Thursday, July 28, 2011

Grams Made Slow Cooked Moroccan Chicken

Grandad has been on the South Beach Diet for just over two weeks now. I'm not complaining. I've lost eight pounds. It's a great eating plan and, mostly, I don't mind it. But the first two weeks are very restrictive when it comes to carbohydrates. That means for the past couple of weeks I haven't been cooking any of my usual rice, orzo, ziti, capellini, sweet potatoes, or potatoes of any kind, etc. You get the idea.

Taking those items completely out of my cooking severely limits my meal planning. As of today, he is officially through the two-week induction period of the diet so now I can slowly begin adding a limited amount of healthy carbohydrates back to our meals.

One of the emails I subscribe to is a Healthy Recipes publication from Better Homes and Gardens. As luck would have it, yesterday's edition had a recipe for Slow-Cooked Moroccan Chicken. It looked really good to me and pretty healthy. I will admit that it was a little unconventional. Yes, it has carrots and chicken cooked with dried plums prunes. I was afraid that Grandad would balk, but he said he was game to try it. I put it in the crock pot about mid morning and it cooked for 10 hours on low. It smelled wonderful all day long. I served it over brown rice with a side of sauteed yellow squash and onions. It was as good as it smelled.

The original recipe called for eight bone-in chicken thighs. I substituted four boneless, skinless chicken breasts because Grandad doesn't eat dark meat.

Slow Cooked Moroccan Chicken
Adapted from Better Homes & Gardens

1 medium onion, coarsely chopped (½ cup)
8 oz. baby carrots with tops, trimmed, or baby carrots, halved lengthwise if large
½ cup pitted dried plums (prunes)
1 14-oz. can reduced-sodium chicken broth
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1¼ teaspoons curry powder
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

In a 4- to 5-quart slow cooker combine onion and carrots. Add plums and broth. Top with chicken. In a small bowl combine curry powder, salt, and cinnamon. Sprinkle over chicken.

Cover and cook on low-heat setting for 8 to 10 hours or on high-heat setting for 4 to 5 hours. Remove chicken, fruit, and vegetables from cooker with a slotted spoon. Spoon some of the cooking juices on each serving. Makes 4 servings.

Be brave ... try this recipe. You won't regret it. It's delicious!

Monday, July 25, 2011

Corpus Christi, Go See The Producers!

Grandad and Grams spent Saturday evening at the Aurora Arts Theater. Their current production is The Producers ... and it's great!

I'll confess right up front that I am a huge fan of live theater ... particularly of musical theater. I also embrace local theater. I think there are a lot of talented people who work for a living and I love seeing them shine in local theater.

We've been to several shows at the Aurora over the past couple of years. It's an intimate, 100-seat theater. Some shows have been better than others. But we've enjoyed every one of them. It's great entertainment for a really good price.

The Producers features an exceptionally strong cast. Right from the beginning when The Usherettes open the first act with a strong performance of "It's Opening Night" to the end when the entire cast closes with  "Goodbye," this show is funny and entertaining.

Standouts for me were Michael Mora, whose performance as Max Bialystock is spot on, and Peter Lopez, who is riotously funny as Roger De Bris. Both deliver strong performances, sing beautifully, and have impeccable comic timing.

Holly Crowley is beaming as Ulla. Her smile and her voice absolutely light up the stage. Travis Jordan as Leopold Blum is believably young and naive. And Jordan Bruster is hilarious in the role of Carmen Ghia. Ian Schoolcraft's performance as Franz Liebkind was funny. He brings a larger than life personality to the role that actually makes a Nazi charming. And the "little old lady chorus" cracked me up with their precision walker routine.

I would be remiss if I didn't mention Charlie Chapa, who is making his stage debut at the Aurora. Charlie, who is very convincing in the role of Mr. Marks, has stepped into a leadership role to keep the Aurora Theater up and running after the sudden death earlier this year of his brother, Eddie Chapa.

The entire cast of The Producers is delightful and their performances are strong. Kudos to Director Patrick Crowley, and to Choreographer Carolyn Atwood, who did an exceptional job of staging this "big" musical production in the Aurora's small space. The Aurora sets and scene changes always fascinate me. You've got to see it to believe it. They do a lot with a little.

