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Fighting for my right to write in peace

Whether it was life before Covid-19, most of us probably had some issues carving out time for ourselves. Although, I am very sure that men have as much responsibility and pressures as women, when dad sets aside time and he doesn’t want to be bothered, people listen. As a daughter, girlfriend, significant other, and fiancée I tried and still try not to bother the man in my life when he needs to work, write, or watch football, NCAA basketball, or the PGA,

I have found that as a woman I have a harder time setting those boundaries, but I won’t blame all of it on everyone else. I’ve been at my mother’s (whom I refer to as her mothership) and she tends to walk in while I’m writing and start talking or telling me about something that she wants me to do. Instead of telling her to please give me a moment, I am an oldest child. Most firstborns are what I like to call starter children. We are the kids parents get to practice on until they figure out their parenting style. Traditional, bohemian, militant, or a combination thereof. We are the ones who weather the trial period. That is not to say that we don’t have a right to ask for a little time to ourselves as adults, but it can get a little tricky.

All of that aside, writing is a part of my life every day. Even when I don’t have a pen and paper in hand, I’m thinking about different topics, memories, or funny stories I’d like to incorporate in a blog post or as a part of a novel, or the cookbook I’m working on about my grandmothers’ and their cooking.

More than that, writing is more than just thoughts on paper, it’s the way I can redirect nervous energy when I’m worried. It’s also the way I’ve been able to deal with MS for the past twenty-five years. Chronic diseases and conditions like MS can engulf your life. It can dominate every corner if you let it. My dad told me when I was first hit with the diagnosis, that as long as I had MS, it could never have me. I’ve lived by that creed ever since and it has served me well, in addition to saving me from going into a self-pity hole.

That is why I believe that it’s important to fight for your right to write. If you’re a writer, it’s a part of who you are, which is an artist. And artists over many different mediums from paint to clay to, cameras to musical instruments and more need to exercise that right to keep it strong. Whatever moves you to write, scope out the place and set the time aside for yourself.

Part of my right to writer includes being in the kitchen, which includes going into the test kitchen to work on recipes. I love to work on adaptations of recipes to be sure it’s tasty enough to pass muster. To that end, I am posting a recipe for shepherd’s pie with meat and vegan ground meat. This is a recipe I came across in my Google feed, I’ve tweaked it a bit.

Shepherd’s Pie

Meat Filling:

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 cup chopped yellow onion

1 lb. 90% lean ground beef -or ground lamb

2 teaspoons dried parsley leaves

2 teaspoons dried thyme leaves

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

2 garlic cloves -minced

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour (gluten-free all-purpose or 1 to 1 gluten-free baking blend)

2 tablespoons tomato paste

1 cup beef broth

1 cup frozen mixed peas & carrots*

1/2 cup frozen corn kernels

Vegan Meat Filling

1 pound or package of Vegan ground meat Impossible Burger Ground, Farmland Protein Starters, Good and Gather Ground, Gardein The Ultimate Beefless Ground

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 cup chopped yellow onion

2 teaspoons dried parsley leaves

2 teaspoons dried thyme leaves

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

1 tablespoon Vegan Worcestershire sauce

2 garlic cloves -minced

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

2 tablespoons tomato paste

1 cup vegetable broth

1 cup frozen mixed peas & carrots*

1/2 cup frozen corn kernels

Potato Topping:

1 1/2 – 2 lb. russet potatoes -about 2 large potatoes peeled and cut into 1 inch cubes

8 tablespoons unsalted butter -1 stick (vegan butter, margarine)

1/3 cup half & half (rice or soy milk)

1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

1/4 cup parmesan cheese (Thrive Vegan Parmesan-Style Cheese Alternative, Follow Your Heart Dairy-Free Shredded Parmesan, Vegan Soy Free Grated Parmesan Style Topping)

Instructions

Make the Meat or Vegan Meat Filling.

Add the oil to a large skillet and place it over medium-high heat for 2 minutes. Add the onions. Cook 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add the ground beef (or ground lamb or vegan ground) to the skillet and break it apart with a wooden spoon. Add the parsley, thyme, salt, and pepper. Stir well. Cook for 6-8 minutes, until the meat is browned, stirring occasionally.

