The Mr’s homemade ice cream

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There were only a couple of things my then to be husband was stubborn about registering for as we wandered Bed Bath and Beyond with our scanning gun. One was a ice slushy maker that he promised we would use and I found ridiculous (we have yet to use it) but the other was an automatic, old fashioned looking ice cream maker. We have used it approximately twenty times in the year and a half we have been married. It is awesome.

Homemade ice cream is not cost effective- it is expensive, it takes a while, you have to plan ahead a bit, and we have had a couple of batches that turned out less than ideal.

It is delicious though! And the Mr is creative and adventurous with flavors. We’ve had everything from standard vanilla bean, and a rich chocolate to a blueberry and lemon zest, cinnamon, salted caramel, pomegranate, and a couple of delicious peach recipes! I never thought when we got that ice cream maker that we would turn into ice cream makers. But it has been a perfect way for us to do some exploring in the kitchen together and the Mr has really enjoyed making certain recipes for loved ones birthdays and events.

We can’t all be good at everything in the kitchen. My husband strongly believes I am a better cook/baker than he is but dessert has been a great area for him to be able to contribute to our hosting and a way he has enjoyed being creative and showing love through food. We all need a specialty and he had found his!

Food for grief

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One  of the hardest things in life is being there for people as they mourn. Everyone grieves differently and not knowing what people need, want, or could use during extreme times of grief is difficult and strange. Especially if you are mourning as well yourself.

We allow ourselves to become apathetic and believe someone else will step in to take care. Someone closer to them, who knows them better, who they want to see more than us. And in some cases that seems appropriate, in others I think we just are talking ourselves out of a difficult situation. My pastor once talked about how Peter, who denied he knew Jesus, must have been haunted by Jesus’ eyes of grace and challenged us to think about who was haunted by our own eyes of grace. Maybe don’t haunt those in grief but I do challenge you to show up for them.

Sitting with people through hard conversations, awkward encounters, tough decisions, and tears is not something we generally feel comfortable with or crave. And yet this is when we need each other the most, this is when we realize who we can count on. It’s hard to know how to be there for others or how to comfort those who are weeping, but something, done in love, is always better than nothing.

I have no good advice here, except that food is something we all need, happy or sad, hopeful or hopeless, near and dear or strangers. Grocery shopping in grief is rough, and essentials are always helpful, maybe show up with a bag of those. Grief brings visitors, offer to supply the drinks and ice needed to entertain others. Show up with a meal, one that can be easily frozen if need be or can feed those there and any others that might show up. 

And listen. Or maybe distract. Sometimes, against all odds, a funny story is all that’s needed. A funny story and soup. A distracting hour away from grief can be very therapeutic. And risotto, or pasta, or a casserole… Now I’m hungry. But also inspired.

Food Made For Sharing by Hannah Seery

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My friend Hannah Seery is a valued friend who understands the effort needed for real community and continues to make that effort in her own friendships. She is also incredibly witty, boldly loves her husband, and is raising an incredibly bright daughter. She was kind enough to share some of her own thoughts about food. 

 

Sitting outside, enjoying breakfast, listening to my daughter tell me the stories of her life. This was a perfect start to the day. Actually, it was a restart. The morning started with tears. The tears were a symptom of a night’s sleep with too few hours for my 10-year-old and a morning come too quickly. The mean mother that I am, knowing our morning would be rushed as we had to be at church early, I made her shower, brush her teeth AND her hair. The decision was made. Coffee was needed. Breakfast was needed. A coffee shop was in order.  Finally, we made it to the car. Once we made it to church the restart began.

 

While enjoying the coolness of the morning, my daughter turned to me and asked, “Mommy, what’s your favorite food?” I thought for a bit. When I was a little kid, it was Italian – always spaghetti or lasagna. In high school I would have answered, “The kind you eat.” While in college, it was back to Italian. By the time I finished college I would say, “Thanksgiving because all my favorite foods appear on one table.” But as for right now I had to give that simple question some thought.  “Well at this very moment, my favorite food is this coffee cake we are enjoying.” I could tell by the look on her face that was not the answer she wanted. I thought a little longer and then it hit me. My favorite food is food made for sharing.

