Endings and beginnings

With the HS graduation party behind us, I feel like this is the start of my summer! (And yes I am unmistakably crabby in the grad pic…7 valedictorian speeches, ugh!)

It’s an amazing amount of work to host these things and frankly, we crammed several years’ worth of “honey do” list items into one month. I am glad we did it, but we’ll be bribing Av to skip it or host it elsewhere. 😉

The menu was a Chicago theme (he’ll be attending Lake Forest College):

  • Chicago dogs (yes I had a vegan “dog”). We all agreed celery salt and tomatoes really are quite good on a poppyseed bun
  • Fruit kabobs
  • Veggie & hummus cups
  • Mini cupcakes
  • Chicago microbrews

Alec is fortunate through swimming (and his personality) to have many friends across not just our town but the TC area, and many ages. It was fun to see them all in one place. I was VERY thankful swimmers like to eat and we had no hot dog leftovers! ⭐️

It’s hard as an adult not to think about the closing of one chapter and the opening of another. Just yesterday he registered for classes and found out his roommate and academic advisor. Immediately the excitement of everything he’s going to get to learn about replaced any sadness.

Of course we’re very proud of his accomplishments, but really we just love having Alec around because he’s such a kind, thoughtful person. The next 8 weeks are gonna go fast, just like the last 19!

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Emotional eating

There’s a time and place for emotional eating. This weekend is one of them. It’s mid-April, and we’ve already taken our winter vacation. I thought it would be downhill after our return. Silly me.

It has snowed 15″ in the last 48 hours. And it’s not done yet. This is definitely stretching my optimism skills, as hockey season is almost done (go Wild!) and baseball is underway (go Twins!) But Avery will be lucky to be practicing and playing outside by the end of the month, roughly half of the HS baseball season. He’s not happy.

By Saturday night I was pretty squirrelly after being stuck inside so long. So I did what I do when my emotions run wild, I cooked. I made chocolate chip cookies and opened a bottle of wine. Fully admit this is emotional eating. And not vegan. Real Irish salted butter made these the best cookies I have ever made (keep it in the fridge for splurges and this definitely qualifies).

When the plows finally came through this morning and Matt had collapsed from shoveling the driveway (spring snow is heavy!), I ventured out to the grocery store to re-stock. And do some more emotional cooking.

We’re having favorites this week –made egg salad for Matty, bought lunch meat for the boys, spaghetti and “meat”balls, roasting a bunch of vegs and making ramen for me, which starts with an awesome garlic vegetable broth. All comfort foods that definitely have meaning for each of us. Is it so wrong to attach emotions to food and use it to perk up oneself from time to time?!

The cooking process itself calms me down. I came out of my rage as the broth simmered, realizing how few “snow days” we have left as a family. That we were all safe and snuggled in wearing pajamas for 2 days straight, gathered round the kitchen laughing and making the best out of it (binge watch recommendation = The Looming Tower on Hulu).

And it’s helping me make my case that our winters (Nov to May) should be spent elsewhere…just 2 more to get through! My suggestion to sell the house and buy a boat to sail the Caribbean is looking a lot less “crackpot”….

Garlic miso broth

  • 8 cloves garlic, smashed
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 8 cups water
  • 2 stalks celery (with leaves)
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 head garlic, halved
  • 2 scallions
  • 1 bunch fresh herbs, parsley or cilantro
  • Miso individual soup packet (optional)

Sauté smashed garlic in olive oil over low heat until brown, about 5 minutes. Add garlic head, water, celery, scallions, bay leaf, herbs and bring to a simmer. Cover and simmer for about 30 minutes. Strain and add miso packet, salt and pepper as desired. A great base for ramen or any veg soup.

Avocado citrus salad

Dreaming of warmer weather, I am regularly throwing together salads etc that seem more like summer and less like 28 degrees and 6-9″ of snow (forecast for tomorrow). We’re so close to the end of winter I can taste it! Just 2 more weeks until Mexico and when we get back it should be “downhill.”

HS hockey and swimming are now done, both boys finished the season strong. Alec has made his college choice (Lake Forest College), and I have purchased a ridiculous amount of Foresters gear! He will continue swimming, but mostly we are glad for the balanced and practical experience he has chosen for his undergrad experience. Plus Chicago is close but not too close 😉

We’re very proud and excited for this new chapter in his life. Avery has design plans for his “new” car and life as an only child. Oh boy.

