Sunday, June 29, 2014

Do You Really Cook Like That?

cooking utensils photo: those are cooking utensils DSC_0041.jpg

     It's a question I get quite a bit. The truth is, I do. And I eat like that, too. Working in nutritional education is a challenge; one that I love and am blessed to do. Working with children and teens gives me a blank slate to draw on, as most students I encounter have not yet been exposed to basic kitchen skills and food responsibilities. Every once in a while I stretch beyond my happy place to work among the adults, often finding they are wonderful, too- just a little scarier to me:)
     So, to answer the question: Yes, I cook.. from scratch, with fresh or frozen ingredients.. lots of seasoning.. natural oils.. variety of color... and with enthusiasm, creativity and a little crazy fun. I get my hands in it.. make a mess... touch, smell, see and taste. Yes, I hold my knife like that.. and in a comfortable position.. on the table not the counter because I am too short. Of course I cook with my kids.. from birth up.. in the carrier, the high chair, and even on the bench or kiddie table (so they could reach too).
       The Go Kids.. yes, they cook.. they eat.. they grow food.. they think I am funny and weird. They absolutely can tell you a hundred ways to alter a dish and most of the nutrients in the food they eat. Did they always appreciate it? Love it? No. They were normal kids, but as young adults now- they are glad they endured my insanity.
       Mr. Go? Oh my goodness. He loves me.. suffers through my experiments.. tolerates spinach and broccoli.. deals with my practice nutrition talks. He loves his 'whoa' foods (those carbonated beverage cans in my expo are not mine!).. he works out with me.. and with me.. and has no clue which is a plant and which is a weed (nope, gardening not his thing). At the end of the day, he really is a healthy guy who gets a pretty proud look when he hears all the stories about my young go-chefs.
        And there you have it.. my cred.. it's true, I really do cook like that! Don't you want to come join me?


Thursday, June 26, 2014

Surveying Summer Squash


yellow squash photo: Squash 100_7541.jpg
Yellow straight neck, or crook neck and zucchini
    This week the teens and I are spending some time with summer squash; one veg people seem to have a love/hate relationship with. Many have never tried it; the ones who have believe the only way to endure it is breaded and fried (my dad would agree with you). Let's set those misconceptions and lost introductions aside and take a good long look at this bountiful summer crop.
squash photo: summer squash DSCN1266r.jpg
Squash plants are large and rather bristly plants; their flowers are edible, too
     Summer squashes are members of the gourd family, harvested while still immature keeping their flesh and seeds tender and edible. They are quick to prepare and cook, offering very few calories while providing us with much needed vitamin C and fiber. Due to it's somewhat spongy nature, summer squash readily absorbs flavors; a great carrier for spices! When experiencing a new vegetable, try it uncooked first in order to understand the texture and touch of it. (yes, summer squash can be eaten raw)
      Harvest summer squash in season, often early to mid summer, when the skin brightens and the blossom falls off. Larger squash will have more seed to them, so pick when full but heavy for their size. I like mine about the length of my hand, narrow enough around for my index finger to touch my thumb when wrapped around the largest part. Pale baby squash are perfectly fine to harvest and are excellent roasted or in a fresh veg platter. If you want blossoms, pick the larger 'male' blossom (often the one closing up). These can be eaten as is, tossed with salad, or stuffed with fresh soft cheese and herbs.
       Simple preparations are best, giving the veg a chance to shine. A little garlic, oil, and crushed red pepper in the sauté pan will enhance the squash without overwhelming it. Many stir-fry's use summer squash beautifully, allowing the slices to absorb the seasoning and carry it among other more firm produce. Grilled squash is excellent when allowed to marinade, as you would a meat. Slide them onto skewers to keep them from falling through the grates. Squash make excellent baked 'fries' when prepared carefully- removing all seeds and drying well by sprinkling with salt and allowing to sit a few minutes in order to produce a little crisp (they will not crisp as well as a potato because they lack starch).
       Before using summer squash always wash them well and pat dry. Note, we remove the seeds to prevent excess moisture when cooking- this would cause the squash to become soggy.

