Monday, March 31, 2014

Five Fine Fish-Free Fridays - Volume 2

Perhaps, at least for contextual reasons, you should glance at Volume 1 first – here’s the link: 

Let me first address each of the components in today’s meal – which is also ‘sans name’.  

The genesis of one element of this recipe was pre-LENT-en, in its timing and intent. It was based on a search for another food that would provide both protein and fiber whilst avoiding the fats and carbohydrates that may otherwise accompany ‘more traditional’ foods. So, with no pun intended, I have to reveal that I was lead to LENT-ils!  

Though I do not ascribe to (but also do not oppose) a vegan diet, I have, of late, taken to avoidance of eggs – principally because of their cholesterol content. In fact, the ‘egg-beater’ substitute that I now use, would not pass the vegan standard; it is made from egg-whites (not to mention that I use 'real' milk too). I tried scrambled tofu, scrambled egg-whites, various other egg-substitutes, but none looked ‘right’- too white; I like that yellow!  

I have forgotten why I switched off from other whole-wheat or whole-grain breads in favor of rye breads, but it has nothing to do with Judaism!

We have all heard the expression – ‘An apple a day keeps the doctor way’, right?  I’ve got news for you: doctors quit making house-calls decades ago! Well, they do provide fiber – among other things. Thought it is a L-O-N-G time since I was in school, I am pretty sure my memory serves me well in saying I also never took one to secure favor with a teacher.

Enough banter; on with the dish and the preparation:


1/3 cup 'prepared (see below) lentils' – drained 
3 ounces ‘egg-beater’ - scrambled with 1 ounce of low-fat milk
1 slice rye bread - toasted
1 small apple – sliced

Preparation (of lentils)

Soak about 1 ½ cups of ‘Nav Dhan (9 Bean Mix)’ overnight.

Sautee ½ a small onion with 1 tsp of a ginger and garlic paste until the onion turns golden. Drain the lentils then add them to the sautee-mix, along with 1 tsp of cumin powder. Optional, for color and spiciness: add ½ tsp of turmeric and ½ tsp of cayenne pepper. Sautee for 3 minutes then add 2 ½ cup of warm water. Bring to boil then simmer for 30 minutes. Set aside for future use.   

Plate the various ingredients – add a sprinkle of black pepper on the ‘egg’ - and enjoy!

Nutritional facts:

Calories: 395 (about 1,600 kJ for those in the UK)
Calories from fat: 22
Carbohydrates: 72g
Fiber: 13g
Total fat: 1g
Saturated fat: <1g
Protein: 23g
Sodium: 370mg
Potassium: 375mg
Cholesterol: 2g

Friday, March 28, 2014

Five Fine Fish-Free Fridays – Volume 1

Oh, I LOVE alliterations – always, anywhere and also anywhere and anytime . . .  amen!

Today, it is Friday March 28th, 2014. Yes, it is Lent – the time of year when so many people change their eating habits away from pork, beef, chicken and other meats – to FISH.

In the US, just about every Catholic parish and Knights of Columbus Council hosts a ‘Fish Fry’ on each Friday of Lent – in accord with the need to adhere to Abstinence obligations. Sure, the Lutherans, other denominations and even secular organizations such as the American Legion and the VFW also join in. Why not? Either they feel a need to ‘cash in’ on the mass (pun not intended) of Catholics’ penitence – or maybe they just feel it a charitable deed to provide piscivorous pieces to humble hungry hordes.

If you share my thinking, fish means COD (just like they used to have in the old Fish ‘n’ Chip Shops when I lived in the UK – or like they have at ‘Long John Silvers’ in the US) – and ONLY cod! Well, maybe hake. It excludes varieties such as herrings, tuna, salmon – they all make me run for a clothes-peg or to light an incense burner!  Sea-food is also ‘not on’ – I get no pleasure from crab, lobster or shrimp (though I LOVE the hot sauce that comes with them at the ‘Fish Fry’) and cannot even look at clams, mussels, octopus, squid, etc. No! It is COD – or nothing for me!  So – what IS there outside of fish – whilst abstaining from meat?  Well, I intend to propose recipes for FIVE FINE FISH FREE FRIDAYS during this Lenten season. 

