Last week I decided to participate in WordPress’ Weekly Photo Challenge. This week, WordPress neglected to post a theme. As we eager bloggers stood around grumbling about having to wait, one enterprising blogger (cobbies69) suggested we use “Waiting” as this week’s theme.
I selected this photo, shot at MacAlpine’s Soda Fountain in Phoenix because the wait from the moment the waitress set this hot fudge brownie sundae down in front of me, to shooting the photo, to finally digging in, seemed interminable. Well worth it though!
A Thousand Words is a photo prompt posted on Sundays. Maybe the image will inspire you to write a short story, a poem, or a blog post. Maybe it will send you straight to the frozen food aisle at Safeway. Whatever your response, I hope the picture inspires you to some sort of creative zen.
If you write something based on the image, feel free to share a link in the comments section. Also feel free to use the photo on your blog, just be sure to give proper credit, which I will always include in the post or the caption.
Shortly after taking on the challenge to write a blog post every day for a year, I took on the challenge to lose weight. It wasn’t a New Year’s resolution because I don’t believe in those. I decided to do it because my weight was bothering me more every day. In the five or six years since my last weight loss effort, I gained back almost all the weight I’d lost, I stopped exercising, and I felt awful, mentally and physically.
I felt worse than awful. I felt desperate, defeated, and hopeless. I’ve had a weight problem all my life. I’ve lost upwards of 70 pounds twice. I have (slowly) run close to a hundred races, including the NYC Marathon back in 1997.
I know how to lose weight. I know how to exercise. I know how to eat healthfully. I know how much I hate being overweight. I know all this stuff and yet there’s a switch in my head that turns off and a little voice says, Nope, not gonna do it.
Period. End of story. Good night.
Except it’s not the end of the story because if I’m not actively losing weight, I’m actively gaining it. There’s no middle ground for me. And so on January 11, I dragged myself back to Weight Watchers, the only program that has worked for me. I signed up, got all my program materials, and started counting points.
That was 18 pounds ago, and although there are many pounds lying in wait (in weight?), I feel like I’ve done the hardest part. I got started.
Now that I’ve started, I have to say that Weight Watchers makes it easy to keep going. The new Points Plus program is wonderful. It’s easy, flexible and most importantly it works. I’m not getting any spokesperson $$ for this, so I won’t go on, but I will say, I’m a believer.
I’m also a believer in exercise, although you’d never know it by my actions in the last few years. To get myself kick started, I participated in a 12-week boot camp program. That was amazing. I hated every minute of it, but I loved every minute of it, too, if that makes any sense. What I liked most was the structured workout that helped show me how strong I am and how much I’m capable of.
In the midst of boot camp, I started running again. I’m training with an online program called Couch to 5K (C25K). The website says it has “helped thousands of new runners get off the couch and onto the roads, running 3 miles in just two months.”
Once again, I hate every minute of it, except the last one when I’m finished. Then I L-O-V-E it!
I know there are many miles and many pounds to go. I’m slowly learning that I won’t ever be able to “eat like a normal person.” I don’t think there is such a thing as “eat like a normal person.” We all have our quirks about food. For now that little switch in my head is staying on and the voice is quiet, but I’m learning I’m in control of that. It’s not some mystical, magical mumbo jumbo that leads to success. It’s a daily decision. Sometimes it’s a minute by minute decision. I’m hopeful that I’m learning enough now, while the going seems easy, to keep making the right choices when (if) the slog sets in.
This morning after breakfast I was still hungry. It’s mid-January, I live in Arizona, and there are orange trees in the back yard so loaded with fruit the branches droop low enough for the rabbits to reach them. The oranges have been tempting me for a while, but the last time I tried one, it was too early. The flesh was dry and tough, and it was so bitter it took at least 15 minutes before my eye stopped twitching and I could pull my cheeks out of a hard core pucker.
Different story today. When I got close to the tree, I could smell that they were ready. I chose an orange near the bottom of the tree; those ripen first, and when I picked it, it nearly fell off the limb into my hand.
