food

Croutons 101

Why are we here today, ladies & gentleman? Because we love Bread in all of it’s delicious, crusty, chewy glory. But many of us are avoiding this marvel of yeast and wheat due to food allergies or fear of increased weight. For those that truly have an intolerance or even a life-threatening relationship with gluten, perhaps you should not read on. (Please consider transferring to another class, as Croutons 101 is not a good course for you.)

To my remaining students, I must confess that I too, have avoided pizza, crackers, hamburger buns, waffles, sandwiches, pretzels, and all other distant relatives to my very first addiction, Bread. I have blamed my slowed metabolism and increased pounds on bread, because I am not addicted to sweets. (I love a good piece of chocolate like every other red-blooded american girl but I don’t crave dessert.)

But in this course, we are going to learn to throw down our pre-conceived notions on the evils of bread. Instead, we will embrace the method by which I have learned to enjoy my favorite food in the world one nugget at a time.

Nunzio’s Croutons

 

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At this point, you may use the finished product to add crunch to any green salad or to float on top of a cup of soup. But feel free to do as I do and save some in a plastic bag to enjoy as a mid-afternoon snack when I am craving the bread that I denied myself at the restaurant we went to for lunch because I wanted to be good and not eat a sandwich. Deep breath. Repeat after me. Bread is not my enemy!

There are several other crouton recipes that I employ throughout the year. I make a bruschetta-type crisp for caesar salad, a buttery version for BLT salad and a cheese & cornbread beauty for tomato soup. The possibilities are endless. Croutons are also a good use of that beautiful whole-grain loaf that you purchased at the Farmers Market but forgot to eat and now the outside of the bread is kinda hard. (Or, throw chunks of it in the food processor and pulse until you have homemade breadcrumbs. Store in the freezer until you need them!)

In all seriousness, there is nothing like a great piece of warm bread, spread with salted butter or dipped in extra-virgin olive oil. So even though I will pop a few croutons to satisfy a craving in a week when I am cutting down on carbs, I also will ask for another basket of bread at Lucia because it is so soul-satisfying. <3

The IKEA Milestone

There are many different phases in the development of children from baby (completely dependent) to adult (hopefully independent). And as they near closer to that jumping off point into self-reliance, I think the benchmarks sometimes transition to becoming our own milestones.

Case in point, this past month my husband and I loaded up a rental truck and headed to Ft. Worth to transfer our college junior into a rental home that he is sharing with 5 other TCU students. I remember making this same trip six years ago with our daughter as she moved into a house two blocks from campus with 3 other girls. (Incidentally, all 4 housemates of “Casa Wabasha” are now MARRIED! How did that happen? Where did the time go?) And then, as in this summer, we moved a bed and several lovely boxes purchased from that mega-store, IKEA.

Sidebar: What is it with millennials and IKEA? I recently viewed a pre-showing of Reese Witherspoon’s new movie “Home Again” and one young man, in an attempt at seduction, offered to construct something from IKEA. Lol.

Back to the subject at hand…three boxes, three hours and three people to put together a six-drawer dresser for my son’s room! I am not exaggerating. When we finished, my son was thrilled. His room was complete and represents a safe, solitary haven to escape to from the stresses of upper level courses, internship applications and an ex-girlfriend. So I  consider the building of IKEA furniture a milestone in our continued advancement of moving him along the path to adulthood. Cross another one off the list. Had to do it. It’s done. Move on. No tears associated with this objective.

But two weeks later, when he texted me a picture of his first home-cooked meal made in the rental house kitchen, I felt a little more sentimental. He had requested I send him a few simple staple recipes and I recently came across an idea whereby you save these go-to recipes as contacts on your phone. Perfect for young people whose lives are on their smart phones; if they are at the grocery store, they have only to search for the recipe name in their contact list and they have the ingredients list in front of them! So he made spaghetti for himself. My baby made his first meal away from home AND it was not only edible, but delicious! I’m so proud. And a little sad…that he is one step closer to not needing me anymore. :(

james'&nbsp;first self-prepared meal as a college student

james' first self-prepared meal as a college student

Ahhhhh, the Salad days

No, I’m not making a reference to my youth, a time of innocence, as the term “salad days”  usually refers to, but I mean THE Salad Days. As in, my consumption of salad Every Single Day for the past two months! Beginning with the Whole30 in June, I have managed to consume some form of fresh green concoction each day to the point that I don’t want to break the streak. Not that it’s become a religious experience for me, heavens, no. However, I actually look forward to my daily salad with some anticipation now.


