So it is my turn to share a Friday Drink recipe....
Several years ago we took our then four children down to Curacao for a vacation. (No, we do not vacation so luxuriously every year, but I wish we did!) It was a lot of fun, but super hot. By time we made our way to our resort (at the very top of the island) we were drenched with sweat and wondering what on earth we had been thinking to bring four kids so far and the kids are thinking this is not feeling anything remotely like fun. We walk into the resort lobby and there waiting for us is a hotel employee with ice cold towels and this cold, delicious fruit punch. For years one of my kids would talk about just how nice that "butler" (I seriously doubt that is his real title) had been to be ready for us like that; such a kind, kind man. Anyway, it hit the spot and my children were instantly fans of "the butler" and his juice. On our last day there... they also talked the recipe out of him. I seriously doubt it was a secret recipe, but he made them feel like it was and they are convinced it was the best souvenir we brought home. It is super easy. We hope you enjoy!
1/2 pineapple juice
1/2 orange juice
red grenadine to taste
serve ice cold
Better yet... see if you can get someone in the house to dress up like the butler and put ice cold towels on your head while you drink it! ;)
My personal philosophy on meat consumption…
When we consume a living thing we need to honor the fact that it gave its life for our consumption. It has to physically be killed in order for us to eat it. That is not pretty. I am not saying it is wrong, but it should not be done frivolously. That sacrifice should be honored. Honoring that life means not being gluttonous and wasteful. Honoring that life also means being sure that it’s life was treated with respect including how it is fed and housed. An animal that has been cared for properly makes a healthier food product for us. I cannot stress that enough. You are consuming whatever that animal consumed or was injected with.
To live by this philosophy takes a little effort. In my case, I have three options and I suspect most of you have at least these three, if not more.
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One: I can buy a product from my grocery store that tells me what I need to know. For example, it can tell me that “x” beef was 100% grass-fed with no added antibiotics and raised on such and such farm. My local Whole Foods almost always has a meat product that meets my standard. You could also try your local butcher. Mine gave me a look that nearly turned me to stone when I asked about grass-fed beef. Maybe he has come around, but I have not been back to find out!
Option Two: I can find a local farm that meets my standards and go buy my meat directly. When my children found out that my experimentation in vegetarianism was going to become permanent (a story for another time), they panicked. Real live tears flowed profusely. I tried very hard to convince them that just because I was giving up meat did not mean they had to, but it did mean I was going to be a whole lot more picky about what meat they ate. Ironically, when I asked them the other day about this transition, they did not remember it at all and tell me I am making it up. They do not even remember when we ate meat daily! Anyway, at the time I realized that I was going to have to find myself a farm and make believers out of my kids. (Showing them "Food, Inc."
a few years later did not hurt either!)
I found out about Plaid Piper Farm
by asking around at the organic booths at a farmer’s market. Paul, the Plaid Piper farmer, calls himself “Grass Farmer. Microbe Manager. Steward of the Land.” I love that! I think there is something special about farming. Something that reminds us just how connected we are to the earth and to each other. The first time we visited Plaid Piper it was night time. It was not supposed to be, but traffic was backed up and then there was that part where the GPS went black. Apparently, we were in unmarked territory! That same night, on our way home, we had a BEAR cross the street right in front of our car! A BEAR! I felt like a pioneer going out into the wild to collect my Thanksgiving turkey. Never mind the car, the GPS, and the blaring radio... we had crossed paths with a bear!
Eventually, we arranged to go during the day and do a real live tour. Our family’s personal tour of Plaid Piper Farm was such a neat experience. It still makes me smile! It is hard to believe that my Dad grew up collecting eggs as one of his chores and my great-grandparents were farmers, but I had never collected a real live egg from a real live chicken! First observation, chickens smell really bad! Paul has trailers and portable fences that he uses to move his chickens around the fields. My kids all reacted a little differently.
My oldest was the most freaked out by the chickens. "They have claws!" My second oldest remembers that the chickens smelled really bad and his shoes got really dirty, and that cows do not really do much. I am not sure what he thought cows should do, but that is his memory. Clearly I have some big city kids on my hands! However, the younger kids came alive! To quote Paul the Farmer, "I do believe they have got some farmer in them!" I found myself thinking my life would be a lot easier if we were living that kind of lifestyle. I know, a romantic fantasy that fails to remember how much hard work farming is! Then again... can you imagine the exuberant ones of my crowd having the freedom to roam around the land and work hard every day? I think they would be very happy.
