Feet First

“It is much more important to know what sort of a patient has a disease than what sort of a disease a patient has.” - Sir William Osler

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    Thursday, June 17, 2010
    Vacation, All I Ever Wanted...

    I have to go back to work on Monday. DO NOT WANT. Since I got home I've not done all that much: went out to dinner with my parents, spent the weekend with them, spent way too much time on the Internet pontificating, and got a lot of pesky errands done. I also went cherry picking. No, that's not a euphemism for anything. It is cherry season, and if you are willing to get in the car and drive out of Los Angeles, you too can have fresh picked organic cherries from the Leona Valley. They are delicious. In short, I have enjoyed myself no end.

    Did I mention I have discovered eBay? Perhaps I should go back to work before I spend my life savings on things I don't really need. Like rabbit figurines. (I can explain!) I was born in the Chinese Zodiac Year of the Rabbit, and have been collecting the odd rabbit figurine here and there for some time now. Well, at some point I realized that I could get online and check out the offerings: Some are wincingly cute but some have character and personality. I seem to have found quite a few that fall into the latter category. In case you are wondering, by "quite a few" I mean "less than ten."

    I have done a bit of cooking as well but had to limit myself to items that could be frozen such as meat loaf and soup. Otherwise I would be faced with an uneatable pile of leftovers. I meant to set up my sewing machine for some as-yet-unrealized craft project but have not done so.

    It's been nice to have an undirected vacation for a change. I haven't done this in a long time. I just hope I can continue occasionally taking little trips around the city to see things without saving it up for some vacation time to be determined later.


    Friday, June 11, 2010
    Meat Loaf

    I have this theory about meat loaf. It's one of those foods people imprint on, like Thanksgiving stuffing or deviled eggs. Once you've gotten used to "your" version, no other will taste right. I also think it's one of those foods which is better made at home than served in restaurants. For some reason most restaurants serve it drenched in brown gravy, which is absolutely the worst thing you could possibly do to meat loaf. It calls for something tangy, tomato-ey and mildly spicy to balance what is essentially ground meat and breadcrumbs. Also it's best made in bulk; I am immediately suspicious of any recipe billed as "meatloaf for one."

    For all of these reasons I rarely make meat loaf, preferring my mother's version. I have her recipe somewhere but it's rather complex. Recently though I came across a recipe which sounded promising, and I am here to say that it lived up to the promise. It's from Jill Connor Browne's Sweet Potato Queens' First Big-Ass Novel. (Ms. Browne is the head of the organization known as the Sweet Potato Queens, headquartered in Mississippi. Her books are fun to read and, best of all, contain some great recipes.)

    Some pointers: I like this recipe because it calls for ground beef only, as opposed to the esoteric veal/pork/sausage meat/beef combinations you find in some recipes. These combos sound good, don't get me wrong, but to be honest I am not prepared to go to that kind of trouble or to spend extra money on ingredients for meat loaf. Use beef containing not more than 20% fat; 15% would be better, but the 20% was on sale so that's what I used.

    Use a food processor to chop the vegetables. You want them finely minced for textural reasons. Otherwise you will end up, as I did, with little chunks of veg in your loaf. It still tasted good but the texture was a little weird.

    For "breadcrumbs," you can use cracker crumbs, stuffing mix or crushed cereal - use what you have.

    Mix an egg with a little bit of milk - a few tablespooons' worth. Chop about 1 1/2 stalks celery, half a bell pepper (green or red), and 1/2 to 1 onion (depending on the size of your onion). Mix the vegetables, egg and milk with 1 1/2 to 2 pounds ground sirloin. Sprinkle 1 cup breadcrumbs over this mixture and mix all together with your hands, handling meat as little as possible (so it does not get dense and tough).

    In another bowl mix 1 cup barbecue sauce and 1/2 cup salsa - the jarred kind, not the fresh (or you can use 3/4 cup each, depending on your taste - you could also use Heinz chili sauce). Add 1 1/2 T. Worcestershire sauce and 1/4 tsp ground red pepper. Take half of this and mix it into the meat. Then form your loaves and paint the tops with the rest of the sauce.

    The original recipe suggests using a big muffin pan for mini meat loaves. You would bake these at 450° for 18 to 20 minutes. I don't have one of these pans so I formed mine into five loaves (four small, one larger) and froze the small ones. I baked the larger one at about 415° for 45 minutes.

