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Ask Carb Diva: Questions & Answers About Food, Recipes, & Cooking, #135

Linda explores food facts, folklore, and fabulous recipes one ingredient at a time.


Finding Your Muse

My dear Hub Pages friend Eric Dierker asked me a few days ago about my cooking Muse. My response to him is the second part of today's post. But now, I'd like to ask you, "Who is your Muse?"

What speaks to your creativity? Don't tell me that you aren't creative. All of us have something. Your Muse might not lead you to writing or singing, sculpting or painting, sewing or quilting. But there are so many ways that you can express the soul within.

  • Carpentry
  • Gardening
  • Cooking
  • Baking
  • Poetry
  • Song-writing (tune or lyric)
  • Photography
  • Dance
  • Speaking
  • Event Planning
  • Web design
  • Organization (yes, it's a gift!)

I'd love to hear from you on what your "thing" is and if you've been able to explore it more as we "shelter in place and stay safe."

Let's Do This

Let's get started with today's mailbox. If you're an old friend, you already know how this works. But, if this is your first visit, let me introduce you to my kitchen.

Each week I receive questions about food ingredients, cooking or baking terms or methods, requests for recipes, and queries about nutrition. Just about anything food-related has been covered here.

I'm sharing this past week's questions and my responses; it happens every Monday. Want to join in the fun? You can leave your question in the comments below, and next week the answer will be right here. It's that easy.

The first question today is from Mary (Blond Logic).

Spearmint vs. Peppermint

Ian asked an odd question that stumped me today, when I bought him some chewing gum. What is the difference between spearmint and peppermint?



Gertrude Stein wrote "A rose is a rose is a rose," but you can't say the same for mint. They are all different—kissing cousins for sure, but there are at least 600 varieties. Spearmint and peppermint are the ones you asked about. You can't tell just by looking, or even smelling, what type of mint you have. All of them have oval-shaped, toothed, somewhat fuzzy leaves. They all have square stems, and they all smell "minty." The difference, as Ian noted, is in how they taste.

What distinguishes spearmint from peppermint is mostly the amount of menthol. Spearmint contains about 1% menthol, and peppermint has 40 times that much. The high concentration of menthol signals temperature-sensing receptors in the brain to think that what you are eating is cool when it really isn't. Menthol degenerates when heated, so it isn't cooked. But spearmint also contains the terpene carvone, a complex compound that keeps its flavor even when heated. Peppermint does not contain carvone.

I hope that helps.

Finding Your Cooking Muse

Linda this is great. How interesting about the depression. Spooky about the similarities with today. Which reminds me—I hope you have all the flour you need. Which brings me to what was your mindset with the setback of no flour? I assume chefs have muses.

How do I keep that kitchen encouraging me, especially in the heat? Linda, I am serious. The writing world spends so much time on the muse concept. Maybe some for canvas or other mediums. But sometimes I just feel like I am not inspired to cook.

My cooking "mews"

My cooking "mews"

Eric, Sam Sifton (food editor for The New York Times) wrote of that very topic just last week.

"I’m kind of sick of cooking. Not every day, and not all of any day, but sometimes lately, yes, for a moment or two, cooking is a drag. There’s the tyranny of it, for one thing: three squares for four people, same as yesterday, same as tomorrow.

Maybe that’s true for you, too—this occasional malaise about performing a task that, ordinarily, you love so much? It’s understandable if that’s the case, with so many of us stuck at home for so long now, with some of us working unimaginably difficult shifts before coming home, with others not working at all but following the daily passage of the sun past the window, gray dawn to inky dusk. Dinner again? Really? So soon?

Here’s what to do. Cook anyway. Cook something new, even if you don’t have all the ingredients. Cook to surprise yourself and maybe you will be surprised."

Scroll to Continue

Then Sam went on to describe how he selected a recipe by fellow writer/author Mark Bittman. He didn't have all of the requisite ingredients but knows enough about cooking that he set to work, substituting this for that, not just taking but actually enjoying the challenge. And he found his Muse once again.

In my kitchen, the biggest challenge each day is deciding what to cook. My younger daughter calls this "analysis paralysis." So, to overcome that dilemma, I make a menu plan for the entire week (often two weeks). Tada! The "what should I do" is eliminated.

