I love to cook. I make up things, experiment, and collect recipies from everywhere.  I also love to give gifts, often for no reason at all.

So, when Brian had to pull double duty yesterday taking care of our son Jamie and nursing me through a bad arthritis day that had me stuck in my hospital bed all day, I sure was in the mood to reward him for all the hard work. On top of that, he has been working hard on his health, eating right and swimming just about everyday and has lost just over 20 pounds, and deserved to get a night off from dieting.

Of course, we haven’t done the monthly food shopping yet, so the carnivore choices for dinner consisted of mostly the boneless chicken breasts that are the nutritionist approved staple of his diet. However, sometimes the food pantries send odd things that get stuffed in the back of the freezer. Sure enough, hidden back there was a pork roast that since the boy doesn’t eat pork it hadn’t made sense to take the effort to cook it.

Soon, I had sliced it into pork chops just a bit thinner than what the butcher does, and had trimmed off almost all the fat. I had about 2 cups of crushed corn flakes left, so I added:
one Good Seasonings Italian packet,
about 1/4 cup of dollar store italian seasoning,
and another 1/4 of dollar store minced dehydrated onion.

We only use Eggbeaters, so dipping the chops in that doesn’t add any cholesterol at all. Then a rol or a shake in the corn flake mixture and voila! As good as the box shake and bake with much less sodium. I gave a plain soy chicken culet the same treatment for little vegetarian self, of course.

I used an old foil pie pan with a bunch of holes punched with a bamboo skewer, sprayed with cooking spray that was set into a regular pie pan so it was suspended with an air space under the foil. I cook shake and bake this way because it makes the juices and fat drip down and the bottom gets just as crispy as the top.

One of the aides had taken yesterday’s and today’s fresh picked veggies and chopped them up along with some sweet valencia onion. We had all of 5 small potatoes left from the crop that was was mostly drowned this year by global warming rain. Not much of any of it, but mixed together and cooked in veggie broth until the liquid was mostly gone gave us each a small serving.

Some pantry bread slathered in my mix of 3/4 margerine, 1/4 butter, fresh pressed garlic and just a little italian seasoning popped in the oven with the chops, and it was time for Brian’s reward, which of course was going to be shared with me and Booker the chihuahua!

Somewhere back in 2000 or 2001, not being able to get to a store for cool whip, I had found a recipie online to make it using liquid non-dairy creamer, powdered creamer, and sugar. It had become one of my favorite recipies. One day, probably 5 years ago, I was trying to create it from my MS addled memory and I screwed it up beautifully. Instead of cool whip I had something just a little in between a very thick cream and Fluff. It makes an even more decadent treat when I use a flavored creamer.

Starting with the ordinary canned pear halves we get from the food pantry, I mixed together:
Some oatmeal,
A little flour,
A bit of Jiffy baking mix,
A tablespoon of eggbeaters
A touch of sugar

together with just enough


pear syrup from the can to make a dough.

This got scooped in little balls into the hollows of the pears. I cooked down the remaining syrup just a little to thicken it mostly because my vertigo was bad enough I didn’t dare go top shelf hunting for tapioca flour.

This syrup I poured over the pears arranged in a glass baking dish with a bit of cooking spray on the bottom. Into the oven at 350 degrees, and less than a half hour later they already looked and smelled delicious.

While they were cooking, I whipped about a 1/2 cup french vanilla non dairy liquid creamer with plain powdered creamer until I had the desired consistancy. I added two drops of vanilla extract, but honestly could have managed without it if my powdered creamer had been the flavored kind. Whipped again, it was all set to be drizzled liberally over the hot pears, followed by a less liberal drizzle of melted caramel.

The end result was a feast topped off with a reward that had both my boys grinning ear to ear, snuggling on the loveseat with me all evening long.

Special moments, rewards, date night…it doesn’t matter what you call it. They are part of the glue that holds relationships together. It doesn’t matter if it is you and a partner, you and your children, or just you and a loveable 9 pound chihuahua. And, despite what Kay Jewlers, the Olive Garden, Disney, and Pet Smart would like to have you believe, they don’t have to be expensive.

Also, despite the rhetoric that comes from those Tea Party types who carry a cross, wrap themselves in a flag, and slash funding for food stamps and pantries, it is not just the right of the wealthy to have those bonding moments, those special occaisions that become memories carrying us through the tough days of our lives.

So, the next food stamp day, ignore the nasty looks you get when you add that jar of caramel ice cream topping to your cart. When your local elected idiot tries to pass a bill to convert food stamps into vouchers where the government tells you what you may or may not eat, speak up. Life at low income is hard – harder than most people “up there” could ever understand. If anything, our relationships need more nurturing, to better help us with the storms of life we have to face out in the combat zone.

Let the gas guzzling, SUV driving, manicured lawn neighborhood dwelling upper middle class have those overpriced, overhyped meals from TGI Fridays. Let the rich treat a dinner bill at Olive Garden like a great way to recycle spare change.  However, allow us poor the same right to the pursuit of happiness, to our cozy carefully made home cooked meals eaten over dollar store candles on china from thrift shops. In the end, those others get points on a credit card, a take home baggie destined to be forgotten in the fridge, and little else.

We, with our depression era ways, bustling around our little kitchens, holding the freezer door closed with duct tape, and using the hot oven to warm up the room, we have the better part. We talk with no piped in music, no noisy bar 15 feet to the left, no frequent visits from a waitstaff to check if we are done yet. Our dinner can launch a thousand conversations or an equal number of kisses. Even if they are from someone wagging his tail with perked ears, it is good stuff.