Blue plate special.

I’ve been under the weather since right after Christmas, but today I’m finally starting to feel “normal” again. Some thoughts on that, along with notes on how I’ve been spending my down time, a “curative” soup recipe, Apple Watch insanity, my favorite Mary Chapin Carpenter song, and a few other things. Think of it as many days’ worth of shorter posts, all in one long (rainy day) stream.

(Yes, there will be recipes and notes about cooking – including a note about “blue plate specials,” and also a note or two about my mother. It’s still January. It’s actually early in January, still.)

Let’s do it? Yeah, let’s do it:

The printable “Blueprint” collection: first set

Do. It. Yourself.

While I’ve been under the weather* I’ve been working on the digital collection at Larksome Goods. What is a digital collection, you wonder? Glad you asked. It’s a collection of images that are available for immediate purchase and download, to be printed at home, or at a local print shop, or through an online printer/production place. Buyer’s choice on all of the production pieces, including side, media, and framing. So the images themselves are inexpensive because the physical printing/production is separate.

No, not NFTs. Just ordinary digital images, including photographs, digitally-created art, and reproductions of drawings, prints, and paintings. It will take me the entire month of January to get everything uploaded, but you can see the first round here.

If you have a kid who’s in college or just starting out with a first apartment or house, these would be an affordable option for decorating. Also, kids in college or getting their first live-on-your-own places will totally understand how to download, print, produce.

*NOTE: Do you know the origin of the phrase, “under the weather?” I didn’t, which I realized when writing it. So I did a bit of research and am happy to share with you, in case you also are ignorant. “Under the weather” is sailing language. In rough seas, sailors who get seasick on deck go/are sent below — literally “under the weather” — until they feel better.

“Hummingbird Dancer.” Digital download available at Larksome Goods.

Dr. Ziment’s Garlic Soup

In the summer of 1989 I started a recipe journal — my version of my mother’s green metal recipe box. I clipped and pasted recipes from Bon Appé​tit and Gourmet, mostly, but I also saved (still save) handwritten recipes from friends, a photocopy or two, and a few of my own notes. When I tired of cutting and pasting I would just clip and tuck, thinking surely I would eventually go back and tidy things up (which of course I have yet to do).

Among the treasures in that falling-apart book are my go-to bourbon marinated beef tenderloin, the best gazpacho, a decadent lemon mousse, an even more decadent chocolate espresso torte, and my mother’s recipe for spinach-stuffed mushrooms, written longhand in her lovely script.

Written in less lovely script (one could definitely call it “scrawl”) are my interpretations of some of my favorite, tried-and-true preparations. Among these is my iteration of Dr. Ziment’s Garlic Chicken Soup, which made the rounds in the mid/late 1990s. (“So Listen to Mother Already: For Flu, Take Chicken Soup,” Marian Burros, Eating Well column, The New York Times, 1999.)

In the interest of time, I made/still make a simplified version of Dr. Ziment’s soup, using only chicken stock (8-10 ounces), fresh lemon juice (from half of a large lemon), cayenne pepper (a good sprinkling – enough to make it almost uncomfortably spicy), and fresh garlic (2 fat cloves, pressed). The full (very short) recipe is at the end of the post. Note: The lemon juice sometimes (often) turns the garlic a shade of blue that is either lovely or nauseating, depending on one’s view of such things. It’s harmless, in any event.

So, yes; I reek of garlic. But I’m much better now than I was 10 days ago. And no, it wasn’t COVID; just a nasty case of bronchitis, which is making its rounds around here.

Rest. Rest. Rest. It’s so damned boring.

I have tried very hard to follow doctor’s orders and rest, rest, rest until I am fully well. But the thing is, I’m not actually very good at resting. So the past 10 days have been good discipline, I suppose?

But that rest competes directly with the other good discipline I’ve put into practice during the pandemic: Daily exercise.

So I’ve had a chance to ask myself: What’s the main goal here, and how much exercise does one actually need? This article was timely, and it was part of the overall thought back to my mother’s constant repeating of her favorite phrase, “Metron Ariston.” Moderation in all things — including exercise, eating, sleeping, television watching, reading, writing, and work.

But, for right now in particular, moderation in exercise, because the main goal is health, and health requires recovering through rest.

And I would repeat that rest is “boring, boring, boring,” but I’m reminded of my 8th grade teacher’s saying, “Only boring people get bored, so if you were bored on your summer vacation then you must be a very boring person indeed.” Yes, that landed the teacher in the principal’s office with my mother and me. If you knew my very fair, porcelain-skinned mother, then imagine her fully red-faced with anger, because that’s how she looked, sitting in that office, steaming with fury.

