your last best meal

your last best meal

Here’s a simple question: what meal would you eat if you knew that you could never eat those particular foods ever again (for whatever reason)?

For example, Mike’s last best dinner would be eaten at Fandango, a local restaurant (yes, location of “your last best meal” matters). It would most likely be caprese salad, steak frites, and chocolate mousse for dessert.

So we’re talking about your last best meal here. That means there could be more than one, depending upon how many meals you eat in a day. Or, if you tend to graze throughout the day, it could be a collection of your favorite dishes—your perfect day of grazing.

The important thing to remember is that in this exercise, you would not get to eat these foods again. Kathy’s life experience is important here: before her bariatric surgery, she went to Carl’s Jr. and had one last best Six Dollar Burger. She hasn’t had another one since, although she talks about eating that last best burger to this day.

Now that you’ve got the idea of this exercise, here are the parameters of our question in more detail.

What meal would you eat if you knew you could never eat this meal again (for whatever reason)? This meal could be breakfast, lunch, or dinner (or you could have a “last best meal” of each—your choice). Dinner can include a dessert. If you don’t eat specific meals (you graze, for example, or eat specific amounts at specific times), choose a “last best day of foods”.

Setting of the meal should be important—is it at home, in a restaurant, outdoors? Are you with loved ones? Is there music? Are you at a table?

What is your “last best meal”? Let us know in the comments.

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just a couple of nighthawks

just a couple of nighthawks

It’s one of Mike and Kathy’s favorite paintings: “Nighthawks,” by the American artist Edward Hopper. It depicts four people randomly gathered at an all-night diner in the middle of a city. According to the artist’s notes, Hopper originally named the painting “Night Hawks”, after a common slang word describing the late-night crowd in New York City. The man in the hat holding the cigarette was supposed to have a “beak” for a nose; it’s actually Hopper himself. (The woman sitting next to him was modeled by his wife Jo.)

The diner itself existed only in Hopper’s imagination; he used as his inspiration “a restaurant in Greenwich Village where two streets meet”, and then expanded and simplified the scene.

Hopper sold the painting to the Art Institute of Chicago shortly after painting it, and it has been there ever since (Mike and Kathy have seen it in person). In their notes on the painting, the Art Institute says that “the image—with its carefully constructed composition and lack of narrative—has a timeless, universal quality that transcends its particular locale.”

Besides this refreshing lack of narrative, what else do Mike and Kathy see in this painting? They see themselves, perhaps in a younger time, when they were living in big cities, staying up late and eating at all-night diners. Perhaps in that younger time they might have met at one of these diners, two strangers randomly seated next to each other at the counter, waiting for the young man behind the counter to take their orders.

Just a couple of nighthawks, deep into a lonely night, sitting and waiting for that early breakfast or that late dinner, the coffee mixing with the beer on your breath, and no words are really needed, not on this lonely night.

now we are geriatric

now we are geriatric

Through circumstances not of our control, we have embarked on a new phase in our lives as individuals and as a couple. It all has to do with our health insurance and our doctors.

Mike’s doctor decided to retire and close his practice. At the same time, our health insurance announced it was discontinuing our current coverage plan and transferring us to another HMO. When we received our new insurance cards in the mail, we both had been assigned the same personal care physician (PCP).

(Note: In the U.S., health insurance companies offer HMOs, or Health Management Organizations, as a way to encourage people to take an active part in managing their heath. In an HMO, you must coordinate your medical care through your PCP. OK?)

Imagine our surprise when we discovered that our new personal care physician is a specialist in…geriatrics.

Now, we aren’t old enough to be considered “geriatric”, technically. But our new doctor was accepting patients who are approaching the geriatric years, and our research on him told us he was rated very highly.

So we went to see our new doctor for the first time. The good news is that he can provide a lot of care himself; he looks younger than both of us (so he’s practicing what he’s preaching); and he’s diabetic, which he can relate to Mike’s situation.