 

My favorite foods are found at a table full of people who have come together to share their time and their stories. My favorite foods show up at holidays with family and friends I love. My favorite foods are there when I need a friend and one was kind enough to share a lunch. My favorite foods made their way into my home to comfort me after my mother passed away. My favorite foods are the meals my daughter makes all by herself. My favorite foods were shared after the birth of my daughter or brought over when I was recovering from knee surgery. My favorite foods center around the idea that food is made to bring people together.  Don’t get me wrong, I love some foods more than others: steak over chicken, a BLT over a tuna melt, and even lemon cake over chocolate.  But if any of it is made with the desire to share, I promise it will be my favorite.

 

So on that morning, eating that breakfast, sitting with that kid, coffee cake was my favorite food.

 

Allergy, alternative, and all ages food thoughts by Branwen Hunolt

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My cousin, Branwen Hunolt, is a master homemaker. She specializes in herbs and their uses but she is learning to sew her own clothes, homeschool a daughter, raise chickens, embroider, and cooks and bakes incredible things! I asked her some questions about her entertaining style, food choices, and allergy problems.

What is your favorite meal to make for your family and/or friends?

This is a tough one as I like to make many different foods and it depends on what meal it is! When we have company Jason and I usually team up and we bust out the grill to BBQ something. There is usually fresh bread involved and a salad of some sort. Last time someone was over I made fresh Foccacia bread and turned it into a spicy apricot BBQ pork rib sandwich with greens and pickled red onion (quick pickled on the stovetop in white vinegar, water, sugar, allspice). When I have trouble thinking of sides and filler foods for company, I like to ask myself “What would Grandma Johnson cook?” which usually prompts me to make deviled eggs, beets, chicken salad, fruit salad, etc.

 

How have your food habits or traditions changed or modified since getting married or having a child?

Well, the first year of being parents we were eating a lot of comfort foods—I’m talking meatloaf and pierogis, gnocchi, etc. We were happy but stressed—we moved a couple times, were very short on sleep, working hard, and scraping by on what few dollars we had. Once our daughter got a little older and we began to get more sleep we started eating fewer comfort foods and straightened that part of our diet out. We both eat better and more balanced meals now than we did before we had a child. Having a kid forces you to set a good example.

Side note–toddlers are incredibly picky eaters—as babies they will eat many foods, and after the toddler stage they realize they love many foods again after you argue with them and threaten them with losing privileges, etc. if they don’t eat their food (and other clever tactics), but toddlers have a very poor palate, one I call the “toddler diet” which seems to consist of mostly carbs. The struggle is real.

 

What has most changed in your food habits and traditions since learning about your food allergies?

Absolutely everything about the way that I cook. For one, I realized dairy just makes everything taste better and I had actually, and I think most people do this, been unknowingly relying on dairy to make a dish taste good. I used to cook with butter, milk, cream or cheese in most things. This epiphany hit me as post-dairy allergy I would taste my dish as I cooked along and I would find myself thinking “this would be perfect with a pat of butter” or “some Gouda cheese would really throw this over the top!” I would go to restaurants and see almost every dish had cheese or cream to make it luscious, or well, around here…palatable. At first I got angry that I couldn’t eat any of it, but then I realized everyone uses dairy as a crutch to make food delicious. Read the content of most dishes…then omit the dairy and imagine how it would taste without it. Would it really be good without that? Probably not.

So I knew I had to figure out how to make dairy-free food not need the crutch of butter or cream. Food must be able to stand on its own without the cow! I tackle every dish from this angle. I am proud to say I make better apple pie and biscuits today than I did with dairy products. (And for those wondering, I do not use hydrogenated oils. Blech.)

Now, I am tackling remaking the foods I thought I would never have again. I abhor all of the commercial diary substitutes and replacements available. They are primarily gums and emulsifiers…because of my consumption of almond milk I discovered I am allergic to xanthan gum. It causes me to get bubbly eczema on my hands from most soaps and shampoos! I finally found a brand that uses locust bean gum instead of xanthan gum and that resolved the issue. We just aren’t meant to eat that many gums and emulsifiers in food-group-portion amounts. In fact, they now know that those gums in large amounts act like detergents in the intestines.

After trading in one problem for a-lackluster-nother one, I have tackled head on recreating dairy free cheeses and other products as free of that crap as possible. Which is quite wildly possible with a bit of creativity. I have been making good strides. My most recent addition to my arsenal is a dairy-free Caesar dressing that I am mighty proud of. Might need a few tweaks but it is pretty spot on.

