Cooking · Hobbies · Keto

Day 4 of a Keto Week

It was a great day…

Today I had the luxury of working at home, and enough time to make a delicious lunch and dinner. Lunch was lovely – another Chicken Caesar salad with homemade Caesar dressing. I chopped everything up so I could easily gobble it up. Dinner was a little more “done” – I made a homemade Alfredo sauce to go over my cooked chicken. (I didn’t have any basil, so the Creamy Pesto Sauce was a non-starter.) Let me take you through the steps, to the finished process. Oh, and it goes without saying that this wonderful recipe for Alfredo Sauce came from the indispensable cookbook, Simply Keto. (It’s my new cooking bible!)

First – the cast of characters for this lovely dish. Doesn’t everyone partition their butter by tablespoon? Next to that, cream cheese, half and half, garlic, parmesan, oregano and All ‘Round Good Grinder Blend.
First step, after chopping garlic: brown the garlic briefly in melted butter.
Next, take the cubes of cream cheese and melt that in the butter/garlic mixture.
After you’ve constantly stirred and stirred, the cream cheese starts to break down.
Next, add creamy half and half. It’s hard to take a picture of that while you’re doing it. So, please make do with this shot of what the sauce looks like as you add the freshly grated parmesan.
Finally the seasoning: add oregano and salt and pepper – or Good Grinder Blend, like me!
The delicious final dish. (My attempts at plate artistry need work.)

Verdict: a winner

This Keto-friendly sauce made my chicken the perfect comfort food for a cold winter night. I may need lessons in plate artistry, but the sauce was creamy, buttery, cheesy, and oh-so-comforting. And what you see on the plate is 1/4 cup – the recommended serving! I have so much sauce left over in the fridge. I can’t wait to try it on zoodles, broccoli, and as the base for a creamy pesto sauce! This was a 10. I heartily recommend it to you.

blogging · me · Gratitude · Hobbies · Keto

Day 3 of a Keto Week

And a note to my new followers

If you’ve just subscribed or followed; Hi! Delighted to have you along. I must explain my plan behind this blog. Not every post will be about cooking or the Keto way of life. Keto is just one of three sections of this site, as you see from the top navigation menu:

I’m also very much into Books and Gardening. And in the weeks to come, I’ll probably add a Writing section as well. So, if later today you see a post that isn’t about Keto at all – well, just skip over that if you want! Or enjoy – up to you.

Day 3 – Danger!

Today could have been better, but it also could have been MUCH worse. I took my Keto Chili to work and that was delicious. But work ran long, and I got home late – with only about 15 minutes to spare before Bible Study group with the ladies of my church. There, I succumbed to the lure of pigs-in-blankets. And two munchkins (donut holes.) It could have been so much worse, but not by much! Ah me. Tomorrow is a new day and a new attempt to eat and live the Keto way.

blogging · Hobbies · Writing

The Joy of Writing

Isn’t that a book already? Actually it is – a memoir by Pierre Berton. I hope he gave a tip of the hat to Joy of Cooking author Irma Rombauer for the inspiration.

Expressing yourself

Writing has always been my favorite way of communicating. I like it better than even speaking on the phone to someone. I think better when I’m either putting fingers to a keyboard or setting a pen to paper. It gives me the opportunity to think linearly and logically, when I wish to write non-creatively: pick the topic, add sentences supporting your position or thoughts, give evidence, persuade or inspire.

But I also love playing with words. I was one of those funny kids who loved learning about words in school – where did they come from; how did they get their present shape? When I discovered the Oxford English Dictionary, with its complete etomology of each and every word in the language, I was transfixed. Why do we use certain synonyms? I loved learning all the different flavors of a word. I can hear my friends now saying, why do you have to use the word frank when the word candid will do? Or any of the other synonyms that convey open, sincere, honest, or plainspoken? Because! I’d shake my head – don’t they understand the connotations? Don’t they hear the music of the word? Sometimes you need one, sometimes the other.

