holiday blues

Okay, so I was overly ambitious last week and claimed I would blog every day up until Christmas. I had the ideas all lined up in my head: holiday recipes, shopping suggestions, and so on. But then the days flew by, and I found myself busier and more tired than expected. Come Christmas Eve, I was wrapping gifts, making jam (which I had planned on bloggig about), and cleaning house. Then Christmas Day, I woke up early to start cooking, followed by four hours of my side of the family, followed by cleaning up, followed by three hours with the in-laws. By 11:00 PM on Christmas, I was ready to crash.

At 5:20 AM, I woke up with pain in my back. It wasn’t the usual neuropathic pain and banding feeling I often get in the middle of my back. Instead, it stemmed from my lower back and felt like my spine was crunching down upon each other. Then the pain radiated upward and to the right into my shoulder blade. I took a Vicodin anyway and went back to sleep. All of Sunday, I napped here and there and felt nauseous. Maybe it was the Vicodin. Maybe it was something else. I couldn’t stomach anything except for a Muscle Punch from Smoothie King for dinner, and I still threw that up a few hours later.

On Monday I felt better; I was hungry in the morning and was able to keep down the small meal I reheated in the microwave. Was it a stomach virus? A 24-hour bug? Exhaustion? Over the past ten years or so that I’ve had to deal with NMO and its various symptoms and conditions, I’ve noticed that my percentage of flare-ups increase during the holiday season. Why is that?

After I was first diagnosed,I read any literature I could find on autoimmune diseases. I discovered that autoimmune diseases, as with many diseases that inflict Americans, are linked to stress. While poorer countries fight famine and other basic illnesses, developed nations like America deal with stress and the whole spectrum of diseases that come alongside it. Even for the average healthy person, holidays can be a time of high stress. But for those of us with NMO who try to strive for independence and do all the “normal” things “normal” people do (e.g. cook lavish dinners, host lavish parties), stress takes on a whole new level and meaning. And for people like me who have a mild case of OCD, the stress level rises even more–everything has to be just like so.

Ever since the NMO Patient Day, I’ve been in regular contact with E and J; we bonded quickly because of our shared lifestyle (somehwat newly married) and disease (NMO). It was interesting to realize that despite our daily battles with NMO, all three of us hosted holiday gatherings in our homes. Perhaps playing hostess is something we’ve always loved to do even before we were diagnosed. Perhaps hosting the holidays helps us feel “normal.” Perhaps it’s a way to prove to others and ourselves that we can be “normal.” But is it worth the aftermath, the exhaustion, the vomiting?

Last week, the thought of falling behind on my blog kept nagging at me in the back of my head. If I take something on or give my word to something, I always make sure I follow through. So knowing that on Monday, I had said I was going to write a post every day, but by Thursday when I realized it wasn’t going to happen, I was mentally beating myself up inside. But then I told myself that the few regular readers I have out there will forgive me, especially if they knew I was trying to take care of my health, and I felt better. Then I knew I had to forgive myself, and I would feel much better. We are always hardest on ourselves, aren’t we? I need to break this senseless cycle of stress because it’s not doing anyone any good. So here’s to not keeping my word, here’s to not caring so much, not stressing out, not taking myself so seriously. Here’s to better health.

the blind trader

My friend, Heari, sent me this article about Ashish Goyal, a 30-year-old trader at JPMorganChase‘s London office. A graduate from Wharton, Goyal did not come upon this job easily. After receiving his first business degree from an accredited university in India, he had made the short list of candidates for several firms. But upon learning that he was blind, most companies turned Goyal away. By the time he reached the ING interview, he blurted, “I’m blind. Do you still want to talk?”

Years later when he applied to Wharton, the Director of Admissions signed off on his application, saying that there had yet to be a blind trader on Wall Street, but either way, Goyal would be better off with a degree from Wharton.

After Wharton, he interviewed with JPMorganChase, his interviewers were impressed that he was only one of few who had excellent risk management skills and the knowledge of Asian interest rates and foreign exchange. The company decided to take a risk and hire Goyal.

