Traverse City Record-Eagle

August 10, 2009

Grandma's Kitchen: Love around the table

Also, mind your sodium by reading labels

By EDNA SHAFFER

I've really enjoyed some good times and great food around the family tables this week. At the center of it all was the joy of eating and talking with the people I love.

Anyone who lives alone will quickly tell you that one of the hardest parts is eating solo. Last night there were four generations of us, from age 2 to 83 around the table.

The beautiful words of Henry Harrison Murray flooded my mind and misted my eyes: "Touch hands ... strong hands to weak ... old hands to young ... around the Christmas board .. touch hands."

The calendar might not say Christmas but the spirit was certainly present.

It was so much fun watching our two little ones enjoying their food. Gus, 5, eats like an old pro, neat and clean, and takes time-outs to join in the table conversations. Sis, 2, is developing her own style of moving her food from the plate to her mouth. I love her technique. She scoops the food up in her spoon, then dumps it into her empty hand, which obediently puts it into her mouth like a little machine.

Being 2, she does all of this while asking questions a mile-a-minute, and you'd better not skip any details. I love her reaction to my answers -- she rolls her eyes and purses her lips while she processes the information, and often answers with another question. It is fascinating to watch their minds work, I'm firmly convinced they are far smarter than we give them credit for. I've learned so much from our grands and great-grands.

For dessert this night we had a Gus Special. He loves mint and chocolate together, so I made a dark chocolate brownie torte, filled with mint-chocolate-chunk ice cream. It takes no time to put together -- I've spent half a day on desserts that weren't nearly so good. It was a good finale to a great dinner.

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If you are, along with me, part of the group of 73 million people working to lower your blood pressure, the American Medical Association has some advice for us. They want to remind us that sodium (salt) is often the culprit and it's something we can change. How? Read our food labels!

The AMA isn't talking about the salt shaker, we know that, but about the salt hidden in about all prepared foods, including delis and restaurants. Would you believe that Aunt Jemima's Original Pancake Mix has more sodium per serving than potato chips, and that two slices of deli turkey breast can have 380 mg?

By adding two slices of bread (250 mg), 1 T. mayo (95 mg) and, heaven forbid, 1 oz. of cheese (180 mg) you've blown 895 mg -- more than a third -- of your daily allowance of 2,300 mg.

We have to read our labels. Blood pressure is more than a number; it's our risk factor. Butter has 95 mg per ounce, unsalted butter has 0. Write down what you are eating just for one day, then look at the salt content. You'll be surprised.

Also, check your potassium levels. Low potassium can lead to sodium retention. There are many potassium-rich foods to help bring your levels up. Our medications will work better when we do our part.

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My friends Martha and Randy have introduced me to coconut oil. I've long been a user of coconut cream and milk for baking and love it. They use the oil almost exclusively, buying it in 50-pound containers. I've had fun researching it on the Internet. So far, I've only used it for popcorn and the flavor is great; you don't need any salt.

I plan to use it for a cookie recipe next and Martha says it makes great apple crisp.

Understand I'm not recommending that you use it, but the research is most interesting and you might want to do your own. If you already use it, I would be interested in your opinions.

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Some of the women at our last church potluck had tried the Tater Tot Crock Pot casserole from last month's column. In fact there was one on the table. We gave it an "A" for flavor, but a "D+" for presentation! Maybe we need to either cut down on the amount of soup, or bake it in the oven. Crock pots are a little tricky because, with the slow and low heat, the ingredients keep their volume. If it tastes good maybe we can just look out the window while we eat it!

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I feel duty bound to give you some recipes that incorporate our good fresh garden veggies. The carrot dish is an old favorite, and the garbanzo salad is so good with any entree. They're good for you, too.

Scalloped Carrots

4 c. peeled, sliced carrots, about two pounds

4 T. butter, divided

1 (10&3/4-oz.) can cream of celery soup

1/2 c. shredded cheddar cheese

1 medium onion, diced

Salt and pepper to taste, optional

2 c. herbed stuffing mix or croutons

Cook carrots for five minutes in boiling water. Drain and put in 2-quart oven dish.

Saute onions in 2 T. butter until tender. Add onions to the carrots and stir in cheese and soup, undiluted, and salt/pepper if using. (The soup is usually very salty.) Melt 2 T. butter and toss croutons in it. Spread the croutons over the top of the casserole. Bake at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes or until heated through and the topping is crunchy. Makes 8 servings.

Garbanzo and Cucumber Salad

1 (15-oz.) can garbanzo beans (chickpeas), rinsed and drained

1 medium unpeeled fresh cucumber, quartered and sliced

1/2 c. sliced ripe olives

1/3 c. diced red onion

1/4 c. minced fresh parsley

Dressing:

3 T. olive or canola oil

3 T. red wine vinegar

1 T. sugar, taste later for degree of tartness you want

1 T. fresh lemon juice

2 cloves minced fresh garlic

1/2 t. lemon zest

Salt and pepper to taste, optional

In a medium bowl with lid combine beans and all other veggies. Combine all dressing ingredients in a jar with lid, shake well, taste for seasonings. Pour over vegetables and toss. Chill for at least a half-hour before serving and keep chilled. Makes 6 servings.

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Parting Shot: "Life is not waiting for the storm to pass ... It's about learning how to dance in the rain."

-- Author unknown

Edna Shaffer is a local mother, grandmother and great-grandmother who writes about cooking from the perspective of an older adult. She can be reached at coachngrandma@charter.net. For more Grandma's Kitchen columns by Edna Shaffer, log on to record-eagle.com/ednashaffer.