Christmas – Becoming my mom

Matt and I agreed not to exchange presents this year because we bought a new television.  And then he bought me little things anyway.  It was nice of him but it brought back memories of my mother and how she slowly changed Christmas over the years.

When we were kids she bought lots of presents and we decorated the house with fake holy, a tree, lots of lights and Christmas cards from family and friends taped to the pantry door.  As we got older, she seemed to lose interest.  By the time I was in high school, and she was about the age I am now, she really stopped caring.  If we were going to decorate and have a tree I had to make it happen because I was the only one still living at home.    My dad not really participate at all so he was no help.

As for presents, she would hand me money and say go buy gifts and make sure you get something for yourself.  I went shopping and then wrapped all the gifts, including my own.  Hey, why not?   She insisted she really had everything she needed and she did not want presents.  We bought them for her anyway, usually clothes we thought she needed and maybe a knick knack.  She tried to be excited but more than anything she just fussed about how nothing fit and she didn’t need that new blouse or sweater anyway.  What she had was fine.

As I was facing Christmas this year, I began to think that I might be arriving where my mother was.  First, like my mom, I have come to the point that I just don’t need anything.  One hundred and fourteen catalogs arrived in my mailbox in one week, selling all sorts of trinkets and googaws.  As I leafed through them, all I could think was–have it, have it, have it, don’t need it, don’t need it, don’t need it. There is no longer the allure of objects, or jewelry, or anything else they are selling.  If I am interested in something, usually having to do with cooking  I just buy it for myself.(I bought cheesemaking kits this year.)

Then there are the traditions of Christmas.  There was an article in the paper recently written by some young mother who confessed that she and her friends were killing themselves trying to be everything at Christmas–baking cookies, decorating, buying presents, sending cards and trying to keep up generations of traditions.  They felt that if they did not do all of those things, somehow their kids would suffer and where were the spouses?  I just thought, man, you need to relax!  Stick to the priorities. Figure out what is worth doing and forget the rest.  All that stuff does not bring true meaning to Christmas anymore than a giant diamond wedding ring ensures a good marriage.

I think that I have sorted through everything that is important to me and have concluded that  I like the tree and outdoor lights.  That is really what matters to me.  So I have reduced my decorating inside to putting up a tree.  I have an entire collections of Santas and snow men that I used to display.  Now I don’t take the trouble.  It just disrupts my house, it takes time to put them up and take them down and in the end, what difference does it make?   Does it make Christmas any more special?  Honestly, I don’t think so. I think that for my mom, it was not the decorating that was important, or even the gifts.  She wanted us to be at home making noise and laughing.  That was what mattered to her.  The rest was just piffle.

Is it nice to give presents?  Of course.  And really, isn’t giving so much better than getting?  That sure is how I feel.  But somehow Matt and I carry on without exchanging gifts.  Some years we do buy presents for each other, it depends on how we feel.  When I am inspired I might buy presents for my family, or even strangers through organizations that set up gift giving for those in need.  I have no set plan.  Mostly, I prefer that we just enjoy each other with some good food, some good wine and lots and lots of talking and laughing with people we love.

Christmas week

Christmas celebrations and packing up for the beach.  On Christmas Eve we had oysters cooked in a champagne sauce and then went to Janice’s for her annual Christmas Eve party where we laughed our fool heads off.

On Christmas day,Matt’s mom Barbara and her friend Mary over for dinner.  I cooked lamb shanks with oranges and  olives that I served over spinach fettuccine tossed with pesto.  Afterward, we visited Matt’s aunt and her family.

On Friday we packed up for a trip to the beach in North Carolina.

The week in food

I spent the week getting things done.  I have been writing recipes for Manna, the local food bank.  I have also been creating recipes for myself.  This week I worked up a curried cauliflower dish which will follow in another blog post. We also had crepes with cheese and vegetables, and stuffed squid with an apple curry sauce (from Cucina Italiana). We spent December 21 at a party eating authentic Bolivian food, which was fantastic by the way.  On Dec 22 we had dinner at Matt’s dad’s.

Chocolate? Beet Juice? Kale? Yeah, all three…

I read an article about chocolate helping to ward off cardiovascular disease.  Chocolate has been found to lower the risk of heart attack or stroke by relaxing your blood vessels, i.e., lowers blood pressure.  The recommendation was to add a tablespoon of unsweetened chocolate (not dutch processed) to your coffee everyday.  So I started doing that.  Hey, why not a little chocolate everyday?

