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My Love Affair with Sweeteners

The original title of this article was “How I Cured My IBS” but a couple of pharmaceutical companies would not appreciate what I have to say, so it seemed appropriate to re-title my story as “My Love Affair with Sweeteners.”

I grew up in the Midwest. When I was 16, I spent the summer caring for my German grandmother who used a wheelchair for mobility in her home in San Francisco. What an adventure I had! Five cents and any bus, streetcar, trolley or other form of public transportation would take me from one end of this fascinating city to the other. (I know, I know. In this day and age, a teen exploring a big metropolitan city alone would not be safe, but it was a simpler time, or a more-naïve time and I ran footloose.) At that time, the mid 1970s, Tab diet cola was the beverage of choice for teens like myself. Tab? Yes, Tab. Tab was the Coca-Cola Company’s prequel to Diet Coke. You would see the hot pink aluminum can everywhere. The Coca-Cola Company marketed flavored Tab, too, and 3 or 4 flavors I remember were available in the San Francisco area: Lemon Lime, Orange, Root Beer, and Black Cherry, each in their own vividly colored can.

In our junior year of high school, back in the days when gasoline was $0.52 per gallon, my best friend, Vicky, and I would sneak off campus for a trip to McDonald’s, Mickey D’s as we called it.  Our order was always the same: “A quarter-pounder with cheese and a Tab, please”. Tab was sweetened with saccharin, the small pink packet you find on the table in restaurants. By the time we graduated from high school (and mind you that I thought I was fat then but looking back I would love to be that nice, comfortable, average size again), I had subconsciously chosen sodium saccharin as my first choice for sweetener. My father used a liquid version of saccharin, Sweet 10, to add a few drops in each cup of his daily coffee habit.

Saccharin, in this case Sweet ‘N Low, was the first “sugar substitute” I tried. Some sugar substitutes are natural and some are man-made or synthetic, hence the current label of “artificial” sweetener. Goggling the word artificial, you find this definition: made or produced by human beings rather than occurring naturally, typically as a copy of something natural. Over the years, other types of sugar substitutes were marketed with the explanation of how bad the one we were using was for us. Kind of like the “eggs are high in cholesterol” debate: No, they aren’t, Yes, they are… My love affair with sweeteners was as engrained in me as my constant battle to lose weight.

Along came aspartame, an artificial non-saccharide sweetener used as a sugar substitute in some foods and beverages. Wikipedia tells us that aspartame is a methyl ester of the aspartic acid/ phenylalanine dipeptide, a.k.a. chemical-based, manufactured, and “artificial.” Fatty acid methyl esters are used to produce detergent and biodiesel. Equal was the most common brand of aspartame available. Our post-college days found me and my friends talking about the effects of Equal, such as headaches, cravings for more sugary foods and drinks. I had none of these symptoms, or at least was so far in denial that I would never have admitted it if I did. Giving up my little blue packet of Equal was not going to happen.

Sucralose was discovered by researchers, i.e. man-made, chemical, and artificial. The Splenda brand, in the little yellow packet, became my best friend. I wasn’t the only one either as, in the turn of the century, Splenda took over a larger percentage of the U.S. $1.5B artificial sweetener market from Equal. Incidentally, saccharin (remember the pink Sweet ‘N Low packet), had been listed since 1981 as a substance reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen (a substance known to cause cancer), but was delisted in 2000 from the U.S. National Toxicology Program’s Report on Carcinogens. Now we fast forward again to current time and are talking about the little yellow packet again, noting that in February 2016, The Center for Science in the Public Interest downgraded Splenda’s safety rating from “caution” status to “avoid” status.

You may be thinking, “Thanks for the history on artificial sweeteners but wasn’t this article about IBS?” Well, you are right. Since the time I was in 8th grade, I had suffered with stomach and intestinal problems. The doctor performed tests and labelled my condition a spastic stomach. I was told not to eat or drink highly acidic foods, like citrus fruit and chocolate. No more OJ in the morning and carob from the “health food” store became a substitute for chocolate cravings. A few years later, the doctor advised me that the list of foods to avoid included dairy because of the lactic acid. Well, it would’ve been nice if you’d told me that initially as I was the typical glass of milk during dinner kid who woke up in the morning with terrible stomach cramps. I missed about a third of my junior year of high school because of this pain which could easily have been avoided.

