You gained HOW MUCH on that cruise?!

FB_IMG_1485373261825While being interviewed a few days ago, one of the ship’s food and beverage managers said that passengers gain an average of one to two pounds per day on a cruise. Per day! Not bad if this were only a weeklong cruise. But this one lasts eighteen days.

Could I actually gain thirty-six pounds? Not that I don’t like a challenge, but that’s how much I lost fifteen years ago and promised myself I’d NEVER have to lose again. Besides, I gave away all my fat clothes.

So this is one area in which I am determined to stay well BELOW average.

I do expect the scale to be up a bit. After all, I’m on vacation and the food is delicious and plentiful. The dining room offers modest portions of delectable dishes, appetizers, and desserts, all included in what you already paid for the cruise. So, it’s practically free.

Or one can choose to eat at the buffet. It’s a more casual atmosphere and there are more choices.  Besides, you don’t have to share your table with eight strangers as you do in the dining room. That’s helpful if, like me, your traveling companion resides at the extreme end of introvert spectrum.

Trouble is, at a buffet you can take as much as you like of anything and go back for seconds. Or thirds. Or— you get the idea.

And then there is room service. Food, drinks, whatever you want, brought to you. Day or night.

To counteract this increase in intake there is a well-equipped gym, a running/walking track, fitness classes, and stairs. So many stairs. Yoga, spin, belly dancing, and boot camp give passengers plenty of opportunities to burn off a few of the extra desserts and cocktails. 

However, I’ve learned you can’t out exercise a bad diet. I can eat way faster than I can run.

I just have to make good food choices and move my lady-like keester. You know, that motivation thing. Overcoming excuses–too hot, too cold, ooh look, ice cream! And setting priorities– I really ought to finish reading that book, or work on my novel, or check my email… You know, that stuff.

That being said, I’m at the gym the other morning, using the elliptical when I notice a middle-aged Asian gentleman on a stationary bike. He finishes, reaches for his collapsible cane and feels his way to the towel rack and the next machine in his circuit. Yes, he was blind. By himself. On vacation. On a boat. And did I mention he was blind?

My excuses paled in comparison. I hung my head and powered through a few more sweaty minutes and a 30-minute stretch class before climbing the stairs to breakfast. Then I strolled right past the sweet rolls and pancakes, the biscuits and gravy,  and the explicably ever-present baked beans on toast. I selected poached eggs, wheat toast, and as much fresh pineapple and melon as I could fit on my plate.

Day 15 and I can still zip and button my capris. I’ll take that as a win.

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Book review: A book for what ails you

paris-bookshopThe Little Paris Bookshop

by Nina George

Are you in need of enchantment? A long vacation? Good food? Wine? A little romance or the chance of finding it again? Are you in need of a remedy for a small sadness?

Kindly come in. Watch your step.

Jean Perdu, the middle-aged proprietor of The Literary Apothecary has just the thing. His shop is actually a barge on the bank of the Seine and his books are organized by emotion and the needs of the readers. “Perdu reflected that it was a common misconception that booksellers looked after books. They looked after people.”

 “I wanted to treat feelings that are not recognized as afflictions and are never diagnosed by doctors. All those little feelings and emotions no therapist is interested in, because they are apparently too minor or intangible. The feeling that washes over you when another summer nears its end. Or when you recognize that you haven’t got your whole life left to find out where you belong. Or the slight sense of grief when a friendship doesn’t develop as you thought, and you have to continue your search for a lifelong companion. Or those birthday morning blues. Nostalgia for the air of your childhood. Things like that.”

On the power of reading good books:

“…reading makes people impudent, and tomorrow’s world is going to need some people who aren’t shy to speak their minds…”

“Whenever Monsieur Perdu looked at a book…he saw freedom on wings of paper.”

But the love of books and the bank of the Seine are just the beginning of this story. When Perdu finds a poignant, twenty-year-old love letter in an old kitchen table, he impulsively unmoors his bookshop and sets off on a quest. As he’s leaving, Max Jordan, a young, reclusive author, jumps aboard.  Yes, it’s a road trip, but the “road” ends up being the system of rivers and canals in France. Along the way, they take on another older man, Salvatore Cuneo, who has been searching for his lost love for decades. So, it is love—or the possibility of love—that sends all three men on this quest. There is a literary mystery to be solved as well.

