November 22, 2014

Small Crowd? Small Bird! How about Cornish game hen for Thanksgiving?

Small Crowd? Small Bird! How about Cornish game hen for Thanksgiving? If the gathering at your Thanksgiving table this year will be small, then maybe it’s a good time to downsize the meal to fit.
Cornish Hen
Perhaps I’m thinking this because I’m short, drove a MiniCooper for 10 years, or because I love small things. It’s really probably more closely related to the fact that I recently saw the documentary, “Just Eat It”. This movie explores food waste on the farm, in the retail food chain and in our own refrigerators. That, coupled with the fact that only Ben and I will be home this year, has me leaning toward paring down my shopping list beginning with the bird. Of course, I’ve let time get away from me so paring things down makes even more sense with less than a week to the event and no real plan in place.

The great thing about cooking with fresh ingredients is that when you’re short on planning, shopping, or prep time, you can let the food speak for itself without a lot of embellishment. Yesterday, my hairdresser told me she uses orange marmalade diluted with orange juice to baste Cornish game hens that she has seasoned with salt & pepper and larded with butter. She bakes for 15 minutes at 375% and then starts basting every 7 or 8 minutes with the orange marmalade until the bird is fully cooked (an additional 35-45 minutes). That sounds easy enough.

Instead of stuffing, I can make a rice pilaf with red bell pepper, orange zest, peas, raisins, and nuts. I already have a butternut squash and a head of cabbage. I’ll peel, boil, and mash the butternut squash with a little salt, butter, and cream and boil the cabbage in some chicken broth. Ta da! That’s plenty of food for the two of us.

Oh wait. Since it’s a holiday, maybe I should add dessert. What’s quick, easy, and small? My first thought is banana pudding. I can use instant vanilla pudding made with half & half (the generic store brand is gluten-free) layered with Mi-Del animal cookies plus perfectly ripe bananas. I’ve done this before. It takes about 5 minutes and it’s delicious. We like to call it Bananimal pudding.

Panna cotta is also an option. I love it served in my grandmother’s sherbet glasses topped with fresh raspberries. The only part that takes much time is the chilling. Since my refrigerator is happy to take care of this without any assistance from me, it fits my definition of quick.

Another possibility is to throw together a microwave spoon bread filled with berries or chocolate, or both. All I need is in an almond flour base, an egg, sweetener, a little baking soda, then some spices and berries. The result is another dessert that’s ready in less than 15 minutes.

By implementing my pared down plan, I’m also saving myself some headaches at the grocery store. If I needed traditional ingredients, I might face empty displays since I’ve waited until the last minute.

While it would be great to have the whole family together, I’m not lacking things for which to be thankful. I think I’ll add this scaled down Thanksgiving meal plan to the list.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

November 11, 2014

A Simple Holiday Hack – Ditch the Expectations!

A Simple Holiday Hack – Ditch the Expectations! Long before you cook the food and set the table, the holiday pressure begins. Will your pie crust turn out flaky; will your flaky aunt Jill embarrass you; will your grandmother act insulted (again) when you don’t eat her rolls? It’s enough to make anyone want to crawl under the covers and skip the whole thing.
Holiday Table Setting

Holidays are so fraught with confusing and conflicting emotion that many of us divorce ourselves from our feelings and numbly stumble through as best we can. Some of us show up out of obligation slightly angry, out of sorts, and ready to snap when someone smiles at us too cheerily. Others of us feel exhausted from stuffing our feelings under three pieces of pecan pie. None of us want this. We want our invisible expectation of love, joy, and wonderment…and we are certain we will not get it.

Today’s simple holiday hack fixes that. Many of the things we view as awful, horrible, exhausting, hurtful, annoying, tiring, or wrong are magnified because of our expectations. The fastest, simplest way to improve our experience of the holidays is to remove those expectations. Let them go. I promise it will be freeing.

So how does letting go of expectations look? It can look like choosing to be kind to yourself in spite of your family’s fussing.
For instance, let’s say your husband’s family is local and your family is 3 hours away, you’ve been working 10 hour days, the kids have been sick, you just finished remodeling and have boxes to unpack. Your mom expects you to come home because you’ve ALWAYS spent Thanksgiving together. She just can’t imagine it without you. And you know how she loves to remind the family of all your missteps. Instead of caving to your mom’s pressure, you choose to spend a few hours with your husband’s family, some relaxed time with your kids, and still have time to make a dent in the unpacking. You choose this option because it is best for you and your immediate family rather than expecting yourself to sacrifice your well-being in order to be the “perfect” daughter.