Fast forward to my 20s and 30s and I could occasionally enjoy a grapefruit or orange but not cow’s milk, cottage cheese or even later as yogurt became more mainstream, I was unable to enjoy that either. Other foods upset my digestive system, and the reaction was often spontaneous, but I never paid much attention to what or why. I simply knew I was identifying the restroom location in any building I entered long before I might need it.

Then sometime in my 40s, I saw a TV commercial with a group of people at a party and squiggly lines were drawn on their stomachs. The commercial talked about IBS, Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Hmmm, I thought. I wonder if that’s what I have? At my annual physical, I ask my internal medicine physician and my hopes are dashed. No, no, she tells me, IBS is constipation not the diarrhea you experience. Like a deflated balloon, I left disappointed and without any relief from my unpredictable unhappy intestines. My friends are now at this age when they think doing a “cleanse” is a great idea and I cringe at the thought. Why would I need a digestive cleanse when my body does that for me naturally any time it wants?

Now I’m in my 50s and it’s time for my first routine colonoscopy. Oh, joy! Of course, I am so worried about the product you have to drink the day before that I won’t even think about scheduling one. My doctor advises me to consult with a gastroenterologist and see what they say. Low and behold, one conversation with this amazing doctor and I have a diagnosis: IBS-D. Irritable Bowel Syndrome with Diarrhea. But I had been told…. Well, that doctor didn’t know what she was talking about. Here’s a Low FODMAP diet that should help you. Fiber supplements will help, too. Fiber for diarrhea, really? Yes, really. Oh, and by the way, let’s get you on my calendar for your colonoscopy. Oh, well, okay… I think.

So what’s a FODMAP? Fermentable Oligosaccharides Disaccharides Monosaccharides And Polyols. That just sounds like more chemicals, right? These are short-chain carbohydrates that if not digested properly ferment in the large intestine or bowel, resulting in chronic gastrointestinal symptoms such as recurrent bloatinggas, cramps, diarrhea or constipation. Check, check, check and check. So, I’m off to study the “Eat This – Not That” list. And no one mentions to me that this diet might be needed only temporarily. I presume I’m looking at having to give up onions and garlic forever! The 5 fiber caps I down each morning, with lots of water for fear that I might choke if they start to dissolve before entering my stomach (I recall that Mama Cass Elliott died from choking on a sandwich and how embarrassing would  that be?), work for me and most of my problems are gone.

When I have to have the colonoscopy, though, I have to stop taking the fiber 5 days beforehand and that immediately causes me to have explosive diarrhea again. By the time I get to drink the lemonade flavored potion, my system has cleaned itself out and it’s no problem for me. Actually, the symptoms I experience routinely are what the average person experiences with the liquid laxative requirement. I am happy with managing my symptoms on my own from there.

Then we see the deluge of commercial for medications to treat Crohn’s disease and IBS. In one, a woman is being seated at a table in what appears to be a nice restaurant to enjoy a nice meal. She hasn’t even sat down yet and her stomach takes over and you can tell from her expression she’s not feeling so great. Why would this be, I think? She hasn’t even eaten anything. Well, smells play a big role in my IBS, too. I literally cannot walk into a candle shop without my stomach revolting. So, the fragrance of cooked food can irritate me, also. And next TV introduces us to Irritabelle, your irritable bowel sidekick, an actress dresses in a nude unitard who joyfully plops down on your desk or next to you on the sofa whenever you think about going to a meeting or going out with friends to eat. Hmmm. Okay, stressful situations and the unknown may also be a trigger. Good to know.

What did it for me was when I recognized I was leaving my home around 8:00 p.m. most nights to go to the drive through for the $1 any size Coke Zero. Was I addicted? I think so. Why else would I do this? I decided in March 2017 to stop drinking diet soda. Then I took it a step further and, for no particular reason that I can remember, I decided to eliminate all artificial sweeteners from my diet. I went through the frig, the freezer and the pantry cupboards throwing things out, one by one. When I was done, I could not believe how much of my daily diet included this crap! Splenda in my coffee or iced tea, diet juices, diet flavored water, diet soda, sugar-free syrup, sugar-free jam, sugar-free candy, ice cream, o my goodness, the list went on and on. I had been eating CarbMaster yogurt from Ralph’s (a Kroger store) because at Weight Watchers they told us it only had 4 carbs per container, but it, too, is artificially sweetened. I read up on artificial sweeteners and decided I had had enough of that.