Perhaps I should have started this blog 3 weeks ago – on the first Friday of Lent, but then I’d two Friday’s left over by Good Friday. Alternatively, if I only post once a week, I will not get FIVE in by Good Friday!  What can I say?  I’ll simply start with one and trot out four more as the inspiration flows to me. With a bit of luck, I’ll get all FIVE to you in time to have a variety between today and April 18th.

My first FISH FREE dish, though meat-free, is like that ‘horse in the desert’ - with no name. Maybe you can provide one.


1 small very ripe (brown skin) mashed banana
1 vegan-burger – typically it will be tofu or soy-bean
1 cob of yellow corn – cut in two
1 cup of unsweetened, black tea

You can add other items or toppings to your taste. I simply sprinkled a little ground ginger on the banana, dabbed fat-free cream cheese on the corn and tossed a few pieces of cilantro on the burger and the banana.

Nutrition facts:

Calories: 290cal (about 1,160 kJ for those in the UK)
Calories from fat: 9
Carbohydrates: 58g
Fiber: 8g
Total fat: 1.5g
Saturated fat: <1g
Protein: 21g
Sodium: 315mg
Potassium: 1,080mg

Cholesterol: 3g

Enjoy - see you next Friday - or before! 

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Then, I saw the light

In the words of my home town’s most famous son, Dylan Thomas, “To begin at the beginning”:

If like I, you have a desk calendar, you may have noticed this year (2014 on Thursday March 20th that these words appear in the box for that day: ‘First Day of Spring’.

[Note: Punxatwney Phil had (yet again) predicted ‘6 more weeks of winter’. Of course, by ‘winter’, he meant ‘winter-like weather’ – but there were actually 6 weeks and 4 days from Groundhog Day (February 2nd) until March 20th.  - so he was not quite chronologically correct!  Never trust a rodent]     

But, I have digressed (a little) – it is one of my many talents.

"First day of Spring - that means the Spring (or Vernal) Equinox, right?" I said to myself. [One can sometimes avoid confrontation that way – just talking to oneself - but not always!] ‘Equinox’, eh? That suggests that on that date, there will be 12 hours of daylight and 12 hours of darkness – ‘equi’ means 'equal' and ‘nox’ means ‘night’, see? I had this great idea that I would take a photograph of the sunrise and of the sunset, record the time(s) of day and also note the compass direction of each of the day’s events. But first, I should ‘consult the charts for St. Louis’. That is when my world became a little unglued and I contemplated seeking a refund on my calendar purchase.  

It seems that the charts would indicate that I had missed the ‘Equinox’ by a couple of days. "How could that be?" an inquisitive person may ask – perhaps not you, but an inquisitive person may. 

Look here

                                                     Source: Sunrise/set, Time zones and more

Did you see that a 9 minute (plus the obvious 12 hour) differential between sunrise at 7:04 am and sunset at 7:13 pm. The date on which the differential is closest to ‘zero’ (7:09 am and 7:10 pm) is March 17th. Yes – just as I thought, the blydi leprachauns had something to do with it!  Undeterred, I recalled someone saying (something akin to) "A compass will always keep you straight". Well, knowing that other adage "The sun always rises in the East and sets (British Empire excepted) in the West", I expected to see – for March 20th – an azimuth of 90 degrees for sunrise and one of 270 degrees for sunset. I’ll bet you would have, too. LO and Behold (leprechaun twins, I believe, intervened again), see what that chart says – NOT on March 20th (it shows 89 degrees and 271 degrees) - but on March 19th - but don’t be blaming that on St Joseph - he had enough trouble getting to Bethlehem in time for Christmas!    