How I got started

It was in third grade that we all starting writing stories for our English class each week. Our teacher would give us a topic or question, and we’ll all write a page. (A ‘prompt’ in writers’ jargon.) I’ll never forget one essay I composed: I wish I had a money tree. I kept it for years, along with all my other papers, thus getting a jump start on my lifetime of hoarding books. Looking back at it I was appalled at my sheer greed and sloth: I ended the page saying I would just eat and read all day. Actually, that does sound like my idea of heaven right now!

Later on, I kept writing – both for the high school newspaper and the college paper. The only story from those years I remember is the feature I did on the ducks that lived on the Thomas Cooper Library pond at USC. Later there were freelance articles in newspapers and magazines in Columbia and Savannah. Then I spent two glorious years writing for a small weekly paper, before I went on to be an editor at a daily.

Starting this blog

Over 20 years ago I went corporate, starting by doing communications work. Then I got into the web game, and corporate life became a string of projects, analysis, testing, and usability work. Shortly after completing a masters in 2010, I decided it was time to start a blog so I could write again. At the beginning, it was random day-to-day happenings, more diary than journal or newsletter. And lots of cat pictures.

Fits and starts

I kept it going fairly regularly for about four years; then, life got in the way. Back in 2022 I re-started and did fairly well. But this year: this is the year I’ve dedicated the blog to only four topics, all revolving around my special interests: Books (including writing, literature, and just plain fun reads); my new Keto Journey and my love of cooking (with lots of fun pictures!), and Gardening. I’m dedicated different areas of the top navigation to those categories, and I’ll be blogging more frequently on each topic.

Next up: Masterclass

My newest strategy: taking lessons from some of the world’s best. My membership in Masterclass is giving me access to some best-selling authors. I want to explore how do they handle the problems of fleshing out a character in fiction? How do they write compelling openings, that draw a reader in and make them want to spend time with the people in the book? When you’re reading, it’s as if you’re entering that character’s world, or as if you’ve invited that character to come over to your house, sit on your couch and chat for a while. How can I make people want to spend time with my characters? So off to Masterclass I go. Now, my biggest question – do I choose Judy Blume‘s or Amy Tan‘s class? Or perhaps Neil Gaiman? Good thing the membership is for a year. I can and will do all three.

Books · Hobbies · Introspection · just plain fun · me

The Joy of Book Club

Yes, you read that right. Book Club! (Or as I misspelled it in a DM to a friend, “boom club.” That did make it sound more enticing!) I joined my current group about a year or so before the Big Disruption – COVID-19. That shot our monthly meetings all to heck and gone – we didn’t meet again for over 18 months, I think. Days, weeks, months, all flow together in my brain.

A focused group

I love that that the group I joined goes in depth on the works of a select few writers: C.S. Lewis, J.R.R.Tolkien, Hugo Dyson, Charles Williams – all the writers that met together as “The Inklings.” The Columbia book club is named “The Inklings” in homage to them. This winter we started reading The Magician’s Nephew, from the Chronicles of Narnia series. I loved reading these books, and can’t wait to see how we’ll draw on the themes that this book begins to illuminate even in the first two chapters: a person’s character, honor, our responsibility to others, and more. Plus, the color illustrations by Pauline Baynes in the 2001 edition are beautiful.

The color plates inside are delightful.

Junk reading: the cotton candy of the brain

Of course I don’t read only literary fiction. I’m not finishing up some of the weighty tomes that I listed in a previous post last summer. In fact, I’m buying trashy non-fiction and fiction books and gobbling them up like popcorn and Milk Duds at the cineplex.

And I’m not fooling anyone by hiding them on my Kindle. In fact, that’s one of the two reasons I bought a Kindle. I first decided to buy one after I started running out of bookshelves, counter space, end table space, and floor space to stack books. Once I had it, I realized I could hide those unauthorized celebrity biographies, wacky sci-fi, dystopian end-of-the-world fantasies, polemical screeds, and the Twilight series on the Kindle. Oh, how I wish I was kidding about that last one. Several hours of my life that I’ll never get back.

Christmas · Cooking · Hobbies · Keto

From hobby to passion

Do you have a hobby you love? One that you’ve dabbled in over the years, but then with the onset of COVID-19, delved into more and more. That’s how I feel about cooking. Today, in this post adapted from a speech I gave to my Toastmasters club, I’ll share with you some of my favorite kitchen stories, tools, triumphs, and failures.

