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Going with the Grain and the Big Sneer

Healthy Wage Pravda made me laugh. It's as if the staff in the front office, if they have one, finally woke up to the program's disenheartening failure rate. I'm one of the successes even if I don't qualify for any recognition because I am on a solo team. I guess I should go get weighed and have it bring me down a peg or too.

Meanwhile, let me tell you about this week's communiquè. Basically, the message is this: Even if you haven't lost weight or have plateaued, you are still healthy. Think of how healthy losing weight will make you!

This is all well and good, but I had a UTI last week. Also, the dieting has had myriad untoward effects: constipation and decision fatigue. Lately my sleep is full of nightmares that revolve around arguments. I awaken cold and rancid. You get the idea. I'm not that hungry. I've had an upset stomach most mornings that I thought was either change of life or low-level food poisoning. I eat leftover that have been in the fridge too long. So it goes.

I don't think breaking the diet will do much to fix the damage. Coming off the diet in a sensible way will probably mend most of this damage if it is caused by the diet, but I don't feel healthier, not physically.

So does dieting have any benefits for me besides weight loss? The answer is still yes. My favorite benefit is the big sneer. There are some very expensive town houses on my street. I pass them on my way to work. They used to sell for $500,000. Now they sell in the $400,00's and who knows if they are flying off the shelf. They feature Viking Ranges, yeah for folks who don't cook.

My sneer goes like this: "Guess what I'm having for supper this weekend!" or "Guess what I bought at the Farmer's Market and am going to eat this week?" The sneer varies with the day of the week, but the point of it is I eat and cook better than those rich snoots in their four hundred to five hundred thousand dollar town houses. There is nothing like a good sneer to put you in a good mood. Whenever I burn something in the kitchen or have a really gross pot to clean or find something that I've let spoil in the fridge, I figure it's punishment for my sneer.

OK, so one good thing about this diet is that it has improved my sneer because I have better food. I've tried dandelion greens and remembered to make watercress. There are wonderful starkcrimson pears at breakfast time, and sometimes corn pone or herbed corn bread at dinner. This week I lucked into a five pound cauliflower for $2.69. There has been hubbard squash. Yes, it's the time of year, but I'm eating better than I have in years.

Second, I was able to kick the junk solid food habbit. It's been nine weeks since I've eaten any and I don't miss it unless it is under my nose, and then not always. I'm surprizingly particular. The blue corn chips and the triscuits on the table in the Work Room tempted me fiercely, but I did not eat them. I fared less with with a can of Coke over Rosh HaShannah, but it did not taste as good as I remembered it. Sweetened coffee last week was another story. I wonder how I'm going to enjoy an occasional mocha without getting hooked, once I'm off this diet, but if I never ate another potato chip or tortilla chip again, I'd be just fine. I guess one of the benefits of dieting is learning what you really want.

I found and beat a medication issue early in the diet. I had no idea my benzodiazipene was making me sleepy until I stopped enjoying QT Mocha for breakfast. Oh boy...Fortunately, my doctor halved my dosage and I'm all the better for it.

OK, I despise gratitude and you've just had to suffer with my blessings. Let me give you a great recipe idea: corn pone. Make half the recipe and you have three servings of a fairly low fat and tastey item you can spread with peanut butter for an entree. I've been eating it this week. This weekend I have watercress, rice, and pink eyed pea (Probably the last of the field peas) casserole. The rice, corn meal (for pone, bread, and polenta), and the flour (for bread) and also the Rye Vita are a very important part of my diet. Grains products are NOT fattening unless they are laced with oil. 100% whole wheat or whole grain pumpernickel (Roman Meal too) bread is low in calories at sixty a slice. Rye Vita crackers are forty calories each, and you can eat three of them to get the equivalent of two pieces of bread.

There is also something about grain products that is satisfying. You feel like you have eaten something. They are not diet food. They are filling. I can cut protein, but not grain. I guess that is another thing I have learned. Maybe it really is the staff of life.

Eileen H. Kramer -- October 28, 2011

Here Come More Recipes!

Well, wnhy not. Healthy Wage wants them and I suddenly have an audience.

