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The Engine 2 Challenge review

May 31st, 2011 | 9 Comments »

The E2 challenge is over, at least in theory. To celebrate, I had a thick hearty beef sandwich, ice cream, frozen yogurt and half a dozen slices of wonderful bread spread with sweet butter. Then I had a serious tummy ache.

We had 28 days of consuming a plant-based eating plan, which went far, far smoother than I ever anticipated. In fact, it went so smoothly and I saw such amazing results that I am committed to continuing this regularly. This type of eating, this nutrient dense, delicious way of life is just what this lady needs. I expected that tummy ache from going back to some of my past ways of eating and it was a way of reminding myself what this challenge has really shown me.

So, did I learn anything from this challenge? Besides what I already has taken away from it?

I sure did.

~~ Even being as good in the kitchen as I am, changing my focus from a meat oriented meal to a non-meat option proved to be a bit challenging, mostly because I simply default to meat as the main item and then filled in around that. Changing it to a plant based option requires a complete 180° switch. And it’s a learning process for all of us. I found a terrific cookbook at Half Price Books that is helping me with plenty of ideas but I need a few more books and resources to stimulate my thinking. Thankfully, this won’t be hard at all. I’ve revamped my eating habits before and know that new habits sometimes take a bit of time to stick. The best part is that it’s been such fun to experiment and stretch the focus of what we eat.

~~ The near complete cessation of menopausal hot flashes and tummy troubles solidly affirmed in me that this is a much, much better option for my body. I do like meat, and with it being grilling season, the temptation of eating meat will always be there so I don’t plan to deprive myself completely. I simply won’t be cooking much, if any at home, and won’t make it the focus of any meal in other situations.

~~It’s made me even more aware of what I am putting in my body and what it does for me. I had no clue that the daily digestive issues had anything to do with what I was eating. I just thought it was the way it was going to be as I got older. It was really eye-opening for me to think I had simply settled for feeling less than 100% all the time and got me thinking how many other people just sit back on vague and unexplainable symptoms without one thought to finding out if they can be cured. This challenge has gotten me to really examine the foods I eat, even more than I did. The choices I make for what I consume sometimes are completely automatic, self-ingrained habits that can begin before I even know what’s happening. Every time my hand goes to my mouth, I force myself to stop and think about what I’m doing and I’ve caught myself in situations where I am eating without one thought to what it is. That mindless consumption had thrown me off many times, forcing me to be a lot more conscious of it and of learning to avoid the pitfalls and traps.

~~ I am in complete control. I knew this before going in to this challenge but it’s really made me aware in the last month that everything I need for my health and my well-being is within my ability to manage. And no one is helpless; we ALL have the ability to better ourselves through our eating habits. We all can make wiser choices. I’m committed to a healthier lifestyle, plain and simple. I feel better. I don’t need anything more than that. No one is forcing me to pick up and eat any type of food except me.

~~The most important thing I’ve taken away from this challenge is that there is nothing…. and I repeat, nothing lacking in a plant-based eating plan. Absolutely nothing at all. There’s this odd mentality that you can’t be satisfied from your food if you don’t eat meat, or that those who consume only plant-based foods are sadly noshing on tofu and plain brown rice, remorsefully dreaming of a sizzling steak and nothing could be further from the truth. I’ve had some amazing, delicious and truly satisfying meals this past month, with a dizzying array of color, texture, flavor and most of all, ease. Since you’re eating nutrient dense, low calorie foods, you can consume larger amounts when you eat, yet you’re taking in far less calories and I’ve never gotten to that point of being so full that I’m really uncomfortable. I calculated out a large chopped salad I ate for lunch recently, with red and green cabbage, apple, carrot, cucumber, radishes, red pepper, garbanzo beans, a little brown rice and some almonds and although it was a huge amount, the overall calories of it came in just around 500. And talk about flavor!!

So overall I’m sold, 100% sold on this, and I was so ready to take my eating to another level. I’m very grateful to Whole Foods for asking me to participate in this as it was just what I needed to kick me over the edge.

What do you think of this challenge? Would you ever consider stepping up to a healthier way of eating? Have you ever been troubled by vague physical symptoms that you can’t explain?