Which brings us to why we’re telling you all this—our new doctor reminded us of how important weight control is at our ages, especially with diabetes, and how important diet is to that.

Mike remembered that through his Bauman College training, he learned how to tailor diets for weight and blood sugar control…and wrote receipts for those diets. Hmmm…

So now we are geriatric: let the journey begin!

all the little things

all the little things

This past weekend we did something we had not done in a long time: go out on a dinner date. It was something we did more often in the early years of our marriage, before Kathy suffered from collagenous colitis. As time has passed, however, Kathy has been able to expand her diet to the point where we are able to go to Chinese restaurants.

Why? Rice is a staple of these cuisines and is served routinely with meals. Plus, these cuisines cook with healthy fats and feature a lot of steamed items, especially vegetables. For proteins, these cuisines feature the use of lean animal proteins, seafood, and tofu (one of Kathy’s favorites).

We went to our all-time favorite restaurant and we weren’t disappointed: wor won ton soup, sizzling rice seafood soup (with a tomato base!), and iron plate sizzling beef.

At the end of that wonderful meal, there are, of course, fortune cookies. The first fortune was a well-worn proverb. The second, however, was one of the best fortunes ever. It read:

“All the little things will add to a happy journey.”

This fortune is so true and so worth living up to. It’s true because of all the little things we’ve done to get to the point of being able to go out to dinner together without Kathy having a serious flare. It’s worth living up to because at this point of our lives, little things mean so much more to the two of us. We pay attention to them much more closely. We savor them.

To celebrate our first anniversary as a blog, we pledge to share with you in the coming year all the little things that will add to our happy journey to eat well always—so you may savor them as well.

Good fortune to you!

some thoughts about Thanksgiving

some thoughts about Thanksgiving

It is suddenly Thanksgiving again, and some thoughts (and a receipt) crept into our heads.

Thanksgiving is the quintessential American holiday, created out of whole cloth by Presidential proclamations and based on an idealized history of Pilgrims and Native Americans sharing a meal of thanksgiving many Novembers ago. (Things weren’t always so cozy between the two.)

The idea of a meal of thanksgiving comes from the Puritan and Pilgrim groups who emigrated from England to modern-day Virginia and Massachusetts. As religious people, they wanted to thank their God for the blessings of the harvest. This religious sense has evolved into our modern-day “official” recognition of a God to whom thanks should be given.

We’d prefer to use this sense to celebrate Thanksgiving as “a day of gratitude” for the blessings we have enjoyed over the past year. This year, we’re grateful for having paying jobs, each other, and relatively good health.

Still, it’s a holiday specifically about food. Thanksgiving began (and continues) as a harvest festival, a celebration of the bounty of a season’s farming. It’s also the biggest meal of the year in America in terms of how much food is actually consumed. The Thanksgiving menu of today is directly descended from the first recorded Thanksgiving meals; it’s remained surprisingly consistent over the years. (Check out this wartime Thanksgiving Day menu from the USS Wake Island, including cigars and cigarettes!)

Our Thanksgiving menu is much simpler: roasted bone-in turkey breast, turkey gravy, a pot of our rice, and a hearty green salad with dried cranberries, walnuts, and shredded cheese and balsamic dressing. For dessert: our Thanksgiving staple, Pumpkin Spice Rice Pudding. And your dessert? Our very first published receipt…for Pumpkin Spice Rice Pudding. Try it out; let us know what you think.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Pumpkin Spice Rice Pudding ~ a newdeal kitchen receipt

  • Servings: 4 to 6
  • Difficulty: moderate
  • Print

This has become a Thanksgiving staple for us. Using almond milk eliminates the dairy, while pumpkin spice provides the flavor of pumpkins without the prep work required to cook pumpkins. Warning: This recipe is time- and labor-intensive. Be prepared to give up an hour of your time, and be prepared to do a lot of stirring.

