Monday, November 23, 2009

Let's Say Thanks

Monday, October 5, 2009

Comfort Food: Skillet Low-Fat Lasagna

This is such an outrageously good short cut for lasagna I have to share it. I'm writing it in blog form so I will always be able to find it myself.

Earlier, my short cut was to use no boil lasagna noodles. You can find them on most grocery shelves but somehow the sauce never quite covered the top layer and the recipe made too many servings. We always had to freeze it.
Not so with the skillet version. I use low-cost, no-fat cottage cheese in place of ricotta, and ground turkey meat in place of beef, and you really can't tell. You could add peppers and spinach as well. The downside of this is that it might not look picture perfect the way the baked version does. You can make it ahead and reheat it in the oven or microwave.
I bet it would be good with gluten free pasta because it has lots of juices. It would be pretty easy to make two batches, side by side.
Supposedly it serves 4 to 6 but we got 7 servings out of it.
Thanks to Susan Yeske who printed this in the Times of Trenton on September 23. She took it from, part of the Cook's Illustrated and America's Test Kitchen family. My variation:
1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes (any kind, really)
1 tablespoon olive oil
at least 1 medium onion, minced (I just chop it and like to use two)
table salt (I don't)
at least 3 medium cloves garlic (1 tablespoon) minced or pressed unless cooking for Nate
at least 1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 pound meatloaf mix (I use ground turkey)
10 curly edged lasagna noodles broken into 2-inch lengths (I use any kind)
1 8-ounce can tomato sauce
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese, plus 2 Tablespoons for on top
ground black pepper
1 cup ricotta (I use no-fat cottage cheese. I guess you don't use mozzarella because it wouldn't melt fast enough? )
basil -- dry or fresh, and if you have it fresh I add plenty of it.

1. Pour tomatoes and their juices into 1 quart measuring cup, add water until it measures 1 quart
2. Heat oil in large 12-inch nonstick skillet with tight lid (I use my Le Creuset French oven) over medium heat until shimmering. Add onion (and 1/2 t. salt) and cook until begins to brown, about 5 minutes, Stir in garlic and pepper flakes and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Here's where I add extra fresh basil. Add ground meat and cook, breaking apart meat, until no longer pink, about 4 minutes.
3. Scatter cut up pasta over meat and don't stir. Pour diced tomatoes with juices AND don't forget that can of tomato sauce over pasta. Cover and bring to simmer. Reduce heat and simmer, STIRRING OCCASIONALLY (I forgot the first time and ended up with pasta stuck together, still good though) until pasta is tender, for just about 20 minutes.
4. Turn off the gas burner if you are lucky enough to have gas. If not, remove from heat, stir in 1/2 cup Parmesan. Season with pepper (and or salt if you don't have that problem). Dot with heaping tablespoons of whatever you are using, ricotta or cottage cheese, cover, and let stand off heat for 5 minutes. Sprinkle with basil and remaining 2 tablespoons of Parmesan.
And thank you to the sister-in-law who gave me the Le Creuset pot some three-decades ago.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

First Lives Trump Second Life

A college friend, MRC, asks me if I have tried Second Life, and my answer is No No Athousandtimesno. I am afraid if I do, I won't have a First Life. Already so much of my time, as noted, is spent in front of the computer, and I want to live out my hopes and dreams in the here and now.

Which brings up the subject of the Next Life. One of my friends, an unofficial Bible student, says that Jesus didn't know Hebrew, that he spoke in Aramaic, and there are no Aramaic words for Body, Spirit, Heaven, or Hell.

So where does this leave us, with regard to an afterlife? I found myself saying, that's OK. I'm not focused on "meeting" people in heaven. It's up to me to make heaven on earth. What do you think?

Friday, August 7, 2009

At Arm's Length

I use this blog, Gramma Fox, for journal entries -- no rough drafts made in a Word document (with the ability to use a thesaurus), few links, minimal initial distribution. If I send it to you, fine. If you find it, OK. It's a barely-edited riff, one that I feel impelled to write for reasons you will learn.

It really ought to be named Grandma Figge Fox, because these days, in my mother's century year, I'm impelled to self-examine.

