Sunday, November 28, 2010

Crusted Chicken Breasts in Citrus Sauce

Today, I’m going to share another one of my own culinary creations. This recipe is a bit different in the ingredients but they really do seem to work well together.

I recently came up with the coating mix for this recipe when I found some pretzel sticks in my cupboard that I forgot I had. They weren’t fresh enough to eat on their own, but they weren’t stale either. I decided to crush them and eventually use them in a coating mix of some kind. I looked online for ideas and as usual, I came up with my own version that combined a couple of recipes.

The sauce is strictly my own concoction! Last spring, I came across Lemon Pie Filling in a bulk food store. I asked the clerk if I could try a bit before buying and she gave me a small spoonful. It was delicious! Great lemon flavour with just the right mix of tart and sweet. The best part was that it was a fraction of the price of the canned version or the powdered mix that is normally bought. The clerk told me that it can keep well in the fridge for weeks! I bought a large container and have been eating it ever since – mostly in desserts or on toast. Actually I’m almost finished my second container and recently bought a third.

Over the last several months, I’ve been playing with creating various types of sauces using the pie filling as a base. The sauce for this recipe came to me recently and luckily it turned out great on the first try!

Crusted Chicken Breasts in Citrus Sauce

• 2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (about 3-4 ounces each)
• 2 Tablespoons margarine, melted
• 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
• 1/4 teaspoon onion powder
• 1/4 teaspoon basil
• 1/4 cup finely crushed pretzels
• 2 Tablespoons finely crushed almonds
• 1/3 cup unsweetened orange juice*
• 1/3 cup lemon pie filling**
• 1 Tablespoon lemon juice
• 3 Tablespoons Kraft Mandarin Orange with sesame dressing

Preheat oven to 375F. Spray a 1 litre casserole dish with Pam and set aside.

Rinse and pat dry the chicken breasts, removing any excess fat. In a small shallow dish melt the margarine and stir in the garlic, onion and basil. In another small shallow dish combine the pretzels and almonds.

Dip the chicken breast in the margarine mixture to coat then dip in the crumb mixture, coating thoroughly. Place in the greased casserole dish and repeat with the second breast. Sprinkle the remaining crumbs on top of the coated breasts. Drizzle any remaining margarine mixture over the breast. Bake uncovered in preheated oven for about 20 to 25 minutes or until almost done.

While the chicken is baking, combine the orange juice, pie filling, lemon juice and dressing.*** When the chicken is almost done, pour over the chicken breasts and return to oven to finish cooking and until sauce is hot and bubbly.

Serve with baked potatoes, brown rice or a whole wheat pasta and a steamed green vegetable or a tossed salad.

* I’ve used 5 Alive rather than orange juice.
** The lemon pie filling can be purchased in bulk at almost any bulk food store for a fraction of the price of the canned variety and keeps in the fridge for weeks!
*** Since the pie filling is so thick, I find that it is easiest to measure the 1/3 cup orange juice into the bottom of a one cup measure then add enough of the pie filling to bring the juice up to the 2/3 cup level. I then add the lemon juice and dressing and stir carefully with a small whisk.

This recipe can easily be multiplied to serve 4, 6 or even 8 if you wish. Just be sure to increase the size of the baking dish so that all the chicken breasts lay flat in a single layer.



Sunday, November 21, 2010

Twenty Years Later...

Twenty years ago this past week I ended up in the hospital with a detached retina in my good eye. Twenty years ago today, I had surgery to reattach the retina. The doctor gave me a 50/50 chance of getting any sight back. It would be months before I’d know how successful the surgery would be.

Two years ago this month, I wrote a 3 part blog on what that experience was like. I shared how I’d come to that point, the fear, the frustration and relearning everyday tasks with my new normal. ( “18 Years” - Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 )

Actually, over the last two and a half years of this blog, I’ve shared quite a bit of what it is like for me to be legally blind.

“The Journey” was a six part story of how my loss of sight ultimately affected my weight and my emotions because I couldn’t be as active or as independent as I used to be. I had walked everywhere. Usually between 20-25 miles/week year round. Walking had been my main form of exercise but also how I used to clear my mind and work through whatever was bothering me. Sometimes it took several miles but it had always helped! For the visually impaired, walking outdoors - or almost anywhere really – requires a high level of concentration to ensure physical safety. I tried to continue my walking but I’d come home more exhausted and stressed rather than refreshed and relaxed. This may not be true for all visually impaired, but for me, I learned that unless I am walking with a sighted person who is watching out for me, it isn’t a good way to unwind or rejuvenate the spirit and psyche. As I described over the six part post, it took me years to come to terms with the loss of sight and to find new ways to exercise both my body and mind.