My sweet M-I-L, Jeanette, was the first to introduce me to the idea that salad belonged on every dinner table, even at home. Sure, you go out to eat at a nice restaurant and you’re offered a salad before your main course but very few families consistently consume  greens with their meals at home. So my family grew up with the expectation that salad graced the table every night in addition to our main meal and possibly alongside other vegetables and bread. It was often a simple mix of red lettuce, carrot slices, diced cucumbers and Good Seasons dressing. Side topic: the joke in our house is that the making of the nightly salad is the first chore assigned to a novice in the kitchen. When someone enters Ruth’s kitchen and asks if they can help, invariably the answer is “you can make the salad.” This is because I am a bit of a control freak and don’t want you in my way as I’m trying to finish getting dinner on the table and truly, how can you mess up the salad? :)

Anyway, I digress. Salads. Lots of them. I’ve had some fabulous ones lately, from salmon & avocado atop arugula tossed in a sun-dried tomato vinaigrette to a romaine, apricot, walnut, avocado, olive number drizzled with a garlic-tahini dressing. A phenomena has started to occur when we go out for lunch or dinner…I think I’m craving a particular kind of cuisine like Italian pasta & pizza or Southern fried chicken and waffles but when I arrive at the restaurant I can’t get my eyes to wander off the Salad section.

I once scoffed at persons who chose salads thinking they were the “diet” choice on the menu when in truth the dressings and croutons made them anything but light. But now I embrace fat as an important part of my daily consumption and realize that the yummy flavors in a good dressing cause me to consume more healthy greens! Win-win.

In short, these are MY salad days. Two salads are on the menu this week. Join me.

 

Blowing kisses in May

By golly, I’m going to get my act together. If my resolution in May doesn’t shape me up, it’ll kill me for sure. So, first my confession: I’m a bit of an aggressive driver. Impatient to a fault. Lead-foot. Not a tail-gater, but have been known to talk to the driver in front of me, gesturing with uplifted hands, smacking my head, hoping they are looking in their rear view mirror to register my annoyance, disgust or anger.

Well, this month my goal is to gesture in a completely different way when I’m cut off or delayed by the very cautious motorist in front of me. For May, I will try to blow a kiss to the subject of my irritation and utter this saying “I hope you arrive safely and on time to your destination.” I will attempt to murmur this blessing every time I feel the need to scream silently or when I feel my blood boil in righteous indignation.

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This may be my most difficult change to date. Please send help.

But seriously, if I can accomplish this goal, how much better will the roads be?! If we could all send out blessings instead of curses, the energy around us would completely change to a positive force of synchronized oneness from which all love would abound…yeah, right. Sorry, that’s just silly talk. Life is well, life. It’s messy and dirty and can be negative and ugly. For now, I’ll just be happy to change the 6’x6’ atmosphere inside my ride to a place of peace. Most of my commutes to the kitchen or the big box store are short and SURELY, I can blow kisses and whisper blessings for the 15 minutes I’m in the car each way.  I hope. I’ll try. Pray for me. :)

At the end of this week, we honor our mothers, whether honorary, adoptive, by birth, or by action. I am so blessed by my mom, Sadako, who brought me into the world and continues to be a Godly inspiration of sacrifice and service, and by Jeanette. my mother-in-law, a woman of limitless patience and discretion. I wish I could hug them both on Sunday and tell them in person what they mean to me, but a phone call will have to do. Be sure to tell your mother figures how important they are to you this week and as often as possible.

I have a special menu for those of you who want to make Mom’s day easy and tasty—you can find it here. If you are a mother on my list, know that I admire and respect you in your tireless devotion to your families.

Blessings and car kisses,

Ruth

A quick trip to Music City

My sister-in-law, Diane, turned 60 this month and she decided that for this momentous occasion she would like her sisters, mother, and sisters-in-law to meet for a girls’ weekend in a city to which she’d never visited. Nashville won the bid so the 7 of us traveled there from New Mexico, Texas, Florida, Wisconsin and Illinois a couple of weekends ago for a fast & furious 48 hours.

