Thursday, April 28, 2011

I Missed the Boat So I'm Taking A Micro-vacation

Everyone has heard of micro-loans. Sometimes I take a micro-vacation and I’m taking one tonight from cooking dinner. One of my favorite micro-vacations is meeting a friend of mine who lives in the exurbs for lunch, usually downtown. Sometimes we meet at the Walnut Room and at other times, we’ve met at the Art Institute. We enjoy a few hours together of chatting and catching up on news in a very relaxed atmosphere.     

The reason for this micro-vacation is that according to the May, 2011 issue of Money Magazine, I have missed the boat in a couple of ways. For instance, I could have gone to the Maldives for three days and stayed at a luxury resort and spa for only $1,185 by booking on Thus, I would have saved almost $500 by not booking on the hotel’s website for $1,680.

In addition to that, it’s often said that “a diamond is a girl’s best friend.” Elizabeth Taylor’s estate is selling a 33-karat diamond that she bought in 1968 for $305,000. They are estimating that it will sell for $10 to 15 million at auction. I should be going to the estate sale to make some great investments, but I’m not. C’est la vie. There go some more missed opportunities.

As a result, I’m taking my micro-staycation/vacation by not cooking dinner tonight. Many Americans are doing the same. I’ve planned the micro-vacation well by cooking extra before and freezing it. I have numerous plastic freezer containers. No, I do not buy expensive Tupperware. Many are containers from sherbet or other frozen products while others I bought while on sale. They aren’t a pretty matched set but they serve a dual purpose. Besides being good for freezing food, my grandchildren enjoy making towers out of them when they come to visit. Give them a wooden spoon and they can make great noise on them, too.
Tonight we’re having sweet potato tagine with lemon couscous. (See the previous entry “Ensnared On the Internet, I Find Tagine” 12/16/10). We’ll also have Mediterranean chicken breasts. It is my own recipe, from a mélange of sources. Both dishes are great reheated.

                                                Mediterranean Chicken Breasts (This recipe serves 6 to 8 people)

3 pounds of boneless, skinless chicken breasts
½ cup breadcrumbs
two Tbsp olive oil
1 cup red wine
1 medium sized yellow onion sliced thin
2 Tbsp minced garlic
paprika, minced parsley, garlic powder and cumin to taste
a teaspoon of capers

  1. Mix the breadcrumbs with the seasoning. Roll the chicken breasts in the breadcrumb mixture.
  2. Heat the olive oil in large frying pan. Saute the chicken breasts quickly on both sides. Take them out of the pan and pat with paper towels to take out the residual oil.
  3. Saute the onion. Leave in the pan and turn the burner to a medium heat. Add the red wine. Replace the chicken breasts in the pan and cook covered on medium heat for about 45 minutes.



Thursday, April 21, 2011

Celebrating Passover, Freedom, Matzoh Ball Soup, and More

We’re in the midst of celebrating Passover. For all of us celebrating, it is a commemoration of the Jews’ redemption from slavery as they fled Egypt and crossed the Red Sea. As we read the Haggadah retelling the story each year, we are reminded to continue to work for justice in our own time. Now when so much still needs to be done, this holiday comes at a most opportune moment.

For many of us, Passover also evokes memories of foods. We all eat matzohs and some other foods that go with them. Maybe they should all be quick foods like my other recipes. After all, the ancient Jews didn’t have time to wait for the bread to rise and probably didn’t have time to do much elaborate cooking either. They were too busy getting through the desert.

The majority of American Jews have Eastern European origins so our food memories are similar – matzoh ball soup, matzoh farfel stuffing, baked chicken, gefilte fish. Each year we look forward to eating them, but by the time the fifth or sixth of the eight days rolls around, a lot of us have had enough of them.

There must be something else to eat, we think, and actually there is. There are Jews from many corners of the world and they don’t all eat matzoh ball soup. I’m reminded of my East Indian neighbor in Israel who was so surprised to meet me. “You’re from America and you’re Jewish? Really?” You could have knocked her over with a feather she was so surprised to meet me. 

At this point of Passover, I like to get out the Sephardic (Jews from Spain and other Mediterranean countries)recipes and make something else. One of my favorites is feta cheese and spinach frittata. I got this recipe from my mother’s friend whose husband’s family came from Turkey. Preparation time is about 10 minutes. It is good for 4 to 8 people depending on whether you’re using it as a main dish or side dish.
                                                 Spinach and Feta Cheese Frittata

3 matzohs rinsed in cold water and crumbled
4 eggs
1 box frozen chopped spinach thawed and drained
8 ounces of feta cheese crumbled
salt, pepper, and oregano to taste
matzoh meal

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Grease the bottom of a casserole dish and sprinkle with matzoh meal.
  3. Mix the rest of the ingredients in a mixing bowl and then pour into the casserole dish.
  4. Bake for 40 minutes.

