“The Past is the Past … “

“The past is the past. It is what made us who we are. Now we move forward from there.”

Sometimes I find inspiration from the oddest of places. That quote was from an episode of Burn Notice, Season 5.  And while in the show, the quote refers to how people change while growing up with an abusive father, it applies to all aspects of our personal history.
We are what we are, because of what we have done in the past. Now the only question is “What are we going to do to help control our future?”

If you are overweight, what are you going to do to change that? If you are not physically fit, what will change that? And a fundamental question to both is, “What costs are you willing to accept?” Losing weight will require a change in your food consumption. You will need to eat less, measure and weigh your food and record everything to eat. The recording piece is vital because it signifies that you accept responsibility for your actions, and that you understand the cause-and-effect nature of weight loss and weight gain. Are you willing to be dedicated to yourself? 

You might receive negative comments about your attempt. Friends and relatives may try to sabotage your efforts, consciously or not. People may get angry at you, for attempting to make personal improvements. Are you willing to accept those risks?

Are you ready to embark on a lifelong journey? This will not be a short process. In fact, personal acceptance and self-control will need to be part of your life, for the rest of your life.

If you want increased physical fitness, you will need to change your daily actions. You will need to move more. Walk. Run. Bike. Swim. Maybe you will join a gym, maybe you will buy an exercise DVD. But the cost is that you need to change your daily habits. It may require that you get up a half hour or hour earlier in the morning. Are you willing to do that?

You may feel self-conscious at first, when entering the gym or jogging on the road. People may look at you. Or people may ignore you. Are you willing to put your efforts on public display?

Physical fitness is not a “one time event.” You can’t start a new exercise plan, and after a few weeks or months, simply stop because “you are done.” Physical fitness is for life. Can you commit to that?

I know. You already knew all this. But if you are anything like I am, you sometimes need reminders.

Shrimp and Asparagus on Gnocchi

Shrimp and Asparagus on Gnocchi
Serves 6

1 pound store-bought potato gnocchi (or approximately 60 homemade)
1 pound large raw shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 pound raw asparagus, tough ends trimmed off, and cut into 1 inch lengths
2 tablespoon olive oil, divided
1/2 cup sliced onion
1-2 cloves garlic, crushed and minced
1/4 cup reduced sodium chicken broth
1/2 cup dry white wine
2 tablespoons lemon juice (fresh squeezed is best, of course)

1.  Bring 1 liter water to a boil. Add gnocchi. Let simmer until they float.  Drain.
2.  Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large non-stick skillet. Carefully add gnocchi.  Saute, stirring often, until the gnocchi begin to brown. Remove from the skillet, cover and keep warm.
3.  Add remaining olive oil to skillet. When hot, add onions.  Cook over medium heat until they turn translucent -4-5 minutes.)
4.  Add garlic. Stir often, for 1-2 minutes. The onions should be just starting to turn brown.
5.  Stir in asparagus, broth and wine, turn heat to medium-high.  Cover and cook until the asparagus are just beginning to get tender.
6.  Add shrimp. Reduce heat to medium. Cover, simmer until the shrimp turned pink and opaque (about 3 minutes.)
7.  Return gnocchi to pan. Add lemon juice. Cook until heated through (about 2 minutes)

Nutritional data:
Calories:         219
Fat:                    5.1g
Sat fat:              0.8g
Chol:                 54mg
Sodium:          481mg
Carbs:            31.8g
Fiber:               3.7g
Protein:            9.6g

Note: This recipe was amde using store-bought, shelf-stable gnocchi. Use that added a lot of sodium. When I make this next, I will make homemade potato gnocchi. (I’ve never done that before and before I make a new dish, I try to make it as easy as possible.)

Two Different Bean Salads

Chickpea Salad
Serves 10 (1/2 cup portions)
1 cup dried chickpeas (or 3 cups canned)
1 large cucumber, seeded and diced
1 cup diced red bell pepper
2 cloves garlic, smashed and minced
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1.  Prepare dried beans according to package instructions. (If using canned beans, pour into colander and rinse with water.)
2.  Place all ingredients into a bowl, and mix.
3.  Refrigerate overnight.