The weather was a bit chilly but warm for the upper midwesterners. We stayed at a boutique hotel in downtown Nashville, attended a concert at the Ryman, caught live music at Robert’s Western World, toured Andrew Jackson’s home, The Hermitage, and dined at a restaurant whose chef’s recipe was featured on the March cover of Food & Wine magazine.  It was a fun, informative, tasty weekend but my biggest takeaway…

Nashville is THE bachelor/bachelorette party destination for 2017 weddings.

I have never seen so many brides-to-be and gangs of guys on Pedal Bars in a single downtown area. Not that they were especially wild or obnoxious but that the sheer number of party vehicles was astounding. Traffic flow was definitely inhibited by their slow progress so our Uber to dinner was a 25 minute ride when it should have been 10. The positive is that all of the partiers were having fun with no risk of DUI...

But back to food. I think my favorite meal of the weekend was breakfast at a restaurant  in the Omni Hotel. We didn’t plan to dine there but when our driver tried to deliver us to Biscuit Love and we saw the line down the block (it was cold, remember!) we quickly checked our smartphones for “breakfast near me” to find an alternative. Kitchen Notes was a hit. I ordered hot chicken and waffles. Yum-yum-yummy. The chicken was tender and spicy and the waffles, buttery but substantial. Good stuff.

I hope to visit Nashville again but next time, I think I might:

a) stay off the beaten path a little

b) take the river cruise to see more of the beautiful natural surroundings

c) spend more time seeking out live music

d) go with my best friend and hubby! <3

My breakfast at Kitchen Notes

My breakfast at Kitchen Notes

April's Attitude of Gratitude

If you’ve been following along with the blog, you’ll know I’ve been working on monthly resolutions.

January – Ditch the Grudge

February – Pay it Forward

March – Plant Seeds of Optimism

This month’s theme was inspired by a talk from a young priest last month. He had spent his “spring break” on a mission trip to a third world country. He commented that as is so often on these outreach events, as the “missionary” you gain as much as, if not more than the people you intend to help. He described a young child who would hang around the job site as they built homes for these needy people and when he asked her to show him her toys she proudly brought out her prized doll. When he requested to see her other toys, she looked a little confused and replied, “This is my toy. Isn’t she pretty?” She was so happy with her one plaything, her one possession.

The young priest had an “a-ha” moment…a forehead-slapping humbling insight. We are all so caught up in our phones, iPads, laptops, and other things that we feel we cannot live without each day. We don’t feel grateful for the ease of our lives and the possessions that we take for granted. We forget that our children have never done without or had to worry about a safe roof over their heads or the accessibility of healthcare. Plentiful healthy meals, superior education and culture are a given in our neighborhoods. So his recommendation for the lenten season was to work to be grateful for what we already have rather than to sacrifice or “give up” a favorite food, beverage or activity.

During the month of April I am working to cultivate daily gratitude for my blessings, as well as my normal existence. I will try not to take for granted the things I have, the people in my life and least of all, this great state and country I call home. My goal is to see the beauty of my health, enjoy each new morning as it rises and sigh with a grateful heart at the end of each evening. Won’t you join me in my attitude of gratitude this month?

Other things to be thankful for:  sweet customers who make my work worthwhile, fresh produce in the markets to make delicious salads and soups, and ripe fruit for pie! Have a great week…be sure to check the order site for available items not listed on the posted menu. 

Raspberry Pie

Raspberry Pie

Mini Food Explorations - NYC Edition

Typically when I head to a destination that is known for it’s diverse and delicious food landscape, I have a list in hand of restaurants and cuisines to explore. And I did have plans over spring break to discover a couple of boroughs in NYC that we had not yet visited. Unfortunately, with flight cancellations and delays, misplaced luggage and of course, Stella the blizzard, the trip developed a survival agenda and those plans were put aside.

Rather, the goal became “what CAN we do?” and not “here’s what we will do.” And that was fine. I’m not the girl to wallow over failed plans. So  I took my son to Burger & Lobster which we had extolled as an amazing burger palace with lobster thrown in. The Flatiron district restaurant did not disappoint. We sat at the bar and chowed down on cheeseburgers, crispy fries and a sweet, creamy lobster roll. Their once 3 item only menu now offers 3 different lobster roll versions, 3 burger varieties and 3 ways to have your fresh lobster. From there we walked through Eataly, always a fun stroll for food lovers and the Italophile in all of us.

