A Brand New Day

When I was growing up, my mother was fierce and feisty about her particular brands. It was brand loyalty to the thousandth degree. Only I didn’t realize it then. It just was.

In our house, we only used Bounty paper towels to wipe up. Our spaghetti dinners were made with Ronzoni and Ragu. Our PB and Js were made with Skippy and Smuckers. Tide cleaned our clothes and Charmin cleaned our bottoms. Electrolux (along with my mother) sucked up the dirt. Tuna was Bumble Bee, cookies were Chips Ahoy or Oreos. We drank Coke or 7-Up and my dad concocted his nightly Greyhound cocktail with Smirnoff and Tropicana grapefruit. We were Welch’s grape juice people, Marcus Dairy milk drinkers and Pepperridge Farm bread eaters.

There were literally NO exceptions. No sale, coupon or low introductory price could keep my mother from her brands. Though on a few occasions after we beat her down, we did get Wonder bread PB and Js for a field trip. (I think the bread is still stuck to the roof of my mouth. Ick.) We stayed that way even on the occasions when my dad went shopping alone. He had to hightail it back to the store for the “right” thing.

I know my mother was just a little bit frustrated by the commercials on tv that had us clamoring for whatever new item (say Frankenberry or that PBandJ all mixed together thing) hit the stores. She stuck to her guns and alas, we never got them. Unless we went to a friend’s house. I remember tasting my first Little Debbie snack at a friend’s. I was in heaven. (We were Hostess snack people and that little girl on the package of the competitor over at Julia’s house made me want to try them all. Yeah.)

I did still love to accompany my mother on grocery trips. (Even in high school. Whatever. Geek.) There was no big super sized supermarket for her. She was loyal as a Beagle to her neighborhood independent grocer. So much so that when we entered the store, the store manager greeted her and we were allowed to go into the back to the butcher’s department so she could pick out her cut. I remember always being just a little grossed out by the bloody apron on the butcher, a superbly friendly man named Nick whose sweet smile seemed to make up for the fact that he was usually wielding a knife.

Even though the store is not there anymore, it’s now a CVS, I can still remember the aisles and see in my mind’s eye where things were on the shelves. Because we only picked certain brands, it was easy.

And so my mother’s four little apples really didn’t fall far from the tree. As younger adults, out on our own, we all pretty much stayed loyal to the brands we knew growing up. My sisters became unwilling participants in a forced brand choice when they went to California. Some brands just aren’t available west of the Mississippi and they had to take what they could get. My one sister still has my mother send an occassional box of Devil Dogs because she can’t get them out there in LA LA land.

Now for me, sure I was the product of my mother’s choices, too when I first headed out on my own. I stocked my apartment with the same brands as I had growing up (when I had money that wasn’t being used for more important things like wine and beer.)

But then I came to realize that there were so many choices out there, and most were easier on the wallet than the ones I was used to. So I ventured out. And now, well, it’s a free for all when it comes to brands I use. I think my mom just might be appalled looking into my pantry.

Sorry Mom. I eat Jif now. I still like Smuckers, but your grandkids’ butts are cleaned with generic t.p. and the stains on their clothes are treated with whatever detergent is cheapest. And the pasta in that yummy lasagna you ate? It was the Stop n’ Shop brand on sale for 88 cents. Though if Ronzoni was cheaper, I’d be sure to buy that. Just for you. (Ok, just cause it’s cheaper.)

I know that brand loyalty was certainly (at least for my mom) a sign of the times. I think many housewives had the same mind to stick with the brands they knew and loved. Companies loved them back for it. There are still die hard fans of some thing or another who never waiver, I am sure. (Mac or PC anyone?) I wonder how many still do. I think in our economic situation, you sort of take what you can get. Or there’s a buyout, and well then you have no choice if you want something in particular.

I suppose I could go on, but there really was a reason for the subject of this particular blog post.  I swear.

Here it is.

With the cooling weather around here, I had a hankering for a roasted chicken with some root veggies. So I got the chicken (on sale), the cheapest carrots and a loose red onion and sweet potato (or yam, not sure), buttered (Stop &Shop brand)  and garlicked the skin, sprinkled some IGA store brand coriander over the top and BAM! Into the oven it went. I dreamed of how good it would taste as the smell of fall wafted through my house.

When it was done, I had a ton of liquid in the pan in which to make gravy. Roast chicken needs gravy, no?

I turned the burners on, stirred the pan drippings and reached for my cornstarch. I knew it was cornstarch by the familiar Argo name I remember my mother used when I was a kid. So I diluted it with chicken broth and poured it in the pan.

It bubbled a little. And I said Hmm. Oh well. I stirred and stirred and well, it just didn’t smell like the gravy I was used to. But, hey. It will be fine.