Of course, the challenge of cooking during a heatwave is a special circumstance. I live in the Pacific Northwest, and for us, heatwave means anything above 80 degrees. But I've several suggestions:

  • Don't cook. There is nothing wrong with making a salad your main dish. Here are some ideas for you.
  • Don't use the oven. Do you have a crockpot (slow cooker)? Click on this link to go to my article on summer cooking with a crockpot.

Can You Help Me Make an "American" Meal?

This next request is from Rinita who lives in London. We wrote back and forth a few times, and I'll share that exchange with you.

"We're under lockdown, hence getting groceries has been difficult except for essential items. My sister is staying with us during the lockdown and her birthday is in a couple of weeks. She's been in the US for several years and loves American food. Do you have any favorite recipes I can surprise her with that require few and common ingredients but taste out of the world? I'll bake a cake, of course, so I'm looking for help mainly on the main course items. Thanks in advance."

Rinita, I'd be pleased to help you with your birthday surprise menu. I have a few questions about what foods you have available. Do you have ground beef (mince)? Sliced (or sliceable) cheese. Potatoes? Mayonnaise (salad dressing)? Hot dogs (wieners, frankfurters)? Let me know if you have any or all of those. If none are available, I'll give you another "shopping" list. I know we can do this.

"Thanks Linda. I don't have ground beef but I can get ground chicken. Sliced Cheese is available. No salad dressings except olive oil. Among bread, I can only get sliced bread and probably burger buns. I guess I customized the list a lot. Let me know if you want to give me a whole new list."

Rinita, I'll put together recipes for a cheeseburger and oven-baked french fries for you. How does that sound? The cheeseburger is totally an American invention. Fries baked in the oven instead of deep-fried are just as good and much healthier (we always make ours that way).

French fries

French fries

Oven-Baked French Fries

Ingredients and Equipment

  • Parchment paper or silicone baking mat (not mandatory but certainly helpful)
  • Shallow rimmed baking pan
  • 4 large Russet potatoes also called Idaho or baker potatoes (these are the starchy fluffy potatoes, not waxy)
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons Olive oil
  • Salt or seasoning salt


  1. Preheat your oven to 375 degrees F. (190 degrees Celcius) and line your rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. Wash your potatoes; paring them is optional. In fact, I like having the peel on.
  3. Cut the potatoes into slices and then sticks (planks). Your fries can be as thin as 1/2 inch or as thick as 1 inch (1.27 to 2.54 cm). The important thing is that they all be the same size.
  4. Soak the potato sticks in cold water for at least 30 minutes. This removes the starch and helps create a crisp fry.
  5. After soaking, dry your fries thoroughly. Use a salad spinner if you have one and then blot them with a clean kitchen towel.
  6. Place the potatoes in a bowl, drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt or seasoning salt. Toss to coat all pieces and then spread out in the prepared pan in a single layer.
  7. Bake for 20 minutes (25 minutes if you have cut them 1-inch thick).
  8. Increase the oven temperature to 425 degrees (220 Celcius) and continue to bake for about 20 minutes more.
chicken burger and salad

chicken burger and salad

Ground Chicken Cheeseburger

Ingredients for the Burger

  • 1 small onion, finely minced
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 1 slice of bread, pulverized in the food processor to fine crumbs
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 teaspoon soy sauce
  • 1/3 cup plain Greek yogurt
  • 1 pound (28 grams) ground chicken (don't use lean 99% chicken; 80/20 or 85/15 is best)

Extras To Complete the Burger

  • burger buns
  • cheese (Cheddar is super)
  • lettuce
  • sliced fresh tomato
  • dill pickles
  • sliced raw onion (red, yellow, or sweet)
  • ketchup and/or mayonnaise


  1. Saute onion in olive oil until softened. Place in a large mixing bowl
  2. Add remaining ingredients except the ground chicken to the bowl. Mix thoroughly.
  3. Add ground chicken to the mixture in the bowl and fold together gently (don't overwork the chicken).
  4. Form into patties—you should get 6.
  5. These perform best cooked on the stovetop in a large saute pan or electric skillet.

Rinita, I don't have a grill so I do not know if they will stick together for grilling. To give these a totally American taste, top with a slice of Cheddar cheese. Your family might enjoy some of the other toppings as well (see above).