I realized this morning, and am taken aback by the discovery, that she and I share the same yen for many friends held at arm's length. In her last two decades (she died at 96) she had a huge cyber audience, with whom she shared iris lore and also genealogy tips. They have a fancy name for this now, "Social Media."

I had tried to point out how much time she was spending in front of the computer versus in physical activity that might improve her health, but she kept on spending hours and hours, monitoring list servs and responding to emails. When I was a kid, she spent those hours and hours on the phone, hardly ever seeing the people she talked to, because she simply did not make time for many social occasions that did not involve my father's work, but keeping up with those contacts on the phone. I remember being jealous and wishing she would get off the phone and talk to me.

Now I spend hours and hours, even though I am "retired," responding to business friends, linking up to more people by blogging, using Linked In, Twittering, and now even using Facebooking. These hours weren't available when I was working a 45-50 hour week. And it's revealing that Facebook is my least favorite Social Media. That's because I consider it the "least businessy." In my value system, as in my mother's, "work" should take priority over "fun," and the ideal way to spend time is to do work things that are also somewhat fun.

So I work on church committee's, where the emphasis is 'work' and the camadarie only a side benefit.

I eagerly spend time on LinkedIn, because I "feel called" to try to be a conduit for people who need to network with folks I know. Because I have written about biz people for more than 22 years, I "know," i.e. have had contact with, lots of people, and sometimes I can be really useful.

And my business blog, Princeton Comment, is a blatant example of fun combined with business, and of wanting a readership audience of "friends" who are not close friends, but "pass the time and pleasant chatter" friends. Every month I collect more business cards and spend an hour or so adding them to my blog circulation list.

This personal quirk of mine -- to desire a lot of acquaintences but hold them at arm's length -- dates back even to college, when I was president of Duke's dance club. I "governed" the club, not with meetings, but with upbeat, cheery-and-exhorting newsletters, duplicated 12 times. I'd go from dorm to dorm and post them on the bulletin board. If you wanted to know when your rehearsals were, you checked the board. My actual real friends and buddies were always asking "why can't you go to the movies with us?" and I rarely could, because I devoted my time to "work," i.e. dancing.

I had a similar experience in high school, with my MerrieLander Girl Scout friends, but that's another journal entry.

My mother did have a few really close friends. And now, so do I. And I'm trying to reach out to those school chums and remaining friends who have been there for me even when I was "too busy" for them.

"When are you going to write that book?" they prod.

"When are you going to get up from the computer and go to the gym?" I ask myself.

Do I walk away from the "social media" and write my book, go to the gym, pull those weeds, go to lunch with all who ask?

No answer yet.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Eyes Wide Open in Italy: From Jupiter to Jackson Pollack

Just back from Italy with husband and 14-year-old granddaughter, I feel as if I have come through a Time Machine – from Caesar’s Rome, to Michelangelo’s Renaissance Florence, to Peggy Guggenheim’s Jackson Pollack paintings in Venice.

What did I least expect? How close God (s) seemed to the Roman and Renaissance people, compared to how people look at God today.

For instance, the Pantheon was built by the Romans to honor all seven of their major gods. It was a deeply spiritual place to visit, because of its symmetry and order and the way that the architects planned for light to pour through the skylight. (The church claptrapped it up, not enhancing its spiritual ambience but not eliminating it, either.)

The storytelling on the walls proclaimed the Gospel to the masses. If anyone on this trip didn’t know their Bible stories at the beginning of the trip, they were familiar with the primer by the end. Over and over, we saw selections from the Old Favorites – the creation, Adam and Eve, the expulsion from the Garden, Cain and Abel, Abraham and Isaac, Jacob and Esau or Jacob and the ladder, Samuel anointing David, David and Goliath, the Annunciation, the Nativity, the Slaughter of the Innocents, the Flight into Egypt, the Miracles, the Passion Week culminating in the Crucifixion and Resurrection, the Ascension, and the Last Judgment. Six to sixty of these scenes were plastered in gold or bronze on the doors or facades of the churches, timeless Sunday School “handouts” to a population that could not read, nor could it understand the Latin being preached.