Winter Delight Barley Pilaf

Winter delight casseroles are those made with sauteed root vegetables, and winter delight salads include blanched rutabega or turnip. This recipe is clearly a winter delight. It also has a long prep time but it is not difficult to make. Some of the vegetables in it are unusual. You can substitute cut up celery for celery root, but if you can get celery root do it. The deKalb Farmer's Market has celery root right on the same table as the turnips. And yes, you can substitute rutabega (yellow turnip or swede) for white turnips. If you've never eaten either of these before, you are in for a treat.

As for the lima beans, you can substitute another dried bean if you must, or fresh butter beans or peas, or frozen ones. Avoid canned beans. They taste...canned.

You will need...
8oz (1/2 a package or 1/3 of a Farmer's Market container) of large lima beans.
Water for soaking and cooking
8oz (1/2 a package) of pearled barley
Water to cook it
6 medium to goodly size carrots
2-3 white turnips
The bottom part of a bunch of scallions or a medium cooking onion.
1 goodly size celery root
2 Tblsp oil
Several generous pinches of dried rosemary leaves.
Salt to taste (more than you think. These are unsalted ingredients.)
Your favorite Pepper mix (black, white, or other)
Poultry seasoning to taste.
Oil for greasing the pan. (If you prefer cooking spray use it, but I don't like it.)

Two days before you put this casserole together, soak your beans in a large container of water. This is important.

The day before you make this casserole. Drain your beans and cook them with plenty of water. If you are using dried limas, add some salt to the water or the beans will break apart. In a separate pot cook the barley. My beans took ninty minutes, and my barley took forty. Let both beans and barley each come to a boil and then lower their heat. Both barley and lima beans throw a starch, so you need to watch them the first few minutes to keep their pots from boiling over or to wipe up any mess they make. Once they are simmering, the stove will do all the work.

Drain the beans, and put them in the fridge. Drain the barley and do the same. It is easier to drain big pots of hot things into a collander than follow your mother's or grandmother's acrobatic method.

The day you actually make the casserole, peel the carrots and cut them into small pieces. Put these in a bowl or container. Do the same with the turnips. Cut the ugly ends off the sallions and cut them up. Put them in with the carrots and turnips.

Peel the celery root with a knife. Celry root can be very scuzzy, but it used to be worse. You may have to do a little knife surgery on your celery root after you peel it, and it will turn a little brown. Since you are cooking it, this is not a problem. Put the cut up celery root in with your other vegetables.

In a pot with high sides, heat 2 Tblsp of oil on medium until a piece of vegetable inserted sizzles. Watch the oil! Add the vegetables and turn the heat down a bit and add the rosemary leaves. Then cover the pan. Let cook fifteen to twenty minutes. Toward the end, add the salt and pepper. Stir.

When the vegetables are done, let them cool a bit. Then mix in the barley and the cooked beans from the day before. Stir. Taste. Adjust seasonings. Most of the time you will have to add salt, pepper, and/or poultry seasoning. Don't add too much seasoning. This casserole's ingredients are very tastey.

Oil a roasting pan or casserole dish with a cover. You'll need a fairly large one. Put the mixed and seasoned barley and vegetables into the roaster. Put on the lid. Put in the oven and bake at 350 for the time it takes to preheat plus ten to fifteen minutes. This casserole reheats well and even tastes good cold. It's currently my dinner right now.

Butter Simmered Escarole and Parsnips

Yes, you can still enjoy butter and lose weight. You can also enjoy some terrific vegetables. Escarole is Italian cooking lettuce. Curly endive is a nearly perfect substitute. Both cooking lettuces are sold in many supermarkets with large produce departments, though I get mine at the DeKalb Farmer's Market. Parsnips are also available in supermarkets, though if you buy them there, you'll have more than the recipe calls for. You can use them in other recipes, or increase the number of parsnips, and use them all up. Parsnips look like white carrots, and are sweeter with a somewhat nutty flavor. Escarole is slightly bitter, but much milder and far more tender than collards and other greens. Parsnips cost a bit extra. Escarole is inexpensive. You can double this recipe if you want more portions. It is tough to reheat because butter scorches far more easily than oil.

You will need...
1 head of escarole (or curly endive)
2 goodly sized parsnips (If you have more, use more, but use more butter.)
1 Tblsp butter (for one head of escarole plus two parsnips)
Salt to taste.
Mrs. Dash (original to taste.

