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.

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.

A confession

I have not done so great during this current Paleo challenge. Despite my good intentions, my life just has not allowed me time to put in the time and effort needed to cook meals that are 100% Paleo.

I’m not eating horribly or anything, and I certainly haven’t been eating wheat (except those three bites of funnel cake which was SO not worth it). But going to the theater every day after work, and then going out with my castmates after shows means that some dairy, caffeine, sugar, and alcohol have made their way into my body.

However, rather than feel guilty about it, I have accepted that this is just where my life is right now. I choose to take part in theater as my hobby. I choose to take time to go watch my kids play soccer. I choose to enjoy the social activities during this beautiful fall season. I don’t exactly CHOOSE to work full time, but I do enjoy the things my employment affords.

You get what I’m saying right? It is what it is. As much as I love food, my life is about more than that right now. My activities are feeding other appetites now, I am feeding my soul and that is just as important.

So maybe the point of this challenge, and the lesson to be learned is that doing my best is good enough. I want to have a happy, healthy relationship with food, not one that is obsessive and filled with guilt. My life is like a gemstone, colorful and multi-faceted, and I am just polishing each one – allowing them to shine and become more beautiful.

Hope your Saturday sparkles too!

I am an ant


I think nearly every culture has a version of the story “The Grasshopper and the Ant.” You know the one, where the ant works through beautiful days putting up food, building a house, preparing for winter while the grasshopper plays the summer days away. When winter comes, only one insect is left warm, well-fed, and alive. Here’s a hint: It ain’t the grasshopper.

Well I am obviously an ant. Today I bathed the two dogs; spread Borax on the floor and furniture to combat the fleas; roasted, shredded, and froze eight large spaghetti squash; peeled, wedged, and froze the last of the season’s fresh peaches in light syrup, roasted half of my stash of butternut squash, which I will freeze tomorrow (it’s in the fridge now), and loaded the dehydrator with poblano/ancho chiles that will dry overnight. Tomorrow I will put up the final bit of beans, and start harvesting the herbs in my herb garden.

I think I will also make this: Butternut Squash and Apple Soup. I haven’t been able to get it out of my head since I first read the recipe. With any luck, I’ll have some other insect hanging out playing the fiddle while I cook.

Comfort food

For some people it’s mac and cheese, for others it’s chicken and dumplings, maybe for someone else it’s mom’s meatloaf and mashed potatoes…

For me, it’s nachos.

If I’m feeling sad, or depressed, or tired, or just kind of blah, the ONE FOOD that changes my attitude… without fail… is Nachos. It doesn’t have to be fancy, super loaded nachos either. I’m happy with corn tortilla chips and cheese. I think it’s the mixture of crispy crunchy salty, and creamy smooth cheese.

Tonight I got home after getting my hair done, and I wasn’t feeling like cooking something new for dinner. However, I had some of that delicious chili made by my husband. I also had 100% corn tortilla chips, cheese, tomatoes, and sour cream.

HELLO NACHOS!

In no time, I had a plate full of chili cheese nachos, topped off with diced tomato and sour cream. And in no time, not only was my hunger satisfied… my soul was happy. Nachos really are a cheerful plate of fun. They are interactive, hands-on, and that mix of crunchy and melty never fails to make me sigh with pleasure.

Plus they’re quick. Okay, so maybe they’re not the most nutritious thing I could have eaten, but every now and again at the end of a long work day this is what I do. Sometimes, I don’t want something I NEED, I want something I WANT. (Name that movie!)

Something yummy.

What is your favorite comfort food? Or more accurately, what food makes you feel happier/better, every time you eat it?

What is this Paleo Challenge of which you speak?

Still sick, by the way. Someone obviously poured Rice Krispies in my ear canals and then filled them with milk, because my ears are clogged and I hear popping and cracking…

And ringing. OY the ringing!

However, today I have had no fever, so I am getting better, albeit slowly. If the ears would open up, and if I could stay awake for more than 6 hours, I’d dance a jig (not for 6 hours straight, because then I’d really be tired).