Add the Worcestershire sauce and garlic. Stir to combine. Cook for 1 minute.

Add the flour and tomato paste. Stir until well incorporated and no clumps of tomato paste remain.

Add the broth, frozen peas and carrots, and frozen corn. Bring the liquid to a boil then reduce to simmer. Simmer for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Set the meat mixture aside. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Make the potato topping.

Place the potatoes in a large pot. Cover the potatoes with water. Bring the water to a boil. Reduce to a simmer. Cook until potatoes are fork tender, 10-15 minutes.

Drain the potatoes in a colander. Return the potatoes to the hot pot. Let the potatoes rest in the hot pot for 1 minute to evaporate any remaining liquid.

Add butter, half & half, garlic powder, salt, and pepper. Mash the potatoes and stir until all the ingredients are mixed together.

Add the parmesan cheese to the potatoes. Stir until well combined.

Assemble the casserole.

Pour the meat mixture into a 9×9 (or 7×11) inch baking dish. Spread it out into an even layer. Spoon the mashed potatoes on top of the meat. Carefully spread into an even layer.

If the baking dish looks very full, place it on a rimmed baking sheet so that the filling doesn’t bubble over into your oven. Bake uncovered for 25-30 minutes.** Cool for 15 minutes before serving.

Notes

*You could use 1/2 cup frozen peas and 1/2 cup frozen sliced carrots.

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It’s about time. Hurry up and wait. It’s a part of more than just a day in the life of a writer or literary agent

The clock is always ticking

A day in the life of a writer can be filled with many things. We have appointments, errands to run, kids to raise, meals to cook, and dry cleaning to pick up. Mix in a day job, career, or business to run, and we have more than enough to keep us occupied. However, I have discovered that in the midst of it all, I find time to write. Most of the time, it’s a welcome relief and a way to put the worries of the day out of my mind. Then there are times when literary inspiration comes at a bad time, particularly when I need to focus on something else that’s pressing. Nevertheless, I’ve got that figured out for the most part.

The most difficult aspect of writing is when we have to cool our jets waiting for an answer once we have had our work submitted to an agent or a publisher for review. No matter the subject, fiction or nonfiction, writers pour a piece of themselves into every page. In fiction, we know every character intimately, the emotions in every sentence, the setting, and every verb. For nonfiction, we have researched the subjects thoroughly, done our due diligence, used our experience in an authoritative yet approachable manner. The work put into it is all about love. Writers love to write and we accept that all the time we put into our writing, may or may not be rewarded with an offer to publish.

Moreover, even if a writer gets a literary agent who is going to represent them to publishers, there is more time built into that proposition as well. Publishing is notoriously slow when it comes to reviewing manuscripts and that’s not a dig about editors. These days the business of publishing in terms of reading manuscript submissions is something that happens outside of business hours. That is true of literary agents as well and I can speak to that as an agent. I almost never have an opportunity to review a submission during business hours. I read in the evenings before and after dinner. I also spend weekends reading as well. This is an industry filled with hurry up and wait

I understand the frustration from both sides. I try to let writers know that the best thing they can do is to keep on writing. It’s also a good idea to incorporate other creative outlets to help ease anxiety. Cooking, baking, painting, sewing, or drawing, are just a few things that let you focus creativity and nerves in a productive way. I have several personal projects happening at the moment and if I stay too focused on them, I will drive myself crazy. As it is the winter, it’s not like I can go out and take a walk like I do in the warmer months. I use my kitchen as my ashram and experiment with different recipes or work on adapting recipes to make them healthier, gluten- free, or no-sugar. It keeps my mind busy. It wasn’t long before some story issues I couldn’t figure out, became clearer and I picked back up writing again. So, time does have its advantages

Your next big book idea could be a brushstroke or stir away

My advice to writers is always to write. However, when your mind needs a break, use the time to do something else productive. That said, spend time with the people you love, that helps. A little face time with a nephew or a daughter can do wonders. Attend your family’s next Zoom, call a friend, grab a coffee, bundle up and take a walk if it’s a nice, moderate day. Just take a couple of beats. It won’t derail you, but it will help you take your eyes off the clock.

Working on recipes is what I like to do. I also like to share them.