Nutritional data:
Calories:    62
Fat:           2.3g
Sat fat:      0.2g
Chol:           0mg
Sodium:    11mg (This is using dried beans. Canned beans will add about 215mg per serving.)
Carbs:       13g
Fiber:       5.9g
Protein:   3.4g

Four Bean Salad
Serves 16 (1/2 cup portions)

This salas is a bit more sweet than the first salad.

1 cup dried kidney beans (or 1 can kidney beans)
1 cup dried navy beans (or 1 can navy beans)
1/2 cup dried Lima beans (or 1/2 can Lima beans)
2 cups fresh green (or yellow) beans
1 cup onion, diced
3/4 cup table sugar (you can replace some or all of the sugar with stevia or Splenda, if you want)
3/4 cup cider vinegar
2 tablespoon olive oil

1.  Mix sugar, olive oil and vinegar.  Stir until sugar is dissolved. (Warming in the microwave will help.) Set aside.
2.  Prepare all beans according to label directions. (If using canned beans, pour into colander and rinse with water.)
3.  Trim green (or yellow) beans, and cut into 1 inch pieces.
4.  Bing 1 liter water to a boil in a 2 liter pot. Blanch the beans in the boiling water for 2 minutes. Drain water off.
5.  Combine all beans with onion.  Pour dressing over, and mix. Refrigerate overnight.
6.  Add black pepper to taste.

Nutritional data:
Calories:    110
Fat:              1.8g
Sat fat:        0.3g
Chol:             0mg
Sodium:      14mg (This is using dried beans. Canned beans will add about 225mg per serving.)
Carbs:         26g
Fiber:         9.5g
Protein:     5.6g

Other option for this salad:

Add sweet bell pepper, jalapeno or other hot peppers, tomatoes, or corn.

Herb Crusted Chicken Thighs with Steamed Broccoli and Acorn Squash

Herb-Crusted Chicken Thighs, with Steamed Broccoli and Acorn Squash
Serves 4
4 boneless, skinless chicken thighs (approximately 5 ounces each)
2 large eggs
1 cup panko bread crumbs
Herb blend of your choice (I used Penzy’s Sunny Paris.)
2 teaspoons olive oil
1.  Whisk the eggs in a large bowl.
2.  Mix herbs and panko crumbs together in a shallow dish.
3.  Dunk the chicken in the egg wash, and coat in crumbs.
4.  Preheat non-stick skillet with olive oil over med-high heat.
5.  Place chicken in skillet and cook until done (about 6 minutes per side.)
Nutritional data (chicken only):
Calories:      281
Fat:            16.3g
Sat fat:         3.6g
Chol:           193mg
Sodium:      186mg
Carbs:          9.7g
Fiber:           0.5g
Protein:      28.4g


Serves 2-?

Every antepasto platter will be different, based on your geographical region, food preferences, and budget.

My wife and I decided that since it is quite hot out, we did not want to cook, but we also did not want to eat out. So I rummaged through the pantry and fridge and came up with this selection.

Today’s antepasto included hard boiled egg, marinated artichoke hearts, fire-roasted red bell peppers, dilled Brussels sprouts with garlic cloves, two different Wisconsin cheeses, green and black olives, and a fresh tomato bruschetta of ripe tomatoes, onion and olive oil. I also grilled some pita breads.

Traditionally, an antepasto platter will also include aged and cured meats (ham, salami, prosciutto) but we didn’t have any on hand.

I won’t include any nutritional data, because everyone that reads this will make a different version. Go a little crazy! Mix it up and at the same time, use what you have readily available. Make it easy on yourself.

And have fun eating!

