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Mom Cooks!!! (Occasionally)

Posted Jan 22 2009 6:31pm

By Barbara Berkeley

As you all know by now, I maintain my weight by following a Primarian (or ancient) diet. That works really well for me when coupled with one other trick I’ve learned during five years of maintenance: the less involvement I have with food the better. Science has a name for this approach. It’s called “stimulus narrowing.” Many researchers have noted that too much choice and exposure is overstimulating and can even cause us to become anxious. I’d be willing to bet that every one of you has experienced that feeling when you’ve entered a huge, well-stocked supermarket. All 50,000 items seem to call your name!

As a result of my determination to keep things basic, my meals have tended to become more and more simple. Just give me a handful of ground turkey and a George Foreman and I’m truly content. My daughters who are grown and (mostly) out of the house, like to grumble about the fact that “Mom never cooks.” That doesn’t mean that we don’t have food in the house. Just that we don’t fuss with it much. I must admit that ever since my gourmet cooking days ended, my food preparation skills have become a little rusty.

My reluctance to get too involved with fancy preparation is hard on guests. Living on a small farm out in the country, we tend to get stay-over company. Everyone comments that coming to our house with its complement of donkeys, turkeys and other wildlife, feels like a stay in a bed and breakfast. Oops! That means I have to provide breakfast…and not just the basic kind…more like the spread I tend to avoid nowadays. In order to keep guests happy while keeping kitchen exposure low, I have gotten better at quick guest recipes. Like Lynn’s pesto, these are recipes that throw together easily, look gourmet, and aren’t completely off my own diet. A nice selection of colored bowls, a vintage tablecloth and a jug of cut flowers go a real long way toward making the bed and breakfast thing happen.

When the house is full and I get back to chopping, paring and mixing it feels awfully good. If my daughters happen to be home, they will cry, “Mom’s cooking!” But after the dishes are done and the tablecloth is in the wash, I must say that I am very happy to tote out my grapes, my nuts and my George Foreman once again.

Light Summer Meal at the “Bed and Breakfast” : Best served on a porch and eaten out of doors.

Curried Tuna Salad
Serves about 4

I first tasted this recipe when I was a medical resident in Boston. There used to be a great sandwich shop in Harvard Square that made this salad. After some trial and error, I figured out the recipe for myself.

3 large cans of solid white tuna packed in water
1 large apple, washed with skin on. (a sweet apple like gala is best)
1 medium red onion2 stalks of celery
¾ cup of raisins (more to taste)
½ cup chopped walnuts
2 Tbsp curry powder (adjust to taste)
Small amount of light mayonnaise

Chop celery fine. Coarsely chop red onion. Add these ingredients to the tuna and chop lightly to mix. Add a small amount of light mayonnaise diluted with some water until the texture is a bit more smooth.

Coarsely chop the apple and add it, as well as the nuts and the raisins to the salad. Season with curry powder. I use the mild type.

Hard Cooked Eggs and Salsa Cruda
Serves 6

This is one of those dishes that needs to stand and develop its flavors. Make well in advance for the best result. Best in the summer when tomatoes are fresh and sweet. Love this recipe!

6 large eggs
4 tomatoes diced (the recipe calls for peeled and seeded…but I usually just chop them up skin and all)
2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely minced
1½ Tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
Dash of balsamic vinegar
Dash salt, fresh ground pepper
10 basil leaves

Place eggs in a pan of cold water, bring to a boil. Simmer over low heat for 7 minutes. Drain and cover with cold water until cool enough to handle. Peel and chill until ready to use. This will give you an egg with a slightly soft center.

Combine tomatoes with garlic, oil, salt and pepper to taste, and vinegar. Tear basil leaves into pieces and stir in.

Chop eggs and mix into tomato mixture. Keeps well in a tightly covered container for about 2 days.

Roasted Spiced Sweet Potatoes
Serves 4 to 6

This is a non-Primarian dish that I serve for non-Primarian company. On the other hand, since I believe in eating anciently 90 percent of the time, this is a great dish for an occasional “deviation.” I try to limit myself to no more than a few of these. For those of you who eat sweet potatoes, this is truly a winning recipe. I’ve never known anyone who could resist these..and they are incredibly simple and foolproof.

1 tsp coriander seeds
½ tsp fennel seeds
½ tsp dried oregano
½ tsp dried hot red pepper flakes (optional…I usually omit this)
1 tsp kosher salt
2 lb. medium sweet potatoes
3 Tablespoons olive oil

Preheat over to 425. Coarsely grind coriander, fennel, oregano, pepper, and salt in a spice grinder or coffee grinder. Peel potatoes and cut into 1” wedges. Toss wedges with oil and spices in a large roasting pan. Roast in the middle of your oven to 20 minutes. Then turn the wedges and roast until tender, about 15-20 minutes more.

I have also done this recipe on the grill. I just put the wedges, spices and oil in a foil packet, seal and cook till tender.

Serve all of the above with a green salad and some interesting fruits. And don’t forget to design an attractive presentation. My mother is the master of this and her lessons haven’t been lost on me. Arrange things like artwork and use garnishes. Everyone will be impressed. A glass of wine wouldn’t hurt either!

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