So I haven’t exactly been paying attention to food the past three days. I’ve barely gotten out of my bed due to this funk that I’m fighting off. I have relied upon my husband and children to bring me stuff to eat, and as long as it hasn’t been wheat, I’ve eaten it. Which means I’ve eaten ice cream, and chips and salsa, and french fries, and queso dip.

OH! And Chipotle. Vegetarian Chipotle, because they forgot the chicken… but yeah. So not exactly the healthiest diet, but since I’m not really eating much, and I’m spending most of my energy drinking fluids, I don’t really care.

So, coming up on September 17 (Stretch’s birthday!) there’s a new 30 Day Paleo Challenge being kicked off, and quite frankly, I CANNOT WAIT. I did a Paleo Challenge in January and honestly, I felt great. I kicked caffeine, I was sleeping better, I lost weight, my mood was elevated, and all that.

So why did I quit? Well, I didn’t exactly QUIT, but I did expand my diet some to take in some of spring and summer’s best foods (hello, ice cream!), and some indulgences of my own like Captain Morgan and Diet Coke (what? I’m only human). So while I didn’t abandon the plan, I definitely didn’t hold tight to the rules like I could have. Besides, I LIKE the challenge idea…I like a finite time frame just to see if I can do it. I like proving to myself what I can do. So starting on September 17th, I’m going to be proving it again.

The challenge is being issued by the good folks at Lurong Living, in partnership with the oodles of CrossFit gyms across the nation. But since I’m a FOOD blogger and not a workout/sweat blogger (can you even IMAGINE?) I’m going to concentrate on the food and sleep part of the challenge.

There are TONS of sites out there that can break the Paleo Plan down for you… but let me make it easy for you. Here’s what you WON’T be eating:
Grains
Dairy
Beans/Legumes/Soy (this includes peanuts, folks)
Caffeine
Artificial sweeteners
“vegetable” oil
chocolate

Ok, ok, try not to freak out at that last one. It’s THIRTY DAYS. You can do it for thirty days.

Here’s what you will be eating:
Meat (preferably grass-fed, or pasture raised)
Eggs (see above)
Vegetables
Fruits
Nuts
Seeds
Coconut oil, olive oil, avocado oil
Tea/coffee

You’ll also be required to get at least 8 hours of sleep a night. That means turn OFF the TV, the laptop, the smartphone… just turn it off and go to sleep. Give your body a chance to reset, recharge, renew… seriously, you’ll be amazed at how much better you feel. And if you can throw in a workout or twelve in that time, go for it!

September 17 to November 18, 2012. Just do it. If you need help, there’s none better than Neely over at The Paleo Plan.

Change your plate, change your plan, change your life. YOU can do it. Start planning NOW and be ready for action. Who’s with me?

By request


I got a request via a Facebook friend who has recently been diagnosed with both corn and soy allergies (YIKES!) to list where I shop and get my vegetables and meats. You may be surprised to find out that Whole Foods isn’t even on my top ten … no offense to Whole Foods, I’m sure they’re lovely people, but I’d rather shop locally from farmers I have built a relationship with. I feel they are far more likely to give me the straight scoop on the food they grow and sell. With allergies being such a concern, that type of relationship and honesty really can be a matter of life and death for some!

My Saturday morning “go to” place is the Home Grown Farm Market in Lexington Park Maryland. Do yourselves a favor and “like” them on Facebook here. They post when they are open, and when new products are available. I get my eggs from Farrah and Brandon (They’re the first produce vendor on the left as you walk in), and whatever is fresh produce-wise from Even’Star Organic (across from Farrah and Brian) Trossbach’s produce (next to Even’Star) and Shlagel Farms. I also shop from WAG meats (all the way in the back, just past Shlagel Farms). I know these vendors, they know me and I enjoy spending my Saturday mornings saying hello to them.