I also drink a small glass of beet juice twice a week.  That is all I can stand because I hate beets.  I hold my nose and gulp it down followed by something, anything sweet.  There have been several studies that show beet juice increases oxygen uptake and also lowers blood pressure.  This was all the rage at the last Olympics.  They have also tested this on cyclists.  So I gulp down the terrible stuff.  (For me, beets taste like dirt.  I just cannot get past that taste.)

Then I add kale to my breakfast shakes because aside from being a superfood, it helps with blood vessel function.  I bruise easily and it is supposed to assist with blood clotting.  (If you are prone to clotting problems, for heaven’s sakes, stay away from kale!)

All these home food remedies  may have worked.  When I swim I usually spend 15 laps just warming up and getting my lungs working so that I am not sucking for air.  This week,  I swam like a fish.  I had no problem with breathing or fatigue.  Or maybe it was just in my head and I was having a good day.  It is hard to say.  But if I have a choice between  pharmaceuticals  or supplements and foods, I’ll take the food.  There is no harm in them. Except for those nasty beets.  Yuck!   (And no, family, I never ate my mom’s pickled beets.)

SUMO! Byamba!

The guys

There are three sports that I wish I could watch regularly but are not on American television–curling, rugby and sumo wrestling.  ESPN used to have a half hour Japanese sumo wrestling show, which we watched regularly.  But that has long since been taken off the air.  So I sit around wishing and hoping.  I joined the email list of U.S. Sumo and every year they have a tournament and every year I can’t go.  Well, a few days ago, I got an email that said they were coming to D.C.

I shouted to Matt who was in the other room, “We have to go and see sumo!!!”



So I bought the tickets to the Living Social event.  We started off at Ren’s Ramen in Wheaton for their delicious Sapporo-style noodles. This small restaurant seats maybe 30 people.  It is always packed but we got there just in time to grab the last table.   It was miserable out and that comforting bowl of noodles and broth and veggies and meats was exactly what we needed.  I also tried the amakaze, a hot fermented rice drink, non-alcoholic.  It tasted like warm liquid rice pudding.  I had two.

Now we were fully prepared for the sumo demonstration and sake tasting event.  The two sumo wrestlers were Kelly, a 435 pound American and five time American champion and Byamba, a 365 pound Mongolian and three time world champion.  He had spent time on the sumo circuit in Japan and was on his way to superstardom but at 20 years old decided to move on.

In my humble estimation, Byamba was awesome.  He was far smaller and he won every match, even twice picking Kelly up and throwing him out of the ring.  He was simply magnificent.  You could see why he is a world champion.  He did not want to lose.  If you know nothing about sumo, I don’t think I can explain it here.  But  it is not just two fat guys pushing each other.  Think of it as two bull elephants trying to push each other off balance and out of the ring.  There are techniques for forcing your opponent off balance, and for bringing them down.  They expend a tremendous amount of power.  Sweat was streaming off them as they tried mightily to move the other colossus.  The host explained that usually the sumo wrestler will have one match a day and it might last a few seconds.  These guys were doing three demos a day with five matches at each demo.  That is a lot of effort.    Then they entertained us by pretending to wrestle with some audience members.  And Byamba still did not want to lose.  He tossed every guy that tried to move him.  He finally let a woman beat him.  And look at him.  The face of an angel.

Byamba resting between matches

Here are some photos of the action:

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Decorating in the ice storm

xmas lightsThis was one miserable day.  It snowed, then sleet and freezing rain fell.  Unfortunately, I had planned to put up the Christmas lights.  Matt is still not agile enough on his feet to venture out into the snow and ice so we could not do our usual over the top lights this year which requires a ladder and lots of time and energy.

I decided I would put up whatever I could in two hours and that would be it.  i could cover a couple of bushes, maybe get something hung around the door.  When I started it was snowing.  Then the ice started falling.  So I had to stop to shovel the sidewalks and get some ice melt out.  Matt helped with decorating the door and we finally got it together.  I was soaked and frozen by the end.  But no matter because we were on our way for Japanese Sapporo-style noodles and a sumo demonstration.

Dan Dan Noodles with Pickled Mustard Greens

Ice storm Dec 9
Back yard covered with ice

We had an ice storm to day so it was a good day for hot noodles.

