Cutting down on caffeine

My other big dietary change – beyond the Healthy Heart stuff – has been cutting my caffeine intake to one cup a day.

If I’m to take a prescription to counter an unrelated medical problem, the caffeine has to be greatly curbed. Seems it counteracts the medicine.

This has been major. I’m a writer, after all, and a retired journalist. My habitual intake had been three to five mugs a day. Café au lait mugs, a third to a half filled with milk.

It’s the way I wake up and also the way I continue through the day. Or did.

I’m still waking up to a café au lait mug. We use dark-roasted beans or Spanish ground coffee, essentially espresso. It’s rich, flavorful, and stands up to the milk and sugar I add – enough, as I joke, to turn the brew into chocolate.

By chance, I came upon an instant coffee substitute – Cafix – at the local natural foods store, and this serves nicely for the second round.

By midafternoon, though, I’d really like a jolt of the real stuff. That I miss. Many days I find myself taking a nap instead.

Should we go to half-decaf on the real coffee itself? I feel that’s cheating.

Or cut out the coffee altogether? Now we’re talking daily ritual, as in showering or dressing.

Or just use a demitasse and take one quick gulp?

No, I’ll just resolve myself to slowly sipping the one I have. Down to the last drop, without complaining.

Well, then. Salud! And top of the morning to you, too.

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Adjusting to a Healthy Heart diet  

You vegans out there, take comfort. Your cholesterol levels must be amazing.

After my near-miss non-heart attack, or whatever we want to call it, my diet’s undergone some drastic – even painful – redirection.

Look, I don’t want to sound like a victim or act the martyr, when it comes to food, it seems like everybody has some kind of limitation. Ever try to plan an all-inclusive menu for any social gathering nowadays?

Still, looking at the American Heart Association’s Healthy Heart guidelines has me thinking of perpetual Lent along the Greek Orthodox lines. Heavens! At least I can still have my daily martini, with the definitive stuffed olive.

Red meat is limited to once a week, and that includes pork. Three eggs, which you’ll find hidden in all kinds of food, and a microscopic amount of butter, which is likewise infused, as well as cheese – yikes – they’re are also out! (Well, we have found low-fat cheese. Ain’t quite the same. And while egg whites are allowed in unlimited amounts, it’s the yolks that have all the flavor.) So there went my three main fallback ingredients when I had a hunkering. A good omelet used all three, easily. Thank goodness mushrooms are still OK in other combinations.

Look, before all this there had many days when we didn’t touch any meat – nada – and I was perfectly happy. But now?

Let me tell you about the first time I stopped for fast food at breakfast and thought the muffin was allowed. Bonk! Or a doughnut. Ditto bonk!

At home, the butter I’ve loved has given way to apple butter or jams and jellies. That’s fine, though I still look at that yellow stick on the counter with some lusting. Oh, God, do I!

But six months into this routine, I had lost weight I couldn’t afford to lose. I had lost appetite, too. My wife and I independently came to the same conclusion: I needed to get more fat into my diet. We’re still working on it.

Ten once-exotic foods that have become commonplace

Americans’ food choices expanded unbelievably in the generation between the events told in Daffodil Uprising and What’s Left. Admittedly, Cassia’s mother had grown up with a wider awareness of dietary options than had her father – her mother’s Greek heritage relied on olive oil rather than Crisco, for starters, and running a restaurant meant keeping an eye open for new options. Roasting a lamb for Easter would have been in her mother’s background but probably made her father’s side cringe. Still, it’s mindboggling to think how exotic some of today’s common dishes were just a half-century ago.

Here are ten:

  1. Broccoli. And zucchini and summer squash, which show up on a lot of national chain restaurant plates. Hey, even fresh parsley.
  2. Yogurt. Seriously, even before you add granola, another upstart.
  3. Tacos. For that matter, anything Mexican like burritos or quesadillas or margaritas. We’ve even added a holiday every May just to celebrate this development.
  4. Salsa. And sriracha and any of those Texas hot sauces. Whatever happened to ketchup?
  5. Sushi. I still can’t believe you can get it at the grocery.
  6. Thai. For that matter, anything Asian. You know, this extends to Vietnamese and Indian and even authentic Chinese. For me as a child, chop suey on top of wormy dried noodles, both out of a can, were as adventurous as it got for miles around.
  7. Pasta. Yes, any of those various Italian noodles. Our spaghetti used to come with sauce in a can. Seriously. And a spaghetti dinner was typically a fundraising event in a church. Oh, and it was still pronounced EYE-talian. Ouch!
  8. Espresso. The word itself conjured up images of beatniks. And now? Just think of all the gourmet coffee storefronts and drive-throughs. Not just Starbucks, either. You no longer have to explain cappuccino or latte or café au lait apologetically, thank goodness. Many of us even make our own.
  9. Flatbreads. As in wraps, especially, though they can be the foundation of a good pizza. Well, speaking of breads, add baguettes and croutons to the list of advances. We’ve really come a long way, baby.
  10. Real cheese. Not the processed stuff. We now have so many glorious choices we could do another Tendril on just this one item. Hallelujah!

History? Pizza had recently entered the mainstream. And wine was still a daunting frontier.

What would you add to the list?

NAME THAT VOLUME … THE SOUP’S ON

In my new novel, What’s Left, her father teams up as the photographer when her uncle Barney, the top cook at the family restaurant, tries his hand at writing a cookbook. Well, a whole series, I suppose.

Their first volume is all soups, inspired by the grandmothers’ daily special bowls and wild chili concoctions – the ones he’s advanced.

I never get around to titling the book when I mention the project.

Now it’s your turn to get creative. What would you call a cookbook about soups?

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The famous donkeys of Santorini carry visitors from the small port up the steep path to the town of Fira. (Photo by Rennett Stowe via Wikimedia Commons.)

Cassia’s roots included inspiration like this.

TEN TASTY FISH

Living a few miles inland from the Atlantic, I’ve learned a few things when it comes to fresh fish. Just be sure to stock up on lemons and melted butter and maybe a few spices and fresh parsley.

  1. Cod. Once available in unbelievable quantities, it’s become scarcer and costlier. Still, it’s classic – especially as scrod.
  2. Haddock. Makes a great sandwich or flaky fish ’n’ chips.
  3. Monkfish. Like lobster tail.
  4. Dayboat dogfish shark. It’s a favorite in England for fish and chips. A different texture than haddock. Nothing like a little variety, right?
  5. Trout. You don’t have to be near an ocean.
  6. Salmon. Now we’re talking.
  7. Striper, so I’ve heard. This one’s purely for sport fishermen and their friends and family. Or the cormorants and osprey and bald eagles that follow them upriver.
  8. Flounder. We have some good species at hand.
  9. Dabs or American Plaice. Now we’re into a cooperative program to protect the local marine resources through more responsible practices. These less popular but more populous alternatives make for fine fresh eating.
  10. Hake, flounder, pollock, or king whiting. Ditto, ditto, ditto, and, yes, ditto. Depending on the week they come in.

For details on some of these, check out the New Hampshire Community Seafood site. The cooperative’s introduced us to some delicious but largely unknown species that are abundant in our own waters, and it’s devoted to sustainable community.

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When it comes to fish and shellfish, what are your favorites? Any special way of preparing them, too?

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Continuing the poetry parade, see what’s new at THISTLE/FLINCH.

AS A FOOTNOTE AT THE TABLE

I wonder if the longstanding tradition of morning cleansing of marble steps at the front door in many inner city neighborhoods of Baltimore has survived the stresses of two-income families or single-parent households? Who knows when it started or in how many other locales it’s also practiced. This has been a custom of row houses, connected to each other – blue-collar communities, in fact – and not of detached suburban housing. And that makes the foremost difference.

These poems consider what women do and preserve – though not always exclusively. Yes, I’ve known women who bale hay or decipher monastic manuscripts, and I’ll also admit men can know nothing of bearing children or nursing. Yet, somehow, many women seem most at home around the kitchen, even if it’s nothing more than a teacup or a picnic. Even her garden, should she be so inclined, seems to extend from that table or the alchemy of her oven. And that goes for flowers, as well as vegetables and berries. (Remember, though: not all mothers and daughters can stand to be in the same kitchen at the same time, though they both be masterful cooks.)

Looking back on Baltimore, I remember my next-door neighbor, each morning in season watering the black locusts between our houses and the street. Maybe she did her stoop, as well. But the trees, which seemed to have always been there, were beautiful and timeless, as if spreading their own table.

Returning 1

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For the poems, click here.