“You can put me on the spot trading desk,” he said, “but I’d be too slow…You need to realize where I would add value and where I don’t. You need to find your niche.”

With full awareness of his limitations, Goyal uses screen reading softwares and headsets to do his work, that is, to manage banks’ billions of dollars in their exposure to risks such as foreign exchange fluctuations. When he has to read graphs, which the software cannot do, Goyal scrolls through the data and forms the graph in his head.

Kudos to JPMorganChase for taking a risk on Goyal and hiring a blind man to handle big-time client accounts. The vocational playing field for the blind (and for the disabled, for that matter) is still highly uneven, but it’s stories like this that give us hope.

prime rib au jus with horseradish sauce

Ta da! The main entree served with the roasted new red potatoes and the country green beans is prime rib.

I have not had the privilege to consume a lot of prime rib in my life, but I can tell you the best prime rib I’ve had is at San Francisco’s House of Prime Rib. They serve succulent slices of prime rib cut off the cart right in front of your table. And the best thing is seconds are on the house. They don’t advertise this on the menu but guests are allowed a second serving of prime rib–all one has to do is ask.

I decided to do a prime rib for this year’s Christmas lunch because my dad was tired of fried turkey, and as the thought of roasting a duck for the first time at a family holiday gathering was intimidating, I settled on prime rib instead. Originally, I was going to purchase a pre-marinated prime rib from Costco but when I realized that marinating your own prime rib was a fairly simple process, I decided to forego the ready-to-go prime rib at $8.99/lb. and go for the naked slab of USDA beef at $7.99/lb. I bought a five-pound hunk of prime rib, assuming that my family, with their dainty appetites, will only eat about half a pound each. (I heard my relatives are also bringing lobster and chicken wings.)

The must-have tool for cooking prime rib (and just about any big chunk of meat, for that matter) is the digital meat thermometer. We got ours last-minute from Target the other night for roughly $20. Cooking meats–whether it’s beef, pork, and chicken, and whether you roast, grill, or fry it–requires an exact temperature reading to indicate doneness. It’s a shame I’ve been cooking all these years without using one; I usually just get John to cut the meat open and look to see if it’s pink or bloody or done. But as cooking is as much a science as it is an art, the best way to produce consistent, edible, and desirable results is to use a thermometer. There are even digital talking thermometers for the blind, and I will one day get to blogging about all these independent living aids for the blind (I know I keep saying that, but I promise.)

The prime rib should be served with two sauces: an au jus and a horseradish. Au jus is French for “with juice,. In French cooking, au jus is usually made by taking the natural drippings from the roasted meat and served as an accompaniment to enhance flavor. In American cooking, however, au jus refers to a sauce that may or may not be made from the pan drippings but is almost always prepared by combining other ingredients such as beef broth, soy sauce, or worcestershire sauce and reduced to a sometimes gravy-like consistency. American au jus is frequently made separately using additional external ingredients whereas the French au jus is purer in the sense that it’s the natural juices produced during cooking.

Horseradish sauce provides a little creamy kick to the savory meat. I find that horseradish meshes well with beef: think of a roast beef sandwich topped with horseradish sauce. (Hello–Arby’s!) So without further adieu, here are the triple decker recipes to make prime rib, au jus, and horseradish sauce.

Note: Pictures to come after Christmas.


Recipe: Prime Rib

Summary: Original recipe from All Recipes

Ingredients

  • 1 (5 lb.) standing beef rib roast
  • 2 tsp. kosher or rock salt
  • 1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tsp. garlic powder or more to taste

Instructions

  1. Allow roast to stand at room tempreature for at least 1 hr.–very important!
  2. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Combine salt, pepper, and garlic powder in a sm. bowl. Place the rib roast on a rack in the roasting pan, fatty side up. Rub seasoning on the roast.
  3. Place the thermometer in the meat, and roast in oven for 1 hr. Turn off oven, and let roast sit inside the oven for 2 to 3 hrs. Do not open oven door–the roast is still cooking. Before serving, turn the oven back on to 375 degrees and roast for another 30 min. or so to heat through. The internal temperature should read at least 145 degrees when ready. Remove from oven and let sit for 10 min. before carving and serving. Serve with au jus and horseradish sauce.