The key in diary free cooking is to remember that nothing replaces cow cheese or other dairy products. It is unique, creamy and delicious. It does amazing things. But there are some things that are very good in their own right and don’t deserve to be considered a dairy substitute. Making them shine and ditching the fillers is my job.

 

How has growing your own food and learning more about the nutrients and uses changed your ideas about food, eating and entertaining?

Well, I’ve discovered some wonderful other edible bits of plants that I never knew of before…such as leaving the radishes to go to seed…those seed pods are tasty when they are in the middle of forming! They are juicy with a great crunch and taste like a greener radish. They are fabulous in salads and pickled. Don’t wait till they are fully formed, then the pods are pithy and no good to eat.

I’m a fan of letting the weeds grow—purslane is a heathy and delicious garden weed loaded with omega-3 fatty acids. It is a tangy succulent and so good in salads and quiches. Lamb’s Quarters is another tasty and nutritious garden weed and it cooks up like spinach.

I love to lactoferment things (which is an ancient and formerly common technique of food preservation gaining resurgence. It is essentially the probiotic preservation of foods with the naturally occurring lactobacilli.). The garden provides lots of possibilities there with beets, carrots, radishes, garlic, onion, peppers, tomatoes, etc.

Food is always more nutritious when it is fresh and grown in soil that is alive. Pesticides kill the soil life and lock up nutrients so if you spray your plants with commercial chemical pesticides, they are not able to source as much as they need and will be deficient in many nutrients. Not to mention pesticides dock on your estrogen receptor sites in your body. Glyphosate in particular is also a patented antibiotic and a chelator of heavy metals. Pesticides are also, according to a chemist friend of mine, “literally one molecule away from being full blown nerve agents.”

When guests come over they love to know we are eating good, clean and fresh food from the garden or eggs from our chickens. It’s a bit of a novelty these days, which I find sad. Nothing tastes better than food picked just before you eat it. It’s almost like the extra life in it has its own flavor.

What advice would you give to others when it comes to food, eating and entertaining?

First off I would always ask if any of your guests has a food allergy. 1 in 13 children today under the age of 18 has a food allergy and many adults do too. Some of them are scarily serious allergies. Food allergies are skyrocketing. So that is important. I also think it is important to consider the age of the people who will be eating. Children like food bland and deconstructed. They are suspicious of things like sauce.

When entertaining it is good to keep things as simple as possible and to time out your prep work over the course of the day to make your life easier. Mix bread dough first thing in the morning, set the timer for the end of the first rise so you don’t forget. Meanwhile, run around and do other things like clean the bathroom, run to the store, etc. Buy a nice microgreens salad mix and to make your life easier and add some other elements—something with crunch, something with tang, something with protein, possibly toasted—pine nuts, sunflower seeds, etc. Dress your salad at the last minute so it does not get soggy and wilted. Steam your eggs instead of boiling them for deviled eggs and they will peel like you have always dreamed/wished they would. Have several beverage options, age and lifestyle appropriate as people might have different preferences. People like that.

Have a dessert. And if you need some dairy free recipes that are actually yummy…buy my forthcoming but not yet finished or published cookbook! 😉

Taste bud memories by Cristina Lynham

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Cristina is my oldest friend, I met her when I was five and we were living in Virginia and her family had just moved back to the States after living in Spain. We’ve been best friends ever since. She’s an incredibly supportive wife, a dedicated mother, and one of the most encouraging women I have ever known. And even though I’ve known her all these years I still live hearing new stories of hers like this one of taste buds and memories we didn’t know we have. 

 

Our taste buds have memories of their own.  Its commonly acknowledged that smells, tastes, textures have a powerful connection to our recollections.  One whiff of Windex and I am transported back to my high school job, sanitizing every exhibit at the local science museum with window cleaner.  I cannot hear the light tapping of popcorn without thinking of my dad at the stove with the popper, calling everyone one to get their drinks ready before a movie.