We were all very proud of the eggs we collected. Coaxing an egg away from a hen is not always the easiest thing! They feel like little treasures! I have not written about eggs yet, but you should know that I am a huge egg snob. I cannot eat "conventional" eggs. They make me ill. They are disgusting. I do not usually buy organic eggs, but local ones. The funny thing with eggs is the truth is inside the shell. The egg carton can say whatever it wants, but the second you crack it open... you know whether or not you have a good egg. These eggs were BEAUTIFUL!
They were also super delicious. Did you know an egg white is a perfect protein source? I rarely eat the yolk, but I have egg white almost every day. Every time I have visited the farm, I have come home with 8 or more cartons!
I grew up in Texas where a lot of the fields were maintained by cattle. I do not know if those cows were ever for eating or if they were just for controlling the grass, but cows remind me of home. In fact, my family once got trapped inside of a herd of cows while trying to reach a remote campsite! Fortunately, they decided against trashing the van and we got through. At Plaid Piper, Paul moves his cows around the farm with portable fences. They were beautiful. We were all particularly taken with the babies! (Then again, we are suckers for babies at our house!)
We also paid a visit to the hogs. I think they are hogs. Pigs? I am not exactly sure. Did you know they really do like to play in the mud? We were interested in the hogs because earlier that year, we had fallen in love with Plaid Piper sausage. I do not even know how I had some. I must have bought a package or two when I first went for the turkey? Who knows. However we came to have it... my oldest son wanted to set up a fire in our backyard. (Is it me, or are all boys pyromaniacs?) We told him he had to check in with the fire department. It turns out it is OK as long as you are cooking something on it. I had none of the typical fireside foods (See previous post... I do not keep marshmallows in my pantry!) All I had was some of the Plaid Piper sweet sausage in the freezer. We had not made it before. We were not prepared for just how good it was going to be! I was six months into being a vegetarian. My son begged me to try a bite. I had one bite. The last bite. Perfection.
So what's my point today? Go have an adventure! Find yourself a farm. Collect an egg. Look your dinner in the eye. Make googlie eyes at your future turkey when it is just a baby. (I did. Ok, so probably not the exact one.) Show up for slaughter day. (That has not worked out for us so far.) Own your diet. And by owning your diet I mean close the gap between it and your plate and consume with integrity. Cost is not an excuse, even though it is everyone's favorite excuse. If you cannot afford quality meat, then eat less meat so that you can.
So this brings us to "Option Three". Go without. You do not need it at all and so for sure not tons of it. As my husband will say when he sees this, "Please pass on it all together! Your heart will thank you." I wholeheartedly agree with him and option three is what I choose for myself. However, I have kept my word to my children and serve them meat at least once a week. So whatever you choose... remember you are what you eat... or whatever it ate!
(P.S.: That sausage was really, really, really delicious, and meeting the farmer and seeing a bear on the way home from picking up the turkey... Soooo cool!!!! Totally worth it!)
My Mom believed in breakfast, and I do mean really believed in breakfast. I always knew that and I always loved that about her. However, I nowhere near appreciated it until it was time for me to be the breakfast maker. Then, I was humbled. I failed. I gave up. To quote my 12-year old, I was “lucky.” He is not.
You see, every morning, my entire life, without fail… my mother made (from scratch) pancakes and eggs or French toast and eggs. I remember griping and being highly critical if they were not the exact color I wanted. (Oh, how I would love to bop that little girl on the head now!) Our eggs were made to order. We had three types: “Daddy”, “Mommy”, and “Brown”. She would mix up the pancake’s dry ingredients ahead of time and then just add the wet the morning of (no measuring cups, all by eye). She used an iron skillet. No one ever helped her (at least not much in the years I was there.) She went through a few stages of what we were allowed to put on them. When I was really little we could put butter, sugar, AND syrup! So Southern. “Alas” (that little girl thought) those years were very short.
