Thanksgiving Challenge

Last year at this time I was in full-out Thanksgiving dinner mode. See last year’s post here. This year I thought I was going to cruise through the weekend with absolutely no stress in sight. Alas, here I am on Thanksgiving Monday in the throes of assembling something “wow-worthy”. If not for my family’s enjoyment then at least my own sense of accomplishment. Here’s the thing…since we went to my parents’ house for Thanksgiving for a couple of days I figured that I wouldn’t feel like preparing one myself so I didn’t fill my fridge and pantry with any of the necessary ingredients. This Thanksgiving Day I have decided to challenge myself by putting together a full spread with a near empty kitchen. I seem to like this type of challenge since I do this type of thing frequently. I cook with the spirit of adventure – trying new things is great fun and I seldom use recipes except to bake.  I am sticking to an Autumn harvest theme in celebration of the season.

 

At present I have a luscious smelling pot of pumpkin and roasted garlic soup simmering on the stove. It is chock full of delicious organic ingredients and fresh herbs from my garden. In the oven is a cauliflower roasting away with real butter (mmmm…) and a sweet mesquite spice blend.  I have yet to sort out a main dish but I suspect a chickpea something or other is about to be concocted.  I’ll report back on that if anyone is interested in the comments below.  Cyndi over at Healthy A-Z inquired as to whether I would be making the gluten-free pumpkin pie that I made last year. She inspired me to do so. Sadly, my cupboards were void of the necessary items so I have decided to whip up a spiced custard and serve with baked apples. 

 

This time of year encourages me to get busy in my kitchen and get back to the simplicity of great food using what is being harvested. Soups and stews fill my foodie brain and I enjoy the run out to the back garden to snip herbs for whatever is in the works on the stove. I am usually hopping from stone to stone down the garden path in my bare feet and quickly darting back into the warmth of my fragrant kitchen with my arms full of healthy goodness.  

 

To all of my fellow Canadians, may you be filled with thanks for all of your blessings and enjoy a wonderful Thanksgiving with friends and family. To all the non-Canadians, let the spirit of gratefulness bring you peace at this splendid time of year.

 

 

 

“Be thankful for what you have; you’ll end up having more. If you concentrate on what you don’t have, you will never, ever have enough.”  – Oprah Winfrey

 

 

 

 

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Summer of Revelations

I have learned a lot this summer. About myself and life in general. I’d say that I am sad that summer is coming to a close but that would be a lie. I am elated at the prospect of change. Change of the season to Autumn, change of daily routine, and change in temperature. I respond well to change, I think. It keeps me on my toes and makes everything  fresh!

 

 

I never thought of myself as a Being of Summer. Boy, how things have changed. The heat and humidity are not high on the fun-factor scale for me but I can deal with it which I never used to be able to. This summer I have developed the look I always sought when younger but could never accomplish; hair bleached by the sun, tanned limbs and absorbing vitamin D in the form of sunshine like nobody’s business! This really hit home when my Grannie said to me a week or so ago, “You are definitely an outdoor girl.”  I used to be the girl who hid from the sun to keep my  pale skin from freckling and turning the shade of a cooked lobster. Now I work in the sunshine daily and am trying to be smart about precautions while maintaining reality. I certainly don’t spend my days off laying in the sun!

 

 

“I still get wildly enthusiastic about little things…

I play with leaves.

I skip down the street

and run against the wind.”

– Leo Buscaglia

Yesterday, I realized something quite extraordinary – I am only twelve pounds away from the weight I was throughout high school! Mind you, after having two children, the joy of passing time, and working a very physically-demanding job my body shape has changed significantly (for the better, I think). So, I plan on saying goodbye to those clinging twelve pounds before the end of this work season and accomplishing a task I had never thought was all that important until now since I am so very close to accomplishing it. Weight in terms of the scale is not all that important to me but how my body responds to exertion through work and play is paramount. I have become strong and more defined muscle-wise over the past two work seasons and am liking how I feel! I intend to keep getting better in terms of health and strength. My lazy and uninspired days are behind me.