In “Blink Navigation” and “Is It Spring Yet?", I talked about the many challenges of getting around with limited vision. In the winter there is snow, snow banks, slippery sidewalks and icy streets. In the spring there is the thawing during the day and freezing overnight to create ice covered puddles, black ice, and perfect conditions for hydroplaning on those areas with a light coating of water over the ice. The new season of pot holes also create new mini lakes to step into and potentially take a dangerous spill. Not to mention the vehicles that don’t slow down as they drive through the mini lakes and splash nearby pedestrians. Then once most of the spring thaw is completed, there is the next season which is better known as construction. It lasts till the snow is on the ground again next fall. In “Spring", I described it as: “feeling like the hamster on the wheel navigating through winter snow and ice, then the thaws and pot holes of spring and the joys of reroutes in construction which lasts till the snow flies again in fall.”

Sometimes getting around this city is more challenging than usual. I recently found myself on two buses that were rerouted on the same day. I didn’t know about either reroute in advance so it took me at least 20 minutes longer than usual to get home that day – most of that time was trying to find the new temporary bus stop for my second bus! Finding your way around isn’t always easy, but usually there are good people around who are willing to offer a guiding arm or at least some decent verbal directions. I’ve met my share of idiots who don’t know or care what a white cane represents but most people are more than willing to help if they can.

As a visually impaired person, you have to learn to be an advocate for your rights and needs. If you don’t learn to articulate your needs, how are others supposed to know or understand what you need to function more independently?

This past September, I wrote a post about the recent changes to the Winnipeg Transit website. I had found that the “supposed” improvements made it much more difficult for me to get the information I needed. When the post went up, I had still not heard back from Transit but I heard from them shortly after. I had an email from a man at transit who wanted to speak with me in regards to my concerns and see if he could help. I asked if, in the creation of the new site, they had consulted anyone who was visually impaired, used English as a second language or was print/learning disabled. They had not. Unfortunately that did not surprise me and I told him that not consulting people such as myself was a major flaw in the system.

I asked him to come to my home and allow me to show him just how hard the site was to navigate. He did came a couple of days later and asked a lot of question as he listened very carefully to my concerns. He couldn’t promise that my suggestions would be incorporated but at least he made the effort to learn how others use the site and saw firsthand my frustrations with the navigation. He was able to help me make a couple of changes in my settings to make the site slightly easier but I still don’t like the new site even today. I’m still waiting to see if any more changes are made.

Dating can also be a challenge. A “blind date” can take on a whole new meaning! In the summer of 2009, a US network began airing a show called “Dating In The Dark”. The premise was that men and women would meet and get to know each other in a darkened room and choose whom they wanted to get to know better before actually seeing the person. It was generally to show how superficial society has become and that we should not judge someone on their appearance. The show may have had good intentions but frankly the fact that those people could take of the blindfolds or turn on a light and see the other person is something those of us with visual impairments will never be able to do. We live it 24/7 and are often judged and dismissed without a second thought. We risk rejection every time we are introduced to someone and have to rely on our instincts to know if the other person is comfortable with us and potentially interested in us as a partner. We can’t read the body language that the sighted world is so quick to show.

Being visually impaired isn’t for everybody. One thing that you really have to have to survive is a sense of humour. If you can’t learn to laugh at yourself and your inevitable blunders and missteps then you will drive yourself crazy in no time. That in and of itself is a bit tricky as we are not technically allowed to “drive” but I’m sure you knew what I meant!

I’ve been lucky in a lot of respects in that I’ve met some wonderful people along the way. People that I probably would not have met had I not lost sight. People I am both grateful and honoured to have as friends. Some came into my life just a few months before I lost sight and those I’ve met along the way. I know I wouldn’t have come through these last twenty years nearly as sane without them!