I bought a large bunch of mustard greens and had to do something with them.  I started searching for recipes and found one for dan dan noodles,  but it called for pickled mustard greens that it said, helpfully, I could locate in the nearest Asian store.  I love my Asian grocery store but it was the greens I had to cook so I decided to pickle the greens myself.  Why not?  I changed up the dan dan noodle recipe a bit to make it quicker.  Here is the adaptation that I came up with.

ice storm#2 dec 9

Noodles with Pickled Mustard Greens                                         

Marsha’s Recipe Repair, Dec. 2013

 This recipe originally called for ground pork.  I use the leaner cut of pork tenderloin. I have made this more of a noodle dish with a lot of broth.  Not quite soup but not noodles tossed with a light sauce either.  It is kind of spicy, hot and slurpy.  If you cannot find sambal oelek, a possible substitution would be Italian ground chili peppers, like that used on hoagies, but it won’t be quite the same.


  •  1 lb linguini or Chinese egg noodles if available
  • 1 Tbsp. sesame oil
  • 1 Tbsp. canola or olive oil
  • ½ cup sliced onion
  • 1 lb pork tenderloin, sliced into ¼ inch thick pieces
  • 2 Tbsp. tahini (sesame paste)
  • 1 Tbsp. rice vinegar
  • 1 Tbsp. sambal oelek (Thai chili paste)
  • 1 garlic clove, mashed
  • 2 cups chicken broth
  • 2 cups pickled mustard greens (recipe below)

1.  Cook noodles according to package directions and drain.  Toss noodles in large bowl with sesame oil and set aside.

2.  Heat oil in a large deep skillet or sauce pan over medium high heat.  Add onions and pork slices and saute (stir fry) until the meat is no longer pink, about three to five minutes.  It will cook quickly.  Remove pork from skillet and set aside.

3.  In a separate bowl mix tahini, vinegar, chili paste, and garlic.  Pour into same skillet and let is sizzle for about 30 seconds.  Add broth stirring up brown bits. Bring to a boil and then simmer for five minutes.

4.  Divide among four large soup bowls ¼ of the noodles, ¼ of the pork slices, ½ cup pickled mustard greens, and a ladle about ½ cup sauce over all.  Toss and eat.   Serves 4.

Pickled mustard greens

These need to be made at least 48 hours ahead of time.

In a saucepan combine 2 Tbsp. sugar, 1 Tbsp salt, ¼ cup white vinegar, and 2 cups water.  Bring to a boil.  Stir until sugar melts.  Remove from heat and let cool.

After cutting off larger stems, cut 1 bunch of mustard greens (about four cups) into thin strips, and then coarsely chop.  Cut any remaining stems into small 1-inch pieces.  Pack the mustard greens into a large quart canning jar.  Pour pickling liquid over the greens, covering them completely.  Screw lid on tight and place in refrigerator for at least two days.  The greens will wilt and soften somewhat, which is fine.

Sour Cream and Onion Dip

onion dip #12

We love chips and dip and at this time of year appetizers are often on the menu.  But they can take a costly toll on the waistline.  There is a simple way to make the dip better. It requires some time cooking onions but it is well worth the effort.  As for chips, I recommend Kettle Brand Baked Potato chips.  These are not potato mush formed into chips liked Baked Lays.  They are real potatoes that are baked.  Quite good and a lot less fat.  Here is the recipe for the dip to go with them:

Sour Cream and Onion Dip

Makes about 1 1/2 cups


  • 1 large sweet onion (Vidalia if possible)
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 cup low fat sour cream
  • 1/2 teaspoon beef broth flavoring mix, preferably low sodium packets
  • salt and pepper
  • paprika (optional)

1.  Slice onion into this strips.

onion dip #1

2. Pour oil into large non-stick or iron skillet and heat at medium high.

3.  As oil begins to glisten, add onions and stir to coat onions with oil.  Turn heat down to medium low or low depending on how your stove and skillet cook.  You want the onions to be cooking but not getting black.

onion dip #2

4.  The onions now have to cook for about 25 minutes over low heat, stirring periodically to make sure they do not stick and burn.  This will caramelize the onions, which means the sugars will start to brown.  Use this time for some meditation.  Contemplate life.  Smell the aromas.  Be patient.  The following pictures show the progression you should see:

onion dip #3
After about five minutes of cooking.
onion dip #5
About the ten minute mark
onion dip #7
stirring and meditating
onion dip #6
About 20 minutes. They are turning golden now.
onion dip #8
Done at 25 minutes

5.  Place cooked onions into a food processor and give it a whirr to coarsely chop them.  You will have about a 1/2 cup after cooking and chopping.

