Thursday, August 28, 2014

Chincoteague


This past week, my youngest and I took a 3-day mini-vacation to the beach. She had been begging all summer, but she worked full-time and didn't get more than a single day off until this past week. And although Chincoteague is a little bit further from us than Rehobeth or Ocean City, I like the small town atmosphere.


On the way there, we stopped in Salisbury for a visit to their FREE zoo. This is a very small (12 acres!) enclave tucked into the city park, right on the river. Absolutely worth a stop if you're heading along Route 13. There is an emphasis on unusual creatures from South America, including the cavy, capybara, guanico, alpaca, coati, and cotton-top tamarins. This tiny monkey has a miniature black face and a tuft of wild, white fur on top of its head. Unbelievably cute. I thought the animals looked clean, healthy, and well-cared-for, which makes for a much happier zoo experience for everyone.




We stayed at the Refuge Inn, one of the closest properties to the National Wildlife Refuge entrance. There is a McDonald's right next door, if that is a selling point. Also a diner across the street, but we didn't visit either of those establishments. Our room was fairly large, with two queen-sized beds, a bathtub/shower, large TV with cable, and free wifi. The Inn has a very nice indoor/outdoor pool, a hot tub, a fitness room (which I did not explore!) and a bike rental shop onsite. Also several ponies are kept on the property. For 50 cents, you can purchase a handful of corn to feed them. The room rate includes a buffet-style breakfast each morning. Unfortunately, I found the breakfast offerings barely edible. Both mornings, I chose the eggs (once scrambled, once hard-boiled) and both times I had to force them down. But there were no other high protein options. Bread, bagels, cereal, small sugary yogurts, weak coffee, and orange juice rounded out the menu.


We spent much of our time walking on the beach. There is a daily $8 fee to enter the refuge, or you can purchase a $15 week-long pass. I recommend peeking into the Visitors Center at Tom's Cove where you'll discover a wonderful aquarium filled with fascinating creatures. They have hermit crabs crawling over each other, a sea horse hanging onto the grass with its tail, many types of small fish, shrimp, coral, sea urchins, and starfish. There is also a Touch Tank with whelks and horseshoe crabs. Driving through the refuge was our choice of transportation due to the proliferation of ravenous mosquitoes. Perhaps riding a bike would work, as many were doing so, but walking was definitely dangerous! We were bitten mercilessly when we tried. (I avoid DEET, as it is a toxin that can enter the bloodstream through the skin, so we were without repellant.)


We ate at The Eatery our first night there. This is a funky food-truck with outdoor tables next to Woody's BBQ. I had a delicious chicken salad topped with coleslaw and carrots. My daughter had a large crabcake sandwich. The fries were a disappointment: overcooked to a dark brown color. The prices are not cheap, either. We paid $30 for two sandwiches, a small fries, and one drink.

Our second night, we chose Capn. Zack's Seafood. The crabcake sandwich here was only $12 and came with lettuce, tomato, hushpuppies, fries, and a Kosher dill pickle spear. The crabcake had NO filler, just pure crab. I'd call this a great value! Again, you order inside but eat outside on picnic tables.

We later hit Island Creamery for some homemade ice cream. This is a treat I never eat, not just because of the sugar. I'm not a huge ice cream fan. I know, it's bizarre. Anyway, we each tried a single scoop in a cup. The flavors we chose were Java Jolt (coffee ice cream with brownie chunks and chocolate covered espresso beans!) and Pony Tracks (vanilla ice cream with peanut butter swirl and miniature peanutbutter cups.) I couldn't finish my scoop (too much sugar!!!) as they were quite generous with the portion size. A single scoop costs about $3.50.

The tiny downtown area is filled with fun shops with everything from T-shirts to original artwork for sale. You can find your typical beach souvenirs or something truly unique and unusual. They have a bayside park, a movie theatre (single screen!) plus a library and a post office.



If you're looking for a cute and quaint getaway, within easy driving distance from Baltimore or DC, you might want to consider a couple of days in Chincoteague. But bring the all-natural bug spray!

Monday, August 25, 2014

Concord Grape Preserves

For the past fourteen years that we've lived in our current home, we've had a beautiful, abundant crop of concord grapes out back. The grape vine was planted by the previous owners, along with several fruit trees. But because the grapes are quite a lot of work to process, almost all of them have gone to waste. But not this year!

Thanks to my friends Patti and Michelle, this year a small portion of those grapes were used to make preserves. I put my complete trust in Michelle, who found the recipe, organized the process, provided her lovely kitchen and equipment for us to use, and taught us how to can. Patti provided her tireless labor and constant good cheer throughout the MANY hours on our feet, as well as all these photos of our preparation and cooking.

We started with two grocery bags full of grapes, fresh off the vines.
Step one involved squeezing EACH GRAPE to separate the pulp and pits from the skins.

