Wednesday, April 29, 2015

A Grand Dog

Today I'd like to introduce my dear granddog, Wilbur.  He lives with my daughter Melanie and son-in-law Ben, in Portland, Oregon.  He is five years old now, and quite the well-mannered grown up dog.

I enjoyed a visit with Wilbur during my weekend with Melanie, when Ben and Wilbur drove over to Cannon Beach for lunch and a walk in the sand.  Wilbur loves the beach!  He bounded into the water over and over again to chase his ball, and when Ben threw it on land Wilbur could catch it on a bounce.  I was proud of how well-behaved he was on the beach, never bothering other families and politely greeting other dogs.

Last year Wilbur came along with Melanie and me on a getaway to Hood River, Oregon.  He was a great hiker!

Here he is with some of his favorite people, his cousin Mira and his Mom and Dad.  I love it when Wilbur and his family come to visit us.  We've had to leave him alone in our house a few times and he's been really good.  His "parents" give him a run around the dog park first, and he has never caused any mischief when we've been away.

When I know I'll be seeing Wilbur soon, I send the message "tell Wilbur Grammy is making cookies".  A magazine I like, Clean Eating, has a pet treat recipe each month.  This time I made Chicken Peanut Butter Dog Biscuits.  They smelled pretty good!  If I hadn't used the dog bone cookie cutter, Stan might have been interested.

Wilbur enjoyed his treats!

I'll miss him until I see him again!

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Girls’ Getaway

 Last weekend my daughter, Melanie, and I spent a wonderful time together at Cannon Beach on the Oregon coast.  We don’t get to see each other very often so it was really fun to catch up and talk and just relax for a couple of days. 

We stayed in a cute little cabin on Hemlock Street, a block from the ocean.  We could see the waves from our doorway.  It wasn’t fancy, but had everything we needed and was comfortable.

I hadn’t been to Cannon Beach in a very long time, and it’s a great little town.  Very quaint with lots of shops and restaurants crowded together along the main street.  I noticed there was a library, book store, fabric store and yarn store, as well as many cafes, art galleries and souvenir shops.  What more could you possibly need?  A New Seasons or Whole Foods, I guess.  There was a small grocery, but apparently the nearest supermarket is at Seaside, nine miles away.  There were lots of tourists too – I bet it’s very crowded later in the season.

Our first morning, we walked the length of the town checking out the shops, then got coffees and walked all the way back along the ocean.  What a beautiful day and beautiful site!  Haystack Rock is the most popular view at Cannon Beach and we wondered how it got there.  Here’s what it says on the City of CannonBeach website:

Good old Mother Nature 'built' Haystack Rock. The rock part of Haystack Rock is actually lava from a volcano that erupted millions and millions of years ago on the borders of Washington, Oregon and Idaho. Molten lava flowed seaward down what was once the Columbia River Gorge. When it hit soft sediment on its journey west, the lava went underground. When it came to a vent or soft spot (like it did here in Cannon Beach) it "popped up." Scientists know this because they have identified "signature" chemicals in Haystack Rock that only match volcanoes on the other side of the state.

Later in the day, my son-in-law Ben drove up with Wilbur, my sweet granddog, for a visit and romp on the beach.  Wilbur loves the beach!  In this photo I'm sure he was thinking "Hurry up with the picture so I can get back to running and swimming!"  You'll see more of him in my next post.

I always enjoy hearing about Ben and Melanie's work.  Ben is a fifth-grade teacher, and he's the kind of teacher all the parents want their kids to have.  He'll be taking his kids on an overnight camping trip in a few weeks.  This is mind-boggling to me - I'd be terrified!  Ben takes it in stride - you can tell he truly enjoys what he's doing.  I know Melanie loves this time of year as the school year winds down and she has a lovely house-husband-chef for the summer!  (He's a great cook!)

Melanie is a software engineer, and since that's what I did in my pre-retirement life, we have lots to talk about.  Technology has changed so fast - she's way ahead of me already, and it's exciting to me to hear about her projects.