“We cannot compel anyone to love us. There’s no secret recipe, only love itself. And we are at its mercy—there’s nothing we can do.”

What better place to pursue a quest than the water- and roadways between Paris and Toulon? Author, Nina George’s lyrical and sensuous descriptions will draw you into every village and scene, every meal and glass of wine, every sunset and every tango.  Deep sadness and great love are expressed throughout the book with warmth and compassion. Themes of love and loss, healing and hope permeate this luscious read.

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Author, Nina George

“All of us preserve time. We preserve the old versions of the people who have left us. And under our skin, under the layer of wrinkles and experience and laughter, we, too, are old versions of ourselves. Directly below the surface, we are our former selves: the former child, the former lover, the former daughter.”

I found this book to be perfectly charming. It reinforces the healing power of books and time, while also reminding us not to shut ourselves away, but to live in the world, to really experience it. It also made me want to book a river cruise in France. Or at least drink in the sunset and some good wine with someone I love. Recommend.

Claire’s one really good recipe

Another in the sometime series from “Annie Cooper’s Recipe Scrapbook.” The foods are all mentioned in my still-in-heavy-rewrite novel. Claire holds a tender spot in her heart for this recipe and for one particular member of the family it came from. Enjoy!


Butternut Squash with Apples

from the kitchen of Claire Jordan

Auntie Claire isn’t much of a cook and I was surprised when Mom told me this favorite fall recipe was hers. When I asked Auntie Claire about its origin, she got a faraway look in her eyes and said it came from the mother of an old college friend. Somehow I got the feeling that there was more to the story.

  •  About 1 ½ pounds butternut squash, peeled and chopped.  About 5 cups. Many produce departments now carry peeled and chopped squash.
  • 4 medium tart apples, chopped.
  • ½ cup dried cranberries, cherries, raisins, or combination
  • ½ cup chopped walnuts or pecans (optional)
  • 1 ½ tsp. grated fresh ginger or 1 Tbsp. ground ginger
  • ½ tsp. salt (or more to taste)
  • 1/8 tsp. black (or more to taste)
  • ½ tsp. cinnamon
  • ¼ tsp. nutmeg
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • ¼ cup butter or margarine

Directions: In a slow-cooker combine all ingredients and stir. Cover and cook on low setting for 3-4 hours or on high for 1 ½ hours.

Novel oatmeal camping cake

Old-Fashioned Oatmeal Cake with Broiled Topping

Oatmeal Cake (a.k.a. Camping Cake)

from the kitchen of Fran McCormack and Libby McCormack Cooper

I’m not sure where the original came from, but Mom called it “Oatmeal Cake.” My girls call it “Camping Cake” since we always took it camping. Mom made it in an aluminum pan with a sliding lid, like the one pictured below, so even on camping trips it stayed wonderfully moist and un-squashed. No small feat. It is definitely not figure-friendly, but it does contain oatmeal, so perhaps Mom thought it qualified as healthy for that reason alone. Note: If you leave the knife in the pan, the cake seems to disappear by inches, not whole slices. Just sayin’.

Vintage “Maid of Honor” pan, available at thrift stores, garage sales, and ebay. Sorry, but no, mine is not for sale.

 

Cake:

1 cup oats

1 ½ cup hot water

½ cup butter or margarine

1 cup brown sugar

1 cup white sugar

2 unbeaten eggs

1 ½ cups flour

1 tsp. soda

1 tsp. cinnamon

½ tsp. salt

  1. Pour water over oats. Set aside.
  2. Cream butter sugars and eggs until smooth
  3. Add dry ingredients. Add oatmeal last. Beat well.
  4. Pour into greased 9×12 pan.
  5. Bake 30 min. @ 350

Broiled Icing:

¾ cube of butter

1 T. milk

¾ cup brown sugar

1 ½ cup coconut

1 cup chopped walnuts, pecans, or almonds

  1. Melt butter in saucepan and add sugar
  2. Cook one minute.
  3. Add coconut & nuts.
  4. Spread on warm cake & broil. Watch closely!
  5. Cool completely before serving or covering.

    20160611_092127.jpg
    This one is ready to go!

