Dairy of an Ankle Replacement: Deciding to go ahead

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Lorraine: On the road to recovery

Ankle replacements–unlike knee replacements–are still rare, but I am one of the vanguard, and got a new, metal and plastic thingamajib implanted in my right ankle two months ago. So far so good. But how did I get here, two months later? Here is my diary of the journey. I will be posting my progress in a series of posts over the next few weeks.

Summer, 2014:  My ankle has been giving me a hellava time for years. I sprained it badly about a decade ago–just a little bump in the kitchen, tripping over a step I knew was there. It didn’t feel so terrible immediately, but an hour later, my ankle was screaming in pain. A trip to the doctor confirmed a bad sprain and I did RICE: Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation. Big deal. My ankle was screwed, and I instinctively knew it.

I have loose joints which makes me ace with yoga but sometimes my ankle just collapses when I am walking and I stumble. Years ago I probably should have done exercises to strengthen my ankle muscles to hold the ankle itself in place. But I did not. Continue reading

Dressing up at a certain age on a budget: A silk scarf makes the outfit

What to wear when you “dress up” in your sixties and after comes with caveats for most of us. I do not go to the gym nearly enough to have great arms. Or legs. Or dammit, even a midrif! Sag and flab abounds, even though I am a former jogger who once had a 24-inch waist and slid into size fours. Now they are a distant memory even though I swear I am going to lose five/ten pounds and if I do, I know I will be happy for the rest of my life. Anyway, not for anyone am I exposing arms or midrif in public, and no matter how some women feel about exposing boob tops, after a certain age, letting them see the light of day, in public, is too obvious for my taste. It’s trying too hard. Besides, we are talking winter here.

2014-01-10 03.57.54But in the meantime, what to wear to cocktails, six to eight, in the Hamptons. It’s not all glam as any readers of People magazine might assume–if you do not hang with the crowd the paparazzi is after, it’s way more laid back. Cocktail parties among my friends–writers, editors, literary agents, photographers and artists–are quite often casual. Like the other night.

But we’re not talking sweats and Lulu Lemon here; it was still rather dress up, which does mean different things to different people and in different places. Despite not needing a totally all-out glam outfit, I still had one heck of a time getting ready.  My constant companion has learned to be patient. He’s only one sweater change–or add a blazer–away from “Ready!” Which of course is so irritating. And this night, problems abounded. One top was too revealing, with another the broad neckline revealed the Kimora top I had put on to hold the line on flab, which would never do. (I must not have needed the Kimora* last time I wore it.) Another outfit felt too fussy, another felt too dowdy, and another–egads, did those last five pounds make that much difference? Oui. It was sad.

The clock was ticking. Constant companion is a patient man, but then, he is a man who is always ready ahead of time. He once confessed he went to a dinner party (before me, naturallement!) ten minutes before the appointed hour and the hostess answered the door in her bathrobe, forever curing him from arriving early anywhere other than the airport. (That is another story.) This night, six o’clock came and went and I was still trying on and rejecting…until I popped on a very dark hunter green–the same tonal quality as “midnight blue”–mock turtle top in stretchy velvet that covered my butt. I pulled on some black velvet pants–also stretchy, thank god. This outfit did require the use of a Kimora top–to smooth out my midrif. But itself, the outfit of dark green and black was too severe, too Robin Hood, even in velvet.

I added two gold chains of varying lengths, one with my grandmother’s watch, another with a locket–but still felt, well, dowdy. Too plain. Too boring. Into my collection of scarves I went, coming up with a color-blocked YSL silk square that is large enough to swaddle a baby in, if that was one’s predilection, or wrap into a sarong.

2014-01-03 02.21.48_cropIt measures 54 inches on a side. Formidable. In truth, I have never been able to figure out how to use it because of its size, but when I saw it at a yard sale for ten bucks, who could resist? Not I.

