Friday, August 11, 2017

Bad Timing

Note to self: No matter what execrable pun or rotten limerick your Darling Husband says, do NOT laugh while you're trying to bench press more weight than you've ever done before. Because if you blow out your breath with a laugh, your chest collapses, lower back and shoulders destabilize, and the barbell will suddenly and very painfully go sideways on you. And then everything goes pear-shaped in a hurry.

In other notes, thank God for a good trainer who is spotting.

And my husband owes me SO MUCH chocolate. Ow.

...going to ban him from opening his mouth when I'm under a barbell...

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Sage and blue cheese roasted squash

The original recipe is South African, calling for Gem Squash. I've only seen seeds for gem squash available once in 8 years of looking, and I lost the packet in moving - the squash itself, I've never seen in stores. (Note, this is not "gem" watermelons, which are not only much larger, but melons.)

But hey, you're roasting a small squash and then stuffing it with blue cheese and sage leaves that have been crisped in butter. Acorn squash is close enough!

Original recipe here:

American translation as follows:

3-4 acorn squash
1 wedge stilton (5-8 oz)
1 handful sage leaves (call it a cup. These are seriously tasty, so more is better!)
1 stick butter

First, get out the cleaver and carefully whack the acorn squash in half. Scoop out all the seeds, then flop two halves cut-down on a plate and microwave for 5-7 minutes, until the shells are shiny and the squash beneath is soft when you poke the shell. (Use something not your finger to poke it. It's hot!)

Flip the squash halves cut-side-up on a cookie tray. Divide blue cheese and crumble into each hollow.

Meanwhile, melt the stick of butter on medium heat in a frying pan. When melted, add the sage leaves. Let the dish bubble to itself for a while - about the time the butter is turning sage-green and the milk solids are starting to turn dark brown, the sage leaves will look less fresh and more fried. Remove from heat, and spoon the butter and leaves over each squash. Try to get all the cut parts coated in butter, so they won't dry out.

Stick cookie tray in oven, turn on broiler to low, broil 5 minutes or so until the cheese is bubbly, lightly browned, and sage leaves crispy but not burnt. (If doing 4 squash, just use two trays and rotate them out.)  

Serve with your main dish, and enjoy :-)

Monday, August 7, 2017

Starting Strength, the housewife review

Nothing makes me feel quite like a fat, tired, old hausfrau as looking at weightlifting & bodybuilding forums. For one thing, I can and do use correct spelling and grammar instead of "GAINZZZ!" For another, I fully recognize that it's taken me years to get into this shape, and it's going take time to get better - I'm not particularly concerned about my ABZZ, because I haven't seen them since I was 18, anyway.

Nor am I particularly impressed with the amount of noise I can make when dropping the weights, or the ability to motivate one's self or others through aggressive, crude posturing and mouthing off. (Really, boys. After you've heard Gunny Kowalski in a particularly vile mood while fixing his car, that's just infantile, unimaginitive, and repetitive.)

And I am not at all enamored of potions, lotions, pills, and powders that promise in highest pseudo-scientific commentary to deliver the same thing as Charles Atlas, without the work. I'm a woman of a certain age. Not only have I heard all that before with a slightly different spin from the cosmetic companies for decades, but I'm already taking enough potions, lotions, pills and powders that come with copays and scheduled checkups attached.

So, it may seem completely counter-intuitive that I started weightlifting with a Starting Strength coach - but it's actually been exactly what I needed, and delightfully free of  bushwa.

Starting Strength has a very simple, basic premise: you're there to get stronger, and you'll do that by lifting weights. They'll teach you how, and why, and what it does for you - as long as you put in the effort to do it.

And am I ever learning. When my darling man and I walked in to eyeball the gym and get a gut-feel for the people running it and coaching, they politely mandated we read the textbook before our first session (Starting Strength: Basic Barbell Training), and then gave us a second textbook for supplemental reading (The Barbell Prescription: Strength Training for Life After 40).

My eighteen year old self would likely have shirked the reading, and made faces about textbooks outside of college. These days, I'm a little wiser... although, having never lifted before, a lot of the references in the manual were really hard going because I had no context. The first month has been full of "Ah, so that's what that means."

