Thursday, March 31, 2016

Italian Night at the Range

Chicken Parmigiana is on the menu of all Italian restaurants, from the worst, to the five star. It can be wonderfully crisp and rich or dry and tasteless.   Here's a way to get a wonderfully moist dish with a crisp coating.

Brine It.

You can make this with your favorite red sauce, or just use a jar (my favorite, as I've mentioned before, is Rao's, which isn't very expensive.)

Use a blend of cheese instead of just mozzarella to up the melting factor and give it a little more depth (I used a mixture of  mozzarella and grated Parmigiano-Regginao.

Bribing the dog to go into the other room, makes preparation a lot easier

Italian Night at the Range - Chicken

2 large boneless skinless chicken breast halves

Brine:

1 and 1/2 cups buttermilk,(note this is the time to use REAL buttermilk, not milk soured with juice or vinegar to get  the enzymatic and bacterial tenderization you want from the buttermilk)
2 and 1/2 teaspoons minced garlic
2 Tablespoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon black pepper

With a sharp knife, split the chicken breasts in half horizontally, then pound them between pieces of parchment paper to about 1/2 inch thickness, which keeps them tender and juicy.

In a bowl combine the buttermilk, garlic, salt and pepper.

Place chicken in bowl of brine and turn until coated, then transfer chicken and brine into a clean zip lock bag. pressing out any air and put in the refrigerator for about 4-6 hours.
The 70 year old Range range -
we have a doctrine of mutually assured destruction in place.

When you are ready to prepare dinner:

(1) Preheat oven to 425 F.

(2) Remove chicken from brine - pat dry with paper towels and set aside after discarding brine, then wash your hands thoroughly.

(3) Get a large sauce pan filled with water to heat for pasta.

(4) Heat a jar of Rao's pasta sauce in another pan until just gently simmering

(5) Get out a large skillet and place 1/4 to 1/3 cup (depending on how big your pan is, you are not deep frying but  doing a gentle crisping saute) extra virgin olive oil in it and set aside

(6) Mix up 3-step coating.

Note:  Use one hand for wet ingredients and the other hand for dry ingredients to keep it cleaner

Bowl (or pie plates) #1:
- 1/2 cup all purpose flour (add a little more if needed)
   pinch of basil

Bowl #2
-1 egg plus 2 teaspoons of buttermilk, whisked

Bowl #3
-2 cups panko bread crumbs*
 1/2 cup Parmigiano-Regginao.
 dash of pepper

Note:  If you have half a loaf of Italian or french bread getting old, cut it into slices, leave out to dry overnight on the counter, then chop into chunks and process in a food processor into crumbs with the cheese and pepper.

Dip chicken in flour, followed by egg mixture, followed by crumbs.  Set on a plate. Wash your hands again with soap and hot water.

When oil is 375 degrees, cook chicken, using tongs to get them into the pan, 2 pieces at a time, swirling the pan a little and using a thin, flexible spatula to keep chicken from sticking.  When golden brown, (2 to 3 minutes) flip with spatula and fork and cook on other side until golden brown (about another two minutes) Remove to plate covered with paper towels to drain

Make sure your pasta water is about ready to get your pasta cooking (I use about half a box of spaghetti).

Place a thin layer of the  warm pasta sauce in an 8 x 8 pan, top with chicken and drizzle chicken with a little more sauce (don't drench it)and top with 2/3 cup of Mozzarella cut into 1/3 inch shavings PLUS 3 Tablespoons of Parmigiano-Regginao.  Leave the edges of the chicken free of cheese to give it room to melt.

Bake until cheese is starting to melt (16 - 18 minutes) then place under the broiler for just a few moments until starting to brown.  Top with shredded basil and/or parsley and serve immediately.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

The Founding Fathers Had it Right

"I believe there are more instances of the abridgment of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments of those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations."

JAMES MADISON (Drafted Virginia Constitution, Member of Continental Congress, Virginia delegate to Constitutional Convention, named "Father of the Constitution", author of Federalist Papers, author of the Bill of Rights, Congressman from Virginia, Secretary of State, 4th President)

Saturday, March 26, 2016

DIY Baking: Yeast-Free Bread


“Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.” --Matthew 4:4.

I read about this product on a number of blogs while researching an easy way to make healthier bread in bulk each week (for my family and I also make extra for friends or colleagues that could use a casserole and a bag of bread when life gets difficult.)  What I found was  "Bread for Life" sourdough starter for making bread from Azure Standard (link information at the end of the post). I had at that point already been on a quest to incorporate more cultured/fermented foods and beverages into our diet, so this was a blessing to find. This starter is yeast free and works great with hard wheat flours. Plus - it bakes bread for about 10% of what it costs to buy specialty breads at the store and you won't have to buy commercial yeast ever again.

