New Year, new resolve, and a NEW POST!

So, I hope I’m not the only person who found herself so busy over the Christmas holiday season that she couldn’t find time to blog! Anyway, for the one or two of you still around… I’m baaaack!

So here’s what I’ve been up to: I changed jobs… TWICE. Y’all knew about the first one, and that it wasn’t going as well as I had hoped. Well, on a whim I applied for a position that involved a pretty large promotion. It was a whim. I mean while I had the job experience, I do NOT do well in the interview process. Well, I got called in for an interview…

And I got the job!

So I started in mid-December, was there for a week, and then spent two and a half glorious weeks at home, finishing up Christmas gifts (small businesses, artisans, and lots of handmade love too!), celebrating with family and friends, starting the New Year’s purge of junk we don’t use… you get the picture. Oh, and putting our house on the market.

So yeah, I have been a little busy, and that busy has translated into VERY poor eating habits. Oh I’ve been mostly gluten-free, and our Christmas feast was entirely gluten and corn free for my sister in law… but there’s only so many dozens of gluten-free cupcakes and tins of Williams-Sonoma Peppermint Bark you can eat before your pants start to get a little tight around the thighs. It’s so damned unfair.

So now it’s a new year, and I am going to climb back onto my Paleo horse and ride it to a looser pants. Today was day one, and it went fine. I went to Mom’s Organic Market over the weekend, making sure to get some coconut milk, some coconut yogurt, and my favorite Applegate Farms lunch meats. Over the weekend I had also made some Paleo-friendly beef stew. So breakfast was deli meat rolls and a cup of brewed tea sweetened with just a touch of this coconut syrup sweetener. Lunch was my yummy leftover beef stew.

By the way for those of you who aren’t familiar with Paleolithic eating, here’s the really short version:

No Grains
No Legumes (soy, peanuts, beans, peas) Green beans, sugar snap peas, snow peas are ok since you are primarily eating the pod, which is vegetable matter.
No processed cane/beet sugar, and no artificial sweeteners either! For sweetness, I use the coconut stuff, or a little organic raw honey.
No dairy (at first… I will add a little bit of fermented cheese after my first month)
Food labels should be SIMPLE! If there are chemical names on the label, don’t eat what’s in the package!

So, what do I eat? I eat meat, poultry, fish, veggies, nuts, seeds, fruit, and eggs. I eat all that delicious produce I put up in the freezer over the summer, and the cow, pig, and chickens that share space in there. My dairy substitutions come from coconut or almond milk… oh, and I have dark chocolate and red wine.

I did this last year, and felt so danged GREAT! I was cooking a lot, and eating well, and losing weight… and then life happened. I let things slip…I let myself take the easy way out. We all do. But rather than beat myself up, I will just get back on what I KNOW works. Clean eating, REAL food, and paying attention to my body.

The key for me, is finding that balance of being creative and still EASY! I get the creative part when I get to cook. The easy part happens when I cook enough for leftovers that make up my lunches. So tonight, I wasn’t hungry (I ate my beef stew later in the afternoon since my all protein breakfast kept me full) and I decided to whip up a few things for easy lunch.

I am now in love with Brussels sprouts. I got 3 POUNDS of little tiny ones the final weekend our local farmer’s market was open and so tonight I cleaned them, tossed them in a few tablespoons of olive oil just to coat, and poured them onto a baking sheet. I sprinkled them liberally with kosher salt and into a pre-heated 400 degree oven. I then let them do their magical little thing… roasting until the outer leaves turned brown and got all crispy.

MY GOSH, how did I live so long without Brussels sprouts? Seriously, these things are MAGIC. Roasting makes them all delicious and nutty and I am not kidding you, I can just pick them up with my fingers and pop them into my mouth as a snack. Holy moly. Forget the mushy, stinky, gross Brussels sprouts that my mother would cook… the secret here is small tender sprouts, high heat, good fat, and short cooking time. For bigger sprouts, cut them in half (or quarters) and quickly blanch them in boiling water before roasting them. The end result is yummy deliciousness and no bitterness!

For what it’s worth, my FAVORITE way to cook Brussels sprouts is in a cast iron skillet, in bacon fat. Same deal…hot pan, good fat, short cooking time (just enough time to let the sprouts brown and crisp up) and YUM. Sprinkle those hot bacon-y sprouts with pomegranate seeds and let it change your life.

I also roasted some chicken parts, coated with olive oil, salt, pepper, oregano, garlic powder, and lemon juice until done with crispy skin. Sounds like lunch tomorrow is going to be SO SO good.

So there it is! My first post of the new year…an ode to the Brussels sprout.

