The Stump

drilling stump
This is me drilling the stump to put in some stuff that rots stumps. Check out that drill bit! Not sure if it will work.

I have been working on chopping out a stump in my backyard.  We had a tree cut down and they ground the stump but they missed part of it because it was buried under all the sawdust.  So I have been slowly hacking away at it.  Matt thinks it is hilarious and he has taken videos of me swinging the axe but he has been having technical problems.

Why chop?  Because it feels damn good.  I cannot explain how satisfying it is to physically overcome an immovable object or to just whack. I could spend hours digging and chopping.  My hands don’t like it of course.  When I first started doing it, I would wake up and my hands would so stiff I could barely hold a fork.  But they are getting used to it now.  I pretend I haven’t had rotator cuff surgery.  My doctor assured me that he would sew me back up if I did anything to blow it out again.  He was talking about swimming.  I say, hey, swimming chopping, whatever.

After all that chopping I was powerful hungry.  I bought some smoked mussels from the seafood counter at Whole Foods.  I decided to use them in a Jacques Pepin dish–Mussels with Saffron.  He uses fresh mussels.  I just used what I had.  The sauce is a basic tomato sauce flavored with saffron.  Once that cooked down I stirred in the smoked mussels and served it over brown rice.

This turned out pretty good even though I did not have mussel broth.   I used to not like the flavor of saffron. It always tasted a bit soapy to me.   But I find that if I use just the right amount it has a pleasant flavor.


I am spoiled.  Matt took me out to dinner for my birthday.  Oh, who are we kidding?  We will find any excuse to try good food.   Mike Isabella of Top Chef/Graffiato fame opened a new Greek small plate restaurant called Kapnos.   We love Graffiato, which is his homage to his Italian nona, so we had to give the Greek restaurant a try.  Oh joy!

First the taramasalata, cauliflower puree, carp roe and caviar served with fresh pita.  That disappeared in about 30 seconds.  Then saganaki, flambeed cheese and this one served with lemon marmalade.  The lemons sang.  Eating that took another minute.  We were just getting warmed up.  Next up, charred octopus, cooked to perfection with a green harissa and eggplant.  Then lamb tartar, which was the weakest plate.  We really did not like that one. It had an odd flavor.  Of course, it was raw lamb so that was unusual.  But it seemed almost bitter.  Then on to phyllo pies (I had duck, Matt had potatoes).  At this point, we were very nearly full.  But then came out the suckling pig with orzo, and lentils (called “fava,” but not fava beans).  We were simply beyond stuffed and it was all good.  I honestly did not think I could eat another bite but then comes dessert. I am pretty good at avoiding the dessert menu but they had semolina cake with persimmons and every fall I decide I don’t have enough persimmons in my life.  So we split that.  It disappeared.  We scraped the plate.

We ate so much, I was full the next day.  Boy, did I do some exercising for the next few days.  I had to work off that one.

If I have any complaints about this restaurant it is first, the food plates came too fast.  We actually tried to and slow it down by leaving stuff on the plates and picking a bit.  Second the place was way too loud.  The noise level was almost unbearable.  We were shouting at each other across the table or I was having to cup my hand around my ear.  I really dislike loud restaurants.

Rustic Pastichio in Cucina Italiana

            You are going to hear a lot about me cooking recipes from this magazine.  I study it every month.  Today, I was smitten with a recipe for a rustic pastichio made of cabbage, lentils, fennel and gruyere cheese. Unfortunately it is not on their website or I’d post the link.  Look out for the November 2013 issue.  The lentils were cooked in a tomato-based sauce and then thickened with cheese.  They called for marscapone but I do it healthy so I used lite cream cheese instead.  Savoy cabbage leaves were separated and cooked.  The leaves lined the casserole dish.  Into the casserole went the lentils, a layer of fennel that had been cooked with lemons and then a topping of gruyere cheese.  A few layers later, I closed the top with the cabbage leaves, put another heaping of gruyere and parmesan on top and bake.  Good Lord, was it good.  The lentils and the cabbage meshed completely and, of course, cheese makes everything better.  I served it with some crusty bread and we ate in absolute silence because we were so busy scarfing it down.