No doubt, we have all heard of increasing numbers of people suffering from gluten intolerance and other gut-related ailments. Grains in particular have been getting a bad reputation. On the other hand, the Bible speaks very highly of bread, and the Lord's prayer teaches us to ask for "daily bread." So what is the best way to eat if we don't have Celiac but find that eating too much yeasted bread causes other issues with our health?

Enter naturally leavened bread in the form of sourdough. Unlike bread made from fresh, non-fermented and/or non-sprouted flour, it is very gentle on the body, while having a much higher nutrient content thanks to the living enzymes, plus a whole host of other benefits. So instead of being concerned about the carbs and gluten in bread (an issue if you have Celiac disease, which I don't) I now have bread daily and embrace it as a healthy staple.
Commercial baking yeast is related to a number of health issues, especially candida growth in the body and inflammation. This natural bread starter (with no commercial yeast) is aerobic and probiotic causing carbohydrates and gluten to be predigested, turning them into a more usable form for the body.  If you don't have true Celiac but find that too much bread causes migraines, allergies, skin problems and other issues, this is the bread for you and it's so easy to make you can make enough bread for the week in about 30 minutes, not including rise time.

Not only is sourdough bread more nutritious, it also greatly reduces the amount of phytic acid found in whole grains. It's been noted by many health professionals  that consuming large amounts of whole grains that have not first been properly prepared by either fermentation or soaking and sprouting can have detrimental health effects, mostly in the form of mineral loss, which could impact bone loss as we age.
The starter after its first week at home.

All you need to get started is a "starter", unlike traditional sourdough starter, which is left out and covered o the counter, the bread for life starter stays in the refrigerator, is not nearly as temperamental and only has to be "fed" (water flour mix) every couple of days.

Some tips: (or how I baked a door stop)

Make sure you store it in a clean glass (periodically putting starter in clean bowl and give the container a nice wash and vinegar rinse.)

Only use wood utensil to stir.

Let the starter sit out at room temperature for a couple hours before you mix it. (while you have coffee and breakfast).

Do NOT use chlorinated  or tap water unless you want to kill it and don't use really cold water.

You'll also want the room or oven it rises in to be at least 70 degrees (our gas oven  with door closed and pilot light on is perfect).

Other than that it's pretty bullet proof .  It also has uses NO oil and has a sweet light fluffy texture that's great for toast or sandwiches.  You can keep several quart mason jars, using your first jar to make little starter jars, or  use a gallon jar if you bake in large amounts.

World's Easiest Loaf of Bread (Recipes from Azure)

Throw in a cuisinart with a blade or a stand mixture with bread hook (or you can hand mix and knead five minutes).

1 cup starter
1 tsp. salt (optional if on a salt restricted diet)
1 cup pure filtered  non-chlorinated water (not cold, above room temperature)
3-4 cups whole wheat flour (I use 3 and a 1/2)
I happened to have Fiji in the cupboard from a clearance sale - any non-chlorinated water is fine.

Mix for 5 minutes, put in oiled bowl, and let rise 5-7 (yes!) hours in warm place (70 degrees +) Punch down and put in lightly oiled bread pan and let rise 1-3 more hours.  Bake at 350 25-30 minutes or 325 F. for about 40-43.
To make dinner, sandwich, and breakfast rolls that are lighter and slightly sweeter do this:

1 cup starter
1 cup milk or nut milk (room temperature)
1 egg
1 tsp salt
1 Tablespoons sugar or honey
1 Tablespoon olive oil

2 and 3/4 to 3 and 1/4 cups hard white wheat flour (not whole wheat)

Put in cuisinart with blade or a stand mixture with hook or mix and knead by hand for five minutes (should be nice and stretchy). Cover with plastic wrap and let rise 5-7 hours (depends on how warm the kitchen is).  Form the dough to desired shapes.  Let rise 2-3 hours more hours.

Bake at 375 for around 20 minutes for buns and rolls and 40-50 minutes if you want to make a big loaf of bread, as pictured. If desired brush warm bread with butter as soon as it is removed from the oven for a soft crust and a nice sheen

Click here for a link to all the information you'll need if you wish to try this.   There is even information for making your own, capturing spores from your garden with a simple jar/cloth method, Though I've not tried it, it would work in an emergency situation where you had the means to bake but no commercial yeast in your prepping supplies.   In the following link there is another link to the Azure instructional video.

If you wish to place an order, go to "home" on the page and then enter product code  BP317 or use the search words Bread for Life.