onion dip #9
chopped onions

6.  Mix onions, sour cream, and beef broth flavoring in a large bowl and stir.  Note that the beef broth mix will give it a smokier onion soup  flavor but it is not essential.   if you don’t have any on hand, you can use only salt, pepper and paprika.  You can also add herbs like oregano and thyme to liven it up.  Use your imagination.

onion dip #10

7.  Now comes the hardest part:  adding the salt and pepper.  Add the spices a little at a time, take a taste, and see where you are.   Add a smidge of paprika but not more than that.  You will be surprised to find out that you will not need a lot of salt.  Here is a hint.  Instead of just randomly adding it to a recipe when it is called for, add it to your food after it is cooked, unless there is some specific reason to use salt (like in baking or in a spice rub).  Salting your food at the finish will result in the use of a lot less salt because it is on top of your food for your taste buds to sense.  I rarely add salt when I am cooking.  I salt my food at the table.

onion dip #11
A little at a time.
onion dip #13
Taste testing is essential.
onion dip #14
Almost there.

8.  Once you get the salt and pepper to where you want them, enjoy!

onion dip #15

Wintry Day

The drawing room is our winter hangout.
The drawing room is our winter hangout.

The snow and ice are falling so we got cozy in front of the fire.  Some got more cozy than others and by that I mean our cat Izzy, who is an inspiration in relaxation to one and all. This is our winter room.  It has a gas fireplace and the room is painted a cheerful yellow, perfect for dreary winter days.  We have a table so we can sit and eat and read the paper.  We had blueberry pancakes for breakfast and tea after in front of the fire, kind of like staying at an inn.

Dinner was rabbit with an orange sauce and chestnut served over polenta with roasted Brussel sprouts.

It is good to be Izzy.
It is good to be Izzy. Not a care in the world.

Arturo Sandoval


December looks like it will be the month of music.  On a whim we went to see Arturo Sandoval at Blues Alley, which is really a jazz club in Georgetown.  It was a good concert but too much modern stuff not enough Latin jazz.  He was very personable and funny, making jokes with the audience.  He seemed to play every instrument.  He is a trumpet player but he played the piano, very well I might add, on one song.  He had a whole percussion set to play with, and he had a synthesizer that he used as often as it moved him.

Fish with Bananas [Recipe Revision]


We were in Bermuda many years ago and we ate fish with bananas. I know it sounds funny, but it really is quite good.  Bananas go very well with different meats and seafoods.  I later discovered a recipe for it in Burt Wolf’s Eating Well cookbook.  He in turn got the recipe from Commander’s Palace in New Orleans.

Today, I had some ripe bananas so we had fish and bananas for dinner.  I have revised this recipe over the years largely because it requires the fish to be breaded and fried.  Here is my revised and more healthful version:

Roasted Fish and Bananas

Serves 2 can be scaled up

For Fish:

  • 2 4-ounce halibut steaks
  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • 1/4 tsp dried basil
  • 1/4 tsp dried thyme
  • 1/4 tsp paprika
  • dash of salt and pepper

For Bananas:

  • 2 bananas peeled and sliced

For lime sauce:

  • Juice of 3 limes
  • Juice of two lemons
  • 1 clove garlic mashed
  • 1 tsp peppercorns
  • 2 Tbsp canola oil based butter substitute

To finish:

  • 1/4 cup sliced almonds

1.  Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Brush the halibut steaks with olive oil and place on oven safe skillet.  (I like cast iron.)  Mix herbs and spices in a small bowl and spread evenly over fish.  Place skillet into oven and cook for about 15 minutes depending on the thickness of the fish.  The fish is done when it   flakes easily and is a rich white color.


2.  While the fish is cooking, place the sliced bananas in a roasting pan sprayed with cooking spray.  Place into the oven with the fish for five minutes.  Don’t cook for too long or they will turn into mush.

3.  In a small saucepan, mix the juices, garlic and peppercorns.  Allow to come to a boil and then turn on low for about 15 minutes.  The juices should get somewhat syrupy and the water cooks off.  Add the butter substitute, stirring until a soft sauce forms.  Note:  I like things tart.  If you do not want it as tart, remove the juice of one lime, add a bit of water instead,  and a dash of sugar, and keep stirring.

4.  With all the pieces, build the dish.  Plate the halibut.  Top with half of the bananas.  Then spoon over some of the sauce.  Sprinkle with almonds and enjoy.

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