Category Archives: food

The chicken and I

frango-inteiro-congelado-temperadoI write this with apologies to my vegetarian/vegan friends…I’m mostly a veggie eater myself, but I really, really wanted a roast chicken for Christmas dinner.

My history with chicken has not been good. Except for roasting a whole chicken, my chicken dishes have generally been less than appetizing. No matter what I did, the chicken would always come out rubbery. I think it may be because I tended to overcook the chicken—I’m very squeamish about undercooked animal food.

Anyway, a particular food company here in Brazil has been offering what they call “Easy” chickens, roasts, etc. They come frozen, in a plastic bag, all seasoned and ready to go. You just stick the thing in the oven, still frozen, and leave it there for two hours. Sounded good to me. But there was one little problem.

The reason I haven’t roasted a chicken in ages is because in the apartment where I currently live here in Rio, my kitchen is about the size of a small walk-in closet, so the only stove that fits is a two-burner one. This obviously means that the oven is, well, eensie-weensie. Could I fit a chicken in it? I decided to take a chance.CIMG9927

I bought the chicken. It came in a fancy bag with a handle and detailed instructions. It warned: “Don’t let the inner plastic bag touch any part of the oven or its elements.” Uh oh. OK, I put the oven rack down as far as it would go and crossed my fingers. Then there was the problem of a pan to cook it in. I had one pan, sort of dollhouse sized, which I prayed would be big enough. It wasn’t. The instructions said “breast up,” but when I tried putting it in the pan that way, its little feet stuck up in the air and it wouldn’t fit in the oven. So I turned it over, breast down, and after considerable adjusting, shifting, pushing, and shoving, it finally fit in the pan, sort of. Then I tried wrestling it into the oven. It was a tight squeeze. Too tight. The plastic bag was pressed tight against the top of the oven. *Sigh*

What to do? By this time I was getting impatient, so I ripped off most of the precious plastic bag that was supposed to help create all the yummy juices. Juices be damned! said I—I have to get this sucker into the oven!!

Once the bag was off, I was able to squeeze the bird in. It still was pressed hard against the top of the oven, but I figured it would be OK because it was bagless. Nevertheless, I was a bit nervous when I finally closed the teeny oven door and went into the other room to wait two hours.

After a while, I was comforted by delicious aromas coming from the kitchen, even though I still wasn’t sure what the outcome would be.

Exactly two hours up, I ran to the kitchen to see how birdy had fared in its miniscule prison.

I pulled it out, set it on the sink counter and thanked God—what a thing of beauty! Well, not really, it looked kind of smooshed and a bit mangled, but it smelled wonderful. I turned it over, grabbed a knife, and cut of a piece of breast. I bet it’s tough, I thought. Well, it wasn’t—it was tender and perfect! Not only that, but the bottom of the pan was full of delicious juices, even without the help of the magic bag.

Suffice it to say I had a perfect Christmas dinner! I hope yours was just as good.

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Cooking disasters

We’ve all had them, right?

My first mishap in the kitchen wasn’t exactly a disaster, but my family laughed and teased me about it for years afterwards. I was around 10 or 11 years old and asked my mother if I could try frying some bacon. “Sure,” she said, and handed me a frying pan. “The bacon is in the fridge.” Well, one thing I knew was that there were different ways of cooking things—boiling meant you cooked it in water, and frying was in oil, of course. Any dummy knew that. So I grabbed a bottle of oil and poured some into the pan, and then added the bacon. Just then, my mother walked into the kitchen and…well, you know the rest.images

When I got to college my cooking skills had improved a bit, which was a good thing because my sister Bertie and I lived in the “poor girls” dorm where all the girls had to clean house and cook. Our meals were, shall we say, somewhat uneven in quality, but we had no choice but to eat what was set before us, even if the cook assigned for the day had never boiled water before.