Note:  Azure does not traditionally ship this refrigerated product via traditional economy ground shipping.  They deliver this (and other refrigerated products) via semi truck, to a local drop off point, acting as a middle man to connect you to independent growers and food producers, shortening the distance your food travels from farm to table.  You'll find a huge selection of products you won't find at smaller retails  If you are buying a product such as this, you place your order and put in the zip code of where you are at and they tell you where your drop off day and time in (Mine was only a 20 minute drive).  A drop coordinator keeps you in the loop on the process.  Plus their prices on grains, whole and ground are SO good, I'm going to make it a regular source for organic goods.

Friday, March 25, 2016

The Depths of a Heart

For today - Good Friday - the day we lost my big brother to cancer, barely in his mid fifties. Two chapters from Saving Grace - A Story of Adoption (Outskirts Press 2015) that I wrote to speak of his final days.

Chapter 44 – Running Silent and Deep

Friendships can form over many years of interaction. They can form in the sudden heat of battle. They can form over a handful of open, reflective conversations on or off the web---similar experiences, shared pain, among those who have earned your trust. They can involve humans, and they can involve four-legged friends who hold us just as dear, who protect us just as strongly.

All are valued.

I have one long-term friend who is very much like some of my friends, and beyond the conception of others. He's a couple years younger than me, never married, his whole life in service to our country including a trip or two to a war zone. Now he works in something that would be the stuff of a TV show if you could somehow narrow it down to an hour, throw in some cleavage, unrealistic outcomes of science, and the occasional bumbling probie.

But real life is not like that. It's not designer clothing while you assess the blood splatter, logical conclusions, or the good guys always winning. It's continuing to bear with weight and steadiness the evils and excesses of man, holding up strong under the business of the slain even when you might lose. Throw in a dress code and the occasional political yard gnome, and though we don't talk about it we occasionally see something on TV and just look at each other and laugh.

He sometimes disappears for weeks or longer when I don't know where he is, and I know not to ask though I've seen him on TV before. Then with a phone call out of the blue he pops in, occasionally on my front porch.

My husband understands our long history and that bond, and just smiles a wry smile while the guest bed is made up and my friend and I have animated conversations involving Bosnian goats, wrong way tanks, and various shiny aircraft. For it is a friendship that is like family, even though we don’t share blood or any sort of romantic history---just a lot of years, some mutual skirmishes, a number of fish sandwiches and pints, some bullets, and a passport or two.

Then there were the friends of childhood. Often such friendships didn’t survive high school as we grew and evolved into the people we would eventually be. One such person was the girl who lived across the street. She was my best friend in grade school; a tiny little thing with ice-blond hair. When we were kids her little sister died of a rare form of cancer, then her still-young mom of the same disease. Her dad soon followed, though we're not sure if it was disease or heartbreak. She and I lost touch after high school, the friendship being more one of young girls than grown-ups.

We went off to college, myself initially majoring in engineering, my friend doing pre-med. I heard later she ended up working for a medical research facility. She studied the disease that had laid its cold hand on her family, hoping for a cure, likely looking at it each day with both horror and astonishment. Unfortunately, the disease took her before she could take it. She was only in her thirties, the world to her still comprised of small wonders.

We hadn't had contact in years, and it was months after she passed that I heard. She had no living family left; nothing remained of her but the handcrafted wood that held her remains. So small, so bare. That's really all that life ends up as, I thought, and my heart swelled with tears---for the girl she'd been, for joyous laughter watching cartoons, for whispered conversations about who liked what boy, for afternoons at ballet class; for all the joy and adventure we had as we explored our world with a curiosity and courage that had not learned limits. I cried with the realization that we had both let that slip past us, unremembered over so many years.

All I could do was go to the church and light a candle for her, then blow on it to release the flame, releasing her laughter with it, and the memories of childhood.

If we are fortunate, those we live with are also our friends. My dad married his best friend, as did I. I look at other friends of mine long married and I see that, and it's precious to behold just being in the same room with the two of them; sitting across the table as we say grace you can feel the flame.

There's nothing better than sharing a last name with your best friend.

Growing up, my big brother Allen was the best friend a kid could have, his not abandoning me even in high school when it just wasn't cool to hang out with your baby sister. But lately we'd gotten much closer.

Because he was dying.

He had kept the truth from our 94-year-old father, hoping that he would outlive Dad, sparing him that agony. But I knew even if he didn't tell me, having too much knowledge of medicine not to understand what was going on. But I did everything I could to spend as much time with Allen during those last six months. In his last months on this earth we'd talk of everything: about our dad, about growing up (or our inherent refusal to). One thing I am glad was that I never heard from him during those conversations, "I wish I'd . . ."

