Eat. Drink. Be Merry.

GatherinGrace NathaliesNotes

Gather with Grace

Dec 15, 2015

By NATHALIE HARDY | Yamhill Valley News-Register

First published in Winter 2015 Roots to Roofs

Given my history of meal mishaps, small kitchen fires and fondue party fails, I'm an unlikely candidate for trying to sell others on the blessings of holiday gatherings. Nonetheless, I intend to try my best to convince you to invite people into your home to partake at your table.

My parents owned and operated two restaurants while I was growing up, but I picked up little in the way of practical skills. In fact, I was once fired over my poor potato peeling practices.

It may, or may not have had something to do with a tenuous mother-daughter relationship at the time. It's hard to say. 

My mother is a gourmet cook.When I was dating my husband, I think that gave him the wrong idea, as I am decidedly not.

I am, however, enthusiastic about all endeavors that have to do with people and hospitality. And in the world of adults, that ends up requiring the care and feeding of people. 

So while my mom sets a lovely table with a delicious spread of food, while I set off smoke alarms preparing things that turn out nothing like the pictures posted on Pinterest, we have one thing in common — a love of making people feel warm and welcome.

This time of year, all the sage advice suggests saying "no" more often so we can focus on saying "yes" to "what really matters." So, what, exactly, is it that really matters? 

In my mind, there isn't much that rates above taking care of one another, and one significant way to do that is to extend an invitation to share a meal. That is a concrete way to meet a basic human need of connection and a gracious way to live out love.

No gourmet cooking is required to be gracious and welcoming. I've invited plenty of people to my house with these words: "Hey, I'm trying a new recipe and it might be totally gross. Want to come? Bring some bread for back up." 

And people come.

Sometimes we have a good laugh, served with a lot of bread and butter, as we eye the smoldering dish I just proved wasn't fail-proof after all. And we nourish something more than our bellies in those moments.

Showing up for each other and being remembered nourishes our spirits. I think that is a gift worth spreading, and savoring.

I have had friends and relatives who discouraged me from hosting such things due to my stained carpets and chair cushions. But here's the thing: We don't have that kind of time, you guys. If you have friends and relatives who care more about the shape of your chairs and carpets than they do the spirit of your company, forgive them and move on.

If it's you holding back from inviting people into your home because of peeling paint or mis-matched furniture, consider getting off the sidelines of your life. It's a short life, this one, so gather in — and with — grace. 

In my years of hosting people, despite all the obvious reasons not to, I've learned a few things that might be helpful to others lacking the Kelly Ripaesque picture-perfect life.

First, you have to start somewhere. So, just do it.

An easy dinner to host is a potato bar.

But the first time I had a large group of people over for dinner, I didn't realize how long it takes to cook potatoes. I must say, we were pretty hungry by the time the pizza arrived. 

Ergo, my first tip is to always have a back-up plan. It'll free you up to try new things without starving your friends out. (You know you're supposed to poke holes in potatoes before baking them right? Yeah, me too).

Also, pay attention to words in recipes like "meanwhile" and "stir constantly." If something requires constant stirring, it's too needy and you should probably break up and pick something else to serve. 

Another essential piece of advice: People often ask, "What can I bring?" Let them bring something. Please.

And don't just say, "Oh, whatever you want." Be specific.

Say, "How about something for dessert?" Or say, "Salad would be great." And you might add, "Bring your own bread." Beverages work for that, too. 

Whatever your main dish ends up looking like, put it on the table with no apologies. Think of it as a manners experiment.

Should you fall for the old lie that lasagna is easy to make, you might end up with oddly curled noodles on the top layer, because nowhere in the instructions does it say there should be no noodles on that layer. Not to worry. Just flip it upside down, add a topping of cheese and sprinkle with some sprigs of parsley. 

Sprigs of any herb make things look more appetizing. And they suggest you know what you're doing. It's also good to remember that cheese makes everything better. 