Oh, and after all the bragging, here’s the recipe:

Avocado citrus salad

  • Avocado, diced
  • 1 cup citrus segments (grapefruit, oranges)
  • 1 cup hearts of palm segments
  • 1 cup diced cherry/grape tomatoes
  • 16 oz mixed greens
  • 2 stalks celery, sliced, including leaves
  • 1/2 white onion, sliced
  • Citrus dressing (2:1 ratio of olive oil to lemon juice, 1 clove garlic chopped)
  • Salt and pepper

Toss together and pretend to be somewhere warm!

Food as self care

It snowed again today. I hate January in Minnesota. If you’re coming here for the SuperBowl in a few weeks, pack your warm stuff!!

The only good thing about weather like this is that it keeps us inside together and gives us time to read, watch movies/tv and just be together.

It was a day off of school for the boys, and they enjoyed the leftovers from yesterday’s football game (Go Vikes!): Halftime chili and cheesy cornbread. I was surprised to learn that most of the teenage boys who came over to watch the game hadn’t ever had chili “Cincinnati style”, which is served over pasta. Anything that can be served over pasta is in our house!!

I did not partake, but instead made an açaí bowl with fruit and desiccated coconut. It looks awful but is utterly fantastic. I’d had this unique superfruit full of antioxidants in Kauai and was thrilled to find a smoothie ready frozen package. Individual servings make it fast and easy.

For dinner I made grain bowls with quinoa and black beans over mixed greens with whatever vegs I could find. I roasted green beans (20 minutes at 400 degrees), and this is absolutely my new favorite prep for what can be a tasteless veg in winter.

That got me thinking about how much we enjoy trying new foods and techniques, and that our habits have changed pretty dramatically in 15 years (since Avery was born). We used to care mostly about cheap and familiar.

With more time and more adventurous spirits, every week is different now. Food (and food prep for me) has become a form of self care. I truly enjoy learning and exploring, and slowing down after a busy day to pull a meal together.

I’m really feeling so much healthier these days–more energy especially–and think a lot of it is the vegan diet (particularly getting rid of dairy). It’s easy to stick with something that makes you feel better!!

Ps We’re planning our winter getaway, which involved updating my passport. I am thrilled to be getting rid of this photo (12 years ago)!! 40 something is way better than 30.

“Beef” stew (vegan)

The boys are generally being good sports about this vegan thing we’ve been trying. They’ve both figured out coping mechanisms. Avery has been getting supplements at lunch from his friends who take pity on him, and Alec just drives himself to buy something when he wants it.

I was honestly pretty excited tonight to try one of our favorite recipes, made vegan–Sunday Night beef stew by Pioneer Woman. It’s a winter staple. It’s hearty and easy, classic flavors.

It turned out great…the smell of a simmering pot filled the house all afternoon with anticipation and when the boys sat down there was honestly excitement. (I serve it over a giant portion of mashed potatoes and a good old bowl of carbs is always good bait for a teenage boy.)

So when we dug in, the reactions were nearly simultaneous: “This isn’t meat, is it?”

No. And then even I was laughing because there’s no way soy chunks improve by simmering. Quickly the nickname “feeb” stew caught on (beef backwards and perhaps a nod to feeble).

Lesson learned. I really liked this meatless beef tips product when we used it in broccoli stir fry last week, but I think it was greatly helped both by quick sauté and a spicy sauce. Cooking it for several hours made the texture akin to the “meatballs” in Spaghettios and the flavor was definitely not umami.

Everything else in the recipe turned out great–substituting olive oil for butter and vegetable stock for beef. I amped up the Worcestershire and added bay leaves to give the sauce more depth. That part of the recipe was a success. The carrots/turnips were great as usual too. Even the boys said so.

I’m going to keep tinkering with the right meat substitute, perhaps a tempeh or mushroom. The key to this vegan thing I think is to play with a food’s strengths, not to try to make something into what it’s clearly not. I’ve got some trust building to do for the feeb stew, can’t fool these hungry boys. 😉

A year of opportunity

Just before the holidays we made some food changes in our house. We’d stumbled across a Netflix documentary “What the Health” and for the first time in 20+ years of marriage, Matt wanted a significant change too. I guess perhaps it was an early resolution.

We’re eating a plant-based diet. This is a big deal for him because he loves meat and milk. So we needed to quickly find some new options that he would enjoy. (Technically we’re not fully vegan, but vegetarian and dairy-free** with some exceptions. The boys are still eating some meat but we’ve completely cutout things like lunch meat).

It’s actually been fun to reimagine our food and explore new things. We’ve discovered we both love Indian food (although I have yet to try cooking anything and just prefer buying ready-made or takeout).

We know which veggie burgers we like, and the meatless meatballs are actually better (it’s a texture thing). He loves the chorizo “sausages”. The tofu lunchmeat options were the only failure, but substituting hummus and veggies or good old PB&J is just fine. Lots of avocados too! I got an avocado saver kitchen gadget for Christmas that makes me smile.