It’s orange season, all right. I was a little hesitant with my first bite, but as soon as my teeth broke through the skin, “Hello, Larry!” It was exquisitely, perfectly, sweetly ready. The flavor was fresh and vibrant, and I wanted to stuff the whole orange in my mouth to fill it with the flavor of happy sunshine. That’s what the orange tasted like … Happy Bright Perfect Sunshine.
There’s is a lot of ugliness going on around Arizona these days. That orange, grown in Arizona soil, not only satisfied my hunger, it made me feel hopeful.
In honor of my morning orange, I’m happy to share one of my favorite poems:
Between you and a bowl of oranges I lie nude
Reading The World’s Illusion through my tears.
You reach across me hungry for global fruit,
Your bare arm hard, furry and warm on my belly.
Your fingers pry the skin of a navel orange
Releasing tiny explosions of spicy oil.
You place peeled disks of gold in a bizarre pattern
On my white body. Rearranging, you bend and bite
The disks to release further their eager scent.
I say “Stop, you’re tickling,” my eyes still on the page.
Aromas of groves arise. Through green leaves
Glow the lofty snows. Through red lips
Your white teeth close on a translucent segment.
Your face over my face eclipses The World’s Illusion.
Pulp and juice pass into my mouth from your mouth.
We laugh against each other’s lips. I hold my book
Behind your head, still reading, still weeping a little.
You say “Read on, I’m just an illusion,” rolling
Over upon me soothingly, gently moving,
Smiling greenly through long lashes. And soon
I say “Don’t stop. Don’t disillusion me.”
Snows melt. The mountain silvers into many a stream.
The oranges are golden worlds in a dark dream.
It sounds like an odd combination, but meatballs simmered in grape jelly and chili sauce are delicious! Low brow maybe, but ach! Who cares? It’s Super Bowl season!
Depending on how much time I have, I either make my own meatballs or buy a frozen bag. Either way, this is really tasty party food and they’re ridiculously easy to make. I always hope for leftovers because the longer the meatballs sit in the sauce, the better they taste.
1 16 oz jar of grape jelly
1 8 oz jar of chili sauce
1 bag small frozen meatballs (40 – 50 count)
Prepare meatballs according to package directions and drain on paper towels, if needed.
While meatballs are cooking, pour grape jelly and chili sauce into a large pan over medium heat. Stir occasionally until jelly is melted.
Add meatballs to pan and stir until coated.
Reduce heat to low and simmer, uncovered, for 15-20 minutes. The longer the meatballs simmer, the more flavorful they get.
If using a crockpot, put everything in the pot and cook on low 6-8 hours. You can also make your own favorite homemade meatballs if you prefer. Here’s a recipe I just discovered from Stove Top Stuffing. It’s nowhere near an authentic Italian meatball, but it’s great for this recipe and much cheaper than store bought.
Stove Top Stuffing Meatballs
2 lb. ground beef
1 6 oz. pkg. Stove Top Stuffing (Chicken flavor)
1-1/4 cups water
Heat oven to 400ºF. Line two baking sheets with foil and spray with cooking spray.
Mix ingredients until well blended and shape into 1-inch meatballs.
Bake 16 to 18 minutes or until done.
One final note, skip the meatballs altogether and use those adorable little mini-wienies.
My grandmother always kicked off the new year with a huge vat of lentil soup. “It brings good luck,” she’d say. But I was out of luck because I didn’t like lentil soup, and had to make do (suffer with me a moment) with plates full of perfection in the form of her meatballs and brasciole. Mmm, my mouth waters thinking of them now!
I still think of her lentil soup every New Year’s Day, and considered making it this year even though I’m still not a fan. I looked through the cookbook she put together for her family, but alas! No lentil soup! Then I wondered what else people eat on New Year’s Day for luck, prosperity, good health, etc. Here’s what I found:
It’s an Asian tradition to eat long noodles, a symbol of long life on New Year’s Day. Just remember, you’re not supposed to break the noodle before eating it. From Cooking with Alison, here’s a delicious recipe for Sesame Noodle Salad.