I had tried stevia years before and complained that it tasted bitter. You too? Well, stevia became my new best friend. Stevia was often coupled with erithryol, so I read about erithryol and all of the cautions about man-made erithryol versus plant-based erithryol. I read, too, that most of the erithryol sold or used in foods in the U.S. is man-made. So the plant-based erithryol is okay for daily human consumption, but not so much the chemically manufactured kind. So, I started reading labels looking for stevia without erithryol. I also started to reduce how much sweetener I used in food and drinks so I was no longer craving sweet tastes.

And the side effect of this lifestyle change?  No more diarrhea! No more IBS-D! For 40 years, I had been drinking and eating artificial sweeteners and the resulting symptoms had dictated my life. For 40 years. But no more. I keep thinking I should let my gastroenterologist in on this discovery, but I am sure he’ll remind me it’s time again for my next colonoscopy, and I’m in no hurry to do that, so mums the word! Sometime this year, in 2018, I will schedule it, but I’ve got two-thirds of the year remaining, so what’s the rush? I no longer need to take daily fiber, so a couple of days before my procedure, I plan to enjoy a diet soda (or two!).  Maybe you’ve decided to take better care of your digestive system, too. If so, nix the artificial sweeteners and take back some control of your life.

 

My disclaimer: None of the information I refer to in my story is fact-based. Please do your own research if you are interested in what I’ve told you here in my story. All I know is that this worked for me.  I wrote about it because I hope it helps others, too.

 

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Handmade is Heartfelt – Part 1, A Good Meal

My son made rouladen (German beef roll-ups) a couple of weeks ago for dinner as part of his Health Class assignment to cook something from a different culture than our own. Previously, we had the opportunity of going out to eat at a restaurant which served food from a different country that we had not yet tried. This was surprisingly a small number of countries as we love to try new tastes and traditions. Our options included: Epthiopian, African, Russian and Argentinan. We went with the Russian and had an amazing meal at Pomegranate in San Diego, CA. The salad sampler gave us the opportunity to try a variety of salads and the lamb in the Chakapuli was so flavorful that I can’t wait to go again! It is a quaint restaurant on El Cajon Blvd and people have written poetry or other inspirational thoughts on the walls with markers. It’s entertaining to read them as you wait for your meal.

Rouladen

Rouladen
Or as we called it as kids “Pickle in the Middle”

Back to tonight’s dinner, we took photos of each step while creating (and obviously, eating) my grandmother’s rouladen dish. Depending upon which area of Germany your family is from, you may put pickles in the middle of the beef roll-up or carrots. Zac’s grandmother on my father’s side, Ernestine Rech Brendel Bange, was the second of eight Rech children living on Bingen am Rhein; we use pickles. However, I think that what may be unique to Oma’s recipe in that we use sweet pickles while most others use dill pickles. As one of the eldest daughters in the family, Erna learned to cook and cook she did. However, my great aunt, Irmgard, the youngest of eight children, did not. Years after my grandmother passed away, I made Sauerbraten for Irma. It brought tears to her eyes and she weepily said it tasted just like her mother’s.  Of course it was, I explained that the receipe was handed down to Oma, then to my mom to cook for our father, and then to me when I was upgraded from salad chef to full dinner cook at the age of 14 as my mother had returned to work full-time.

JeffSmith

Jeff Smith, PBS’s Television Cooking Show and Cookbook Author of numerous Frugal Gourmet Cookbooks including The Frugal Gourmet, The Frugal Gourmet Cooks with Wine, The Frugal Gourmet Cooks Italian, The Frugal Gourmet Cooks Three Ancient Cuisines: China – Greece – Rome, The Frugal Gourmet Cooks American, and the Whole Family Cookbook

I loved to cook and the variety of dishes my mother had in her recipe file box. I distinctly recall watching what I believe to be the predecessor of The Food Network… cooking shows on PBS. In particular, I rarely missed an episode of The Frugal Gourmet with Jeff Smith. He urged us to get with our grandparents, aunts and uncles and cook – write down their recipes, because when they are gone, their recipes may be lost, so preserve them today. He had so many little tips and tricks that I remember to this day. For example, “hot pan, cold oil, food won’t stick” or soaking anchovies in milk to reduce the salt. Cooking, and I include shortcuts which include using a prepared mix or jarred item in this category, is a distinct handmade activity, a gift for others that comes from the heart.

