Cue the blender

Since Monday I’ve been consuming most of my meals in the form of pureéd soups and blended smoothies. This isn’t part of some larger weight loss plan, but because Monday the bottom braces were put on my teeth. As if I needed yet another quirk around food, I now have to deal with the fact that chewing has been (at a minimum) uncomfortable, and at the beginning of the week it was downright painful.

When I decided to bow to the repeated recommendations of the dentist and get orthodontia to unkink my teeth, I didn’t really understand what I was getting into. I knew there would be a not inconsiderable cost and that I would have to give up some foods that I love (such as whole almonds) for a while, but I didn’t really understand what orthodontia was going to really be like.

Despite the crowding of my teeth, I’ve been really blessed when it comes to oral health. I’m in my mid-forties and I have no fillings in my teeth. When I had my baby teeth, I know that I had a cavity or two which were drilled and filled (without any Novocaine, either, since my mother was concerned it would harm me…or so she says…it could have been to keep the cost down, too), but once the adult teeth came in they were solid and healthy and have served me well. What this means is that I’ve never had to deal with any dental pain that I can recall, so having painful teeth is very new to me. I did have a few periodontal procedures last year, but gum tissue heals pretty quickly if you’re healthy, and the pain doesn’t last very long.

The sturdiness and robust health of my teeth is also one of the reasons why I consented to orthodontia. I want these teeth to last me until the very end, and it is very hard to properly clean my teeth in the areas of my mouth with the most crowding. My top braces were put on in March and the orthodontist estimates that my treatment will take 18 months total. The top teeth seem to be moving pretty quickly, so I’m hopeful that I may be out of these things sooner than that.

I don’t recall my teeth hurting quite this much when the top braces were put on, but I did try to prepare for the procedure. A few weeks ago we had a stretch of two or three days where the temperature dropped to pleasant levels, so I fit in some cooking. I made a roasted cauliflower soup and a butternut squash soup, portioned them out, and froze them. (Both were pureéd with a stick blender that was given to me by my stepmother. I love that thing!)

These soups were so easy to make, that a formal recipe isn’t really required, but I approached them the way I usually do when making something new: I looked at recipes on various web sites, and then made it up as I went along.

Butternut squash soup: Peel and cube a medium butternut squash. Chop a medium onion and a clove or two of garlic. Sauté the onion and garlic in about a tablespoon of oil (olive oil or some other vegetable oil) until soft. Add the cubed squash, then add broth or water to cover. I used some homemade mystery broth from freezer and a bit of water. (I need to be better at labeling stuff I add to the freezer; it was likely some sort of poultry broth.) Bring to a boil, then simmer until the squash is tender. Add salt and pepper to taste, then blend with a stick blender or a standard blender. (If using a blender be careful! Don’t overload it and follow manufacturer directions for blending hot foods!) Thin the soup with more broth or water if desired. Done!

Roasted cauliflower soup: Clean and separate a medium to large head of cauliflower into florets. Roughly cube/chop the stem. (You don’t want to use any of the green bits, but do use the stem. It’s all going to be blended together and will taste just fine.) Toss the cauliflower bits and a clove or two of garlic with some olive oil on a rimmed baking sheet. Slip into an oven that has been pre-heated to about 400F. Roast until soft and lightly browned. Remove from the oven and place in a deep pot with broth or water to cover. Bring to a boil, then turn to a simmer until the cauliflower is soft. Add salt and pepper to taste. I recommend using white pepper if you have it, since it adds the right touch of mellow and spice. Blend with a stick blender or a standard blender. (If using a blender be careful! Don’t overload it and follow manufacturer directions for blending hot foods!) Done!

Both of these soups benefit from a bit adding a piece of parmigiano reggiano rind with the stock to simmer for a while. Remove it before blending. The cheese rind adds a nice richness.

Since today was another reasonably cool day, I also cooked up another soup to provide a bit more variation to my meals. For this (non-dairy) cream of broccoli soup I basically followed the recipe exactly and the results are delicious.

But first thing in the morning and during the hot days, soup is not something I really want. So I’ve also been experimenting with smoothies. I’m not a fan of really sweet things, plus I also need a way to get enough veggies into my diet so I’ve taken the leap into green smoothies. You can find all sorts of “recipes” for green smoothies online, but I use them only as suggestions, just like I do with everything else I cook. I’ve been cooking and combining flavors for so long now, and know my preferences and tastes, so I think I’ve come up with some real winners here.

Chocolate peanut butter smoothie: Place in a blender approximately one cup of unsweetened almond milk. Add one frozen, ripe banana, peeled and cut in chunks. Add a generous handful of baby beet greens, or a mixture of baby beet greens and purslane.* Blend until smooth, then stop the blender. Now add a heaping soup spoon of quality, unsweetened cocoa powder. Add about two heaping soup spoons of unsweetened peanut butter. Blend until smooth, pour in a glass and drink slowly.

Mixed fruit smoothie: Place in a blender approximately one cup of chilled water. Add one frozen, ripe banana, peeled and cut in chunks. Add a couple of ribs of celery. Blend until smooth, then stop the blender. Add approximately two cups of any fresh or frozen fruit you have on hand. This morning I combined a small orange (peeled and chunked), and a handful of small plums (seeded). At this point I also added a heaping soup spoon of some nutritional boost I had on hand, but that isn’t required. Blend until smooth, pour in a glass and drink slowly.

Salty lassi smoothie: Place in a blender approximately one cup of chilled water. Add one small cucumber, cut in chunks. Add a small bundle of purslane. Blend until smooth, then stop the blender. Add salt to taste (one-half to one teaspoon is about right), freshly ground pepper, and a stem of mint. Add a few heaping soup spoons of plain yogurt (full fat or low fat is better than no fat yogurt) and a small, green chili if you like a bit of spice. Add about one teaspoon of toasted cumin seeds. Blend until smooth, pour in a glass and drink slowly.