In Germany, Ireland, and parts of the U.S., folded greens symbolize money and eating cabbage is thought to bring good fortune and prosperity. At The Giant Cabbage, Cherie Stihler has collected more than 200 recipes. That’s a lot of cabbage!
Greece and Turkey associate pomegranates with abundance and fertility. I associate them with delicious. Just watching the opening photos on the California Pomegranates site made me hungry for the succulent little ruby red gems.
Throughout North America, Asia, and Europe, people eat fish to celebrate the new year. Fish swim forward so they are associated with forward momentum, and since they swim in schools, they symbolize abundance and community. Slow Roasted Salmon with Cabbage, Bacon, and Dill from SeriousEats.com covers a couple of the lucky New Year’s food groups and looks gorgeous!
Finally, we have the Dutch, who believe the shape of a ring symbolizes coming full circle, and so on New Year’s Day they eat donuts.
What about you? Do you have any New Year’s Day food traditions? Want to go Dutch with me today? Mmmm, donuts!
Yum! A new Culver’s restaurant just opened in the neighborhood, and boy am I scared!
Not because it’s bad, but because it’s gooooood.
Culver’s is a mix between fast food, family restaurant, and custard stand. It looks homey from the outside, so the order counter and menu board at the front were a surprise when we walked in. There’s a lot of variety (pot roast, salads, fried chicken, sandwiches) but they’re famous for the Butter Burger, so Hon got a triple, and I got a double.
Can I say it again? Yum! They were delicious little greasy patties of joy! If you’re looking for healthy, this isn’t it. They’re called Butter Burgers because the buns, not the burgers, are buttered and grilled. Sure that adds fat, but it also adds a lots of flavor. The burgers themselves are quite thin and they’re seared, giving them caramelized crispy edges. They reminded me of old-fashioned diner burgers, or more specifically, for those old enough to remember, the burgers my grandmother used to buy me at the lunch counter at Woolworth’s. And oh, yum! Mayo is a standard topping, so if you’re not a fan (I’m not), they’re happy to make it the way you like, and there are lots of topping options, like mushrooms, onions, greens, etc.
Fries were good, too; not greasy and much better than the puny salt chews at most fast food joints. Culver’s fries are crinkle cut … more diner memories! Everything was cooked to order and came out fresh.
The crowning touch is the custard. Yum 3. It’s rich, creamy, and loaded with flavor. Each Culver’s features a Flavor of the Day, which is posted on their website. Or, if you’re an addict, which I suspect I may be, you can get the monthly calendar emailed. This month’s choices include Caramel Chocolate Pecan, Andes Mint Avalanche, and Egg Nog Brickle. If straight custard isn’t exciting enough, you can get a Concrete Mixer, frozen custard with candy or fruit add-ins. I picked vanilla custard with Oreo. Standard combo, but the flavor was great, and even the small one (they call it short), was more than I could finish. Hon got strawberry custard with strawberries. He said it was very strawberry-ish. Go figure. He finished it in about two minutes flat, so I guess he liked it.
Decor-wise, Culver’s is nothing special. It’s clean and bright, and slightly less plastic than, say McDonald’s. There are attempts to make it homey with a carpeted floor, fun food quotes on the walls, and big screen TV (making dinner conversation among family members completely unnecessary). Despite the TV, it’s not an especially noisy restaurant, which is a big plus.
The staff is very friendly and accommodating. The wait staff delivers the food, but I felt bad for them as they carried full trays through the dining room in search of the right table. They looked like new kids in a school cafeteria nervously trying to find a welcoming place to sit. Those who weren’t carrying trays were checking on customers. Our server was nice enough to take our custard order so we didn’t have to stand in line again. That was good service and we really appreciated it.
Overall, it was a good experience, and I’m definitely going back again. I’d like to try some other things on their menu, but those burgers might tempt me too much. Culver’s isn’t the place to go if you’re trying to be good to your heart, but it’s oh so good for the soul.