Wash the escarole. Escraole is a filthy vegetable, and they grow it in black soil. Put the head of escarole in the sink and break off and rinse each leaf. Then tear up the leaf and put the pieces in a large bowl or container. For breaking up any green, escarole included, it is best to have a stool by the sink or a bit of empty counter, and put the bowl where the clean pieces are going right next to you. Also have your garbage pail right next to you for the pieces that are rotten or have insect damage. Curly endive also comes filthy.

Peel the parsnips and cut them up. You may have to cut the parsnip in half and then slice it in half in the opposite direction, since the tops of parsnips are broader than carrots. Parsnips are also a bit more fibrous and harder to cut. Sharpen your pairing knife befoer you go to work.

Put a tablespoon of butter in a pan on medium heat. Let it melt and sizzle just a bit. This happens faster than you think. Put in the vegetables. Add salt and Mrs. Dash. Cover. Let cook ten to twenty minutes until the parsnip is thoroughly cooked. Let stand a bit, and enjoy.

Eileen H. Kramer -- October 17, 2011

Bring on the Recipies!

Yes, here they come. Enjoy them.

Twice Baked Winter Squash and Pears

This recipe is good if your squash is very fresh. Winter squash are big and intimidating, but they taste great. I usually make this recipe over two days, becuase I don't like handling hot things. It's a lot easier to compose casseroles and fancy side dishes when all your ingredients are cool.

You will need...
2.5 -- 3lb winter squash (any variety) or calabaza
A small amount of oil for greasing the pan.
1-2 pears (preferably starkcrimson or bartlett but others will do. Make sure they are ripe.)

Unless you have a piece of a large calabaza, cut your squash in half. You will need a very sharp pearing knife for this. Sharpen one first. Calabaza is the Spanish word for milk pumpkin. It is pumpkin suitible for pies and eating rather than carving. It is available year around and often much less expensive than winter squash. When I made this dish in August, I used calabaza. Since calabaza is often sold as a cut piece, you just start by seeding it out.

Seed out your squash using the pearing knife to cut the seed membranes and a fork to loosen them. You can put your squash or your calabaza on your lap for this procedure and put the garbage pail in front of you. This way once loosened the seeds fall into the garbage pail. If you would like to keep the seeds, seed your squash on to a cutting board, and put the seeds in a bowl. You'll still have to remove the membranes and gooey stuff before you roast them. I usually chuck the seeds, but many people enjoy them.

Now cut your seeded squash into smaller pieces. I usually have eight, but you can have six or even four. Smaller pieces cook faster.

Take a roasting pan and put water in it up to between your first and second nuckle of a finger. Put in the squash pieces. It's OK if all of them are not in the water. Close up the pan. Put it in the oven and bake at 350F it for the time it takes to preheat plus thirty to sixty minutes. You want your squash soft for this recipe, but not really overcooked. When done it will taste, mildly sweet, and..for want of a better word, squashy.

When the squash is done, let it cool before you handle it. I usually prepare the squash the day before I make the rest of the dish. You can make it late at night since once it is in the oven, it more or less takes care of itself.

Take the cooled squash and try to scrape it out of the rind with a spoon. If your squash or calabaza has been field cured, the rind is hard and you wouldn't want to eat it. Nonfieldcured squashes have soft rinds and some of the rind will end up in the squash. That is perfectly OK. My last calabaza was field cured. That meant someone left it out in the field for the rind to toughen up.

Mash up the cooked squash. Now grease a roasting pan (You can wash out and dry the one you initially baked the squash in or use a smaller one.) with oil. Just treat the oil like perfume and put some on your fingers by putting your hand over the mouth of the bottle and then rub the oil on the pan.

Put the mashed squash in the greased pan. Wash two pears and cut them in small pieces. Arrange them on the squash. Cover the roasting pan. Put back in the oven and bake at 350F for preheat plus about fifteen minutes. You can reheat this dish or serve it right away. The pears add more than enough sweetness to the squash.

If I weren't dieting, I would probably add dried fruit to this dish. I eat a lot of twice baked squash and fruit.

