Lifestyle

WHIDBEY RECIPES | A few random thoughts from a cluttered mind

I’ve recently come to the conclusion that I read too much.

I never thought it would be possible to read too much, especially as it often seems there is too little time for reading. But reading, I’ve come to see, can also be the cause of a cluttered mind, a condition from which I most definitely suffer.

“Women with short legs, and men and women with short arms, may be at higher risk of developing dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Poor nutrition in early life may affect limb length and increase dementia risk in later life.”

There, you see, is a perfect example of what I mean by a cluttered mind. I read that very brief paragraph a week or so ago and should have put it out of my head, as I am decidedly not short- legged or limbed.

But no, it lingers in the clutter of my brain and I find myself looking at the lady ahead of me in the checkout line and considering the length, or lack thereof, of her legs and arms.

When she fumbles in her purse and can’t find her keys, my mind whispers “Aha! She’s probably already in the early stages, poor thing.”

Another bit of clutter I picked up from reading, “From a microbial perspective, the kitchen is the dirtiest room in the house. There are more bacteria in the average kitchen sink than in the average toilet.”

Why can’t I get that unwanted bit of reading out of my mind?

“Not in my kitchen,” I tell myself, but now, every time I’m standing at the sink cleaning up after a meal, I have ugly thoughts about sinks and toilets. I wish I’d never read that particular item.

The same thing goes for this gem I can’t get out of my head; “The average pair of used (used?) underwear contains 0.1 gram of fecal matter, one of the main sources of infectious organisms. Up to 99 percent of the organisms are killed during an average wash cycle, but that still leaves about one million infectious agents.”

Now, as I’m standing in the laundry room folding clothes, I can’t help mentally picturing some million or so invisible little alien agents who’ve taken up residency in our undies. Talk about ants in your pants!

The cure for a cluttered mind? I wish I knew, but one good place to begin would be to cancel all subscriptions for the various publications we receive weekly or monthly, with the exception of The Record, of course.

If I don’t have newspapers, pamphlets, magazines or leaflets lying around,

I can’t read them, and if I can’t read them, I won’t be storing these mental bytes in my memory banks. Unfortunately, I will still be vulnerable to e-mail messages, many of which are filled with the same sort of oddball information as the examples I’ve just given.

For instance, I now know what it means to be doolally, thanks to an e-mail I received a few days ago. And, so you, too, can enjoy this bit of trivia rattling around in your brain pan, it means “irrational, deranged, possibly insane.” As in, “anyone who worries about aliens in their underwear is probably a bit doolally.”

RECIPES

My mind may be cluttered, but my recipe files are not. The files in which I store the thousands of recipes I’ve chosen to keep are carefully labeled, kept in file drawers and banker’s boxes in my office, in the garage, under beds and in closets. This is not clutter; just accumulation, the treasure chests of an inveterate recipe collector. Remember, one person’s clutter may be another person’s treasure.

One of my pleasures is sharing my treasure; here are two winter warmers from those files, quick and easy comfort food for we who may become doolally if winter doesn’t end soon.

BEEF TORTILLA CASSEROLE

2 lbs. lean ground beef

1 large onion, chopped

3-4 cloves garlic, (or to taste) peeled and minced

¼ cup chili powder

1 jalapeno chili, seeded and finely chopped

12 corn tortillas (5-6 inch)

1 can (15 oz.) chili beans or black beans, your preference

1½ cups (packed) grated sharp cheddar cheese

2 cans (14½ oz.) Mexican style stewed tomatoes

Chopped cilantro, for garnish

In a large Dutch oven over med.-high to high heat, saute beef, onion and garlic until beef is brown, about 10 min. Reduce heat to low, mix in chili powder and jalapeno and sauté 5 min. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Lightly butter the bottom of a 13x9x2 glass baking dish. Overlap 6 tortillas on the bottom of the dish, covering completely. Spoon the beef mixture, then the beans evenly over the tortillas. Cover with the remaining six tortillas, then sprinkle cheese over the top. Pour the tomatoes and their juices over the cheese. Bake in a preheated 350-degree oven until the casserole is heated through and bubbling at the edges, about 1 hr. Allow casserole to sit 5-10 min. before serving. Sprinkle top with chopped cilantro, if desired. Serves 8; refrigerate leftovers and reheat or microwave for a second meal.

An easy, tangy chicken dish, tasty over rice or pasta, this time for just two. Serve with a tossed salad and some fresh, crusty French bread for a quick, easy dinner for two.

ZESTY LEMON CHICKEN

1 T. butter

1 T. olive oil

2 boneless chicken breast halves

½ lb. mushrooms, thinly sliced

4 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped

8 very thin slices of lemon (I prefer Meyer lemon, if available)

½ cup dry white wine

2 T. fresh lemon juice (again, Meyer lemon, if available)

Chopped fresh parsley, for garnish

In a heavy skillet over high heat, melt butter with the olive oil. Season the chicken with salt and pepper then add to the skillet and sauté until browned, about 2 min. per side. Transfer chicken to a plate.

Add mushrooms and garlic to the skillet and sauté until the mushrooms are tender, stirring to be sure the garlic doesn’t burn. Return the chicken to the skillet.

Overlap 4 lemon slices on each piece of chicken. Pour wine and lemon juice around the chicken. Reduce heat to low, cover skillet and simmer until chicken is cooked through (about 5 min.). Uncover and simmer until sauce is reduced and thickens slightly, about another 5 min. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Transfer chicken to plates and spoon sauce around chicken. Garnish with parsley and serve.

And for a sweet, gingery finish to any winter meal, try this bit of cake, also quick and easy.

CHOCOLATE GINGER CAKE

2 cups flour

¾ cup sugar

3 T. unsweetened cocoa powder

4 t. ground ginger

1½ t. baking soda

1½ t. ground cinnamon

½ t. salt

1 cup apple juice

3 T. vegetable oil

1 t. cider vinegar

Spray a 9-inch round baking pan with cooking spray and line the bottom with parchment paper.

Sift together the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, ginger baking soda, cinnamon and salt into a large bowl.

Whisk juice, oil and vinegar in a bowl to blend then add to the dry ingredients. Stir just until moistened. Spoon the batter into the prepared pan, smoothing the top with a spatula.

Bake cake in a preheated 350-degree oven until cake begins to pull away from sides of pan and a tester inserted into center comes out clean, about ½ hr. Transfer pan to a rack to cool.

Using a knife, cut around sides of pan to loosen cake and turn cake out onto serving platter. Turn cake over (right side up) and sift powdered sugar over the top before serving. Serves 8.

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