Speaking of cheese, keep a wheel of brie in your fridge. Part of being hospitable is being able to serve up some food on short notice, without making anyone feel awkward.

Add some crushed nuts and brown sugar on top of the brie, pop it in the oven and you'll have an amazing appetizer.

Just add bread. Or crackers. Or spoons.

Oh, and one last tip: Never use the oven to store anything. Just don't. Even if you tell everyone else in the house that's what you're doing, the fire will always be your fault. 

I know it's amazing that I haven't been hired to write for Better Homes and Gardens. But lucky for us, that leaves me more time to put all this advice into my next book: Not like the Picture.

Finally, remember that mealtime mishaps make for great memories. Like the time my gourmet cook mom helped host a pig roast back in the early 70s.

I'm not sure how they remember it so vividly, since members of this gathering of Slovak immigrants were in high spirits, so to speak, and on empty stomachs. Yet the stories of the night, and the pig that didn't cook, haver persisted for decades.  

One day we will laugh about the time I set the lentils on fire while trying to approximate a candle display I found on Pinterest. Actually, I already am. 

For my next trick, stop by some time. And bring the bread. 

Happy gathering!

 

To “like me” like me, find me on Facebook at Nathalie’s Notes, on Twitter or on Pinterest. I’m a prolific pinner on deadline. Just sayin’. Also? If you want to make a writer friend smile, please subscribe below AND if you liked this post – share it with your friends!

Nathalie Hardy recently published her first book, “Raising the Hardy Boys: They Said There Would Be Bon-Bons” available at local bookstores and online. Hardy writes in the margins of her life with two little boys and a husband who understands deadlines come before dusting. To contact her, visit www.nathaliesnotes.com.

Her second book “Merry is Optional” was just published by Ridenbaugh Press and is available on Amazon. For more ideas and tips for holiday fun, with or without an elf, visit www.nathaliesnotes.com.


The unglamorous scoop on green shakes

GGS

*Illustrator credit: Elissa Hudson (check out more of her work here check out more of her work here).

I wanted to use this adorable graphic when I posted about being back on my green smoothie wagon the other day but I was waiting to get permission from the illustrator because you know … the law. Also because it’s totally not cool to use other people’s work without permission. But you guys already know that so moving on …

Somehow a bunch of you must’ve known I’m working on blog content and recalibrating normal over here because my inbox blew up with some great questions.

Here are a few on the subject of my smoothie situation – if you are looking for perfectly styled pictures and clear step-by-step directions this blog is not for you. I’m more like here’s what works for me, and here’s what I did. And this. Oh, also this. But not this. Bonus tip: here’s what totally didn’t work.  My kitchen journal is basically what it would be like if Amelia Bedelia wrote a cookbook.

(*This post contains affiliate links to products I love and whole-heartedly endorse. My goal is to make millions blogging … there was this infomercial … have Nathalie’s Notes pay for itself and a few cents adding up on Amazon for purchases you are already planning to make seemed like a reasonable way to accomplish that! So thanks for making your Amazon purchases through my Amazon links – it doesn’t matter what you buy.)

With that convincing introduction, here’s the scoop on my breakfast shakes following Kimberly Snyder’s recipe – with less graceful instructions. She makes it sound easy. And the truth is, if you’re not used to this sort of thing it isn’t! At first.

Q: So you use these exact measurements?

A: Oh, no. That’s just a guide.

Q: So ….

A: Oh – well mostly I do it like this: 2 cups water, three heaping handfuls of spinach or kale, one bunch of romaine, blend. Then add three celery stalks. Blend. Then add apple and pear chunks. Blend. Then one banana. Blend. Lemon juice cube or fresh lemon juice. Blend. Done.

Q: Is it hard?

A: Yes. At first.

Q: Does it trash your kitchen?

A: Totally.

Bonus tip: I spare myself some cleanup by making massive amounts of green shake at a time and freezing it in 32 ounce/Quart mason jars. (Make sure you leave room at the top of the liquid before it freezes, or else, you know … BOOM and glass shards Every. Where.)

