That Time Arnold Palmer Saved the World from Alien Zucchini

That Time Arnold Palmer Saved the World from Alien Zucchini

…and Didn’t Even Realize It!

I was 19. My parents left the country for ten days – and left me in charge of the house, the kitchen, and two zucchini plants. My mother’s instructions went something like this: “Don’t burn down the house, don’t fall in love while we’re gone, and check on the zucchini every couple of days. It looks like a few are almost ripe, and it’d be a shame to let them go to waste and rot out there in the garden. It shouldn’t be much trouble; there are just the two of them.”

I didn’t burn down the house.

And I did check on those zucchini plants. I dutifully plucked the dark, green summer squash and tucked them into in the fridge until there was no room for anything else. And still they continued to be fruitful and multiply. I began to envision them as the first wave of alien zucchini pods, little infiltrators poised to take over planet Earth from my kitchen. I supposed it was my patriotic duty to eat them, but I wasn’t terribly fond of zucchini. I wasn’t even sure how to cook them. My mother had always shooed me out of the kitchen, saying, “Go on, it’s just easier to do it myself.” I opened the refrigerator door and gave those zucchini the evil eye. They were unmoved and unintimidated.

I began to tear through the cookbooks.

And there, in a cookbook my mother put together in 1976, called Mrs. Cratchit’s Kitchen, was a recipe for zucchini bread, contributed by none other than the famous golf pro, Arnold Palmer. Armed with a grater, a large bowl, and a wooden spoon, I read Palmer’s blueprint for defeating the alien zucchini army:

By the time I was done, I had vanquished the foe and stocked up on enough loaves of zucchini bread to feed my girlfriends and all their boyfriends for a week. I could hardly lift my right arm; it ached and throbbed and hung limply at my side – worn out from stirring so many batches of the thick, heavy batter.

I refused to make zucchini bread again until after I had a Cuisinart food processor.

I had to draw my own Purple Heart. In crayon.

Next up, another grand, culinary adventure: Calamari Marinara with Couscous. Or, Chewy Rubber Bands with Lumps of Damp Concrete.

I eventually learned my way around the kitchen, and still make Arnold Palmer’s zucchini bread – I only wish he knew how grateful I was not to be squashed by the insidious squash.

Epilogue

I’ll be honest: I’m no sports fan. In fact, I think the “any interest whatsoever in sports” gene skipped me and doubled in my daughter. But Arnold Palmer is special. For my daughter’s first birthday, I wrote to nearly 160 celebrities in various fields: actors, politicians, royalty, sports figures, pioneers in medicine, musicians, artists, writers, and others. I asked them to help me make her first birthday memorable, since it was a big milestone in her life, but the odds were good she wouldn’t remember a minute of it. And just as Arnold Palmer had come through with a recipe to save the world from evil zucchini, he came through for me:

Thank you, Arnold Palmer.


This was originally posted on my older blog, “It’s All a Matter of Perspective.” As with most technology, it’s all a matter of time before those posts fade into the sunset, to be salvaged here or lost to the Wayback Machine.

Tasty Lunch & Bonus Spa Treatment for Your Hands!

Tasty Lunch & Bonus Spa Treatment for Your Hands!

Don’t laugh – it feels lovely. Here’s the “recipe”:

Ingredients:

1 baking potato (about 400g)
1 tsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp iodized salt
56g roasted or canned chicken
7g lightly salted butter
1 serrano pepper (Okay, this is totally optional –  hot peppers are a stress buster and oh, so tasty, but you do you!)
1 T. capers (optional)

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 420 degrees F.

Wash and dry the potato. Put olive oil and salt together in one hand, then massage into the potato. Set potato aside, and gently massage remaining oil and salt into your hands. Be especially gentle on the backs of your hands, and a bit firmer on the palms – the salt will exfoliate (but may also cause itching if you’re not gentle – do not rub your hands raw!). Massage your wrists and knuckles. Rinse off under warm (not hot) water – get off all the salt, but don’t soap up your hands and get rid of the olive oil! Blot on a paper towel, gently, to remove the water and excess oil from your palms.

