December 17, 2018

Favorite Holiday Dishes and Treats

sausage ballsI know you can find favorite holiday dishes listed by state. I’m sure you can find many other favorite lists grouped in many other ways. Today, you get to enjoy a few of my holiday favorites categorized by the order in which they pop into my head.

Peppermint Ice Cream

Many holiday favorites come from family traditions. This one does not. The first time I tasted peppermint ice cream was at a Baskin-Robbins®. I don’t remember the city or the year. I just remember the creaminess of the milk balanced the mintiness of the peppermint in a scrumptiously delicious way. Later I discovered Chik-fil-A® peppermint chocolate chip milkshakes. Those were even richer and more decadent than ice cream.

One year, my son Ben & I bought a half gallon of peppermint ice cream on the way to my hometown for Christmas. We didn’t have a cooler with us. I have no idea what we thought we were going to do with all of that ice cream for three hours in the car, but standing at the counter a single serving each just didn’t seem like enough. We ate all we could stand, then threw away a large amount of melted pink mess.

If you’re like me, you have to review each new holiday offering to make sure it’s compatible with your eating regimen. Be prepared. This reading assignment may startle you. In addition to excessive calorie counts, you’ll find artificial flavors, corn syrup, and gum stabilizers. As long as it’s gluten-free, I don’t mind choosing this kind of treat once a year but it’s not something I want on a regular basis.

Eggnog

I know there are two camps on eggnog. I happen to like it. You don’t even need to spike it with anything as long as there’s nutmeg sprinkled on top. One draw is that we had it at my grandmother’s house on Christmas. The other is similar to that of peppermint ice cream – it’s soooooo rich and sweet.

Biscuits

My family’s traditional Christmas meal was breakfast. My mother served it mid-morning after we opened presents. It was the one time each year she was sure to make a homemade meal. I loved the crispy bacon, scrambled eggs, and even the biscuits although they were an acquired taste. They were consistently so brown and hard my sister called them moonrocks.

Sausage Balls

I never think to make sausage balls until the holidays roll around. That means cooking one recipe is never enough. I always double up. If I have any left I can freeze them. Of course, I never have any left. If we don’t eat them all while the family is together, someone packs up a bunch to go. The few that remain are my breakfast for a day or two. They really are a good grab & eat breakfast.

Party Mix

Much like sausage balls, my family starts eating party mix around Christmas and puts it away just after the Super Bowl. My great aunt Ruth brought party mix to my grandmother’s house every Christmas. I loved the crunch of Brazil nuts and the toasted buttery flavor of the cereal. I would try to eat it slowly so it would last longer. While I was successful at eating small portions, I ate them so often it still didn’t last long.

Harry & David® Pears

My box of Harry & David pears just arrived. A friend gives me one every year as a Christmas/birthday present. I excitedly await the ripening of the first pear. These Royal Riviera Pears are never ordinary. They’re extraordinary!

Hot Chocolate

It seems that Christmas parades these days are during the day. When I was growing up, our parade was at night and it was C-O-L-D. Riding on a float or standing and watching left us chilled and ready for a cup of hot cocoa. We could hardly wait long enough for it to cool before we started gulping.

Chocolate Orange Balls

I like the flavor of orange and chocolate together, but my favorite thing about chocolate orange balls is the instructions – Whack and Unwrap! It’s a pleasure to consume food you don’t have to treat gingerly and anything that helps work out the added frustrations of the holidays is a good thing. Perhaps that’s why Santa always left my dad nuts to crack.

Chocolate Covered Bing Cherries

I love bing cherries! We used to eat them fresh from the tree. I’m not sure it gets any better than that, but since I no longer have access to a tree, I’ll settle for the chocolate covered version.

There were a few more items that crossed my mind, but ultimately didn’t make this list – pumpkin bread, glazed ham, beef & noodles (this makes my all time favorite list, but we had it on multiple occasions throughout the year), and green rice. Fruit cake crossed my mind, but try as I might, I don’t like it.