Wash the squash under cool running water and cut both ends off.
Cut the squash in half and remove the seeds with a spoon.
The squash can then be quartered, cubed, sliced, grated, or left in halves and then cooked.
chart credit

Monday, June 23, 2014

Go, Go Lady

Tomatoes and Cilantro
photo credit

   Summer sinus junk; is there anything worse? Heat and humidity wreak havoc on nasal pressure and dripping. One doctor visit (I never visit the doctor), two shots and two prescriptions later I found myself knocked over and out of commission. Not good. After a weekend of this, my emotions and my inner timid soul surfaced.
    Monday morning brought with it a rebound of sinus headache and a list of things this week would demand. Face it- things don't stop just because we feel miserable. In it came the questioning; the small voice in my head that stirs fear and doubt. Why are you doing this? Is it worth it? Aren't you neglecting other things? Once she starts, she doesn't quiet easily.
     A deep breath; a teary sigh- I shared my fretful thoughts with Mr. Go. He shook his head and smiled; those blue eyes hinting a smile he always hides when we have this conversation. Go, Go Lady. Share the crazy and the creativity. With a nod and a hug I went on to work. It was going to take more than that to quiet the questions.
     God knows our needs even before we do. In the midst of a meeting He assured me in the one and only very way that works every time and never fails. A message came from a counselor we are working with. Some of her campers returned to summer camp today sharing stories of how they went home this weekend and cooked our recipes for their families. Imagine trying to contain the happy dance while sitting in a leadership meeting!
      There in my office he called me- Mr. Go heard the incredible news and once again reminded me, Go, Go Lady. Share the crazy and the creativity. I believe I shall!

Sunday, June 15, 2014

We Are All Sandpaper to Someone

     Sandpaper: coarse and abrasive, causing irritation- quite an unpleasant substance to encounter. I am sure every one can bring to mind a person or personality that tends to meet the 'sandpaper' description; a person we cringe at the notion of. This often starts a cycle of irritation that spreads to our other working relationships, our social realm, and then into our homes. In a moment of utter desperation I cried till I couldn't cry anymore. Therein I came to a very big realization... we are all sandpaper to someone.
      Every personality has a complementing personality, as well as an opposing personality. There are some we are indifferent to, some we really blend with and others that just plain cause us to consider violence. I have encountered many different personalities over the years- and let me tell you, some are down right hard for me to work with. I have really had to dig deep and work at making it through a day. On a long ride home during a deep conversation with the Lord several things hit me.

      1. Realization. I realized that while a certain person may be driving me to the point of insanity, there is also, most likely, someone I am driving to the point of insanity as well. It might even be the same person I am fretting about.
      2. Understanding. When the truth hits, and it hits hard, I come to a new understanding of how it feels to be the other person. Being the sandpaper is no better- in fact, it hurts to realize it.
      3. New perspective. It's time to look through another's eyes at myself and at what is really the issue, both with the irritation I am feeling, and the irritation I may be causing. That shakes the soul a little, let me tell you.
      4. Consider. Weighing the long run to see how to proceed- on both sides of the issues. Is this a person I can avoid, or someone I will encounter every day? Whether I am the irritant or the one irritated, is avoiding an option.. or limiting encounters. Sometimes you just have to go to the other person and spit it out. Admit it, own it, and make it right as much as you can from here.

      This past week found me irritated and very frustrated trying to find the place and the pace with summer schedules, volunteers, co-workers and such. There were abrasive personalities that were irritating me, and I was a rather nasty irritant myself. Sometimes there are circumstances causing the issues that are temporary, but sometimes there are issues that are going to take some work on both sides. I have both to work through, not only last week, but off and on throughout the day everyday- it's just a reality.
        My point is not to rant or rag on anyone. It is to say, I need to be mindful of my own shortcomings.. admit them, own up to them, and make it better as much as is in my power to do so (there are times when you just can't make it right). Like me, please take time to consider the conflicts and irritations surrounding you; pray, ponder, and plan in order to better the situation around you and those you love!