When we had cook’s duty, we were allowed to pick our own menu, so when it was my turn I decided to bake a cake for dessert. All the ingredients came in bulk-sized cans, so I opened the ones I needed—flour, sugar, baking powder—and started scooping the stuff out with a measuring cup. I was pretty proud of myself, because I’d never made a cake from scratch before, only from mixes. I put the eggs, flour, and all the other ingredients into a huge bowl (it had to be a big enough cake so everyone could have a piece) and mixed it with the electric mixer. Then I popped it in the oven and waited, making sure not to open the oven so it wouldn’t fall. After a while I noticed that there seemed to be something pressing against the glass window of the oven door. Strange. I opened the door, and a gigantic blob of dough practically oozed out of the oven onto the floor! What the hell? Then it hit me…I had confused the flour can with the baking powder can…

Another blunder many years later also had my daughters laughing at me for years afterwards. We’d had roast chicken, and I had very carefully picked it to the bone so I could make soup stock. After it had simmered on the stove for hours, I picked up the pot and a big strainer so I could get rid of the bones, and then…I unwittingly poured the stock down the drain. Yes, I did.

The worst (and most disgusting) of all was when I invited a lovely Peruvian family over for dinner. One of their children was in my pre-school class at the time. His mother very nicely offered me a special Peruvian recipe of white fish baked in milk. I had gone to the store and bought some nice filet of sole, and I nestled it in a baking dish with the milk and seasonings, while she and I prepared the other food. When it was time to take the fish out of the oven, I reached in and pulled the pan out, and to my absolute horror, the fish was covered with brown worms that were standing up (I swear!) and wiggling! Needless to say we had to make do with the other food, but by then we’d all lost our appetites, in fact, I didn’t go near any filet of sole for years after that. But at least that one wasn’t my fault!

So what cooking disasters have you had? C’mon, I know you’ve had them, unless you’ve never cooked!

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Want to lose weight and keep it off? Yes!

When I was a kid I remember my mother laughing when people would say they were overweight because of their metabolism. She’d say, “Stop eating and see if your metabolism will still make you overweight.” Nice one, Ma.

Well, it wasn’t so funny to me when I got to be thirteen years old or so and discovered that I couldn’t have three helpings of everything any more because then I wouldn’t be able to fit into my dungarees (that’s what we called them back then).

For the next several decades my weight would go up and down like a yo-yo. I dieted, like everyone else, but I didn’t take it all that seriously, because, I told myself, I’m not really FAT. Unfortunately, that line of reasoning didn’t make me any happier about having to squeeze myself into my clothes and being embarrassed to wear a bathing suit, though.

Back when I was a kid, nearly everybody made fun of heavy people. We didn’t use any euphemisms, we just called them “fat.” Nowadays people aren’t usually as mean as they used to be about obesity, and there are lots of campaigns out there to help overweight people feel good about themselves.images

I’m all for whatever makes you happy, but if you really aren’t happy with being overweight, or with your weight fluctuating all the time, then you probably want to try to do something about it. You don’t have to turn yourself into a skinny minny, but if you want to normalize your weight, there’s one way it can’t be done: dieting.

OK, there may be some exceptions to the rule, but in general, most people seem to gain back the weight they lose when they diet. I know I did—every single time. And I also know why I did. It was because I was cutting out certain foods that I really enjoy because they were supposedly “fattening.” Now you know what happens when you deprive yourself of something you really love, right? That’s right. You always go back to eating it, sooner or later.

Since yo-yo weight was an ongoing problem for me, I spent a lot of time thinking about it, trying to come up with a solution. Finally I just started watching myself, observing the way I ate. One of the first things I noticed was that it wasn’t all that different from the way other people ate, as far as I could see. And that’s how I found my solution.

OK, so how do we eat? As members of the human race, most of us eat for reasons other than legitimate hunger. We eat our meals, true, but we also eat when we’re depressed or wildly happy, when we’re in the company of others (just for fun), when we can’t sleep, when we’re bored, when we’re celebrating, when we’re angry…well, you get the picture.best-healthy-snacks-for-the-office-2

I decided that I would try a new approach. First of all, I would eat only when I felt hungry, when I felt that I really needed to eat. Second, I wouldn’t cut out any of my favorite foods, whether they had been labeled “junk food” or not. Third, it just seemed like a good idea not to eat right before I went to bed. That was it. No dieting, no eliminating foods.

The result? After a few months I noticed that I had lost some weight. And by that time, I was used to not eating when I wasn’t hungry. I won’t say I stuck to that 100%, but I did pretty well with it. Within six months or so it had all become second nature.

