Dear Something for (Almost) Nothing Readers: I accidentally sent you a post meant for another blog of mine (My Illinois Nature Journal). Very sorry for the confusion and inconvenience–I owe everyone a new cookie recipe! Thanks for your understanding. Fran Manos
This may be TMI, but lately I have been suffering from anxiety. It’s different from the anxiety you may feel as the dentist’s drill descends. It’s a trembling in the heart and soul. I certainly have tried to understand it. Maybe it’s anxiety about our planet being destroyed by idiots. Maybe it’s anxiety about our democracy being destroyed, also by idiots. There are lot of possible causes.
I had an insight this morning, though, that may point to the real source of the problem. I walked out into the garden to feed the birds, and felt its peace. My garden is my artificial construct of wilderness—lots of native plants, which have attracted birds and insects. It struck me that we humans have turned our whole world into an artificial construct to suit ourselves. We have covered it with a grid system so that we never get lost. We have a shaky supply line that dumps food on our plates. Lots of people work in sub-human conditions so that we can have cheap clothes. Our lives are climate-controlled. We are comfortable.
Many may not see what’s wrong with this, but by cutting the web that connects us to nature and creating a safe space for ourselves, we have created a new peril more dangerous than saber toothed tigers. Thing is, we have dragged our brains along with us into this safe space, our brains with their dark ids, fears, and psychopathies, and this seems to have bred insanity. Some of us see lizard people. Reality and non-reality are blurring. We have lost it.
There may be a cure. Go out into nature and be still within it. My place of choice is the Afton Cemetery Forest Preserve, near DeKalb, Illinois. It’s a lot cheerier than it sounds, and it’s mercifully free of recreational options for restless and bored human beings. So stand in the midst of a prairie and listen to the wind. Feel it on your face, your body. Keep listening. You will hear the sound of millions (billions?) of plants and grasses swaying in the wind—it’s the softest sound imaginable. Then, the innocent sounds of birds leading their lives. A frog chorus may croak. Listen long enough, and you start hearing yourself. You may hear yourself breathing, your blood circulating, your brain thinking. Clean winds will blow right through your molecules. You are breathing along with the prairie. I think this may be my cure: weaving myself back into nature. Perhaps that will undo the harm that our claustrophobic human version of the world is doing to me. I hope so.
PS Lying in the grass and looking up into the trees is a good substitute for the above.
PSS All photos above are from the Afton Prairie.
My first post for Something for (almost) Nothing was a recipe for Brown-eyed Susan cookies, which remains one of my favorite recipes. That was in January 2011. My post today will be the last, though the blog will remain open for use to browse and cook from. My interests have moved on, and I will be focusing on my newest blog, called My Illinois Nature Journal. It features my photos, watercolors, and info about creating nature journals.
THANK YOU to my all readers, some of whom have been with me from the beginning. I have have been grateful for your loyalty, even as I segued from cookies to low-carb meals! So thank you, again.
Please stop by My Illinois Nature Journal, and sign up to receive posts. Peace be with you. Fran
The road to this Italian Sandwich Salad was short but sweet. Summer is here, and although I have a new oven (my old, and I mean, my really old oven, that was at least sixty years old, finally rusted away), I don’t really want to turn it on. It will probably be 92 degrees today, and I’ll be content with enjoying looking at the new oven, and even enjoying what Jim calls the “new oven smell.” It’s the little things.
And then I was riffling through one of my fav low-carb cookbooks (The Big Book of Low-Carb by Broihier and Mayone), and ran across this Italian Sandwich Salad. In the low-carb world, just because a recipe has the word “sandwich” in its name doesn’t mean there’s any bread in it. As if! But it does have all the ingredients of a so-called Italian muffuletta sandwich, and is loaded with salami, provolone, onion and tasty seasonings.
This particular salad contained something new to me–hamburger chip pickles, and as it turns out, they are the secret ingredient to a really delicious salad. This is so easy to make–just throw the ingredients into the bowl, one after another, toss it, and serve it up!
