Why You Should Buy Good Condiments



I am not boasting when I say that I am a good cook. Just ask my husband or any of my friends or dinner guests who cherish an invitation to our table. I was not born this way, it took years of loving food to get this way. One might deduce that loving the taste of food automatically makes someone a good cook, but I know plenty of foodies who have gotten that way without ever heating a pan in their own kitchens.


After all these years of cooking I have become an intuitive cook, meaning that I can just throw things together based on what I have on hand and it usually tastes good. That level of kitchen confidence comes only after years of tasting lots of different food combinations. Since I can’t teach that I try and write recipes down now because I almost never would remember how or even what I made in the past, when someone begs me for a recipe.


Not everything I make is gourmet or complicated, but I try to make everything yummy. When someone asks me for cooking advice my best and easiest thing to tell people is to buy interesting condiments and use them to spice up a simple protein like a piece of grilled chicken or fish.


I am not talking about basic mayonnaise or ketchup, but coriander sauce, mango chutney or the Myer lemon relish I used tonight on salmon. I pan cooked a piece of salmon with nothing but salt and pepper and once I plated it I dabbed a spoonful of the fragrant lemon sauce on top. It basically was a two-ingredient dish, since salt and pepper are never counted in the recipe world, but it was fabulously tasty. The best part is it took barely five minutes to make.


So my suggestion for expanding your cooking repertoire is just peruse the gourmet condiment aisle at the grocery store. Pick out something you have never tasted, read the label; it usually will have a suggested use. Try it! Most condiments don’t make it to your local store without a bunch of people tasting it and liking it, so there is little risk for you to buy it. Put it on chicken because everything goes on chicken. Suddenly you will be a gourmet cook and it only took two-ingredients.


If you discover you like that condiment you may want to learn to make it from scratch, but only if you really want to learn to be a better cook. But it is no crime to just continue to buy jars of relishes, sauces, spices, oils and other good ingredients to help add flavor to your simple foods. People will consider you a gourmet cook and you never have to tell them how you do it.

No Salad For Breakfast



Late in the fall we got a fundraising plea from our niece and nephew to buy magazines to help their school. I may work for a magazine that you can only get in paper format, but outside of mine I really only read magazines on my I-pad. Since I can get over 300 of them through my public library I don’t usually pay for them.


I did not want to disappoint the kids so I subscribed to Cooking Light and Real Simple. Unlike most fundraising scheme these came in record time, just as the Christmas mail was piling up. I let the paper issues pile up by my bed, the reason I stopped getting real magazines, until last night when I picked up a Cooking Light issue. Given that my house is on the healthy eating kick in earnest I thought it would not hurt to get a little inspiration.


I flipped open the book, (what people in the magazine business call them) to an article about breakfast salads. I am not talking fruit salad with yogurt, but greens or bean salads that all sound perfect for lunch. Now I am a salad-aholic. I do my best pound dropping if I am eating a salad for lunch and dinner. But somehow I just can’t bring myself to eat salad greens with vinegar for breakfast.


I really like a poached egg on a salad so that when you poke the yolk in runs all over the arugula and gives me that fat mouth feel, but even that is something I want anytime of day other than breakfast.


Russ really likes a strong flavored savory breakfast such as scrambled eggs with mushrooms, onions, chorizo and Sriracha, but I think even he has drawn the line at a breakfast salad. I have a hard enough time getting Carter to eat a cereal; I can only imagine the nose turning I would get at a salad for breakfast.


The article suggested to the reader to avoid overly strong flavors, but then the first recipe included radishes, not my idea of a mild morning item. Another suggestion was, “Keep it simple- you don’t have time to fuss with a lot of prep.” Absolutely right, so why is there a salad made up of cooked farro, which takes 25 minutes on it’s own.


I know how hard it is to come up with new and interesting healthy things to eat. One of the biggest problems with most diets is people get bored on them. But even I am going to have to draw the line at breakfast salads, except for fruit salad.


Creating a magazine is hard work, so good try Cooking Light. The salad recipes you came up with for this article are beautiful and sound delicious, just for lunch or dinner. For me I am sticking with my High Protein Special K with raspberries or blackberries. It satisfies all your suggestions; it is not an overly strong flavor, it includes protein, it is simple and has good texture. The only thing it does not do is add variety to my day. That’s OK with me. It only takes me 20 seconds to prepare it and that is the big bonus in my book.

Make Your Own Wishes Come True



The other day someone said to me that if they had three wishes they would use one of them to get skinny and the other to have a better metabolism and the third had nothing to do with losing weight. I think that for many years in my life I had those same wishes.


I am not sure when I stopped wishing for wishes and actually making my wishes come true, but it was a long process that was not a straight line. Realizing that I was the key to succeeding at something that seemed only possible through magic was a real game changer.