 Yes, it is unfair that I live here, but hey! all of life is “unfair.” It just is. What is great about the Hamptons or any place where the very wealthy are nearby–are the thrift shops and yard sales, of which you will hear more in time. (Zoozig is a big fan of thrift shops.) Anyway, one one-percenters toss away is pure gold to this woman. I would have loved it if the scarf had more gold in it–I am a blonde, and light colors work well, especially after a certain age–but I have to work with what I have, right? I popped the scarf over my shoulders and felt, if not totally glam, glam enough.
Happily, the party was only ten minutes away and we were still among the early arrivers. This is often a good thing, because this gives you a chance to talk to the hosts and let them introduce you to folks you may not know. Arrive late, and you have to break into the crush, usually on your own. Now admittedly, there were way way more expensive items and outfits in the room, but this held its own. It slid right in.
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*A Kimora is a top and bottom (if you like) that sucks in the odd bits of flesh and flab you didn’t realize were quite so noticeable before you put on something sleek. I saw a TV infomercial on these garments and bit. I am hooked! Though there are some nay-sayers on the Internet who are not happy with theirs, they likely bought the wrong size, or just don’t like the sense of being, uh, bound. I don’t mind it–think tight bathing suit–and find mine work incredibly well when I want to look, if not the same size as I was a decade ago, firm and sleek. I have one in neutral and another in black. And this is not a paid advertisement.

Spicy Cranberry Chutney

Though it’s after Thanksgiving and crazy to be publishing a cranberry recipe, I’ve been asked for the recipe for my unusually flavorful cranberry sauce, a hit with everyone who loves the taste of lime and ginger. Without a food processor it takes a bit of dicing, but if you have one the only extra work is the cleanup. Though my husband is not a lime/lemon guy, I make a batch of this and use it on my whole-grain toast with crunchy peanut butter every morning until it runs out sometime in March. With my coffee, it makes a great breakfast. If I can still find cranberries in the spring, I often make another batch.

Spicy Cranberry Chutney

Ingredients:

2 pounds of cranberries (Today that means 2 and a half bags as they are now 12 oz., rather than 16 oz.; I freeze the rest to use in apple pies or crisps). Or you can cut down on the cranberries and make the other calculations yourself.

1 large orange

1 lime

1-2 inch knob of fresh ginger, also chopped fine, can be done in food processor along with fruits

1/2 teaspoon of powdered ginger  or more (if you really love ginger; I do and always add the extra)

2 cups of sugar (if you are worried about tartness, add an extra tablespoon or more but I usually find this adequate. I haven’t done this yet, but I imagine this works just as well with Splenda.

1.5 teaspoons of cinnamon

1 cup of raisins or currents

2 teaspoons of vanilla

1 teaspoon of Tabasco or dried red pepper flakes

Preparation:

Dice orange, lime (including rinds) and ginger in food processor with the metal blade and set aside.

Cook cranberries in a heavy pot until they are bursting; add sugar, diced orange and lime, raisins, cinnamon and ginger and mix in. Cook and stir for a while longer over medium to low heat, until all the cranberries burst. The time will depend on the type of pot you use; heavy cast iron over medium heat makes quick work of the boiling berries. Stir frequently or constantly during this process. If a few cranberries are slow to pop, smooch them against the side of the pot with a wooden spoon. You don’t want this to cook down into a smooth paste, a slightly chunky chutney consistency is what you want. Turn off heat. When cooled, stir in vanilla and Tabasco sauce or red pepper flakes. Even the whole teaspoon of Tabasco won’t make this very hot, but it you are dubious, add it in bits, stirring it in and tasting before adding more.

If you love lemony, limey tastes, you are unlikely ever to want another cranberry sauce. I put mine in jars and they last in the refrigerator, as I said, until the spring. Great on toast with peanut butter, and it goes well with pork roasts or any meat that can stand up to a strong flavor. Since it is out of the ordinary, put it in a pretty jar, wrap a ribbon around it–voila! a homey house gift when you’re invited to dinner rather than the usual bottle of wine.

THE SPY LOVER: A CIVIL WAR EXPOSE, A HISTORY LESSON, A LOVE STORY

Kiana Davenport

THE SPY LOVER by Kiana Davenport is a magnificent novel about the human heart and the savagery of the Civil War, about conflicting loyalties, about love and redemption, about people pushed aside because of their skin color and the slant of their eyes. It is told through the story of three main characters caught up in the Civil War: a Chinese immigrant who fights against slavery and for the Union; his daughter, Era, who tends the wounded of the South while spying for the North; and the Confederate cavalryman she nurses, then loves, and finally betrays.