All of these drinks really stayed with me for a good three to four hours. I found this surprising, but then again they were full of fiber, after all. I also was concerned that my standard blender would have problems making these smoothies, and was glad this wasn’t the case. I’ve been thinking about ordering a Vitamix at times (the reconditioned ones seem to be a better price), but I’m not ready to jump yet.

Even though chewing isn’t quite as painful as it was earlier this week, I’m going to keep making smoothies and use them as a meal replacement a few times a week, at least. While my supply of baby beet greens may be pretty much exhausted, I still have plenty of kale, cucumbers, and herbs growing in the garden.

*Purslane pops up all over my garden in the summer. It is considered a weed by most people, but is a highly nutritious, edible plant. I’ve tried adding it to salads, and don’t much care for it prepared that way. In a smoothie, though, it’s basically just a filler and I find it works out well. If you’re lucky enough to have this “weed” in your yard, give it a try. Add it to soup or a smoothie, or chop it up and add it to a salad.

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Hot, hot, hot

Summer didn’t officially start until a couple of weeks ago, but it’s already been brutally hot. Last Thursday we had a heat index of 110 F and a city-wide heat advisory. These heat advisories started being issued after the 1995 heat wave that was deadly to over 700 Chicago residents. At that time I was living in an apartment with no air conditioning and spent most of my evenings in a cool tub of water or laying prostrate in front of a window fan. I was young, healthy, and unafraid to open my windows, unlike most of the people who died. But ever since that time the city has issued these heat advisories and prompted people to check on their elderly and infirm neighbors, leave their stifling apartments for air-conditioned city facilities, or call our non-emergency number of 311 to arrange for city employees to visit or transport people who need well-being checks.

In addition to the heat, its been very dry. We are in drought and while the extreme heat has brought it’s share of storm activity, most of the rain has been missing my area of the city. Two nights ago we got a very good shower that provided close to an inch of rain according to my rain gauge. That’s the first shower we’ve had in at least two weeks. I’ve been watering the raised beds full of veggies at least every other day and setting the sprinkler up to water the front and back yard ornamentals about once a week. It’s times like this that I mentally kick myself for not putting the soaker hoses back in place after I took them up nearly two years ago. My ornamentals are all well-established and tough perennials, though, so they are doing OK with the limited rain.

I did make one bone-headed mistake early last week. I set up the sprinkler to water the ornamentals behind the house one evening after work. I started it about 7 PM and then went back into the house to prepare and eat dinner and do my normal week-night things. I meant to turn the sprinkler off after about an hour, but I completely forgot about it. At roughly 1 AM the next morning, I woke up and realized I had left the sprinkler on, so I dashed outside to turn it off. The plants really enjoyed that watering, at least, and this was one of those times I was extremely grateful that older houses like mine in Chicago do not have water meters.

The chickens have been doing very well, too, and for that I’m grateful. According to the posts on the Chicago Chicken Enthusiasts Google Group, two of our local chicken keepers lost hens due to the extreme heat last Thursday. My chickens get a lot of shade and I’ve put out an extra two-gallon water fount for them ever since it started getting really hot. Several weeks ago I also reconfigured the roosts inside their coop to allow for them to spread out more at night and have enough room to cock their wings to dissipate body heat. They also have a roosting bar in the attached, secure run so they could hang out there at night if they want. I’m very impressed that their egg production has stayed so high despite the heat. Most days I get four eggs a day from the five hens. Truly amazing.

“Little roo,” as I call the rescued bantam rooster, is firmly integrated into the flock. It only took him a couple of weeks of getting to know the hens before he started jumping them, but the ladies seem to have him in hand. It was actually a bit funny to watch since he is so much smaller than the hens; this seems to be one of those situations where size *does* matter, so I don’t think there will be any fertile eggs coming from the hens, despite his best attempts. With the extreme heat, I’ve seen almost none of this activity on his part, so maybe he’s giving up for now. His crow has changed lately, too. For the past week he’s sounded almost as if he has a sore throat!

He’s wary of me, and also a bit touchy if it seems like I have “intentions” towards his ladies. When the flock is let out to wander the yard, he’s pecked me on the foot a couple of times and thrown himself at the back of my legs a few times, too. I’ve taken to giving him plenty of room and being firm, but kind when he shows any aggression to me. I’ve managed to catch him a few times, hold him firmly, and stroke his neck. He calms down right away when held and the neck stroking makes him almost purr.

A pair of young squirrels are now living in the big maple behind the house. Hannah dog has been getting quite a workout chasing them along the fence and in the yard. The squirrels are still learning their own limits and one day last week Hannah actually caught one on the ground. I immediately called out to her and she dropped it. The little squirrel hid in among some plants, while Hannah moved away. I routed it with a broom and it scampered to the tree and up to safety, so it was unharmed.

Despite all the fun we have with Hannah’s squirrel obsession, I don’t want her to actually kill a squirrel, and I was happy she was so attentive to my call. There’s more to write about Hannah dog and how we’ve been relating over the past several months, but I think I’ll save that for another post.

Today is a lazy Sunday, or as lazy as I usually let them get. I have to drop off the overflowing recycling (this household produces only one 13-gallon bag of trash every 2-3 weeks, but the recycling is 2-3 times that much! how I wish for a blue cart!) and neaten the house. The dining room table is piled with stuff that needs putting away, but I also want to sit in the cool air conditioning and do some knitting. And since the day will be too hot to take Hannah dog out for a walk (she overheats easily, maybe due to her dark coloring), we’ll have to fit in some indoor play time, as well.

So I am off to enjoy my day! I’d love to read comments from my few readers about what you’ve been up to and how you spend your weekends.