Saturday, January 14, 2006

Avocado Soup in the kitchen

When my maternal grandfather had a heart attack in the late 1970s, we were all concerned about his health. His diet would have to alter. For some in the family, the answer was to stop placing salt shakers on the table.

For some, that was the sole action taken. Like most of them, I cook with salt. I season as I cook. Knowing that some cooks in the family use salt liberally, a number of us didn't feel that removing salt shakers from the table would be enough.

Salt is a staple in my kitchen and I use it often. When we know ahead of time that guests will be joining us for meals, I always ask if there are any dietary issues. Leigh Ann, one of the people who reads my son's blog Mikey Likes It! regularly, asked me what one tip I would give to someone who wants to start entertaining? It would be to ask your guests, ahead of cooking anything, if they have any allergies, any foods or ingredients that they avoid.

In terms of health issues, you do not want to serve something a guest is allergic to and there are many people with food allergies. If a guest has been advised to avoid anything due to allergies or health conditions, you're going to feel inhospitable for serving something that they can't enjoy. There are also guests who will tell you that they won't eat this or they won't eat that just due to their personal tastes. Listen.

You should serve what you enjoy. But if you're planning to entertain, take it from me, if a guest says ahead of time that they don't like broccoli and you make one dish with it, thinking that there's more than enough other dishes that they can enjoy, watch the gathering around the table switch to the one guest noting how much he or she hates broccoli throughout the evening, over and over.

Leigh Ann should be prepared for the fact that there's no controlling an evening. But you can attempt to avoid somethings by preparing ahead of time. The broccoli incident has happened several times because I like it. My children have always liked it (when they were younger many of them called brocoli "trees"). Three times, I've made the mistake of thinking that as long as there were other items provided, serving broccoli wouldn't be a problem for a guest attending who hated the vegetable. All three times, the person, a different one each time, turned the evening discussion into why he hated, they were all men, broccoli. This isn't really a topic that people eating broccoli want to hear. One time, it resulted in a loud remark of "We heard you thirty minutes ago!" All three times, it caused tension.

So find out if there are things that can't be served for medical reasons and if there are items that you should avoid for the peace of the evening. If this is a large gathering with multiple dishes and an issue of dislike arises, smile and suggest they sample something else.

Leigh Ann may or may not listen to that advice which is her choice. My second eldest daughter didn't listen and learned after her first attempt at entertaining to ask about food issues before planning the meal. So if you read this and it doesn't seem like the suggestion has any bearing on your own life, ignore it. Maybe it will never be a problem for you. But if it does end up being a problem, pick yourself up after and realize that with each meal you cook (for others or just for yourself) will provide you with more knowledge.

As a number of us attempted to figure out how to cook without salt (salt substitutes, if available in our area then, were not known of by us), I mentioned the problem to my friend Roberta who turned me onto a book by Elma W. Bagg entiled Cooking Without a Grain of Salt. There are a number of recipes in this book (the cover boasts "over 250 superb and nutrious recipes") and I was unaware that all the food I'd eaten at Roberta's were low sodium dishes. She had a problem with water retention and her mother had been advised to cut down on the sodium in her diet due to high blood pressure.

One of the many recipes I enjoy in this book I'll put below:

Appetizing soups were most difficult to prepare without salt. I tried and tried, and wasted and wasted. These few are good.

2 avocados
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon of paprika
2 teaspoons chopped chives
1 teaspoon grated lemon rind
1/4 teaspoon dill, ground
1/4 teaspoon oregano
2 teaspoons grated onions
2 cups milk

Peel, seed and mash avocados. Add rest of the ingredients. Heat in a double broiler. This is a thick soup, and can also be made with low-sodium dry milk if you wish to cut the count.
4 SERVINGS. Per serving, 64 mg. sodium and 325 calories.

Avocados are full of vitamin C. I enjoy them on salads and in dips or even on their own. Mike and his younger sister are the only children who shares my enjoyment of avocados. I think the popularity of guacamole outside of our home has exposed our older children to avocados and allowed them to rethink the fruit. An aunt who loved them was forever buying them in bulk and rushing over to drop some off when they were on the verge of going bad.

Fruits and vegetables that come to your home free and frequently usually motivate you to find a recipe for them. (If anyone knows of a good cookbook on squash, please pass that information on.) The recipe for avocado soup was the first and only avocado based dish I could find that my family, as a whole, would eat.

When we were in DC in September at the rallies and protests against the war, Dona of The Third Estate Sunday Review caught a cold. It was the worst time for it, Saturday morning with a busy day facing her, and she needed something to pick her up. Soup is usually a good food to turn to at times like that. She was going through the kitchen of the home we were all staying at and not having luck locating a can of soup or broth. There were two avocados and, though skeptical, when I volunteered to whip up a batch of soup using them and the other ingredients above, she was willing to try it.