So the rest of dinner was ready and I was cleaning up as I brought my gravy to a boil. I took my little container of Argo and happened to glance just a little closer. It was not cornstarch at all. It was Argo baking powder. Who the hell buys Argo baking powder anyway? I guess it was me. It was probably on sale.

The cornstarch, I came to realize later, was in the little white and yellow box in the pantry, a Stop n Shop brand I bought on the cheap.

Yup. I got tripped up by the old brand thing, now didn’t I?

I think my mom is probably laughing at me, drinking her cup of Lipton tea as she pats her own box of Argo cornstarch.

It’s okay. My gravy was never as good as hers anyway.

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I Heart Broccoli

This is the year of teaching an old dog new tricks.

The old dog is me and the new trick, well, there are many tricks I need to learn, but one that comes to mind first is eating healthy.

I just finished reading an article in Woman’s Day magazine — standing at the counter nibbling on an Oreo — that informed readers that about 90% of women out there have at least one risk factor for a heart attack.

So of the six risk factors listed, I actually had two. Yikes. Because my mom had a heart attack and I had pregnancy complications — gestational diabetes twice — I am now at a much higher risk than the average female.

Talk about a reality check. This one just hit me smack in the stomach.

I dropped my Oreo and looked over at my husband and said — “I am so completely oblivious about this it’s not even funny.”

Yes, I realize that I can’t actually know I am oblivious to something.

However, subconsciously (okay, consciously, too) I know I suck at eating. Maybe it’s a matter of knowing that some day down the road I will likely not be able to eat crap and therefore I am hoarding junk now like a squirrel does nuts in late fall.

Sure, I could actually use the holidays as my exception. Over-indulging during the month of December is not uncommon. For anyone. (That’s what New Year’s resolutions are for, right? )

I partook on all fronts there — too many cookies, too much red wine, too much red meat. Too much.

But for the other 11 months out of the year, well I really have no excuse for eating all the crap I do.

It’s laziness, maybe, but there are some days I find myself in the kitchen at 10:30 a.m. realizing I have not eaten breakfast. I meander around my fridge not finding anything to tickle my fancy  or not wanting to fuss, so it’s over to the pantry I go and grab a cookie. Or three. This is sadly the norm even when there are no Christmas sweets in my house any more.

Aside from sugar, butter and salt are two of my closest friends. I admit, I like the flavor of salted butter. It makes my broccoli taste better. The carrots seem prettier slathered in butter and sprinkled with salt and dill.

I know. I am my own worst enemy.

But wait, I can eat better. I really can.

When I was pregnant with my son 10 years ago, I thought I would come home from work and park my big ol’ pregnant butt on the couch with a pint of mint chocolate chip ice cream. I was looking forward to that pickles and icecream and sending my husband out at 3 a.m. for fried whatever to satisfy my craving.

I had nary a clue that my blood glucose test would come back positive for gestational diabetes.

Out went the ice cream and in came the steamed spinach with garlic. Out went the sugar, salt and butter. In came Splenda or nothing.

And it was the healthiest I have ever eaten. I didn’t even have a single craving for some funky combination.

When I came home from work, I cooked up a healthy meal for my husband and myself from a cookbook for diabetics. And I got used to it pretty fast. My baby’s health depended on me keeping my sugar and carbs in check. I had to prick my finger three times a day and check my levels. Other than sore finger tips, it was not bad.

Sure, I caved here and there near the end of my pregnancy — a chocolate milk shake from a nearby dairy bar. But my husband and I (and my son) ate super healthy.

My second pregnancy was the same. I guess once you have gestational diabetes you are prone to getting it again. It also makes you prone to getting actual diabetes down the road.

And apparently, makes your heart attack risk go up.

Erg.

Well, since I am not one for making New Year’s resolutions — I never can keep them — I will try to use that article I read as the catalyst for a healthier me. And a healthier family.

Out with the white bread and white rice and processed foods and chips, dips and sweets.

Red meat, my fair friend, I will see you on a rare occasion and you will not be that fat juicy piece of steak. You’ll be a leaner you. I won’t smother your friend baked potato with sour cream and butter and I’ll skip the salt and use garlic or Mrs. Dash instead.

It will be chicken or turkey that I will choose and I will skip butter or cream sauce on any pasta I use. I will try the whole grain variety. More cous cous, more beans, more greens.

Goodbye cheese. Brie, it’s been wonderful. Cheesecake, even more so.

Ah, but sugar. I’ll try to keep a smaller you in my one cup of coffee along with your good friend whole milk. I need you to start my morning. If I have to, I will try raw sugar. Or agave syrup if I can bear it.