Like those photos above? Here’s where you’ll find them on the blog:
Top to bottom:
Farro Pilaf with Gold Beets
Roasted Apricots with Cardamom Brown Sugar Glaze
Grilled Guacamole

impatience

May 25th, 2011 | 3 Comments »

No, not Impatiens, like the potted flower on everyone’s doorstep. This is true impatience, the feeling brought on by delayed spring time, blooms that just don’t occur, endless gray skies and parades of devastating storms and the fleeting thought that I can’t recall what my warm weather clothes are like anymore. It’s almost Memorial Day. We briefly met 70 degrees this Spring, only to quickly plunge back to the 60′s, the 50′s and a few shivering days where 40′s were all the atmosphere could muster. Who’s hogging all the 80-degree days? Minnesota needs you to share. Now.

Despite the cool weather, the lettuce and radish seeds I planted are flourishing and I’m dreaming of amazing salads. The annuals in the garden are coming along nicely, albeit several weeks behind schedule. And with the drenching rains and lack of sun, the emerald greens around us are amazing. Simply amazing. While Spring hasn’t exactly been the most glorious in terms of the temperatures and sunshine, it’s still showing me it’s fragrance and the visions that we wait all Winter to appreciate.

I missed the very brief window of opportunity to love up the crabapple tree in our front yard, as it hit full bloom on a Thursday, only to be wiped clean of it’s lush petals through a series of weekend storms that unleashed torrents of rain on us, and some terrifying sky.

And a subsequent walk through the neighborhood revealed glorious pink petal carpets from the stripped crabapple blooms.

In my garden, the Creeping Phlox filled out it’s little garden bed beautifully.

The Adjuga along the front garden path burst into a rich and full display, basking in a rare sunny day while hiding among the new Hosta blooms and the fallen pink petals.

Adjuga is a wonderful ground cover, and it grows on a flagstone path right along the front of our house. It’s mostly for shade, but can handle a little sun and it forms a nice thick carpet. In the Spring, it sends up flower stalks about 6 inches high that have these tiny little blue flowers on them. It’s one of the most favorite, carefree and reliable plants in my yard.

What else has May brought?

Oh yeah. An adorable cat of course, with nary a care in the world it seems.

A gorgeous new stove!!!

I’m still in awe over this acquisition. One of my food blogging cohorts is remodeling her kitchen and through a few Twitter exchanges, she offered to sell me her old stove for $100 and a case of beer for the guy who drove it from NE Minneapolis out to the far Northern suburbs for us. The door hinges were broken and it needed a power cleaning, but for $150 in parts and a bit of elbow grease, we landed a stove that retails for $2,200.00. I kid you not. It’s like going from driving a Yugo to being handed a Ferrari with a full tank of gas. We seriously lucked out and we’ve taken to calling it our ‘Grown Up’ stove, something a serious food lover should have in her kitchen.

There were a few lovely nights on beautiful restaurant patios with my beautiful laughing food-loving friends that only solidifies how much I am falling in love with them…..


This is #GirlsBigNight, hanging outside Cooper West End with (L–>R) Dania, (me) Jen and Virginia. Yes, we posed that way on purpose.

 


Enjoying the tree-shaded patio at Heidi’s 2.0 in Minneapolis with the #MNFoodBloggers, Shaina and I after a few amazing cocktails. Everyone really, was as happy as we look. It was just one of those all around perfect nights.

On a rare nice night following a hectic afternoon of rain and thunder, it’s nice to find the calm after the storm.

And then???

Roasted Chickpeas. Because this is a food blog, after all. For the most part anyway.

I’m super late to the whole ‘roast a can of chickpeas for the ultimate snack’ craze. Seriously late. And I’m ok with that. I don’t jump on too many bandwagons as I always seem to miss, fall flat on my face and then have to slink away in silence, tail between my legs. I like to watch these things go by, silently waiting to see if it endures, if it sticks around long enough to not be called a fad, a trend or the next big thing. These little golden nuggets of crunchy-ness are a perfect snack for the improved eating plan going on around here. I think I could even get my Teen to try a few handfuls. They’re like Corn Nuts, but less processed, less packaged without all the strange things. I feel that these will make a regular appearance in my kitchen for a long time to come.