Pasties Pastry Recipe Recipe from New Orleans Kitchen Queens

1 cup all-purpose flour (gluten-free all-purpose flour, 1 to 1 gluten-free baking blend, sorghum, sweet rice, or brown rice flour)

1/4 teaspoon salt

4 ounces (1 sticks) cold unsalted butter (vegan butter)

1/4 cup ice water

In a large bowl combine the flours with the salt. Dice the cold butter into small pieces and add to the flour mixture. With the back of a fork press the butter into the flour until the butter is incorporated (there will still be small pieces of butter in the mixture). Make a well in the center of the dough and pour in the ice water. Gently blend the water into the dough until it forms a solid ball. Wrap the dough ball in plastic and refrigerate for at least on hour before rolling.

Chicken Filled Pasties Recipe adapted from Healthy Nibbles

½ pound chicken breast or tenderloins, cubed

1 large- sweet onion or 2 medium sized onion, diced 

3 garlic cloves, minced

2 large Russet or Yukon potatoes, peeled and diced

2 carrots, peeled and diced

1 medium sweet potato, diced

1 teaspoon ground thyme

½ teaspoon dried rosemary

generous pinch of salt

black pepper

1 large egg, whisked (or 1 tablespoon Aquafaba plus 1 tablespoon water, whisked)

  1. Add diced Russet potatoes and sweet potatoes to a sauce pot. Cover with water, then add a pinch of salt. Cook the potatoes on medium-heat until they are fork tender. Drain and set aside.
  2. In a large skillet, add oil over medium heat. When the oil begins to shimmer, add the carrots and onions. Cook until the onions begin to soften, and the carrots are getting a little tender.
  3. Add the garlic in, and cook for thirty seconds. Stir in the cubed chicken and cook stirring until no longer pink and cooked through.
  4. Add the potatoes. Sprinkle the thyme and rosemary over the chicken mixture. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Cook through until heated adjusting seasoning as needed
  5. Let the chicken filling cool before filling the pasties.

INSTRUCTIONS

Preheat oven to 400ºF (200ºC). Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.

Divide the dough into 4 or six pieces on a well floured surface. Use a floured rolling pin to roll into discs about 8 1/2-inch circles. Turn the dough over frequently to prevent it from sticking to the surface. You can roll all the circles out at once, or do it one at a time, depending on your counter space. If you choose to roll out one at a time, refrigerate the dough in between in circle. Cold is essential for flaky, crumbly, pastry without soggy bottoms.

Take a small handful of filling and place it in the center of the rolled out dough. You want to make sure that there is about an inch of clear space around the edge of the dough. Brush the egg white along this empty space.

Fold the dough over the vegetables to create a semi-circle shape. Do this with confidence! Seal the pastry. You can crimp the edges with a fork or fold it like I did. When I folded the edges of the pasty, I brushed some egg along the edge so that the folds stayed put. Brush some of the egg wash over the entire pasty. Repeat these steps for the rest of the dough.

Place the prepared pasties on the baking sheets and bake for about 30 to 35 minutes, or until the pasties are golden brown.

  • You can make these vegan. Just omit the chicken and replace with more vegetables. Feel free to add traditional swedes (rutabagas) or other vegetables you enjoy.
  • I’ve tried this with shortening and it doesn’t come out the same. It’s a little heavier. Stick with vegan butter, even non-dairy margarine is a good choice.
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Taking the garden path in 2021 and what’s better than a revenge body

I am still not one for resolutions. To me, the minute folks mention the word, it begins the usual graph chart. Most people are highly motivated in the beginning, then after a few weeks their enthusiasm wanes as winter’s long dark nights take a toll on workout schedules. Finally, most people drop off the chart altogether.

The better idea to me is substitutions instead of resolutions. You can begin making the changes you want to see in yourself by changing your mind set. The focus should be on a healthy body, mind, and spirit. I hear a lot about revenge bodies from people who want to get some sort of cosmic payback on an ex. Since revenge is defined as the action of inflicting hurt or harm on someone for an injury or wrong suffered at their hands. To me, that means it steeped in hate.