The following day, my son’s mission was to taste an authentic New York bagel. We walked 11 blocks from our hotel to Ess-a-Bagel and found a line to the door. Luckily we discovered a second line — the Express-Bagels-only line and stood behind just 5 other patrons. As luck would have it, it was the best place to be where we could see into the back as the cooks pulled the bagels from the water and placed them on sheet pans which were shuffled to the front, right behind our counter, and placed directly into the oven! When we reached the top of the line, we learned they were out-of-stock of all flavors save two—the plain and the everything! So that’s what we ordered, along with plain cream cheese and some lox. We sat at a table and devoured the warm, chewy, crusty balls of bread as though it was our final meal! Oh. my. goodness. I am forever spoiled for these bagels.

By the way, I walked all over sodden, icy, slushy, snowy, dirty Manhattan in my Ugg rain boots. They kept my feet warm and dry and I happily splashed my way over hundreds of blocks and up/down countless subway stairs. I highly recommend! 

After a hearty bagel breakfast, we were ready for some exercise and because he’d not yet seen Central Park (there was a blizzard in the city early in the week…did I already mention that?) we headed there and were lucky to cross 5th Avenue ahead of it’s closure for the St. Paddy’s day parade. Frozen ponds, snow balls, and the Boathouse for hot apple cider and cappuccino.

From there we headed to The Metropolitan Museum of Art and after walking 30 blocks or so, I was hungry again! I’m a little embarrassed to admit that we purchased our admission tickets and headed directly to the cafe! But I’m so glad we did…I had the most amazing, out-of-a-plastic-container salad. I was so obsessed by this combination of grain, green, carrot, cheese and dressing that when we returned to Dallas, I made it on Sunday and ate it 3 days in a row!!! So…it’s on the menu this week. See what happens when you eat in an unlikely place just because you’re starving? Sometimes food-joy is waiting there for you!

There is one more food memory I want to share with you. We decided to see a show very last minute and therefore had no plans for a pre-broadway supper. I knew JT would love some pasta but we struck out repeatedly for reservations at all of the recommended Times Square area spots. We finally found il Corso, within walking distance of our hotel for a 5:45 pm meal. It was tiny, maybe 12 tables and the pasta was made in-house. Service was attentive and charming. Divine Cacio e Pepe. That’s it. That’s all I have to say.

A fun trip, though nothing like originally planned but delicious all the same. Lesson learned: always have an open mind, an optimistic palate and a willing stomach. Oh, and good walking shoes!

Moms and Chicken Noodle Soup

When you’re feeling ill, don’t your thoughts immediately flash back to a time when Mom nurtured you back to health? She might bring you chicken noodle soup and saltines in bed and read to you. Maybe she would teach you to play solitaire or you’d watch the daytime soaps together. Sometimes you just needed a little rest and TLC to get back to normal. But when you were really sick, chicken noodle soup was definitely the ticket to bringing you ship-shape again.

Chicken Noodle Soup with Mashed Potatoes

Chicken Noodle Soup with Mashed Potatoes

Because my mother is from Taiwan, it should be no surprise to learn that our version of the remedy was chicken flavored ramen noodles. Sure, we had Campbell’s chicken noodle soup once we moved stateside when I was 11. But the family staple was ramen and I brought that to my own house once I married and raised a family. Just this past week my son lamented (via text message, of course) that being sick without mom present to serve ramen noodles and bring him gatorade was rough. It’s nice to be missed.

For when someone you know or love is very ill, Dr. Ruth (that would be me) recommends straight up bone broth. Bone broth is all the rage in the food biz; Brodo is NYC’s broth only shop and in Portland, it’s the Broth Bar. You can purchase steaming cups of broth in coffee cups for your own “wellness to go.” Truth be told, bone broth is very easy to make. Here’s my go-to recipe for you to make at home.

Ruth’s Cure-all Chicken Broth

 2 whole chickens, rinsed, gizzards removed

2 large yellow onions, peeled and quartered

4 large carrots, washed and roughly chopped

4 large celery stalks, washed and roughly chopped

4 fresh thyme sprigs

1 fresh bay leaf

8 quarts water

1-2 tablespoons kosher salt, optional

1. In a very large stockpot (if possible, one with a pasta insert), combine whole chickens, onions, carrots, celery, thyme, and bay leaf. Add the water and place the pot over high heat. Bring to a boil, then adjust the heat so the liquid simmers gently, and cook for 2 hours. Skim the foam from the top as it forms and discard.