And as a way of bribing you to keep returning, and to tell your friends about my blog, I leave you with a photo of my kids in their Christmas pajama pants made by ME! Aren’t they cute? And the kids aren’t bad either!!

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So thankful


Here’s the starting lineup during today’s feast for anyone who is interested:
Two turkeys – roasted using Chef Michael Symon’s cheesecloth method. Total weight: 31 pounds
One ham – cooked in the infra-red deep fryer – 20 pounds
Root vegetable stuffing (gluten-free!)
Orange-cranberry sauce
Creamy mashed potatoes
Gravy
Green beans and bacon
Herbed creamed broccoli bake
Corn and Cauliflower bake
Sweet potato casserole
Watergate salad
Green tossed salad
Deviled Eggs
Macaroni and cheese
Cucumber and cream cheese canapes
Cotton Pickin’ Cake
Ice cream cake
Pumpkin pie (regular crust and gluten free graham crust)
Pecan Pie (see above)
Apple Cranberry Tart
Cheesecake
White chocolate cheesecake

Twenty family members and close friends gathered together, prayed together, ate together, and then laid around on the couch wishing for yoga pants. We were joined by five others for dessert. It was a spectacular day and evening where we enjoyed full bellies and fuller hearts.

Oh and that win by my Washington Redskins was the best dessert ever.

I hope your Thanksgiving nourished you as well – body and soul.

What’s on the menu for Thanksgiving?

We’re having 22 for dinner tomorrow, and everyone is contributing. In my house we’re responsible for turkey, ham, stuffing, gravy, and my incredible cranberry sauce. I added the zest of one orange to mine tonight and it is a really great balance of orange and cranberry. Not super tart, not overly sweet, just a really great mix. I may split the batch and add some fresh ginger to half just for a little more zing. We’ll see. I also made a huge batch of creamy mashed potatoes courtesy of The Pioneer Woman.

Everyone is bringing something… we’ve got veggie dishes, sweet potato casserole, dinner rolls, mac and cheese, pies of every flavor, cake, deviled eggs, cheesecake, iced tea…. yeah, we are a family blessed with a bounty of food and love, and blessings. I plan on spending my day enjoying THEM. There will be no rushing out to stores, or being distracted by the dust bunnies that I will have inevitably missed. Tomorrow is a day to have my stomach and my SOUL filled with the gathering of family and friends.

I am thankful for so very much this year. November has just sucked so far, but I am still here. I am still alive and kicking, and learning things about myself and my own resilience. I have a wonderful support system, and I plan to surround myself with them this weekend.

Until then, enjoy what my stove looks like, as my root veggies are sauteed in preparation for tomorrow morning. They just LOOK like Autumn to me and the smell is something to be thankful for indeed.

I hope tomorrow provides each of you plenty of reasons for gratitude and thanksgiving. Have a wonderful day, my foodie friends.

It’s Turkey Time!

The biggest foodie day of the year is tomorrow, and I like many of you have been shopping and preparing, and researching. For those of you who are looking for the perfect turkey on Thanksgiving Day, I thought I would share:

MY FAVORITE TURKEY RECIPE

I thought this sounded good! Here is a turkey recipe that also includes the use of popcorn as a stuffing ingredient — imagine that. When I found this recipe, I thought it was perfect for people like me, who just are not sure how to tell when turkey is thoroughly cooked, but not dried out. Give this a try.

8 – 15 lb. turkey
1 cup melted butter
1 cup stuffing (Pepperidge Farm is Good)
1 cup un-popped popcorn (ORVILLE REDENBACHER’S LOW FAT IS BEST)
Salt/pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Brush turkey well with melted butter, salt, and pepper.
Fill cavity with stuffing and popcorn. Place in baking pan making sure the
neck end is toward the front of the oven, not the back.

After about 4 hours listen for the popping sounds.

When the turkey’s a** blows the oven door open and the bird flies across the room,…. it’s done.

NOTE: This recipe isn’t for turkey, it’s for LAUGHS. Please don’t try this at home. If you’re unsure on the best path to a delicious turkey, please see any of the pros on Food Network, or call the Butterball Hotline, or make RESERVATIONS instead of dinner.

And now I’m off to make my cranberry sauce, and prep the vegetables I’m using for my root vegetable stuffing. Two turkeys are thawing, my ham is thawed, and I still have to find more chairs…. More later!

Too stressed to eat

I know, right?  So at one point I was stressed and eating ice cream for dinner.  Then I was stressed and bored because there’s no NHL hockey season yet so I was eating chips and dip, or salsa, or whatever OTHER junk I had on hand.  NOW I’ve started a new job and the first month has been, well, a challenge.  An unpleasant challenge. 

