WHIDBEY RECIPES: Quitting is tough, believe me

Well, what a surprise it was to read in one of those “other” papers that Barack Obama is a smoker.

Have you ever seen a photo of him with a cigarette, either in hand or mouth? Has he ever been shown on television walking in to any convention hall or meeting place, cigarette in hand? Or lighting up after a particularly inspiring speech? Has any media person even mentioned that Obama smokes? I think not.

According to the brief article I read, Obama was in excellent health 16 months ago, at the time of his last checkup, but there is a family history of cancer and he was, at that time trying, again, to quit smoking. I’m quoting from that article, “Obama is a smoker who has quit but relapsed several times.”

Am I mistaken in assuming that our White House is one of those places now designated as totally non-smoking? I wouldn’t that but what it’s also non-smoking for 50 feet in all directions from any part of the White House, just as it is for so many public places today.

I’m sure, however, that some of our past presidents enjoyed a pipe now and then, perhaps even chewing tobacco, and we know Pres. Clinton enjoyed cigars. But, it’s difficult for me to imagine the president of the United States sitting behind that huge desk, with an ashtray full of stubbed butts at hand, to say nothing of having someone present at all times to dispel any whiff of cigarette smoke in those hallowed halls.

Whether he makes it to the White House or not, I do have a certain amount of sympathy for Obama, however.

Quitting smoking is not easy; in fact, for me it was one of the harder things I’ve done in my life.

Yes, I once smoked, and when

I quit, more than 35 years ago, I was occasionally up to a pack a day. Unfiltered. The first thing I did when I got up in the morning was light up a Pall Mall; the last thing I did before I fell into bed was put out my final cigarette of the day.

When I decided to quit, it was cold turkey. There was no Nicorette gum then, Obama’s current choice of quitting aids, and no nicotine patches to help you get through it.

Some people tried to quit by cutting down, smoking fewer and fewer each day until finally they were down to none.

That didn’t work for me. What did work was never to sit down long enough to light up and smoke a cigarette.

I had two small children, one 3 years old, the other 3 months, so not sitting down for any length of time, especially during the day, was no problem.

But, they did nap, and they did go to sleep at about 7:30 in the evening, and my then-husband traveled a lot. This meant I had long evenings with time to myself, time in which I could sit, relax, light up and savor that smoke. Perhaps, I conjectured, if I didn’t sit down and relax, I just might be able to forget what a pleasure it was to sip my evening cup of tea and drag on that cigarette.

So, I took up home decorating.

I’m not joking. It took just short of four months, but by the end of that time, I was smoke free and our house had undergone a total interior makeover.

During that period, I stripped the wallpaper off the walls of three bedrooms, as well as the living and dining rooms, and repainted them. I sanded down the cabinets in the kitchen and repainted them, and then lined every shelf in every cabinet and all the closets in the house with that ghastly shelf liner paper that never lines up properly and sticks like glue everywhere you don’t want it to. Never before nor ever again has any home of mine been so pristine.

By the time I fell into bed each night, exhausted, I never even thought about having a cigarette. All I wanted was to get flat and sleep, hoping for six hours or so before the kids woke up. I’d grab a quick shower in the morning, while they were still sleeping, and then we’d be off and running.

And as the weeks passed, the desire for that cigarette waned and, finally, died.

That’s what I thought until one night, about 1 a.m., when the kids were asleep and I was ironing. (Yes, there was a time when I did iron, which will amaze not only my present family but most of my friends.)

My husband was gone (as usual) and I was watching an old movie on TV while I ironed. They smoked a lot in those old movies, as some of you may recall, and I suddenly found myself really, really wanting to inhale and blow out that puff of smoke in the same elegant, casual manner.

I went to our bedroom and found a partially empty pack of Pall Malls in one of my husband’s dresser drawers. I pulled out a cigarette and took it back into the TV/all purpose room, unplugged the iron, sat down and lit up. It was pure delight. I inhaled deeply, exhaled slowly, letting the smoke curl upward and out as I told myself “Just this one, never any more.”

After a few drags, I felt a bit lightheaded. After two or three more, I felt downright dizzy and a bit queasy.

Within a few minutes more, I’d found my way to the bathroom and was getting rid of dinner the hard way. I spent the remainder of the night there, and I’ve never had another cigarette.

So, Mr. Obama, sir, should you make it to the White House and you’re still chewing Nicorette and hoping, once again, to quit, may

I suggest redecorating a few rooms of the White House? Usually it’s the wife who does that after she moves in with her husband, but hey, you’re all about change.

RECIPES

While it’s always bad news to have smoke in your lungs, smoking is not all bad. In fact, there are some very good uses for smoke.

And, thanks to new gadgets like stovetop smokers and smoker bags, we’re able to enjoy smoked foods without needing a smokehouse, nor even one of those Little Navajo smokers that were everywhere a number of years ago. John read an article about smoker bags in one of our many cooking magazines and decided to give it a try. It is now one of our staple items for some ingredients, such as farm-raised salmon, which tends to be bland and, at worst, mushy. But, at $34.99/lb., or more, for Copper River or anything labeled “wild,” we were willing to see what we could do with farm-raised.

We now use one whole farm-raised fillet, which is considerably more than two people would eat at a sitting and, using a smoker bag (see information at end of recipes), we smoke the fillet and enjoy it hot that evening and then have enough lightly smoked salmon on hand for two or three other delicious evening meals, such as salmon linguine, or the outstanding croquettes from the recipe given below.

SMOKED SALMON CROQUETTES

12 oz. cream cheese, at room temp.

6 oz. thinly sliced smoked salmon, chopped

2 T. chopped fresh dill

¼ t. white pepper

½ t. hot pepper sauce, or to taste

½ cup flour

1 large egg, beaten to blend

2 cups fresh white breadcrumbs

Peanut oil, for deep frying

Lemon wedges

Blend cream cheese and salmon in processor until almost smooth, but with small salmon bits remaining. Mix in dill, white pepper and hot pepper sauce.

Drop the salmon mixture by generous tablespoonfuls onto a large baking sheet and refrigerate until firm, at least 30 min.

Put flour in a small bowl. Drop a mound of salmon mixture into the flour, coating it completely; shake off excess. In your hands, roll the mixture into a ball, then dip the ball into the beaten egg, then the breadcrumbs, coating it completely, and put it back onto the baking sheet. Repeat with remaining salmon mixture, then cover and refrigerate the croquettes until well chilled, about 20-30 min.

Add enough peanut oil to a heavy large saucepan to reach a depth of 3 inches. Heat the oil to 350 degrees. Working in batches, fry the croquettes until golden brown. (Keep in mind that the oil cools the minute you add the croquettes, and it will need to get back up to temp., so it may take anywhere from 2-5 min. to get the croquettes crisp and golden.) Use a slotted spoon or tongs and remove croquettes to paper towels to drain, then serve immediately with lemon wedge accompaniment.

And now, I’ve just realized I’m already running long, so only one recipe for today, but here’s the information about smoker bags. There are others, and if you type in “smoker bags” or “stove top smokers” on your preferred search engine, you’ll find this and many others. For the one we’re using, go to www.HotDiggityCajun.com. And we’ll talk more about stove-top smoking in the future.