Dad’s Nevada Day Posole

 

Another entry in the recipe scrapbook, this time from Annie’s dad, Jack.

posole 1

Chicken Posole

from the kitchen of Jackson Cooper, Esq.

This Posole became a Nevada Day tradition at our house when friends stopped by after the parade.  Libby always makes several pans of cornbread to accompany it. It’s easy to make ahead. I think it tastes better on the second day anyway. Moreover, the recipe can be readily multiplied and adjusted to suit  individual tastes and dietary preferences. In fact, I’m not sure anyone knew the difference the year I made one pot of a vegetarian version for our Nora. I simply left out the chicken, subbed veggie broth and replaced the chorizo with Soyrizo. 


1 lb. chicken thighs

1 lb. chorizo (sometimes this is a little too spicy, so maybe 1/2 pound)

1 each green and red pepper

1 onion

2 c dry white wine

1 large can green or red enchilada sauce. (I usually use red)

1 large can hominy

1 can tomatillos (or tomatoes if you can’t find them)

1 large can chicken broth

Assorted garnishes prepped and ready to add when serving: Shredded lettuce or cabbage, chopped onion, cilantro, avocados, tortilla chips, sliced radishes, and limes cut into wedges.

  1. Cook the chicken and debone.
  2. Sauté the sausage, peppers, and onions.
  3. Throw it all together in a big crock pot, soup pot, or Dutch oven with the wine, enchilada sauce, hominy, tomatillos and broth. Let it simmer all day.
  4. Let individuals serve themselves, topping with condiments as desired. Squeeze on a little lime juice. Serve with cornbread. posole condiments

French Toast Casserole

Lighter Fruitier French Toast Casserole

From the kitchen of Libby McCormack Cooper

I hope the directions are clear and accurate enough. I can’t remember where the original came from, but I’ve adapted it and made it so often, I don’t even follow a recipe any longer.  This is essentially bread pudding and many recipes I’ve seen call for half & half, but seriously, this recipe doesn’t need it. So if you’re watching your weight (like me, usually) here is a pretty painless place to cut back on fat.  Whole grain bread and Eggbeaters can make this not only tasty but also a pretty healthy dish.  And of course, you can use other fruit, alone or in any combination you fancy.


2 cups milk (skim or 2% works just fine)

3 whole eggs (or 3/4 cup EggBeaters)

1 tsp each, vanilla and almond extract

12 slices good, sturdy bread, cubed (don’t tell, but here’s a good place to sneak in whole grain bread)

2 tablespoons butter, melted and divided

1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar, divided

2 cups fresh raspberries, blueberries, or other fruit, divided

1 teaspoon cinnamon

½ cup sliced almonds or chopped pecans, optional

 

  1. Preheat oven to 400 and coat a 9×13 pan with cooking spray.
  2. In small bowl combine milk, and eggs. Beat until blended.
  3. Layer half of the bread in bottom of the baking dish. Drizzle 1 Tbsp. of the melted butter over bread. Cover with half of the fruit. Sprinkle with half of the sugar.
  4. Repeat with the rest of the bread. Top with the other half of butter and remaining fruit.
  5. Pour the milk and egg mixture over all. Top off with the rest of the sugar. Sprinkle with cinnamon and nuts. Cover with foil.
  6. You can now refrigerate overnight if you like. Just be sure to let it sit out on the counter while the oven is heating up in the morning.
  7. Bake covered for 25 min. Uncover and bake for an additional 10 or 15 min. Serves 6 to 8.

Novel Tamale Pie

Why novel? Because the cornmeal is mixed in, not made into cornbread batter and spread on top. Well, that and the fact that this food memory comes from one of the characters in my novel.

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Tamale Pie

From the kitchen of Libby McCormack Cooper

While this wasn’t necessarily my favorite thing when I was growing, it now definitely qualifies as comfort food. I’ve adapted it a bit here–using Rotele tomatoes makes up for other seasoning–but it’s still pretty much as my mom made it. We like it topped with a little sour cream and served on a bed of shredded lettuce. Mom served it with a wedge of iceberg lettuce topped with a dollop of mayo that she called a “salad.” Times and food tastes have changed.