The pulp needed to be cooked for just a few minutes until softened. The pulp was then strained through a food mill to remove the seeds.
 The skins were pulsed several times in a food processor to chop them into small pieces. We wanted to avoid large mouthfuls of grape skin in the final product. Then the strained pulp (8 cups) and the chopped skins (8 cups) were combined with 6 cups of sugar in a large, deep, heavy-bottomed pot. One half teaspoon of butter was added to keep the mixture from foaming. (This trick works like a charm!) This mixture was cooked down at a slow boil until it reached a temperature of 220F. We also tested a spoonful on a saucer in the fridge for a few minutes for thickness. We were looking for a thick jam, not at all runny.

The thickened jam was then ladled (very professionally!) into the hot, sterilized canning jars. The rims were carefully wiped before the lids were placed on top. Next, the jars were submerged in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes to complete the process. As the jars cooled on a rack, we could hear the popping sound of the lids sealing.

We made a total of 17 jars of grape preserves, working from 10:30am until about 5:30pm with an hour-long break for lunch. Luckily the weather cooperated and it was a cool, rainy day. Perfect for indoor canning! The finished product is a delicious, grapey, not-too-sweet preserve that will be perfect on a PB and J or great with cheese and crackers. Our next project? Grape pies!!!


Sunday, August 10, 2014

Touched by an Angel

I received some excellent news today: a true story I wrote will be published in an upcoming Chicken Soup for the Soul book! The title of the book will be Touched by an Angel and my story is called My Grandfather's Gift.

I don't want to give away the content of the story, but I'm sure you can guess from the book's title that the gift I refer to came after my grandfather passed. Although my grandfather was a very generous man, and showered his grandchildren with many material gifts, what I remember most about him is the love that shone from his eyes whenever he looked at me. Family relationships can often be challenging but not with my gramps. It was impossible to feel anything other than love when I was with him.

My grandmother, whom he adored more than any other being on the planet, looked down on her husband. He was uneducated, having emigrated from Russia with no money, no schooling, no training of any sort. Yet, he worked hard his entire life. He put my father, his only son, through college and dental school at Columbia by opening a laundry and tailoring shop in Brooklyn. My father delivered cleaned and pressed clothing on his bicycle at night, after his classes. They never owned a car. They never even had a television set! They lived in a one bedroom apartment in Flatbush, which was a step up from the boarding houses in lower Manhattan. My father slept in the livingroom on a straw mattress all the way through college.

I'm guessing most of the folks reading this blog have never experienced a lack of anything. I know I have never suffered from poverty. But I think it can be beneficial to remember where most of us came from. Perhaps our parents were comfortably middle class, but if you look back one or two more generations, you might find family members who went through some serious struggles to put you where you are today.

I'm grateful for all the gifts my ancestors gave me. If my great-grandmother hadn't had the strength to gather up her three children and escape from the newly formed USSR, I wouldn't be here today. How she managed to feed her children through World War I, then travel across Europe, eventually ending up in New York City, is a true miracle. The borders closed to Jewish immigrants very shortly after they arrived in 1921.

However, my story is not about any of these historical facts! My story focuses on my own life, and one incident in particular, when I came as close as I ever have to death. I hope you will look for Touched by an Angel: Chicken Soup Stories for the Soul when it is available in early October. Thanks, as always, for your support.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Homemade Paleo Mayo!

I did it! I finally made the homemade Paleo mayonnaise recipe I posted on my Facebook wall.

I put it off for ages. I had all kinds of excuses. Like, it's going to make a mess all over the kitchen. (Like every time anybody cooks in here!) And I might not even like it. (Life doesn't come with any guarantees, though.) And what if it doesn't even work???

Then I watched a video posted by NomNomPaleo and created by SeriousEats. If you want to watch the video, follow this link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GbPF_rLpd9o

As you can see (if you just watched the video) the process of making Paleo Mayo is neither messy nor difficult. It is QUICK AND EASY! (I swear.) Especially if you own an immersion blender. It takes under two minutes from start to finish!

Why should you make your own mayo, you ask?

Well, as much as I love Hellmann's (and my love for this former staple in our household runs deep) typical store-bought mayonnaise is made almost exclusively from soybean or canola oil. I know you may have heard (on commercials featuring these oils!) that they are "heart-healthy" or some such nonsense. But I am trying to avoid almost all soy products now, and especially vegetable oils which contain an unhealthy overabundance of Omega-6 fatty acids. You may know that Omega-3's (from fatty fish, grassfed beef or butter, pastured eggs) are highly desirable. This is because our typical American diet is very low in Omega-3's but bursting at the seams with Omega-6's. This imbalance is responsible for excess inflammation in our cells. Inflammation that can lead to many types of disease, including heart disease, stroke, cancers, diabetes, and Altzheimer's.