 

Roasted Chickpeas

Preheat the oven to 400°. Drain two 15-oz cans of chickpeas and rinse well. Shake off excess water and pour chickpeas on a baking sheet lined with paper towel. Use another paper towel to blot chickpeas dry, then slip the off the bottom towel. You want them to be absolutely bone dry before roasting them. At this point, if the chickpea skins bug you in the same obsessive way they bug me, you can remove them. If not, then slip the pan in the oven and let roast for about 10 minutes. Shake the pan to loosen the chickpeas, then continue to bake, shaking the pan on occasion, until they are browned and crisp, with a rich nutty scent. Be careful not to allow them to burn. Depending on your oven, this should take 30-40 minutes. Watch them carefully.

Take them out of the oven and toss them with a little oil and any kind of seasoning you like. For this batch, I used a small amount of olive oil, the juice of half a lime and about 2-3 teaspoons each of chili powder and cumin, plus some sea salt. Toss to coat and serve warm or at room temperature.

For more flavoring options, see this post.

http://www.thekitchn.com/thekitchn/tips-techniques/15-more-ways-to-flavor-roasted-chikpeas-106112

mindful eating

May 16th, 2011 | 3 Comments »

If you recall, Whole Foods invited me to participate in a 28-day challenge based on the Engine 2 eating plan (I hate the word ‘diet’ and won’t use it) that calls for a 100% plant based way of food consumption. It goes so far as to exclude fats and salt as well. My take on it was to kick out the meat. We eat more than I want mostly because my teenager really loves meat, but Mike and I were getting tired of it. And it’s the costliest item in our food budget. As well as going meat-free, I’ve cut out my beloved butter, the only dairy I consume and I’ve cut down on oil usage and tried to avoid salt.

So… two weeks in to this eating plan, and what’s been happening?

#1- The teenager is a bit miffed. ‘What do we eat!?’ he says with emphatic resignation. But the meat free meals that leap from the stove top have him devouring his portion with gusto. I’ve given in to his need for meat on occasion, utilizing small amounts of chicken for him, and having a meal with shrimp. But this boy is not suffering. No no…..

#2- My pants fit better. And I can get myself in to two pairs of jeans that I haven’t been able to wear since last summer. Some of the belly fat is disappearing. I think my face looks thinner. I have a bit of a way to go with reaching what I think is an ideal weight for me, but this eating plan wasn’t about losing weight at all. I needed maybe a 10 pound drop at most and when I started the plan I had already lost about 5 of those pounds. For me, this is about eating more healthy foods and feeling better.

#3- This is a big one. Several months ago I started experiencing symptoms of menopause, mostly in the way of hot flashes. They had become really intense, and a constant in my day. They’d cover my neck and shoulders, resulting often in getting so overheated that the underside of my hair would become very damp. And the worse ones came at night, radiating through my pelvis and hips and down my legs, causing me to kick off the blankets to cool down. I’d fall asleep, then waken later absolutely freezing. This night cycle went on and on, and it wasn’t helping my sleep patterns at all. But since giving up meat consumption, the hot flashes have fallen off dramatically, the lower body ones disappeared completely and the consistency has been reduced to only a few light ones each day, mostly very manageable. No more damp hair!! And this happened within days of giving up meat. It’s been completely unexpected but such an amazing finding. If I’d known giving up meat would help this, I would have done it ages ago. Another physical aspect that has fully disappeared when meat left my meals is any kind of stomach upset. I’ve been blissfully comfortable for the past two weeks with no indigestion, no upset or gas and no bloating.

#4- I miss my popcorn fix, but that’s about the only food I really want to be eating that I’m not. I simply can’t eat popcorn without melted butter and salt, and at least once a week I would pop a big bowl of it and crunch crunch crunch my way through, sighing in contentment, slurping buttery salty fingers and smiling through eyes half closed in a popcorn induced ecstasy. I think I love the sensation of it, the textural pleasure of eating something so noisy, and so flavorful. I don’t really miss meat, nor crave it. See #3. But I really miss my popcorn.