The other day something occurred to me when I was listening to an acquaintance talking. This individual had mentioned how difficult and time-consuming it was to be environmentally friendly. WHAT? This came as a shock to me as it was in that moment I suddenly realized that I basically run on autopilot when it comes to issues of environmental responsibility. Sure, I’m not perfect and I sometimes make poor decisions but overall I feel responsible for my actions and have integrated this thinking into the every day so it is the norm in my world. It seems so archaic and offensive not to care about the planet we all share and its inhabitants. I seriously don’t understand the unconcerned mindset.

 

 

One of the biggest revelations this summer has been that sometimes, there is no going back home. Recently I went back to my hometown to visit family and friends. I quickly realized that this may be their home but it is no longer mine; I am merely a visitor. At first this thought made me uncomfortable so I dug a bit deeper to understand the reason for my discomfort. I think part of the parcel is that my parents are aging (as we all are) and I have moved in a different direction as offspring are supposed to do. When I first moved away from home at the age of 19 to St. Catharines, I knew no one here. It was not only an adventure but it was sometimes lonely and scary until I made friends and connected with others. Luckily, this was only a matter of days that I wound up in the company of good people. This city has become my home over the years and has replaced my hometown as the place I identify with. I no longer consider myself a Peterborough girl  and this puts a bit of a lump in my throat. Honestly though, the Niagara Region has opened its arms wide with welcome and I am now enfolded in its embrace. I love living here!

 

 

This summer has also shown me more of the incredible natural beauty that surrounds us here in the Niagara Region. We have such a diverse landscape that is teaming with incredible natural wonders. The Niagara Region is tucked between two of the Great Lakes – Lake Ontario (I live on the south shore) and Lake Erie. There are over 200 walking, hiking and cycling trails to be enjoyed and shared with incredible flora and fauna at every step. The Region has created many naturalized sites to encourage wildlife to do its thing and give a safe haven for many species. One of my favorite hikes/walks is up the escarpment by Niagara College. It has a feeling of such intense history to be with these particular trees and rocks and gives an all-encompassing feeling of being a part of Nature not just an outsider looking in. These photos were taken in the late Fall a couple years ago but the escarpment is beautiful in every season.

 

 

 

One of my favorite walking trails on the Niagara Escarpment

One of my favorite walking trails on the Niagara Escarpment

Ericsson 2012 343

 

 

 

Within a short walking distance from my home is the Welland Canal. Even though I’ve lived in St. Catharines half of my life I still find the Canal interesting. It is fascinating that these huge freighters and  sea-going ships make their way through a system of locks up the Niagara Escarpment. For a brief description of the Welland Canal see this link. When my kids were itty-bitty, they used to love to go sit at the locks with me and watch as the ships went through. They were thrilled to bits when the workers on the massive ships would wave to them. Recently I have visited the Canal again a few times and realized that it doesn’t matter how old or young you are or where you come from the Welland Canal is an incredible feat of engineering.

 

 

I’m sure I need not dwell on the prominence of wineries in this region but seriously, they are worth a visit and the trip along the wine route. Wineries play a huge supporting role in the area’s mindset and activities. Good food and great wine are the specialties of an area filled with orchards, farms and vineyards. It’s easy to eat well here.

 

 

Another huge revelation for me and I think the most important of all – I need to live the life I envision for myself. We all have dreams, desires and are called deep from within our Soul to certain places, people and actions. Respecting someone else’s dream is essential to living our own.

 

 

Learning to love the Life we have and moving forward instead of stagnating or going backward is on my mind. I see movement in my future…I strive for joy each and every day through learning new Truths…to treat myself and others with kindness…to appreciate all that is on offer.

 

 

“Follow your bliss and the universe will open

where there were only walls.”

– Joseph Campbell

 

 

 

Clearing the Cobwebs

creek

In my last blog post, I mentioned heading out for a walk to clear the cobwebs before getting busy with my holiday baking. Along the way I stopped often to enjoy my surroundings, the fabulous weather, and to take a few photos. Join me on my walk, won’t you?