We became a sugar free house when I was quite young and so then our toppings depended on how the economy was. If we were lucky, we had sugar free syrups and jellies that she had shipped from somewhere out of state. If not, sugar free applesauce or crushed pineapple. Ironically, it is the applesauce and pineapple topped pancakes I crave today. I have her recipe, but it is pretty useless. They do not taste the same. I think she made the recipe up when I called and asked for it years after I had left home. She does not really know. I know she does not because I made her make them in front of me one time. She just does it. It is magic.
Occasionally I make my children pancakes. On even rarer occasions I make them French toast. I never make them for breakfast. If I did, we would never make it to school before lunch. We have them for dinner. We top them with either peanut butter or cream cheese and pure maple syrup, raw blue agave or honey. Every other one has to have a protein spread on top.
My oldest made himself pancakes almost every morning this past summer. Maybe he has his grandmother’s breakfast genes? He was never late for anything. Trust me, I would be. Did I mention I am the oldest of eleven? Maybe her breakfast magic also stopped the clock. I was never late for school. My children had 42 tardies one year, and that is without pancakes, French toast, or eggs.
Magic. I tell you. Magic.
1 1/4 c. sifted flour
2.5 tsp baking powder
3 T sugar (optional)
3/4 tsp salt
1 egg, beaten
3/4 c. water (or milk)
3 T oil
Combine, stir, cook on hot griddle.
This lovely picture is a snapshot of my lunch yesterday. It is garlic naan stuffed with hummus and Brussels sprouts. Yum!!! (Ok, so there was whole-wheat naan in the bread drawer and I gave into the sugar calling and took the lighter bread, but surely the brussel sprouts make up for it?!) Hummus is one of my very favorite kitchen staples. The hubs and I have gone out to eat where all we had for dinner was hummus, pita, and a nice tall bottle of sparkling water. It is always in our fridge. We eat it with raw vegetables, steamed vegetables, bread, rice, plain, on eggs, and I have even put it on pasta.
However, I have not mastered making my own. I have tried, but my estimations are that I am a few years away from an even remotely decent creation. (Who knew a bunch of mashed up beans was such a craft!? Better yet, who knew tahini was stocked with the peanut butter?!) So, back to not having mastered making my own… The problem is between the grocery shopping options I have to choose from, I am getting bored of the hummus flavors. We have eaten them all a thousand times.
Therefore, I am on the hunt for something new and this past week picked up some hummus-like bean dips. They are basically hummus, but made with black or white beans instead of garbanzo beans.
One day while making lunches I was low on mayo and decided to substitute with “hummus”. That is not a big deal. My children love hummus and are used to having it show up on their sandwiches. However, what did not occur to me is that normal hummus is not purple and maybe I should have warned them. It just did not cross my mind. I mean, someone goes through the trouble to make you a lunch, YOU EAT IT! Right? Apparently not.
Sooo my ten year old gets to school and opens up his lunch to see purple stuff oozing out of his challah roll. He takes it to the lunch lady to see what she thinks. They decide it is MOLD. Mold?! Do you really think that enough mold could accumulate on your bread between breakfast and lunch to be dripping out of your sandwich? Mold is not even purple. Do you think I would not notice that much mold on your bread? All, I have to say is you deserve to be hungry. Then again, the lunch lady took pity and gave you a lunch that I am pretty sure I paid for. I was irritated until I found out…
It was not my only hummus story for the day. Apparently, I had also not tasted that flavor yet and so my 14 year old’s story went something along the lines of, “Next time you send me hummus that is going to catch my mouth on fire, please include a beverage in my lunch. I nearly killed a few people diving across the lunch room to buy something to drink.” After that I had to try it and well… it made me cry. We are saving it for Dad. He likes it hot. As for the rest of us... time to break out the food processor and try again!
(Sooo… if you are hummus master… call me!)
“Soooo not the legacy I was going for!” That is exactly what my angel self is going to be thinking while looking down from heaven watching my great-grand children eat Thanksgiving Dinner. I am not even sure where this recipe comes from. It cannot have been in the family that long because most of the ingredients have not even existed
that long and the ones that have are from the opposite side of the earth. However, rest assured, I know this is the one dish my children will be sure to serve to theirs. (Catching my consternation?) Equally, rest assured, I have no one to blame, but myself.