Now, go back and poke holes in the potato. You only need about six, but you can stab it with a pointy knife or poke it with toothpicks like it’s a voodoo doll; depending on circumstances, this, too, can be a therapeutic activity for about ten seconds.

Nuke the potato in the microwave for about 4-5 minutes (go long if it’s really big!). When the oven’s hot, stick the potato in it – right on the rack – and bake for another 20-25 minutes.

Remove it, cut it open, weigh it, and jot down the number (remember my blog about whether to weigh before or after cooking? Potatoes are full of water content, so they shrink in cooking – a LOT – and you’ll steam off another couple of grams within a minute of cutting it open)

Warm the chicken for about 15-30 seconds in the microwave.

Add butter, chicken, and the optional serrano pepper (or some grated cheese, but weigh and track this carefully – cheese is good, but high in calories, too!).

Salt and pepper to taste.

Pain relief? Really?

Turns out there may be a bit of science to this, but most of the articles on the Internet are pure hype and nonsense. This one doesn’t seem to oversell it, and explains (maybe) why this might work on sore joints: http://everydayroots.com/arthritis-remedies

I figured it out purely by accident, and Googled later to see if I’d stumbled on something that was already common knowledge. Sure enough, extra virgin olive oil contains oleocanthal, which is an anti-inflammatory and COX inhibitor. The actual science behind the health benefits of olive oil is promising, but I wouldn’t recommend you start drinking extra virgin olive oil straight from the bottle, or bathing in it once a week. My hands were aching, one day, from typing, so while waiting for my lunch to bake, I just massaged them with the excess oil and salt before washing them.  It felt good, so I made a habit of it.

The ingredients are cheap, plentiful, and you probably already have them in your kitchen. Do note that the cold-pressed, extra virgin olive oil is needed, if you hope for any effect beyond simple lubrication and the exfoliating effect of the salt! Heat destroys the oleocanthal in extra virgin olive oil, so while ingesting it may be more effective than applying it topically, it won’t help just to cook with it.

I’m not sure the effect of olive oil rubbed into joints is all that dramatic – Ibuprofen or Celebrex do still seem to work better. I suspect any pain relief is due to a combination of oil, salt, and the stimulation of a good hand massage – but it can’t hurt, can it?

I’m going to call this the “Hand Massage Diet.” Maybe Oprah or Ellen will invite me on their shows. Oh, by the way, here’s the nutrition info for the lunch you just made:

https://recipes.sparkpeople.com/recipe-detail.asp?recipe=3268111

SparkPeople.com: Get a 100% FREE Online Diet

Berries, Bananas, and a Blender

Berries, Bananas, and a Blender

Berries, bananas, and a blender make the best breakfast smoothie – not to mention an alliterative alimentary awakening!

Just combine one cup of skim milk, one banana (fresh or frozen), and about 1/2 cup of frozen, mixed berries in a blender and blend till smooth. Add 28g of Kellogg’s All Bran Buds, ground to a fine powder, for about half your daily fiber needs and a little extra vitamin boost! You can drink your smoothie or serve it over fresh berries or cereal or both. I like mine in a to-go cup as I’m dashing out the door!

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Lasting Lusciousness

Blueberries and blackberries are luscious right now. To make them last longer, soak them in a solution of water and white vinegar for about 15 minutes, pat dry, and store in the fridge.

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Creative Combinations

Not too long ago, I’d have balked at eating a salad that contained the combination of ingredients I chose, earlier tonight, at Salata:

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Mixed greens, kale, spinach, sprouts, cabbage, tomatoes, black olives, black beans, onions, peas, beets, mandarin oranges, pineapple, strawberries, almond slivers, with a side of ginger-lime vinaigrette and a warm, multigrain roll. Some part of my brain still reels in mock horror at the notion, but it’s really delicious. I think the trick is to get the right balance, and left to my own devices, I’d probably overdo it on one or more of the ingredients, or fail to toss it as thoroughly as they do at Salata. But it was just right.

Beets and more berries before bed. 

Why, Oh, Why?