The thing is, the teacher was, in essence, correct.

I’ll leave that there for your own contemplation.

Apple Watch Insanity.

You may recall, if you’ve been here a while, that back in 2014 I started wearing a Fitbit. In the years since writing about that, I continued to wear a Fitbit, except for when the Fitbit wasn’t working properly. I went for one very long stretch without wearing it, and my overall activity declined, because I did actually need prompting.

The pandemic lockdown in March 2020 started almost exactly one year after I tore my meniscus while playing tennis. I had resumed walking by then and was trying to get back into a regular yoga practice. I decided it was time to get back in the Fitbit habit.

Only the damned thing kept breaking. It was under warranty, so I sent it back and received a replacement. Twice.

The third time it broke was one day after the warranty ended. So I changed teams and got an entry-level Apple Watch, which was about the same price at Costco as the Fitbit I kept having to replace.

For the uninitiated: Apple Watch has three “rings” for the wearer to close each day, instead of tracking to 10,000 daily steps. The three rings are for hours with some activity (“stand” hours), exercise minutes, and movement calories.

The starting level for “exercise minutes” is 30 minutes per day, which adds up to — yes, you already know it — 3.5 hours per week, which is the generally-accepted standard for healthy activity.

And because it’s Apple, there are all sorts of other challenges and badges and incentives and cultish what-nots in the mix. One of those cultish things? A monthly challenge goal.

One month, for example, my “challenge” was to close all three rings for 30 out of 31 days. Sounds perfectly reasonable, yes?

But was it perfectly reasonable trying to decide, on December 31 when I was badly “under the weather,” whether or not I was going to meet the Apple Watch December “movement calories” goal. I was so close, and, as you know, I’m very competitive (which is why I’m terrible at resting?).

I did it. Couldn’t help myself.

Then, come January 1, I checked to see what what I was up against for January.

I’m not even going to tell you, I’ll just leave it at this: Meeting the January Apple Watch goal would require me to devote more than two full hours each and every day of the month to exercise.

That’s fucking nuts. Complete insanity.

Which is why I’ve instead spent most of the first week of the month working from home (feels so January 2021…), writing, cooking a little, making daily batches of both hot tea and garlic soup, working on the digital collection, and even watching a little TV.

While I’ve done these quieter things I’ve been listening music, pulling out some old favorites. Which leads me to…

The Rhythm of the Blues

Before I had children, I traveled a lot. I lived in Omaha, I was seeing someone who lived in Wyoming, and my mother lived in Memphis. So I did A LOT of driving in between very frequent work-related travel.

In my rose quartz Saab 900 (did I love that car? Yes, I did….) I carried a stash of my then-favorite roadtrip CDs, and I’m not too proud to tell you exactly what those albums were: John Hiatt’s Walk On, Yo Yo Ma’s Bach Sonatas for Viola de Gamba and Harpsichord, Shawn Colvin’s Steady On, Dave Matthews Band’s Crash, and Mary Chapin Carpenter’s A Place in the World.

I had other albums from all of these artists (and others, of course – I kept a box of CDs in the floor of the backseat when the weather wasn’t too hot), but these were on rotation in the one-CD player that was attached to the car’s cassette player. Since changing the CD was not exactly safe to do while driving, I usually listened to each one from start to finish. Different times indeed, right?

Anyway, I have particular favorite songs from these albums, songs that transport me right back to that time in my life.

The year before I left Omaha I traded that rose quartz 1987 Saab for a dark green 1995 Saab (because I had a great mechanic who worked only on Saabs). The new-to-me car had a FIVE CD PLAYER so I could load up and switch around WHILE DRIVING. Crazy, right? So I started skipping around, on my long drives across Nebraska and down to Florida (picking up my mother along the way), listening to the songs I enjoyed the most.

And I still enjoy all of those same songs, so in my recover-from-being sick time I made a throwback playlist (I mean, why not?). And I was listening to that playlist, replaying the tunes I could listen to on regular repeat, thinking about how very long I’ve fought against rest and relaxation and also, at the same time, longed for exactly that.

So the song I’ve been playing on repeat for the past 10 days or so is my favorite Mary Chapin Carpenter song, “What if we went to Italy.” In fact, I’m listening to it right now, as I type. Maybe you’ll like it, too. (Here’s the “Songs from Home” edition, featuring her precious Angus.)

