Cra-May…You know, the crazy month

Each year, May seems like a mad dash to the summer finish line. As temperatures heat up, it seems like every other day is a thunderstorm waiting game.  Swim lessons, end of year school events, spring sports wrapping up, and for some reason in our family, there are a lot of birthdays. We have decided to add to the May madness this year by putting our house on the market.

Everyone has been pitching in.  Our kitchen underwent a much-needed update, but that has left us without our main LIVING space for three weeks (instead of one).  We are far off routine, the kids have watched most of their toys being boxed up, and the dog thinks — well, I don’t know what he thinks, but I’m positive he’s confused.

I’m looking forward to renovations being completed, school being out for the summer and June taking a warm, lazy turn.  So, how does one lady keep her eye on the ball in the midst of choas at home?  Horse racing season of course!  Mother’s Day weekend brought refuge in the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Weekend is almost here, and with any luck, I can have a We Sold Our House Belmont Stakes Party!

the thankful post

I am so thankful this year…for change, for completeness, and for grace.

This year has been a big one for us.  In many ways I would describe it as joyful, but mostly I would say complete. We now consider our family complete and for the first time in a long time, my life’s wish list complete.  We have struggled since our first son was born with my desire to stay home with our children and our necessity for my second income.  This year, we made the decision to completely change how we run our household and give me a go as full-time homemaker. A lot of people try to dress up that word, but I prefer to embrace it.  HOMEMAKAER. It is a job I worked very hard to earn, and I consider the title resemblant of a dying art, like a blacksmith or a butcher. It was Mother Teresa who said, “What can you do to promote world peace?  Go home and love your family.”  Homemaker today…Nobel Prize tomorrow.  I’m telling ya, there are so many mothers, educators, coaches, and youth ministers out there that saved a child they really should have a broader spectrum for the peace prize category.

Please understand, I am not knocking the working mother at all.  I am supportive of her, in awe of how she balances life, and empathetic towards the emotions she feels every time she begins and ends her work day.  It was something I prayed daily to be content with, but for me, life opened a window.  I think I will enjoy the fresh air while I may.

So for 2013, I am thankful for:

1. a God who opens windows.

2. a husband who has a serving spirit and who sacrifices so much for his family and for others.

3. my eldest son who is so smart, so sweet, and challenges me every day to become a better person.

4. my middle child, who I knew would be an adventure the first time I felt him kick.  It is so amazing to get a peek at life through a three-year old’s eyes and to be reminded each day that I matter to someone.

5. my daughter, who brings joy to our life each day and who needs her mother to be a positive role model.

6. our family.  God love them, each one is so different. They are challenging, they could be called crazy, but they are ours and we could not raise our family without this village.

7. true friends that stand the test of time. We really do have amazing friends…I don’t even know where to begin…old friends we have not forgotten, and new friends we have not yet met

8. our health.

9. our insurance, doctors, and medical care that have allowed us to safely have three healthy beautiful children.

10. grandmas.  The ones who love my babies and the ones who love me.  For the fact that they all have shared a room at our wedding and Kiddo’s first birthday.

11. traditions. The little things I miss from childhood or recreate for my own children.  School fight songs, memories and new ones in the making.

12. Texas.  Come on…you had to have known it would be on the list.

13. the outdoors. I’m still warming up to the great outdoors, but it is beautiful and we have had so much fun.

14. wet kisses, sticky hands, and lots and lots of messes.

15. time.  Time with my family, my babies, my husband, my friends, and myself that was previously taken up with items on my to-do list.

16. three square meals, steady paychecks, and a roof over our heads.

17. chocolate.

18. date nights with Man.

19. family nights with my little party of 5.

20. birthday parties, graduations, new babies, and all those things.

21. our soldiers.

22. the very wise, very funny, and very honest things children say.

23. family vacations.

24. daytime smiles and nighttime giggles.

25. warm sunshine in May.

26. brisk mornings in November.

27. snuggles.

28. lazy days.

29. all the things I have learned this year.

30. grace.

We are so blessed, and I am thankful every day for all God has given to me and mine.  Sometimes I even get that freaked out feeling that I am too happy or too blessed beyond anything I could ever deserve and then I remember…we have complete grace.  Doesn’t that really encompass everything we are thankful for?

Gobble, Gobble, Wibble, Wobble, Do a Turkey Dance

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If you have never read 10 Fat Turkeys by Tony Johnston at least three times a day for the past 15 days, then you do not have an appreciation for how it can get stuck in your head. Cute book, especially the first year we owned it. Any way…I digress. As usual. So, Thanksgiving. Next to the Super Bowl, the greatest food holiday of the year. At our house it is often overlooked by family drama about the upcoming holiday season and the daily rush, rush.

This year we are making it a point to set Thanksgiving as a precursor to what the true meaning of Christmas is all about. Every night a dinner, we go around the table recalling something we are thankful for that day. We’ve brainstormed ideas of acts of kindness or service we can work on in December, and talked about our many blessings. To me, it has been the perfect set up for a holiday spent enjoying our family, counting our blessings, and being thoughtful.

