Marinara, Pizza Sauce, Gravy.

Here’s a savory sauce that I make once in a while. I can make as much or as little as I want. This takes as little as a half hour to make but needs continuous attention on the stove top so it doesn’t scorch. The longer you cook it the sweeter it gets. My mom used to cook it on the stove top for up to six hours. I still have her recipe and others in my files. Another one that I have is from Madonna’s step-mother Joan who has some nice marinara that I enjoyed with her a couple of years ago up at Ciccone’s near Traverse City during an LPVA wine touring weekend but that’s another story.
Start to finish in 30 minutes. Pizza bread made on stove top from diced tomatoes and bread.
Time lapse, five photos. 30 Minutes to make tomato sauce and toast with cheese melted on top.

The smallest amount that I make is with one can of diced tomatoes and a small can of tomato paste. This makes about two cups of sauce and the leftovers (if you have any) can also be refrigerated for up to a week or frozen in a ziplock bag if you want to reheat it later in a sauce pan or add to a new batch.

Modify your marinara / pizza sauce / gravy to taste with different amounts of garlic and onion after you try it this way.  Sometimes I add cooked, drained ground beef or Italian sausage, homemade Italian sausage and ground beef meatballs that I bake myself, or sliced and cooked Italian sausage links.
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Recipe for the sauce (The smallest amount that I make:)
Two Tablespoons of Olive oil.
One 12 oz can of diced tomatoes. I will use three freshly chopped tomatoes if I have them.
One 6 oz can of tomato paste.
A tablespoon of dried Italian herbs. Fresh, finely minced basil will enhance this if you have it.
Salt and a bit of black or white pepper to taste. Take it easy on the salt and pepper.
One or two bay leaves (do NOT eat the bay leaves though or you’ll slice your throat and insides.)
Cook on LOW, stirring about every ten minutes. Stick around the kitchen and pay attention or you’re going to be sticking around a lot longer trying to get scorched sauce out of your pan. I also recommend a spatter screen on top or you’re going to have a lot of red spots on your stove top and clothes or face. I use a stainless steel stick blender by Cuisinart to liquefy the sauce to hasten the cooking process.
If you cook this for a long time, have a cup of water handy and a bit more olive oil because it will thicken and keep cooking down add a little of each as necessary so it doesn’t thicken too much. If it goes brown, you went too long.
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Garlic butter for toast: Place a half stick of butter in a ceramic or glass dish on your stove top with a bit of garlic powder in it when you start cooking and it will be melted by the time you need it on the griddle. You can apply it with a basting brush or just pour some on the griddle and place the bread in the hot butter.

Bread / pasta options: I use French bread, sliced Jimmy John’s Day old, or other medium sized bread sliced to make toast. I and my family have also used small flour tortillas toasted slightly with olive oil or garlic butter (a teaspoon of garlic powder mixed with a half stick of butter) on a griddle or 9 inch saute pan. Makes for some super thin crust pizza.

For pasta, get a 4-5 quart pot or pan of boiling water and add your pasta and cook about 8-10 minutes and strain and rinse in your sink with cold water to stop the cooking process and you won’t have sticky pasta. You don’t have to cool it completely, just stop it from cooking by getting the boiling water off of it.
Topping options:

Finely shredded Mozzarella cheese, mushrooms, onions, small diced tomatoes, pepperoni, etc.

DEJ_6345lrCookware: I can’t emphasize enough that you have to use low heat / flame for both making your sauce and toast.

