Clarity

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“Fish,” he said, “I love you and respect you very much. But I will kill you dead before this day ends.”
― Ernest Hemingway, The Old Man and the Sea

I fractured my ankle in October.  I had an unrelated surgery in May.  I did not ride. I did not run. I did not exercise at all during that time.   Today, I managed an even run for three miles, and because I made it to three, I went to three and a half.  My pace is off, but running is my Fish.

I read a stupid meme on Facebook recently that said, “The ability to go the extra mile lies between your ears.”  While Facebook is stupid, and memes are also stupid, this one statement is true.  The ability to go the extra mile is always between your ears, in everything.  The only reason people do not achieve their goals is lack of clarity.

It is easy to lose clarity.  And what do I mean by clarity?  Lucidity, understanding, freedom from ambiguity.  The problem with clarity is that there is nowhere to hide; the truth is laid naked.  And fog is so seductive.

This applies to everything.  We apply layers and layers of fog to hide our insecurities, to suppress our fears, to mask our addictions and to feed our complacency.  We choose to avoid clarity because it is easy and it is comfy.  We stay in unhappy marriages because it is easier than getting out.  We sit on the sofa at night instead of confronting the Fish on the pavement. We make excuses.  Sometimes we cling to fog to stubbornly refuse to give up things that are bad for us – overeating, over-drinking, bad relationships, go-nowhere jobs.  Change is difficult and the uncertainty of what lies on the other side of change intimidates most people, probably everyone at some point in time.  Sometimes fog comes from the deception of others, too.  But fog cannot hide the truth forever and wallowing in fog is nothing more than time wasted.

Clarity is essential to happiness.

So, Fish, I have lots between my ears and I am strong willed.  Each mile and each mile after that, the track is clear.

Grain Free Cheese Bread

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I have the unlucky genetics to be a borderline diabetic. Fortunately, I have never been obese and I am able to control my blood sugar completely through diet and exercise, which has added benefits to my blood pressure, cholesterol, and stress level.

One of the biggest challenges of eating to keep my blood sugar on an even keel is the total elimination of grains and simple carbohydrates from my diet.  For breads and baking, almond flour and coconut flour have been my saving graces.  Almond flour, though delicious and easy to use, has a tendency to cause me stomach upset.

Almond flour has other drawbacks as well.  A single cup of almond flour contains approximately 90 almonds.  Eating almond flour “tricks” your body into consuming many more calories through almonds than you would normally eat if you were consuming whole almonds.  Gustatory learning is an important evolutionary mechanism and generally, interfering with it just seems like a bad idea.

Almonds are also very high in polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs).  While not inherently bad, when consumed in high quantities, they can have effects, including the following:

  • Suppression of mitochondrial energy production (slowing metabolism);
  • Increase in inflammatory response in the body;
  • Impairment of the action of certain digestive enzymes;
  • Slowing of thyroid function;
  • Inhibition of detoxification enzymes;
  • Depletion of antioxidants in the body;
  • Inhibition of production of progesterone and androgens while activating production of estrogen, which may contribute to weight gain, PMS, hormonal acne and more.

Coconut flour is the byproduct of coconut milk, the leftover coconut “meat,” dried and ground into flour.  It is gluten free, grain free and nut free.  It is high in fiber and relatively high in protein.  It also has a very dense and silky texture and a very small amount goes a long way in a recipe.

The problem I have found with coconut flour is that often it produces baked goods that are too dry and too crumbly.

This recipe makes a small, single loaf. It forges a delicious partnership for breakfast and is both flavorful and filling.  I developed this recipe to try to address texture. This is lighter and more moist than other coconut flour breads I have tried.

