Shakshuka-inspired breakfast skillet

I’m scheduled to go into work late this afternoon after a day and a half of snow break, so I cooked a solid one-pan brunch for myself and aimed for flavor and a good balance of fruit and vegetable, protein, and grains.

Taking inspiration from shakshuka (worth looking up if you’ve never had it), I sweated green onions and garlic with a bit of cubed low-sodium ham. I added sliced black olives and mushrooms and allowed that to simmer until all the bits were cooked then added a half can of diced tomatoes with no added salt, seasoned lightly with kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper, ground cumin, and ground coriander and stirred everything together and allowed it to simmer uncovered for a few minutes until much of the liquid had evaporated.

Finally, I hollowed out three divots and cracked a fresh egg into each divot, covered the whole thing in a layer of fresh spinach leaves, and covered. That cooked for maybe four minutes or long enough for the egg whites to set then slid the whole mess into a rimmed plate (ok, it was a Pyrex pie plate) and served with thinly sliced dry toast.

All-in-all, I had an orange-sized eighth-inch thick slice of ham, three eggs, a couple of portabella mushroom caps, three scallions, half a clove of minced garlic, a tablespoon or two of olives, the equivalent of a whole large tomato, a good double handful of spinach, roughly a quarter teaspoon each of salt, canola oil, cumin, and coriander and easily a half teaspoon of black pepper. Add two thinly sliced toasted bits of my own fresh homemade white bread. And black coffee. I’m very full but not uncomfortable, and I can’t imagine needing to eat again before dinner this evening.

Ramping up fruit and veg isn’t easy for me. It isn’t that I dislike either, but I’ve been largely a meat and dairy guy for a long time, cutting out as many carbs as possible. I am neither a nutritionist nor a dietician, but I have consulted both though neither suggested this particular recipe (especially since this was a brunch whim). This is about having a conversation around food. And it’s about being transparent about how I’m eating.

In case you don’t know, I’m forty-nine years old and counting, and I’m extremely overweight. I’ve probably tried as many diet plans as any sane person should with varying results. Weight has been an issue for me since grade school, and I refuse to subsist on rocks and tree bark. I love food. I love cooking it, and I love sharing it. I’m not a fan of preservatives or added salt or sugar. I prefer foods in relatively raw states when I begin working with them, in large part because I simply don’t trust industrialized food processors. My health is not their goal.

Nor is being a fitness model my goal. I’m interested in feeling better and living longer. Yes, I’d be happier when I look in the mirror to have a smaller belly, but that’s essentially cosmetic. What I want is to be able to go more and do more. Fifty is literally just around the corner, and I’ve never felt more impetus to make a change before a milestone birthday. I’m not in a panic, but I’m very aware of my age, my weight, and the challenges that someone with both issues faces in a world that largely ignores both unless there’s money to be made in making those people feel shifty about themselves.

Mainly, I don’t want to feel shitty. And I don’t want you to feel shitty. This is about feeling good, having fun, and connecting not only to those around us but also to the food that we must consume every day to survive and thrive. And it’s about finding what works for me. Your results may be different because your body and it’s metabolism are different. Think about what’s going onto your plate and into your mouth. Consider how various foods and meals make you feel. And perhaps most importantly, play with your food.

Recipe development: Dukkah prototype #2

Some of you know by now that I’ve been in a romantic relationship with a man from Egypt for the last few months, but serendipitously, just days before we met, I was asked in the spice shop where I work part-time for an Egyptian spice blend called Dukkah which we don’t carry and I’d never had.

After a little Google-based research, I decided that day that I wanted to develop a recipe of my own. Well, then I met Adel, and pretty much everything flew out of my head for a while. But, I did make a stab at it back in December. This recipe was developed immediately after I tasted the first batch.

This batch didn’t turn out exactly as I’d hoped, but it’s still delicious. Here’s are the quantities of what I used by weight (since some of the spices are hollow, volume seemed a poor way to balance things).

125g of pistachios (though hazelnuts are more traditional)
50g sesame seeds
25g cumin seeds
25g coriander seeds
25g fennel seeds
15g black peppercorns
and a generous 1/4 teaspoon of kosher salt

I toasted each of the ingredients separately (each cooks a little differently) in a dry skillet on medium-low heat only raising the heat when it seemed safe to do so without burning the spices. As each came off the heat, I let the skillet cool a bit and lowered the heat before putting in the next spice. To be clear, I toasted the nuts as well. 

Dry pan toasting of the sesame seeds

In a mortar and pestle, I then ground each of the spices to a lightly coarse powder but left some pinhead to lentil-sized chunks of the nuts. Refer back to the closeup of the finished blend for reference. That’s a table teaspoon (as opposed to a measuring teaspoon) resting in the bowl.

Grinding the ingredients individually with a mortar and pestle

Also, I’m grateful that I kept the numbers at mutliples of five, because I’ll be able to scale this back on the next prototype.

The finished prototype

My personal opinion, I want to increase the quantity of coriander seeds and drop the fennel and peppercorns in the next batch, and I’ve now acquired some hazelnuts, so the next batch may be all hazelnuts or a blend of the two.

Dukkah on oven roasted chicken leg-thigh quarter

Regardless, I have leftover roasted chicken that will be doused liberally with this prototype and served with some veggies for my dinner tonight.

How to get rid of a bully

Were you bullied? I was. I think that, at one time or other, most of us have been bullied. I don’t know about you, but I was fortunate enough to have had a very wise and kind adult tell me early on that it helps, sometimes, to realize that bullies lose there power over you when you see them for what they are: jealous, wounded, pitiable things. 