Italian Sandwich Salad
1/4 pound provolone cheese, chopped
1/4 pound sliced salami or Spanish chorizo, chopped
1 medium green bell pepper, seeded and chopped
1/2 medium or one small Vidalia onion, chopped
3/4 cups hamburger chip pickles, drained and chopped
one 2-1/4-ounce can sliced black olives, drained
1 cup grape tomatoes, halved
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
lettuce for lining salad bowl, if desired
In a large mixing bowl, combine all the ingredients and toss well. It’s ready to serve!
Making notes: As you can see, you can change up the ingredients to your liking. The olive oil/red wine vinegar measurements here work well, but you always want to taste before serving to make sure the flavor is to your liking. Hope you enjoy! Fran
Yes, another casserole, a kissing cousin to Joe’s Special casserole, featured in my last post, right down to the spinach. But it’s a lighter and more inexpensive dish and it’s perfect for Sunday supper. Maybe it’s the Midwesterner in me, but I don’t think you can have too many useful, delicious casserole recipes for all occasions!
Sunday supper has a special feeling for me–reminds me of when our family lived above my grandmother, and that on Sunday evening we would troop down a set of steep narrow stairs to file through her kitchen, and then on to sit at the dining room table. She always served cheesey buns, carrot sticks, and jello, not my Dad’s favorite meal, but the warmth of those dinners, of our family being all together, remains with me to this day. So Sunday supper is special. And this casserole is special–delicious, rich but light and fluffy, and infinitely variable. Here is the recipe:
Tuna and Spinach Bake
one or two tablespoons butter
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
16 ounce bag of frozen spinach, defrosted
2 6-ounce cans tuna, drained
3 large eggs
3/4 cup whipping cream
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
4 ounces of shredded cheddar cheese and/or cheese curds
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, and butter an 8 x 8″ Pyrex casserole (or other small ceramic or cast iron casserole–don’t use metal). Using a dish towel, squeeze the moisture out of the defrosted spinach.
Melt the butter in a frying pan, and add the chopped onion. Cook until translucent. Add the squeezed spinach and cook for a minute or so with the onion. Spread the spinach-onion mixture in the buttered casserole. Top with the tuna, breaking the tuna up with your fingers as you go. In a two-cup measuring cup, measure out the whipping cream. Then add the three eggs and salt, and stir thoroughly. Pour this mixture over the casserole mixture . Then sprinkle on the shredded cheese, or cheese curds (see more on this later). Bake for 40 minutes or until the top is lightly browned.
I served this casserole with a grape tomato and feta salad, and I’ll start my photos with making the salad, and then move on to the casserole.
Making notes: You could substitute leftover ham for the tuna, or even shredded chicken from a rotisserie chicken. The first time I made this, I only used one box of spinach, and it also turned out fine! (Seems like you could also use a package of frozen broccoli.) The jalapeño cheese curds were my own, over-the-top idea, and you could certainly just use the four ounces of shredded cheese.
At any rate, here’s to Sunday Supper! Hope you enjoy. Fran
I was riffling through an old cookbook called “Casseroles & Salads,” from nitty gritty press, circa 1977, when I came across this recipe for Joe’s Special Casserole. Adding to the list of things I miss a bit on a low carb diet are casseroles, which are for me the ultimate comfort foods. Things like tuna and noodles, and the mystery casseroles at Methodist church potlucks. You may not know what you’re eating, but it’s always delicious!
So I decided to give Joe’s Special Casserole a try, since it contains no carbs at all. And, I was feeling a bit nostalgic for 1977. If I recall, it was the year we got an avocado-colored refrigerator for our kitchen, and I wore bell bottoms, buffalo hide sandals (that smelled like buffalos when it rained), an army surplus t-shirt and granny glasses. The good old days! But, back to the casserole. As it turned out, the recipe is delicious and a keeper. Here are the particulars:
Joe’s Special Casserole
2 pkg. (10 oz. each) frozen chopped spinach
1 tablespoon butter
1 onion, chopped
1-1/2 pounds ground beef
1/2 pound mushrooms, sliced
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon oregano
1/2 teaspoon basil
3/4 cup sour cream
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 cup shredded Gruyere cheese
3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Thaw spinach and drain well. Press to remove excess moisture. Melt butter in large frying pan, and sauté onion until softened. Add ground beef and cook until browned. Add mushrooms and cook until softened. Season with the salt and herbs. Remove from heat and stir in spinach. Combine sour cream, egg, Gruyere and half of the Parmesan, and stir into meat mixture. Turn into a buttered 2-quart casserole., and sprinkle with remaining cheese. Bake in 375 degree oven for 20 to 25 minutes or until browned. Makes about 6 servings.