I've heard so many people say: "I'll do that when I'm older, when I lose 20 pounds, when I'm retired." We go through life saying, "I would, but it probably wouldn't work out," or, " I'd like to but . . ." We too often base our actions on an artificial future, painting a life picture based on an expectancy that time is more than sweat, tears, heat, and mirage.
You can't count on anything. For out of the blue fate can come calling. My husband and I had recently lost our beloved black Lab Barkley after a brief but valiant battle against bone cancer and a weekend of pain we couldn't keep at bay for him. In a flash life robbed me even of the power to grieve for what is ending. I think back to when Allen and I were kids: going down a turbulent little river with little more than an inner tube and youth, risking rocks and rapids and earth just to see what was around the bend of that forest we'd already mapped out like Lewis and Clark. The water was black and silver, fading swirls of deep current rising to the surface like a slap, fleeting and gravely significant---as if something stirred beneath, unhappy to be disturbed from its slumber, making its presence known. A fish, perhaps; or simply fate.

I think of the true story of the woman whose parachute didn't open on her first jump and she fell more than a mile, and lived---to change her whole life to pursue her dreams. Did she sense something as she boarded that plane, looking into the sky at a danger that she could not articulate that she could not see? Or was she unaware until that moment when she pulled the cord and nothing happened, as her life rushed up to her with a deep groaning sound? What was it like in that moment, that perception of her final minutes, what taste, what color, what sound defined her soul as it prepared to leave? 
I was in the paint section of a hardware store the other weekend, looking for a brick-colored paint to spruce up a backdrop in the crash pad’s kitchen. I noticed the yellows, the color I had painted my room as a teen. I noticed the greens, so many of them---some resembling the green of my parents’ house in the '60s and '70s, yet not being exactly the same color. The original was one that you'd not see in a landscape, only in a kitchen with avocado appliances while my Mom sang as she made cookies. I remember Allen and I racing through the house, one of us soldier, the other spy, friends forever; stopping only long enough for some of those cookies, still warm. Holding that funky green paint sample I can see it as if it were yesterday. Memories only hinted at, held there in small squares of color.

What is it about things from the past that evoke such responses? For some it’s a favorite photo; a piece of clothing worn to a special event; a particular meal. Things that carry with them the sheer impossible quality of perfection that has not been achieved since. Things that somehow trigger in us a response of wanting to go back to that time and place when you were safe and all was well. But even as you try and recapture the memory, it eludes you, caught in a point in your mind between immobility and motion, the taste of empty air, the color of wind.
One morning while out in a hangar checking out a pilot friend’s home-built project, I had one of those moments. It was an old turboprop lumbering down the taxiway with all the grace of a water buffalo. It wasn't the aircraft that caught my eye, it being one of those planes that carries neither speed nor sleek beauty but rather serves as the embodiment of inertia overcome by sufficient horsepower. No, it was the smell of jet fuel that took me back---to years of pushing the limits, not really caring if I came home, only that the work was done without my breaking beyond re-use something I was trusted with.

Until one day, while my heart was beating despite being broken unseen beneath starched white cotton, my aircraft made a decided effort to kill me. It was not the "Well, I'll make a weird sound and flash some red lights at you and see what you do," an aircraft's equivalent of the Wicked Witch of the North cackling: "Care for a little fire, Scarecrow?" No, it was a severe vibration that shook the yoke right out of my hand as we accelerated through 180 knots on the initial climb, when unbeknownst to me a piece of my elevator had departed the fix.

In that moment, as I heard the silent groaning of the earth below, I thought: "I do not wish to die," and I fought back---in that moment of slow and quiet amazement that can come at the edge of sound, finding in myself a renewed desire to live; recognizing the extent and depth of that desire to draw another breath and share that soft warm breath with another.

Today is a memory that months from now could be one of those memories---not of fear but of triumph. You may look back and see this day, the friends you were with, the smile on your face, the simple tasks you were doing together. Things, so basic in their form to at this time simply be another chore: cleaning, fixing, an ordinary day; while children played with a paper plane fueled by laughter and the hangar cat drowsed in the sunlight. It might be a day you didn't even capture on film---no small squares of color left to retain what you felt as you worked and laughed together, there in those small strokes of color, those small brushes of hope as you wait for your best friend to join you.

Twenty years from now you may look at yourself in the mirror, at the wrinkles formed from dust, time, and tears around your eyes, at the gray in your hair; and you will think back to this day, the trivial things that contain the sublime. On that day, so far beyond here, you may look around you, that person you were waiting for no longer present, and you’ll want it all back. Want it as bad as the yearning for a color that is not found in nature, in the taste of something for which you search and ache, acting on the delusion that you can recreate it, those things that haunt the borders of almost-knowing.

You touch the mirror, touch your face and wish you'd laughed more, cared less of what others thought, dove into those feelings that lapped at the safe little edges of your life, leaped into the astonishing uncertainty.

Allen spent years running silent and deep under the ocean, visiting places I can only guess at as he will not speak of it, a code about certain things I share with him. But I knew the name. Operation Ivy Bells. He understood testing the boundaries of might and the cold depths to which we travel in search of ourselves.