Your family may have a more traditional holiday dinner that produces favorites like prime rib, green bean casserole, mincemeat pie, latkes, or Christmas pudding. Whatever they are, I wish you the opportunity to enjoy them with those you love this holiday season!

https://www.baskinrobbins.com/content/baskinrobbins/en/products/icecream/flavors/pepperminticecream.html

https://thechickenwire.chick-fil-a.com/Inside-Chick-fil-A/The-Peppermint-Chocolate-Chip-Milkshake-is-Back

https://www.harryanddavid.com/h/fruit-gift/pears

https://www.bettycrocker.com/menus-holidays-parties/mhplibrary/parties-and-get-togethers/vintage-betty/retro-recipe-the-original-original-chex-party-mix

https://www.bissingers.com/product/Chocolate-Covered-Cherries/Bissingers-Chocolate-With-fruit

http://www.cooking2thrive.com/blog/gluten-free-bowl-mix/

http://www.cooking2thrive.com/blog/gluten-free-bowl-mix/

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.”

ad

December 11, 2018

Always Keep Kitchen Safety in Mind

When you’re preparing food, it’s important to always keep kitchen safety in mind. Where else in the house do you get to play with sharp objects, open flames, boiling liquids, cans under pressure, and countless amounts of breakable glass? In contrast to the rest of the house, the kitchen is a perpetual accident waiting to happen.

I feel like I’m pretty aware of safety when I’m working in the kitchen, but I am constantly reminded of yet another hazard by an OMG moment! Grandchildren in the kitchen have added yet another layer of awareness.
kit safety
Here are a few safety tips from my kitchen…

Knives

Beyond the obvious keep knives away from fingertips warning, don’t be tempted to leave knives lying on the countertop. This is hard for me. I will chop something on a cutting board, then lay a knife across it because I plan to use it again after I’ve done a few other things. I know the knife is there, how dangerous can it be?

Well, having almost stabbed my foot with a falling knife I’d accidentally jostled a couple of months ago, I’d say pretty dangerous. I was grateful I’d had Stop the Bleed training. I also became keenly aware how difficult it would be to use that training on myself.

I know not to leave sharp or breakable objects on the counter when my grandchildren are around. A curious 18-month-old may reach above his head and swipe his hand across the countertop to see what he can find. He also may reach for a knife from your knife block if it is visible. Luckily, my grandson warned me that he was about to pull a knife out by telling me he needed one for the dish he was “cooking” on his stove. My knife block no longer resides at the end of the counter.
knife
Flames

I’ve narrowly escaped burning dish towels and sleeves by failing to notice until the last minute how close they were to the flames on the burner. In general, long flared sleeves may be adorably cute on you, but they’re a really bad idea to wear as cooking fashion. In the same vein, a dish towel may be the most handy potholder, but if you leave any part of it dangling, it can touch a dancing flame before you know it.

And don’t even get me started on paper towels near the stove. Fry some chicken, cover a plate in paper towels, hold that plate above and to the side of the skillet when you remove the chicken to drain on the paper towels. Sounds like reasonable instructions, right?

The instructions aren’t bad, they’re just not complete. They should include a caution to make sure NO paper towel extends beyond the edge of the plate and that the flame is turned low enough that it doesn’t extend past the edge of your frying pan. If you need the flame higher than that to maintain the proper oil temperature, it’s probably best not to hold the plate so that you know it’s sitting a safe distance away from the flame.

Also, don’t be tempted to wipe that drip off the top of the stove just behind the burner while it’s on. You’ll have to reach your arm over or around a very hot pot near a very hot burner most likely with something wet in your hand that won’t protect fingers from heat. That’s too much risk for the amount of time it will save you later. Of course I know this is a bad idea because I’ve done it.

Always keep a fire extinguisher charged and handy just in case flames get out of hand. Mine lives under my kitchen sink. If you happen to have a small grease fire in a pan, turn off the burner, smother the fire with a metal lid or baking sheet, baking soda, or salt. Do not throw water or flour on the fire. Do not cover the pan with glass or pottery. Do not try to carry the pan outside.

Pot Holders and Dish Towels

We just touched on one downside of using a dish towel as a potholder, but it’s also good to remember that a damp or wet towel will not provide insulation from heat. Any towels or potholders should be dry before grabbing a hot handle.

Dish towels may have to be folded multiple times to be thick enough to protect your hand. This can result in a wiggly (technical term) grip. Heavy skillets like those made from cast iron increase the risk a wiggly grip poses.

