Thursday, May 31, 2018

The Tin Box, or, How to leave your affairs in order

Death is not a fun topic. But as executrix of my father's estate, I wanted to share one tool he made use of during his lifetime that made things much easier for me immediately after he was gone. I strongly recommend everyone set up a document box like this for their loved ones, and themselves.

He called it "the tin box," even though his was made of steel. It's not fancy, and not even that big: just 3"x5"x10".  Fireproof, it contained the documents I'd need right away after he died, and some simple instructions. He made sure I knew where he kept it in his apartment.


Here's what it contained:
  • Will
  • Living will/advance directives
  • Social Security card
  • Proof of military service and honorable discharge*
  • Official copy of his birth certificate**
  • Official copies of his parents' birth certificates **
  • Statement from the bank account he shared with me, so I could immediately pay his bills and funeral expenses
  • A printout of an Amazon page for a book about humanist funeral services, on which he wrote the music he'd like played at his service!
 
*If the deceased was honorably discharged from the military, he or she will get a discount on funeral expenses, and the funeral home will provide an American flag (folded into a presentation triangle) on request for no charge.

** The funeral home prepares the death certificate (I suggest asking for eight certificates, since you will need to surrender them for financial and other purposes). The funeral home application requires specific information from all these asterisked documents. The drudgery of filling out the long and repetitive application was made much easier on the traumatic day of my father's death by having these documents on hand. The funeral home will need copies of military letters and your driver's license, so unless you have a fax, it would be extra wise to scan these documents and keep the digital copies easy to find.

Why "tin box"? I think his parents must have kept their important documents in a tin box like the one at right, and he carried on the name. This one is for sale online from someone else's estate. If you want a new document box just like my dad's, the one at left got good reviews on Amazon.

Think ahead, and leave your affairs in good order, like my dear old dad. It will make your survivors' lives so much easier, and it will be very comforting to them on the day they lose you to know that you loved them enough to take care of these issues while still living.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Ukrainian cakes -- not too sweet, good for breakfast or dessert!

These two are my favorites from the Ukrainian Museum's "Christmas Recipes and Traditions," a pamphlet I received during a baking class I took there.

Photo Credit: The Wednesday Chef
CHRISTINE'S HONEY CAKE (Medivnyk)
11/4 lbs honey (half buckwheat and half clover)
4 cups flour
1/2 cup confectioners' sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
9 eggs
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 tsp vanilla sugar (Dr. Oetker)
1 stick butter, softened at room temperature
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground cloves

Pre-heat oven to 325 degrees F.

Place all ingredients in a bowl and beat until small bubbles appear (a Kitchen Aid is nice for this task). Pour into a greased loaf pan and bake for one hour. Do not open oven for at least 30 minutes; if you do, the cake will go flat. Once cool, take out of pan and wrap loosely in wax paper, and let rest in the refrigerator for at least 24 hours. (The flavor is better after a day or two in the fridge.)


CHRISTINE'S TSVIBAK
6 eggs, separated
1 cup sugar
1 cup flour, sifted with 1 Tbsp baking powder
1 cup dried fruits, diced (I used cranberries and golden raisins)
1/2 cup chopped walnuts

Pre-heat oven to 325 degrees F.

Take a tablespoon of flour and stir into dried fruit, so pieces are all coated and separate easily from one another. Beat egg yolks with sugar until light lemon color. Beat egg whites to soft-peak stage. Fold egg whites into egg yolks. Fold flour and baking powder into mixture. Add fruits and nuts and combine gently. Pour into greased loaf pan. Bake for one hour. Let cool in pan.


Thursday, April 19, 2018

Singer's Quiche


On April 1, 2018, I was privileged to sing at Alice Tully Hall with the hundred-strong Esto-Atlantis Choir. Singers came from all over the world, and I hosted two lovely Estonian altos, Kärt and Rita-Ülle, in my home. For concert day breakfast, I wanted us to have something high-protein, low-fat, and with lots of vitamins and minerals. It had to be tasty and quick to eat, too!

Even though I consider lowfat cheese somewhat of a sacrilege, I will sometimes use it for cooking, and in this recipe, worked great. The cottage cheese texture melts as the quiche bakes, so you can't even tell it's there, and it adds a whopping 30 grams of protein to the entire quiche. Cut into six slices, each serving provides 176 calories, only 9% RDA of fat, and over 14 grams of protein. You're also getting over a third of your RDA of Vitamin D, plus a little iron, potassium, and calcium(full nutritional analysis below).