 

Q: How much do you drink at a time?

A: So, I choke down 8 ounces a day. By which I mean, when I am on my green shake kick I choke down 8 ounces. After about a week or so, my taste buds acclimate and I start to crave different kinds of food. Today though I still want All the Nutella. Matt on the other hand, chugs the whole quart first thing in the morning on all the days I remember to make it for him. Since he often works through lunch I feel like a jerk on the days I forget. (See freezer trick above).

Q: So the lemons are kind of a pain, huh?

A: That was more of a comment than a question. But I had to include it because of the bonus tip below. And actually, it is literally a huge pain if you have an open cut on your hand while you’re juicing these tart babies.

Bonus Tip:

If you think this whole nourishing your body thing might stick, consider picking up one of these lemon juicers. They are sweet to have around, cuts or no cuts. Lemon Juicers For you, Lemon Juicer for Me

Get a bunch of lemons – Meyer lemons are The Best! Pick them up when they’re on sale, squeeze them into your new juicer.

Then I pour in these mini muffin molds and freeze. I bag them for later. Meyer muffins are the bomb.

Q: How do you drink it?

A: Cold. Otherwise it tastes like warm, green sludge. (I’m really selling it, huh? Thing is, there has to be a counter to all the people who rave about it being “easy!” and “delicious!” Because for some of us? No. But also: necessary.)

Q: How long does it take?

A: So much depends (upon a red wheelbarrow …)

I can’t answer this one. If I’m doing it with no interruptions, which happens approximately never, it’s a quick job. I tend to make them in the margins of making dinner while I’m already trashing the kitchen, what’s a few more cores and leafy items on the floor? But once you streamline the process and get used to the measurements, it’s pretty quick.

Q: Do I have to have a Vitamix?

A: No. You have to have something that will blend this stuff up really well though. And they are kind of awesome.

Q: So … I’ve kind of avoided the produce aisle most of my adult life. What’s the best way to do this?

A: ANYway that works for you! I mean, you can plant yourself a garden and all the spinach and romaine you need will sprout at your fingertips. You can even have your own lemon tree!

On the other end of reality is me. I buy the stuff in bags. I even buy the romaine hearts in packs of three and spinach by the box.

I also don’t use all organic stuff because of this little thing called a budget. I do tend to almost always buy organic apples, pears, celery and spinach – some of which are on the Dirty Dozen list for high pesticide levels. (I used to be ignorant about all this stuff, then I got all informed and then I was paralyzed and petrified of food. So now I walk a cherry*-picked path to balance my reality which includes a tight grocery budget and a philosophy that fruit and vegetables I can afford are better than none at all).

*Cherry tomatoes are number 10 on the Dirty Dozen list for 2015 but cherries aren’t on the list this year. They have been in prior years and still show up in Google searches. And THAT is part of what makes me crazy. Total aside, sorry.

To “like me” like me, find me on Facebook at Nathalie’s Notes, on Twitter or on Pinterest. I’m a prolific pinner on deadline. Just sayin’.

 

Nathalie Hardy recently published her first book, “Raising the Hardy Boys: They Said There Would Be Bon-Bons” available at local bookstores and online. Hardy writes in the margins of her life with two little boys and a husband who understands deadlines come before dusting. To contact her, visit www.nathaliesnotes.com. Hardy writes in the margins of her life with two little boys and a husband who understands deadlines come before dusting.


Not like the picture

I found another entry for my kitchen memoir Not like the Picture this weekend.

I am working on a personal life improvement project. One of the concepts I’m working with is how to stop complaining about the everyday things that must be done whether I’m cheerful about them or not, things like making meals for people three times a day, every day.

I’ve mentioned before that I kind of hate dinner and the fact that it comes around every. single. night.

But I don’t hate dinner, really.  And I certainly love the people I make meals for … so it’s actually a matter of figuring out how to streamline the whole process so I’m not re-creating the wheel every morning/evening.