Back to my son’s assignment… Rouladen uses the liquid from the pickle jar and water in the sauce that cooks the beef. We needed more liquid than anticipated, as I often save the liquid from previous jars for just this purpose, so we had leftover sweet pickles (gherkins). I coarsely chopped these and the remaining 1/2 onion, put them in the food processor and decided to make pickle relish. Browsing the Internet for a recipe, I found only a few variations that start from an already pickled cucumber, so I created my own recipe. Here it is:

  • Sweet pickles (gherkins), chopped fine… about 8-10 made about 1 1/2 – 2 cups chopped pickle
  • Onions, chopped fine… about 1/2 a large onion
  • Fire roasted red pepper, chopped fine… one large jarred pepper, drained and chopped
  • Stone ground mustard, about 2 teaspoons
  • Celery salt, pepper, and turmeric… not as much as if you were going to pickle a cucumber so start with 1/2 teaspoon each and taste, adjusting as seasoning requires
  • Apple cider vinegar, about 2 Tablespoons, and agave syrup, about 1 Tablespoon
  • Water… not to cover but to cover at least two-thirds of the ingredients in the saucepan, probably about 1/2 – 3/4 cup

Place ingredients in a medium-sized saucepan; bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Let cool and then store in a jar in the refrigerator. Bring on the hot dogs, deviled eggs, mega sandwiches, etc.

It being the holiday season, my hope is that you share a handmade meal or food gift with others and be very thankful to those who do the same with you in return.  Look for my next part of Handmade is Heartfelt, when I talk about gifts we make for others.

Here are the step by step photos of Zac’s meal with the recipe to follow:

Rouladen Recipe

Thinly sliced round steak, rump roast, breakfast steak, or meat for carne asada, sliced large enough to roll

sliced bacon             onion slices              salt      pepper         sweet pickles and juice       oil    toothpicks

Lay breakfast steaks on flat surface and salt and pepper. Form rouladen by placing a slice of bacon on top of each steak, trimming if too long. Place a couple of onion slices on top of each bacon piece. Place one sweet pickle on top of the onion and roll everything up. Secure with toothpicks. Brown in oil on all sides. Remove from pan and drain oil. Return to pan and cover with half of the pickle juice and additional water to cover. Bring to a boil and reduce to simmer. Cook 45-60 minutes depending on thickness of steaks, adding more juice if necessary.

Recipe from Erna Bange


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Candy Corn is Weird but Not Yet the Next Jelly Belly

Candy corn is weird, especially when you think about what it is you’re eating… it really is made with wax, right? Regardless, I love it. I’m not even sure if I like the taste as much as the memories of Halloween evoked when I see or eat it. It’s a bit like wax candy from the “old days.” Were we supposed to chew the wax? swallow it? throw it out? If throw it out, why didn’t we see tons of miniature wax soda bottles, with the tops bitten off and the sugary liquid sucked out, littering the  grass lawns and streets? Of course, I could just be rationalizing why I was one of those kids who chewed it up!

The Internet tells us that candy corn has been around since the 1880’s and is made from sugar, corn syrup (a.k.a. more sugar grams), wax – ta! da! it does have edible wax – and artificial coloring and binding agents (hummm, wonder if that translates to seaweed?). Some recipes have marshmallow creme and/or honey in them. Candy pumpkins were created in the 1950s and candy corn variations have been created for holidays other than Halloween, starting with “Indian corn” which substituted chocolate for the yellow layer. Then there are “reindeer corn,” red and green for Christmas, “cupid corn,” red and pink, for Valentine’s Day, and “bunny corn” with pastel colored layers.

An image search revealed even more flavors of candy corn. While they are not yet the next jelly belly, they even have a jelly belly cotton candy flavor and other products have mimicked the candy candy corn scheme and flavors… And last but not least there is a bevy of recipes using candy corn as an ingredient – even adult beverages!

Another nostalgic candy is tootsie rolls created about the same time, 1896, as a chewy alternative to more expensive, difficult to transport without melting, traditional chocolates.  It was the first “penny candy” that was individually wrapped. Tootsie pops, a lollipop with a tootsie roll center, were created in 1931 as a low-cost Depression Era candy. Tootsie rolls were distributed as soldiers’ field rations during WWII due to their hardiness in a variety of environmental conditions. Candy corn and tootsie rolls, in all their varieties, have been staples for Halloween candy giving for many years.