Now, nearly ten years later, I’m at my normal weight and have been for years. I never worry about it any more, and I really enjoy my food more than I did when I was eating for the wrong reasons. I also find that I don’t pig out on my favorite treats, like ice cream and chocolate. I eat some, and I’m done. That’s it.

I’ve been so sure that this would work for anyone, that I’ve brought up the subject on several online forums over the years. No one was interested. They would ignore my comments and just keep talking about their diets. I found this mind-boggling to say the least. These forums were full of overweight people dying to find some way to lose weight, but they just weren’t willing to try something different.

Does this make sense to you? I’d love to hear your thoughts about this.

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Vegan—who, me?

Over the past year or so I have found myself gradually eating more and more food that might be styled “vegan.”

I wasn’t looking to be vegan—in fact, I wasn’t consciously doing anything to change my eating habits. I was just going with my gut. The first thing my gut told me was, “Ew, I don’t like cooking chicken any more, and I’m feeling kinda squeamish about eating it.” OK, out with the chicken. Then it was the fish. Fish had always seemed fine to me, but it started to seem just a tad nasty. Why? If I knew, I’d tell you. It was just a feeling I had, and I went with it.

Finally, it was the dairy products. I bought some Brie cheese and it grossed me out so bad I had to throw it away. What was happening to me? What would my friends think—that I was losing my marbles? So out went the dairy, too—the milk, the eggs (nasty), the cheese, the mayo, etc., etc.

I had already dumped red meat over thirty years ago, and had also been macrobiotic for seven years in the 60s and early 70s, as well as eating vegetarian food off and on over the years, so it was no chore for me to start eating vegan-type food. I say “vegan-type,” because I’m not really a pure, 100% card-carrying vegan. Although I’m appalled at the way animals are treated in the factory farms, I can’t say that I’m really convinced that eating meat in and of itself is wrong, and I’m not an animal rights activist—a sympathizer perhaps, but not an activist. I’m not any kind of activist, that’s just not me. The vision of the “lion lying down with the lamb” is a very appealing one, but I don’t think that’s going to happen any time soon, at least not on this planet.basket-of-vegetables

Anyway, I started getting into eating vegan, investigated some different kinds of soy and rice milk (not a whole lot of vegan “specialty” foods here in Brazil), and joined a couple of vegan groups on Facebook—one Brazilian, one American. The Brazilian group is really fun and the people are friendly and pretty easygoing. See, I’ve heard that vegans can sometimes be kind of militant and uptight, and I’m sensitive to that. So you can imagine my horror when the person who runs the American group posted this less than a week after the terrible attacks at the school in my hometown, Newtown, CT: “In his press conference the other day, our president said that we must oppose ‘a culture that all too often glorifies guns and violence.’ — At a dinner function that evening he ate a steak dinner, the dead cow on his plate violently bolt-gunned from existence.”

Hello?!? I immediately dropped off the group. OK, says I to myself, I’m going to eat this food, but I absolutely refuse to be a fanatic. Who’s to say that I won’t eat a piece of chicken or fish ever again? I just can’t get on other people’s cases about what they eat. It’s none of my damned business. When you get down to it, self-righteousness is worse than eating meat.

So I’m enjoying eating my beans and grains and veggies and fruit and chocolate (oh yeah, chocolate!), but if someone has me over for dinner, I’m going to eat what’s set in front of me and be grateful. I know that the judgmental vegans can’t help themselves—I used to be that way about macrobiotics when I was much younger, so I can’t get all up in their faces, either. I’m just gonna mind my own business and see if I can pick up a few good recipes along the way.

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The Popinator

Have you seen the Popinator? Check it out:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=b1cz8IasV4w

A few days ago my friend Mary posted this on Facebook. I was, well, kind of underwhelmed about this exciting new invention. Our conversation about it follows:

Me: ONE piece at a time? No way! I have to stuff a whole handful in! The guys who invented this have waaaay too much time on their hands!

Mary: Yeah, but if you’re typing, you won’t get your fingers all greasy. Save the handful for the movie theater. 🙂

Me: I could never catch them…they’d probably end up in my ear or up my nose!