Grocery Shopping

With Matt on the DL, another of my duties is grocery shopping.  It is always a very dangerous thing for me to do the shopping.  I look at fruits and vegetables and fish and meats and I think about possibilities.  Today I spotted a super fresh Arctic char from Iceland.  This fish was so clear eyed and fresh smelling, I think it just got off the plane.  How could I resist?  Into my basket it went.  I would figure out what to do with it later.

When I got home I pulled out my Scandinavian cookbook, Kitchen of Light by Andreas Viestad, and made the Arctic char with a mustard honey glaze.  Cooking fish at a fairly low temperature is key.  I am with you on this one Andreas.  325º to 375º seems about right.  The fish does not dry out.  Barton Seaver the sustainable seafood advocate, also promotes slow cooking fish.  It was yummy.

I also discovered kiku apples.  Deliciously crunchy and sweet, I had a taste and came home with half a dozen.  They are Italian and Italians make everything better.  And this is why my shopping for groceries is a problem.  I don’t follow the list.  But if I did, it would be like wearing blinders.  I just have to go for it and see what is out there.

My Birthday

I was not in a good mood.  The day was lousy.  It was dreary and just the kind of day you wanted to stay in bed.  I worked a bit.  Then I worked on dinner.  I found a recipe in one of Lidia’s cookbooks for a baked mushroom pastichio with fontina.  I added crab meat and it was fantastic with a little roasted asparagus on the side and a bottle of barolo.  Who needs to go out for dinner when we can eat that?

Matt gave me the Rosetta Stone program to learn Italian.  One day my dream will come true and I will go to Italy and just eat and drink wine while I gaze at olive trees and fields of grapes.  Maybe I’ll never come back.  Soon.  Very soon.  Italy.  We’re coming.

The Maori All Blacks


For my birthday Matt bought us tickets to see the Maori All Blacks play the U.S. Rugby Team.  New Zealand’s rugby team is the best of the best.  They don’t get any more elite than this team. The Maori All Blacks are all of Maori descent and this is one tough bunch.  They were on a tour to promote rugby. Before the game, the All Blacks perform the haka, which is a Maori war dance intended to intimidate the opponents.  It is a tradition and unique to the team.  You know what we Americans did while they performed?  The crowd chanted, “USA!  USA!”  It was quite rude actually. They did let the Maori singer get through their national anthem, without shouting thank God.


I have not been to a stadium sporting event in years and I was startled at the behavior of the crowd in both the parking lot and the stadium.  Hockey and baseball crowds are ridiculously polite in comparison.  Or maybe it is that DC bubble that makes it seem so.

We were powerful hungry when we arrived. The stadium had the standard fair and we almost got hamburgers when I saw a small sign that said, “New Zealand meat pies.”  Like a laser, I’m on it.  We ordered the spicy chicken.  It was simply a pot pie served as a hand pie which lead to a kind of messy situation since a pot pie has a lot of gravy.  We had gravy all over our fingers.  But it was still pretty good considering it was stadium food.


The U.S. team tried to hold its own but after a while the All Blacks just overpowered them.  If you want to see a tough bunch of guys, check out rugby.  No padding, no helmets, no stopping play for anything as foolish as an injury.  Lots of tackling, bruising, and the scrum that kind of looks like mass wrestling.  More than one guy had a bandage wrapped around his head by the end of the game.  One American player hurt his leg bad.  He was limping. It looked like he pulled a hamstring.  He refused to leave the game.  The trainers go onto the field while play is going on.  They kept trying to get him off the field and he kept running away from them.  Well, running is an overstatement.  He was hobbling.  But he would not quit.  At one point, it was up to him to stop an All Black headed straight for the goal line.  His legs just could not give enough force and he got run over.  The All Blacks were pretty much in one piece in the end.  I am not sure I would say that for our side.  (Okay, I was rooting for New Zealand.)  What I learned was this is a game I had never seen before and now I want to watch all the time.  Sports television networks!  Give us rugby!

Parade Magazine Should be Ashamed

We still get the Sunday paper and it carries the Parade Magazine insert.  They have a recipe page, which at one time was written by Sheila Lukins.  Now they have recipes offered by celebrity chefs or just celebrities.  But sometimes, the recipes are anonymous and it is a good thing that no one took credit for the abomination that appeared in the November 3, 2013 recipe page.