The Peoria location at 8271 W. Ludlow Drive is open daily 10 am to 11 pm. (623) 242-8826. To find out the Flavor of the Day or for more info, check in at www.culvers.com or you can find them on Twitter and Facebook.
Maybe I should title this post, “Aweigh with Words,” because often when I’m deep into a writing project that isn’t going my way, my mind wanders to Oreo Truffles, and I start daydreaming about treats. If I weren’t a writer, I’d be a treatelier. I just made that word up, it’s a combination baker, chocolatier and candy-maker. I love making desserts. The simple ones that don’t challenge my brain or monopolize my time too much time. I think of them as after-school snack kind of treats: double fudge brownies, peanut butter cookies, chocolate mint bars, the aforementioned Oreo Truffles.
Fancy, complicated desserts scare me. First, I don’t have a lot of time to make them. Second, my kitchen is a minimalist’s dream. I don’t have any (space for) special equipment, so I reserve my all time favorites: Crème Brûlée and Apple Tart Tatin (notice that I love them so much I am compelled to capitalize them) to restaurant visits.
Love of cooking is a genetic trait. I got it from my mother, she got it from her mother and so on. I believe the roots of it trace back to an early Cenozoic era, when an Italian mama got up early one Sunday morning and started making her meatballs and sauce. We’ve passed the tradition on through the generations, and what we’ve learned is that cooking is love. It’s a wonderful, heart-warming, belly-filling way to show someone you care.
What does this have to do with writing? Well, at lot, for me anyway. When my mind becomes too jumbled with thoughts and words, and I can step into the kitchen and get lost in the zen of cooking. It’s meditative and it works to clear my head. Afterward, I go back to my studio and get back to work … plate of cookies in hand.
In this category, I’ll be sharing some recipes that I, as the world’s first treatelier, think you might enjoy. They’ll be fast and easy, like some of my best friends, and they won’t require special equipment. At the most, you’ll need a food processor, but even that is easy to work around.
Please feel free to add your own recipes, or if you try one of mine, let me know what you think. I’ll start this ball rolling, with a ball of a different sort:
These treats are also called cookie balls, but I giggle too much when I say that, so I just call them Oreo Truffles. Sounds more elegant.
1 lb. Oreo cookies (standard 3 sleeve size)
8 oz. cream cheese (softened)
2 tubs Baker’s Dipping chocolate (7 ounce each)
Crush the cookies in a food processor until there are no large chunks. You can also crush them in a resealable bag using a rolling pin, meat tenderizer or the back of a frying pan.
Add softened cream cheese and mix until ingredients comes together and there are no lumps of cream cheese.
Roll the mixture into 1″ balls and place on cookie sheet covered in wax paper. Refrigerate until firm, about an hour.
Follow directions on package to melt chocolate. Dip truffles in chocolate and place on wax paper-covered baking sheet.* Refrigerate until firm.
Cover truffles and store in fridge for up to two weeks. (But they’ll be gone LONG before that!)
*If you’ve never dipped truffles before, the first time can be a little tricky. It’s easiest when truffles are well chilled, so take out only a few at a time to dip. Have two forks on hand. Use one fork to dip the truffle into the chocolate. If needed, use the other fork to roll truffle and help lift it out. Allow extra chocolate to run off, or wipe bottom on the edge of container. Place on wax paper. Good luck, it’s not hard, it just takes a little practice and it is SO worth it!
VARIATIONS: Nutter Butter cookies are also delicious in this recipe. Add a drop or two of mint extract to the Oreos for Mint Oreo Truffles. For the coating, you can use white, dark or milk chocolate. Most markets now carry almond bark and dark chocolate bark. You can also gourmet it up, by drizzling chocolate across the tops once they have been dipped. If you add any crushed toppings, be sure to add them immediately after dipping otherwise they won’t stick.
Chocolate Pretzel Bites
Sweet and salty are a great combination, and these little buggers bring it home fast! They’re cute, quick, and so stinking good it’s hard to keep them on hand!