Let’s Get Cooking!

When I was a child, I’d often stay for the weekend with my Grandmother Shuler. Once I got to watch her as she made her famous pound cake. She’d take the butter out of the frig and let it sit out on the counter, in the bowl of her stand mixer, at least overnight. She explained she did that so the butter would soften up.

The next day, she’d take every ingredient and line it up on the counter. Years later I’d learn that was what chefs called setting up a “mise en place.” As the cake finished baking, she’d make a tart lemon glaze to pour over the hot pound cake.

Not every dish was a hit – I STILL, to this day, cannot stand the taste and texture of lima beans – but my love of cooking started with Grandma Shuler in her country kitchen.

Today, in my Forest Acres kitchen, I’m creating my own culinary memories. Join me in a tour of my kitchen, won’t you, and let’s get cooking!

When we first enter the kitchen, you’ll see the vast quartz countertop which divides the back room and makes a nice square shaped kitchen. It makes a wonderful prep area where I chop all my veggies. Always on the counter: either my Air Fryer or my Crockpot, depending on the season.

And I adore baking. Years ago, my parents gave me a KitchenAid Artisan Stand Mixer in Empire Red – the Cadillac of Mixers. That wonderful appliance has turned out endless cakes and batches of Christmas cookies.

An awful accident

Last year I experienced one of my rare cooking fails as I used the mixer. I happily envisioned myself on a cooking show as I measured out all the ingredients for a carrot cake and put them in dishes, ready to use. I even went ahead and measured out all the cream cheese frosting ingredients and put those on the counter in little glass bowls too. Gordon Ramsey would be proud!

As I set the full cake pans in the oven, I turned around to begin cleanup. I noticed there was still a bowl on the counter – of what? It was FLOUR. I left out the Flour. But I knew I had mixed something white in! I had mixed in the four cups of confectioners’ sugar, set aside for the frosting, into the cake batter!!! I quickly yanked out the pans, threw it all back into the mixer and mixed in the flour. It actually came out well – the top was just a tad caramelized. Nobody tasted a difference. The only difference was visual: I didn’t have enough confectioners’ sugar left to make enough frosting for the sides. It was a near-naked cake.

Blood sugar up; Time for Keto

A lifetime of baking and sweets has raised my blood sugar, so I’ve stopped baking and I’m doing keto. So, what dishes am I preparing? Well fortunately Turkey is low-carb, and perfect for holidays. I decided to go all out on a Turkey this year for Christmas. We usually have ham at our holiday meals – because of the eight of my extended fam, seven prefer ham. Guess who prefers turkey – me! So, since I was cooking, I decided on Turkey for Christmas Eve lunch.

I found a super deal on ButcherBox.com and quickly ordered the turkey. But – my brother’s five weren’t coming for Christmas. I put out of my mind the fact that I purchased a 15-pound turkey for three people.

I cleared out an entire section of the freezer for it to live in until the Sunday before Christmas Eve. That Sunday I moved the turkey to the frig to start thawing.

On Thursday I created a beautiful brine and submerged the turkey in a huge turkey bag with the gallons of brine. It soaked for 18 hours. Early Christmas Eve morning, I dumped out the brine, cleaned the sink THOROUGHLY and let the turkey soak in a sink full of water for 30 minutes, to scrub off some of the salt.

Then I dried it off, shoved quartered onions, garlic and rosemary up its arse and trussed it up for a four and a half hour stay in the oven. I used an entire half cup of melted butter as my basting liquid throughout.

That turkey was DELICIOUS. Even my Dad, who dislikes turkey, couldn’t stop talking about how good it was. And the drippings made the most WONDERFUL gravy!

Look at that beautiful brown skin!

As I continue my Keto journey, those wonderful Turkey leftovers have helped immensely – Turkey/Broccoli casserole and Turkey Vegetable Soup. As I explore new recipes, I continue to set out the ingredients before I start cooking, just like Grandma did. But now, I make sure I have the ingredients lined up, in order.