I saw this super cute idea on Pinterest:

NO WAY!!! - cook a dozen at once. Put in the oven on 350 for 15-20 min. Comes out the perfect size to put on an English muffin!!

 

http://www.macheesmo.com/2010/03/breakfast-sandwiches/

Eggs cooked

So, I figured I’d try it at home. In keeping with the apparent theme of my life where things don’t turn out like the picture, here’s how the eggs actually turned out:

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See how mine aren’t perfectly round … or perfectly anything?

But, whatever, with a couple slices of ham tucked between a whole wheat English muffin … I think I’ve got breakfasts made for awhile.

I put them in sandwich baggies and then a freezer bag so we can heat and roll. No, I don’t hate the Earth, yes I plan to reuse the bags and absolutely I’d love to find a better way to do it.

Regardless of appearances, I do love knowing I have a bag full of pre-made, good for us breakfasts that were super easy to make. Thank you, Pinterest.

(You guys are on there, right? It is pure awesome sauce!)

Next time I think I’ll toast the muffins and try the updated version with spinach … and as per her suggestion, I will try scrambling them.

cooked

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{What’s working–simplicity}

 

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Two fun facts about me:

1) I’m the kind of person who can make simple complicated. But, I’m happy to share that a shift in how I spend my energy and money has lead to my working out a system for truly simple dinners that taste good, are generally healthy and not even a little bit gourmet, but work fine for weeknight “get ‘em fed” meals. Details below.

2) For the last couple years I’ve spent an inordinate time loathing dinner and everything about it from meal planning to grocery shopping to the actual making of meals while one, or two, hungry/cranky/daddy-craving kids clung to various parts of my body. By the time I finally got dinner on the table if someone so much as suggested they didn’t like something I had to resist the urge to dump the plate on their head, whether they were 3 or 38. This is a stress (and rage) I know I share with some of my friends and readers … so, here is my solution:

Grain + Protein + Vegetable + Sauce = Dinner.

Favorite grains: quinoa, brown rice (freeze batches add water and defrost), tortillas

Favorite proteins: eggs, canned tuna or salmon, chicken breasts, beans, cheese

Favorite veggies: whatever deal I can get on fresh or frozen

Favorite sauce: When my computer broke, I had to use my trust old cookbooks and learned to make a white sauce … really, it was new information to me and has changed how I make dinner. Sam hates tomatoes. Every time he tries a bite, he still hates it. So learning to make and dress up white sauce has been huge for us. I add artichoke hearts, sundried tomatoes, kalamata olives, capers, sautéed onions, lemon juice … whatever. It’s been good every time. If anyone wants details or specifics, email me … when in a real hurry, melt butter, add lemon sauce and chopped up herbs, fresh if you can.

Another thing I’ve been doing is saving myself steps and cents, even little ones, where I can … hence, the homemade taco seasoning packets.

1 Tbsp chili powder

1/4 tsp garlic powder

1/4 onion powder

1/4 tsp crushed red pepper

1/4 tsp oregano

1/2 tsp paprika

1 1/2 tsp cumin

tsp salt

tsp pepper

repeat into as many snack-size baggies as you’d like and stash in your pantry.

I still wish dinner wasn’t every day … but I’m adjusting.


I get these ideas …

 

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I get these ideas … a half an hour of my life, gone. What do I have to show for it? A sticky, green mess and another story for my “not like the picture” memoir.

Ever since I saw this cute idea for “Clever clovers in Family Fun magazine, I knew I’d be making them today. Above you can see evidence of my attempts as I acted out a real-life Amelia Bedelia in the kitchen story. I burned the white chocolate, tried to use peanut butter to “stick” the clovers together instead. It didn’t work. I couldn’t figure out how to use the stupid icing things and then decided to make my own icing and just ended up with more of a sticky, green mess. I finally drizzled them with the icing, sprinkled them with green and orange and walked away.