I can't say I was perfectly true to my eating plan, but I don't think much harm was done.  I'll be extra careful this week to compensate.  Our first night we had a beautiful dinner at The Wayfarer, an upscale restaurant a block from the beach.  I was so busy talking with Melanie I never thought about photographing my Salmon with Pinot Noir Gastrique, but it was beautiful and delicious.  I wasn't sure exactly what the difference is between a sauce and a gastrique.  The blog Serious Eats says:
In plain terms, a gastrique is a sweet-and-sour sauce at its simplest. You caramelize sugar (or sometimes honey), combine it with equal parts vinegar, and reduce it slightly to make a tart, slightly thickened syrup.
 After that delicious beginning, we ate less formally.  Salads for lunch - a shrimp Louis for Melanie and a chicken Caesar for me.  (Not the most attractive chicken Caesar I've ever had, but tasty.)

I did have two bready meals.  We had walked by a pizza place that smelled so great we were happy they had room for us at dinner time.  It was very good and we shared a salad and only ate two slices each.

Our last morning we had breakfast at a cute place called Local Grill and Scoop.  We'll definitely go back there again next time we're at Cannon Beach!  I did consider a Denver omelet, perfectly healthy, but it sounded big (3 eggs) and I wasn't up for that much.  We both had croissant breakfast sandwiches and they were yummy.  (I ate all the egg, but only half the croissant, honest.)  The best part was the latte, absolutely perfect!

All in all a great weekend that I'll remember for a long time.  We both feel grateful for each other and the time we spent together.  Times like this are what we spend the rest of the time working for!

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Cheat Day

What?  Cheat??  Okay, I have eaten a few no-nos during the past three months, but they have been spur-of-the-moment lapses, not planned cheats.  My daughter, Melanie, first brought up the subject shortly after I started my new way of life, reminding me that some diets advocate taking a day off periodically to eat your old favorites. 

I consulted my two sources of health advice, and neither one mentioned cheating on a planned, regular basis, but I remembered reading about this somewhere, and found what I was looking for in The Abascal Way to Quiet Inflammation, by Kathy Abascal.  She calls cheat day a “special occasion” and I love her description of it:

Once or twice a month, we may eat anything we wish.  We may have refined grain waffles with maple syrup for breakfast.  Even if we are dairy and/or wheat sensitive, we may still have a cappuccino and a croissant.  We may have a quiche with a white flour crust, filled with whipped cream, cheese, and ham of dubious quality for lunch.  We may have high-mercury tuna and a sugary dessert for dinner.  We may choose to have three martinis and we may drink them right before bed.

Of course, then she says, “No doubt we will feel terrible the next day…”, but once in a while our bodies can cope with this.

I googled “diet cheat days” and found many articles and blog posts advocating planned indulgences.   Apparently besides giving us a mental boost, eating a higher-calorie meal with more carbs than usual also helps the body avoid going into “starvation mode”.  When we restrict calories and carbohydrates, we produce less of the hormone leptin, whose job it is to signal the brain that we’ve had enough to eat.  Less leptin can mean more hunger pangs.  Caloric restriction can also reduce the level of thyroid hormone T3, causing a reduction in metabolic rate, but an occasional higher-calorie meal can reduce this effect.  Two articles that explain this in more detail are 5 Ways Cheat Meals Can Improve Your Body on Bodybuilding and When is it Okay to Cheat? on Dailyburn.  Most articles don't recommend going wild with banana splits, but suggest something you wouldn't normally eat, like a cheeseburger with a bun or a few slices of pizza.

I spent some time dreaming about what I would have on a Cheat Day, and I’m surprised to find my desires are pretty moderate.

I’d start the day with Stan’s waffles or blueberry pancakes with butter and maple syrup.  Stan has absolutely perfected the art of making pancakes - I am ruined for IHOP and Denny's.  These are not cakey at all, but their insides are fully cooked and a perfect texture.  And did I mention delicious!!

Note our Vermont maple syrup from Hollister Hill Farm in Marshfield, Vermont.  It's a bed and breakfast, and has one of those cute country shops where you help yourself to what you want and leave the money in a jar on your honor.  My cousin, Gregory, is their neighbor and I stop by for maple syrup every time I visit.

Mid-morning I’d have a whole milk latte at Tyler’s favorite café, Zoka.  (I am a Starbucks fan, but Zoka’s latte is somehow better, maybe because it’s in a big cup with a beautiful design in the foam, and maybe because when I'm there Tyler is with me.)  This time Tyler, Alethea and Mira all came to have coffee with me.  A latte is not really a "cheat", but I'm going to save it for an occasional treat instead of an every day habit.