What is surprising is that no one up until now has written about the Chinese who fought valiantly for a country that offered them citizenship, but then reneged on that promise due to powerful anti-Asian sentiment afterwards. Davenport fills that gap with this brilliant portrayal of that war. The day-to-day lives of the soldiers, North and South; the hands-on participation of Southern women in the war effort; the epic battles; the prejudice against the Chinese before and after the war are all so thoroughly researched you know you are reading a work from the hands of a master.

We learn how Southern women cultivated poppy for opium to give their soldiers–not only for pain, but as a kind of euphoric courage as they went into battle without enough resources, food in their bellies, or even, shoes on their feet.  In the mind of the Southern hero, Warren Petticomb, she captures what had to be the dreary and exhausted mind set of soldiers who knew they were fighting a losing war. Though I am a Northerner by birth and bent, the reader cannot help be sympathetic to the individual suffering of both sides, the inestimable cost in human misery.

THE SPY LOVER brings to life the blood and guts of the Civil War in a vivid, unforgettable way. A few decades ago, high praise for her writing would have been: she writes like a man, because the Civil War was bloody awful and Davenport does not shy away from depicting it as such, blood, guts and gore. The first chapter plunges you right into that reality, and those who would turn away should read on. There is so much to admire here.

The writing is raw, the images searing, the insights profound: “At night he tosses, remembers pointing his revolver, and he wonders if one is least guilty at that moment one aims a weapon at another human. For the guilt already exists; it is manifestly there in the intention.”

Of the end of day at Gettysburg, she writes: “…Eventually, the guns die down, exhausted. Union artillery continues ripping at their flanks, as barefoot and starving, Southern boys fall apart in human bits and pieces until the last of them go down. Dusk approaches, the battle blurs, the air turns soft and still.” I gave up reading it at night because I couldn’t get to sleep after. Yet at its heart, this is a love story.

Davenport herself is an amalgam of the two cultures she writes about so movingly. Her mother was a full-blooded Hawaiian native, her father an Anglo from Alabama. The two met when he was in the Navy and  stationed in Pearl Harbor. As she puts it at her own blog: “I am part-native, part-Southern redneck.” From her mother’s side, an uncle was the basis for the character Johnny Tom, the Chinese Union fighter; from her father’s side, an ancestor who was a cavalryman with the famous unit known as the Prattville Dragoons of Alabama.

Davenport has written well-regarded novels before, but this is her masterpiece and catapults her into a whole new category. I wish it had a different title so it didn’t sound like merely a romance novel, but by any name, THE SPY LOVER-historical novel, expose, love story–is destined to become one of the classic novels about the Civil War.

Published by Thomas & Mercer, a division of Amazon. Order in paperback or Kindle version–please!–at First Mother Forum in the sidebar. I can’t figure out how to ad the direct link to Amazon here. Maddening. And thanks.

Praline Pumpkin Pie to die for. Really.

                                                         Praline Pumpkin Pie mit schlag

There are pumpkin pies and then there is ambrosial pumpkin pie that comes from my mother’s recipe. I’ve made this for company and my family for years and it never fails to get a lot of ohhs and ahhs. The secret is a good flaky crust, a smooth custard filling and a bottom crust that has butter, brown sugar and nuts baked into it. If there is heaven, this is served in it.

The Crust

They are all pretty much the same and so I won’t bother you with that here, but I will let you in on my secrets to a Truly Great Crust. Substitute about a quarter of a cup of the white flour with whole wheat flour and quarter of the total flour with Wondra, that over-processed stuff in the blue and white can. It makes the pastry truly flaky. By using part whole wheat, I’m adding back in some of the nutritious goodies that were taken out in processing of the white and Wondra flour, as well as adding a slightly more robust flavor. You can play around with the amounts of whole wheat and Wondra but I wouldn’t go over a half cup of Wondra with one and a half cups of white/whole wheat flour. (2 cups of flour total). Even a couple of tablespoons of whole wheat flour in place of the white gives the crust a stronger flavor and the folks who only like white flour (my husband) won’t complain.

