Month: February 2011

Food Porn Friday – Valentine’s Day

(Image via We Heart It)

Valentine’s Day is just around the corner and whether you’re marking the occasion with someone or not, is there any better excuse reason to make homemade treats made with chocolate.

(No nutritional value information is allowed for today’s post.  This is pure indulgence.)

I love Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups.  I think I’ll “have to” try this recipe!  The only cooking you have to do is melt the butter.

Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies

A chocolate truffles recipe from Gourmet magazine.

MAKES ABOUT 60 TRUFFLES (DO NOT DOUBLE RECIPE)

Ingredients

  • 11 oz Valrhona chocolate (56% cacao)
  • 2/3 cup heavy cream
  • Valrhona cocoa powder for dusting

Preparation

  • Finely chop 8 ounces of the chocolate and put in a bowl.
  • Bring heavy cream to a boil in a small heavy saucepan. Make sure your pan is small, so you’ll lose the least amount of cream to evaporation, and heavy, which will keep the cream from scorching. Linxe boils his cream three times—he believes that makes the ganache last longer. If you do this, compensate for the extra evaporation by starting with a little more cream.
  • Pour the cream over the chocolate, mashing any big pieces with a wooden spoon.
  • Then stir with a whisk in concentric circles (don’t beat or you’ll incorporate air), starting in the center and working your way to the edge, until the ganache is smooth.
  • Let stand at room temperature until thick enough to hold a shape, about 1 hour, then, using a pastry bag with a 3/8-inch opening or tip, pipe into mounds (about 3/4 inch high and 1 inch wide) on parchment-lined baking sheets. When piping, finish off each mound with a flick of the wrist to soften and angle the point tip. Freeze until firm, about 15 minutes.
  • Meanwhile, melt 3 more ounces of the same Valrhona and smear some on a gloved hand. Gently rub each chilled truffle to coat lightly with chocolate. The secret to a delicate coating of chocolate is to roll each truffle in a smear of melted chocolate in your hand. Linxe always uses gloves.
  • Toss the truffles in unsweetened Valrhona cocoa powder so they look like their namesakes, freshly dug from the earth. A fork is the best tool for tossing truffles in cocoa. Shake truffles in a sieve to eliminate excess cocoa. Store truffles in the fridge.

And a chocolate mousse from Bon Appetit magazine.

  • PREP: 25 minutes
  • TOTAL: 4 hours 25 minutes (includes chilling time)

Ingredients

  • 3 1/2 ounces bittersweet chocolate (do not exceed 61% cacao), chopped
  • 3 large eggs (preferably organic), separated, room temperature
  • Pinch of salt
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons sugar, divided
  • 3/4 cup chilled heavy whipping cream
  • Food Safety Note

    Raw egg is not recommended for infants, the elderly, pregnant women, and people with weakened immune systems. To avoid the risk of salmonella infection, use pasteurized egg yolk.

Preparation

  • Place chocolate in medium metal bowl. Set bowl over saucepan of simmering water and stir until chocolate is melted and smooth. Remove bowl from over water. Add egg yolks to melted chocolate and whisk until smooth. Using electric mixer, beat egg whites and pinch of salt in another medium bowl until soft peaks form. Gradually add 1 1/2 teaspoons sugar, beating constantly until whites are glossy and medium-firm peaks form. Using silicone or rubber spatula, fold 1/4 of beaten whites into chocolate mixture to lighten. Gently fold remaining whites into chocolate mixture just until incorporated (do not overmix or mixture may deflate).
  • Divide mousse among 4 bowls. Cover and chill until set, about 4 hours. DO AHEAD Can be made 1 day ahead. Keep chilled.
  • Beat cream and 1 teaspoon sugar in another medium bowl until peaks form. Spoon whipped cream atop mousse.

Wacky Wednesday

There’s the saying “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure”.  The same kind of thinking seems to be true for the themed cakes at Bizarre Bites.  Some of the cakes are creatively awesome, some are awesomely weird.  Then, for me, there’s the Batman and Spiderman cakes and all I could think of was “Off with their heads!”.  Happy feasting, now I want a cake!

I understand the thrill of wanting to do it and the adrenaline rush from doing it, but, actually doing it?

Sometimes the drawing technique  is as much art as the finished product as this video shows.

Don’t mess with pensioners!  Just don’t!

Have a great Wednesday!

The 5 Stages of Grief

For those of us living with a chronic illness, we can go through many emotions in our day-to-day lives.  The 5 stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance) also plays a big part in our lives because, so often, our chronic illness causes such a huge loss.

