Bocce

If you are a food lover, you also have to be pretty active and work out regularly. I do. It’s the only way I can allow my love affair with cheese to continue and not start to look like a wheel of aged gouda. I also have been into sports throughout my life, from basketball with my dad, to street hockey in high school, and I like playing games that don’t involve a computer.

But I have a special place in my heart for a sport that can be played with a glass of wine or beer in my hand. And being annexed into an Italian family has introduced me to bocce. After a meal, there’s nothing like carrying a few bolas around the lawn while leisurely sipping a chilled adult beverage, and calling that a sport.

This is not the kind of bocce you see the serious old guys playing in the park on the long courses. This is hippie bocce, a meandering version of the game that allows for trash-talking, breaks to refill glasses, and all manner of random tangents.

It’s pretty simple. You toss the jack (the small white ball) somewhere on the lawn, and then take turns tossing or rolling your own bolas to get as close to it as possible. Knocking other people’s balls out of the way, or even knocking the jack somewhere else, is allowed and even encouraged. The point goes to the person who got the closest to the jack (two points if both of their balls were closer than any others). And the winner tosses the jack next.

You keep playing until it’s too dark to see, a majority of players need a drinks refill at the same time, or you’ve done measurably damage to a nearby house, car or other valuable property.

As you generally play this only in nice weather, I highly recommend a chilled white wine, a Belgian beer, or a snazzy sangria. It’s a good idea to stick to something that’s not going to get people to snozzled after an hour of walking and drinking, because (see above) once you do damage to valuable property and you hide all evidence of your bocce set, it will appear suspicious that you are all sitting in the kitchen desperately looking innocent.

Let’s assume you drink slow and have a nice game, you can tell people you played ball all afternoon and they’ll think you’re in shape and a total jock under that foodie exterior. I think that’s a win!

[Girl21]

Getting Your Dog to Eat

This is completely unrelated, but it’s to do with food, and it’s something I’ve had to deal with lately.

My old dog is terminally ill and has a hard time eating. She just isn’t hungry or can’t tell if she’s hungry or not. But she does need to eat.

I tried all kinds of things to get her interested in food, but talk about picky. She would turn up her big black nose and sulk off to a cool patch on the tiles for a nap. And she kept getting skinnier.

I’m telling you, I tried everything I knew she liked, and for dogs (who eat anything), this is a wide range of options. I searched the web for things people were suggesting to try, and still no luck. And the weight loss was getting to be a serious problem.

So on two different blogs I noticed a few notes about things for nausea in dogs, garlic and tomato sauce. Lightbulb! Italian food as a medicinal solution? Why the heck not?

Well, not so fast. Actual pasta sauce apparently was not the answer. Think, think, think. She was acting like a grumpy child, why not treat her like one?

Canned ravioli. I’m not proud. I bought that terrible so-called ‘meat’-filled pasta in cans, by a chef who probably wasn’t a chef. But it works. She loves it. I pour it on top of her regular food and she goes to town. She put on weight again, and stopped avoiding her food bowl.

So every week I make that walk of shame down the canned aisle to the grotto of bad food, and stock up on canned ravioli. I hope this helps someone, some day, somewhere. It’s helping her, and that’s what matters to me.

[Girl21]

Lentil Bulger Salad

Lentil Bulger SaladNot only am I a vegetarian, but I live in the south. Why am I bringing this up? It’s hard to get a good protein in every meal. And it’s equally hard to get interested in cooking on a hot day. So what to do?

I’ve been fine-tuning and evolving my lentil bulger salad recipe, a solution to both issues. Frankly, this recipe will probably continue to evolve for years to come, but this is how it stands at the moment. Easy to make, since it involves very little cooking or technique. Yet full of flavors that make your mouth happy about salad.

First you need to get about 4 cups of water boiling in a medium pot, and set a half cup of bulger in a heat-friendly bowl with some kind of lid (I’m such a slacker, I use a bowl with a plate to cover it). Really, this is the most actual cooking you’ll be doing, so don’t complain.

Once the water comes to a boil, scoop out a half cup and pour that in with the bulger. Stir up the bulger a bit and plop the lid on, and leave that for 30 minutes. Hard work so far, right? The rest of the water in the pot should still be boiling. Put a half cup of dry lentils in the water, and a half teaspoon of salt (check your lentils to be sure they’re the ones that don’t need to be soaked overnight). Bring the lentils back up to a boil then turn down to a fast simmer for 30 minutes or until they get to chewable consistency. I like the lentils a bit al dente, but some people prefer them soft.