And now I’m so stressed I can’t eat.

Apparently the stress also causes me to clench my jaw because I can FEEL the muscles being tight and the accompanying headache sucks big time.  

HOWEVER, I am now home for the weekend, unwinding and I WILL be enjoying some foodie time.  My BFFF (Best Foodie Friend Forever) and I are making the trek to Wegmans, or Whole Foods, or Trader Joe’s…or somewhere marvelous to get what we need for Thanksgiving.  Dinner will be for 26 this year I believe.  I am going to need more chairs.

I am responsible for turkey (I have two) and ham, stuffing (gluten free!), and gravy.  Oh and cranberry sauce because I cannot abide the jelly junk in the cans, mine is so much better and it’s SO SO easy.  Don’t believe me?  Let me tell you, my friend Karen from my former (wonderful) job asked me about fresh cranberry sauce and when I gave her my recipe, she couldn’t believe how easy it was… then she made it and definitely couldn’t believe how delicious it was.  This is a woman whose family didn’t like cranberry sauce and now they eat it for more than just Thanksgiving.  

It’s easy to remember too…just think one, one, and one.

One package of fresh cranberries, one cup of white sugar, one cup of orange juice.  

Wash the cranberries and pick through, getting rid of any stems, as well as berries that are soft, blemished, or under-ripe.  Combine the sugar and orange juice in a sauce pan and heat on medium heat until sugar is dissolved.  Add cranberries and cook until they start to pop (about 10-15 minutes).  Once the berries have popped, remove from heat and transfer to a bowl.  As the sauce cools it will thicken like jam/preserves.  

This is the basic recipe, but if you want to jazz it up you can add any one of the following:  the zest of one orange, one tablespoon fresh or candied ginger (grated), 2 ounces of gold or spiced rum, or even 2 teaspoons tequila and a finely chopped jalapeno pepper!  

I love cranberry sauce.  It’s that deep delicious mix of sweet and tart that is perfection with turkey, chicken, pork, or even a delicious beef roast.  It also SCREAMS “holiday!” and that is definitely something to be thankful for.

Long time no post, I know

Sorry for the lengthy delay in posting. Two weeks ago, my children’s Godmother (and the mother to MY Godchildren) passed away unexpectedly. To say that I was shocked and saddened would be a gross understatement. Even now I have a tough time processing the fact that this wonderful person is gone from my life forever. She was one of those people that no matter how long had passed since we last talked, we always picked RIGHT up where we left off. I had spoken to her less than a month before her death and she sounded great, happy…everything I loved about her. So that is how I will remember her, not the last few days of her life and her untimely death.

So I came back home from her memorial services, and back into my routine. New job, kid stuff, market runs, hit and miss dinners.

HOWEVER, I was able to make Italian stuffed cabbage rolls for my family as well as an extra pan which I delivered to friends who are brand new parents. I’ll do the tutorial on those later (they were LABOR INTENSIVE but oh so good!), but today I wanted to celebrate the most delicious, easiest side dish/salad I’ve had in a long long time. I call it “Zucchini Ribbon Salad” and it seriously couldn’t be easier.

I was fortunate enough to snag some tiny yellow squash and some small zucchini from the farmer’s market, hooray for fall plantings! and I needed something delicious to do with them. So here’s my answer… warning…it’s addictive.

I used four small yellow squash and two small zucchini… as well as a small red onion. I put them on the mandolin, and sliced them super thin into ribbons. I sliced the onion thin as well, and popped it into ice water to take some of the “bite” out of it. You could also use a simple vegetable peeler to get the ribbon effect from the squash, but since I had the mandolin out, I couldn’t resist!

I put one large clove of garlic through the garlic press into a bowl. I added the zest of a lemon and then the juice of that lemon to the bowl. I chopped up a handful of fresh parsley, added salt, and then whisked in a generous amount of olive oil to make a lemon vinaigrette. Be sure to taste! You want it lemony, but not so tart it causes the pucker factor.

I added the squash ribbons to the vinaigrette, making sure to separate them (no clumps of ribbons for me), and removed the onion from the water. I patted it dry on paper towels, and added it to the squash, then tossed everything together, mixing well and coating it with that delicious dressing. To serve, I used tongs and pulled the ribbons out, piling them loosely on the side of the plate. I topped it with some feta cheese, and it was perfect. Fresh, lemony, slightly salty from the feta… YUM. I could have eaten the entire bowl by myself. AND it was even better the next day.

It ended up being a great end to a pretty crappy couple of weeks.