For lunch, the “Grilled cheese sandwich just like Mom used to make” at the pub near our 9-hole golf course.  That’s exactly how it is described on the menu and you get some options.  I’d choose American cheese and rye bread.

I’d have dinner at our favorite wine bar, Vino at the Landing:  a glass or two of white wine and either the Tomato Pesto Panini or maybe get Stan to share a house salad of tomato and fresh mozzarella and the macaroni and cheese.  I’ve never ordered the mac and cheese, but Stan has had it a few times and it looks awesome!  It’s browned on top and the cheese stretches out between the fork and the dish. (P.S. We had it and it is awesome!)

When we get home I'd have some ice cream – Haagen-Dazs Vanilla Bean or Mint Chocolate  Chip.  Some green mint chip ice cream might have photographed better, but I'm glad Haagen-Dazs doesn't use food coloring.

Actually, this doesn’t sound all that sinful.  Most of my life I thought bread and cheese were good for me.  When I think of “cheating” I visualize a hot fudge sundae or a big piece of cake, but at the moment I can do without them.  Oooh, or a bear claw pastry from Whole Foods – that sounds appealing, and would go nicely with the latte.   Actually I haven’t craved sweets very much, I think due in part to eating healthy food at regular intervals before I get too hungry and in part to having the occasional “legal” treat of a paleo muffin or paleo chocolate chip cookie.

 Kathy Abascal recommends one or two “special occasion”  days per month, and  reminds us we can’t have the special occasion dinner one evening, then the indulgent breakfast a few days later, and a sandwich and a beer for lunch a few days after that.  Other sources recommend a cheat meal or single cheat item once per week.  I like the idea of one meal at a time rather than a whole day, and for this first try I spread my cheats throughout a period of about two weeks.  I’ll have to find out what works best for me and whether I can do it and still maintain my plan the rest of the time.

Btw – A few years ago, Stan and I took a class Kathy teaches on the Abascal Way (also known as the Vashon Island Diet, because many folks on Vashon Island have tried it with good results). The diet is pretty strict, but really seems to work.  I lost about 10 pounds in the five weeks of class, but as soon as it was over I reverted to my old habits and gained it all back.  That taught me that I need a way of eating that I devise for myself and that works for me on a long-term basis, rather than a “diet” that I go off after some period of time.

Of course, you know the best thing about writing this post:  I had to eat all those treats to get the photos!

Monday, April 13, 2015

My Own Live-In Chef

Have I mentioned what a good cook my husband Stan is?  I used to tell my co-workers they wouldn't believe the dinners I came home to some evenings.  In this post I'll share with you some of the great dishes he's cooked for me in the past few years.  I'll admit, several of these recipes don't fit in with my new healthy eating plan, but most are fine, especially since we don't eat them that often.

For us, Sunday mornings are special - maybe because before we lived together we only saw each other on weekends.  Here are some of the nice breakfast dishes we've had:

Crepes with berries and scrambled eggs

Omelet souffle with strawberries, from a book by Hubert Keller

Fruit omelet with berries flavored with Grand Marnier

 Stan saw this dish featured in the Seattle Times and promptly visited Le Pichet to try it.  The Times said, "Inspired by a common preparation found in French bistros, the dish consists of French ham, two eggs and Gruyere cheese in a gratin that is then placed in a 500-plus degree oven.  What arrives at the table is bubbling perfection..."  Stan found the folks at Le Pichet very willing to share the recipe and explain the ingredients (uncured ham and aged Gruyere), and he's been making it ever since.   (btw - I would highly recommend Le Pichet any time of day for a lovely meal!)

Oeufs Plats, from Le Pichet on First Ave in Seattle

 Stan actually won a cooking contest with this appetizer!  It was long before I knew him.  He saw an ad by an Idaho potato company, for a contest of potato recipes, and the first prize was a trip to Ireland.  Stan's mother lived in Ireland and he decided to win the contest and take his kids to visit their grandmother.  And he did!