Meal type: dinner

Culinary tradition: USA (General)

Microformatting by hRecipe.

Recipe: Au Jus

Ingredients

  • 1 (10.5 oz.) can French onion soup
  • 1 (10.5 oz.) can beef broth
  • 1 can cold water
  • 1/2 tsp. white sugar
  • 2 tsp. worcestershire sauce
  • 1/8 tsp. salt

Instructions

  1. Bring ingredients to boil in a med. saucepan. Strain, discard onions, and serve in sm. ramekins alongside prime rib.

Quick Notes

Makes 3.5 cups. Can be made 2 days ahead.

Cooking time (duration): 5

Meal type: dinner

Culinary tradition: USA (General)

Microformatting by hRecipe.

Recipe: Horseradish Sauce

Ingredients

  • 1/2 c. sour cream
  • 1/4 c. prepared horseradish
  • 1 tsp. salt

Instructions

  1. Combine ingredients. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hr. to develop flavors. Serve in sm. ramekins alongside prime rib.

Quick Notes

Makes 1.25 cups. Can be made 2 days ahead.

Cooking time (duration): 5

Diet type: Vegetarian

Meal type: dinner

Culinary tradition: USA (General)

Microformatting by hRecipe.

roasted new red potatoes

2010 will be our first Christmas celebrated as husband and wife. To mark this mini milestone, John and I are hosting Christmas lunch for some of our family. So what’s on the menu this time?

Well, I started off the month of December with a cold, and so the rather unfortunate circumstance had me rethinking whether we should even host a holiday gathering at our house at all. But then after some of the Nyquil fog cleared from my head, I decided maybe we’ll just buy pre-marinated meats from Costco, pop it in the oven Saturday morning, and call it a meal. But when we went to Costco to look for something, there weren’t really many options. And so back to the ol’ drawing board it was; time to go to plan B.

Then I found a recipe for [insert mystery meat here] online and decided the [insert mystery meat here] wouldn’t be too difficult to make. So after running it by my husband, we’ve decided to go ahead and attempt yet another fancy dinner from scratch. So what is the mystery entree? You’ll have to tune in tomorrow to find out. What I will tell you is that this side dish and the quick and easy and delicious country green beans are what we’ll be serving alongside the main entree. Can you guess what it’ll be?

Potatoes are so versatile and yummy. They can go in soups, stews, or salads. They can be baked, mashed, pan-fried, or deep-fried. At the grocery store, there are mountains of potatoes, and I’m talking potatoes of all kinds: russet, white, yellow, gold, red, new, fingerlings…The options are endless. So how do you go about choosing the perfect potato? It all depends on what you are trying to do with the spud. This calls for a lesson in potatoes, which I’ll be posting soon. But for now, let’s cut to the chase. We’ve got four days till the Noel and no time for B.S.

These potatoes should be fabulous complements to a savory meat. Serve a few as a side next to roasted chicken, roasted duck, rack of lamb, strip steak. Their simplicity should add to the dynamic flavors of the dish, not vie for center stage. And with only four ingredients and two cooking steps, this is definitely a dish the Blind can Cook.


Recipe: Roasted New Red Potatoes

Summary: Original recipe from All Recipes.

Ingredients

  • 3 lbs. small new red potatoes, halved
  • 1/4 c. olive oil
  • 1 tsp. salt & freshly ground black pepper

Instructions

  1. Adjust rack to lowest position and preheat oven to 450 degrees. Toss potatoes with oil, salt & pepper. Arrange, cut side down, on a single layer on a lg. lipped cookie sheet or baking pan.
  2. Roast until tender and golden brown, about 30 min. (Check after 20 min.) Transfer to a serving bowl.

Variations

For something a little extra, try sprinkling rosemary, parsley, or basil over the potatoes halfway through roasting.