Because it was Easter weekend, I got slices of beautiful spiral baked ham, freshly cut off the bone, from Union Market. Its sweet smoky flavor worked great in this quiche. Perhaps this pork tenderloin shortcut version of Easter ham would work too.

What makes this a "singer's quiche"? In addition to the lowfat adjustments, I used as little salt as possible because the last thing a singer needs is dehydration. I changed the original recipe's onion to less-fragrant shallots. And I served it with fresh grapefruit. My first vocal coach instructed all of her singers to eat a grapefruit each day to keep the throat  nice and clear. One organic grapefruit adds the following nutrition: 220% RDA of Vitamin C, 30% Vitamin A, and 12 grams of fiber. (The quiche has under a gram of fiber.) I supremed the grapefruits the night before, so we could polish them off quickly at breakfast.

INGREDIENTS

·         2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
·         ¾ cup ham (leftover spiral ham, ideally), cut in small chunks
·         ¼ cup diced shallot
·         1 cup halved cherry tomatoes
·         2 cups fresh spinach, roughly chopped
·         3 eggs plus two egg whites
·         1 cup lowfat cottage cheese (I used Organic Valley)
·         ½ cup 2% milk
·         ½ cup lowfat, low salt shredded swiss cheese
·         ½ cup lowfat shredded sharp cheddar cheese
·         ½ cup all-purpose flour (can substitute all-purpose gluten free flour mix)
·         1 teaspoon baking powder
·         ⅛ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

INSTRUCTIONS

1.    Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Use a nonstick 9” pie plate or layer pan, or lightly grease a nonstick pan.
2.    In a large nonstick sauté pan over medium heat, add 2 teaspoons olive oil. Add shallot and ham and sauté 4 minutes or until lightly browned. Stir in cherry tomatoes and cook for 4 more minutes, until cherry tomatoes have lost a good amount of their juice. Stir in chopped spinach and remove from heat. Let cool slightly.
3.    While veggies are cooking, whisk together eggs, milk, cottage cheese in a large bowl. Stir in cheeses.
4.    In a small bowl, combine flour, baking powder, salt and pepper. Stir flour mixture into the egg mixture. Stir well to combine.
5.    Gently stir in cooked ham and vegetable mixture. Pour into prepared pie plate and bake for 25-30 minutes or until eggs are set and top is lightly browned.
6.    Freeze for up to 3 weeks.
 


 

Sunday, December 17, 2017

What is the sound of one hand washing?

This year I had shoulder surgery, the same procedure I had seven years ago. Back then it was my right shoulder; this time it was my left, and I was better prepared. Following the advice of the ShoulderShirts blog, I practiced with all of these items a week before my surgery, and those muscle memories were most reassuring and useful while I healed.


Here is a list of the not too personal "recovery swag" I found most useful for one-handed hygiene, dressing, and cooking.

HYGEINE


Totally mechanical - no batteries needed! You might think this silly, but you just try using only one hand to put toothpaste on your toothbrush (and only the toothbrush, not the sink and the floor and your shirt), mr./ms.smartypants.





Right after surgery, most of my upper and middle body was in shock; bone and muscle had been removed from my shoulder, and the general anaesthesia was something to recover from too. Having a stool in the shower was very reassuring. I liked how this one folds flat, and is nice looking enough to use outside the shower. A bit fussy to close once it's been open a while. 


The handle is heavy-duty and keeps the angle you bend it in.

Purely Me LaPonge Body Brush




Even if you're not injured, it's nice to have a bath brush that covers a large area. The textured handle makes it easy to work with in soapy conditions. 

This wide-mouthed jar and soft whipped soap made for easy one-handed bathing. The jar diameter is about the same as the back scrubber pouf. I liked the refreshing lavender scent, and the charcoal color stood out against lighter-colored surfaces such as the tub and my skin, making the action of rinsing more certain.



Nail Brush with Suction Cup Base


This brush has soft bristles that made it easy to wash my one working hand. I fixed the two suction cups to one side of the sink, and positioned the faucet so water would run over the brush when I turned on the tap. This order came with two brushes, so I left one in the bathroom sink and one in the kitchen sink.