On his last nights, Allen and I talked, but not of those days under the ocean. We both were aware of grave matters of honor, but do not speak of them, not even with each other. I'd sit as he talked about Dad and how he hoped Dad would live to be a hundred; how he hoped he would be there to take care of him, even as I watched 120 pounds leave Allen’s frame as he went through that second round of chemo and radiation.

He talked until his eyes closed, only his labored breath letting me know he was still with me; the rise and fall of his chest as he were trying to push up from the waters of the sea, unfathomed flesh still so buoyant if only in spirit as the cold water lapped against him.

I too have had more than one day where I stood outside on a pale crescent of beaten earth and breathed deeply of that cold. On those days I felt every ache in my muscles; my skin hot under the sun; the savage, fecund smell of loss in the air, lying heavily in the loud silence. Somewhere in the distance would come a soft clap of thunder; overhead clouds strayed deliberately across the earth, disconnected from mechanical time. I'd rather be elsewhere; the smell simply that of kitchen and comfort: the sounds only that of laughter. But I knew how lucky I was to simply be, in that moment, and alive.

I'd go home on such nights and pour a drink, prepare a small meal. I'd eat it slowly, letting the sweet and salt stay upon my tongue. For me there would be no quick microwaved meal eaten with all the detachment of someone at a bar, tossing back a handful of stale nuts with his beer. No, I wished to taste and savor the day, the warm layers of it, this day that had been someone's last.
You can't control fate, but you can make choices. You can continue your day and do nothing, standing in brooding and irretrievable calculation as if casting in a game already lost. Or you can seize the moment, the days, wringing every last drop from them. Tell the ones you love that you love them. Hug your family; call an old friend you've not spoken to for months; forgive an enemy; salute your flag---and always, always give the dog an extra biscuit. Then step outside into the sharp and unbending import of spring, a dying winter flaring up like fading flame. One last taste, one last memory, never knowing how long it will remain.

As I sit and wait for the phone to ring to let me know my husband has landed, I have no idea what this day will bring as it closes. But one thing I do know: today is that memory. Alone or together, I'm going to go out and make everything I can of it. I look at the photos of my daughter and her family, drawings my granddaughters made. I look at a photo of Allen, the shirt he wore in the last picture I have of him now hanging in my closet, next to a crisp cotton shirt that still bears the scent of memory. I pause and smile, preparing my evening table with thanks to the Lord for the blessing of family and friends.


Chapter 45 – The Depths of a Heart

I was out at Dad’s again, making my trip to the garage as I always do.  The car was gone, given to a family member who needed one when Dad wasn't able to drive any longer. In its former space were boxes and boxes of a life, all of Allen’s things carefully packed for his children to take, most of the clothes going to charity. A few pieces of his submarine memorabilia on my dresser now; the rest simple, silent shadows. Still, I can see past them to what was there so long before.

I stayed just long enough to take the trash to the barrel outside and to check the freezer to see if I needed to buy Dad some more ice cream. It was hard to see inside, my eyes misty; breathing in the bracing density of cold air laced with pine and motor oil, a smell I loved even after all those years. It was the smell of morning's breath, full of wood and silence.

Before I closed the garage door I stood for just a moment, looking deep into this familiar space, out onto the driveway shaded by Mom's old tree. For just a moment, the boxes were gone from my vision, replaced by a memory of hands and tools and laughter. I could almost see my big brother there; the shifting green shimmer of persistent leaves creating an illusion of shadow, of form within, working away until Mom called us in for supper.

It was in that driveway he finally collapsed, tending to Dad as we both have always done. We later asked ourselves if he'd tended more to himself and less to the family, had he shared the pain he was hiding, would he have had a few months longer? But thats just who he was, always a submariner, always on quiet watch; the risk and the fear of death second to those things which men store within the depths of a human heart.

That he left me just weeks after we laid our black Lab Barkley to rest, also to cancer, hit me even harder.

The tragedy was not that my brother was gone so soon, but that he was no longer here to see what remained---the hearts he repaired, the things he built that can't be contained in one's hands. Allen went full speed up to the end, not wanting to extinguish his thirsting heart but only to slake it.
As I stood on the step from garage to laundry room and pushed the button for the garage door, I took in the sight, the smell of it. I couldn't imagine Allen not being here; something that just is, like the loud crack of a bat hitting a ball; the bounce of a bicycle off the gravel as kids came careening into home; the way an old baseball game seeped out of a transistor radio as a loved one worked away. Sounds that echoed even as the door closed and darkness descended.
 - Brigid

Monday, March 21, 2016

DIY Dinner (With Cracked Nuts and Bourbon)

Looking for a fun to make but impressively delicious dinner, that is actually VERY easy to prepare?