This week we’re testing out dairy alternatives. We’d already been using almond or coconut milk in smoothies and now it’s completely replaced dairy. The vegan mozzarella and cheddar are decent and perfectly fine as an accent. I like the tofu sour cream too.

But mostly we’re just not using cheese anymore. Honestly dairy was easy for me to give up and has made the biggest impact on how I feel. He’s noticing that a cup of tea is a better night time routine than a glass of milk and an easy way to cut calories. I have been trying a new tea each week to encourage (orange blossom from Teavana is a favorite).

Which got me to thinking about “diets” and New Years resolutions and why the stats say most people don’t stick with it past January. If I focus on all of the things I am giving up, it’s a whole lot harder and it frankly feels like punishing myself. The word diet itself just sounds negative.

Instead, focusing on the upsides–like using my insatiable curiosity to try new things and experiment as a tool to help us, and rewarding us with lots of things we love like splurging on fresh juices (strawberry lemonade!) and fruits, which I realize are being shipped in from somewhere much warmer, is a compromise I’m willing to make. The “goal” is about feeling healthier and having more energy, not trying to “stick with” sacrifices. That’s surely an eventual failure.

Speaking of compromise… going completely vegan is not in the cards for us. Making some modifications–like eggs and butter, and all of the things that they get used in–is one example. Sushi is another one that I just can’t give up, but have as a treat periodically.

As is splurging for special events. We had pastry treats for Christmas Eve breakfast and dessert from Rose Street Patisserie, and roasted whole rainbow trout with a garlic-mustard breadcrumb mix, which was fantastic! I appreciated every bite.

Everything in balance. I’m looking forward to more exploring in 2018 including maybe taking an Indian cooking class…Happy New Year!

Shepherd’s pie


I’m sorry. I don’t take this blogger photo thing as seriously as I should. It’s not pretty, but it’s good. 

A bit of backstory: I started blogging about 4 years ago when several baseball moms started bugging me to actually write down my recipes. It’s a concept, and I have never been one to be so formal. 

But then I got the idea that if I organized both my recipes and shopping lists that would be real value to working moms. I did that for a summer to test the idea and learned a ton about how people cook and grocery shop. The idea was solid (as proven out by services such as Blue Apron), but it didn’t really scratch the creativity itch for me. Nor did I really intend to make money at it.

Cooking is an art form. I just love sharing my tested recipes and even more joy when someone tells me they learned something new in the process (or tried a new ingredient). The blog serves that purpose for me. 

But in the past year or so, I have observed that we have a food consciousnesses crisis in this country. We have more, we consume more than we need, we waste more. And by “we” I certainly am generalizing. Americans don’t want to think about our food and where it came from or what purpose it serves our body. We are mindless consumers. And trained to be that way. 

That’s changing, but like most change, not fast enough. I do what I can in my little world to support that change—raising mindful eaters and sharing recipes with my small circle. I think I need to bring more of those cultural observations into the blog going forward, in addition to recipes and food travel notes. Thoughts welcome!!

Ironically, this recipe makes a massive amount of food that lasts at least 2 days (that’s eons in our house). But as winter sets in, we do need our comforts. All things in balance. 😉

Shepherd’s pie

  • 5lb potatoes, peeled and halved
  • 3/4c 1/2 &1/2 (or milk)
  • 1 stick butter
  • Parmesan cheese
  • 1 lb lean ground beef
  • 1 lb lean ground turkey 
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 3 stalks celery, diced
  • 1/2 bag frozen mixed vegetables 
  • 15 oz can tomato sauce
  • 2 tsp paprika
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne 
  • 2 tsp oregano
  • Dash of cinnamon 
  • 1 tbsp chopped fresh parsley 
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Salt and pepper 

Boil potatoes in salted water til soft (about 20 min). While potatoes cook, sauté meats until brown, add onion and celery, cook til soft (about 5 minutes). Add seasonings, frozen vegetables and tomato sauce. Simmer for 20 minutes and then remove bay leaf.

There are 3 keys to creamy, light mashed potatoes: 

  1. Never add cold liquids to hot potatoes (=glue)
  2. Don’t rinse potatoes, just let them air cool to a temperature you can handle. In this recipe you can let them sit awhile.
  3. Get a potato ricer. 

Microwave butter and cream for 1 minute. Add potatoes using ricer. Mix together, season with salt.

Place meat mixture on the bottom of large (10×14) baking dish, top with potatoes and sprinkle with parmesan. Cover with tinfoil, bake at 350 for 30 minutes, remove foil and cook another 10 min or so til top begins to brown.

Can be made ahead and/or frozen.