Pita, with Egg and Avocado

Warm Pita, with Eggs and Avocado
Serves 1

1 pita
2 teaspoon olive oil
2 eggs
1/4 mashed avocado
5 cherry tomatoes, halved

1.  Heat non-stick skillet over medium-high heat, add olive oil.
2.  Place pita into a 6 or 7 inch skillet and warm it (about 1 minute).  Remove and keep warm.
3.  Crack eggs into skillet.  Cook to your preference.
4.  Place eggs on pita. Top with avocado and tomatoes.

Nutritional data
Calories:        468
Fat:              26.2g
Sat fat:           5.2g
Chol:             423mg
Sodium:         178mg
Carbs:          41.7g
Fiber:             5.5g
Protein:        21.1g

Wines, Antiques and Covered Bridges

We awoke to fine breakfast delivered to our room.

Nothing fancy. A cream cheese filled pastry, a fruit cup, orange juice and coffee.
A very nice breakfast!

After we ate, we talked to Joanna about a few ideas for antiquing and dinner. Since it was Sunday, and most stores didn’t open until noon-ish, we relaxed with the coffee. We were offered some wine samples, but since we wanted to visit other wineries, we chose to wait. (Wine with breakfast? What, are we back in Wisconsin?)

And now we take a break from our usual topic (food, wine and sometimes even weight management) and delve into a couple other topics. Don’t worry. Food and wine returns later in this post.

We programmed a series of antique shops into Samantha, our GPS. She brought us to the first two addresses. Unfortunately, there were no stores at those addresses. At the third address, the store existed, but it was out of business. The fourth store … well, we walked in and immediately walked out. It wasn’t a store so much as it was an indoor garbage dump. And it smelled like it.

We gave up on the idea of antiquing. I decided it was time to start drinking … er, sampling wine. As we drove out of town headed to the first winery, we drove past an old home (a old 40-room mansion) that had a small sign out front saying “Antiques.” I drove past it and Tammy pointed it out. “Do you want me to turn around?”

Her response, “It’s up to you.”

We had been to five addresses, and all five were strike outs. Well, let’s go for six strike outs. I turned around, found parking and we went inside.

No strike out here. A home run! The owner walked us around and we found a number of nice milk glass pieces. The prices were reasonable, and in some cases, very good. We ended up filling a moderate sized packing box with beautiful pieces to add to Tammy’s collection. While she was paying, I noticed a small flier on the counter that advertised another shop, just four blocks away. We got in the car (which we realized was getting rather full) and I said, “Let’s give this shop a try.” Between the 40-room mansion and the second shop, we drove past two other antiques dealers (both closed.) We got out at the shop and entered. It was the smallest of the antiques stores that we perused on this vacation, but immediately Tammy found a Westmoreland footed candy dish. (Another score!)

I kept wandering the store. I was beginning to enjoy spotting the antiques for Tammy, but I was also on the lookout for books. I love books! I always have, and always will. And whenever I go to a used bookstore or an antique shop I look at the “classic” books. I sometimes find unique books related to nursing, or cookbooks from the 1800’s, or history books. It is always a surprise what I find.

But I am also on the hunt for a few specific books. When I was about eight years old, my dad gave me a box of books that a coworker gave him for me. They included three books from the 40’s, published in three different series. They were designed for teen boys, glamorizing the war and essentially serving as enlistment material. But they were fun to read. At some point over the years, my parents got rid of them (probably at a rummage sale.) I had found a couple titles on Amazon, but the tightwad in me didn’t want to spend the $40+ so I never bought them.

Oh my God!!!!
Tammy said I did a goofy little “happy dance” when I saw those books on the shelf. (I am soooo glad she didn’t have a digital recorder with her!) Twelve books, published from 1941-1944, for a total of $32.00! Of the Dave Dawsons, those are eight titles that I did not read. My dad gave me “Dave Dawson and the Pacific Fleet.” But “Yankee Flier in Italy” was one of the books that I received. In fact, I still remember one of the characters, because he loved blueberry pie (which is also my favorite) and the book starts with:

Anyway, as you can tell, I am seriously geeked that I found those books. And for a great price! Now I am only looking for the missing Dave Dawson (noted earlier) and a book that I cannot even find referenced anywhere. It is a hard cover book, and “Don Winslow of the US Navy” is the main character. I primarily only find references to the comic books of the same name and the movies from 1942 and 1943, but a deeper look shows that Gaylord DuBois ghost wrote some novels with that character. I have no dates or title names. If anyone knows of a copy, I’d appreciate if you would let me know.