How about pecan crusted chicken?  If you can answer a few questions you can easily make it.

First - if you were so inclined, put some dough for the homemade whole wheat and honey bread in a bowl to rise (or grab a loaf from your bakery)
Then distract your pets with a new toy.  Pictured - a Squeaky set of tighty whities, a gift from one of our friends for Abby.

Now for our questions.

Can you operate a nut cracker? (This one was a gift from the in-laws).  If that's a no, you can buy some pecans already shelled.
Partner in Grime demonstrates with a walnut

Can you melt some butter in the microwave and add a splash of maple syrup and bourbon to it? If that's a no - head to McDonalds right now, there is no hope for you.
With the kitchen remodel in place we're working on a tiny temporary counter.

Can you whack a chicken breast with a meat mallet?  If that's a no because you don't have one - get some parchment paper and your favorite whacking implement from the shop.
Can you throw some pecans in a blender. and shake some pre-blended spice mix into it?  How hard is that?

Can you dip a piece of chicken in the butter and then roll in the pecan crumbs. Yes!
Can you pan fry? If that's a no you can still BAKE this dish. (375 F for 45 minutes or until 165 F. internal temperature)
It was a big hit with Partner in Grime and made enough for 2-3 meals as the chicken breasts at our local butchers (not a chain store) are HUGE.

Measurements are estimates - I usually cook by the eyeball method with the exception of baked desserts.

Pecan Crusted Chicken

In a pie pan place:

1 and 1/3 cup pecan crumbs (more or less depending on how big your chicken pieces are)
A pinch of cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon Bragg's Herb and Spice Seasoning (salt free blend found at most good health food stores) or  herb seasoning blend of your choice

Whack two large boneless chicken breasts between parchment paper until slightly flattened

In a bowl melt 1/2 stick butter
add a moderate splash of maple syrup (about 2 Tablespoons)
and a splash of Bourbon (1-2 Tablespoons)

Heat a cast iron pan on the stove set at high, (melting a Tablespoon of butter in each pan you use) -

Dip chicken in melted butter mixture and then coat with crumbs.

Saute on high 6- 8 minutes per side (or until lightly browned) then reduce heat to low and cook until meat thermometer reads 160 degrees F, while you prepare your sides. When meat is done, remove from pan to plate and  lightly cover with foil while you ready your plates. (The chicken will raise another 5 degrees while you do this).
click to enlarge

Cut into serving size pieces and serve with sides of your choice (in this case, pasta tossed with olive oil, freshly grated Parmesan and herbs with green beans simmered with a dash of bacon fat with homemade bread.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

The Only Easy Day was Yesterday

 “The only easy day was yesterday.” – Navy SEALS

This week my routine changed quite a bit. It's an offshoot of major changes in my life in the last six months when I left field work as a Team Lead for a position that involves suits, meetings, and desks. I miss the field work, I miss my old team, but I love being home every night with Partner in Grime, and being able to turn my phone off when I go to sleep.

But the downside to that was not mental, but physical, as I was no longer walking through all kinds of terrain and bending down a lot. Plus getting to a gym when I leave the house and don't come home for 12 hours with traffic isn't a priority. (I have a house/dog sitter who checks on the place during the day and plays with and walks Abby Normal the Lab). I found myself turning into a desk potato. I hadn't gained weight. I was just getting soft where I'm not supposed to BE soft and left to my own devices I'd walk the dog, do a couple push ups and then a couple of 12 ounce curls. It was enough to keep me in my old jeans, but not enough where I was truly fit.
So I hired a personal trainer. She's German by birth, a young woman who owns a thriving business in Indiana, doing this on the side. She visits clients in the big city once a week for her core business so it worked out that she could stop by my place on the day or two a week I work from home and don't have that commute. We'll start slow the first couple of weeks, just general conditioning, balance, and cardio  with light weights before getting onto the bench and bigger weights in the basement. I met her through her other business, and hearing her story of becoming a fitness trainer after getting in shape herself following a really bad auto accident, I was like "yes!"

She's drop dead gorgeous and when she showed up with the German accent and a shirt that said "I'm the trainer, you're the victim" I couldn't help but laugh. But she's awesome, and after an hour workout when her helping my form and working up a plan for the next 12 weeks while she'll be working with me, I feel like I can kick butt again, I felt like I'd done something positive for myself. I still have a few years before I turn 60 but I want to make sure I go into retirement able to handle whatever life throws my way - be it a long walking or running event for cancer awareness or simply bugging out in an emergency.

Don't hold my breath. Breathe out as I lift, breathe in as I release.  I repeat to myself as we finished up.

I was told to expect some soreness.  The next day even my hair hurt.
But that "a-ha" moment when I realized I was wanting to commit to getting in better than "OK for being in my 50's" shape was a trip to the grocery store a couple of weeks ago. There was no pause, there was no pondering it was just there as if a light had turned on as a hand touched a switch.