What this plan is doing for me that I do love is really giving me a lot more reasons to look at the foods I eat and make the best possible choices. I was out for an evening with some friends and had to take a good hard look at the menu options for something that fit this challenge; thankfully I had three choices to pick from, all of them acceptable. Eating out may be more challenging, and thankfully we don’t do it that often. But we’ve also been eating pretty mindfully prior to starting this plan. This gives us a reason to take it one, or ten steps further.

This pasta dish is halfway acceptable for the eating plan, in that it’s loaded with braised kale. The fettuccine isn’t exactly E2 friendly, but it was what I wanted to eat after an intense afternoon of gardening. Sometimes you’ve just got to allow for a dish that nourishes the soul as well as it fills the belly. I really struggle with any aspect of eating that deprives us of what we really want. If I really want popcorn, I’m going to make it. If I want a juicy bratwurst, I will grill one so that the skin splits and it sizzles in delight, pressed between the edges of a perfect bakery roll and slathered with the best mustard in my fridge.

But at the same time, what I put in this body of mine, the only one I’ve got, really does make a difference in how I feel, the energy I have and the way I get through my day. I’ve felt it, noticing when I don’t eat healthy foods and had to force myself through the side effects of poor eating; the sluggishness, the lack of energy, the belly aches or heartburn. I’m not harming myself by consuming a grilled piece of chicken, or some perfectly cooked shrimp. And I’ve found that by really paying attention to making 90% of the foods I eat be healthy, plant based foods, it really has made a huge difference in how I feel. Should I go to 100%? Should I give up the oils, the salt? Should I? For me, this alternative plan makes sense. I like the results, the way it makes me feel and the relative ease on my pocketbook. And if in just two weeks it’s got me thinking of even more ways to have healthier options in our meals then I feel it’s achieved something great.

Like I said about this dish, it fit what I really wanted to be eating, when the hunger became so great from all the activity that I’d done I found myself with shaky hands and that trembly feeling of a deeply low blood sugar. I needed about 20 minutes to gently cook the kale until it was silky soft and lush, and only a few minutes to cook the fresh dried fettuccine I had on hand. A toss together in the deep skillet with a few dashes of lemon juice and some rosemary Manchego cheese I had on hand (totally not E2 friendly, but ah well…..) and I sat down with a deep bowl, a thick heavy fork and a content sigh. It had been a long day, but a full one, one with accomplishments and a lot of good spring sunshine. Eating a terrific and healthy meal was like placing a fancy top hat on the end of this day, and swinging off with a jaunty step.

 

Braised Kale with Spaghetti

1 pound lacinato kale (about 2 bunches), large center ribs and stems removed, cut crosswise into 1/2-inch slices
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 medium onion, finely chopped (about 1 1/2 cups)
8 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1/2 pound spaghetti
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
Finely grated Parmesan cheese

Rinse kale. Drain; transfer to bowl with some water still clinging.
Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in heavy large pot over medium heat. Add chopped onion and cook until soft and translucent, stirring occasionally, about 6 minutes. Add sliced garlic and sprinkle with salt; cook until onion is golden brown, stirring occasionally, about 5 minutes. Add kale and remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil and toss until wilted, about 3 minutes. Cover pot and reduce heat to medium-low. Continue cooking until kale is very tender, stirring occasionally and adding water by teaspoonfuls if dry, about 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, cook spaghetti in medium pot of boiling salted water until tender but still firm to bite, stirring occasionally. Drain, reserving 1/4 cup cooking liquid. Add cooked spaghetti to kale mixture in pot. Add lemon juice and 2 tablespoons reserved cooking liquid; toss to combine, adding more liquid by tablespoonfuls if dry. Sprinkle spaghetti with grated Parmesan cheese and serve.

Original recipe from Orangette.

KATE’S NOTES: I made this with regular curly leaf kale, and used a 16-oz bag of gourmet basil fettuccine in place of the spaghetti. I did not use onion, and only used 3 cloves of garlic; it was plenty!  Do make sure you give the kale a nice slow simmer. The result is so tender and delicious that it’s positively addicting, and well it should be. This recipe is what turned Molly’s mind away from hating kale and I’m pretty sure if you let it, it will do the same for you.

shrimp panzanella salad

May 13th, 2011 | 2 Comments »

Summer tomato season is heading our way. I don’t have a huge garden plot to grow produce in, but I always grow tomatoes as there is nothing finer on this earth than a homegrown organic tomato. Come August, we’re usually over-run with them, and are eating them in everything. And really, there’s nothing better than a fruit so delicious that you can slice it, grate a bit of fresh black pepper on it and eat it with a fork.