The last twenty years have not been easy by any stretch of the imagination but since when were we ever promised a smooth ride in life? I’ve also lost more sight over the past years – mostly due to my corneas which are severely damaged from my childhood surgeries. I’m not a suitable candidate for any of the new treatments. With the way technology is changing, maybe someday I will be but I’m not holding my breath. I’ve learned to do a lot of things for myself – including using a computer. I’m also getting better at asking for help in various areas of my life when I need it.

If I could go back and get to the doctor sooner and save some of my sight I would – but only if I could also keep some of the most amazing people that I’ve been lucky enough to know.

Yeah, I know life doesn’t work that way – but I can dream can’t I?


Sunday, November 14, 2010

Microwave - Part Two

Well, as I told you in my last post, it was time to replace my 16 1/2 year old microwave. It had served me well all those years, but it was time to move on to a newer model.

I did a fair amount of research to see what was now on the market. I knew prices had come down and the quality had also improved. I read Consumer Reports and various online forums and purchase feedback on a number of retail sites. I looked at several models in stores and talked to several friends and family about their current models to see what they liked and didn’t like.

Once again, I decided to go with a Panasonic. It seemed to get very positive feedback both online and from my friends. I settled on a 1.2 cubic foot 1200watt (model # NNSN668B) and watched for it to go on sale. The suggested list price for the model I chose, was $169.99Cdn. That was also the price listed at Future Shop. Best Buy sold it for $159.99. London Drugs sold it for $149.99. The price at London Drugs was good, but I had a feeling that if I held out a little longer I could get a better deal.I couldn’t wait too long though as I had to start the Christmas baking by the beginning of November at the latest and I’d need a little time to get used to a new machine before starting the chocolate making.

Luckily, I didn’t have to wait too long. In mid October, the London Drugs flyer listed the model I wanted for $129.99. I couldn’t order it online and the store doesn’t deliver. It was too bulky and heavy to carry on the bus and too expensive to take a taxi home. I would have to figure out another way to get it home.

I mentioned the dilemma to a few friends – adding that without a new microwave there wouldn’t be nearly as much baking this year. Two friends volunteered to help me get one home! Amazing what the thought of no chocolate treats can do! LOL!

The next part was a bit trickier though. The friend with the more flexible schedule lived on the other side of the city and I couldn’t ask them to drive that far just for me to save $20. I did a bit of checking and realized that Best Buy and Future Shop both had price match policies. Once the item is confirmed to be on sale at an authorized dealer and available at the competition, both will match a sale price plus 10% of the difference.

I called London Drugs to confirm availability on the day we were to go pick up the new one. Unfortunately, it was out of stock till the following day when another shipment was expected. I decided to call the competition and lay out the situation and see if I could still get the discount that day since I already had a ride lined up.

The woman I spoke with in customer service at Best Buy confirmed that the item had to be in stock at the other store to get the discount. I explained my circumstances – that I was legally blind, couldn’t drive but did have a ride available that evening. Could they please make an exception? The woman asked when I would be coming, then told me to come to customer service when I arrived and ask for her. She gave me her name and said she would personally see that I got the discount!

We arrived at the store at 6:30 that evening and the woman was true to her word! She personally took us to the microwaves. I also wanted to get a power bar so she went and got a guy from the electronics section to come over and help me pick out a new power surge bar! She then carried the new microwave to the cashier for us and explained that I was to get the price match. After I had paid, the girl at the cashier carried the box to the door for us. My friend went to get the car and when she pulled up front, yet another staff member carried the box out and put it in the car for us.

Best Buy and other electronics stores often get a rough ride for being large and impersonal but the staff at this location could not have been nicer to me. They were under no obligation to give me the discount given that the product was temporarily out of stock but they recognized that this was a unique situation and stepped up.

My friend and I got the microwave home and set up in no time. We tried boiling some water to make tea then defrosted some frozen cookies to celebrate! We also took the old microwave down to the dumpster before she left!

I’ve had about three weeks to get used to it now and I must say that I am really impressed! This one is slightly larger and stronger than my old one so I do have to adjust some of my old times, but I am really enjoying this new microwave and its features.

One of the features that made me choose this model is actually tactile. The top row is all raised buttons. Below that, each horizontal row is divided by a slightly wavy line. Visually, it gives the impression that the center column is raised, yet it isn’t. It is the horizontal bar that is raised. The fact that the line is waved and raised actually makes it much easier for someone who is visually impaired to find the appropriate buttons by feel.

The Christmas baking and chocolate making is well under way!