Some of you may not know what a double broiler is so this is a definition from online: "Double Broiler: A small pot placed above a larger pot that contains boiling water." If you're adventurous and willing to take all responsibility (legal and otherwise) for attempting it, you can try to rig one via a large pot and a smaller pan. However, if you don't have a double broiler, the soup can be made in a single pan and turn out quite well. Just remember to stir frequently as it cooks. For the ingredients, you can use dried ones, such as dried chives instead of fresh ones, if they aren't available in your area or if you're making it at the last minute and don't have any fresh ones handy. If I don't have lemon peel handy, I use lemon zest or else add an additional teaspoon of lemon juice. A friend who enjoys creamy soups adds butter when cooking this. So you can play with this recipe. (Again, you take responsibilty -- legal and otherwise.)

I hadn't intended to make this the second recipe I posted but Dona enjoys it and I felt that after the week that was, we might all be looking for the comfort of a soup. Like my son, I'm glad our senator, Ted Kennedy, was vocal during the hearings but I was more unimpressed with Democrats on the committee than impressed.

C.I. has an entry on members reactions and I enjoyed reading that because it echoed a number of complaints and concerns I had while following the hearings this week. My husband enjoyed Brandon's comments about the hearings being like a football game that had reached with the fourth quarter with no one on "our team" ever consulting a playbook until the last minute. My husband and Brandon were of the same mind on that.

Myself, I was disappointed that Bully Boy saw another nomination for the Supreme Court, a lifetime appointment, go before the Judiciary Committee and there was no organized effort on the part of Democrats during their questioning. It is true that Alito was dodgy in his answers but it's also true that while dodging, few bothered to challenge him on that. A senator might mention it in passing or note that it had occurred "yesterday" but when the dodging was going on, the tendency was not to confront it but instead to "move on" as Diane Feinstein stated at one point.

It looks like Alito will be confirmed. I'm not suggesting that people don't protest to their senators (Democrats and Republicans) or that they give up on fighting the nomination. But it does feel like the Democrats on the committee did very little, as a whole, and now expect the people to wage a battle they weren't willing to fight themselves.

That's very upsetting to me. Like Mike, I'm glad to call Ted Kennedy my senator (and have no real issues with our other senator, John Kerry); however, Ted will not be in the Senate forever.
When he decides he's given as much as he can and chooses to step down, I'm worried about the level of fight left in the Senate on the Democratic side.

Diane Feinstein was a huge disappointment this week. Outside of Joe Lieberman, I'm not sure any other Democratic senator could have done so poorly. It wasn't that she wasn't raising issues that were important; it was the fact of how she raised them.

To keep the focus on the kitchen, it would be like me repeatedly saying to the family, after I'd served dinner, "I could have made ___ or I could have used ____." She appeared to bringing her prep work to the table when the country needed to be served the meal. I found her "Gosh, I'm just a girl and lawyering is so far beyond my brain" insulting to women. After over a decade in the Senate, her personal style seemed embarrassing. Did she grasp the gravity of the situation? Interrupting Ted Kennedy, in the midst of his questioning, did not suggest that she did. She was "playful" when she should have been business-like.

I found the whole thing depressing as a woman who was assured after the 1992 Year of the Women (assured by the press) that everything had changed. It didn't appear that anything had changed. The treatment of Anita Hill as someone to be dismissed (which played like it was due to her gender) is now endorsed with the actions of Diane Feinstein who makes it easy to dismiss women due to her actions on the committee. As my sister-in-law Peggy said, "Donna Reed had more bite."

So it wasn't a week of uplift. But maybe we can channel our frustration into action. As Rebecca, Wally and C.I. have noted NOW provides you with the means to Take Action: Call Your Senators Today. As Laura Flanders says, "Don't leave politics to the politicians." And I'll add, as I'm guessing she would, too much is at stake.

I did survive my first week of blogging. I mistyped "me" as "be" in the last entry. Kat advised me to leave it as is or else get used to spending time that I could be posting instead correcting typos in each entry. I'll follow that good advice unless I make a typo in copying a recipe. There were a number of kind e-mails (27) and most pointed out that the e-mail address doesn't display on my profile. I didn't get around to doing that section, I guess. The week was busy for Mike and everyone else so I didn't ask about how to fix that or add things to my profile. Leigh Ann noted it was a good thing I'd stated to write me care of Mike ( because she wouldn't have known how to write me. Lynda wrote a very nice e-mail and sent it to me care of C.I. who was kind enough to forward it. I'll try to create an e-mail account before next week and also to attempt to get it noted on my profile.