DSC_0115Coconut Flour Cheddar Bread

3/4 cup coconut flour

6 eggs

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

3 teaspoons aluminum free baking powder

1/3 cup sour cream

3/4 cup shredded cheddar cheese, divided

Preheat oven to 350°.  In a medium sized bowl, mix eggs, butter and sea salt until well blended.  Combine sifted coconut flour and baking powder and whisk them into the batter until lump-free.  Mix in sour cream until blended.  Add 1/2 cup of cheddar cheese.  Spoon the batter into a very well greased loaf pan.  Top with remaining 1/4 cup cheese.  Bake for about 40 minutes.  Remove from pan and cool on a rack.  Serve warm, generously buttered.

 

Blueberry Cheesecake French Toast

The first known written reference to French toast is in the Latin recipe collection known as th Apicius, dating back to the 4th or 5th century.  That recipe involved bread soaked in milk, but no egg, and is simply called aliter dulcia, meaning   “another sweet dish.”  Since then, it has gone by many names, including “Arme Ritter”  (German for “poor knights”), “tostées dorées” (“golden toast”),  “pain perdu,” “Pavese,” and “pain doré.”  Versions of French toast were made throughout the Middle Ages in Europe, sometimes as an accompaniment to game birds.

I am not exaggerating when I say that in my opinion, cheesecake is one of the greatest inventions of humankind, which is why using cheesecake influence to use up stale bread inspired me to create this particular recipe.  It can be made with either fresh blueberries or with a blueberry compote and is equally delicious either way.

Blueberry Cheesecake French Toast

Ingredients

1 loaf day old bread (you will need approximately 8 slices of sandwich-sized bread)
1 cup cream cheese, softened
2-3 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup blueberries, fresh or frozen or 2 cups blueberry compote (recipe at end)
1 egg
1 cup half and half
1 teaspoon cinnamon
Butter (be generous here)

Directions

Mix cream cheese, sugar and vanilla with an electric mixer until sugar granules dissolve. Spread cream cheese on half the bread slices.  If using fresh blueberries, sprinkle blueberries on top of cream cheese and then sandwich with the remaining bread slices.

Whisk the egg, milk, cream and cinnamon.

Heat a non-stick fry pan over low-medium heat and add a generous pat of butter. Dip sandwiches into the egg mixture for about 20-30 seconds on each side and then fry, being careful not to let the butter burn.  Cook  for 4-5 minutes on each side or until golden brown.

Serve topped with maple syrup or blueberry compote.  A quick blueberry compote can be made by simmering 2 cups fresh or frozen blueberries with 3 tablespoons of water, 2 teaspoons of lemon juice, and 1/4 cup of sugar over medium heat until syrupy.

Moving in the Season of Gratitude

DSC_0832-001Moving. Everybody hates moving, right? It is the menstruation of life events, not catastrophic like major illness or death in the family, but never good. No one likes moving.

My doctor tells me that death, divorce and moving are the three most stressful life events for people. Well, I got divorced in September and moved in October.  (I will uncharitably add that whose death occurs impacts how stressful it might or might not be…)

The divorce was life altering, for the better, the lifting of a huge amount of dead weight and an overall relief (even though the process is not fun for anyone, for sure).   Sometimes you do not realize what a burden something has become until the boulder is lifted from your chest.

Moving sucked, even though I am moving to a home I like better with a lot more space, better views, less traffic, and an indoor arena.

I acknowledge up front that moving is horrible for everyone, but indulge me for a moment while I lick my own wounds. Moving under a very tight time constraint with more dogs than you can count on one hand, horses, a smattering of snakes (one of which, sadly, escaped just before I moved and I was never able to find her), and a fractured ankle proved to be — um — challenging.

It rained, of course it  rained, on moving day.  In fact, it poured.  The trailer ball on the truck I rented to pull my horse trailer ended up being the wrong size.

Two of my bitches came into season just prior to the move, to ensure that everyone would be at their barking and howling best on moving day (and beyond).

My debit card got hacked (for the fifth time).