Mexican Style Shredded Winter Squash Salad

This recipe gets its inspiration from a recipe for a squash salad presented in the New York Times. Once again, you can use calabaza instead of squash if that is what is cheaper. Note: calabaza tend to be field cured so are harder to peel. The last time I made this dish I had a nonfield cured golden hubbard squash from up north. This recipe will feel weird to you, if you have never made a grated vegetable salad before. On the other hand, knife and grater work is utterly cathartic. And yes, winter squash can be scarey. Just sharpen your pearing knife and get to work.

You will need...
2.5 to 3 lb winter squash or calabaza
The green part of a bunch of scallions (Save the white part for soups and stews. You don't want to taste like dragon's breath.)
1 jar of Kroger roasted red pepers in brine (these are slightly sweet so good for this recipe. If you use another brand of roast pepper make sure they taste just slightly sweet.)
1 can of black olives (don't use the kind in oil.)
Salt to taste (more than you think but not that much more)
Mrs. Dash Chipotle Seasoning
2-3 oz liquid from the peppers
2-3 oz lime juice (You need six ounces total)
2 oz oil (You do not need olive oil. Regular cooking oil is just fine)

If you have a piece of calabaza and the seeds are loose, seed it out first. Use a knife to loosen the membranes and a fork to help free them. You can seed most winter squashes by setting them on your lap and scraping the seeds into the garbage pail.

Otherwise, peel your squash. If your squash is not field cured, peel it with a carrot peeler. This worked for me with my hubbard, but not with calabaza. If a peeler gives you no traction, sharpen up your pairing knife and have at it.

After you peel your squash, cut it in half and then in smaller pieces. Just cut the peeled and seeded calabazza into smaller pieces. You can do this one day before you make this recipe, but you don't have to.

Take your squash chunks and grate them. They are easier to grate than carrots. Raw squash tastes like very good, sweet, cucumber if you are curious. You are free to sample some.

Chop up the green parts of the scallions and add the pieces to the squash in the big salad bowl. Get out a plate and cut the roast peppers into smaller pieces. Add them to the salad. Drain the olives. Add them to the salad.

Coat the bottom of a graduated measuring cup with salt. Add Mrs. Dash Chipotle. It is hot so go easy. Add the pepper brine and the lime juice to make six ounces. Add the oil last. Stir. Taste. Adjust seasonings. Repeat.

Dress and mix up your salad. Put it in a container. It keeps for six to seven days and makes four to six, very big portions.

Eileen H. Kramer -- October 13, 2011

I Should Hang My Head in Shame

I RAN OUT OF BREAD ON TUESDAY. I'm eating peanut butter on Rye Vita for lunch. I need to find the time to bake more bread. It looks like I won't be able to eat what I bake until after Yom Kippur, but bread keeps in the refridgerator.

I want to make spinach bread. I made the spinach, but it would not cool down enough Sunday night. It is still in the fridge. I hope it has not turned a funny color. I'll set it out to warm when I get home. I don't have any other cooking to do so there is a chance I might actually get to bake my bread. It is going to be a long night. I am suffering from a cold. There is plenty of other food to eat including fruit, which is ironic because Saturday is Yom Kippur.

I'm not ready to fast and lose another day to religion. I just want to go to sleep. My favorite food is hot tea. I know kneeding dough is cathartic. I know there are good salads in the fridge, both Italiano Moqua Squash Salad, and Mexican Hubbard Squash and Peppe Salad. I peeled the hubbard squash which was not field cured, seeded it, grated it, and added roast peppers, black olives, a few bread and butter pickle chips, and a pear cut in small pieces. I put Mrs. Dash Chipotle Seasoning in the dressing. It came out pretty good. I also used some of the liquid from the pickled peppers in the dressing. The results were very good, but I think grated squash salad is a very forgiving dish.

The recipe that inspires my grated squash salads is this one. Mine is less sweet, but shredded hubbard squash, and mine was a good one, can be quite sweet, sort of like sweet, crispy, cucumber.

I wish I could publish this recipe to Healthy Wage but they are talking about healthy choices when eating out this week. My first reaction when I read the weekly challenge was: "Oh puleez!" I don't like most healthy choices in most restaurants. This is true. There is a supply chain issue. Most commercial food establishments don't use the same supply chain I use and don't start with the same raw ingredients, even those these are easily available thanks to either a decent supermarket produce department or the DeKalb Farmer's Market. In my case it's the DeKalb Farmer's Market.