I also tried to make Leprechaun pudding where you put green drops in the bottom of a bowl, top with vanilla pudding and act surprised when it turns green. Fun idea. Except Sam decided he doesn’t like vanilla pudding and refused to try it even if it meant no dessert. He is, however, still begging for “one more white messy thing” aka “clever clovers.”

I think I’ll stick to writing.

Especially because the kids were just as delighted with a few drops of green in their oatmeal and clover-shaped toast with sprinkles.

 

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Spinning leftovers into souffles … or something like that

 

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This is what leftovers can look like. Trust me, I wouldn’t know that if we weren’t doing this budget thing. Tonight I had $11 to buy whole milk for the baby, regular milk for Matt and Sam and soymilk for me, and coffee. (Cheap coffee and non-organic milk if you’re wondering).

Leftover spaghetti noodles, leftover chicken, peanut butter, onion, ginger, garlic … see recipe below.

What to make for dinner when you can’t just run out and grab something? I had a package of smoked salmon and eggs. We had scrambled eggs too recently. So I hit up Google: “easy recipes for salmon.” I must’ve clicked too many times because I web-wandered into a soufflé recipe. “Yeah, I’ll try that one!” I had the basic ingredients, what’s the problem? The problem, it turns out, is that with dinner hour being our Insanity Hour where everyone gets their crazy on I have no business cooking anything that requires “constant stirring.” But I was committed, I already separated the eggs.

It was more quiche than soufflé, but all four of us liked it so there you go .. .

Linguine with Chicken and peanut sauce

– original recipe from Heather Franklin

8 oz. dried linguine (cook as directed on package) {or leftover already cooked noodles}

14 oz. can chicken broth

2 Tbsp. water or orange juice

2 Tbsp soy sauce

1 Tbsp corn starch

1/4 tsp ground red pepper

a few shakes of curry powder

1/2 cup peanut butter

1 Tbsp cooking oil

2 cloves garlic {or 6}

2 chicken breasts, slice or chunk {or whatever leftover meat/tofu you have}

1 medium onion sliced thin

2 tsp ginger

1 green bell pepper {or not}

In saucepan stir together chicken broth, water/OJ, soy sauce, cornstarch, curry, red pepper. Stir in peanut butter until smooth. Keep warm.

In wok – heat oil, onion, garlic, ginger until onion is tender. Remove onion mixture and cook chicken in wok. add pepper if using one, cook until crisp. Stir sauce, chicken, onion mixture until thick and bubbly. Spoon mixture over pasta.

Salmon Soufflé – click link for recipe. I did a lot different from the original recipe, which explains the unsouffleness, but I’ll try this again another  day year.


Cooking with Sam … Dora, Diego and the Naked Chef

 

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Cooking with Dora, Diego and my own little Naked Chef. At first glance this might seem rather, uh, unsanitary but we’re on our 3rd round of potty-training and this is what’s working so I’m cool with it.

This week Sam picked this “Silly Face Salad” to make for Jake’s birthday dinner.

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ingredients

1/4 cup orange juice

1 green onion, sliced (white portion only)

1 Tablespoon fresh lemon juice

2 tsp Dijon mustard

2 Tablespoons olive oil

2 carrots, peeled

2 cups shredded lettuce or whole lettuce leaves

1/2 cup grape tomatoes, halved or thin wedges of tomato

1/4 cup green or black olives, halved

Fresh herb sprigs such as dill, parsley or basil

1. For dressing combine in a blender: orange juice, green onion, lemon juice and mustard. Blend until onion is minced. With blender running on low speed, slowly add olive oil. Transfer to a small container; set aside until ready to serve.

2. Cut carrots into small bite-size slices and/or use a peeler to create thin carrot ribbons. On 4 salad plates, place lettuce leaves and use carrots and other vegetables and herbs to make silly faces.

3. When ready to serve, drizzle with dressing.

Makes 4 servings.


{What’s working: bagged baked goods}

 

19

 

I saw this idea on a favorite blog of mine, Erin Goodman’s “exhale. return to center.” and wrote for permission to copy it to use here.She cheerfully said “yes” and told me that there’s a whole blog carnival thing on this site: We are THAT family about “Works for me Wednesdays.” Love it.