The Producers runs weekends until September 4; Friday and Saturday nights at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday matinee at 2:30 p.m. Tickets are $14 with reduced prices for seniors, students and military. You definitely should go see The Producers. As I said earlier, we've seen several productions at this theater. With each production, this local theater group is getting better and better.

If you are one of those people who says "there's nothing to do in Corpus Christi," I have a message for you. There is a lot to do in Corpus Christi! Stop complaining and get out and DO SOMETHING! If you don't know what to do check out Joe Hilliard's web site 40 Things To Do in Corpus Christi.

Photos are from a flash mob performance at La Palmera. You can catch the flash mob performance on YouTube.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Space Age Has Been the Time of My Life

When Grams was born in 1954 the space age was in it's infancy. I grew up with America's space program. I was seven years old when President Kennedy challenged America to put a man on the moon within the decade. I remember when Alan Shepherd became the first American in space and when John Glenn became the first American to actually orbit the earth.

The names Gemini, Mercury, and Apollo were synonymous with exploration, adventure, excitement, and the advancement of America. And while we soared with accomplishment there were hardships and sacrifices along the way.

I was amazed when Edward White of Gemini 4 walked in space. That was 1965 and I was 11 years old.

I remember coming home from school in 1967 to learn that Gus Grissom, Edward White, and Roger Chaffee had died in a fire on the launchpad while rehearsing the launch of Apollo 1. I was 12 years old.

It was Christmas in 1968 when Apollo 8 became the first flight to actually break free of the earth's orbit. They sent beautiful pictures of planet earth along with Christmas greetings on the mission that orbited the moon for the first time. I was 14 that Christmas and was especially moved to hear the crew read the beginning of the book of Genesis from space. Go here to see and hear it yourself.

Just a year later, I sat on the living room floor with family and friends and watched a live television broadcast from the moon as President Kennedy's challenge was met. There were easily a dozen people crowded around that 19" television. We watched silently with anticipation and pride. We cheered when Neil Armstrong took that monumental first step. We heard him speak the words that still ring through history "That's one small step for man; one giant leap for mankind." That was July 20, 1969 and I was 15 years old. I distinctly remember walking outside that night and looking at the moon as it hung in the night sky. It has never seemed the same to me since Neil Armstrong took those steps.

For my generation, every single launch was an event worthy of celebration and national pride. There were only three television networks back then, but all three of them preempted programming for every launch and splashdown.

In 1970, the entire nation held it's collective breath when Apollo 13 was almost lost. The mission had to be aborted when the module was damaged by an explosion. Jack Swigert reported "Houston, we've had a problem." From April 14, when the problem was reported, until April 17, when the module splashed down, we watched and listened with morbid fascination, wondering if there was going to be yet another tragedy. Their safe return was a huge accomplishment and the nation was relieved. The crew of Apollo 13 received the Presidential Medal for Freedom from President Nixon in 1970.

The idea of space exploration has never lost it's mystique for me. If there was a television nearby, I watched every launch, splashdown, and landing. We got a close up view of the Space Shuttle Enterprise at the Louisiana World Exposition in 1984. As of September 2010, only 518 people had flown in space. I actually got to meet and talk with one of them. I met Astronaut (and now NASA Administrator) Charles Bolden when he came to Corpus Christi to speak at a United Way luncheon.

When researching for this post, I realized that the first space shuttle flight took place six months before my son was born. He'll be thirty years old in November. For him, spacecraft have always landed like airplanes. He never saw astronauts emerge from a module that was floating in the ocean and then be lifted out to the deck of a U.S. Navy ship.

In 1983, I was 29 years old, when the space program reached two big milestones.  In June of that year, Sally Ride became the first American woman in space. And in August of the same year, Guion Bluford became the first African-American in space. The flight of Sally Ride really struck home with me. She proved without question that women really could do anything men could do. The sky was NOT the limit! When these two joined the elite ranks of people who had been to space, in my opinion, the civil rights movement had succeeded and truly anything became possible.

I was watching when the Space Shuttle Challenger disintegrated on liftoff. I saw the unusual smoke pattern or vapor trail and thought it was odd. But I didn't understand right away what I had seen. As the news coverage continued and it became clear what had happened, I was heartbroken. I knew my children were watching in school that day in anticipation of a lesson from space by teacher Christa McAuliffe. I knew I would have to explain this tragedy in words that my third grade daughter could understand. The year was 1986 and I was 33 years old.