This year, we’ll be utilizing a lot more tomatoes in this delicious and simple Shrimp Panzanella Salad I’ve discovered

As luck would have it the night I made this, a gorgeous sunny day had turned dark and cloudy, with storms brewing, so this photo is nowhere near as bright and summery as this salad’s true appeal. Fresh chopped tomato and peppers, doused with a liberal amount of oil, a splash of good vinegar and a veritable shower of fresh parsley, basil and thyme and the taste that springs from your fork is all about Summer! Summer! Summer! Even when Spring! struggles to fully arrive here in Minnesota.

So imagine it yourself; the taste of a ripe juicy tomato, the crunch of seasoned and browned cubes of hearty bread, toasted to a firm crunch, the snap of bell pepper and the heady flavor of fresh herbs. Mix in pieces of perfectly cooked shrimp, doused with a bit of chili garlic sauce for spice, served over fresh spring greens and you’ve got a dinner salad with substance, not to mention a wild ride of textures, flavors and colors. I could have admired it in my bowl if I wasn’t so hungry.

And simple? This here’s an easy, quick dinner to have ready. With a few shortcuts like artisan croutons and cooked shrimp, you can get this together in about 15 minutes, yet it’s hearty enough to fill you up, but not leave you sluggish. It may even give you an extra burst of energy to head out after dinner for a gorgeous sunset walk.

 

Shrimp Panzanella Salad

4 c. multi-grain bread cubes, preferably day old. Or equivalent of pre-made croutons.
1# coarsely chopped cooked shrimp
4 large ripe but firm tomatoes
2 bell peppers, any color, chopped
3/4 c. fresh chopped parsley
1/4 c. fresh chopped basil
3 T. fresh thyme
1/4 c. pitted kalamata olives, plus 2-3 T. brine
3 T. red wine vinegar
1-1/2 t. fresh chopped chives
Spring greens of choice
Fresh ground black pepper and sea salt

If using fresh bread cubes, preheat oven to 350°. Place bread cubes in a large bowl and drizzle with 2-4 T. olive oil. Toss to coat and spread on a baking sheet. Bake the cubes, stirring every 5 minutes or so until they’re very crisp and dried, about 15-20 minutes. Watch them carefully. Allow them to cool completely before assembling the salad.

Combine the shrimp, tomato, bell pepper, fresh herbs, olives, brine and vinegar in a large bowl. Drizzle with 3-4 T. olive oil and toss to coat. Add cooled bread cubes, toss to combine. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Allow to sit for 15 minutes to mix flavors.

Serve over spring greens.

Adapted from Eating Well magazine.

the Engine 2 challenge

May 9th, 2011 | 3 Comments »

May is looking a bit different around the kitchen. It’s a lot more green. And red. And purple. Don’t forget orange and yellow.

I was invited by Whole Foods to take part in a 28-day challenge of consuming a plant-based diet, based on the best-selling book The Engine 2 Diet, written by firefighter Rip Esselstyn, who designed the plan to help his fellow firefighters lose weight and combat health issues such as high cholesterol, diabetes and heart disease. Whole Foods will be introducing this challenge to it’s customers in June, and four local bloggers will be chronicling their 28 days for the Whole Foods clientele to read about as they move forward with their own 28 day plan.

Rip’s book outlines all the benefits of a plant-based diet, and includes great testimony from people who have successfully used the plan to lose weight, lower their cholesterol and reverse the devastating effects of diabetes and heart problems. The premise of it goes like this; no processed or packaged foods, no added salts, no animal products, and no fats at all, including all oils. What you eat is a wide variety of vegetables, fruits, whole grains and legumes. The book comes with an extensive recipe collection, all simple and straight forward. There’s no need for any special cooking skills, or equipment or tools or anything. Just cut out the junk, and ramp up the intake of the good stuff.