But lest we forget, it’s not all about “treats” but there are those few who spoil things for the rest of us by playing “tricks” on others while professing “No harm was intended.” What started apparently as a hoax, now called urban legends, were rumors of razor blades in caramel apples and poisoned candies distributed to Halloween trick-or-treaters. Newspaper columnists Ann Landers and Dear Abby even weighed in on the issue in the 1980s by advising that children not eat candy given to them by strangers… hence “stranger danger,” and de-bunking of the entire idea of going house to house entreating strangers for candy.

The media and mass group think permeated and the collective fear of endangering our children by allowing them to trick-or-treat the neighborhood resulted in “safe” trick-or-treating at local malls. What a ridiculously silly idea this was! Let’s set the kids up in long, long lines and have them go from one store to another getting one tootsie roll, they were now flavored, per store. You might as well take a hint from the Easter Bunny and buy a bag of assorted candy, pretending to be the Great Pumpkin and hide candy throughout the house for the kids instead of even leaving home!

My favorite Halloween tradition failure, though,  was changing the date kids would go trick-or-treating. I am serious. In the mid 1990s we lived in Shreveport, Louisiana, and October 31st fell on a Saturday. The then-mayor decided that Saturday night was not a safe night for kids to be out trick-or-treating so “attempted”  to convince the citizens of that fair city to change the trick or treating night to Sunday instead. This was the year we also tried trick-or-treating the  mall, which was a huge failure… you really can’t trick-or-treat with bright store lights (it’s why we wait for it to become nighttime before venturing out). And going around and around in one direction, not seeing any other kids and their costumes than those directly in front of or behind you, was so boring… even the parents couldn’t stand the monotony! Luckily for us, our 3 boys, all dressed like Power Rangers or Ninja Turtles, looked just like most of the other young boys dressed in the same KMart packaged costume, so after only about 20 minutes we bailed out and they didn’t miss much!

This is about the same time that one of my favorite Halloween movies, Hocus Pocus, came out in theaters and it was soon added to our infamous VHS recorded video collection; and yes, I still own a DVD/VHS player but I don’t recall the last time we put a tape in it!

Hocus Pocus the Movie, 1993

Hocus Pocus the Movie, 1993

What a great movie, what a great cast, any other Hocus Pocus fans out there? Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker and Kathy Najimy star as the looney witches… wearing the very best witch costumes (the movie actually won a Saturn award for Best Costumes! A Saturn award? you ask. Yes, Saturn awards honor sci fi, fantasy and horror in film, TV, and vid.) In 1693, three witch sisters are bashed until Halloween night 1993, when little trick-or-treaters accidentally release them from the curse holding them spellbound. The witches start combing the streets looking for children to use in their youth-preserving potion.  Seeking help from their parents, siblings, the youngest played by a lovely little Thora Birch, head to the Halloween Dance at Town Hall. The witches follow and cast a spell on the adults during the song “I Put a Spell on You,” causing them to dance until they die. And, in good Disney tradition, the kids save the day incinerating the witches – What fun!.  Get yourself a bowl of popcorn, some soda and some “vintage” candy, turn off the  lights, cuddle up with your kids or friends or whomever is  handy and enjoy!

Being nostalgic about Halloween, I recognize that trick-or-treating will never again be the adventure it was when we were kids: pillow cases for treat bags to haul our candy burdens around in, haunted houses set up in neighbors’ garages with foods to touch and creep you out, such as spaghetti as worms, jello molds with fruit as squishy brains, peeled grapes as eyeballs, dry ice in a cauldron of liquid to portray witches brew, et.al. and costumes we pulled together or made instead of bought at Costume Warehouses for $$$$. Ah… I love Halloween and I miss the days of creativity and imagination.

I’d rather Fall Back than Spring Forward

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I’d rather Fall Back than Spring Forward, but this year I’m not complaining about the one-hour loss because today is a beautiful day! I slept in this morning; there is a cool, clean crispness to the air outside (like Fall when I lived in the Midwest); and I’m painting! Life is pretty perfect this Sunday … and I decided to make my favorite breakfast this morning to celebrate.

