Monday, August 31, 2009

Baby clam and red pepper sauce recipe

I had dozens of cookbooks (none of the classics like Joy of Cooking, though I have a New Larousse Gastronomique) but I still couldn't find a recipe for canned baby clams (they were on sale) except for a white sauce for linguine. So I made up my own. You can serve this on al dente whole wheat pasta, brown rice, or other cooked grain like couscous. Al dente pasta has a lower glycemic index than over-cooked floppy mushy pasta. Make as much pasta or whatever as you need. This recipe freezes well.

A mere quarter-cup of baby clams provides well over 100 percent of the RDI for iron and B12. They're a bit high in cholesterol, but wtf. I like the chewy texture. A handy site for finding way more than you need to know about the nutritional components of various foods, including some brand names, is the USDA Fat-Free database. Just type in the food in the field at the top and hit Enter. With the beans and whole grain pasta or brown rice, this provides a good source of dietary fiber; lots of Vitamin A and C; iron; and some protein.

I like to get all my ingredients measured out before I start cooking. That way, if I decide to drink a little wine in the process I don't get as muddled up. And you can pour a half-cup or so of the wine into the sauce, too. Any or all of the herbs and spices are up to you.

Here we go:

Clams in Red Pepper Sauce (c) Karen E. Black 2009

  • 1 tbsp canola oil (or enough to just lightly cover the bottom of a large saucepan)
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp paprika
  • 1 tbsp dried basil
  • 1 tsp cumin powder
  • 1 can baby clams, drained
  • 2 sweet red peppers, seeded and chopped
  • 1/2 cup sweet onion, chopped (I prefer sweet onions, but you can use what you like)
  • 2 cups diced fresh or canned tomatoes
  • 1 cup canned black beans (AKA turtle beans), drained and rinsed (this removes salt)

Heat oil in pot on medium high heat (don't let it smoke!). Add the spices and herbs and stir briefly until they're aromatic.

Stir in red peppers and onion, and saute until tender (not too long -- about 5 minutes).

Add the tomatoes, clams, beans, wine, and reduce heat to simmer for 10 minutes.

Serve over pasta or rice or your whatever.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Squash and lentil soup (My own inventions)

Like the White Knight in Through the Looking-Glass, who repeatedly falls off his horse as I've been doing lately, I've decided to promote my own inventions: recipes for things I like to eat but can't find good recipes for. All the ingredients should be available in either regular grocery stores, bulk food stores, health food stores, or ethnic (middle Eastern) food stores.

Here's the first one:

Squash and Lentil Soup (c) Karen E. Black 2009

Provides a low-GI meal, high fiber, medium carbohydrates and protein; low sodium; vegan without milk, or with soy milk or with vegetable broth; no added fat.

Pressure-cook, steam, bake, or microwave 1 halved or quartered small or medium winter squash (like Acorn), scooped, cooled, and flesh removed (discard shell in compost!).

Bring to simmer in large pot (like a dutch oven, at least 4 liter size) 1 liter low-sodium, low-fat chicken broth or vegetable broth, or just plain water.

Cooked squash
1/2 large sweet onion, chopped
1 large carrot, chopped
½ lb mushrooms, trimmed and halved
4 (or more or less) cloves garlic, crushed
1 tbsp fenugreek (hypoglycemic)
1 tbsp black cumin seed (hypoglycemic; AKA Nigella sativa, black seed)
1 dried chili pepper, crushed and seeds removed (to increase heat, keep seeds)
Pepper to taste
¾ cups red lentils (these cook quickly so you can add them late in the cooking process)

Simmer until carrot is tender.

Blend all ingredients in blender or food processor. Mix in 1 cup skim milk or unsweetened soy milk if desired before serving.

Serve hot with a crusty whole-grain bread and steamed veg or side salad.

You might check your blood glucose levels one or two hours after eating to see if this recipe works for you.

I don't recall how many servings this makes (4-6?), but you can freeze 250ml portions for lunches.

Monday, August 24, 2009

My birthday (sigh) again and pies

Today is my fiftieth (mumble-mumble-mumble) birthday (I think last year's was my mumble-mumble birthday: My horoscopes are all in conflict today -- what are they thinking?!