A time of year when we entertain more, see extended family more often, and fill our calendars to the brim, thoughtfulness seems to be an oxymoron. We are snippy with salespeople, rude to other drivers, and brash with our kids – all so we can spend more quality time together with family we rarely see and make it to parties with co-workers and acquaintances.

Often an unnecessary stress is accommodating dietary needs of our friends, family members, and acquaintances we are not accustomed to cooking for. It doesn’t have to be stressful, and you can come out smelling like a rose if you do your research. Who wouldn’t notice the thoughtful guest or hostess that has menu options for everyone…diabetic, food allergic, vegetarian, whole food minded, paleolithic…the list goes on. The Internet is a wealth of information, some times overwhelming. I have collected some ideas that I hope will help get your inner chef going. Plus, most people I know that do have dietary needs are tickled pink if they even have one option to nosh on and are normally more than happy to bring a dish that fits within their parameters.

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grilled salmon with sausage stuffed acorn squash

I cruised my favorite culinary websites and scanned some of my go-to blogs. Most websites these days have recipe searches for allergy and other dietary restrictions. For any holiday or event, I make a list of traditional foods my family enjoys and then apply a little creativity. You can break from tradition all together and make fish or tex-mex or just rework your tried & true. Today, you get the Thanksgiving Feast, the Remix (Come on, you can’t do a turkey dance these days without a remix).

The Pantry: Be careful. When cooking for people with food allergies or special dietary restrictions, allergens lurk in many of the condiments, vinegars, and sauces we cook with. Stick to simple spices (sold in the bulk aisle of grocery stores like Central Market or Whole Foods much cheaper than in the little jars on the shelf – I also love our local store Pendery’s), salt, fresh cracked pepper, olive oil. Check labels for gluten-free, certified organic, etc. If you don’t have time to make things like stock or tomato sauce from scratch, read the can carefully. Where is the product made? What are the ingredients? Does it have an allergen warning on it due to the plant where it was processed? Sometimes it is best to just buy fresh. I like organic free range low sodium stock, the bulk section of my grocery store, olive oil, kosher salt, and fresh cracked pepper. You would be surprised how much frozen food and juice is a mixture of food from four or five different countries. I buy Texan. Then I buy USA.

Turkey: This one is the easiest, so I will skip recipe links for this category. If you buy free range, organic, fresh meat, most of the time you will pay slightly more for much higher quality. The benefit is you are getting meat minus all of the antibiotics, fillers, juices, and what-not other producers pump poultry full of. Most of these fillers can aggravate food allergies. The star of the show should be the bird, so save some cash somewhere else.

For a home cook, I have made a lot of turkey. One year in college, 18 to be exact, and those we’re even for me. You don’t have to do a lot to it. I’m not tackling the brine vs. no brine debate. I prefer mine with light smoke and heavy cracked pepper – that’s it. Or if you are a die hard roaster – stuff that sucker with citrus, slide some chopped herbs under the skin, salt & pepper, and call him done.

For gravy, try alternate thickening agents like arrowroot instead of flour, or a reduction versus traditional gravy. Be careful to research the starch you decide to substitute though because they all work a little differently.

Dressing & Side Dish Options:
I’m a dressing girl. If you take enough ServSafe classes, you just don’t stuff whole poultry. There are tons of recipes for dressing alternatives like wild rice dishes and this year’s favorite grain trend – Quinoa!

  • Mashed potatoes with stock substituted for dairy
  • Mashed potato & parsnip purée – great flavor, slight sweetness – great with added roasted garlic
  • Puréed turnips – you make them very much the same as you would mashed potatoes. Dice them, add to pot, fill with water, salt the water, bring to boil, reduce to simmer. Let them go 15 minutes or until tender. Drain them and lay on a towel to dry out & cool slightly. Wring in towel over sink to give you a more potato like texture. Put them in the food processor and process with salt, pepper, a little finishing oil, garlic, herbs, whatever!
  • Roasted or baked sweet potatoes
  • Roasted broccoli with grapes – Man would make a face, but its a riff on broccoli salad and it’s yummy. Take fresh broccoli & grapes on foil lined sheet pan drizzle olive oil, salt & pepper. Roast 400 degrees about 20 min. Go all out and add some crispy bacon ribbons and shards of parmesan if you really want all the broccoli salad elements.
  • William Sonoma’s Braised Brussels Sprouts with bacon & thyme -a holiday staple around here
  • Sautéed green beans with crisped prosciutto (or ham) and caramelized onions
  • Roasted fall veggies – just pick your favorites and add olive oil, salt & pepper. 400 degrees, 30 minutes to an hour; done.
  • Roasted acorn or butternut squash – such a pretty presentation. You could even stuff it with a dressing alternative.
  • Try some soup and explore new salads!