To try to answer my future son-in-law’s question, “Why do people take and post so many pictures of their food?” I think, maybe, it’s because food doesn’t run away. Food doesn’t ever throw a hand over its face and wail about looking like crap. In fact, given the right lighting and a bit of skill at plating the dish, food practically preens for the camera. It is colorful, easily posed, and great to practice on. You never have to pay food or get a model release. Food is a common theme; we all have to eat. Food pics are satisfying appetizers and generate ideas for livening up a boring, routine menu. Food pics are fun!


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Curing Kitchen Clutter

Curing Kitchen Clutter

I’m a bit of a clutterbug. My husband just raises a skeptical eyebrow when I point to photos of Einstein’s messy desk as proof of my mad genius. If shelves overflowing with books makes me a “hoarder,” I reject all calls for an intervention. But when it comes to our shared spaces, like the kitchen, I’ll concede that the man has a point. When an opportunity arose to try some products from YouCopia, I was intrigued.

My household organizational skills could use improvement. Here are a couple of typical “before” photos of our kitchen:

wp-1481655550754.jpgAs you can see, everything starts out stacked, neat, fairly easy to find, but as it’s washed and returned to the cupboard, it sort of has an orgy in there and we end up finding scores of little condiment containers we never use.

This is probably my bad karma from childhood wonder and laughter at my aunt’s obsession with Tupperware. I mean, who empties a brand new box of cereal into a plastic tub specially designed for cereal? I grew up eating it out of the box – sometimes poured into a bowl with milk, sometimes pilfered with my fingertips straight from the box. Seriously, is there any better way to eat Lucky Charms?

I swear, she had a special container for everything and an endless fascination with plastic pantry organization aids. I’m pretty sure our spice rack was the only nod to kitchen organization we had in our household, growing up, and I don’t feel deprived.

Paradoxically, though, I can’t get enough of cheap, semi-disposable Glad and Zip-Loc containers. This is karmic justice for furrowing my brow at my grandmother’s deep drawer full of carefully washed containers that once held chicken livers or sour cream or potato salad – a remnant of Depression-era frugality that seemed almost exotic to me as a child growing up in the 1960s and 1970s. I remember opening up one of those containers from the back of the fridge, to find it growing hair. I don’t know what it was, but I had no intention, ever, of saving “left-overs” after that.

Oh, how times change. Some things are just too yummy to toss in the trash on the first day. And when you forget to toss them three days hence, there’s little to no guilt in simply tossing them, container and all. Can’t do that with the pricey stuff!

The Drawer StoraStack from YouCopia seemed like it would be the perfect solution.

Drawer StoraStack from YouCopia

It’s an ingenious little product that fits neatly into a drawer. You’ll need deeper drawers than mine, to make it work – but it would have been the perfect solution in either of my grandmothers’ homes. It adjusts to the length of the drawer so that there’s no slipping and sliding; it stays put perfectly. There’s room for two sizes of containers, which are ingeniously kept secured by a special dispenser clip. Dividers keep lids neatly organized, too.

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It’s important to measure your drawer depth before investing in these:

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wp-1481655346515.jpgAs you can see, this is never going to work. The retainer clip is too tall for this drawer – even if I could slide the drawer closed, it would catch on the back and permanently lock the drawer. Another point worth mentioning here is that the clips are pretty well secured. You are supposed to pinch them on the underside of the unit to slide them out again, but I’ve not been able to grasp the part with enough strength to do it – not with fingertips, alone, anyway. So place them carefully before locking them in! It’s important that they be secured, so that they don’t come out when you pull a container from the clip. Mine’s never going to come out with the force of dispensing a plastic container, that’s for sure!

Here’s how the StoraStack looks in my cupboard:

 

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Yes, it inspired me to do some overall organization! And it’s still useful – but it’s definitely designed to be used in a deep drawer, where it can keep these things handy and organized.

You can buy YouCopia StoraStack at Target online.

YouCopia StoreMore Lid Holder

YouCopia’s StoreMore Lid Holder is the “better mousetrap” to my improvised solution of pot and pan lid storage.