Back to food and wine.

We headed to the first winery, The Lakehouse Inn and Winery. Tammy and I each chose five different wines, and shared so that we could taste them all. None were worth buying, and to be honest, we left most samples unfinished. Oh well. (That is ten wines so far.) From there, we went down the road to the Old Firehouse Winery. Here we each chose a ten-wine sample, and most of these were very good. We bought a bottle of their Lighthouse Niagara, a semi-sweet white table wine. It was the best of the 20 we sampled. (We are now up to a total of 30 wines sampled.)

We needed food, so we went a few miles further to the Old Mill Winery, and a ten-wine sample platter. (Forty wines now.) We also ordered dinner. Tammy had a delicious burger, and I had BBQ pork ribs to die for.

(There should be a picture of the meal here, but at this point my brain
was not at peak operating level and I forgot to take one.)

I also had a locally produced Dortmunder Gold Lager from the Great Lakes Brewing Company, a crisp and hoppy German-style beer, with enough body to stand up to the ribs. (I simply needed a change from wine.) The meal was excellent, one of the best of the vacation (excluding the lobster roll in Maine, of course) and we enjoyed the meal on their open patio. It was very relaxing.

We decided to find one more winery, Laurello Vineyards. We tried two more wines, but seriously, by the time anyone tries a total of 42 wines, their taste buds are gone. However, we still thought Connie’s Blush (a semi-sweet blush table wine) was very tasty, so after buying a bottle we headed back to the B&B.

But I heard so much about the many wooden covered bridges in the area that I needed to see them for myself. The way residents talk about them, I thought they must be something special. We drove through a few. They are wooden. And covered. And are bridges. Truth in advertising. (I guess I can cross that off my bucket list.)

Back to the B&B, we relaxed on the patio, and strolled the vineyard.

The perfect place to relax.
Tomorrow, we drive home. It will be about a ten hour drive. And we are ready to go home. It has been a long time away from our sons, our dog, our bed and our pillows. And I cannot wait to cook for us. As much fun as it sounds, eating in restaurants all the time gets old. But I have new ideas for future meals!


From left to right: strawberry, nutella-strawberry, and lemon

Basic Crepe Recipe
Makes 12 crepes

6 oz milk
5 oz beer
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2 eggs (room temperature)
1 cup all purpose flour
1/8 tsp salt

1.  Put first four ingredients in a large bowl. Using an electric mixer, mix for 30 second. Scrape the sides and mix for another minute, or until thoroughly mixed and smooth.
2.  Cover bowl and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.
3.  Re-whisk the batter just before you begin frying the crepes.
4.  Preheat 10 inch non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. Spray with non-stick spray.
5.  With the skillet off the heat, pour 2 oz (1/4 cup) batter in the center of the skillet. Tip the skillet so that the entire bottom is covered.
6.  Return to heat. When the top begins to dry and the bottom is beginning to brown, flip using a wooden or rubber flipper. The edges will begin to curl away from the pan at this time.

Beginning to lift up at the lower left corner.
This is a perfectly fried first side.

7.  Fry the crepe for another 10 second. The crepe should be be very lightly brown.
8.  Remove from skillet.
9.  Add fillings, fold or wrap and serve -OR- stack with wax paper between layers for later use.