To more practical matters: I was unable (from my house) to photograph the exact location of the either the sunrise or the sunset – some louts had decided to build a lot of other houses in the subdivision (for the folks in the UK, read ‘Estate’ for ‘Subdivision’) so that my view is somewhat obstructed. For that same reason, I was unable to get a precise azimuth reading with my iPhone. Now, I have many photos of spectacular sunrise and sunset scenes (from my back deck for the former and from my front porch for the latter) that I will be glad to share with you. Just send a request written on a $5 bill or even a £5 note to ‘Swansea Jack’, 2 . . . [well, just Google NSA for my mailing address]

Remember that ‘. . . rises in the East, sets in the West’ thing?  Don’t believe it. Here is a photo of a sunrise I took in mid December - looking to the West!

                                                Note the moon is also visible in the upper left

Let me refer back to those danged charts for a moment. It occurred to me (one late January morning as I paced the corridor of a nearby hospital while my infant grandson was being monitored for pneumonia - he recovered fine, thank you) that ‘sunrise’, and of ‘sunset’, are (pun intended) in the eye of the beholder. I’ll provide a couple of links here shortly that will explain it better than I could.

You all know that as the sun is 93 million miles away (give or take a few hundred thousand miles any week) and with the speed of light being what it is, it takes 8 minutes for the light to travel from ‘up by there’ to ‘down by ‘ere’ (as they say in Wales). Not only that, but, you’ll notice in this next series of photographs that it takes more 9 or 10 minutes for the sun to get out of bed! I mean, it poked its head out over the blanket at 7:09 am and still had not bared its entire rump by 7:18 am. And therein lies the reason why those charts are they way they are. It’s all in the definition of ‘sunrise’ and ‘sunset’, you see.

                                                                Peek-a-boo at 7:09 am


                                                                  then a little yawn at 7:12 am 

                                                                  half-way up at 7:15 am

                          this is all of his rump I could 'bare' - before I almost went blind - at 7:18 am

Best explained here ‘Equinox 101’

More than you may wish to know can also be found here: Wikipedia on Equinox

One parting practical matter: If you are (at least, at my latitude) wanting to know when sunset will be on a particular evening, perhaps watching your child’s ballgame, here is a rule of thumb (pun intended). Just fully extend your arm(s) in the direction of the sun, palm(s) facing you; sight your hand(s) so that the top of the sun just peeks over the top of your (uppermost) palm and count the number of fingers down to where the horizon appears. Multiply ‘fingers times 8’and that is how many minutes until the sun will completely set below the horizon.

If any of this technical stuff has still left you in the dark, good! Maybe you’ll have questions and will comment on this blog. Whether you do or not (have questions), please share it with others – that they too may see the light!        

Thursday, March 20, 2014

An International Get-way Vacation

Earlier this month, my wife and I took a quick ‘international’ get-way vacation. We savored the delights of Britain, Canada, France, Germany, India, Ireland and Spain – and did it all in less than 30 hours!

We left St Louis mid-morning on Ash Wednesday and drove southwards on I-55 towards Memphis - but soon veered off on to more rural roads and headed into the historic town of Ste. Genevieve, near the banks of the Mississippi River. The original village had been settled around 1735 by French Canadians who farmed the rich alluvial soils and garnered salt and lead from nearby creeks and mines. It came under Spanish rule in 1762 after the French and Indian War and was affected by disastrous flooding in 1785 that caused its inhabitants to relocate to higher ground two miles north. It is the oldest permanent European settlement in Missouri.

We parked in front of the Museum, crossed the snowy street and peeked into the Church of Ste. Genevieve (built in 1759, named for the 5th century patroness of Paris) - unusual theses days for a church to be left open - but it was Ash Wednesday after all.