I had just turned on the television on the morning of February 1, 2003 when I heard that Mission Control had not been able to re-establish communication with the Space Shuttle Columbia after their re-entry into the earth's atmosphere. Then I heard that the vehicle had broken up and the entire crew was lost. I was packing for our first cruise that morning. I was 49 years old. Later that week, we sailed from Galveston. In traveling to the ship, we drove right past the main entrance to NASA and witnessed the huge gathering of media there for a memorial service.

I've been wowed by photos taken by the Hubble Telescope. I've been amazed at the length of time individuals have remained aboard the International Space Station. By the way, the record for longest continuous stay in space is held by Russian Cosmonaut Valeri Polyakov who spent 437 days, 17 hours and 58 minutes in orbit from January 8, 1994 till March 22, 1995.

Many items that we take for granted are by-products of the space program. Such everyday items as hand-held vacuums, smoke detectors, foam insulation, cordless power tools, water filters, and light emitting diodes (LED) are all items developed by or for the space program. Products like Tang and Velcro, which have long been associated with the space program, were not actually developed for the space program but were used by it.

Scratch resistant lenses are possible because NASA needed the technology for helmet visors. Memory foam and temper foam were developed to ease the impact of re-entry. Infrared ear thermometers that take baby's temperature in the ear are possible because of NASA's need to measure heat in space. Athletic shoes use NASA technology to put that spring in the insoles and provide shock absorption. Modern telecommunication is the direct result of NASA and their satellites. Smoke and gas detectors were developed for Skylab. NASA was the first to experiment with safety grooving of concrete to remove water from landing surfaces making it safer. We use it on highways for the same water removal.

The need for small computers was driven by the space program. That led to the development of micro-chips and laptops. Prior to that, computers took up entire rooms.

Many advancements in medical technology have resulted from the space program. CAT scanners and MRI technology are both results of technology that was developed for lunar imaging. Invisible braces are a by-product of NASA's ceramics research.
Mammograms are more precise and breast imaging is safer as a result of NASA video imaging. Solar cells (used on spacecraft) have been coupled with X-ray imaging to reduce radiation exposure for patients.

Robotic microsurgery and laparoscopic surgery resulted from micro-technology originally developed for the space program. Cardiac devices, telemetry, angioplasty, the use of catheters and lasers in heart surgery have all been improved and enhanced by space program technology.

So when I woke up this morning and tuned my television to The Today Show, I saw video of the Space Shuttle Atlantis landing for the last time at the Kennedy Space Center. I am 57 years old. Not only did I grow up with America's space program, I've grown old with it. The end of the American manned space program is sad. What will drive the development of important technology? What will fuel our need to explore and expand? I can't help but feel melancholy. The Space Age has truly been the time of my life.

Lunar and Planetary Institute
Hubble Site

All photos from NASA web site.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Grams Made Black Olive Hummus

Grams has been taking care of Her Highness since Thursday while her family went camping. She has been the best baby! She wakes up happy and smiling every morning. She laughs and plays most of the day. She rarely cries. The only exception to that no crying has been bath-time. I have only bathed her every other day. I tried the bathtub, the kitchen sink, and the bathroom sink. She screamed every time! I'm talking about blood-curdling, murderous-sounding screams.

My next-door neighbor brought her the cute little dress that she's wearing in this picture. Sorry about the quality of the photo. I took it with my cell phone and no flash. I can get a better picture quality if I use the flash, but when it flashes, she bugs her eyes out and it looks pretty funny.

Meantime, Grandad has been dieting. He was not happy with his weight when they weighed him at the doctor's office last week so he's put himself on South Beach Diet. When he came home tonight he brought the ingredients for hummus which will be his afternoon snack, along with celery.  It's super simple to make and delicious, so I thought I would share the recipe with you. Most hummus is made with tahini (sesame paste) which is challenging to find and a little bit pricey. This one uses a little extra olive oil in place of the tahini. My recipes uses twice the amount of chickpeas called for in most recipes. I actually like it better without the tahini.

Black Olive Hummus

½ cup pitted Kalamata olives packed in Cabernet
2 (15-ounce) cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon black pepper
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
Zest of one lemon
3 tablespoons olive oil

Drain olives and reserve Cabernet.

Place all ingredients except oil and Cabernet in food processor and pulse until a paste forms.

