Saturday, March 19, 2011

The Fastest Food Shoveler In The West

The topic at WW this week was tips on how to really slow down and enjoy your food. My husband eats like he’s in a prison camp with 4 minutes to shovel as much as possible into his stomach because his next meal may not be for several days.

We also, like so many other empty nesters, have gotten into the very bad habit of eating dinner, each and every week night, with Diane Sawyer. I work from home, so each afternoon I start to pull together an evening meal for later, when the H gets home. Sometimes, I can create a meal quickly if it’s something really basic. I’m not much of a sandwich or eggs for dinner kind of gal. I probably should have been a chef or at least a short order cook, as I can’t seem to give up the temptation to “mess” with dishes so they’ll be “better”.
Even the occasional frozen pizza does not escape me adding some fresh mozzarella or a few microplane swipes of Grana Padano, fresh tomato slices, mushrooms, fresh basil or a dash of my Italian seasoning mix before it hits the oven. Nothing is safe when you hear me say, “Oooo, hang on a sec…”. I‘m an awesome cook and I love to take my time to create things that make your mouth sing.

When I have spent an hour or two making fresh raspberry vinaigrette dressing for the salad greens I have laced with slices of fennel bulbs, almonds, slivers of Muenster cheese and a few home made seasoned croutons to pair with a pork roast and balsamic vinegar and apple reduction sauce, I would like to think that the eater of my offerings actually tasted what I took all that time to make.

Imagine my surprise (she said sarcastically), when I get my plate and head to the TV room where the husband has already taken his plate and flipped on Diane and the nightly news and by the time I sit down, he is done with his dinner. Really? We don’t live in a 20,000 square foot home. It’s about 30 feet from the stove to the sofa in the TV room. If I walk very slowly, and I mean cartoonishly slow, it might take me 10 seconds to get from one place to another. Did he give it to the dog? Did he shove it under the sofa? If he ate it, did he chew or simply unhinge his jaw like the Anaconda’s of the Amazon? I am baffled with the speed in which this food was inhaled, and frankly, a little insulted.

At the WW meeting this morning, a woman who grew up on a local farm with many siblings shared her family food motto. It goes like this; He who eats the fastest gets the most. Then, to a round of laughter from the 50 people gathered, she added, “I won.”

We learn fast eating from somewhere; our families or an over crowded school system that allots 10 minutes for lunch or the military operations that rush you through as you try and get a handful of whatever they’re serving. It’s a really bad habit and unless you are out there doing the Jillian Michaels killer boot camp every day, you are going to over eat when you do it at home and no one is there to eat up or remove the seconds and thirds you’ll be going for a few minutes after inhaling your first helping.

The H is the youngest of four boys and his father before him was the youngest of more sibs than that. My father-in-law proudly told the story of rushing to his childhood breakfast table and licking every piece of toast so his sibs wouldn't want them. He thought it was hilarious. I thought it was his training ground for the Grinch-like character he became during his lifetime.

It takes almost 20 minutes for your brain to tell your stomach you are full. When you eat like a speed demon, you could have eaten your third helping in 20 minutes. When you're shoveling it in at the speed of light you're not really enjoying it and, more importantly, it hasn't had time to register on the FULL meter.

An empty stomach is the size of your fist. Hold your fist out over the cookware and bowls full of food before you eat and mentally absorb the fact that there is more than enough to fill you many times over. That may still the desperate kid buried deep in our mind that's screaming, "There won't be enough for me!"

Here’s another suggestion for slowing your meals down and forcing yourself to taste, chew and savor every bite of your food: use chop sticks whenever possible. Get some really nice ones. I bought several sets when I was in Hong Kong and Japan and I’ve also collected some nice contemporary wooden ones, traditional ceramic and even a couple of fancy ceremonial  sets. I love the way they feel in my hands and if you can snap your fingers, you can figure out how to eat with them.

This is one simple change you can make that will make a world of difference in how much you are eating and in how much you actually taste the meal that you or someone else may have taken a very long time to lovingly create. Your satisfied stomach will thank you and the cook will thank you for properly appreciating their culinary artistry and spare you their silent wrath, or loud wrath or wrathy wrath in my case. What? It could be a word.  

I'm hiding the forks tonight. How about you?

Check out your local Asian grocery store, World Market, China Town or the web for some beautiful chopstick sets. Here’s an entire website devoted to these handy dandy eating tools:

And if you don’t know how to use two sticks to eat, here’s a lesson. Go watch it! Chop, chop!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Bringing Outrageous Vanity To The Party

“Every author, however modest, keeps a most outrageous vanity chained like a madman in the padded cell of his breast.”  Logan Pearsall Smith, American essayist, 1865-1946

I read that quote last night about 1AM, while trying to absorb some inspiration for the novel I’m working on. I’m 22,000 odd words into it and another 50,000 to go. Did you know that a manuscript should be at least 60,000 words long to be considered a novel? According to a study at the University of Pennsylvania, the gender breakdown of number of words spoken each day looks like this: male = 6073 words per day, female = 8805 words per day. I’m more like 10G a day, but did I really say anything at all? That’s debatable. At that rate though, I’ll toss out 60,000 words every week; over 3 million words a year. Though writing 60,000 words on paper, on purpose, in a pleasing and entertaining fashion, is a far more daunting task. It can be done though; just one word at a time.