Nutritional data (per crepe, without any filling):
Calories:         64
Fat:               1.2g
Sat fat:          0.5g
Chol:           36.5mg
Sodium:       43.8mg
Carb:            9.2g
Fiber:            0.3g
Protein:         2.7g

Possible fillings are endless:
A whole banana
Nutella (or peanut butter) and banana
Nutella (or peanut butter) and strawberry
Any other fruits (fresh or canned pie filling) with whipped cream
Lemon juice and powder sugar
Greek yogurt and your favorite fruit

Bacon and eggs (with a touch of cheese)
Ham and cheese
Cream cheese and smoked salmon
Shredded chicken and salsa
Thin-shaved beef with horseradish yogurt

On to Ohio. But first …

We woke up on our last morning in Niagara. I sure will miss having Marilyn Monroe look down on me as I sleep.
Something unsettling about that print.
We left the hotel and decided we needed a good breakfast before we move on to the next winery in Niagara-on-the-Lake. Our “Food and Wine” teacher, Jane, gave us two free tasting passes to another vineyard that they own and to a wine shop. We stopped at a little family restaurant and ate a hearty breakast (three egg omelet, toast, potatoes and bacon.)
By the way, in Ontario they don’t call those potatoes “Tater Tots” but instead “Breakfast Potatoes.”
As we left the restaurant, I realized that we had left all our wines and beers in the fridge in our hotel room. So we drove back and retrieved them. (Another delay!) Eventually we arrived in downtown N.O.T.L. right in the middle of a Cherry Festival, so parking was an issue. We found the wine shop and sampled three wines from different vineyards (including one from Wayne Gretzky.) They were nice, but none really buyable. From there we stopped at a small grocery store, and picked up the makings of a picnic lunch (some feta-stuffed jalapenos in olive oil, a veggie platter, a package of dates, some cream cheese, rice crackers and some nice prosciutto) with the plan that we will eat on the road between Ontario and Ohio. Such a good plan! (Foreshadowing maybe?)
We also decided to hit some antique shops. One was small and nice, and Tammy found a piece of milkglass that she bought. But we struck the mother lode. It was at a mini-mall of sorts, allowing many antiques dealers of all sorts to display their merchandise in one location. We covered it front to back and were happy to reduce their inventory of milkglass by quite a bit.
But now it was almost 5pm. We a still had about a 2.5 hour drive so we packed everything up and headed for the border.
And waited.
In line.
With cars.
Approximately half the cars on the continent.
We started at the end of the line at 5:17pm. We cleared US Customs and Border Patrol at 6:19pm. I didn’t know that you are not allowed to bring food into the US. When the Border Patrol agent asked me if I was bringing any foods, plants or animals, I kind of stammered, “Uh, we bought a some veggies and cheese for a lunch while we drive.” But he was also talking to another agent at the same time and when he turned back to us, he handed us our passports and said, “Have a nice day, drive carefully.”
There is no risk to the food supply of the US. We “disposed” of all the picnic foods. (Tasty!)
Onward to Ohio! We called the innkeepers while en route to let them know we wouldn’t be checking in until about 8:30pm. When we arrived, the class reunion was in full swing! It’s good we arrived when we did, because one couple was trying to take our reservation.
Buccia Vineyard and B&B
We checked with the innkeepers, Fred and Joanna, and quickly settled into our spacious room (with a hot tub, sliding glass door to out private patio, and a comfortable bed.) Fred told us that as soon as we were ready, we could have a tasting of the vineyard’s wines. So, we thought, “Sure, we could taste a couple wines.”
He makes 12 wines. All good, some incredible. We enjoyed generous samples of each, along with lessons on wine growing, and why he makes the styles that he does. (Probably his best wine is one that is very unusual, Agawam, in that less than 600 acres of this grape is still grown.) We decided to take a bottle of Agawam to our room and unwind. (I was already pretty unwound by that time!)  Fred made sure that we were aware that he and Joanna live in their home next door and when the class reunion ended, they would return to their home for the night. If we need them, they have an intercom system. But if we only need more wine, we could help ourselves. He knows his inventory and we would just settle when we check out.
A comfortable room and a self-serve wine bar? Just add a Maine Lobster roll and I am set for life!
By the time we emptied that bottle, I was ready to relax in preparation for the next day. We had found a number of local wineries and antiques shops, and we were ready to take the town by storm!
(I went to bed hoping that Agawam would not cause lingering hangovers.)