There are mashed potatoes in the bottom of the glass, topped with Alaska king crab in a citrus sauce.  There was a strict limit on the number of ingredients and Stan felt the orange, lemon and lime were all necessary, so he had to be tricky - he left milk out of the mashed potatoes and used garlic salt, instead of both garlic and salt. 

Prize-winning potato crab cocktail

 Stan's real specialty is meat and fish dishes.  This is steak with mushrooms and scalloped potatoes.  This year we've dropped the potatoes, and added larger servings of veggies.  I finally don't regard a starch as a mandatory part of a meal.

This is Pork Grand Marnier with orange sections.

Stan hasn't made this since we started avoiding gluten, but isn't it beautiful!  It's a pork tenderloin stuffed with boursin cheese and wrapped with prosciutto, in a flaky pastry crust.  It was delicious, too!

Rack of lamb with mashed potatoes, from Julia Child's The Way to Cook.  I'm ashamed to say this giant serving was mine : (   Hopefully I didn't eat all those potatoes, and I'm sure there was a side dish of broccoli.  Lately with rack of lamb I've been having Charla's Asian Pear butter.  It's great with all kinds of meats!

And, of course, I've already showed you the beautiful Valentines' Day dinner he made.  That is a round of lobster mashed potatoes under a steak au poivre wrapped in bacon with Cabernet and Bearnaise sauces.  Yum!

Veal cacciatore with spaghetti in mushroom sauce and broccoli.  We found really great gluten-free Italian pasta on Amazon, so we do still get to have spaghetti, linguine or other pasta shapes once in a while, although it's made from corn, which is not on a strict paleo diet.

Notice up in the left corner of the photo - those are my vitamins and a half glass of milk.  I still take the vitamins pretty faithfully, but for my year of health I've dropped the milk and most of the wine.  I love milk with a meal, but everything I read says the pasteurized cow's milk we buy is not good for us.

Here's another pasta dish with shrimp and tomatoes.  Stan added some black spaghetti that is colored with squid ink.  We learned about that in the cooking class we took on our trip to Italy.  (You should click on this link and scroll down to the lower right - Luisa has included a Guestbook on her website, and we are in it!  Too bad she titled our entry Pam and Sam, but you can see the letter and photos we sent her. )

Two yummy poultry dishes - duck breast with poached pear and chicken piccata.  The duck breast is on an old video from Le Cordon Bleu.  The chicken piccata is one of my favorites, and we usually have chicken in the freezer, so if Stan asks "What would you like for dinner tonight?" that is often my first choice.  The steamed cabbage wedges taste great in the sauce!

We eat a lot of seafood.  I didn't think I liked scallops, until my son Tyler barbecued scallops wrapped in bacon.  Now I love them.   These are scallops wrapped in bacon on top of mushroom mashed potatoes, and a favorite of ours, scallops and Brussels sprouts with blood orange sauce and minted blood orange salad.

This is Pacific halibut with morel mushrooms, green asparagus and truffled yellow split pea puree, from Ocean Friendly Cuisine by James O. Fraioli.  Wow - I sound just like one of those fancy food magazines!  And this stuff is all really, really good, too!

Before we ever thought about gluten, Stan was interested in making pasta.  How sad when that endeavor got scrapped in the name of healthy eating!  As you can see, he was doing well.  I forget whether this ravioli was stuffed with cheese or lobster, he made both.

And finally, dessert!  When we have guests, the dessert is usually my responsibility, but Stan has made some memorable ones.  I did cringe just a bit at the red jello in this trifle, but you should have seen his grandchildren's faces when he brought it out!

We learned to make these pears poached in wine with quenelles (little "eggs" of sweetened ricotta)  in our Italian cooking class.  They are as tasty as they are impressive looking!

And Stan's signature dessert - I'm sure he made this crème brûlée for me the first time he invited me over for dinner.  (I keep reminding him, the sexiest thing a man can wear is an apron!)

So, I think you'll agree I'm a very lucky eater!  Even when we backpacked to Lake Ozette on the Pacific Coast, we ate really well.  I wish I had photographed what Stan was cooking - I was probably too hungry!

We both had fun remembering all these great meals.  We found some we had forgotten about, and I've added them to my list of requests to enjoy again.  Most of the recipes started out from a book or video, and have been modified over the years.  If you'd like a recipe for any of these just ask in a comment and I'll get it for you.