As I started to drift off, with the brilliance of Smith's statement about barely contained “outrageous vanity” whirling around my thoughts, another presence stirred. It was the part of me that taps me on the shoulder as I write and asks what makes me think anyone will want to read this drivel? It’s that damn Shameus again. If you’ve followed these blog-isodes, you’ll remember Shameus as the self defeating voice that’s always there to knock us down a peg, bring us down to size, or put us in our place when we get all high and mighty. He’s there to shame us, hence the name.

Shameus hangs out in the bleacher seats while I write and he also likes to hang around my makeup table and my closet when I get dressed (the perv). He’s there when I longingly smooth the fabric of that dress I want to fit into this summer and I hear his barely muffled guffaw, like I’m pipe dreaming to think it will ever fit again and I’m a complete fool hanging on to it anyway.

You know what shuts Shameus up? Outrageous Vanity. I need to dig deep and pull out that woman who stood once, across the room from my heart’s desire, and boldly stepped forward into the unknown because it was worth the risk. We all need to dig out those photos of us when we were goddesses and gods and we moved through the world with confidence and poise and yes, outrageous vanity and be inspired. We need to locate that powerful part of ourselves and post it as guard and guardian to bar the way when Shameus shows up with the mac and cheese or the one little piece of pizza that he knows would turn into three.

There is not a painter worth their brush or a writer worth their pen or an athlete worth their medal or an actor worth their Oscar that has not silenced their own Shameus and allowed their outrageous vanity to lead them to their goal.  

Author, Ph.D, M.D. and nationally known psychiatrist, David R. Hawkins, wrote a book called Power vs. Force. It’s a brilliant piece of work and it contains a “map of consciousness” that he developed after years of extensive study. On this map, he identifies 17 levels of consciousness; levels we might be functioning at during any given period of time, and they range from the lowest, which is shame, to the highest functioning level, which is enlightenment. On this map, pride ranks 8th moving up the scale towards enlightenment. He says that we must rise up through each of the levels to become what we were meant to be. The levels reflect individual progress but they also accurately reflect societal and cultural evolution as well. Cities can function, predominantly in shame or fear, or anger or pride or courage or willingness or even love. On the map, Pride sits one level higher than anger, which is #7, and as Hawkins points out, we have to “get mad” enough about something to actually get up off our asses and do something about it. We have to get mad enough to uncover the pride we have in ourselves, our families, our communities and our futures and then we become motivated to make some changes. Guess what the next level #9 is? Courage. We have to get mad about what is, gather some pride about what could be, so we can locate the courage to really make the changes that need to be made; anger and then pride and then courage. Genius, isn’t it? I love it.

So I’m telling you and I’m telling myself, the way to get back on a program or to stay on a program so we can shut Shameus up once and for all is to not only find Outrageous Vanity inside us, but to make her our Plus 1 when we R.S.V.P. our future. I mean really, who would you rather take to a grand opening gala when you reach your goal and you’re finally wearing that outfit you’ve been waiting to wear; Shameus or your new/old pal Ovie? Time to let her out.

Power Vs. Force is available at Amazon or at Veritas Publishing:

Another book Hawkins co-authored:
A Multivariant Psychopharmacologic Study in Normals Reprinted from Psychosomatic Medicine Vol. XXIII No. 1 1961

Um. Yeah. What he said.

And if you’d rather listen to some music about it, here’s a promo from Paula Cole’s amazing 2007 album, Courage:

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Life Advice From A Quirky Source

I'm a fan of author, Christopher Moore. His twisted humor is, decidedly, an acquired taste and growing up on Vonnegut and other writers that pushed the edges of humor and circumstance right off the cliff, just for the heck of it, for me, Moore carries on that tradition in all it's glory.

If you can't handle saucy language or racy settings, he may not be your cup of tea. And if you're devoutly religious, you are not going to want to read Lamb- though it's one of my all time favorite books that made me laugh out loud and cry while reading it.

Moore was interviewed recently about his career, writing process, character inspirations and life advice. Here's what he said on the later, which I happen to think is pretty brilliant, and why I'm sharing it here. Enjoy-

"Don't drive drunk. Ever. Don't shag anyone you don't like, or who doesn't like you. Get a look at how people live in a place where you don't. Suffering is over-rated, don't pursue it. Ask for help when you need it, don't when you don't, and learn to recognize the difference. Don't confuse movement and progress. Be kind. Be forgiving. Pay attention."