The 5 stages of grief was identified by Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross  in her book, “On Death and Dying,” that was published in 1969.  The Wikipedia page for the Kübler-Ross Model, which is what the 5 stages of grief is also known as, has the following:

Kübler-Ross originally applied these stages to people suffering from terminal illness, later to any form of catastrophic personal loss (job, income, freedom). This may also include significant life events such as the death of a loved one, divorce, drug addiction, the onset of a disease or chronic illness, an infertility diagnosis, as well many tragedies and disasters.

Kübler-Ross claimed these steps do not necessarily come in the order noted above, nor are all steps experienced by all patients, though she stated a person will always experience at least two. Often, people will experience several stages in a “roller coaster” effect—switching between two or more stages, returning to one or more several times before working through it.

It’s been 10 years since I first became sick at work.  I thought I would go through the 5 stages and see what this old brain can remember.

Denial

I’m going to guess it’s the rare person who doesn’t go through this phase.  At the beginning, there was a lot of blood tests and the I-don’t-know shrugging of shoulders by the doctors.  I saw a neurologist because I kept saying I had these shooting pains that would turn into a headache and my doctor wanted to make sure I didn’t have a brain tumour.  I also saw an internist who did a lot of the same blood work over again (vampires had nothing on these guys at times), did a few extra tests, but still could not come up with why I was sick.  The internist is the one who called me an enigma.

But, hope still sprang eternal for me for the first year and a half.  There had to have been a discussion about me at work.  I tried  a couple of times to go back to work and I didn’t even last the morning.  I was off for another week or so and I tried going back half-days, starting in the afternoon.  Sort of worked OK at the beginning.  I was still really tired and it started getting to be too much for me and my team leader told me to stay home while the doctors figure out what is wrong with me.  After two months I was on short-term disability.

I was able to get into a regular sleep routine after being home for a couple of months.  I was putting less stress on my body with not going to work.  I was back to waking up at my normal time of 6:00 am and did my morning routine, though definitely  a more relaxed version.  I  still had most of my symptoms but I always thought that the doctors would figure out what was going on.  That optimistic, hope springs eternal thinking.  Chronic fatigue syndrome was ruled out by my doctor at the time, though I sometimes wonder if that played a part.  I’ve read some blogs by people with CFS and vertigo and balance issues are a problem for some of them.

However, a year and a half after I first got sick, my money started running out.  I sold a few things to help pay the rent and cashed in my retirement savings that I had started to build up but that fall I had to move out of my apartment and rent a room in someone’s home.

DENIAL STAGE DEFINITELY OVER!

Anger

This is one area where some days I’m OK.  Then something happens.  I look at the situation that I’m living in (a rooming house, a quiet one where we pretty much get along, but, who grows up thinking they’ll be living in a rooming house), other people around me in bad moods, the weather changes or I get a cold that affects my ears and balance and I’m stuck in bed.  The ENT doctor can’t help me, just find a “quality of life” I’m told.  I see people seeming to lead “normal” and I’m not one of them.

I”M NOT ONE OF THEM!

I think anger and acceptance are working hand-in-hand as far as I’m concerned.  I’m accepting that this will be with me the rest of my life.  However,  since it seems there’s nothing that can be done to help me, anger rears its ugly head a lot more often, stressing me out at the same time.

DEFINITELY NOT OVER IT, PROBABLY NEVER WILL.

Bargaining

When they say there are some stages you don’t go through, I think this is mine.  I don’t remember any bargaining.  I think all that I kept thinking of were the things I was going to do before I got sick.  I had gone from being a temporary employee to permanent one the year before I got sick and I had started looking into Continuing Education classes at one of the universities.  I was thinking of things like yoga and joining a gym.  I was making plans.  And I was going to keep those plans going when I got better.

DON’T THINK IT EVER REALLY PLAYED A PART WITH ME.

Depression

I suffer from S.A.D., seasonal affective disorder.  Depending on how my winter is going I have somewhere between a mild case to maybe medium.  The anniversary of me getting sick falling right in the middle of winter doesn’t help either.  In fact, when February comes around, I know it’s sometimes worse.  Once, I’m over the hurdle of February 15th, things start to get better.  However, I don’t feel like I’ve been depressed.   What I have been diagnosed with is situational depression so, sometimes I will feel a bit blue at other times of the year depending on the situation.