Our cupboards hold a lot. Dishware, glasses, coffee filters, collectibles, knick-knacks – but there’s just no room left over for the lids to pots and pans. Plus, who wants to rummage around in cupboards for the proper lid when the grease in the pan catches fire? I mean, when it’s time to gently sauté the seasonal vegetables… I’ve been using a dish rack. It’s not an elegant solution, but it keeps the lids handy and (somewhat) organized. The problem, here, is that it’s a dish rack – each slot is the same size, so the lids tilt and bang into one another. One or two don’t really fit, and end up perched atop two of the others. Why does this matter? As you can see, they’re all glass. I’d rather they didn’t get cracked or chipped! This first picture shows the “before” situation on the right:

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You can see the YouCopia StoreMore Lid Holder on the left. Doesn’t look like much, but those coated wire dividers are strong and easy on the lids! They’re also easy to insert, adjust, and remove, making it easy to fit them to the exact depth needed to securely hold each lid upright. No “one size fits all” solution, here! Bye-bye, dish rack!

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You can buy the YouCopia’s StoreMore Lid Holder at Target online.

YouCopia Spice Liner

I was a little skeptical about the YouCopia Spice Liner. Remember me mentioning, earlier, that we had a spice rack when I was a kid? Well, that’s one tradition that I’ve managed to observe through adulthood. In fact, my spices don’t just have a rack; they have stainless steel lazy susan that keeps my most-used spices handy near the stove. They also have a shelf (for the Costco-sized spice containers) and a plastic storage bin (for smaller, miscellaneous sized spices and extracts) in the pantry. My spice storage solutions runneth over!

But why not give this a try? This is not a “make money online” blog and I don’t review things for cash (but see the site’s terms to theoretical exceptions to the rule). I received these products in exchange for trying them out and sharing my opinion of them. None of the links here are affiliate links, so it’s honestly no skin off my nose if you buy or don’t buy. I just really like promoting good things (and warning friends to steer clear of horrible things). So why not?

I was pleasantly surprised. I mean, these are gray foam strips you lay down in the bottom of a drawer – nothing fancy or special here, and they’re $2.50 each! I wasn’t expecting much, and was pretty sure I’d be “re-gifting” them. But I like them, and so does my husband. There are ridges for the spice bottles to nestle into, to keep them from rolling around in the drawer – no matter how hard you pull or push on the drawer, they don’t move. The spice bottles stay quietly put, in neat rows.

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What else might these prove useful for? Those little bottles of wine or alcohol they serve on an airplane? Medicine bottles! Nail polish! Pens or pencils! Little tea tins! The possibilities are – well, maybe not “endless,” but use your imagination. I’m planning to use a couple of these in my bedside table. These little strips of foam rubber are well-designed and versatile. One of the questions on Amazon was, “Do they have an odor?” Nope. In fact, the material might make a good drawer or cupboard liner; perhaps YouCopia should consider making a flat, thinner version for that purpose.

You can buy the YouCopia Spice Liner at Target online.

Gift Ideas and a Chance to Win!

Any of these would make great housewarming presents, inexpensive wedding or bridal shower gifts, or stocking stuffers.  I won’t tell if you buy them for yourself.

Intrigued? Why not enter to win a free YouCopia product of your own choice?

Win a YouCopia Product of your choice #28

The giveaway will run out on the 11th of January. Read the full terms and conditions on the widget. The prize is a choice of YouCopia product for a value of up to $40. Good luck to you – and if you win, be sure to let me know what you think!

 

Iron and Rust

Iron and Rust

The four-legged cast-iron Dutch oven sat just outside the kitchen window, masquerading as a planter for wild things. Tetanus, maybe. Running a hand across its rust-roughened surface, it was hard to tell if it had sprouted tumors or succumbed to the pitting of an acid rain.

I had an uneasy, love-hate relationship with cast iron even when the Dutch oven was new. Someone had explained “seasoning the pot” to me by pointing out that cast iron expanded with heat, opening up unseen spaces for the oils to seep into the metal and meld with it over time and use. In the dark recesses of my mind, I could hear echoes of my mother’s dire warnings about botulism, and the notion that cast iron cookware wasn’t supposed to be touched by soap made me hesitant to eat anything that had touched it. There were microscopic things crawling around in its invisible crevices and pores.