And veggies, I will invite more of you and your friends into my home. I promise not to disguise your taste with butter or salt. I’ll steam you and add spices and seasonings and olive or canola oil. And I will make my kids eat you too.

And when I go to Trader Joe’s (0h, this will be so hard) I will ignore all you sweet treats and delicious cookies. I’ll opt for more nuts and if I must, that bar of dark chocolate to nibble on when no one is looking.

Ugh.

And my long lost friend exercise. I will play tennis more than once a week, and try a higher impact variety than I am doing. I will have to dust off my new Adidas trail runners and get going. Walking. Not running, at least yet. I want to try zumba or pilates in the coming weeks.

As far as weather, I don’t have an excuse. The snow has not fallen here the East yet. It’s in Texas as we speak. Who knew? (I hope I didn’t jinx it, my friend Mother Nature. A few flakes are fine, but no repeats of January 2011, kay?)

I am confident.

I have a positive outlook and a plan.

I am woman hear me roar! Or at least hear me get out of the kitchen pantry.

By February, which is actually Heart Healthy Month, I do hope to be well  on my way to a better me.

I would love some fast and easy healthy family meals, so if you know of any or can steer me to a good recipe blog or site, bring it on.

A very smart person whose name escapes me right now said “You are what you eat.” I think I would much rather be that sexy stalk of asparagus than a big fat ooey gooey brownie caramel sundae.

You?

What’s Cooking?

I am not sure what is going on. There must be something in the air. The change of seasons? The leaves on the ground? The greyness of a fall afternoon?

Whatever it is, it has me running for my oven. It has me scouring old recipe books and new magazines for comfort in the form of food. My favorite things are blogs about pies and cakes and cookies. And chicken pot pies and roasts and chili. Oh My!

My mouth waters. I’ve nearly shorted out my laptop. Really.

It’s fall people and high time to get into the kitchen, light that pumpkin spice candle and start cooking!

And I for one couldn’t be happier.

It’s tradition around here in the fall for my husband to make his signature pumpkin soup. I’d give you the recipe, but he won’t let me. It’s secret.

Last weekend he baked that ol’ big pumpkin for hours until it was soft enough to scrape down and throw in a pot with carrots, onions and a whole lot of special ingredients. He adds a little of this, a dash of that and in the end, polish kielbasa.

I know. It sounds funky, but let me tell you, the combo of pumpkin with the smokiness of the kielbasa and a kick of white pepper, well let’s just say, I am glad I married that man.

So it has begun. The season of cooking and baking and eating. Once again I am the culprit, the person who thwarts our family’s attempt at healthy eating habits.

There is really nothing better than standing at my very large quartz counter top, looking out onto my den, watching the kids play, read or sit in front of the boob tube, and cooking my ass off. Everything seems easier. The prep work isn’t menial and I love the challenge of a good recipe. I am not scared.

Martha Stewart I am not, but I attempt to channel her into my kitchen anyway.

I am ready.

I am the room mother for my son’s class and in charge of the Halloween Party. Of course I choose to bring the sweet snacks and am leaving the healthy snacks to someone else.

I am making Halloween Whoopie Pies, those little chocolate inside out cupcakes with that butter cream filling. My son said I should color the filling orange and purple to make it more Halloweenie. (I love that word, by the way.) He’s a smart kid.

And then I will make these cute graveyard brownies. Just regular boxed brownies a little undercooked, cut longer than usual and topped with a halved Milano cookie with R.I.P inscribed.  Little grave stones. It’s so clever. Not my own cleverness of course. I am a copy cat.

I also went to Trader Joe’s the other day and stocked up on some good stuff. I love to cook but short cuts are my favorite. And that store just screams “Buy me to make your life easier!” So I do.

I am making Chicken Pot Pie this week and having already cooked and cubed chicken ready to go saves me the time of having to poach my own. I hate poaching. It makes a mess because my lids always overflow and I get chicken juice all over my stove. Yuk.

Cans of marinated beans for chili, pumpkin cream cheese for muffins, and so many more items I can’t even decide where to begin.

Oh, I could go on, but I won’t.

I will, however, steer you in the direction of some  fun cooking and baking blogs that I follow. They are simple, like me and my cooking philosophy. And witty, too. These blogger gals are just straight and funny and even share their disasters. They inspire me. I like to cook and make messes, too. A lot. Just ask my husband.

So here:

www.browneyedbaker.com 
www.cookiesandcups.com 
www.bunsinmyoven.com

And then there is the Taste of Home site that I love — gives me ideas for menus and quick meals that one day I know I will get to!

www.tasteofhome.com

Anyway, Happy Fall and if you are like me, Happy Fall Cooking!

Sweet as pie!