WAG meats DOES grain finish their meats, meaning the cattle are pasture (grass) -fed for the majority of their lives, and then given grain for a short time at the very end. What this does is add a little fat to the beef (purely grass-fed animals are VERY lean). This is a good thing when it comes to hamburger since you need some fat to make luscious burgers. If corn is a problem for you, this amount of grain finishing shouldn’t be an issue since the cow processes the grain… but in the interest of full disclosure, I wanted to make sure to mention it. I also get bacon here, since it’s uncured (no nitrites!) and deliciously thick cut. This bacon tastes more like MEAT without the artificial sweet/salty flavors you can get from the stuff bought in the store. Seasonally, I can also get dairy products (cheese, yogurt, butter) from the Home Grown Market too. Yum.

I shop ALL the vendors at the market, in fact there’s a cupcake lady at the back who is working on a gluten-free cupcake. When she perfects it, and decides to sell it, I will DEFINITELY be purchasing from her.

I usually then head to the farmer’s market in the BAE parking lot on Rt 235 across from Wal-Mart. There, I always purchase from David and Jennifer at Sassafras Creek Organic Farm. Be sure to sign up for their weekly newsletter! Every week, they send out an email letting us know what’s for sale at the market (I am addicted to their arugula) and usually giving a recipe on how to use them. YAY! Trossbach’s also has another stand here and if I’ve missed out on peaches at my first stop, I’ll get them here.

If I have time, I then head north to Charlotte Hall, to the Amish Farmer’s Market on the southbound side of Rt 5 (corner of Rt 5 and Rt 6 in front of the library). The Amish and Mennonite farmers always have not only fresh produce, but baked goods, noodles, canned preserves, eggs, flowers, herbs, etc. Or I’ll stop at Russell’s in Clements or Rt. 4 across from Fairgrounds road.

PLENTY of places to get produce in St. Mary’s County. Let’s talk about meat though shall we? This year, the spouse and I have decided to go all in and order half a pasture raised cow, and a half of pasture raised pig. The beef is going to cost us about 4.50 a pound, and we’ve ordered it from Glen Mary Farm, in Park Hall, MD. Our pig is going to cost only slightly more a pound and is coming from It’s Only Natural Farm in Nanjemoy, MD. You can find information about both of these wonderful farms at Eat Wild. We will get our meat in late October or early November from each of these farms. Chickens are a different matter, since chickens are a lot of work for not a tremendous amount of return, especially free range chickens! Luckily for me, while on my visit to the Loveville Produce Auction I met David from Zekiah Farms and he has the best prices on free range, antibiotic free chickens. David is a great guy, he was VERY helpful, and I’ve owed him this shout out for a couple of weeks now. PLEASE visit his website, and go visit HIM at the farm store.

When I’m in beautiful Calvert County, my go-to place is Chesapeake’s Bounty off of Rt. 4 in St. Leonard. I swear my car automatically knows when we are in Calvert and it leads me to their door. I ALWAYS find something delicious here. Produce, seafood, locally produced meats, and dairy… this shop is enough to make me want to move to St. Leonard so they can be my grocery store. All of the produce is grown organically, the meats sold are all raised humanely without antibiotics, and the dairy animals do not receive hormones! All great things.

For those pantry staples that I want to be gluten-free, I USUALLY order online due to price, but I’m finding that my grocery stores in the area are doing really great things expanding their gluten-free and other special diet departments. Plus there’s always the wonderful folks at The Good Earth Natural Food Company in Leonardtown. Be sure to stop there on the weekends when they are trying out new recipes in the kitchen!

So there’s my list of where I do my shopping. Some weeks (like this week) I don’t get to go to the market on Saturday mornings, so I’ll shop during the week. If I’m up in the big city, I HAVE to go to Trader Joe’s, since I love their Persian cucumbers. I’ll go to Whole Foods or Wegman’s on a special occasion, and I haven’t found enough time to make my own detergents and cleansers, so I still hit up Target, or Giant, or Shoppers, or whatever store I happen to be close to in order to do those supplemental grocery runs.