The word to substitute in place of revenge is empathy. Although usually applied to others, t it’s important that we empathize with ourselves and come from a place of love. The best revenge might be looking good, but , loving, looking and feeling good about yourself, can’t be topped and unlike revenge, can be served cold, hot, or never.

Now many of us north of forty and fifty chicks are making changes in our diets include more vegetables and/or lean proteins. A salad can combine the best of both in a bowl or on a plate topped with homemade dressing that allows you to control the sodium, sugar, and taste.

One of the most raved about salad dressing is from the Olive Garden. Many people love to fill up on their soup and salad. To that end, I discovered a copycat recipe for it some years ago that I have tweaked a bit. However, you can feel free to make it to your taste.

3 tablespoons white wine vinegar

2 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

3 small or 2 large garlic cloves

2 tablespoons Italian seasoning

1 teaspoon sugar (optional)

1/4 cup fresh grated or shredded Parmesan Reggiano (Follow Your Heart Dairy-Free Parmesan, Go Veggie Vegan Parmesan grated, Go Veggie Vegan Soy-free Parmesan grated topping, Violife Parmesan Wedge)

2 tablespoons Pecorino Romano cheese, grated (Field Roast Chao Cheese Creamy is the closest in mimicking the funky saltiness of romano.)

3 tablespoons mayonnaise (regular, light, vegan, olive oil)

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

In a small food processor or mini-chop, pulse the garlic a few times. Add the vinegar and lemon juice. If using sugar, add it with the Italian seasoning, parmesan, Romano, and mayonnaise. Pulse the mixture a few times. Then with the processor running, pour the olive oil. The dressing will appear thick. Taste and adjust the seasoning to your taste.

  • If you don’t want to use Romano cheese, you can add more parmesan cheese
  • Asiago, Grana Padano, or even Taleggio cheese are great substitutes. Use the kind of cheese you prefer
Adaptable Recipes, Uncategorized

A sweet way to celebrate Chanukah and the holidays with the kids

If you are like me, when you get up in the morning you feel like you did any other day when you were say thirty-three. In my mind that’s how old I am. Then I get up in three moves more like a faulty lawn chair, than a nimble thirty-something. However, there is a bright side for those of us who are north of forty and fifty plus. We are at an age when we can enjoy children as parents, or as dare I say Glam-parents. I have yet to find the appropriate word that doesn’t evoke visions of rocking chairs and knitting needles. Although, I have a few friends who have been creative when it comes to how their precious grandchildren refer to them. One of my favorites is Gigi.

That said, it’s the time of year when all the wonder of the world is in a child’s eyes. Granted, we are in the midst of some very trying times with the pandemic, but we can find ways to share the joy with our families, show our love, and face these challenges with resilience. One way to do that is in the kitchen. This recipe is for Sufganiyah. It is a round jelly doughnut eaten in Israel and around the world on the Jewish festival of Hanukkah. The doughnut is deep-fried in oil, filled with jam or custard, and then topped with powdered sugar. The doughnut recipe originated in Europe in the 1500s and by the 1800s was known as a Berliner in Germany.

The recipe for Sufganiyot is from The Children’s Jewish Holiday Kitchen by J Nathan. It was released by Random House in 1995. I’ve adapted the recipe for other dietary needs like gluten-sensitivities, low or no sugar diets, vegetarians and vegans.

Sufganiyah or Sufganiyot recipe by J Nathan adapted by me

INGREDIENTS

  1. 1 scant tablespoon (1 package) dry yeast
    4 tablespoons sugar (Swerve sweetener, Splenda granulated, Golden sugar, coconut, turbinado, or raw cane sugar pulsed, )
    3/4 cup lukewarm milk or warm water* (dairy: whole, or 3/4 cup of 2% plus 2 tablespoons of half and half or light cream) (almond, soy, rice, or light coconut milk)
    2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (gluten-free all-purpose flour, sorghum, brown or sweet rice flour, almond flour works when combined 1 1/2 cups almond flour plus 1/2 cup corn flour)
    Pinch of salt
    1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
    2 eggs, separated (for the yolks 1/2 cup silken tofu plus 1/4 teaspoon baking soda, or 2 tablespoons of soy lecithin) (whites 1/4 cup Aquafaba)
    2 tablespoons (1/4 stick) unsalted butter or pareve margarine, softened* (vegan butter or margarine)
    Apricot or strawberry preserves
    Sugar (Granulated or confectioner’s sugar, Swerve confectioner’s sugar substitute)
    Vegetable oil for deep-frying

*Use butter and milk if serving at a milk meal, and water and pareve margarine for a meat meal

  • The reason for the use of the combination of almond flour and cornflour is so that the doughnuts will be light and airy. Almond flour is essentially ground almonds and nuts don’t lend easily to being fried. The addition of cornflour lightens it to make it easier to fry. You can also use arrowroot.