 

There are some things, however, that my taste buds remember and I simply don’t.  I grew up my whole life eating lentil stew.  It was a cheap, tasty dish that my mom learned to cook when our family lived in Spain. When we moved back to the States when I was four, my mom continued to make lentil stew on a regular basis.  I knew exactly how it tasted, (earthy with a hint of curry), looked (earthy with bright pops of orange carrot), and smelled (earthy with a subtle wafts of tomato, garlic and curry).  Just looking at lentils at the grocery store takes me back to dark winter nights around the kitchen table with a brothy stew steaming up the window, warm bread and salad on the table.  I don’t remember ever thinking anything was missing from this feast.

 

When I was 16 my family took a trip back to Spain.  It was the first time my brother and I had been back since we moved. We arrived the day after Christmas jet lagged and bleary eyed so our hosts threw us a party.  For me it was a sudden plunge back into all things Spanish.  Olives, tortillas, wine and more wine.  Overwhelmed and a little discouraged about my meager language abilities I sat down in front of a plate of cold cuts.  I picked out a brick red slice of what I knew to be Spanish chorizo.  The minute I touched the chorizo to my mouth I had one thought and one thought only.  I grabbed my mom’s shoulder, wide eyed and said “THIS!  This is what is supposed to go into lentil stew!”  My mom smiled.

 

Ever since we had moved to the States my mom had been making lentil stew with Italian sausage.  Unless you live in a larger metropolitan area its very, very difficult to find Spanish Chorizo in the supermarket.  While there are forms of spicy or “fresh” chorizo is parts of Spain, the most common type is a deep red cured pork and fat sausage made with pimentón (a special smoked paprika) and garlic.  Tangy, sweet with hints of garlic, it has a distinct flavor.  There is no substitute.   At 16 I did not know this.  For the past 12 years I had been eating Lentil stew without Chorizo and hadn’t given it a second thought.   I have no memory of eating Lentil Stew in Spain when I was three. No images of my childhood pop up in my mind when I see a slice of chorizo cantimpalo.  But on that 2nd day of Christmas in 2003 my mouth remembered something I did not and it was just the beginning.  On this trip I discovered why kids yogurts had always left me feeling disappointed.  I had been privileged for the first 4 years of my life to have delectable, creamy, rich “Petit Suisse.” The raw smell of the Spanish meat market made me feel strangely comforted.  Things that looked unfamiliar to me tasted and smelled like home, a home I couldn’t remember and hadn’t known that I missed.

 

I wonder now, as a parent of a 6 and 4 year old, what flavors my kids already have ingrained in their tongue memories.  If we picked up today and moved to the other side of the world, what foods would they miss?  What would they not miss, until 12 or more years later when they tasted it again and thought “This tastes like home,”?

 

Temporary Vegetarian

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This last week and a half I’ve been eating vegetarian, mostly, I did have a piece of bacon. 

I want to be clear that I’m not a vegetarian and though I don’t have anything against it I don’t plan on becoming one. I’m married to a hunter and the daughter of a hunter, I grew up raising meat animals, I enjoy eating meat, and I’m not against it.

I do, however, eat a lot less of it when I’m alone than when I’m with the Mr. I could, and have at many times, gone days without meat and not really noticed. If I serve a meal without meat than the Mr gets suspicious that I’m trying to turn him into a rabbit or some such nonsense. So while he was away I decided to take advantage of the opportunity to sort of reset my body and my diet. It helped that while he was away I had a fall and ended up with a bruised cheek bone that made smiling or chewing harder. So I turned to vegetable soup and things like veggie and fruit smoothies to make wasting easier and give my jaw a break.

I think it’s good sometimes to take stock of what we eat, to pay more attention to the quantities, varieties, colors, and textures of our meals and reevaluate certain food decisions and choices. I don’t think this is a diet. I certainly wasn’t thinking of losing weight or inches. I was thinking about eating more greens, getting more vitamins, letting my digestion have a rest in some ways and restarting it in others. It wasn’t a “whole 30” which I hear mixed messages about but which sounds terrible to me, it wasn’t a “20 day fix”, and, especially after the fall, I didn’t exercise more than usual and maybe even less. It was simply a reset of sorts.

When I offered to cook dinner tonight, as I have vegetables I need to use up before we leave on yet another trip, my husband eyed me and asked if I had any meat I needed to use up. He’s only been back one day and the diet returns to what it was. Which is fine, I don’t need to to this forever and I know I can come back whenever I want. 

How do you reevaluate? Stop and change your diet or your habits? What do you do to return to the meals you know you love and are good for nourishing you?