The water in the creek was very clear. It was wonderful to just stand on the bridge and watch  the water as it gently made its way through the rocks.

burr

There is something so incredible about burrs. They are nature’s little hitchhiker. Most of us were first introduced to them as children when they were stuck in our hair and clothes. Although I have spent countless hours plucking them from my children’s and my own clothes I still find them fascinating. The natural world is so full of wondrous specimens.

pear tree

There are a grouping of old gnarly pear trees along my route. I am always drawn to these trees. They have so much character. Over the last few years a few of them have died off and been removed by city workers. This is one of the few left standing. I stood under this tree for a few minutes to enjoy the visual contrast between the rough, dark texture of the bark against the velvety blue sky as the clouds drifted past.

path

Occasionally while I am walking I tear my eyes from the plant-life around me long enough to look up ahead to where my feet are leading me.

up we go

Almost to the top of the hill! There was a refreshing breeze here that made my hair dance around me. Such a great feeling to have the wind in my hair – so rejuvenating.

looking ahead

I love the way the sun was creating pockets of warmth…the temptation makes me step a bit quicker.

fallen tree

The cycle of Life always amazes me.

oddity

Surprisingly, I have never noticed this particular tree before.

dry docks

I had no set destination in mind. The warm, fresh air was so welcoming I wasn’t ready to turn for home yet. So I kept walking…and walking…and walking. I stopped for a few minutes to check out the happenings at the dry docks.

Canadian Coast Guard at the dry docks

At the moment there is a Canadian Coast Guard ship docked here.

canal and reservoir

On this day the reservoir beside the canal is full. During the summer months it was as dry as a bone. The sun was shining so bright that I couldn’t see to take this pic. I was squinting like crazy at this exact moment while a man walking his dog stood behind me watching while I took pictures. No idea why but, oh well.

anchor

While leaning on the fence, I noticed the anchors built into the design. A nice touch, in my opinion.

the road ahead

With the sun beating brightly down, warming my Soul and my face, I head for home.

” Rest is not idleness, and to lie sometimes on the grass under trees on a summer’s day, listening to the murmur of the water, or watching the clouds float across the sky, is by no means a waste of time.” 

– John Lubbock

The Menu

To follow-up the Thanksgiving themed posts, I will wrap it all up with one last post…the menu. Sadly, I have no pics to add to this delicious food bonanza except a photo of the last piece of gluten-free, dairy-free pumpkin pie. I think I will be making another pumpkin pie in the near future since this was such a hit.

The  Menu

Butternut Squash Soup

Caramelized Brussels Sprouts

Roasted Garlic Whipped Potatoes

Rutabaga

Homemade Stuffing (no boxed stuff here!)

Vegetarian Gravy

Herb Roasted Whole Chicken

Vegetarian Baked Beans

Gluten-Free, Dairy-Free Pumpkin Pie

Real Whipped Cream sweetened with Maple Syrup

Butternut Squash Soup

I never use a recipe for squash soup. Or most of the soups I make, for that matter. I start by heating up a couple tablespoons of oil in a large soup pot and add in a couple of medium-sized, chopped  onions. I saute the onions until they are just starting to brown slightly to give some added flavour. At this point I toss in an entire butternut squash (medium size) that has been skinned and cut into large pieces of about an inch or so cubed. Drop in one large sprig of fresh rosemary (you will remove the stem before blending soup) or remove leaves from stem and chop finely. Pour approximately 8-10 cups of vegetarian stock into the soup pot and simmer for approximately 45 minutes to an hour until the squash is very tender. At this point, puree in small batches in the blender until very creamy and smooth or use an immersion blender. The silkier the soup, the better. This soup can be made to serve immediately or even a day prior to serving. I think the soup tastes better the longer it rests.

Caramelized Brussel Sprouts

I really love Brussel sprouts. They have always been one of my favourite foods but until recently I have always had them served boiled. My sister made them a couple of years ago sautéed and caramelized with brandy. Oh…my…GOSH! I learned to love them even more!  I have made them since then a few times following her method but for Thanksgiving dinner I simply steamed them in a saute pan then removed the lid, added a bit of ghee and let them do their thing until they were nicely golden and sweet. Mmm, mmm,mmm.