When I was 14, my mom went back to work full-time and I was put in charge of cooking dinner. Before then, I had been in charge of making salad for every dinner; getting bored with tossed green, I hit mom’s stash of cookbooks looking for something new and was pretty creative with salads on my own. I learned how to cook trial by fire following the recipes in my mom’s recipe file, cooking for a family of 6 until I went off to college. I still remember the call I made to mom one day to ask, “How do I scald milk?” I haven’t seen a recipe that requires scalded milk since :).

My parents eventually retired and followed us kids who had already moved to San Diego. I went to church one Sunday with my mom and stopped in the church book store to look for baby-naming books, I was in my second trimester at the time. Surprise of ALL surprises… I found a copy of The Spice Islands Cookbook from my childhood. Copywritten in 1961 with a first printing in February 1963, the copy I found sold for $1.95 and was in much better shape than the one my mom had or maybe even still does have.

The Spice Islands Cook Book - beautiful cover

The Spice Islands Cook Book – beautiful cover

The Spice Islands Spice Company created this beautiful cookbook; it is a visual feast printed on thick bookpaper that makes the pages wonderful to touch and turn, but most importantly, it has some of the best recipes I have ever tasted. So, this morning I made Fried Egg Soubise. This French recipe calls for frying eggs in spices warmed in melted butter (paprika, black pepper and Beau Monde, a celery salt mix exclusive to Spice Islands spice brand); transferred to a warm plate and kept warm, minced instant onions which have been soaking in dry red wine are added to the remaining spiced butter and simmered until reduced. The marinated onion sauce dresses up the eggs which are also topped with dried chervil. Served with a slice of sourdough toast used to soak up the remaining broth, this meal brings back memories of Sunday mornings growing up.

My father built a utility rack for all of our jars of herbs, spices and extracts; my mom kept them alphabetized so we could locate them quickly and the rack was on the wall right outside the main part of our tiny kitchen, so it was always in view as we lined up by the stove to be served dinner every evening, with my father being served first (so Baby-Boomer) and us kids in whatever order we arrived in, holding our plates and waiting for mom to serve. Off we would troop, not unlike the Trapp Family Singers did, into the dining room to share our meal. I am fairly certain that when mom served something we didn’t like, there was no rushing to line up but a true dragging of our feet. Our parents, though, made us at least try everything once to decide for ourselves if we liked how it tasted and with her diverse recipe file, we ate foods most of my friends had never heard of or tasted… and developed a willingness to try something new.

Other great recipes from the Spice Islands Cook Book include Meatloaf with Sweet-Sour Glaze (I never had ketchup on meat loaf until I had it at a friend’s house or out at a restaurant), Celery Almandine, Swiss Cheese Fondue, Cinnamon Toast – and the ginger variation, Special Cocktail Sauce (along with many other butters, dressings and sauces), Savory Broiled Fish, Orange and Grapefruit Salad, Baked Ham with Orange-Wine Sauce, Paprika Noodles, Creamed Peas and Water Chestnuts, and Beef Stew. Mom always stirred horseradish into sour cream; I understand it’s a European thing but there is a Horesradish Sauce recipe in this Cook Book that mimics what mom made. The first time the family went out for steak dinners, I ordered sour cream on my baked potato and, after one taste, told my mom that the sour cream was bad… it tasted funny. Turns out not all families eat baked potatoes with sour cream and horseradish. I still enjoy that, as does my son… the tradition passed down to the next gen.

The information in the Spice Islands Cook Book includes a Herb Chart, Spice Chart and Equivalents Chart which describe herbs and spices, their uses, which dishes they best enhance, what to use as a substitute when your herb/spice is not handy, etc. The Index in the back of the book sorts by recipe, herb, spice, ingredient as well as category, making it simple to locate whatever you may be looking for. Only problem? The book is now out of print :(.

I did find a baby-naming book at that same bookstore that Sunday with my mom. I decided that if my baby was a girl, she would be named Alyssa, and if a boy, Zachary. My son is now 22 and graduating from college in December – and my copy of the Spice Islands Cook Book is still in mint condition!

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Starve a Cold, Craft for a Fever?

After hoping and praying that the infamous 2+week cold won’t hit me, it has. The usual OTC products make me sick to my stomach so I’ve been using herbals and lots of tea hoping to break a record and not have my cold last as long as everyone else’s. Meanwhile, I’m watching movies on HBO (Battleship just finished and now I’m starting The Lucky One) and eating Nigella Lawson’s Noodle Soup for Needy People with chicken and udon noodles, yum and so soothing.