I was intrigued by the idea of it, and enjoyed reading Rip’s book, sent to me free by Whole Foods. He’s got a lot of really bare bones information about the state of our health in the United States, and I don’t need to tell you that it’s really not a pretty picture. And I’m not going to get into any details. We all know how bad it is, even if we make like we don’t notice. My family eats really healthy foods, and I’m pretty diligent about purchasing items that I am comfortable with giving to my guys, but I’m always willing to do more and this challenge is giving me an opportunity to step up our game. As I see it, with what we do already, we’re about halfway there anyway, so taking it to another level won’t be that difficult. I don’t need to lose much weight at all, but we both have a strong desire to be as healthy as we can possibly be, and Mike has had issues with high cholesterol.

One of the nice things about Rip’s approach is that it’s really a very open-minded explanation, and it leaves a lot for each individual to interpret on their own. His suggestion, obviously, is to jump right in and start on the challenge, but he readily acknowledges that it’s often a tough step to take, and offers readers several options for easing in to it, and really, the best advice he gives is that it’s really something you can custom tailor to your own needs. And that’s what I did for us. Mike and I easily can give up almost all of our meat consumption, and so that’s where I’m taking our challenge. With the exception of a few social events for me where I’ve eaten meat, our home meals have all been meat free. With the gift card that Whole Foods provided, I stocked up on grains, brown and wild rice, lots of colorful vegetables and fruits and we’ve been enjoying some pretty amazing meals with our bounty. I’m not on board with Rip’s assessment of cutting out fat consumption, as I am firm in my belief and understanding that good fats are a necessity in good body function, for your brain and your autonomic nervous system. We need fat, and although there are many ways to get good fat through plant-based eating, I’ve kept the olive oil, but cut out the butter. I’m already missing my weekly popcorn fix.

But it’s a good thing though; we can all stand to do something better for our health. This is giving us motivation, and incentive to push to another level. We love vegetables, thank goodness, and it’s coming to the best time of year for vegetable love in Minnesota, as the Farmers Markets open and the bounty starts pouring in. And I made an agreement with my meat-loving son; I won’t mind if he wants to fix himself a piece of chicken, or a small steak if he’s willing to really try some of the new foods that come out of the kitchen. He didn’t even hesitate before he said ‘Yes’.

The first time Griffin tried quinoa he enjoyed it enough, even though he said the texture was ‘a little weird’. This time, when I loaded it with all sorts of grilled vegetables like baby bok choy, portabella mushrooms, red peppers and asparagus, he heaped his bowl full and really got into it. Upon finishing it, he sighed deeply and said to me “You know, that’s surprisingly filling.”

I don’t really have a ‘recipe’ for this. I made a simple balsamic vinaigrette that I brushed on the vegetables, then I grilled them, chopped them up and mixed them with cooked quinoa, salt and pepper. It was really delicious, and yes, it was surprisingly filling. Quinoa cooks in about 15 minutes and it goes with everything. If you haven’t tried this super little grain, I can’t recommend it enough.

Stay tuned for more posts about the E2 challenge!

 

Disclaimer:
Whole Foods provided the book and a gift card free of charge to me for agreeing to participate in the Engine 2 Challenge.
All opinions expressed here are mine.

love your Mom…. please

May 7th, 2011 | 9 Comments »

For as many times as I’ve mentioned my Mom on these pages, the way that I channel her memory in my baking and how a simple bite of something she used to make can bring a flood of memory into my heart, I realize that I’ve never really talked much about her beyond her astral presence in my life. My friends, those close to me anyway, may know the snippets of her that I share with them over time, time that includes others who painfully join the Motherless Club, and I thought that for Mothers Day, it might help ease the reoccurring ache in me to just tell you a little bit about this woman.

I’m not going to give you her history. That’s not important. But I can tell you what she did for me in the 30 years of life that I lived with her guiding me. Because this person who gave me life, gave me so much more than just a form that breathes, with a heart that beats inside my chest.