Tuesday, June 10, 2014

On Hospitality

entertaining photo: entertaining collection_tables_01.jpg

     Ladies in red lipstick gathered for afternoon card games sharing cups of nuts and mints; young wives considering a purchase as demonstrations are done in kitchens with gadgets and goodies. A table set in cloth napkins, matching table service- all to serve a multi-course meal carefully planned and beautifully presented. I never considered these events to be moments of hospitality. Such hosting often found me at a loss, unable to see myself making this a regular event in my home life.

     My personal inadequacies in this area, real or imagined, have proven a challenge over the years. Holidays, birthdays, or my husband's own desire to just have a few people over tend so send me into a discontented frenzy of doubt, dread, and to-do. We don't live like most people, nor did we have entertainment in mind when we purchased our home.. but then, there is where the point lies. Is it hospitality or is it entertainment?

     The notion in my head that has plagued me so many years is a notion of entertainment, not hospitality. Let me share this by Nancy Twigg:

I'll never forget what she said. It was so simple, yet so true: "When you entertain, you bring honor and glory to yourself. Showing hospitality brings honor and glory to God."
Think about it. Pride can easily sneak in when you entertain. The dinner you serve shows off your cooking abilities. Everything is clean and neat so guests are impressed with your home and homemaking skills. And, if the evening is enjoyable, everyone assumes it's because of your talents as a host or hostess. Why, all this focus on yourself can quickly lead to an inflated ego if you're not careful!
Hospitality, on the other hand, is not about impressing anyone. It's about being yourself and making your guests feel comfortable to be themselves. It doesn't matter if you serve frozen pizza or if dust bunnies are scurrying across your floors. Through your warmth and humility, guests feel better about themselves and closer to God for having visited your home.

       This makes complete sense to me. The discontent and lack of ability I was struggling with was due to the idea of entertaining; something completely contrary to my character and to the environment of my home. From this realization came a new outlook on hospitality and a healthy peace with it.

       In my home, hospitality means welcoming, comforting, encouraging and accepting another in in order that they feel the warmth and security our home is built upon. It is not necessarily a gathering, though it can be.. it is not necessarily a celebration, though it can be. It doesn't even have to be in my home. Hospitality can be what we bring to others, stemming from our home and reaching out to theirs.

       While a slight panic still rises when the thought of company crosses my mind, it doesn't linger long. My home is a place of welcome.. as it is, without pretense. No one is turned away or left in want, but invited to stay- linger a while in the simple things. When I leave, I take a piece of home with me to share with those who cross my path- or those whose path I seek out. Hospitality isn't flashy or labor-intense. It is the heart of a home shared and ready to accept.       

Monday, June 9, 2014

Very Veggie Conversations with Go Lady

     Fresh vegetable tasting- an interesting and often challenging aspect of my program. Children and adults alike have rather strong opinions regarding their relationships with vegetables. Naturally, the great reveal of any given veggie often meets with the standard 'ewe', 'yuck', and other various noises used to get the point across. So how do we manage to get the veggies considered and tasted?

Read the rest of this post here

Thursday, June 5, 2014

How I Beat Lunch Meat

roast chicken photo: Free Chicken EasySunderDinnerRoastChicken.jpg
photo credit

     Ok. No judgment. I do not eat lunch meat (except on some rare occasion where it a hospitality situation and it is seriously rude not to). Extremely high sodium, gnarly preservatives, and the whole grossly processed issue present major migraine triggers for me, and I really dislike migraines.
      I appreciate the huge convenience lunch meats are and realize they may appear rather cost effective, but they are not healthy and they are definitely not for me. Over they years, the solution to the lunch meat problem has become second nature- a little planning goes a long way. The first step is to decide it isn't an option, then we take the next step. Most meats translate well to convenience foods once you start to look at them that way- and left over meats are a serious help.
      1. Roast. Pick a day and set a roast in the crock pot. Tender meat cooked low and slow is easily shredded for salads and wraps. Cold roast is perfect for slicing sandwich filling from. A roast will last several days and freeze beautifully (another great help in a hurry).