    Can’t forget the Cranberries:

  • Roasted Pears & Cranberries – Cube one to three pears (depending in dinner party size) with one to three bags fresh cranberries, drizzle on some honey & orange zest. Roast until golden.
  • Cranberry Conserve – except I don’t add the nuts
  • Ree’s Quick Cranberry Sauce

    Desserts & Baked Goods:
    This one could be the hardest or the easiest depending on how you look at it. Here are some things you can try. First, the optimist upgrades the quality of the product you are baking with….especially chocolate and cocoa (which are filled with fillers). Then they seek out tested recipes from cookbooks or blogs that know baking & gluten free baking as their specialty. The pessimist would say baked goods rely so heavily on scientific elements – crumb, mouthfeel, appearance… it’s hard to get good results. Not an avid baker? Use Urbanspoon to review bakeries in your area that can handle some of the more complicated and time consuming dishes like baked goods and breads. Know of a restaurant or food truck that is vegan, gluten-free, Paleo, etc.? They might let you order some of their yummies for the holiday. Especially if you ask nicely and offer a tip.

    Check out my Pinterest board! I have pinned fall holiday decorations, entertaining ideas, art/craft projects and recipes galore!

    Helpful websites to grab recipes from:
    Many of these are Paleo websites because that way of eating eliminates many inflammatory and allergen foods.
    FitSugar had some really tempting dressing spins
    Paleo Mom – she’s just cool & her site is a great resource
    Autoimmune-Paleo Blog
    Balancing Health & Happiness – Kristin is a Paleo health and wellness coach – check out the blog tab for recipes
    Kalyn’s Kitchen – focuses on low-glycemic eating, but has Paleo, gluten free & other types of recipes
    Skinny Taste
    Chocolate Covered Katie
    Gluten Free Girl
    Gluten Free Goddess

  • Against All Grain
    Paleo Parents
    Taylor Made it Paleo
    PaleOMG

    A special thanks to all of my friends who gave suggestions on resources they use on a regular basis or have dietary restrictions and have shared their knowledge, tips, and tricks with me over the years!

    SUMMER PRODUCE UPDATE

    As June draws to a close, enjoy the last bit of the season for blueberries & strawberries.  People will tell you blackberries are ready, but I disagree, see ya next year!  The best time of year is here!  Tomatoes, zucchini , green beans and corn are coming into full swing.  Word to the wise:  the 4th is not complete without cherries & peaches! July finishes sweet with big ripe melons (Get your mind out of the gutter). For you smoothie makers & juicers – greens are always in fashion.

    Great national link list for all your seasonal needs:  http://www.fieldtoplate.com/guide.php

    the Grocery Dilemma

    I usually have the children and the iPad with me when grocery shopping. Kiddo keeps busy by taking pictures in the Photo Booth app while I shop. His work is featured today.

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    I’m a foodie. I enjoy the process of putting together a meal. Rarely do I have the time to plan and shop for elaborate menus. Usually I rush to make a list, check local specials, and plan meals for the week. When Man is sweet and squeezes in a supermarket run while I herd kids and tackle the mountain of laundry formerly known as our couch, he returns fuming. Like the kind of fuming that is, “thank you Lord he didn’t punch someone in the parking lot”. Then we spend the rest of the day madder than two wet hens and we barely accumulate enough food to last us a week or two. I inevitably forget to put something on the list, have to go to several stores to finish my list, or reach for an ingredient mid-week only to find it had already molded.

    The whole process is giving me a nervous twitch.

    I started doing a little research. The class I was teaching was knee-deep in a study over Omnivore’s Dilemma any way. I became more exhausted, frustrated, and annoyed — every eat on a budget article, post or pin was full of processed foods, cheap foods laced with God knows what, or hours of labor.

    I do not have patience or time for hours of labor.

    I am not naïve, Wal-Mart is not going anywhere any time soon, and a quick run to the mega store does have its place.

    But, I want more than settling for whatever Wal-Mart or Target has on its shelves most days.

    Can I split the difference between the supermarket and alternatives?

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    My aspiration is to feed my family based on the following:

    1. Be sure of what is in my family’s food.
    2. Know where our food comes from – preferably Texas, if not – then the good ole’ USA.
    3. Buy seasonal produce.
    4. Limit the amount of preservatives, chemicals, antibiotics, etc in our family’s food.
    5. Find high quality product on my shrinking budget.
    6. Avoid product that is overly processed or not on the up and up (enter Monsanto, chickens in the chicken feed, HFCS, etc)

    I’m not unrealistic. Man is not giving up his Dr. Pepper. Kids should have cake and ice cream at a friend’s birthday party. I’m not giving up my chocolate. I like pizza dough made with white flour. I don’t see me baking or making iced tea without sugar. However, I am a dietitian, former personal trainer, and newly retired culinary arts teacher…if anyone ought to feed their family decent food it’s me.

    That got me to brainstorming.

    Of course I will still have to go to the “grocery store” for household items, but how long could I get eggs, milk, meat, produce and bread without it? Could I forgo Wal-Mart & Target (where customer service usually sucks) for neighborhood stores that give me a bag refund, offer to help me out with the groceries, and actually answer questions I need to ask while shopping? Could I find everything we needed at the farmer’s market in town? Would it cost me an arm and a leg to eat well?

    I only have a foot.

    Then I thought…in the words of Barney Stinson…challenge accepted!

    I seek advice! Have you found any great blogs or websites that help you plan? Please share any thoughts or tips!