Tomorrow I will be publishing an article on the American cheeseburger, so please check back for that.

Should You Wash Your Chicken?

"Someone asked a question on Facebook yesterday. They were from a foreign country, and they said it was common to wash chickens after buying them from the store, and they were surprised that Americans don't do this. Is it advisable to do so? I've never washed a chicken in my life, mainly because it's hard to find a bathtub that small LOL."

Bill, that's a really good question and it made me think of this horrible episode on "Real Housewives."

Dear God in Heaven, don't wash the chicken!

Have I gotten my point across?

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued an emphatic reminder on social media to home cooks about how to prevent food poisoning while cooking chicken. "Don't wash your raw chicken!" they tweeted. "Washing can spread germs from the chicken to other food or utensils in the kitchen. During washing, chicken juices can spread in the kitchen and contaminate other foods, utensils, and countertops."

Remember, it's also important to thoroughly wash your hands after handling raw poultry and never use the same cutting board to prep other ingredients if raw chicken has touched it.

We're Organized

Did you know that there is a Table of Contents for this series? I have created an article that provides a detailed listing of each question I've received. It's broken down by category, and within each category, the questions are listed alphabetically. Each question is actually a hotlink back to the original post.

Here's a link to that Table of Contents.

I have also cataloged all of my personal recipes that I have shared with you in this weekly Q&A series and in all of my other articles as well. The link to that Index is here. There are hotlinks to each recipe and this will be updated as new recipes are shared.


Let's do this again next week. If you have questions about foods, cooking techniques, or nutrition you can ask them here. If you are in search of an old recipe or need ideas on how to improve an existing one I can help you. If you want to learn more, let's do it together. Present your questions, your ideas, your comments below. Or, you can write to me personally at this email address:

And, I promise that there will always be at least one photo of a kitty in every Monday post.

© 2020 Linda Lum


Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on May 12, 2020:

Denise, I'm with you. For me, time spent cooking is never a bad time. Perhaps many of us are going back to what our parents or grandparents learned during the Great Depression--use it up, make it do, or do without.

Denise McGill from Fresno CA on May 12, 2020:

I love the Muse questions. As an artist, I'm not always in the "mood" to paint but as Sam Sifton said, I do it anyway and the muse comes. I always enjoy it even if I wasn't in the mood before I began. I've been finding lots of "alternative" ingredients myself. Sometimes it's a win and sometimes it's a frown but I tried at least.



Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on May 07, 2020:

Eric, sometimes the strangest combinations make the happiest marriage (like a 5ft tall German/Irish sprite with a 6ft 2 Anglo Saxon guy).

Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on May 07, 2020:

So my chicken burger was a disaster. Funny ingredients maybe like fire roasted tomatoes, pungent blei cheese and cucumbers toasted whole wheat bread. The disaster was it was so good I ate two. Oh well.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on May 07, 2020:

Thank you Pamela. We NEVER deep fry anything; I'm sure we're the healthier for it, and it's so much easier too.

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on May 07, 2020:

The oven baked french fries look good.I didn't know the difference between spearment and peppermint either. Excellent tips as usual, Linda.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on May 06, 2020:

Miss Dora, I'm so happy to hear from you today. You are always very generous with your comments. I pray you are well and safe.

Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on May 06, 2020:

Thanks especially for the explanation on Spearmint vs. Peppermint. You give lots of good information throughout the article. Will try your recipe for french fries. Thanks again.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on May 05, 2020:

Mary, you have much going on in your life; I'm not surprised that cooking has taken a back seat. Your question is a good one, and I'll include it in next week's "episode." You and Bill Holland have given me some complex issues to write about. No "off the top of the head" response this time.

Mary Wickison from USA on May 05, 2020:

Hi Linda,

Thanks for answering my question, I'll pass on the info to Ian.

I'll check out those links about the salad and slow cooker. I just can't be bothered to cook recently. It use to be a bottle of my cooking gas would last 3 months. I am up to 7 months on this bottle. That's how much I have given up cooking.

I saw that you made ramen noodles and it made me wonder if there were some things you just wouldn't make because the time/cost/taste of home cooking wasn't worth it.

Have a wonderful week.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on May 04, 2020:

MizB, with the addition of soy and Worcestershire (umami stuff) the burgers could almost be beefy, right?