I use the Cuisinart to make pastry since that assures that you don’t overwork the flour and end up with a tough crust, the anathema of pastry chefs. Also, sometimes an all butter crust gets tough, and so I substitute half of the butter with safflower oil. Pulse flour/oil/butter/dash of salt in the Cuisinart until crumbly (no longer-you don’t want it to form into a ball) , then add the ice water. And pulse again. Again, DO NOT OVER PULSE. YOU STILL WANT IT CRUMBLY. Form it into a ball and then a disc once you take out out of the Cuisinart–onto a sheet of plastic wrap.

After you make a flat disc with the crust on plastic wrap, let it chill in the fridge for at least an hour. (Overnight or a day or two  is fine, but longer than that, I’d freeze it.) Roll it out between plastic wrap (you will have to use overlapping sheets to get the whole crust on the plastic, but it is worth it. I’m usually very stingy about wasting plastic (there is too much in the world) and such, but this is one case where it makes life so much easier, and you won’t end up swearing and scraping the crust off your counter. After you have rolled it out to size, peel away the top layer of plastic, move the pie dish close to the crust, and lift it off the counter on the plastic, and turn it upside down on the pie plate. Voila!

Now. The filling.

Praline Pumpkin Pie

Yield two small or one large pie

Pre heat oven to 425 F

Ingredients

  • 1 (9 inch) unbaked pie crust
  • 1/3 cup ground pecans or walnuts
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons butter, softened
  •  Mix this together with a fork and press into bottom of crust. Bake at 425 F for 10 minutes. Cover the edge of the crust with strips of foil to keep it from over browing during this high heat period. Reduce Temperature to 325 F.
  • The real deal:
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 ½ can (small) can of pumpkin puree
  • 1/3 cup white sugar
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar (light or dark, your choice; dark has more molasses, and thus a deeper flavor)
  • 1 tablespoon + all-purpose flour
  • ¼ – ½  teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground mace (Don’t have it? Don’t worry–it’s the outer shell of nutmeg and is used in very few recipes these; medieval folks loved it.)
  • 1 ½  teaspoon ground cinnamon or more
  • 1 teaspoon salt or less
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger or more.  (I love it, add a heaping 1/2 t, but if ginger is a tad too zesty for you and your guests, eliminate or cut down to 1/4 t)
  • ½ -1 teaspoon fresh nutmeg –generous grating of fresh (Fresh makes all the difference. Use a plane grater for an even grate.)
  • 1 cup light cream or can of evaporated milk.  Now taste it. You can add more or less of any spice you like (careful with the cloves) and add more sugar for a sweeter taste.

Directions

In a large bowl, combine eggs, pumpkin, 2/3 cup brown sugar, flour, cloves, mace, cinnamon, salt and ginger. Blend in cream until mixture is smooth and creamy. Pour into partially baked shell.

Bake at 325F for 40 to 50 minutes, or until filling is set. (It takes longer in glass, less in a tin.) The oven will start out much hotter for the filling, since it has been up to 425 F. Usually the center with split a bit when it done. That’s fine. Use a toothpick or a cake tester that comes out clean to make sure it is fully set.

I serve this with heavy cream whipped with a small amount of sugar (to taste, I like it not very sweet because the pie is) and a tablespoon or more of bourbon or rum. Years ago in Glamour magazine I read that men find the aroma of pumpkin…sexy. My husband loves the smell, and he still loves me, so maybe there is some truth to that.

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PS: What are you going to do with a half can of pumpkin? I simply used two full cans, added a scant 1/3 cup more sugar (light brown); upped the spices about 1/4 t all except clove –just a healthy pinch or a half of a 1/4 t, an extra egg, and a 1/4 cup of the heavy cream and poured all the excess in a small baking dish. They bake in much less time than the pie –check them in a half hour.

The world’s best apple pie. Er, tart, s’il vous plait…

If you have a husband like mine who claims that the only apple pie worth his adulation is his dear departed mother’s, and sniffs about my humble efforts because I “always tart them up” (his words) with weird additions such as thyme (from a New York Times recipe, to be sure) or cheddar cheese (in the crust), or my crust is pretty (but tough as a board), and to top that you, the baker, the person determined to make an apple pie that meets his demanding standards, don’t even like apple pie all that much, apple pie is not just an all-American dessert, it is a Problem.