AT&T was supposed to be there on October 31st to install phones and internet.  They no-showed, but then arrived unexpectedly on November 1st with four other contractors.  They installed the phones but told me that they “did not have time” to do the internet, so they would come back in a few days.  When they came back on November 5th, the internet still did not work.  When I pressed them about this on the 6th, they confessed that they did not have any idea when it could be done.  Comcast said no.  Frontier said no.  My local independent provider said no.  DISH was too expensive.  So I called my friendly neighbor across the street and asked her what internet service she had.  Her response:  AT&T. frownie face here.>  I called AT&T back again and used a more motivating tone with them (which may or may not have involved mention of the Illinois Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Business Practices Act), and lo and behold, they installed DSL on November 11th!

In the mean time, I had no fenced area for the dogs.  For the first two weeks, at least one dog got loose each day.  Fortunately, I did manage to get them all back.

The barn cat I inherited (Theo) has a weepy eye, a wet cough, and two unwanted testicles, all of which need to go away.

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Minnie Pearl, Oprah, Brigitta, Marilyn, Scarlett, Miley, Vulture and the one without a name yet.

Because things were not interesting enough and I was apparently too idle, I purchased eight chickens to help fill my spare time.  Theo is very happy with this development.

To make a long story less long, I am no longer sleeping on the floor and I have a large, fenced pasture for the Sloughis to stretch their legs.  My dining room is still packed floor-to-ceiling like a hoarder show, but this, too, shall pass. (Or else, I can just seal that room off into a crypt.)  Somehow, I will make a Sloughi specialty show happen at my house this weekend.  Still a little sketchy on how all of that will work out.

So, as we gallop down the runway to my favorite holiday, here is what I am thankful for:

I am grateful for my brilliant and beautiful daughter, who on most days is the light of my life, and on the rest of the days teaches me ariel-morganpatience.

I am grateful for my amazing family and friends who are truly responsible for moving me, both physically and otherwise.

I am grateful for my animals.

I am grateful for simple things – like hot baths, strong coffee, clean sheets, the nicker of horses, the smell of hay, dry champagne and the dazzling, pink sunrises I see every morning over my pasture.

And I am grateful to you, my dear reader, for indulging me once again with your time and interest in reading this blog.

I hope your cup runneth over this holiday season with things for which to be thankful.

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US Senate Approves Gay Rights Bill

Marriage equality takes a step forward in a hostile climate on Capitol Hill.

The E View

ENDAThis afternoon, the United States Senate passed historic gay rights legislation in its approval of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which would provide protections in the workplace to workers and job applicants who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender. Any private employer with more than 15 employees would be precluded from workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation or transgender status. However, an exemption is included for religious groups.

The measure adding sexual orientation and gender identity to the list of characteristics that cannot be discriminated against in the workplace passed by a vote of 64-32 — a slightly stronger showing than an earlier vote to move forward on the legislation, which passed 61-30.

The bill, widely referred to as ENDA, was introduced with bipartisan support.

Unfortunately, ENDA is not expected to come up for a vote in the House of Representatives, due to opposition to the measure voiced by Speaker John…

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I’ll Bet You Think This Blog is About You

clouds in my coffee“I’ll bet you think this blog is about you, don’t you?  Don’t you?”  ~  Carly Simon (well, almost)

I’ve often said that blogging is an extremely self-indulgent pastime, and I will stick with that remark.  When I started blogging, I did not realize that apparently, reading blogs is an extremely self indulgent pastime as well because people tend to see themselves in the blogs they read.  This is, I am sure, much more common when the reader has a personal relationship with the author, but truthfully, we all read things with which we can identify.