Happy Passover or Easter whichever you’re celebrating. We like this recipe so much that we often eat it even when it’s not Passover. It goes good with a salad or just some sliced tomatoes and olives.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Why Didn't I Fast? - Now I Have To Feel Guilty

 Moveon, Mark Bittman in his March 30th New York Times column, and even my mother asked me to fast, but I didn't. It's hard to blog about food and fast at the same time. Now the returns are in and I have to feel guilty. The budget has been passed and I don't like it. Besides the Medicaid cuts and other cuts to programs serving poor people, now Washington D.C. is barred from using even local funds for abortions. We've come one step further toward making abortion a class privilege. Those who have private insurance or can pay out of pocket can still have one. I should have fasted, but I felt it would have been an invisible protest and only I would suffer. Why couldn't we have held some more visible protest?

At any rate, we have come even further toward being an unequal society, changing places with Argentina in income inequity. According to Mark Bittman in his March 30 column in the New York Times, the richest 400 Americans have more wealth than half of all American households combined. The tax rates of the wealthy have fallen by half in the last 20 years. Most people I know who use Food Stamps run out of food by the middle of the month. They supplement their Food Stamps by going to food pantries and soup kitchens. As a result, the food pantries and soup kitchens are overstretched more than ever and continue to need our donations and volunteer participation.

Many people are stretched and are trying to find ways to cut back on their food budgets. I've found that cooking vegetarian once or twice a week is a way to do that. This is one of my inexpensive recipes for a vegetable casserole. Preparation time is 15 to 20 minutes and it feeds four.

                                                Vegetable Casserole
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 eggplant sliced
2 zucchinis sliced
1 medium yellow onion sliced
a handful of mushrooms sliced
whatever other vegetables you have in the house sliced
about ¼ pound grated parmesan or Swiss cheese
¼ cup seasoned breadcrumbs
oregano, garlic, and basil to taste

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit.
Steam the sliced eggplant for about 10 minutes until soft.
While it’s steaming, heat the olive oil and sauté the mushrooms.
Place all the vegetables in a casserole dish.
Top with grated cheese, breadcrumbs, and seasoning.
Cook for about 45 minutes.

It’s good served with brown rice.

Fasting, Food Stamps, vegetable casserole recipe

Thursday, April 7, 2011

On the Anniversary of MLK's Assassination, Questions Remain

Since visiting the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis last May, I’ve been nagged by unanswered questions surrounding Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination. I hoped that reading Hellhound On His Trail by Hampton Sides would answer them. Questions I was afraid to ask about Dr. King’s sex life for fear of getting too lengthy answers were answered ad nauseum. My question, however, remains unanswered: Who was behind the conspiracy to pay James Earl Ray to kill Dr. King? Sides is very dismissive of any conspiracy theories. He fully describes all the ways that James Earl Ray spent money traveling to Canada, England, Portugal, and back to England. He chronicles how Ray escaped from a maximun security Federal penitentiary without help [really?] and then lived in Mexico, California, and Alabama for months without any employment. He lived in cheap rooming houses, but he bought a Mustang and many weapons for cash, had plastic surgery, took dancing lessons, wore suits that he had laundered weekly, and spent who knows how much on prositutes' services. Someone had to have paid him a lot. Perhaps when FBI files are legally open, we'll find out.

On the anniversary of Dr. King’s assassination, let’s remember that he was killed when he went to Memphis to support the sanitation workers’ union whose members were among the poorest workers in the USA. Some of them were paid so little that even working full-time, they were eligible for Public Aid. With workers’ rights being eroded all over the country and unions under attack, we’re again asked to defend workers’ rights. This week many events in support of working people are taking place. Many already took place on April 4th, but more are planned. You can look for one to attend near where you live at In Chicago, there’s a rally at Daley Plaza on April 9th at 1:00.

In honor, I should share a southern recipe, but all the ones I can think of are fried and unhealthy. Here is one for fish Vera Cruz that I got from my New Zealand cookbook instead. Well, it’s from pretty far south for me so should be okay. Cooking time and preparation combined were only 30 minutes. It feeds 3 to 4 people. You’ll have plenty of time left over to attend that workers’ rally if you make this.               
                                              FISH VERA CRUZ

2 Tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion sliced
2-3 cloves garlic crushed
2 dried chili peppers, deseeded and crushed (pick ones to your desired level of spiciness)
1 green pepper deseeded and sliced
2 bay leaves
1 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp oregano
1 can whole tomatoes in juice
about 1 pound fish fillets (I used tilapia, but any plain white fish would be good)
1-2 Tbsp chopped fresh coriander leaves
1Tbsp lime juice
about ½ tsp salt

It’s good with rice. Cook it while you’re cooking the fish.
Heat the oil in a large frying pan. Add the onion and garlic and cook until the onion softens.
Then add the chilies, green pepper and bay leaves.
Continue to cook until the onion is translucent. Add the cumin and oregano. Drain the tomatoes reserving the juice. Add to pan with half the juice.
Carefully stir in the fish and simmer gently for about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat as soon as the fish are just cooked. Stir in the coriander leaves, lime, and salt.

 MLK assassination, workers’ rights, fish Vera Cruz recipe