However, there have been two times over the years where, mentally, things were really bad.  The first time was a couple of months before I had to move out of my apartment which is about late summer 2001.  Reality was kicking in and the denial stage was coming to an end.   I was lying in bed thinking how life had turned out and it wasn’t pretty.  No diagnosis, no help, running out of money, running out of options.

I was lying on my bed trying to come up with options, but couldn’t.  And then it happened.  I thought the best thing to do was to just die.  For a few seconds it seemed the one and only option.  But, survivor mode kicked in and I figuratively scared myself to death.  I started thinking “NO!  DON’T THINK THAT!  THAT’S NOT THE ANSWER!”  I don’t think I have ever been so scared in all my life because, not only had the thought had come so quickly, there was a sad calm that overcame me.  Obviously, I’m happy that I didn’t go that route.  But, it gave me a very quick glimpse into a dark abyss that I hope to never fall into again.

Then 2008 came around.  The one big thing that happened to me personally was that I was deemed a person with a disability.  More money, less stress, a few more options.

A couple of other things happened that had nothing to do with me.  Heath Ledger died in January of 2008 and the movie The Dark Knight came out that summer.  I saw the movie when it came out on dvd , really enjoyed it and even bought my own copy of the movie.  And then the winter of 2009 started.

I felt so bad for a couple of months.  It took writing things out to figure out what was going on.  The first was, I finally got on disability.  While it was what I wanted, it put to rest the chance of me getting back to a “normal” life and I had to acknowledge that I now have the label of disabled.

The other thing that happened was that everyone started talking about Heath Ledger getting an oscar nomination and perhaps posthumously winning the award for playing the Joker as well as all the awards he had already won.  As I’ve already said, winter is the time when S.A.D. will kick in.  That year, however, it was the worst that had ever happened to me.  I realized it was because all these stories were coming out (and acting as triggers to thinking and over thinking) about a young man who had died, leaving behind a little girl.  And that was when his death started affecting me.  It seemed it was always in the news.  How young he was, what he had accomplished, what would have been in his future.

And that is what got to me because I started thinking about what I was now missing in my life, what plans I had been making and what now was not going to happen.  What should have been a more relaxing time had become an exceptionally sad and stressful time because sometimes all you can do is think.  And, although they were innocent entertainment stories at the beginning, once the awards started rolling in for Heath Ledger, there were stories coming out about how sad it was for the people who worked on The Dark Knight to accept the awards. Adding to it, it was the middle of winter and I was not getting out of the house that much.  That never helps.

But, as the saying goes, this too shall pass.  And it did.  The last of the awards shows finally came and went as did the entertainment stories.  The days were getting longer and brighter.  I had different things I did as coping tools.  The snow started melting and my mood started improving.  But, I must admit it has left me with questions about what will happen in the future.  I am lucky that I have people who I live with that I could talk to and hang out with.  They are going through their own health issues and we have that bond that wouldn’t have happened except for serendipity.  One day we won’t be living with each other that scares me.  While I miss being on my own, I’ve really become used to living with these people and our support system.  I’ve lived with some of these people from 5 to almost 8 years.  This is also the one place where I have stayed the longest.  We have developed a support system for each other that we normally would not have as some of the people are also going through their own health problems.

WILL CONTINUALLY HAVE TO BE ON ALERT!

Acceptance

Again, I think this works hand-in-hand with the anger stage with me.  At some point, it became clear that unless something a miracle happened, I was stuck with whatever was going on with me for the rest of my life.  I finally got a diagnosis but, having a diagnosis doesn’t make things easier.  Did finally get me on disability though, which has made life less stressful.

I’VE ACCEPTED.

Well, if you have made it this far, congratulations.  I think this is the longest post I’ve done so far with over 2,000 words.  I was thinking about splitting it up into two posts but decided it would be better for the 5 stages to be in one.  This will, I hope , also serve as a guideline as to where I am in the different stages of grief and as something I can use as a comparison years down the road. You never know what is around the corner, what may happen and how it will affect the different stages.

Writing this out has brought back memories, some good, some still uncomfortable to acknowledge and some bad, but they are mine and they are part of what now makes me, me.

Stumble Upon Saturday

Well, my cold has pretty much gone away.  Now it’s getting my strength back up and my sleep back on a regular schedule, which is why I’m starting this at two in the morning.  I’m getting there.  When I was really sick I was awake all night and falling asleep usually around 6:00 am.  Now, I fall asleep around 9:00 pm and I’m only up half the night.

So, tonight I started clicking on the “stumble” icon on Stumbleupon.com and thought I would link to stuff I found interesting.  So, here goes…

What does your body language say about you from Jinxiboo.com.