Bullies invariably see in those they attack something that is missing in themselves. Maybe it’s wealth, intelligence, someone’s attention, popularity, physical beauty or prowess, or some ability, capacity, or trait. They’re jealous. They don’t have something their victim does, even if that thing is just goodness, kindness, or vulnerability to care that they’re being attacked by the bully. Regardless, the bully is fixated on those they attack. They respect in their victim what they don’t have, and they hate it.

Given that, how obvious is it that Donald John Trump would, of course, hate and attack Barack Obama? Here’s a man who, despite what Trump perceived as the handicap of his skin color, is brilliant, educated, informed, and beloved by his family, colleagues, the thinking portion of the American electorate, and respected by any but the most ardent racists, including world leaders in politics, science, philanthropy, business, education, and religion.

How could Trump ever compare? Did that make him hateful? No. That’s who he is. He’s the product of a sad and pathetic home, despite—or perhaps because of—every luxury. He never had to learn or grow into anything but the nasty, bullying thug he is today. Of that, there can be little question. He never had to exercise any muscle—physical, mental, or emotional. He’s a stunted, spoiled man-child who grasps at everything good that anyone else has and crushes it in their face if he can’t keep it for himself. If he weren’t in the highest seat in the land and gaslighting the entire Republican Party, he’d be pitiable. Weak. Wounded. And envious of everything that comes—though far from effortlessly—to Barack Obama.

But Obama has a work ethic. He’s cared for people his entire life, and they’ve cared for him in return. He’s a good man, and can rest easy at night knowing that’s he’s done his best for his family and all those around him—literally globally. Including Donald John Trump.

Barack Obama has been kind to Trump. He’s been professional. He’s been a statesman. And we expect this weak and wounded thing to exhibit shame or regret? No. That’s not what bullies do. You know that.

There is one thing, though, that undermines the power that we give them—and yes, we have all given him power. We must take it back. We must see him for exactly what he is, and we must share this understanding with everyone who will listen: family, friends, colleagues, and elected representatives. He’s been writhing in pain and envy for Barack Obama since the day Obama was nominated by the Democratic Party to run for the Presidency of The United States of America, because Barack Obama has something that Donald John Trump will never have: hope.

Hope for the future is something Donald John Trump has never had and likely never will. He knows what and who his is. He, more than anyone, knows he’s not good enough. Not smart enough. Not handsome enough. Not young enough. Not slick enough. Not even rich enough. Barack Obama was exceptional at his job and at life, and Donald Trump simply isn’t. Never will be. Has literally no hope of ever being.


But I think I’ll get over it.

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner in South Beach

I had an entertaining evening watching movies and the falling snow. Nominated for ten Academy Awards in 1967, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner won two. Katharine Hepburn won for Best Leading Actress, and William Rose won Best Screenplay. Sidney Poitier wasn’t nominated, though admittedly, it wasn’t my favorite of his performances. He did, however, receive a Fotogramas de Plata award for Best Foreign Performer with good reason. The script and, I suspect, direction didn’t exactly spoil the actors of color. Ultimately, it was a remarkable and remarkably popular film for its time two years prior to my birth, and despite some cringe-worthy moments, I love it. And yes, I totally cried during Spencer Tracy’s monologue to the rest of the cast in the climactic scene. Watch it and see if you don’t. I also have to mention Isabel Sanford who did an amazing job with a problematic role as the Drayton’s sassy black maid, Tillie, said to be a member of the family. I have all manner of problem with that, but ultimately, I have to give the writers, cast, director, and producers respect for pushing the social and professional envelope for the time. It’s more sad to me, frankly, that we’ve come such a short way since then.

That led thematically to 1996’s The Birdcage. It was the first time I’d seen this or any of his films since Robin Williams’ death in 2014, and while I felt a pang of melancholy starting out, I was quickly swept away in the performances that—though snubbed by The Academy—won the SAG Outstanding Performance by a Cast Award for Robin Williams, Gene Hackman, Nathan Lane, Dianne Wiest, Hank Azaria, Christine Baranski, and Dan Futterman. Oddly, the bride-to-be was not named in the award; if you’re not as great a nerd as I am, you may not recall that this snubbed actress was Calista Flockhart. And yes, I laughed out loud during the kitchen scene in which Robin Williams genuinely accidentally fell, recovered (though close inspection seems to reveal some barely checked laughter), and went on to finish the scene that made it to the final cut. Robin, Nathan, and Hank seemed to be having fun throughout the film, and it did my heart good to see it. I certainly hope that everyone else did as well. Regardless, I enjoyed watching it.

If you’re familiar with the films, you realize that their mutual theme is of young lovers introducing themselves to the soon-to-be in-laws who also happen to be polar opposites on a particular social status. In Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, the parents (and lovers) were black and white. In The Birdcage, her parents are a right-wing conservative senator and his appropriately stodgy wife, while his parents are a gay male couple who own and operate a drag club in South Beach. Given the casting and concepts, even those of you who haven’t seen either film probably realize that the latter was the more comedic of the two, and you’d be rather gloriously correct. Another of the more memorable scenes involves trying to butch up Nathan’s drag diva character’s walk by way of The Duke himself, John Wayne. The results are cinematic magic. If you want to laugh and feel a litter better about your own crazy family, it’s definitely worth an evening.

For more information or to reserve a copy of either film from a participating PrairieCat library, visit the links below.

 Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner—IMDb or PrairieCat

The Birdcage—IMDb or PrairieCat