It can look like allowing the Thanksgiving table to vary from the vision in your head.
You love the tradition of serving the meal on the same china your grandmother used when you were small, but you can’t afford to buy the tablecloth you want. Let go of the picture in your head in which the china sits on that particular tablecloth. You can save up and serve on that tablecloth another year. This year, cover the table with brown kraft or butcher paper, scatter some of your kid’s crayons around and encourage everyone to write or draw things they’re thankful for. You never know what you’ll learn when your family is faced with a blank canvas.

It can look like allowing your children to do what they need to do without repercussions.
No matter how much you may want to be surrounded by your kids and grandkids on Thanksgiving or Christmas, you know that what’s most important is enjoying time together. If your children are not available on the actual holiday, let it be okay. if you really need an “event”. Have it another time. Plan for it. Make it playful! There’s nothing wrong with Thanksgiving in June or Christmas in January!

It can look like taking the time to create a different sort of memory.
Thanksgiving doesn’t have to be focussed on food. Perhaps you rent a house on the beach, build sand castles, and grill hamburgers. Perhaps you take your family shopping for food to donate to a local food bank or shelter. Maybe you meet your parents at a point halfway between your houses to see an art exhibit or in New York City to see some shows on Broadway and eat at Joe Allen.

It can look like setting limits on the time you spend with your family.
If you come from a dysfunctional family, it is okay to limit the amount of time you will spend with them. If they trigger feelings of danger, fear, or sadness, but you feel you should show up, you can predetermine the amount of time you will stay. During the time you are there, if you gather the courage to sit with the feelings that get triggered without taking on your traditional role, you may discover that those triggers are actually revelations of areas that need healing. You are not required to heal the family. You are not required to heal in front of the family if they do not provide a safe environment. It is a true gift to yourself to allow yourself to heal. You deserve it and you deserve to feel safe, whole, and loved. You CAN feel these things even if your family expects something different for you (which may be that you continue to play the role you’ve been assigned in the dysfunctional system). If your family hampers your healing, it is okay to choose to be away from them on the holidays and any other days. You do not owe anyone the suppression or destruction of the amazing person you were put here to be.

Whatever it is you value most about the holidays – food, family, football, shopping, or gratitude can be reflected in the choices you make when you let go of expectations in favor of being genuine, authentic, and loving.

If this simple change sounds daunting or overwhelming, just think of it as doing someone else’s dishes. Doing your own dishes can feel daunting and overwhelming when you see the stack of dirty pots and pans in your peripheral vision and you’re tired or you’d rather read a book. Doing someone else’s dishes never seems like a big deal because you just get in there and do it without thinking about it.

I encourage you to get in there and enjoy this holiday hack – let the expectations goooooooooooo!

October 31, 2014

Herbed Salt is My New Solution!

Herbed salt is my new solution to several of the recurring dilemmas of fall. I love it when the air turns crisp, the sky seems especially blue, and streets are lined in yellow, orange, and red. It means it’s time to think about bringing in the plants, my plans for the holidays, and whether to rake the leaves or compost them.
fall leaves

I decided a few years ago that I wasn’t good at finding a place to put all the pots of herbs inside the house without things feeling haphazard, crowded, or me feeling just plain annoyed. Of course I don’t want to waste any tasty leaves, but it just doesn’t work very well for me to try to preserve the plants over the winter. I feel better all the way around starting over each spring so I allow myself the luxury of buying new plants when the weather turns warm.

Before I let the stems wither, I must face the dilemma of what I will do with those last lovely green leaves as we approach the first freeze of the year. Luckily, I had lunch with my friend Angele this week who mentioned that she used the last of her basil to make basil salt. Thanks Angele! I think you just solved a couple of problems.

Not only can I make basil salt, I can make rosemary salt, sage salt, thyme salt, parsley salt, mixed herb salt, lemon thyme salt, oh yeah. This sounds fun. All I need is some cute containers and these will make great holiday gifts or stocking stuffers, hostess gifts, and holiday party gifts.
cute containers

Perhaps you’re needing a similar solution. If so, here’s how easy this is:

Herbed Salt
1/3 cup tightly pack herb leaves
1 tbsp of a 2nd herb
1/3 cup kosher salt

Place herbs and salt in food processor and pulse for a few seconds. Spread the mixture in a baking pan lined with waxed paper. Dry at room temperature for 24 hours or bake at 225º for 15 minutes, stir and bake an additional 15 minutes. Cool and pulse again. Store for up to 4 months.