Meanwhile, on your chopping block…

You need to gather and dice, chop, grate, press:
1 small thumb ginger, grated on a microplane
2 medium carrots, grated
4 or 5 cloves of garlic, pressed
1 medium onion, diced small
1 1/2 cups parsley, chopped fine

I personally don’t like all of the stems of the parsley in my mix, so I take the time to pinch off the leaf bunches from the major stems and chop up just the leaves pretty small. A good medium-size bunch of (Italian!) parsley will make up a loose cup to cup-and-a-half.

Usually I toss all of these ingredients into a bowl and set it aside. You also want to get your seasonings together. I love having little glass ramekins around for this. Not because I look like I’m on TV, but because it keeps me organized and I don’t forget an ingredient so easily. Anyhow, in a small bowl or ramekin, you’ll need:

1 1/2 teaspoons salt
3/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon pepper
1/4 teaspoon curry powder
(or 2 teaspoons Italian seasoning if you hate curry… boo!)
dash of cayenne

And don’t forget to get out the two most important things… lemon juice and olive oil. If you’re feeling luxurious, fresh lemons are always preferred, but I’m usually not, so I use a good quality pre-squeezed juice. Olive oil is also up to your preference. A good friend who is kind of OCD about this advised me to look for ‘first press’, ‘cold pressed’, and ‘organic’ when choosing olive oil as you’re getting the better stuff (but more on that later).

Also a word about curry powder (I can go on for pages but will not), I highly recommend going to a specialty store for curry powder, and trying different kinds until you find what you like. Traditionally, every family in India has their own blend of spices to make up their curry powder (kind of like plaids in Scotland). So, all curry powder is not the same. It varies in spiciness, sweetness, and strength. And that yellow stuff you buy in your grocery store might do in a pinch (pun intended… haha, I kill me!), but it’s not something you want to have as your go-to curry. In this instance, I’m using a somewhat mild curry blend, but if you have a strong one you like, maybe pull back to a bit less than 1/4 teaspoon or it might drown out all other flavors.

Okay… so that’s all of the cooking out of the way and your kitchen isn’t boiling hot. You might be a bit sweaty from all of the chopping, but that just means you need to work out more. And here’s how…. mixing!

Un-lid your bulger and fluff it up a bit. I have a lovely wooden spoon I spent way too much money on at one of our local arts and craft fairs, but it’s so sexy and sleek, I love to use it for most mixing situations (yes, I’m also a kitchen geek). Drain your lentils and mix them into the bulger with about 1/3 cup of olive oil. Add your seasonings, and mix some more.

Add your carrots, parsley, garlic, ginger, and onion here, and mix up a bit more. I notice the pressed garlic and the grated ginger tend to clump up, so it takes a bit of trying to get these mixed in evenly. Then add in about 1/3 cup lemon juice (I sometimes also add a few tablespoons of balsamic vinegar if I’m feeling fancy). And… yes, continue mixing. Firm but broad strokes so you mix everything up instead of turn your lentils and bulger into paste.

I like to set this aside for about a half hour to marinate and get all yummy. This gives me a minute to lay down a bed of lettuce on a plate, dress it with a little pepper and lemon juice, and grate some feta cheese (optional). Do what? Those dense blocks of salty feta you can get are delish but what do you do with them? I love to gently grate it instead of get the crumbled version.

Easily the most complicated part of this dish is plating it. You have to very carefully plop a pile of your lentil bulger salad on the middle of your lettuce bed and drop some grated feta on top of that. For an added flounce, I like to add some green olives on the side, or maybe some flatbread toasted up in the oven for a few minutes. Voila! Yum for the tum, protein, and no overheated kitchen.

The other bonus of this is that it’s one of those fabulous dishes that actually gets better after sitting in the ‘fridge over night.

Yes, yes, yes… you might be poised to comment about the lack of tomatoes like in a traditional tabouleh salad. Keep your pants on and step away from the comment area. I get a rash from fresh tomatoes so don’t ever look for them in any of my recipes. If you want to add tomatoes to this, I’d suggest cutting back on the lemon juice a bit and using about half of a tomato, diced small. And don’t tell me about it.

[Girl21]