So, let’s go back to the beginning. It just so happens that this week we are talking about our food beginnings. That is a complicated question for me. (And I do mean really, really complicated.) Thus, I have decided to start as uncomplicated as I can with my very earliest food memory (you did not realize we were going back that far did you?)
My earliest actual memories start before my first birthday. (Go ahead, be a doubter, but I am not making this up.) My first “food memory” is when I am 3. However, I remember “knowing” something that day and so my 3-year-old self obviously remembered an earlier “food memory”.
This is what my 3-year-old self remembered: “Get to the green stuff before the uncles!”
My mother was the oldest of 9 and so my 3 uncles are only 10 (twins) and 11 years older than I. That small age gap is totally awesome, but it also means that when the kids were told to line up to get their food, the uncles and I were in the same line. And they were in front! To this day I remember the tension I felt watching the uncles – the green stuff – the uncles – the green stuff – and well you get the picture!
I am happy to report that I did manage to get some of the “green stuff” (Whew!) I also remember that “the uncles” took a lot of it! I have not had Thanksgiving with my grandparents in 19 years and so I do not know if they still serve the green stuff, but I serve it every year at my house.
Now that is a sweet story, but I would imagine not unlike some of your stories. However, there is a major problem with this story... or rather this recipe. Do you know how much high fructose corn syrup and corn syrup is in marshmallows? In Cool Whip? Do you realize I have a major, probably pathological aversion to corn syrup? Last I checked, Cool Whip and marshmallows ARE corn syrup. Hmmm. What to do?
My boys figured it out. They make it. Every year. “The Green Stuff”
Or Watergate Salad/Pistachio Pudding(click to link)
2 – 3 ounce pistachio pudding mix
1 – 20 ounce can of crushed pineapple, un-drained
1 – 10.5 ounce bag of mini-marshmallows
2 – 12 ounce container of Cool Whip
Mix together. Chill. (Guard from 13 year old boys. Or in our house, 3 year old girls!)
So the morning kicked off with two of what my husband calls "fire drills" and all before I dropped my pre-schooler off or addressed the fracture my twelve year-old acquired over the weekend. So until those things are taken care of, here is one of my very favorite fall recipes. It almost smells better than it tastes - which incidentally is fantastic.
The first time I made this recipe I had an epiphany. You and I make our houses “smell like fall” by buying scented wax or oil. However, in the old days – they simply moved onto the new season’s foods and thus the house smelled like what we have come to call "fall." All these aroma products are simply recreating seasonal cooking. Pretty cool, huh? (You probably already knew that. In my defense, I grew up on the Texas Gulf Coast where there is barely such a thing as seasons.)
The recipe is adapted/based
from “Nigella Express” by Nigella Lawson. It is on page 20: “Roast Cornish Hen and Sweet Potatoes”. I tried to make her recipe once, but the hens were a disaster and so I just leave them out. My notes from that first baking in November 2007 says “Easy yams! Yam’s perfect!” I have made it dozens of times since. I love it! You can use either sweet potatoes or yams (and yes, there is a difference, but honestly I do not know what it is.) I should probably mention here that I do not really follow recipes. I treat them more like ingredient lists and so I am going to give you numbers, but do not feel too attached. SWEET POTATOES RECIPE:
Two tablespoons of garlic or olive oil.
One pound of sweet potatoes or yams.
One-fourth teaspoon of ground cumin (Cover the potatoes with it)
One-fourth teaspoon of cinnamon (Equally cover to the cumin)
Honey. (Everything tastes better with honey.)
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees (I think I do less. I cannot remember.)
Place the unpeeled 2.5-inch cubed sweet potatoes in a baking dish.
Pour the oil and spices over the potatoes and shake it all together.
Bake for 45 minutes (or until it is the tenderness you want).
Squirt it with lime-juice (A little Ranch dressing or sprinkle of feta or gorgonzola does not hurt either).
Savor that aroma.
Then dig into a very yummy seasonal dish. Enjoy!
(Nutritional Note: sweet potatoes and yams are very rich in vitamins, but they are also starches and you do not need to serve them with a carbohydrate. They are the carbohydrate for the meal. I serve them with a green vegetable and then a protein of choice and a little bit of sparkling apple cider or water sounds like a perfect addition too.)