I am not blessed with a fast metabolism. If I were born three hundred years ago it would be a positive because I could survive a famine, drought or long cold winter, but in today’s food everywhere culture it is a curse. What a terrible first world problem to complain about.


I am not here to pat myself on the back for losing weight. I have done it multiple times which means I have gained it back in between. What I have learned is that every time I tackled my weight and set it as a goal I was able to magically lose it, thus having one of my wishes come true. Once I had succeeded at fulfilling my own wish I realized that I could make anything happen I wanted.


Now I have never wished to have more money than I needed, since I hardly know anyone with unlimited funds who is truly happy. I never wished to be taller or to have smaller feet, things that would have to be a miracle to happen. On the other hand I have wished to help end hunger and have seen that happen more and more in our community.


I am no super power. I am just like everyone else. So I want to encourage anyone with a wish that is even slightly within your own sphere of influence to stop wishing for it and instead work for it. Attaining the goal of your wish is the most empowering thing you can do. Once you cross off that accomplishment off your list you feel the I-can-do-anything power that is already in you. That is the secret of the three wishes.

Raw Shredded Brussels Sprout Salad

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If you asked me to eat a Brussels sprout in any form thirty years ago you would have gotten a sourpuss face from me. There was never a vegetable I hate more. Many a Brussels went in the trash in my paper dinner napkin. How my taste buds have changed. Now I even like them raw. This little salad, which could be considered almost a slaw – I put some cold sliced steak on mine and it made the perfect lunch.


1 large shallot- grated on a micro plane

Zest and Juice of one lemon

1 t. Dijon Mustard

3 T. red Wine Vinegar

2 t. olive oil

2 packets of Splenda

Lots of Black Pepper and a little salt

1 Bag of shredded Brussels sprouts form Trader Joes – or a pound of whole Brussels shredded on a mandolin

½ cup. Grated Parmesan Cheese


In a large bowl mix up the shallot, lemon juice and zest, mustard, vinegar, oil and Splenda. Add the shredded sprouts and mix well. Crack a bunch of black pepper and add the Parmesan Cheese. Taste and see if any salt is needed.

All Cake, No Presents

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Today is my friend Kristin Teer’s birthday. As she has been known to do, she threw a beautiful, and when I say beautiful I mean gorgeous, lunch, but not for herself. It was a party to celebrate her friends. Since it was not a birthday party for her we were instructed to absolutely not bring her any gifts. So I showed up empty handed, ate what I was served, more about that in a minute and left feeling totally celebrated and happy. But like the little drummer boy I felt like I needed to something and what I can do is so small, so KT this blog is for you

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First I want to talk about what was the real hardship about going to a party at KT’s, it was being forced to eat the fabulous food prepared by her chef partner Paris. A perfectly composed salad with apples, candied pecans and goat cheese shared the plate with a black and white orzo topped with a delicate shrimp cake and the surprise yummy on the plate was a grilled piece of bread which I think had rosemary in it, but I was so overwhelmed with perfect tastes I can not be certain.


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Thankfully that plate was small so no one thought they were overeating. That just meant that no one had any excuse not to eat at least one of the, let me actually count the ways, five different desserts. I was seated at one end of the birthday table between Morgan Moylan, the other birthday girl and Stacey Burkert. Stacey and I sing from the same choir sheet that believes it is not a birthday in Durham without coconut cake from Thai Café. Really if you are going to break your diet, it is the thing to do it for.


From where Stacey and I were sitting at lunch we were looking across the table not at our friends on the other side, but at the sideboard laden with a whole coconut cake, a large platter of French macaroons and two big plates of Tonya Petrucci’s works of art sugar cookies. I could feel my head practically explode as I thought about which dessert I would celebrate this birthday with.


Before I could make up my mind a surprise dessert was placed in front of me. Of course Paris was not just going to serve desserts made by others at the celebration of his love’s big day. A not so small glass with a layer of hot fudge on the bottom and a slightly warm and gooey espresso brownie on top and a rather large scoop of salted caramel ice cream as the crown was Paris’ entrant into the dessert Olympics. Stacey held off from accepting the ice cream having gotten her mouth set on the coconut cake. Morgan and I foolishly tasted our Paris dessert and decided to have it and the coconut cake.

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The only good decision I made today was to stand up from the table before any macaroons or sugar cookies were offered. My mouth was so happy, but there is going to be a piper to pay for all this celebrating.


To distract me from running a finger through the cake plate I met Kristin’s newest rescue dog. I am not sure if that makes 7 or 8, but I am fairly certain that one of the guests, who shall remain nameless because her husband could read this, almost put that dog in her purse. She could have blamed the dog napping on the sugar high since she is also a coconut cake lover, but she withheld and left the party puppy free.

