The Tyranny of October, 2009 Sunday, Jun 7 2009 

abdominal-strengthNothing like an upcoming high-school reunion to get one on a fitness plan, am I not right? I have one coming up in October of this year, and when I heard about it in February or March, I started thinking, “Umm … I should probably start working out again … .” Yeah—and you know I got right on that!

Prevention June 2009I’m sorry to say that thinking about working out isn’t the same as literally working out. Just when I was about to say, “Aw, who cares, anyway? I’m healthy. I’m happy. What am I trying to prove to my former classmates?” along came our mail carrier with the June 2009 issue of Prevention magazine.

I’ve had a subscription to Prevention for a couple of decades. I get a lot of good info from it. Every issue has healthy seasonal menus, all of which sound yummy, but for one reason or another just wouldn’t work well for my unpredictable schedule each week. The June 2009 issue’s menu hit the bull’s eye for me, though. It falls in line with the Mediterranean heart-healthy way of eating, and the thing that makes me really happy about it is that it includes the things I just can’t live without.

avocado_3The components of this way of eating are plant-based and rich in MUFA (“moofah”), or mono-unsaturated fatty acids.) The base ingredients are olives, healthy oils including olive oil, avocados, nuts & seeds, and DARK CHOCOLATE!!!

Prevention has put these items into five weeks worth of meals that can serve as either a lunch or a dinner for me. A lot of the things in the meals are grab and go, which helps keep me on the right path with sack lunches for work days and quick meals as soon as I get home from work. The MUFA-rich ingredients are rounded out with fresh fruit and vegetables and whole grain breads and crackers. I substituted a few things, like fat-free Chobani Greek yogurt for the cottage cheese, and chutney for salsa, but this doesn’t change any of the good things about the meals.

flat abdomanSo I’m feeling pretty good about the prospects of going to my reunion with an especially healthy glow, I can’t imagine I won’t drop a few pounds with this meal plan, and maybe I will be verging on “buff,” if I get busy at the gym before the big night.

Abdominal strength graphic from topendsports.com via the Web
Flat stomach photo from ehow.com via the Web

The Art of Cooking: Thank you, Fannie Farmer. Monday, Mar 23 2009 

I like to say that cooking is an art based on science.

1950s kitchen

1950s kitchen

Cooking is one of my favorite expressive arts, and I also love the prep work. Give me a knife and a cutting board and a stack of vegetables, and I’m a happy girl.

The image here of the 1950s kitchen could be either very late 50s or early 60s, in my opinion. Those built-in wall ovens and counter cooktops didn’t really appear in newly built homes until about 1960, as I recall. My house was built in 1948, and the kitchen, remodeled by the original owner in the early 60s, looks so much like the one here that it’s jaw dropping. My oven, cooktop & range hood are stainless, though, very modern and expensive for those times, and my custom cabinets are cherry wood with big, round, “mod” stainless handles. Otherwise, identical layout.

I was a foods & nutrition major in my first run at a bachelor’s degree in the late 1970s (Cal Poly Pomona), and I do love to cook (and eat. Oh: and drink.) So, it seems fitting to share a tasty tidbit about one of my favorite creative activities (cooking) on a Web site about creativity. The tidbit is one NPR/Garrison Keillor sent today as “The Writer’s Almanac” for March 23, 2009.

Fannie Farmer

Fannie Farmer

Here’s a copy/paste of it: “It’s the birthday of Fannie Merritt Farmer, born in Boston (1857). She published the first cookbook in American history that used precise cooking instructions and level measurements. Her cookbook was filled with recipes and also advice on how to set a table, scald milk, cream butter, and remove stains. At first, all the publishers turned her down because they thought all these recipes and techniques were things that young women could learn from their mothers. But Fannie Farmer finally got her cookbook published, and it was an enormous success.”

I have many, many cookbooks, some new, some old and some very old. I also have recipes from my great-grandmother, who came to Saint Louis in the late 1800s as a child in a covered wagon from Kentucky. She cooked very basic farm fare and made killer chicken* and dumplings, stuffing, potato salad, potato bread, and, of course, the best friend chicken* that was ever associated with Kentucky. She never went to school and couldn’t read or write, so to get her recipes I had to follow her through them a couple of times when she was in her 90s, and I was in my early 20s, measuring her pinches and dabs and such, and taking notes on color, texture, etc.

1983 edition cover

1983 edition cover

I have The Fannie Farmer Cookbook that was published by Alfred A. Knopf, New York, as the 12th edition in 1983. It’s hardbound and was practically unused when I bought it at a used book store in Overland (now sadly shuttered.) The frontpiece says the book was, “Published originally in 1896 under the title The Boston Cooking-School Cook Book By Fannie Merritt Farmer.”

My 1983 edition is more than 800 pages, and it retains much “old fashioned” information about ingredients, substitutions, kitchen basics, family meals and entertaining. It’s all as relevant today as it was the day it was first published, and I learn something new every time I use it. (I also have to admit that I often don’t follow any recipe precisely; I read the ingredients and methods of cooking, and then I take off in my own direction. I rarely have a failure. So I suppose I’m a product of and a balance between Fannie Farmer and my great-grandmother.)

sauce-mag-logoI think of the struggle Fannie Farmer had getting her cookbook taken seriously, and I compare that with books like The New Basics Cookbook by Rosso & Lukins that hit the book stores like wildfire, and widely read magazines we take for granted, like Bon Appetit, Gourmet, Wine Spectator, and our own local contender among the best food publications anywhere, > Sauce Magazine <. While we’re giving out local kudos, let’s not forget >Slow Food St. Louis<. If you’re not familiar with the Slow Food philosophy, please check them out.

To our Fannie!! ;-)

To our Fannie!! 😉

My copy of The Fannie Farmer Cookbook has information about wine on page 10 (selecting, serving, storing), and I say, “Let’s drink a toast to Fannie Farmer with our next meal,” for her pioneering efforts in the art of cooking; those of you in recovery, have some sparkling apple cider, and those who aren’t, pair a nice wine with your dinner, all in her memory.

She overcame some serious obstacles to getting her work published, including personal health issues and social obstacles of those times. If you want to read an easy biography on her, here’s a > LINK <.

POP QUIZ ON THE ART OF COOKING**

Question 1: Do you like to cook and consider it an art?
Question 2: Do you have a copy of The Fannie Farmer Cookbook?
Question 3: Do you have a favorite cookbook, or cookbooks, of your own?

Photo of 1950s kitchen from retrorenovation.com
Photo of Fannie Farmer courtesy of the Corbis Corporation
Photo of 1983 edition cover from Zenobi Books/Amazon

*Editor’s note: apologies to my vegetarian/vegan readers.
**Regarding the POP QUIZ: There are no wrong answers!