De premier choix apple tart...photo by Kate McMullan

But last week I hit one out of the park with an apple tart, and being an unabashed Francophile, I love the tart rather than the pie aspect of what I made for a meal at a friend’s house last week. Crowds went wild! Kate and her husband Jim cheered! Aforementioned husband tasted approvingly, smiled sideways and said that “his mother would like the recipe….” Well, Dear Reader, you can imagine my intense relief and unbridled joy. At last, after all these years. So herewith is the recipe for the World’s Best Apple Pie…er, tart.

I began with a recipe from a book called French Tarts, naturellment, but of course made it my own, substituting here and there and cutting back on the butter.

THE PERFECT APPLE Pie/TART (FOR TRADITIONALISTS, or nearly so)

Crust or Pate Sucree

This is a sweet, sugary pastry, almost like a cookie, with a touch of crunchiness from the addition of egg. It’s good for all sorts of fruit tarts, or one with creme patisserie and topped with fruit. And with a food processor, you have to work at it to screw it up…if you follow the directions carefully. This recipe works well with half whole wheat and half white flour. I generally use white but unbleached, after what I read about how flour is unnecessarily bleached, leeching nutritional value, and then they add some back in. Dear Reader, do I have to tell you ? It is not the same.

1 1/4 cup of all-purpose flour I usually use Heckler’s unbleached.

1/2 cup Wondra flour This is the white over-processed stuff that comes in a blue and white paper can (can cans be made of paper?) Yes, I know, less nutrition but it’s great for gravy and crust. You can probably juggle the amounts of the Wondra with the regular flour, but this is the combo of the two I prefer. Flour does have some nutritional value and Wondra, unquestionably less. 

1/4 cup chilled butter Can be nearly frozen, if like me, you buy butter on sale and freeze it; but it needs NOT to be soft. Butter adds flavor, but makes the crust a bit more cranky as the least bit of overworking the ingredients and it will get tough and hard, flakiness be damned!

1/4 cup oil Safflower, olive, corn; I use safflower which I keep in a can by the stove. This is better than all butter for the cholesterol level of you and your beloved. But you can fool with the butter/oil mix as you choose. An all oil crust will be fine also, for those really watching their cholesterol.

1/2 cup sugar

3 Tablespoons of ground  almonds Blanched, toasted or not

1/4 teaspoon salt Or less, but do add some, it brightens the taste

2 large eggs, beaten

Combine the flour, salt sugar, almonds and butter in a food processor. Add butter in small chunks throughout. Pour oil in a thin stream over it, spreading the amount evenly over the mixture. Pulse for about 10-12 seconds, until the mixture is a dry crumble, like a strudel topping. Add the eggs, again pouring them in a stream around the entire mixture, not just dumping them in and making an egg puddle. This allows you to “pulse” less to mix everything. Pulse again a dozen or more times (or about 12 seconds) until the dough comes together but before it forms a ball. If the dough is too sticky, add cold water, a tablespoon at a time and pulse again, but just until you reach the desired texture. I can’t stress enough that too much mixing will result in a tough, unappetizing crust. I know. Been there, done that. And I can’t/won’t do it without a food processor even though in olden times of course, good bakers (like my mother)  produced flaky, tender pastry with a hand blender. Good luck!

Turn on the oven to 375F

Remove the dough, form it into a ball with your hands, set it on a piece of plastic wrap and press into a flat disk. Wrap and refrigerate for an hour, or overnight. It can stay a couple of days in the refrigerator, but after that, freeze until using. This makes one 14 inch crust, but read on–it is good enough to be a thicker crust for a 10 1/2 inch tart pan.

When you transfer to the tart pan, roll it out between two sheets of plastic wrap. Much much easier than doing without, as the crust does not stick to the plastic wrap the way it will if you roll it out without the wrap. I use two sheets for each side because the dough you roll out on the counter will stick to the counter without the addition of a lot of flour on the counter. Are you following me? You set down two overlapping sheets of plastic wrap on the bottom and roll out the top until you need to add a second sheet. Yeah, it’s a little tricky but you will be glad when you are transferring the dough to the pan. Once you’ve got it covered with plastic wrap, roll it out with the rolling pin. if it starts coming apart, dip your hand in water and do your best to “glue” it back together.