I guess someone wants me to learn about body language and lies.  Another article about detecting lies and body language from Blifaloo.com.

Sidewalk chalk drawings by Julian Beever.

Are you thinking of bringing one of man’s best friends into your home?  Here’s a list of 10 canine commandments from picchore.com to think about before getting a dog.

These 40 tips for a better life from Global One TV have been around for a long time from various people, but it never hurts to be reminded.

Do you want to learn how to recognize when someone is trying to sell you on some idea or thing?  Do you want to be the one to be persuasive?  Do you feel that someone is trying to deceive you and you want to avoid that from happening? Changingminds.org has approximately 5,000 pages to help you

Food Porn Friday and Heart Month

February is Heart Month and in honour of our always beating heart, the Los Angeles Times has a variety of heart-related articles, photos, videos and links.

One of the links, the American Heart Association, as you can imagine,  has a wealth of information on the subject. We already know the basics:

  1. don’t smoke;
  2. maintain a healthy weight;
  3. engage in regular physical activity;
  4. eat a healthy diet;
  5. manage blood pressure;
  6. take charge of cholesterol; and
  7. keep blood sugar, or glucose, at healthy levels.

There are also a few recipes to inspire you to get heart healthy.  Of course, most of their recipes are in cookbooks that they sell, but I did pick one from each of the categories that they have (main course, soup/salad/side dishes, desserts and sweets, snacks and appetizers).

Click on the recipe title for the instructions and nutritional information and enjoy doing something good for your heart and your heart’s desire.

Sweet & Nutty Stir-Fry

Ingredients

Pasta
4 ounces dried multigrain vermicelli or spaghetti, broken in half
2 teaspoons curry powder

Sauce
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons soy sauce (lowest sodium available)
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1/3 cup fresh orange juice
2 teaspoons grated orange zest

Stir-Fry
1 teaspoon canola or corn oil
1/2 cup thinly sliced onion
2 cups bite-size broccoli florets (about 5 ounces)
1 cup thinly sliced (not shredded) red cabbage
1 cup matchstick-size carrot pieces
1/2 cup unsalted peanuts, dry-roasted

Spring Greens with Salmon and Apricot-Ginger Vinaigrette

Ingredients

Apricot-Ginger Vinaigrette
1/4 cup all-fruit apricot spread
1/4 cup fresh orange juice
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons grated peeled gingerroot
1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1/8 teaspoon salt


Salad
4 cups mixed salad greens (spring mix preferred), torn into bite-size pieces
2 cups baby spinach leaves
1 cup shredded red cabbage
1 cup fresh or frozen snow peas, thawed if frozen, trimmed and halved diagonally
1 7.1-ounce vacuum-sealed pouch pink salmon

Pear and Cherry Crumble

Ingredients

Ingredients for the fruit
Cooking spray
Juice of one lemon
5-6 fresh pears, the riper the better
1 cup dried cherries
Zest of one lemon
1/2 cup pear juice (may substitute apple juice)
2 tablespoons honey
1 teaspoon almond extract
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon flour

Ingredients for the topping
1 cup vanilla granola
3 tablespoons flour
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup sliced almonds
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 cup trans fat free margarine spread

Red and Green Bell Pepper Bites

Ingredients

1 medium green bell pepper
1 medium red bell pepper
1/4 cup sliced almonds
4 ounces fat-free or reduced-fat cream cheese, softened
1 teaspoon no-salt lemon pepper seasoning blend
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice


It’s The Year Of The Rabbit

February 3, 2011 is the beginning of The Year of the Rabbit!  Are you a rabbit?  You are if your birth date falls in one of these periods.

Jan.29,1903 to Feb.15,1904
Feb.14,1915 to Feb.16,1916
Feb.02,1927 to Jan.22,1928
Feb.19,1939 to Feb.07,1940
Feb.06,1951 to Jan.26,1952
Jan.25,1963 to Feb.12,1964
Feb.11,1975 to Jan.30,1976
Jan.29,1987 to Feb.16,1988

Wikipedia has a page about Chinese astrology and I’ll let you find a site and discover what the year ahead will be like for you.

However, for something a little different, I’m posting some images of antique bunny-themed nengajō. They are Japanese New Year’s greeting cards or post cards and each year features the animal from the upcoming Chinese zodiac.  I originally saw these on  Pink Tentacle, a really interesting blog of Japanese art, culture, science and technology. The images are from a collection at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Happy New Year and may good fortune come your way.