I use my pot holders so much, they get thin in the middle. I usually discover this when I grip a skillet of cornbread and start to lift it out of the oven. The heat transfer is gradual, but over time I’ve learned when it feels hotter than it should in the first few seconds I should immediately put the skillet back down on the rack in the oven. Muscling through the heat to lift it to the counter is a D-U-M-B thing to do.

Storage

Don’t store anything in the oven that isn’t oven proof to the temperature you’d use to bake a frozen pizza. Sometimes I just need a quick place to hide something in the kitchen. Of course the oven works beautifully…until days later when I’ve totally forgotten the plastic tray in there and preheated the oven. Ugh, you get the picture. I actually preheated the oven this morning with a skillet & sheet pan in it. I do this on the regular, so I know I have to outsmart myself and only store oven proof things.

If you have pets, storing anything on the top of the stove can be risky. A former customer of mine put a basket on top of her stove to at night. One night while everyone was sleeping, her cat jumped on the stove to investigate. In the process, the cat’s foot turned on a burner starting a fire. Luckily, a smoke alarm awakened the family quickly, but the whole kitchen burned.

Having a system that tells you how long a bottle of olive oil, soy sauce, or maple syrup has been stored open in the pantry can prevent you from eating spoiled condiments. Of course, it’s good to do the same thing for the salad dressing, mayonnaise, pickles, jelly, and ketchup in the fridge. Discarding these in a timely manner (with hot sauce, timely means you have years to spare) is a great safety precaution.

I’ll admit my discard system is haphazard. When I’m testing recipes, I use everything so fast this isn’t an issue. When I’m cooking less, I periodically throw everything away that I can’t remember opening and start over. I’m about to have one of these purging sessions in my pantry.

Microwave

I’m sure you know not to put metal in the microwave. You may not know that putting a honey bear in there to heat up crystalized honey can result in serious burns. If heated too long, the bottle can explode when you remove it and you can end up covered in molten honey. This happened to a friend of mine, but a Reddit thread tells me it’s happened to others as well.

When James was about two, I microwaved a cup of water. I took it out of the microwave then had to go check on his crying baby brother. Before I left the room, I made sure the cup was toward the back of the counter where James couldn’t reach it. Being resourceful, James pulled a chair up to the counter, climbed up, got the cup and spilled a full cup of boiling water down the front of his shirt. It all happened in a matter of seconds.

James proceeded to run around the house screaming at the top of his lungs because his shirt was burning him. When I finally caught him, I grabbed the shirt and quickly pulled it off. The skin of his entire chest came off along with the shirt.

Yes, it looked as bad as it sounds and I’m sure it was as painful! After a visit to the doctor, we kept the wound clean and coated in Silvadene and it healed. The only scars left are in James’ memory and on my Mommy record.

Coffee

Unplug the coffee grinder before you use your finger to scrape out the grounds that didn’t fall into the lid. I mean it. Unplug the thing. More than once I’ve had coffee grinders come on unexpectedly and get stuck on. One of them was recalled because of this problem. I’ve seen plenty of otherwise smart people dig out grounds with the grinder plugged in. It makes me cringe each and every time.

Unplug the coffee maker when it’s not being used. I once watched my coffee maker shoot sparks into the kitchen. It was plugged in, but not turned on. The fact that I was there to see it (and prevent a fire) was a happy accident. I switched to a French press.

Timing

I use the timer on my stove, but it’s not very loud. If I’m leaving the kitchen, I know it’s a good idea to set a corresponding timer to carry with me. The one on my phone works great. I also have a stationary one on the desk in my home office.

It’s also a good idea to set a timer if you decide to chill a can of soda in the freezer. I rarely do this, but when I do, I consistently forget about that can for way too long. Usually I catch my error at the point the top of the can begins to bow out, but I have had to clean up the freezer after a can explosion. I can assure you that cleaning the freezer is not my idea of fun!

Other Things

-Read labels for allergens.
-Disinfect anything that touches raw meat.
-Use a meat thermometer to make sure meat reaches a safe temperature.
-Don’t eat raw eggs.
-Wash fruits and vegetables.
-Kiss Caesar salads goodbye for awhile. The romaine problem has gotten out of hand.
-Refrigerate leftovers in a timely manner.
-Turn pot and pan handles toward the center of the stove.
-Wipe spills up quickly so you won’t slip and fall.