Please do try the baked fries. The magic isn't from deep frying but from getting the starches in the potato to caramelize.

Doris James MizBejabbers from Beautiful South on May 04, 2020:

Linda, that looks like a scrumptious recipe for a chicken or turkey burger. I just wish I could get Larry to eat a fowl burger, but he would spell it foul burger. I've gained 10 lbs since last Thanksgiving, and I'm afraid half of that is because of the fried potatoes he insists on cooking for breakfast every morning. Yes, FRIED. Sometimes I don't eat them, but then I end up feeling hungry before the next meal. I need to try your method of oven fries. I believe he might eat those. He likes it when I oven fry potatoes and other veggies in olive oil with a little spices added. With all my food allergies, potatoes are a staple in my diet because I'm not allergic to them.

Todays kitty looks like my little Tas Too when we first got him. I love black cats. Must have been a witch in a past life. LOL

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on May 04, 2020:

Yes, you need to hear what they're saying. If you use beef I'm not sure if you'll need the yogurt, buy I almost never cook beef so I'm no expert.

Shauna L Bowling from Central Florida on May 04, 2020:

Linda, I love your "mews". Absolutely adorable!

Your burger and fries recipe looks and sounds delicious. I've sort of had a hankering for burgers lately. I'll have to try your recipe, although I'll use grass-fed beef.

I'll have to come back and watch the chicken video. I'm at work right now and don't want to have to mute it. I would imagine I need to hear the dialogue to appreciate it.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on May 04, 2020:

Chitrangada we need never be bored. I love the creative process and and glad that you do too. Thank you for your kind words. I wish you safety and health as well.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on May 04, 2020:

Rinita, I apologize for placing you so far away from home. I hope this works for you. I actually used ground turkey (not chicken) because for me it is less costly. I don't think there would be a difference in how the meats work (I think ground chicken would perform like ground turkey). The Greek yogurt is to add moisture. Sour cream would be a good substitute if that is perhaps easier for you to source.

Happy Birthday to your sister. I hope it will be a wonderful day for all of you.

Chitrangada Sharan from New Delhi, India on May 04, 2020:

Interesting article, with lots of useful information related to cooking, and it’s techniques. I loved your recipes.

Regarding your opening paragraph, I have various interests, to keep me busy in creative activities. Gardening, cooking, knitting, painting, music. This is besides reading and writing.

Thank you for sharing this wonderful article. Have a good day. Stay safe and take care.

Rinita Sen on May 04, 2020:

Thanks a lot Linda for helping with the recipes. Slight correction, I live in Bangalore not London :). I can get most of the ingredients in the cheeseburger. Hope to make the meal as good as your recipe sounds. Thanks a bunch, again.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on May 04, 2020:

Good morning Bill, wow that's a great question. Graham Kerr immediately comes to mind (and I wrote about him about a year ago). I'll see what I can find out and let you and the rest of the world know next week. Thanks.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on May 04, 2020:

Thanks for tackling that one. I appreciate it. New one: who were the chef pioneers with regards to healthy eating? Who carried the banner early when nobody was paying attention to fats and the like?

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on May 04, 2020:

Eric, you know I'll be waiting to hear from you.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on May 04, 2020:

Flourish you are 100 percent correct. Goodness! The black kitten looks just like our Pumpkin (yes, a black cat named after an orange fruit, but I told the whole story it would make sense). Sounds like you have a bit of cattitude on your hands.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on May 04, 2020:

John, all I can say is it's amazing what things people post on Facebook.

Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on May 04, 2020:

Great one today. I am going to break it down into sections so I will be back. I just looked up the fascinating world of mints in a botanical, biological sense.

FlourishAnyway from USA on May 04, 2020:

It's safe to assume that all raw chicken has fecal germs on it and you are spreading nastiness everywhere in your kitchen if you add water. It'll cook off. I love that little black kitten at the end of your article. Reminds me of my most recent addition, Lexie, a temperamental cat with a bad personality who selected us. My husband adores her, however. He likes her because she just puts it right out there. That cat charged at me last night because she was jealous that I was petting another cat. Bad personality.

John Hansen from Gondwana Land on May 04, 2020:

All very interesting as always Linda. Thanks for sharing. I hadn't thought about why you shouldn't wash a chicken before. Makes a lot of sense.

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