The coach was also most firm that we're going to perfect form before we add weight, a practice that I wholeheartedly agree with. (I've been in physical therapy enough times I know this drill; doing something wrong with lots of force = lots of pain and injury.) Enthusiasm without form leads to injury, and I don't have enough joint tissue left for that nonsense now.

And they deliver on results!. Now, being a rather broken and fat old woman who keeps a cane in the car for bad days, they didn't start me on weight right away - rather, I got to start with leg presses to build up enough strength to do squats. And Lat pulldowns to build enough strength for an overhead press. Even bench presses, I started with a 10-pound bar that was very clearly a 3/4" ID pipe cut to length, with stripes painted where the knurls are on real weightlifting bars. (I spent a few moments trying to remember if this was Schedule 40 or Schedule 80 pipe.)

But a month in, with three workouts of roughly half an hour each per week, I am now deadlifting 45 pounds, bench pressing 50, overhead pressing 35, and squatting 65 pounds.

The numbers on the exercises, though, are less important than the benchmarks in day to day life: I can once again put glasses away on the high cupboard shelf, and take down the pyrex jugs. My knees don't hurt as much all the time, and when I do things, they hurt less than they used to. I can now mow the front lawn and most of the back lawn, too, where before it was definitely one each per day. Oh, and my jeans are looser. Not dropping sizes yet, but it's a possibility in the future if this goes on!

Thursday, August 3, 2017

It only LOOKS fancy

I have been accused of cooking fancy. Let me set the record straight: the only difference between a bachelor's "What have I got in the fridge?" for dinner and my cooking is a longer lead time between "What have I got in the fridge?" and dinner itself, a bigger food storage, and a wider range of recipe searching.

Specifically, sometime before cooking for a dinner for 6 (often the morning of), I look in the fridge, freezer, and pantry, and think "What in this do I need to use up / want to get rid of?" Then I start searching the mental database and the internet for combinations of those ingredients.

Last Tuesday, I wanted to get rid of  two skirt steaks that were getting buried in the back of the deep freezer, before they were freezerburned. I also wanted to get rid of a partial jar of green salsa (instead of made with just tomatillos, it was made with hatch chilis too.) Having plugged "low carb mexican food" into a search engine, low carb slow cooker barbacoa came up. While it didn't use the green chili salsa, it called for green chilis, onions, lime juice, and chipotles in adobo sauce (which contains vinegar.) So that's all the same ingredients as the salsa - I just have to adjust the other ingredients a bit, and other than the chipotles that I could sub another smoked ground dried red pepper (hot smoked paprika), I had everything on hand. And I could use up the bottled lime juice that was getting old, too!

One of the other sites linked to non-low-carb mexican food, including borracho beans. And lo and behold, I have three bottles of Modelo that have been sitting in the fridge for at least a month, several cans of pintos and rotel that need to be used up so I can rotate canned stock, and all I'll have to pick up is the cilantro.

I did a test run on the beef, found it excellent but very dense, and decided it'd be better as a chiles rellenos - stuffed in peppers with cheese. My husband made doubtful noises about adding more peppery heat to the beef. Well, when I went to the grocery store to pick up the cilantro, I found green bell peppers on deep discount sale, so they and a block of munster cheese came home with me to be the stuffed pepper main course.

I also made a salad, because that's a dense enough meal it needs a salad. And because I always have salad fixings on hand. (Also, those tomatoes needed using. If I wasn't using 'em in a dish, then salad.)

And when I taste-tested the beans and went "Picante! Muy Picante!" I dug out the rice cooker and made a side of rice, too.

For dessert, I failed to remember to pick something up. So a quick check of the freezer produced a sad-looking bag of frozen strawberries, and two partial tubs of different kinds of vanilla ice cream with less than half a tub left each. No whipping cream in the fridge, so I had to improvise - I thawed the strawberries, reduced the juice into a thicker sauce, and poured it back over the strawberries along with a shot of Van Der Hum (spiced tangerine brandy), and let it soak together. No extra sugar, because ice cream has plenty! I served bowls with strawberries on the bottom, ice cream scooped on top, and topped with some chocolate sangiovese sauce I had in the fridge.  (It used up the strawberries and one tub of ice cream, making more freezer space.)