Cooking time (duration): 40

Diet type: Vegan

Meal type: dinner

Culinary tradition: USA (General)

Microformatting by hRecipe.

gingerbread cookies

Hello! Happy holidays! Welcome to the week of Christmas. Every day this week up until Saturday the 25th, I will post an entry featuring–of course–food. So let the blogging and cooking begin…

As with most desserts containing warm, rich spices of ginger, cloves, nutmeg, and/or cinnamon, gingerbread cookies are a tasty holiday treat. I usually like to bake these and snickerdoodles to give away during Christmas. I’m posting the recipe a few days before Christmas just in case you’d like to have them all wrapped up in pretty ribbon for your guests by the holiday.

The first time I ever bit into a gingerbread man was when I was in the seventh grade, and my friend, Jennifer, had baked a dozen as my Christmas present. They came neatly wrapped inside a paper box designed to look like a little gingerbread house. At first, I didn’t think I’d like the spicy cookies–I didn’t like much of anything with ginger in them, let alone dessert–but I was pleasantly surprised that the cookies were very delicious. In fact, the spices made them perfect for munching on a cold winter’s day. Gobble them up with a glass of milk by the fire, and you’ve got a true American Christmas. And as always, if the Blind can Cook it, you can too.

A photo will be posted as soon as I bake them and get John to take a picture.


Recipe: Gingerbread Cookies

Summary: An easy recipe that doesn’t require molasses. Originally from All Recipes. Number of cookies made depends on the size of your cookie cutter. Usually makes 15 to 30 cookies.

Ingredients

  • 1 (3.5 oz.) pkg. butterscotch pudding mix
  • 1.5 c. all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1.5 tsp. ground ginger
  • 1 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 c. packed brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 c. butter, softened

Instructions

  1. In a med. bowl, cream together butterscotch mix, butter, and brown sugar until smooth. Stir in egg.
  2. In a separate bowl, combine flour, baking soda, ginger, and cinnamon. Stir in the pudding mixture. Cover and refrigerate until firm, about 1 hr.
  3. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a cookie sheet.
  4. On a floured board, roll out dough to 1/8″ thickness using a rolling pin. Use a cookie cutter (I have both gingerbread man and mitten shapes) to cut into shapes. Place about 1″ apart on the cookie sheet.
  5. Bake for 10 to 12 min. or until edges are golden brown. Cool on a cooling rack. Decorate with frosting if desired.

Cooking time (duration): 45

Diet type: Vegetarian

Meal type: dessert

Culinary tradition: USA (Traditional)

Microformatting by hRecipe.

what do vera wang and white castle have in common?

Vera & Martha

Smell my candle.

No, it’s not a wedding gown made out of those little delicious sliders which have a cult following and are even featured in a movie. If you said a bride wore one of Vera’s gowns to a wedding at White Castle, your guess gets closer, but still no cigar. (Somehow I doubt a bride who gets married in a fast food joint would be wearing Vera Wang for fear of smearing that grease all over the tulle.

It turns out the renowned designer herself was at a White Castle in NYC’s Herald Square Tuesday night. She, along with Martha Stewart, were there to promote a new slider-‘n-onion scented candle made by Nest Fragrances. The candle will be sold at White Castles everywhere for $13 (equivalent to 14 sliders), and proceeds benefit Autism Speaks which promotes awareness for, obviously, autism.

Supposedly the candle smells more like sweet onions than greasy burger, but what a novel gag gift idea nonetheless. It’s funny that I read about this story today because I was just craving White Castle cheeseburgers lately and had just added them to my grocery list before stumbling across this story. Living in Texas for most of my life, I was not fortunate enough to taste a “fresh” White Castle slider, but the blue and white packages could frequently be found in my freezer throughout my childhood. I love how they’re a savory, satisfying snack and so easy to prepare–just wrap in a napkin and microwave for 60 seconds. I personally prefer frozen White Castles to fresh Krystal ones. (I’m much more a fan of grilled onions than mustard in my sliders which, if I remember correctly, is what Krystal’s adds to their sliders.)