My sweet Mom called me this morning and sang Happy Birthday to me. Her soprano is nowhere near what it was now that she's 77, but it was also early in the morning so she wasn't warmed up. She was going to the church to make pies today. She's in charge of trimming crusts, and she's not that keen on it. (She also sent me a cheque with my birthday card -- my bank holds any cheques from non-Ontario sources for six days, though, so it won't burn a hole in my pocket.)

I often watched her whip up a basic pie pastry in a couple of minutes. Her piecrusts were always light and flaky, and didn't, like mine, end up mounded high over the soggy fruit. She also didn't like the way I peeled apples for her, using a sharp potato peeler instead of a paring knife. I figured you'd get more fruit using the parer carefully, but it was too slow for her and she'd take over. As a result (yeah, right, blame your mother again!) I can't make a nice short flaky pastry.

It's been a summer. I've been out of work for almost three months, and instead of using this time to relax and enjoy the summer, work on my garden, clean and organize the house, keep in touch with friends, get in shape, etc., I've mostly been lazing around and feeling sorry for myself. I tell myself it's due to my severe sleep deficit: I haven't slept for eight hours in a row for years. It's not something you get used to. It's almost like being a shift worker.

I have a couple of pounds of frozen already-mashed overripe bananas (to make banana-walnut-cranberry-blueberry muffins, using no sugar and all-purpose whole wheat flour), and a couple of pounds of frozen gooseberries -- one cup or so from last year's garden's meagre harvest and several pints of big red ones from the grocery -- to make jam (no pectin required with my old-fashioned recipe). So it's not like I don't have anything to do; it's just like I don't feel like doing any of it.

However, I did just de-clump and deodorize (with baking soda) the litter boxes, so I hope that my neighbour is happy.

And Mr. Jones ran right up to the front door to greet me today, chirping and yowling -- he REALLY wants to come in the house. Handsome Stranger, on the other hand, has draped himself across my shoulders and is snoozing...

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Night sweats may stem from gluten intolerance?

I've been plagued by night sweats for about 20 years, way before I was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. These aren't, as far as I know, related to menopause. I suffered a bit from short-lived hot flashes (and only one noticeable mood swing a couple of years ago, though I can be a bit of a drama queen) but I seldom get them any more. I've been period-free for over two years now (whee!).

My mother (aged 77, bless her heart) gets them too, as does my older brother. I'm lucky to live in a house with four beds, so if I really had to I could move to another one when one gets too damp, though I usually just move to another quarter of the double bed. I keep a fan going with the window open, in winter I keep the heat at less than 17C (that's about 63F in US gallons), sleep in a T-shirt until it gets damp, cover the wet spots with a towel (and no, not those wet spots, dagnabbit), and usually sleep without covers.

I've read recently that night sweats that are not associated with perimenopause or menopause have numerous causes, including AIDS, tuberculosis, low blood glucose, hyper- and hypothyroidism, and celiac disease (major gluten intolerance with damage to the digestive system, not just periodic GI problems). I read one post from a woman who said she also suffers from calf pain, but that might be peripheral artery disease (PAD), which can be associated with diabetes.

My grandmother had hypothyroidism as well as Type 2 diabetes, but she never talked about night sweats. Problem is, while blood tests for several of these possible causes (I've been tested for HIV and TB since I used to be a regular blood donor), the test for celiac involves a biopsy. Ouch. I've had enough invasive tests for a few years.

So as a first step (which might also help with glucose control) I'm trying gluten-free products. I can eat quinoa, gluten-free oats, veggies and fruit, rice and rice flour. I haven't checked on hops yet...

Friday, August 14, 2009

Oh, the indignity of it all!

Our venerable porch cat Mr. Jones (aka Scuffy, Boss Cat, etc.) has a new moniker, courtesy of my neighbour's nearly-four-year-old daughter: Sparkle Tail the Girl Cat. Where she got this, I don't know: she's not a TV-watching child, much to her mother's chagrin. I'm going to ask her when he can be a Boy Cat again.