The same can be said for certain things on Facebook.  Sometimes, I share a quote for no other reason than that I like the quote.  I may have at one time identified with the quote in the past or perhaps now in the present, or I may feel that it applies to the situation a friend is experiencing.  However, I do not live my life on Facebook.  I try to keep my life in the three dimensional world whenever possible.  (Unless I am bragging about my animals, then I do that wherever I can find a willing audience.)  So, this provokes me to create yet another numbered list…

  1. Just because you can identify with a post does not mean the post is about you.  If it pertains to you, I will tag you in it.
  2. Do not presume to know anything about me or my personal relationships based on my Facebook “friends.”
  3. No one ever changed their political opinions based on a Facebook post, so I am not going to post my political opinions nor am I going to comment on yours.  (This is for our mutual good. I might actually like you in real life and I want to keep it that way.)
  4. I am not responsible for what other people post on my Facebook page, and quite often, I do not even see it, so don’t make assumptions about it and you probably shouldn’t ask me about it.  If you are so interested, ask the person who posted it.
  5. Do not get your feelings hurt if I do not notice, like or comment on something you have posted on your Facebook page.  I visit Facebook in a very cursory fashion. I might notice five or six posts on my news feed and then I move on from there. I am self centered. I don’t have time to read everything in my news feed.  If I had the time, I lack the interest.
  6. My tolerance for Facebook drama is extremely low.  I am not interested in reading it, and I am not going to get involved in commenting on it.  People who create drama on Facebook must have very uninteresting sex lives, and that’s about all I am going to say about that.
  7. I do not do Facebook chain mail.  I might like your post, but I am not going to share it on my page, change my status or post it for others.
  8. If you’re sick of seeing pictures of my dogs and horses, look away or un-friend me.  They are an endless source of delight and interest to me.
  9. Do not cyber stalk me and try to “catch” me on line. I will answer whatever missive you have when I have the time and the inclination to do so.
  10. DO NOT INVITE ME TO PLAY OR PARTICIPATE IN ANY GAMES!
  11. Do not send me friend requests if we do not know each other unless we have dogs or horses in common.
  12. Do not send me private messages requesting dates or naked photos of me.  Really.
  13. Have a great day in cyber space and at least give some thought to stepping away from your electronic device and moving about in three dimensions.

Zuzu’s Petals

“Action expresses priorities.”  ~ Mahatma Gandhi.

I write a lot about priorities.  I think a lot about priorities.  People talk a lot about their priorities.   The problem is that what people express as their priorities seldom match their demonstrated priorities.

I’ve sat in depositions listening to successful executives describe their children as their top priorities and then later testifying  that their normal work schedule involves being out of the home for 85 hours per week with two business trips per month.  While it’s easy to understand that working 85 hours per week in three jobs to put food on the table places children in a priority position, it is much harder to make that leap for the high-six figure earner who sees his kids for an hour or two each night but still manages to get 18 holes in every weekend.

You can always tell what someone’s real priorities are because they will act consistently with them.   The fabric of our lives is woven together by the threads of choices that we make everyday.  Sometimes a grey thread or two will show up, but in the end, the cloth is pretty much black or white.

Each of us wants to be someone else’s highest priority.  It’s a fundamental part of being human.  It is a basic need.  The internet and every newsstand are filled with self-help articles and memes that tell you that happiness is found within and that you can’t rely on someone else to make you happy.  Those statements are true, but it does not alter the fact that everyone, even the most independent among us, wants someone else to care how their day went.  That is part of the fabric of being human.

Priorities make or break relationships.

There is no other factor.  Think about it.  When a man tells a lie, he did not prioritize that his partner deserved to know the truth.  When a woman engages in infidelity, she prioritized herself and her lover over her spouse.  When you choose to work every night until 10 p.m., you prioritize your work over seeing your loved ones.  When you engage in loud, emotional fighting, you prioritize your need to self-indulge in your temper over the feelings of your partner.

If you want what you have, you make it your priority.  You vote with your feet.  The expression “quality of time over quantity of time” is complete mythology.  Priorities play themselves out in the minutiae, day after day.  Did you go to your daughter’s room when she had a nightmare?  Were you there to hear your husband tell you that his boss was a jerk at his board meeting that morning?  Did you baby him when he had a cold?  If you only ate her Christmas roast and not her tuna casserole, you probably missed this point.  Your loved ones feel prioritized when they have a bad moment and turn to find you there, not as the result of a scheduled interaction.  A connection has continuity.zuzu's petals

When someone is your priority, you keep very close track of Zuzu’s petals.