Turn food processor on and drizzle in olive slowly to achieve desired texture. Add a couple of teaspoons of the reserved Cabernet if it needs further thinning.

Store in refrigerator.

NOTE: If you can't find Kalamata olives packed in Cabernet, just use any Kalamata olives and drizzle in some water instead of Cabernet if you need to thin the hummus.

This is really good served with pita chips, but for a lower carbohydrate treat, serve with celery or carrots.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

News from the Medical Front

Grams and Grandad spent most of the last week in Houston. It was time for Grandad's six-month follow-up visit with his electro-physiologist and Nick was also having some medical tests. Grams was along for cooking and driving.

In the six months since his last cardiac ablation, Grandad wore a cardiac monitor which sent data about his heart rate and rhythm to the cardiologist. The doctor reported that, during that 30-day period, there was not one instance of atrial fibrillation (A-fib). There were a few times when his heart had irregular rhythm in the lower chamber, but not significant and not related to the A-fib.

That's excellent news ... but ... it does not explain Grandad's continuing issues with shortness of breath and tightness in his chest. These have been happening with increasing frequency for the past month or so. They are severe enough to limit physical activity. When they happen, he has to stop what he's doing and sit down or lay down.

After some in-depth discussion, Dr. Rahsek agreed that those may be side effects of Multaq, the medication that regulates the heart rhythm. He instructed Grandad to stop the Multaq at once and see if the symptoms go away after a week to 10 days. Then, Grandad will once again wear a 30-day heart monitor to insure that his A-fib does not return. If it doesn't, he will be released by Dr. Rahsek.

He also instructed Grandad to go back to his local cardiologist and request a new stress test. The last stress test he had was five years ago, before his initial heart surgery. The symptoms he's experiencing could be yet another different problem with his heart or it could just be side effects from the Multaq. Time will tell.

As for Nick's medical issues, he has been complaining for some time now that when he swallows he feels "something in his throat." The results of the tests he had on Friday were good. He has GIRD (gastro intestinal reflux disorder) that has caused some minor damage to his esophagus and larynx. Those problems will go away with treatment of the reflux. That part should be fine with continued treatment. During the testing to identify that problem, they discovered a growth on Nick's thyroid which will need to be biopsied. After preliminary examination by an endocrinologist, the doctor is "concerned" and has scheduled a biopsy for next week. Marie is home for the next few weeks, so I won't have to go back to Houston for these tests.

On the bright side, I'm enjoying a 5-6 day visit from Her Highness. Her family will be camping for the next few days, so we picked her up yesterday evening and will have her until Monday or Tuesday. She slept from 11 p.m. last night until after 10 a.m. and she's napping again now. It's my Grams super power ... I'm able to make babies sleep. It's a gift.

Luckily, I'm a "glass half full" kind of girl when it comes to medical issues. I choose to think everything will eventually be okay for both of the men in my life. I just can't look at it any other way.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

July 4th

Grams and Grandad had a quiet 4th of July. I'm living on memories of our fantastic trip to Boston last July. In fact, my cousin Rita and her family are there this week. I've been living vicariously through her Facebook posts. I often think about going back to Boston, but there are so many other places to go that I don't know if we will or not. We've never been to the West Coast, so maybe next summer calls for that. Time will tell.

We live in a suburb of Corpus Christi. Between Calallen, where we live, and downtown Corpus Christi is an industrial area of the Port of Corpus Christi. We drive right past several oil and gas refineries and all the supporting industries. We can see the ships in the turning basin and the ship channel off to the North. It's so normal to us that we don't even notice them most of the time. But since September 11th, all of the crane companies do a little something special along the highway on all the patriotic holidays. Yesterday evening on the drive in to see the fireworks I snapped a few photos that I want to share with you. They were taken at dusk from my car which Grandad was driving down the interstate at 70 mph, so they're not great photos, but I think you'll get the idea. The flags look kind of normal sized in the photos, but in reality they are enormous. It's a very moving site.