So what type of oil should you use in your Paleo mayo? I would recommend avocado oil, which we purchased from Costco. I've read that olive oil is too strong, although a dash of it might be a nice flavoring agent in your mayo. Macadamia nut oil is recommended by NomNomPaleo, but I haven't yet tried this. Sounds delish, though! Fruit and nut oils are the healthiest choices.

Here is the simple recipe I used:
1 raw egg yolk
1 T. water
1 small dollop brown mustard (Dijon is preferable, but we were out.)
juice of half a lemon (I used a whole lemon as mine was small.)
1 cup avocado oil
salt and pepper to taste

Add all ingredients (except salt and pepper) to the immersion blender cup in the order given. Place the immersion blender blades in the bottom of cup and turn blender on. Hold the blender in place. The oil will slowly be absorbed into the mayo, as if you were drizzling it into a regular blender or food processor! Like magic! When the oil has been thoroughly blended, season with salt and pepper to taste.

The time has come. You must wait no longer! Make your own fresh, healthy Paleo mayonnaise today. I'm not going to listen to any more excuses. Let's get blending, people!


Thursday, August 7, 2014

Are You Hungry?

I'm hungry right now. As I type this. My stomach is growling and rumbling. But it's not mealtime for me, so I'm not going to eat.

In fact, I'm about to go for a forty-five minute brisk walk with my husband and our two Akitas. While we're walking, I'll drink a liter of water. This will fill up my stomach temporarily and hold off my hunger for another hour or so. At that point, I'll probably have a light meal.

If you are trying to reduce your fat percentage and release weight (I'm using the word "release" and avoiding the word "lose") then taking a closer look at hunger and the role those sensations play in your eating patterns could be useful. Because hunger (for those of us who have plenty of both food and bodyfat) is not an emergency. This is important to remember. Consider how much excess fat you are currently carrying on your body. This fat is a source of energy and calories that you want to burn, right? But if you are also feeding your body all the calories it needs, then that excess fat is not going to be mobilized.

I have found, if you want to burn the fat on your body, you have to allow yourself to experience hunger. I repeat, it is not an emergency.

I say this because I believe most people will avoid hunger like it is the end of the world. A tiny pang of hunger and I think I may be starving to death! Better eat quick! (Even though I know I have pounds of fat just sitting there, on my thighs, doing nothing!)

I will admit, I have struggled with adjusting to that hunger sensation and not immediately cramming a fistful of something into my face. Low blood sugar is not pretty. But there are ways to avoid the headaches, dizziness, irritability, and homicidal rage.

1) Eat enough protein and fat with every meal and snack. For a small woman, get at least 20 grams of protein in each meal. This is about 3 ounces of turkey breast, tuna, salmon, or chicken. Bigger bodies, athletes, and older folks should aim for closer to 30 grams. Not a huge amount, but enough to last 4-5 hours. The amount of fat can vary, but make sure you get some. Even a teaspoon of grassfed butter or chopped walnuts added to your meal will help hold off your hunger. If you are very active, you can add more fat to your diet without having to worry about gaining weight. (These numbers are based on the Zone Diet by Dr. Barry Sears.)

2) Nix the sugar. The more sugar you consume, the more likely it is that you will spike your blood sugar levels and then quickly see those levels crash. You'll set yourself up for cravings, ugly mood swings, constant hunger, and weight gain. Whereas protein and fat will keep you satiated, sugar and refined carbs (baked goods, white bread, pasta, bagels, waffles, muffins, etc.) will do the opposite.

3) Make your carbs count. That is, eat plenty of HEALTHY carbs. And this means VEGGIES! Choose leafy green veggies at least once per day. Then add cruciferous veggies like broccoli and cauliflower. Root vegetables are fine if you are active, but keep in mind that carrots, beets, and sweet potatoes contain much more sugar than leafy greens. And don't overload on fruit which is even higher in sugar. Sure, fruit is natural and yummy. But if your goal is to release excess fat, too much fruit can hold you back. Ditto for grains. If you must eat grains, make sure they are a whole (this means not ground into flour!) and sprouted is even better. The process of sprouting grains makes them more digestible to humans.

4) Eat every 4-5 hours. This is how long your meals should last before you begin to experience hunger again. If you are hungry, dizzy, or irritable sooner than that, you probably didn't get eat the right balance of macronutrients (protein, carbs, and fat) in your last meal. Keep a food journal and track which meals and food combinations seem to work best for you. If you're training for a marathon and running ten miles per day, you'll probably have to eat more than if you're watching twelve hours of Honey Boo-Boo in bed. Adjust amounts accordingly.

5) Stick to a schedule. If you eat your meals and snacks at the same time each day, your body will know when to get hungry. When you mix things up, your body gets confused! And the end result could be more hunger.