What a great way to use the last of this year’s herbs and get a head start on the holidays. I love it when a plan comes together.

Have a fall solution you want to share? Tell us in the comments below.

October 22, 2014

Man cannot live on bread alone…or here’s what I learned last week!

Man cannot live on bread alone…or only food for the body for that matter. Our physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being are closely intertwined. Starving any one of those will result in an imbalance that affects our quality of life.

Nonstop work has been wearing on me, but last week provided an interesting mix of lectures, documentaries, and presentations around here. I attended enough of them, I should be a lot smarter than I was two weeks ago. Am I? Probably not, but at least I enjoyed some interesting distraction and I can share with you what I took away from the events:
Dr. Rodney Ford
Tuesday – Dr. Rodney Ford presented the story of his journey to believing that gluten-zero is the best alternative for many, if not most, of us.
Observations: His tone and approach have softened in the two years since I last visited with him. Always informative and able to present complex medical information in an audience friendly way, Dr. Ford brings compelling evidence from his pediatric practice that many patients who test high in Anti-Gliadin Antibodies (AGA) improve on a gluten-free diet even if they are not celiac and yet the medical community and many parents remain resistant to adhering to the regimen.
Takeaway: Dr. Ford poses the question regarding our beliefs about the importance of socialization vs. the importance of health when it comes to making decisions for our children. It’s a subject that we focus on often here at Cooking2Thrive. We love his bravery in asking the tough questions! He’s done it his whole career and his patients are better for it. I’m better for it having read his books.
Comment: At Cooking2Thrive, we continue to observe that it is rarely a lack of information that keeps us from making healthy choices. It’s not even necessarily a lack of desire to be healthy. More often, it’s a lack of social and emotional support for a healthy choice in a given moment that leaves us with the overall feeling that being healthy will mean giving up too much.
Wednesday – Rebecca Darwin, CEO of the Allee Group and a founder of Garden & Gun magazine spoke on the advent of the magazine, the organization’s expansion into books and events, and the importance of dedication to quality content and thinking big.
Observations: If Ms. Darwin had not been willing to leave her high profile New York job as marketing director of Fortune magazine and move with her husband who had decided to attend the seminary, Garden & Gun would not exist.
Takeaway: Dedication to quality content and thinking like a big player can take you far.
Comment: Sometimes we become so focussed on what we’ve achieved, we are afraid to let it go and move on to something different. It is inspiring to know that Rebecca Darwin resisted that temptation and the result was an incredible new publication.
Hoop Dreams
Thursday – Arthur Agee, Jr. (one of the subjects) and Gordon Quinn (artistic director) discussed the making of the 20-year-old documentary Hoop Dreams.
Observations: This lecture was held in the same room as the Garden & Gun lecture. The crowd was much smaller and the discussion more intimate, moving, and compelling.
Takeaway: Arthur Agee, Jr.’s desire to do his parents proud brings him to tears and makes it easy to understand why he can support himself with a role model foundation. Gordon Quinn’s extraordinary story of how the producers of the film voluntarily, without legal obligation, cut the subjects in on the profits once the film made money shows that some organizations do the right thing just because it’s right.
Comment: The display of authentic goodness in the room was the feel good story of the week!
Just eat it
Sunday - We made a quick drive on a beautiful, crisp morning to a screening of the film, Just Eat It.
Observations: In the film, a couple lives for 6 months on only food that has been discarded. While some of the food comes from dumpsters, they’re kind that are parked behind food wholesalers and filled with thousands of packages of unexpired hummus, not the kind full of partially eaten scraps. The couple rescues enough food ($20,000 worth) to let their friends come shop from their pantry.
Takeaway: The waste built into our farming and food distribution system is so huge as to boggle the mind. Part of the waste is because of our expectation of uniformity in fruits and vegetables and our failure to understand freshness labeling.
Comment: I live in a state where 19.7% of households experience food insecurity. There has to be a way to rework our expectations and reroute perfectly safe and edible food away from dumpsters and into homes where it is needed.

I love weeks that leave me feeling inspired, challenged, and a bit more informed. If you have recently learned something exciting, please share the source with us in the comments section.

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received one or more of the products or services mentioned above for free in the hope that I would mention it on my blog. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be god for my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”