Roasted Garlic Whipped Potatoes

Early on the morning I would be needing the roasted garlic I sliced of the top off of  a head of garlic, set it  on a square of foil, poured a bit of olive oil over top and sprinkled with  freshly ground black pepper. I then wrapped the foil tightly around the garlic and popped it in the toaster oven until it was fragrant and soft. I set it aside until dinner prep time when I squeezed all of the luscious soft cloves from the bulb and dropped them into the pot of cooked and drained potatoes.   I got busy and whipped the potatoes and garlic  with vegetarian stock instead of milk and butter to make them lighter and much easier on my figure.

Rutabaga

Yummy, sweet rutabaga…how I love thee. Usually I hear mass rebellion at the presence of rutabaga at our table so I don’t serve it often. I decided to go “old school” and boil and mash it but with the twist of real Canadian maple syrup and ghee added instead of butter and brown sugar as my mom prepares it. The kids decided that rutabaga can be delicious so I will no longer have the entire bowl to myself. For this, I am grateful.

Homemade Stuffing

Of course the recipe for stuffing that I have made in the past that I love had conveniently disappeared right before I needed it, so I had to wing it. A loaf of crusty, day old bread was ripped into bite-sized pieces and put into a 13 x 9 Pyrex dish. In a frying pan I sautéed cubed celery and onion until translucent then poured them over the bread.  I also added in herbs (dried thyme, marjoram,  as well as fresh chopped rosemary) , one egg, salt/pepper and some hot stock until it seemed moist but not sloppy and drowned. Stir everything around gently so the bread doesn’t turn into mush. The pan was covered with foil and put in the oven at 350*F for about 40 minutes. I then took off the foil to crisp the stuffing slightly for another 20 minutes or so. Watch that it doesn’t burn.

Vegetarian Gravy

Sometimes I add onions or mushrooms to gravy but I opted for no-fuss good old plain gravy that is certainly not boring. I start with either coconut oil or ghee and add about a tablespoon of quinoa flour into the hot pan and stir so as to not burn the flour. Once the flour starts to colour slightly, I add about 2 cups of vegetarian stock and stir with a whisk to remove any lumps. Stir until the gravy thickens. Voila…easy homemade gravy!

Herb Roasted Chicken

After acquiring a whole chicken, which wasn’t an easy task at a time when turkeys are all the rage. I am rather squeamish when it comes to dead animals so this was the tricky part for me. The bird was rinsed under running water then a mixture of dried herbs (fresh lemon thyme and rosemary), about four slices of lemon, and a couple of cloves of garlic were put into the cavity. I brushed melted butter oven the outside of the chicken for an extra layer of flavour. The chicken was lovingly placed into my cast iron casserole with lid and placed into the oven at 350*F for about and hour and 20 minutes. I had to hunt down the proper amount of time for cooking a whole chicken since it is not something I do regularly. I learned that a chicken needs to be cooked for 20 minutes per pound for a perfect roast chicken.  After the allotted cooking time, I removed the lid of the casserole dish to brown the skin slightly. The house was really smelling amazing at this point.

Vegetarian Baked Beans

After reading a fantastic post with a recipe for homemade baked beans by a fellow blogger, I knew I had to try her recipe. Wow, I’m so glad I did! It was scrumptious! You can check out her recipe here: Homemade Baked Beans.

Gluten-Free, Dairy-Free Pumpkin Pie

This was another “first time” recipe for me and I am so glad I decided to give it a try! It was excellent and has already claimed a place in our Thanksgiving meal for next year. I highly recommend this recipe – Gluten-Free, Dairy-Free Pumpkin Pie.

Real Whipped Cream Sweetened with Maple Syrup

Is there anything more nostalgic than pumpkin pie and whipped cream when it comes to Thanksgiving? Not in my mind there isn’t. To make my life easier I always use my Kitchen Aid stand mixer to do whipped cream. This way I can do my usual ten other things while the cream is being fluffed full of air. Pour the whipping cream into the mixing bowl, add a couple of tablespoons of real maple syrup (no fake maple-flavored crap here)  to the cream as well as about a half teaspoon of real vanilla extract then turn on the mixer and leave your hands free for other tasks. Once the whipped cream is the desired thickness turn off and place in a bowl for those around your table to serve themselves their desired amount instead of dolloping it on top of the whole pie before serving. I find the amount of whipped cream varies from person to person so allowing others to do their own is not only fun for the kids but for the adults too.