    I think this meat loaf is great. The vegetables keep it moist and lighten it as well as boosting the flavor, and the savory sauce/topping is perfect. It also meets the ultimate test of meat loaf, namely, Does it make good sandwiches? The answer is a definite Yes! Yes, the sandwiches are very good. I don't think this recipe needs additional salt, due to the barbecue sauce, salsa and Worcestershire, which all contain plenty.

    And my freezer is now well stocked with meat loaf for future dinners.


    Thursday, June 10, 2010
    What Dr. Alice Did On Her Summer Vacation, and Vacations Past

    Yep, I'm back from my trip. I went to Brighton to visit my good friend Jess (hi, Jess!) and returned sooner than planned due to a few reasons. I got bronchitis; Jess got sick, too; I decided I did not want to go on to Paris as I had originally planned. I switched flights and came scooting back to Southern California like nobody's business.

    So the rest of my vacation will be spent here, and I am fine with that. My first homecoming challenge came via email from my sister; my oldest niece has gone to sleepaway summer camp for the first time. I was invited to send a letter and perhaps a care package to said niece. Back in the last millennium when I went to camp, care packages were not common things; we got letters and the occasional newspaper clipping/comic strip and that was the end of it. But now, care packages are apparently so common that they are sold online - that is just WRONG! What's the point of a care package that has not been lovingly put together by hand (she ranted pointlessly)?

    Food is verboten in camp care packages, that is the other thing. I can understand this as otherwise kids might be living on chocolate, popcorn and potato chips for a week. Can't have that. When I went to summer camp, I will never forget two standout food-associated moments. The first was the morning we had corn fritters and maple syrup for breakfast (still one of the highlights of my life). The second was the night we had "Swiss steak" for dinner, smothered in tomato sauce. I found it rather dry and crumbly but forged on. Suddenly my dining companions began to gag and scream, "This is LIVER! I can't eat it!" (Since my mother cannot stand/will not eat liver, I had never had it.) I ate it, but I still can't say whether or not I like liver since all I could taste was the tomato sauce.

    But back to the care package. I went to my trusty local supermarket with a big toy/personal care section and hunted around. I found hand sanitizer in a "crisp apple" scent, hair elastics and glittery bobby pins, waterproof sunblock and a note pad and pens. All of this I have packaged up and sent off. I feel so... parental.

    With the package I sent my niece a letter with my recollections of summer camp from 35 years ago. Some things have dated. For instance, back then we drank water right out of a mountain stream without treating it (this was in a remote part of the Rocky Mountains). Thanks to the ubiquitous Giardia, such a thing is no longer possible unless you want to have a nasty case of diarrhea. But I have to say it was the most delicious water I have ever tasted.

    We also camped out next to the stream one night, and it was the coldest night of my life. But it was worth it... the stars were beautiful. I stared overhead at a fuzzy part of the sky and finally realized I was looking at the Milky Way. Part of a galaxy. As a suburban kid I was stunned. Sadly, light pollution is so common that I have only seen the Milky Way three times in my life (the third time was last year). But that was the first time, and it really blew my mind. Early the next morning I opened my eyes to see a pair of deer in the meadow perhaps fifty yards away. Again, for me this was an amazing sight.

    Camp activities included archery and riflery. Yes. I, a twelve-year-old, shot bows and arrows and a .22-caliber rifle. And I had a lot of fun, and there were kids younger than me shooting rifles too. Safety regulations were strictly followed and nobody got hurt. Sadly, I think any camp allowing riflery now would be viewed as a Waco cult waiting to happen. We were also allowed to dig around in a 60 to 70 year old trash dump and found neat rusted junk and china fragments dating from the early 1900's (or so we hoped).

    We also had crafts which mostly involved sprinkling enamel powder on copper pieces and baking them in a kiln, or building rockets from Estes kits and setting them off. Or of course the inevitable leather embossing. There was an AM radio in the background playing a loop of Top 40 hits. I think the "Theme from S.W.A.T." has been burned into my memory as well as "The Night Chicago Died." (I realize I am completely dating myself by mentioning these songs.) But iPods, CD players or even Walkmans were completely unheard of. And there was no television available, let alone DVD or VHS players.

    Camp memories... on the one hand I thought posting this would be indulgent rambling. On the other hand writing this made me realize how much things have changed since I was a kid. Reader, any thoughts/memories you would like to contribute?

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