We left the beautiful church and walked a block or so where we had a simple lunch of grilled cheese and a fish sandwich in the nearby Old Brick House

After a few miles drive we were crossing the Mississippi River into Illinois at Chester. The town, built in by Samuel Smith in 1829, was given its name by his wife, Jane Thomas – a native of Chester in the north of England. At the Welcome Center, we stopped to pay homage to a more recent mariner than those who first sailed across the ‘big pond’ and up the Mississippi River and St Lawrence sea-way centuries ago. That mariner, the 1929 creation of Chester-born Elzie Crisler Segar, is the affable Popeye!

Leaving behind that all-American character, we headed northwards passing the remnants of Fort Kaskaskia, raised in 1759 by French settlers from the nearby village of Kaskaskia which had been founded by Jesuit missionaries in 1703. The large area east of the Mississippi River, known as Illinois Country, was ceded by the French to Great Britain in 1763. In this area is the early 18th century French settlement of Prairie du Rocher (1722) and the nearby Fort de Chartres (1718). In Prairie du Rocher, the American Legion Post has an interesting outside exhibit of German artillery from World War I – somewhat poignant to see this given that its centennial is just a three months from now.

                                        A 1913 Howitzer with a range of  9,296 yards

                         A 5-ton 15 cm (Krupp) Field Gun and Barrel Carrier - range 23,700 yards 

Following Illinois Highway 3 (the Great River Road), we traversed into an area of Southern Illinois that ‘morphs’ from a French colonial heritage to one of more recent (Victorian-era) settlements by German immigrants. It was into this area that we had elected to spend the night (B&B-style) at a refurbished old inn in the tiny town of Maeystown.

Once a bustling community, with its own mill, it is now a sleepy backwater with virtually no retail establishments and no visible signs of motion - aside from the melt-water of recent snow as is dribbled down the interesting roadside gutters outside the inn.

Our ‘home’ for the night, the Corner George Inn, has a 40’ by 25’ former dance-hall as its second-floor breakfast room, complete with a 14’-long dining table, period furniture (including a phonograph, organ, piano), wallpaper and a well-stocked bookcase. The Inn’s curious name was derived . . .  well, see here:

After dumping our bags, settling in for a brief rest and a quick look around, we headed out for dinner - northwards about 45 miles and figuratively almost half-way around the globe!  Our destination was the town of Swansea – bearing the name of my hometown in Wales. Though I have never found anyone there who can (with authority) tell the reason for this Illinois town’s name, I suspect it may be ‘connected’ because there once were small coalmines nearby. I couldn’t resist - though on afterthought, at great risk- getting this souvenir photo from right outside the police station:

Though the town’s name only took us about 85 degrees of longitude to the east – the venue for our evening meal was a further 90 degrees east - India’s Oven. An order of potato-and-pea samosas and a vegetable biryani dish was ‘kosher’ for the day’s observances. A night-cap of a German-style lager (Kraftig) back in the warmth of our room at the Corner George and we were soon sound asleep – in Victorian (and German) Maeystown, Illinois – after a day of globe-trotting.

Though Victorian in its furniture and decor, the inn had modern facilities, including an ‘en-suite’ bathroom with a claw-foot bath tub – so the chamber pot (aka 'the guzunder' or 'the po') served us only in a decorative function!

Arising at our customary 6:00 am, we ascended to the second floor dining room, poured ourselves coffee and perused the many historic and folklore books at hand whilst awaiting our breakfast of fresh fruits, Scotch-egg and pastries at 8:30 am.

Bidding our hostess ‘auf-weidersein’, we headed off via country roads to explore some local sites in an area that though now very sparsely populated, bears the markings of once populous farming communities. The first is but a dot on the map: Madonnaville. Its sole church is ‘doomed’ to be closed by summer, but its cemetery contains the evidence of several hundred former residents of the area.

Not 10 miles away, in Tipton, is another Catholic church – St Patrick’s, founded in 1850 – also with a couple of hundred interred souls – many bearing Irish surnames, such as Walsh, Kelley, McDermott, and Reagan.