6) When all of the above fails, employ distractions! Go for a walk, read a book in your hammock, call a friend on the phone, write a letter or an email, scrub your kitchen floor, or brush your dog. It doesn't matter what you do, as long as it doesn't involve shoveling chocolate-covered peanuts into your mouth.

Let me know if any of these tips do the trick for you. A little bit of hunger might be necessary in the process of lowering your bodyfat, but daily headaches and tantrums should not be the norm. Good luck!


Monday, July 28, 2014

Do Loving Things

I recently read a blogpost by Anne Lamott. In a nutshell, she says, "If you want to have loving feelings, do loving things." It is that simple.

If you want to have anxious feelings, watch the evening news on television. Observe people killing each other, rioting, launching rockets across borders and shooting down planes. Make sure your mind is filled with images of blood. Lots of blood. And death. Gory death.

If you want to have angry feelings, I recommend drumming up memories of past insults and transgressions. Remember those really mean things your sister said to you? When you were pregnant and overly emotional and at your most vulnerable? If you don't have a sister, then maybe it was your mother. Or your mother-in-law. I'm sure you can dig up something.

If you want to have sad feelings, you have many choices. Maybe you'd like to stroll through the Holocaust Museum. I've never been because there is no way I could hold it together while looking at hundreds or thousands of shoes belonging to all the innocent people who were put to death for no reason. No way. I can't read a book or watch a movie about the Holocaust, either. If the Holocaust doesn't bring you to tears, you might try any Disney movie. Maybe Old Yeller?

But if you are looking for loving feelings, feelings of warmth and compassion, try committing acts of loving kindness.

Even if you are in a loving relationship, it is easy to get out of the habit of acting in a loving manner. I know I tend to take my poor husband for granted. I expect him to treat me with constant adoration, but do I always reciprocate? I think most of the time I forget to.

Do you always kiss your spouse goodnight? Do you offer a hug when your loved one is feeling down? Do you stick a love note in your child's lunch box?

Do you listen, I mean really pay attention, when someone you care about is speaking to you? Do you put aside your own reactions and try to understand how they feel? Because your attention is the most powerful expression of love that you possess. And it costs you nothing but a moment of your time.

Today, if you'd like to experience loving feelings, try giving someone else those same feelings. Offer someone your loving attention and a small act of kindness. I'm not talking about giving away a million dollars or spending a year building schools in El Salvador, although if you can give in this way, more power to you. I'm talking about something you can do right now, without leaving your own home or your workplace. If you feel like sharing your experience, please post some details below!


Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Nom Nom Paleo: Food for Humans

If you like cookbooks, then I have a fantastic treat for you! Michelle Tam and Henry Fong have written a delightful, funny, warm, and satisfying cookbook filled with mouth-watering photographs and fascinating recipes. This is not your average, run-of-the-mill cookbook. Not by a long shot.

Tam has been recording her Paleo-inspired recipes on her blog for years now. (see www.nomnompaleo.com) Her style is humorous, irreverent, and engaging. She employs cartoon drawings of herself and her family as well as loads of silly jokes. Her cookbook is very similar to her website.

Despite her lighthearted style, Nom Nom Paleo recipes are seriously substantial. However, her cookbook is not an in-depth guide to Paleo eating or living. If you are looking for loads of scientific analysis, you'll need to go elsewhere. But if you desire lots of delicious-sounding, intriguing, international recipes which shun all grains, dairy, legumes, alcohol, and refined sugar, then this is definitely the book you crave.

My daughter, home from college for the summer, immediately fell in love with this gorgeous cookbook and decided to make the chicken nugget recipe as well as the cauliflower mash. The nuggets were way too labor-intensive for me to even consider (keep in mind I am a lazy cook!) but we bought the ingredients and the whole family took advantage of the results of her labor.


The nuggets came out quite salty-- a result of brining the chicken pieces for an hour before shallow frying-- but moist and tasty. The light coating of starch (we used potato starch as we didn't have arrowroot) was slightly crispy. The cauliflower was yummy, too. I added a touch of heavy cream (NOT included in this Paleo recipe!) to make the mash a bit creamier. No one would mistake the texture for mashed potatoes, but this is a nice dish anyway. (Do you like my placemat???)

The chicken nuggets and cauliflower mash were probably two of the most boring, although kid-friendly, recipes in the whole book. You might prefer the Kalua Pig, a traditional Hawaiian recipe made in the slow cooker. Or how about Crispy Roast Pork Belly? Big-O Bacon Burgers? Fast Pho? Pistachio Apple Salad?

Every time I turn the page, each new recipe has me drooling. This might be a cookbook I have to purchase and own. And if you know me, I don't say that lightly. (I am not only lazy, but also a cheapskate.)

So check it out at your local library. Or buy your own copy! I think you'll love it.