Try getting any winter squash dish in a restaurant. Good luck! Try getting a restaurnt to serve you fresh pears, prune plums, or even apples and you find them in a salad full of nuts if you find them at all, and you won't find prune plums or fresh figs except at the most upscale establishments. The best tasting healthy items don't show up in most commercial food establishments.

So what should a good Healthy Wager do? Well, first don't go out to eat if you don't like the healthy items on the menu. This happens, and it is going to happen a lot. It's OK to say the fruit salad is overpriced, feh (a great Yiddish word meaning tasteless), etc... The cut up salads are equally unappealing. They are not your definition of a good salad or vegetable side dish, and the only main dishes that taste good are the fried ones.

Worse yet, a lot of food that is healthy in the right portion size is unhealthy when you have a huge plate of it in front of you. I know you can take home a doggy bag, but I find few things more depressing than restaurant leftovers, and I hate not being able to eat everything on my plate. Buffet restuarants and those where you can split an entree solve this problem. I guess I am a fan of splitting an entree. Bring on the pasta marinara, pasta prima vera, hats or ears with broccoli or broccoli rabe, and of course the pasta putanesca, and don't foret the gnocci. Now if I have somone to split that plate with, I've got it made.

OK, now I don't have a fellow healthy wager with whom to split my pasta entree (no chicken breasts please! and real Italian food), so what would be my choices if I ate out regularly at nonKosher (regular) restaurants? Well, healthy choice number one would be a single slice of pizza, maybe with olives. If that's all you eat, it's not horrible. It's between 250 to 400 calories. Eat it with unsweet tea or your favorite noncaloric drink. You can probably sneak in a fresh apple for dessert once you get home.

Healthy choice number two is the DeKalb Farmer's Market buffet. It's pay by the pound so it enforces restraint. If they have the mashed celery root, try it. It is divine. Usually they don't though, so I go with the cooked carrots (underrated and unappreciated. I love orange vegetables), the cooked beet dish (if available), the cooked winter squash dish (What did I say about orange vegetables?), or the roast peppers, or a greens dish without seeds. That's it for the hot side of the buffet, and usually I only get one hot offering. Then I get, one of the bean salads, one of the macaroni or potato salads, and another salad, often the gezpacho salad. Let's just say for the sake of argument I get the following:

Vichy Carrots (hot side)
Fresh Vegetable (marinated cabbage) Salad (cold side)
Four bean Salad (cold side)
Antipasto Salad (pasta salad on the cold side)

The plate should weigh a bit less than a pound if you do this right. They have free water with free lemon. If you want to pay get the unsweet tea.

OK, last healthy restaurant choice: Whole Foods. They have kasha which is super expensive. That's roasted buckwheat groats. They need salt, but they're good. They often have brussel sprouts on the hot side. Then I want some fresh bell pepers, and some cooked beans from the hot side. OK, again, you want this to weigh in at a bit under a pound for the whole plate.

Now let's do the deprivation act. What do I miss? This is actually helpful so bear with me, because after six weeks, the list is shorter than one would think. I don't miss my mocha. I guess I wasn't drinking it for breakfast all that much. I don't miss potato chips or Cheez-its. They are such an obvious no that it's not a problem. I miss cheese but have kashrus issues with it, so I would miss it whether I was dieting or not. The only food I really miss is Coca-Cola and Cherry Coke. I'm a soda fiend. Seltzer water makes a great substitute, but I crave Coke anyway. Coca-cola and apples are my two favorite foods.

Well one out of two is not bad. I've only slipped once in six weeks, and that was a twelve ounce can of Coca-Cola after Rosh HaShannah services on Friday. I had last eaten or drank anything around 9pm the previous night. I had walked four and a fraction miles to attend services. It was 2pm by the time we had lunch at a friend's house, and there were the cans of Coke. I drank one. I'm glad I have my apples and prune plums and also my seltzer. Diet colas just don't cut it. They taste funny.

Eileen H. Kramer -- October 6, 2011