5 Confessions: I like to write. I like to cook. I like to eat. I like to talk about all things food. And we will talk about number 5 later.
I do not know if I am a good writer. I think I am a good cook. I am way too good of an eater and a talker too.
This blog thing is making me nervous. What's the big deal? It is just the kind of extracurricular thing I was looking for. I guess I did not think through the whole someone - just might read this part. Now, not only is my mind going a million miles a minute with topic ideas, but I am having anxiety about both 'not wanting anyone to read it' and 'hoping people will love it', etc., etc. I have a hard enough time making friends. People's eyes just glaze over when they hear the 6-kid thing and now they are going to think they know me because they are reading me, but then again maybe they are not reading me. See what I mean?! But, I digress.
Next, there is the biggie... food is INTIMATE. Trust me. I have been focused on food long enough to know. Dietary habits can both unite and destroy relationships. I have had whole friendships that hinged on food.
First there was the younger sister that I teamed up with as teenagers to help each other NOT eat. How was I to know that would backfire? She helped me a lot. It was not good for her. (In general 12-year-old athletic girls should not be trying to avoid food at all!) That said, there is no doubt we bonded in that corner refusing the ice cream everyone around us was eating.
Then there was the 2nd conversation I ever had with my husband. I was a nutrition major. He wanted to know what I thought of organic food. (I was a downer on it. Things have changed.) He brought me an entire bag of organic pears and blood oranges later that week. He was not the first boyfriend to give me fruit. What does that say about me? I am pretty certain food is one of the foundation pillars in our marriage (after faith, family, and stubbornness).
Then, there are the people who spend their whole time with me apologizing about how their family eats or being nervous about their food in front of me. STOP IT! (I am a food lover first.) Next come those who refuse to talk to me anymore at all because I upset or offended them on the topic. (Sorry. I can be overzealous.) And we cannot forget the ones who deliberately sabotage me. (Grrrrr!!!!) And finally, there are the unadventurous souls who refuse to even try my food and bring their own food when they visit. (Sigh. I do not mean to scare you. It really is tasty.)
Soooo... late last night as I was stealthily selecting "treats" for my high schooler to take to the Moon Festival party in his Mandarin class, I found myself feeling really nervous someone would see me. Fancy that? It is embarassing enough to be chubby, but now you know I am a die-hard organic cook and here I am holding "trans-fat packed, no where near organic, from who knows where" whoopie pies in my hand! So right then and there I decided that if we are going to share this pot, I am going to have to make a few things clear.
So for confession number 5: I am a cheater. A purist, but a cheater. I am one whole package of oxymoron.
For example. Today is Friday. While last night we had red potatoes baked in a mustard sauce served over a bed of arugula with garbanzo beans simmered in an Indian cashew sauce for dinner... tonight... we will have pizza. And not just any pizza. The cheapest pizza in town. So now you know. There, it is out. This mother does not cook on Friday night. Ever. And last I checked there was no organic pizza baker who delivers in town and so why pay a ton of money for a better prepared, but let's face it they are using pretty much the same ingredients, pizza?! The worst part though? Is I am going to eat it too. I will try not to, but I almost always do. And I like it. So there!
Leonard Da Vinci said, “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” My Dad said it a little more crudely… “Keep it simple stupid.” Whatever your style, the key to enjoying the daily job of providing a healthy dinner and not driving yourself crazy or bankrupt is to: keep it simple.
Think about it – millions of people eat little more than a bowl of rice for dinner every day. Why do I need casts of thousands at my table? I also find it very fascinating that the “poor man’s meal” of rice and beans is nearly a perfect nutritional entrée… add some vegetables, a dash of olive oil, and a fruit for dessert… and you have a dinner you can literally eat every day.
When I sit down to plan my weekly meals I plan on at least half of the meals being what I call a “Basic Dinner”… vegetables served with rice, quinoa, or bulgur wheat or vegetables served with bread and a spread (hummus being the resident favorite). I vary how I season and prepare them, but I keep it basic.