Perhaps even more fascinating than the concept of a slider is the history of White Castle. It began in 1921–19 years before the first McDonald’s even opened– in Wichita when a dude named Walter Anderson partnered up with a cook named Edgar Waldo “Billy” Ingram to push hamburger eating on America. The country was weary of ground beef at the time due to Upton Sinclair’s novel, The Jungle, which exposed the unglamorous meatpacking industry. Anderson and Ingram tried to change America’s views by invoking a sense of cleanliness with their burger joints, using white porcelain enamel on stainless steel along with spotless employees’ uniforms to conjure a sanitary image. Anderson is credited for inventing the hamburger bun and the kitchen assembly line, a method similar to Henry Ford’s car manufacturing process, which guaranteed customers everywhere the same product every time. Almost a century later, and White Castle still exists. Amazing. I can’t wait to get my hands on some sliders ASAP.

how to start a recipe exchange

This email recently showed up in my inbox. Being the Blind Cook (thus always on the lookout for new recipes), I jumped on board. You can too. Just read below, and starting your own recipe exchange will be self-explanatory. If you’re the first person, just put your name in the #1 spot and instruct the recipients to add their name as #2. It’s easy, quick, and you could get an inbox full of recipes in the next few days.

Hello

You have been invited to be part of a recipe exchange. I hope you will participate. I’ve picked friends and family to make this fun.

Please send a recipe to the person whose name is in position #1, even if you don’t know them. The recipe should be something quick, easy, and without rare ingredients. The best kind is one you already have memorized in your head and can type right now. Don’t agonize over it; it’s one you make when you’re short of time.

After you’ve sent the recipe to the person in position #1 below (and only to that person), copy this letter into a new email. Move my name to position #1 and put your name and email in position #2. Only my and your names should show below when you send your email. Send to 20 friends/family members. If you cannot do this within 5 days, please let me know so it will be fair to those participating. It will be fun to see where they come from. Seldom does anyone drop out because we all need new ideas. The turnaround is fast since there are only 2 names on the list, and you only do this once.

  1. [someone’s name & email]
  2. [your name & email]

turn on your man with…pumpkin pie?

Our friend Daniel loves pumpkin. Anything with pumpkin, he’ll not only eat it, he’ll ingest it with the utmost joy: pumpkin pie, pumpkin lattes, pumpkin eggnog, and so on. I imagine he’d eat pumpkin puree straight out of the can if given the opportunity.

Earlier this week, Daniel sent me this story which outlines a study that showed the popular Thanksgiving dessert ingredient to be an aphrodisiac for men. Say what??

According to Dr. Alan Hirsch, the Director of Chicago’s Smell and Taste Treatment and Research Center, a study using 40 aromas showed that pumpkin pie topped ladies’ fragrances. In fact, the number one aroma that aroused men was a combination of lavender and pumpkin pie. And by itself, pumpkin pie was the single strongest stimulant. In an attempt to explain it scientifically, perhaps the odor of pumpkin pie decreases anxiety, and less anxiety means lower inhibitions. Some alternative medicine experts even recommend pumpkin seeds for erectile dysfunction.

I always knew that vanilla was supposedly a “turn-on” aroma for men. (I read this in a magazine years ago.) But pumpkin? Interesting…You’ll have to test this out to see if it’s true. I guess it’s true what they say: the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach (or nose?).

the blind tenor

Andrea Bocelli

Andrea Bocelli

On Wednesday evening, I had the privilege of attending Andrea Bocelli’s concert. I first fell in love with the tenor’s music in 2003 when I was stuck at home on disability after my worst NMO attack. I had nothing to do except read books and watch TV. I became addicted to HBO‘s “The Sopranos”; I would watch episode after episode on DVDs rented from Blockbuster, often spending eight hours a day following Tony, Carmela, Big Pussy, and the crew around, watching them get in and out of all sorts of trouble. In the episode entitled “Commendatori” in the second season, Tony and some of his crew members travel to Italy for business. Tony’s wife, Carmela whom Tony leaves back in Jersey, begins to doubt her marriage with the mob boss. I was especially moved in this epsidoe–the acting is so good, the plot line getting better–and my emotions were attached to the musical choices. Bocelli’s “Con Te Partiro” was played multiple times throughout the episode, culminating in a final play over the ending credits right after the camera zooms in on Carmella’s quiet reaction when Tony finally returns home.