Hope this helps out, for those of you who are wondering WHERE to purchase. Here’s the secret…whenever possible, buy what is LOCAL and in season. You get a ton of food at wonderful prices. I (and my family) eat BETTER for LESS money by purchasing seasonally.

Hope you all had a delicious weekend… here’s to a very produce-tive (see what I did there?) week!

Stress Eating

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This is my dinner. Yes, it’s ice cream. A Turtle Sundae to be exact. Vanilla ice cream, chocolate syrup, caramel, pecans, whipped cream, and a cherry.

I am having ice cream because I got a call this afternoon for a job interview tomorrow morning. This is an interview for a job that would forward my career. This is a job that I want very much. This is an interview process unlike any I have ever experienced. This is me – nervous.

I am stressed. Do not judge me.

So I ask you all, do you eat when you are stressed? What do you eat? Does it help?

If you could spare some good luck vibes, it would be VERY much appreciated.

And if tomorrow’s dinner photo is of vodka, you’ll know it didn’t go well.

Sexy Meat

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How’s THAT title grab ya?

I woke up this morning thinking about… no REALLY thinking about chimichurri sauce. Now if you don’t know what this incredible condiment is, Just look here. Delicious, garlicky, herb-y, with a little bite to remind you that it’s there. Seriously, this stuff tastes good on everything. I’ve had it on chicken, shrimp, scallops, it’s divine on pork and it is my absolute favorite marinade and sauce for flank steak. So yeah, I’ve got a THING for chimichurri.

Problem is, the heat and drought has really devastated my parsley plants, so I didn’t have what I needed to make good chimichurri. The spouse had taken out some delicious pork chops (pasture raised and acorn finished) and they were screaming for something special. So, after the usual dressing of sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper, I pulled from the fridge some Dijon mustard, and 100% maple syrup. Grabbing a glass bowl I poured in a bit of each, and added some fresh thyme. I played with the mix until I had this really nice balance of sharp and sweet. Basting the chops, I let them rest for a bit while I pulled out the rest of dinner.

Roasted squash and onions got sealed into a foil pack with some organic vegetable broth, and my head of organic Romaine lettuce got split and drizzled with olive oil. I LOVE doing a grilled Caesar salad. Something about the outer leaves of the lettuce getting a little charred, and the inside leaves still staying crisp and green just speaks to me. Plus, I grate good Parmesan on the salad as soon as I pull it from the grill, so the warm leaves soften that salty cheese just a little bit. It’s so delicious that a simple dressing of some lemon juice and another drizzle of finishing oil does the trick.

The squash and onions were doing their thing getting re-warmed, the lettuce is being charred, and my chops are developing these gorgeous grill marks. I flip them, baste them with more maple-mustard sauce, and let them continue to cook. As I am standing there, I realize how absolutely beautiful this meal is looking. The lettuce is crisp and green with just a little char on it, and my meat is…well… sexy. Gorgeous grill marks, the sauce is a beautiful golden color and kind of glistens on the tender pork. Seriously, it’s a feast for the eyes and I am totally responsible for this.

I think what I love most about cooking (besides the inevitable satisfaction of eating) is that all of the senses are involved. You eat with not just your taste buds, but your eyes, your nose, your ears. Seeing the food beautifully arranged on a plate, smelling the aromas coming from the contact of that pork with the hot metal grates, hearing that sizzle…. it’s very sensual. Taking beautiful raw WHOLE food (not something in a box or a bag) and putting together a meal that smells and looks as good as it tastes makes me feel powerful, accomplished…dare I say it? Sexy.

Yeah. I’m a chick with a grill, and I’m pretty sexy too.

As long as it works for my spouse, it works for me! Oh, and dinner did indeed taste as good as it looked. I’m so going to be looking forward to those leftovers for lunch tomorrow.

And I’ve already set a reminder to stop by the store for fresh parsley. My desire for chimichurri will not be denied.

I hope YOU had a delicious (and sexy) Wednesday too!

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