      2. Chicken. Whole, halved, thighs, breasts or tenders- once cooked are great lunch meat replacements. If you are really in a crunch, pick up a rotisserie chicken from the market. Again, the meat will freeze well after cooking to keep emergency backups on hand.

      3. Eggs. Boiled, scrambled, fried or in an omelet- eggs are versatile and quick to fix.

      4. Beans. Spicy black beans in a tortilla are a go-to quick lunch. Beans are great in salads, tortillas, soups or straight up.

      5. Meatless. It never hurts to go meatless for a meal; spinach and cheese quesadillas, grilled cheese, salad or a sandwich with nut butter. It works.

       The reality is: we don't have to have lunch meat to ditch the drive thru. A little planning and consideration keep us stocked up and ready for weekday lunches, and when we are caught unprepared there is always a rotisserie chicken at the store.

        Have you beat lunch meat? Share yours!


Monday, June 2, 2014

Better Beginnings: Breakfast on the Go

Yogurt Parfait photo: Vanilla Bean Yogurt Berry Parfait 005.jpg

   The morning rush: it's maddening! I have to admit that my mornings take off at quite a pace leaving little time for cooking and cleaning up breakfast. Instead of hitting the drive through on my way to the office/classroom/whatever-it-is-today, we have a few simple 'go-to' breakfasts that get us through.

    Let me start by saying: a little planning goes a long way. Once you commit to eating at home, and act on that commitment, it gets easier and easier to make it happen. As I share my 'go-to' breakfasts, we will also look at the plan ahead steps that make it fast on the run.

     1. Yogurt & Fruit. The easiest way to is buy the yogurt with the fruit in it, which I tend to do if I have to, but it's not my favorite. My fave is to cut fresh fruit the night before, place it into a container ready and waiting for a dollop of plain yogurt (sometimes a hit of granola or chopped almonds). This is way fewer calories and much less sugar.

      2. Toast & Banana. Here is really no pre-prep for this other than set the nut butter of choice and banana on the counter right next to the coffee pot (which is ready and waiting for me to just hit the button!). This is my 'on the run in the car' meal.

       3. Egg Scramble. Eggs are beaten into a container (canning jar or plastic with lid) and kept in the fridge until morning. Left over veggies, cheese, or some chopped greens are on hand ready to be added, if needed. It always surprises me how quick this really is. Add a toasted English muffin if you are craving a drive thru flavor.

        4. Smoothie. You can't get more car friendly than a smoothie. I set all my ingredients in the blender pitcher- in the fridge- the night before. Pop it on the base, give it a whir.. ta da.. smoothie. My smoothies are basically a handful of each: baby greens (spinach, kale, chard, or a mix), fruit (berries and banana are my fave- I like mine frozen), fluid (coconut water or milk, plain yogurt, or green tea).. sometimes I add some flax, chia, or oats (a spoonful).

        5. Boiled egg and apple.  A few boiled eggs in the fridge are a staple; never leave the fridge without. They are also perfect for a lunch, workout, or snack.

        Sure, I love the mornings when we whip up pancakes or stir up biscuits.. but those are here and there, not the norm. That doesn't mean we skip breaking our fast and fueling our body for the day. Instead, we keep it simple, keep it natural, and keep it whole so when the slow and steady pancake morning presents itself, we can appreciate it and enjoy it (and not cry over a few extra calories!).
         Share your favorite quick breakfasts!