DRESSING


ShoulderShirts

This is not a "cold shoulder" fashion statement, though perhaps that trend makes it possible these days to wear these shirts outside the home or doctor's office with impunity. The lovely folks at Shoulder Shirts (https://www.facebook.com/Shoulder-Shirts-332337340157630/) designed this shirt, which comes in several styles and fabrics in many colors and patterns, to help people get dressed without raising their arms. The shirts fasten at the shoulder with velcro, allowing you to dress yourself one sleeve at a time (an optional white "tether" ribbon helps you get the front and back pieces together). Or if someone is helping you dress, both shoulders can be detached.

These shirts are mostly styled for women, but there is a unisex/men's sizes section too. 

My physical therapists love this shirt, since it allows them to examine and manipulate my shoulder freely during treatment.





COOKING 


One of the higher-priced items in my recovery swag haul, this cutting board made it possible for me to slice any food I needed. The sliding bracket (with red wood ball handle) holds bread and smaller items (the black square pegs can be moved to accommodate different sized things). The spikes were useful for skewering apples etc. in place so I could slice them. All the parts fit nicely in the dishwasher. 



OTHER PRACTICAL STUFF



This sturdy but lightweight tray was easy to set up, and without the handle, it looks like a normal plastic tray. Although the handle was easy to remove, it never came off without my wanting it to. 17"L x 12.5"W x 10"H; holds up to 13 pounds. 

Monday, March 6, 2017

Cheese! Cherries! Chocolate! or: Mardi Gras for Three



Mardi Gras/Maslenitsa? You bet I did.

Friends came over for dinner this weekend, bringing a special Pauillac wine they lucked into. To celebrate, I put on my toque and made duck in cherry sauce, roast potatoes, steamed spinach.
At this time of year I click with the Lenten spirit – at least the pre-Lenten one, heh, of a celebrating the end of winter with an animal-fattishly festive dinner. The main dish is usually my Ukrainian borshch, but this year, I let the wine lead me in a different direction.

Staying with the classic pairing of Bordeaux with duck in a cherry and/or pepper sauce, I found plenty of luxurious duck/cherry recipes out there, but they were all a little…too…unctuous. To compromise, I toned down a recipe from Epicurous (http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/seared-duck-breast-with-cherries-and-port-sauce-353376) with a sauce treatment I found in Cooking Light recipe (http://www.myrecipes.com/recipe/duck-breast-with-cherry-pepper-sauce ).

Here’s how I did it:

1. Make the Cooking Light sauce with these changes:  ditch the dried cherries and use the drained canned ones (this ensures you will have nice juicy plump cherries in your sauce, which isn’t cooked long enough to reconstitute dried cherries), and save the honey to add at the end, along with the cherry puree (make only half, and omit the butter).

2. Keep fat on duck breast. Score, salt, and pepper the fat side. Pre-warm a nonstick pan over almost-high heat, and add duck, breast-side down. Cook until skin is deep golden brown, about 7 minutes; as fat renders, pour it into a bowl so you’re not frying the duck in its own fat, and so you can save the duck fat for another use. (Be sure to leave about a teaspoon of fat in the pan when finished cooking the duck, however.) Turn duck over with tongs, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and cook for about 5 minutes more (interior temperature 125F for medium-rare). Cover with foil and a few dishtowels while you make the sauce.

3. Saute 1 Tbsp finely minced shallots in the duck skillet, using the remaining teaspoon of duck fat to help collect any browned bits into the mix. Add the Cooking Light sauce, amended as above. (Note:  you MUST use homemade beef broth!) Cook for a few minutes, until sauce is reduced by half. Add the canned drained cherries and warm up. Taste. Add honey and the Cooking Light cherry puree to taste, add salt and pepper to taste (it should be ever so slightly peppery), and serve hot over warm up, and pour over sliced duck.

Besides baby spinach steamed in ramekins, the side I made for this dish was potatoes according to the Roastie Gospel of Jamie Oliver. Given the absence of Maris Piper potatoes in New York City (prove me wrong if you can!), I tried both peeled Idahos and strip-peeled red bliss, both organic. I used the mix of olive oil and butter, and added fresh herbs (thyme to the Idahos and rosemary for the red bliss) at ¾ through the roasting process. My guests and I couldn’t tell the difference so I served them together. (The taste profile was very similar but of course the red bliss got crustier thanks to their mostly-remaining skin.)
Since I am not in the mood or budget these days to hand-craft every part of my dinner parties, the dessert course this time was FoodKick’s amazing flourless chocolate cakes. Individually sized, these wee dark beauties pack a wallop of chocolate richness, and at the end of this dinner, we could only manage about half of a cake each.