For at least a couple of years now both I and my neighbours have been feeding him every morning, and at least three other people on the street have contributed food and warm bedding. Another person has tried (unsuccessfully, so far) to get someone to contribute a recovery room for a couple of days, in hopes we can catch him, get him fixed, and release him in the 'hood.
In mid-winter he disappeared for nearly a month---when he reappeared at my front door in early February ( he'd lost half his winter weight. Now the summer fleas are causing him to suffer somewhat.
Mr. Jones's history is unknown. But one of my neighbours keeps tabs on where he hangs out. When we first started discussing him she swore he'd been around for at least five years. Then it became ten years. We chatted on the street earlier this week and she gave me an update on her observations, and now she claims he's been around for 20 years...
Mr. Jones has a couple of quirks: while he waits for me to come downstairs he stretches up to the window to peer in. When he sees me he sits back down. When I open the front door he steps politely into the hallway, then goes back out. When I put his food in his dish he sniffs it, looks up at me, and waits for me to pat him. Only then will he put his head down to eat.
What's really pathetic is that lately he is trying to walk further into the house when I open the door. My heart is breaking because, with four indoor cats already, and his unknown temperament and health, I can't let him in.
But my four indoor cats are complacent when he appears (unlike their reaction to other outdoor cats they see), and he and Peabo have sniffed noses. So, could he come in?

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Benign Neglect

The last time I made banana muffins I neglected to clean the muffin pans out (nice vintage Ecko ones from Value Village). I don't like having to peel a paper off my muffins so the pans had a few crumbs stuck to them. Once that hardened, I decided to give them a good (read: too long) soak. All that did was rust them up and leave stains on my sink. So I cleaned them up a bit, then decided to throw them out. Then I decided to offer them back to Value Village. Then I decided to list them on a free-for-the-taking site like declutterize or ReUseIt or freecycle. Then I decided to clean them with steel wool and extra-fine wet-dry sandpaper from Lee Valley. They still have a few stains on them, but they are in pretty good shape now. Remind me to write a note to myself to buy a few over-ripe bananas. And maybe some paper muffin cups, though I abhor the things.

There are few things that don't suffer from benign neglect -- dental health; my back yard; the vegetable crisper contents. In the garden, lilacs much prefer a sunny location over fertilization to bloom in the spring, and morning glory and nasturtium much prefer a poor soil, otherwise there's lots of foliage and few blooms.

And cat litter boxes.

I've got four of the poopy things. Cats, that is. Pet sites all recommend one litter box per cat plus one extra. I only have four boxes, but one of them is four feet long and two feet wide (it's an under-the-bed plastic storage box that didn't fit under the bed when I got it home). I was mortified when my attached neighbour asked me over. She was quite kind: asking me how I was doing, about the job hunt, and so on. Then she mentioned that the litter box smell was coming through our common basement wall into their upstairs. Augh! I immediately dumped and replaced the litter, after washing out the boxes with washing soda and sprinkling baking soda in the bottoms. I washed the floors with a liquid that's supposed to deodorize cat-smelling areas, and sprayed Febreze around.

Strangely, I suffer (or not) from life-long anosmia -- no sense of smell. So that makes benign neglect all that much easier for me.

And leave a comment if you want my very low-fat, no-sugar banana loaf recipe!

Monday, August 10, 2009

Is it necessary to water during a summer drought?

We haven't had a drought in Toronto this summer (yet). In previous years the August heat and funny weather can cause lawns to go yellow. But grass is resilient and it will recover quickly after one good rain, but home owners still use drinking water from the tap to keep it green. provides a LOT of information on lawns, including discouraging them. I say, "Nature abhors a lawn" (you heard it here first). I say, "Grass is one plant." Organic farmers discourage monoculture. A "nice" lawn needs pesticide and fertilizer. The City of Toronto will not pick up grass clippings, unless you hide them at the bottom of a yard waste bag under other weed and clippings.

Two years ago I had my back downspout disconnected. Incompetent workers created more issues with the roof (see than they helped, and I've had my eaves troughs and downspouts replaced and the rain barrel moved. My front yard is mostly xeriscaped (drought-loving summer plants).

What I should really do is take out the roses. I have two in the front. One is in a really bad place that doesn't get enough water, though it's survived, blooms only once in the late spring, and then gets eaten by bugs. I don't water or fertilize it. The other is a similar old-fashioned plant that I bought a few years ago. Now I love roses (mine are magenta). But I don't like maintenance.