I love reading tips and tricks about how people handle the most ordinary of things, so I figured I’d share some of mine in hopes that you join in with sharing some of yours.

I’ve been making our own bread since I figured out how to use my machine. My friend Booker was over while I was carefully measuring and re-measuring my ingredients. He said his old roommate used to make bread every day but didn’t remember him being so careful with the measurements. Well, when you’ve made enough weapon loafs you learn to stick with what works. Later he told me that he remembered his roommate used to keep the dry ingredients pre-measured in baggies and that’s why it looked like he just dumped them in and pressed a few buttons.

Genius. I wrote all I need to do on the bags and am good to go. With my little helpers it’s nice to cut any corner I can so we can still cook together without all the extra clean up time.

Works great for scone mixes too. I’ve been pre-measuring the base ingredients and just adding whatever sweet thing to them and they are the bomb. Even with whole wheat flour.


DIY Granola

 

Granola

Granola

From: “Eating your way back to health” by Dr. Jessica Black

Ingredients:

7 1/2 cups rolled oats

1 1/4 cups unsweetened coconut

1 cup nuts

1 cup raw sunflower seeds

1/2 cup sesame seeds

1/2 cup honey

1/2 cup canola oil (In the updated version of her book, Dr. Black recommends coconut oil)

Instructions:

1. Mix dry ingredients together (use a big bowl)

2. Heat honey and oil and pour over dry ingredients. Mix well and flatten on a baking pan.

3. Bake at 325 degrees for 15-20 minutes. Cool and store in airtight container. Serve with milk substitute and/or fresh fruit.

Substitutions:
You can do this recipe with many different nuts, seeds, etc. I occasionally will add 1/2 cup of almond butter or tahini to the recipe to change it sometimes. You can also try brown rice syrup instead of honey.

Healthy Tidbit:

The botanical name for oats is Avena sativa. One of my favorite uses for Avena is as adrenal supportive herb. It can help increase energy and tonify the adrenals while still aiding in anxiety or irritability. That is what is so amazing about this herb. Because it supports the adrenals and energy production, it is an aid to balance the endocrine system. I also use it for people who have difficulty sleeping related to overactive mind or anxiety. Eating oats has also been known to help decrease cholesterol.

Nathalie’s Notes: Mine turned out less “clumpy” than the kind we buy at the store, I need to figure out how to bind it together better because my next goal, after learning to make keeping our granola jar stocked, is to learn to make granola bars. As you might know, we’re changing up the way we handle our money so buying convenience foods like granola bars is coming off our grocery list. Which is both exciting and nerve-wracking.

To learn more about Dr. Black and the awesome Family Healing Center in McMinnville visit: http://www.afamilyhealingcenter.com/

to learn more about her cookbooks: http://www.amazon.com/Eating-Your-Back-Health-Guide/dp/B004HE3IHC/ref=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1294847983&sr=1-2


Cooking with Sam … Dora and Diego

 

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I Santa got Sam a Dora and Diego cookbook with the idea that he and  I would pick one  recipe to make each week, including getting the ingredients. Weekly might be ambitious but the goal is just to encourage him to be excited about cooking and bringing something of himself to the table.

The first recipe he picked was: “Scrambled Eggs in River Rafts”
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We used celery for our paddles because a) red peppers were crazy expensive and b) Sam won’t eat them.

We made it for Matt’s birthday breakfast. It looks more like an appetizer than a meal, I know. We added bacon and extra scrambled eggs.

Make whole wheat biscuits, scramble eggs with red peppers (or celery), add bacon (we added that, or add whatever you like). Top each biscuit with egg scramble mixture, add cheese on top bake for a couple minutes to melt cheese, make paddles with sticks of red peppers (or celery) and serve.

Nathalie’s Notes: This seems quick. But don’t forget to factor in time to make the biscuits!