With the helpful suggestion “Get the kids’ week off to a fun start with this special breakfast,” the recipe for Maple-Glazed Waffle Sandwich, was more likely to get the kid off to a life of being overweight.  The recipe, described as kid friendly, consists of two “prepared” waffles that are dipped in confectioners sugar and maple syrup to create a maple sugar glaze.  While those are drying, the cook is instructed to cook up some mini turkey sausage patties.  I guess they figured that turkey sausage, rather than pork, would somehow make this a tad better for kids.  But never mind because then we fry up some eggs.  Here they helpfully suggest that they be cooked in a nonstick skillet, as if that will make much of a difference.  Last time I checked fried means cooked in oil or butter, nonstick skillet or not.

Then the creative part begins.  Place a glazed waffle on a plate.  Top with sausage, egg and the other waffle for a waffle egg and sausage sandwich.  This is something that sounds like it came right out of a fast food breakfast restaurant.  The calories are listed at 560 per serving with 21 grams of fat.

You can check any health website for specifics.  But a “kid” should have no more than about 1500 to 1800 calories per day.  It depends on age, activity level and sex.  But it is pretty close to what most adults might eat in a day.  If by “kid” they meant growing and active teenage boys then there is some room for this kind of “fun” breakfast because they can consume up to 3000 calories a day.  (Yes, we are all jealous.)  But on average, at 560 calories, that breakfast sandwich would take up over a third of the day’s calories.  Don’t forget, the kid is not going to just eat this “sandwich.”  Chance are he or she is going to have juice which, at minimum, will add about a 100 calories.  Then the kid is going to down lunch, dinner, snacks and who knows what else.  As for the 21 grams of fat, a kid should have no more than 58 grams of fat per day so we are approaching half of a day’s average amount.  A teenage boy might stand 90 grams a day.

Folks, we can do better.

Here are two options for breakfast.  One is an egg on a muffin just like a certain fast food restaurant makes.  The other is a waffle with fruit and nut butter, which has all the right ingredients for a healthy breakfast.

Marsha’s Egg Muffin Sandwich

Serves two.

2 whole wheat English muffins

2 large eggs

2 slices reduced fat cheddar cheese slices

2 slices Canadian bacon

1.  Poach eggs.  In a deep skillet or sauce pan, fill with about 3 inches of water and bring to a gentle boil.  Break egg into a small bowl and then slowly drop the egg into the gently boiling water.  Don’t let the water boil too hard or the whites will foam up.  The egg should be covered with water.   If the egg is not covered with water, get a spoon and gently spoon the hot water over the top of the egg.  It will not be perfect but nothing is and what does it matter anyway.  Once the yolk is set to your liking, turn off the burner and, using a slotted spoon if you have one, carefully lift the egg out of the water and place on a paper towel to soak up any excess water.

2.  Toast muffins.

3.  Build the sandwich.  Place bottom of muffin on microwave safe dish.  Top with bacon, egg and slice of cheese, then muffin top.  Nuke the sandwich for about 30 seconds (depending on your microwave) to melt the cheese.  The sandwich will likely be steaming.

4.  Eat.  Add as a side a bowl of fruit, or a banana or apple, and a small glass of juice.

Note:  These sandwiches can be made the night before and stored in the fridge.  Simply microwave in the morning.   Sometimes I pack one in foil and take it with me in the car if I need to go.

Nutrition info:  Calories = 330. Total fat 12 g. With sides add about 150 calories.


Marsha’s Fruity Nutty Whole Wheat Waffle Breakfast “Pizza”


Serves 1

1 whole wheat or whole grain frozen waffle

1 tablespoon almond butter, natural, no fillers

¼ cup fresh blueberries, or any berries that are available

1. Toast the waffle

2.  Spread almond butter on waffle

3.  Top with fruit

4.  Eat. I like to combine this with a fruit smoothie.

This is a fantastic breakfast–little carbs, some protein, good fats and fruit.

Nutrition info:  Calories = 200. Total fat = 11 g.