Cooking · Hobbies · Keto

Going Keto

Yes, I have dived into Keto Living

About two months ago I met with my new personal physician. New doc ran an A1C due to the history of diabetes on one side of the family. Yep, I’m pre-diabetic. Since my birthday was coming up, and then a long-awaited vacation, and then Thanksgiving, I proceeded to forget about it.

But I ate myself into a stupor over Thanksgiving weekend, hosting not only Thanksgiving on Thursday but also Friendsgiving on Friday. After I polished off the last of the custard cornbread I realized, I need something entirely new. Enter keto. Lots of my friends do this – I can do it!

Did you know that the keto diet was originally created in the ’20s for epileptics? And it has since been used successfully to treat diabetes. Thus encouraged, I downloaded the Atkins app and dove into keto-friendly recipes. And last week, after I paid $14 at my favorite brunch spot for a Philly cheesesteak omelet, with no toast or grits, I decided to recreate this at home this week.

First up: the cast of characters in this production

From the top to bottom, eggs, All ‘Round Good Grinder Seasoning Blend, avocado, Steak-umm, butter, grated Muenster cheese, diced onions and garlic. The broccoli became a side dish.

Always first: the onions and garlic

I threw them in a big hunk of butter and let them get a little brown, while I chopped up the avocado. Then I realized why chefs always have ALL chopping done first – the garlic got a little too brown.

Next, I whisked the three eggs with a skoosh of heavy cream and a sprinkle of the Good Grinder Blend.

About a tablespoon and a half of cream, I’d say.

Then it was time to move the eggs to the pan. I’d removed the onions and garlic to another dish – I wanted to put them in the middle of the omelet, not as part of it.

Gotta have that cheese….

Near Disaster Looms

While I was admiring my work, I realized – I hadn’t cooked up the still-frozen beef sheet for my Philly omelet. Yikes. I whisked the egg pan to a cool burner to slow the cooking (eggs keep cooking on their own!) and fired up the Steak-Umm.

How’d that little bit of toasted garlic get in there?

After transferring the Steak-Umm to the omelet and folding it, I turned my attention to the broccoli. Half of the shredded Muenster went on top and the bowl went into the microwave for 30 seconds.

Then, it was time to plate everything and enjoy!

Accentuate the Positive! · Cooking · Family · Gratitude · Hobbies · holiday · just plain fun

Stirring up a taste of Christmas…

Yes, even before Thanksgiving! Today in the Anglican church calendar it’s the last Sunday before Advent, also known as Christ the King Sunday. This Sunday’s collect, from the 1549 Book of Common Prayer in the Anglican church started with the words “Stir up…”:

Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people; that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works, may of thee be plenteously rewarded; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Book of Common Prayer, 1549

I’m starting the process of making a fruitcake, which does have to age a full month. For the past few years I’ve been making extra-special fruitcakes – not the bricks of old, but something that people may actually like once they take a bite out of politeness. I love seeing the reaction of people who hate fruitcake. No, you don’t. You hate Claxton fruitcakes. So do I!

This year I’m making a recipe which calls for 6 full cups of candied citrus peel. The sweet teenager at the Publix didn’t have a clue what I was asking about, and we both started consulting Google Images. He finally led me to the fruitcake ingredient aisle (they move it EVERY YEAR.) The only thing there were those icky-sweet pieces of “fruit” that were in neon colors. Time to make my own. I searched for a recipe and found an easy one on AllRecipes.com.

Life Lesson: Easy is not the same thing as Fast. Or Cheap.

– Aunt Gem

First, my actual cake recipe called for six full cups of candied peel. I shrugged and bought up two bags of Cuties (easy to peel!) and a bag of lemons. I’m $10 in and I haven’t even started on the almonds. Then I started peeling.

Only halfway to 2 cups of peel

Finally, I hit two cups after I emptied an entire bag of clementines. I have a lot of fruit to eat in the next few days. Fortunately, I’m making ambrosia for Thanksgiving.

This is what two cups of peel looks like at the start of the process.

First, you bring to a full boil. Then, you let it simmer for 10 minutes.

Then you drain everything – and repeat the whole process two more times. Finally, you wind up with this:

The two cups I started with shrunk.

And now, over an hour later, I still have four more cups to make. This fruitcake better be worth it, Martha!