It wasn't my usual store but a big chain place that was by my bank so I went to grab just to grab milk and eggs.  What caught my eye was all the people on scooters, more than half a dozen, only one of them elderly, none sporting casts or braces or crutches or the things I had to have with me after my meniscus surgery and my two weeks of scooter days. I found that rather unsettling.
For although I'm well aware that not all illness and disability is visible, it would appear that at least some of the scooter drivers were simply too overweight to walk about the store, driving and filling up the basket with frozen pizzas, fried chicken, mayo laden salads and soda pop before they scooted out of the store.

In that moment I heard words my Dad always told me - you quit moving you die.

Even at almost 96 - and in declining health, every morning he rides his exercise bike and does stretching exercises with his exercise ball, followed by 3 reps of weight work outs. He's had a stroke - he's had cancer - I truly believe the only reason he's still here as he gets up every morning committed to MOVE. The firearm by the door has been replaced by a baseball bat (he got to the point he couldn't safely handle a weapon after the stroke) and I would NOT want to be on the receiving end of that if Dad, a career military police office, went to protect and defend.  It took him a Great War, the the loss of a baby and then a wife to fully realize the taste and savor of peace and he's not going to give it up easily and he does all he can to make sure he is as capable as he can be.
Because it's about more than the ability to navigate a store without help. It's about more than your health - the extra weight taking a toll on more than your joints.   It's about more then being a smaller size.

It's about having the ability to move to save your life there in that moment when you spot danger and your heart stills, emptying out of all but courage and what you are capable off. It's that moment when you know fear.

Fear can come when least expected. It can be flat eyes that catch yours from a darkened stand of trees, the next house too far away. It can be the portent of a funnel cloud when shelter is many yards away and seconds are all you have. It can be the sound of breaking glass from the front of your home. It can be working out in a place fit only for serpents and snakes, closure not always involving dry flat land, and hearing that sound, one you'll never forget, like the splash of hands on the water.  You look at the water too close to you you and there's nothing to see but the fluid gleams of reflected stars that suddenly scurried and vanished and you realize, even as you signal the backup LEO's with weapons, that the blood has attracted a gator
That's fear, and when you've known it, it's a long time before you are restored of it, laying awake at night, the feeling in your lungs like cement, solidifying  as shattered echoes of those moments drum in your ears.

I'm not going to get into the use of weapons to save your life, as anyone that reads here knows my stance on that and anyone that makes the mistake of kicking in my front door is going to find that the laser dot that blossoms on their forehead IS the universal language of NO.

But there are times you might be where you don't have a firearm or  are not yet comfortable with one. I avoid "gun free zones" like the plague, but what about schools, certain work places - post offices, etc?. Or what if someone is lying in wait and you are physically grabbed before you can draw (you will be amazed how quickly someone can close 4-6 feet in the dark).
You have to be strong enough to fight or get a good poke in the eye or throat  with a set of car keys and run (that Gerber tool is gonna hurt).

You can't do that if you are both out of shape and afraid.

I was a volunteer at a family violence center for many years. Those of you who have read my book "Saving Grace" know why.   It's not necessarily a pleasant task at times, but one that needs to be done, by those that care or who have seen it firsthand. That type of violence doesn't just happen to the poor, the uneducated the needy. We see women of all walks of life in there that just share one thing in common, that they have been scared for so long that they just get used to being that way. Sometimes you'd just find them in their room in the warm and cozy shelter home, in the dark. You can feel people in a dark room. You don't need to see them. Sometimes they're just asleep, catching up on that precious commodity, sleep where you know someone who cares is watching over your safety.
They don't sleep well, for years, violence going to bed with them each night, often drunk, normally angry. They'd lay there in the bed, trying not to move, trying to make themselves smaller and smaller so not to be noticed. Trying not to breathe for when they breathed they could hear them, hear that dark mass of anger sizing them up for what is only one persons idea of fun or a fight. They could feel the blood in their veins, the little involuntary twitch at the corner of their eye as they're shut tighter and tighter as if by doing so you will not see what you know is coming. It takes a long time to sleep well after that.