Remove one sheet of the plastic wrap and turn over dough with the dough side towards the pan and fit it in; pull back other sheet of wrap. Voila! You are almost there.

Fit dough to tart pan or pie plate with your fingers. It shouldn’t be sticky, but if it is, flour your fingers. If a pie, make a fluted edge with your fingers, or the stamped down look with a fork, by pressing the tines on the edge and around the whole dish. If a tart, fit the crust down to the edge of the side, and then cut off excess with a knife so the side is even with the edge of the pan. Congratulations, you have just finished the hardest part of the tart–the crust.

Le Pomme Part or, the Apple Addition

5 or 6 apples I always like to use at least 3-4 Granny Smiths for their tartness and firmness, but in combination with other softer, sweeter apples, some of which will get mushier and fill in the spaces. Delicious, Golden or not, Macouns, McIntosh, Northern Spy, Fuji, and Gala in combination with Granny Smiths all work well, and if you have an abundance of these apples and no Grannies, I’d try it but not all McIntoshes as they are too soft. Coming from Michigan, I think my mother was a big fan of Northern Spies, and you seldom see them here in New York, where I live now. Peel and cut up into chunks or nice decorative slices.

2-3 tablespoons of butter Omit if cholesterol is an issue.

1/2 cup light brown sugar

2 tablespoons white sugar If you only have white, no problem. Brown sugar is brown because it has molasses in it.

1 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon If you can get the darker kind from Vietnam, get that.

1 fat tablespoon flour No need for Wondra here.

2-3 tablespoons of almonds, slivered or ground 3 tablespoons is a quarter of a cup, since you asked.

2 tablespoons bourbon Absolument

Generous grating of nutmeg–about half a nut I use the Microplane grater for cheese, lemon zest and of course, nutmeg. Like a food processor for making crust, nothing beats the Microplane for grating. Here I really go for grating a whole nutmeg, because the flavor and aroma will be much stronger and fresher, but if you must use pre-ground, between a quarter of a teaspoon to a half, depending on your nutmeg predilection. If you have the pre-ground kind, store it in the fridge. Keeps it fresher.

Sprinkle the juice of a lemon (or use bottled) over the apples as you cut them up. Keeps them fresh looking and adds that the touch of lemon flavor. About two-three tablespoons total. We have a stainless steel gizmo that screws into the lemon and make it easy to get the juice without a lot of hassle. You screw in the gizmo, squeeze the lemon, and out comes juice. If your lemon is hard and not ripe, boil a small pot of water and drop in the lemon for a minute, no more, turning it so that the whole lemon is exposed to the simmering water. This turns any hard lemon into a juicy, soft one. Some suggest zapping the lemon in the microwave, but that results in uneven softness. I don’t like it and it only takes a minute or so to heat up the water. If you are going to zap, no more than a minute! Probably less, depending on the wattage of your wave.

And if you have a Microplane grater (about $10 and well worth it) add some of the zest–about half of a lemon. Unless you are real lemon freak, then it’s up to you.

Add everything (sugar, flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, almonds) but the butter to the apples and gently mix so the apples are coated. If you have forgotten the poor lemon, add it now.

Arrange the apples in the pie shell, fitting them snugly, filling in any places with small bits of apple to completely cover the bottom of the shell.

Add the butter in small bits on top

More grating of nutmeg

Sprinkle the bourbon over it all.

BAKE

Put in a hot oven (375F) and bake for about 35-45 minutes, until the apples are soft and the top is golden brown, and the crust a deeper shade. If your tart pan is dark, the cooking time will be shortened. Light shiny pans take longer, as does glass.

By now your abode will smell heavenly. Enjoy. Take a shower, have a cup of tea, and tonight when your guests see and smell the tart, they will rejoice with sounds of a heavenly choir of ahhs.  You can rewarm it in an oven if desired. Serve with a dollop of creme fraiche or ice cream–vanilla, butter almond, dulce de leche.

If there is any left, don’t put it in the fridge. The crust will get soggy and besides, you are going to finish it tomorrow. Just pop it in an unheated oven and let it rest.