Because of the extreme drought, many places in Texas had to cancel their annual 4th of July fireworks shows. In Corpus Christi our shows are held over the Corpus Christi Bay, so there is very little danger of fire. There is always a nice ocean breeze so even when the weather is hot, it's comfortable outdoors in the evening. Plus, the seawall is actually a series of steps down to the water, which makes it a perfect place to gather and watch the fireworks. The fireworks are shot off of the deck of the USS Lexington Museum on the Bay and they're sponsored by H-E-B Grocery Company. I shot the fireworks photos with my new cell phone which is an HTC Evo Shift. It takes pretty good pictures and it shoots significantly faster than my Canon Power Shot. It wasn't the Boston Pops with fireworks, but it was enjoyable. I think it's pretty cool that you can see the ship in the pictures when the fireworks light up the night.

Here's my favorite photo from the 4th of July. It was taken at Randolph Air Force Base in San Antonio. Their fireworks were cancelled due to the risk of fire, but the family festival went on as planned. Katy reported that there was almost no one there. More fun for Our Little Princess.

However you chose to celebrate (or not), I hope you had a great 4th of July.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Let Freedom Ring

Grams and Grandad are celebrating at home this Independence Day. Last year we spent the week leading up to July 4th in Boston. It ranks among my favorite vacations ever. On July 4th, we spent the entire day in the park waiting to see and hear the Boston Pops and the fireworks over the river. It was fabulous!
Faces in the crowd from Boston 2010
This year we're having a small shrimp boil at home. Then we're heading down to the Corpus Christi Bayfront for the fireworks. Corpus Christi is one of the few areas in Texas where the fireworks show has not been cancelled due to the drought. It's not that we're not in the drought area, but our fireworks are shot from the deck of the USS Lexington Museum on the Bay over Corpus Christi Bay. Therefore the danger of fire is minimal.

As the sun goes down tonight, we'll be sitting somewhere along the seawall enjoying the sea breeze and waiting for the fireworks which start at 9:30.

Corpus Christi Seawall
It may not quite measure up to the Boston Pops and the Fireworks Spectacular, but it should be an enjoyable evening.

While you're celebrating today, don't forget that freedom is not free. Here in Corpus Christi this afternoon, the Patriot Guard is standing along the street leading to the Corpus Christi Airport. They are there to welcome home the body of Marine Cpl. Mark Goyet of Sinton, Texas. Cpl. Goyet and his family made the ultimate sacrifice for our country.  I think it's suitable to welcome him home on this day.

Photo by Jim Reaves
I saw the Patriot Guard a few months ago when they provided an honor guard for another fallen marine from a neighboring community. It's a very moving site to see.

However you celebrate Independence Day, I hope it's spectacular!

Saturday, July 2, 2011

The Grams Effect

Last week while traveling to North Carolina, Grams and Grandad flew in and out of the San Antonio airport. One of the big disadvantages of living in Corpus Christi is that, almost everywhere you fly to and from requires an extra "hop" to get to Corpus Christi. Since we were flying on Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards, we opted to drive to San Antonio. It saved us a couple of hundred dollars. That's the down side. The up side is that Our Little Princess and Her Highness live in San Antonio, so we get to see them both coming and going.  BONUS!

Our return flight didn't get to San Antonio until 11:30 p.m. so we spent the night at their house. Katy then asked if we could hang around the next day and watch the girls while Travis repaired their washing machine. Hmm ... let me think ... spend the day playing with my Grands. I think I can work that into my schedule.

I spent the morning happily holding babies, reading books, and playing games. It was glorious. Katy had a break in her appointments so she came home at lunch. We all went to a nearby restaurant for lunch. Then Katy had to go back to work and we went back to the house. That's where the plan went wrong. Our Little Princess saw her mommy driving away and went into meltdown mode in the front yard. I coaxed and prodded her for a few minutes. But, since it was somewhere around 100 degrees, my patience didn't last long so I manhandled her into the house, locked the front door, and let her continue with her crying and rolling around on the floor. I just left her in the front room and went about my business. Let me just say that she is a champion. She went on and on for quite a long time. Every time I would go back to check on her, she would start over again. After while it got quiet, so I tiptoed in and this is what I found. She had cried herself to sleep wanting her mommy. I decided that it would be best just to let her sleep right there.

Meanwhile, Her Highness started crying in the adjoining room. I picked her up and tried to calm her down. After a while I gave her a bottle and burped her and this is what came next.

This little one loves to be cuddled. Every time I hold her close and cuddle up with her, she goes right to sleep.

Katy says I have a magic touch with putting them to sleep. I just call it the Grams effect. It wasn't feeling so magic that day. But we left both the babies sleeping and headed home. We love to travel, but it's always good to be home.