Niagara Is NOT Just The Falls!

Our second full day in Niagara was a “random day.” We knew that we wanted to go beneath and behind the falls, but we also knew that would only take an hour. And we wanted to walk along the falls, but that too, would only occupy an hour. What to do with the remaining time?

Niagara Falls, Ontario, is full of high-rise hotels, souvenier shops, restaurants and bars, all designed to remove money from your pocket. I did a little searching and found a few vineyards just a short drive away. One vineyard, Peller Estates, offered two tasting classes. One was simply “Food and Wine” and the other “Chicks and Chocolates.” (I did not make up those names.) We signed up for both and drove out to Niagara-on-the-Lake, a small town about 10 kilometers away. Since we arrived an hour before the first class, we decided to check out the shop, and then sit on the patio with a cheese sampler and a glass of wine each. (The theme of the day was WINE.)

 Me with my Merlot, Tammy with her Riesling.

Canadian cheeses: Creamy Brie, Bleu, and Aged Cheddar. Tammy preferred the Brie (which would fit her wine much better) while I enjoyed the other two (again, my wine paired well with those two.)

Then it was time for our first class, “Food and Wine.” Our teacher, Jane, did a tremendous job of teaching us about how wine is made, why some wines naturally pair with certain foods, and most importantly, how to really taste the wine. To be honest, I thought I knew all that, but I was wrong. I left that class with a new appreciation for wine (and a few ideas for recipes when I get home.)

 From left to right: Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot, White Eiswein
and Cold Pea-and-Mint Soup, White Chocolate and Raspberry Cake, and Chicken Terrine.
Jane had mentioned a few non-traditional uses for Eiswein, such as pouring over good ice cream, or in a martini. Something that we might need to try!

I don’t remember these wines. The instructor focused more on the differences between the chocolates and almost ignored the wines. This class was not as much fun, nor as informative.
Almost all the wines we tasted (all those pictured here, as well as others in the estate shop) were very good. We only bought a single bottle, partly because of the cost but mostly because we knew that we were going to hit a few more wineries and vineyards in Pennsylvania and Ohio. (Little did we know at that time that we would never see a Pennsylvania vineyard on this trip!)
Returning to our hotel, we decided to walk to the “Beneath the Falls” exhibit. The entrance was located almost directly behind our hotel, but at the bottom of a steep embankment. We saw a “Incline Train” that would take us right to the entrance, but we thought we could just walk it. So we walked quite a ways that way. No way down. We backtracked a long way the other direction. Nope. Nothing. So we turned around and walked even further in the first direction, and eventually we found the path down. (Which is how we hit 10,717 steps on the Fitbit.) We walked along the river (the sight and sound of the falls is impressive) and then went under the falls.
 The American Falls
Horseshoe Falls. I wish I had recorded the sound for the blog.
Almost in reach.
We didn’t get as wet as I expected, not even as wet as a trip to Seaworld and the Shamu Show.
We left there and decided to eat at the hotel. Fortunately, we got in even without reservations. The food was good, the view excellent (26th floor, overlooking the falls.) I ordered swordfish with shrimp etouffe, fried plantain and potatoes, and steamed vegetables. And a Vice (vodka martini with eiswine.)
My meal. I didn’t take a picture of the martini,
but only because it didn’t last long enough. It was very tasty.
We made it back to our room at 9:40pm, and at 10pm we were able to look out our window and see:
It’s hard to get a good photo of fireworks from inside a room.
The fireworks were fun to watch, especially since most were bursting below the height of our room.
That ended a very enjoyable day in Canada. Our time spent in the vineyard was the high point of the day, and another example of having the most fun when doing something that was essentially unplanned. Earlier in this blog post, I gave the link to Peller Estates. Enjoy it, but don’t plan to buy anything unless you are living in the province of Ontario. They can only ship to addresses in Ontario.