Picture of Noodle Soup for Needy People Recipe

When the mood moves me, I’ve been working on creating shadowboxes. C’est La Vie is inspired by the Bo Bunny line of the same name and Leaky Shed Studio dress form, Eiffel Tower, and script word “Paris” chipboard pieces highlighted with embossing powder. I added “bloomers” on the top and bottom edge; they were lavender so I sprayed them with Be Mine! Glimmer Mist from Tattered Angels to make them a bit more pink to go with the color theme. And, I added my usual scrabble tiles for the title:

C'est La Vie

C’est La Vie

And my ode to Game Night, inspired by Leaky Shed Studio‘s chess pieces chipboard accented with glossy white and shiny black embossing powder. Both shadowboxes are painted and then covered with strips of painted canvas, reminiscent of the ones my friend Vicky and I made for each other when we were young.

Game Lover - an Ode to Game Night!

Game Lover – an Ode to Game Night!

I love to re-purpose, so here is an example of what used to be an Altoids tin:


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It’s starting to feel like Comfort Food Days

One cold, snowy February morning in 1986 , I was off to work in the Circulation Department at the Omaha World-Herald when my little Datsun 310GX would not start. It was 5 a.m. and I had to knock on my neighbors door to ask for help jump starting the car battery. To this day, I still remember his words, because I said them over and over to myself all the way into work that Sunday: “Dude, you need a new job.” Yes, I did. And better weather. So, I gave notice, packed up my belongings and left the wind chill factor behind.

Over  the years, though, I began to miss the Fall season. So, when in 1993 I moved to NW Louisiana, I thought “Great, I will get to have fall again!” Oh, was I in for a rude one. After raking 15 bags of leaves and pine needles on the weekend early in October, I began my hunt for a neighbor kid would wanted to make some spending money raking for me!

Now that I’ve been back in San Diego for 13 years, home, sweet, home where  I belong and plan never to leave again, we had a really hot summer and just this past week it dawned on me that it may be gone for the year. The air is cool and crisp and there is a slight breeze; we’ve even had some much-needed rain. We sleep with the windows open and no more fans drying out our eyes at night. Plus, it’s football season – a sure clue that fall is upon us. Having grown up in Omaha, I continue to this day as a Huskers football fan. I drive a red Mazda 3 with a Husker helmet antennae ball (this helps me locate my car because I am surrounded by SUVs and when the car is tucked in-between a Cadillac Escalade and a Ford Flex, it is impossible to see until you come right up on it).  My Huskers have had a record-breaking season, not all good records, either. But, once a Husker fan, always a Husker fan.

Along with the cooler weather comes the desire to pull out sweaters and socks and think about warm, comfort food. Last November, I decided to make my grandmother Oma’s recipe of sauerbraten for a Thanksgiving potluck at the office. I marinated the roast for 5-7 days in the refrigerator, slow cooked it and served it with mashed potatoes, gravy made from the sauce (not sour cream), and cooked red cabbage. To quote Rachel Ray, “Yum-O!” So here’s Oma’s recipe if you are wanting to try some comfort food yourselves:

Sauerbraten

4 lb. roast                   1 bay leaf                   2 sliced onions                   salt and pepper                        16 cloves

3 c. vinegar               3 c. water

Put the roast into a large bowl or pan. Cook over low heat all of the remaining ingredients. Cook for 20 minutes. Pour over meat, cover with plate or foil and put in refrigerator. Let stand 5-7 days.  Turn meat daily if marinade does not cover it completely. [You can use the Tupperware marinating container and just flip it daily.] Cook meat like a pot roast, using small amount of marinade at a time. Make gravy from sauce. Serve with mashed potatoes and gravy.

Cooked Red Cabbage

Large head red cabbage                3 T oil             salt  and pepper           1 bay leaf                   peppercorns

8 cloves         1 big green apple, cut in fourths, unpeeled          ½ c. brown sugar     ½ c. cider vinegar     ½ c. water

Wash red cabbage, drain and slice with sharp knife very thin. In iron skillet, heat oil and add sliced cabbage and heat through. Turn cabbage over often until fallen down. Add salt and pepper. Cover and cook very slowly for 15 minutes. Add bay leaf, peppercorns, cloves and green apple quarters. Add brown sugar, cider vinegar and water. Cook slowly about 3 hours. Is best if cooked a day in advance and warmed up.