Making notes: This was really tasty, and the leftovers were so good, too! (I could see this for breakfast with an egg.) The herbal flavor was good, but a little timid. Next time, I will use a bit more of both herbs. Hope you enjoy! Fran
Jim and I have been on the low-carb route for more than a year now, and it has been smooth going except for the temptations of chocolate bars, and an occasional yearning for something salty and cheesy, like cheese curls. Sometimes you just want something to nosh on while you watch the news, and need comfort. This recipe for The Big Cheese Thing has come to our rescue!
The original recipe was called Keto Cheesy Bread, but, to me, any resemblance to bread is purely in the mind of the beholder. So I have called it The Big Cheese Thing, and that’s what it is. A batter of shredded cheese and egg is mixed, spread on a parchment-covered baking sheet and baked until golden brown. Mulling over the recipe, it occurred to me that if I used so-called taco cheese, sliced the cheesy thing into fingers, and served it with a good salsa, that it would be a reasonable facsimile of chips and salsa. And it is! Here is the recipe:
The Big Cheese Thing
1-1/2 cups finely shredded “taco-style” cheese
1 egg, beaten
Preheat oven to 375 degrees, and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Mix the cheese with the beaten egg, and spread out onto the parchment paper to a depth of about 1/4″. Bake for 20 minutes, or until the cheesy thing is golden brown. Cool before slicing and serving with salsa.
Making notes: The original recipe called for one cup of mozzarella cheese and 1/2 cup shredded parmesan cheese, garlic powder and a pinch of Italian seasoning. I formed the mixture into a circle, and it did look a bit like a pizza, if you squinted, and was also delicious. So you could go in a number of different directions with the recipe. Hope you enjoy! Fran
I’ve mentioned that Jim and I eat “low carb,” and have both benefited from it–we’ve lost weight, and Jim is controlling his diabetes. Here’s a low carb meal we had last night–I hope to show that eating low carb isn’t really a “diet,”–certainly not something that requires deprivation and hunger–and is just a delicious, healthy way to eat.
So last night we had a roast chicken and this Springtime Salad. I love sugar snap peas, and when I saw the original recipe in Bon Appetit magazine, I had to try it. This is its second, much altered iteration. Basically it’s a green salad with arugula, sugar snap peas and garden peas tossed in a lemon and Dijon mustard dressing. It was so good and was a perfect foil for the roast chicken. Here it is:
Springtime Salad with Sugar Snap Peas
juice of one lemon
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
3 tablespoons olive oil
kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1 cup frozen peas
10 ounces sugar snap peas
about 4 ounces arugula or baby spinach/arugula mix
a chunk of Asiago or Parmesan cheese
Measure out the frozen peas into a small bowl, and set aside to thaw. Make the dressing: Combine lemon juice, Dijon mustard, olive oil, salt and pepper. Wash the sugar snap peas and microwave in a covered dish for three minutes, or until crisp tender. Set aside to cool. Measure out the arugula mix into a large bowl–it’s about four cups of greens, packed down. Using a vegetable peeler, shave thin curls of cheese from the cheese. Add the sugar snap peas and garden peas to the arugula. (Drain the sugar snap peas before doing this, as some liquid may have accumulated in the bowl.) Whisk the dressing and pour over the green. Toss thoroughly. The salad could be served in the bowl it was made in, but it’s nice to serve it on a pretty platter. Then, top with the cheese shavings. Serve!
Another reality check: Roast or baked chicken is easy, but what if you don’t want to go to the trouble of making this salad. I get it. Some days I’m up for these things, some days not. A bagged salad mix with a dressing of your choice also works well. I might sprinkle the salad with some feta cheese crumbles for more interest. Also, the original recipe called for a “knob of fresh horseradish,” to be grated over the salad. If you can find such a thing, give it a try! Hope you enjoy. Peace. Fran
I’m always on the lookout for a good low-carb dessert–something easy but good to cap off dinner. Maybe it’s pathetic, but I think having that little sweet treat can often soften the blows of life to a surprising degree!