My brother's blueberries

My bro has a nice big property in a small town -- two-bedroom house with a nice-sized deck and a patio, separate garage with workshop, a storage shed for his lawn tractor and other equipment, and a stocked trout pond, with a small covered bridge he built over the creek that feeds it. He loves to cut down old trees and plant new ones. And he bought some blueberry bushes this spring that have produced some nice big juicy berries, some of which he brought when he visited last week.
I've planted blueberry bushes before, but they didn't take. Besides, I like things I can ignore that will still produce. When I got my big silver maple cut down I lost all the boysenberries.
Canadian blueberries are on special at a few places right now. The cultivated ones are huge and sweet. I should buy a few more and freeze them. Wild blueberries grow low to the ground and are a trial to gather (not to mention that black bears like them too), though they have way more of the valuable anthocyanins and antioxidants, and cost more in stores. One year at camp, my mother picked enough to make 36 500ml jars of wild blueberry jam. That's back-breaking work, and goes to show you how bored she was while my dad worked as Arts & Crafts director.

I bought 9 dry pints of BC blueberries today and am in the process of freezing them for the fall and winter -- they're good on hot cereal!

Saturday, August 8, 2009

The Garden "During" File

This is the mess in the back. The weeds were over a foot high before my Big Bro took his gas-powered weed trimmer to it. The electric lawnmower was sort of incorporated in the weeds...but it's worked before after spending the winter outside.

Some of the raspberry canes are up to eight feet tall. They bear fruit the size of the tip of my thumb well into the fall. They aren't doing as well this year due to the rain and cooler weather; last year, even after the 'coons got at them (I could tell by the visible seeds in the poops they dropped on my lawn), I still got enough fruit to make 25 jars of jam.

I plan on building a raised bed for strawberries (I'd like to find a bale of straw somewhere), and moving the asparagus to a sunny location, where I'll also be reminded to fertilize and mulch. I also have rhubarb that I moved and separated this spring.

And the gooseberries are now in a sunny spot, but they didn't like being moved this year and didn't blossom, though they have survived pretty well. I'll have to figure out how far back to prune them.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Family visit and "garden" update

My older brother came to visit on Sunday for a few days. He likes to invite himself; I arrange vacation time; he doesn't show up (well, he's done it twice: once because "I don't feel too good" and once because his car wasn't feeling too good). This time he made it! We sat on the porch and drank beer on Sunday and had pizza for dinner. We ate Thai food on Monday (not much open on the civic holiday). Then we drank our dinner on Tuesday and slept early. Wednesday we had a lovely grilled steak with home-made cole slaw and potato salad. I made a loaf of Jim Lahey's No-Knead Bread with whole wheat flour and oat bran, and we had that with balsamic vinegar and olive oil -- yum.

And he's such a helpful person! He helped me move to this house in 1999, and we exchange items (for example, my mother's portable dishwasher went from Waterloo, QC to Granby to Toronto to Stanstead, and an area rug of mine made a similar trip). My back yard is in shocking condition. The lawnmower was decomposing into the weeds, the raspberry canes are taking over in the back, I left nice clay/ceramic pots out that crumbled in the cold and ice, and I had the biggest dandelions and broad leaf weeds I've ever seen. But he brought his gas-powered weed trimmer and tackled the worst of the mess for me.

I don't have grass any more, since I let a spot of yarrow (mine is pink) take over. I still have a few strawberry plants from Manitoulin Island that are growing in the shade of the raspberry canes, and I have some lumber, so I'll be making a small (4'x4') raised bed to move them to. I'm using corner bead (cheap!) to attach some 1x6 pine planks that came from the old deck I demolished (I hate to throw stuff away -- that was in 2000, I think!).

Two years ago I had two of these Lee Valley grow bins with the strawberries coming out of every hole, and I sold or gave away about 50 more plants. But I neglected to water the bins and I got exactly one strawberry (click the image to have a look: centre left), and the plants were gone the next year...

And my asparagus did NOT get its mulching and fertilizing in the last couple of years, though the plants are mature enough to provide several meals if I treat them properly. I've used it in quiche with home-grown tomatoes and basil. They're also shaded by canes, so I'll attempt to move them too.

Naturally I didn't take a Garden: Before picture. Maybe I'll post a During one.