2. Remove all solids by lifting out the pasta insert and discard. If not using a pasta insert,  strain over a second large stockpot. Let broth cool, then refrigerate. After the liquid is cold, skim fat off the top and and strain again. Divide into quart bags and freeze for later use or use immediately.

So make your own pot of healing broth today; it will make anyone feel right as rain. And if you don’t have the time, there’s always ramen noodles. :)

How to plan a perfect date night

Step 1.Choose your date. Whom should you take? Well, obviously- your best friend or soul mate, husband, boyfriend, girlfriend, daughter, son, any of these will do. And sometimes if you’re very fortunate, the person qualifies for 3 of these descriptions.

Step 2.Choose a day. Now that we are empty nesters, we like Thursday. It starts the weekend, without the crowds and we are always relaxed near the end of the work week. But Saturday is good too. Or Sunday. Or Monday. Finding a day that will work for both of you is key!

Our date night this past week

Our date night this past week

Step 3. Choose your venue. It can be the pizza parlor around the corner or the swanky steak place on Oak Lawn (this was our date this week thanks to a most generous patron). You can take a picnic to the Arboretum or White Rock Lake. Pick a place you’ve never been or one of your old favorites.

Step 4.Commit to putting your phones away while you’re out together. Be present in the moment.

Step 5. Eat a little or eat a lot. Drink a little or drink a lot (Uber required). Laugh. Talk. Whisper. Conspire.

Step 6. (optional)Dance, with or without music. In the parking lot or in the car—yes, you can chair dance in the car—it’s fun! On your front porch, in the bedroom, in the foyer with the kids watching. Dancing is an added bonus to the date experience.

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We all have busy lives but take time to plan a date night this week; you won’t regret it. And for the other nights of the week, I have some delightful menu options for you…see the menu tab above.

Love, hate, crave - the intensity of food relationships

Broccoli, broccoli, wherefore art thou broccoli?
Ah, chocolate, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways…

Pork chop loves me, he loves me not, he loves me, he loves me not…

So I am on about day 20 for Whole30. I decided to try this health reset plan for January because 1) I way-over indulged during the holidays and desired not to drink wine/spirits for 30 days; 2) my daughter & son-in-law were also participating…you know, strength in numbers; 3) I wanted to see if the change in diet would affect my rheumatoid arthritis; and 4) let’s be honest: although it is not truly a “diet” I was hoping to shed a few pounds.

Surprisingly, the shift in my food choices has not been as difficult as I’d anticipated. It was not easy to eliminate the cream from my coffee (and I use half & half because what’s the point if you use that weak milk stuff?) but that suffering only lasted for 2 days and now I’m okay with black. We had already been trying to incorporate more vegetables into our daily meals so that was cool. I think the hardest thing has been to make sauces and dressings that didn’t use any soy, sugar or unacceptable fats but once I stocked my pantry with the funky staples that are utilized in so many of the W30 work-arounds, it’s been easy to whip up what I need to make a salad or recipe delicious.

I’m not sure if I’ve lost much weight. Probably a few pounds but one benefit that I had not anticipated and is a huge plus: my blood pressure has come down. Although throughout my adult life my bp has been almost vampire low, in the last year, it has spiked dangerously. My doctor had prescribed meds but I found they made me put on even more weight so I was avoiding the pills. But in two weeks time, my readings have ticked down to an acceptable level!

So now I’m a little afraid. Of wine. Of cheese. Of sugar. Of grains. Of soy. Will I learn to love my waffles again? Have I said goodbye forever to sushi rolls and chocolate chip cookies? Nah. Because just as in real-life relationships, the key to a satisfying, healthy relationship with food is moderation. So I will be back enjoying a cheese plate and a glass of wine with my husband on Friday nights. But I’m going to continue making extra veggies to fill our plates. I may even try to maintain Whole30 compliant meals during the week with a return to a “regular“ menu on the weekends. And honestly, I’ve been so impressed with the recipes that my daughter and I have found and creatively put into our weekly menus that I’ll make them again. The Whole30 Cookbook is filled with many delicious (albeit labor-intensive in many cases) meals so I will continue to cook from it.

I love food. Period. Though it’s not the center of my life, it should be the vehicle by which I add nutrition to my being and if I derive pleasure as well, then that’s a bonus. So what am I craving most after the end of these 30 days? Stay tuned…