Preheat oven to 170 degrees.
24 unwrapped Hershey’s Kisses
24 waffle-type square pretzels
Line a cookie sheet with foil or parchment paper and lay pretzels in a single layer on lined cookie sheet.
Top each pretzel with a Kiss.
Bake for 4-6 minutes or until the chocolate feel soft when touched with a wooden spoon (or your finger, if you’re me).
Remove from oven and press an M&M into the center of each Kiss. (This adheres all the layers)
Allow to cool for 5 minutes, then put in refrigerator to set for about 20 to 30 minutes. Once they are set, shove as many in your mouth as you can because once everyone else tastes them, there will be none left.
You can make more or less than 24 at a time. I found trays of 24 to be the most manageable. Make a lot, though. They go fast.
To make in microwave: Make 6 pretzels at a time. Microwave for 45 seconds and test by pressing an M&M into the center. If it’s not melted, microwave 15 seconds at a time and test each time.
Top the Kiss with Reeses Pieces, which are the perfect colors for fall and Thanksgiving.
Use your favorite nut in place of the M&M.
Use different flavor Kisses or even the striped Hugs, but be careful because the some fillings melt faster.
You can adapt this for the holidays by using Red & Green M&Ms or Pastel.
Question: What do you get when you combine a bunch of bananas, a jar of peanut butter, a pound of bacon, and a big, soft loaf of white bread?
Answer: You get an Elvis Presley Gut Bomb, and that’s what I kept thinking about when I stood in Elvis’ kitchen during a tour of Graceland.
Sure, he’s the King of Rock ‘n Roll, and, yes, he had a tremendous impact on our music and pop culture, and it is true that all these years after his death, thousands upon thousands of loyal fans still make the pilgrimage to his Memphis home. I don’t disagree with any of that, but as I stood in his kitchen, looking at the dark wood cabinets, the linoleum countertops and the stained glass overhead lamps, I thought of Elvis in his pajamas, frying up a Gut Bomb for himself and whoever happened to be hanging out with him.
Visiting Graceland didn’t put Elvis Presley up on a pedestal for me. It took him down from one, and made him accessible in a very endearing way. It wasn’t just the Gut Bomb that did it, either. The house itself, did, and the property around it.
If only there weren’t a trillion calories in a croissant and two trillion calories in pain chocolate, I would visit Bonaparte every day. Bonaparte is very nearly the perfect cafe (perfection would require wi-fi and more computer friendly tables). But I’ll take the near perfection that they offer over most other Fells Point coffee houses.
The coffee is brought to the table for you and served in a French cup and saucer with hot steamed milk instead of cream — very nice touch. They also bring you whatever tasties you’ve ordered at the counter. In addition to perfect croissants, Bonaparte offers sandwiches, breads, soups and a daily quiche. I’m so enamored of the croissants and pain chocolate that I haven’t gotten around to ordering anything else.
Service is generally a positive, although there is one server (possibly the manager?) who can be a grouch, but I figure she’s probably been there since 3 a.m. baking those perfect croissants, so she’s earned her grouchiness (just keep it away from me, please). The other servers are friendly and attentive, but sometimes have a hard time keeping up with the crowd at the counter and serving the coffee table-side. It’s not an aggravation though because Bonaparte is not a rush-in and rush-out kind of place. It’s a slow-down and enjoy kind of place.
The atmosphere is lovely, very French, nicely decorated (aside from the plastic folding chairs stacked up near the front doors), classical music piped in, and a view of Fell’s Point and the harbor. It’s such a relaxing environment that even the cell-phone junkies seem to understand that they should put away the appendage for a few minutes once they’ve entered Bonaparte’s front doors. That alone would make Bonaparte a favorite spot, but since it’s got so much more going for it, the unspoken no-cell law is just a bonus.
Bonaparte Breads is located at 903 South Ann Street (Fells Point) Baltimore, MD 21231. They are open daily, 8:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m. 410.342.3000.