This morning I watched an old clip of the Craig Ferguson show with guest Ricky Gervais. There was a short bit that threw me back in time, to when I was an even-more gullible child.
We used to take big family vacations when I was a kid – once every summer, we’d head to the beach with the aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents to spend a week in a huge house. Every year we’d go eat real Calabash-style seafood. One year at the fancy Calabash restaurant, my grandpa asked me if I wanted to order frogs legs with him. I scrunched up my face and shook my head furiously – no, I most DEFINITELY did not want frog legs! Yuck. Ugh. Gross! Who would eat frog legs? I made my displeasure at the very idea known. He just chuckled and said OK. And we all ordered, with me getting whatever kids’ special they had.
A half-hour later we were all chowing down on our lovely, overpriced seafood (Dad always complained about the prices, and how the servers rushed you.) At 9 I had the attention span of a gnat. I had completely forgotten about the conversation. I was happily cleaning up my plate as you did, looking for seconds, when Grandpa asked me, “Would you like some fried chicken?” “I would! Thank you!” Grandpa passed me a meaty leg and I munched enthusiastically. Everyone asked me how I was enjoying the chicken. “This is wonderful, very good,” I replied blithely as I proceeded to polish the bones.
I was so focused on the yummy bones I didn’t notice the adults at the table sharing grins and suppressing laughs.
Later that night, after we paid the check, and while we were walking through the parking lot, Uncle Wayne said to the group at large “Do you think we ought to tell Jenny what she had to eat tonight?” Everyone burst out laughing as I said “What? What? What are you talking about?” Uncle Wayne happily chortled “those were frog legs.” I can’t even imagine the look on my face. I’m sure I spluttered, “Well, they tasted just like chicken!” which everyone says. I can verify, yes, that’s true.
I’ve never eaten frog legs since. And I may never eat them again as long as I do keto – because while the frog legs themselves are zero-carb, that delicious fried breading sure isn’t. HOWEVER: a couple minutes searching the Internet shows some cooks have creatively tackled that challenge:
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!
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.
This is a re-run of a post I put up several years ago – which is a reprint of an article I wrote in 1993 for a small weekly paper. When my parents downsized they gave me the tree. Enjoy!
Tonight I put up the tree I “inherited” from Dad when they downsized to a patio home. Here’s the story I wrote about that tree 17 years ago for The Georgia Guardian newspaper. Tomorrow or Thursday I’ll post pictures of the decorated 2010 tree. Tonight you’ll have to make do with a picture of Pickles sitting underneath the tree:
Pickles poses by a copy of the original story of our family tree. Dad loved the story so much he matted and framed it. Once you read it, you’ll see why.
A Tree for All Seasons
First published in the Georgia Guardian, Dec. 24, 1993 Copyright Jennifer Rust
Every family has its Yuletide traditions, and ours is no exception. We’ll be going to parties, attending the Christmas Eve candlelight service at church and decorating the tree. Yet we do something lots of people would never dream of: We pull our tree out of the attic each year.
Yes, we have an artificial tree. During my impossible-to live-with teenage years, I continually referred to it as the fake tree. I would groan and roll my eyes each time my dad pulled it out of its box, telling the story of how he bought it in 1968 for only $15. (What a bargain, I can hear him say.)
When I was in high school I would beg my parents to buy a real tree. We could decorate it with strings of popcorn and other “natural” ornaments. But each year we’d re-assemble that same old tree, sticking branches into the holes on the trunk pole and bending them into place so they’d look right.
As time passed, my brother and I graduated, left the house, got jobs. Now, I have only a few days at home to celebrate the holiday. And I’ve noticed a change in the way I feel about that tree. It happened the year before last, when my dad said, “I think we might replace this one with a new tree.”
You would have thought he suggested we replace Mom. I gasped, “No! You can’t get rid of this tree!” Even as I said it I realized why.
Because of all the laughs we have putting it up each year … because all the made-in-kindergarten ornaments look just right on it … because we’ve had it for 25 years, and how many things last that long? Heck, that tree is the same age as my brother Bill and we’re keeping him.
That artificial, fake but eternal tree has become so much more than a decorative centerpiece upon which to hang the ornaments. It is a symbol of all those Christmases past and all the memories we share. That glorious fake fir has become a holiday tradition of its won. I wouldn’t trade it for the most majestic blue spruce around.
On December 22, 2016, I moved to my current home. At that time, my TV was an old, old model – circa 1998. My dad gave it to me after he upgraded to a flat screen.
But first, a tangent: The previous television I had was even older: I had a 1988 model that I kept until the over-the-air broadcast signal changed. The day I took that monster to the Best Buy to recycle it and get a $10 gift certificate I almost dropped it in the parking lot. A sweet 21-year-old guy saw me and rushed to help by carrying it into the store. He put it down on the customer service counter and said, “My wife and I bought this TV here last week and it doesn’t get those HDTV signals. We’d like to return it.” The Geeks burst out laughing.
That TV I had in 2016 was beyond saving. The remote didn’t work at all, no matter what. The picture was fuzzy, and the thing was still a huge monster. So, I put it out on the curb and called the city of Forest Acres for electronics pickup. Thus began my six years and counting without a TV.
And it hasn’t been too bad
I have two huge monitors on my computer in the home office, plus two laptops, and an iPhone. I certainly don’t lack for screentime. And if I have to watch a movie, I just adjust one of those big monitors, cosy up in the big chair in my office and stream something. That takes care of that.
Plus, more time for reading. And hobbies!
I probably would never have discovered some of my favorite podcasts without going TV-less. And I do have SO MANY MORE books than I’ve ever had before – and more time to read.
Last night the fourth Christmas party of the season got to me. I had hot cocoa with whipped cream, marshmallows, AND chocolate syrup. Then it was on to sample the spiked eggnog. I had to fix a plate of homemade cheese crackers, pigs in blankets, and haystacks. Needless to say, NONE of that was good for ketosis. I didn’t even bother to enter it in my Atkins tracker.
Most of the time, though, the Keto has been going so well! Working from home I can control everything I make for lunch, and the dishes I’m coming up with are fantastic. Nice fatty Bulletproof coffee is keeping me going in the mornings, and the shrimp, hamburger, steak, and chicken dishes I’m cooking up are wonderful.
The benefits are adding up beyond the weight loss
I’ve had SO MUCH more energy. I used to sleep at least 8 hours a night. Now I go to bed and 10 and wake up before 5 – sometimes even 4:30 – without an alarm clock.
When I stick to the Keto plan I’m on (Atkins 20) I’m not hungry. Really! I couldn’t quite believe it either.
I swear this is true: my knees don’t hurt as much when I kneel at church.
I’m saving $$$ on restaurants
Who needs to spend $15 on a Philly cheesesteak at my favorite diner, when I can make the same at home with Steak-ummm?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!