Okay.  If you really, really must have that breakfast from Parade, here is how to make it better.

egg waffle sandwich

Parade Magazine Recipe Revised

Serves 2


2 whole grain frozen waffles (if you are feeling ambitious, go ahead and make them fresh)

2 large eggs

4 ounces sliced roasted turkey breast

4 teaspoons maple syrup

1.  Toast the waffles.  By using one whole grain waffle and making it an open face sandwich, you have already cut out about 100 calories by getting rid of one waffle.  You also get rid of 85 calories worth of sugar glaze.

2.  Drizzle the syrup over the waffle and then top  with a slice or two of roasted turkey breast from the deli (say two ounces).  Some meats go really well with certain sweets.  Poultry works with maple.  Instead of a glaze made with sugar and syrup, you will get a nice shot of sweet without all the calories.

3.  Poach the egg and place in on top the turkey for an open face sandwich. (If you need directions on how to poach an egg, there are dozens of directions on the internet.  Just do a search.)

4.  Eat.

How does this recipe revision compare?

My rough calculation is that each waffle would be about 100 calories.  Add the glaze for another 85 calories, adding up to 185 calories per waffle.  Cut one waffle and the calories decrease by 185 calories.  But we are going to use two teaspoons of maple syrup, which would have about 35 calories.  We cut a total of 150 calories simply by cutting out one waffle, getting rid of the glaze and using the syrup.  (Do you really need two waffles?  I am guessing, no.)

Since I don’t know what turkey sausage they used, I can only guess on the turkey calculation.  One option I checked has 100 calories in two pieces another had 160 calories in two pieces.  The Parade recipe called for three mini turkey sausages per serving.  Going with the lower number, that would be at minimum around 150 calories in the sausage.  But there are about 25 calories in a slice of deli roasted turkey so the meat in my version would be about 50 calories.  That means I cut out 100 meat calories.

One waffle = 100 calories

Roasted Turkey breast = 50 cal

One large egg = 70 cal

2 tsp maple syrup = 35 cal.

Total calories on Marsha’s version = 255 calories

Final note:  While I enjoyed it, my husband did not like the combination of sweet with eggs so he was not impressed.


We have Indian friends who are kind enough to invite us to their home for Diwali, the Hindu Festival of Lights.  Traditionally, it is a vegetarian meal and Nemala cooks everything from scratch God bless her.  It takes her two days.  It sounds simple but if it sall made from scratch, it takes time.  She served things like spinach paneer, palak paneer (cheese), potatoes (aloo), rice, dal makani (yummy, yummy dal), curried vegetables (cauliflower and eggplant), and homemade pakora and paratha.  She made some heavenly appetizers, one khatta dholka, is a mashed rice and lentil cake that had the texture of a firm polenta with a curry leaf topping.  I need to learn how to make that one but it takes two days because it has to ferment and then the next day it is steamed.  For dessert she makes these very interesting sweet, they kind of look like dippin dots but I believe they are made from rice. She also makes a halwah, which is a sort of a sweet puddings but it has a silky smooth consistency.  It is more like a think puree.

Eat it and shut up

Of course, my first blog post needs to be memories of my mother.  I learned all about cooking from my mom.  She wasn’t a gourmet cook or anything.  She just had to get a meal on the table for five fidgety kids and a hungry husband.  When they were first married, my dad was a very picky eater.  When she saw her kids pointing at him as a source of support for refusing to eat what she put on the table, she said, “Oh no.  You can’t teach those kids to be picky.”  So he sucked it up and ate whatever she put in front of him.  He never talked at the table, except maybe a harumph.  So he never complained about the food.  Ever.  But he had a funny little habit.  If he did not like the meal, he would dutifully eat whatever he was given.  Then he would get up and make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.  We knew if he made that sandwich, he did not like what he just ate.

As we got older, we were not as impressed by my dad’s willingness to clear his plate.  We complained, pouted and snubbed the food if we did not like it.  My mom’s response was always the same:  “Oh, eat it and shut up.”  There was no begging us to eat.  She would never in a million years stop making a food we did not like.  She made what she liked, what she had time to make, and what was on sale that week.   If we did not like it, well, then we were going to starve.  We did not get peanut butter and jelly privileges like my dad.  Nope.  We had to sit at the table and pick away at it until we ate some of it.  We had to eat at least enough to make it to the next meal.  Then we were excused.

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