Clothing Optional

I’m fine with you doing whatever you want to do in the nude, but this post is about safety in the kitchen. Soooo, don’t cook naked. Like ironing naked, it seems like a good idea until it’s not. By that point you’ll probably have frozen or burned something you really don’t want to freeze or burn. At least put on an apron. A simple apron with heels can be the perfect cooking outfit depending on the guest list.

Every cook I know burns themself at some point. Many cut a finger. Most of these injuries are minor. Nonetheless, it’s a good idea to have a watchful eye and always keep kitchen safety in mind when you’re having a kitchen adventure.

https://www.firerescue1.com/firefighter-training/articles/223446018-How-to-put-out-a-grease-fire/

https://www.cdc.gov/foodsafety/index.html

https://www.foodsafety.gov/keep/index.html

http://www.cooking2thrive.com/blog/make-the-kitchen-your-happy-place/

http://www.cooking2thrive.com/blog/pare-your-kitchen-down-to-the-basics/

December 3, 2018

Mindfulness Intentions for the New Year

The frenzy of the holiday season is the perfect time to set some mindfulness intentions for the new year. Sometimes the simple act of giving ourselves permission to be mindful has a calming effect. That provides an immediate benefit. Planning now for mindfulness in the new year ensures the possibility of enjoying positive long-term health effects as well.

While the idea of mindfulness may be calming for some, it can be scary for others. What is it exactly? Is it difficult? How much time does it take? Is it religious? Do I have to chant? Do I need crystals or essential oils or a stay in a yurt? These questions may send you into a tailspin before you even get started.
waterfall
For years, I was intrigued by yoga but afraid to participate. I wasn’t afraid of the postures per se. I just had a subconscious aversion to moving my body in a way that might release the feelings I tightly held in my solar plexus and gut. I knew I had this without knowing it. The ambivalent need to hold myself physically frozen in certain ways is the legacy of trauma and difficult to give words.

It took years of learning to sit still and practicing somatic experiencing therapy before I rolled out a mat. It was another two years before I tried a guided meditation. I’m not sure it could have happened any other way for me, but these practices have so improved my inner life that I wish I had known the benefits much sooner.

What is Mindfulness?

Before I talk about the researched health benefits of mindfulness, let me tell you a little more about the practice itself. First, foremost, and most importantly your practice is YOURS. It can look like whatever you want it to look like.

You do not have to wear a certain type of clothes. You do not have to chant. You do not have to pray. You do not have to attend a class. You can practice a few minutes per week or a few hours. You can choose your instructor and change instructors at will. You can practice in a class or at home alone. You can follow along with the instructor or modify your practice and meet the instructor back at a pose that feels like the right next move. Mindfulness is about being kind to yourself, being aware of your feelings, thoughts, and body sensations without judging them, and breathing.

Yes, there are instructors who approach yoga like a typical gym workout. I do not choose those. That’s not the type of session from which I receive the most benefit. There are yin yoga sessions that are all about letting go of tension and softening into a pose. There are instructors who specialize in yoga for trauma. Video streaming makes finding the perfect fit easier than ever.
yoga
Health Benefits of Mindfulness

If you suffer from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) along with celiac disease, mindfulness can decrease the severity of symptoms according to recent research. That sounds like some welcome relief. Mindfulness has also been shown to improve both physical and psychological quality of life for those with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).

Research also shows that mindfulness is helpful for depression and can actually change the brains of trauma victims. It is increasingly incorporated into the treatment of symptoms resulting from PTSD and childhood trauma.

Practical Tools

A couple of weeks ago I re-injured an old knee injury. Not only was my knee hurting, but my hip and back were very tense and I was coughing like crazy due to a cold. Although I was exhausted, I could not relax. After about 30 minutes of feeling miserable, I put myself in a comfortable recliner and turned on a guided meditation. In less than 15 minutes, I felt relaxed, calm, and ready to crawl in bed and get some sleep. My knee was still sore, but the surrounding tension was gone and I no longer felt restless.