Mary: Hahaha! That’s what I was thinking, too! It’d be nice to have at the desk, but that’s the only place.

Me: I couldn’t possibly type and concentrate if I had to be yelling “pop” every two seconds!

Mary: Sure you could! And, wait a min…earlier today you posted something about cooking lunch and something else…you are indeed a multi-tasker. “Pop!”

Me: True, but I still can’t see myself typing, yelling “pop” and trying to pick popcorn kernels out of my nose and ears all at the same time!

Mary: LOL!LOL! No…b/c you’ll be catching those popping kernels with your teeth!

Me: I think that would take a certain amount of practice…like YEARS! 😀

Mary: It looked pretty effortless in the video.

Me: Amy Duncan Yes, I noticed that! Ha! I’ve tried catching peanuts in my mouth before, and I never caught even one!

Mary: Practice makes perfect!

Me: Yes, and I really think I should set aside all my work and unimportant stuff like that so I can learn how to grab popcorn kernels in the air with my teeth! Sounds like a plan to me!

 

So….will you be ordering your very own Popinator soon?

OK, enough silliness for today…  😀

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Rubber chicken

No, I’m not talking about the ones you buy at the joke shop.

I’m talking about chicken cooked by me. The only way I can get a chicken to come out unrubbery is to roast a whole one in the oven. Any other chicken recipe, be it baked or fried or even boiled, comes out rubbery.

Over the years I’ve asked myself: Is it the chicken? Should I have bought an organic one? Maybe it’s breasts vs. thighs? Or maybe I cooked it too fast? Or too slow?

I’ve tried everything, and my chicken still comes out rubbery.

I finally stopped eating chicken for quite a long time, which was probably a good thing because I’m practically a vegetarian anyway. I stopped eating beef so long ago I can’t remember, and to be perfectly honest, eating animals kind of grosses me out. I can still eat a couple of kinds of fish, or tuna from a can, but I’m even a little squeamish about that.

The thing is, chicken and fish and even red meat still smell good to me when they’re cooking, especially if they’re fried or roasted. It’s a very seductive smell, and I think I’d have to say that I actually like the smell better than the taste, so I guess it’s that smell that makes it hard to quit cold, er, turkey.

Recently I tried cooking some chicken breasts, after my long hiatus of not eating chicken. They came out rubbery. Then it came to me: I cook chicken too long, and the reason I do it is because I basically think it’s gross and it just seems less gross overcooked. I remember being in Paris once and ordering chicken in a restaurant and it was undercooked. When I cut it, pink (read: bloody) juice came oozing out. That was such a turnoff that I knew I would never eat chicken again unless it was really, really WELL-COOKED.

I can’t be 100% sure if that’s why my chicken is rubbery, but it seems logical. I’m also pretty sure that my squeamishness about, as the vegetarians would say, eating “anything that has a face” will eventually lead me to eschew ingesting critters altogether.

And here’s a special offering from Roger Aldridge today!

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You eat WHAT?

My stepfather George, after my mother died, developed interesting eating habits. He’d eat only sandwiches, and when we’d ask him what about vegetables George, he’d point to the two green olives next to his sandwich.

My father, when he lived alone, aside from consuming scary amounts of chocolate, lived mostly on bananas and peanut butter. He ate the peanut butter out of the jar with a spoon and drank Hershey’s syrup out of the can with a straw.

My mother-in-law, who lived to be 100 years old, had a steady diet of fried chicken and boxes of chocolates. She also chain smoked.

My Uncle Chuckie ate a lot of deviled ham (which we called “potted meat”) sandwiches. When I was a kid I used to eat them, too, not because I liked them, but because I had a crush on Uncle Chuckie.

My daughter Hilary, when she was really, really little, used to carefully separate her Lucky Charms and just eat the marshmallow bits.

I used to eat everything I could get my hands on that was growing in the yard or the woods…it’s amazing I didn’t poison myself!

When my sister and I were kids, our Ma would make us peanut butter sandwiches, sometimes with olives, or onions, or green pepper…forget the Marshmallow Fluff!

Do you have any strange eating habits, or know someone who does?  😀

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