It was a time when Christians were persecuted on all levels, as when I saw – in the Florentine Santa Maria Novella – a painting of a hapless saint being boiled in oil. Add that to the drama conjured up by standing in the Coliseum looking down at where Christians and lions met each other in the arena, or on the stone in Florence marking the spot where Savonarola put fire to Botticelli paintings in the original Bonfire of the Vanities and was, in turned, burned alive there – and you got a gut-level sense of how theology was not just a Sunday subject here.

On the day we visited St. Mark’s in Venice, we joined two families on a trek to Venice’s Jewish ghetto, where we visited three of the five ethnic-based synagogues, some in the same building. On the exterior wall were huge tribute wreaths from the city of Venice, acknowledging that almost the entire Jewish population was wiped out in World War II.

I had brought a lightweight Bible (no Gideon freebies in Italy) and pages ripped from my group's meditations, which helped to keep me centered amidst the splendor. And we had just spent lots of time with our friends from Ghana, who had added an extra level of spirituality to our every day life. Plus, we were traveling on this tour with folks who could think about these tough subjects – several Catholic families, an evangelistic Christian couple, a Jewish family, and a family with mixed faiths.

I wish I had instigated more discussions, but am glad for the times when we did talk about, for instance, the potential for Michelangelo’s leaving a secret message on the Sistine Chapel ceiling – that Jews deserved more credit than they were getting in Christian Italy for producing Jesus (that’s a bad translation of the most recent theory but you get the picture). And it was our granddaughter, who wears a Christian dog tag around her neck, who answered a Jewish girl’s question about Michelangelo’s Last Judgment (pictured above). She said, bottom line, that she did not think that meant that Jews were going to Hell.

As for Jackson Pollack – well, according to some Christian theologians, Pollack and his Abstract Expressionist friends were destined to go straight to Hell for their godless depiction of nothing. I “get” most of modern Art and some Abstract Expressionists but I must admit I have a real problem with Pollack. Again, our granddaughter showed the way. She thought it was fascinating, at least partly because she is intrigued by the idea of sponge painting her bedroom wall in similar fashion. It’s the act of creating Art, I suppose, that matters.

We came home with precious few souvenirs, minimal chotchkas, a paucity of presents for friends and relatives (sorry, folks) but lots of memories and so much to ponder. Our real souvenirs are the pictures. Click here for some of them.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Was there snow in Israel?

A feather light blanket of snow covers the trees -- skiing weather, not snowball or sledding weather, because the temperature hovers at freezing -- and our street is a lacy archway of trees. God "gives snow like wool," I read in today's devotional, Psalm 147, "and scatters frost like ashes."

Wait a minute, was there really snow in Israel? I didn't think so, but I guess there must have been.

Anyway, this psalm has much wisdom and comfort, as in verse 13, "For he strengthens the bars of your gates, he blesses your children within you." What a nice verse for a pregnant mother. And verse 3, "He heals the broken-hearted, and binds up their wounds."

And then the comeuppance: "His delight is not in the strength of the horse, nor his pleasure in the speed of a runner, but the Lord takes pleasure in those who fear him, in those who hope in his steadfast love" (verses 10 and 11). Keeping in mind that racing was probably an important part of social status in the psalmist's world (remember the Ben Hur race), does this mean we shouldn't take pride in what we do?

I don't think that's the main point here, though elsewhere we learn that we should not work for boasting's sake.

The point seems to be a reaffirmation of God's covenant with his people. The psalm ends, verses 19 and 20, "He declares his word to Jacob, his statutes and ordinances to Israel. He has not dealt thus with any other nation, they do not know his ordinances. Praise the Lord!"

So in all these areas -- pregnancy, sorrow, weather, harvest -- all the areas mentioned in the psalm, God is taking care of us.

Even, I found out this morning, with computer problems. Inexplicably my display screen had turned 90 degrees to the left. How? why? I don't know. But I am very pleased with myself that I managed to work through the help screens and restore the computer to its previous setting. A little bit of boasting is in order here, right? But mostly I'm grateful that I didn't panic. "How good it is to sing praises to our God: for he is gracious, and a song of praise is fitting."