Nurturing Zuzu’s petals is somewhat easier in non-romantic relationships, although navigating these delicate matters is never seamless.  If you don’t give your toddler your full attention, she will help you cure that.

The incongruity of priorities is what causes breakdown, because when one person makes you her highest priority, and you demonstrate that she is not yours, she will likely take her ball and go home.  But there is another side to this coin:  don’t ever seek to change someone else’s priorities.

In the end, people always do what they want to anyway.  You can make someone attend your best friend’s wedding or your sister’s baby shower.  You can coerce someone into going to your country club function or appear on your arm for an office Christmas party,  but unless someone wants to be with you, coaxing them is a bad plan.

toby-enwYou should never want to be in someone’s company unless there is nowhere else that you want to be.  And the person you are with should feel the same way.  I have a dog that demonstrates this everyday.  He lives to be near me.  He cries if I leave the room.  The other day, I ran to the grocery store.  When I came home, my daughter told me, “He cried, literally, the whole time you were gone.”  He would rather sleep next to my bed than eat his supper.  His priorities are painfully clear and he unashamedly demonstrates them every moment that he can.

It is not a criminal act for someone else to have different priorities.  This point is critical to happiness.  If someone is not a match, then let them go.  If you like stripes, don’t weave a plaid fabric and don’t be sad about the plaid outfit that you didn’t buy.

Let go of the things that don’t fit.

Almond Flour Sandwich Bread

1-DSC_0022Almonds hail from the Mediterranean area of the Middle East and as far east as Indus.  Throughout history, as far back as 1600 BC, they have been culturally significant, from the Biblical reference to Aaron’s rod, which blossomed and bore almonds, to the 100 AD Roman custom of showering newlyweds with almonds as a fertility charm.  In the mid 1700s, the Franciscan Padres brought the first almond tree to California from Spain.  However, it wasn’t until a century later that trees were successfully planted and cultivated inland.  Today, almonds are the largest nut crop in California.

Almonds have significant health benefits.  They lower cholesterol, reduce LDL, raise HDL and are loaded with good fats, vitamin E, magnesium and potassium.  Almonds appear to not only decrease after-meal rises in blood sugar, but also provide antioxidants to mop up the smaller amounts of free radicals that still result. (Jenkins DJ, Kendall CW, Journal of Nutrition)  One study published in the International Journal of Obesity and Related Metabolic Disorders  suggests that an almond-enriched low calorie diet that is high in monounsaturated fats can help weight loss more than a low calorie diet high in complex carbohydrates.  Almonds provide an excellent source of manganese and a good source of copper, trace minerals that are essential cofactors of a key oxidative enzyme called superoxide dismutase. Superoxide dismutase disables free radicals produced within the mitochondria (the energy production centers in cells), thereby having a positive impact on energy.  They are also loaded with protein and help prevent gallstones.

I developed this bread recipe on my own after trying several almond flour recipes at various cooking sites on line.  This is gluten free, grain free and sugar free.    It is also delicious and makes a very worthy substitute for sandwich bread or toast.

Almond Flour Sandwich Bread

Ingredients:

3.5 cups almond flour

1/2 cup organic flax meal

10 eggs

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

6 tablespoons butter, softened (olive oil or coconut oil are also outstanding substitutes)

2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

1.5 teaspoons baking soda

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Whisk together all dry ingredients.  Whisk together all wet ingredients.  Pour wet ingredients into dry ingredients and stir until blended.  Pour into a greased loaf pan and bake.

Bake for 50-55 minutes, or until a knife inserted into the center comes out clean.

Five Minute Brioche Rolls

This is from Lea & Jay, which is a super blog with wonderful recipes and photos of food and travel.