Look him up at

And here's a great interview with sound advice to writers:

And a new interview!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The Lost Herb

I’ve been to five grocery stores this week looking for savory; summer savory preferably.  Even though it’s winter in this hemisphere now, you would still think some enterprising spice company would have dried and bottled some of the summer harvest to sell now, and hey, dry the winter now to sell in the summer. The summer harvest is a more delicate spice that falls on the flavor scale somewhere in the neighborhood of peppery thyme dancing around the edge of oregano and marjoram. The winter is a stronger taste so I just use a bit less of it, but it’s still a smell I could roll around in.

I have friends who season with salt and pepper. The end. It’s the way their mother’s cooked and it’s never occurred to them that the hundreds of other containers in the spice isle might hold something they could add to their food when they cook. Little do they know that their husbands, craving “something more”, sneak off to little lunch joints and regularly order spicy food dishes to add a some variety to their boring food lives back home.

My Dad, a 1st generation American with Italian parents right off the boat, literally, used to groan and grumble when we had to go to my maternal grandmother’s home for a Sunday dinner. My Mom’s mother, a stoic Czech, never embraced the sensual art of cooking. I swear, she thought that spices were somehow directly connected to overt sexuality and using these outrageous flavors on your food was akin to doing a pole dance in a Catholic church. 

On those dreaded Sundays when we would forgo my Italian grandmother’s phenomenal table laden with heavenly food fragrances to head to the other grandmother’s home, there were stalling and delay tactics afoot. We would pile into our car in the Chicago suburbs and drive down to Roscoeville in the city where my grandmother had been cooking the chicken for at least three hours. This wasn’t a turkey mind you, but a regular whole roaster that began, like all chicken, with the potential for deliciousness, but after hours of submitting to the heat of an oven, had given up and just lay there drying to a stringy mess. Her vegetables, boiled, had also been roiling away on the stove for “a while” rendering them to a paste and slime consistency. Where my Mom couldn’t hear, my Dad would whisper, “This chicken tastes like my arm is asleep”, and  I would be reduced to giggling into my cloth napkin.

On the way home, he would swing the car into an Italian beef sandwich shop and pick up a bag full of the fragrant sandwiches, extra cups of au jus gravy and giardiniera and we would dig in picnic style back at the kitchen table at home. Mom would feign upset and then dig in with the rest of us traitors.   

I’m a spice freak. I have cabinets full of different spices and I’m not afraid to use them! Like the savory I went in search of this week. I finally found one store that carried the dried herb and then, surprisingly, I found bundles of fresh savory at my local Meijer store in the section with the plastic boxes of fresh herbs. I bought a couple boxes and I’m drying them out so I’ll have them when I want them. I went on this quest because my daughter has recently moved to the Detroit area and on a visit home, asked if I could fix her up a few bottles of some of my spice mixes for her kitchen.

She was looking in particular for a mix I call Summer Field. It’s a delicious green and fragrant blend of dill, chive and savory. I mix it to my own taste, close to equal proportions of each though I go a bit heavier on the savory.  I use a little of this spice blend in fat free sour cream for an amazing dip for carrots and other cut veggies. I also use a pinch in Egg Beater omelets with some kosher salt, fresh cracked pepper, low fat Lorraine Swiss cheese and some slices of Portobello mushrooms. Shitakes are better as they add a smoky flavor to the dish, but if you can’t find them, go with the Portobello. Summer Field is a great add in to home made vegetable soup and if you make your own herb breads, throw in a tablespoon along with some dried onion flakes and you’ll have killer bread for ham sandwiches!

Don’t be a sleeping arm chicken cooker. Get in that spice isle and play! If you don’t know what the spices taste or smell like, start in the vegetable section at the best grocery store you have. Pick up the bundles of each herb and give them a smell. Bring a little notebook and write down what you discover. Make it like a wine tasting and notice the undertones of the herbs. Is it lemony, peppery, minty, sweet or bitter? If you’re on the Internet to read a blog, then you can Google search the interesting herbs and find out how they’re commonly used. Depending on where they are from originally, you’ll find a way to use the flavor in ethnic cooking or how to adapt it to your own favorite dishes.

Sorry Grandma, but I have to go with Dad on this topic. I’ve grown up to be a wild and out of control spice woman and I’m proud of it.

While you’re on your spice sojourn, pick up a few blood oranges in the fruit section! They’re in season right now and if you haven’t discovered these yet, you’re in for a treat. The beautiful merlot wine color of the juice is a sweet treat and squeezing a blood orange into a salad dressing makes for a surprising flavor fest. Get a packet of Good Seasonings, Zesty Italian Dressing mix, cut up a small shallot into tiny dice and add 1 tsp. to the mix along with the juice of 1 small blood orange,  light oil and red wine vinegar, you have a sparkling salad! Don’t throw the meat of the orange away after juicing. Pull off the peel and chop up the orange into little bits and throw it into the salad as well. Go crazy! Add some almond slices and a few of those raspberries you were eyeing at the store. There you go. Now you’re on the crazy spice train too. It’s like a Flamenco dance on your tongue. Ole!