Having that sort of tool available feels like magic! As you know, tension can build upon tension until you feel like you’re spinning and everything hurts. Just knowing there’s a simple way to feel better can prevent ever getting to that point. That’s a powerful benefit!

Perhaps because I only started meditating after years of practicing yoga, I feel confused when I hear people talking about how difficult it is. All you have to do is to breathe and be present. (Okay, admittedly that can bring up unfinished emotional business and maybe that’s why people think meditation is hard. Thing is, that has nothing to do with meditation and everything to do with the emotional business they are trying to avoid.) Like all mindfulness practices, meditation can look like anything that works for you. There’s no pressure to do it “right”. Anything you read or hear that indicates otherwise is misinformation.

While research into the psychological benefits of mindfulness tends to focus on lessening depression or calming the amygdala, it can also change self-talk. I became aware of this when I participated in a Daring Way class earlier this year. As we assessed our self-talk for shame and guilt messages, I realized that I feel no need to shame or guilt myself on a regular basis. That doesn’t mean I never feel shame or guilt, they just aren’t default states for me. I can tell you without hesitation that mindfulness has significantly influenced my self-talk in a positive way.

Intentions for the New Year

My 7-month-old granddaughter has spent four months in the hospital this year. All of those were in CVICU and her condition was critical for over a month. She has had two open chest heart surgeries and several other surgical procedures. She continues to be medically fragile. Three weeks ago, the cardiologist carried her from admitting to CVICU himself because he was concerned that she would code on the elevator.

It has been a challenging year for her parents, her 2-year-old brother, her other grandparents and me. It literally takes all of us to keep the household going and some sense of normalcy for the 2-year-old. While we are hoping to avoid additional surgery next year, there’s no way to predict what will happen. We just know that the risk of hospitalization remains high.

When times are difficult, practicing mindfulness is a way to be kind to myself. With that in mind, I intend to carve out time for yoga every week. My goal is 2 1/2 hours minimum. If that means that the laundry waits unfolded on the couch for a day or two, so be it. If it means I must forego a social activity, it is worth it.

There may be weeks during which I do not make my goal. I could be sick or traveling or otherwise obligated. Don’t worry, I won’t shame or guilt myself and it won’t be hard for me to pick back up where I left off. That’s the thing about finding a practice that makes you feel good – you WANT to come back again and again.

I don’t have any specific intention for meditation other than to incorporate it as needed. That could change as the year progresses.

While it’s possible to practice gratitude through intention without yoga or meditation, it is almost impossible to practice yoga or meditation without gratitude. A feeling of appreciation for the strength, ease, energy, and resilience of your body begins to naturally flow. Observing this opens the door to other feelings of gratitude.

I may not keep a gratitude journal next year. While I like that practice, at this moment I prefer feeling and expressing gratitude in the moment. I intend to verbalize my gratitude to others at every opportunity.

The Challenge for Improvement

You may have noticed that my intentions so far are for things I like and want to do anyway. That won’t necessarily push me toward growth. With the intent of self-improvement, I plan to challenge myself to practice grace: as in a disposition to or an act or instance of kindness, courtesy, or clemency. You’d think this would be easy because I value grace when it’s extended to me, but the truth is, it is difficult for me to practice.

Typically, grace must be extended when someone has wronged you or fallen short of your expectations. Depending on the circumstances, repeated real aggressions or perceived injustice can be a big trigger for me. Clearly, I have not healed all of the wounds I carry from the wrongdoing of others. Practicing grace can be a bottom-up piece of the healing process.

Just thinking about this intention makes me feel angry. That’s good. It means I’m on point. I will have to sit with this for a moment because I do not yet know what I want this grace to look like. I intend to be kind to and honor myself in the process. Right now, it sounds impossible for me to be kind to myself and extend grace to anyone who habitually makes my life more difficult. Experience tells me that the point for healing lies in the middle of this dilemma.

It will take some reflection for me to become clear on how to begin practicing grace. That’s why I have to start setting intentions for the new year early. I know that having a clear picture in my mind to serve as a guide makes it possible for me to accomplish things that seem impossible today.

The specific path will unfold over time in ways I cannot anticipate. When I feel discouraged, I often rely on Rori Raye’s mantra: Trust your boundaries. Feel your feelings. Choose your words. Be surprised.

