Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Transitions!

My life is all upside-down. I hate to drag you through it.

No more baby project--that is soundly over, and in many ways I'm relieved. I can put it behind me at last.

Now, an oh-my-God-I'm-turning-40-in-<2 years meltdown is underway. My focus has shifted from fabulous meals to going to the gym, sweating through cardio and weight-lifting workouts. When control seems impossible in so many areas of life, I grab it where I can. For me, that's getting control of my body shape, core strength and overall health.

I've been hiding under a rock--for that I do apologize. I missed identifying some biggies, too--Canadian Thanksgiving and Columbus Day! Here in Central NY state we're in rapid temperature decline towards winter. Yeah, it's getting COLD! The news reports a frost and possible snow this week! *eek* I'm not ready for that.

For today, I have a giant hubbard squash--18 pounds--to attack. I'm thinking soup, perhaps pumpkin curry . But first I have to cook it.



Hubbard is the king of squash. It's sweet with creamy flesh similar to pumpkin, only better. In fact, most canned solid-pack pumpkin available today is actually hubbard! It's got a verrrrry hard exterior shell. I have learned to simply throw it in the oven whole, at 250*F, until it softens enough to cut into it. Of course that also complicates matters--it cooks, it cools, then you cut, remove the strings and seeds, then cook some more.

So that's on my agenda for today. What have you been doing?

Monday, September 28, 2009

Sunny Asian Restaurant



In Utica, New York, near the courthouse, there is this little asian restaurant called Sunny. They serve various thai, vietnamese and various pan-asian cuisine.

Now y'all know how much I love Pho, so when the opportunity presented itself to pay a visit to Sunny's, well, was there really any choice?

I wasn't disappointed.

Sunny is in a small, nondescript building on the corner of Albany and Elizabeth Streets. If driving from Genessee Street, you can follow Elizabeth Street all the way to the end; Sunny is on the left. We parked on Albany St, though they do have a small lot (entrance on Elizabeth Street only). Inside, it's clean and tidy--even the bathrooms were impressively clean.

At 11:30am mid-week, we were surprised to be the only customers. Undeterred, we sat down and ordered. The wait staff were attentive to our every wish, and hot tea and water arrived quickly. Our order didn't take long--and wow, just look at this:



Beef pho with sliced brisket.



Here is chicken pho, or Pho Ga.



Our partially-devoured plate of accoutrements. (We already had used all the lime wedges.)

It was good. Really, really good. And shortly after we began our meal, more customers arrived--obviously on their lunch break from work.

Here's a blurry photo of my brother chowing down.



The soup broth was delectable, the portions very generous, and the availability of condiments was fantastic. We like our pho hot, so the waittress brought little bowls of diced chilis in oil. That did the trick! (Though be warned--that stuff is hot!)

So if you love pho as much as I do, enjoy Thai and various pan-asian cuisine, or just want to try something new and you're in the Utica area, visit Sunny. And if you want a lunch partner, just let me know--I'd be glad to meet you there!

Sunny Asian Restaurant

530 Albany Street
Utica, NY 13501
315.292.7304

Friday, September 25, 2009

A Different Kind of Recipe: DIY Laundry Detergent



I know that this technically does not belong on a food blog--but this is for home/kitchen use any way, and I felt that this is too valuable to not share with you.

In an effort to remain always frugal, stretching my dollar as far as it will go, I have been making my own laundry detergent.

What a difference.

I start with four ingredients:

- 1 bar of Fels Naptha soap. Zote is another brand that could be used. I've heard about people using an Ivory bar, but I think a laundry bar is better for this purpose.

- 20 Mule Team Borax

- Washing Soda. This is different from baking soda, but also made by Arm & Hammer. I'm sure there are other brands.

- Optional: Baking Soda. This is an additive that I particularly like as a deodorizer.

Simply grate the bar of soap. I use the smallest holes on my box grater by hand. For me, this is a therapeutic process done while watching television. You could, of course, use your food processor for a quicker effect.

One bar of soap yields three cups of grated soap. To this I add 1-1/2 cups each Borax and Washing Soda, and an entire 16-ounce box of baking soda.

Mix it all up, and you have a great laundry detergent. But the best thing is this:

YOU ONLY USE 1-2 TABLESPOONS PER LOAD!

That's right. 1 or 2 tablespoons. You'll have to try it and see for yourself what measure will be right for your family. But it is low-sudsing, which means you'll see no suds (safer for the environment and better for your septic tank), and although the fels naptha bar does have a fragrance, it does not come through in the finished laundry. At all. And I quite like that. I'd rather smell like my lotion or purfume--not the laundry detergent.

Oh, and before I close, I must give credit where credit is due. I first read about this over at Frugal Upstate--thanks, Jenn!

So if this has any interest to you whatsoever, give it a try. It's changed my life!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Time for Chili!

I don't know about you, but it's been downright cold here the last several days. Even today is warmer, but the early autumn drizzle makes it feel colder.

And that makes me want chili.



Mr.W is particularly fond of chili with black beans. I like whatever beans are around--kidney, black, pinto... whatever. Sometimes I like to add hominy to mine, but don't always.



I even occasionally go the cheating route and buy one of those pre-packaged spice blends. They're actually quite good!

So if you're as cold as I am these days, whip you up a big crock pot of chili. It's quick to fix and warms up the whole family.

Monday, September 21, 2009

What's Up?

Greetings, my friends!

It's been an interesting week here--a few doctor's appointments have kept me occupied, and we've been eating grab-as-you-go meals.

My Hebrew friends celebrated Rosh Hashana on Friday; a sweet new year to you!