Sunday, November 7, 2010

Microwave - Part One

Microwaves, have been around for decades. For a long time, I never really wanted to get one, but did see the benefit of them for convenience. Several of my friends had them and raved about the ease of use and how much they liked having one. I tried using them, but just never really felt that I “needed” one.

After losing so much of my sight in late 1990, I finally began to think about getting one. In some respects, it would be safer for me to use a microwave rather than cooking on top of the stove – especially for heating up leftovers. I could also use it to steam individual servings of vegetables, cook rice and other things. Not to mention the fact that when it came to my Christmas baking, it would be a whole lot easier to melt my chocolate in a microwave than in the top of a double boiler. Granted, I’d still have to do the dipping chocolate on the stove as it has to stay a consistent temperature while being used.

I studied some consumer reports, asked friends and family for recommendations and shopped around for a model that would suit my needs. I finally got my first microwave in the spring of 1994. It was a Panasonic. I don’t recall exactly what I paid for it but I think it was somewhere around $250. I had the CNIB come in and make a template so that I could easily feel where the buttons were on the flat panel.

Over the years, I used it a LOT. Much more than I imagined I would. I never tried cooking meats in it as I preferred the browning effect on the stove or in the oven. I rarely made popcorn, but I still managed to use it at least once a day. I warmed my breakfast muffin. I’d boil water, cook rice, steam vegetables, reheat leftovers and other uses.

Sometimes I used the defrost but generally I was more apt to just reheat or steam something. I tried drying spices a couple of times, but never really liked the result. The spices always seemed to lose more of their colour and more importantly their flavour that way rather than drying between paper towels on the counter for a couple of days. I never really liked roasting almonds or other nuts in the microwave either. They just didn’t seem to get that same rich nuttiness that they did roasting in a low temp oven.

There are countless stories of microwave disasters. A friend recently had a spaghetti squash explode in her microwave, despite punching countless holes in it first. Friends have also had eggs or potatoes explode.

I never really had a big disaster – although there was one mess that I recall having to clean up. I tried doing one of those upside down pudding cake mixes in it once. I followed the directions explicitly but the thing still overflowed and made one heck of a mess! I called the company to complain and they sent me about $5 in coupons for more of their products. I baked the cakes in the oven after that.

I only did potatoes in it when I was in a hurry. If I had the time, I much prefer the crunchier skin of the potato that is baked in an oven. Although I did learn a great trick from an aunt when you are a bit pressed for time. Wash and dry the potato then poke with several holes with a fork. Place on a paper towel and cook on high for about 2 1/2 minutes for an average sized spud. Turn it over half way through. When the oven stops, carefully transfer the hot potato to a preheated 375 oven to finish baking for about another 25-30 minutes – turning again after 15 minutes. The ‘tater is done in half the time and still has that nice crunchy crust!

One of the times that I appreciate my microwave the most is when I’m doing my marathon Christmas baking. Melting the chocolate and various other concoctions for the treats that I make is just so much simpler. I know I wouldn’t be doing nearly as much every year without it!

In the last couple of years, I started to notice that it wasn’t cooking quite as well as it used to. The interior light had long since burnt out but that was minor. Muffins were taking a bit longer to warm. Leftovers were taking longer. Everything seemed to take a little longer. I’d have to replace it eventually.

Then, one day in mid September it happened. I was reheating some leftovers for supper. I’d set the reheat button and start. It should have taken 3 minutes. The machine just stopped after about 90 seconds. No beeps and nothing on the display panel,

Uh-oh! I checked the power bar and it had flipped off. Everything else in the apartment was still functioning and none of the lights had flickered so there wasn’t a surge or power outage. I flipped the power and started the microwave again. It stopped again after about a minute. My supper was hot enough to eat but my microwave was on it’s last legs.

Over the next few weeks, I was only able to use the microwave for things that took less than 30 seconds or so. Anything more than that and the power bar would flip off. I had to relearn to reheat on top of the stove. The first time I tried steaming broccoli on top of the stove again – it was mush. I ate it but I prefer it tender crisp!

I also realized that I needed a new power bar as it would also flip while using my Foreman Grill. I tried another power bar and the grill worked fine, but the microwave still kept shutting off. I was not a happy camper!

Despite having just spent money on a new freezer a few weeks earlier, it was now time to shell out for a new microwave too. Great.

Next: Getting a new microwave.