Mindfulness helps me know where my boundaries should be. It allows me to reconnect with my body so I can feel. It changes my focus so I can choose the best words. It allows me to let go of an anticipated outcome and be surprised by real experience. Since we often anticipate the worst, these surprises can be the best!

I intend to relish every good surprise in the new year! I hope you will too.

https://traumahealing.org/about-us/

https://www.yogaanytime.com/class-view/1742/video/Yoga-What-is-Trauma-by-Kyra-Haglund

https://yogawithadriene.com/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3480312/

https://nccih.nih.gov/research/results/spotlight/031912

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21691341

https://clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/show/NCT02794376

https://www.psychotherapy.net/article/body-keeps-score-van-der-kolk

https://www.mindful.org/the-science-of-trauma-mindfulness-ptsd/

https://www.va.gov/PATIENTCENTEREDCARE/Veteran-Handouts/An_Introduction_to_Yoga_for_Whole_Health.asp

http://www.cooking2thrive.com/blog/strategic-patience/

http://www.cooking2thrive.com/blog/speed-kills/

http://www.cooking2thrive.com/blog/yoga-perfect-home-workout/

http://www.cooking2thrive.com/blog/notice-what-feels-good-to-improve-the-feeling-in-your-gut/

https://blog.havetherelationshipyouwant.com/the-rori-raye-mantra/

ad

November 26, 2018

New Life for Leftovers

This week is a good time to create a new life for leftovers. In general I don’t mind leftovers, but I have my limits. Once I’m tired of eating a particular holiday menu item, I like to repurpose it to make it palatable again. If I don’t, I’ll be tempted to throw away perfectly good food.

Leftover plans have to be flexible because I never know exactly what will be eaten, what will be taken home by my family, and what will stay in my refrigerator. When incorporating leftovers into other dishes, I just work from a general framework and make things up as I go.

Turkey quickly becomes a turkey/avocado/bacon wrap using gluten-free tortillas or paleo wraps. Sometimes I go full turkey club by adding tomato, lettuce, and cheese to the wrap.

If you have leftover turkey and gravy, it’s easy to make creamed turkey on toast. It’s the same idea as chipped beef on toast and has that same retro feel of grandma’s kitchen.
corn
This year I ended up with lots of corn. I’m going to use it in Mexican cornbread, but I could make corn/potato chowder or corn casserole. I could also include it along with other veggies in a frittata. Frittatas are always an easy, delicious, gluten-free way to repurpose cooked vegetables.

If you have too much stuffing, consider turning it into a bottom crust for shepherd’s pie. If you have them, the filling can be made with leftover turkey, vegetables, and gravy. If you don’t, create a filling using breakfast sausage, green peas, and a little sour cream. Top off either version with mashed potatoes or mashed sweet potatoes before baking.

Winter weather often accompanies the holidays making warm, cozy soup an appealing option. Mashed potatoes and gravy can become the base for a thick, creamy soup. Corn and green beans can be incorporated into vegetable soup.

Fresh cranberry/orange relish makes the perfect topping for an almond torte. We always have extra relish. We all love it, but it’s not something you want to eat in large servings and it’s such a strong, tart flavor that it doesn’t always pair well with other strong flavors. On the other hand, its strong flavor enhances the mild flavor of the torte.

Last year, I used a leftover sweet potato to create a topping for panna cotta. It was so good everyone asked for it again this year! Here’s the recipe if you’d like to try it:

Sweet Potato Topping

1/2 cup cooked sweet potato
2 tbsp maple syrup
1 1/2 tbsp salted butter
1 tbsp heavy whipping cream
1 tbsp + 1/2 tsp honey
Pinch of salt

Place sweet potato and maple syrup in food chopper or blender and purée until smooth. In medium skillet, melt butter. Add puréed sweet potato. Whisk in cream and honey and sprinkle with salt. Cook for a minute or two. Allow to cool.

I’m not sure why I thought to turn that sweet potato into topping, but I’m glad I did. That’s the great thing about creating new life for leftovers; you can end up with unexpectedly good food that would never have been thought of otherwise.

http://www.cooking2thrive.com/blog/lighten/