So, there in the safety of the shelter, if their bedroom door was not blocked you'd just knock and say a soft hello and tell them you'd wait outside. They'd sit there in the dark of their ruined life, sometimes with a chair propped up against the door, afraid that even in this refuge they would be found, viewing the world with an indomitable and implacable weariness.  But soon they would come out, into the light, amazed that with tools and training, they could learn to live a life of comparative calm. You would hear the stories, stories you know as they've been told so often and so hard that the words no longer were words, but were invisible welts the skin would always carry.
Violence can wear the hand of a family member, but we deal with that, with what we can. I mentor women on not being a victim, because evil can be more than something that visits us in our own home. But it also shops with us, drives with us, peering at us from a van in the shopping center parking lot, or from over their shoulder as they bend to tie their shoe as you jog on past, down that blind canyon of trees from which you will not return. A few years ago, there was a talented young woman who was kidnapped by someone she struck up a conversation with her in a national forest, a kindly looking old guy who then went on to terrorize her and kill her. She was young and very strong. She was a Black Belt but the zodiac that had stacked the cards against her that day did not care. It was a sobering revelation that the tools she thought would protect her failed her.
Martial Arts is a wonderful tool, but it's naive to think that is a representation of street self defense, in that you obviously aren't going to execute pre-planned patterns of memorized movements against an attacker. And if you learn it you must keep up the practice and skills. It's not just a force. It's a tool, a habit pattern of strength. It's a pattern of practice. It is a mind set and it doesn't make you invincible. Just because you can kick some one's but doesn't mean you're better OR bulletproof. I've spent many a afternoon compiling what remained of those that thought they were bullet proof in moments that only my own death will efface from my memory.

But even if being strong and focused is no guarantee, I can guarantee that if you are NOT strong and focused, something one day is going to hit you like a freight train, and you are not going to be prepared physically.
So, I'm going to spend money I'd rather spend on other things, for someone to mentor ME - to guide me through really tough workouts that I'd not do if I just went to the gym on my own.  I'm the personality that is best given a challenge and if that challenge is in front of me, saying "One MORE - hold it 10 seconds" when I thinking "there is NO way I can do one more", then I'm in. We will sweat as we will talk, in soft cryptic voices, of things we both understand, of being female, of the indisputable discrepancy between will and capability due to muscle and mass and using what we can to advantage.

Then at night, I'll lay upon the bed, not just for sleep but to gather strength as runners do, the window closed against the city, the clock chiming at midnight as strong and as clear as glass that shines in iron darkness. And I will breathe in clear and deep, taking up a big rush of air into my chest as I flex newly worked muscles into larger and stronger form, my eyes opening and staying that way, taking in all that is around me, that is my safety, before shutting my eyes to sleep.  When I sleep, it will be in quiet and safety, on the nightstand, my husbands keys, a .45 with hollow points, and a tube of pain relief gel.

It's more than pain, it's more than courage or will - it's awareness derived from every drop of sweat on my brow, every drop of blood on my gloved hands.  It's recognition that suddenly blossoms as if a flower released from a vacuum.  It's taking my life into my own hands, not trusting it's protection to the impotent logic and mantra of peace that has betrayed us again and again,
I'll never be 20 again, but if I'm faced with danger I want more than what is figuratively a fading light and a small bullet in an old gun. I want to be strong. I want to be able to MOVE.  I want the thread of my will and my courage to run on the same spool as the movement of muscle and the pump of a leg, running hard and fast into my remaining days.

Because whether the best option is fight OR flight, I want to be as prepared for it as I can be.

Don't hold my breath. Breathe out as I lift, breathe in as I release.   

Thursday, March 17, 2016

A Culinary visit to Ireland

I have to say, the food on my last trip  to Ireland (professional speaking engagement) was incredible. It ranged from some surprising pub food at this establishment to some gourmet food at a four star hotel up North. Seated up by the bar, I expected the usual bland tavern fare. What a surprise. Venison Stew in Red Wine Gravy under Puff Pastry. It was incredible, though the smell of the Lamb Stew next to me was pretty tempting. I sent my compliments back to the chef, and wished I could have snagged the recipe.
Seafood was plentiful. In Portrush, some Tiger Prawns with Garlic Roast Vegetables. No picture as it was gone too quick.

In Dublin, on in the Temple Bar District, there was this great little discovery for a couple of dinners.
Salmon over Pan Roasted Veggies. (Have you noticed there appears to be a Guinness in each picture?)
And the best Fish and Chips I had during the whole trip, as fresh as you can find it. No, that's now "guacamole" but whipped peas.
We won't mention the breakfast buffet at the hotel in Donegal. But Irish cooking back in history was more simple.   Potatoes were boiled, not mashed with roasted garlic. Soda bread? It was not the Americanized version with white flour and lots of sugar and currants. (though that is tasty). It was course flour, baking soda, salt and buttermilk (if you were well off) or sour milk (if times were tough). Plain simple food, for hard working people tilling the earth. Folks back then weren't intent on gourmet. In the Ireland of long ago, people were considered successful if they just stayed alive.

So for tonight, in honor of those strong people who tilled that land, and to bring back some memories of a trip of a lifetime, some simple Irish Brown Bread that was made to go with some simple vegetable soup.

Click on the photos to enlarge. Have napkin handy.