post and have blessed the fact that I am poking fun at them.  They mean the world to me.