Posted in Family life, Food, holiday

Thanksgiving Tips and Why I don’t make Gravy.

For some people, 2020 will be the first time they have prepared a Thanksgiving dinner rather than bringing a dish to share. It can’t be any worse than my first time making a turkey.

The hubs and I had been married a little over a year and had moved into our third residence. We had new jobs, little money, and no vacation time so traveling 10 hours to visit the “close” parents was not an option. My mom felt bad enough that she flew from Chicago to Newark, NJ to help us out. For three people, we had a 15 pound bird.

Helpful hint #1 – Unless you are feeding 5 or more, get a turkey breast or a 7-8 lb bird.

Naturally, the hubs and I had to recreate ALL the dishes both sides of our family made so we could both have the taste of home. This meant two types of mashed potatoes, two types of cranberries, and two types of stuffing. This also meant we ran out of cookware and places to set prepared food in our tiny kitchen.

Helpful hint #2 – For a small group, streamline the menu. Pick your favorite 5 or 6. In our household of 4, we have turkey, cranberry relish and each person picks one other dish. You can always make a different side dish for the inevitable left overs.

My mom alternated between shaking her head at the hubs and my folly and giving us helpful instruction gleaned. She gave me the task of making gravy from the pan drippings while she coached the hubs through some other task. Her instructions to me went something like “heat in the pan, add cornstarch, whisk until smooth and thickened.”

So I whisked, and I whisked, and I whisked. I got the gravy smooth but there was a problem. “Mom? It’s not thickening!”

“Add some more cornstarch.”

So I grabbed the box and poured in some more. I whisked, got the gravy smooth, but it still didn’t thicken. Mom and I repeated our dialogue to the same effect. I made four additions.

When she finished her project, she came over to check my work. She picked up the yellow box I’d been using. She put her hand on my exhausted whisking arm.

“Honey, no matter how much powdered sugar you add, that gravy isn’t going to thicken.”

Helpful hint #3 – Cornstarch and powdered sugar are not interchangeable.

It’s been over 20 years, but I am still not allowed to make gravy.

If you have a helpful hint for preparing a small scale Thanksgiving dinner, please feel free to share in the comments. It’s a strange year for many of us, but we can all learn something new and we can all use a good laugh.

Posted in COVID-19, Environment, ethics, Food

Earth Day 2020: The Covid-19 edition

Reusable shopping bags are now biohazards. Plant based cleaners don’t necessarily kill viruses. Recycling has stopped in some communities. I’ve had to quickly unlearn habits that took years to master.

It would be so easy to use Covid-19 as an excuse to give myself a pass on taking steps toward sustainability, and to do nothing to recognize the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. And yet the steps I’m taking to protect myself, my family, and my community have brought food and my personal food waste into much sharper focus. That wrinkled red pepper that I once would have composted because no-one would eat it is a precious building block of a stir-fry. That soft apple gets cooked into a quick applesauce. The strawberries my kids thought were over-ripe were perfect for strawberry-lemon cupcakes. The fresh spinach that accidentally froze was fine in soup.

I don’t know about anyone else, but I’ve been thinking a lot about how to keep food fresher longer. I used to buy asparagus to use within 48 hours. But that is too many trips to the grocery store. I kept two pounds fresh for a week by storing the stems in water and ice.

The silicone Stasher bag that the kids no longer use for lunch have proven themselves handy. They are the best way I have found to keep an avocado fresh. When the kids start school again, they won’t get their Stasher bags back. Plus they are dishwasher safe.

I’m not sure who to credit for the tip of storing lemons in the fridge in a sealed plastic bag, but it’s worked like a charm. My sister sent me a box of lemons five weeks ago. The one we used last night was as fresh and juicy as the one we used the day they arrived.

Covid-19 and the accompanying stay at home orders and devastating loss of lives and livelihoods is overwhelming. Someone in my local paper mocked those of us who had to give up our reusable bags as “proof” that those bags were foolish “feel good environmentalism.” Personally, I need those “feel good” moments more than ever during this Covid-19 crisis.

With so much feeling out of my control, trying to reduce my food waste and limiting trips to the grocery ARE actions I can take and, yup, feel good about.

What are your favorite ways to keep food fresher longer and to reduce food waste?

P.S. – Wash your hands.

P.P.S. – I dislike the block editor – Getting pics to line up right takes WAY too long. My newsletter is more aesthetically pleasing. Sign up here.

Posted in Family life, First Friday Five, Food, parenting

First Friday: The #TealPumpkin edition

If you’ve followed me on social media or on this blog, you may have noticed I’m a passionate supporter of the Teal Pumpkin Project to ensure even those with food allergies can have a safe and happy Halloween.

My daughter has severe peanut allergies and as much as we love Halloween around my house, it is a high-risk period because, let’s be honest, how many of us can resist a Reece’s? My daughter, yes, but some kids snack on a few and then dig their hands into a bowl filled with all kinds of treats and spread that peanut-butter around and let’s not talk about school lunch the next day. Instead, I’m offering 5 ways to get your house ready for a safe, fun and happy Halloween.