It only looks fancy!

Next week, I'm eyeing about two pounds of ground beef that someone stuck in the freezer in a "I'll just put this aside and use in a couple days, so no need to get out the vacuum sealer and do it right" kind of way, that are looking icy and ragged. Given a long, slow cooking to make them tender in a very flavourful gravy, I'm sure I can rescue them into something very tasty... likely a shepherd's pie or a Guinness stew.

Which lends itself to an inevitable veggies on the side. Maybe I can roast the carrots that have been in the salad drawer long enough to get hairy roots... I can pick up some turnips & roast 'em with that.  Or if they all go in the stew, there was the roast summer squash & cabbage dish a pub did... guess I better check what's on sale next week, and that'll tell me what my side dish is. Unless there's something else in the fridge to get rid of by then.

And hopefully this time I'll remember to pick up dessert. If not, there was that bag of "I have frozen blackberries? Since when?" I found when pulling out the strawberries. That can be a cobbler. Or an ice cream topping... if I pick up more ice cream... Ah! I could make custard instead, using up the eggs that are getting old, and hide any cracked tops under a blackberry sauce!

If it manages to look fancy, that's just a bonus. Being an adult isn't about perfect plans executed perfectly, it's about having well-developed contingency habits to deal with whatever life throws at you... and whatever needs to be used up first.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Back Burner Borracho Beans

I'm not yet fully acclimatized to Texas. I made these beans, and they were too spicy for me without copious amounts of sour cream, rice, and cheese. On the other hand, the Africans, the Texans, and the Cajun at the table all thought they were wonderful.

Back Burner Borracho Beans

In 5-1/2 quart Aldi knock-off of a Le Creuset dutch oven (because the slow cooker is full of barbacoa beef), combine:

3-4 cans pinto beans. (or make 2 pounds from scratch if you want. Me, I didn't plan this dish 18 hours in advance, so cans.)
1 Tbsp minced garlic
1 Modelo beer
2 cans Rotel, drained (diced tomatoes with green chiles)
1 Tbsp smoked hot paprika (use chipotle powder if you have it; I couldn't find mine)
2 tsp dried oregano
1 onion, diced
1/2 cup cooked bacon crumbles (because it was in fridge, and easier than cooking bacon or buying salt pork)
1 tsp smoked mesquite salt
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1 cup cilantro, chopped
1 Tbsp apple cider vinegar*
salt to taste**
Water to cover (don't add if using slow cooker)

*If everyone who eats the dish loves cilantro, leave this out. Cilantro's alkaline nature lends to the soapy taste. Chemically speaking, adding acid to alkaline makes a water and a salt, and thus vastly reduces the soapy nature of cilantro, while leaving some of the flavour.
**given you're using canned stuff, if you don't drain 'em, you'll have too much salt. If you do drain 'em, it's probably just right... but check.

Simmer on the back burner for at least an hour, stirring and scraping the bottom occasionally so it doesn't burn to the bottom. This lets the flavours meld - the longer you simmer, the better it gets.

True Texans would throw chilpotles in adobo sauce and fresh jalepenos in there. Me, no.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Slow Cooker Barbacoa

This recipe is adapted from Gimme Some Oven's recipe, and toned down for my, ah, less-spice-tolerant palate. Original is here:

Slow Cooker Barabacoa, the easy way

3lb skirt steak, cut into 1-inch chunks
1Tbsp garlic, minced
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1 tsp black pepper
1 Tbsp cumin
1 Tbsp dried oregano
3 bay leaves
1 tsp mesquite smoked salt
2 tsp smoked paprika (hot)
1/4 cup bottled lime juice
1 16-oz jar Hatch Valley Green Chile Salsa, poured on top

Cook on low for 6 hours; it'll shred itself when you mush it with the back of the serving spoon.

If you want to get really fancy, there's always stuffing poblanos with equal portions of this & some cheese...