Very satisfying to send winter off with a celebratory meal like this.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Favorite Recipe: Poached Egg, Ham, and Roasted Tomato and Mushroom Breakfast

I love this breakfast on those days when I need extra energy. It keeps me charged for half the day! I adapted it from several recipes I've read over the years.

This is a recipe for one person, but will serve up to six: just prepare additional egg, ham, and English muffins for each person.

Ingredients
1 pint cherry, grape, or other small tomato
1 pint mushrooms, cleaned and stemmed, quartered
2 tsp olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Eggs
Vinegar
1 clove garlic
Whole wheat English muffins
Ham (I like Applegate Black Forest)
Parsley (optional), chopped

Instructions

1.Heat oven to 350F. Toss mushrooms and tomatoes separately with one teaspoon of olive oil each, and salt and pepper to paste, in oven-proof baking dishes. Put the mushroom dish and slice of ham (the latter on its own baking sheet) in the oven and roast for 10 minutes; then add tomato dish alongside it, and roast 20 minutes more. Keep in oven to stay warm.

2. Toast English muffins and lightly rub each toasted half with the clove of garlic. Add to oven to keep warm.

3. Fill a one-quart pan with water and one teaspoon of vinegar. Bring to boil. Add egg(s), one at a time, and soft-boil to desired consistency (I prefer two minutes for a nice runny soft boiled egg).

4. To serve, top the English muffins with cooked ham and poached egg. Spoon heated roasted tomatoes and mushrooms alongside. Sprinkle chopped parsley on top of everything for extra vitamins and happy green color. Nice with tea or coffee.

Prepare-Ahead Instructions

Roast the tomatoes and mushrooms, and keep covered in the refrigerator. Before serving, heat up with the ham, and proceed from #2 above.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Kusmi Irish Blend: A Trip to Sunny Ireland





I just rated this tea on Steepster. It took me quite a while to identify all the flavors/essences I picked up in this tea, but here's what I chose from the pre-set list. (I would have added Heather, but that wasn't an option on Steepster. Not yet, anyway!)

Flavors: Almond, Apricot, Astringent, Brown Toast, Citrus, Dandelion, Floral, Fruit Tree Flowers, Green Melons, Honey, Leather, Marine, Meat, Muscatel, Nuts, Ocean Air, Peat, Rainforest, Root Beer, Sweet, warm grass, Tannic, Tobacco, Wet Wood

My review:


I bought a box of the muslin bags of this tea at the Kusmi store on 3rd Avenue/62nd street in Manhattan. Perhaps they’ve changed the formula, or perhaps it’s my brewing approach, but this is not the undistinguished tea the two reviewers from six years ago described.

I brewed it light and quick, in a 6oz teacup. I think most Kusmi teas come into their own when you use less tea/time and water off the boil for at least a minute. This results in a light but gorgeously scented cup of tea. Before you shrug and say, “Oh, more bark than bite? Next tea please,” I’d like you to entertain the possibility that the enjoyment of a cup of tea can be mostly olfactory. Taste and smell are pretty chummy senses, after all. And this Irish Blend has the power to captivate in its scented steam. I know Kusmi is terrific at scented teas but I believe this one is mostly or perhaps all natural — no perfume from Grasse could cover all the wholesome notes this tea possesses. The label indicates no ingredients except Assam and Darjeeling teas.

Funny thing about this blend is that it’s not what you might expect from the epithet “Irish” — no big malty hug here. It’s a brisk tea, with a soothing and gently predominant honey scent. I imagine the Ireland of this tea is a Russian traveler’s memory of a rare sunny day in the Emerald Isles, the clouds scuttled off to the Irish sea, and feeling the land dilate and relax in the nurturing warmth. Growing against the sheltered southern wall of a stone cottage, an apricot tree soaks in the sun as well as the wet fresh sea air, layering rich flavors into its fuzzy orange-red fruit. The dandelions open, dotting the green hills with bright yellow. The bees pick up scents of a flush of different flowers, nectar on the breeze. Things start to really dry out – the old wooden door, the leather tobacco pouch, the earth itself — releasing a host of subtle, light, harmonious scents you had forgotten they had when everything was perpetually sodden.

Milk dulls some of the scents in this tea, particularly the almond and meat.