8 – 10 inch skillet or sauce pan. Cast iron or stainless steel. I do not use or recommend non-stick pans. Teflon is not a healthy option in my opinion.
8-10 inch griddle or comal, or a two burner griddle for toast.
Stainless steel stick blender for using in hot liquids.
Bamboo, wood, or stainless steel utensils. I have used silicone spatulas and tongs. The spatulas work well for scraping the sides of the sauce pans.
Keeping this from scorching in cast iron or stainless steel is worth the effort. I have done my sauce on stove top with a 9 inch cast iron skillet with great results. I have cooked the ground beef and minced onions in cast iron, drained on a paper towel and let it set for a half hour while I began the sauce and added it right back into the pan after the tomatoes were cooked down.
I use a cast iron griddle on low flame for making the toast also. Using a clear glass lid to place over the bread will help to melt any cheese topping by bringing the steam on top. Again, this is where you need to pay attention to what you are doing so STBTO (Shut the boob-tube off) and enjoy some music. After toasting your bread in a drizzle of olive oil and / or garlic butter, top it with your sauce with a spoon or small ladle, shut off your flame under your griddle, add toppings and cover for five more minutes while getting your serving dish or plates ready.
Recap abbreviated directions with more notes, tips:
On low heat, place diced tomatoes and tomato paste in pan with spices and olive oil and stir frequently for 30 minutes. If your bread isn’t sliced or cheese isn’t shredded, this will give you something to do while the tomatoes cook down. if you have a large griddle (two burner) you can make almost all of your toast at once. The smaller the griddle, the more work you have cut out for yourself. You can begin toasting your bread with a light drizzle of olive oil or garlic butter. If your butter browns quickly as it melts, your griddle is too hot. Once you’ve made your toast and spread on the sauce, add the cheese and any other toppings you desire and cover for a few more minutes for the cheese to melt. I use a stainless steel stick blender by Cuisinart and liquefy the diced tomatoes to about 90 percent sauce and leave a few chunks in there. I’ve used minced garlic but isn’t appealing to the eye so I stick with garlic powder.
Quickest time pan to plate: 30-45 minutes. If you consider this compared to cooking a TV dinner with their fresh conveyor belt taste, you’ll be eating better and enjoying the flavors a lot more while doing something creative. Why don’t I normally use Barilla, Prego, etc? Because I enjoy taking time to cook and I know what’s in my food. Plus I have something to take photos of. :c )
Serve with salad, black seedless grapes, grape juice, red wine.

Mmm Donuts…

I like donuts but…

I think I need to reconsider my joy of eating them very often.

I belong to a photographer’s group at called Macro Mondays. Each Monday we have a suggested theme to follow to help pique our interest in macro photography. I’ve been a member of this group since March 2008 and have posted an image or two almost every week since then. On Tuesday, they post the suggested theme and we have the rest of the week to come up with something.

Six months ago, they posted a weekly a theme called “diptych.” A diptych is a single photo created from two images.

As I was shopping at my local grocery store, I came across some colorful donuts and the idea hit me. I chose a pair of pink and blue frosted donuts and bagged them up and brought them home to take a few photos to compile my diptych.

Here’s the original photo linked from

Boy or Girl Donuts

I like taking photos of food and was planning to eat this food after I took the photos but I wasn’t hungry at the time so I put them back in their plastic bag for another day. Well, after one or two days, I thought differently and decided to set them aside for a future photo. I like taking ‘before and after’ photos for comparison and decided to save these for a while to see if they get moldy or go bad.

Six months have passed since then and I took the donuts out of the dark corner of the shelf where they have set and I took a peek in the bag for mold or rotting and they were only slightly discolored from the sugar sprnkles merging with the frosting. They weren’t as hard as hockey pucks and no, I didn’t taste them but I did re-plate them and shot new photos for an updated diptych six months later. I’m guessing the sugar and oil that they were fried in helped to preserve them like McDonald’s french fries that you might find under your car seat that have been there for months.

Here are my six month old donuts…

Two donuts that are six months old.
These two donuts are six months old with no signs of mold.

Not much difference is there?

It kind of changed my desire for eating donuts on a regular basis and I am debating on putting them back on the shelf for another six months for a follow up photograph. I promise I won’t try it with beef or chicken. That would just be sick and twisted.

My So Called Diet

Photos of myself from 1980 to 2012
A bit of time has passed and I was overweight for a long time in my mid-life years.

My so called diet.

The years go by. Some are with regret, some are with joy but all are for learning.

I’ll be the first to admit that I did not see myself as overweight and hurting my body until I checked in to the hospital for chest pains in October 2010. A year ago in June, I changed my life very simply and lost a lot of weight.

For a long time, I cleaned my kids plates or my wife’s plate after dinner and ate a lot of fast food of various sorts at work. Later in life I began drinking too much alcohol and still eating a lot of food.  I peaked out at 230 lbs a couple of years ago. When I was a young man of 22 and was first married, I was about 160lbs.

I’m back.

Now my friends call me skinny, I hear “Looking good Dan,” etc. And I’m asked how did I do it?

I’ll tell you for free. It would be really cool if I made $29.99 in three monthly payments for this advice but I don’t think I can market this one.

Hand holding an apple.
Our stomach is the size of our fist. Or it’s supposed to be.

I finally listened to my doctor’s advice. It only took 20 years to get from my ear to my brain. He held up his closed hand and said, “Your stomach is this big. Why put more in it than this in a sitting?” So, one year ago I began eating less and drinking much less alcohol. It wasn’t that difficult. I drank more water, ate apples (which are as big as our hand by the way,) a bowl or plate of food and sensed when I was full and stopped eating.