She gave me my laugh, and I wish those of you who have never even met me in person could just once experience this crazy hooting thing that bursts from my mouth when I’m amused. Which is often. Because she gave me my sense of humor too, and I use it a lot, especially when I can let go and laugh myself silly. I love laughing and really, I think we all need to do it a lot more. Get me laughing and the tears pour from my eyes, I double over with teeth bared as I about break the sound barrier. Get me and my brother Mike in a room together, tell a few funny stories and we’ve got people almost covering their ears because we are so darn loud. But this laugh, this crazy howl is a living legacy to my Mom, a testimony that she never held back when the world seemed ridiculous, and she gave us the same ability to throw our heads back and let loose when the feeling was right.

She also gave me my voice. Mom was not one to shrink away from the truth. I remember a story she told of a woman who worked with her that could never tell anyone ‘No’. Mom told this co-worker “If you can’t say ‘No’ to them, then send them to me and I’ll tell them ‘No’. And believe me, having the ability to say ‘No’ is a gift, people. I know plenty of folks who can’t do it. But the other gift is simply being able and willing to lay it down when it’s needed, meaning that when someone asks me for an honest opinion, I always raise an eyebrow to them and say “Are you sure you want that? Because you’re going to get the truth.” And I’m relieved to meet people who honestly want the truth. The world likes to lie to our faces, sugar-coating every detail and making the perfect glossy picture that looks like nirvana, but the truth is nothing like that. The truth is hard. It’s sharp at the edges and sometimes it hurts, but it’s also completely necessary. And along with the ability to be honest and real, I learned from my Mom that you simply don’t sit down and let the world walk all over you. Keep your chin up, say what you want and more importantly, mean what you say.

My Mom showed me perseverance in life. She lived through many tough times, and they took their toll on her, but she fought and clawed and pushed through them and I’m sure she spent many nights in the dark of her room in tears over the situations we faced, but she still rose each morning to do what needed to get done. I thought about that a lot in the 7 years I was a single parent, and had many of my own nights drenched in a cold sweat over what I was facing, but I never thought to back down and give up. Someone depended on me, and needed me and I couldn’t give in to that anxiety and fear. On so many nights I used to just pray for some good to come in my life, and in response I often heard her voice, crystal clear, telling me that everything was going to be all right. It might have been just a figment of memory, but at those times it felt like she was sitting right there in the dark with me, like she’d done so much when I was little, and the comfort it brought me took the edge off the pain. If she could be a single parent with five kids, I surely could manage with one.

In life, my Mom taught me many things, but in death, she’s taught me so much more. The simplest of those truths is the hardest to accept; you just never know how much time you’re going to have with anyone. Whether it’s your Mom, your Dad, your siblings or a friend, you could wake up today and it could be the last day you ever get to see their smile or feel the power of their embrace. You just don’t know when the end will come. The worst part about being motherless is listening to people complain about their parents, listening to other women grouse over the phone calls they get from their Moms, the way they think she’s trying to butt into their lives, the annoyance they have with what comes down to the simple fact that their Mom wants to stay in touch with them. It makes my heart hurt because I would give my right arm for my Mom to interfere in my life, to bug me with a phone call.

This photo was the last time I saw my Mom healthy and well. Griffin was two weeks old and she came to visit, thrilled to pieces over finally being a Grandma and getting to see her grandson. She was so excited about this new adventure in her life, so eager to be ‘that kind of Grandma’. She couldn’t stop holding him, snuggling him, tickling his little arms and legs and giving him her big wide smile. After the weekend visit was over, as her and her husband headed home to Warroad where they lived, she began to feel sick. Within weeks she was hospitalized and no one really knew what was wrong with her. She ended up at the Mayo Clinic, and passed away on August 25, 1994, barely four months later. I hardly even knew what was happening. One day she was there, in my house as excited as could be, then she was gone. Forever. I stood at her funeral, my baby in my arms and I could hardly believe that I had to raise my son without my Mom. Now, nearly 17 years later, I still can’t believe it. It was such a shocking exit that I reeled through life in deep grief for years. And as I watch friends of mine lose their mothers I wish that I could offer some kind of hope in such a sad situation, but the truth is harsh and brutal; you never get over it. You never recover. You move on, you live and you survive but a part of you dies in her, never to return.