We've been eating a giant bag of NY State ginger gold apples almost non-stop! They are so delicious--but their texture is perfect for only so long; they must be eaten quickly!

But the biggest news of the weekend is that Meathead met up with the business-end of a skunk! Fortunately it was not a direct blast--but the stench was enough to drive us mad. The outside of the house smelled, as did the inside. The dog was crying, and a bath didn't help--it just added wet dog stink. It was too late to do much about it, so we satisfied ourselves with burying our faces in our pillows to avoid the odor as much as possible.

Needless to say it interrupted my sleep habits!

What else? We are rearranging the house again--this time switching the living room with the dining room. I suppose that sounds odd, but the configuration of my home is strange enough. The larger room--what we have been using as the living room--is directly off the kitchen, and the dining room beyond it. But we are moving things around to take better advantage of the flow of rooms. Our new living room will be smaller, but cozier, and adding a pair of french doors to the doorway will help with the heat in the winter.

The nights are getting pretty cold here--40s F / 4 C--and the house gets downright chilly! The crock pot has been a central element for me, with either a big batch of spaghetti sauce or a pot of soup ready for a warming meal. Last night I boiled turkey legs with vegetables and a slice of salt pork for a lovely broth, and mixed in some cooked white beans. It made for a delicious soup, but nothing really recipe-worthy.

So that's been my week... terribly uninteresting, I'm afraid! What have you been doing?

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

It's Apple Season in New York


The trees are full of delicious, ripe & ripening apple harvests... and that means pies, crumbles, crisps, crispy delicious apples for eating out-of-hand, and the best of all: cider.

Our favorite place to visit this time of year is the Clinton Cider Mill in Clinton, NY.


It's an awesome place to visit--you can watch them pressing fresh cider, or just order and enjoy your favorite treats. Cider is available cold, frozen (like a slushie) or, my personal favorite, hot.

They also sell fresh cider donuts (plain and cinnamon-sugar) which are to. die. for.

Don't you just love apple season?



I'll tell you why I prefer to drink my cider hot: it controls my portions. If you are diabetic or otherwise insulin-challenged, fruit juices will really mess with your blood sugar--so by getting a small cup of hot, you're more likely to sip it, rather than guzzle it down. Mmm...

So if you're in NY state, get you some apples and a jug of cider--it's time.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Biscuits & Gravy



If you've never had biscuits & gravy, it's time.

I didn't grow up eating this southern staple. No, I learned of it's existence when I was in my early-20s visiting folks in Pennsylvania. A stop at Cracker Barrel along the way was my introduction into the world of creamy sausage-filled gravy over hot buttermilk biscuits.

I was hooked.



And if you can learn to make it for yourself, it will work wonders in your life. It can even find you a husband.

I kid you not. I met my husband because of biscuits and gravy. Oh, yes, it's true!

The Petty Officer who came to my office every Tuesday at Naval Air Station Key West to collect recyclables was a southern boy from Alabama. We'd known each other for a year or so already, but had only just started flirting. Of course my conversations always turn to food eventually, and he made a statement that I'll never forget.

"No Yankee girl can make good biscuits and gravy."

Oh, that got my dander up! So I invited him to my house for a dinner of biscuits and gravy. Show up he did--and he brought along his roommate, my Mr.W.

So ladies, if you're single, learn how to make biscuits and gravy. It's okay if the biscuits are canned--it's the gravy that he'll ask for again and again. I promise.


Southern-Style Sausage Gravy
serves 4

1 pound roll pork breakfast sausage, any kind desired (some people like it hot; I like regular)
5 to 6 tablespoons all-purpose flour
about 4 cups milk
salt and pepper

Fry sausage in a large dutch oven until browned; remove with a slotted spoon to a paper-towel lined plate.

Measure the fat remaining in your pan; you want 5 tablespoons. If you don't have that much (I only usually come up with around 3), add butter to make up the difference. Stir in flour to make a thick paste. The rule for milk gravy is 1 T fat : 1 T flour : 1 cup milk, but I just eyeball it.

Add milk a cup at a time, stirring in completely before the next, until desired consistency is reached. Return sausage to pan and taste; season with salt and pepper as needed.

Serve hot over buttermilk biscuits.

Remembering 9/11

Has it already been 8 years?

I think we can all remember that day... where we were, what we were doing, the thoughts that ran through our heads and the conversations we had with people.

I was working at the CDC in Atlanta at the time, getting ready to send a team of volunteers on their various international assignments to work on polio eradication and routine childhood immunizations when we got the news. As a U.S. federal agency, we were considered a target and sent home early; the volunteer assignments for that cycle were canceled altogether.

So I went home and worried about my friends who worked at the Pentagon--fortunately, they were safely away at a golf tournament when the Navy wing was struck.

But my dear friend--the woman who helped me through my divorce, the one who fed me when I had no money and invited me to her kids' high school graduations, the keeper of my secrets and my shoulder to cry on--lost her sister in the World Trade Center collapse.

The days that followed brought a strangeness to life itself; no one knew if war was about to break out, if events would repeat themselves, or if things would ever be the same. And I received literally hundreds of emails from colleagues around the globe offering their sympathy and expressing their horror that anyone would do such a thing.

I think that's what touched me the most. Ethiopians and Somali, Egyptians and Indians, Bangladeshi and Kyrgyz--they all took the time, typed the words, thought particularly of me, enough to send a note.

We can all agree that the world has changed since then, whether or not for the better is up for debate. I do know this: the generosity and kind-heartedness of people all over the globe make up for the sins of the few.

That's my two cents for today... would love to read your recollections or other thoughts for today.

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