I enjoy ALL kinds of food. I enjoy real butter, real cream, a slice or two of pizza, I don’t drink high fructose corn syrup in soda pop and I try to avoid its presence in everything that I eat. I don’t use Aspartame or fake sugar or fake butter. I enjoy real sugar, real meat, real vegetables, even Peanut M&M’s are an okay snack for me. I believe our bodies need fat to burn so I give it some. No low fat anything or fake sugar. I don’t have a microwave for those convenience foods that are highly processed and just fill our gut with non-nutritional, irradiated junk or destroy our leftovers. I re-heat my food on my stovetop in a cast iron or stainless steel pan. I don’t drink a specially blended shake or eat five meals a day.

“I eat to live, instead of living to eat.” I saw and heard Johnny Carson say that 30 years ago. It took a while to apply that advice, but thanks Johnny.

At my maximum overweight, obese size, I was up to a size 38 waist and wore extra large shirts and still couldn’t button up my collar to wear a tie.

For a while, about five years ago, I was riding my bike for hundreds of miles a year and running up to 5k a day and dropped my weight down to 172 lbs before I injured myself from running so much. I was eating to replace those burned calories and enjoying beer, wine, and hard liquor along the way. When I injured my hip socket, I stopped that strenuous activity and put the weight all back on because I didn’t reduce my caloric intake.

I am keeping my overweight photos visible to remind me that I was there and I’m not going back. I did not see myself as fat then. Maybe my eyesight is bad after all but now that I am back in a size 30 waist, medium shirts, and smaller shoes. I am happy though nearsighted.

How much exercise have I done since I’ve lost weight? Practically none. I walk when I can. I haven’t pumped up my bike tires yet this year and I can no longer afford a membership to the YMCA so I can’t go there.

Simple sandwich toasted in cast iron cookware.
Simple sandwich toasted in cast iron cookware.

ViSalus shakes or other diets? None. What would I do when I  reached my goal with those shakes or other diet? I did try South Beach, Zone, and other diets over the years when I couldn’t button up my pants or shirt but none of that worked or stayed effective.

It’s much easier to just stop eating and drinking so much. I eat when I’m hungry, sense when I am full and stop eating. I get up and do the dishes, refrigerate the leftovers for another meal tomorrow.

Yes, food is amazing, I love it, I love cooking and taking photos of the food that I cook. I know that we need to eat something every day if we are a normal human. So I enjoy it. In moderation. Share when I can or refrigerate the leftovers.

I hope that for the rest of my life, I continue this way and if you or someone you love feels the urge to get back to your ideal weight, try moderation. It’s free. Save the money that you would be spending on food and drink and start shopping for smaller clothes because you are going to need them. By October 2011, I had given away all of my larger sized clothes to my son at MSU to use and give away to others there.

Me holding up an extra large pair of shorts that never fit me.
Okay, this was for illustration purposes and I never wore a size 42 shorts but I did get to the point numerous times where my pants would fall down so I did replace all of my clothes.

-Dan. 52 years old, Weight: 210 to 230 lbs, I now average162 lbs. Waist size: 38 down to a 30, shirt size: 17.5 down to 15.5. Diet: Moderation. Value: Simple, cost effective.

Blueberry Hill

Close up of blueberries on bush.
Ready to pick.

I love blueberries. They’re in my blood. My grandmother Evelyn Ruth Johnson was born in Spring Lake, Michigan where the climate and geography is excellent for blueberries. My father expressed his joy of eating them and I’m continuing the heritage of this good for you fruit.

Blueberries on bush at Blueberry Hill
Blueberries on bush at Blueberry Hill

I planned a short trip with two of my sons, Vincent and Quentin to drive west from Grand Rapids to Blueberry Hill in Spring Lake to pick a bucket or two. So, here it is late-July and blueberries are available. We have had a severe drought this year with very little rain and farms of all types are hurting from this drought. I know we will be paying for it this fall and winter when we need our daily bread but for now, the price of a large bucket of blueberries (approximately 20 cups) is still only $10 as it was two years ago.

After discussing it with their mother for them to be at my apartment by 5:30 so we could have time to pick before they closed at 7, our journey began promptly at 6pm. Someone forgot but I didn’t even mention their tardiness to them at the time. Blueberry Hill doesn’t turn the sprinklers on to get you out of the fields at 7pm so we headed west with drinking water and a large cooler to transport our cache of fruity treasures back home.