If your Mom is still alive, please treasure her. Love her, accept her and be gracious to her. Talk to her as much as you can. Show her your appreciation. Remember everything she did for you, even if it wasn’t perfect. My Mom was not perfect, not by any means and many of my memories are painful, but she did the best she could, as everyone does. There shouldn’t be any room for bitterness, because you just never know how much time you have. Don’t waste it.

simple meals

May 1st, 2011 | 7 Comments »

We’re trying so hard to go full steam ahead in to Spring. But around here, it seems like Mother Nature just wants to tease us, here with a lovely day then a blast of cold and rain, then yet another lovely day, then once again cold, and more rain. Lakes, streams, ponds, rivers and especially the people are overflowing their limits. We’ve had enough. Bring us the sunshine please, and for more than just one day.

So here we are, the first day of May. Our expected high likely won’t even reach 50 degrees. It feels weird to offer you a delicious crispy flatbread recipe, topped with a rich verdant pesto and some sassy caramelized onions because instinct is telling me to braise something hearty and warm. But it’s May and I refuse to get out my cast iron dutch oven anymore. In fact, I sure hope it got cleaned well the last time I used it because I’m desperately trying not to get reacquainted with it until October.

So, let’s move on to this, shall we?

This was actually a recipe covered on this site back in November of 2009. For most of the year previous to that, I’d made this simple and delicious herb flatbread about a half dozen times for various meals, or really, even to just snap a piece off here and there to snack on. It’s ridiculously easy, it tastes amazing and it works for so many meal options, especially something very simple like being topped with fresh pesto, a smattering of caramelized Vidalia onions and several dollops of goat cheese. Run that under a broiler for a few minutes and the simplest meal is yours, delicious and light, packing a flavorful Spring-like medley for your mouth.

Every day I’m at work I pass a display of enormous Vidalia onions. It’s set up right by the entrance for easy access, and every day I see them I think about this flatbread, those golden burnished onions and the deep dark green of this pesto. I’ve experimented with lots of greens for pesto, and two of my most favorite ones are beet greens or spinach. Beet greens make the most earthy, dark and appealing pesto, and spinach offers a lighter, fresher touch. When fresh spinach is available at the Farmers Markets by the bucketful, I will buy several loads of it and make pesto, freezing it for future use.

I’ve done large batches of caramelized onions, slicing up to four of them at a time and slowly cooking them down to a glittering golden mass. They’ll keep in the fridge for up to a week, and you can freeze them too. The pesto freezes beautifully as well, or simply use your favorite commercial brand to make it even easier. A batch of this flatbread comes together in no time, so you can get out to find the sunshine.

Well, whenever it comes back, that is.

 

Herb Flatbread

1 3/4 c. unbleached flour
1 t. baking powder
1/2 t. salt
1-2 T. fresh herb of choice
1/2 c. water
1/3 c. oil

Heat oven to 450° with a pizza stone on middle rack. Combine dry ingredients and herbs. Make well in center and pour in oil and water. Stir with spoon until a soft dough forms. Turn out onto parchment paper and knead about 5-6 times to bring dough together. Can be divided into 2-3 small balls and rolled flat, or rolled out as one large circle. Drizzle olive oil over top, sprinkle with sea salt and more herb and transfer, parchment and all to heated stone. Bake until browned in spots and fragrant- time will depend on how thin dough is rolled. Remove from oven and cool (don’t cool on stone- it will continue to bake). Slice with pizza cutter and enjoy.

Recipe from Gourmet magazine

 

Spinach Pesto

4 c. washed spinach leaves, stemmed
1/3 c. olive oil
3 T. toasted pine nuts
1 clove fresh garlic, chopped

Place all ingredients in a food processor and process until smooth, scraping down sides as needed. This pesto can be frozen for quite some time with only minimal loss of flavor. Do not add cheese to pesto if planning to freeze, otherwise, add to taste your preferred hard cheese.

 

KATE’S NOTES:
Pine nuts are ungodly expensive right now. I love subbing cashews in pesto for the meaty flavor, and have dabbled with the idea of using almonds too, as they’re my favorite nut. And instead of using traditional parmesan in my pesto, I love the addition of Manchego or Trugole, which is really similar to Asiago, only creamier and with a milder taste.