1 pound ground beef or turkey

1 small yellow or white onion, chopped

1 large can of diced tomatoes, with liquid

1 regular can of Rotele tomatoes with the added chilies, with liquid

1 regular can of corn, with liquid

1 regular can of whole or sliced large black olives, drained

yellow cornmeal (approximately ¾ to 1 cup)

1 cup or more shredded cheddar

  1. Brown the meat with onion. Drain.
  2. Add the contents of all the cans. Simmer for about 10 minutes.
  3. Start sprinkling corn meal in the while stirring. Just add in small amounts until the mixture thickens and the boil bubbles make a very distinctive pfff sound.  There is no exact measurement for this. Sorry. As soon as it pfffs, remove from heat.
  4. Grease or spray a 9×13 baking pan. Scoop the mixture in and smooth it. Or if you are using an ovenproof skillet, you can save washing up an extra pan.
  5. Sprinkle top generously with cheese.
  6. Bake at 350 for 20-30 minutes. It does not have to bake long because it is already hot.

 

 

Legendary Scones

 

Just in time for St. Patrick’s Day, another scrapbook page from Annie.

 Scones
from the kitchen of Libby McCormack Cooper

These are so easy to make, especially if you have a stand mixer. I made them every year for St. Patrick’s Day at school. With only half a stick of butter for a big batch, they are pretty low in fat, if you worry about such things. And people tell me they have magical healing qualities so are the perfect gift to take to an ailing friend.


4 cups flour
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp baking soda
3 tsp baking powder
1 egg
1/4 tsp salt
4 Tbsp. butter
1 cup raisins
1 3/4 cup buttermilk (or milk soured with 2 Tbsp. vinegar or lemon juice)

  1. Preheat oven to 400.
  2. Mix dry ingredients. Cut in butter. Add raisins. Add milk and egg. Mix until dough forms.
  3. Knead 2-3 minutes on floured board. Divide dough in half. Pat each half into a flat circle, about 12 inches across.
  4. Cut each circle into 12-16 wedges. This is the shape my grandmother made her scones. At this point you can sprinkle them with course sugar, such as Demerara, if you like.
  5. Bake 10 minutes on lightly greased or sprayed cookie sheet. As soon as they are cool, place them in a zippered plastic bag. Serve with marmalade, raspberry jam or lemon curd.

Variations: Raisins can be replaced with currents, dried cranberries, or other fruit. The cranberries work especially well if you substitute a little orange juice for some of the liquid and add a bit of grated orange peel. I’ve also added nuts or chocolate chips from time to time.

scone cranberry

Novel cookies from childhood

 

fudge cookie1

Quick Fudge Cookies
From the kitchen of Libby McCormack Cooper
Aunt Ellie made these for family picnics, but I think every Home Ec class in the 1950s and 60s made them too. They are great to make in the summer because you don’t have to turn on the oven and heat up the house. And who doesn’t like peanut butter and chocolate? You can even call them “healthy” because of the oatmeal, right? I think they’re gluten-free, too. Who knew?!

Mixture #1: 2 cups sugar
3 Tablespoons cocoa
¼ cup margarine or butter
½ cup milk

Mixture #2: 1 tsp vanilla
Pinch salt
½ cup crunchy peanut butter
3 cups quick oatmeal

Cook Mixture #1 at rolling boil for 1 minute. Remove from heat. Add Mixture #2. Mix well and drop by spoonful (or use that scoop again) onto wax paper. Let set until firm and cool.

oats

This novel recipe is icing on the cake. Literally.

Another page from Annie Cooper’s Recipe Scrapbook. You might begin to see why Libby struggles with her weight.

Fluffy White Icing
From the kitchens of Fran McCormack & Libby McCormack Cooper
I’m not sure where my mom got this unusual frosting recipe, but it was always a hit, especially when piled high on chocolate cake. Unlike regular buttercream, it stays soft and fluffy instead of developing a crust.  And since I don’t keep Crisco around (does anyone?), I just use more butter.

3 heaping Tablespoons flour
1 cup milk
1 stick butter (1/2 cup)
¼ cup Crisco (I substitute more butter here, another half stick)
1 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla

Bring flour and milk to soft boil in saucepan and cook until thickened. Cool completely. Transfer to mixing bowl and add remaining ingredients. Beat until fluffy.