I have always found it curious that Canadian and American Thanksgiving celebrations are so far apart on the calendar.  I am looking forward to hearing how our friends to the South celebrate their Thanksgiving once it rolls around.


“Nothing would be more tiresome than eating and drinking if God had not made them a pleasure as well as a necessity.” ~Voltaire

Snippets in Time…Thanksgiving

I think this year’s Thanksgiving weekend ranks at the top of my Thanksgiving memories. The weather was incredibly beautiful and autumnal. One evening being cool and rainy was a great excuse to bundle up inside with a glass of red wine, a cozy blanket and an interesting documentary. What? I love a good documentary! Monday morning  the sunshine and crisp air beckoned us outside to get the garden prepped for winter. There was raking to be done and the removal of the veggie garden plants. The whole family chipped in on the task which made it so much more enjoyable. We had some good laughs while working as a team to accomplish a goal. Things went slightly awry when the kids thought it would be fun to chuck green “grounder” tomatoes at each other. They quickly realized it wasn’t as intelligent as originally thought once put into action. A learning lesson was had – being pummeled with green tomatoes is like having rocks thrown at you! Those shenanigans died down without me even having to pull out the “safety first” speech.

 


We indulged in our quiet Thanksgiving dinner on Sunday evening and reported to each other something we were thankful for. I stated that I had a few things on my list and was quickly shut down after three. Well! (Insert huffy breath here.) I was trying to keep it brief. I didn’t even ramble. I guess everyone was just incredibly thankful for the good and plentiful food set before them that waiting to consume it was a hardship.  I had prepared everything  healthier and  lighter with a  whole food mindset although I don’t think anyone even noticed that all the “unnecessary  stuff” was absent. All I heard was a resounding “thank you for a great dinner”. Chalk one more up for eating clean.

 

 

After mentioning in my last post that I would be making a wheat-free, dairy-free pumpkin pie there was some interest shown as to how it would turn out. Truthfully, it was delicious. I have made pumpkin pie in many variations over the years and I think this has to be one of my favourite methods. I didn’t feel that drive to overeat or the icky feeling from too rich of a dessert. I have tried everything from store-bought to tofu pumpkin pie to made from scratch using local pumpkins. This year’s was the winner! A co-worker/friend of mine came across the recipe and thought it looked like something I would be into so she posted it on my Facebook page. So glad she did…thank you.

 

 

There seemed to be a lot of kitchen activity this weekend and I even managed to stock the fridge with lunches and snacks for the next few days. We started the day yesterday with quinoa crepes with fresh, hot applesauce and real Canadian maple syrup… Mmmm. Yesterday I whipped up another new recipe to me – Banana Prune Cake. Very yummy and not too sweet. The prunes were supposed to be dates but I only had prunes so I substituted. Last night’s kitchen adventure was a speedy home-made hummus with extra garlic. Sorry to every one of you in advance that I am in close proximity to over the next few days. I pumped up the garlic amount in an effort to try to rid myself of the lingering sinus/ear annoyance I have been fighting for the past week.

 

 

All in all, this Thanksgiving was wonderful and reaffirming of the blessings of Life. Sharing healthy, delicious food, enjoying nature, and being with those I love has made beautiful memories and a warm fuzzy feeling in my heart.

 

“Believe that life is worth living and your belief will help create the fact.”   – William James

Giving Thanks

Here in Canada, Thanksgiving weekend has arrived. I love this time of year. After Christmas I would have to say that Thanksgiving is my favourite “holiday”. The chill in the air, the delicious smells wafting from kitchens and the incredible autumnal colours. This year, Thanksgiving is shaping up to be different from in the past. I have decided to lie low this year and simply take it easy at home with my kids. No huge dinners, no crazy running around, and definitely no travelling on jam-packed highways for hours only to spend a few hours at a table stuffing ourselves silly. We are enjoying each others’ company and loving the simple things like raking the leaves together, choosing a pumpkin, and cranking the tunes and singing like lunatics. Good times.