  1. Don’t let the kids grab the candy in a free-for-all when the bell rings. Have the designated door opener give each trick-or-treater a generous handful instead.
  2. Keep a bowl of peanut-free treats. We give out a lot of Skittles, Starbursts and Laffy-taffy. If a trick-or-treater gets a Snicker’s bar at my house, it is only because my children have returned home and we are redistributing the stuff they can’t eat. Wondering what candy is safe to give out? My Target had a terrific display and handy list of ingredients.
  3. Remember that peanut allergies are not the only allergies. Some kids are sensitive to gluten, eggs, dairy, or others. Accommodating all food allergies can be a challenge which leads to
  4. Offer a non-food alternative. I’ve given out Halloween themed rubber ducks, Play-dough (although it’s not safe for kids with wheat allergies), pencils, bubbles, stickers, spiders and noise makers. You can buy large quantities at Oriental Trading  but since I get less than 100 kids at the door, I head to Dollar Tree. With 12 pencils or a 4 pack of eyeball bubbles for a dollar, I can offer something fun and safe without breaking the bank.
  5. Last – but not least – make sure trick-or-treaters know you are part of the Teal Pumpkin project. Paint a pumpkin teal, hang a sign at the door, post a yard sign, or do the house up in teal. And don’t be surprised if you get a few extra thank yous. The Teal Pumpkin is such a small thing to do, but your compassion makes a huge difference to those of us on the front lines of food allergies.

 

 

Posted in Family life, First Friday Five, Food

First Friday 5 Back to School

My kids (finally) go back to school on Tuesday. They are ready and so am I, especially since those days my husband works away from his home office, I’ll be alone and unsupervised. I’ll be free from the pressure of being a role-model. Here are five things I’m looking forward to doing, although not necessarily all on the same day:

  1. Ice cream for lunch.
  2. A two-hour power nap.
  3. Cake for lunch, possibly with ice cream on the side.
  4. Finish the manuscript I started in April.
  5. Binge watch something. Should I rewatch Firefly, Fargo, or Orphan Black? Should I try something new like Stranger Things or Mr. Robot? What do you suggest?
    With any luck, I’ll get through a couple of programs before the next school break.
Posted in Family life, Food

Caring for a special #cat

Earlier this month, I was chatting with Angela Smith, last week’s spotlight guest. Part of our conversation revolved around a mutual problem, a sick kitty. Both of us have cats that have been diagnosed with IBS, or inflammatory bowel syndrome. Worse, this is a conversation I’ve had with several other cat owners since my kitty, Juno, first started having issues ten months ago.

I’m not a vet and I am not offering feline medical advice. If you have a kitty suffering from diarrhea, weight loss, and a change of appetite, you should work with your vet to find a solution that works for your beloved pet. If you are going through this, I hope it takes you less than nine months to find a regime that works for your kitty.

Daily:
a 5mg daily dose of Prednisone (vet prescribed)

Juno and her GI kibble
Juno and her GI kibble

Dry food – Royal Canin GI High Energy Veterinary diet. We saw some improvement with a limited ingredient diet and with novel proteins like lamb, but this has been the best for us. Plus, as you can see, she likes the food.

1/2 can of wet food daily – I split the rest between the other two cats. They all love the “Pride by Instinct” varieties. I feed the same variety every day for at least a week. Too much switching upsets my kitty-girl’s tummy.
1 teaspoon “Firm Up” pumpkin supplement. I mix this with some water and the soft cat food. An employee at my local Chuck and Don’s pet store mentioned using this for his cat with IBS and my vet approved. My store stocks Firm Up with supplements for dogs, but the bag also specifies cats. It comes in two varieties (that I know of), a plain pumpkin and a pumpkin cranberry blend. Juno happily eats either mixed with soft cat food.
firmup
Special:
If the family is headed out of town, we increase the prescriptions because stress aggravates our cat’s symptoms.
It took a lot of trial and error to get to this regime, and I’m sure some of you will have different suggestions on what has worked for you. The most important pieces of advice I can offer are to be patient and to work with your vet to find your ideal regime. My kitty-girl is as feisty and cuddly now as she was in her kitten days seven years ago.
Posted in childhood, Family life, First Friday Five, Food, parenting, tween

First Friday: Five things I do for my kids

Let’s be honest, I do way more than five things for my kids. Every parent does. But as this post goes to publication, I am chaperoning 250 sixth graders on a five day-four night field trip and doing so voluntarily. Or at least at the behest of my daughter.  In tribute to this event, I came up with a list of five things I do for my kids that have changed my life for the better.