Accentuate the Positive! · educational · Hobbies · just plain fun

Loving my podcasts

Lately, all my spare time is devoted to listening to podcasts. The fiction ones are my favorite, but I love certain current events commentators and there’s a couple of funny podcasts which lighten my mood every time. See my list below – you may find a new favorite. And let me know of any good ones you have!

Comedy

Wrong and Wronger

If you choose just one podcast to add to your collection, make it “Wrong and Wronger.”

This one stars Steve Olivas, a psychologist turned humorist turned author for rock stars, and James Breakwell, the Twitter-famous “funny dad” who writes hilarious stories about his family of four girls and the adventures they share. Steve and James started podcasting together after an inteview when the two realized their sarcastic jabs at each other “clicked.” Originally, the show was about the two of them taking opposing sides (by coin toss) on the weighty issues of the day: dogs vs cats, mustard vs ketchup on hot dogs, bubble wrap vs peanuts. Then they’d invite their audience to vote for the winner. About 160 episodes in, they decided to branch out and now just natter on about whatever’s on their mind. You should start at episode 206, when they started discussing the saga of Steve’s new rural property in Tennessee, now known as Rattlesnake Ranch.

I discovered this podcast during August 2021, when the news was full of the disastrous way we left Afghanistan, and the ensuing tragedies. I had to stop listening to the news for a while – and I chose this podcast as a way to find some sunshine in those horrible days. Steve and James’ crazy stories and hiliarious debates made me forget all the ugliness each time I listened. If you choose just one podcast to add to your collection – make it this one!

The Jennifer Fulwiler Show

I love this lady. She is about 10 years younger than I am and has six kids under the age of 18. She’s Catholic and a standup comedian. In other words, she’s as different from me as anyone could be. She spent most of her young married life at home with the kids, while writing funny books and starting a blog about her conversion, then started a radio show, then followed her dream of being a stand-up comedian! The description on Apple: “This podcast is like if someone gave a TED Talk after three mimosas.” You will love her!

History and Commentary

The MartyrMade Podcast

Darryl Cooper covers history, religion, philosophy, ritual – all seeking to bring meaning out of chaos. I first discovered him through where else, Twitter. His latest podcast is an in-depth look at the West Virginia Coal Mine Wars, and the injustices done to coal miners as they sought to better their lives. Other favorite episodes include the series he did on Epstein and his audio versions of his Substack posts.

Honestly with Bari Weiss

Speaking of Substack writers, I’ve been following Bari Weiss’s work at her Common Sense Substack since she left the New York Times. As an extension of that, she’s started her podcast Honestly. She’ll interview a guest on one of the issues of the day – and that guest can be anyone, liberal, conservative, whomever. It’s thoughtful, thought-provoking, and dare I say, shows surprising balance in such a polarized time.

Fiction

The Leviathan Chronicles

Instead of drifting off to sleep to a TV screen, I drift off to sleep listening to a podcast story. The trouble with the Leviathan Chronicles is that these science-fiction episodes are so well-written, well-acted and voiced (with over 60 actors) that I have to stay awake to listen to just one more episode. The initial three seasons focus on the story of a hidden city – known as Leviathan – hidden deep in the Marianas Trench in the Pacific. Just start listening to it – you’ll be so involved in the characters and the relationships the author builds that when the story becomes fantastical – you’ll be swept along.

And now for my favorite

Wooden Overcoats

I’ve loved this funny, witty, oh-so-beautifully written and acted British podcast for the last few years. It’s only 4 seasons long – and I’ve yet to finish the last two episodes because I can’t bear to have it end. Here’s the perfect description, from the podcast website:

RUDYARD FUNN RUNS A FUNERAL HOME ON THE ISLAND OF PIFFLING.
It used to be the only one. It isn’t anymore.

Rudyard Funn and his equally miserable sister Antigone run their family’s failing funeral parlour, where they get the body in the coffin in the ground on time. But one day they find everyone enjoying themselves at the funerals of a new competitor – the impossibly perfect Eric Chapman! With their dogsbody Georgie, and a mouse called Madeleine, the Funns are taking drastic steps to stay in business…

-Wooden Overcoats