Our Thanksgiving dinner this year is veering slightly from the traditional. After starting a healthier way of eating at the beginning of September, I am shaking things up a bit by losing the mass amounts of unnecessary sugar, wheat and dairy that usually accompany large meals.  Our Thanksgiving meal will start with a butternut squash soup followed by the main entrée. Instead of turkey, a whole chicken has been requested so I will be making a herb roasted chicken as well as homemade vegetarian baked beans for us veg-heads. The side dishes will be plentiful – carmelized Brussel sprouts, whipped garlic potatoes, rutabaga,  and homemade stuffing.  For dessert I have decided upon a gluten-free, dairy-free pumpkin pie that my mouth starts to water at the thought of.  It sounds as though I will be busy in the kitchen slaving away. To me I am content and happy making healthy food to nourish my family. I have always felt that when we cook for our self and our family with love and kindness in our heart the food we prepare will be nurturing and full of love.

I have so much to be thankful for this year. I won’t bore you with my list that goes on, and on…and on.  Instead I will turn the corners of my mouth up into a smile and let my heart be wide open with love and gratitude for the goodness that I have been blessed with.

“Gratitude is the inward feeling of kindness received. Thankfulness is the natural impulse to express that feeling. Thanksgiving is the following of that impulse.”  – Henry Van Dyke

Rainy Day Play

There is something so therapeutic about waking up to the sound of rain. The softness is enveloping. This morning was one of these peaceful awakenings. It  has set the stage for a wonderful day.

My usual cup of strong coffee with a touch of cinnamon was accompanied this morning by a big bowl of homemade applesauce that I made yesterday from local organic apples with, of course, loads of cinnamon. Yum. After breakfast, my daughter and I spent about half an hour or so braiding each others’  hair for fun while watching old episodes of Charlie’s Angels. We have been working our way through the original series which came out in 1976. We are enjoying and having lots of laughs over the clothing choices of the 70’s. I forgot how popular jumpsuits were!  Not that I was into fashion much in the 70’s since I was only 3 when the show premiered.  After the braiding, which we removed afterwards, we got down to business – and wrestled! Everyone should wrestle for fun at least once a month. It’s hilarious, as long as you are being mindful of your opponent. We  always end up in fits of giggles and trying to catch our breath. Good times. Playing is something that as adults we think we should forget about and be serious all the time. Until I heard Deepak Chopra once say that everyone should remind themselves to play, I forgot how important it was to just let go and stop being serious about everything. Life is meant to be enjoyed at the same time as being productive so why not relax a bit and have some laughs! If you know me personally you will know that I love a good laugh. Laughter is like sunshine for the soul.

Once we got ourselves together, it was time to shift into constructive mode. We had to SHOP! Yes, I said shop. I am not a “shopper” in general. Walking around slowly in mobs of people under fluorescent lighting is excruciating to me. If I have a purpose, such as I had today, I am fine. We executed our list quickly and efficiently so that we could stop into the local Greek Festival on our way home for some lunch. This is where we,yet again, gave thanks for a rainy day since the food line up was short and speedy. A parking spot was quickly located close to the festival so we could jump out, run to the food tent, then run back to the car to take our lunch home.

At present I am taking part in eating only whole foods and have eliminated wheat, dairy, and sugar for the month of September. This posed to be a challenge as I salivated over the thought of spanikopita, greek salad with feta and baklava. Groan. I did bend the rules today fellow “whole food poutine detox” friends. I ate a container of greek vegetarian rice with vegetables. It was perfectly cooked rice in a vegetable broth with cooked vegetables. No cheese, no wheat and no sugar – but there was rice and salt.  I am not beating myself up over this since I only have access to this dish once per year. For the record, it was amazing. If you would like to know more about the group and what we are participating in simultaneously while giving each other support, check out the Facebook page called The Whole30 Clean Month Poutine Detox.

In addition to yesterday’s post about the changing of the seasons I noted something interesting as I was in the grocery store this morning. The pull of autumn is definitely strong. My arms were  full of apples and squash. I’m in full Fall mode. Just thought I would share that in case you happen to be interested. I think a butternut squash soup is in order for dinner on this rainy near-autumn day.

“We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.”   – George Bernard Shaw