Lea & Jay

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Well, it’s August now, which must mean Summer is going to be winding down soon (please Jesus!). Though I bet there are a fair share of you who are still getting some visitors turning up on their door. It doesn’t really happen too terribly often to us here in swampy, mosquito infested Virginia. But I bet those of you with more desirable locales are enjoying the company of some visiting friends and family. And if folks don’t appear this summer, the holidays aren’t too far around the corner. This recipe for Five Minute Brioche rolls is a godsend when you have folks staying with you for a few days. They will think you truly are some sort of domestic goddess as you appear from the kitchen daily, with not even one hair out-of-place, bearing a different type of freshly baked, delicious roll. Say… Pain au Chocolat rolls for breakfast, a…

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Halibut with Lemon Butter and Crispy Shallots

GH0421H_halibut-with-lemon-butter-and-crispy-shallots_s4x3_lgHalibut is a flatfish, genus Hippoglossus, from the family of the right-eye flounders (Pleuronectidae).  The name is derived from haly (holy) and butt (flat fish), for its popularity on Catholic holy days.  Halibut are demersal fish which live in the North Pacific and the North Atlantic oceans.  The halibut is the largest flat fish, averaging 24–30 lb, but have been reported as large as 730 lbs.

At birth, they have an eye on each side of the head, and swim like a salmon. After six months, one eye migrates to the other side, making them look more like flounder. At the same time, the stationary-eyed side darkens to match the top side, while the other side remains white. This color scheme disguises halibut from above (blending with the ocean floor) and from below (blending into the light from the sky) and is known as countershading.

Eaten fresh, the meat has a clean taste and requires little seasoning. It is ultra low in fat.  Halibut is noted for its dense and firm texture.

Halibut have historically been an important food source to Native Americans and Canadian First Nations, and continue to be a key element to many coastal subsistence economies. Accommodating the competing interests of commercial, sport, and subsistence users is a challenge.

The Atlantic population is so depleted through overfishing, it may be declared an endangered species. According to Seafood Watch, consumers should avoid Atlantic halibut.  Most halibut eaten on the East Coast of the United States are from the Pacific.

In 2012 sportfishermen in Cook Inlet reported increased instances of a condition known as “mushy halibut syndrome”. The meat of affected fish has a “jelly-like” consistency. When cooked it does not flake in the normal manner of halibut but rather falls apart. The meat is still perfectly safe to eat but the appearance and consistency are considered unappetizing. The exact cause of the condition is unknown but may be related to a change in diet.

Halibut is among my favorite fish both to eat and to cook.  The recipe  below is adapted from a superb recipe from Giada de Laurentis, one of my favorite chefs.

Halibut with Lemon Butter and Crispy Shallots

Ingredients

Lemon Butter:

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Zest of 1 large lemon
1/2 stick unsalted butter, at room temperature

Halibut and Crispy Shallots:

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
4 halibut fillets (each 4 to 5 ounces)
1/2 cup grapeseed oil
2 large shallots, cut into rounds, separated into rings
Lemon wedges, for garnish

Directions

For the lemon butter: Whisk together the lemon juice, salt, pepper, lemon zest and butter in a deep medium bowl until well blended (mixture will be like a thick sauce). Set aside until ready to use.

For the halibut and crispy shallots: Combine the olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, salt, and pepper in an 8-by-8-by-2-inch glass dish. Whisk the marinade to blend. Add the halibut and turn several times to coat evenly. Let stand 15 to 20 minutes.

Combine the grapeseed oil and shallots in a medium heavy saucepan over medium-high heat. Cook, stirring often, until the oil heats up and the shallots turn golden brown, 5 to 7 minutes. Transfer the shallots with a slotted spoon to several layers of paper towels to drain and crisp. Sprinkle with salt and pepper just before using.

Heat a large dry nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Lift the halibut from the marinade, letting the excess drain off. Add the halibut to the hot skillet and sear 3 minutes. Turn the fish over using a flexible metal spatula. Sear until still slightly pink in the center, about 3 minutes longer, depending on thickness. Transfer the halibut to plates. Top with a generous dollop of lemon-butter and pile the shallots alongside or scatter around the fish. Garnish with the lemon wedges and serve.

Source:  Food Network