Still, the Dutch oven had served us well; I’d used it, once, to make a coq au vin in the back yard, and another time to win a Dutch oven dessert contest with a lemon pound cake, mixed up in a Zip-Loc freezer bag on a chilly, February night, that reminded our Scoutmaster of his grandmother’s lemon pound cake and brought a tear to his eye. It had been used for a variety of meals and desserts, even contributed its share towards raising funds for Relay for Life.

I looked away from the dusty-orange corrosion. It seemed like a betrayal: first, to have left it outdoors, neglected, in the rain; second, to entertain the thought that it would make more sense to replace it than to repair it. Even my husband was skeptical when I asked if I could borrow his power drill.

Repair it? I lifted it by the handle – ironically, the steel handle was the only bit that hadn’t rusted. I checked quickly under the heavy lid for spiders. I imagined muscular arachnids using the Dutch oven for what? A fallout shelter? Nothing moved; the interior was still shiny and black, with only a few rusty rivulets dripping down from the edges. I wasn’t even sure it could be repaired, but surely, cast-iron wasn’t so fragile it should be discarded.

The accursed Dutch oven became a metaphor. Would I be so easily discarded, one day? Looking at all the things that were wrong with this four-legged rust-bucket, it seemed the logical thing to do. If I were that pot, I’d discard me. I looked at it; I looked at the trash can. Had it been deeper, I might have leaped into it, headfirst.

Now this accursed rust-bucket was a dismal symbol of mortality and death and doubts about my own self-worth. I wanted to kick it. My son looked at it and asked if my tetanus shot was up to date. It’s not. This pot and I might do each other in, yet.

I looked at Amazon. I made a quick cost-benefit analysis that, to be honest, was heavily weighted in sentimentality and the need to salvage my own psyche. It would be $90 to buy a new one. If I’d needed one at all, that probably wouldn’t be a bad price. But if I abandoned this effort now, I probably wouldn’t bother replacing it. I’d spend the money on some high-end Calphalon, or something.

I sighed.

I felt ashamed of me and of our throw-away attitudes towards people and things. The Dutch oven challenged me to spend hours in 90-degree heat, scraping it clean of its rust barnacles. I turned to the collective wisdom of the Internet, and YouTube. Turns out, it could be done, but you might need your own metalworking shop out in the garage.

Restore a Cast Iron Dutch Oven

Strip Off the Rust and Old Seasoning

I found various methods:

  • Electrolysis
  • Self-cleaning oven
  • Vinegar (acid bath)
  • Coarse steel wool (and a tanker truck of elbow grease)
  • Power drill and a coarse-wire sanding attachment

I tried everything but electrolysis, though that was the most tempting “experiment.” There was one man who explained that some of the materials he’d seen used and recommended, such as rebar and scrap metal, weren’t suitable for cookware, since they contained lead or other chemicals that could be harmful.

I started out with steel wool, but soon ran out of elbow grease and ordered up a hot shower and a tanker truck of Advil.

The power drill seemed promising, at first, and might have been, with enough time and more power. Ours has variable speeds and you have to keep squeezing the trigger – my trigger finger was soon aching and swollen and I’d only managed to etch an interesting swirly pattern into the lid of the Dutch oven. A bit of progress showed me the futility of steel wool, alone, though. Five years of rust will not give up its hold that easily.

The best combination turned out to be this: Overnight in a self-cleaning oven set to clean, followed by vinegar and steel wool to remove the loosened up coating of rust. I kept at it until I could rub a paper towel across the surface without it changing color. See this video from Gene Lonergan – it’s probably the best of the fifty or so I watched for ideas, and shows a pretty good represention of what I started with:

Best Seasoning for a Cast Iron Dutch Oven

I’ve begun the process of seasoning the pot, using sesame oil. Why sesame oil? I don’t know. That’s my current favorite flavored oil, and if it’s going to impart a “flavor” to the food, why not? Also because, by now, I am both grateful for and tired of the collective wisdom of the Internet and its slavish devotion to cast-iron cookware and endless debates over which oil is best for seasoning. Hell, if the microbes and residual iron dust don’t kill me, I can afford to make a mistake in the “seasoning” of this pot and start over. I am woman, hear me roar.