Now I’m back and working on my next passion: Christmas shopping! But my idea for Christmas this year is to eschew the big box stores as much as I can, and either make gifts by hand, or purchase from local vendors, artisans, craftsmen, and small businesses. Yes, I know, Wally World hires people in my neighborhood, but ultimately a lot of the money goes to product manufacturers in China, and the profits to stockholder portfolios. However, by purchasing locally, the money goes in the hands of REAL people in my community. Plus these folks are putting their talent, their passion into their product…they deserve to be rewarded for that!

So, this Christmas it will be pre-paid meals (or gift cards) from the locally owned restaurant, or fitness classes with the personal trainer, or handcrafted jewelry, or prints of local nature photography.

Feel free to find us on Facebook and get the ball rolling in your own neighborhood! Our group is open to anyone, come shop with us, or promote your own ideas. I’d love for this to become a nationwide movement, just think of all the benefits we could bring to the economy if we all shopped small?

An Outside the Box (Store) Christmas on Facebook.

I get by with a little help

Fall for me, is a warm and sentimental time. I find myself being more sympathetic, empathetic, and sensitive to others. Maybe it’s the change in the weather that makes me want to surround myself in comforting things… I don’t know. What I do know is that despite the absolute sheer horror of what the victims of Superstorm Sandy are going through, and the extreme ugliness of both sides during this election season, I continue to believe, and I continue to find that love actually is all around (name that movie!)

When we lived our old neighborhood, Halloween night was always amazingly fun. We lived at the end of a cul-de-sac, and we’d hook up with the neighbors and do a potluck dinner out in our front yard. We’d set up tables, and everyone would contribute something. There was always chili, or soup, or beef stew… along with tons of other goodies. I’d make a crock pot full of my Kahlua Caramel Apple Cider, and as the sun set, we’d have a feast of fun, food, and fellowship. Our kids would take off in a pack to collect candy from all our neighbors, and we grown ups would set up with our candy, and the parade of princesses, superheroes, wildlife, and ghastly ghouls, would make one stop with all of us adults filling candy buckets and praising the costumes. Moving away from that neighborhood and to the end of our secluded dirt road was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.

So lately we’ve had another tradition that has sprung up on Halloween night. Spouse and I take the kids and we head over to a friends home for dinner and trick or treating. Debbie and Mike live in a neighborhood not too far from our old one, and for the past few years, we’ve hung out with them. The boys grab beers and shepherd the smaller kids for trick or treating while the women and older girls hang out on the porch, delighting in the hundreds of kids that come by. Tonight was no exception except Debbie said she would take care of dinner. I offered to bring something, but she said “Oh I’ll find something gluten free to throw together.” Debbie is a beautiful Italian woman, and I know better than to argue with her.

We arrived tonight, jack-o-lantern and candy in tow… the boy was dressed as a Crash Test Dummy, and Mads was ketchup. I was delighted to find our friend Karen and her daughter were there too. Debbie had a super nice veggie tray, a pepperoni and cheese tray and some drinks all ready. She also had a big pot of chili on the stove, along with Fritos, sour cream, and cheese…and a gluten free cornbread fresh out of the oven. That cornbread was delicious too.. it was light, airy, and sweet with glutenous rice flour substituted in for the wheat flour. Karen had also chipped in and supplied a warm, cheesy, buffalo chicken mixture that was the centerpiece of wrapped sandwiches, made from super soft 100% corn tortillas and crisp romaine lettuce. My two girlfriends had put together a feast and I could eat every single thing! Now I have always seen my dietary issues as mine to deal with. I mean they’re my problem…I don’t expect others to do anything special to accommodate me. But to have my friends go to the lengths they did really touches my heart.

What’s funny is that this morning, I woke up with the song “You’ve Got a Friend in Me” from Toy Story running through my head. It stayed there ALL DAY, so much so that I found myself humming it. I figured the universe was giving me a signal to be a friend, a blessing to others and I concentrated on being that person all day today. Then tonight, it seems I learned that being a blessing to others will often result in being blessed yourself. There’s a lesson in there my children… for all of us.

Kahlua Caramel Apple Cider:
Quality apple cider
Kahlua – 1.5 ounces for every 8 ounces of cider
cinnamon sticks
Apple wedges

Add all ingredients to crock pot and turn on. You want the cider to just warm through. Ladle into cups, and enjoy not only the juice but the apples as well. Don’t eat the cinnamon sticks though! The drink tastes like a delicious caramel apple, and is guaranteed to warm you all the way to your toes. Perfect for a chilly Halloween night, or equally as good when chilling out in front of a crackling fire.