PREPARATION

Child: Mix together the yeast, 2 tablespoons of the sugar, and the milk. Let sit to make sure it bubbles.
Child: Sift the flour and mix it with the remaining sugar, salt, cinnamon, egg yolks, and the yeast mixture.
Adult with Child: Knead the dough until it forms a ball. Add the butter or margarine. Knead some more, until the butter is well absorbed. Cover with a towel and let rise overnight in the refrigerator.
Adult: Roll out the dough to a thickness of 1/8 inch.
Child: Cut out the dough into 24 rounds with a juice glass, or any object about 2 inches in diameter. Take 1/2 teaspoon of preserves and place in the center of 12 rounds. Top with the other 12. Press down at edges, sealing with egg whites. Crimping with the thumb and second finger is best. Let rise for about 30 minutes.
Adult: Heat 2 inches of oil to about 375°. Drop the doughnuts into the hot oil, about 5 at a time. Turn to brown on both sides. Drain on paper towels.
Child: Roll the doughnuts in sugar.

Adaptable Recipes

Tuesday morning Bakery Style Blueberry Muffins

Once again tis the season. The holidays look different for all of us this year, but that doesn’t mean we can’t begin the month on a sweet note, and set the tone to be merry.

This recipe is based on the Brown Eyed Baker’s recipe. I’ve adapted it for:

  • Vegans- including dairy allergies
  • Gluten sensitivities
  • Low-sugar and sugar free diets
  • Vegetarians

Bakery-Style blueberry muffins by the Brown Eyed Baker adapted by me

INGREDIENTS:

 2 cups all-purpose flour (gluten-free all-purpose flour, 1 to 1 gluten-free baking blend, sorghum, brown rice, almond, or sweet rice flour)

 1 tablespoon baking powder

 ½ Teaspoon salt

 1  egg (3 tablespoons Aquafaba, ¼ cup silken-tofu plus 1/8 teaspoon baking soda, 1 flaxseed or chia seed egg, or egg replacer)

 1 Cup granulated sugar (Swerve sweetener, Splenda granulated, coconut, raw cane, or turbinado sugar, pulsed)

 4 Tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly (vegan butter, margarine)

 1¼ Cups sour cream (dairy: light sour cream, plain Greek yogurt) (non-dairy: almond, soy, rice, or light coconut milk)

1 teaspoon vanilla

¼ teaspoon lemon or orange extract (optional)

 1½ Cups frozen or fresh blueberries

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a standard 12-cup muffin tin (or line with paper liners) and set aside.

Whisk the flour, baking powder and salt in a large bowl until combined.

Whisk the egg in a separate medium bowl until well-combined and light-colored, about 20 seconds. Add the sugar and whisk vigorously until thick, about 30 seconds. Add the melted butter in 2 additions, whisking gently to combine after each addition. Add the vanilla, then the sour cream in 2 additions, whisking just to combine.

Add the blueberries to the dry ingredients and gently toss just to combine. Add the sour cream mixture and fold with a rubber spatula until the batter comes together and the blueberries are evenly distributed, 25 to 30 seconds. Small spots of flour may remain and the batter will be very thick. Do not overmix.

Divide the batter among the muffin cups Bake until the muffins are light golden brown and a toothpick or thin knife inserted into the center of a muffin comes out clean, 25 to 30 minutes. Immediately remove muffins to a wire rack and cool for at least 5 minutes. Serve immediately or at room temperature. Store leftovers in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 4 days or in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.

RECIPE NOTES:

Sour cream: You can substitute buttermilk or plain yogurt for the sour cream.

Blueberries: Frozen blueberries can be used; no need to thaw them or alter the recipe.