I thought that the westbound expressway would be a nightmare on a Friday evening so I had planned to leave early and take the country roads for the ease of driving and beauty of the farmlands that you have to pass through to get to get there. Since the boys were late, I hopped on the expressway near the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts headquarters. Traffic was swift but moderate with politely merging traffic and no slowdowns. As we neared our destination, orange caution signs and traffic diversions were encountered. The Michigan road crews don’t do anything when the weather turns to ice and snow and our road repairs, maintenance, and new exit ramps are built all summer when the weather is nice.

Close up of blueberries on bush

I normally hop off the expressway at M104 to Spring Lake and this trip would be no different except that the exit ramp was closed due to construction. My style of driving where I’ve always gone before had me ignoring the detour signs such as “Exit here you idiot because the next one’s closed” sent us a few miles north, west, south, and then back east to our destination. If I just had seen those big orange signs and taken the Nunica exit before M104, we would have gotten there sooner. Our diversion took us past a beautiful channel filled with lilly pads that I made a mental note to revisit when the flowers bloom and past a beautiful glittering lake and marina between Grand Haven and Muskegon. So we added a few miles and minutes to get to our destination but added some good sights and conversation to our journey.

As we got to the parking area in the midst of the blueberry fields, my son Quentin mentioned, “Hey, that same guy is here” recognizing him from a previous years trip to the same farm. He was one of the workers, a young man about college age who hangs out under the tent trading white buckets for money and directing us where the berries are most abundant on this day and he eased my mind that we have a bit of flex time and he won’t shoo us off of the farm promptly at 7.

Close up of blueberries on bush.
Easy picking, great tasting.

I picked blueberries while taking a few cell phone photos, some macro photos with my real camera, and talking to my mom who called while my hands were massaging the berries off of the branches and into my bucket. The boys combined theirs to get a second bucket of berries in between chatting and throwing a few at me and each other. I ate a few handfuls while picking but the boys ignored my question when I asked them how many they ate.

We paid $20 for two buckets and were heading back to town by 7:15 with a few days worth of blueberries in two large brown paper bags under frozen water bottles in my cooler. We were able to get back on the expressway heading east instead of taking the country roads back to Grand Rapids. We stopped at a fast food place and were over exuberantly greeted by the drive through order taker who I’m sure wanted to sell us some delicious high fructose corn syrup beverages along with our party pack of tacos. Maybe he was trying to win the sales contest but he received zero extra points from our purchase. The dozen tacos were hastily thrown together along with a shortage of tiny taco sauce packets that weren’t really enough for Vince who likes a packet for every bite. Sorry Vince, next time, I’ll ask for six per taco for you.

We munched on our delicious dinner and hung out at my apartment and everyone went into their own world for a while playing Angry Birds on various Android tablets and then we picked out a long movie to watch. I forgot that Avatar was such a long movie. 162 minutes of awesome CGI scenes directed by James Cameron that included intense battle scenes and warfare, sensuality, language and some smoking. Kof-kof. I wish Sigourney Weaver coughed when she smoked at the beginning. So nevertheless, we were up late watching in awe as stupid earthlings tried to destroy another world just to get some Unobtanium that is worth millions of dollars but is five years away from Earth. At times I missed a few scenes as I dozed in and out of consciousness. Hopefully without drooling.

Lights out at around 1am. Teeth brushed and flossed.

Two female gerbils eating blueberries.
The girls seem to like blueberries too.

I know my nocturnal gerbils made noise all night clunking the coffee cups that I let them sleep in and running on their wire exercise wheel. Sorry boys, my apartment is small and the only other place I can put them in is my bathroom. Maybe next time I will remember to move their house to the bath. I discovered that the girls love blueberries also. They are much tastier than those dried seeds aren’t they? I’ll be sure to save some for treats for them as long as as possible.

It is now 9:15am and the boys are still keeping their eyes closed while tossing and turning to even out their wrinkles courtesy of the five piece sectional couch in my apartment.

Blueberry pancake cooking on griddle
Mixed and cooking.

Time to make some blueberry pancakes or waffles boys? Real dairy milk, real maple syrup, real butter and real blueberries.

Three cooked pancakes on griddle
Get your plates. Time to eat.

What a nice way to start the day.

Two pancakes on a plate with real maple syrup and butter.
Nice way to start the day.

— Blueberry Hill is family owned and located on Cleveland Street (M104) towards Grand Haven. Just east of 140th on the north side of the road. Open Mon-Sat 9:00am to 7:00pm. Contact phone: 616-842-4950.