What if we hyper-achieving Type A nutjobs (talking to my own self here) just decided that rest and refueling might be the best and highest use of our limited time and energy?

Working on that.

See you … soon. Maybe tomorrow; maybe in a few days. OK?

Jennifer’s Version of Dr. Ziment’s Garlic Chicken Soup

Ingredients:

2 cups of chicken stock
Juice from half of a large lemon (or one whole small lemon) – 2-3 Tbsp.
2-3 cloves of garlic
Cayenne pepper

Preparation:

Heat the stock in a small saucepan. When it reaches a boil, turn off the heat. Press garlic directly into the hot broth, then add a good dash of cayenne (enough to make it almost uncomfortably spicy) and stir in lemon juice. Remember, the acid in the lemon juice may react with the sulfur in the garlic and turn the garlic blue. Worry not. When the broth is cool enough to drink, drink it. Bonus: Your breath will keep people far enough away that you won’t spread your germs. Handy, right?

Double Throwback: Food | Week of January 6, 2019 (which was a throwback to January 2015)

A note here, at the end, about “blue plate specials.” The origin of the term isn’t entirely clear, but one story is that in the 1920s a plate manufacturer started making plates with divided sections (think TV dinner), and the plates were printed with a blue willow pattern. Maybe it’s true, and maybe not. But the concept of a “blue plate special,” an inexpensive “meat and 3” endures and is often thrown about as a stereotypical American dinner.

But here’s how I think about all that: About 10 years ago I facilitated a strategic planning process for a small organization that was breaking away from its larger parent company. The colleague and friend who hired me to do that work was then, and is still now, a champion for self-care and wellness. When I started writing about cooking and food his note to me read: Too much meat; more vegetables. At the end of our work on the strategic plan, I used part of the payment to buy a set of handpainted blue and white dishes, which I still use daily because blue is my favorite color. On these blue dishes, with his encouragement, I try to serve up a blueplate special that is less “meat” and more “3.”

Purple tomatoes August 2014

Tomato-Basil Bisque | Grilled Cheese

Once upon a time, I was on a hunt for the perfect beef stew recipe. Since then, I’ve been on a hunt for tomato-basil bisque. I tried this recipe and frankly can’t remember what it was like. Ditto this one from Midwest Living. I might ditch the whole tomato-basil idea (it is winter, for heaven’s sake) and make Jane Grigson’s celery soup again, because we all really like that. For the grilled cheese I’m going to use leftover brioche (a Christmas indulgence) with either horseradish cheddar or smoked Gouda.

Coconut Chicken with Broccoli Slaw OR Spiced Chickpea Stew with Coconut and Turmeric

Original entry: As I’ve become overly reliant on Ina Garten’s baked Parmesan chicken, I’m going to try adding this coconut version to the family rotation and serve with tangy Asian-style slaw. If you want to go the super-easy route, buy packaged broccoli slaw and bottled dressing (I like the Makoto ginger dressing). If you’re up for a bit of kitchen therapy, try this recipe (with the bonus of a link to coconut shrimp, if you want an alternative to chicken).

Alternative Suggestion: Alison Roman’s Spiced Chickpea Stew with Coconut and Turmeric (“The Stew” – which is every bit as good as the hype suggests).

grapefruit

Avocado & Grapefruit Salad | Smoked Salmon

This salad from bon appétit is hearty enough on its own for a light dinner; add some smoked salmon other other flaky, smoked fish if you want to give it an extra boost. If you can’t find watercress, substitute baby arugula.

Red Lentil Soup | Naan

Once I conquer the basil-tomato bisque quest, I’m going on a search for the perfect red lentil stew. Until then, this recipe from Gourmet will do. Or this new recipe from NYT Cooking. Vary the spices to taste; make a double batch and freeze leftovers for another cold day. If you’re feeling up to it, try making some naan at home with this step-by-step guide from Saveur.

baby lettuce

Dave T.’s Spinach Cake | Herb Salad

Yep, just like the baked egg concept, this is a recipe I’m (STILL – 10 years later!) going to keep pushing until you try it (and to keep making until my family relents and agrees to eat it). Just try it once, and you’ll never buy Stouffer’s Spinach Soufflé again, I promise.

3 thoughts on “Blue plate special.

  1. This is all good fun. We are on a break from work so things are getting cooked. Mostly winter food. Look for One Night Lonely. That’s the best of MCC. Two live hours of her and her guitars. She earned a Grammy nomination for that. Feel better.

    Like

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