Immediately after the episode finished, I searched online for the songs played in “Commendatori.” I had never heard the song before but I had such an instant attachment to the song. I downloaded it, and in the meantime, I looked for more songs sung by the artist, Andrea Bocelli. I found “Ave Maria” and “Nessun Dorma,” which happens to be the song Paul Potts sang to win 2007’s “Britain’s Got Talent.” Bocelli’s songs were on heavy rotation on my iTunes for several weeks.

Fast-forward to May of this year. It was our wedding day. The instrumental version of “Con Te Partiro” was played on the piano when I walked down the aisle. Ever since I’d first heard the song seven years ago, even before I’d met my groom, I knew it would be the song I’d walk down the aisle to. “Con Te Partiro” literally means “with you, I will leave” in Italian. The English version of the song that Bocelli sings with Sarah Brightman, who was married to musical composer Andrew Lloyd Webber and perhaps best known for her role as Christine in The Phantom of the Opera, is entitled “A Time to Say Goodbye”. With either title, I thought it fitting for the bridal procession: in the English version, I was saying goodbye to my dad, and in the Italian version, I was going with my new husband. Above all, I simply loved the beautiful, majestic elegance of the song.

So after years of auditory admiration, imagine my excitement when I found out Bocelli was coming to Houston. The concert was grand: he spent the first half singing both solo and duet opera and the second half singing pop Christmas songs from his latest album. My favorite, of course, was the last two songs of the four-song encore when he donned a cowboy hat and sang “Con Te Partiro” and “Nessun Dorma.” My eyes got wet, it was that touching.

What makes this tenor even more amazing besides holding the record for having most albums sold by a solo classical artist is that he is also blind. Born with congenital glaucoma, he completely lost his eyesight at age 12 after a soccer accident. At Wendesday’s performance, Bocelli was either guided by the maestro or his duet accompaniment each time he entered and exited the stage. He even danced a little dance with one of the singers. He managed to sing to a packed house at Toyota Center, not letting his blindness impede him from doing what he loves and doing it well. Like his music, I find Bocelli himself inspiring. Thanks, Andrea, for giving unto the world your talents despite your obstacles.

best fried chicken ever?

Babe’s Chicken Dinner House
1456 Belt Line Rd. #171
Garland, TX 75044
972-496-1041


5/5 drumsticks

Note: Sorry, no photos for Babe’s; the restaurant was just too dark.

We enjoyed trying out a new place in Dallas, but then I had to return to an old favorite. Every time I go to Dallas, I have to eat Babe’s. I first discovered the Southern cookin’ delight in 2005 thanks to Karen who took me to a fast food version of the diner. The last two times I ate Babe’s, however, it was at their actual restaurant which has the feel of a true Texas eatery with its heavily wooded interior and the quaint Southern drawls of the surrounding staff and patrons. I prefer this Belt Line location because ambience and atmosphere often add to the elemetn of experience.

But most importantly, the chicken is damn good. How it works when you dine in is you choose a meat (entree)–pot roast, chicken fried steak, chicken fingers, fried catfish, etc.–and then the sides come “free” with the meal. I highly recommend the fried chicken; even though I haven’t tried any of their other dishes, this is their signature entree. For $11.99, you get the entree (in our case, it was a basket full of fried chicken), crushed buttered corn, green beans, buttery mashed potatoes, and biscuits. The fried chicken is completely awesome. The skin is fried to a golden brown: crunchy and full of all the right flavors. It isn’t too salty, which is a problem a lot of tasty fried foods seem to possess. The corn and mashed potatoes were yummy (probably full of butter) but I found the green beans a little too “canned”-tasting.

John says this is the best fried chicken he’s ever had, and I may have to agree (although I’m sad to say I think my husband may have a more discerning palate than me). Better than Popeye’s, Frenchy’s, KFC‘s original recipe, and Catalan‘s gourmet fried chicken. Besides improving the green beans, the only thing I’d say would make the place even better is if they’d start serving sweet tea. I mean, sweet tea is a Southern thing, so why not?

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