Then, we first headed south to the small town of Red Bud, looked in at a couple of ‘craft shops’ before heading back north on Hwy 156 to the somewhat oddly ‘Bonaparte, Wellington and Belgian monument–free’ town of Waterloo
Again, you’ll note the strong French and German history of the place. It was the latter nationality that was to be our luncheon focus following a brief look around the large Rural King Store that contains a host of hardware, farming, and camping items – and a few (liquid-free) horse-troughs full of baby chicks. Our destination was just 4 miles west, on Highway 156 to a dot on the map, Foster’s Pond, and the fabulous (but most un-German-like named) Alte Dreamland Palace German Restaurant. Its ‘lighter side’ menu is light on the wallet, but more than adequate on the food content. With an ‘eat-as-much-as-you-want’ soup and salad bar, bread-rolls and choice of traditional German entrees – all for less than $10 each – you could not possibly beat that with a stick! The staff is extremely friendly and the building’s d├ęcor – full of beer steins and many antiquities – is a bonus to a very gratifying lunch or dinner stop.

We ate our fill (Danke and Bitter!) then headed off on the back-roads down into the Mississippi flood plain before joining up with I-255 and crossing ‘Ole Man River’ back into Missouri via the ‘JB Bridge’ (named after the nearby JeffersonBarracks National Cemetery and out via I-270 and I-64 back to our home some 35 miles to the west.

A great 2-day ‘international-flavored’ trip – and no passports were needed.  

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Shrove Tuesday – aka Mardi Gras (redux - 2014)

It’s that time of year again: time for people to give up (again) the things they swore (on New Year’s Day) to give up, but let themselves off the hook by mid January.

It is to be the end of the gluttony we indulged ourselves in since the end of the previous Lenten Season. For those living under rocks, the pagans, and those who fell asleep during Sister Veronica’s ‘liturgical calendar’ class in school:  Shrove Tuesday:

For those more interested in the secular aspects of the day, this may be more to your liking: Pancake Day:

It is not all about eating those things we (in the UK) call pancakes, but more closely resemble the thin (25 mm), rolled up things - the ‘posh’ folk call them ‘crepes’  - than the thick (80 mm) stodgy doorsteps the Yanks make. The colonials also traditionally parade through the streets in costumes, drink in excess, throw - and beseech others to throw - strings of beads at fellow revelers. Some will attempt to accumulate a dozen or more strings of beads before being satisfied with that activity. In New Orleans (pronounced by the locals as 'Nor-lins'), many women-folk seem to believe it necessary to provide on-lookers a different type of satisfaction as they conduct all those activities bare-breasted. I have never been there to witness it - yet!  

More sedately, it has been a tradition for hundreds of years, in the small English village of Olney, for the women there to participate in a foot-race whilst holding a frying pan and tossing the pancake that it contains. There are many videos of that event, but this is the most informative – and best footage: Olney Pancake Race:

In case the sight of that exertion (I mean the foot-race, not the bare-breasted bead-tossing) made you hungry, I have provided the following recipe. 

I use a heavy 6” pan and generally follow Mrs Hughes' recipe. For two people, I use only 2/3 of the ingredients and with 2 ½ tablespoons of batter for each crepe (to ensure they are thin and light) I can easily make 10 of them - onto which I drizzle a small amount of honey. I did that very thing an hour or two ago.  

Here are the assembled ingredients and 'tools': 

Note – the photo shows raisins – an acceptable alternative to currants which are far more difficult to find in the US. You may use 2%, or Vitamin D, milk if you wish - or the lower-fat, skimmed milk that I chose.

I keep the heat at medium-low to make sure the crepes do not burn:

Then, when turned out of the pan, they are barely browned on each side:

 After adding the small quantity of sugar and lemon juice, I roll them then drizzle on the honey:

Enjoy - Lent starts tomorrow!

In case you may want second helpings of the preceding, here it is in slideshow format:

Shrove Tuesday - 2nd helpings