  1. I eat bananas. I refused to eat bananas as a kid. Their mushiness ruined fruit salads, peanut butter sandwiches and any other way my poor mother tried to serve them. I didn’t eat them as an adult until I noticed my daughter stopped eating them. I had to eat them if I wanted her to eat them. This case of “Monkey See, Monkey Do” worked so well, we both eat bananas and I’ve learned to tolerate their taste.
  2. I wear a bike helmet. If I want the kids to wear helmets, I have to wear one too.
  3. I coached soccer. I never played soccer. I know next to nothing about soccer, but I couldn’t bear to tell my son that once again, his team would disband because no one stepped up to coach.
  4. I gave up peanut butter.  When she was 18 months old, my daughter tested positive for peanut and tree nut allergies.  Theoretically, I could have peanut butter or peanuts in the house, but I love her more than I love peanuts and her life isn’t worth the risk.  I miss the nutrition of nuts, but Trader Joe’s makes a good sunflower seed butter.  And while we’re at it, Halloween is coming up for US blog followers. Check out the Teal Pumpkin project sponsored by FARE and make trick-or-treating safe and fun for all kids.
  5. Last, but not least, I volunteer my time whenever my kids ask me to be involved. Whether I’m reading to the class, planning a school picnic, or, as it is this week, standing on a platform 30 feet off the ground to help with a tree-top ropes course, my kids know I am there for them.

 

Posted in First Friday Five, Food, Gardening

First Friday Five: The #Zucchini Edition

Each August, my garden reveals the extent of my annual exercise in futility.  This year, the chipmunks destroyed crops, putting teeth marks into tomatoes, stealing the strawberries and digging up the potatoes.  Only three items thrived this year–a lone onion bulb, the rhubarb planted by a previous owner, and, of course, zucchini.

To celebrate my overflowing zucchini vines, I present Five Things to do with Zucchini Aside from Playing “ding-dong ditch” at the Neighbor’s House.

yellow zucchini ready for harvest
yellow zucchini on the vine

1.  Sautéed zucchini. This is my kids favorite and it’s so simple, I have no recipe.  Slice up some summer squash about 1/4 inch thick. If you use zucchini – toss the slices in a colander with some salt and wait 20 minutes. Pat the slices dry. Heat olive oil to medium heat in the largest pan you have. Cook the squash until you get some browning, flipping once. You can add onions if you want and I usually cook it alongside the squash. YUM.

2. “Posh Squash” – At least according to the recipe card I have. When I looked on-line to find a link to share with y’all, most recipes called for eggs. So here goes. 2-3 medium zucchini (sub yellow squash if desired), One large tomato, one medium onion, cheddar cheese, breadcrumbs, butter.  Slice the veggies thin and layer starting with zucchini, onion, tomato, cheese and ending with more zucchini. Dot with butter and top with breadcrumbs. Bake in a 375 oven for 30 minutes for a 9×9 pan or 50 minutes if you do a double batch, and with all that zucchini, why wouldn’t you?

3. Tired of eating yet? Take a break and play with your food. I hope this video of Art in Zucchini Duck works. If not check out the amazing work of ItalyPaul on youtube.

4. Back to the dinner table! My husband made a corn and zucchini salad similar to this one featured on thekitchn.com except he shredded the zucchini instead of dicing.

Corn & Zucchini Salad with Chives found on thekitchn.com

 

5. I’m not sure if I’m brave enough to try this, but I’m intrigued! I’ve pinned this recipe for blueberry-zucchini cake from  iambaker.net and it looks like the most delicious way possible to use up excess zucchini. If I make it, I’ll share the results. If you make it before me, please let me know if it’s worth the effort.

 

zucchini blueberry cake found on iambaker.net

If you have any zucchini recipes to recommend, please add them in the comments section.

Posted in First Friday Five, Food, Writing

First Friday Five – Resolutions

Ah, January. In the first few weeks of the new calendar year, most of us resolve to change something for the positive. How many lists have you seen (or made) that start with words to the effect of I will eat more vegetables?

Not here. Maybe I’m cranky because the pond behind my house suffered too many freeze-thaw cycles to be useful for skating, but I decided this year I’m resolving NOT to do things in my First Friday Five.

1. I resolve NOT to give up coffee in 2015.

2. Likewise, I resolve NOT to give up chocolate, because I’m no quitter.

 

3. I resolve NOT to parachute out of an airplane naked.

4. I resolve NOT to sit for so many hours each day. Laying down requires less energy.

5. Finally, I resolve NOT to let fear of rejection keep me from submitting the three finished manuscripts I have.

What do you think? Is there anything you resolve NOT to do in 2015? There will be a surprise for one lucky commenter who leaves contact information (use the name at server dot com format so you don’t get spambotted)

 

Posted in Family life, Food

Enjoy Thankfulness

It’s a day early, but before I’m in the media lull that is being home for the holidays with children underfoot, I want to wish you all a Happy Thanksgiving. I hope this year, you have plenty to eat and a warm place to sleep.

I plan to spend most of the weekend in a tryptophan coma, but if you plan to brave the crowd and do some Black Friday shopping, more power to you. If you travel this weekend, make sure you have bottled water, blankets in the car, a phone charger and a smile.

Posted in Family life, First Friday Five, Food

First Friday Five: Why I love October

October is my favorite month. Why? Read on!

1. Fall colors.

from brainerd.com

2. Birthday cake for both kiddos.

3. Cool enough for a sweater and boots, but not too cold to sit outside with a cup of coffee and a hot book.

4. Candy Corn.

from photobucket

5. Halloween.

from ryelibrary.org

Oh yes, and the return of The Walking Dead, and TV specials about creepy haunted houses, and leaf piles, and the list goes on. What do you look forward to this month?