With that in mind, “The Low-Carb Cookbook” by Fran McCullough had a suggestion for ricotta desserts that sounded good. Just serve a scoop of whole milk ricotta with a variety of add-ons–berries, a dusting of cinnamon or a handful of chocolate mini-chips–that sort of thing. So I went to the store and purchased several varieties of ricotta, some fruit, and went to work. Here is what I came up with. By the way, the portions given here may seem small, but whole milk ricotta is rich, and honey and fruit can be filling. So these small amounts provide the perfect sweet touch at the end of a meal.
I tried three different varieties. The whole milk Frigo was moderately priced and was made with milk, and contained so-called “stabilizers” such as food starch and guar gum. They prevent the ricotta from separating and giving off liquid. The BelGioioso ricotta contained whey, cream and milk, and contained no stabilizers. It was significantly more expensive than the other brands.
The part skim milk ricotta on the right was a bit grainy and the flavor was just okay–probably not what you would want for a dessert. The Frigo whole milk tasted better, and I give it a thumbs up. It was economical, but fresh and good tasting. But I was really surprised by the BelGioioso ricotta. It was news to me that ricotta could be so good: very creamy with a fresh tang. For our desserts, though, I found that richer is not always better, and you will see that I sometimes use the plainer Frigo.
The quantities given are for one dessert, but the amounts can be increased.
Ricotta with Honey and Almonds is so good–creamy, sweet and crunchy all at the same time. This may be the only ricotta dessert you need or want. I used the Frigo ricotta–the richer ricotta might have been too much of a good thing here.
Think I’ve hit my limit here! The bottom line is that ricotta works so well for desserts whether you eat low carb or not. Served with fruit, honey or whatever your imagination can conjure up, it makes a nice ending to a meal. Hope you enjoy! Peace. Fran
The road to this recipe had some hairpin turns and at one point, I thought I had driven right off a cliff, but in the end, the recipe turned out to be a deliciously creamy spinach/custard melange with a bit of raffish charm!
In this case, the recipe directed to stir 4-1/2 ounces of fresh spinach into the custard mixture and then bake. I felt uneasy. Spinach contains a lot of moisture, and usually you would cook it down first. And the photograph with the recipe showed gentle little wisps of spinach veining the custard. I always believe in making a recipe exactly as it stands, though, because sometimes miracles occur. But as I tossed the raw spinach in the egg mixture, a miracle seemed less and less possible. Would the spinach give off its moisture as it baked, resulting in a horrible gooey mess? It seemed possible.
Turns out–no! Somehow the spinach baked deliciously into the custard, with a few crispy bits above the surface. It told me that (1) the makers of the recipe had cooked their spinach first, and had neglected to mention it, but that (2) it still turned out! I made a few other changes, including added some dill weed. Spinach and dill have a strange affinity, and it works well here, but it’s optional. Here is the recipe.
Quick Crustless Spinach Quiche
1/4 cup (4 tablespoons) sour cream
1/2 cup grated cheese
2 spring onions, chopped
4-1/2 oz. (6 cups lightly packed) fresh spinach
1/2 teaspoon dried dill weed (optional)
1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
3/4 teaspoon salt
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Butter an 11″ ceramic pie plate (or a 9×9″ Pyrex baking dish). With a whisk, mix together the eggs and the sour cream, and then whisk in the seasonings. Then stir in the cheese, chopped spring onions and fresh spinach, tossing the spinach thoroughly so that all the leaves are coated. Scrape the mixture into the pie plate, strew on a bit more grated cheese, if you like, and bake for about 25 minutes. In the last five minutes, the mixture will puff up a bit. Can be served warm from the oven, or cooled off.
Making notes: This only serves two, believe it or not, as the spinach is light textured, and there are only four eggs. Okay, maybe it should serve three or four, but not in our household! Hope you enjoy. Peace to you. Fran
By the way, you are invited to stop by my blog “My Illinois Nature Journal,” for photos of birds, butterflies and more! Hope you can stop by and sign up. Below, a photo of a red admiral butterfly from my most recent post. A group of these beautiful butterflies flew into our garden a few days ago, and I was amazed and delighted to see them.