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All I have to say is thanks, Krisitn Teer for all the fun you always provide. Your generosity, creativity and style should be enough, but you know I love you for your sense of humor most. I won’t blame you for what the scale will say tomorrow. The celebration was worth every calorie.




Costco Needs A Salad Bar



Russ had a few Costco Items on his list for me to pick up today. Things that are certainly available at the regular market, but why buy them where I pay twice as much, like salted peanuts or real bacon bits.


I do my best not to go to Costco during mealtime or when I am hungry because the temptation of food samples is so great. “It’s just one bite,” is the downfall to any diet. One bite of a taquito, a small cup of candied pecans, a scoop of cheesecake, a cracker with a teaspoon of lobster salad and a cup of “green juice” is a meal worth of calories, but of course you never count that as a meal.


The other thing I try and stay away from is the Costco snack bar. As far as I can tell there is nothing there that is healthy. The closest thing is the Chicken Caesar salad, which with the dressing, croutons and cheese is equivalent to a Big Mac. Of course I have never actually seen anyone eating the salad.


The sad people sitting in the Costco picnic table area I have to drive my cart past to get out of the store usually have one of three things in front of them, pizza, a hot dog & soda or ice cream. For the most part none of them should probably eat any of those items, ever, but I understand they are in expensive and filling.


This is the problem in America. Eating healthy food is expensive and time consuming. Costco sells plenty of good for you foods. I hardly go in there without coming home with a giant $2.99 pineapple or a big bag of haricot vert for $4.99. But both of those items have to be prepared. Hell, in the case of haricot vert you have to take French first to even know that that just means skinny green beans.


I know that Costco is not Whole Foods, but I think there is a business plan to be made for keeping their customers alive longer and adding a salad bar to the snack bar would be a step in the right direction. Maybe it’s not exactly a salad bar, but at least some lower calorie, already made, fast to eat items. A big fruit cup could go a long way to longevity of the card-carrying members. If Costco was to lengthen the life or at least the ambulatory life of the customers it already has they might increase sales year over year.


Any business knows it is cheaper to keep a customer than it is to acquire a new one. At the calorie rate Costco is serving it’s customers they appear to be doing their best to kill them off. Healthy food can be really tasty. Costco already knows this since they sell so many vegetables. Why not make then available ready to eat by the door?

It’s Baby Chick Time




Tomorrow is my great friend Lynn’s birthday so we started the celebration early. Lynn, better known as Baby Chick in our house and I have been friends for at least fifteen years. Our daughter’s are the same age and since they are both only children they consider each other sisters, and we call them Sister E and Sister C.


Lynn got her “Baby Chick” title at mother daughter weekend at Camp Seafarer one September when our girls were only about eight years old. Lynn, not one to like being cold, was worried that she was not going to get any sleep in the cabin without her electric heating pad that she sleeps on year round. We may have been sleeping in a cabin with screens, but it was still a warm fall weekend in Arapahoe, NC. To aid in her bunk nights Lynn brought a full down comforter rated Alaska winters ready.


The first morning we woke up at camp Lynn, who had slept completely covered in down, popped her blond head up with the comforter wrapped around her. Her yellow fluffy hair sticking out around her face with the white comforter still wrapped around her head made her look like a baby chick just emerging from it’s shell for the first time. Sadly this was long before we all had cameras on our phones so I do not have a picture of the birth of Baby Chick, but the picture above was from the same weekend.


One reason I think Baby Chick and I are so compatible is she and my husband are similar in their taste’s for their own birthday celebrations, small and understated with some alone time for the guests. Russ’ idea of the perfect party is for three friends to come over and bring their own magazines. They all get a drink in the kitchen and say hello, go off in their own rooms and read for an hour and then reconvene in the kitchen to get a refill on their drink and tell each other one interesting thing they read.


Lynn’s birthday was not dissimilar to something Russ would like. We started early in the morning by picking up Stephanie and Mary Eileen and going to a spa downtown, where we all got either a massage or a facial in our own little rooms, certainly thinking about how much we love Lynn, while being individually pampered.


Once we were made perfectly useless and relaxed we headed over to Brightleaf Square to eat lunch where Amanda and Hannah joined us. We had dramatic readings of ridiculous things from the Internet that tickled us all in the same way. After lunch we stopped by Thai Café to get Lynn a carry out slice of coconut cake because for all of us it is just not a birthday without a slice of coconut cake.


By the time it was all over Lynn, who had indulged her birthday self more than she ever does, was ready for a Baby Chick nap wrapped in a comforter with the heating pad set on high. The perfect start to her birthday weekend, which officially is tomorrow. So Happy Birthday dear friend. Thanks for the pampering on your behalf.