Out of the above,Bulgur wheat is the new darling of my kitchen. About a year ago I went for lunch at a friend’s house. She is from Haiti and lunch was a simple plate of this grain looking thing with garbanzo beans. The meal was HEAVENLY!!! It was bulgur wheat. She had lightly sautéed a can of garbanzo beans on the skillet (brilliant, I use that trick all the time) and she claimed the bulgur wheat just had a dash of olive oil and a Haitian spice. I was skeptical… there had to be more. Well, it turns out that in addition to being high in fiber and protein, bulgur wheat has quite a bit of natural flavor… meaning you do not really need to add too much to it! Not only that, but it is so filling that I can rarely eat more than half a cup. Trust me, no other carbohydrate has that affect on me!!
So here is last night’s dinner as an example….
Wednesday’s Menu: Greek Salad. Bulgur wheat. Strawberries.
1. 2 cups of bulgur wheat with 4 cups of water into the rice cooker. Walk away.
2. Hours later quickly cut up 2 cucumbers, the feta block, ¾ of a red onion, and a handful of kalamata olives.
3. Dump onto the pre-washed mixed greens lettuce.
4. Drizzle with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. (4 swipes across the salad bowl each.)
5. Scoop the bulgur wheat into a serving dish and season.
6. Forget to the put the strawberries out because I am worried about missing swim team pick up drop off (no one said my calendar was simple).
7. Serve dinner.
8. Enjoy a very satisfying and nutritionally balanced meal while listening to my children complain about the seasoning I used (live and learn), watch them go for seconds of the salad, and all while trying to extrapolate something about their day (under 10 crowd wants to tell me everything and the over 10 crowd wants to tell me nothing).
9. Remember that Dallin H. Oak’s wise advice still applies no matter what age: “All my kids really want for dinner is me.”… and while I am remembering things… I forgot the strawberries… and we are going to be late for swimming after all.
… Sooooo no matter how complicated our lives may be there is indeed something very beautiful and sophisticated about pausing and enjoying a simple meal. In fact, there is never a basic meal that I would not be comfortable serving to a guest – even Mr. Da Vinci himself. Hopefully, he would be more talkative about his day!
(There are pictures of last night’s dinner, but as there were 1000 plus pictures on my camera it will be a few hours before they are downloaded and then probably a few more before I figure out how to get them uploaded here and then a few more before my kids get home and just do it for me.)
Last Saturday at the grocery store I stumbled on a display of “apple spice” donuts. Or is it “spice apple”? I LOVE getting cider and apple spice donuts when we go apple picking in September! I do not know how much my kids actually like it, but it is a ritual I impose every year! It makes me feel like such a good Mom.
However, it occurred to me that with the boys getting so big (my oldest just started high school)… it might not happen for all of us this year and well… it is September… we should have some apple spice donuts, right? (And now you see why my weight loss is soooo slow!)
It was a brilliant. I could sleep in. I had one before I went to bed and left the rest on the counter to be discovered. Trusting there would be none left to tempt me when I woke up the next morning! They would all be surprised and delighted. Wrong.
By time I got to the kitchen there was a full fledge regular inquesition going on. It seems there were less donuts than there should have been, but between all of the accusations and drama it was really just one big shout fest. I finally got everyone settled down enough to ask each how many they had eaten and count what was left. Sure enough, we were short TWO. You would think there was never going to be another donut made on earth – ever!
In time you will get to know my 3 year old. She is beautiful, brilliant, and under-supervised… “Under-supervised” being the key word here. She had been the first one down the stairs, her face had that “look”, and well, regardless of what she was telling us – she had clearly had 3 donuts. Amid great grumbling, I divided up was left and sent them on their way. They were all still irritated with her, but what can you do?
Well, yesterday while cleaning up I discovered some weight in a lunch bag and upon opening it I discovered… TWO “apple spice” donuts!
She had told us the truth. We had just asked the wrong question! So, like any good mother, I went and asked the right question. Sure enough – she had “saved” them for later, but then she had forgotten where she had saved them, and so she had only gotten to eat one. And who can blame her? With four older siblings a lady has to do a little hoarding!
Laughing I later told her older brother about it. He jumped up and immediately asks, “Where are they? Are they still good?”
“Ummm… No.” Long gone. “You do not know what could have been in that lunch bag before the donuts got there! They are gone.” Long gone. It is September after all.
So much for my brilliant plan.