By Michael Reardon 

Ingredients

3 cups vanilla-flavored unsweetened almond milk

¼ cup brown sugar, packed

1 ½ teaspoons vanilla

1 teaspoon pumpkin spice

a pinch of kosher salt

1 cup Arborio rice

(optional) ½ cup vanilla-flavored unsweetened almond milk, for reheating

(optional) additional pumpkin spice and brown sugar as garnish

Directions

  1. Combine almond milk, brown sugar, vanilla, pumpkin spice, and salt in a medium saucepan. Bring mixture to boil.
  2. Reduce heat by a half and stir in Arborio rice. (Note: Do not let the mixture boil over. Adjust heat level as needed.)
  3. Continue stirring mixture until most of the liquid is absorbed and the mixture becomes thick and smooth. (Note: This will take approximately 20-30 minutes and you must stir constantly during this time.)
  4. Let mixture cool. Refrigerate until serving.
  5. The rice pudding can be eaten cold or can be reheated by adding the optional ½ cup of almond milk and stirring under medium-low heat until the milk is absorbed. Garnish with additional pumpkin spice and brown sugar.

the best-ever chili!

You think we’re about to drop a recipe on you? Not really.

The best-ever chili has no recipe. You have to be willing to put just about anything in your chili without much regard for measuring it. So this is more of a laundry list of ingredients and techniques than an actual recipe.

Let’s be clear, however: the only ingredient that we believe is mandatory in any chili is some form of chile pepper—fresh, dried, powdered, it doesn’t matter. Texas chili has no beans; vegan chili has no meat; Cincinnati-style chili contains cinnamon. Those are all fine examples of chili, but the best-ever chili must at minimum contain at least one form of chile pepper, in whatever form you can find.

Beyond this one requirement (and perhaps the inclusion of a little cumin) the ingredient list is yours alone. Ours always includes some form of an allium, whether it’s the old standby onion, or shallots, or garlic, or a combination. A mirepoix including celery, carrots, or bell pepper is great as well. Start by sautéing these chopped veggies (or others) in oil, stock, wine, beer, or some other liquid.

Once your veggies are transparent and soft, start adding any dry seasonings you may want to use: basil (!), dried coriander, and Mexican oregano are great standbys. Let those seasonings marry into your sautéed vegetables.

Then you can add wetter vegetables like tomatoes, as well as tomato sauce or paste, as well as any pre-cooked meat and any other liquids. (If you have dried chiles, this would be the perfect time to drop them in to reconstitute.) Add salt and black pepper to taste. We’ve also added tomato juice, tomato soup, and even leftover chili into ours.

Finally, just add love and a little time. It’s done when it smells like chili.

beginner’s mind, ordinary time

We start each day by cleaning the kitchen.

This is not just ancient wisdom passed down from the first Zen cooks. It is very practical and aesthetic advice as well. A clean kitchen clears the mind, refreshes the palette, ensures that all kitchen resources are available for the day’s work.

The act of cleaning the kitchen clears the mind. The first Zen cooks (along with other Zen practitioners) called this state “beginner’s mind”. It’s a great way to start the day. You start by looking at the mess left behind from the night before, and you despair how you are going to get this all cleaned up.

Then you determine to make a start…somewhere, anywhere. And you work your way through the mess at that point. You concentrate at the task at hand, making sure every dish, every bowl, every serving utensil is clean, refreshed, ready to work again.

This whole process is necessary to bring about beginner’s mind. But once you’re there, anything is possible in the kitchen.

The other thing to understand about cleaning the kitchen at the start of each day is that it is the unglamorous portion of the cook’s life. It’s messy, it’s hot, and sometimes you wonder just how the hell this stuff got caked on this spoon in the first place.

We call that “ordinary time”. (It’s named after the Christian observance of the weeks between Epiphany, Pentecost, and Advent, but our use is based on the meaning of “ordinary” as “everyday”.)  But it’s just as necessary as the “extraordinary time” of the cook’s life: the creativity, tension, and joy in the act of cooking food for others.

A beginner’s mind in ordinary time. It’s how we start each day.

By cleaning the kitchen.