Plot Bunny Helping Her Authorship with Power Tools

It turned out to be more work than I’d imagined, but as I scraped, sanded, acid-bathed, and baked off layers of accumulated rust, I felt satisfaction in the work. The Dutch oven and I became friends. Seriously, I’ll probably die of tetanus in a week, but the Dutch oven will be there to tell future generations that I lived – and learned to use power tools and cook with courage, laughing in the face of crevices and microbes.

There were so many more layers, so many more years, so many more stories left in this Dutch oven. What I did to this thing to “restore” it would have destroyed a modern, non-stick coated pan. Utterly destroyed it. But this heavy-bottomed, cast-iron workhorse? Hours of torturous abuse only revealed its inner strength and decades of remaining potential. The metaphor that had left me grudgingly making a half-hearted effort now energized me and lifted my spirits.

Take that, whippersnappers.

After Shot - 1st Coat of Seasoning Baked In

That Time Arnold Palmer Saved the World from Alien Zucchini

That Time Arnold Palmer Saved the World from Alien Zucchini

…and Didn’t Even Realize It!

I was 19. My parents left the country for ten days – and left me in charge of the house, the kitchen, and two zucchini plants. My mother’s instructions went something like this: “Don’t burn down the house, don’t fall in love while we’re gone, and check on the zucchini every couple of days. It looks like a few are almost ripe, and it’d be a shame to let them go to waste and rot out there in the garden. It shouldn’t be much trouble; there are just the two of them.”

I didn’t burn down the house.

And I did check on those zucchini plants. I dutifully plucked the dark, green summer squash and tucked them into in the fridge until there was no room for anything else. And still they continued to be fruitful and multiply. I began to envision them as the first wave of alien zucchini pods, little infiltrators poised to take over planet Earth from my kitchen. I supposed it was my patriotic duty to eat them, but I wasn’t terribly fond of zucchini. I wasn’t even sure how to cook them. My mother had always shooed me out of the kitchen, saying, “Go on, it’s just easier to do it myself.” I opened the refrigerator door and gave those zucchini the evil eye. They were unmoved and unintimidated.

I began to tear through the cookbooks.

And there, in a cookbook my mother put together in 1976, called Mrs. Cratchit’s Kitchen, was a recipe for zucchini bread, contributed by none other than the famous golf pro, Arnold Palmer. Armed with a grater, a large bowl, and a wooden spoon, I read Palmer’s blueprint for defeating the alien zucchini army:

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By the time I was done, I had vanquished the foe and stocked up on enough loaves of zucchini bread to feed my girlfriends and all their boyfriends for a week. I could hardly lift my right arm; it ached and throbbed and hung limply at my side – worn out from stirring so many batches of the thick, heavy batter.

I refused to make zucchini bread again until after I had a Cuisinart food processor.

I had to draw my own Purple Heart. In crayon.

Next up, another grand, culinary adventure: Calamari Marinara with Couscous. Or, Chewy Rubber Bands with Lumps of Damp Concrete.

I eventually learned my way around the kitchen, and still make Arnold Palmer’s zucchini bread – I only wish he knew how grateful I was not to be squashed by the insidious squash.

Epilogue

I’ll be honest: I’m no sports fan. In fact, I think the “any interest whatsoever in sports” gene skipped me and doubled in my daughter. But Arnold Palmer is special. For my daughter’s first birthday, I wrote to nearly 160 celebrities in various fields: actors, politicians, royalty, sports figures, pioneers in medicine, musicians, artists, writers, and others. I asked them to help me make her first birthday memorable, since it was a big milestone in her life, but the odds were good she wouldn’t remember a minute of it. And just as Arnold Palmer had come through with a recipe to save the world from evil zucchini, he came through for me:

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Thank you, Arnold Palmer.